DPRK (North Korea) Chronology for 2020

Compiled by
Leon V. Sigal
Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project

KCNA: “The 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea was held at the headquarters building of the WPK Central Committee from December 28 to 31, Juche 108 (2019). Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, guided the plenary meeting. Attending the meeting were members and alternate members of the C.C., WPK and members of the Central Auditing Commission of the WPK. Present as observers were officials of the WPK Central Committee, officials of ministries and national institutions, chairpersons of the provincial people’s committees, chairpersons of the provincial rural economy committees, chairpersons of the city and county party committees and officials of major fields and units and the armed forces organs. Kim Jong Un presided over the meeting upon authorization of the Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK. The plenary meeting dealt with the following agenda items: On the orientation of our immediate struggle under the present internal and external situation On an organizational matter On modifying and supplementing the collection of the slogans set forth by the Party Central Committee On celebrating the 75th founding anniversary of the WPK with splendor. The first agenda was discussed. Kim Jong Un made a report on the first agenda. Saying that the period of the past eight months since the 4th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the WPK was a continuity of great intensified struggle and courageous advance, he referred to the fact that the WPK has always established and maintained correct internal and external political lines centered on the urgent demand, rights and interests of our people and the sovereignty and security of the state and has constantly struggled for them. He noted that the Party Central Committee convened the present plenary meeting for the purport of comprehensively and deeply analyzing and assessing the subjective and objective obstacles and difficulties faced in the course of the great and dynamic advance of our revolution and of taking a decisive measure for further promoting the socialist construction. Kim Jong Un advanced the revolutionary line on launching an offensive for frontal breakthrough as required by the present situation and the developing revolution. Noting that our Juche-based might with self-sufficiency and self-reliance as the motive power has been further strengthened in the tense struggle for carrying out the decision of the 4th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the WPK, he referred to the fact that our state and people greatly demonstrated the strong spirit and tremendous potentiality while proudly advancing and leaping in the difficult situation true to the appeal of the Party to open up a great period of surge in the socialist construction under the uplifted banner of self-reliance. He said that the challenges faced by us for the past several months were harsh and dangerous, which others would not withstand even a single day but give up, but no difficulties can ever stop or delay the rush of our people advancing as an integral whole, undaunted by whatever hardships. He added that great successes have ceaselessly been made in bolstering up the strength of the state and in increasing defense capabilities. He noted that the huge and complicated work of developing the ultra-modern weapon system possessed only by the countries with advanced defense science and technology presupposed our own innovative solution in terms of the scientific and technical aspect without anyone’s help, and all the research tasks were perfectly carried out by the driving force, i.e. our reliable scientists, designers and workers in the field of the munitions industry. This means a great victory, and our possession of promising strategic weapon system planned by the Party one by one serves as a great event in developing the armed forces of the Republic and defending and guaranteeing our sovereignty and right to existence, he noted. He stressed that such a leap in developing the ultra-modern national defense science would make our great military and technical power irreversible, greatly promote the increase of our great national power, raise the power of putting the political situation around us under control and give the enemies the blow of big uneasiness and horror. In the future, the more the U.S. stalls for time and hesitates in the settlement of the DPRK-U.S. relations, the more helpless it will find itself before the might of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea getting stronger beyond prediction and the deeper it will fall into an impasse, he noted. He referred to a series of successes achieved in the economic construction. Analyzing the trend of the prevailing present situation, he said the U.S. real intention is to seek its own political and diplomatic interests while wasting time away under the signboard of dialogue and negotiations and at the same time keep sanctions upon the latter so as to weaken the latter. He stressed that we further hardened our resolution never to barter the security and dignity of the state and the safety of its future for anything else. He said that the stalemate between the DPRK and the U.S. cannot but assume protracted nature as the U.S. is raising demands contrary to the fundamental interests of our state and is adopting brigandish attitude. He added that recently the U.S. is talking about continued dialogue while peddling the issue of the resumption of the dialogue here and there but this is just aimed to pass without trouble the year-end time-limit set by us and stall for the time for evading a lethal attack as it now finds itself in a tight corner, not out of the intention to withdraw the hostile policy toward the DPRK and solve issues through improved relations. On the other hand, the U.S. has openly revealed its provocative political, military and economic maneuvers to completely strangle and stifle the DPRK. This is the double-dealing behavior of the brigandish U.S., he added. He said that we will never allow the impudent U.S. to abuse the DPRK-U.S. dialogue for meeting its sordid aim but will shift to a shocking actual action to make it pay for the pains sustained by our people so far and for the development so far restrained. He continued: It is true that we urgently need external environment favorable for the economic construction but we can never sell our dignity which we have so far defended as valuable as our own life, in hope for brilliant transformation. The DPRK-U.S. stand-off which has lasted century after century has now been compressed to clear stand-off between self-reliance and sanctions. If there were not the nuclear issue, the U.S. would find fault with us under other issue, and the U.S. military and political threats would not end. The present situation warning of long confrontation with the U.S. urgently requires us to make it a fait accompli that we have to live under the sanctions by the hostile forces in the future, too, and to strengthen the internal power from all aspects. He said there are not a few problems that need to be set right in state management, economy and other fields from the viewpoint of strengthening our might. He analyzed the present situation including state management and economic performance which are insufficient for pulling and spurring the great cause of self-reliance and self-development and which fail to bring about a bold renovation but stay stagnant. The victory of the revolution is inevitable but it is not achieved without any difficulties and hardships, he said, and continues: If we do not put spur to the struggle for bolstering the power for self-development while waiting for the lift of sanctions, the enemies’ reactionary offensive will get fiercer to check our advance. The more we bolster our own strength and create valuable wealth on the strength of self-reliance and self-sufficiency, the deeper the enemies will be driven into greater agony and the earlier the day of the victory of socialism will come. All the Party organizations and officials have to shoulder upon themselves the important duties entrusted to them by the times and turn out in the offensive for frontal breakthrough to foil the enemies’ sanctions and blockade by dint of self-reliance. “Let Us Break through Head-on All the Barriers to Our Advance!” — this is the fighting slogan the entire Party and all the people should put up today. The key front in the offensive for frontal breakthrough today is economic front, he said, setting forth it as an immediate task for the economic field at present to rearrange the economic foundation of the country and fully tap all the possible production potential and to fully meet the demand needed for the economic development and people’s life. He advanced important tasks for putting in order the economic work system and order. He set forth the fundamental ways for strengthening the Cabinet responsibility system, Cabinet center system as the Cabinet is the nucleus of the state economic work system. He advanced crucial issues in finding out the correct way for improving the planning to meet the actual requirements, keeping the overall balance between production and supply and decisively raising the confidence of the national economic plan. Emphasizing that the Cabinet work is precisely the work of the Party Central Committee and the execution of the decision of the Party Central Committee is the Cabinet work, he made an anatomical analysis of the serious issues that need urgent solution in strengthening the state unified guidance and management of the economic work after the plenary meeting. After setting forth the innovative measures and detailed plans for adjusting the overall state machinery to spur the economic development and to enhance the role of officials, he specified realistic ways for pushing forward the improvement of economic management based on them. He specified the orientation of solving crucial issues for economic growth which should be pushed forward by the whole Party and state. He set forth tasks faced by the major industrial sectors of the national economy. He made the overall analysis of the evil practices and stagnation found in metal, chemical, power, coal, machine and building materials industrial fields, railway transport and light industrial field, and set forth one by one scientific and substantial measures to bring about a giant stride forward in the economic work. He said that we have to correctly set up index-wise plans of ten long-term goals through scientific calculation to develop the country’s economy on a stable and long-term basis and consolidate one by one the economic foundation of the country through the struggle to carry them out. He stressed the need to drastically increase the agricultural production. He called for improving science, education and public health. The inexhaustible strategic asset which we should rely on today is science and technology, he said, stressing that science and technology should become the light that brightens the way ahead and pioneer the development at a time like now when there are manifold hardships in the economic work. He set forth the tasks and ways for fundamentally improving the education of the country as required by the era of the revolution in education. Kim Jong Un set forth the important matters arising in the work for our socialist public health system, best in the world, provided by President Kim Il Sung and Chairman Kim Jong Il to preserve its original character and intensify the material and technological foundation of public health and train all the medical workers as loyal health workers of the WPK with great human love and high medical qualifications. He called for dynamically conducting the movement for increased production, ensuring economy and raising quality and protecting ecological environment and taking thorough-going measures for preventing natural disasters. He called for guaranteeing the offensive for frontal breakthrough politically, diplomatically and militarily. There have to be powerful political, diplomatic and military guarantee for sure victory in the offensive for frontal breakthrough to brave unprecedented harsh challenge and difficulties, he said, and advanced the policy for strengthening the diplomatic front under the prevailing situation. With comprehensive and deep analysis of the stern situation created on the Korean peninsula and complicated structure of the current international relations, he set forth important tasks of taking offensive measures to reliably ensure the sovereignty and security of our state. He said that the U.S. labeled our state as its enemy, “axis of evil” and “target of its preemptive nuclear strike” and applied the most brutal and inhuman sanctions against and posed the persistent nuclear threat to the latter over the past seven decades, and the current situation on the Korean peninsula is getting more dangerous and reaching serious phase, owing to the former’s hostile policy towards the latter. In the past two years alone when the DPRK took preemptive and crucial measures of halting its nuclear test and ICBM test-fire and shutting down the nuclear-test ground for building confidence between the DPRK and the U.S., the U.S., far from responding to the former with appropriate measures, conducted tens of big and small joint military drills which its president personally promised to stop and threatened the former militarily through the shipment of ultra-modern warfare equipment into south Korea, he said. The U.S. also took more than ten independent sanctions measures only to show before the world once again that it remained unchanged in its ambition to stifle the former, he said. He stressed that under such condition, there is no ground for us to get unilaterally bound to the commitment any longer, the commitment to which there is no opposite party, and this is chilling our efforts for worldwide nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Saying that the prevailing situation goes to prove that the road of defending ourselves by bolstering up our power sufficiently enough to keep the hostile forces at bay so that they would not dare provoke our sovereignty and security as already clarified by us is the one to be covered by us without any halt and hesitation, he clarified the policy of the WPK towards the U.S. Noting that it is the WPK’s firm goal of building national defense to possess the matchless military muscle and steadily bolster it, he stressed that it is the core design in building defense power and firm will of the WPK to make any force dare not to use its armed force against us. Saying that we should more actively push forward the project for developing strategic weapons, he confirmed that the world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK in the near future, declaring that we cannot give up the security of our future just for the visible economic results and happiness and comfort in reality now that hostile acts and nuclear threat against us are increasing and nothing has changed between the days when we maintained the line of simultaneously pushing forward the economic construction and the building of nuclear force and now when we struggle to direct our efforts to the economic construction owing to the U.S. gangster-like acts. He solemnly declared that there is no need to hesitate with any expectation of the U.S. lift of sanctions even now that we had close look into the real intention of the U.S., adding if the U.S. persists in its hostile policy towards the DPRK, there will never be the denuclearization on the Korean peninsula and the DPRK will steadily develop necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons for the security of the state until the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy towards the DPRK and lasting and durable peace-keeping mechanism is built. He said that we will reliably put on constant alert the powerful nuclear deterrent capable of containing the nuclear threats from the U.S. and guaranteeing our long-term security, noting that the scope and depth of bolstering our deterrent will be properly coordinated depending on the U.S. future attitude to the DPRK. He noted that our development of absolute weapons possessed by big powers is the great success but the big contingent of promising talents of science and technology in this course is more valuable result dear to the WPK. He said that the field of scientific researches for national defense and the field of munitions industry should implement the WPK’s line of building national defense with loyalty and perfectly under the uplifted slogan of Higher and Faster in order to attain the already-set stage goals while maintaining the principle of self-reliance and Juche from A to Z. He called on the officials and scientists in the field of munitions industry to strive hard for the sacred activities for bolstering up national defense capabilities in every way with invariable loyalty to the Party and revolution in the spirit and mettle with which they developed the nuclear war deterrent through three-year arduous struggle. He tabled the issues of conducting an intensive party-wide, nationwide and society-wide struggle against anti-socialist and non-socialist deeds and strengthening the work of the working people’s organizations and tightening the moral discipline throughout society. He mentioned about the need to strengthen the Party, the General Staff of the revolution, and markedly raise its leadership role. He proposed principled matters and practical measures for further strengthening the Party organizationally and ideologically and heightening the role of cadres as required by the era and the developing revolution. Saying that our revolution is dynamically advancing but the hostile forces’ challenge to it gets more persistent, and current difficulties are never easy to deal with, he stressed that the WPK decided to wage another arduous and prolonged struggle in order to win the final victory of the revolution and make our great people lead a good life. Saying that whether we will emerge victorious or not at the crossroads of the destiny of socialism only depends on the united might of the Party and its guiding role, he stressed that the WPK will firmly keep standing to steadily deal serious strikes at the U.S. and its followers and always share joy and sorrow with our people. Saying that our people learned a way of self-sustenance, way of defeating enemy and overcoming difficulties and way of defending their dignity and right in the prolonged and harsh environment unknown by history, he clarified that it is our firm revolutionary faith to defend the country’s dignity and defeat imperialism through self-prosperity even though we tighten our belts. Confirming that if we continue to make a dynamic struggle with the indomitable revolutionary faith, ardent patriotism and indefatigable struggle spirit, we will overcome every difficulty and greet the day of fresh victory when the song “We Are the Happiest in the World” becomes the real life of the whole people, he ardently appealed to all to break through head-on the grave difficulty faced in the revolution, and dynamically open a road of advance of victory to become a pioneer and standard-bearer in the current glorious struggle for realizing the aspiration and ideal of building a powerful socialist country. Then, written speeches on the first agenda were presented at the plenary meeting. The speakers fully supported and approved of the WPK Chairman’s outstanding idea and strategy of making frontal breakthrough and the program for their materialization that call for accomplishing earlier the great cause of self-prosperity despite all challenges and difficulties in the way of advance in the socialist construction. They made solemn pledges before the plenary meeting to uphold with proud practices the idea and intention of frontal breakthrough set forth by the Party Central Committee. The plenary meeting had an in-depth and positive study and discussion of a draft resolution on the first agenda and adopted it with unanimous approval. The resolution carries the following decisions: First, we will rearrange the economic foundation of the country and enlist all possible production potentiality to fully meet the demand for economic development and people’s living. Second, we will attach importance to science and technology and improve the education and healthcare representing the image of the socialist system. Third, we will protect the ecological environment and set up the national crisis control system against natural disasters. Fourth, we will guarantee the victory in the offensive for frontal breakthrough through powerful political, diplomatic and military offensive. Fifth, we will intensify the struggle against anti-socialist and non-socialist deeds and tighten moral discipline, and the working people’s organizations will scrupulously carry out the ideological education. Sixth, we will strengthen the Party, the General Staff of the revolution, and radically enhance its leadership role. Seventh, officials, leading members of the revolution, will make strenuous efforts to fulfill their responsibility and duty before the Party, the revolution and the people in the offensive for frontal breakthrough to overcome difficulties in the advance of the socialist construction. Eighth, Party organizations and political organs at all levels will meticulously conduct the organizational and political work to implement the resolution, and relevant organs like the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and the Cabinet take practical measures for thoroughly carrying out the tasks set forth in the resolution. The plenary meeting discussed the organizational matter, the second agenda. Members and alternate members of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee were recalled or by-elected. Ri Il Hwan, Ri Pyong Chol and Kim Tok Hun were by-elected as members of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee. Kim Jong Gwan, Pak Jong Chon, Kim Hyong Jun, Ho Chol Man, Ri Ho Rim and Kim Il Chol were by-elected as alternate members of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee. Vice-chairmen of the Party Central Committee were dismissed or elected. Ri Il Hwan, Kim Hyong Jun, Ri Pyong Chol and Kim Tok Hun were elected as vice-chairmen of the Party Central Committee. Members and alternate members of the Party Central Committee were recalled or by-elected. Alternate members of the Party Central Committee Kim Hyong Jun, Han Kwang Sang, Kang Jong Gwan, Kim Kwang Chol, Kim Kyong Jun, Yang Sung Ho, Kwak Chang Sik, Pak Kwang Ju, Pak Myong Su, Ri Pong Chun and Song Sok Won were by-elected as members of the Party Central Committee and Ho Chol Man, Ri Ho Rim, O Il Jong, Kim Yong Hwan, Kim Il Chol, Kim Jong Ho, Son Yong Hun, Rim Kwang Il and Choe Sang Gon directly as members of the Party Central Committee. Jang Kwang Myong, Jon Hyon Chol, Sim Hong Bin, Ri Thae Il, Choe Kwang Il, Ri Wan Sik, Ri Yong Chol, Choe Chun Gil, Kim Hak Chol, Kim Chol, Pak Jong Gun, Jon Hak Chol, Jo Yong Dok, Sin Yong Chol, Kim Sung Jin, Mun Jong Ung, Ri Jong Gil, Choe Song Nam, Jon Hyong Gil, Kang Son, Kim Yong Bae, Kim Ki Ryong, Sin Hong Chol and Kim Yong Nam were by-elected as alternate members of the Party Central Committee. The chairman of the Inspection Commission of the Party Central Committee was elected and its members were recalled or by-elected. Ri Sang Won was elected as chairman of the Inspection Commission of the Party Central Committee. Directors of some departments of the Party Central Committee were dismissed or appointed. Ri Il Hwan, Kim Hyong Jun, Choe Hwi, Ri Pyong Chol, Kim Tok Hun, Choe Pu Il, Ho Chol Man, Ri Ho Rim, Han Kwang Sang and O Il Jong were appointed as department directors of the Party Central Committee. First vice-department directors of the Party Central Committee were appointed. Kim Tong Il, Ri Yong Gil, Kim Yo Jong and Ri Yong Sik were appointed as first vice-department directors of the Party Central Committee. Chairmen of the provincial Party committees were dismissed or appointed. Kim Yong Hwan was appointed as the chairman of the Ryanggang Provincial Party Committee. Cadres of state organs were dismissed or appointed. Kim Il Chol was appointed as vice premier of the Cabinet and concurrently chairman of the State Planning Commission, Jon Hak Chol as minister of Coal Industry, Jon Myong Sik as minister of Culture and Kim Sung Jin as president of the State Academy of Sciences. The plenary meeting discussed and decided the third agenda on the issue of modifying and supplementing the collection of slogans set forth by the Party Central Committee. The plenary meeting discussed the issue of splendidly celebrating the 75th founding anniversary of the WPK as the fourth agenda, and adopted a relevant decision. Concluding the plenary meeting, Kim Jong Un mentioned the significance and importance of the plenary meeting in making frontal breakthrough under the prevailing situation and bringing about a new surge in our revolution. He clarified that the basic idea, the basic spirit of the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the WPK is to conduct the offensive for frontal breakthrough, not to wait for the situation to turn better. In other words, we should never dream that the U.S. and the hostile forces would leave us alone to live in peace, but we should make frontal breakthrough with the might of self-reliance to tide over the difficulties lying in the way of advancing the socialist construction, he said. He said that we should not look for the way of getting ourselves adapted to the objective elements to be controlled by them in the current struggle, but should make a frontal breakthrough to put the objective elements under our control. He noted that it is necessary to hold effective party-wide discussion for the implementation of the tasks set forth in the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the WPK. He underlined the need to set up a concrete plan and adopt proper methodology for carrying out the Party policies and take substantial measures. He stressed that in order to carry on the revolution, revolutionaries must regard the worthy trust from our people as the whole of their lives, and earnestly called on them to become diligent and devoted servants working heart and soul for our excellent people. Kim Jong Un had a photo session with members of the Party central leadership organ at the significant place where the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the WPK was held.” (KCNA, “Report on 5th Plenary Meeting of 7th C.C., WPK,” January 1, 2020)

Kim conducted a major personnel change that replaced nearly all of his economic and foreign policy leadership. According to the Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS), one of South Korea’s leading government think tanks under the National Intelligence Service, Ri Su-yong, a former foreign minister and head of the Workers’ Party’s international division, appears to have been replaced by Kim Hyong-jun, who was the North’s ambassador to Russia until last year, since Ri did not appear in any of the group photographs of the plenary meeting. Also missing from the photographs was the North’s current Foreign Minister, Ri Yong-ho, one of the regime’s leading diplomats responsible for much of last year’s negotiations with Washington. With the ouster of the two Ris, whose foreign policy experience spanned several decades — which the INSS cautioned was far from certain — Kim may be signaling a major shift in his foreign policy. Kim Hyong-jun’s ties to Russia suggest the regime may be trying to shore up its support from traditional allies in Moscow and Beijing rather then resume talks with the United States for the time being. The plenary session also allegedly saw the removal of Jang Kum Chol, who heads the powerful United Front Department, a party organ responsible for diplomacy and spying on South Korea. While Kim Jong-un made no mention of Seoul in his lengthy address on Tuesday, Jang’s dismissal could herald a big change in Pyongyang’s inter-Korean policy. By contrast, prominent at the meeting was Ri Son Gwon, head of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, who was seldom seen at official events since April. Ri Son Gwon is regarded as a major player in the regime’s inter-Korean policy, having represented the North at high-level meetings. Top economic officials like O Su Yong and No Du Chol were apparently also given the boot. Pak Pong Ju, a leading economic reformist and former premier, was also speculated to have been fired, but he showed up at a later session of the plenary meeting in a wheelchair, indicating he was in an accident of some sorts. One of the few high-profile officials to survive the personnel change — the South’s Unification Ministry believes almost two-thirds of the party’s 16 so-called “professional departments” were cut — was First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, the charismatic female diplomat responsible for many of the regime’s foreign statements. It is believed that Choe will continue to lead negotiations with Washington going forward in coordination with Kim Hyong-jun. (Shim Kyu-seok,”New Year Ushers in a Number of Changes in Pyongyang,” JoongAng Ilbo, January 2, 2020)

President Donald Trump said today he believes Kim Jong-un will uphold his commitment to denuclearize after the North Korean leader threatened to show off a “new strategic weapon.” “We’ll see. I have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida as he arrived for a New Year’s Eve party. “I know he’s sending out certain messages about Christmas presents, and I hope his Christmas present is a beautiful vase,” the president continued, reprising his earlier joke in response to North Korea’s threat to send an unwanted Christmas gift. “That’s what I’d like, a vase, as opposed to something else.” “We have to do what we have to do,” he said. “But he did sign a contract. He did sign an agreement talking about denuclearization, and that was signed — number one sentence: denuclearization. That was done in Singapore. I think he’s a man of his word. So, we’re going to find out. But I think he’s a man of his word.” Trump was referring to an agreement he signed with Kim at their first summit in Singapore in June 2018. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added to the hopes. “It remains the case that we hope that Chairman Kim will take a different course,” he told Fox News. “We’re hopeful that Chairman Kim will make the right decision, (that) he’ll choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war.” (Lee Haye-ah, “Trump Voices Confidence in N.K. Leader Despite New Threat,” Yonhap, January 1, 2020)

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said his country no longer felt bound by its self-imposed moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles, its official media reported today, the strongest indication yet that the country could soon resume such tests. Kim also said the world would witness a new strategic weapon “in the near future,” according to KCNA, though no details were provided. North Korea has not conducted a long-range missile test or a nuclear test in more than two years. Kim had announced his moratorium at a time when he hoped negotiations with the United States — and his budding personal relationship with President Trump — would prompt the United States to begin lifting crippling sanctions. Trump has often cited the North’s restraint as a major diplomatic achievement. Speaking with reporters last night at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Trump said he still had a “very good relationship” with Kim. During the party meeting yesterday, Kim said his country “will shift to a shocking actual action” that will make the United States “pay for the pains sustained by our people.” It remained unclear if a test was imminent. It is possible that Kim’s announcement today is, by itself, the warning shot he wants to send to prod Trump, on the eve of a presidential election year, to begin lifting sanctions. All of the North’s state media gave prominent coverage to Kim’s remarks, indicating that they may have replaced an annual New Year’s Day speech that he had been expected to deliver. In its New Year’s Day edition, Rodong Sinmun filled its front page with Kim’s remarks, including an exhortation to his people to “foil the enemies’ sanctions.” Kim, who had hoped to shift his focus to finally reviving his country’s economy, has been growing frustrated in recent months as his negotiations on denuclearization with the Trump administration have stalled. He made the latest remarks about the moratorium yesterday, the last day of a four-day meeting of the Workers’ Party Central Committee, the North’s highest decision-making body. The remarks threatened a major shift in North Korean policy. He stressed that North Korea “should more actively push forward the project for developing strategic weapons” now that Washington’s “gangster-like acts” have stymied economic growth. Two months after Kim announced his moratorium — saying he had now completed his nuclear force — the two leaders met in Singapore in June 2018 in the first summit meeting between the two countries. The summit ended with a commitment to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but the pledge was never understood the same way by the two sides. Subsequent negotiations have failed to close the gap. Trump, speaking in Florida last night, cited the Singapore pledge and said he considered Kim to be a “man of his word.” Kim’s words yesterday were much harsher. “If the U.S. persists in its hostile policy toward the D.P.R.K., there will never be denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula,” he said, using the initials for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “The scope and depth of bolstering our deterrent will be properly coordinated depending on the U.S. future attitude to the D.P.R.K.” That remark, and Mr. Kim’s reluctance to clarify when North Korea would officially resume testing, indicated that he might still be open to further negotiations with Washington. While the North has demonstrated that its fleet of missiles could likely reach parts of the United States, the country still has not shown it could design a nuclear warhead that would survive the heat and huge forces that come with re-entry of a warhead into the atmosphere. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last night that the Trump administration continued to hope that Mr. Kim would “take a different course.” “President Trump came into office with the threat of war from North Korea real, and a true concern for the American people. He took a tack — we said we can deliver a better outcome for the people of North Korea,” Mr. Pompeo said in an interview with Fox News. “We’re hopeful that Chairman Kim will make the right decision, and he’ll choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war,” he added. Washington had dismissed the December 31 deadline imposed by the North as “artificial,” urging Pyongyang to maintain a dialogue and not revert to the provocations that had raised fears of war on the Korean Peninsula two years ago. As his diplomacy with Trump has failed to bring about the benefits he had sought, especially the lifting or easing of sanctions, Kim has sounded increasingly impatient. North Korea broke an 18-month hiatus in weapons tests in May, launching 27 mostly short-range ballistic missiles and rocket since then and warning of more provocative tests to come. In December, it conducted two ground tests at its missile-engine test site to bolster what it called its “nuclear deterrent.” At the same time, Kim has exhorted his people not to expect any immediate easing of sanctions and to brace for a prolonged struggle against the Americans by building a “self-reliant” economy. (Choe Sang-hun, “Leader of North Korea Hints at Resuming Tests,” New York Times, January 1, 2020, p. A-5)

While allies paid keen attention to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s warning about a “new strategic weapon,” officials in Seoul had one more concern — the absence of South Korea from Kim’s lengthy remarks on the communist state’s policy direction. In his 18,000-word address, reported by the North’s state-run Korea Central News Agency, he made no mention whatsoever of inter-Korean relations. The only time the words “South Korea” came up was when Kim condemned the U.S. for bringing “cutting-edge weapons into South Korea.” This was in contrast to last year, when Kim mentioned inter-Korean relations at least 10 times during his televised New Year’s address. “We need to see whether the North will additionally mention inter-Korean relations,” a Unification Ministry official told reporters on condition of anonymity. “There was no mention of South Korea during the meeting. We need to keep a close eye on the North’s actions against the South.” The situation adds to Seoul’s growing conundrum — finding a role in the stalled process toward peace on the Korean Peninsula, while the United States and the North are deadlocked in nuclear talks. Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, in his New Year’s address on January 2, stressed that the two Koreas need to recover trust and secure space first, in order to prepare for co-prosperity, with denuclearization negotiations and a lasting peace. Amid heightened fears of a potential North Korean military provocation, U.S. spy planes again flew around the peninsula Wednesday, according to aviation tracker Aircraft Spots. Seoul said it will continue to carry out military drills in an adjusted manner to support denuclearization efforts on the peninsula. “We’ve maintained our position that U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises shall be adjusted in close coordination between the two sides in order to support diplomatic efforts for denuclearization,” Defense Ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo told a regular briefing January 2. The comment came after former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, historically hawkish on North Korea, urged the US to resume full-scale military exercises with South Korea and hold hearings to determine US troops’ readiness — that is, the ability of the troops to fight a war in the region. “How to respond to Kim Jong Un’s threatening New Year’s remarks? The U.S. should fully resume all canceled or down-sized military exercises in South Korea,” Bolton wrote on Twitter. “Hold Congressional hearings on whether US troops are truly ready to ‘fight tonight,’” he added, referring to the motto of U.S. Forces Korea. (Ahn Sung-nu, “North’s Silence on North Korea Matters Puts Seoul on Edge,” Korea Herald, January 2, 2020)

President Trump entered the new year facing flare-ups of long-burning crises with two old adversaries — Iran and North Korea — that are directly challenging his claim to have reasserted American power around the world. The timing of these new challenges is critical: Both the Iranians and the North Koreans seem to sense the vulnerability of a president under impeachment and facing re-election, even if they are often clumsy as they try to play those events to their advantage. The protests in Iraq calmed today, and Kim has not yet unveiled his latest “strategic weapon.” But the events of recent days have underscored how much bluster was behind Trump’s boast a year ago that Iran was “a very different nation” since he had broken its economy by choking off its oil revenues. They also belied his famous tweet: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” Today the most generous thing one could say about those statements is that they were wildly premature. Many foreign policy experts say he fundamentally misjudged the reactions of two major American adversaries. Neither seems to fear him, precisely the critique he leveled at Barack Obama back in the days when Trump declared America’s toughest national security challenges would be solved as soon as a president the world respected was in office. The core problem may have been Mr. Trump’s conviction that economic incentives alone — oil profits in Tehran and the prospect of investment and glorious beach-front hotels in North Korea — would overcome all other national interests. “After three years of no international crises,” Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said yesterday, Trump is “facing one with Iran because he has rejected diplomacy and another with North Korea because he has asked too much of diplomacy.” “In neither case has Trump embraced traditional diplomacy, putting forward a partial or interim pact in which a degree of restraint would be met with a degree of sanctions relief.” Trump does not engage such arguments. He simply repeats his mantra that Iran will never be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons and that North Korea — which already has fuel for upward of 40 of them, much of it produced on Trump’s watch — has committed to full denuclearization, even though that overstates Kim’s position. His top national security officials, starting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, offer a somewhat more nuanced view, saying that over time Iran will realize it has no choice but to change its ways and expressing optimism that “Chairman Kim will make the right decision and he’ll choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war.” Increasingly, though, such lines sound like a hope, not a strategy. That is Trump’s fundamental problem as he enters 2020. He does not have a comprehensive plan to unite the nation’s estranged allies into a concerted course of action. It is possible that the Trump administration’s strategy will still bear fruit: Pompeo was doing everything he could in recent weeks to express support for Iranians who were mounting protests inside their own country. But the history of past protests — most notably in 2009 — offers little hope that they can threaten the government. Hundreds of protesters appear to have been killed by internal security forces this time. The Iranians have a fine sense that “maximum pressure” campaigns work in both directions. They are vulnerable to cutoffs in oil flows. But the United States is vulnerable to highly public attacks on troops and tankers. The Iranians have made clear what Trump needs to do to reopen negotiations: Essentially return to the deal struck with Obama, largely by lifting sanctions Trump imposed starting in May 2018. There are signs Trump is eager to resume talks, including his effort to lure President Hassan Rouhani to the phone when the Iranian leader was in New York in September for United Nations meetings. That diplomatic initiative will doubtless continue in secret. But the Iranians have found new leverage in the ability to turn anti-Iran protests in Iraq into protests against American troops, complete with Iran’s signature “death to America” street chants. Yesterday, Trump revived an old talking point, emphasizing that he did not want a war but warning Iran that any conflict “wouldn’t last very long.” North Korea is a harder problem because Trump had initiated a bold and imaginative diplomatic process with Kim. By breaking the mold and agreeing to meet the North Korean leader face to face, he would be the first American president to do so since the end of the Korean War. But he made key mistakes. He failed to get a nuclear freeze agreement from the North in return for the meeting, meaning that the country’s nuclear and missile production continued to churn along. Trump’s team, internally divided, could not back itself out of the corner the president created with his vow of no serious sanctions relief until the arsenal was disbanded. Trump did cancel joint military exercises with South Korea — over Pentagon objections — but that was not enough for Kim. Perhaps Trump’s biggest miscalculation was over-relying on the personal rapport he built with Kim, and overinterpreting the commitments he received from the young, wily North Korean leader. That continues. At a news conference on his way to a New Year’s Eve party at his Mar-a-Lago club, the president focused on their relationship, as if Kim’s declaration that he was no longer bound by any commitment to cease missile and nuclear testing did not exist. “He likes me, I like him, we get along,” Trump said. “He’s representing his country, I’m representing my country. We have to do what we have to do.” Then he misrepresented the agreement he reached with Kim during their meeting in Singapore in June 2018, describing it as if it were a real estate deal. “But he did sign a contract,” Trump said of the vague declaration of principles they agreed on. In fact, it was not a contract, it had no binding force and it referred to the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” That phrase means something very different in Pyongyang than it does in Washington: It means the North expects the United States to pull back its own nuclear-backed forces, including submarines and ships that can deliver such weapons to the peninsula. So now Trump finds himself awaiting a new missile test. It may be a solid-fuel, intercontinental missile, according to some experts, to show that the North has finally mastered a weapon that can be rolled out and launched with little warning. And it may carry some kind of payload to demonstrate that the country now knows how to make a warhead that can withstand re-entry into the atmosphere, a difficult technology. But buried in Kim’s New Year’s statement was a suggestion of what he really had in mind: talks with the United States about the “scope and depth” of the North’s nuclear force. That means he really is not interested in denuclearization at all. He is interested in arms-control talks, like the United States conducted for decades with the Kremlin. And arms control, of course, would achieve what Kim, his father and his grandfather all sought: that insurance policy for the family. (David E. Sanger, “Trump’s Talk Fails to Quell Twin Threats, New York Times, January 2, 2020, p. A-1) |

The United States will consider resuming military exercises with South Korea that have been suspended depending on North Korea’s next move, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in an interview with MSNBC. “Well, that’s something we will take a look at, certainly, depending on Kim Jong-un’s next move,” Esper said when asked if it is time to resume the suspended exercises with South Korea. “It is true that we did scale back exercises because we wanted to keep the door open, or open the door for diplomacy. And I think that’s the right way to proceed. In no way, shape, or form did it affect our fundamental ability to fight and win against North Korea. But those are things we would look at over the coming months as events unfold on the ground.” The suspension or scaling back of certain exercises was meant to support the denuclearization negotiations because North Korea has denounced the drills as rehearsals for an invasion of the regime. “We continue to urge the North Koreans to get back to the diplomatic table,” Esper said. “We believe that a solution can be found. The best path forward with regard to making sure that North Korea, or the Korean Peninsula, is denuclearized is through a political agreement.” (Lee Haye-ah, “Pentagon Chief: U.S. Will Look at Resuming Military Drills with S. Korea Depending on N.K. Moves,” Yonhap, January 4, 2020)

North Korea’s official newspaper said that any attempt to infringe upon the communist state’s dignity and survival should be met by an “immediate and powerful” strike, calling for all-out efforts to build up its national defense capability. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un threatened at a key party meeting in late December that the world will soon witness a “new strategic weapon,” and warned of a “shocking actual action,” accusing the United States of stalling for time for its own political interests. “An action that would violate our republic’s dignity and survival should be met by an immediate and powerful strike,” Rodong Sinmun said in an editorial. “(We) should maintain invincible military power and beef it up,” the paper said. “It is the core initiative of our party’s national defense building to make no one dare to think about using military power against us. We should marshal all resources of our country for defense-building efforts.” The paper said that it is stupid to try to barter away national dignity, security and the bright future of the country for food and money, reiterating Kim’s party meeting remarks. “Current situations are making it a fait accompli to continue to live under sanctions imposed by hostile powers,” the paper said. “It is an act of stupidity to barter away our national dignity, security and vibrant progress and development and glorious future for rice and money.” “History has proved that normal economic development is impossible without rendering sanctions useless … We have found our own way to solve the problems of eating and wearing though we might not be able to turn things splendidly from an economic point of view.” The paper also urged stepped-up efforts to build a “self-reliant” economy, saying that making a “frontal breakthrough” to counter sanctions is a struggle highly likely to prevail. (Yonhap, “N.K.’s Official Daily Warns of Immediate Powerful Strikes against Threats,” January 3, 2020)

KCNA, “Rodong Sinmun Friday editorially says that the Workers’ Party of Korea is the great guardian of the nation and the most seasoned and experienced guide of the present times as it turned the DPRK, once eclipsed on the global map, into a powerful country recognized by the world and cultivated a strength strong enough to guarantee dignity and prosperity for all generations to come, in a brief span of history. It is the unanimous desire and revolutionary will of all the people to splendidly celebrate the founding anniversary of the ever-victorious WPK with resounding victory to be specially recorded in the history of the country, the editorial says, and goes on: We have our style of powerful fighting strategy to take greater steps in the revolutionary advance in this meaningful year. The line of launching an offensive for making a breakthrough head-on determined by the Party is a revolutionary fighting strategy and way of advance with which to take the initiative and flexibly turn difficulties to good account. The offensive for making a breakthrough head-on is the only way to make the country’s high strategic position and marked trend of growth irreversible and to usher in a period of upsurge in socialist construction. Now the hostile forces are making a last-ditch effort. The more we strengthen in every way our own force, the internal motive force in all the aspects of the offensive for making a breakthrough head-on and create valuable wealth on the strength of self-reliance and self-sufficiency, the greater agony the enemies will suffer and the earlier the day of victory of socialism will come. The editorial calls for overcoming the difficulties with the indomitable revolutionary faith, ardent patriotism and indefatigable fighting spirit under the leadership of the great Party and to win signal victories stunning the world under the banner of achieving prosperity by dint of self-reliance in this meaningful year marking the 75th founding anniversary of the WPK.” (KCNA, “Rodong Sinmun Calls for Making Breakthrough Head-On,” January 3, 2020)

KCNA: “Rodong Sinmun on Saturday says in an article that the basic idea, the basic spirit, of the Fifth Plenary Meeting of the Seventh Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) is to conduct the offensive for a breakthrough head-on, not to wait for the situation to turn better. In other words, we should never dream that the U.S. and other hostile forces would leave us to live in peace, but make a breakthrough head-on on the strength of self-reliance to tide over the difficulties lying in the way of advance of our socialist construction, it stresses. The article says that the basic idea, the basic spirit, of the Fifth Plenary Meeting of the Seventh Central Committee of the WPK reflects the truth and lessons of history that illusions about the enemy and peace and the lingering expectation for the lift of sanctions are a taboo and embodies the iron truth of the revolution that only offensive on one’s own initiative, not the passive defense, can turn adversity into favorable situation. It also reflects the requirement to strengthen our internal strength in all aspects and overcome difficulties with the might of self-reliance, the article says, and goes on: As a leopard cannot change its spots, the aggressive nature of imperialism can never change. So is the U.S. behavior today. The real intention of the U.S. is to seek its own political and diplomatic interests while wasting time away under the signboard of dialogue and negotiations and at the same time keep sanctions so as to gradually reduce our strength. The reality shows that now that the ambition of the enemy to stifle our system remains unchanged, it is foolish to dream of the ease of situation and the lift of sanctions. The plenary meeting took accurate and audacious measures on the basis of a cool-headed judgment of the prevailing external situation. The plenary meeting reflects the firm will of our Party to eliminate all the challenges and barriers to our advance with another dynamic offensive and hasten the victory of a drive for building a powerful socialist country. Every field and unit should break through head-on all the barriers to our advance, holding aloft the slogan of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Herein lies the way to glorify this significant year marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Party as the one noteworthy in the history of building our Party and a powerful state of independence.” (KCNA, “Rodong Sinmun on the Basic Idea, Basic Spirit of the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the WPK,” January 4, 2020)

President Moon Jae-in intends to engage North Korea more aggressively in the coming months, independently from stalled negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington. Expressing frustration at the lack of progress in the North-U.S. talks in his annual New Year’s address, Moon said today he is worried about a regression in inter-Korean relations. “There is a desperate need to find realistic ways to improve inter-Korean cooperation, while working for the success of the North-U.S. dialogue at the same time,” he said in the message, which was delivered before a cabinet meeting at the Blue House. Moon made a series of proposals to North Korea, including a renewed invitation to its leader Kim Jong-un to visit South Korea. The two Koreas must work together to create conditions for Kim’s reciprocal trip to the South as soon as possible, Moon said, noting that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the first inter-Korean summit. During their third summit in Pyongyang in September 2018, Moon and Kim Jong-un agreed that Kim will make a reciprocal visit to Seoul before the end of that year. The promise was never realized.

Stressing that he is willing to repeatedly meet and talk to his North Korean counterpart, Moon said he will put efforts into reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex project and restarting tours to Mount Kumgang, suspended by his conservative predecessors. Resuming those projects is a sensitive issue due to international sanctions imposed on the North for its nuclear and missile developments. He also proposed a series of sports exchanges. He recollected that Kim had promised him at the Pyongyang summit in 2018 that the two Koreas will make a join bid to host the 2032 Olympic Games. Moon urged the North to follow on that promise by continuing sports exchanges. Moon said North Korea should send athletes to the East Asian Weightlifting Championships and World Team Table Tennis Championships that the South will host this year. He said Seoul and Pyongyang must continue discussions to march together in the Tokyo Olympics’ opening ceremony and create a joint team. Moon also urged the North to start cooperative projects at the inter-Korean border. He reiterated his proposal of last year to develop the demilitarized zone as an international peace zone. Moon also urged the North to respond to the South’s proposal to register the demilitarized zone as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its ecosystem and historical value. Moon reiterated his hope to connect severed railways and roads between the two Koreas. “If the two Koreas find together a reasonable way to link the railway and road projects, it will invite international cooperation,” Moon said. “It will also greatly help resumption of inter-Korean tours and boost the North Korean tourism industry. What we want to eventually accomplish through peace is a peace economy,” Moon said. “It is to open an era where national division is no longer an obstacle to peace and prosperity, so that both Koreas will prosper with their neighbors.” While engaging the North independently, the South will also continue efforts to create momentum for the North-U.S. talks, Moon said. “Shows of force and threats help no one,” Moon said. “The government will put all possible efforts into stimulating the North-U.S. talks,” he said. The proposals to North Korea in the New Year’s message were a development of Moon’s brief remarks last week that “peace will not come without actions.” In today’s speech, Moon barely touched on South-U.S. relations, devoting just a brief, lackluster sentence to the topic. “I will elevate the traditional alliance with the United States to a higher level,” Moon said, “and work together to complete the Korean Peninsula process.” In contrast, Moon said exchanges and cooperation with China will be strengthened in various areas. Since Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang are scheduled to visit the country this year, Moon promised to elevate South Korea-China relations to the next level. He also vowed to work with Japan and improve bilateral ties. (Ser Myo-ja, “Moon Keeps the Faith in Engagement with Kim,” JoongAng Ilbo, January 7, 2020)

Moon Jae-in: “Fellow Koreans, We are now at a time when we must show endurance for the sake of peace on the Korean Peninsula. This is the time when — more than ever before — we desperately need faith in peace and national unity. For us, peace on the Korean Peninsula is not a matter of choice but the path we must take while overcoming all difficulties. Following the inauguration of my Administration, expectations and hope for peace have risen as never before. The dark clouds of war that hovered over the Korean Peninsula until 2017 have cleared, and peace has now become a more attainable goal. However, it is regrettable that we’ve not been able to make further progress in inter-Korean cooperation over the past year. It is true that as dialogue between North Korea and the United States began in earnest, both the South and North put those talks ahead of everything else. The expectations were that if the talks were successful, the door for inter-Korean cooperation would open up more quickly and broadly. The momentum for North Korea-U.S. dialogue should continue; a show of force and threats are not helpful to anyone. My Administration will also do all it can to promote dialogue between the two sides. However, there are now concerns that inter-Korean relations themselves could suffer a setback amid the stalemate in the talks between North Korea and the United States. In addition to efforts to promote the success of the dialogue, the need to find realistic ways to further advance inter-Korean cooperation has become all the more urgent. Internationally coordinated solutions are required to adhere to the three principles for peace on the Korean Peninsula: zero tolerance for war, mutual security guarantees and common prosperity. Still, there are things that can be accomplished through inter-Korean cooperation. I propose that South and North Korea put their heads together and have earnest discussions. The two Koreas not only share a border but also represent a “community of life” where coexistence is imperative. I also propose that cooperation in the border area be started for the common safety of the 80 million Koreans. I believe that Chairman Kim Jong Un has the same determination. A joint hosting of the 2032 Summer Olympics will serve as a golden opportunity to show to the world that the two Koreas consist of one nation and to make a leap forward together. It is an agreement between the leaders of the two Koreas as well as a promise to the international community as our intention to co-host has already been forwarded to the IOC. I hope that we will be able to come together through continuous sports exchanges so that a joint hosting will be realized without fail. I am looking forward to talented North Korean athletes participating in the 1st East Asian Weightlifting Championships and ITTF 2020 World Team Table Tennis Championships, both of which will be held in South Korea this year. We should also continue consultations over athletes from both Koreas marching in together at the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo and the formation of a single unified team. If South and North Korea identify realistic ways to implement projects to reconnect inter-Korean railroads and roads, it will not only lead to international cooperation but also provide a big boost to the resumption of inter-Korean tourism and the revitalization of North Korea’s tourism. The idea of transforming the Demilitarized Zone into an international peace zone was proposed in a bid to guarantee mutual security for the two Koreas, both institutionally and realistically, and to gain international support. The two Koreas have already jointly registered ssireum on the representative list of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The DMZ’s value is enormous and relates to ecology, history, peace and reconciliation between the South and North. Jointly registering the DMZ on the list of UNESCO World Heritage is something we can start right away. I am looking forward to a positive response from North Korea. The path we intend to follow through peace is ultimately a peace-driven economy. The peace economy will usher in an era where division no longer acts as an obstacle to peace and prosperity so that both Koreas as well as neighboring countries can thrive together. I am willing to meet time and again and constantly engage in dialogue. Efforts to resume operation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Kumgang tourism will also continue. Looking back upon the agreements that were not kept last year and reflecting on the reasons for the people’s expectations not being met, we will continue to move forward by taking one step or even a half of one step. This meaningful year marks the 20th anniversary of the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration. I hope that the two Koreas will work together so that conditions for Chairman Kim Jong Un’s reciprocal visit to the South can be put in place as soon as possible in addition to the hosting of joint events to solidify our commitment to peaceful reunification. Fellow Koreans, Last year, the Government strengthened cooperation with ASEAN to build a community of mutual prosperity through the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit and the Mekong-Republic of Korea Summit. The Government will also further solidify the ROK-U.S. alliance this year while accelerating the New Southern and New Northern policies to diversify foreign affairs. We will work to take the traditional alliance with the United States to a new height and make concerted efforts to complete the Korean Peninsula peace process. We will strengthen exchanges and cooperation with China in various areas. Since visits to Korea by President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang are scheduled this year, we will endeavor to ensure that Korea-China relations will be upgraded to a higher level. Japan is one of our closest neighbors. We will develop bilateral cooperative relations in a more forward-looking manner. If Japan removes its export restrictions, our two countries’ relations will be able to advance more rapidly. Russia is a key partner in the New Northern Policy. As this year marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic ties, I am looking forward to setting a new milestone in New Northern diplomacy. Korea will host the P4G Summit and the Korea-China-Japan Summit this year and serve as the chair country for MIKTA. We will fulfill our responsibilities as a proud middle-power nation that cooperates internationally for the sake of responding to climate change and sustainable development. … “ (ROK, Moon Jae-in’s New Year’s Day Address, Official Text, January 7, 2020)

Chung Eui-yong, chief of the Cheong Wa Dae National Security Office, met briefly with President Donald Trump in Washington along with his Japanese counterpart, Kitamura Shigeru. Upon his return to Seoul the next day, Chung revealed that Trump conveyed birthday wishes to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which was relayed to Pyongyang through Seoul. “President Trump remembered that it was Chairman Kim’s birthday, and (asked me) to relay it to Kim through President Moon Jae-in. As far as I am aware, the message was conveyed to the North through appropriate channels,” Chung said, saying that he met with Trump on Kim’s birthday — January 8.

Chung also said that there was no specific mention of South Korea sending troops to the Middle East, but said that the US gave a detailed briefing on the situation in the region. The White House National Security Council tweeted that its chief Robert O’Brien had “great bilateral and trilateral meetings” with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, and disclosed a photo of the three together. “Discussions covered Iran, DPRK-related developments and the importance of trilateral security cooperation,” it said. (Kim So-hyun, “Moon’s Security Adviser Meets Trump, U.S. and Japanese Counterparts,” Korea Herald, January 10, 2020)

DPRK FoMin advisor Kim Kye Gwan’s statement: “From the outset of this year, the south Korean authorities have become too busy, talking about urgent conveying of the U.S. president’s birthday greetings to the Chairman of our State Affairs Commission. This is what the U.S. president asked for to be surely conveyed to the Chairman when he met the person concerned of Chongwadae in Washington, the south Korean authorities said in an extremely urgent notice they sent. But they seem not to know that there is a special liaison channel between the top leaders of the DPRK and the U.S. The birthday greetings from the U.S. president that reached us by care of the excited south Korean authorities through the notice is what we already got through the personal letter of the U.S. president. South Korea, not a member of the U.S. clan, went so frivolous as to convey the greetings from the U.S. president. It seems it still has lingering hope for playing the role of “mediator” in the DPRK-U.S. relations. To forge personal relations between heads of state is a diplomatically natural thing between states. However, it is somehow presumptuous for south Korea to meddle in the personal relations between Chairman of the State Affairs Commission Kim Jong Un and President Trump. As acknowledged by the world, it is true that the personal relations between the Chairman of our State Affairs Commission and President Trump are not bad. But, it is absentminded to think of either making us return to the dialogue with the U.S. by taking the advantage of such relations or creating an atmosphere for it. We have been deceived by the U.S., being caught in the dialogue with it for over one year and a half, and that was the lost time for us. Although Chairman Kim Jong Un has a good personal feelings about President Trump, they are, in the true sense of the word, “personal”. The Chairman of the State Affairs Commission would not discuss the state affairs on the basis of such personal feelings, as he represents our state and its interests. What is clear is that we will never lose our time again, being taken in by the U.S. trick as in the past. There will never be such negotiations as that in Vietnam, in which we proposed exchanging a core nuclear facility of the country for the lift of some UN sanctions in a bid to lessen the sufferings of the peaceable people even a bit. There is no need for us to be present in such talks, in which there is only unilateral pressure, and we have no desire to barter something for other thing at the talks like traders. It can be said that the reopening of dialogue between the DPRK and the U.S. may be possible only under the condition of the latter’s absolute agreement on the issues raised by the former, but we know well that the U.S. is neither ready nor able to do so. We know well about the way we should go and will go on our way. Under these circumstances, the south Korean authorities had better not dream a fabulous dream that we would return to the dialogue with thankful feelings for the birthday greetings like someone. They are well advised to behave prudently not to be reduced to a fool heading nowhere.” (KCNA, “Statement Issued by Advisor to DPRK Foreign Ministry,” January 11, 2020)

President Moon Jae-in of South Korea called for economic exchanges with North Korea, including allowing visits there by South Korean tourists, to help ease tensions and encourage the North to resume talks with the United States. North Korea has already said that it would welcome tourists from the South as the heavily sanctioned country seeks new ways to earn hard currency. Tourism is one of the few North Korean industries not covered by sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council and Washington to squeeze the North’s ability to earn foreign currency. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, recently declared that his country no longer expected a breakthrough in deadlocked negotiations with Washington over how to denuclearize the North nor the lifting of American-led United Nations sanctions. He said his country would instead rebuild its economy without the help of relief from the sanctions that were imposed over the North’s weapons programs. To increase tourism, North Korea has recently opened seafront resorts or ski and spa complexes, all built in part to attract tourist cash from abroad, mainly China. Speaking during a nationally televised news conference, Moon, a tireless advocate for dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington, said it was too early to give up hopes on North Korean-U.S. negotiations. One way to help revive diplomacy is to increase South-North Korean economic cooperation and exchanges as an incentive for the North to return to the negotiating table, Moon said. “The South and the North should not just look to North Korean-United States dialogue and should instead increase South-North Korean cooperation a bit as a way to expedite North Korea-United States dialogue,” Moon said. “There are things the South and the North can easily do. For instance, tour programs, especially individual tourists, are something we can probe because they are not banned under international sanctions.” The last South Korean tourists visited the North in 2008, when Seoul withdrew from a jointly run inter-Korean resort town at Diamond Mountain, or Kumgang, just north of the inter-Korean border. The resort was opened in 1998 and, until it was closed in a dispute over the shooting death of a South Korean tourist, served as a major source of foreign currency for the cash-starved North, frequently hosting South Korean tour groups. Kim and President Trump met in Vietnam in February 2019 for a second summit meeting, but they parted ways without an agreement on how fast North Korea should dismantle its nuclear programs and how soon Washington should lift sanctions. North Korea’s attitude has since turned cold toward Washington. It has also begun heaping scorn on Seoul’s efforts to facilitate dialogue between the North and the United States, calling them “presumptuous.” Despite such ridicule, Moon said that his government would not abandon its efforts. He said South Korea would seek cooperation from the United States to get inter-Korean exchanges exempted from sanctions.Washington remains wary of giving such exemptions, fearing that they could weaken an international resolve to enforce sanctions on the North. In their latest messages, North Korea and Kim did not completely abandon dialogue with Washington, although they made vague threats about showing off “new strategic weapons” and to abandon a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests, Moon said. But Moon warned that the time for diplomacy was running out fast as Trump was expected to focus more on his re-election campaign in the coming months. “I think neither North Korea nor the United States has a lot of time on its hands,” he said. (Choe Sang-hun, “South Korean Leader Mulls Tourist Visits to the North,” New York Times, January 15, 2020, p.A-7)

Defense Secretary Mark Esper affirmed the United States remained committed to diplomacy with North Korea, while the U.S. Treasury Department imposed new sanctions related to North Koreans working abroad. The sanctions, announced by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), coincided with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, in which the two discussed possible exemptions to sanctions on Pyongyang in order to keep dialogue alive. The same day, at a meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Kono Taro, Esper reaffirmed the “U.S. commitment to the full implementation of [U.S.] President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim’s joint statement at the Singapore summit,” which includes North Korea’s denuclearization, but later added Washington continues to believe the best path toward that goal lies in diplomacy. The Treasury sanctions appeared to be an attempt at applying further pressure on Pyongyang to force it to return to negotiations, which are deadlocked over sanctions relief demanded by North Korea. According to a press release by OFAC, the new sanctions apply to a North Korean trading corporation and a China-based North Korean lodging facility used to export labor and generate income overseas, which violate sanctions outlined by United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2375 and 2397. The latter resolution obligated UN member states to expel all North Korean laborers by December 22, 2019, and the new Treasury sanctions were meant to enforce such commitments, the OFAC press release read. The North’s Namgang Trading Corporation, OFAC said, was responsible for coordinating logistics to send North Korean laborers to places like Russia, Nigeria and various countries in the Middle East, handling their visas, passports, departures and overseas employment. The company was also in charge of repatriating workers’ earnings to North Korea, “some of which are routed directly back to the Government.” OFAC identified a North Korea-linked lodging company based in China called Beijing Sukbakso as “having materially assisted” the Namgang Trading Corporation with exporting workers, sometimes handling logistics operations itself.

Both entities’ assets in the United States are to be frozen, while U.S. citizens or persons within the United States have been prohibited from dealing with the two designations, OFAC said. While these measures are the first sanctions to be imposed by the United States on North Korea-related entities since September, when OFAC sanctioned several North Korean hacking groups responsible for cyberattacks on foreign institutions, the fact that both targets operate outside the United States means the measures are unlikely to have much effect in practice. Yet by singling out a facility in Beijing’s Chaoyang District and noting the Namgang Trading Corporation’s dealings in Russia, Washington’s newest sanctions serve as pressure on North Korea’s closest allies in China and Russia to comply. A UN estimate in 2017 indicated there were over 100,000 North Korean laborers working overseas said to have earned annually $500 million. Most of these workers, who often work long hours for low wages, are based in China and Russia, so these countries’ active implementation is crucial for the effectiveness of the sanctions. In a speech delivered in San Francisco yesterday, Pompeo stressed that “America doesn’t pose a security risk to the North Koreans” but justified U.S. and other international sanctions on the North as having “caused Chairman Kim [Jong-un] to think seriously about the right path forward for his people.” China also featured prominently in the remarks from the secretary, who stressed that if not all parties in the region cooperated with the pressure campaign against the North, “certainly the border countries, the primary border countries of North Korea — it’s unlikely [denuclearization] will happen as a result of only efforts of the United States.” (Shim Kyu-seok, “Sanctions Up Pressure on North,” JoongAng Ilbo, January 16, 2020)

South Korea’s presidential office publicly rebuked U.S. ambassador Harry Harris for urging consultations over President Moon Jae-in’s plans for joint projects with the nuclear-armed North, calling his remarks “very inappropriate.” Harry Harris told reporters yesterday that Seoul should coordinate with Washington on such plans and they should be “run through” a joint working group to avoid any “misunderstandings”. It was not Washington’s role to “approve or disapprove,” he said, “but we are Korea’s only ally, we do have 28,500 American troops here, American taxpayers pay billions of dollars to defend this country, so we have an interest in inter-Korean dialogue.” Seoul dismissed his comments today, saying it was “very inappropriate” for the ambassador to respond to the media on Moon’s proposal. “It is up to our government to make decisions when it comes to matters of inter-Korean co-operation,” a Blue House official told reporters. Harris has several times been the object of controversy in South Korea, accused of high-handedness and even his moustache has proved controversial. The envoy’s mother was Japanese and with Koreans still bitterly resenting Tokyo’s 1910-45 colonization of the peninsula, commentators claimed the facial hair alluded to governors-general of the past. Harris told reporters yesterday his duty was to present and defend U.S. policy, and accepted that he would be criticized if it was unpopular in the South. “The notion that somehow I’m supposed to be the ambassador of South Korea to Washington is flawed,” he said. “My job as the ambassador is to represent the interests of the United States.” His moustache, he added, was a matter of personal choice, and his critics were “cherry picking history,” with many Korean independence fighters and other historical figures also sporting whiskers on their upper lips. “I understand the historical animosity that exists between both of the countries but I’m not the Japanese American ambassador in Korea, I’m the American ambassador to Korea. And to take that history and put it on me simply because an accident of birth I think is a mistake.” (AFP, “Seoul Rebukes U.S. Envoy over Moon Comments,” January 17, 2020) “It’s very inappropriate for the ambassador to make such a mention for media over remarks by the president of the hosting nation,” a Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters. The official stressed that inter-Korean cooperation is a matter to be decided by the South Korean government, although Seoul is “always” in close consultation with Washington in making constant efforts for substantive progress in inter-Korean ties and the early resumption of dialogue between the United States and North Korea. A spokesperson at the U.S. Embassy declined to comment directly on the presidential aide’s remarks. “We are aware of the comment,” he told Yonhap News Agency. “We have nothing to offer at this time, and would refer you to Ambassador Harris’ recent public comments.” Harris reportedly urged Seoul to hold prior consultations with Washington in its pursuit of allowing its nationals to make “individual” tours of Mount Kumgang on North Korea’s east coast. It’s “better” to run such an issue “through the working group” to avoid “misunderstandings” that might trigger sanctions, he reportedly told a group of foreign reporters here, referring to a working-level consultation channel between the allies on North Korea affairs. His remarks were viewed by many as a thinly veiled warning and an attempt to put pressure on the Moon administration as it seeks to jump-start inter-Korean projects that are unaffected by U.N. sanctions on the communist neighbor in a bid to help facilitate Pyongyang-Washington nuclear talks. The Ministry of Unification in charge of inter-Korean affairs earlier gave a terse response to the envoy’s call as well. “Our policy with regard to North Korea comes under our sovereignty,” Lee Sang-min, the unification ministry’s spokesperson, said in a regular press briefing. “The U.S. has repeatedly made it clear through diverse channels that it respects South Korea’s sovereignty related to its North Korea policy.” (Yonhap, “S. Korea Says U.S. Ambassador’s Remarks on U.S.-Korea Ties ‘Very Inappropriate,’” January 17, 2020)

North Korea’s economy grew 1.8 percent on-year in 2019, with the growth expected to continue in the next few years despite international sanctions, a U.N. report has said. The North’s estimated gross domestic product (GDP) marked the first increase in three years after it backtracked 4.2 percent and 3.5 percent in 2018 and 2017, respectively, according to the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development’s World Economic Situation and Prospects 2020 released today. The report forecast the growth trend to continue at 2.2 percent this year and 2.8 percent next year, though it did not elaborate further on its estimates. North Korea’s average GDP growth between 1997 and 2011 stood at 0.8 percent. The estimate spiked to reach 3.9 percent in 2016 but reported a 4.2 percent contraction in 2018 amid multilayered sanctions imposed over the North’s nuclear and missile provocations. The report also said North Korea’s consumer price inflation is estimated to have jumped 4.8 percent last year, with the uptrend expected to continue by 5 percent this year and 4.9 percent next year. (Yonhap, “N. Korea’s Economy Up 1.8 Pct. in 2019: U.N. Report,” January 18, 2020)

North Korea named a former army officer who led military and high-level dialogues between the two Koreas as its top diplomat, Yonhap reported. The move could change the course of the stalled nuclear negotiations. Foreign envoys in Pyongyang were notified late this week that Ri Son Gwon, the former chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, replaced Ri Yong Ho as the foreign minister, Yonhap said, citing various sources it didn’t identify. The move, which is yet to be verified by the North’s state media, is likely to be confirmed to resident diplomats at an event scheduled for January23 in Pyongyang, NK News reported separately. Ri Son Gwon is well-known among South Koreans after he led a North Korean delegation for the first high-level inter-Korean talks in more than two years in January 2018. Ri impressed South Koreans with his relaxed attitude and blunt speaking. He took a swipe at South Korean media and became a household name for his so-called “nangmyeon” comment on South Korean tycoons in September 2018. At a luncheon with a group of South Korean conglomerate chiefs, who were visiting Pyongyang as part of Moon’s delegation for a summit with Kim, Ri scolded how they could be gobbling up the cold noodle “nangmyeon” in that situation, a comment which appeared as a rebuke against the tycoons not taking enough action to boost inter-Korean businesses development. Ri served as a senior colonel in 2010 and last appeared in the North’s state media when the KCNA reported in April that he was elected as a member of the Supreme People’s Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee along with Choe Son Hui, first vice-minister of foreign affairs. He previously also led a working-level military dialogue between the two Koreas in 2011. (Bloomberg, “North Korea Picks Army Man Who Headed Korean Talks as Top Envoy,” January 19, 2020) North Korea appears to have picked its point man for relations with South Korea as its new foreign minister, possibly heralding a shift in its policy toward the United States and South Korea. According to informed sources here on January 19, North Korea has notified foreign ambassadors based in Pyongyang of its recent appointment of Ri Son Gwon as the country’s new top envoy. The sources said the notification was made late last week, and his official appointment may be announced this week. Ri, a former army officer, has been serving as chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, which is equivalent to the South’s unification ministry. The new foreign minister has been North Korea’s key official for relations with South Korea. He was the head of the North Korean delegation to recent high-level talks with South Korea, including the meeting in August 2018 that led to President Moon Jae-in’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang in September the same year. Besides his career dealing with the South, however, little has been known about his professional experience in the field of foreign affairs. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Picks New Top Envoy, Heralding Policy Shift,” January 19, 2020)

The U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt left its home port of San Diego today and headed to the West Pacific and South China Sea where the USS Ronald Reagan is already deployed. The Roosevelt is affiliated with the 3rd U.S. Fleet that controls the area from the East Pacific and the U.S. west coast and was previously deployed in waters near the Korean Peninsula between late 2017 and early 2018 to pressure North Korea. Washington merely said that the Roosevelt is headed to the “Indo-Pacific,” but military insiders believe it will conduct operations near the Korean Peninsula. The carrier group includes the Aegis-class destroyer USS Pinckney, which is capable of shooting down intercontinental ballistic missiles. “The move appears aimed at responding to North Korea’s ICBM threat and to escalating military tension just like in 2017,” a military source here said. Kevin Schneider, the new commander of the U.S. Forces Japan, told Yomiuri Shimbun on January 19 that changes have been spotted in North Korea’s military position and rhetoric over the last few months, making it the most imminent security challenge in Northeast Asia. (Cho Yi-jun and Yang Seung-sik, “U.S. Deploys 2 Aircraft Carriers Near Korean Peninsula,” Chosun Ilbo, January 20, 2020)

North Korea said it was no longer bound by commitments to halt nuclear and missile testing, blaming the United States’ failure to meet a year-end deadline for nuclear talks and “brutal and inhumane” U.S. sanctions. Ju Yong Chol, a counselor at North Korea’s mission to the U.N. in Geneva, said that over the past two years, his country had halted nuclear tests and test firing of inter-continental ballistic missiles “in order to build confidence with the United States”. But the United States had responded by conducting dozens of joint military exercises with South Korea on the divided peninsula and by imposing sanctions, he said. “As it became clear now that the U.S. remains unchanged in its ambition to block the development of the DPRK and stifle its political system, we found no reason to be unilaterally bound any longer by the commitment that the other party fails to honor,” Ju told the U.N.-backed Conference on Disarmament. Ju accused the United States of applying “the most brutal and inhumane sanctions.” “If the U.S. persists in such hostile policy towards the DPRK there will never be the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” he said. “If the United States tries to enforce unilateral demands and persists in imposing sanctions, North Korea may be compelled to seek a new path.” (Stephanie Nebehay, “North Korea Abandons Nuclear Freeze Pledge, Blames ‘Brutal’ U.S. Sanctions,” Reuters, January 21, 2020)

South Korea and the United States will modify their springtime combined exercises in order to support diplomatic efforts to denuclearize North Korea, the defense ministry said today. Since the nuclear negotiating process began in 2018, the South and the U.S. have either scaled back or made other modifications to joint military drills in an effort to avoid provoking Pyongyang that has long denounced such maneuvers as a rehearsal for invasion. “We’ve been smoothly preparing for planned combined drills,” a senior ministry official said. “If diplomatic efforts are under way, we will conduct (the drills) within the bounds to be agreed upon between the South and the U.S.” In line with the policy, the two countries are expected to replace their usual large-scale springtime exercise, Key Resolve and Foal Eagle maneuvers, with a computer-simulated command post exercise (CPX), called Dong Maeng, just as they did last year. “As for combined field trainings, regiment-level maneuvers will not be conducted jointly, but the two sides are scheduled to carry out exercises between their battalions and between their subordinate units ‘normally,'” the official said, stressing that any adjustment “won’t affect our combined defense posture.” (Oh Seok-min, “S. Korea to Adjust Springtime Exercises for Diplomacy: Defense Ministry,” Yonhap, January 21, 2020)

South Korea will dispatch troops to the Strait of Hormuz by expanding operational areas of its anti-piracy unit deployed nearby to help protect its vessels passing through the strategic waterway, the defense ministry announced today. The forces, however, will not join a U.S.-led coalition, but conduct independent operations, the ministry said, a move seen as reflecting Seoul’s consideration of relations with Tehran and Washington’s request for contribution to its campaign to secure the waters off Iran. “In consideration of the current situation in the Middle East, the government has decided to temporarily expand the Cheonghae Unit’s sphere of activity in order to guarantee safety of our people and the freedom of navigation of our vessels,” the ministry said in a release. The 300-strong Cheonghae Unit, which has been on an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia since 2009, will broaden its mission areas into the Gulf of Oman, and further to the Persian Gulf, starting today, as the 31st batch of the rotational troops along with the 4,400-ton destroyer, the Wang Geon, is to assume the role on the day, according to the ministry. While the Cheonghae Unit will act on its own, two liaison officers affiliated with the unit to the U.S.-led International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) “for cooperation such as information sharing,” the ministry said. The IMSC is headquartered in Bahrain. “Since May last year, when tensions began to heighten in the Middle East, we’ve been reviewing diverse options,” a senior defense ministry official said, adding that the government prioritizes the safety of South Korean people and vessels. Some 25,000 South Koreans reside in the Middle East, and around 170 South Korean ships sail through Hormuz about 900 times per year, according to government data. Tensions in the region have mounted since Iran launched missile attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq earlier this month in retaliation for a U.S. airstrike that killed a top Iranian general. (Oh Seok-min, “S. Korea to Sends Troops to Hormuz Strait Independently to Safeguard People, Vessels,” Yonhap, January 21, 2020)

Efforts to denuclearize North Korea will continue despite a new foreign minister in Pyongyang who is seen as a hard-liner and could take a tougher stance in stalled negotiations, a senior State Department official said today. The official would not forecast how the new foreign minister, Ri Son Gwon, who succeeds Ri Yong Ho, might approach negotiations with the United States over removing nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula. The official predicted the talks would restart, given what he said was a shared desire for progress on the part of President Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Ri Son Gwon, the incoming foreign minister who has served as an Army colonel, was an aide to Kim Yong-chol years ago. In another shift of senior leadership, North Korea has replaced the defense minister, according to a report today in Rodong Sinmun. The new official, Kim Jong Gwan, is an Army general. “They come and go, so it’s pretty hard to put a lot of analytical freight on the new appointment,” said Robert Carlin, a former C.I.A. and State Department analyst on North Korea. Carlin said the calculus of the United States in negotiations was still the same. And he noted that much depended on the next steps that the North’s leader takes, in particular whether he carries out another nuclear test or an intercontinental ballistic missile test. The State Department official shrugged off suggestions that Russian and Chinese diplomats had dissuaded North Korea from carrying out a major weapons test that American officials had expected. (Lara Jakes and Edward Wong, “Tougher North Korean Posture Expected,” New York Times, January 23, 2020, p. A-13)

China has failed to send home North Korean workers by a December deadline in violation of United Nations sanctions, a senior U.S. official said today, adding that this was why Washington blacklisted two entities involved in Pyongyang’s labor export. A 2017 U.N. Security Council resolution, which China backed, demanded that all countries repatriate all North Korean workers by December 22 to stop them earning foreign currency for North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The United States has estimated Pyongyang was earning more than $500 million a year from nearly 100,000 workers abroad, of which some 50,000 were in China and 30,000 in Russia. “Many — most … have actually taken this to heart and moved them,” a senior State Department official told reporters, referring to the repatriation requirement. “But we know one particular country has the large majority of North Korean guest workers and has not taken action, hence the steps we had to take in terms of sanctions.” In response to question, the official confirmed he was referring to China. Countries were required to submit a midterm report to the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee early last year on compliance with the 2017 resolution and are now due to submit a final report in late March on how many North Korean workers they have repatriated. According to Russia’s midterm report, it sent home nearly two-thirds of some 30,000 North Koreans working there during 2018, while Beijing said it had repatriated more than half but did not specify a figure. “China will continue earnestly implementing its international obligations, carry out the repatriation work in an orderly manner and complete the repatriation on time,” China’s U.N. mission said at the time. Last week, North Korea told countries with embassies in Pyongyang that Ri Son Gwon, a senior military officer and official of the ruling Workers’ Party, had been appointed foreign minister. Asked whether this was the case, the U.S. official said: “apparently, yes.” “I don’t have a lot of data on who he is, or what he represents,” he added. “But the hope is that they’ll understand the importance of having a conversation and talking about these things as we agreed in the original Singapore agreement,” the official said. “There’s nothing to be gained by not talking. It’s only to their benefit.” (David Brunnstrom, “China Fails to Repatriate North Korean Workers Despite U.N. Sanctions — U.S. Official,” Reuters, January 22, 2020)

The U.S. has agreed to lift caps on the range and force of civilian South Korean rockets. That could remove a major obstacle to Korea’s goal of developing a solid-fuel rocket capable of putting a satellite in geosynchronous orbit. Government sources said today that negotiations between the U.S. and South Korean governments to revise missile guidelines have reached the final stage of ironing out the details to ease thrust and range limits on civilian rockets using solid-fuel boosters. The U.S.-South Korean missile guidelines from 1979 had been revised three times — in 2001, 2012 and 2017 — but limits remained in place capping their thrust at 1 million pounds per second, which is just 1/10 of the thrust of rockets used by advanced countries, and their range at 800 km. The two sides have held behind-the-scenes negotiations about another revision since 2018. The caps have come in for increasing criticism at a time when North Korea is developing long-range, solid-fuel missiles. Scrapping the limits will give South Korea’s civilian space program a considerable boost. Solid-fuel rockets are simpler to design and cheaper to build than liquid-fueled ones as well as being easier to transport and launch because there is no need to pump in fuel. The U.S. maintained the caps because it did not want South Korea to use the technology to build missiles for military use. But South Korea promised to use them only for civilian purposes and reasoned that the South lags far behind its neighbors in terms of rocket technology. There are concerns that scrapping the limits could incite protests from China and North Korea, but a government source said, “Inter-Korean relations have nothing to do with revised missile guidelines for our civilian space program.” (Ahn Jun-yong, “U.S. to Lift Caps on S. Korean Rockets,” Chosun Ilbo, January 29, 2020)

USIP: “Peace is a process, not an event. A peace regime thus represents a comprehensive framework of declarations, agreements, norms, rules, processes, and institutions aimed at building and sustaining peace. … To be sure, many limited efforts have been made to reach a peace settlement. The first attempt, the 1954 Geneva Conference, reached potential agreement on the issues of foreign troop withdrawal and the scope of elections for the Peninsula. However, the conference ultimately foundered after two months over the question of who would supervise these issues — the communist side favoring Korea-only or neutral nations supervision and the US-led side supporting UN oversight. Later, despite the grip of Cold War tensions on the Peninsula — China and the Soviet Union backing the North and the United States supporting the South — the two Koreas took sporadic, incremental steps toward peaceful coexistence and long-term reunification. They achieved significant breakthroughs in diplomatic relations and tension reduction, including the 1972 joint North-South Statement on reunification, the 1991 Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression, and Exchanges and Cooperation (Basic Agreement), and the 1992 Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

These achievements, however, proved largely aspirational because they could not resolve three fundamental issues. First, North Korea desired direct negotiations and normalization with the United States, often sidelining South Korea in the process. Second, North Korea continued to conduct violent acts against South Korea (such as the 1983 assassination attempt of President Chun Doo-hwan in Burma, the 1987 bombing of a Korean Air flight, and the 2010 sinking of the ROK ship Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island), partly because of its own insecurity about the South’s growing political and economic legitimacy. Third, it was unclear how the two Koreas would accommodate mutually contradictory conceptions of reunification following peace.

Advances in North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program in the 1990s finally drew Washington into negotiations with Pyongyang but further complicated the prospects for peace discussions. Successive US administrations prioritized denuclearization as the primary objective in negotiations and made it a precondition for discussing peace and diplomatic normalization. After the 1994 Agreed Framework deal froze North Korea’s nuclear facility at Yongbyon, US President Bill Clinton and South Korean President Kim Young-sam proposed Four-Party Talks with North Korea and China in April 1996, the first major effort at peace negotiations since the 1954 Geneva Conference. Unsure about US intentions for the endgame, North Korea took more than a year to respond.3 When it finally engaged, discussions about peace quickly collapsed because of its insistence that US troop presence on the Korean Peninsula be on the agenda.4 A North Korea review process led by former US Secretary of Defense William Perry (but conducted separately from the Four-Party Talks and ongoing US-DPRK missile talks) pushed the two sides “tantalizingly close” to a deal that would have banned North Korea’s production and testing of long-range missiles in exchange for potential normalization steps. Because time was running out for his administration, however, President Clinton chose to prioritize promising Israeli-Palestinian talks rather than making a trip to Pyongyang, believing that the next administration would consummate a deal with North Korea. In the mid-2000s, the Six-Party Talks chaired by China

represented another attempt to address peace and denuclearization under a “commitment for commitment, action for action” approach.7 Despite some confidence-building measures, including North Korea’s shutting down the five-megawatt reactor at its Yongbyon facility, the United States’ removing North Korea from its state sponsors of terrorism list and Trading with the

Enemy Act provisions, and the creation of working groups focused on normalization, the talks again fell apart in December 2008 when the two sides could not agree on a formal protocol for verifying North Korea’s nuclear activities. In the absence of a written protocol, Washington, along with new, right-of-center governments in Seoul and Tokyo, insisted on suspending energy assistance; Pyongyang responded by expelling international inspectors. The landmark June 2018 agreement reached in Singapore between President Donald J. Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un — the first signed between the United States and North Korea at the leader level — was the latest effort at forging a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. Under the agreement, the two sides committed to “establish new US-DPRK relations” and “build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” In addition, North Korea promised to “work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The inability of the two countries to negotiate a more comprehensive agreement at a second summit in Hanoi in February 2019, or since then, underscores their entrenched positions and the long-standing chasm that lies between. Nevertheless, the Singapore agreement’s call for a peace regime reinforced the need to examine this issue in a thorough and timely manner. Also, the unique aspects of this period of diplomacy — including President Trump’s unconventional willingness to meet with Kim Jong Un directly and to discuss peace and denuclearization simultaneously, the severity of the global pressure campaign against North Korea, the Kim regime’s purported desire to shift from nuclear to economic development, and the ostensibly cordial relationship between the two leaders — presented a potentially radical disjuncture from past negotiation scenarios. Although the considerable obstacles were clear, the moment warranted greater preparation for a potential peace. As this latest effort at diplomacy appears to have failed and US-North Korea relations seem on the brink of another downward turn, it is just as — if not more — important to think through how to enhance stability, build mutual confidence, and strengthen peace on the Peninsula without a formal peace agreement. The limited number of official, multilateral efforts to pursue a comprehensive peace regime has meant equally few examinations of what it entails, how the relevant countries view such an initiative, and what issues and risks it involves. The focus of most parties on the immediate challenges of North Korean denuclearization has further detracted from assessing the long-term challenge of structuring peace on the Korean Peninsula. The rapid development of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs and the corresponding intensifying of the global sanctions regime against North Korea significantly complicate a potential peace process. All parties interested in Korean Peninsula security accept in principle the necessity of a peace regime to ensure a permanent end to conflict. Peace will require far more than a simple agreement, however. A comprehensive regime consisting of declarations, agreements norms, rules, processes, and institutions — spanning the diplomatic, security, economic, and social spheres — will be necessary to build and sustain peace. Furthermore, the process will raise challenging questions about the future of the US-ROK Alliance, the strategic orientation of and relations between the two Koreas, the role of the United States and China on the Korean Peninsula, and the overall security architecture in the Northeast Asian region. Achieving peace on the Korean Peninsula is possible, but it will be a long and arduous process. The first step is elevating peace as a priority. Six countries — North Korea, South Korea, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia — have substantial interests in how peace unfolds on the Korean Peninsula and the implications for Northeast Asia. Many of these interests are arguably compatible. For example, all six parties support the goal of denuclearization of the Peninsula, though following different definitions and timelines; even North Korea has committed to this goal, at least nominally, despite actions to the contrary. Some disputes, such as the presence of US forces on the Korean Peninsula or the human rights situation in North Korea, seem nonnegotiable but may present areas for progress after greater dialogue and trust building. Other interests present challenges because they are at direct odds (such as the sequencing of denuclearization and reciprocal confidence-building measures) or particular to just one country (such as Japanese abductees). Understanding these interests can help accentuate consensus areas while mitigating divergences during the peacebuilding process. NORTH KOREA Since at least the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea’s approach to peace has been rooted in its pursuit of regime security. To this end, the Kim regime has focused on ending what it perceives as a “hostile” US policy and transforming its overall relationship with the United States. The North has also engaged with liberal South Korean governments to reduce tensions and gain benefits, but it has long perceived the United States as the paramount threat to its security and the principal impediment to attaining comprehensive, sustainable peace. During periods of negotiations with the United States, the regime has pursued this approach by securing US commitments to move toward full normalization of political and economic relations, provide formal assurances against the threat or use of conventional and nuclear weapons, ease economic and financial sanctions, and respect North Korea’s sovereignty. The most recent articulation of this goal was described in the June 2018 US-DPRK Joint Statement in Singapore, which committed the two countries to “establish new US-DPRK relations” and “build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” North Korea believes that denuclearization should be the result, rather than the cause, of improved bilateral relations between Pyongyang and Washington. The regime insists, with China’s endorsement, that a transformed relationship can only occur by both sides taking “phased and synchronous measures” to build trust slowly rather than Pyongyang being required to denuclearize unilaterally and comprehensively up front under a “Libya model” as suggested by then National Security Advisor John Bolton. For North Korea, measures for ending the “hostile” US policy can be described under three categories: diplomatic, military, and economic. For Pyongyang, an important demonstration of improved US-DPRK ties is the normalization of relations. North Korea believes that peace and security starts with a mutual recognition of each country’s sovereignty and parity, which can be accorded through normalization. Normalized relations would also facilitate regime legitimacy in other ways, including through enhanced economic and trade relations, greater academic, scientific, and technical exchanges, and improved standing in the international community. North Korea views the US military presence in South Korea and its joint exercises as a direct threat to the regime’s security and a constant manifestation of Washington’s hostility. To mitigate this threat, the regime has sought military security guarantees from the United States, which include not only assurances against an attack but also an end to joint US-South Korea military exercises and a reduction in — if not complete withdrawal of — US forces on the Peninsula. The regime has also made its own varying demands for the denuclearization of the entire Peninsula, including the removal of US nuclear and strategic assets from South Korea and even in the region. Despite its public emphasis on diplomatic normalization and security guarantees, North Korea has consistently demanded economic concessions in previous bilateral and multilateral negotiations. Since 2018, it has focused on gaining relief from the robust UN sanctions targeting the civilian economy that started with the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2270 in March 2016. This effort also coincided with a shift in the country’s strategy to prioritize economic development rather than simultaneous development of nuclear weapons and the economy (byungjin). Experts disagree on whether the move was a natural progression in national priorities after the successful completion of its nuclear force development, as North Korea claims, or a response to the crippling effects of economic pressure, as sanctions advocates argue. North Korea has been equivocal and inconsistent about how it prioritizes potential US and international concessions. For example, at different points throughout the 1990s, North Korean officials both expressed a willingness to set aside the issue of US troops on the Peninsula (such as during the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiations and the 2000 inter-Korean summit) and demanded that the issue be on the negotiating agenda (for example, during the late-1990s four-party peace talks).13 Former US official Robert Gallucci, who negotiated the 1994 Agreed Framework, noted that “from time to time there have been indications that the North would like more political freedom and less economic dependence on China and is not so enthusiastic about an American departure from the region.” Similarly, North Korea has sometimes underscored its desire for sanctions relief, including making it its highest priority during the February 2019 Hanoi summit negotiations, but in other instances has dismissed its importance and instead emphasized the primacy of security guarantees. This equivocation may be an effort to downplay the effect of sanctions and save face while seeking economic relief. Ultimately, Pyongyang seeks comprehensive security across the diplomatic, military, and economic dimensions, but has demonstrated flexibility in its demands, depending on the circumstances and potential corresponding concessions. In the absence of diplomatic progress, North Korea has sought to coerce the United States into ending its “hostile” policy by increasing its leverage through nuclear and long-range missile testing, heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and improved relations with China, Russia, and other countries. After the collapse of negotiations in December 2019, Chairman Kim stated that North Korea would revert back to “taking offensive measures to reliably ensure the sovereignty and security of our state.” Many experts argue that even an end to US enmity will not persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons. Becoming a nuclear power has been its highest security goal (if not national ambition) for several decades. North Korean officials have wondered in various settings why their country was not treated like India and Pakistan, which each possess nuclear weapons and have normal diplomatic relations with other countries but are not considered nuclear-weapon states under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.17 Given North Korea’s claim that it has “finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force” with the successful launch of its Hwasong- intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017, many US experts believe that North Korea will likely continue to maintain its nuclear deterrent because it is the best guarantee of regime security and national sovereignty. Accordingly, security guarantees and promises of brighter economic futures will not be enough to get significant traction on denuclearization because North Koreans view the US domestic political landscape as unpredictable and changes in administrations triggering swings in Washington’s North Korea policy. … Replacing the Armistice Agreement will require the resolution of thorny territorial and border disputes that have been potential flashpoints for a broader conflict on the Korean Peninsula. Under the Armistice Agreement, the US-led UN Command maintains military control of five islands in the Yellow Sea off North Korea’s southwest coast (the Northwest Islands). Although North Korea has not actively contested the UN Command’s ongoing control over this territory, it does claim ultimate sovereignty — as does South Korea — over the entire Korean Peninsula, which includes these islands. The elimination of the UN Command and the armistice would present Pyongyang with an opportunity to revisit this issue and make it an agenda item in inter-Korean peace discussions. Discussions about the Northwest Islands will have important implications for the volatile Northern Limit Line dispute. Shortly after the end of the Korean War, the UN Command unilaterally established the NLL as a military control measure, setting a northern limit for UN Command and South Korean vessels to avoid the potential of military clashes. This line extends west from the Han River estuary through twelve coordinates equidistant between the Northwest Islands and the North Korean coast and at least three nautical miles from the coast. Around 1973, North Korea began to contest the NLL, with fishing boats and KPA vessels crossing the line twenty to thirty times a year by the late 1970s, serious inter-Korean naval clashes occurring near Yeonpyeong Island in 1999, 2002, and 2009, and the ROK corvette Cheonan being sunk off Baengnyeong Island in 2010. For its part, South Korea argues that the NLL is a de facto maritime boundary in which North Korea acquiesced through its conduct until 1973.61 Although the NLL is neither a part of the Armistice Agreement nor intended to be an international maritime boundary, it has become “an effective means of separating ROK and DPRK military forces and preventing military tensions.” The NLL carries significant value for several reasons. From a security viewpoint, it allows the South Korean military to access and defend the Northwest Islands and monitor North Korean military installations on the coast. Shifting the NLL further south, on the other hand, would allow North Korean vessels to patrol closer to the Han River estuary and Seoul and prevent South Korean ships from conducting surveillance close to the North Korean shore. For both countries, the maritime area around the NLL provides valuable fishing grounds and shipping routes to the Yellow Sea. Although Seoul has little present interest in adjusting the NLL, significant progress in peace discussions could create political and legal momentum for adjudicating the territorial and maritime disputes. Currently, the two Koreas have outlined initial steps under the September 2018 inter-Korean military agreement to reduce tensions near the NLL, including establishing a peace zone that prohibits all live-fire and maritime maneuver exercises and creating a pilot joint fishing zone between one of the Northwest Islands and the North Korean coast. However, any change in control over the Northwest Islands would affect the NLL. A final resolution of the NLL and Northwest Islands issues could be reached as part of inter-Korean negotiations or through international arbitration under the framework of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which North Korea signed in 1982 but has not ratified. The US-ROK Alliance will need to determine the extent of US participation in settling these issues given the UN Command’s role in establishing the NLL and managing the Northwest Islands. PEOPLE-TO-PEOPLE EXCHANGES People-to-people engagements and initiatives — such as academic, cultural, sports, health, and humanitarian-related exchanges — can over time help strengthen mutual trust under a peace regime and establish the new US-DPRK relations envisioned in the Singapore agreement. Sustained lower-level contact may also help enhance broader domestic support for peace in each country and reinforce the political conditions conducive to progress on the diplomatic track. Previous examples of US exchanges with adversaries include science diplomacy with the Soviet Union before the fall of the Berlin Wall, ping-pong diplomacy that paved the way for President Nixon to open relations with China, and more recently limited exchanges with Myanmar, Cuba, and Iran. At the height of the Six-Party Talks in 2008, the New York Philharmonic performed at the East Pyongyang Grand Theater, the largest contingent of US citizens in the country’s capital since the Korean War.64 Starting with the Obama administration and expanded under the Trump administration, the United States has tied humanitarian exchanges to political progress with North Korea. Since September 2017, US bans on American travel to North Korea (except for journalists, humanitarian aid workers, and visits that advance US national security interests) and North Korean travel to the United States have significantly restricted people-to-people exchanges. The restrictions came at the height of the recent tensions between the two countries and were intended to reinforce the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea. The Trump administration imposed the US travel ban amid concerns about North Korea’s arbitrary detentions following American student Otto Warmbier’s death after falling into a coma while in North Korean custody and the detention of two other US citizens in the spring of 2017. Prior to the restriction, an estimated eight hundred to a thousand Americans visited North Korea each year.65 About two hundred US citizens lived there.66 The ban on North Korean travel to the United States was implemented as part of a wider effort to protect US citizens from terrorist attacks. However, that only a handful of North Korean officials and academics visited the United States each year led some to question the purpose and impact of the order. People-to-people initiatives could help build mutual confidence leading up to, and as part of, a peace process. The 2018 Singapore agreement already emphasized a bilateral commitment to resume joint US-DPRK operations in North Korea to recover the remains of US prisoners of war and missing in action (POW/MIA) from the Korean War. One month after the Singapore Summit, North Korea handed over fifty-five boxes of presumed US remains, but the effort was suspended after negotiations stalled at the February 2019 Hanoi summit. Another initiative some activist groups advocate is family reunions for Americans of Korean descent separated from relatives in North Korea after the Korean War. Although twenty-two official inter-Korean family reunions have been held since 1985, American citizens have lacked a state-sponsored pathway to reunite with their family members in North Korea. Advocates say as many as a hundred thousand Korean Americans have relatives in North Korea who could be part of such a program.71 Last, the easing or termination of the travel bans to and from North Korea would open up a broader range of potential people-to-people exchanges, such as the participation of North Korean professionals in the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, and the resumption of US congressional delegation visits to North Korea and US citizens teaching at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. HUMAN RIGHTS The North Korean regime’s status as one of the world’s worst human rights abusers poses a significant challenge for diplomatic normalization under a peace regime. US administrations have tended to segregate human rights concerns because raising them could complicate and protract security-related negotiations. However, after many years of defector accounts and the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry’s conclusion of “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” by the North Korean regime, many analysts argue that human rights must be an inextricable component of peace and denuclearization talks.74 Without progress on human rights, it could be politically difficult for two-thirds of US Senators to provide consent on a peace treaty. Even with an executive agreement, various US laws with human rights provisions, such as the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act (NKSPEA), make it legally difficult for the United States to grant the permanent sanctions relief necessary for a full normalization of relations unless North Korea takes substantive steps to address its human rights violations. Human rights issues can be incorporated into the peace negotiation process in various ways. Initial, incremental steps on issues of humanitarian concern, such as allowing more reunions between families separated by the Korean War, particularly first-time reunions with Korean American families, could lend credibility to North Korea’s commitment to an improved relationship with its neighbors and the United States under a peace regime. Such measures would not bring about significant change in North Korea’s human rights situation but would indicate a commitment to establishing a new and closer relationship with the United States. Next, any peace settlement should incorporate broad commitments to human rights principles that lay the groundwork for future discussions and reforms as well as the monitoring of human rights issues. This approach could follow the model of the 1975 Helsinki Accords, which established the foundation for later reforms in Soviet Bloc states in Eastern Europe. Certain issues that North Korea has already agreed to address as part of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review process, such as improving the rights of women and children and increasing access to food and health services, could be the basis for immediate cooperation. The commitments should address the concerns outlined in the NKSPEA and Commission of Inquiry, including accounting for and repatriating foreign abductees and service member remains, allowing humanitarian aid workers greater access in North Korea, and improving living conditions in the political prison camps that house those considered disloyal to the regime. Greater North Korean willingness to engage with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, and a US special envoy for North Korean human rights would help build congressional support for normalizing ties with Pyongyang. In this regard, the White House should appoint a human rights envoy immediately — a position vacant since January 2017 — to begin coordinating the integration of human rights measures into efforts toward a peace regime. Getting Pyongyang to engage on human rights, which it perceives as an indirect attempt to pursue regime collapse, will not be easy. Beijing would also have no interest in backing an incremental human rights agenda. Washington needs to demonstrate how human rights progress can strengthen regime security and improve US-DPRK relations, including greater offers of humanitarian assistance, partial sanctions relief, and a tangible pathway to diplomatic normalization. At the same time, experience indicates that North Korea responds to public shaming. In response to the Commission of Inquiry, the regime issued its own report defending its human rights practices, acknowledged some multilateral recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review process more sincerely, and enhanced its senior-level diplomatic engagements on human rights, including the first visit by a North Korean foreign minister to the UN General Assembly in fifteen years. In the long run, the United States will seek broad reforms to North Korea’s political system, including dismantlement of the prison camp system and the songbun social classification system, as well as greater access to outside information and decriminalization of “hostile” information. However, because these types of measures are the most sensitive for North Korea, Washington will need to calibrate how it broaches and seeks implementation of these reforms. … SECURITY GUARANTEES A permanent peace settlement will require mutual security guarantees among the two Koreas, the United States, and China. Security guarantees could come in the form of both negative security assurances (promising not to attack) and positive ones (promising to protect from attack by others). Over three decades of negotiations, the United States has extended negative security guarantees to North Korea numerous times. In the 1994 Agreed Framework, Washington expressed intent to provide “formal assurances to the DPRK, against the threat or use of nuclear weapons.” It took an additional step in the September 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks by “affirm[ing] that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade the DPRK with nuclear or conventional weapons.” In this statement, the ROK also “reaffirmed its commitment not to receive or deploy nuclear weapons … while affirming that there exist no nuclear weapons within its territory.” Most recently, the Singapore Statement underscored that “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK.” Despite these instances, the United States will need to reaffirm explicitly through a formal agreement its commitment not to attack North Korea using either conventional or nuclear weapons. Washington could also argue that once relations have improved, the presence of a sizable number of US civilians in Pyongyang, including diplomats, aid workers, business people, academics, and tourists, would help reinforce the security guarantee. Likewise, North Korea would need to forswear all threats and aggression against South Korea, Japan, and the United States. Russia has also identified the possibility of developing a “system of international security guarantees for North Korea,” perhaps a continuation of the Six-Party Talks proposal for a Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism. Analysts have pointed out, however, that multilateral security guarantees do not have great track records. An end-of-war declaration could further strengthen the credibility of mutual security guarantees. The Moon administration as well as some analysts have argued that declaring an end to the Korean War could send an encouraging signal to North Korea about US intentions, help Kim Jong Un counter hard-liners at home, and boost momentum for ongoing negotiations. Other experts, however, have warned against such a declaration, arguing that it would be premature without greater North Korean concessions and could unravel the rationale and support for a US military presence on the Peninsula. President Trump reportedly promised Chairman Kim that he would sign an end-of-war declaration soon after their meeting in Singapore, but this debate continued to play out within the US government.84 Washington apparently decided to put a joint end-of-war declaration on the table at the February 2019 Hanoi summit, but it was sidelined when the two sides could not agree on denuclearization and sanctions relief measures. Even if a declaration is made, Washington and Seoul should stress that existing arrangements that ensure security, such as the Armistice Agreement, the Military Demarcation Line, and the UN Command, will remain in place until a formal peace agreement is reached. Analysts have also pointed out that beyond just promises of nonaggression, Kim Jong Un seeks his regime’s guaranteed security. Setting aside that Congress would never support the idea of protecting the Kim regime, it is unclear how the United States would extend such a guarantee, other than vowing not to intervene in the face of internal unrest in North Korea or pledging to ensure Kim’s personal safety in the event of a coup. One measure of reassurance, which does not cross the line into regime support, could be for Washington to underscore the political and symbolic value of official US recognition of the DPRK and normalization of relations. Washington could argue that the political legitimacy and economic development that flows from diplomatic normalization would help prevent domestic instability in North Korea. Ultimately, security guarantees are necessary but not sufficient measures for the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. Oral and written guarantees are only the first step in a longer process and need to be substantiated through further discussions and tangible actions that reduce military tensions and build confidence. CONFIDENCE-BUILDING MEASURES Concrete measures by both sides that reduce military tensions, the likelihood of conflict, and the potential for miscommunication can strengthen mutual confidence in security guarantees. Military Exercises Cancellation of major US-ROK military exercises, which North Korea views as rehearsals for invasion, has sometimes served as a confidence-building measure during periods of diplomacy. The suspension of the massive spring field training exercise Team Spirit in January 1992, in conjunction with the US withdrawal of its tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea and the granting of a high-level US-DPRK meeting, led directly to Pyongyang ratifying an International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards agreement. North Korea had dragged its feet on that agreement since signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1985. Similar cancellations in 1994, 1995, and 1996 maintained the diplomatic space that allowed the Agreed Framework to be signed in October 1994 and remain in effect throughout the 1990s. More recently, President Trump’s unilateral decision at the June 2018 Singapore Summit to suspend the fall command post exercise — although problematic from an Alliance coordination perspective — likely helped ensure a positive summit outcome as well as confirm that a “dual freeze” was in effect. Conversely, the Alliance decision to modify rather than suspend the major 2019 spring and fall exercises provided a basis for North Korea to pull back from working-level negotiations and conduct several short-range ballistic missile tests in response. Experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, however, have found Alliance military exercises to have no effect on US-North Korea relations (the state of relations prior to the exercises were the primary determinant of North Korean behavior after them). If negotiations advance, the US-ROK Alliance will need to consider the role of military exercises in the peacebuilding process as well as in a future security environment. Washington, Seoul, and Pyongyang should have a clear understanding that all militaries, including their own, conduct exercises for training and readiness purposes. The question is the extent to which military exercises should and can be adjusted to build trust under a peace regime while preserving necessary defense and deterrence objectives. US military officials have asserted that though a reduction in exercises can cause slight degradations to military readiness, the diplomatic leverage or traction that comes from such adjustments may make this trade-off a prudent risk.89 Other analysts warn, however, that long-term cancellations and modifications could have a more severe impact. Scaling back major exercises remains a potential, though limited, option for reducing tensions and building trust. Further efforts to alter the current Dong Maeng exercise series may be difficult given that they are already reduced versions of the former Key Resolve/Foal Eagle and Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises. In addition, the exercises need to be comprehensive enough to test the operational and mission capabilities of the South Korean military, a requirement for giving Seoul wartime operational control of its troops by the Moon administration’s goal of 2022. As the peace process unfolds over time, however, exercises could be modified to train for less threatening objectives, such as humanitarian assistance and search and rescue, or reduced in scope and size and moved off the Peninsula to be less threatening to Pyongyang. The potential transition of wartime operational control, which includes establishing a future combined command structure with a South Korean four-star general as the commander, would also give Seoul greater authority and confidence to shape the exercises. And though Pyongyang should not have a vote in Alliance matters, having discussions with the Korean People’s Army through the North-South joint military committee could help clarify tension reduction measures, including reciprocal modifications to the KPA’s winter and summer training cycles. US Military Presence The potential for improved US-DPRK relations and an eventual peace agreement would raise important questions about the future of the US military presence on the Korean Peninsula. Currently, the United States stations approximately 28,500 troops in South Korea, concentrated in two major hubs: Camp Humphreys, which is the largest US military base overseas and located fifty-five miles south of Seoul in Pyeongtaek, and a constellation of bases around the southeastern city of Daegu. This forward-deployed presence reflects not only the US treaty commitment to defend its ally but also the broader goals of projecting power and serving a stabilizing function in the region. If negotiations progress toward a peace agreement, the US and South Korean governments could face external and internal pressure to review and justify continuing US troop presence. As discussed, North Korea and China may call for the outright withdrawal of US troops from South Korea or at least a significant reduction in size and a reorientation toward peacekeeping and stability. According to a 2018 survey, 74 percent of Americans support maintaining long-term bases in South Korea, but a significant number also support a partial (54 percent) or complete (18 percent) withdrawal of troops if denuclearization occurs. In South Korea, views will likely diverge along liberal and conservative fault lines. It is conceivable, however, that if inter-Korean relations advance rapidly, the rationale for allowing and providing funding for US troops and bases on Korean territory could be questioned, and South Korea could ask the US troops to leave, revise its presence, or remain only on a rotational basis. According to recent survey results, a majority of the South Korean public supports US troop presence (67.7 percent) but between 2013 and 2017 this number has trended downward from an average of more than 75 percent. The support drops to 43.5 percent in a post-unification scenario, and could further dip during periods of anti-Americanism. The current situation has been complicated by President Trump’s own criticism of the US military presence in South Korea. Since before taking office, he has talked about withdrawing large numbers of troops from the Korean Peninsula. Prior to the June 2018 summit, he reportedly ordered the Pentagon to review options for drawing down US troops in South Korea. Fearing the potential for arbitrary reductions in US troop presence, Congress restricted the president’s ability to cut troops below current levels unless the secretary of defense first certifies that the reduction is in the national security interests of the United States and its allies and that Washington has appropriately consulted with allies. The US and ROK defense establishments should begin discussions about how the size, posture, and role of the US military in South Korea might change depending on future scenarios and threat environments. US troop presence on the Peninsula has constantly adapted to the political, strategic, and military needs of the times, from more than seventy thousand troops immediately after the Korean War to thirty-eight thousand in the 1990s to the current 28,500. Some experts believe that the current force posture is warranted given the prevailing goals of deterrence and reassurance, but believe Alliance discussions about future modifications could be helpful. Others go a step further to suggest signaling to China and North Korea that future force levels could be calibrated commensurate with the severity of the North Korean threat. If this threat is diminished, various levels of US troop deployments and US-ROK security arrangements could be employed, including nonpermanent, base access agreements (similar to the ones used with the Philippines and Australia) or a reduced posture oriented toward expeditionary, disaster relief, and humanitarian operations. Some US analysts even argue for modifying the force structure today, either because a significant US presence is no longer necessary given the readiness of the South Korean military or because deterrence against a nuclear North Korea requires a different approach than against a larger or a nuclear-armed adversary. Opinions will be split within the United States, particularly within the broader debate between those who seek a more restrained foreign policy and a smaller global military footprint and those who value US power projection capabilities and general military engagement around the world. However, reexamining the rationale If negotiations progress toward a peace agreement, the US and South Korean governments could face pressure to review and justify continuing US troop presence: North Korea and China may call for the outright withdrawal of US troops or at least a significant reduction in size and a reorientation toward peacekeeping and stability. for the current disposition of US troops in South Korea and the appropriate force posture for addressing specific missions can help shift the conversation away from a simplistic, all-or-none, stay-or-withdraw framework to a more nuanced and effective prescription tailored toward the current and future security environment. Conventional Force Reductions Reducing the size and scope of conventional military forces on both sides of the Military Demarcation Line could help lower the potential for sudden, large-scale conflict and build confidence toward a permanent peace. North Korea has the fourth-largest military in the world (1.2 million serving as active-duty personnel), with a significant portion of its ground, naval, and air forces forward-deployed near the DMZ. Although undergoing defense reform that will reduce its military personnel to a half a million troops by 2025, South Korea maintains a combined defense posture with US forces and fields more advanced military weapons, technology, and systems to achieve its defense and deterrence objectives. The two Koreas already outlined an approach to reducing military confrontation in the 1991 Basic Agreement. They agreed to resolve disputes peacefully through dialogue and negotiation, not use force against each other, and create an inter-Korean joint military commission to further identify and implement measures to decrease military tensions. These steps included discussions of major movements of military units and major military exercises, the peaceful use of the DMZ, exchanges of military personnel and information, phased reductions in armaments and attack capabilities, and verification measures. Although the 1991 measures were not implemented, they provided a foundation for subsequent progress on tension reduction achieved under the September 2018 Comprehensive Military Agreement. Within months of this accord, the two Koreas enacted a range of actions to minimize conflict along the DMZ and in the Yellow Sea. These steps included ceasing all live-fire artillery and field training drills near the Military Demarcation Line, withdrawing guard posts within the DMZ, demilitarizing the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom (including land mine and firearms removal), establishing no-fly zones along the MDL, halting live-fire and maritime maneuver exercises in West and East Sea buffer zones, and adopting revised operational procedures to avoid accidental military clashes. Both in the course of peace negotiations and once a treaty is signed, the United States and the two Koreas could engage in additional, phased confidence-building measures to increase transparency, restrict operations, and reduce conventional arms. Although Washington has never officially discussed which conventional force reduction measures would be appropriate as part of a peace agreement, analysts have pointed to the approach taken by the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (now the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) under Vienna Document 1990 and the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE). This path would include confidence- and security-building measures that provide greater transparency and information sharing on military activities, organization, and plans (such as notification of major military activities; exchange of information on defense policy, manpower, and major conventional weapons and equipment systems; reciprocal observer visits to bases and exercises; and so on) and restrict peacetime operations and exercises (withdrawing North and South Korean artillery back from their forward positions, for example). In addition, the two sides could adopt the CFE focus on eliminating or reducing major weapons and equipment (such as attack helicopters, heavy artillery, combat aircraft, or tanks) to decrease the possibility of large-scale, surprise attacks. These security-related discussions should occur through direct military-to-military engagement with North Korea, primarily through the inter-Korean joint military committee. In addition, establishing a senior-level, policy-oriented dialogue between the Defense Department and the KPA — rather than just revitalizing the defunct colonel- and flag officer–level discussions that occurred intermittently through the Military Armistice Commission at the DMZ during the 1990s and 2000s — would also provide a regular forum for addressing strategic tension reduction measures, enhancing communication and transparency, and preventing miscalculations and accidents that could escalate into larger conflict. A dialogue with the North Korean military could also help build a relationship with one of the most powerful constituencies within the regime, enhance its buy-in to the peace regime process, and strengthen US understanding of its interests and motivations. US-ROK Alliance The United States and South Korea will decide the future of the Alliance on a bilateral basis, regardless of North Korean, Russian, and Chinese interests. Still, a potential peace regime raises difficult questions for policymakers in Washington and Seoul about the Alliance’s role and scope. Although the 1953 US-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty never mentions North Korea and only declares a “common determination to defend themselves against external armed attack,” the Alliance has existed primarily to deter North Korean aggression and ensure South Korean and regional security. A peace process that ostensibly promises to resolve North Korean threats and aggression could undermine a significant part of the rationale for the Alliance and the US troop presence. More immediately, as a part of the negotiations, North Korea may demand concessions that detract from military readiness and deterrence. Those could include reductions in US troop presence, an end to US extended deterrence, and limitations on nuclear and strategic asset deployments to the area. Washington and Seoul have argued that since its founding, the Alliance has grown global in nature, beyond the North Korean threat. The two countries have worked together under the Alliance framework to address the common interests of human rights, democracy, a market economy, and trade liberalization while tackling shared threats such as terrorism, climate change, piracy, and epidemic disease. Alliance supporters in Washington and Seoul would take a skeptical view of any moves within a peace process that weaken the legal or political underpinnings for the US-ROK Alliance, encourage Alliance “decoupling” overall, or degrade readiness and deterrence while a threat still exists. Another argument for continuing the Alliance even after denuclearization would be that Pyongyang’s conventional weapons, even if reduced considerably as part of an agreement, still pose a threat to Seoul’s security. In addition, Washington and Seoul would need to consider how a peace regime would affect the US strategic position in Northeast Asia, which is built on a framework of strong regional alliances. US policymakers believe that the American-led order in Asia provides the foundation for peace, stability, and economic growth in the region, including for South Korea. A peace regime necessarily means revising existing security arrangements and may therefore be greeted by some camps with skepticism. If the threat from North Korea eases through a peace regime, US regional strategy will require a reassessment, including whether the US-ROK Alliance should reorient toward balancing Chinese power in Northeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific region overall. In this regard, the recent bilateral effort to examine a forward-looking joint vision for the Alliance in light of dynamic changes in the security environment are encouraging. Long-Term Regional Security Architecture A comprehensive Korean peace agreement would likely transform the status quo security environment in the region. The two Koreas and the other major regional stakeholders should therefore begin discussions on a regional security mechanism (or a series of mechanisms) that can serve as a venue for discussing, implementing, and monitoring various multilateral aspects of the peace regime as well as building mutual confidence and regional peace and stability. This mechanism could address Peninsula-specific issues, from tracking progress on denuclearization to coordinating actions to facilitate North Korea’s integration into the regional economy, as well as help mitigate some of the conflicting security interests in the region by functioning as a venue for frank dialogue and confidence-building exchanges. Further, such a mechanism could later potentially be broadened to address other regional issues, from managing outstanding territorial disputes in the East China Sea to coordinating efforts on transregional issues. Creating such a regional security mechanism will be no easy task given the existing rivalries, mistrust, and historical grievances in the region. The closest analogue, the Six-Party Talks, ended without success and not all parties are willing to revive it at this juncture. A Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism (one of the proposals from the Six-Party Talks) that focuses more on regional peace and stability could avoid some of the resistance. Significant bilateral and four-party progress toward a peace deal on the Korean Peninsula could serve as an impetus for the major stakeholders to explore the creation of such a mechanism, and a mechanism with mutual backing would in turn serve as a valuable asset for ensuring continued progress on peace. Denuclearization A sustainable peace regime will depend heavily on a common understanding about what is included under the definition of denuclearization. Debating the term goes beyond semantics. Instead, agonizing over the meaning of denuclearization is a proxy for negotiating the fundamental trade-offs inherent in a deal. The areas of disagreement relate to the substantive, geographic, and temporal scope of denuclearization, as well as whether the term includes nonnuclear weapons. Regarding denuclearization’s scope inside North Korea itself, each party has its own view on which capabilities would be restricted or eliminated. Assembled nuclear devices would clearly fall under this rubric, as would stockpiles of weapons-grade fissile material that could be used to make bombs. However, including a range of other capabilities is less clear. For example, negotiators would need to determine which categories of ballistic missiles would be regulated. They would also need to agree on whether Pyongyang could retain a civilian nuclear or space program that uses dual-use technologies. Cooperative threat reduction measures related to the disposition of nuclear expertise and records as well as the transition of nuclear scientists to civilian programs could fall under the denuclearization definition as well. Moreover, an intrusive monitoring and verification mechanism would be needed to ensure compliance with those commitments. Beyond North Korean territory, definitions of denuclearization proposed by North Korea, China, and Russia — and recognized in principle by South Korea — broaden the geographic scope to include the entire Korean Peninsula. Accepting a broader scope could mean restrictions on South Korean and US activities, including agreeing not to station, rotate, or deploy nuclear-capable platforms such as B-52 bombers in South Korea. North Korea has even demanded the withdrawal of US troops that hold the authority to use nuclear weapons from South Korea. In addition, Pyongyang would likely expect Seoul (and Tokyo) to reaffirm its commitment not to develop or acquire nuclear weapons in the future. North Korea may also take issue with the US extended deterrence commitments to South Korea. Although Pyongyang has long called on Washington to remove US strategic assets from the Korean Peninsula, it has not explicitly stated that the United States must retract its nuclear umbrella over the ROK, which suggests some flexibility in North Korea’s position. Three post-peace regime possibilities exist regarding the US nuclear umbrella: retract, extend, or remain. Some experts have advocated the first scenario, envisioning a Korean Peninsula as a nuclear-free zone with guarantees from all P5 states never to use a nuclear weapon against the Peninsula. Others have cautioned that such developments, without verification of denuclearization, would only play into North Korea’s hands, enabling it to forcibly unify the Korean Peninsula or otherwise coerce South Korea. Furthermore, such a decision would have broader implications for other US alliances and could raise questions about US extended deterrence commitments. Theoretically, the two Koreas could seek the extension of the US nuclear umbrella over the entire Korean Peninsula as well as North Korea’s tacit affiliation with the US-ROK Alliance, given the concerns about China’s growing influence in the region. Such an alternative security arrangement is not implausible considering North Korea’s deep distrust of China, but it would face fierce opposition from Beijing. An arrangement could also be made for the US nuclear umbrella to remain over South Korea, and for China and Russia (or both) to extend nuclear umbrellas over North Korea. China, despite growing signs of a more ambitious regional role, has never extended such guarantees to any other state and has generally eschewed playing the role of a traditional great power security provider. Furthermore, Washington, Seoul, and Pyongyang itself would oppose expanding Chinese or Russian security roles on the Korean Peninsula. At the conventional level, it is unclear where Pyongyang stands on US extended deterrence guarantees that are backed by nonnuclear strike and missile defense capabilities. At times, North Korea has expanded its conception of denuclearization beyond the Peninsula to include military assets stationed throughout East Asia, such as those on Japan and Guam. Accepting a region-wide geographic scope for denuclearization would create a dilemma for the United States for a variety of reasons, foremost because those forces serve essential missions beyond deterring North Korea. Even if the United States removed nuclear-capable assets from all of East Asia, its changed posture would provide only symbolic security reassurances. All three legs of the US nuclear triad — intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarines, and bombers — can reach North Korea from the continental United States. Refraining from basing nuclear forces in East Asia places only minimal operational constraints on US nuclear forces. In other words, if the US nuclear “threat” to North Korea is based on capabilities rather than intent, the only way to make Pyongyang invulnerable is total US disarmament. To be sure, the symbolism of security guarantees can still be meaningful, but only as indicators of benign intent. Washington and Pyongyang also disagree on the time span of denuclearization. Chairman Kim called for the two countries to take “phased and synchronous measures” to “eventually achieve denuclearization and lasting peace on the peninsula,” reflecting a desire for a protracted, incremental process.119 Washington initially envisioned an accelerated time frame for denuclearization but lowered its expectations after the failed Hanoi meeting. Developing a common understanding about which types of nonnuclear assets fit under the denuclearization definition may be another variable in negotiations. North Korea has called for an end to the deployment of US conventional “strategic assets” on or near the Peninsula that could defeat its air defense systems and conduct regime “decapitation” operations intended to take out the leadership (such as F-35 and F-22 stealth fighters and B1-B bombers). The regime has also complained about South Korea’s taking possession of US-made F-35 stealth fighters. For its part, the United States has at times interpreted denuclearization to include North Korea giving up all weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including chemical and biological weapons. A compromise working definition of denuclearization could leave out nonnuclear capabilities. The United States would need to address North Korean chemical and biological weapons later; North Korea would have to accept highly capable conventional weapons being stationed on and around South Korea. Choosing this approach would allow the denuclearization process to begin with a relatively narrow scope and be expanded over time. Some analysts have argued that, rather than getting mired in defining denuclearization up front, it is more important to focus immediately on achieving tangible security benefits and beginning the confidence-building process. Yet if a near-term definition is necessary, one of the existing definitions from the 1992 Joint North-South Declaration or the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six Party Talks could be used as a starting point. Dismantlement and Verification US policymakers have set a high bar for the end-state they want to achieve for North Korea’s nuclear program: complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement. This concept dates back to the early 2000s and is codified into UNSCR 1718.124 Trump administration officials use “final, fully verified denuclearization” as an alternative phrasing for the same goal. Achieving it will require a phased, step-by-step process. The sheer scope of North Korea’s nuclear program and the regime’s unwillingness to make security concessions until greater trust is established demands as much. Experts generally agree that the first step in the dismantlement process is freezing and capping North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile activities. Although the regime has demonstrated a significant level of nuclear weapons development and testing, it has yet to demonstrate a fully integrated and reliable capability. Implementing a freeze on further nuclear and missile activities — including nuclear tests, fissile material production, long-range missile and solid-fuel rocket tests, and weapons export and proliferation, would halt the most concerning aspects of North Korea’s nuclear program. Once a freeze is implemented, the next phase would seek to roll back and then completely dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons facilities and programs. This goal would address two major categories of activities. The first is dismantling and removing North Korea’s existing arsenal of nuclear devices, ready-made component parts that can be assembled into nuclear devices, and stockpiles of fissile material. North Korean nuclear technicians could potentially dismantle some or all of those weapons with the appropriate monitoring. P5 countries could provide related technical support. The second area is neutralizing North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure and ways of operating a nuclear weapons program. Major capabilities to be destroyed would include Pyongyang’s declared and undeclared facilities that produce weapons-grade fissile material, mine and mill such material, assemble nuclear weapons, and build certain ballistic missiles. Finding alternative employment for the scientists and engineers who build and operate these weapons would also have to be taken into consideration. Addressing North Korea’s remaining nuclear infrastructure would pose a more technically difficult challenge because some would fall under dual-use provisions (such as supporting a civilian nuclear or space program). Other facilities may build types of weapons that may fall outside the restrictions of a denuclearization agreement (such as short- and medium-range conventional ballistic missiles). Because of their dual-use roles, many facilities would have to be continuously monitored rather than destroyed. Monitoring and verification are perhaps the greatest challenges in the dismantlement process. During the Six-Party Talks, an inability to agree on a written verification procedure for North Korea’s declared nuclear activities and stockpiles led to the demise of the negotiations. The significant growth of the country’s nuclear program since then has exacerbated the verification problem. The main issue is that verification with a 100 percent level of certainty across the entirety of North Korea’s nuclear program would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, given the resources required to conduct monitoring and verification and the access constraints that the regime would likely impose. North Korea also maintains an extensive network of covert and underground facilities, tunnels, and sites that can be used to hide activities and materials. Nevertheless, an extensive and stringent verification and monitoring regime will be necessary to enforce any agreement, keep tabs on North Korea’s denuclearization progress, and prevent any backsliding or reconstitution. Verification activities could potentially start small and ramp up over time in coordination with political progress on both sides toward a peace regime. One option might be to accept as a first step dismantlement and removal of major components of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal (that is, steps that undeniably reduce its arsenal or reduce its production capabilities) in lieu of transparency on the entire nuclear and missile complex. Experts have proposed a “probabilistic” approach to comprehensive verification to supplement traditional verification of major objects or activities. This approach would subject a wider, though not exhaustive, list of items and activities for monitoring, each of which by itself could have a low probability of detection but in the aggregate would provide a higher monitoring confidence. Eventually, North Korea would need to provide a full declaration of its nuclear and missile complex to enable verification and monitoring of Pyongyang’s compliance with any agreements. Over time, the United States and the international community would expect North Korea to adhere to robust safeguards, including by negotiating an Additional Protocol agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Pyongyang would also need to join or return to compliance with several relevant treaties, including the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which it withdrew from in January 2003; the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty; and the Missile Technology Control Regime. The technically complex process of verification will take many years to complete, and each side will require both political commitments and concrete actions early in the process to sustain the political momentum and diplomatic credibility required for adhering to the process until completion. Creating the necessary trust this process requires can best be accomplished by steps in parallel toward a peace regime. Chemical and Biological Weapons As noted, the United States has at times interpreted denuclearization to include North Korea giving up all weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons. During the February 2019 Hanoi summit, President Trump reportedly handed Chairman Kim a document that called for fully dismantling not just North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure but also its chemical and biological warfare program. North Korea is party to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the Geneva Protocol, but not to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The government denies having biological or chemical weapons, but the United States and others worry that the Kim regime could turn to these weapons as a cheaper alternative or complement to its burgeoning nuclear capability. North Korea is believed to have an indigenous capability to develop chemical weapons, as well as the world’s third-largest stockpile, and an estimated 2,500 to 5,000 metric tons of chemical weapons agents. Concerns about Pyongyang’s willingness to use them were heightened in February 2017 when Kim Jong Un’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam died from exposure to the VX nerve agent in the Kuala Lumpur airport. Pyongyang denied responsibility for the murder, but Washington imposed additional sanctions on North Korea in response to the incident. North Korea can indigenously cultivate many types of biological agents, including anthrax and smallpox, and produce biological weapons in various dual-use facilities. Little data exist to confirm the existence and size of potential stockpiles, but signs indicate that Kim may be reviving efforts to weaponize and deliver the agents. According to former Pentagon official Andrew Weber, “North Korea is far more likely to use biological weapons than nuclear ones.” Still, experts warn against exaggerating North Korea’s capabilities in the absence of reliable evidence. Most information comes from defectors, and the US government has been increasingly cautious in its estimates of North Korea’s capabilities. To address these risks, a peace agreement might include a no-first-use pledge on biological and chemical weapons, as well as a requirement that North Korea join the CWC. The parties should also identify additional confidence-building measures, such as technical exchanges among scientists or medical personnel, and mechanisms for improved transparency and monitoring. United Nations Command The UN Command has played both a stabilizing and controversial role on the Korean Peninsula since the Korean War. In July 1950, the Security Council authorized a US-led unified command of multilateral forces to repel North Korean aggression. Throughout the next two decades, the UN Command maintained nominal responsibility for South Korea’s defense. However, the majority of the fifteen sending states, which made up only 4 percent of the total UN Command forces at peak strength in 1953, withdrew most of their troops by 1956, and the defense mission was fulfilled by ROK and US forces.134 The UN Command’s role diminished further with the establishment of a US-ROK Combined Forces Command in 1978. Today, in the absence of active hostilities and an adequate distinction between its role and Alliance functions, the UN Command’s existence engenders ongoing dispute. For the United States and its allies, the UN Command continues to serve important functions related to peacekeeping, multilateral cooperation, and contingency readiness. It helps enforce the Armistice Agreement and maintain communications with the Korean People’s Army through its participation in the Military Armistice Commission.135 The UN Command would also serve as a force provider in the case of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula. Its subordinate command, UN Command-Rear, has nominal authority over seven rear bases in Japan, which provide administrative and logistics support, allow multilateral forces to conduct missions (such as monitoring and preventing North Korea’s illicit ship-to-ship transfers), and would manage force flows in a contingency scenario.136 In recent years, the UN Command has undergone a formal “revitalization” process to strengthen the role of sending states in a potential crisis. The Moon administration has expressed concern, however, that Washington could use the UN Command to maintain control over the Combined Forces Command and ROK forces during a military crisis, even after the transition of wartime operational control, by defining the situation as a violation rather than nullification of the armistice. For Pyongyang, Beijing, and Moscow, however, the UN Command is a shell construct propped up by Washington to maintain the pretense of international solidarity against North Korea. They have long questioned the UN Command’s legitimacy given that the Security Council voted to establish the command when a key permanent member, the Soviet Union, was boycotting council proceedings. North Korea in particular has called for the UN Command to be dissolved, arguing that the United States is trying to transform it into an “Asian version of NATO.” In addition, critics argue that UN Command-Rear, which maintains just four personnel, is merely a fig leaf entity used to prevent the termination of the UN-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and ensure US control over the rear bases. For its part, the United Nations has distanced itself from the UN Command. Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali noted in 1994 that the “Security Council did not establish the unified command as a subsidiary organ under its control but merely recommended the creation of such a command, specifying that it be under the authority of the United States.” Therefore, Washington alone has the authority to “decide on the continued existence or the dissolution of the United Nations Command.” As US-DPRK and inter-Korean negotiations made headway in 2018, the UN Command demonstrated its ability to play a facilitating role in tension reduction. It met trilaterally with military officials from both Koreas in October to advance the implementation of the inter-Korean comprehensive military agreement. Later, it verified the removal of dozens of landmines and twenty-two front-line guard posts in the DMZ as part of the agreement. Throughout 2018, it approved the movement of more than six thousand people through the DMZ between the two Koreas, versus zero in 2017. The UN Command’s role will continue to evolve as a peace process moves forward. It could play a role in coordinating the various international entities that would be involved in implementing peace arrangements. Some experts argue that, even after a peace agreement is reached, the command could continue in the capacity of a peace guarantor, managing peacekeeping operations and various North-South confidence-building measures. However, its historical baggage as a belligerent in the Korean War would potentially undermine its argument for a new, neutral role. Also, the two Koreas’ desire to minimize foreign encroachment on their sovereignty may reinvigorate calls for it to be dissolved or replaced rather than reformed. A formal end to the Korean War would render the UN Command’s original rationale under UNSCR 84 moot or obsolete. If it were dissolved, the UN Command-Rear would also need to be dissolved, and UN forces would need to be removed from Japan pursuant to the UN-Japan SOFA. Currently, the UN Command-Rear offers a streamlined way to provide visiting forces access to bases in Japan, exercise multilateral cooperation, and supply political cover for sensitive ROK-Japan security cooperation. In its place, Japan would need to negotiate bilateral access and SOFA agreements with relevant countries (the United States already has a SOFA with Japan), which it has already begun doing with the United Kingdom and Australia, two of the UN-Japan SOFA signatories. Given the implications for regional security, the United States, South Korea, Japan, and other interested parties would need to begin discussions on how to replace the force management functions of the UN Command-Rear in the new environment. New Peace Management System The peace agreement that replaces the Armistice Agreement would need to help establish a new framework for maintaining the peace. Currently, the Armistice Agreement mandates the Military Armistice Commission, along with representatives from the KPA and the UN Command, to implement the truce as well as a Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission to monitor armistice implementation outside of the DMZ. However, both commissions have largely been defunct since the mid-1990s. In practice, a fragile peace has been maintained on the Peninsula through mutual deterrence by the military capabilities of the KPA and US-ROK Combined Forces Command. A central question is how to structure the new peace system to institutionalize and improve on the de facto way peace is maintained today, as well as how to account for the preferences of the main parties involved. Most likely, the two Koreas would prefer a Korea-only framework that ensures Korean sovereignty over security matters and minimizes foreign influence. The inter-Korean joint military commission established under the 1991 Basic Agreement and reaffirmed under the 2018 inter-Korean military agreement would be one potential body for addressing and resolving security issues, though it would need to be further developed during the negotiation process. Another possibility would be to add the United States and China as members or supervisors to the management system given their direct interests on the Peninsula and ability to underwrite the peace process. A third, though least likely, option would be to establish a formal UN peacekeeping operation in the DMZ. … ” (Frank Aum, Jacob Stokes, Patricia M. Kim, Atman M. Trived, Rachel Vandenbrink, Jennifer Staats, and Joseph Y. Yun, Peaceworks: A Peace Regime for the Korean Peninsula, U.S. Institute of Peace, February 2002)

The United States tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) today, days before North Korea was due to hold a major military parade. According to the U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command, an unarmed Minuteman III ICBM equipped with a test re-entry vehicle was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at around 12:33 a.m., which flew approximately 4,200 miles before landing in the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The test, which was conducted almost exactly a year before a major nuclear treaty between the United States and Russia is due to expire, was designed to “verify the accuracy and reliability” of the weapon system and “most importantly” served to demonstrate U.S. national security capabilities to “assure our partners and dissuade potential aggressors,” read an official press release. (Shim Kyu-seok, “ICBM Test by U.S. Is Warning to North, Russia,” JoongAng Ilbo, February 6, 2020)

North Korea has vastly expanded its use of the internet in ways that enable its leader, Kim Jong-un, to evade a “maximum pressure” American sanctions campaign and turn to new forms of cybercrime to prop up his government, according to a new study. The study concludes that since 2017 — the year President Trump threatened “fire and fury like the world has never seen” against the country — the North’s use of the internet has surged about 300 percent. Nearly half of that traffic now flows through a new connection in Russia, avoiding the North’s longtime dependency on a single digital pipeline through China. The surge has a clear purpose, according to the report released Sunday by Recorded Future, a Cambridge, Mass., group known for its deep examinations of how nations use digital weaponry: circumventing financial pressure and sanctions by the West. Over the past three years, the study concluded, North Korea has improved its ability to both steal and “mine” cryptocurrencies, hide its footprints in gaining technology for its nuclear program and cyberoperations, and use the internet for day-to-day control of its government. “What this tells you is that our entire concept of how to control the North’s financial engagement with the world is based on an image of the North that is fixed in the past,” said Priscilla Moriuchi, a former National Security Agency analyst who directed the study and has long focused on North Korea and Iran. “They have succeeded at an easy-to-replicate model of how to move large amounts of money around the world, and do it in a way our sanctions do not touch.” She concluded, “Our sanctions system needs a radical update.” The report helps solve the mystery of why the country’s economy appears to have survived, and in some sectors actually grown, as the United States and its allies have talked about their success in choking off oil supplies and cracking down on North Korea’s skillful production of counterfeit American currency. It also further complicates the Trump administration’s paralysis in dealing with the North. Sanctions have remained in place, though Trump does not like to talk about them, even as his personal diplomacy with Kim sputters. Moreover, the report, titled “How North Korea Revolutionized the Internet as a Tool for Rogue Regimes,” concludes that other nations are watching the North Korean model, and beginning to replicate it. “Iran has begun to pursue cryptocurrencies as a method for facilitating international payments and circumventing U.S. financial controls,” it notes. Moriuchi, who left the National Security Agency in 2017, began tracking the internet use of the North Korean elite two and a half years ago, a period that encompassed Trump’s confrontational approach to the North, the country’s missile launches and then the stalled diplomacy that has followed the president’s three meetings with Kim. In 2017, Moriuchi could easily see the content of the North Korean elite’s searches, most of which appeared to be for leisure: While ordinary North Koreans have access only to a restricted, in-country version of the internet, the country’s leaders and their families downloaded movies, shopped and browsed the web on nights and weekends. But that has changed. Internet use has surged during office hours, suggesting the leadership is now using its internal networks the same way the West does: conducting daily government and private business. Now the country has developed its own version of a “virtual private network,” a technique to tunnel through the internet securely that has long been used by Western businesses to secure their transactions. Meanwhile, the country’s efforts to encrypt data and hide its activities on the web have become far more sophisticated. And through a network of students, many in China and India, the North has learned how to exploit data that could improve its nuclear and missile programs. The largely home-built effort to hide traffic, the report concluded, was being used to steal “data from the networks of unsuspecting targets, or as a means of circumventing government-imposed content controls.” Such methods have long been used by Chinese and Russian hackers, often working for intelligence agencies. The North has managed to surprise the world before with its digital savvy: In November 2014, its devastating cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in an effort to kill “The Interview,” a comedy about two bumbling journalists sent by the C.I.A. to kill Kim, exposed American digital vulnerabilities. That was followed by a bold effort to steal nearly $1 billion from the Bangladesh central bank through the international financial settlement system called SWIFT. Other central bank attacks followed. North Korea’s most famous cyberattack, using code called WannaCry, disabled the British health care system for days and created havoc elsewhere. It was based on vulnerabilities that had been stolen from the National Security Agency, and published by a group that called itself the Shadow Brokers. American officials have never publicly acknowledged their inadvertent role in fueling the attacks. But the report suggests the North has now moved on. It has figured out more effective ways to steal cryptocurrencies. And it has begun to produce, or “mine,” its own, chiefly through Monero, a lesser-known alternative cryptocurrency to Bitcoin that advertises that it “obfuscates sending and receiving addresses as well as transacted amounts.” In short, it is perfect for any nation — and its financial partners — seeking to avoid United Nations and American sanctions. It is impossible from the data available to Recorded Future to figure out how profitable the “mining” operations are, and some cyber-experts believe that more traditional methods — ranging from manipulating the SWIFT system to churning out ransomware attacks — are probably more fruitful. “North Korea has for several generations pursued an all-of-the-above approach to gaining illicit funds, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they indeed expanded their cryptocurrency mining efforts to complement their hacking ones,” said Ben Buchanan, the author of a new book, “The Hacker and the State: Cyber Attacks and the New Normal of Geopolitics.” But as Buchanan’s book notes, the country’s digital warriors have proved to be enormously fast learners, and “what the North Koreans lack in skill, at least as compared to their counterparts at the N.S.A., they partially make up for in aggressiveness and ambition.” “They are quick to embrace new services or technologies when useful and cast them aside when not,” the Recorded Future report concludes. “The Kim regime has developed a model for using and exploiting the internet that is unique — it is a nation run like a criminal syndicate.” (David E. Sanger, “North Korea’s Internet Use Surges, Thwarting Sanctions and Fueling Theft,” New York Times, February 9, 2020)

North Korea continued to enhance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs last year in breach of United Nations sanctions, according to a confidential U.N. report seen by Reuters today. The country also illicitly imported refined petroleum and exported some $370 million worth of coal with the help of Chinese barges, the report added. The 67-page report to the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee, which is due to be made public next month, comes as the United States tries to revive stalled denuclearization talks with North Korea. “In 2019, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) did not halt its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs, which it continued to enhance, in violation of Security Council resolutions,” the independent U.N. sanctions monitors wrote. “Despite its extensive indigenous capability it uses illicit external procurement for some components and technology.” North Korea has been subjected to U.N. sanctions since 2006. They have been strengthened by the 15-member Security Council over the years in a bid to cut off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The sanctions monitors said that in a fresh bid to evade sanctions, North Korea had started to export millions of tons of commodities — banned since 2017 — using barges. “According to a Member State, the DPRK exported 3.7 million metric tons of coal between January and August 2019, with an estimated value of $370 million,” the report said. “According to the Member State, most DPRK coal exports, an estimated 2.8 million metric tons, were conducted via ship-to-ship transfers from DPRK-flagged vessels to Chinese local barges.” The unidentified member state told the monitors that barges had delivered coal directly to three ports in China’s Hangzhou Bay and also to facilities along the Yangtze river. The U.N. monitors also said a member state reported that North Korea had exported at least one million tons of sand from river dredging, worth at least $22 million, to Chinese ports. Pyongyang ally China has repeatedly said it is implementing U.N. sanctions. In a statement, China’s mission to the United Nations described any accusations against China as “baseless.” “On the implementation of the Security Council resolutions concerning the DPRK, China has always faithfully and seriously fulfilled its international obligations and sustained huge losses and tremendous pressure in the process,” said a representative of China’s U.N. mission. In Beijing on February 11, a foreign ministry spokesman said China was concerned about the leak of the report, which he said should be strictly confidential, as it had not yet been officially released. “We offer no comment on relevant news reports,” Geng Shuang told a daily briefing. The sanctions monitors reported that North Korea continued to illicitly import refined petroleum through ship-to-ship transfers at sea and direct deliveries. Since 2017, North Korea’s annual imports of refined petroleum have been capped by the U.N. Security Council at 500,000 barrels. The monitors said the United States reported that between January 1 and October 31 last year, Pyongyang imported refined petroleum that exceeded the cap “many times over.” While U.N. sanctions are not meant to harm North Korean civilians, the U.N. report said: “There can be little doubt that U.N. sanctions have had unintended effects on the humanitarian situation and aid operations, although access to data and evidence is limited and there is no reliable methodology that disambiguates UN sanctions from other factors.” The U.N. report said North Korea conducted 13 missile tests last year, launching at least 25 missiles, including new types of short range and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. “It continued to develop infrastructure and capacity for its missile program,” the monitors said. The sanctions monitors also concluded that North Korea continued to carry out cyber-attacks against financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges globally. “These attacks have resulted in monetary losses and have provided illicit revenue for the DPRK in violation of financial sanctions,” the report said. “These attacks are low-risk, high-reward, difficult to detect, and their increasing sophistication can frustrate attribution.” (Michelle Nichols, “North Korea Enhanced Nuclear, Missile Programs in Violation of UN Sanctions — Report,” Reuters, February 10, 2020)

President Donald Trump has told top foreign policy advisers that he does not want another summit with Kim Jong Un before the presidential election in November, according to two sources familiar with the discussions. Trump expressed his frustration late last year after the first working-level talks between the two countries for 8 months fell apart in October, sources explained. U.S. negotiators believed they were making progress during the talks in Stockholm until the North Koreans claimed they broke down because the US had come “empty handed.” One official familiar with the administration’s efforts with North Korea bluntly described the negotiations as “dead.” The U.S. government has completely stopped issuing special circumstance permits for travel to North Korea, this person added. Despite Trump’s disinterest, other administration officials continue to publicly tout a ready-for-negotiations posture. “My hope is that North Korea will come back to the table,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien said at an event in Washington on February 5. When asked if he expects talks to begin before the election, O’Brien denied any connection between the political calendar and the Trump administration’s policy on North Korea. “As far as when it happens,” O’Brien said. “What President Trump has shown both with the peace plan and otherwise is that there is an utter disregard on his part for US domestic politics when it comes to what is doing what is right for the American people. He will be doing what is right for the American people whether it is popular, unpopular, risky, not risky, right up until the day of the election.” Steve Biegun, the US Special Representative to North Korea, has remained committed to working-level talks and will maintain the portfolio even now that he is also the deputy secretary of state. But North Koreans have not been receptive in recent months. “Biegun is constantly trying to reignite talks,” according to one person familiar with the administration’s efforts. However, the official noted that Biegun has been unsuccessful on is recent trips to the region. It is unclear if lower-level diplomats working on the Trump administration’s North Korea policy have been explicitly told that the President is no longer eager for another summit. Yet officials working on the portfolio understand that Trump does not want to have another face-to-face with Kim Jong Un unless there is a deal to be closed during that summit, a source familiar with the efforts explained. Members of Congress, including many Republicans, have grown increasingly concerned over the administration’s failure to share details on their approach to North Korea policy, according to two Congressional staffers. Repeated requests by members of Congress to receive briefings, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the President’s meetings with Kim, were ignored, prompting concern over a lack of oversight by Congress, these people said. Diplomats from the region also feel they have been left in the dark. They have been asking the Trump administration for an update on the next steps the US intends to take, but the administration have not given them a firm answer, two diplomats from the region explained. (Kylie Atwood and Vivian Salama, “Trump Tells Advisers He Doesn’t Want Another Summit with North Korea’s Kim before the Election,” CNN, February 10, 2020)

State Department Spokesperson: “The United States is deeply concerned about the vulnerability of the North Korean people to a coronavirus outbreak. We strongly support and encourage the work of U.S. and international aid and health organizations to counter and contain the spread of coronavirus in the DPRK. The United States is ready and prepared to expeditiously facilitate the approval of assistance from these organizations.” (DoS, “Vulnerability of North Korean People to Coronavirus Outbreak,” February 13, 2020)

Deputy National Security Assistant Matthew Pottinger, noting that North Korea has shut its border to China, cutting off its most critical trading partner to keep out infection, said, “The coronavirus is probably doing more to advance our maximum pressure campaign than anything at the moment.” (Bob Woodward, Rage (New York; Simon & Schuster, 2020), p. 246)

When President Trump’s national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, convenes meetings with top National Security Council officials at the White House, he sometimes opens by distributing printouts of Trump’s latest tweets on the subject at hand. The gesture amounts to an implicit challenge for those present. Their job is to find ways of justifying, enacting or explaining Trump’s policy, not to advise the president on what it should be. That is the reverse of what the National Security Council was created to do at the Cold War’s dawn — to inform and advise the president on national security decisions. O’Brien, a dapper Los Angeles lawyer, convenes more regular and inclusive council meetings than John Bolton. But developing policy is not really O’Brien’s mission. In the fourth year of his presidency and in his fourth national security adviser, Trump has finally gotten what he wants — a loyalist who enables his ideas instead of challenging them. Two of O’Brien’s predecessors, Bolton and the retired Lt. Gen H.R. McMaster, had strong policy views informed by deep military or diplomatic experience that differed from Trump’s in basic ways, and each sought to steer his policies. O’Brien does not, and the limited role he plays reflects a broader change in the president’s national security team. Trump’s original team included independent figures like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, who were considered “the adults” who could counter the president’s impulsive tendencies. They have been replaced by relatively little known loyalists anxious to carry out Trump’s will and eager to embrace his zeal in rooting out members of the so-called deep state involved in his impeachment or seen as dissidents. At the National Security Council, a particular target was Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, a Ukraine expert who provided crucial testimony to support the impeachment of Trump, and was fired along with his twin brother, also an Army officer. Asked about their dismissals during an appearance last week at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, the usually voluble O’Brien was curt. “Their services were no longer needed,” he said. “We are not a country where a bunch of lieutenant colonels can get together and decide what the policy is of the United States. We are not a banana republic.” By the end of this month, O’Brien will have completed what he calls a streamlining of the National Security Council, chopping the council’s staff from 174 policy positions in October to fewer than 115. The reductions have focused on the dozens of career officials who are detailed to the council from other federal departments and agencies, including the C.I.A., the Pentagon and the State Department. Former officials say the practice of loaning personnel, typically for terms of about 12 to 18 months, has blossomed over the years in part because it allows the White House to employ people without tapping its own budget. It also means the White House is populated by career officials whose policy views do not necessarily reflect those of the president but which they are expected to mirror. Current and former Trump administration officials blame the detailees for not only slow-walking the enactment of some of Mr. Trump’s decisions with which they disagree, but also for undermining him with leaks to the news media. Reflecting widespread complaints among Trump allies, the Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs, whose program Trump regularly watches, singled out the National Security Council as a hotbed of dissent during an interview last week with Mr. O’Brien. “Given what we’ve witnessed in the three years, a little over three years, of this administration, I couldn’t blame the president if he said, ‘Keep them 50 blocks away,’” Dobbs said. “The vast number of those leaks that have been so harmful to the president and to the administration have come from the National Security Council. Hopefully that’s all changed as a result of your good efforts.” O’Brien smiled and nodded in response. O’Brien often notes that both Democrats and Republicans have long said the council, whose staff peaked at 236 policy staff members during the Obama era, had grown unwieldy, prone to micromanagement and in need of culling. “One thing a polarized Washington has been able to agree on is that the N.S.C. got too big,” said John Gans, who has worked at the Pentagon and is the author of a book on the National Security Council. But shrinking the size of the National Security Council may actually hurt the president’s agenda since it holds departments and agencies accountable for carrying it out, according to Nadia Schadlow, who served as McMaster’s deputy and was the principal author of Trump’s national security strategy. “I understand why this is happening,” Schadlow said. “But at some point, it could hurt the implementation of the president’s policies.” As O’Brien has whittled down the council he manages, declaring it was all about efficiency, the president has made little effort to disguise his appetite for purging his own government. “DRAIN THE SWAMP!” he tweeted last week, adding: “We want bad people out of our government.” The same day, Trump said in a radio interview that he may drastically limit how many national security officials can listen in on his calls with foreign leaders, breaking from decades of White House procedure. “I may end the practice entirely,” he said. Such commentary “creates the clear impression that this is about retribution, not reform,” said Senator Christopher S. Murphy, a Democratic member of the Foreign Relations Committee. But Murphy questioned how much the National Security Council’s structure really matters under a president who often rejects professional advice in making impulsive policy decisions. “It’s not terribly clear what the N.S.C. has been doing for the last three years,” he said. “The N.S.C.’s function now seems to be war-gaming for potential presidential tweets instead of developing policy recommendations for presidential decision-making.” Trump is unlikely to mind that. After more than three years in office, he feels more confident than ever in his management of national security, aides say, especially after some of his major decisions — including the killing of the Iranian commander Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani — failed to elicit the disastrous consequences many experts predicted. O’Brien’s willingness to trim the National Security Council, Gans said, “says something about Trump’s Washington.” “The national security adviser should have the strongest staff possible,” he continued. “But it seems like Robert O’Brien is focused more on that audience of one — and making sure that Donald Trump is happy.” The case of China may be the most vivid example of the council’s diminishment. In past administrations, the national security adviser has been central to the complex balancing of security and economic issues the making of China policy requires. But O’Brien has been a minor player in the administration’s open warfare on China policy. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper have publicly called for a broad containment policy that would counter Beijing militarily and cripple key Chinese companies like Huawei, the telecommunications giant. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has taken the opposite view, working to mitigate the confrontation. And much of the White House policymaking has been overseen by Larry Kudlow, a key economic adviser loath to rattle markets. Normally, the National Security Council would play a role in settling this kind of dispute. But when Trump tweeted on February 18 against heavy restrictions on technology sales to China — days after Esper gave a fiery speech calling for just that — a White House meeting next week on the subject was abruptly postponed. Not only is the policy in some chaos, it is unclear who is supposed to resolve it. Trump’s Syria policy is another case in point. When the president pledged in December 2018 to pull out of Syria, stunning top officials, Bolton worked to mitigate the decision, adding public conditions to the withdrawal that Trump had not mentioned. But in October, when Trump abruptly pulled forces out of the way of a Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria, he did so with no National Security Council policy process — and no serious weighing of the costs to U.S. influence. O’Brien, still new to the job, offered no objections, officials say. O’Brien held midlevel government posts, including a stint as a deputy to Bolton when he was ambassador to the United Nations before serving as Trump’s chief hostage negotiator. He impressed the president in that job by securing the release of several Americans imprisoned by foreign governments and armed groups. O’Brien also gets along better than his predecessors did with. Pompeo, who feuded with Bolton, and with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who often gives foreign policy advice. And he has been friends with Richard Grenell, the latest addition to the national security team, for over a decade. He speaks with the president several times a day, often first thing in the morning and sometimes in the White House’s private residence before Trump descends to the Oval Office. Some national security professionals who have worked with or advised O’Brien say that it is a mistake to underestimate him and that he has a deft managerial touch that reflects his tenure leading dozens of lawyers in the Los Angeles office of Arent Fox, the Washington law firm. Others complain that he lacks fluency in policy details and delegates heavy lifting to his chief deputy, Matthew Pottinger, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Marine who is among a handful of White House aides to survive all three years of Trump’s presidency. In a television interview in late December, O’Brien incorrectly referred to the North Korean ruler, Kim Jong-un, swapping the leader’s surname for his given one. It was, his critics said, not a mistake that a more experienced official would have made. (Michael Crowley and David E. Sanger “For National Security Council, A Mission Turns Upside Down,” New York Times, February 22, 2020, p. A-1)

When Stephen E. Biegun was sworn in as deputy secretary of state, it was in front of an unusual crowd at the State Department — one that included loyalists to President Trump, but also a mix of Never Trumpers and Democrats. The job is a risk — Washington is full of people who have catapulted from the Trump administration with reputations diminished — but friends say they are betting on Biegun. “If anyone can figure out how to navigate it, I think it can be Steve,” said Stephen J. Hadley, Bush’s second national security adviser. It helps, friends say, that Biegun has the even temperament of a man who thrives in the background. Never one to upstage the boss, be it the president or secretary of state, Biegun is mild-mannered and deferential, the anti-Pompeo. While Pompeo is prone to profanity-laced rants, Biegun is a Republican of another era who projects calm. “He listens,” said Denis McDonough, who was Biegun’s Democratic counterpart when the two men served as the chief foreign policy advisers to their parties’ Senate leaders in the mid-2000s. While Pompeo has sought to bring back “swagger” to diplomacy, Biegun is described as a careful negotiator. And while Pompeo allowed a shadow foreign policy campaign to undermine the United States Embassy in Ukraine, Biegun has insisted that, in diplomacy, “politics best stop at the water’s edge.” John R. Beyrle, who was one of Mr. Obama’s ambassadors to Moscow, said that Pompeo most likely viewed Biegun as “somebody who could help ameliorate that almost toxic situation” at the State Department. “So if there is that vacuum or deficit of trust, which I think there is, Steve is well placed to fill it,” said Beyrle, who worked with Biegun on the board of the U.S.-Russia Foundation, which promotes entrepreneurship and education with Moscow. Notably, Biegun has described Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former American ambassador in Kyiv who was ordered back to Washington and accused of being disloyal to Trump, as “a very capable foreign service officer.” Since first meeting Yovanovitch years ago, when they were both working on Russia policy, “my esteem has done nothing but grown for her,” Biegun told senators at his confirmation hearing in November. Colleagues say the secret to Mr. Biegun’s success, so far, is that he gained the trust of Trump by enabling the president’s bromance with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader. Officials said the president twice considered appointing Biegun as national security adviser, but made him the chief envoy to North Korea instead. In that job Biegun has tried to move talks between Trump and Kim forward when other administration officials wanted to shut them down. Biegun also declined to join the so-called Never Trumper movement in 2016, putting him among a relatively small number of Republicans with high-level foreign policy experience who were not blacklisted by the White House after Trump won the presidential election. “He’s friends with Republicans and Democrats, he treats people well, he knows how to operate in Washington, he knows the think tanks, he knows the press, he knows the diplomatic community,” said John B. Bellinger III, the State Department’s former top lawyer who worked with Biegun on Bush’s National Security Council. Born in Detroit to a large family — more than 30 relatives attended his December swearing-in ceremony — Biegun was in high school in Pontiac, Mich., when a history teacher wrote the word “czar” on the chalkboard in the Cyrillic alphabet. He was immediately fascinated and went on to study Russian at the University of Michigan. Biegun lived in Moscow in the early 1990s, when he worked for the International Republican Institute, which promotes democracy with some funding from the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development. But he mostly developed his national security credentials on Capitol Hill — first as a top Republican staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later to Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, then the majority leader — and at the White House as a top aide to Condoleezza Rice, who was the first national security adviser in the Bush administration. He traveled to Russia as a vice president at Ford, negotiating new business ventures, but also took time off to briefly advise Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2008. That position, according to colleagues, revealed his ability to maintain patience under pressure and to avoid a condescending tone — even when having to explain the most basic foreign policy axioms to his boss. In his new job, Mr. Biegun will also remain the lead negotiator with North Korea — a dual role, he has said, that elevates “the priority on North Korea to the deputy secretary position, and I think that’s very important.” Biegun was not only trying to negotiate with the North Koreans, but he was also engaged in a behind-the-scenes fight with Trump’s national security adviser at the time, John R. Bolton, who believed Biegun was pursuing a useless mission. Still, Joseph Y. Yun, a career diplomat who negotiated with North Korean officials until he retired in March 2018, said Biegun’s new status could convince Pyongyang that the United States was serious enough about restarting the discussions that it had promoted one of its most senior officials to devote to the details. “It’s a very good signal to North Korea,’’ said Yun, who retired in part out of frustration with the State Department’s diminished role in the talks. “This will elevate the negotiations.” Biegun’s greatest challenge, however, is the diplomatic morass of Russia and Ukraine. No one senior official has run the policy since Bolton left the White House as national security adviser in September, and few have been eager to embrace the portfolio. But Biegun has told colleagues he is eager to try to resolve Russia’s undeclared war in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. The conflict has killed more than 13,000 Ukrainian troops and civilians and threatened Kyiv’s sovereignty since it began in 2014, the same year that Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. Biegun faces another source of tension with the 2011 New START arms control treaty with Russia, which drove American and Russian nuclear arsenals to their lowest levels in nearly 60 years. The treaty is set to expire in February 2021, and people who have spoken to Biegun believe he wants to extend it. But Trump and his aides have signaled repeatedly that they intend to let the treaty expire unless it can be broadened to include other nations with strategic weapons, chiefly China — and the Chinese are not interested. In his confirmation hearing, Biegun summed up his approach in a single line that somehow conveyed both optimism for diplomacy and cleareyed realism about the Trump administration’s view of the world, given its “Make America Great Again” mantra. “I’ve long thought America was great,” Biegun said. (Lara Jakes ,”Republican of Another Era Navigates New Role as Pompeo’s Deputy, New York Times, February 22, 2020, p. A-18)

South Korea and the US postponed their annual joint military exercises Thursday, following a coronavirus outbreak here that has sickened about 1,800 and killed 13 people in Korea, as of this afternoon. The drills scheduled for March were put off “until further notice for the safety of all service members,” according to the joint statement from Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and US Forces Korea today. It was the first time the annual war game had been postponed over an infectious disease. Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Park Han-ki initially proposed the delay last week, shortly after the military first reported COVID-19 infections among its personnel, to which USFK Commander Gen. Robert Abrams agreed. “Our combat readiness is not weakened even if the joint drills are postponed,” Jeong Kyeong-doo said yesterday, while visiting Washington for talks with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The combat readiness of the combined forces here remains unflinching regardless of any decision the allies make on the joint exercises, “because we would have enhanced our readiness in one way or the other through other training available,” South Korea’s Defense Ministry reaffirmed today. Originally set to begin March 9, the drills involve a command post exercise that tests the combat readiness of top commanders and senior staff of both sides in computer-simulated events against North Korea. As of press time, South Korea’s military reported 25 confirmed cases and quarantined about 10,000 personnel as an expanded precaution to contain COVID-19. USFK reported two patients. A service member of USFK stationed at Camp Carroll in North Gyeongsang Province near Daegu tested positive, and a widow of a former service member was found to be infected earlier after visiting a base in Daegu. (Choi Si-young, “ROK-U.S. Military Drills Postponed amid Virus Concerns,” Korea Herald, February 27, 2020)

North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, the first such launches since it warned of “a new strategic weapon” early this year. The projectiles were fired from areas near its eastern coastal city of Wonsan towards the northeast at 12:37 p.m. within a 20-second interval, the JCS said, adding that both flew around 240 kilometers, reaching a maximum altitude of around 35 km. “South Korean and the U.S. intelligence authorities are analyzing their type. We found some similarities in features between what it fired today and those launched last year,” a JCS officer told reporters. The latest ones appear to have been fired from transporter erector launcher (TEL) vehicles, he added. “North Korea is believed to be continuing its joint strike drill,” the officer said, citing the military drill that the North staged on Friday under the supervision of its leader Kim Jong-un. The North has carried out wintertime drills which are expected to continue through the end of this month. It was not immediately known if Kim inspected Monday’s launches, but the officer raised the possibility of his guidance, as Kim “was in the Wonsan area around Friday and we have been closely following the related moves.” It is the first such projectile fire by the communist country since November 28, when it launched two missiles from what is presumed to be a super-large multiple rocket launcher. “Our military is monitoring the situation in case of additional launches and maintaining a readiness posture,” the JCS said, calling for the regime to immediately halt such moves. Following the launch, the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae convened an emergency meeting of security-related ministers. They expressed “strong concern” about the strike drills, according to its officials. Asked about what the North is aiming for by resuming such launches after a months-long hiatus, the officer said it appears to be trying to show off or strengthen its internal power base amid fears over the spread of the new coronavirus and economic difficulties, due mainly to the prolonged sanctions regime. “It also seems to be in line with its pledge to continue to build its defense capabilities,” he added. (Oh Seok-min and Choi Soo-hyang, “N. Korea Fires Two Short-Range Ballistic Missiles into East Sea: JCS,” Yonhap, March 2, 2020) Rodong Sinmun: “Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and supreme commander of the armed forces of the DPRK, visited the firepower strike drill ground of long-range artillery sub-units of the Korean People’s Army on the front on March 2 to further kindle the flames of the training revolution. He was greeted by Army General Pak Jong Chon, chief of the General Staff of the KPA, commanding officers of large combined units participating in the drill and artillery commanding officers on the spot. After receiving the report on the plan for the strike drill at the observation post, he guided the drill. As he ordered the sub-units to start the fire, the men of long-range artillery pieces on the front opened fire all at once. … ” (Rodong Sinmun, “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Guides Firepower Strikes Drill of Sub-Units of KPA on Front,” March 3, 2020) North Korea is believed to have tested a super-large multiple rocket launcher in this week’s projectile launches after reducing firing intervals for operational deployment, experts and military sources said March 3. The super-large launcher is believed to be a 600-millimeter caliber one and uses a transporter erector launcher (TEL) vehicle. The North is believed to have started a super-large multiple launcher development project in 2017. Experts noted that the firing intervals have been reduced through the launches. The time gap between two launches was 20 seconds in the latest test, compared to 17 minutes in the initial test, 19 minutes in the second test, three minutes in the third test and 30 seconds in the fourth one, according to the JCS. “The latest test is to verify its continuous-fire system of the launcher,” Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense Security Forum in Seoul, said. “The shorter interval, now 20 seconds, means that North Korea secures enhanced capabilities in launching surprise attacks, and that is what Kim Jong-un has called for,” he added. The super-large multiple rocket launcher is believed to have a maximum range of around 400 km, which puts most parts of South Korea in its reach. (Oh Seok-min, “North Boasts Super-Large Rocket Launcher with Shorter Fire Interval in Latest Test,” Yonhap, March 3, 2020)

The United States today charged two Chinese nationals with laundering more than $100 million in stolen cryptocurrency from a 2018 cyberattack linked to North Korea’s illicit nuclear missile and weapons development program. The new indictment, accompanied by sanctions and a civil forfeiture complaint seizing 113 cryptocurrency accounts filed in federal court in Washington, marks the first and largest enforcement action of its kind by the United States to deter North Korea’s cryptocurrency financing. “The hacking of virtual currency exchanges and related money laundering for the benefit of North Korean actors poses a grave threat to the security and integrity of the global financial system,” said Timothy J. Shea, U.S. attorney for Washington. “The United States will continue to protect the global financial system by holding accountable those who help North Korea engage in cybercrime,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. The charges and enforcement actions today are linked to an estimated $250 million in stolen funds. About $68 million of the funds laundered by the two defendants flowed to nine named Chinese banks, the government said. The case underscores the role played by China’s banking system that has agitated relations between Beijing and Washington, people familiar with the case said. U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control alleged that Tian Yinyin and Li Jiadong provided material support for “a malicious, cyber-enabled activity” and assisted an attack by Lazarus Group, a North Korean government cyber group that has carried out the bulk of North Korea’s malicious hacks against U.S. and foreign banks, corporations and other targets. The U.S. indictment, handed up February 27 and unsealed today, alleges that Tian and Li received funds from North Korean co-conspirators who had attacked four cryptocurrency exchanges since 2017. Court documents do not name the exchanges, but the details link them to publicly reported hacks that the U.N. panel tied to North Korea’s revenue generation efforts. They include a December 2017 hack on Youbit that took 17 percent of its assets and sent it into bankruptcy, a $49 million hack on Upbit in November 2019, and $30 million stolen in June 2018 from Bithumb — all three of South Korea. Much of the laundered money came from a nearly $250 million, previously undisclosed hack in 2018 of another Asian exchange, court documents said. The intrusion came after an employee unwittingly downloaded malware while communicating with a potential client, the documents said. U.S. court documents allege that Tian and Li sent roughly 2,500 deposits with $67.3 million in stolen funds to nine Chinese banks: China Guangfa Bank, Agricultural Bank of China, China Everbright Bank, China CITIC Bank, China Minsheng Bank, Huaxia Bank, Industrial Bank, Pingan Bank and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank. Tian and Li are not in U.S. custody and are assumed by U.S. authorities to be in China. U.S. court filings did not accuse the banks of any wrongdoing. Regulators said banks are typically required under “know your customer” regulations to question clients and identify the source of such large deposits, and to report suspicious transactions, several people familiar with the process said. Commercial blockchain analysis firms helped U.S. investigators trace hacked funds, knowing that although cryptocurrencies are known to attract criminals seeking anonymity, all transactions to individual accounts are recorded in public ledgers that can be amassed into large data sets. One such firm, Chainalysis, profiled Lazarus in a January report on the state of crypto-crime that said the North Korean-linked entity had conducted one of the “most elaborate phishing schemes” the industry has ever seen. Today’s actions are likely to be “just the first” of U.S. government actions to follow the money from its Lazarus revelations, Chainalysis spokeswoman Maddie Kennedy said. The firm estimated that seized cryptocurrency accounts still hold about $15 million, and it is advising clients of any exposure to accounts named by the U.S. government. “A not insubstantial part of North Korea’s gross domestic product is based on stealing cryptocurrency funds,” Kennedy said. U.S. authorities are “showing that … anyone who helps facilitate those who are stealing illicit funds are going to be held responsible.” The investigation was a massive and complex undertaking. After identifying accounts that received tens of thousands of related transactions, U.S. investigators followed up with requests for associated customer financial account and communications records under domestic and foreign legal authorities from more than 100 private entities. “These are not the only two individuals we’re aware of that are involved in this type of activities,” IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent Christopher Janczewski said. The case was cracked when unidentified North Korean co-conspirators made a key error covering their tracks, according to court documents. Court filings said attackers layered — or “peeled” — transfers through more than 5,000 transactions, including by using one-time use cryptocurrency wallets, through multiple countries before converting proceeds to government-backed currencies. But they failed to “peel” one bulk transfer worth about $1.6 million which investigators traced to a North Korean-linked source, the charges said. Separately investigators traced North Korean co-conspirators logging in from Pyongyang and using North Korean cellphone infrastructure, according to court documents. The same North Korean co-conspirators involved, the U.S. alleged, were also engaged at that time in a massive phishing campaign posing as advertisers for a Los Angeles firm or prospective clients or developers for cryptocurrency exchanges. The co-conspirators, court documents said, had a fake Twitter and LinkedIn page created with the name “Waliy Darwish” and Celas LLC, which produced a malicious software code that gave direct access to the downloader’s system. Celas shared a server and IP address with known malware named Fallchill that the FBI and Homeland Security Department have associated with the government of North Korea, and the Celas application used a language code associated with North Korea, court documents said. The phishing campaign targeted thousands of work and personal email accounts at exchanges around the world, including of prominent executives in the industry, court documents said. (Spencer S. Hsu and Ellen Nakashima, “Two Chinese Nationals Indicted in Cryptocurrency Scheme Linked to North Korea,” Washington Post, March 3, 2020)

KWP Central Committee First Vice-Department Director Kim Yo Jong’s statement: “As the saying goes, a burnt child dreads the fire. This perfectly fits Chongwadae of south Korea when it responded to the firepower strike drill conducted by the frontline artillerymen of the Korean People’s Army Monday. The drill was not aimed to threaten anybody. Training is the basic mission of the army responsible for the defense of the country and is an action for self-defense. However, it is truly shocking to us that Chongwadae talked about “strong regret” and “demanded stop”. This amounts to a truly senseless act as they are actually stereo-typed words often parroted by the Chongwadae and the Ministry of National Defense. Question is if Chongwadae has got anything to do with us whether we conduct exercises or have rest. As far as I know, the south side is also fond of joint military exercises and it is preoccupied with all the disgusting acts like purchasing ultra-modern military hardware. The unobserved deployment of the state-of-the-art fighters in south Korea must be aimed to attack us, not to scatter agricultural chemicals. It is well known to the world that a joint military exercise slated for March was decided to be postponed because of COVID-19 rampant in south Korea and that such a decision could never have been made by the owners of the Chongwadae as they are indifferent to peace, reconciliation and cooperation. We are so curious what the south side will say if we ask it to stop the joint military exercise which it is so eager to do, charging that it would be of no help to detente on the Korean peninsula. It is really the height of folly that those keen on war exercises poke their noses to the military exercises conducted by the other. They meant they need to get militarily prepared but we should be discouraged from military exercises. Such a gangster-like assertion can never be expected from those with normal way of thinking. Such incoherent assertion and actions made by Chong Wa Dae only magnify our distrust, hatred and scorn for the south side as a whole. It is us who have to express “strong regret” at such incoherent and imbecile way of thinking of Chong Wa Dae as it is guided by the logic that only they can conduct military exercises and others cannot. This might greatly offend them but to us what the Chongwadae has done is just like the one done by a mere child. It is exactly the same way the U.S. does which is apt to making far-fetched assertions. It is natural for south Korea to take after the U.S., as it has considered the alliance with the U.S. dearer than its own fellow countrymen. If it is set to get down to doing anything with us, it had better be more brave and fair and square. The south side’s response is so regretful and disappointing but it is somewhat fortunate that it was not direct statement of the president. How come can all its words and acts be so perfectly foolish in detail. It could be a little awful comparison, but it is a frightened dog barking noisier just like someone.” (KCNA, “First Vice-Department Director of KWP Central Committee Kim Yo Jong Blasts Chongwadae’s Foolish Way of Thinking,” March 3, 2020)

Defense Secretary Mark Esper was asked during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today if the threat of North Korea’s ballistic missile capabilities is becoming increasingly dangerous. “It’s becoming increasingly complicated as they seek to modernize the full range of missile systems,” he answered. Asked if the North’s long-range ballistic missiles pose a threat to the United States, he said, “Yes, if our intelligence is correct, they would.” Trump was asked yesterday if he had any reaction to the North’s latest launch. “No, I have no reaction,” he told reporters during a roundtable briefing on the coronavirus. “Short-term missiles. No. No. None.” (Lee Haye-ah, “Esper: N. Korea’s Missile Capability Becoming Increasingly Complicated,” Yonhap, March 4, 2020)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has sent a personal letter to President Moon Jae-in to express his support for South Korea to overcome the outbreak of the new coronavirus, Cheong Wa Dae said today. In the letter, delivered to Moon yesterday, Chairman Kim consoled South Koreans fighting the virus and wished for their good health, according to Yoon Do-han, Cheong Wa Dae’s senior secretary for public communication. “The North’s leader said he will quietly support South Korea’s fight against COVID-19 and showed his constant friendship and trust toward Moon,” Yoon said, adding that Kim expressed concerns about Moon’s health. In return, Moon sent a letter to his North Korean counterpart, expressing his gratitude. Kim also revealed his “frank” thoughts about situations on the Korean Peninsula, but Cheong Wa Dae did not elaborate. The two leaders’ rare exchange of letters came as South Korea has reported 6,088 confirmed cases since the outbreak started on January 20. North Korea has not reported any confirmed infections, but it has intensified preventive efforts by tightening its border with China, where the virus originated, and toughening quarantine procedures for foreigners. Kim’s message came just one day after Kim Yo Jong, sister of the North’s leader, issued a rare statement late Tuesday night that condemned Cheong Wa Dae for voicing its “strong concern” about her country’s latest rocket-artillery drills. (Yonhap, “N. K. Leader Sends Letter to Moon to Support S. Korea’s Fight against Coronavirus,” March 5, 2020)

DPRK FoMin spokesperson’s statement: “At the end of the UN Security Council emergency meeting held on last March 5, the UK, France, Germany, Belgium and Estonia announced a so-called “joint statement” denouncing the drill of our army. As widely known to the world, the UK, France and Germany have followed in the footsteps of the U.S. to take the lead in denouncing us since May 2019, while repeating an absurd argument of “condemnation” and “violation of resolutions” of the UN whenever we conducted military drills. The routine drills of our army are just the same as those conducted by any country of the world. However, only our military drills are becoming the subject of weird countries to be denounced every time. In the end, it is nothing more than a logic that we should give up our right to self-defense. The UK, France and Germany are taking issue with our military acts in each and every case, only because they cannot speak it out. If even a routine drill of multiple launch rocket system artillerymen should be a target of condemnation and alleged “violation of resolutions”, then with what do we hold in check the military forces of the U.S. and south Korea in front of us and how do we defend our state. They should put forth an argument to be understood by everyone and convinced especially by us to demand observance. If they blindly call our self-defense acts into question as now, it is, in the long run, tantamount to asking us to abandon the defense of our own state. The illogical thinking and sophism of these countries are just gradually bearing a close resemblance to the U.S. which is hostile to us. The reckless behavior of these countries instigated by the U.S. will become a fuse that will trigger our yet another momentous reaction.” (KCNA, “Spokesperson for DPRK Foreign Ministry Issues Statement,” March 7, 2020)

North Korea fired three short-range projectiles into the East Sea today for the second time in a week in what was believed to be part of a joint strike exercise, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said. The projectiles were fired northeastward from areas near its eastern town of Sondok in South Hamgyong Province at around 7:36 a.m, the JCS said, adding that they flew around 200 kilometers, reaching a maximum altitude of around 50 km. The launches came a week after the North conducted similar firings on March 2. “Today’s launches appear to be part of its artillery strike drill involving multiple types of multiple rocket launchers for a wintertime exercise, following the previous ones staged on Feb. 28 and March 2,” the JCS said in a release. The South Korean and the U.S. intelligence authorities have been analyzing other specifics, it said, adding that the military is “monitoring the situation in case there are additional launches and maintaining a readiness posture.” The wintertime exercise is expected to continue through the end of this month. A JCS officer told reporters that the three projectiles bear similarities to those fired March 2, and several other projectiles from “multiple types” of rocket launchers also appear to have been fired in the latest test. On March 2, the North fired two short-range projectiles from its super-large multiple rocket launcher under the guidance of Kim Jong Un during its strike drill. It also conducted such an outdoor drill three days earlier. Kim is also believed to have supervised the latest firings, according to military sources. So far, North Korea has tested the system five times, including the one last Monday. Sondok is where the North conducted the first known test of this weapon in August 2019. A series of tests of the rocket launcher were believed to have aimed at enhancing its capabilities by shortening the firing interval of projectiles so as to make them hard to detect and intercept. Their gap, in fact, was greatly shortened over the course of the tests. This time, the first two projectiles had a 20-second gap, but the third one was fired one minute later, according to the JCS officer. Some U.S. media reported that the North seems to have fired four projectiles this time, but the JCS simply said further analysis is required. In the previous tests, the North launched two projectiles each. As the system has four tubes, however, experts speculate the North could conduct additional tests for successive launches of more projectiles. The presidential office held an emergency meeting of security-related ministers via a video conference, presided over by Chung Eui-yong, director of national security at the presidential office, and analyzed the North’s intention and the overall security circumstances, according to Cheong Wa Dae. (Oh Seok-min and Choi Soo-hyang, “N. Korea Fires 3 Short-Range Projectiles into East Sea: JCS,” Yonhap, March 9, 2020)

Dempsey: “On March 9, at 07:36 AM local time, North Korea reportedly fired at least three projectiles covering around 200 km and reaching a peak altitude of 50 km before landing in the Sea of Japan (East Sea). Subsequently released imagery confirmed that a test had been conducted of a weapon previously referred to by North Korean state media as a “super-large caliber” MRLS (Multiple Rocket Launch System), known externally as the KN-25 (an unconfirmed US designation). This marks at least the sixth round of testing of the KN-25, with multiple projectiles launched on each occasion, bringing it closer to deployable status. (Two additional tests may have been conducted on July 31 and August 2, 2019, but the different terminology and the tracked, as opposed to wheeled, launch vehicles that were used raise the possibility of a different projectile.) … As KN-25 testing has progressed, the interval of time between projectile firings has generally decreased. The initial tests of the KN-25 took over 20 minutes between firings. However, during last week’s launch, that interval was only 20 seconds. This rate was replicated between two of the projectiles in Monday’s series as well. At this pace, and given the four-tube wheeled transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) observed from the previous five KN-25 tests, a full salvo of projectiles could be fired within one minute. With interval times greatly reduced, testing may now refocus on demonstrating a full-salvo launch, a key development milestone towards a deployable system. Previous tests had indicated only two of the four projectiles had ever been launched. However, imagery analysis of the September 10, 2019, tests suggested an early attempt to go beyond this. … While the KN-09 was not visible, other systems including a 240 mm unguided MRLS system were also fired — the same as on March 2 — potentially complicating accurate assessments of projectile types and concealing any failures. Moreover, while North Korean state media showcased images of the KN-25 launch, they made no written reference to it specifically. Instead, they used the presence of already fielded systems to create a narrative of routine long-range artillery drills, rather than ongoing development of a new weapon. … Although some technical challenges may remain, the KN-25’s relatively steady testing program likely brings it closer to reliable deployment status than many of the less-tested ballistic systems of varying ranges revealed in recent years. The development of this long-range guided artillery rocket system blurs the lines between a traditional MRLS projectile and a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). If deployed in large numbers, the KN-25 could represent a significant increase in North Korean capability to conduct a conventional strike at targets 200-400 km away, beyond front lines and deep within South Korean territory, offsetting a smaller payload with a much greater degree of accuracy than the North’s older Scud SRBM derivatives.” (Joseph Dempsey, “Assessment of the March 25 KN-25 Test Launch,” 38North, March 10, 2020)

KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and supreme commander of the armed forces of the DPRK, guided another firepower strike drill of long-range artillery sub-units of the Korean People’s Army on the front on March 9. He was greeted by Army General Pak Jong Chon, chief of the General Staff of the KPA, and commanding officers of the front artillery units on the spot. The purpose of the firepower strike drill was to inspect the sudden military counterattack capability of the long-range artillery units on the front. Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un set forth battle circumstances to the chief of the General Staff and watched the drill at the observation post. As an order to start the fire was given, the brave artillerymen on the front who have further sharply whetted the bayonet for the revolution with the high spirit of annihilating the enemy amid the flames of the training revolution personally kindled by the Supreme Leader and the wind of hard training for strengthening combat power, opened fire all at once. The artillerymen on the front hit the target with excellent marksmanship in the presence of the Supreme Leader, fully demonstrating their combat power as a-match-for-a-hundred artillerymen. Expressing great satisfaction with the result, the Supreme Leader highly appreciated the perfect combat readiness of the long-range artillery sub-units on the front. Saying that the People’s Army should go on in the direction of further strengthening the artillery training, he set forth important tasks to improve the quality of artillery training and conduct drills under the simulated conditions of an actual war. The might of artillery units is just the one of our army, he noted, calling for setting it as the most important task of the line of building the Juche-oriented revolutionary armed forces to strengthen the artillery force of the People’s Army into the world’s strongest arms of service everyone is afraid of and continuing the vigorous struggle to carry it out.” (KCNA, “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Conducts Another Firepower Strike Drill of Long-Range Artillery Sub-Units of KPA on Front,” March 10, 2020)

North Korea has evaded United Nations sanctions for many months by exporting coal, sand and petroleum, and importing luxury goods including armored sedans, alcohol and robotic machinery. The findings are based on an upcoming U.N. report, other assessments using satellite images and shipping data, and interviews with analysts. The exports provide North Korea with money to continue developing its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, analysts say. And the imports of luxury goods show techniques that North Korea might also be using to procure dual-use technology for those programs, they say. The efforts to raise money are aided by the country’s sophisticated cybercrime operations that target financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges. The upcoming annual report from the United Nations Panel of Experts gives more detail on the smuggling of two armored Mercedes sedans that were shipped from the Netherlands to East Asia in 2018 and that were the subject of an investigation by the New York Times and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies in July. The U.N. panel did its own investigation after the article and video appeared, and concluded that the cars were shipped from Europe after they were in the possession of two Italian companies — apparently the start of the supply chain, according to a draft of the report seen by The Times. The United Nations is expected to release the report this month. In interviews, Sandro Cianci, a top executive at one of the Italian companies, confirmed that the company had bought two armored Mercedes sedans that were eventually shipped to Asia, but said they had not engaged in illegal activity and had no knowledge of the cars ending up in North Korea. Over all, China and Russia have weakened the sanctions and are aiding the illegal smuggling, say American officials, analysts and the reports. In December, the two nations proposed to the United Nations an easing of sanctions. American officials and analysts cite satellite images that show transfers involving North Korean ships in Chinese territorial waters as evidence of efforts to evade the sanctions. “The Chinese have to enforce the sanctions against North Korea. They’ve got to stop the ship-to-ship transfers,” Robert C. O’Brien, President Trump’s national security adviser, said last month. “We need the Chinese to assist us as we pressure the North Koreans to come to the table,” he added. The United States has pushed the United Nations to pass five rounds of sanctions resolutions since 2016. Trump has made diplomacy with North Korea a signature foreign policy initiative. But American officials are frustrated that the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, has rejected outreach from Washington since a round of talks between negotiators ended abruptly in Stockholm last October. That came after the failure of the second summit between Trump and Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February 2019. The porous sanctions mean the Trump administration’s pressure campaign against North Korea is far from effective, and American officials are losing what they say is their only real leverage. That could help explain Pyongyang’s recent cold shoulder toward Washington, experts say. Kim surprised American officials this winter by not sending what North Korean officials had called a potential “Christmas gift” to Trump — possibly a test of a nuclear weapon or an intercontinental ballistic missile. In early 2019, Kim had given Trump a year-end deadline to lift sanctions. The successful evasion of sanctions might mean less urgency on Kim’s part in getting the penalties lifted. He continues to get revenue while building up his stockpile of fissile material, adding to the amount he already has for about 38 nuclear warheads, according to a recent estimate by Siegfried S. Hecker, the former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The draft of the U.N. report says North Korea conducted 13 missile tests and launched 25 missiles in 2019. (Reuters first reported on parts of the U.N. study last month.) It is unclear how the global crisis over the new coronavirus, which began in China, will affect North Korea. The country has not reported any cases, but experts say there most likely are some. North Korea has closed almost all border entry points and put foreigners in the country under quarantine, but is now asking them to leave. Last month, the United States approved the transfer of humanitarian aid, and the United Nations has allowed some exemptions to sanctions for aid. “On the North Korean side, they have asked for assistance and will need to coordinate points of entry for the urgent supplies with the aid organizations,” said Kee Park, a Korean-American doctor who regularly leads medical delegations to North Korea. North Korean leaders might have to use some of the revenue accrued from smuggling for social welfare needs, if they are not doing so already. Some analysts say the visit to North Korea in June by President Xi Jinping of China might have marked a turning point in sanctions enforcement. “Given the deterioration of U.S.-China ties, Beijing’s leaders are in no mood to cooperate with Washington on North Korea issues,” said Jung H. Pak, a former C.I.A. analyst on North Korea who is now at the Brookings Institution. “And judging from the opening of new resort and tourism areas and robust department store offerings, the regime and the elite are successfully finding loopholes.” The armored Mercedes sedans used by Kim in North Korea and on his overseas trips are prominent signs of that. In the draft of its new report, the U.N. panel lists the vehicle identification numbers of the two armored Mercedes sedans shipped to North Korea in the summer of 2018. The numbers allowed investigators to ferret out additional details on the shipment and the companies involved. The report names two Italian companies as procurers, but did not accuse them of illegal activity. Cianci, a sales manager for European Cars and More SRL, the Italian company that bought the cars from Mercedes-Benz in early 2018, said in lengthy interviews that he had not violated any export regulations and expressed frustration that Mercedes-Benz had cut business ties with him in December 2019. He did not provide the name of the client for whom he bought the cars. “My client is Italian. He has an import-export business in Rome,” Cianci said. “The client is someone with not only diplomatic connections to China, but also other countries.” The second Italian company named in the report is LS Logistica e Spedizioni SRL, based in Rome. It was responsible for shipping the cars to Dalian, China, and then onward to Japan. The company did not respond to an emailed request for comment. Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, was not able to provide additional details on the specific cars, but released a statement that said the “sales of vehicles by third parties, especially of used vehicles, are beyond our control and responsibility.” “For many years, we have only received photos of cars, which gave us no possibility to identify any of the vehicles. Only in 2019, we received VIN numbers of vehicles mentioned in the C4ADS report from a journalist of an Asian television network,” the statement continued, using the abbreviation for the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. “We then proactively approached the U.N. and connected the journalists directly with the authority to make sure that the information could be subject matter of investigations.” The holes in sanctions go well beyond the importing of luxury goods. North Korea is raising millions of dollars through the smuggling of commodities, the U.N. report says. Last October, Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, a member of the United Nations Panel of Experts from 2014 to 2019, wrote on the 38 North website that the “maximum pressure” campaign on North Korea was “on its last legs.” “The Trump administration bears special responsibility for this situation,” she wrote. “It has been its own worst enemy in the maximum-pressure campaign.” She asserted that Trump “remains unwilling to admit fault or failure for the lack of progress on denuclearization or to change the U.S. approach to negotiations with the North.” North Korea has been creative in its sources of revenue. Both the upcoming U.N. report and a separate post this month by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies noted an increase in sand-dredging activity by North Korean ships in 2019. A center of the operation was in Haeju Bay, North Korea, from March to August. Chinese companies are the main buyer of the sand, an important material in construction projects and in making silicon chips. “The activity in Haeju demonstrates scale, and a level of sophistication unlike other known cases of North Korean sanctions evasion at sea, providing renewed evidence of the DPRK’s evolving abilities to coordinate and execute complex operations with facilitators abroad,” the report said, using the formal abbreviation for North Korea. Another new report, this one by the Royal United Services Institute, a research group in Britain, said North Korean ships have been transporting coal to the area of the Chinese islands of Zhoushan. The ships began this activity in January 2019, and they transmit false data over their Automatic Identification System transponders to try to evade surveillance. The “phantom fleet,” as the report calls it, is doing this in “unprecedented numbers.” (Edward Wong, Christoph Koettl Whitney Hurst, and Elisabetta Povoledo, “Coal, Cars, and Cybercrime: North Korea’s Push to Defy U.S. Sanctions,” New York Times, March 10, 2020, p. A-9)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guided an artillery fire competition, stressing that modern warfare is the “warfare of artillery pieces,” state media reported. His attendance in the fire competition held Thursday came after the North test-fired three projectiles off its east coast Monday, the second weapons test that the communist state had carried out this month. “The competition was aimed to suddenly make selective inspection and evaluation of how the artillery forces of each corps are getting themselves combat ready,” the official Korean Central News Agency said. Kim was also quoted as calling for “always bearing deep in mind that modern warfare is precisely the warfare of artillery pieces and the combat preparations of the artillerymen are exactly those of the People’s Army.” On his order, all the artillery pieces were fired, turning the “target islet” into “a sea of flames,” the KCNA said. The KCNA did not provide details on the exact location where the fire competition was held. Kim supervised test-firings of projectiles twice this month — each in the North’s eastern towns of Wonsan and Sondok. They appear to be part of the North’s winter military drill. (Koh Byung-joon, “N.K. Leader Attends Artillery Fire Competition,” Yonhap, March 13, 2020)

The United States has offered humanitarian assistance to North Korea in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and will continue to seek to provide relief, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview with Fox News today after Sean Hannity, the host of the show, suggested it would be helpful if the U.S. could assist countries such as Iran, Russia and China. “As for Iran, the same true for North Korea, these are countries that we have deep differences with, and we are working diligently to create better conditions for their people,” Pompeo said. “And part of that is to make sure that we’re available to provide humanitarian assistance when we can. And so we have offered to both the North Koreans, as well as to the Iranian people, humanitarian assistance, and we’ve offered to facilitate humanitarian assistance coming into those countries from U.N. organizations, from other countries as well. “We’ll keep doing that,” he added. “It’s the right thing to do in a time of crisis.” (Lee Haye-ah, “Pompeo: U.S. Has Offered to Help N. Korea with Virus Outbreak,” Yonhap, March 20, 2020)

KCNA: “Amid the high military morale running through the entire army all out for getting fully combat ready along with firm conviction in sure victory under the extraordinary commanding art and militant encouragement by Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, the sound of another artillery has rocked heaven and earth, as part of the efforts to carry on the revolution in training. Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and supreme commander of the armed forces of the DPRK, on Friday [March 20] guided an artillery fire competition between large combined units of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) on the western front. Supreme Leader of the Party, state and armed forces Kim Jong Un was greeted at the competition ground by Army General Kim Su Gil, director of the General Political Bureau of the KPA, Army General Pak Jong Chon, chief of the General Staff of the KPA, commanding officers of the large combined units on the western front and other KPA commanding officers. The competition was aimed at making an inspection and evaluation of the artillery forces on the western front without notice to see how they are implementing the Party’s policy on building up the artillery force and take measures, at awakening all the units and fundamentally improving all the forms, programs and methods of artillery drills and also at definitely turning ordinary drills into practicable ones for an actual war. Taking part in the competition were the artillery units under the 3rd, 4th and 8th corps of the KPA. In the competition, after the assessment of the state of the advancing maneuvers of every artillery unit to the fire line, the firing sequence was set by drawing lots to fire guns of different calibers at the target islet. The total standings were decided by aggregating the firing results and the time taken to complete mission. The officers and men of the large combined units who participated in the competition were greatly excited to have their combat readiness inspected in the presence of Kim Jong Un who visited the seaside position as part of his ceaseless guidance for strengthening the combat capability of the KPA. At the observation post, the Supreme Leader received a report from the chief of the General Staff on the sequence and method of the competition before guiding it. On his order, the corps commanders directly commanded the firing of artillery pieces at the observation post. As the corps commanders gave orders to fire, all the artillery pieces opened fire, showering a hail of shells on the islet. In the competition the artillery units on the western front showed amazing results with marksmanship which they trained in their ordinary drills and fully displayed their combat capabilities fully ready to go into action. The Supreme Leader expressed satisfaction, saying that the firing skill of the artillerymen on the western front, those under the 3rd Corps in particular, was remarkably great. And he spoke highly of them, noting that it was just like hitting the target with sniper rifle. The Supreme Leader received a report on the General Staff’s evaluation of the competition results from the chief of the General Staff. The 3rd Corps won an overwhelming victory over others taking the first place, while the 8th Corps took the second and the 4th Corps the third. Greatly satisfied with the combat readiness of the 3rd Corps, the Supreme Leader left his congratulatory autograph “I admire amazing combat capability of the battalion. I am so satisfied and give special thanks to it. Kim Jong Un. March 20, 2020” on the master gunner certificate to be awarded to an artillery battalion under the 3rd Corps which showed remarkable marksmanship and eye-opening results in the competition. Army General Pak Jong Chon, chief of the KPA General Staff, awarded master gunner certificates, medals and badges to artillery battalions and companies which proved successful in the competition. The Supreme Leader gave important instructions on the direction of the military and political work, including the issue of intensifying the drills of all the KPA units, as required by the prevailing situation. The competition held under the direct guidance of the iron-willed commander Kim Jong Un, who is opening a great heyday of the development of the revolutionary armed forces with his extraordinary commanding art and far-sighted acumen, will serve as a historic one as it provided the turning point of another great leap forward in developing the Juche-based artillery force.” (KCNA, “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Guides Artillery Fire Competition between Large Combined Units of KPA on Western Front,” March 21, 2020)

KCNA: “The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the DPRK on March 20 released a decision on convening a SPA session. According to the decision, the Third Session of the 14th SPA of the DPRK will be convened in Pyongyang on April 10, Juche 109 (2020).” (KCNA, “SPA Presidium Releases Decision to Convene Session of SPA,” March 21, 2020)

North Korea today fired two projectiles presumed to be short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, the latest in a series of such launches this month. They were fired northeastward from areas near its western county of Sonchon in North Pyongan Province at 6:45 a.m. and 6:50 a.m., respectively, the JCS said, adding that they flew around 410 kilometers, reaching a maximum altitude of around 50 km. “South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are analyzing other specifics,” the authorities said. “Our military is monitoring the situation in case there are additional launches and maintaining a readiness posture.” Calling the launch “a very inappropriate act” at a time when the whole world has been facing difficulties due to the coronavirus pandemic, the JCS called on the regime to immediately halt such military moves. It is the third such weapons test so far this year after they began in March following months of hiatus. KCNA also reported today that the country held an “artillery fire competition” of its army on its western front the previous day under Kim’s watch. The previous two rounds, which occurred from its eastern regions under Kim’s guidance, appear to have been part of its artillery strike drill for the wintertime exercise, JCS officers said, noting that the drill is likely to continue throughout this month. Watchers say the projectiles involved in the latest launch could be the North Korean version of the United States’ Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), or Russia’s Iskander ballistic missile. Rather than following a general parabolic trajectory, Today’s missiles were detected to have shown a more complicated path by doing a so-called pull-up maneuver over the course of their flight. Military officers have said that the feature had been shown with the ATACMS or Iskander. “Given its typical way of testing weapons, North Korea may have brought its ATACMS missiles from the western region and hurled them cross-country,” said professor Kim Dong-yup of Kyungnam University’s Far East Institute. North Korea has often brought its weapons to western regions to fly them all the way across its territory before they splashed into the East Sea in a move to verify their reliability, according to experts. If confirmed as a firing of the ground-based ATACMS, the latest launch would be the third test of the system, as the North showed it off for the first time in August 2019 and conducted one additional test that month. The two previous tests took place in its eastern areas. In North Pyongan Province, the North fired two projectiles believed to be its Iskander ballistic missiles in May last year. So far, the Iskander system has been tested four times, according to the JCS. Throughout 2019, North Korea carried out a total of 13 rounds of weapons tests, involving several new types of short-range ballistic missiles and a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). “North Korea has sought to modernize or upgrade its conventional weapons, which could pose direct threats to South Korea,” Kim said, adding that their complicated flight patterns and features such as using solid fuels and being launched from a transporter erector launcher (TEL) make them more difficult to detect and intercept. The recent military moves appear to have been intended to beef up leader Kim’s internal grip on power amid fears over the spread of COVID-19 and economic difficulties. (Oh Seok-min, “N. Korea Fires 2 Short-Range Ballistic Missiles toward East Sea: JCS,” Yonhap, March 21, 2020)

Elleman: North Korea test fired a pair of KN-24 ballistic missiles on Saturday, March 21, 2020. According to a statement from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the early morning launches occurred at 6:45 and 6:50 AM local time, from a site near the city of Sonchon in North Pyongan Province. The missiles reached maximum heights of about 50 km, and ground distances of roughly 410 km. Photographs released by North Korean media and posted on Twitter show at least one of the missiles impacting a small island in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) used as a target in prior North Korean missile tests. Saturday’s firings mark the fifth and sixth test flights of the KN-24, a single-stage, solid-fuel missile that outwardly looks like the US MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). ATACMS is a close-range ballistic missile designed to support battlefield operations, so it is reasonable to assume that North Korea views the KN-24 similarly. The fact that the two KN-24s were launched only five minutes apart, an improvement from the roughly 15-minute separation between coupled firings of August 9 and 15, 2019, is consistent with a system developed for warfighting missions. South Korean officials stated that the KN-24 flew on a “variable ballistic trajectory,” indicating that the missile’s aft-mounted fins were employed to maintain aerodynamic control of the missile over its entire flight, including its dive toward the target. When combined with an inertial navigation unit updated with satellite-guidance data, the KN-24 is, in principle, capable of precision delivery of its warhead, as detailed previously by 38 North. There is no direct evidence that the KN-24 is equipped with a radar or optical sensor to guide the missile into a specific target during its plunge toward the earth; the nosecone is certainly long and wide enough to accommodate a terminal-homing sensor. Photographic evidence of the KN-24 striking a rocky outcropping off North Korea’ eastern shoreline, if authentic, suggests the missile is at a minimum equipped with satellite-guidance receivers, as the island is just 100 meters in length along the KN-24’s flight direction. If the KN-24 can consistently hit the island, we can estimate its accuracy to be considerably less than the 100 meters. However, while we have some anecdotal evidence from the released photographs that one of the KN-24s struck the island, we have no information about the fate of the second missile fired. While the KN-24’s exterior features are quite similar to those of ATACMS, there are some observable differences between the two, including the aft-mounted aerodynamic fins. ATACMS, however, employs aft fins that are foldable, allowing the missile to fit into a cylindrical launch tube mounted on a road-mobile vehicle. The KN-24’s fins, while movable during flight, do not fold to accommodate a cylindrical tube. The North Korean missile is therefore deployed and launched from a rectangular canister which is bulkier, although it is also mounted on a robust mobile platform. Additionally, the KN-24 can fly at least 410 km, while the ATACMS covers just 300 km. ATACMs, developed, tested and fielded more than two dozen years ago, is equipped with a variety of warheads weighing between 160 and 560 kg. The US is a founding member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which restricts the transfer of missiles that fly more than 300 km when armed with a 500 kg payload. ATACMS has been supplied to several US allies over the years, so it is reasonably safe to assume that the missile’s performance does not exceed the MTCR thresholds. The payload mass of the tested KN-24 is not known, although the payload bay is certainly large enough to carry a 500 kg warhead. Unfortunately, there is no reliable data on the KN-24’s external dimensions. Its length-to-diameter ratio is very nearly the same as ATACMS, suggesting it might also share the same absolute dimensions and overall lift-off mass. However, given the greater range achieved by the KN-24, it is possible that the North Korean missile is larger. To better assess the size of the KN-24, the curve depicts the relationship between the propellant mass and the diameter of a North Korean missile launched on Saturday. Interestingly, the US ATACMS, the Russian Tochka (and likely the North Korean KN-02 Toksa) and Iskander-E fit reasonably well along the curve. It is also interesting that if the KN-24’s diameter measures 640 mm, like those of the Russian Tochka and North Korean KN-02 Toksa missiles, instead of the 610-mm diameter of the ATACMS, the propellant mass grows slightly. While employing the same solid-rocket motor for two systems would promote manufacturing efficiency, it is hard to see how the KN-24 could fly almost four times farther than the KN-02, unless the KN-24 was tested with a very light warhead. It seems more reasonable to conclude that the KN-24 is significantly larger than ATACMS. How much larger is difficult to discern, although a missile diameter of between 700 and 850 mm seems likely. After the tests, Kim Jong Un reportedly claimed that the “new-type weapon systems which we have recently developed and the tactical and strategic weapons systems in the development stage will make decisive contributions to the realization of the Party’s strategic plan to make a radical change in the national defense strategy.” The quote does not make clear if the Supreme Leader views the KN-24 itself as a tactical or strategic weapon, as he spoke of “recently developed” systems and those “tactical and strategic” weapons that are assertedly being developed. The KN-24 is likely in its late-development phase based on North Korea’s prior practice of deploying missiles to military units after only a handful of tests. After Saturday’s fifth and sixth known tests of the KN-24, it is easy to judge the missile very nearly combat ready, or soon to be operationally deployed. While it is difficult to know if North Korea considers the KN-24 to be a tactical or strategic weapon, we can assess whether the missile has the capacity to carry a nuclear weapon. If the KN-24 is a near-clone of the US ATACMS, which has a diameter of 610 mm, the missile’s payload compartment is too narrow to accommodate the roughly 600-mm-diameter, spherical nuclear explosive device North Korea displayed in February 2017. The diameter of the payload compartment where the nuclear bomb would be placed is only 540 mm, as depicted in Figure 5. In order to fit the 600-mm-diameter nuclear weapon into the warhead section, which is roughly 20 percent narrower than the missile’s diameter, the KN-24’s main body must be at least 700 mm, perhaps as large as 750 mm. This would be consistent with estimated dimensions based on the KN-24’s maximum range during testing. While the KN-24 is likely larger than ATACMS, and large enough to carry a North Korean nuclear device, it is far from clear if North Korea intends to arm the missile with nuclear weapons. However, it seems apparent that we cannot dismiss the possibility that, at a future date, Pyongyang will look to make the KN-24 dual capable.” (Michael Elleman, “Preliminary Assessment of the KN-24 Missile Launches,” 38 North, March 25, 2020)

South Korean media reported in May that the country tested a new, more powerful ballistic missile. The Hyunmoo-4 missile was tested twice in March, once successfully, according to the reports. The missile has an estimated range of 800 kilometers and a payload capacity of up to two metric tons, which is larger than other North Korean systems. The missile’s specifications are unconfirmed, but analysts have estimated that the Hyunmoo-4 is solid-fueled and similar in design to the Hyunmoo-2 missile, although with a considerably larger payload. The Hyunmoo-4’s payload capacity is made possible by a 2017 revision to U.S.-South Korean missile guidelines that eliminated a payload cap of 500 kilograms for missiles with ranges of 800 kilometers. Initially, when South Korea joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in January 2001, it negotiated an agreement with the United States dictating that it would limit its ballistic missiles to a 300-kilometer range and a 500-kilogram payload. In 2012, Seoul and Washington reached a new deal whereby South Korea could extend the range of its missiles up to 800 kilometers while keeping the 500-kilogram payload. Experts have recently speculated that although the Hyunmoo-4 meets the 800-kilometer-range limit, the missile’s booster could be used to develop a longer, medium-range missile with a lighter payload in the future. (Arms Control Today, “South Korea Tests New Missile,” June 2020) South Korea has furthered the development of its missile forces this spring, conducting two tests of the new Hyunmoo-4, which boasts an 800-kilometer range and an estimated payload capacity of 2 metric tons. The payload capacity is greater than any current missile in the nation’s arsenal. Although South Korea conducted both tests in March, news of the tests did not emerge until early May. South Korean media reported that just one of these flew successfully, and South Korean officials have not publicly confirmed or commented on the tests. The launches were conducted at the South Korean Agency for Defense Development’s Anheung test site. The missile’s specifications are unconfirmed, but analysts have estimated that the Hyunmoo-4 is solid fueled and similar in design to the Hyunmoo-2 missile, although with a considerably larger payload. The Hyunmoo-4’s payload capacity is made possible by a 2017 revision to U.S.-South Korean missile guidelines that eliminated a payload cap of 500 kilograms for missiles with ranges of 800 kilometers. The extended 800-kilometer range was sought by Seoul and Washington as an appropriate measure to offset the threat posed by North Korea’s ballistic missile development. But the revision did not go unnoticed by regional nonproliferation experts, who protested that the expanded range was counterproductive to long-term ballistic missile nonproliferation efforts. The amendment was seen as an MTCR exemption due to the fact that although South Korea’s missiles are indigenously built, U.S. assistance has bolstered South Korea’s ballistic missile development and U.S. assistance was offered in exchange for South Korea’s pledge to temper its missile program. Experts have recently speculated that although the Hyunmoo-4 meets the 800-kilometer-range limit, the missile’s booster could be used to develop a longer, medium-range missile with a lighter payload in the future. South Korea undertook the Hyunmoo-4 test at a similar time to when North Korea conducted a set of short-range missile tests. North Korea launched its first missile test of 2020 on March 1 and proceeded to conduct three additional tests that month. (Julia Masterson, “South Korea Tests New Missile,” Arms Control Today, vol. L, no. 5 (June 2020), pp. 37-38)

WPK Central Committee First Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jong’s statement: “We received a personal letter sent to Chairman of the State Affairs Commission Kim Jong Un by President of the United States of America Donald Trump. We regard it as a good judgment and proper action for the U.S. president to make efforts to keep the good relations he had with our Chairman by sending a personal letter again at a time as now when big difficulties and challenges lie in the way of developing the bilateral relations, and think that this should be highly estimated. In the personal letter, President Trump said he was glad to hear that his congratulations to Chairman on his birthday was correctly conveyed, and wished the family of the Chairman and our people wellbeing. In the letter, he also explained his plan to propel the relations between the two countries of the DPRK and the U.S. and expressed his intent to render cooperation in the anti-epidemic work, saying that he was impressed by the efforts made by the Chairman to defend his people from the serious threat of the epidemic. Saying that he values his relations with Chairman Kim Jong Un, President Trump said that there were difficulties in letting his thoughts known because communications were not made often recently. He expressed his willingness to keep in close touch with the Chairman in the future. We view such a personal letter of President Trump as a good example showing the special and firm personal relations with Chairman Kim Jong Un. Chairman Kim Jong Un also mentioned his special personal relations with President Trump again and appreciated the personal letter. Fortunately, the personal relations between the two top leaders are not as far away as the relations of confrontation between the two countries, and they are very excellent. But the relations between the DPRK and the U.S. and their development should not be judged in haste in the light of the personal relations between the two top leaders, and furthermore, neither predictions nor expectations should be made based on them. As they are the close relations between the two men representing the two countries, they would have positive impact but nobody knows how much the personal relations would change and lead the prospective relations between the two countries, and it is not something good to make hasty conclusion or be optimistic about it. If impartiality and balance are not provided and unilateral and greedy intention is not taken away, the bilateral relations will continue to aggravate. In my personal opinion, I think that the bilateral relations and dialogue for them would be thinkable only when the equilibrium is kept dynamically and morally and justice ensured between the two countries, not merely by the personal letter between the two leaders. Even at this moment we are working hard to develop and defend ourselves on our own under the cruel environment which the U.S. is keen to “provide.” We try to hope for the day when the relations between the two countries would be as good as the ones between the two top leaders, but it has to be left to time and be watched whether it can actually happen. However, we will never lose or waste time for nothing, but will keep changing ourselves to be more powerful for that time just as how we made ourselves for the past two years. At the end I would like to extend sincere gratitude to the U.S. president for sending his invariable faith to the Chairman.” (KCNA, “Kim Yo Jong, First Vice Department Director of WPK Central Committee Issues Statement,” March 22, 2020)

President Trump has sent a letter to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, expressing his willingness to help the North battle the coronavirus, North Korea said today. “I would like to extend sincere gratitude to the U.S. president for sending his invariable faith to the Chairman,” said Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader’s sister and policy aide, in a statement carried by KCNA. Kim lauded Trump’s decision to write the letter as “a good judgment and proper action.” In the letter, Trump “wished the family of the Chairman and our people well-being,” Kim said, referring to his brother by one of his official titles. According to Kim, Trump also explained his plan to move relations between the two countries forward and “expressed his intent to render cooperation in the anti-epidemic work, saying that he was impressed by the efforts made by the Chairman to defend his people from the serious threat of the epidemic.” The White House confirmed that Trump had sent Kim a letter but did not comment on its specifics. Kim said that her brother had “mentioned his special personal relations with President Trump again and appreciated the personal letter.” But she said good personal relations between the two leaders were not enough to improve their countries’ ties. “We try to hope for the day when the relations between the two countries would be as good as the ones between the two top leaders, but it has to be left to time and be watched whether it can actually happen,” she said. “However, we will never lose or waste time for nothing, but will keep changing ourselves to be more powerful for that time just as how we made ourselves for the past two years.” A senior Trump administration official, who insisted on anonymity, said the president’s letter was consistent with his efforts to engage world leaders during the coronavirus pandemic. The official said Trump looked forward to continued communications with Kim. North Korea is highly vulnerable to epidemics because of the decrepit state of its public health system and the international sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which make it hard to ship aid there. Officially, the North has reported no coronavirus cases, although it says it is waging an all-out campaign against the virus. Outside health experts fear that the isolated country might be hiding an outbreak. (Choe Sang-hun, “Trump Writes to Kim Offering Help in Virus Fight, North Korea Says,” New York Times, March 22, 2020)

Rodong Sinmun editorial: “The present situation, in which the offensive for making a breakthrough head-on is vigorously carried on to implement the decision of the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, calls upon all the people to strictly observe laws and orders of the state than ever before. … To respect the state laws and willingly and thoroughly observe them in the socialist society is the civic duty which nobody may violate. The state laws are not something either to be observed or not. If there exist differences in observing the laws, it would have grave impact on the existence and development of the state. The present situation, in which we are breaking through head-on all the barriers to our advance, emphasizes the importance of the thoroughgoing observation of the state laws and regulations. The struggle for firmly cementing our revolutionary and class positions and achieving fresh victories on all fronts of the socialist construction is closely linked with the observation of the state laws by all members of the society. When all the people observe the state laws and orders, it is possible to make achievements in the struggle to reenergize the national economy as a whole by further consolidating the foundation of the self-supporting economy and utilizing productive potentiality and in the work for giving full play to the advantage and vitality of the Korean-style socialism, establishing the socialist lifestyle and tightening the moral discipline. Under the present situation that witnesses intensified campaign against COVID-19, it comes to be an important political matter that all the people should observe the standards and orders set under the state emergency anti-epidemic system.” (KCNA, “Rodong Sinmun Calls for Observing Laws and Regulations of State,” March 23, 2020)

President Trump has called the coronavirus “the invisible enemy.” But when it comes to sanctions on North Korea, the pathogen may turn out to be his administration’s most effective ally. North Korea’s fear of coronavirus infection appears to have achieved what Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against North Korean nuclear and missile work has not: choking the North’s economy by stopping its trafficking of coal and other goods, prohibited under United Nations sanctions, which is believed to be mostly with China. According to a satellite-image analysis published today by the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based research organization, and a review of additional satellite imagery by the New York Times, many North Korean commercial vessels that once carried sanctioned material to and from China — or transferred them illicitly ship-to-ship at sea — are now idled in their home ports. The new findings show for the first time how a large number of North Korean ships have moved back to Nampo, a vital port region on North Korea’s western coast. United Nations sanctions ban the export of many North Korean commodities — such as coal — and limit its fuel imports. However, a draft of the forthcoming annual report from a United Nations panel of experts that monitors compliance with the sanctions, which was seen by The Times, states that North Korea “continued to flout U.N. Security Council resolutions through illicit maritime exports of commodities, notably coal and sand. Such sales provide a revenue stream that has historically contributed to its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.” The U.N. report only covers the time frame up to early February, and does not account for the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The Royal United Services Institute satellite analysis shows that on March 3, 139 ships were idled in the Nampo area, which includes the anchorage and several ports, up from 50 ships a month earlier. The fleet includes vessels previously implicated in sanctions evasion operations, which are often tracked through satellite imagery and aerial or ground surveillance by other states, independent research groups and the United Nations. The institute’s analysis said the idled ships included some of the “most active and scrutinized oil tankers” used for the illicit import of refined petroleum products such as fuel. For example, the oil tanker New Regent, which had been spotted making unreported deliveries as recently as January 2020, and twice in 2019, according to the United Nations, was seen in Nampo in multiple satellite images. Other ships, too, have been floating unused for weeks, according to satellite imagery provided by Planet Labs, an earth-imaging company in San Francisco, and Maxar Technologies Inc., a space technology company in Westminster, Colo. The possible drop in fuel imports, which are often done through illicit ship-to-ship transfers and deliveries involving vessels such as the New Regent, would affect North Korea’s agriculture sector, right at the beginning of the farming season. Diesel is used for powering water pumps in agriculture. And the overall current restrictions on legitimate trade, also attributable to the pandemic, carry additional risks for North Korean farming. “There could be disruptions of the food planting season, which starts now, for example, because of an interruption of fertilizer imports from China,” said Daniel Wertz, program manager for the National Committee on North Korea, a Washington-based group that advocates improved ties between North Korea and the United States. An increase in the number of idled North Korean cargo ships can also be seen in Chongjin, another important industrial port city on the country’s east coast, 50 miles from the Chinese border. The recall of ships is part of North Korea’s border closures, which started on January 22, the same time the Chinese authorities announced the shutdown of the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. Park Jong-chol, professor at the Department of Social Studies Education at South Korea’s Gyeongsang National University, said the economic impact on North Korea from idling so many ships is severe. “Official and informal trade is now suspended. Therefore, transportation systems such as ships and trucks have been drastically reduced,” Park said. “Corona is more threatening than U.N. Security Council sanctions,” he said. “Production and income, including gasoline, have been an issue, and many ships have been unable to operate.” One returned ship, the Tian Tong, suspected of transporting North Korean coal to China in October 2019, had been spotted near China’s Zhoushan Island, 600 miles south of Nampo, on January 31 using a falsified transponder signal to disguise its North Korean origin, a tactic used to conduct illicit trade. It returned to North Korea in early February, and has been anchored outside Nampo since at least Feb. 14, according to ship tracking data and satellite imagery reviewed by the Times. The long-term disruptions to North Korea’s revenue stream remain unclear, partly because the duration of the pandemic and its impact on maritime commerce are not yet known. But analysts said it was reasonable to assume damage has been done to North Korean agriculture, industry and the overall economy. “If their exports are declining, and coal smuggling or other operations are interrupted, that might definitely have an impact,” . Wertz said. In an analysis of China-North Korea trade published last month by 38North, a website that specializes in North Korea, Wertz wrote ominously about the potential impact of the coronavirus: “The next few months may provide a grim natural experiment showing what might happen to the North Korean economy if its economic linkages with China truly begin to be severed.” (Christoph Koettl, “Coronavirus Is Idling North Korea’s Ships, Achieving What Sanctions Did Not,” New York Times, March 30, 2020, p. A-12)

North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea today, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, the latest in a series of projectile launches even as the country is on high alert against the coronavirus. Both were fired northeastward from the eastern coastal city of Wonsan at 6:10 a.m. within a 20-second interval and flew around 230 kilometers at a maximum altitude of around 30 km, the JCS said, adding that South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are analyzing other specifics. “In a situation where the entire world is experiencing difficulties due to COVID-19, this kind of military act by North Korea is very inappropriate and we call for an immediate halt,” JCS said. The last such test came on March 21, when the North fired two short-range ballistic missiles believed to be its version of the U.S.’ Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) from its western county of Sonchon in North Pyongan Province. The latest firing could be part of its artillery strike drill for the wintertime exercise, just as the previous three rounds, as military sources have said the exercise is likely to continue throughout this month. (Oh Seok-min, “N. Korea Fires 2 Short-Range Ballistic Missiles into East Sea: JCS,” Yonhap, March 29, 2020)

KCNA: “The Academy of Defense Science of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea carried out a test-fire of super-large multiple rocket launchers on Sunday to verify once again the tactical and technological specifications of the launch system to be delivered to units of the Korean People’s Army. The test-fire was guided by Ri Pyong Chol, member of the Political Bureau and vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, senior officials of the Department of Munitions Industry of the Central Committee of the WPK and Jang Chang Ha, Jon Il Ho and other leading officials in the field of national defense science researches. The test-fire was conducted successfully. Stressing that the operational deployment of the weapon system of super-large multiple rocket launchers is a crucial work of very great significance in realizing a new strategic intention of the Party Central Committee for national defense, Ri Pyong Chol learned about relevant problems arising in delivering the weapon system to the units of the People’s Army and set forth relevant tasks for the field of national defense science researches and munitions factories. He appealed to the field of national defense science researches and workers in the field of munitions industry to safeguard the Party and the revolution with the matchless military strength through more intensive and vigorous drive for continuously attaining the goals of key national defense science researches and fulfilling major weapon production plans set forth by the Party Central Committee in the same spirit.” (KCNA, “Test-Fire of Super-Large Multiple Rocket Launchers Conducted in DPRK,” March 30, 2020)

DPRK FoMin Director General of the Department for U.S. Negotiations’ statement: “The world does not know well why the DPRK-U.S. relations remain amiss despite the special personal relations between the top leaders of the DPRK and the U.S., to which U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo gave a clear answer. On March 25, he made irrelevant remarks calling for sanction and pressure on the DPRK at a news conference held after the teleconference of G-7 foreign ministers on prevention of the spread of COVID-19 which is threatening the safety of the whole mankind. The U.S. president sent our leadership his personal letter carrying a “sincere aid plan” as regards the issue of curbing novel coronavirus to ask for close communication, whereas the U.S. secretary of State slanders the country, with which his president wants to establish good relations of cooperation, against the president’s will. This makes us misjudge who is the real chief executive in the U.S. There is one point I reconfirmed clearly in Pompeo’s remarks. The point is that no matter how excellent and firm the relationship between the top leaders of the two countries is, it cannot reverse the U.S. hostile policy towards the DPRK, and the resumption of dialogue much touted by the U.S. is nothing but a decoy to keep us from going our own way. The U.S. knows well about us through dozens of years-long DPRK-U.S. confrontation, I think, but it seems to think we may give up the way we are going with determination, tempted by spotlighted personal relations between the top leaders of the two countries. Explicitly speaking, we see through the U.S. tricks like seeing fish in a globe, and sometimes used to sound the U.S. intention, pretending to do what it wanted. If even a sound of coughing was heard from the White House, we correctly spotted who coughed and why. And we have foiled without difficulties the “tricks” worked out by the U.S. policymakers. It can be said that we as well as the international community have become accustomed to the U.S.-style scenarios designed to bind our limbs and prevent something by putting emphasis on the personal relations between the top leaders often, as there are no means to restrain and check us. What the U.S. should know clearly is that it must admit that neither threat nor witchcraft can work on us. The only thing invented by the chief diplomat of the U.S. is to take its appearance as “supporter of dialogue” before the international community and make us idle the time away with absurd expectation by trumpeting about good relationship between the top leaders of the two countries and making false propaganda for dialogue. The reckless remarks made by Pompeo seriously impaired the signboard of dialogue put up by the U.S. president as a decoy to buy time and create the environment favorable for himself. Hearing Pompeo’s reckless remarks, we dropped the interest in dialogue with further conviction, but have become more zealous for our important planned projects aimed to repay the U.S. with actual horror and unrest for the sufferings it has inflicted upon our people. The U.S. seems to have no power and strategy to stop the second-hand that began running towards a crash again. We will go our own way. We want the U.S. not to bother us. If the U.S. bothers us, it will be hurt.” (KCNA, “New Department Director General of DPRK Foreign Ministry for Negotiations with U.S Issues Statement,” March 30, 2020)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reinstated his sister as an alternate member of the Politburo, the ruling party’s top policymaking body, at its meeting yesterday, the North’s state media said today.

The Worker’s Party meeting also addressed countermeasures to COVID-19, other personnel reshuffles and organizational matters, according to KCNA. A joint resolution was adopted to take “more thorough state measures to protect life and safety of our people from the great worldwide epidemic disease.” “It has become impossible to resolve the danger of the virus infection in a short time, and such environment can pose some obstacles to our struggle and progress,” it said, while lauding the country’s effort to maintain “a very stable anti-epidemic situation,” thanks to its “strict top-class emergency anti-epidemic measures.” Raising the alert about the global spread of the coronavirus, North Korea called for consistency in taking “strict national countermeasures to thoroughly block the infiltration of virus.” Despite the warnings, photos of the meeting published by Rodong Sinmun showed that Politburo members, including Kim, were sitting close together and were not wearing masks. Yesterday’s meeting suggests that a session of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, which was scheduled to convene two days ago, was delayed for unknown reasons. The high-profile Politburo meeting usually takes place before the larger Assembly session. The report also said Kim Yo Jong, the leader’s younger sister, had been elected as an alternate Politburo member, signaling a comeback and an official rise of ranks in the reclusive nation. Kim Yo Jong is believed to have been dismissed from the Politburo last April, after the collapse of the summit in Hanoi between her brother and US President Donald Trump. Also during the meeting, Gen. Pak Jong-chon, chief of staff of the Korean People’s Army, was promoted to full membership in the Politburo, following his election as an alternate member last December. Ri Son Gwon, the North’s recently appointed foreign minister, was also elected as an alternate member of the Politburo, alongside Kim Yo Jong. (Ahn Sung-mi, “Kim Jong Un Reinstates Sister to Politburo, Calls for Stricter Coronavirus Measures,” Korea Herald, April 12, 2020)

North Korea fired what appeared to be cruise missiles off its east coast and air-to-ground missiles from fighter jets into the East Sea today, South Korea’s military said, in muscle-flexing maneuvers on the eve of the late national founder’s birthday and the South’s general elections. The surface-to-ship cruise missiles were fired northeastward from areas near its eastern coastal town of Munchon at around 7 a.m. during a time period of more than 40 minutes, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, adding they flew around 150 kilometers before splashing into waters off the east coast. Along with the missile launches, the North flew Sukhoi-variant fighter jets and MiG-type planes above the eastern coastal city of Wonsan, and fired multiple air-to-ground missiles into the East Sea, the JCS added. It was not immediately known if leader Kim Jong Un guided the latest firings. “The military is closely monitoring the situation for possible additional launches, while maintaining a readiness posture,” the JCS said in a release. The firings came on the eve of the 108th birthday of Kim Il-sung, the North’s late national founder and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un, and South Korea’s parliamentary elections. The last known test of cruise missiles took place on June 8, 2017, when the North carried out the first-ever test of its Kumsong-3 coastal defense cruise missile from Wonsan. The system is known as the KN-19 by the U.S., and was first seen at a military parade held in Pyongyang on April 15 of the year to mark the 105th birthday anniversary of the founding leader. “The projectiles fired today appear to be similar to those fired in June 2017. More analysis is under way by the South Korean and the U.S. intelligence authorities,” a JCS officer told reporters. During the 2017 test, four projectiles flew around 200 km at an apogee of around 2 kilometers. (Oh Seok-min and Choi Soo-hyang, “N. Korea Fires Barrage of Missiles on Eve of Founder’s Birthday, S. Korea’s Elections,” April 14, 2020)

The United States accused North Korea today of employing an array of old and new forms of cyberattacks to steal and launder money, extort companies and use digital currencies to gain cash for its nuclear weapons program. The report — issued jointly by the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Treasury Department and the F.B.I. — says the purpose of the accelerated program is for North Korea “to generate revenue for its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.” But the decision to publicly focus on North Korea’s actions is quiet acknowledgment that President Trump’s two-year diplomatic effort, backed by continued economic sanctions, has failed to slow the North’s nuclear production or prevent it from using new avenues of attack. “The D.P.R.K.’s malicious cyber activities threaten the United States and the broader international community and, in particular, pose a significant threat to the integrity and stability of the international financial system,” an accompanying alert by the Cyber and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, said, using the abbreviation of the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The State Department also announced an award of up to $5 million for “information about illicit D.P.R.K. activities in cyberspace, including past or ongoing operations.” The United Nations is expected to echo American findings in a coming report that concludes that North Korea is skirting sanctions through cybercrime, in addition to illegal exports of goods such as coal and petroleum, and imports of luxury goods like armored sedans and alcohol. The interagency report was assembled before the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has prompted a global deluge of disinformation and internet scams, from Russia to China to Eastern Europe. The report does not accuse the North of using its growing army of hackers to profit from the crisis, even as the nation tries to wall itself off from the virus by bringing home cargo ships that until recently were the centerpiece of its sanctions-busting efforts. But it details actions by a state-sponsored North Korean group that the U.S. government calls Hidden Cobra, which it said had “demonstrated a pattern of disruptive and harmful cyberactivity that is wholly inconsistent with the growing international consensus on what constitutes responsible state behavior in cyberspace.” Many of the activities cited in the joint report were familiar: the 2014 attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in retaliation for the release of the comedy “The Interview,” which brought down 70 percent of Sony’s computer systems, and WannaCry 2.0, ransomware that wiped out the British health service’s computer networks in 2017. It recited the story of the North Korean-engineered effort to steal $1 billion from the Bangladesh central bank, an attack that yielded only $81 million after an alert official at the New York Federal Reserve stopped the transfers. It also cited the “FASTCash campaign,” which has successfully taken control of A.T.M.s in Asia and Africa to get them to spew out money, in one case in 30 nations simultaneously. And it examined several efforts to hack into digital currency exchanges, which was part of a study published this year by Recorded Future. The study concluded that North Korea’s use of the internet has surged 300 percent, partly because of a new connection to the global internet through Russia. Until recently, the North had a single pipeline, via China. While many of the details were old news to cybersecurity researchers and security engineers, there was one important new detail in the report: North Korea’s hackers are now offering their services to other cybercriminals and nation-state hackers for a fee. “They’ve become hackers for hire,” said John Hultquist, the senior director of intelligence analysis at FireEye, a cybersecurity company. “We never knew that, and what it shows is the level to which North Korean hackers are maximizing their cyber capabilities.” The report makes clear that North Korea’s hackers are squeezing all possible revenue from cyberattacks. Ever since the attack on Sony Pictures in 2014, when Americans got their first glimpse into the country’s hacking prowess, the North’s army of more than 6,000 hackers has been on a rampage, penetrating banks, extorting hospitals with ransomware and hitting up the exchanges that trade in digital currencies like Bitcoin and Monero for cash. Yet their record of success is mixed. When North Korean hackers hijacked hundreds of thousands of computers all over the globe with ransomware in 2017, they neglected to give their victims a way to send the Bitcoins they demanded to unlock their data. Since then, the hackers have popped up repeatedly in attacks on cryptocurrency exchanges. In April 2018, they stole nearly $250 million worth of digital currency and laundered it through other automated currency exchanges. Last month, the Justice Department indicted and the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on two Chinese nationals it accused of laundering $100 million in cryptocurrency on behalf of North Korea’s hackers. American officials have long accused China of enabling the North’s hacking operations. For years, North Korean officials have dispatched the nation’s most promising computer programmers to China’s top computer science programs for training, and several high-profile North Korean cyberattacks have been traced back to Shenyang, a city in northeast China that has long been cited as an operating ground for North Korean hackers. More recently, American security researchers say it is Moscow that has enabled North Korea’s operations, by offering a new digital pipeline for the attacks. Other countries, predominantly Iran, are now stealing a page from North Korea and pursuing cryptocurrency hacks of their own, according to Recorded Future. (David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth, “U.S. Sees North Korean Cyberattacks Despite Deterrence Efforts,” New York Times, April 16, 2020, p. A-18)

President Moon Jae-in’s ruling party clinched a landslide victory in parliamentary elections, which is set to give it an upper hand in pushing ahead with its agenda as the country faces a virus pandemic and an economic slowdown. In the quadrennial election, held as scheduled on Wednesday despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Democratic Party (DP) and its satellite group secured a combined 180 seats in the 300-seat unicameral National Assembly, according to data from the National Election Commission (NEC) on Thursday. This is nearly double the 103 seats obtained by the main opposition United Future Party (UFP) and its sister party. It also marks the biggest majority any party has claimed since the country’s transition to democracy in 1987. Of the 253 directly contested seats, the DP won 163 seats, followed by the UFP with 84 seats, the liberal Justice Party with one seat, and independent candidates with five seats. Of the 47 proportional representation slots, the parties affiliated with the UFP and DP secured 19 and 17 seats, respectively. The Justice Party won five seats, while the People’s Party and the Open Democratic Party got three seats each, according to the election watchdog. The general elections, one of the world’s first elections to be held amid the coronavirus pandemic, was carried out with extra precautions. The election watchdog prioritized safety to prevent potential exposure to the risk of infection. Voters wearing face masks had their temperatures checked at the entrance. They disinfected their hands with sanitizers and put on plastic gloves before casting ballots. To keep social distancing rules, voters were advised to stand at least 1 meter apart from others. Voter turnout was confirmed at 66.2 percent, the same as the provisional turnout and the highest in 28 years, the NEC said. Despite the virus, more than 29 million people cast ballots. Turnout in early voting also hit a record 26.7 percent. (Kim Soo-yeon and Lee Minji, “Ruling Party Wins Landslide in Parliamentary Election amid Pandemic,” Yonhap, April 16, 2020)

President Donald Trump said day that he recently received a “nice note” from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, while shrugging off concerns over the country’s continued test-firing of short-range missiles. “I see they’re testing short-range missiles. And, you know, they’ve been doing it a long time,” Trump said at a press conference at the White House, adding, “I received a nice note from him recently … I think we’re doing fine.” Trump sent a personal letter to the North Korean leader, both countries said in late March. The latest communication received by Trump could be a reply from Kim, although the U.S. president did not explain its contents nor exactly when he received it. (Trump Received ‘Nice Note’ from N. Korean Leader Kim,” April 19, 2020)

DPRK FoMin the Department of Press and Information News Service for Overseas Distribution room chief’s statement on April 19: “U.S. media on April 18 quoted the U.S. president as saying to the reporters that he received a “good letter” from the supreme leadership of the DPRK. He could have referred to the personal letters that had been exchanged in the past, we are not sure. But there was no letter addressed recently to the U.S. president by the supreme leadership of the DPRK. We are about to look into the matter to see if the U.S. leadership seeks anything in feeding the ungrounded story into the media. The relations between the top leaders of the DPRK and the U.S. are not an issue to be taken up just for diversion nor should it be misused for meeting selfish purposes.” (KCNA, “Room Chief of News Service for Overseas Distribution of the Department of Press and Information of DPRK Foreign Ministry Issues Statement,” April 19, 2020)

North Korea’s imports of refined petroleum products exceeded the annual limit imposed by the United Nations by up to eight times in the first 10 months of last year, a UN panel of experts said in a new report cited by foreign media Friday. The 267-page report for the UN Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee also said the communist country continued to enhance its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs in violation of Security Council resolutions. The annual report by the eight-member panel covered the period from Aug. 3, 2019, to Feb. 7, 2020, and summarized the findings of UN member states as well as the experts themselves. The panel said a US report it received on November 8 showed deliveries of refined petroleum products to North Korea that far exceeded the annual quota of 500,000 barrels imposed by the UN Security Council. If fully laden, the shipments between January 1 and October 31 would have amounted to almost eight times the cap, it said, adding that the North employed both illicit ship-to-ship transfers and deliveries by foreign-flagged vessels. If the vessels were one-third laden, the deliveries would have amounted to almost three times the cap. If they were half-laden, the shipments would have amounted to more than four times the cap, the report said. “The procurement of refined petroleum products by foreign-flagged vessels sailing directly into Nampo, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to deliver cargo has increased considerably in terms of the frequency of deliveries and the number of vessels involved,” the report said. “The Marine Import Terminal at Nampo is the primary port to which foreign-flagged vessels deliver refined petroleum … In some months between June and October 2019, the estimated deliveries by foreign-flagged tankers exceeded the deliveries made by tankers of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” it said, suggesting the assistance of other countries in North Korea’s sanctions evasions. In one instance, the panel said, the Chinese-flagged Yun Hong 8 was photographed by a UN member state receiving a ship-to-ship transfer of refined petroleum from a South Korean-flagged vessel in the East China Sea on August 31. “The Yun Hong 8 additionally received refined petroleum on at least three other occasions through ship-to-ship transfers with (the South Korean-flagged vessel) from July to mid-August 2019,” it said. “The Panel notes that three of these four ship-to-ship transfers between (the South Korean-flagged vessel) and the Yun Hong 8 were conducted within days of the latter vessel’s recorded port calls at Nampo.” The registered owner of the South Korean-flagged vessel provided the panel with all requested documentation, and investigations continue, the panel said.

On North Korea’s exportation of labor, the experts said they continued to monitor UN member states’ implementation of a UN requirement to expel all North Korean workers by Dec. 22, 2019. In addition to manual workers, the panel said, North Korea sent abroad professional athletes and medical workers to earn income that was used to support the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Among the athletes were football players in Europe, including Han Kwang-song, who joined the youth sector of Italy’s Juventus Football Club in 2019, and Choe Son-hyok, who has been playing for Italy’s Societa Sportiva Arezzo since 2018. In Austria, Pak Kwang-ryong has been playing for Sportklub Niederosterreich St. Polten since 2017. “All these players reportedly had contract terms extending beyond the due date for repatriation,” the panel said, adding that a Qatari team announced in January 2020 that Han had joined it from Juventus. “In respect of Mr. Pak, Austria replied that its competent authorities had initiated the procedures necessary to revoke his residence and work permit and to issue a return decision based on the relevant laws. The Panel has yet to receive a reply from Italy or Qatar,” it said. On North Korea’s nuclear programs, the experts said they have not seen any indication of operation of the 5-megawatt reactor at the country’s Yongbyon nuclear complex since the end of 2018. Still, construction of a light water reactor was ongoing, while construction of a building near the reactor was also observed in satellite imagery. North Korea’s ballistic missile program in 2019 “was characterized by its intensity, diversity and coherence,” according to the panel. “Progress was built on the program’s multi-year planning process, with 2015 and 2017 as major milestones,” it said. “As a result, the country now demonstrates the autonomous capacity to produce and launch different types of new solid-propellant short-range missiles, combining ballistic missile and guidance technologies, as well as a new-generation submarine-launched ballistic missile — medium-range ballistic missile.” (Yonhap, “N. Korea’s Refined Petroleum Imports Exceeded UN Limit up to 8 Times: UN Panel,” Korea Herald, April 19, 2020)

There was one state event that the secretive leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, never missed: a visit to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun every April 15 to mark the birthday of his grandfather, the founder of the dynastic regime. In the mausoleum, both his grandfather and his father lie in state. So when Kim was a no-show at this year’s anniversary in Pyongyang, it triggered speculation about his whereabouts and even his health. Such rumors gained further traction after Daily NK, a Seoul-based website relying on anonymous sources inside the North, reported yesterday that Kim was recovering from heart surgery performed on April 12. By today, South Korean officials were questioning the accuracy of the report. Kang Min-seok, a spokesman for President Moon Jae-in, said South Korea “has so far detected no special signs inside North Korea,” a stock phrase often used to cast doubt on unsubstantiated news reports. North Korea also tried to dispel the speculation. Today, its official news agency said Kim had sent birthday gifts to exemplary workers and a birthday letter to the Cuban president yesterday. Such declarations won’t necessarily quash the chatter, especially in a nuclear state where so much power is concentrated in a single leader. Kim, 36, last appeared publicly in the North’s state media on April 11, when he presided over a meeting of the Politburo of the ruling Workers’ Party. It is not unusual for senior North Korean leaders to stay out of public view for weeks at a time. But the inner workings of the top leadership in Pyongyang, the capital, have been cloaked in such secrecy that those disappearances always catch the attention of analysts, who look for signs of trouble within the country, especially a possible problem with Kim’s health. When his father, Kim Jong Il, died in 2011, outside intelligence officials didn’t know until the news was announced two days later on North Korean television. “For Kim Jong Un not visiting the Kumsusan Palace on April 15 is all but unthinkable in North Korea. It’s the closest thing to blasphemy in the North,” said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute in South Korea. “It is reasonable to think that there is something temporarily wrong with his health, although it may stretch things too much if we say his life is in danger.” The information blackout in North Korea means that rumors about military rebellions or mass political purges can often take months and even years to confirm, while some sensationalistic reports eventually prove false. One outlandish report that made headlines around the world claimed that the body of Jang Song Thaek, Kim’s uncle, whose execution he ordered in 2013, had been fed to a pack of starved German shepherds. The origin of that story turned out to be an unattributed Chinese blog post. Generals who were reported by South Korean media to have been executed by Kim have sometimes resurfaced in new jobs. North Korea’s media treats its top leaders like godlike figures and seldom mentions their health. But speculation about it has not always been unfounded. In 2008, Kim Jong-Il was absent from view for months. It was eventually confirmed that he had suffered a stroke. In his later years, Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, developed a large cyst on the back of his head, but North Korean media never showed it in photos. In 2014, Kim Jong Un himself disappeared for more than a month, prompting rumors that he might have been grounded by a severe hangover, gout or even a coup. North Korean state TV later showed him walking with a limp, saying that he was “not feeling well.” South Korean intelligence officials said Kim had a cyst removed from his ankle and that his ankle trouble could return. The family history has fed speculation about health crises. Both Kim’s grandfather and father suffered various ailments, like diabetes, and died of heart failure. The outside world saw Kim as an adult for the first time in 2010, when he debuted as his father’s heir at a party meeting. He was already portly by then, but he has since gained more girth. Kim is also a heavy smoker, and in recent years, his face has often assumed a puffy and tired complexion. The current round of speculation started after South Korea said the North had launched short-range cruise missiles off its east coast on April 14, as part of Kim Il Sung’s birthday celebration. Although Kim Jong Un has attended similar missile tests, state media this time did not report the launch. It also did not report whether there had been an annual national meeting of party officials in Pyongyang on the eve of the April 15 anniversary. Both of those omissions were highly unusual. Some analysts said North Korea may have skipped the national meeting this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. But its rubber-stamp Parliament, the Supreme People’s Assembly, met on April 12. The rumors intensified after Daily NK quoted an anonymous source as saying that Kim had undergone a cardiovascular procedure at Hyangsan Hospital, a clinic dedicated to treating the Kim family, on April 12. The website said Kim was recuperating at a villa near the hospital, which is in the foothills of Mount Mohyang, north of Pyongyang. But most of the doctors called in from Pyongyang returned to the capital a week later because Kim had recovered sufficiently, it said. Daily NK, one of a slew of Internet-based news outlets in South Korea that specialize in covering the North, has ferreted out news about hunger, floods and unofficial market activities in the North, often by using defectors as reporters. But many stories by such outlets contradict each other and remain unconfirmed. Rumors about Kim’s health carry serious overtones: What happens to a nuclear state when the leader who has executed or purged all potential challengers to his power, including his own uncle, is suddenly gone? Kim is too young to have a grown-up child to continue the Kim family dynasty, which has ruled North Korea since its founding at the end of World War II. Analysts instead focus on Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, who has accompanied her brother to meetings with the leaders of South Korea, China and the United States. Ms. Kim has emerged as a key aide to her brother. Last month, she issued a statement under her own name attacking South Korea’s presidential office and calling it an “imbecile.” In another statement last month, she revealed that President Trump had sent a letter to Kim, expressing his willingness to help the North battle the coronavirus. Ms. Kim called Trump’s letter “a good judgment and proper action.” “In recent weeks, she has positioned herself as the public face of North Korea, as her brother’s spokesman, chief of staff and national security adviser,” said Lee Sung-yoon, a North Korea expert at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. “She is the natural heir to the throne, as the Kim family regime is more a dynasty than republic,” he added. “One thing Ms. Kim has going for herself and prospects for regime preservation is that she is a known entity both within and outside North Korea. But Lee Byong-chol, a North Korea expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said the North’s deeply patriarchal elites would find it hard to accept a young, inexperienced female leader. Instead, Choe Ryong Hae, the current No. 2 in the government hierarchy, could fill a power vacuum created by Kim’s death. Either way, a new leadership in Pyongyang could presage a new bout of tensions on the Korean Peninsula. A change at the top has always unleashed military provocations like weapons tests or bloody purges of top generals and officials, as the leader struggled to establish his own totalitarian grip on power at home and show his mettle to external enemies. “I would not be surprised even if he died today or tomorrow,” Lee said. “What should worry us is how power in North Korea is going to be realigned after his death.” (Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea’s Culture of Secrecy Fuels Speculation Over Leader’s Health,” New York Times, April 22, 2020, p. A-18) President Donald Trump said at a press conference April 23 of a CNN report on April 20 that Kim’s life is in grave danger after surgery, “I think the report was incorrect, let me just put it that way … I’m hearing they used old documents,” But when asked whether he had made any contact to the North Korean side, the president said, “I won’t say that.” “I hope he’s OK. And I think it was a fake report done by CNN,” the president added. (Kyodo, “Trump Calls Media Report on N. Korean Leader’s Ill-Health ‘Incorrect,’” April 23, 2020)

Sneider: “The rumors that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is seriously ill, perhaps on the verge of death, sent small shock waves through the capitals of Seoul, Washington and Beijing. All three governments were suddenly confronted with the need to prepare for a possible collapse of authority in a nuclear-armed state without any clear plan for succession of power. While the circumstances surrounding Kim’s health remain murky, it is much clearer that U.S. President Donald Trump, South Korean President Moon Jae-In, and Chinese President Xi Jinping are not ready for crisis within North Korea. Judging from their hurried comments aimed at downplaying the rumors of Kim’s illness, all are hoping that the obese ruler remains in power. A crisis would come at a time when alliance relations between the United States and South Korea are crumbling, when China has little if no incentive to cooperate, and when all of these governments are completely absorbed and mired in coping with the Covid-19 pandemic. “As far as I know nobody is really prepared for a collapse of North Korea,” Van Jackson, a former senior defense official for Korea policy in the Obama administration, told me. “At a high level, I seriously doubt there’s been any work done on a collapse scenario in the alliance since Trump came to office. Also, the Moon administration is not interested in what it sees as the self-fulfilling prophecy of collapse planning. China is better positioned than the rest of us if a succession crisis happened, but even China has few inroads and limited leverage,” adds Jackson, currently a Senior Lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. The desire to avoid dealing with a North Korea crisis does not mean, however, that no plans exist. The United States and South Korea have a secret Operational Plan (OPLAN) 5029 for carrying out joint military actions in the event of the collapse of the North Korean regime. While the details remain highly classified, security analysts familiar with its contents say it covers a range of contingencies, including a palace coup in Pyongyang, a civil war among warring factions, natural disasters, and a massive flow of refugees across the border. OPLAN 5029 also covers the dispatch of teams of military and scientific personnel to collect and secure North Korea’s nuclear weapons, security specialists told me. OPLAN 5029 has its origins in a broad agreement reached in 1997, in the last days of the conservative South Korean Kim Young Sam government, to prepare for possible collapse in North Korea. The agreement was sparked by the death of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, followed by a massive famine, and accompanied by the first crisis over their efforts to develop nuclear weapons. This became Conceptual Plan (CONPLAN) 5029, setting out a broad framework for dealing with a breakdown of order in the North. The progressive South Korean government of Kim Dae Jung, which came to power in early 1998, was much more interested in pursuing its dreams of reconciliation and reunification with North Korea. Still the U.S. pressed for converting the CONPLAN into an operations plan which would define the flow of troops and equipment and determine who would control those forces. Under the American proposal, presented to the progressive government of Roh Moo-hyun which took office in 2003, the forces would be under the command of a U.S. general, similar to the Combined Forces Command set up to deal with a war with the North. Roh’s National Security Council, in an unusually open statement, rejected the plan as “infringing on the sovereignty of South Korea.” Tough negotiations followed and the plan was not agreed on until a conservative government under President Lee Myung-bak came to power in 2009. U.S. military planners in the Korea command, in consultation with counterparts in the Republic of Korea (ROK) military, had drawn up detailed plans for sending hundreds of thousands of forces over the border, with an American commander at the head. Reality was more complicated. Chung Yung-woo, a veteran Foreign Ministry official, was briefed on OPLAN 5029 soon after he took up his position as National Security Advisor to President Lee in October 2010, a post he held until early 2013. He found it “unrealistic,” drawn up without regard for either the international system, the legal situation or the internal dynamics of North Korea. “In any case,” the former national security advisor told me, “the US will not be allowed to command the military operations in North Korea.” The plan envisions Korean troops responsible for stabilization operations, with the U.S. in support, while the US would have the central role in securing weapons of mass destruction. Brookings Institution expert Jonathan Pollack, who spent many years at the Defense Department-linked RAND Corporation and taught at the Naval War College, participated in war games for the Peninsula. “These plans are driven (not inappropriately, I suppose) by enduring beliefs that the US military had to have every imaginable contingency covered, in part to demonstrate to civilian leadership that such plans could be rolled out quickly in extreme circumstances, even if they couldn’t be,” Pollack said. “I think that they were also intended to convince ourselves that the ROK military was fully cooperating with US strategy, even when it wasn’t.” The OPLAN 5029 remains intact, at least on paper, even after the progressives returned to power in Seoul under Moon, a former chief of staff to Roh, and after the arrival of Trump and his America First approach to U.S. commitments abroad. While he would not comment specifically on 5029, former Trump National Security Advisor Lt General H.R. McMaster told me that “we tried to anticipate and prepare for all potential contingencies.” President Trump did push the Pentagon to prepare options for carrying out a surgical strike on North Korea in 2017, as rhetoric about ‘fire and fury’ was escalating. But there was no review or discussion of OPLAN 5029 for a North Korean collapse in the Pentagon, according to Randall Schriver, who served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs until the end of 2019. “In general, military plans, and especially 5029, depend fundamentally on lots of assumptions, including about what the American president will want to do,” David Straub, a former senior State Department official with long experience in Korea, told me. “With Trump as president, everything has been tossed as out the window of a speeding car. As long as he is in charge, I think 5029 and all such planning is basically irrelevant. Who knows what Trump would wind up doing?” For its part, President Moon’s administration is focused on engagement with the Pyongyang regime. “Anyway, 5029 is now dead under Moon Jae-in,” former national security advisor Chun says. “Talking about possibility of the regime collapse has become a political taboo. If any situation remotely resembling instability arises in North Korea, I am sure that the Moon administration will do all it can to save, stabilize and support the Kim Jong Un regime.” The prospects for cooperation between Moon and Trump are undermined also by the stalled talks on defense cost sharing between the two countries. Trump blocked a compromise deal drawn up by officials from both sides and there are vague threats that U.S. forces might be drawn down to put pressure on South Korea. But Moon’s readiness to make concessions is undoubtedly lessened after his landslide victory in the mid-April parliamentary elections. What about China? The Chinese Communist Party retains close ties with its North Korean counterparts and China is the main source of economic and strategic support for the regime. American policy makers have long speculated about the likelihood that the Chinese, faced with instability in North Korea, could carry out a coup and implant a new leadership. But others are skeptical about China’s ability or desire to intervene in the internal struggles that may emerge in North Korea if Kim dies. “They will leave North Koreans to sort out their succession problems and respect whatever the Korean Workers Party decides, despite the widely shared contempt the Chinese may have about the dynastic succession,” says South Korea’s Chun. “They are more concerned about massive outflow of refugees from North Korea and will try to fend off refugees. They will do what they can to stabilize the situation through humanitarian assistance. Politically, however, they will be careful not to side with one faction or another. Actually, they have no practical means to influence the outcome of any political struggle in North Korea.” Nor are the Chinese likely to cooperate with the U.S. to deal with a breakdown of order in North Korea. “Those days, if they indeed ever really existed, are over,” former Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Asia and the Pacific, Evans Revere, says. “The unfolding breakdown in U.S.-China relations, the shift in China’s thinking about its strategic relationship with the U.S., Beijing’s focus on rebuilding its ties with Pyongyang, China’s belief that it can have good, stable relations with both Koreas, the PRC’s desire to nudge the U.S. out of the neighborhood, and the evident preparedness of the Trump administration to be nudged, all tell me that the ‘good old days’ of U.S.-PRC cooperation on Korea are probably over.” The rumor mills may continue to grind out new stories from behind the wall of secrecy in Pyongyang, and some may turn out to be true. And OPLAN 5029 remains on the books. But the will to act may not be so easily found.” (Daniel Sneider, “Behind the Secret Plan for a North Korea Collapse,” Toyo Keizai, April 24, 2020)

South Korea is getting an aircraft carrier. The vessel could help Seoul’s navy to compete with its main rivals, the Chinese and Japanese fleets. The South Korean joint chiefs of staff decided on July 12, 2019 to acquire an assault ship capable of operating fixed-wing aircraft, Defense News reported. The vessel presumably would embark vertical-landing F-35B stealth fighters. Seoul for years has mulled a purchase of F-35Bs to complement the country’s land-based F-35As. “The plan of building the LPH-II ship has been included in a long-term force buildup plan,” a spokesman for the joint chiefs told Defense News, using an acronym for “landing platform helicopter.” “Once a preliminary research is completed within a couple of years, the shipbuilding plan is expected to be included in the midterm acquisition list,” the spokesman added. The new LPH will displace around 30,000 tons of water, roughly twice as much as the South Korean navy’s two LPH-Is displace. The older assault ships embark only helicopters. A 30,000-ton vessel easily could operate a dozen or more F-35Bs plus other aircraft. Acquiring a carrier represents “a symbolic and meaningful step to upgrade the country’s naval capability against potential threats posed by Japan and China,” Kim Dae-young, an analyst with the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, told Defense News. The new flattop is part of a wider naval buildup in South Korea. The South Korean government on April 30, 2019 approved plans to acquire new destroyers and submarines for the country’s fast-growing navy. The $6-billion acquisition include three Aegis destroyers armed with ballistic-missile interceptors and three submarines equipped with their own launchers for land-attack missiles. The new ships could help Seoul’s navy to expand beyond its current, largely coastal mission. The main threat to South Korea is North Korea, specifically the North’s huge force of artillery that in wartime quickly could demolish Seoul and endanger millions of people. But looking beyond the North Korean threat, South Korea clearly has ambitions to develop a far-sailing “blue-water” navy. The South Korean navy in 2019 operates 68 major warships including 16 submarines, 12 destroyers, 13 frigates, 13 corvettes and 14 amphibious warfare ships. The fleet also includes scores of patrol boats, mine-warfare vessels and auxiliaries. The three new Sejong the Great-class destroyers and three new Dosan An Chang-Ho-class submarines apparently will expand the fleet rather than replace older vessels. “The new Aegis destroyers will be outfitted with an upgraded missile launch system which will allow them to intercept ballistic missiles,” Yonhap news agency reported. “They will also represent a marked upgrade in detection and tracking abilities.” The navy currently possesses three of the Sejong the Great-class destroyers that it acquired between 2008 and 2012. The 11,000-ton-displacement destroyers are among the most heavily-armed in the world and boast 128 vertical missile cells for SM-3 air-defense missiles and Hyunmoo-3C cruise missiles. At present the American-made SM-3 is most effective as a terminal- or boost-phase missile-interceptor, meaning it possess the speed, range and altitude performance to hit enemy ballistic missiles when they’re first launching or in their final seconds of flight. But the U.S. Missile Defense Agency plans to modify the SM-3 and test it for the most difficult, mid-course-phase intercepts, when an interceptor must climb outside of the atmosphere. Exo-atmospheric interceptions require special sensors and other capabilities. Among Asian powers, Japan is also equipping its destroyers with SM-3s for missile-defense missions. South Korea however is unique in fitting its submarines with launchers for ballistic land-attack missiles. The 3,400-ton-displacement Dosan An Chang-Ho-class subs will come with vertical launchers that can fire Chonryong cruise missiles and Hyunmoo-2 ballistic missiles. The boats’ land-attack capabilities could help Seoul to target Pyongyang’s 13,000 artillery pieces, potentially minimizing the damage that North Korea could inflict on the south. The new submarines during wartime also would hunt North Korea’s own large but aging fleet of subs. Pyongyang operates around 70 undersea vessels, including around 20 Soviet-designed Romeo-class attack boats and scores of midget submarines. South Korea’s carrier will sail into crowded seas. Japan’s cabinet on Dec. 18, 2018 approved a plan to modify the Japanese navy’s two, 27,000-ton-displacement Izumo-class helicopter carriers to embark F-35B stealth fighters. The modifications should result in the Japanese fleet operating, for the first time since World War II, flattops with fixed-wing aircraft. The Chinese navy has two carriers. Another is under construction. Beijing’s fleet could possess as many as six aircraft carriers by the mid-2030s, experts told state media. They could be a mix of conventional and nuclear-powered vessels. Even the smallest Chinese carrier displaces around 60,000 tons of water, making it twice as big as South Korea’s own, future flattop. (David Axe, “Asia Is Getting Another Aircraft Carrier, But This One Is for the Korean Peninsula,” The National Interest, April 30, 2020)

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, resurfaced in public view today, the North’s state news media reported a day later, controverting three weeks of rumors and unconfirmed news reports that he was in grave danger after undergoing heart surgery. He appeared at a ceremony at a factory in the city of Sunchon, KCNA said, later releasing photos from the event. The report could not immediately be independently confirmed. Kim, 36, had last appeared publicly on April 11. Speculation about his health — and about who would take over the hermetic, nuclear-armed country should he become incapacitated or die — began swirling after Kim missed the state celebrations of his country’s biggest holiday on April 15. On that day, the North marks the birthday of his grandfather Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder. Rumors subsequently went into overdrive, claiming that Kim was “in grave danger,” in a “vegetative state” after botched heart-valve surgery, or in quarantine after contracting Covid-19. Other reports said that China had sent doctors to Pyongyang to save him. After its initial report, KCNA released photos showing a smiling Kim applauding, cutting a ribbon and standing with his hands behind his back at a new fertilizer factory. “All the participants again burst into thunderous cheers of ‘hurrah,’” the news agency said, taking its characteristically fulsome tone for coverage of the leader. It said that Kim “warmly acknowledged the builders and masses raising thunderous cheers” and went on to tour the factory, accompanied by senior officials from the ruling Workers’ Party, including his only sister, Kim Yo Jong. Although no outside media was apparently allowed to witness the ceremony, the report by KCNA followed a familiar pattern. State media typically reports Kim’s public appearances a day after they take place, carrying photos from the scene as well. The South Korean government did not immediately comment on the report, but it has pushed back against the recent speculation that Kim was in poor health. Its unification minister, Kim Yeon-chul, had called the reports “fake news,” saying that South Korea could say “confidently” that there was no evidence to confirm the rumors. Amid the reports, North Korea had continued to send out letters and gifts to foreign leaders and domestic workers under Kim’s name. But it had gone weeks without reporting any public appearances by its leader or responding to the speculation about his health, and its silence fueled the rumor mill. Today, Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector who recently won a seat in the South Korean Parliament, told reporters that he was “99 percent sure” that Kim had died last weekend. The weeks of rumors showed how “unprepared” the outside world remains “for a potential political crisis caused by something like the sudden, unexpected death of the dictator in a country bristling with dozens of nuclear weapons,” said Danny Russel, vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute. “We got a glimpse of the danger of loose nukes and worse if the death of Kim Jong Un had unleashed a destabilizing power struggle” in the North, where Kim had no designated adult heir in place, Russel said by email. Russel had dealt with North Korea as a National Security Council director at the White House and assistant secretary of state for Asia. He said the past few weeks showed that “authoritative information about the North Korean supreme leader’s well-being and whereabouts is very closely guarded, and therefore dramatic rumors about his health and behavior need to be regarded with considerable skepticism.” The North’s report did not dispel the mystery over why Kim missed the important state ceremonies for his grandfather’s birthday — an absence that set off the series of speculative reports. A South Korean news website that hires North Korean defectors as reporters said Kim had undergone heart surgery. U.S. news reports said that Washington was monitoring intelligence suggesting that Kim was “in grave danger.” It was not the first time Kim had disappeared from public view for weeks at a time or been the subject of intense speculation about his health. And the information vacuum surrounding the doings of North Korean leaders leaves fertile ground for misinformation to spread. Some past rumors about the health of North Korean leaders have indeed proved true, like speculation that Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, had a stroke in 2008. But most have turned out to be groundless. In 1986, a South Korean newspaper reported a “world scoop” claiming that Kim’s grandfather, then-President Kim Il Sung, had died in an armed attack. A smiling Kim Il Sung resurfaced two days later. In 2014, Kim Jong Un disappeared for more than a month, prompting rumors that he might have been deposed in a coup. North Korean media later showed him walking with a cane; South Korean intelligence said he had undergone ankle surgery. Over the years, top officials reported to have been executed have also often resurfaced. In 2015, a North Korean defector claimed that Kim had ordered his own aunt killed with poison. But the aunt, Kim Kyong Hui, re-emerged in Pyongyang in January. Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea’s Chief Is Seen in Public, State Media Says,” New York Times, May 2, 2020, p. A-9).

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, demonstrated his flair for the dramatic this weekend when he reappeared after three weeks of unexplained absence, cutting the ribbon on a fertilizer factory — and quieting rumors that he was gravely ill. But those weeks of hand-wringing over Kim’s fate, and North Korea’s future, showed again how little the world knows about what’s happening in the opaque, nuclear-armed country, and how vulnerable it is to misinformation about it. There seems little doubt now that Kim is alive and well. Today, North Korea’s state news agency released photos of him smiling, chatting and walking before a large crowd at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which it said took place yesterday. Such reports are almost impossible to confirm. But after the photos appeared, South Korea — which had repeatedly insisted there was “nothing unusual” happening in the North — issued a strong rebuke about the various news reports that had suggested Kim was in peril. “The groundless rumors about North Korea have caused various unnecessary economic, security and societal confusion and costs,” the South’s Unification Ministry said in a text message to reporters. Still, Kim’s reappearance did nothing to explain the three-week absence from public view that led to the rumors, not least why he missed the important April 15 state ceremonies for the birth anniversary of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder. And the speculation about Kim’s well-being — some reports had him in a “vegetative state” after botched heart surgery — brought home an alarming fact: that the world simply doesn’t know what would happen to the North and its nuclear arsenal should he suddenly die or become incapacitated. “If anything, the past 10 days of frenzied speculation have revealed our weaknesses in intelligence and in reporting on what is happening inside North Korea,” said Jean H. Lee, a North Korea expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “Regardless, it has refocused our attention on Kim, his health, stability in North Korea and the family’s hold on power.” Even the perception of a leadership vacuum in the North could have dangerous consequences, analysts say. Misinformation could lead to miscalculation or unintended escalations by one party or another. Over the decades, the rulers of the Kim dynasty have often disappeared from view for weeks or even months at a time. Each absence generated rumors of a coup, an assassination or a health crisis, always fueled by a lack of firsthand information about the leadership in Pyongyang, the capital. This time was no different. Even two North Korean defectors who were recently elected to the South’s Parliament — who might be expected to read the Pyongyang tea leaves better than most — said they were sure Kim was either dead or seriously ill. “One thing is clear,” said one, Thae Yong-ho, a former diplomat. “He cannot stand up by himself or walk properly.” Today, KCNA said the fertilizer plant opened by Kim represented a “great victory” against the “mean sanctions and pressure from hostile forces” amid “the global catastrophe caused by the malicious virus.” North Korea insists that it has had no Covid-19 cases, but outside experts fear it could be hiding a significant outbreak. Harry J. Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies at the Center for the National Interest in Washington, said the likeliest explanation for Kim’s absence was that he was “taking steps to ensure his health or may have been impacted in some way personally by the virus.” One of the biggest lessons from recent weeks is that “the world is largely unprepared for instability in North Korea,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womens University in Seoul. Outside analysts fear that if Kim suddenly died, the country’s dozens of nuclear devices — as well as chemical and biological weapons, conventional arms and a 1.2 million-strong military — would be at the center of a messy, cutthroat contest for power. “The combination of loose nukes and political conflict is a nightmare scenario for the world,” said Danny Russel, vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, who dealt with North Korea as a National Security Council director at the White House and an assistant secretary of state for Asia. “Political turmoil could lead a faction or a commander to brandish or — God forbid — launch a nuclear-armed missile.” Russel said that in the event of a leadership struggle, Washington’s immediate priority would be to ensure “the security of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and material.” But its work would be “handicapped by the intelligence community’s uncertainty about their exact whereabouts — something the North Koreans have gone to great lengths to conceal,” he said. Some analysts think China would intervene to secure the North’s nuclear facilities and install a new leader to its liking, should Kim’s rule end. But others are skeptical about its ability to do so, given the deep-rooted distrust that has shadowed the countries’ alliance. Besides, decades of extreme nationalistic indoctrination have left North Koreans wary of any intervention by foreigners, be they American or Chinese. The police state’s control over the population has been such that a civil uprising is all but unthinkable in the North. But if that control should loosen during a murky transition period, long-held grievances against official corruption and economic hardship could erupt into protests. “With U.S.-China relations at an absolute low point, what happens if U.S. and Chinese special forces find themselves face to face while attempting to seize control of a North Korean base?” Russel asked. “Conversely, Washington may suddenly have to deal with a South Korean ally who sees a now-or-never chance to reunify the Korean Peninsula and begins a northward push despite U.S. objections,” he said. “Does the United States in that case relent and provide air cover and support, or stand back and run the risk of a military disaster?” For now, such questions will subside — until Kim disappears again. (Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Leader Is Seen, But Little Else Is Clear” New York Times, May 3, 2020, p. 21)

President Donald Trump today welcomed the news that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has made his first public appearance in 20 days, after his absence sparked rumors over his health. “I, for one, am glad to see he is back, and well!” Trump tweeted, in response to a Twitter post that carried images of Kim attending a ceremony to mark the completion of a fertilizer factory near Pyongyang. Trump’s tweet came a day after he declined to comment on a report by North Korea’s state-run news agency on Kim’s appearance at the factory. (Kyodo, “Trump Says ‘Glad’ about N. Korean Leader’s Pubic Appearance,” May 2 2020)

Several gunshots from North Korea hit a South Korean guard post inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) today, prompting the South to fire back, but the North’s firings do not appear to have been intentional, an official said. South Korean soldiers on guard duty at the unit in the central border town of Cheorwon heard gunshots at around 7:41 a.m. and found four bullet marks on a wall of the guard post, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In accordance with the response manual, the military then fired a total of 20 shots in response — 10 rounds each time — and issued broadcast warnings, it added. No casualties or damage to South Korean facilities were reported. It is not known if North Korea sustained any damage. “We also sent a notice to the North Korean side via the inter-Korean communication line at around 9:35 a.m., and called for its explanation,” a JCS officer said. North Korea has given no response yet. The military is closely looking into the incident to learn more details by analyzing pieces of evidence, including shells found at the scene, as well as the North’s motivations for the firing. It does not appear to be an intentional provocation, according to the officer. “It was quite foggy and the North Korean soldiers usually rotate shifts around that time,” the JCS officer said, adding that no unusual movements by the North’s military have been detected. The South Korean authorities made it clear that the incident is in violation of the bilateral military accord of the Comprehensive Military Agreement signed in September 2018, and urged the North to fully abide by the agreement. Under the accord, the two Koreas set up land, maritime and ground buffer zones and agreed to halt all hostile acts against each other, aimed at reducing tensions and building trust. It is the first reported exchange of gunfire between the two Koreas along the border since 2017, when the North fired bullets at one of its soldiers who was fleeing to the South. (Oh Seok-min, “Multiple Gunshots from N. Korea Hit S. Korea Border Guard Post: JCS,” Yonhap, May 3, 2020) Hankyore learned on May 11 that South Korean troops at a guard post on the front line ran into several issues when they responded to gunshots fired by North Korean positions early this month, including the malfunction of a remote-controlled K6 heavy machine gun. Hoping to compensate for the mistake, South Korean troops ended up firing two bursts containing seven times the rounds that the North Koreans had fired in the first place, even though the North Koreans didn’t offer any further response. A military source told the Hankyore on May 11 that a 12.7mm K6 heavy machine gun had malfunctioned when South Korean front-line troops attempted to fire it in their initial response to the North Korean gunfire. On the morning of May 3, four bullets from a North Korean 14.5mm antiaircraft gun struck the outer wall of a South Korean guard post in the DMZ in Cheorwon County, Gangwon Province. About 30 minutes later, soldiers in a situation room monitoring the guard post by video screen attempted to return fire with a remote-controlled K6 heavy machine gun, which has similar firepower to the North Korean weapon. But a system malfunction prevented the gun from firing. The South Korean troops hurried to fire off about 10 rounds from a 5.56mm K3 light machine gun and then, three minutes later, fired about 10 more rounds from a manually operated K6 heavy machine gun in the direction of the North Korean guard post. The malfunction of the military’s remote fire control system at the DMZ, on the front lines, discloses a weakness in the military’s readiness posture. On top of that, the fact that South Korean troops fired nearly 30 rounds from a light machine gun and a heavy machine gun in response to four bullets fired by North Korean troops can be regarded as an excessive response. “I think that troops were determined to respond with a K6 heavy machine gun out of fear that the military would be criticized for not making an adequate response. We’ll have to wait for the results of the UN Command’s ongoing investigation of this incident, but I think the South Korean military may end up being called out for an excessive response,” the military source said. (Noh Ji-won, “Remote Controlled Machine Gun Misfired When S. Korea Responded to N. Korea’s Gunfire,” Hankyore, May 12, 2020) South Korea has secured “decisive” evidence that North Korea’s recent shooting at one of its guard posts across the border was not intentional, sources said May 13. The assessment is in line with the United States’ determination that the incident was “accidental.” On May 3, at least four bullets from the North hit the South’s guard post at the central part of the Demilitarized Zone in Cheorwon prompting the South Korean troops to fire back, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). “I cannot tell you details, but we’ve secured evidence from various intelligence sources, including circumstantial ones, that it was accidental,” a senior JCS officer told reporters, explaining the results of its probe into the case. The official later described the evidence as “decisive.” Other sources said the evidence, which includes signals intelligence (SIGINT), has been shared with the U.S. On the day of the incident, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview with ABC News that he believes the incident was “accidental.” The JCS officer also pointed out that the North did not take any specific action despite the South’s shooting at its guard post. “If they had recognized the situation seriously, they should have prepared for action, just as we had done at that time. But no such specific moves, like wearing iron helmets, have been detected,” he said. “Civilians near the scene were also spotted doing their farm work just as usual in the day.” The shooting took place at a time when North Korean soldiers usually rotate shifts and check their firearms or equipment, raising chances of accidental firings, another JCS officer said. It was foggy, and the North’s guard post is topographically lower than the South Korean one, which are unfavorable conditions for the North to be provocative, he added. (Oh Seok-min, “S. Korea Secured ‘Decisive’ Evidence to Believe N. Korea’s DMZ Gunfire Accidental: Sources,” May 13, 2020) South Korea’s military on May 13 held a press conference to clear up controversy surrounding its exchange of gunfire with North Koreans at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) last week sparked by an unexpected volley from the North. According to Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), South Korean soldiers posted to a guard post in the DMZ at Cheorwon, Gangwon, on May 3 heard bullets hitting the outer wall of the guard post at around 7:41 a.m. The soldiers said they realized they were being fired at after feeling shockwaves from the bullets, and immediately reported the incident to a command post. But it was not clear where the bullets had come from, as fog was covering the area that day, limiting the soldiers’ field of vision to around 500 meters (0.3 miles) to 1 kilometer. One of the troops noticed three bullet marks on the outer wall of the command post at around 7:51 a.m., deducing that they came from a North Korean guard post in the east. The battalion commander who received the report ordered the South Korean soldiers to return fire at around 7:56 a.m. The commanding officer at the South’s guard post ordered the return fire at 8:00 a.m. The troops attempted three times to fire back with a KR-6 gun installed at the guard post, but the remote-control system used in the weapon system malfunctioned. It was already 8:13 a.m. when the South Korean troops finally returned fire using a K-3 light machine gun, which had to be moved toward the direction of the North Korean guard post in question. A total of 15 shots were fired, followed by another 15 at 8:18 a.m. using another KR-6 gun. The total time it took the South Korean military to respond with return fire was 32 minutes from the time the first North Korean bullet hit the guard post. The delay raised questions about the preparedness of South Korean troops in a situation that could have turned highly volatile. The KR-6 machine gun that its troops had attempted to use in their initial response was also found to be partially defective, leading to speculation that the military had failed to conduct proper maintenance checks. A JCS spokesman said that if the KR-6 gun had fired properly, the return fire could have happened within 10 minutes of the initial shots from the North. “Without the fog, the [troops] could have fired within two to three minutes,” the spokesman said. “It is unfortunate that the KR-6 did not fire, but the response [of the soldiers] was appropriate and based on guidelines.”

Another North Korean bullet mark was found at the guard post in the meantime, leading the military to conclude the North had fired four bullets toward the South. The JCS said it was sticking to its original determination that the North’s gunfire was accidental and not meant as a provocation to Seoul. “Our military fired back in two separate rounds, but the North did not respond and carried out their usual farming activities [that day],” the spokesman said. “The North Korean troops working at their guard posts that day were also not wearing their helmets.” The South’s Ministry of National Defense has nonetheless labeled the incident a violation by the North of a military agreement signed by the two sides on September 19, 2018, in which the Koreas agreed to effectively cease hostile activities on the border. (Shim Kyu-seok, “South’s Response to Gunfire from North Took 30 Minutes,” JoongAng Ilbo, May 13, 2020)

Pompeo: “QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. There are reports this morning — I want to talk about North Korea first, before we get to China — that shots were fired from North Korea into a South Korean guard tower on the DMZ and that the South fired back after a warning. What can you tell us about that? SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Martha, thanks for having me on this morning. I’ve seen that reporting, too. I’ve seen some of our internal information as well. We can confirm at least the initial reports are that you’ve described are just about right — a handful of shots that came across from the North. We think those were accidental. The South Koreans did return fire. So far as we can tell, there was no loss of life on either side.” (DoS, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo with Martha Raddatz of ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, May 3, 2020)

North Korea continues to view its nuclear program as “essential” to the protection of its regime, but may be willing to give up “some” nuclear and missile capabilities in exchange for sanctions relief and other gains, the nominee to be U.S. director of national intelligence said today. John Ratcliffe’s assessment suggests that North Korea is unlikely to completely dismantle its nuclear and ballistic missile programs as the U.S. has insisted North Korea agreed to do during the first summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June 2018.

“Based on what I have seen as a member of HPSCI and on briefings, I believe that North Korea continues to view nuclear weapons as essential to protect the regime from military action and to gain standing in the international community,” Ratcliffe wrote in response to questions from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence ahead of his nomination hearing. The nominee serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as a Republican congressman representing a district in Texas. “North Korea may be willing to trade some nuclear and missile concessions for sanctions relief and other political and security benefits,” he added. “The North Korean regime’s continued possession of nuclear weapons and pursuit of systems capable of delivering them remains deeply concerning,” Ratcliffe wrote in a separate statement. “The threat these weapons pose to the United States and our allies in the region cannot be overstated. We must remain focused on this threat and ensure policymakers have the information they need.” During the hearing, Ratcliffe was asked if he believes there has been progress in reversing North Korea’s nuclear development. He responded that with the level of information he currently has, he is unable to answer, but the danger North Korea represents is the same. Asked if the intelligence community is doing enough to collect information against “hard targets” such as North Korea, he responded affirmatively. “As you know, the challenge with North Korea is visibility, and I think that my impression from the outside, like you, as a member of an oversight committee of intelligence, is that we have very good collection,” he said. “And I will commit that if we are not doing enough … I will make it a high priority to improve any standards that we may need to employ,” he added. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Views Nuclear Program as Essential But May Give up ‘Some’ Capabilities: U.S. Intel Chief Nominee,” Korea Times, May 6, 2020)

DPRK Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces spokesman’s statement: “[Yesterday], the south Korean military staged a joint military drill in the hotspot waters in the West Sea of Korea with the involvement of more than twenty fighters of F-15K, KF-16, F-4E and FA-50 belonging to the air combat command of the Air Force and storm boats under the Navy’s 2nd Fleet and others. Such reckless move of the military warmongers of the south side is the height of the military confrontation which would leave tongue-tied even their master, who responded to every military drill staged by us with words like halt and regretful, saying it does not help the efforts to defuse tension on the Korean peninsula. Everything is now going back to the starting point before the north-south summit meeting in 2018. The recent joint drill was staged in the air and sea in the biggest hotspot area in the West Sea of Korea in which military conflicts occurred between the north and the south in the past, and it was openly launched, assuming that there were a “strange sign” and “provocation” from us. What merits more attention is that the south Korean military staged the said military drill while calling us their “enemy.” This is a grave provocation which can never be overlooked and this situation demands a necessary reaction from us. It is no more than the deliberate pursuit of confrontation the excuse for which can never be made. The south Korean military did not hide the fact that the joint military drill aimed at improving its capability to cope with the north’s firepower and surprise “provocation” and at striking the base of the “enemy’s provocation” and repelling the forces supporting it. The reckless military provocation by the south Korean military is a total denial and an open perfidy to the north-south agreement in the military field in which both sides promised the whole Korean nation to stop all the hostile acts against the other party on the ground and in the sea and air, to turn the West Sea zone into the peaceful waters, in particular. The recent drill served as an opportunity which awakened us once again to the obvious fact that the enemies remain enemies all the time. Should we remain a passive onlooker when the enemy gets zealous while openly calling for an attack on us?” (KCNA, “Spokesperson for the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces of DPRK Blames S. Korean Military for Its Reckless Military Provocation,” May 8, 2020)

KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, sent a verbal message to Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and president of the People’s Republic of China, in connection with the fact that China is registering success in preventing the COVID-19 infection. Kim Jong Un in his message extended his warm greetings to Xi Jinping and congratulated him, highly appreciating that he is seizing a chance of victory in the war against the unprecedented epidemic and strategically and tactically controlling the overall situation while leading the Chinese party and people. Saying that he was pleased over the successes made in China as over his own, Kim Jong Un wished Xi Jinping good health, expressing conviction that the Chinese party and people would cement the successes made so far and steadily expand them and thus win a final victory under the wise guidance of Xi Jinping. Saying that the relations between the two parties of the DPRK and China which were firmly consolidated while overcoming all sorts of trials and challenges of history are getting close and further developing on good terms with each passing day, he sent militant greetings to every member of the Communist Party of China.” (KCNA, “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Sends Verbal Message to President Xi Jinping,” May 8, 2020)

Multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) have been newly manufactured in Sain-ri, Pyongsong in North Korea. U.S. authorities have detected the assembly and completion of ICBMs at an automobile plant in Sain-ri, along with a transporter erector launcher (TEL). Sain-ri is where North Korea launched ICBMs in 2017. “We are keeping an eye on future developments,” said a member of the U.S. government. “Multiple possibilities, such as ICBM test launches or a military parade to showcase the country’s power, are under review.” The political landscape on the Korean Peninsula will become destabilized in the case of North Korea’s provocations with ICBMs that can reach the U.S. territory given the upcoming presidential election in the U.S. in November.”

Experts are also worried about potential provocations by North Korea. “ICBMs in Sain-ri may be the upgraded version of the North’s existing ICBMs, such as Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, but we cannot exclude the possibility that they may be the missiles of a completely new weapon system,” said Professor Kim Dong-yeop of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University. “Provocations may be likely before the beginning of summer training of North Korean military — before June at the latest.” (Dong-A Ilbo, “Manufacturing of Multiple ICBMs Detected in N. Korea, Say U.S. Authorities,” May 9, 2020)

KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Saturday sent a message of greeting to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, president of the Russian Federation. Kim Jong Un in his message extended his warm congratulations and greetings to Putin, the friendly government and people of Russia on behalf of the DPRK government and people on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Russia’s victory in the Great Patriotic War. The message said that 75 years ago, the Russian people, displaying matchless heroism and self-sacrificing spirit, achieved the great victory in the great war of justice to destroy fascism that posed a threat to the destiny of mankind, thus defending the country and protecting global peace and security. It noted that the heroic feats and historic exploits performed by the Russian people will remain long in the memory of peoples of all the countries loving justice and peace. The DPRK-Russia relations are now further developing in conformity with the aspiration and desire of the peoples of the two countries, overcoming all kinds of challenges and hardships, by inheriting the precious tradition of friendship forged with the feelings of comrade-in-arms in the sacred war against common enemies, it stressed. It expressed the belief that the strategic and traditional relations of friendship between the DPRK and Russia would steadily develop as required by the new century, and sincerely wished the president and people of Russia sure victory in their struggle to build a powerful Russia by carrying forward the tradition of the great victory in the war and to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus infection, the worldwide pandemic.” (KCNA, “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Sends Greetings to Russian President,” May 9, 2020)

KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, received a verbal message from Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and president of the People’s Republic of China, in reply to his verbal message to the latter over the achievements made by the party and people of China in their efforts to fight the pandemic. Xi Jinping in his message said that he received with pleasure the warm and friendly verbal message from the chairman of the WPK, stressing that it fully showed the deep feelings of Chairman Kim Jong Un, and the Party, government and people of the DPRK toward himself, and the party, government and people of China, and greatly displayed the solid foundation of the traditional China-DPRK friendship and its tremendous vitality. Xi Jinping said that he has intent to propel the steady advance and development of China-DPRK relations in the new era and to actively contribute to the regional peace, development and prosperity by thoroughly carrying out important agreements, strengthening strategic communications and intensifying exchange and cooperation between the two parties and the two countries. He wished the chairman of the WPK new success in the socialist construction by leading the Party and people of the DPRK.” (KCNA, “Verbal Message to Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un from President Xi Jinping, May 10, 2020)

Kim Jong Un, has convened the country’s top military-governing body, outlining “new policies for further increasing” its nuclear capabilities and promoting top weapons officials, the North’s state-run media said. Kim’s attendance at the meeting was his first public activity reported by the North Korean media in three weeks During the meeting of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, Kim was said to have promoted Ri Pyong Chol to vice chairman of the commission, expanding his influence. Ri has been in charge of building nuclear weapons and their delivery missiles. Kim also promoted nearly 70 general officers, elevating Pak Jong Chon, a career military commander specializing in artillery and missile forces, to vice marshal, only a year after he was made a four-star general and chief of the North Korean army’s general staff. Among North Korean officials whose roles appeared to expand under Kim’s government as he refocused on expanding his country’s nuclear and missile capabilities following the collapse of his diplomacy with President Trump. “Set forth at the meeting were new policies for further increasing the nuclear war deterrence of the country and putting the strategic armed forces on a high alert operation,” KCNA reported. “Taken at the meeting were crucial measures for considerably increasing the firepower strike ability of the artillery pieces of the Korean People’s Army.” The news agency did clarify what Kim’s new policies on his nuclear weapons might be. Since taking over his country following the death of his father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, in 2011. Kim has accelerated his country’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. North Korea has conducted the last four of its six underground nuclear tests under his rule. It also flight-tested three intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2017. (Choe Sang-hun, “Kim Moves to Increase North Korea’s Nuclear Might,” New York Times, May 25, 2020, p.A-16)

KCNA: “The Fourth Enlarged Meeting of the Seventh Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) took place at a stirring time when the entire Party and the whole society are pushing ahead with the great revolutionary advance for glorifying this year marking the 75th founding anniversary of the WPK as a year of opening up an epoch-making phase in the path of the development of the Korean-style socialism, true to the line and policy for achieving prosperity by self-reliance set forth by the great Party. The meeting was guided by Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the WPK. Attending the meeting were members of the WPK Central Military Commission, members of the Executive Committee of the Korean People’s Army Committee of the WPK, commanders and commissars of the services and corps of the Korean People’s Army, commanding officers of the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of People’s Security, the Guard Headquarters and other armed forces organs at all levels and vice directors of major departments of the WPK Central Committee. The meeting discussed important military steps and organizational and political measures to further bolster up the overall armed forces of the DPRK politically and ideologically and in military technique to be able to firmly defend the political stability and sovereignty of the country and reliably contain the persistent big or small military threats from the hostile forces in view of the essential requirements to bring about further progress in developing the national defense capabilities and war deterrent under the internal and external situation created in the vital period in the development of our revolution, and dealt with an organizational matter. The meeting reviewed and analyzed a series of drawbacks in the military and political activities of the overall armed forces of the DPRK including the People’s Army, and discussed methodological issues for overcoming them and bringing about drastic improvement. Also discussed at the meeting were the issue of examining and setting right the unreasonable machinery and compositional defects and the core issues for further increasing the capabilities for militarily deterring the threatening foreign forces by rapidly increasing the self-reliant defense capabilities and organizing new units. The meeting stressed once again the tasks facing the different sectors to thoroughly carry out the revolutionary military line and policies of the party. Set forth at the meeting were new policies for further increasing the nuclear war deterrence of the country and putting the strategic armed forces on a high alert operation in line with the general requirements for the building and development of the armed forces of the country. Taken at the meeting were crucial measures for considerably increasing the firepower strike ability of the artillery pieces of the Korean People’s Army. The meeting elected a vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK and recalled or by-elected some of its members. Ri Pyong Chol was elected as vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK. The organizational matter was tabled at the meeting on dismissing or transferring or newly appointing commanding officers in major posts of the armed forces institutions. The CMC of the WPK decided to promote the military ranks of major commanding officers of the People’s Army in high recognition of their devotion and efforts to glorify this year marking the significant 75th anniversary of the glorious WPK as the first year of great victory in the frontal breakthrough. The respected Supreme Leader put main emphasis on thoroughly realizing the party’s monolithic leadership over the People’s Army by consolidating the party organizations and political institutions at all levels within the People’s Army and enhancing their function and roles, and on providing party leadership to conducting military, political, logistic and defense and all other affairs in line with the ideology and intention of the party under whatever circumstances. He specified key issues to be constantly maintained in the military and political performance of the armed forces of the DPRK, and tasks and ways. He signed seven orders including the orders on new military measures discussed and decided at the Party CMC, an order on draft reorganization of machinery for enhancing the responsibility and roles of the major military educational institutions, the order on reorganizing the military commanding system to meet the mission and duty of the security institutions, and the order on promoting the military ranks of commanding officers. The Fourth Enlarged Meeting of the Seventh Central Military Commission of the WPK organized and led by Kim Jong Un served as a historic turning point of great significance in increasing the capabilities of the revolutionary armed forces in every way and laying a solid foundation for further powerfully propelling the victorious advance of the revolutionary cause of Juche by dint of the invincible military force under the outstanding army-building idea and strategic plan of the WPK.” (KCNA, “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Guides Enlarged Meeting of WPK Central Military Commission,” May 24, 2020)

KCNA: “Kin Jong Un, chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), signed an order on promoting the military ranks of commanding officers. The order issued on May 23 is as follows: It is the fixed faith and unshakable will of our party to firmly defend the sovereignty and dignity of the country, break through head-on the grim unprecedented hardships and win new victory in building a powerful socialist country in reliance on the strong militant spirit and the invincible might of the revolutionary armed forces. Today the armed forces of the DPRK face a heavy historic task to further arm with the revolutionary idea, line and policies of the WPK as required by the prevailing situation, to reliably defend the party, the revolution, the country, people and socialism by bolstering the invincible military force in every way and to fully display the might as the pioneer of the times and the performers of miracles in the grand advance for achieving prosperity by dint of self-defense. All the commanding officers of the armed forces of the DPRK must open the breakthrough of advance in the van of the gigantic struggle to significantly celebrate the 75th founding anniversary of the glorious WPK by holding fast to the party’s leadership as lifeline and work unprecedented innovative successes in carrying out the cause of building a powerful army and the cause of socialist construction as a whole so as to glorify the noble honor as members of the great party’s army, the great people’s army. I order to promote the military ranks of the major commanding officers as follows, firmly believing that all the commanding officers, key backbones of the armed forces of the DPRK, would honor their noble mission and duties in the sacred struggle to defend the party, the revolution, the country and the people. According to the order of the supreme commander, Pak Jong Chon was promoted to vice marshal, Jong Kyong Thaek to general and Choe Tu Yong, Kim Jong Gil, Kwon Yong Jin, Kwon Thae Yong, Choe Kwang Jun, Han Sun Chol and Kim Pyong Sop were promoted to colonel general, Kim Kuk Chang, U Myong Nam, Sin In Yong, Kim Chun Gyo, Om Song Il, Kim Ju Sam, Jong Myong Do, Ri Kyong Chon, Ri Yong Chol, Hong Jong Duk, Jon Sung Nam, Ryo Chol Ung, Kim To Un, Pak Song Chan, Ro Yong Gil, Ri Il Nam, An Kwang Nam, Kim Chun Won, Kim Chun Bom and Rim Yong Chol to lieutenant general and Ri Song Min, Kim Pong Ho, Pak Yong Gwan, Kim Kuk Hyon, Ju Tong Chol, Jo Kwang Sok, Kim Kang Il, Pak Kyong Ho, Kim Hyo Nam, Kim Tong Chol, Ri Kyong Chol, Ri Chang Ho, Kim Chon Hyok, Ri Yong Chol, Ha Chol, Sin Kum Chol, Choe Chang Hu, Pak Song Ryol, Jon Chol, Nam Chol, Hyon Un Chol, Sin Chol Ryong, Mun Kwang Guk, Sim Tong Jun, Kim Yong Gun, Pak Il Hak, Kim Chol Man, Choe San Ho, Paek Ki Chol, Pang Kwang Nam, Yun Pok Nam, Kim Ryong Chol, Yun Il Nam, Yun Hwang Chol, Kim Hak Chol, Hwang Nae Yun, Jong Myong Nam, Sim Won Chol, Han Ju Song, Jon Kyong Sang, Kim Sun Chol, Ko Jong Chol, Jang Kun Pil, Pak Tong Gyu, Kim Myong Ho, Ri Jong Chol, Pak Il Su, Sim Song Bin, Han Yong Bom, Kim Kwang Hun, Ham Hyo Sik, Kim Myong Ho, Kim Kwang Su, Pak Song Ju, Kim Won Bong, Hong Myong Sok, Choe Hang Mun, Yun Chol Ho, So Kang Chol, Ri Chun Sam, Kim Myong Nam, Pang Ryong Il, Yun Hyo Song, Kang Kum Chol, Ri Yong Sop, Kang Chol Hyon, Kim Kyong Jung, Pae Tong Nam and Ri Ju Ho to major general.” (KCNA, “Order of Chairman of WPK Central Military Committee Issued,” May 24, 2020)

North Korean and Chinese nationals are operating a multibillion-dollar money laundering scheme to help fund the North’s nuclear weapons program, the Justice Department said in an indictment unsealed today. The case underscores the Trump administration’s inability to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program through diplomacy. The department charged 28 North Koreans and five Chinese nationals of using a web of more than 250 shell companies to launder over $2.5 billion in assets through the international banking system, according to court documents filed in February by the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington. The government alleged that the money flowed back to North Korea’s primary, state-operated foreign exchange bank, the Foreign Trade Bank of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The North used the funds to support its weapons of mass destruction program. “Through this indictment, the United States has signaled its commitment to hampering North Korea’s ability to illegally access the U.S. financial system and limit its ability to use proceeds from illicit actions to enhance its illegal W.M.D. and ballistic missile programs,” Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney in Washington, said in a statement. In the indictment, the Justice Department identified the defendants as employees and four executives of the Foreign Trade Bank, including two of its former presidents, Ko Chol Man and Kim Song Ui. Another co-conspirator was identified as a member of North Korea’s primary intelligence agency. They were charged with conspiracy, bank fraud, money laundering and operating a criminal enterprise. While the United States has little chance of apprehending the defendants, the Justice Department sometimes brings charges against foreigners in an effort to deter adversarial governments. The defendants are accused of illegally laundering money back to the Foreign Trade Bank dating to 2013, when the bank was placed on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list for helping to fund North Korea’s weapons programs. The department designated the entire North Korean financial system a money laundering risk in 2016. Some of the bank’s employees were North Korean and Chinese nationals who worked for front companies that hid a covert branch of the bank in Shenyang, China, the indictment said. Federal prosecutors had accused one of the companies, Mingzheng International, in 2017 of serving as a front for the North Korean bank. Other defendants were accused of moving overseas to set up hundreds of shell companies in China, Austria, Libya, Kuwait, Thailand and Russia. They closed companies when governments or banks detected their ties to North Korea and created more, according to court papers. The companies funneled American dollars back to North Korea and purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars in goods from companies prohibited under sanctions from doing business with the North, according to the charges. The suspects allegedly routed their transactions through banks in China, the United States and Europe, and falsely denied any illicit purchases or ties to North Korea when banks flagged some of those transactions. The government has over the past five years recovered $63.5 million in assets that banks froze. While the indictment did not mention digital currencies, it said that several defendants had been sent abroad “to study fast-developing financial technologies.” The West’s understanding of its ability to bring North Korea to heel through international pressure could fast become obsolete, national security analysts have said. (Katie Benner, “U.S. Accuses 33 of Laundering Billion to Fund North Korean Weapons,” New York Times, May 28, 2020, p. A-15)

DPRK National Coordination Committee for Anti-Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism Spokesperson’s Press Statement: “Recently, the United States is letting loose an unheard-of vociferation about “cyber threat” from the DPRK. We know well that the ulterior intention of the United States is to tarnish the image of our state and create a moment for provoking us by employing a new leverage called “cyber threat” together with the issues of nukes, missiles, “human rights”, “sponsoring of terrorism” and “money laundering.” The previous incidents of cyber-attack which the U.S. had linked to us were clearly proven to be the acts of international hackers, and even the experts in the U.S. have officially admitted them. It is none other than the U.S. that does not hesitate to abuse even the modern civilization — the creation of humankind — as a means of plots and fabrications in a bid to taint the countries of their “disliking” with all sorts of slanders and disgrace. Such farce by the U.S. is nothing new to us. To put it clearly, our state has nothing to do at all with what is claimed by the U.S. to be a “cyber threat.” The U.S. should be clearly aware that worthless and worn-out plots and fabrications invented continuously by themselves will no longer work against the international community.” (DPRK FoMin, “Press Statement by Spokesperson for the National Coordination Committee for Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” May 28, 2020)

Nephew: “On May 28, the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed indictments against 28 North Korean and five Chinese citizens that alleged they had used “a web of more than 250 shell companies to launder over $2.5 billion in assets through the international banking system.” This network was reportedly run through the Foreign Trade Bank of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, which was designated under US nonproliferation sanctions authorities during the Obama administration. Consequently, the Acting US Attorney for the District of Columbia, Michael Sherwin, emphasized in his associated press statement that “through this indictment, the United States has signaled its commitment to hampering North Korea’s ability to illegally access the U.S. financial system and limit its ability to use proceeds from illicit actions to enhance its illegal [weapons of mass destruction] and ballistic missile programs.” But, rhetoric aside, does it, though? Indicting foreign individuals in U.S. legal proceedings can certainly have an effect on their business activities and ability to operate around the world. Those 33 individuals will now have to watch very carefully where they travel to avoid visiting a country with an extradition agreement with the United States, though of course, North Koreans have a difficult time traveling anyway. They will also find their ability to engage in normal banking transactions hampered. On a systemic level, however, it is far from certain that these indictments will present any material problems for North Korea or its friends in China; in fact, after years of tough talk about maximum pressure, one can argue that these indictments demonstrate the limits of US sanctions policy in dealing with the North Korean issue. There is very little chance that the indicted individuals will serve time in US prison for their crimes. It is possible, to be sure, that one of them will eventually make a mistake and either travel to or transit a country where the United States has a friendly law enforcement relationship and extradition treaty rights. As with Meng Wanzhou or Reza Zarrab, law enforcement can sometimes get lucky, especially if a wanted individual believes that he or she can evade arrest. But this is not the normal scenario, especially if an indictment has been unsealed and the names made public; for obvious reasons, if US law enforcement believes there is a credible chance of making an arrest, they will wait to unseal the indictment until after they have secured the arrest of the individual in question. For these 33 people, it is far more likely that they will end up like “Karl Lee,” the long-indicted Chinese missile proliferator: exposed for their activities but otherwise free (relatively) at large. Consequently, the most important effects of the indictments will be the degree to which they discourage illicit support for North Korea. There is scant evidence that this will be the result, particularly with China. Numerous reports by the United Nations Panel of Experts (POE) have identified continued Chinese facilitation of North Korean activities, including those that are directly contrary to United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions adopted with the votes of China. Even US sanctions measures against those engaged in sanctions evasion on North Korea’s behalf have yet to stop the activity, arguably because the United States has continued to target intermediaries while leaving aside more substantial Chinese actors. Chinese banks are the most significant potential players in this drama and, notwithstanding aggressive Trump administration rhetoric in 2017-2018, they have not been the focus of any major US sanctions. This is not because people are unaware of their role. In previous UN POE reports, Chinese financial institutions have been identified on several occasions as being key sources of North Korean access to the international financial system. Indeed, the indictment itself helps to demonstrate the significance of Chinese finance to North Korean sanctions evasion. While more North Koreans were subject to sanctions, the five Chinese citizens were key parts of the network’s operations and the indictment identifies a number of Chinese companies and banks that were brought into the scheme. Proving complicity on the part of massive, state-owned Chinese banks, however, is much tougher than simply identifying illicit money flows. Even if one assumed some degree of simple negligence on the part of those particular Chinese banks, the overwhelming weight of reporting and evidence provided in the last decade suggests that at least some Chinese banks are either witting or willfully ignorant of the connections that they might have to North Korean sanctions evasion. The United States has imposed sanctions on foreign banks for much less in other circumstances. Likewise, the United States has yet to fully employ tools granted to it by the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which provides for US sanctions against anyone supporting North Korea’s violations of UNSC sanctions. The reason for the avoidance is unclear, but probably reflects a combination of five factors: 1. Reluctance to target major Chinese financial institutions, for fear of damaging the global financial system. Chinese banks regularly top the lists of the world’s largest financial institutions and designating them or their subsidiaries could have substantial ripple effects. This massive systemic effect makes determining culpability all the more important, as taking the risk of such sanctions as a policy matter would generally require substantial evidence of wrongdoing than merely a few bad actors within a much larger institution. 2. Fear of retaliation. If the Trump administration targeted major Chinese institutions, what would China do in response to US entities or institutions? 3. Maintain Chinese support at the UNSC and more generally to apply political pressure on North Korea. Some in the Trump administration may believe that China’s support for tough UN Security Council measures in 2017 warrants accommodation. It is undeniable that any solution to the nuclear issue in North Korea will require Chinese participation and support. 4. Policy prioritization. Even if the Trump administration wanted to go after these institutions, they may be avoiding doing so in order to prioritize other policies with China, such as the long-simmering trade war, issues over 5G access or sanctions on other countries (such as Iran). 5. Desire to avoid undermining diplomacy with North Korea. Though the indictments may annoy the North Koreans, their lack of any realistic, substantive effects on their sanctions evasion or financial flows (other than in the short term, if networks have to be reprogrammed) probably insulates the relationship from any real damage. One area to watch outside of economic sanctions with respect to Chinese banks is the potential for US law enforcement to use forfeiture authorities to attempt to seize North Korean funds from the corresponding accounts of Chinese banks identified in the indictment. This type of move would carry some of the same political risks noted above, but would avoid the systemic economic issues raised by traditional economic sanctions imposed by the US Department of the Treasury. A forfeiture through a Chinese bank would be a black eye for Beijing, which would almost certainly complain vociferously about US overreach. But it would be a one-time event and would not have a lasting economic impact on the banks and the US and Chinese economies. More broadly, however, it is the issue of diplomacy that crystalizes the complexity of the decisions facing the Trump administration today: Are more sanctions a source of leverage that can deliver a deal with North Korea or an unnecessary — or, worse, counterproductive — distraction from that diplomacy? Its rhetoric aside, the lackluster implementation of North Korean sanctions over the past two years since the last Trump-Kim summit suggests that the administration has concluded that its efforts at diplomacy with North Korea will be better served with restraint than action. For example, in 2019, despite North Korea testing missiles 22 times, only 12 North Korean entities or individuals were sanctioned by the Trump administration, and none were designated for proliferation activities. For an administration that repeatedly underscores its commitment to using sanctions to build leverage with North Korea (and did so as recently as March 30) and has generally resisted the very idea of early sanctions relief as part of a deal with Kim, this is surprising. To be clear, I do not disagree that preserving space for diplomacy is probably more important than adopting new sanctions with little likely impact on North Korea’s fundamental security calculus in favor of nuclear weapons and missiles. As I have argued previously, the United States should seek a diplomatic solution with North Korea and set appropriate expectations for such an agreement rather than recklessly employ tougher sanctions. From a policy perspective, though, the decision to employ indictments and lower forms of sanctions pressure while avoiding uncomfortable conversations with and about North Korea is problematic. North Korea is effectively gaining sanctions relief “for free” while not engaging in any agreed confidence building steps. We are neither building any sense of confidence in North Korea’s intentions nor making visible progress on the terms of an eventual agreement with the regime. Such policy atrophy means that the Trump administration is taking itself off the hook for making tough compromises with North Korea while appearing to demonstrate its strength. In the short term, the administration may find that it is to its advantage to buy this time and space. But a second term Trump administration may regret having squandered its opportunities to either make a bold move forward on sanctions pressure or diplomacy. More generally, the result is that US-DPRK relations remain stuck in neutral, as they have been for years. There is no palpable sense of pressure on Kim Jong Un to make tough choices and the sanctions tool itself will allow US policymakers to “do something,” while in truth not doing much at all.” (Richard Nephew, “The Limited Power of Indictments and Sanctions Pressure on North Korea,” 38 North, June 5, 2020)

The government is closely watching the escalating U.S.-China conflict and analyzing the possible impact on Korea, the nation’s top diplomat said Thursday. “We are well aware of domestic concerns about the rising conflict in the international community,” Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said during a meeting on foreign affairs strategy coordination held at the ministry’s headquarters in central Seoul, according to press pool reports. “We are conducting a detailed analysis with experts within and outside the government about the conflict’s significance and its possible impact on Korea.” Although the foreign minister stopped short of specifically mentioning the United States, and China, the remarks were seen as reflecting the Moon Jae-in administration’s increasing concerns about Korea’s diplomacy being sandwiched between the two superpowers’ escalating competition. The meeting at the foreign ministry came as the Chinese “parliament” endorsed the controversial national security legislation pertaining to Hong Kong, further raising tension with the U.S., which has been highly critical of the move. Concerns are rising among experts and the general public about how Korea will deal with the conflict. Korea is expected to face more pressure from both countries to show support for their respective strategies to strengthen their respective influence in the region. Experts are underlining the need for Korea to take a careful, long-term approach to the issue as the anti-Chinese policy in Washington is likely to be maintained regardless of who takes over the White House in the upcoming presidential election. “The U.S. and China are almost certainly headed toward a new Cold War. The anti-Chinese sentiment in the U.S. will likely persist even if Joe Biden wins the U.S. presidential race,” Yoon Kwan-young, a former foreign minister, said during a forum in Seoul this week. “There will be increasing pressure from both sides on Korea. We need a principled approach based on transparency and rationality.” Some insiders say that maintaining good relations with North Korea is one of the ways to defuse tension between the U.S. and China in the region. “South Korea is an American ally, but it also maintains a strategic partnership with China. Both countries are valuable countries to our national interests,” said Moon Chung-in, the special adviser to President Moon Jae-in on foreign affairs and national security, in a recent Korea Times interview. “To get out of this dilemma, South Korea needs to take a more prudent balanced diplomacy. In so doing, Seoul needs to get a major breakthrough in inter-Korean relations. Improved inter-Korean relations will serve as a very valuable buffer to the U.S.-China strategic rivalry on the Korean Peninsula.”

Officials from Cheong Wa Dae and various ministries took part in the meeting at the foreign ministry. The presidential office has not been openly discussing the issue. But recently, deputy national security adviser Kim Hyun-chong underlined the government’s concerns about the U.S.-China conflict, among other diplomatic challenges, during a lecture for first-time lawmakers-elect of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea. (Do Je-hae, “U.S.-China Conflict: South Korea between Rock and Hard Place,” Korea Times, May 29, 2020)

Kim Jong Un is demanding a sharp increase in cash from North Korea’s moneyed class to counter the dual threats from coronavirus and sanctions. As North Korea faced its steepest economic downturn since 1997, analysts said its 36-year-old leader was reasserting centralized control over the economy, potentially undermining the shift towards marketization and fledgling signs of capitalism. Experts said reports of a rare bond issuance planned by Pyongyang, targeted at raising foreign currency to cover as much as 60 per cent of the country’s budget from rich North Koreans — often referred to as the donju — indicated the severity of the economic downturn. Details of the bond issue, the first since 2003, were reported by Daily NK, a Seoul-based news service, and referred to by rating agency Fitch in a report last week. It has not been independently confirmed by the Financial Times. If true, the bond issue comes as border and internal travel restrictions — instituted to stop the virus spreading — have slowed domestic commerce and severed critical trade links along the 1,420km border with China. “Suddenly issuing that amount of debt, in one year, is a big deal. I think this is the first real sign that they are under very significant financial stress as a result of sanctions and result of the virus,” said Peter Ward, a Seoul-based North Korea researcher with the University of Vienna. He added that there would be no guarantee of repayment for the buyers of the debt and noted the North Korean government had been “basically incompetent” in making sound investment decisions and providing social services. “You are going to smash and grab and steal lots of cash from people who know how to spend it on good things for the economy,” Ward said. “They are probably going to spend it on all the things they usually spend it on: white elephant prestige projects, palaces for the leader and pay-offs to the elite.” Fitch predicts a 6 per cent decline in gross domestic product in North Korea this year, the worst since a 6.5 per cent fall 23 years ago. It marks an almost 10 percentage point downward revision from Fitch’s earlier forecast of 3.7 per cent growth. “We believe that it is now becoming tougher for the state to prop up economic activity as funding sources have dried up significantly . . . [There is] no doubt that the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated the effects of the still large number of economic sanctions faced by North Korea,” Fitch analysts wrote in a report last week. Daniel Wertz, a program manager at the National Committee on North Korea, a Washington-based non-profit organization, said the pandemic appeared to have “created something of an opportunity for Kim Jong Un and the North Korean leaders”. Although North Korea claims that it has not suffered any coronavirus infections, Wertz said the crisis would bolster its bid to tighten control of foreign trade and foreign exchange. “The goal is to get more of the revenue from market-orientated enterprises ultimately going to the state, instead of the coffers of corrupt elites . . . [also] they want to have a better ability to shape the general direction of the economy’s development and know what is going on across the economy,” Wertz said. Pyongyang has embarked on “different ways” of coercing its people to turn over foreign currency to the government, according to Benjamin Silberstein from the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a US think-tank. “I’ve also heard from people in regular contact with individuals inside the country that demands for ‘loyalty contributions’ and the like have increased. In other words, business people and really anyone who makes substantial money is having to give a ‘voluntary’ contribution to the state to show their loyalty to the leader. This is, of course, just extortion by another name,” he said. Andray Abrahamian from Seoul’s George Mason University Korea, who has worked closely with North Korean businesses, said while the state would “coerce the business community” into purchasing bonds, “a negotiation” would still take place over the amount. “All that depends on how much leverage [business people] have either with local People’s Committees or central authorities,” Abrahamian said. “Are we talking about someone who runs, say, a cottage industry that employs 10 people, whose family earns several thousand dollars a year and they can afford a nice house and some appliances? Or are we talking about people who sit atop state-owned enterprises who are personally earning several million a year?” Abrahamian added said the bond issue would probably create tension within the country’s leadership. “There will be elements in the government that want to make sure they aren’t killing businesses. There will be others that care much less about that and will be interested in the short-term accumulation of capital for central state organs,” he said Despite the economic decline, Pyongyang continued to allocate huge financial resources to its military. The Kim regime is estimated to have spent $600m on nuclear weapons last year, according to the Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Experts believe Pyongyang helps fund its weapons program through hacking and money laundering. “In the long run it is probably good for the world that North Korea is pushed into making these kinds of desperate moves because it will force change in North Korea,” Ward said. “But in the short run, it is terrible for the North Korean people.” (Edward White, “Kim Jong Un Demands Money from North Korea’s Elite,” Financial Times, May 30 2020)

North Korea lashed out at both Seoul and Washington today, threatening to scrap key parts of agreements with South Korea and comparing the United States to a setting sun being eclipsed by China. In a statement carried by state media, North Korea also highlighted the unrest that has been consuming the United States over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. “Demonstrators enraged by the extreme racists throng even to the White House,” said the statement published by Rodong Sinmun. “This is the reality in the U.S. today. American liberalism and democracy put the cap of leftist on the demonstrators and threaten to unleash even dogs for suppression.” The statement, from an arm of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, excoriated Mike Pompeo, the American secretary of state, for criticizing the Communist Party of China during a televised interview on Sunday. In the interview, Pompeo accused the Chinese party of being “intent upon the destruction of Western ideas, Western democracies, Western values.” Pompeo also said that the United States could work with its allies around the world, including South Korea, to “ensure that the next century remains a Western one modeled on the freedoms that we have here in the United States.” The statement carried by Rodong Sinmun said Pompeo’s remarks showed that “he is nervous over the plight of the U.S. on the downhill side” in relation to an ascendant China. “Pompeo, who has been deeply engrossed in espionage and plot-breeding against other countries, has become too ignorant to discern where the sun rises and where it sets,” the statement read. North Korea also fumed over another development: the recent release of anti-North Korean leaflets by defectors from the North, who used balloons to send them across the inter-Korean border. North Korea has long bristled at this propaganda tactic, as well as radio broadcasts from defectors in the South that depict Kim as a cretinous dictator toying with nuclear weapons. In another statement carried today by Rodong Sinmun, Kim Yo Jong, Kim’s sister and his de facto spokeswoman, assailed the propaganda campaign. “What matters is that those human scum hardly worth their value as human beings had the temerity of faulting our supreme leadership and citing ‘nuclear issue,’” Ms. Kim said. If South Korea does not stop the leaflets, Ms. Kim said, North Korea could scrap an agreement between Kim and South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, to operate a joint liaison office and cease all hostile military acts along the border. Reacting to Kim Yo Jong’s statement, Yoh Sang-key, a spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, criticized the defectors for raising tensions by releasing the leaflets. He also said that most of the leaflets had ended up south of the border, creating a trash problem. Yoh indicated that South Korea was working on legislation to curtail the leaflet campaign. Park Sang-hak, head of Fighters for Free North Korea, a defectors’ organization that has sent leaflets across the border, said the group would continue to do so. “We are no longer slaves of North Korea, we are citizens of a free South Korea with an obligation to speak the truth,” Park said. He called the Unification Ministry a “spokesman for North Korea.” Kim’s statement about the propaganda reflects “Pyongyang’s desire to drive a wedge between the South Korean government and civil society,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womens University in Seoul. (Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Lashes out at U.S., Saying China Is Eclipsing It,” New York Times, June 4, 2020)

KWP CC First Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jong’s statement “warning against the gravity of the situation as regards a senseless act of scattering anti-DPRK leaflets in the frontline areas by the ‘defectors from the north’: On May 31 I heard a report that so-called “defectors from the north” scattered hundreds of thousands of anti-DPRK leaflets into the areas of our side from the frontline areas. What matters is that those human scum hardly worth their value as human beings had the temerity of faulting our supreme leadership and citing ‘nuclear issue.’ I wonder if the world knows what kind of riff-raffs those foolish ‘defectors from the north’ are. It is height of irony. Those fool who are almost illiterate wanted to talk about ‘nuclear issue’ though they know no concept about it. This is like ‘a shop-boy near a temple chanting a sutra untaught.’ Human scum little short of wild animals who betrayed their own homeland are engrossed in such unbecoming acts to imitate men. They are sure to be called mongrel dogs as they bark in where they should not. Now that the mongrel dogs are doing others harm, it is time to bring their owners to account. I would like to ask the south Korean authorities if they are ready to take care of the consequences of evil conduct done by the rubbish-like mongrel dogs who took no scruple to slander us while faulting the “nuclear issue” in the meanest way at the most untimely time. I detest those who feign ignorance or encourage more than those who move to do others harm. The south Korean authorities must be aware of the articles of the Panmunjom Declaration and the agreement in the military field in which both sides agreed to ban all hostile acts including leaflet-scattering in the areas along the Military Demarcation Line. There should be a certain degree of discretion, however deep the north-south hostile relations are and however much hostility the south harbors against its fellow countrymen in the north. It is hard to understand how such sordid and wicked act of hostility is tolerated in the south at a time as now. Before long the nation is to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the June 15 joint declaration. If such an act of evil intention committed before our eyes is left to take its own course under the pretext of “freedom of individuals” and “freedom of expression”, the south Korean authorities must face the worst phase shortly. If they truly value the north-south agreements and have a will to thoroughly implement them, they should clear their house of rubbish, before thoughtlessly blowing the “supporting” bugle. Before making lame excuses, they should at least make a law to stop the farce of human scum to take thoroughgoing preventive measures against any inglorious things. Clearly speaking, the south Korean authorities will be forced to pay a dear price if they let this situation go on while making sort of excuses. If they fail to take corresponding steps for the senseless act against the fellow countrymen, they had better get themselves ready for possibility of the complete withdrawal of the already desolate Kaesong Industrial Park following the stop to tour of Mt. Kumgang, or shutdown of the north-south joint liaison office whose existence only adds to trouble, or the scrapping of the north-south agreement in military field which is hardly of any value. Good faith and reconciliation can never go together with hostility and confrontation. They must have seen it several times in the world — expectation turning into hopelessness and hope ending in nothing. So they had better do what they should do if they do not want to face the worst phase.” (KCNA, “Kim Jo Yong Rebukes S. Korean Authorities for Conniving at Anti-DPRK Hostile Act of ‘Defectors from the North,’” June 4, 2020)

KCNA: “Rodong Sinmun [today] carried a statement released by a spokesman for the International Department of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) on June 3. The statement reads as follows: U.S. State Secretary Pompeo when interviewed by the U.S. media on May 31 termed China an actual threat. Saying that threat from China stems from the idea of the Communist Party, he reeled off rubbish that the U.S. would work with its partners in the West to make the world of the next century the one of the West where the U.S. “liberal democracy” rules. It is not the first time that he said nonsense about China over the issues of Hong Kong, Taiwan, human rights and trade disputes. What should not be overlooked here is that he slandered the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) over socialism. Branding the socialism led by the Communist Party as a dictatorship destroying the Western style idea, democracy and view on value, he cried out for building the world of the U.S. and the West free from the rule by the CPC. His nonsensical remarks indicate the intention to do the same thing to socialism in the DPRK led by the WPK. Pompeo, who has been deeply engrossed in espionage and plot-breeding against other countries, has become too ignorant to discern where the sun rises and where it sets. He said that the Communist Party today is different from the one a decade ago, which shows his acknowledgement of socialism getting stronger under the guidance of the Communist Party and that he is nervous over the plight of the U.S. on the downhill side. Demonstrators enraged by the extreme racists throng even to the White House. This is the reality in the U.S. today. American liberalism and democracy put the cap of leftist on the demonstrators and threaten to unleash even dogs for suppression. Pompeo ought not to have such a pipe dream of undermining the Communist Party and socialism on their long victorious drive as what the successive rulers of the U.S. dreamt.” (KCNA, “Statement of Spokesman of International Department of C.C., WPK,” June 4, 2020)

WPK CC United Front Department spokesman’s statement: “Today, our people are feeling towering rage and disgust towards the act of scattering anti-DPRK leaflets by the “defectors from the north” and the south Korean authorities’ connivance at it. Though it is wise to avoid things filthy, it is hard to contain fury towards mongrel dogs which dare faulted the dignity of our supreme leadership and went out of control to fly dirty trash to our sacred area. Reflecting the enragement of our people, Kim Yo Jong, first vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, issued a statement on June 4 giving a very meaningful warning to those human scum and the south Korean authorities who left the thing to take its own course to properly understand the gravity and catastrophic aftereffect of the situation and to do what they should do. However, the attitude of the southern neighbor towards this is quite extraordinary. The south side seems to be used to give a favorable interpretation of dreams. First, it construed the statement as a threat to it and then foolishly analyzed that it is a hidden message proposing the south side to come out for exchange and cooperation first. With time it, saying that though leaflets were scattered ten times last year and three times this year the north side has called the recent one into particular question, has a pipe dream that the north seems to hope for dialogue and negotiations. What stunned us is that a spokesperson for the “Ministry of Unification” made a senseless remark that the leaflet-scattering should be stopped as most of the leaflets scattered by the “defectors from the north” fall in the area of the south side to pollute the ecological environment in the area of the south side along the Military Demarcation Line and have bad impact on the life and living conditions of the inhabitants. The south side has gone so impudent as to claim that it has long taken a measure for preventing the leaflet-scattering to fundamentally defuse tension along the line where both sides stand in confrontation and that an efficient plan for improving the system was under examination in a bid to give impression that the inglorious incident happened by mistake. Nowhere can there be found even slight regret or a will not to take useless acts of escalating tension again. We clearly know that it is not just a drunken frenzy of a man, being unaware of the fact that the recent incident amounts to the serious abrogation of the historic declaration and agreements made before the nation and a thoughtless act of stoking hostility and tension. Before caviling at others, they should read each word and phrase of the statement, recalling that it was a warning issued by the first vice department director looking after the affairs with south Korea. If they fall short of understanding its meaning, they must be ignorant imbeciles and if they feign ignorance, they must be the meanest bastards. First Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jong Friday gave instructions to the field in charge of the affairs with south Korea to start examination for the technical implementation of the content mentioned in the statement. It was May 31 when the anti-DPRK leaflets were openly flown but the nonstop disposal of dirty rubbish from the south side has exhausted us so much as to come to a clearer conclusion that enemies are enemies after all. We do not hide that we have had long in mind decisive measures to fundamentally remove all provocations from the south and to completely shut down and remove all the contact leverage with the south side. As the first thing, we will definitely withdraw the idling north-south joint liaison office housed in the Kaesong Industrial Zone to be followed by effectuation of various measures which we had already implied. The south Korean authorities are belatedly making a little more advanced excuses, claiming they are reviewing a bill for stopping leaflet-scattering. Then does it mean that they signed the agreement in the military field on halting all the hostile acts in the areas along the Military Demarcation Line with no definite guarantees like such a bill. Then even though we start things that can be annoyance to the south in the area bordering it, it will be left with no words until the bill is adopted and put into effect. We are about to start the work that can hurt the south side soon to make it suffer from annoyance. Our determination is to follow as far as the evil cycle of the confrontation leads while facing the situation squarely, because our path is always straight. The south willing to pull down a tower which is hard to build is now keen on turning nightmare into a reality. So will there be any need to stop it. It is our stand that it is better to remove and break things which would finally be removed and broken.” (KCNA, “Spokesman for United Front C.C.” June 5, 2020)

Carlin: “As Jung Pak makes clear in her new book Becoming Kim Jong Un: A Former CIA Officer’s Insights into North Korea’s Enigmatic Young Dictator, besides being a target of ridicule on late-night television shows, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is a legitimate focus of attention for anyone concerned about US policy toward the DPRK. A serious book about Kim is a welcome addition. In this case, the title implies the views Pak expresses are in large part a reflection of CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) analysis of North Korea. As a former deputy national intelligence officer at the National Intelligence Council where she led the US intelligence community’s (IC) production of strategic analysis on Korean Peninsula issues, the author promises to present the sort of “cool and objective” approach she credits her former IC colleagues with displaying. Delving into Kim’s personality and style, and then applying those observations to policy recommendations — which Pak does at the end of her book — is an admirable exercise and not an easy one. It’s the sort of work that needs a lot imagination, something the author deploys to good effect. It also requires close attention to the facts. More on that below. Apart from the broader story of Kim Jong Un’s personality and leadership, the book ends up illuminating uncomfortable examples of why the US has been stuck in the same swamp after so many years — decades, actually — of contact with the North. Since in several places Pak stops to comment on the work, findings and success of the intelligence community in dealing with North Korea, perhaps we ought to pause a moment to do likewise. Political analysis is not the CIA’s strongest point, though that varies from office to office and, not surprisingly, from individual to individual. The problem is not a lack of smart people in the organization, but where they sit and how they must view the world. The CIA leadership has long fretted with the weaknesses of Agency analysis and tried various ways to improve it. Basically, these have revolved around the idea that better analysis can result from better training classes and, in some cases, a more systematic review of the output. It hasn’t worked. One difficulty is that CIA analysts — especially those dealing with denied areas — can have little real experience outside the walls of the Agency. That’s baked into the requirements and to some extent the culture of the job. Over the years, sitting in daily morning meetings with senior US Department of State officials, I was often amused by their comments about some piece of CIA analysis they’d just read, analysis about people and events with which these diplomats were often much more familiar than the analysts at Langley. In an effort to make its analysis more useful to policymakers, one approach the CIA has adopted in dealing with often difficult questions on which there are no definite answers is what I call the “maybe-possibly-could also be” approach. It is used very frequently in the book. One could argue that in the face of uncertainty, such an approach is intellectually honest. If you don’t know the answer, then isn’t it better just to lay out the “a”, “b,” and “c” of alternatives? But if “a” and “c” are opposites, then it isn’t really helpful to list them all. For example, Pak says at one point, “Kim almost certainly saw the ousting of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state,” and the replacement of H.R. McMaster by John Bolton as signs of “tumult and policy dysfunction” (213-214). But then she says, “at the same time, [Kim] might have interpreted Trump’s actions as those of a tough, confident leader” (214). Well, it can’t be both. For a study focused on Kim Jong Un, the book spends an inordinate amount of space criticizing President Trump. If, as Pak contends, the outside world (and especially the US) has helped shape the young North Korean leader’s perceptions and policy choices, then one would think it’s valid and very necessary to examine the approach of the Obama administration, which was in office during Kim’s first — presumably formative — five years as leader. According to Pak’s logic, shouldn’t a reader wonder why the tremendous growth of the North’s nuclear and missile programs from 2012-2016 isn’t seen at least in part as a result of the Obama administration’s policy failures — and not incidentally, the failures of IC analysis about the North? Wouldn’t previous US policies be every bit as important in understanding Kim Jong Un, and the larger story of why we are where we are today vis-à-vis Pyongyang? Despite the bright red thread of criticism running through the chapters, believe it or not, US policy isn’t our immediate concern here, nor even are Pak’s views on policy. She clearly states her conclusions and recommendations. Readers can take them or not as they wish. What should be of more concern, and is certainly of concern to me, are the core beliefs that are the undergirding of the book’s conclusions, core beliefs the CIA has held for decades. The most serious of these beliefs, held with almost religious fervor, is that the North Koreans have never been, and will never be, “sincere” in dealing with the United States. In their hearts — I heard this argument going back at least 35 years — the North Koreans don’t mean what they say, or rather, they only mean what they say when it is something negative, but not when it is positive. Indeed, the argument goes, they have only a single goal (pick one: coercive reunification, developing a nuclear program, driving a wedge between the US and the ROK). Everything else is smoke and mirrors to distract and confuse, to keep us busy while they proceed with their ugly business. And their business must be ugly because the North Korean regime is morally repugnant. Anyone who doesn’t put that front and center in their analysis is … well … suspect. In a not so subtle slash of the saber, Pak says, “Magnifying [Kim’s] power is the insidious way in which the regime’s repressive measures seep into the consciousness of both the North Korean people and foreign visitors and journalists, who self-censor either to ensure that they do not run afoul of North Korean authorities or to maintain access” (143-144). A theme the author falls back on several times is that there is “playbook” the North Korean leadership uses, a normal cycle of North Korean behavior that swings from pressure to extract concessions, to “charm offensives” in order to squeeze out economic benefits and buy time to complete its nuclear or missile programs, and then back to pressure or provocation. Pak says that under Kim Jong Il there was a “relatively predictable pattern of provocation followed by a charm offensive to extract political and economic benefits.” (82) Obviously there are limits to the detail an author can include, but this assertion of Kim Jong Il’s “pattern” is simply a repetition of what has become accepted almost as divine truth, without reference to any evidence and without consideration anything to the contrary. As it happens, there was no such “pattern,” predictable or otherwise, from when Kim Jong Il took power in July 1994 until 2003. If Pyongyang had been merely trying to buy time in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Agreed Framework at the end of December 2002, how would one explain the North’s several invitations to the former head of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Dr. Siegfried Hecker, to see firsthand and discuss in detail the North’s plutonium production program at Yongbyon starting in January 2004? This was decidedly not to hide or deceive; just the opposite, it was a North Korean effort to demonstrate its progress in its nuclear program not to a gullible group but to an expert intimately familiar with nuclear weapons technology. One of the most serious problems in the book is the way all of the North’s words are thrown into a pot and then taken out as convenient in order to weave a colorful analysis. That opens the trap door to a seemingly coherent story, but it doesn’t lend itself to cogent analysis. And it doesn’t nudge the reader into a better grasp of North Korea. Why? First and foremost because all words coming out of Pyongyang are not equally important. Some are propaganda, nothing more. By contrast, some are meant to convey policy or to signal decisions. The distinction is crucial, as North Korean officials recognize. In a long-since abolished office in what was then known as the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, I was trained to read North Korean statements carefully, systematically, methodically. How carefully that needed to be done hit me vividly in the early 1990s after official contact guidance and visa restrictions were eased to allow visits to the US by DPRK officials. In a private conversation, I had a chance to ask a senior DPRK official about what looked to me to be a highly discordant note appearing in North Korean media just at a time when inter-Korean dialogue was emerging. This naiveté was met with a sigh of resignation. “That’s not policy,” my interlocutor said, “that’s propaganda.” The dots. It isn’t uncommon for a couple of facts in any book to be wrong, just simple goofs. In that case, for a reviewer to point them out is churlish. In this case, though, for anyone who wants to understand North Korea, I worry there are too many loose boards — some factual errors, some woefully weak interpretations — throughout this book. On too many levels, on too many pages, the facts are wrong, or the analysis is weak. To be sure, some of the factual problems in the book are minor, and if there were only a few, they would be less notable. But there are too many of them, and some are too important for the pattern to be overlooked. What follows is a sample of what I think definitely needs fixing or at least a second hard look: — In 1974, former ROK President Park Geun-hye’s mother was “assassinated by North Korean commandos” (81). Actually, she was struck by stray bullets fired by one quickly recruited and barely trained pro-Korean from Japan who shot himself in the leg before firing wildly and missing his target, ROK President Park Chung-hee — hardly a “commando.” — In 1998, “the regime tested its first long-range ballistic missile over Japan … and built a massive underground covert nuclear weapons site — in part to extract additional concessions from the Clinton administration” (65). Presumably, “underground site” is a reference to Kumchang-ri, a suspect underground facility which was the subject of US-DPRK negotiations for many months beginning in late 1998. But after getting access and carefully examining the site for two days in May 1999, US government inspectors concluded there was no evidence that the site, as currently configured, was connected with the nuclear weapons program. As for US “concessions,” the DPRK extracted none for either the attempt to launch a satellite (which failed) or the underground site. In fact, Washington included reference to the final resolution of the Kumchang-ri issue in the October 2000 US-DPRK Joint Communiqué in order to lay the groundwork for future inspections, i.e., to turn the episode to US advantage. “Kim Jong Il downplayed the prospects for economic development and exhorted people to tighten their belts; Kim Jong Un created a socialist fairyland and told his people they can have both nuclear weapons and prosperity” (227-228). Actually, beginning in 2002, Kim Jong Il launched major changes in economic policy. Prices and wages were adjusted to encourage rational economic choices; Pyongyang sent teams overseas to study how markets operate, even down to questions of the numbers of stalls a market should have; the pages of the North Korean economic journal were filled with lively debates over extremely serious issues, including whether military spending should be considered a drain on economic growth. These policies lost ground a few years later. Internal conservative pushback got traction as US-DPRK confrontation heated up. — In 2002, “things went from bad to worse … following revelations of both [the North’s] uranium enrichment program and its ability to produce fissile materials for nuclear weapons” (65). Actually, by 2002 the US already knew (and had known in great detail for a decade) about the North’s ability to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. There is no way of knowing what is meant here by “revelations.” There was a new intelligence assessment in the spring of 2002 that the North had procured or attempted to procure over the past several years sufficient material and machinery for a large-scale uranium enrichment program, but at that point, the CIA made clear it was not possible to know if the pieces had been assembled or if anything was actually operating, i.e., whether or not there was yet any ability to use this route to produce fissile material. Later that year, the CIA assessed that the North could have a centrifuge facility fully operational and producing bomb fuel “as soon as mid-decade” — an estimate that now looks to have been off by several years. If by “revelations” is meant wide-spread reports that the North Koreans admitted to such a uranium enrichment program at the October 2002 meeting in Pyongyang with Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, they didn’t. The North’s act in 2010 of revealing to US visitors (again, including Dr. Siegfried Hecker) a large uranium enrichment plant, “triggered suspicion about the regime’s intention to make highly enriched uranium bomb fuel” (70). This may look like a quibble over one word (“triggered”), which may be no more than just an effort to infuse some drama into the story. Actually, in plain language, the visit to the enrichment plant didn’t “trigger” suspicion. It confirmed in vivid detail what the US had long suspected and been gathering evidence on since at least the late 1990s. — In July 2017, “in response to [US] condemnations and to a U.S.-South Korean show of force, which included launching a ‘deep strike’ missile drill, Kim Jong Un immediately declared that North Korea will ‘demonstrate its mettle to the U.S.’ and that he would never put up his nuclear weapons program up for negotiation” (165). Actually, the North Korean missile launch came on July 4, before the US-ROK “deep strike” drill. If anything, the US and ROK were reacting to the North rather than the other way around. More importantly, this passage overlooks the key part of Kim’s remarks. Kim didn’t say the North would “never” put up its nuclear program for negotiation. What he actually said, in a major shift from previous DPRK formulations about nuclear weapons, was that the North “would neither put its nukes and ballistic rockets on the table of negotiations … unless the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat to the DPRK are definitely terminated.” The insertion of the phrase “on the table of negotiations” was a new, extremely important addition to the North’s position. In effect, it created a doorway for Kim, a policy opening that several months later let him declare the “completion” of the nuclear program and shortly thereafter, in January 2018, begin a pivot to diplomacy. — In January 2018, when Kim moved to negotiations, it was “viewed as an astonishing turn of events that Kim, who had rejected engagement for his entire tenure, would do a 180” (186). Actually, Kim hadn’t rejected engagement throughout his tenure. In January 2015, for example, the DPRK formally proposed the US temporarily suspend joint military exercises in South Korea and its vicinity that year, and that the DPRK would respond by “temporarily suspending the nuclear test over which the U.S. is concerned.”[1] At that point, the North had conducted three nuclear tests, only one of those (in February 2013) under Kim Jong Un. This idea for the mutual “suspension” of activity had been under consideration in Pyongyang for many months. There is no way of knowing where it might have led, because Washington rejected it within 24 hours, before there could have been any serious examination. A few months later, the North Koreans invited the new Obama administration special envoy on Korea to Pyongyang. Again Washington turned them down. As for being an “astonishing turn of events,” it may have seemed sudden to outside observers, but it was by no means sudden any more than a ballet move is sudden. The final steps in the diplomatic minuet were roughly choreographed in December, as a result of a visit to Pyongyang by United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who met with then-DPRK Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho. Kim’s subsequent conversations in Pyongyang with a group of senior South Korean envoys on March 5 was the next move. A few days later, when he heard from some South Korean envoys about their meeting with Kim, the president’s response was not out of the blue but in the context of a dance that had begun three months earlier. — March/April 2018, the North “did not publicly acknowledge the possibility of a Kim-Trump meeting until a month later,” after news that President Trump had told South Korean envoys on March 8 that he was willing to meet with Kim, a “delay” that “suggests that Kim, surprised by Trump’s first move, was calculating his response” (211). Actually, there was strong evidence of a positive response from Pyongyang almost immediately after Trump’s position became public. On March 10, Choson Sinbo, the newspaper of pro-DPRK Koreans in Japan, ran a commentary by an extremely well-connected reporter noting the president’s remarks and then, without elaboration, saying that Kim Jong Un had made a “big, resolute, decisive decision.” And on March 20, a KCNA commentary noted “there has been a sign of change … in the DPRK-U.S. relations.”[2] In an obvious reference to the possibility of talks, it criticized “small-mindedness” of efforts to “spoil the atmosphere and say this or that even before the parties concerned are given a chance to study the inner thoughts of the other side and are seated at a negotiating table.” This is the time, the commentary emphasized, for “all to approach everything with prudence with self-control and patience.” — “Two decades after initiating these programs, Kim Il Sung declared that the country had ‘succeeded in producing poisonous gas and bacterial weapons through our own efforts supported by Soviet scientists in the field’” (151). Kim crediting Soviet assistance? This was worth looking at the footnotes. It turns out that there is a footnote for that quotation, pointing us to a source that makes the same claim, but which in turn cites two other sources, which in turn cite yet another source, which in turn cites another source. Did Kim actually say that? Or do we just end up with swamp gas and a convoluted trail of sourcing? In the end, Becoming Kim Jong Un lays bare the weaknesses of IC analysis that has tied Washington down in formulating North Korean policy for many years. Essentially, the book contends that everything Kim Jong Un proposes is an attempt to further his goals, which are necessarily antithetical to ours. Dealing with him is thus a trap. The first part of that thesis is undoubtedly true — that’s what leaders do, work to further their goals. But too blind acceptance of the second part leads to doing nothing, or as the final 10 pages of the book lay out, to suggestions for pursuing even more diligently what has been failed US policy for most of the past 20 years, i.e., maximum pressure. Although in the final section there is a small bone is thrown to diplomacy (mostly dismissed as the dream of “peace activists and academics” [231]), in aggregate the default setting advocated by the book appears to be not much more than a slight variation of Maslow’s hammer: when every problem is seen as the same nail, then every solution must be the same hammer. The author poses some of the important questions which certainly deserve careful study. For instance, even if he is looking for change, is Kim trapped within the walls of a system he inherited and now can’t dismantle? Do Kim’s personality and personal style prevent his advisors from giving him candid advice? The one question missing is crucial — what is Kim’s strategic view on the dealing with the US? Pak says, with good justification, that Kim learned from his country’s history that no one can be trusted — certainly not the Chinese, the Russians, the Japanese or the South Koreans. Yet, she doesn’t note Kim also would know that soon after the fall of the Soviet Union, his grandfather Kim Il Sung made a weighty strategic decision that transformed North Korean foreign and security policy. Looking for a buffer against untrustworthy and potentially hostile neighbors, the elder Kim decided to engage and seek to improve relations with the US. That is not surmise. It comes from multiple sources. There is considerable evidence that Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, continued to pursue that goal, at least through the end of 2002, if not beyond. And what of Kim Jong Un? Does such a strategic realignment remain his goal, and if so, what are the implications? What did Kim’s pivot to diplomacy in 2018, and even his position at the failed Hanoi Summit, tell us about his strategic view of the long-term value of improved relations with the US, beyond an effort to have economic sanctions eased? Pak rates as “highly unlikely” that Kim Jong Un will ever put “any part” of his nuclear program on the table now that the North has a mature program, speculating with good reason that there was a better chance to achieve that under Kim Jong Il, when the program was still small and relatively unsophisticated (228). Being so sure that Kim won’t put “any part” of the nuclear program on the table ignores what actually went on in Hanoi. Kim did put on the table the Yongbyon complex, a central component of the North’s nuclear program, and not one that can be dismissed — as Pak and other commentators have done — as “aging” (224). In the aftermath of Hanoi, with Kim going home angry and to some extent humiliated at the failure, the opportunity for progress on the nuclear issue has ended for the time being. With each lost opportunity — going back to short-sighted Bush and Obama administration policies — the situation has become worse and the problem that much more difficult to address. The book’s approach, both in its recitation of the history and its policy prescriptions, is tone-deaf about the possibilities presented by a strong diplomatic initiative as part of a strategy for dealing with the North. It exhibits little understanding of what was possible and what, even now, could be achieved. In fact, it implies nothing is possible on the grounds that the North’s “utterances” over the decades have proved “meaningless, given North’s Korea’s observable actions to the contrary and its history of reneging on previous agreements” (204). This pretty well sums up the CIA’s view on negotiating with the North. In 1994, the CIA was convinced, both from the information it received through its channels and its own analysis, the North would never conclude the Agreed Framework, despite constant evidence emerging in the talks that the agreement was taking shape. In the years I was involved in negotiations with North Korea, I’d go out periodically to Langley to brief CIA analysts to give them more detail than what went into the regular reporting cables. I found little interest, either in understanding the nuances of the slow but steady movement in the North’s positions, in what the side conversations at the talks revealed, or in how listening to the DPRK negotiators shed light on the meaning of North Korea’s public statements. Undoubtedly, with her experience and skill, Pak will be an important voice on the Korean issue as the situation moves into ever more uncertain waters. On two key points, she is right on the money. She notes that overreacting or underreacting to Kim’s tactics give him space to continue to drive events on the Korean Peninsula. And she observes that the North Koreans know how to move adroitly, often pushing the US and always catching us by surprise. Perhaps one reason they can do that is we rarely pay close enough attention to what they say. Too often we find ourselves as the policy equivalent of the Spanish Armada, while the North Koreans operate like Francis Drake’s agile ships. Exactly as Pak advises, we should know the enemy. In the final analysis, her book, read critically, may be more helpful with the unspoken other half of that equation: the need to know ourselves.” (Robert Carlin, “Book Review: Becoming Kim Jong Un: A Former CIA Officer’s Insights into North Korea’s Enigmatic Young Dictator,” 38 North, June 5, 2020)

KCNA Report: “The south Korean authorities connived at the hostile acts against the DPRK by the riff-raff, while trying to dodge heavy responsibility with nasty excuses. This has driven the inter-Korean relations into a catastrophe. All the people of the DPRK have been angered by the treacherous and cunning behavior of the south Korean authorities with whom we still have lots of accounts to settle. The disgusting riff-raff have committed hostile acts against the DPRK by taking advantage of the south Korean authorities’ irresponsible stance and with their connivance. They dared to hurt the dignity of our supreme leadership and mock the sacred mental core of all our people. This was a sign of hostility to all our people. As far as the issue of the dignity of our supreme leadership is concerned, there can neither be a pardon nor an opportunity. They should be forced to pay dearly for this. We will never barter the dignity of our supreme leadership for anything, but defend it at the cost of our lives. We have reached a conclusion that there is no need to sit face to face with the south Korean authorities and there is no issue to discuss with them, as they have only aroused our dismay. At the review meeting of the work of the departments for affairs with the south, Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, and Kim Yo Jong, first vice department director of the C.C., WPK, stressed that the work towards the south should thoroughly turn into the one against enemy. They discussed phased plans for the work against the enemy in order to make the betrayers and riff-raff pay for their crimes, and then, to begin with, gave an instruction to completely cut off all the communication and liaison lines between the north and the south. Accordingly, the relevant field of our side will completely cut off and shut down the liaison line between the authorities of the north and the south, which has been maintained through the north-south joint liaison office, the East and West Seas communication lines between the militaries of the north and the south, the inter-Korean trial communication line and the hotline between the office building of the Central Committee of the WPK and the Chongwadae from 12:00 on June 9, 2020. This measure is the first step of the determination to completely shut down all contact means with south Korea and get rid of unnecessary things.” (KCNA, “KCNA Report on Cutting off All North-South Communications Lines,” June 9, 2020)

A United Nations human rights expert voiced alarm at what he called “widespread food shortages and malnutrition” in North Korea, made worse by a nearly five-month border closure with China and strict quarantine measures against COVID-19. Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the DPRK urged the U.N. Security Council to “reconsider sanctions” that have been imposed on the isolated country so as to ensure food supplies. The pandemic has brought “drastic economic hardship” to North Korea, Ojea Quintana said, noting a 90% fall in trade with China in March and April that led to lost incomes. He said “prospects of a further deepening of food shortages and widespread food insecurity are alarming.” “There have been reports of an increase of homeless people in large cities — including kotjebi (street children), and medicine prices have reportedly skyrocketed. An increasing number of families eat only twice a day, or eat only corn, and some are starving,” he said in a statement. Separately, Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the U.N.’s World Food Program, told a Geneva news briefing that the humanitarian situation in North Korea “remains bleak.” More than 10 million people, or 40% of the population, need humanitarian aid, she said. “Malnutrition has been persistent and widespread causing long-term damage to the health and development of children, as well as pregnant and nursing mothers,” she added. (Stephanie Nebehay, “UN Expert Says Some Are ‘Starving’ in North Korea,” Reuters, June 9, 2020)

The Unification Ministry said it would press charges against two defector-run civic groups for sending anti-North Korean leaflets and bottles filled with rice across the border, a day after Pyongyang ceased all communication with Seoul over the matter. The ministry said the two groups, Fighters for a Free North Korea, led by defector Park Sang-hak, and Keumsaem, headed by Park’s younger brother Park Jung-oh, violated the inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation law by sending unauthorized materials to the North. It is also acting to revoke the groups’ business permits. “The two organizations have created tension between the South and North, and have endangered the lives and safety of residents in the border area,” ministry spokesperson Yoh Sang-key told reporters. Under the law governing inter-Korean exchanges, people who wish to take goods out of North Korea or bring them in must obtain approval from the minister of unification. But in the past, the government has not taken issue with the launches, although it advised the groups not to send leaflets, citing environmental concerns and the safety of residents in border areas because the North could retaliate. (Ahn Sung-mi, “Seoul to Press Charges against Defector Groups Sending Anti-Pyongyang Leaflets,” Korea Herald, June 10, 2020)

Both North Korea and left-leaning supporters of South Korean President Moon Jae-in want him to restore economic ties broken by security tensions. But pleasing them would mean angering U.S. President Donald Trump. Yesterday, North Korea said it was closing down communication links set up two years ago between Moon and Kim Jong Un, jeopardizing the South Korean leader’s 2017 campaign promise to move the heavily armed rivals toward a permanent peace. It’s bad timing for Moon: His ruling bloc secured a historic supermajority in National Assembly elections in April, boosting calls within his Democratic Party to mend ties with North Korea. The problem for Moon is that he doesn’t have much he can offer North Korea without prompting a blowup from the Trump administration, which has repeatedly rejected South Korea’s calls for sanctions relief. The U.S. has refused to relax United Nations penalties and other measures against the regime without greater commitments on arms reduction from Kim. Woo Won-shik, a senior lawmaker and a former Democratic Party floor leader, said yesterday there was an “urgent need” to revive inter-Korean cooperation, arguing that failure to act now could further isolate North Korea and bring about a return to the brinkmanship of three years ago. Kim earlier this year said he would soon debut a “new strategic weapon” — part of a bid to pressure Trump, who faces an election in November, back to the negotiating table. “There are many inter-Korean projects that can proceed without breaching the existing UN sanctions regime,” Woo said. The latest dust-up — triggered by South Korean activists who sent anti-Pyongyang messages in balloons across the border — comes ahead of the 20th anniversary of the first meeting between top leaders of the divided Koreas. The South Korean government plans to cancel the licenses of two groups that sent balloons with leaflets across the border and ask prosecutors whether they can bring charges on suspicion of violating an inter-Korean exchange law, the Unification Ministry said today. Leaflets have flown across the border for years and been allowed as free speech. North Korea’s relations with Moon haven’t been the same since Trump walked out of a summit with Kim in February 2019 in Hanoi. The North Korean leader was pushing a plan backed by Seoul to give up his antiquated Yongbyon nuclear facility in exchange for sanctions relief — an offer that came nowhere near the Trump administration’s demand for the “final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.” “It is a sense of betrayal and disappointment,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee, a former analyst for the U.S. government specializing in North Korea. “Kim Jong Un feels South Korea has misled him into believing that Yongbyon facilities were going to be enough for a deal with Trump in Hanoi.” After that, North Korea has effectively ignored Moon’s requests for talks, shunned his offers for aid and test-launched new ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear payload to all parts of South Korea, where about 28,500 U.S. military personnel are stationed. North Korea didn’t answer South Korea’s calls made on the military line yesterday for the first time since the inter-Korean communication link was restored in 2018, defense ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo told a briefing in Seoul. “Inter-Korean communication lines are a basic means for communication and should be kept in line with inter-Korean agreements,” South Korea’s Unification Ministry said in a text message to reporters. A State Department spokesperson said the U.S. urges North Korea to return to diplomacy and cooperation. “The United States has always supported progress in inter-Korean relations, and we are disappointed in the DPRK’s recent actions,” the spokesperson said, referring to North Korea by its formal name. Kim Jong Un may follow up his move to cut communications links with more missile tests, but making sure to avoid the wrath of Trump. The American president has brushed off shorter-range tests and credited his own diplomacy for stopping Kim from further tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting the U.S. mainland. “Provocations like missile launches will follow, but nothing as serious as an ICBM test,” said Cho Han-bum, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a state-run think tank. Cho added that North Korea also didn’t want to push Moon too far: “The South is well aware that ending the inter-Korean relations is not something that the North wants.” Moon’s government said in late May said that it wanted to try to again ease travel restrictions and inter-Korean exchanges. A similar attempt in 2018 led Trump to bluntly tell Seoul that it couldn’t do anything regarding sanctions “without our approval.” Members of the Moon administration have hinted that Seoul could act unilaterally to resuscitate inter-Korean cooperation, but that would come with the enormous risk of cleaving Seoul from its alliance with Washington, said Soo Kim, a Rand Corp. policy analyst who specializes in Korean Peninsula issues. “President Moon can promise the North Koreans the earth, but realistically, he remains constrained in the way of practical measures South Korea can take — if Seoul were to be conscious of and concerned about its relations with the U.S.,” she said. South Korean proposals blocked by the Trump administration included resuming operations at a joint factory park in the North Korean border city of Kaesong and a separate resort at North Korea’s Mount Kumgang. Both were opened in the spirit of the Sunshine Policy and later shut due to political turmoil. While South Korea was able to win a UN sanctions waiver that led to the ceremonial sending of trains across the border about two years ago, its humanitarian assistance has dried up under Trump’s maximum pressure campaign. South Korea has sent more $3 billion of aid since 1995, but little of it has come under the Moon government, which sent just $12 million in 2017 and 2018, government data shows. Trade between the two nations has dropped to virtually zero from $2.7 billion in 2015, or about 10% of North Korea’s economy. The regime took a further hit this year when it sealed off its borders in January at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, which slammed the brakes on other trade with countries like China. Kim Jong Un believes he doesn’t have much of anything to lose by increasing pressure on Moon, according to Duyeon Kim, a senior adviser for Northeast Asia and Nuclear Policy at the International Crisis Group. “North Korea is raising the ante, trying to further punish, scare, and force Seoul to work harder to meet Pyongyang’s demands,” Kim said. “Kim Jong Un feels he bent over backwards for Moon, but believes Seoul has not reciprocated, has betrayed North Korea and the Korean race, and has no influence over Washington to deliver on its promises.” (Jon Herskovitz, Kanga Kong, and Jeong-Ho Lee, “Kim Jong Un Raises Pressure on South Korea to Break with Trump,” Bloomberg News, June 10, 2020)

DPRK Foreign Ministry Department of U.S. Affairs Director General Kwon Jong Gun answer to a question raised by KCNA today “over the recent obtrusive moves of the U.S. to interfere in the inter-Korean relations: On June 9, an official concerned of the spokesmen’s office of the U.S. Department of State made such useless remarks that he supports the improvement of the inter-Korean relations but was disappointed at the recent behavior of the DPRK, and urged the DPRK to return to diplomacy and cooperation, saying that the U.S. is keeping close coordination with south Korea, an ally of the U.S. This is, indeed, ridiculous. No one is entitled to say this or that about the inter-Korean relations as the relations pertain to the internal affairs of the Korean nation from A to Z. Disgusting is the double-dealing attitudes of the U.S. that feels uneasy over any sign of the improvement in the inter-Korean relations and pretends to get very anxious if the relations get worse. How can the “disappointment” touted by the U.S. be compared with the extreme dismay and resentment we are feeling at the U.S. and the south Korean authorities that have repeated betrayal and provocation for the last 2 years? It seems that the U.S. still fails to properly understand the surging resentment of our people. If the U.S. pokes its nose into others’ affairs with careless remarks, far from minding its internal affairs, at a time when its political situation is in the worst-ever confusion, it may encounter an unpleasant thing hard to deal with. As there are not a few things to be settled between the DPRK and the U.S., there would be no need for the U.S. to face disaster for others while playing the protector of south Korea. The U.S. had better hold its tongue and mind its internal affairs first if it doesn’t want to experience horrible thing. It would be good not only for the U.S. interests but also for the easy holding of upcoming presidential election.” (KCNA, “Director General of DPRK Foreign Ministry Warns U.S. against Interference in Inter-Korean Relations,” June 11, 2020)

DPRK FoMin spokesperson’s statement: “answer to a question put by KCNA on June 11 in respect of the nonsensical expression of “regret” by the Secretary-General of the United Nations over the latest development of inter-Korean relations. On June 10, the UN Secretary-General, borrowing the mouth of his spokesperson, made nonsensical expression of “regret”, claiming that communication channels are necessary to avoid misunderstandings and miscalculations, while taking an issue of our measures for completely cutting off inter-Korean communication channels. We cannot but express our astonishment over such reckless remarks — devoid of the common sense of judgment, let alone the basic knowledge of inter-Korean relations — coming out from the center of the United Nations. I would not know whether it is an expression of his ignorance, but Guterres, as the UN Secretary-General, must have expressed his viewpoint, cognizant at least of the fact that the situation unfolding between the north and the south of Korea has not been triggered because of the absence of communication lines or contact channels. It is only the UN Secretary-General himself who would know whether he is pretending to blind himself to the articles of inter-Korean agreement on ceasing all hostilities against the other party or pretending to be knowingly drunken. Anyway, his latest remark of “regret” cannot be overlooked. It is the shabby and double-dealing behavior of the UN Secretary-General that he does not say a word when the sovereignty of the DPRK, a full-fledged member of the UN, is severely infringed, yet he never misses opportunity to raise his subservient expression of “regret” whenever the U.S. and its vassal forces are picking on our self-defensive measures. No matter how eager he is to speak and clap his hands to side with the U.S. and its vassal forces, he will have to bear at least a slice of his duty as the UN Secretary-General. Such an expression of inappropriate and biased views by the UN Secretary-General adds not only to the international acknowledgment that UN is being reduced into a political tool and a servant of certain privileged forces, but also to the mistrust of international society in the sacred UN organization and especially, the Secretary-General himself. The sacred UN is not a mouthpiece of certain privileged forces, let alone an arena where the high-handedness and arbitrariness of such forces are permitted to be rampant. If the Secretary-General truly desires peace and stability of the Korean peninsula, he shouldn’t reel off such nonsense as “regrets”, but harshly reprimand south Korea, even at this belated time, that threw away the North-South Agreement like worn-out shoes and connived at the evil deeds of the human scums. We never pardon anyone who dares to point finger at our most precious and sacred Supreme Leadership. We advise the UN Secretary-General to approach all members of the UN on an equal footing, true to the principles of the UN activities, their lifeline being impartiality and objectivity, and properly discharge his responsibility and perform his role in a way that the UN forum would not be dirtied by injustice and falsity.” (KCNA, “Answer of Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of DPRK,” June 11, 2020)

DPRK FoMin Ri Son Gwon’s press statement: “Two annual rings were run since the historic June 12 summit talks between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States of America. We need to see what the world has witnessed and what lesson the history learned from the DPRK-U.S. relations during this not-a-short period that spans 732 days. What stands out is that the hope for improved DPRK-U.S. relations — which was high in the air under the global spotlight two years ago — has now been shifted into despair characterized by spiraling deterioration and that even a slim ray of optimism for peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula has faded away into a dark nightmare. The desire of the peoples of two countries to put a period to the world’s most antagonistic relations between the DPRK and the U.S. and to open a new cooperative era of peace and prosperity runs deep as ever. Yet the situation on the Korean peninsula is daily taking a turn for the worse. This is substantiated by the DPRK-U.S. relations during the past two years. A total shutdown of the northern nuclear test site, repatriation of scores of American POW/MIA remains, special pardon for the convicted felons of U.S. nationality who were held in detention — all these measures taken by our Supreme Leadership are indisputably significant ones of epoch-making resolve. Especially, we made a strategic determination whereby we took an initiative for suspending nuclear test and test launch of ICBMs in order to build confidence between the DPRK and the U.S. Such being the case, we should now turn to examining what has been done for the last two years by the United States, a party to the agreement, who has very often expressed gratitude for our measures of high determination. “No testing, getting remains.” “Hostages returned.” These are what the master of the White House representing the United States of America reeled off time and time again as a boast. The U.S. professes to be an advocate for improved relations with the DPRK, but in fact, it is hell-bent on only exacerbating the situation. As a result, the Korean peninsula has now turned into the world’s most dangerous hotspot haunted uninterruptedly by the ghost of nuclear war, streaming completely against a durable and lasting peace which has been committed to by both sides. The DPRK is still on the U.S. list of targets for preemptive nuclear strike, and all kinds of nuclear strike tools held by the U.S. are aimed directly at the DPRK. This is the stark reality of the present day. Typical evidences are nuclear strategic bombers, which fly any time into the south Korean airspace for nuclear strike drills, and aircraft carrier strike groups which bustle around the seas surrounding south Korea. The U.S. is introducing a large number of modern, cutting-edge hardware like stealth fighters and reconnaissance drones worth tens of billions of U.S. dollars in order to transform the south Korean army into the one with offensive posture, and the south Korean authorities are burdened with payment of an astronomical amount of money. The U.S. administration, through the two years of totally unjust and anachronistic practices, laid bare openly that its much-claimed “improvement of relations” between the DPRK and U.S. means nothing but a regime change, “security guarantee” an all-out preemptive nuclear strike and “confidence building” an invariable pursuit of isolation and suffocation of the DPRK. All the above facts clearly prove once again that, unless the 70-plus-year deep-rooted hostile policy of the U.S. towards the DPRK is fundamentally terminated, the U.S. will as ever remain to be a long-term threat to our state, our system and our people. Now, a question arises at this point in time. The question is whether there will be a need to keep holding hands shaken in Singapore, as we see that there is nothing of factual improvement to be made in the DPRK-U.S. relations simply by maintaining personal relations between our Supreme Leadership and the U.S. President. In retrospect, all the practices of the present U.S. administration so far are nothing but accumulating its political achievements. Never again will we provide the U.S. chief executive with another package to be used for achievements without receiving any returns. Nothing is more hypocritical than an empty promise. Our Supreme Leadership, in the historic Fourth Enlarged Meeting of the Seventh Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea, discussed the national strategy for nuclear development in conformity with the prevailing internal and external situation and solemnly declared on further bolstering the national nuclear war deterrent to cope with the U.S. unabated threats of nuclear war. Whenever Pompeo and other U.S. statesmen open their mouths, they make nonsensical remarks that the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is still a secure goal of the United States. The secure strategic goal of the DPRK is to build up more reliable force to cope with the long-term military threats from the U.S. This is our reply message to the U.S. on the occasion of second anniversary of June 12.” (KCNA, “Our Message to U.S. Is Clear: Ri Song Gwon, Minister of Foreign Affairs of DPRK,” June 12, 2020)

WPK CCC United Front Department Director Jang Kum Chol’s statement: “There is a famous Korean proverb saying “To shut the stable-door after the horse is stolen.” This perfectly fits Chongwadae of south Korea which made public its stand regarding the scattering of leaflets on June 11. Chongwadae finally opened a meeting of the permanent committee of the Security Council, breaking its silence, in which it defined the act of scattering leaflets against the north as an act of falling foul of the laws currently in force, and officially made public its stand that it would seriously respond to the breach of the law and abide by all the agreements between the south and the north. Chongwadae which kept itself hidden behind the “Unification Ministry,” panic-stricken over the recent incident, has now come to the fore and expressed its stand as if to make a “big decision”. But this leaves us doubtful, much less convinced. Their statement sounds like an apology or repentance, and their “resolution to take counteraction” sounds plausible. But it is hard to clear the doubt that it can be just a brainstorm trick of Chongwadae to tide over the present crisis. Because its attitude of repentance is too timid, when compared with the gravity of the crime committed. The south Korean authorities have so far been best at paying lip-service. They have availed themselves of every chance to unleash spurious words while reading others’ faces with hesitation. It was not due to the lack of verbal or written promises that the north-south ties have become as how they are now. It was because they had no will to implement the words they uttered and the commitments they made, they had no force to carry them out with determination and they were weak and incompetent. Now they barely put to use the laws that had already been in place. A new law touted by them is still far way off. Can we pin any hope for the law to take effect? Had they been truly concerned about the north-south relations getting deteriorated, they could have made dozens of such laws for the past two years since the adoption of the Panmunjom Declaration. Even at this moment, the conservative group of south Korea reproaches the authorities, talking about “low-postured attitude toward the north” and “submission,” and human scum pledge to scatter leaflets again on June 15 and 25. It doesn’t stop daringly insulting and defaming the dignity of our supreme leadership. No one can vouch that the south Korean regime would suppress its master’s hindrance and control all sorts of trouble-making noise that is made under the slogan of “freedom of expression” at home. Now Chongwadae, the ministry of Unification and even the ruling party are running helter-skelter, talking about “good-for-nothing act” and “stern counteraction.” They say that they would check the leaflet-scattering by mobilizing the police forces but it is uncertain whether they can properly do their job as they fail to exercise even their public power. They brag as if they have belatedly put the situation under control but such behavior cannot but be viewed as a stupid wordplay. They scrapped even the north-south agreements and declaration the north and the south committed to implement with their hands held together and stamped seals after a word-by-word study before proclaiming to the world. So, no one will lend an ear to their honey-tongued language. It will be most foolish for Chongwadae to calculate that it can calm down our people’s rage which has erupted like a volcano with such third-rate farce and put the current grim situation under control with its imprudent words, and this will be another mockery of us. The recent incident has smashed to pieces the confidence in the south Korean authorities that we have made so much effort to build. Can there be anybody better than the southerners in talking big? We really don’t want to stand face to face with them as they often talk tall as if to achieve something great but fail in taking even a step in practice. From now, time will be, indeed, regretful and painful for the south Korean authorities.” (KCNA, “North-South Ties Have Reached Uncontrollable Phase: Director of United Front Committee of WPK Central Committee,” June 12, 2020)

Minju Joson commentary: “The south Korean authorities offered the frontline areas to the human scum “defectors from the north” as a theatre of scattering anti-DPRK leaflets. This clearly proves that they have no interest in national reconciliation and unity but are determined to destroy the inter-Korean relations. … The south Korean authorities’ talk about “peace” and “dialogue” on the international arena is little short of a third-rate charade and that their real intention is in escalating confrontation with fellow countrymen. So far, we have made sincere efforts and several proposals for detente of the north-south relations but in fact, the inter-Korean relations have not taken even a step towards reconciliation and unity but been brought back to the origin of confrontation. It is our disposition and mettle to respond to good faith in kind and deal a merciless counterblow to a hostile act of hurting the sovereignty and dignity of the country. Explicitly speaking, this is just a start of the fierce retaliatory action. As clarified before the world, a measure for punishment of those who dared to slander the dignity of our supreme leadership will be merciless. The south Korean authorities will be forced to pay the dearest price for making a mockery of our people’s sacred mental core.” (KCNA, “S. Korean Authorities Will Be Forced to Pay Dearest Price for Their Behavior: Minjun Joson Commentary,” June 12, 2020)

DPRK FoMin Department of U.S. Affairs Director-General Kwon Jong Gun’s statement: “On June 12, an official in the south Korean “foreign affairs authority” made presumptuous remarks that they will make extended endeavor for an earlier resumption of the DPRK-U.S. dialogue and that the efforts should continue for a complete denuclearization and an establishment of a permanent peace mechanism on the Korean peninsula. It is really preposterous to hear the balderdash of south Korean authorities-who do not have either any qualification to discuss, or the position to poke their noses into, the matters between the DPRK and the U.S., to say nothing of nuclear issues — are commenting on the resumption of DPRK-U.S. dialogue and interpreting the issue of denuclearization at their own choice. Having been long forsaken like a good-for-nothing cucumber stalk thrown into swill, they should have now been aware too well of their sad lot, but it is really pitiful that they are still irrationally mouthing denuclearization, like a monk chanting the prayers. I still remember that exactly one year ago, we advised them to stop fooling around in such a nasty manner and immediately drop out of the issue of the DPRK-U.S. relations. This notwithstanding, the people down the village in the south are still trying to seek an excuse to meddle in. How pathetic and miserable they are! For your own information, it is not because there is not a mediator that the DPRK-U.S. dialogue has gone away and the denuclearization been blown off. If I, though against my will, simply copy the catchphrase used by the village in the south, it is because “conditions are not met” for denuclearization. While just looking at their demeanor of repeating denuclearization like a parrot, I cannot repress my judgment of how dull they really are because it comes to me as if the preemies — who do not have a basic idea about what conditions are needed and how many mountains should be climbed over in order to realize the denuclearization — are burping after drinking a still water. When the things come to this point, they have to know their own place even though they are so much eager to be reckoned with. I want to make it clear that we will continue to build up our force in order to overpower the persistent threats from the United States, and such efforts of ours are in fact continuing at this point of time. If they want to deal with us, they will have to approach us after racking their brains and founding a different method. We are not what we were two years ago. The change continues and will continue as ever in a tremendous way. It is better to stop a nonsensical talking about denuclearization.” (KCNA, “Press Statement of Director-General of Department of U.S. Affairs of Foreign Ministry of DPRK,” June 13, 2020)

WPK Central Committee First Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jong’s statement: “I fully sympathize with the statement released by the director of the United Front Department of the Central Committee of the WPK yesterday. If the south Korean authorities have now capability and courage to carry out at once the thing they have failed to do for the past two years, why are the north-south relations still in stalemate like now? We should not lend an ear to and trust the trite language let out by them for only form’s sake as they always make a fuss belatedly, nor pardon the sins committed by the betrayers and human scum. Getting stronger day by day are the unanimous voices of all our people demanding for surely settling accounts with the riff-raff who dared hurt the absolute prestige of our Supreme Leader representing our country and its great dignity and flied rubbish to the inviolable territory of our side and with those who connived at such hooliganism, whatever may happen. The judgment that we should force the betrayers and human scum to pay the dearest price for their crimes and the retaliatory action plans we have made on this basis have become a firm public opinion at home, not part of the work of the field in charge of the affairs with enemy. It is necessary to make them keenly feel what they have done and what inviolability they hurt amiss. It is better to take a series of retaliatory actions, instead of releasing this kind of statement, which those with bad ears may miscalculate as the “one for threatening” or from which they can make any rubbishy comments on our intention as they please. I feel it is high time to surely break with the south Korean authorities. We will soon take a next action. By exercising my power authorized by the Supreme Leader, our Party and the state, I gave an instruction to the arms of the department in charge of the affairs with enemy to decisively carry out the next action. Before long, a tragic scene of the useless north-south joint liaison office completely collapsed would be seen. If I drop a hint of our next plan the south Korean authorities are anxious about, the right to taking the next action against the enemy will be entrusted to the General Staff of our army. Our army, too, will determine something for cooling down our people’s resentment and surely carry out it, I believe. Rubbish must be thrown into dustbin.” (KCNA, “First Vice Department Director of WPK Central Committee Issues Statement,” June 14, 2020)

North Korea blew up the inter-Korean joint liaison office in its border town of Kaesong, sharply escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula after near-daily threats to punish Seoul over anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets. The surprise explosion sparked concern that the communist nation could put other threats against the South into action, including taking military action and moving troops to border regions disarmed under inter-Korean agreements. South Korea expressed “strong regret” and warned the North not to aggravate the situation. “The destruction … is an act that breaches the hope of all people wishing for the development of inter-Korean relations and a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Cheong Wa Dae said in a statement after an emergency meeting of the National Security Council. “The government makes clear that all responsibility caused by this rests totally with the North Korean side,” he said. “We sternly warn that if North Korea takes steps further aggravating the situation, we will respond strongly to it.” Earlier, North Korea’s state media confirmed that the liaison office was “completely ruined.” “The relevant field of the DPRK put into practice the measure of completely destroying the North-South joint liaison office in the Kaesong Industrial Zone in the wake of cutting off all the communication liaison lines between the north and the south,” KCNA said. The destruction was in line with “the mindset of the enraged people to surely force human scum and those, who have sheltered the scum, to pay dearly for their crimes,” KCNA said, referring to North Korean defectors in the South sending anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets. “At 14:50, the liaison office was tragically ruined with a terrific explosion,” it said. (Koh Byung-joon and Oh Seok-min, “N. Korea Blows up Joint Liaison Office in Kaesong,” Yonhap, June 16, 2020)

KCNA: “The north-south joint liaison office was completely ruined on Tuesday. The relevant field of the DPRK put into practice the measure of completely destroying the north-south joint liaison office in the Kaesong Industrial Zone in the wake of cutting off all the communication liaison lines between the north and the south, corresponding to the mindset of the enraged people to surely force human scum and those, who have sheltered the scum, to pay dearly for their crimes. At 14:50, the liaison office was tragically ruined with a terrific explosion.“ (KCNA, “North-South Liaison Office Completely Ruined,” June 16, 2020)

KPA General Staff report: “Our army is keeping a close watch on the current situation in which the north-south relations are turning worse and worse, and getting itself fully ready for providing a sure military guarantee to any external measures to be taken by the Party and government. Our army will rapidly and thoroughly implement any decisions and orders of the Party and government. We accepted from the United Front Department of the Party Central Committee and arms of the department in charge of the affairs with enemy an opinion on studying an action plan for taking measures to make the army advance again into the zones that had been demilitarized under the north-south agreement, turn the front line into a fortress and further heighten the military vigilance against the south. We also accepted an opinion on opening many areas in the ground front and southwestern waters and taking a thorough-going security measure for positively cooperating with our people from all walks of life in their large-scale leaflet scattering struggle against the enemy that is expected to take place. We will map out the military action plans for rapidly carrying out the said opinions to receive approval from the Party Central Military Commission. Explicitly speaking once again, our army is on high alert to ensure a sure military guarantee for any external measures to be taken by the Party and the government.” (KCNA, “Our Army Is Fully Ready to Go into Action,” June 16, 2020)

KPA General Staff spokesman: “Our army will provide a sure military guarantee for all external and internal measures to be taken by Party and the government. The KPA General Staff issued an open report on the direction of military action plans of the next phase on Tuesday. The KPA General Staff clarifies the following clearer stand in line with the detailed military action plans under examination as of June 17: Units of the regiment level and necessary firepower sub-units with defense mission will be deployed in the Mt Kumgang tourist area and the Kaesong Industrial Zone where the sovereignty of our Republic is exercised. Civil police posts that had been withdrawn from the Demilitarized Zone under the north-south agreement in the military field will be set up again to strengthen the guard over the front line. The artillery units deployed on the whole front line including the southwest naval front will reinforce those on combat duty, upgrade the level of the front guard duty to top class combat duty system throughout the front line and will resume all kinds of regular military exercises in the areas close to the boundary. Areas (districts) favorable for scattering leaflets against the south will open on the whole front line and our people’s drive for scattering leaflets will be guaranteed militarily and thorough-going security measures will be taken. The KPA General Staff will work out these military action plans against enemy in more detail and present them to the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea for ratification at an earliest date.” (KCNA, “Our Army Will Provide Sure Military Guarantee for All External and Internal Measures of Party and Government: Spokesman for KPA General Staff,” June 17, 2020)

WPK CC United Front Department Director Jang Kum Chol’s statement: “We exploded the eye-sore north-south joint liaison office on Tuesday. Much upset by this, Chongwadae held a meeting of the Security Council and clarified an official stand on the result of the meeting. But it only tried to shift the blame on to the other by employing the very old method which they had resorted for a long time in the past, ridiculously threatening somebody. We watched Chongwadae when it made blind screaming to save its face at least, expressing strong regret, terming our step an act contrary to expectations and asserting the full responsibility for all the situations rests with the north and if we take measures continuously worsening the situation, it would strongly react. It has been exasperated and pushed to the corner till now by our sharp rebuke that it connived at the hostile acts against the DPRK by human scum. It has also been under strong criticism at home for its humiliating policy of low posture and the policy of behaving at the beck and call of the north. So it seems that south Korea felt an urgent need to keep its face this time. The chief culprit, who reduced the north-south declaration and agreement made under the eyes of the whole nation and the world into a scrap paper still, has temerity to pass the buck. The provocateur who hurt what we deem sacred pushed the situation to the nadir by enraging our people. Does it have face to clamor for punishing someone? The world knows well who the chief culprit to be accountable for the on-going situation is. The mishap is what it deserves for its crime, but it tries to shift the blame on to us, despicably talking about the responsibility for the crisis, far from feeling remorse. We will take the responsibility without reluctance, as it has nothing harmful to us. We are never afraid of whatever responsibility, as there are nothing to be implemented and no future for the north-south relations though we have many vis-a-vis talks with such coward, weak and despicable guys. We have no idea to sit together with the authorities of the south side who evoke only disgust and nasty feelings. That’s why we began removing means for contact between the north and the south. We will remain unperturbed though we bear the responsibility for the total catastrophe of the inter-Korean relations. When considering the merits and demerits, we have nothing to lose. It is a matter of concern to the south Korean chief executive who has engrossed in making administrative records during his stay in office, and we have never dealt with the south side for the sake of some profits. Therefore, there will be neither exchange nor cooperation with the south Korean authorities in the future. And there will be no word to be exchanged. It is our stand that we had better regard everything that happened between the north and the south as an empty dream. Through the present crisis, we feel fortunate as we have confirmed once again the conclusion that the enemy is the enemy, after all. It has been proved that we made quite correct decisions.” (KCNA, “We Will Never Sit Face to Face with S. Korean Authorities: Director of United Front Department of WPK Central Committee,” June 17, 2020)

Kim Yo Jong: “The south Korean chief executive finally broke his silence, amid the north-south relations inching close to the worst catastrophe. At the meeting of chief secretaries and advisers of Chongwadae and in his video message addressed to the “commemoration for 20th anniversary of the June 15 Declaration” on June 15, he made lengthy speeches on two consecutive occasions. He wore the tie which the then south side chief executive wore at the time when the June 15 joint declaration was signed in 2000 and spoke before the table which was used at the time of the publication of the Panmunjom Declaration in 2018 in an effort to give symbolic meaning but his speech aroused only aversion. He reeled off a string of shameless and impudent words full of incoherence. He spoke in the capacity of the “president” but it was sickening to listen to his speech, devoid of responsibility and will before the nation and direction and measures for putting the present situation under control but packaged in self-defense, avoidance of responsibility and deep-rooted flunkeyism. It is well-known to everybody that the blame for the present grim situation rests with human scum’s scattering of anti-DPRK leaflets and the south Korean authorities’ connivance at it. The recent speeches made by the south Korean chief executive should have reflected his apology, repentance and firm pledge to prevent the recurrence of similar occurrences. But his speech was full of excuses and spurious rhetoric to get rid of responsibility, without any mention of the means and the end. He said that peace does not come overnight and it needs to maintain optimistic faith just like rivers heading for the sea in the end despite their curved courses, and that it is necessary to make step-by-step progress, though slow. He pretended to be a “dude” using his own language and narration and it appeared that he made great efforts to groom his expressions but question is if he knows clearly the essence of the present situation or not. The anti-DPRK leaflet-scattering by rubbish and the south Korean authorities’ connivance at it can never be glossed over with such abstractive rhetoric. The fundamental issue lies in that the south side eroded the respect for the other side and confidence, with its heart set on it, which constitute the cornerstone and the starting point of the north-south ties. They dared defame the dignity of our supreme leadership, our Chairman whom we hold most sacred as the central core, and mocked at all our people at the same time. How can such senseless acts be interpreted just as the deed of “some”, be described as an “uncomfortable and difficult problem” and be approached simply with “heavy heart”? I would like to make it clear once again that the desecration of our Chairman, representative of our dignity, amounts to hurting the mental core of our people, and it is the ideological feelings of all our people and our national customs that this can never be allowed to be encroached upon. Some days ago, Chongwadae officially admitted that the anti-DPRK leaflet-scattering was an act of good-for-nothing and pledged to take strong counteraction. It was because the south side was well aware of what a serious crime it committed. But the south Korean chief executive showed no admittance of what was done wrong, nor any repentance, to say nothing of any measures. It is only dastards who seek to shift the blame for which they are responsible on to others. It is utterly shocking that such impudence and vileness was mirrored in the speech made by the man with the supreme prerogative representing south Korea. He said that the south-north relations must not be stopped, but he did not make honest admittance of his wrong, a starting point for the continuance of the relations. He said that the south can be embroiled in unwanted swirl but failed to set forth any measures for stopping the reckless act of human scum. Clear is the aim sought by him. It is his shallow and foolish idea to cover up the crime with word play and to tide over the imminent crisis. Can the north-south relations be reversed with a few sugar-coated words when confidence was undermined and aversion has reached the extremes? The south Korean chief executive is the responsible party for hauling the north-south ties. As the party who signed the historic Panmunjom Declaration and Pyongyang Joint declaration and who promised the destiny and future of the nation before the 80 million Koreans, it is quite natural for him to take stand and attitude of taking all responsibilities whether the north-south relations turn good or bad. But a scrutiny into his speeches shows that he is entirely blaming other foreign factor for the north-south ties that failed to make progress. He said that the policy toward the north used to lose consistency under different “regimes” in south Korea and the north-south ties fell short of making linear development in the turmoil of the international situation. But he should have been straightforward that they had actually done nothing in favor of the implementation of the joint declaration. He meant that the reason that the north-south ties failed to make even a step forward was because of the internal situation of south Korea itself and because of the scarcity of support from the U.S. and the international community for it. This is just the same shameful excuse as the “theory of driver” often mentioned by him in the past. He also said that “he feels great regret over the south-north ties that had not made progress as expected”. Is it the attitude and stand to be taken by the so-called “state leader” to just express vague expectation and regret? He also mentioned that what he worries under the present situation was if we would go back to the past days of confrontation while denouncing the south over the leaflet-scattering and cutting off communications, and he hoped that the problem would be settled through communication and cooperation. It is truly sophism full of shamelessness and impudence. Then, who has professed blind and dumb to our advices to adopt attitude and stand of a master responsible for the north-south relations and thrown away trust and promise just like a pair of old shoes? Now they are trying to shift the responsibility for the results of their own making on to us. This is literally brazen-faced and preposterous act. Paragraph 1 of Article 2 of the Panmunjom Declaration reads that both sides shall cease all the hostile acts including broadcasting through loudspeakers and distribution of leaflets in the areas along the Military Demarcation Line. It is clear to anybody that it was responsibility of the south Korean authorities that anti-DPRK leaflet-scattering has been left intact, not just a few times but for such a long period as two years. The height of his impudence was also found in his speech where he tried to convince others that the south made lots of efforts for the implementation of the north-south agreements. Is there even a single paragraph of the Panmunjom Declaration and the September Pyongyang Joint Declaration which the south Korean authorities followed through on? If any, it only read the face of its master and begged the international community. It is the height of meanness and craftiness, which would put even a fox in the shade, to describe all of them as “persistent efforts” and “string of communications.” He confessed that he approached the north-south relations just as he steps on icy ground and it was the south Korean chief executive who had no resolution and remained hesitated to do what he could surely do in relations between the north and the south. History can never be written off nor avoid. He should have shown at least a stand that he would own all responsibilities. He is a man who increasingly arouses doubt. The south Korean chief executive let out thoughtless rhetoric that he would do something for the north-south ties even though “no condition is provided” while stressing that “north-south declarations are firm principle which should never be shaken.” He said that the favorable situation is not provided only by the will of the north and the south and he would make strenuous efforts to get consent by the international community. His spate of flunkeyist jargon glaringly revealed his true nature of depending on foreign forces. Miserable is the plight of reading the face of one’s master and being under other’s thumb. Is it reasonable to hold out the hand of help to the robber under the present situation where the north-south ties have reached such a catastrophe as today’s? As acknowledged by everyone, the reason that the north-south agreements which were so wonderful did not see any light of even a single step of implementation was due to the noose of the pro-U.S. flunkeyism into which he put his neck. Even before the ink on the north-south agreement got dry, he accepted the “south Korea-U.S. working group” under the coercion of his master and presented all issues related to the north-south ties to White House. This has all boomeranged. The south side must have been clearly aware that their acts could lead to the wanton violation of the north-south agreement when they staged war exercises and offered money running at an astronomical figure for purchasing ultra-modern weapons on the order of the U.S. But his blind creed that “alliance” must be put above the north-south agreement and the power of “ally” brings peace led him to follow the path of continued submission and shameless perfidy. For the past two years, the south Korean authorities pursued the awkward policy of “precedence to the north-south relations and DPRK-U.S. relations,” not national independence and put the absolute preconditions of “within the framework of sanctions” when they belatedly “offered to expand the scope of movement.” It is a tragedy produced by the persistent and deep-seated pro-U.S. flunkeyism and submission of the south Korean authorities that the north-south ties reduced into the plaything of the U.S. What matters is that even at this moment when being mired in the quagmire, the south Korean chief executive shows his wretched image of catching at the coattail of outsider. Even animals do not fall into the same trap. He speaks out foolish spells little short of pricking his eyes with his own fingers every time he makes speeches. He seems to be insane though he appears to be normal outwardly. Flunkeyism and submission are a prelude to self-destruction. It is our fixed judgment that it is no longer possible to discuss the north-south ties with such a servile partner engaging only in disgrace and self-ruin, being soaked by deep-rooted flunkeyism. Of course ideal is important for any politicians but they must have disposition of doing with determination what they should do. There are some people who say well than doing. Whenever he makes public appearance, he lets out childish and hope-filled dreamy rhetoric and tries to look big, just and principled just like an apostle of peace. It was so regretful for me to see his disgusting behavior alone. So I decided to prepare a bomb of words to let it known to our people. Anyway, now the south Korean authorities are left with nothing to do with us. Only things they can do in the future are making regret and lamenting. The south Korean authorities will be forced to keenly realize how high price they will have to pay for discarding confidence with the passage of time.” (KCNA, “Honey Words of Impudent Man Are Disgusting: First Vice Director Kim Yo Jong of WPK Central Committee,” June 17, 2020)

The North Korean warning aimed at South Korea has steadily been escalating in intensity for more than a year: Your matchmaking diplomacy between our leader and President Trump is failing. Yesterday, the accumulated frustrations of Kim Jong Un, who embarrassingly returned home empty-handed from his second summit meeting with Trump in February 2019, exploded in cathartic fashion. The North blew up an inter-Korean joint liaison office created as a sign of good will toward President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who had brokered and encouraged the meeting. That blast effectively shattered a détente on the Korean Peninsula that had lasted two years. By destroying the building in the North Korean city of Kaesong that housed the liaison office, which functioned as a de facto embassy, Kim also acted on his repeated admonition that he was steering relations on the divided Korean Peninsula to a new phase, treating South Korea not as a partner for reconciliation but as an “enemy.” Moon’s government reacted with an uncharacteristically strong statement that recalled the worst days of North-South confrontation. “We make it clear that the North will be held accountable for all the repercussions of its act,” said Kim You-geun, deputy director of national security at Moon’s office. “We issue a stern warning that if North Korea continues to aggravate the situation, we will take strong corresponding steps.” Today, North Korea said it had dismissed Moon’s recent proposal to send special envoys to Pyongyang as “tactless and sinister.” Also today, the North’s military said that it was seeking Kim’s approval to “resume all kinds of regular military exercises” near the disputed western sea border despite an earlier inter-Korean agreement to ban such drills. The exchange between Pyongyang and Seoul signaled that the downward spiral in inter-Korean relations had become “irrevocable,” said Lee Byong-chul, a North Korea expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul. “North Korea has just tolled the death knell for its relations with Moon Jae-in’s government,” he said. Following the failure in Hanoi, North Korea vented its frustration principally on the matchmaker, accusing Moon of having oversold the merits of diplomatic engagement with Trump. It said Moon had forsaken agreements with Kim to push for inter-Korean economic ties the North badly wanted. For Moon, his promises were dependent on progress in negotiations between North Korea and the United States to end the North’s nuclear threat. In recent months, North Korea has sent numerous warnings to the South to change its tack. In March last year, it dismissed the South’s mediating role, calling Moon’s government “a player, not an arbiter” because it was an ally of Washington. It then temporarily withdrew its staff from the joint liaison office, which the two Koreas had run together since September 2018. Last March, North Korea went so far as to say Moon’s office had an “imbecile way of thinking.” Behind the North’s deepening contempt toward the South was its frustration with the Trump administration, and the demolition of the liaison office was intended as a signal as much for Washington as for Seoul, analysts said. Lee Seong-hyon, an analyst at the Sejong Institute, a research organization in South Korea, said the North’s economic frailty had been worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, which paralyzed its foreign trade. “It had to vent its frustration and domestic discontent, but it feared retaliation if it directly provoked the United States,” Lee said. “So, as Koreans like to say, ‘If you hate your neighbor, you kick his dog.’” Trump’s own domestic troubles, punctuated by the pandemic’s heavy toll on the United States economy and by the civic unrest set off by the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police, gave North Korea greater room to act as a destabilizer, analysts said. By raising tensions on the Korean Peninsula, some said, Kim was building the case for why Trump needed to provide him with at least a stopgap de-escalation deal — in the form of easing sanctions — if the American leader wished to avoid a total unraveling of his North Korea diplomacy before the November election. Yesterday, hours before the demolition of the liaison office, the North’s military threatened to redeploy troops previously withdrawn from areas near the South Korean border. The North Korean military’s threat on Tuesday signaled that the North would start demolishing the South Korean-built facilities in Kaesong and Diamond Mountain and return the demilitarized areas back to its military, said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior North Korea specialist at the Sejong Institute. Both the Kaesong and Diamond Mountain facilities have been idle for years, shut down amid tensions over the North’s nuclear weapons. “North Korea has concluded that it can no longer expect anything from the Moon Jae-in government,” Cheong said, referring to South Korea’s refusal to reopen the Kaesong and Diamond Mountain projects, which had been important sources of cash for Pyongyang. As the United States election nears, North Korea may switch to provocations more geared toward threatening Washington, like tests of submarine-launched ballistic missiles or even intercontinental ballistic missiles, said Shin Beom-chul, an analyst at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy in Seoul. “Raising tensions with South Korea,” Shin said, “is part of Kim Jong Un’s bigger strategy of pressuring the United States.” (Choe Sang-hun, “Cathartic Boom Signals Trouble in Korean Truce,” New York Times, June 17, 2020, p. A-9)

Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul offered to resign, giving two main reasons. First, he said he should step down to take full responsibility for the deterioration of inter-Korean relations. Second, he said it was his duty, under the current circumstances, to create a change of mood. Kim’s resignation can be seen as expressing Seoul’s hope that North will take a breather. Kim’s decision to submit his resignation was abrupt and unexpected, given South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s typical approach to personnel decisions as well as recent developments. Noh Ung-rae, an influential lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Party, who is now in his fourth term in office, wrote on Facebook that Kim should stay in office. “Dialogue is necessary even during a war, which is not a good time to replace your general. The optics aren’t good, and neither is the timing,” Noh said. Rather than sticking around until his replacement is officially appointed, following hearings in the National Assembly, Kim seems intent on swiftly making his resignation a reality. This represents the last sacrifice he can make as unification minister to prevent inter-Korean relations from deteriorating further. Officials at the Blue House haven’t hinted at the possibility of the president turning down Kim’s resignation. It’s more likely that Moon will move quickly to find a replacement in order to create the “change of mood” that Kim desires. Chances are that the next unification minister will be a leading politician with a knack for getting things done. Even before the recent crisis, there had been much talk about the need for a unification minister with a background in politics, the kind of person who could break out of the stalemate in inter-Korean relations. That’s something that many feel the unification ministers in the initial and middle phases of Moon’s presidency — a career bureaucrat (Cho Myoung-gyon) and an inter-Korean expert (Kim Yeon-chul) — have failed to do. Some of the leading contenders for the position are Lee In-yeong and Woo Sang-ho, both Democratic Party lawmakers who have served as floor leader and who have considerable interest in inter-Korean relations. Another potential candidate is Lim Jong-seok, who was closely involved in the three inter-Korean summits while serving as Moon’s chief of staff. But Lim reportedly prefers working to improve inter-Korean relations in the private sector, rather than in the cabinet. (Lee Je-hun, “Unification Minister Kim Resigns to ring Change to Inter-Korean Relations,” Hankyore, June 18, 2020)

KWP CC United Front Department spokesman’s statement: “The Ministry of Unification of south Korea expressed its “regret” at our plan of scattering leaflets towards the south and clarified its stand of demanding an immediate stop to it on June 20. It made absurd nonsense that the said plan is a clear violation of the agreement between the north and the south. We are so fed up with south Korea that we do not want to make any response nor exchange any coarse words with it, but we cannot but ask it if they do not feel ashamed. Given their own wrongdoings, how dare they utter such words as regret and violation? As for their impudence, no one can rival them in it and they are the top-class brazenfaced guys. It is truly pity to see the south Korean authorities running helter-skelter. We would like to make clear our stand. We, clearly aware that leaflet scattering is the violation of the north-south agreement, do not have any intent to reconsider or change our plan at a time when the north-south relations have already been broken down. Before belatedly touting violation and principle, they should have looked back on who perpetrated first and connived at acts that lighted the fuse of the north-south conflict and who deteriorated the situation to the catastrophe. The whole world already knows about the whole story of “balloon event” which can neither be reversed nor denied. The south Korean authorities must no longer talk about the agreement that has been already reduced to a dead document. We would like to clarify once again that the retaliatory campaign for scattering leaflets towards the south which is being planned as wished by all the Koreans will neither be bound to any agreement and principle nor be put into any consideration. When they are put in our shoes, the south Korean authorities will be able to understand even a bit how disgustedly we looked at them and how offending it was for us.” (KCNA, “Leaflet-Scattering against South Will Not Be Bound by Any Agreement or Principle,” June 21, 2020)

North Korea keeps sending small groups of troops to border sentry posts for bush clearance and road maintenance, a government source said today, amid concerns it could deliver on its threat of military action against South Korea. The North has sent groups of up to five soldiers with shovels and sickles to small stakeout boxes in the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas. But Seoul does not see the move as a step to make good on Pyongyang’s threat of military action, the source said. In anger over propaganda leaflets sent from the South, the North threatened to redeploy troops to the now-shuttered joint industrial complex in its border city of Kaesong and the Mount Kumgang tourist zone on its east coast, and restore border guard posts removed under a 2018 tension-reduction deal. “Guard posts and stakeout boxes are obviously facilities for military utility,” the source said on condition of anonymity. “So it is natural that there are such military movements. But we are keeping close tabs on them.” The military authorities here believe that an activity by at least a platoon-level number of forces could be seen as an unusual sign that requires their particular attention, the source said. The source added that there have not been any activities spotted related to the restoration of the guard posts removed under the two Korea’s Comprehensive Military Agreement, which was signed in September 2018 to build mutual trust and reduce border tensions. The South Korean military is also closely watching two coastal artillery pieces on the North’s border region of Gaemori, as their muzzles appeared open, spawning worries that they could be on standby for use. “But those are things that the North often close and open. There seems to be a possibility that the muzzles were open to remove humidity or for ventilation work,” the source said. Yesterday, North Korean media continued its verbal attacks on South Korean authorities, saying they should feel “heavy responsibility” for the deterioration of cross-border relations. “The South Korean authorities should painstakingly realize what they have committed rather than taking issue with others,” Rodong Sinmun, said in a commentary. It also said that the 2018 inter-Korean agreement was already scrapped a long time ago “due to the South’s act of betrayer.” “What can we hesitate to do when mutual respect and trust has collapsed, and there isn’t anything, for which the North and South are required to sit down face to face?” the paper said. Uriminjokkiri, a propaganda website, took issue with a maritime live-fire defense exercise that South Korea staged on a smaller scale earlier this month. “The South Korean military should keep quiet while fully realizing its sin that has driven the North-South relations into a catastrophe rather than needlessly inviting trouble itself,” it said (Yonhap, “N. Korea Keeps Sending Small Groups of Troops to Border Sentry Posts: Source,” June 21, 2020)

The top nuclear envoys of South Korea and the United States share the gravity of the situation on the Korean Peninsula, amid rising tensions caused by North Korea’s demolition of a joint liaison office and bellicose rhetoric, a diplomatic source said today. Seoul’s chief nuclear negotiator Lee Do-hoon held talks with his U.S. counterpart, Stephen Biegun, on October 18 during his low-key trip to Washington that followed the North’s blowing up of the office in its border city of Kaesong on Tuesday and threats of military action against the South. Lee returned home Saturday but waved away reporters’ questions about his discussions with Biegun. “Yes, it is a self-evident fact that the situation on the peninsula is grave,” the source told Yonhap News Agency, touching on what was talked about during the meeting between Lee and Biegun. The source refused to further comment on the talks, saying, “Let’s wait and see.” Seoul and Washington officials remained low key about the talks between Lee and Biegun, apparently to avoid provoking the North that has berated the South for “servitude and submission” in a swipe at Seoul’s policy coordination with the U.S. In an apparent appeal for China’s role to tackle the North Korean issue, David Stilwell, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said October 18 that North Korea seems to be an “obvious” area of cooperation between Washington and Beijing. “If the U.S. and China can both work together on this, it seems that North Korea would understand the importance and the need to get back to the table and discuss their nuclear program,” he said during a briefing on Wednesday’s meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Yang Jiechi, a politburo member of China’s Communist Party. (Song Sang-ho, “Top Nuke Envoys of S. Korea, U.S., Shares Gravity of Peninsula Situation: Source,” Yonhap, June 21, 2020)

KCNA: “A preliminary meeting for the fifth meeting of the Seventh Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) took place through video conferencing on June 23. Kim Jong Un, chairman of the WPK and chairman of the WPK Central Military Commission, presided over the meeting. Attending the preliminary meeting were Ri Pyong Chol, vice-chairman of the WPK Central Military Commission, and some members of the commission. The meeting examined agenda items of major military policy to be laid before the fifth meeting of the Seventh WPK Central Military Commission, and made a study of a report and decisions, which will be submitted to the fifth meeting, and some documents carrying the state measures for further bolstering the war deterrent of the country. At the preliminary meeting, the WPK Central Military Commission took stock of the prevailing situation and suspended the military action plans against the south brought for the fifth meeting of the Seventh Central Military Commission by the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army.” (KCNA, “Preliminary Meeting for 5th Meeting of 7th WPK Central Military Commission Held,” June 24, 2020)

KWP Central Committee Vice-Chairman Kim Yong Chol’s statement: “As was reported, at the preliminary meeting for the fifth meeting of the Seventh Central Military Commission of the WPK held on June 23, the military action plans against the south referred to the fifth meeting by the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army was put on hold and a measure was taken to suspend some actions against the south which had been on the way. Now is a critical moment when we can foresee the prospects of inter-Korean relations from the south Korean authorities’ future attitude and approach. Taking the advantage of this, the south Korean minister of “Defense,” busied himself to save his face and acted a fool making a bluff. This is very pitiful. Detente of military tension on the Korean Peninsula cannot be expected from the self-restraint and good-faith acts practiced by one side only. It can truly be ensured and guaranteed only by efforts and patience of both sides based on mutual respect and trust. By availing itself of this opportunity, the south Korean military intentionally tried to give impression that it buckled down to propaganda about “alert posture”. On the other hand, it, accentuating its stand to take actions of strongly conflicting military dimension like “thorough-going watch on the north” and “boosting alert posture”, groundlessly let out extremely rattling expressions like “provocation” in reference to our action. At the so-called plenary meeting of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee held in the building of the “National Assembly” on June 24, Defense Minister Jong Kyong Du made such thoughtless statement that our military action plan must be completely “withdrawn”, not just suspended. We cannot but issue a warning against his imprudent behavior. It is too foolish and inappropriate attempt, if he has an idea to convince others that the south’s hard “efforts for crisis control” and “military alert posture” contributed to ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. When the “Defense Ministry” of south Korea practiced indiscreet words and acts similar to the recent ones in the past, we commented that scared dog barks noisier. It has to think and behave wisely if it does not want to see us using those coarse languages when we state our official stand on the south. It may sound threatening, but nothing will turn out favorable when our “suspension” becomes “reconsideration.” The south Korean “Defense Ministry’s” untimely slip of the tongue must not result in greater crisis in the north-south relations. It has to realize that self-control is the “key” to tiding over the crisis.” (KCNA, “South Korean Military Warned against Imprudent Acts,” June 24, 2020)

North Korea was seen removing multiple propaganda loudspeakers reinstalled recently along the border with South Korea, officials said today, after leader Kim Jong Un ordered the suspension of military action plans against the South. The North recently set up around 20 to 30 loudspeakers in border areas after threatening to take military action against what it called “the enemy” in anger over Seoul’s failure to stop defectors from sending anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets across the border. “North Korea is taking down those newly installed loudspeakers from earlier today,” a military source said. Defense Minister Jeong Keyong-doo confirmed that the North removed loudspeakers and said the military is closely monitoring related moves. But he did not provide further details, including how many were set up recently, how many were removed and where they are located. “Regardless of the North Korean moves, we will continue to maintain a firm readiness posture and manage the situation so as to prevent the people from feeling insecure,” Jeong said during a parliamentary judiciary committee session. Jeong urged the North to “completely withdraw” military action plans rather than suspending them. An official of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) also said the authorities are on high alert, as the suspension decision was made during the “preliminary” meeting. “We still see more (North Korean) troops around its border sentry posts than before,” he added. “But no unusual movements are detected which indicate North Korea is to put its earlier threats into practice.” (Oh Seok-min, “N. Korea Seen Removing Loudspeakers from Border Areas: Officials,” Yonhap, June 24, 2020)

North Korea’s propaganda outlets have withdrawn articles critical of South Korea en masse after state media reported on leader Kim Jong Un’s decision to suspend “military action plans” against the South. North Korea’s propaganda outlets, including DPRK Today and Meari, have taken down more than a dozen stories slamming South Korea over the leafleting issue hours after they were uploaded on their websites. In particular, DPRK Today ran six articles critical of South Korea earlier in the day, but they cannot be found as of now. Meari, another propaganda website, also appeared to have withdrawn all articles critical of South Korea that it posted earlier. Seoul’s unification ministry later confirmed that the websites have withdrawn those stories. Along with those propaganda websites, North Korea’s official media outlets such as the Rodong Sinmun, the organ of the ruling party, and the Minju Joson, the paper of the North’s cabinet, also did not carry any reports criticizing South Korea today. (Yonhap, “N.K. Propaganda Outlets Delete Articles Critical of S. Korea En Masse,” June 24, 2020)

Japan has conveyed to the United States its objection to President Donald Trump’s idea of adding South Korea to the Group of Seven summit, saying Seoul is not in lockstep with G-7 members on China and North Korean issues, diplomatic sources said Saturday. The message was conveyed by a high-level Japanese government official immediately after Trump on May 30 broached the idea of inviting Australia, India, Russia and South Korea to this year’s summit that he will preside over. The U.S. government told the official that Trump would make a final decision on the issue, the sources said. The revelation that Japan has expressed opposition to South Korea’s participation is likely to upset Seoul, which has welcomed Trump’s offer. It could further sour Tokyo-Seoul ties, already overshadowed by disputes over wartime history and other issues. For Japan, South Korea’s inclusion would mean losing its status as the sole Asian member of the G-7, which also brings together Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United States plus the European Union. Trump has suggested that he wants to expand the G-7 because he believes the current membership does not properly represent the global situation and is “very outdated.” Trump was also quoted as telling South Korean President Moon Jae In during phone talks earlier in June that he may also invite Brazil, with the expanded group to be called either the “G-11” or “G-12,” according to the South Korean presidential office. According to the sources, the high-level Japanese official pointed to the Moon administration’s perceived pro-China policy as problematic, apparently with the Trump administration’s current confrontational approach to China in mind. The Moon administration has also striven to boost inter-Korean relations. The Trump administration has not budged from its stance of maintaining sanctions on Pyongyang during talks to denuclearize North Korea, which have been stalled for months. According to the sources, the Japanese government has refrained from publicly expressing its opposition to South Korea’s participation, thinking that the G-7 expansion proposal may be just “a thought” of Trump that could fizzle out. (Kyodo, “Japan Conveys Objection to Trump’s Plan to Add South Korea to G-7,” June 28, 2020)

Trump administration officials are hard pressed to find signals of interest from Pyongyang in resuming talks. But they are anticipating the possibility of an “October surprise” before the November 3 election. They aren’t sure if this would be an olive branch from Kim to resume talks or fireworks in the form of an atomic test or missile launch. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s thinking on a sensitive diplomatic matter. The officials note, however, that despite the North’s harsh rhetoric, Kim has not taken any irreversible steps, potentially leaving the door open, if only slightly, to renewed discussions. Experts aren’t ruling out the possibility of a small agreement that Kim and Trump could sign, which could burnish Kim’s image at home and give Trump a foreign policy win before the election. “There was some discussion among the Korea watchers where President Trump and Kim Jong Un will go for a last-minute, eleventh-hour deal — an October surprise — where North Korea agrees to partly freeze its weapons of mass destruction programs for partial sanctions relief,” said Sue Mi Terry, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who formerly worked at the CIA and National Security Council. She noted Kim said this year that he would freeze or reduce the nuclear program if his conditions are met. “I’m wondering if he’s trying to go for the last possible minute deal with President Trump,” she said. Trump’s likely Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, says Trump’s meetings with Kim have only provided legitimacy to the North Korean leader. “After three made-for-TV summits, we still don’t have a single concrete commitment from North Korea. Not one missile or nuclear weapon has been destroyed, not one inspector is on the ground,” Biden wrote in response to a question posed by the Council on Foreign Relations. “If anything, the situation has gotten worse. North Korea has more capability today than when Trump began his ‘love affair’ with Kim Jong Un, a murderous tyrant who, thanks to Trump, is no longer an isolated pariah on the world stage,” Biden said. Intaek Han, research fellow at Jeju Peace Institute, a top foreign policy think tank in South Korea, notes that throughout the latest provocations from the North, there have been no territorial incursions, no lives lost and no indication that things would escalate into a military conflict. He also points out that Trump himself has not been the target of the North’s recent hostile rhetoric. “North Korea isn’t criticizing Mr. Trump, or the United States this time,” he said. “So despite all these provocations. I think that relations between Chairman Kim and Mr. Trump, more or less, remain intact and quite possibly, relations between Chairman Kim and Mr. Moon (South Korean President Moon Jae-in) may be still OK,” he said. Still, some see the risk that Kim, who is hard-pressed to improve his country’s deteriorating economy, could soon take more provocative actions. Frank Aum at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington said Pyongyang could conduct short- to medium-range missile tests, launch satellite, expand nuclear or missile facilities or conduct cyberattacks against the United States and South Korea. “All of this said, it’s not likely that North Korea will resort to a major provocation, such as a nuclear or ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) test, in the near future,” he said. (Deb Riechmann, “Beyond Love, Trump Has Little to Show from N. Korea Talks,” Associated Press, June 29, 2020)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in emphasized the need for a third North Korea-US summit prior to the US presidential election this November. Moon made the remarks in a virtual summit with EU Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that was hosted by the Blue House today. A senior official at the Blue House said on July 1 that Moon had expressed his “firm determination not to allow the regression of the progress in inter-Korean relations that has been achieved with such difficulty” and said that “South Korea hopes there will be one more push for dialogue between North Korea and the US before the presidential election [in November].” When asked whether South Korean officials had exchanged opinions with North Korea or the US prior to Moon’s remarks, the Blue House official said, “The Blue House and the White House National Security Offices have been communicating closely since [North Korea’s] demolition of the Inter-Korean Joint Liaison Office in Kaesong [on June 16]. The president’s opinions have already been communicated to the US, and the Americans share his feelings and are currently working on that.” Moon Chung-in, Moon Jae-in’s special advisor for unification, foreign affairs, and national security, raised some interesting possibilities yesterday. “The Americans seem to think that, if they can reach a breakthrough through improving relations with North Korea before the election [in November], it will work to their advantage in dealing with China. There seem to be some encouraging developments [in the US],” he said. Moon Jae-in’s expression of the need for a third North Korea-US summit is thought to reflect his determination to speed up efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, which have been delayed as Moon simultaneously tried to handle inter-Korean relations and North Korea-US relations. “A meeting between North Korea and the US is the critical first step in dealing with the issues of the North Korean nuclear program and economic sanctions on the North. We don’t see that as being separate from inter-Korean dialogue,” the Blue House official said. (Seong Yeon-cheol, “Moon Stresses Need for 3rd U.S.-N. Korea Summit,” Hankyore, July 2, 2020)

KCNA: “The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) held an enlarged meeting in the office building of the Central Committee of the WPK on Thursday to discuss the immediate work and the important policy issues of the Party and the state. Kim Jong Un, chairman of the WPK, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and supreme commander of the armed forces of the DPRK, was present in the meeting. Attending the meeting were members and alternate members of the Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK. Present there as observers were officials of the WPK Central Committee, officials of the Cabinet, ministries and national institutions, chairmen of provincial party committees, chairpersons of provincial people’s committees, commanding officers of the armed forces organs, members of the Central Emergency Anti-epidemic Headquarters, and officials of the construction field. Upon authorization of the Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK, Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un presided over the meeting and made important conclusions. At the meeting, as the first agenda item they reviewed the work of the past 6 months for preventing the malignant contagious disease and discussed an issue on further consolidating the present anti-epidemic situation by enhancing the state emergency anti-epidemic work. The Supreme Leader referred to the objective and purport of our Party discussing again the state emergency anti-epidemic issue at the meeting. After analyzing in detail the 6 month-long national emergency anti-epidemic work, he said we have thoroughly prevented the inroads of the malignant virus and maintained stable anti-epidemic situation despite the worldwide health crisis, which is a shining success achieved by the far-sighted leadership of the Party Central Committee and a high sense of voluntary spirit displayed by all people who move as one on orders of the Party Central Committee. He added we should value such success in the anti-epidemic work and continuously consolidate it to fully ensure the security of the state and well-being of the people. He stressed the need to maintain maximum alert without a slight self-complacence or relaxation on the anti-epidemic front, and rearrange and practice stricter anti-epidemic effort under the prevailing situation in which the trend of re-infection and re-expansion of the malignant contagious disease persists in neighboring countries and areas around our country and there is no certain prospect for relieving the danger of the pandemic. The Supreme Leader made sharp criticism of inattention, onlooking and chronic attitude getting prevalent among officials, and violation of the rules of the emergency anti-epidemic work as this work takes on a protracted character. He repeatedly warned that hasty relief of anti-epidemic measures will result in unimaginable and irretrievable crisis, stressing that all the sectors and units should further strengthen the emergency anti-epidemic work till the danger of pandemic incoming is completely rid of while not feeling self-complacency over the current good situation of the anti-epidemic work as to ease the strain. At the meeting a report on the state emergency anti-epidemic work done for 6 months was heard and speeches made. The report and speeches deeply analyzed and reviewed the problems revealed in the state emergency anti-epidemic work from a critical viewpoint in the first half of the year and took more meticulous and substantial measures to conduct effective organizational and political work for thoroughly observing the emergency anti-epidemic measures and strictly maintaining the emergency anti-epidemic system with the disease causing losses worldwide. Discussed as the second agenda item at the meeting was an issue of hastening the building of the Pyongyang General Hospital and taking measures to ensure human, material and technological support for medical service. Kim Jong Un expressed satisfaction with the construction making steady progress as planned despite the difficult and unfavorable conditions, thanks to the extraordinary mental power and dedicated efforts of the builders. Kim Jong Un made sure powerful national measures were taken for urgently solving the problems arising to brilliantly complete the hospital which would provide the people with the most advanced medical service, to be of the world standard, and set forth detailed tasks before the sectors in charge of construction, material supply and preparations for operation. The first and second agenda items were adopted with full approval after a draft decision on them was studied at the meeting. Also studied at the meeting were important issues related to the external affairs of the Party and other matters.” (KCNA, “Supreme Leader Guides 14th Enlarged Meeting of Political Bureau of 7th Central Committee of WPK,” July 3, 2020)

President Moon Jae-in nominated Lee In-young, a four-term ruling party lawmaker, as South Korea’s new unification minister Friday in a shake-up of his security team aimed at providing fresh momentum to troubled efforts to improve inter-Korean ties and revitalize the peace process. Moon also tapped Suh Hoon, head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), as new director of national security. Lee, known for brisk involvement in peace-related activities as a lawmaker with the Democratic Party, is to succeed Kim Yeon-chul, who resigned days after North Korea’s June 16 demolition of a joint liaison office in its border city of Kaesong. Pyongyang also cut cross-border communications, ostensibly in anger over anti-Pyongyang leaflets sent from the South. Kim said he was taking responsibility for the great strain in inter-Korean relations. Lee, who served as the party’s floor leader until recently, told reporters that he has accepted Moon’s offer of the position with “a sense of urgency that (we) should again open the door of peace before it’s closed.” He emphasized the need to resume dialogue between the two Koreas and implement their existing accords. Suh is replacing Chung Eui-yong as director of national security at Cheong Wa Dae. Chung’s departure was widely expected, as he has served at the post since the launch of the Moon administration three years ago. Chung, in particular, has worked as Cheong Wa Dae’s point man on the White House for consultations on North Korea and major alliance issues. Moon’s pick of Suh as his top security adviser is seen by some observers as heralding a shift in his approach in the tumultuous peace drive. Suh has expertise on the North Korea issue and reportedly has a relatively wide network of personal ties with officials in the communist neighbor. Suh pointed out that he is assuming the job at a “grave time both internally and externally.” “We will respond prudently to the current situation on the Korean Peninsula but will also prepare to move boldly sometimes,” he said in a statement shortly after Cheong Wa Dae’s announcement. “It’s very important to continuously secure the international community’s support for our external and North Korea policy,” he added. He noted that the Moon administration’s goal is to “systemically establish” peace on the peninsula and that it would make ceaseless efforts to achieve complete denuclearization. “I won’t neglect communication with neighboring countries,” he said. “Especially, I will communicate and cooperate more closely with the United States, which is our ally.” The president also picked another political heavyweight — former lawmaker Park Jie-won — to lead the NIS. Park was chief presidential secretary to late President Kim Dae-jung, who had a historic summit in 2000 with the North’s then leader Kim Jong-il. Park was defeated in the April 15 parliamentary elections as a member of the minor opposition Party for People’s Livelihoods. Moon, meanwhile, has decided to appoint Chung and Lim Jong-suk, former presidential chief of staff, as special advisers for diplomatic and security affairs, according to Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kang Min-seok. (Lee Chi-dong, “Four-Term Ruling Party Lawmaker Appointed Unification Minister, NIS Chief Named National Security Adviser,” Yonhap, July 3, 2020)

First Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son Hui’s statement: “Words “DPRK-U.S. summit” which have become dim even in our memory has become a topic for conversation from some days ago, drawing the attention of the international community. There is a person who thoughtlessly voices an intention to mediate the summit, utterly regardless of what we, the dialogue party, would think of it, and there is rumor that the U.S. ruling quarters admits the need to hold DPRK-U.S. summit before the U.S. presidential election. There are even some dreamers hoping to leverage our denuclearization measures for conditional lift of sanctions, while raising hope for “October surprise.” Now is a very sensitive time when even the slightest misjudgment and misstep would incur fatal and irrevocable consequences. We cannot but be shocked at the story about the summit indifferent to the present situation of the DPRK-U.S. relations. Is it possible to hold dialogue or have any dealings with the U.S. which persists in the hostile policy toward the DPRK in disregard of the agreements already made at the past summit? It is clear to us, even without meeting, with what shallow trick the U.S. will approach us as it has neither intention nor will to go back to the drawing board. The U.S. is mistaken if it thinks things like negotiations would still work on us. We have already worked out detailed strategic timetable for putting under control the long-term threat from the U.S. There will never be any adjustment and change in our policy, conditional on external parameters like internal political schedule of someone. Long talk is not necessary. We do not feel any need to sit face to face with the U.S., as it does not consider the DPRK-U.S. dialogue as nothing more than a tool for grappling with its political crisis.” KCNA, “ Statement of First Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of DPRK,” July 4, 2020)

North Korea feels no need to meet with the United States for talks, a top diplomat of the communist nation said today, accusing Washington of taking advantage of dialogue between the two countries only as “a tool for grappling its political crisis.” First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui made the remark as talk of another summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un gained traction recently after President Moon Jae-in said he would push for such a meeting to happen before November’s U.S. presidential election. Former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton also said Trump could meet with Kim if he believes a summit would help his reelection chances. Such a meeting could happen as an “October surprise” just before the election, he said. (Choi Kyung-ae, “N. Korea It Feels No Need to ‘Sit Face-to-Face with U.S.’,” Yonhap, July 4, 2020)

On New Year’s Day, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, called for a “frontal breakthrough to foil the enemies’ sanctions.” The strategy meant finding new sources of income, legal or illegal, and mainly from China. Sending North Korean workers to China. Bringing more tourists from there. Smuggling banned cargo, like coal or oil, across the border at night or between ships on high seas. But there was one thing Kim did not foresee: the coronavirus. Barely three weeks after Kim unveiled his New Year’s resolution, North Korea shut down its border with China to protect itself against the emerging outbreak in the city of Wuhan. It was no ordinary border closure. China accounted for 95 percent of the North’s trade. Consumer goods, raw materials, fuel and machine parts smuggled into the North across their 870-mile border kept North Korean markets and factories sputtering along, despite United Nations sanctions designed to curb the Kim regime’s nuclear ambitions. With the border sealed, the North’s official exports to China, already hobbled by the sanctions, have crashed even further. In March, they were worth just $610,000, according to Chinese customs data — down 96 percent from a year earlier. The North’s newly opened ski and spa resorts are empty of Chinese tourists, and its smuggling ships sit idle in their ports. The virus has isolated the North Korean economy as no sanctions could. It has devastated the regime’s ability to bring in money through legal and illegal trade, leaving it scrambling to protect the country’s diminishing foreign currency reserves. The pandemic could hardly have come at a worse time for Kim, whose attempts to win sanctions relief in talks with President Trump have been fruitless. North Korea’s recent acts of hostility toward South Korea, including the destruction of the inter-Korean liaison office in the North, have been seen in part as acts of economic desperation. “If you peel North Korea’s problem like an onion, at the core is its economy, and its economic trouble comes down to whether it can lift sanctions,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. Kim has tried to boost the economy with domestic reforms, aimed at creating a “socialist system of responsible business operation.” Factories and collective farms were given more incentives to increase productivity, including the right to keep surpluses. Kim also ramped up exports of coal, iron ore, textiles and seafood to China, achieving economic growth of 3.9 percent in 2016, the highest since the late 1990s, according to South Korea’s central bank. But the North also rapidly expanded its weapons programs, testing three intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2017, as well as what it said was a hydrogen bomb. In response, the United Nations Security Council tightened the noose around the North’s economy by banning all of its major exports. The economy shrank by 3.5 percent in 2017. It contracted by 4.1 percent the following year, with its exports to China plummeting 86 percent. The Security Council had required China, Russia and other countries to expel all North Korean workers by December, which threatened to deprive the North of another key source of income, estimated at $500 million to $1 billion a year. But Kim’s hopes of easing the sanctions ended when the Vietnam talks collapsed. In his grim New Year’s message, Kim seemed determined to slog through the sanctions, asking North Koreans to prepare to “tighten our belts” again. He also vowed to boost his nuclear weapons program further, hoping that a more advanced nuclear arsenal would give him more leverage with Trump or his successor. He threatened to end his moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests, warning that the world would soon witness his “new strategic weapon.” State-run television echoed that sentiment later in January, in a broadcast about Kim’s brief meeting with Trump last summer on the inter-Korean border. “We don’t intend to sell our pride and national power for some spectacular economic transformation,” Kim was quoted as telling Trump, after the American leader promised the North a better economic future if it gave up its nuclear weapons first. At the time, Kim had reason to be so defiant. After hitting bottom in 2018, his country’s trade with China grew 15 percent last year, according to data compiled by the Korea International Trade Association. It exported practically anything not banned by United Nations sanctions: cheap watches assembled with Chinese components; artificial eyelashes; wigs, mannequins, soccer balls and tungsten. China also sent more tourists to the North after Kim’s third summit meeting with its leader, Xi Jinping, in June 2018. Tourism was one North Korean industry that had not been affected by the sanctions, and Kim has been busy building massive new resort towns. The North also continued to circumvent the sanctions. Last year, it exported $370 million worth of coal in illicit ship-to-ship transfers to Chinese barges, according to the United Nations. And despite the ban on work permits for North Koreans, China allowed many to be employed on short-term tourist or student visas, according to analysts and news reports in South Korea. But the trade imbalance with China created its own concerns. Even as the sanctions hit the North’s exports hard, the country continued to buy cooking oil, flour, sugar and other consumer goods, as well as construction materials, from China. The imports were needed to keep its industries going, as well as the unofficial markets that have helped many people to survive, as the North’s food rationing system fails to meet the population’s needs. Since 2017, North Korea has reported a trade deficit of more than $2 billion every year. In comparison, the North’s total exports last year were $260 million. “The clock is ticking and the bomb could explode any time,” Kim Byung-yeon, a Seoul National University economist, wrote in December, predicting that the North’s foreign currency reserves would shrink by $1 billion a year, leading inexorably to a crisis. North Korea has tried to replenish its coffers with revenues from illegal smuggling and cybertheft, as well as “loyalty donations” from what are known as donju — tradespeople with political connections, who have hoarded foreign currency obtained through smuggling and other enterprises. Kim’s government also runs shops in Pyongyang, the capital, where the moneyed class spends foreign currency on imported goods. And it has profited by selling Chinese smartphones to an estimated six million cellphone subscribers in the country. “The debate has been about how quickly or slowly the North’s foreign currency would diminish,” Go said. “But there is no doubt now that Covid-19 has accelerated the speed.” Recently, signs have emerged of growing stress on the North’s economy, especially its foreign currency reserves. The government recently issued public bonds for the first time in 17 years, reported Daily NK. Kim tested the elites’ loyalty by asking them to buy bonds with foreign currency, it said. The authorities have also cracked down harder on the use of foreign currency in markets in an effort to shore up the won, the local currency, said Ishimaru Jiro, a chief editor at Asia Press International in Japan, who has monitored the North Korean economy for years with the help of correspondents there. To save on foreign currency, Kim has encouraged his people to produce more goods at home, like snacks, cosmetics and beverages. But Covid-19 has hit those sectors as well, because they depended on Chinese raw materials to produce the goods. “Kim Jong-un thought he could survive with tourism revenues, smuggling and Chinese help, but his plans have crumbled because of the coronavirus,” said Ishimaru. “If the virus has taught him anything, it is how dependent his economy is on China.” (Choe Sang-hun, “Sanctions Hurt North Korea. The Virus Crippled It,” New York Times, July 5, 2020, p. 9)

DPRK FoMin Department of U.S. Affairs Director General Kwon Jong Gun’s statement: “Our first vice-foreign minister recently made clear her stand in a statement over untimely ‘rumor about a DPRK-U.S. summit.’ The statement also mentioned the meddlesome man who had again indicated his intention to arbitrate between the DPRK and the U.S. regardless of time. Our stand was as clear as day to be easily understood by the south using the same language as us. Nevertheless, such nonsensical talks that there was no change in their efforts to mediate a DPRK-U.S. summit are ceaselessly heard from the south. They seem to have a bad ear or are guided by the habit of always talking in their own favor. To top it all, some people make self-centered interpretation of our first vice-foreign minister’s statement that it is ‘a message urging the U.S. to act’ and ‘a kind of asking for more concession.’ Irony is that the south, which fails to manage its own business, came out to offer “a helping hand” allegedly to solve the DPRK-U.S. relations which are getting more and more complicated. It is just the time for it to stop meddling in other’s affairs but it seems there is no cure or prescription for its bad habit. The inter-Korean relations are bound to go further bankrupt as they only talk nonsense, unaware of the time. We feel sorry to see it trying so hard to become the “mediator” but it may try as much as it wants if it cherishes so strong wish to try it to the end. Time will show whether its efforts will succeed or it will only suffer a loss and ridicule. Explicitly speaking once again, we have no intention to sit face to face with U.S.” (KCNA, “Director General of Department of U.S. Affairs of DPRK Foreign Ministry Issues Statement,” July 7, 2020)

President Donald Trump said that he is open to holding another summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, despite Pyongyang’s repeated claims that it has no intention to hold talks with the U.S., according to news reports. “I understand they want to meet and we would certainly do that,” Trump said in an interview with Gray Television’s Greta Van Susteren today (Washington time), according to Voice of America and other news reports. “I would do it if I thought it was going to be helpful,” Trump was quoted as saying. Asked if he thinks such a meeting would be helpful, Trump said, “Probably. I have a very good relationship with him, (so it) probably would be.” During the interview, the VOA said that Trump repeatedly emphasized his close relations with the North Korean leader and played up his achievement in diplomacy that he claims to have helped ease tensions around the Korean Peninsula. “I get along, we talk, and let’s see what happens. But we’ve done a great job and haven’t been given the credit we deserve,” Trump said. With regard to speculation on the North’s continued nuclear weapons activity, Trump noted that Pyongyang has no “delivery” system at this point, apparently referring to an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. with a nuclear warhead. “Well, we’ll have to see. There’s no delivery … Not yet. And at some point there might be. And we’ll have to have very serious discussions and thought about that, because there could be some time when something’s going to happen,” he said. (Yonhap, “Trump Says He Is Open to Another Summit with N.K. Leader: Reports,” July 8, 2020)

The United States “strongly” supports cooperation between South and North Korea, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said today, calling it an “important component” in fostering stability on the Korean Peninsula. Biegun also underscored America’s pledge to be “fully engaged” in efforts to promote peace and its “ironclad” security commitment to the South while reiterating an appeal for dialogue with the recalcitrant North. The U.S. envoy made these remarks after back-to-back talks with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young and Seoul’s top nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon. “The United States strongly supports inter-Korean cooperation, and we believe this plays an important component in creating a more stable environment on the Korean Peninsula,” Biegun told reporters after talks with Lee. “We look forward to fully supporting the government of the Republic of Korea as it advances its goals with North Korea in inter-Korean cooperation,” he added. Biegun’s remarks came amid speculation that Washington may be uneasy about Seoul’s eagerness for inter-Korean cooperation projects amid the absence of substantive progress in the efforts to denuclearize the North. At the same press meeting, Seoul’s nuclear envoy, Lee, stressed that Biegun had reaffirmed the U.S.’ “flexible” position. “Representative Biegun reaffirmed that the U.S. has a flexible position with an eye to reaching a balanced agreement when dialogue with the North resumes, and pledged to continue related efforts,” Lee said. The U.S. envoy used the press availability to highlight Washington’s “ironclad” security commitment to the South. His trip here followed a rise in tensions caused by North Korea’s recent demolition of an inter-Korean liaison office, bellicose threats and rhetoric, as well as speculation that the U.S. may try to cut troop levels in South Korea over defense cost negotiations. “I want to assure all who have any questions about this: U.S. commitment is ironclad for the defense of the Korean Peninsula,” Biegun told reporters after talks with Vice Foreign Minister Cho. “We continue that strong commitment. Our United States military, (and) our United States government are fully in partnership of the alliance of Korea, and it’s a great pleasure to reaffirm today in my meetings with Vice Minster Cho,” he added. Biegun also took a swipe at North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui and former hawkish U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton while apparently alluding to their remarks against engagement between Washington and Pyongyang. “Both are locked in an old way of thinking, focused on only the negatives and what is impossible, rather than thinking creatively about what is possible,” Biegun said. In addition, Biegun reiterated that the U.S. is ready to resume negotiations with the North at any time. “When Chairman Kim appoints a counterpart to me who is prepared and empowered to negotiate on these issues, they will find us ready at that very moment. Dialogue can lead to action, but action is impossible without dialogue,” Biegun said. “We look forward to continuing our work for a peaceful outcome on the Korean Peninsula. I believe this is very much possible. President Trump has given us his full support to continue this effort,” he added. The U.S. diplomat also said that he did not request a visit with North Korea during his trip here this time, stressing the purpose of his visit was to “meet with our close friends and allies.” (Song Sang-ho, “Biegun Says U.S. ‘Strongly’ Supports Inter-Korean Cooperation,” July 8, 2020)

New satellite images obtained by CNN show recent activity at a previously undeclared North Korean facility that researchers suspect is being used to build nuclear warheads. The imagery, captured by Planet Labs and analyzed by experts at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, indicates that the facility, which is in the village of Wollo-ri near Pyongyang and has not been previously disclosed to the public, is believed to be linked to North Korea’s nuclear program and remains active. “It has all the signatures of a North Korean nuclear facility — security perimeter, on-site housing, monuments to unpublicized leadership visits, and an underground facility. And it sits right next to a bottled water factory that has none of those characteristics,” Jeffrey Lewis, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies told CNN prior to publishing his own report. “The big thing that sticks out is all the vehicle traffic — cars, trucks, shipping containers. This factory is very active. That activity has not slowed down — not during negotiations and not now. It’s still making nuclear weapons,” he told CNN. While the facility was identified in 2015 by researchers at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Lewis and his fellow researchers previously chose not to publicize the facility because they could not identify its specific role within North Korea’s nuclear program. However, the publication of the site’s name and function in a forthcoming book written by Ankit Panda, a North Korea expert who works for the Federation of American Scientists, makes its location a matter of public interest, they told CNN. In his book, titled “Kim Jong Un and the Bomb,” Panda writes that the facility is thought to be primarily associated with manufacturing warheads and could also serve as a storage location for those weapons should North Korean leader Kim Jong Un need to disperse his stockpile “for better responsiveness in a crisis,” according to passages obtained by CNN. “We’d been looking at this site for a long time and knew it was associated with the nuclear program. When Ankit Panda asked me if we knew about a site near someplace called Wollo-ri that was involved in making nuclear weapons, it all clicked,” Lewis said. Meanwhile, recent satellite imagery suggests North Korea continues to actively build up its nuclear weapons stockpile at sites like Wollo-ri, which “has a number of signatures suggesting that it has a role in the DPRK’s nuclear program,” experts told CNN. “The site is distinguished by a strong security perimeter and what appears to be several high-rise residential buildings on site (next to a tree-lined pond),” Lewis and fellow researchers Catherine Dill, David Laboon and David Schmerler said. “North Korea tends to emphasize the construction of better housing as a perk for scientists and technicians involved in the nuclear and missile programs. Placing that housing on site and within a security perimeter separates the personnel at the facility from the neighboring community,” experts added. “Moreover, although there are monuments at the Wollo-ri site that indicate leadership visits, we find no state media reports on any such visits. These are all characteristics of other DPRK nuclear facilities.” Additionally, the site appears to contain an underground facility, according to satellite images, though experts acknowledge it is difficult to assess how extensive that facility is. “The site itself is set against a hillside substantial enough to accommodate an underground facility (see figure below) and is extensively terraced. A number of buildings could serve as entrances to such a facility,” Lewis and his team write. Satellite photos also reveal consistent vehicle movement at the site, indicating it remains active and has a continuing role in North Korea’s nuclear development, according to analysts from the Middlebury Institute. “Vehicle traffic at the site suggests that manufacturing at Wollo-ri continued during the summit process that stretched from the meeting in Singapore in June 2018 to the June 2019 meeting between Trump and Kim in the DMZ,” they said. “Recent satellite images show that vehicle traffic continues, suggesting that the DPRK continues to manufacture nuclear warheads or their components,” the experts added. (Zachary Cohen, “New Satellite Imagery Shows Activity at Suspected North Korean Nuclear Facility,” CNN, July 8, 2020)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said today that the United States is “very hopeful” about continuing dialogue with North Korea, including another summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un if appropriate. Pompeo made the remark shortly after his deputy and top U.S. envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, departed Seoul following meetings with South Korean officials on the nuclear impasse with the North. “We continue to work to establish dialogue and have substantive conversations about how we might deliver this really good outcome, this outcome of delivering peace and stability to the entire peninsula,” Pompeo said in a teleconference with reporters in response to a question posed by Yonhap News Agency. “We’re very hopeful that we can continue to have this conversation, whether that’s at levels beneath the summit, or if it’s appropriate and there is a useful activity to take place, to have senior leaders get back together as well,” he said. “As for who and how and timing, I just don’t want to talk about that today.” Pompeo asserted that the Trump administration has been serious in its engagements with the North Korean regime. “I don’t want to comment on the ongoing conversations that we are having with our counterparty, but I think it’s worth noting, with respect to North Korea, the Trump administration has taken an approach of engagement to have serious conversations about the strategic threat that North Korea presents to not only its near neighbors, like South Korea and China, but more broadly than that, certainly throughout the region,” he said. “So we took seriously this obligation to reduce proliferation and to try and convince the North Koreans to make the fundamental shift that says that those weapon systems actually create risk for it rather than creating the security blanket that they have historically believed that it did,” he added. (Lee Haye-ah, “Pompeo Doesn’t Rule out Another U.S.-N. Korea Summit,” Yonhap, July 9, 2020)

KWP Central Committee first vice department director Kim Yo Jong’s press statement: “During these days, I have been hearing through the news media a spate of strange signal being transmitted by the Americans with regard to the DPRK. It was good enough for me to kill breakfast time by watching the TV news about the changes of the Americans’ mind-set who went the length of indicating signals of the possibility of the DPRK-U.S. summit talks. It is still my personal opinion; however, I doubt that things like the DPRK-U.S. summit talks would happen this year. But I’m still questioning it. That’s because a surprise thing may still happen, depending upon the judgement and decision between the two top leaders. What is clear, though, is that if the DPRK-U.S. summit talks is needed as someone says it would be needed by the U.S. side, but there should be a telling on the part of the DPRK to fathom it over the fact that it is unpractical and does not serve us at all. Let me assume that the DPRK-U.S. summit talks does occur. The thing is that, in this case, the U.S. would have a sigh of relief by means of dialogue alone with our leadership, buying time to be assured by the personal relations between the top leaders again. But, we have nothing to gain from a negotiation with the U.S., and we do not even harbor any expectation about it. Serious contradiction and unsolvable discord exist between the DPRK and the U.S. Under such circumstances, I am of the view that the DPRK-U.S. summit talks is not needed this year and beyond, and for our part, it is not beneficial to us unless the U.S. shows decisive change in its stand. Moreover, I think that we should not accept an offer of the summit talks this year, no matter how badly the U.S. wants it, far from talking about its possibility. Three reasons behind can be summarized as follows. First, the summit talks, if needed, they will only be needed for the U.S. and they will be unprofitable to us. Second, we will only end up losing time again even though we sit across with the U.S. which does not even have the courage to dare a new challenge, and it would only entail a risk of impairing the special relations that have been maintained between the top leaders. Third, it should not be accepted because it was foretold by Bolton who is a human scum. What the U.S. actually needs right now is not a summit talks nor its result. Its purpose is to buy time by calming us down and tying us down so as to prevent political disasters in the relations with the DPRK while taking advantage of the friendly relations between the top leaders. And assuming that we hold the summit talks now, it is too obvious that it will only be used as boring boasting coming from someone’s pride. The U.S. may still worry about receiving a Christmas gift on the eve of the presidential elections, which it hasn’t received so far. I consider that it totally depends on how the U.S. behaves itself whether or not it will bump into such a troublesome problem and undergo the pain and suffering. If it spits out ill-disposed words here and there whenever they feel like doing so from boredom and only clings to useless things such as economic pressure or military threats towards us, we will have to wait and see what happens. I don’t have any information about such actions, but, to me, it is evident that our leadership will not remain an idle onlooker of various kinds of dangerous and threatening speeches and behaviors of the U.S. towards us. However, when we are faced with the fact that nothing had happened which the U.S. extremely dreads like now, it makes me think that the unique friendly relations between our Comrade Chairman and the U.S. President are greatly paying off. If the U.S. carelessly embarks, out of anxiety and fret, on a dangerous action at this time that will invoke our strong reaction, it is evident that it will be tantamount to waking up a sleeping tiger and that the results won’t be interesting. We should have a proper insight into the ulterior motive of the U.S. behind knocking the tables of the working-level negotiations and summit talks these days. The U.S. only wishes to buy time, keeping the door open to dialogue and calming us down. I also have the feeling that the U.S. may have a dark design to return to at least something like the Hanoi negotiation conditions. At this point of time, when we look back on the early 2019, the U.S., had the possibility to first disable our nuclear mainstay and mess up our long-term nuclear program by putting on airs of partially lifting sanctions. It was a time when we were making a great venture at all risks to break the chains of sanctions and promote our people’s livelihood at the earliest time possible, despite the fact that the bargaining terms were not in our favor. When the DPRK-U.S. summit talks was held in Panmunjom on June 30, 2019, Comrade Chairman defined his clear position to the U.S. President, who preached north Korea’s bright economic prospects and economic aid and asked for further denuclearization measures as a prerequisite, that we shall never barter our system, the safety and future of our people for the likes of lifting of sanctions of no guarantee in the hope for the glamourous transformation and the realization of our dreams of rapid economic prosperity. He also made it clear that the sufferings imposed upon us by the U.S. have now turned into the hatred for the U.S., and this hatred would drive us to break through the blockade of persistent sanctions led by the U.S. and to live our own way by our own efforts. From that time on, we completely ruled out the issue of lifting sanctions from the agenda of negotiations with the U.S. I believe that the previous theme of the DPRK-U.S. negotiations, that is, “denuclearization measures versus lifting of sanctions” should be changed into a formula of “withdrawal of hostility versus resumption of DPRK-U.S. negotiations.” We are fully capable of living under any sanctions, so there is no reason for us to be driven by the U.S. I hope that the U.S., at this moment in time, does not harbor such a pipedream as trying to restrike a bargain which was put on the negotiations table at the Hanoi summit talks, which entails the partial lifting of sanctions versus the permanent dismantlement of large-scale nuclear facilities like the ones in Yongbyon, the central nerve of our nuclear development. The personal feelings of Comrade Chairman towards President Trump is undoubtedly good and solid, but our government should not adjust its tactics on the U.S. and our nuclear program depending upon the relations with the U.S. President. We have to deal with President Trump and the succeeding U.S. administration, and the U.S. at large. The recent remarks of the U.S. high-ranking officials alone indicate us what we should do in the future regardless of the relations with the President. The U.S. State Department expressed the intention of dialogue, and even the President indicated the possibility of the DPRK-U.S. summit talks while repeatedly mentioning about the good relations with our Leadership. But the U.S. Defense Secretary has yet again uttered about the so-called “CVID” and didn’t refrain from making hostile remarks of labelling my country as a “rogue state”. I feel reluctant to comment if such discord between the U.S. President and his subordinates is an intentional scheme or a result of the President’s loose grip of power. No matter how good the relations between the top leaders of the DPRK and the U.S. are, the U.S. is bound to negate and be hostile to us. It is high time that we stay alert and allow no single mistake to be made, being only inclined to the personal relations with President Trump. Recently, the U.S. extended by one year the Presidential Executive Orders on sanctions against the DPRK and took issue with our “human rights situation”, clamoring that the “human rights issue” must be “settled” prior to the improved relations between the DPRK and the U.S. It even went further to re-list our country as the “worst state of human trafficking” and “sponsor of terrorism”. Such targeted provocations in each and every case alone demonstrate that the U.S. hostile policy towards the DPRK cannot be withdrawn under any circumstances. Even if the U.S. tides itself over the current “crisis” of presidential election, we have to anticipate its endless hostile actions against the DPRK, now that the inveterate negation of the U.S. towards the DPRK has become “endemic.” I think that we should put more efforts to strengthen our capability to cope with the U.S. hostilities towards the DPRK that would continue in the coming days, rather than considering the personal relations with the U.S. President. We must develop a long-term plan to cope with and contain long-term threats coming from the U.S. and safeguard our national interests and sovereignty under such conditions. We should strengthen and steadily increase our practical capabilities. The U.S. attempt to resume the DPRK-U.S. denuclearization negotiations is now underway being pressed by the time, and it is not an issue wanted by us or pressed by the time. There is no need for us to sit across with the U.S. right now, who is obsessed with the thoughts on what and how it can get more from us over the negotiating table, and I think it is the issue to be decided when the major changes are made in the attitude of the U.S. It would be easier and more favorable for the U.S. to rack its brains to make our nukes no threat to the U.S., rather than racking it to dispossess our nukes. We do not have the slightest intention to pose a threat to the U.S. and Comrade Chairman has already made it clear to President Trump. Everything will go smoothly if they leave us alone and make no provocation on us. We would like to make it clear that it does not necessarily mean the denuclearization is not possible. But what we mean is that it is not possible at this point of time. I remind the U.S. that the denuclearization on the Korean peninsula can be realized only when there are major changes made on the other side, i.e. the irreversible simultaneous major steps to be taken in parallel with our actions. I have to point out clearly that it does not mean the lifting of sanctions when we refer to major changes from the other side. I personally did not want to write this kind of statement towards Americans, if not towards south Korea. Last but not the least, I would like to give my impression on the celebrations for the U.S. Independence Day that I’ve seen on TV a few days ago. I have got the permission from Comrade Chairman to personally obtain, for sure, the DVD of the celebrations for the Independence Day in the future, if possible. Comrade Chairman has entrusted me with conveying his wishes to President Trump that he would certainly achieve great successes in his work.” (KCNA, “Press Statement by Kim Yo Jong, First Vice Department Director of Central Committee of Workers’ Party of Korea,” July 10, 2020)

Pompeo: “Q. And moving to another — speaking of sanctions, another country, North Korea — we really are going around the world. It seems — things have seemed to have been quiet with regard to North Korea and the U.S. recently. Will that — will the dialogue commence again, or how — what do you anticipate will happen with regard to our relationship with North Korea? SECRETARY POMPEO: So there’s more — there’s more discussion than is publicly noticed. We continue to work on the problem set. In June of 2018, in Singapore, Chairman Kim and President Trump met and they laid down a broad set of objectives that were agreed to — not only denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula with a fully verified mechanism to ensure that that had taken place, but also prosperity for the North Korean people, a security situation for both North and South Korea that was satisfactory to each of them as well. We continue to try to work with the North Koreans to achieve that. It’s — I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to have a senior discussion before too long and hopefully advance the ball in that respect. There’s been all this talk about will there be a summit before the U.S. elections in November. Now — it’s now July. I think that’s unlikely, but in the event that it was appropriate, we thought we could make material progress and the best way to do that was to put President Trump with Chairman Kim to do it, I’m confident that the North Koreans and President Trump would find that in our best interest.” (DoS, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, Remarks to the Economic Club of New York, Washington, D.C., July 15, 2020)

DPRK FoMin spokesperson’s answer to a question put by KCNA on July 15 “with regard to a statement of Pompeo, U.S. secretary of State, which denounces China over the issue of South China Sea: On July 13, U.S. State Secretary Pompeo made reckless remarks with regard to the issue of South China Sea that China’s claim to its dominium over the South China Sea is totally illegal and the United States, its allies and partners share the interests in standing up to the unprecedented threats from the Communist Party of China (CPC). It is an extremely sinister act that a non-Asian country across the ocean, not being content with its reckless remarks over the issue of the South China Sea, has hurled abuses at the CPC, linking the issue with the latter. If we have close examination into the recent remarks thrown by Pompeo over China, we could easily know what his intentions are. Pompeo is outrageously deriding the CPC in such a way as to label the Chinese media as “propaganda bodies of CPC”, COVID-19 as “crisis caused by CPC” and 5G telecommunication business as “tool of CPC.” He laid bare his inveterate repugnance toward the CPC to such an extent as to spread the wild rumor that demonstrations in protest against racial discrimination going on in America are being abused by the CPC for justifying its system. Pompeo is making unbridled criticism of the CPC, linking everything with the latter, the reasons for which can be analyzed as follows; First, it is to sully the trust of the Chinese people in the CPC, second, to tarnish the international prestige of the CPC and third, to overpower China with continued harassment from inside and outside. Any attempt to despise and deride the Communist Party of China stands for a negation of the political system and idea chosen by the Chinese people and an undisguised disregard of and an insult to the Chinese people who are led by the CPC. “No Communist Party, no new China” — this is the faith and truth embedded in the minds of the Chinese people. We sternly condemn Pompeo’s very dangerous remarks against China. We have already grasped on several occasions that Pompeo deals with our socialist system led by the Workers’ Party of Korea on the basis of the morbid and upside-down viewpoint on China. No matter how maliciously Pompeo slanders the CPC and the socialist system led by it, it will only serve to highlight the invincibility of the CPC and the superiority of the socialist system. Pompeo should not muddle up the public opinion and make absurd remarks while interfering in other’s business whenever he pleases.” (KCNA, “Answer of Spokesperson for DPRK Foreign Ministry,” July 15, 2020)

Katzianis: “Multiple Senior White House aides have confirmed to the American Conservative that the Trump Administration is now considering new proposals to achieve what the White House hopes would be a “breakthrough” in what are now long-dormant talks with North Korea. If a deal can be struck, the hope is that the agreement would be signed in a potential third summit this Fall, in an Asian capital within train or flying distance of Pyongyang. None of this is shocking, per se. Both the Trump administration and the Kim regime have made passing references about a potential meeting for several weeks now. And while Pyongyang has sent conflicting messages on whether a summit is of firm interest — Chairman Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-Jong, for example, offered very mixed messages about a potential meeting in a press statement last week — the White House is working under the assumption that there is enough of a chance that the Kim regime is interested that it is “worth making the attempt.” Back in the spring, White House officials working with the State Department and members of the U.S. intelligence community considered an idea to resurrect a multilateral framework to entice North Korea back to the bargaining table and not restart long-range missile testing that could threaten the U.S. homeland in the future. Based on the idea of the old six-party talks of the 2000s — a format that while having achieved an important joint statement in 2005, collapsed time and time again — was to bring into the fold Russia and China as potential partners. The hope was that a format for long-term talks that could result in a deal would be established, and that bringing in North Korea’s two closest allies along with Japan and “at least one other partner,” according to a State Department source, could achieve a breakthrough. So what happened? One White House official explained that it was never clear if Trump ever really fully supported the plan in the first place. However, he was willing to give it a try, especially if it would bring North Korea back into a set negotiation process and spark a potential summit. Another White House source explained that Pyongyang was pitched the idea sometime last month but it “went nowhere.” Undeterred, at least for now, Team Trump is developing an idea of a bilateral summit that will achieve clear deliverables for both sides. They clearly do not want a summit that can be slammed as a photo-op and can, as Secretary Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday, only hold a meeting if it “can make real progress.” While White House sources were clear there is still an ongoing debate on what to offer North Korea, the idea is to pitch something where Trump can’t be called weak by the Joe Biden campaign and offers North Korea enough where they will take at least, what was called by one White House official, a “modest step” towards denuclearization. For the moment, the idea is to offer a “customized package of sanctions relief” according to two White House sources in exchange for a reciprocal package that includes the dismantlement of one or more key nuclear production facilities as well as a formal nuclear and missile testing moratorium pledge. There is also interest, this time according to a State Department source, of securing a freeze in North Korea’s nuclear weapons production as well as the halting of production of any fissile material as well as missile production. To many Korea watchers, such a package might seem similar to others that have been on offer in the past, especially the deal that was constructed during the 2019 Hanoi Summit: North Korea would have traded the sprawling 300-plus building and nuclear complex at Yongbyon for an end to the most crippling of UN Security Council sanctions. Would the administration really just pitch the same old deal or something similar? Sources in Trumpland I spoke to understand that for both sides, going back to the same deal won’t work. However, what the White House hopes to do is see what sanction or sanctions could be rolled back for each concession North Korea specifically is willing to make, with the goal of understanding what value can be placed on each trade. “We need to know what value they place on things and what might be a reasonable offer — that’s how we will know if a deal is really possible,” explained one White House source. “We are willing to trade concession for concession and are willing to put a lot of new things on the table and truly get creative and take some risks we have not in the past. We just need to know what North Korea is looking for. We want to make this work.” Then, there are of course other items that could be of mutual interest that have nothing to do with nuclear weapons. Both sides in Hanoi expressed strong interest in ending the Korean War in a non-binding political declaration — knowing the U.S. Senate would most likely not ratify a formal peace treaty — an idea that is still very much in play within White House circles. In fact, many within the administration, as well as outside supporters, love that idea of an end of war declaration as a way for Trump to claim a page in history, ending a conflict that technically qualifies as the longest active conflict in U.S. history, commemorating its 70th anniversary just several weeks ago. As one Trump 2020 campaign official noted: “Ending the Korean War not only helps President Trump achieve a historic milestone but it’s something that if the timing is right, say in October, allows us a win Democrats would have a hard time blunting. How do you run against peace? You can’t without looking like a sore loser or jealous.” While there is clear optimism that a summit and deal is possible, White House officials concede that they worry North Korea might not come to the table, knowing that Trump’s reelection chances are clearly in doubt. “We could make an offer to North Korea that is strong, clear and very much in their interest — and never hear back. Things like this with Pyongyang happen quite a bit, and if they think Trump is going to lose, that could give them pause,” explained one State Department official. The White House is also worried that when it comes down to negotiating the particulars — if North Korea will meet to negotiate, that is — that State Department Deputy Secretary Stephen Biegun, Trump’s North Korea special representative, will not have a counterpart that can negotiate on the Kim family’s behalf, a problem that has hampered countless U.S.-North Korea negotiations stretching back decades. In fact, one of the reasons that many in the administration point to the Hanoi summit failing was that North Korean negotiations in working-level talks leading up to the meeting had no power to negotiate anything on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. At the time, North Korea’s diplomats said anything involving denuclearization would only be discussed by Kim Jong-un himself at the “leader to leader level,” and that he had a “big present” for Donald Trump. At the time, the U.S. almost ended the talks over this as well as the summit, but President Trump decided to go forward, according to a South Korean diplomat based in Seoul that has knowledge of the negotiations. That brings us to the real X-factor in all of this, and that is the wishes, and ideas of Donald Trump and his obsession with taking on China. White House officials as well as one former 2016 campaign aide still close to Trump detailed how the administration is clearly making China the top national security priority in Asia — not North Korea, for the “foreseeable future.” That, of course, will have regional and in fact global ramifications and could push Team Trump to offer more to Pyongyang now or in the future, as Senior Trump Administration officials worry Beijing might use the Kim regime in some sort of weaponized fashion, as ninety percent of North Korea’s external trade flows through China. At any point, Beijing, angry at what it perceives as a U.S. strategy of containing its aspirations, could decide to simply open the border, meaning the end of U.S. pressure on North Korea in any meaningful way. One idea worth considering would be to put nuclear weapons at the end of a normalization process that champions arms control and not denuclearization. If America could just end its foolish obsessions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and seek to mitigate the overall threat instead of holding onto some John Bolton-like atomic surrender from Pyongyang, a whole host of policy options in Asia would present themselves. If America can live with a nuclear Russia, China, and Pakistan why not North Korea? No White House official would touch that question, at least for now.” (Harry J. Katzianis, “Insiders: President Wants ‘Breakthrough’ NoKo Deal before Election,” The American Conservative, July 16, 2020)

The Pentagon has presented the White House with options to reduce the American military presence in South Korea as the two countries remain at odds over President Trump’s demand that Seoul greatly increase how much it pays for the U.S. troops stationed in the country, U.S. officials said. (Michael R. Gordon and Gordon Lubold, “Trump Administration Weighs Troop Cut in South Korea,” Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2020)

KCNA: “The Fifth Enlarged Meeting of the Seventh Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) took place at the office building of the Central Committee of the WPK [today]. The meeting was guided by Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the WPK. Present there were Ri Pyong Chol, vice chairman of the CMC of the WPK, and members of the WPK Central Military Commission. Attending it were commanders and commissars of the services and corps of the Korean People’s Army, commanding officers of the General Political Bureau, the General Staff and the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, commanding officers of the armed forces organs at all levels and vice directors of major departments of the WPK Central Committee. The enlarged meeting discussed issues of intensifying the party’s education and guidance of commanders and political officials of the people’s army in line with the Party’s idea and requirements after exposing a series of issues arising in political and ideological life of the commanding officers of the KPA and military affairs. The meeting stressed the need to thoroughly arm the young commanding officers of the KPA with the revolutionary idea of the WPK and indicated a concrete orientation and ways for it. An organizational matter was tabled at the meeting on dismissing or appointing commanding officers of major posts of the armed forces institutions. Then there was a closed meeting of the Central Military Commission of the Party to examine the strategic mission of the major units for coping with the military situation in the vicinity of the Korean Peninsula and the potential military threat and the alert posture and to discuss the key issues of further bolstering a war deterrent of the country. The meeting discussed and approved major key munitions production plan indices. The Supreme Leader signed the orders for carrying out key tasks that had been discussed and decided. The important measures taken by the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea are a historic decision which makes it possible to more reliably guarantee the future of the Juche revolution with the reliable military muscle.” (KCNA, “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Guides Enlarged Meeting of WPK Central Military Commission,” July 19, 2020)

38 North: “Reports about the unusual “closed-door meeting” of the Workers’ Party of Korea Central Military Commission (CMC) on July 18 suggested that North Korea remains committed to its strategic weapons development and production plan, including its nuclear weapons. This meeting builds on recent statements by North Korean officials implying that Pyongyang will proceed with its strategic weapons plans and that the moratorium on nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missile testing is off the table. While the omission of the word “nuclear” in North Korean coverage of the CMC meeting has led to speculation that the North is softening its position, photographs of the meeting do not support that conclusion. In fact, they make clear that the nuclear program is still a centerpiece of the North’s policy. The CMC meeting echoed wording from the June preliminary meeting, calling for the strengthening of the country’s “war deterrent.” By contrast, reports of the May CMC meeting had referred to the need for further increasing “nuclear war deterrence.” North Korea may have omitted “nuclear” to dial down the tone of recent messaging, but it does not necessarily translate into actual policy implications. For instance, North Korean state media used “war deterrent” and “nuclear war deterrent” interchangeably during the years that byungjin was the official state policy (2013-2018), when Pyongyang’s openly stated goal was to simultaneously build nuclear forces and develop the economy. If North Korea’s intention was to modulate the tone of the text by leaving out the word “nuclear,” it made its intent clearer through the photos. By deliberately releasing photos of the CMC’s “closed-door meeting” in which nuclear weapons specialists were present, and even shown speaking, Pyongyang was signaling that its nuclear program remains central to its policy. Two key figures appearing in the photos were Hong Sung Mu, vice director of the party’s Munitions Industry Department, and Ri Hong Sop, director of the Nuclear Weapons Institute and formerly the head of the Yongbyon Atomic Energy Research Institute. Hong and Ri are widely known as North Korea’s top nuclear weapons developers. Both were prominently shown in photographs with Kim Jong Un at nuclear weapons-related events in 2017, including Kim’s guidance of “the work for nuclear weaponization” that September. This nuanced treatment of nuclear weapons in CMC meeting coverage is consistent with recent statements by North Korean officials, which indicated denuclearization is off the table for now and North Korea will proceed with its weapons development to cope with US “long-term threats.” In a press statement marking the second anniversary of the US-DPRK Singapore summit, for instance, Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon explained that denuclearization may be a US goal but is not North Korea’s. He said, “Our Republic’s unchanging strategic goal is to build a more solid force to manage the long-term military threats of the United States.” Underlining the point, Ri’s statement echoed the language of the May CMC meeting, even revealing that the CMC had “discussed the national strategy for nuclear development.” On July 4, First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said, “We have already formulated a more concrete strategic calculating table to manage long-term US threats. Our national policy will never be adjusted or changed depending on external variables like somebody’s domestic political schedule.” While Kim Yo Jong’s July 10 press statement seemed more conciliatory in tone than the previous Foreign Ministry statements, the bottom line was consistent with North Korea’s position since the Stockholm talks in October 2019: there will be no denuclearization talks until the US withdraws its “hostile policy.” Kim added that North Korea must plan for “long-term threats” from the US and “strengthen and steadily increase our practical capabilities,” which implied going ahead with North Korea’s weapons development and production plan. (38 North, “North Korea Proceeds Down a Nuclear Path,” July 20, 2020)

South Korea successfully launched its first military communication satellite into space today, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration said. On the Falcon 9 rocket developed by US space firm Space X, the Anasis-II satellite lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:30 p.m. today local time. After separating from the rocket, it tested for ground communication at 7:19 p.m., the arms procurement agency said. The latest launch has made Korea the 10th country in the world to operate a communication satellite for the military, the agency added. “With Anasis-II put into space, South Korea from now on can manage a communication satellite solely dedicated to military use, replacing the previous Anasis-I satellite that carried out both civilian and military operations,” DAPA said in a release. In October, the Korean military will take over the satellite operation, after seeing that it enters a geostationary orbit at an altitude of 36,000 kilometers, and having it tested by manufacturer Airbus Defense and Space to see if the satellite functions as programmed. Airbus was the subcontracted manufacturer who provided the satellite technologies to Korea as part of Korea’s deal with prime US defense contractor Lockheed Martin, from which it purchased 40 F-35A fighter jets. The satellite is based on the Airbus Eurostar E3000 satellite platform and will provide “secured communications over wide coverage,” according to the manufacturer. Other detailed features were not known. Anasis-II was originally scheduled to blast off in early July, but the launch was put off due to inspections of the equipment. (Choi Si-young, “S. Korea Launches First Military Communication Satellite,” Korea Herald, July 21, 2020)

When the United Nations imposed its toughest sanctions yet on North Korea in 2017, one of the main targets was squid. It was one of the country’s top exports, and the Security Council hoped to bring the trade to a halt, as part of the international effort to pressure the North into giving up nuclear weapons. But squid fishing in North Korean waters has continued on a large scale, a nonprofit group that tracks commercial fishing said Thursday. And the boats bringing in most of the catch are not North Korean, but Chinese — “dark fleets” that defy sanctions enforcement by concealing their locations and identities. Since the sanctions took effect, Chinese vessels have caught more than half a billion dollars’ worth of squid, says the group, Global Fishing Watch, which advocates for sustainable fishing. That money does not go to North Korea, but the boats pay the North for fishing rights — an arrangement that has been in place for more than 15 years, and which still brings in hard currency for the pariah state, despite the ban. What is more, the Chinese boats — bigger and better-equipped — have been squeezing North Korean fishermen out of their own waters. That forces them on dangerous voyages to more-distant seas, many of which end in death. “It is the largest known case of illegal fishing perpetrated by a single industrial fleet operating in another nation’s waters,” said Jaeyoon Park, a senior data scientist at Global Fishing Watch and a lead author of two reports on the subject that the group published today.The Global Fishing Watch reports add considerably to what is known about the Chinese activity, including its connection to the deaths of North Korean fishermen in far-off waters. Over the past several years, hundreds of small North Korean boats, some so primitive that they used stones for anchors, have washed up on the coasts of Japan and Russia — most empty, but some with hungry survivors aboard, and others containing human remains. Forty-five such “ghost ships” were found in Japan in 2015, and their numbers have risen dramatically since then. In 2018, 225 North Korean boats were found on Japanese shores. Last year, there were 158. The crews of the boats that turn up empty are believed to have either drowned or been rescued by other North Korean fishermen. “These incidents often involve starvation and deaths, and many fishing villages on North Korea’s eastern coast have now been coined ‘widows’ villages,’” Global Fishing Watch said in one of its new reports, “Illuminating Dark Fishing Fleets in North Korea,” which was published in the journal Science Advances. Using satellite technology, and working with researchers from South Korea, Japan, the United States and Australia, Global Fishing Watch determined that more than 900 vessels of Chinese origin had fished in North Korean waters during the 2017 squid season. It counted 700 for 2018. The ships “do not publicly broadcast their locations or appear in public monitoring systems,” the group said. The Chinese ships were estimated to have caught nearly as much squid in those years as Japan and South Korea combined: more than 160,000 metric tons, worth more than $440 million, the report said. Fewer squid are now being caught in South Korean and Japanese waters because so many are caught near North Korea before the creatures can migrate south, according to Global Fishing Watch and the South Korean government. Last year, 800 Chinese vessels in North Korean waters brought in $240 million worth of squid, Global Fishing Watch said. About $560 million worth has been caught by Chinese boats since the United Nations sanctions took effect in September 2017, the group estimated. “The scale of the fleet involved in this illegal fishing is about one-third the size of China’s entire distant-water fishing fleet,” said Park, the Global Fishing Watch scientist. A 2016 study by the Korea Maritime Institute, a think tank in South Korea, concluded that Chinese vessels each spent $30,000 to $80,000 for an annual permit to fish in North Korean waters. If the numbers reported by Global Fishing Watch are correct, that would mean tens of millions of dollars per year for the North, if not more. A more recent estimate came in March, when the United Nations panel studying sanctions compliance said an unidentified member state had reported that North Korea made $120 million in 2018 by selling fishing rights. The North’s fishing industry has been hobbled for decades by its decrepit fleet and the scarcity of fuel. The country began opening the rich fishing grounds off its east coast to Chinese ships in 2004, choosing to earn foreign currency by selling the rights instead of catching and exporting the squid itself, according to the Korea Maritime Institute report. Even as Chinese boats trawl the North’s waters, its leader, Kim Jong-un, has been urging his people to catch more fish. State media have often reported Kim’s visits to fishing towns, where he has been said to marvel at bales of frozen fish stacked like “gold bars” and to claim that “the socialist fragrance of the sea” made his fatigue go away. The United Nations panel reported cases in which Chinese fishing vessels changed their names, or carried North Korean fishing licenses or flags, to conceal the fact that they were violating the sanctions. China told the panel that while it was committed to enforcing the sanctions, its ability to do so was hampered by such ships’ use of counterfeit identities. (Choe Sang-hun, “Chinese Ships Pay N. Korea to Fish in Its Waters, Despite U.N. Ban,” New York Times, July 23, 2020, p. A-10)

Lawrence: “No package of incentives in the past quarter century has worked, and there is no reason to think that new diplomatic efforts could induce them, where so many have others failed.” This passage sums up the conventional wisdom about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program: for twenty-five years, the United States has tried to coerce or bribe the North Korean regime into abandoning its quest for nuclear weapons, yet the regime’s determination has not wavered. A principal episode in that history was the 1994 Agreed Framework (AF),2 a diplomatic arrangement that staved off U.S. military action against the North’s nuclear program but ultimately failed to prevent the regime from building the bomb. In the years since its collapse in 2002, analysts in the United States have often dismissed the AF as a policy of appeasement that was bound to fail, and this verdict has shaped later U.S. nonproliferation strategy toward both North Korea and Iran. … The accord froze North Korea’s plutonium capability, the story goes, and may have delayed its nuclear pursuits. But U.S. intelligence later discovered that the North was pursuing an alternate route to the bomb: a clandestine uranium enrichment program. Standard accounts then diverge into two opposing camps. The first argues that the secret enrichment program proved that the regime was simply buying time and planned to cheat all along. The second, more dovish camp, argues that although the North did in fact cheat, the United States also cheated by not delivering its carrots in a timely manner. Neither account explains why the AF called for LWRs to replace North Korea’s plutonium reactors, when fossil fuel power plants (FFPPs) would have been a much better solution to its energy challenges. The above narratives of failed engagement are born of a popular conceptual framework that I call the “inducement paradigm of carrots and sticks.” This is a vision of American diplomacy with North Korea that sees all U.S. policy options as arrayed along a one-dimensional axis. At one end are more U.S. sanctions and North Korean isolation; these are the “sticks” that the United States could use to coerce the regime into giving up its nuclear weapons. At the other end are energy assistance, food aid, and security assurances — rewards designed to bribe North Korea into nuclear abstinence. Analysts often debate the appropriate “balance of carrots and sticks,”8 and how to maximize their effectiveness. But there is little consideration of the technical and political realities entailed in implementing those inducements or of what physical consequence may unfold on the ground in East Asia. If one does look back at the technical aspects of the AF, and how LWR construction was to be situated within a diplomatic process, a different picture emerges. Rather than a package of carrots to bribe the North, the LWR project looks more like an attempt to build the physical embodiment of a normalized political relationship between the United States and a denuclearized North Korea. If this was the true shared intention behind the AF — to “hardwire us all in” and lay down a physical path toward denuclearization and normalization — then the determinants of diplomatic success and failure may have been very different from what the common inducement narrative would suggest. This article presents an alternative interpretation of the AF, which I call the “techno-diplomacy” model. My argument contains three parts. First, I identify a commitment problem at the heart of the North Korean nuclear crisis that made denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula unattainable either through written agreements or through positive and negative inducements. Second, I argue that the reactor trade offered a way to circumvent this structural barrier to reconciliation, not by rewarding North Korea for nuclear rollback, but by leveraging the LWR fuel cycle’s potential to physically alter the North’s political relationships with the outside world. Third, I suggest that this techno-diplomatic form of nonproliferation engagement succeeded at both physically rolling back North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities and influencing its long-term nuclear decision-making, but that it was compromised at key historical moments when domestic audiences in the United States reframed diplomacy in terms of carrots and sticks. By misinterpreting the costly signals of techno-diplomacy as rewards for North Korea, the one-dimensional inducement framing of nonproliferation engagement made the financial basis of the U.S. commitment to reconciliation politically untenable, and helped sow the seeds for the AF’s ultimate demise. … I illustrate how the LWR project offered diplomats an opportunity to incorporate North Korea into an international network of technical collaboration, shared vested interests, and mutual vulnerabilities that is unique to the LWR fuel cycle, and how it may have obviated the North’s perceived need to build nuclear weapons. The negotiating history and content of the AF suggest that actors on all sides of the nuclear crisis recognized and pursued that opportunity. … The role of LWRs in the Agreed Framework is incomprehensible under the carrot-and-stick interpretation of nonproliferation diplomacy. If the spirit of the AF was simply to reward North Korea with energy-generation technology and political normalization for ending its nuclear weapons program, then one would expect the regime to have wanted to obtain those carrots as quickly as possible, with minimal strings attached. One would also expect U.S. negotiators to have preferred whichever technology could deliver the energy with the lowest financial and political cost. Both sides were well aware that FFPPs would more readily fit those criteria than LWRs — they would be quicker and cheaper to build and easier to integrate into North Korea’s energy grid — yet the two delegations converged on LWRs during the early months of negotiations. The North Korean regime made LWRs one of its top demands, even though it knew that it would be unable to fuel or operate those reactors without continual assistance from the West. On the U.S. side, there is little evidence of any serious attempt to persuade the North Koreans to settle for FFPPs before the AF was signed, despite the significant technical challenges that LWRs would entail. The apparent embrace of LWRs as the centerpiece of engagement has baffled observers of both North Korea’s nuclear behavior and U.S. nonproliferation policy, and it quickly became a main target for domestic U.S. critics of the AF. So why did U.S. and North Korean negotiators choose LWRs to replace the North’s plutonium-production complex? Why not build FFPPs instead and move more quickly toward denuclearization and political normalization? … I suggest that key historical actors on both sides of the crisis came to recognize the structural barriers that stood in the way of resolving it, and that they sought to incrementally adjust the structure of North Korea’s international relationships in hopes to overcome those barriers. As one principal U.S. architect of the AF put it, in order to reach a political arrangement consistent with a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, negotiators would need to “bend the arc of reality.” … [I]t was the credibility of that envisioned political solution that proved difficult to establish, and those credibility challenges tended to manifest along the dimension of time. … If the regime in North Korea wanted to alter that relationship, as it claimed it did, this would involve both physical changes on the ground and long-term commitments by the United States to maintain those changes in the future. At the same time, North Korea’s plutonium-production capability was the primary impetus behind U.S. engagement and, hence, constituted the regime’s sole bargaining chip. Therefore, if North Korea were to irreversibly give up that capability in exchange for written commitments by the United States to sustain a normalized relationship in the future, the regime could not expect the U.S. government to follow through on those commitments once it had given up its only source of bargaining leverage. Rational-actor theorists refer to this type of dilemma as a “commitment problem.” In the words of James Fearon, a commitment problem is a “situation in which a mutually preferable bargain is unattainable because one or more sides would later have an incentive to renege on the terms.” Notice that the crux of Fearon’s dilemma is manifest in the dimension of time: it is not the present incentive structure, but its foreseeable change in the future, that precludes a bargain. Bargaining about future engagements is further complicated when actors cannot credibly observe or communicate long-term intentions and when each suspects the other of misrepresenting those intentions. Consideration of these time dimensions of credibility have figured prominently in the concerns of U.S. and North Korean decisionmakers throughout the nuclear crisis, and both sides have attempted to leverage time-irreversible physical processes to manage those challenges. The concept of “costly signaling,” which also comes from the rational-actor literature, highlights the role of irreversible processes in interstate communication. As states attempt to communicate and ascertain the prospects of future engagements, the amount of reliable information contained in their signals or observed behaviors is related to the irreversible costs incurred by the state and to the distribution of those costs over time. Fearon parses out this cost-time landscape by distinguishing between a “sunk cost,” which is incurred in the physical act of making a commitment, and a “tied-hands” signal, which reaches into the future to irreversibly adjust a foreseen incentive structure in favor of a commitment’s durability. These considerations of structure and temporality illustrate why the North Korean nuclear crisis could not be resolved by a simple exchange of carrots. Even if U.S. and North Korean decisionmakers could have earnestly articulated a mutually acceptable political future at the outset — comprising a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and normalized relations — they lacked both a credible path toward achieving it and reason to believe it could hold together once realized. Simple assurances or scraps of paper would not have resolved this problem, nor would transient inducements with negligible cost to the giving party. Instead, what was needed was a solid framework for costly signals distributed across time, one that could provide a regular stream of credible information between both sides and incrementally adjust future incentive structures toward ones more compatible with future cooperation. Often, “what appear to be nothing more than useful instruments are, from another point of view, enduring frameworks for social and political action.” The insight that different technological artifacts entail different modes of social interaction, and hence can function as “politics by other means” is foundational in science and technology studies. Bruno Latour and others even argue that the (re)structuring of social relations is one of the more consequential roles that technology can play in human affairs. Social and political engagements, by themselves, are often offeeting and unstable. They require constant regeneration through face-to-face interaction and costless written word. Comparatively, tools are brute and obdurate. Their use can exact costs and rewards on disparate actors who are separated in space and time. And if an alluring tool draws its user into particular roles or relationships with other users or suppliers, then propagation and regular use of that tool can act to spread and solidify those relationships across social and geopolitical space. Few technologies are more political than those associated with nuclear energy. In particular, the once-through LWR fuel cycle is widely recognized as one of the “most globalized technologies in existence,” because it inevitably draws reactor-operating countries into the international networks of technical collaboration needed to operate large, modern power reactors. Given the high up-front capital costs and technological inertia associated with LWRs, the political relationships that attend these forms of technical collaboration tend to be less fungible and mutable over time than those associated with other forms of energy generation. And while these networks cannot be abstracted from the political choices of human actors, they acquire much of their shape and durability from the physical nature of the strong nuclear force, and the grotesque concentrations of energy and human agency it allows us to condense into small pieces of matter. With this mixture of physical and social insight, it is possible to think about LWR technology not just as a set of tools that can energize an economy to pacify a suspect proliferator, but as a sophisticated network of signal paths and mutual leverage that can allow political actors to communicate and observe nuclear intentions, arrange future incentive structures, and thereby converge into more enduring modes of collective action as they sustain and operate the fuel cycle.38 I argue that the LWR fuel cycle has indeed been deployed as a form of techno-diplomacy in this way, and that to understand its relevance in a given political context, one must consider its distinctive technical attributes. Initial reactor construction accounts for around 70 percent of the cost of nuclear energy,39 and economies-of-scale factors favor large reactors. Once constructed, a reactor might provide return on the builder’s investment for over half a century, but that relies on extremely low operating costs, which in turn require sound operation and cheap fuel supply. Hence, actors who design, finance, and construct reactors will have massive sunk costs, and their hands will be tied by having a stake in efficient reactor operation, safety, and maintenance for decades to come. fuel-supply requirements. LWRs need enriched uranium for fuel. Economically viable enrichment on an industrial scale has required decades of accumulated research on the part of countless actors, and this capability is concentrated within a small number of states, most of them working in consortia. Fueling requirements can therefore exert a tying-hands effect on LWR recipients and exporters who share a stake in continued reactor operation. . LWRs run on high-burnup refueling schedules that reduce fuel costs, waste-storage requirements, and losses associated with a reactor’s shutdown. The complex evolution of materials in high-radiation environments over long periods introduces difficult technical challenges, however. Solutions to those challenges draw from vast stores of intellectual capital accumulated from operating hours at LWRs around the world. Reactor-core management is thus a complex international achievement and represents a shared vested interest among collaborating states. . Reactors pose an international safety risk. A leading contributor to reactor safety is the knowledge derived from LWR operating experience accumulated worldwide, an international asset to which an independent national reactor program would not have full access. Because the consequences of an accident are too great for market-based insurance to cover, adequate liability requires inclusion in global reactor insurance pools. The resulting tying-hands effects can work to bind exporter and recipient into a mutual interest in reactor safety and liability. The cladding of LWR fuel allows for time-indefinite storage of spent fuel in countable unit assemblies that are easily safeguarded. Further, an LWR must be shut down to unload its fuel, making refueling schedules visible from satellite imagery. Thus, extracting plutonium from LWR spent fuel to produce a bomb would be immediately visible to the international community, which could then withhold fuel from the reactor. LWR-export recipients therefore acquire a modest form of nuclear latency, but with a visible and costly technical line between latency and active proliferation. Taking the above technical attributes into account can illuminate the role LWRs played in negotiators’ efforts to overcome the commitment problem that defined the North Korean nuclear crisis. But interpreting those efforts requires one further level of nuance: in addition to analyzing how the physical tasks of LWR construction could re-distribute political leverage and engagement patterns, I must monitor how diplomats intuitively perceived those physical consequences as they engaged in negotiations about the technology. In particular, when my analysis suggests that negotiators leveraged irreversible physical processes associated with various technical endeavors as costly signals of long-term national intent, the reader may worry that I give too much credit to their physical intuitions. To be sure, nowhere in the diplomatic lexicon does one find any reference to entropy or the second law of thermodynamics. Yet while the language of diplomats differs from that of the physical scientist, it is often replete with vivid descriptions of how carefully negotiated technical steps or artifacts may “lock us in,” “let the genie out of the bottle,” or “degenerate to heaps of scrap metal.” And although political actors frequently disagree over which steps are “essentially irreversible,” there are many physical processes whose irreversibilities are so obvious — the breaking of eggs, shuffling of cards, and burning of combustible fuels are the common pedagogical examples — that even adversarial states can recognize and agree on them. As I show below, these are precisely the types of “corresponding measures” that find their way into the “frameworks” and “action plans” of techno-diplomacy. The Cold War’s end marked profound shifts in North Korea’s strategic and economic environment. Gone were the alternating patronages of China and the Soviet Union, and the North’s economy was in steep decline. Many Korea observers believe that these geopolitical changes prompted North Korean leader Kim Il-sung to make normalization with the United States a top foreign policy objective. An improved relationship with the United States, the regime may have hoped, could help make way for a limited economic opening and balance against a rising China.50 Regime officials communicated this objective in track II settings as early as 1990, and it has been a top North Korean demand throughout subsequent engagements with the United States. North Korea’s nuclear program also came to fruition around this time, and with it a capability to produce weapons-grade plutonium. Its first gas-cooled reactor (GCR) — the 5MWe pilot reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex — began operation in 1986, and U.S. satellites observed it running intermittently thereafter. Construction was also under way on the larger 50MWe and 200MWe reactors. Alongside this, North Korea mastered all aspects of the GCR fuel cycle. So by the end of the 1980s, North Korea was producing a small amount of plutonium at the 5MWe reactor — up to one bomb’s worth per year — and was on the cusp of producing around thirty bombs’ worth of material annually, pending completion of its two larger GCRs. These developments prompted a national security review of U.S. policy toward North Korea in 1991. Despite broad resistance to any engagement with North Korea from across the U.S. political spectrum, the review recommended diplomacy as the best way to stop the regime from building nuclear weapons. Declassified internal documents indicate a mixed sentiment toward engagement within the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, but a consensus emerged on two key issues: the impetus and goal of diplomacy with North Korea was to stop its nuclear program, and diplomatic normalization would be acceptable after denuclearization. Here are the makings of a commitment problem: both sides claimed to prefer denuclearization and normalization to their present realities of latent proliferation and armistice. Denuclearization, however, would also amount to a power shift that may have been incompatible with a stable normalized relationship in the future, because there might be nothing to further incentivize the United States to maintain that relationship. For engagement to meaningfully ensue, the North’s disarming steps would need to be reciprocated by similarly irreversible physical steps by the United States that would alter its own incentive structure in favor of continued engagement.58 This is what the reactor trade of the AF was all about. The North Korean regime first proposed to trade its GCRs for Western LWRs during a high-level meeting with the United States in June 1993. North Korean Ambassador Kang Sok-ju indicated that the idea had Kim Il-sung’s backing and was designed to “open up North Korea.” A more formal proposal followed in July of that year, when the North Korean delegation offered to dismantle the country’s entire GCR fuel-cycle complex, in a phased process, in exchange for Western LWRs and normalization with the United States. The U.S. delegation quickly seized on the offer, describing it as “exactly the right direction for the political and economic future of Korea.” The main selling points from a U.S. perspective were the prospects of eliminating North Korea’s plutonium capability and encouraging economic reform. Declassified documents from subsequent months indicate, however, that U.S. officials also analyzed the proposal from North Korea’s perspective and came to understand the “central importance that the regime placed on the provision of LWRs as an indication of US good faith.” Opening up the technical attributes of LWRs and placing them into the strategic context of the crisis reveals that their importance was more than symbolic. Throughout the crisis, each side sought to front-load the other’s concessions so as to manage credibility problems. This common bargaining imperative is mirrored in the financial time structure of LWRs, which is more front-loaded than that of FFPPs and represents a more profound shared investment in North Korea’s energy future. Additionally, the international endeavors of reactor fueling, operation, and safety could incorporate North Korea into the web of techno-political relationships that make reactors function and manage their international risks. Because the reactors would then be running a substantial fraction of North Korea’s industrial economy, they would give the international community strong leverage over the regime’s subsequent nuclear choices. Altogether, Western LWRs on the ground in North Korea would have constituted a profound shift in shared vested interests, mutual vulnerabilities, and risks among nations in East Asia. Building FFPPs in North Korea would have represented a much more limited commitment on the part of the international community, and for precisely the same reasons that they would have been a more convenient carrot than LWRs. The upfront cost and construction time would have been much smaller; the fuel supply would have been expensive and more anonymized by market economics; and the operational and safety requirements would have been much more straightforward. While U.S. officials acknowledged that “nuclear reactors are not the sort of things a country gives to an enemy,” FFPPs in North Korea would have been more consistent with its continued isolation. The reactor trade quickly became the focus of engagement between the United States and North Korea, but negotiations then bogged down over two seemingly peripheral issues: the sequencing of concessions, and the national source and identity of the LWRs. … The sequencing issue illuminates how the path dependencies of LWR construction might facilitate political changes that had previously seemed impossible, but only if steps were ordered in a way that both sides would perceive as “locking the other side into” those changes. At the outset of the crisis, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had requested special inspections at two sites to resolve questions about North Korea’s nuclear past, and this had become a key U.S. demand. North Korean negotiators, however, were reluctant to forfeit the bargaining leverage associated with those questions, and demanded substantial progress on construction of the LWRs before any special inspections could take place. Meanwhile, U.S. nonproliferation law prohibited the delivery of the “nuclear components” of a reactor to countries not in good standing with the IAEA. This impasse forced the U.S. delegation to consult experts in Washington to determine what “percent” of the LWRs could be constructed prior to delivery of nuclear components. Under an inducement structure, this elaborate detour would be unnecessary — if only the carrot of energy generation was at stake, then the dilemma could have easily been avoided by choosing FFPPs instead. But as a techno-diplomatic struggle to shift political realities, it makes more sense. Sinking substantial Western investment into the nonnuclear foundation of a LWR could then incentivize two key political changes that had previously been major sticking points: North Korean acceptance of IAEA demands and a U.S. nuclear supply agreement with North Korea. The first would align North Korea with international norms, and the second would amount to a profound U.S. endorsement of the North Korean regime. Later dubbed the “percent solution,” this strategy was written into the AF and follow-on LWR supply agreement. The second diplomatic roadblock — the national source and identity of the LWRs — presents yet another anomaly when LWRs are interpreted as a carrot. At multiple points, North Korea sought to ensure that LWR provision and financing would come directly from the United States. Yet, the Clinton administration knew that it would be impossible to persuade Congress to fund the entire LWR project. The U.S. delegation therefore proposed an international consortium with regional U.S. allies to build the LWRs and persuaded South Korea and Japan to volunteer large sums of money to pay for the project. These were dangerous prospects for North Korea, however: if the United States transferred too much of the sunk costs of the reactor project to its allies, it might lose interest in the relationship after North Korea disarmed. In particular, if the responsibility were shifted to South Korea — if the reactors became identified as South Korean reactors — then they might start to look like an investment in reunification under the South Korean government, which was the North Korean regime’s worst fear. Nevertheless, the consortium became a hardened feature of U.S. demands. From there, North Korea fought to maximize U.S. responsibility for the LWR project by ensuring that the consortium had an “American face,” leading to a prolonged struggle over the identity of the LWR.73 If the regime just wanted to reap the benefits of energy generation, it is hard to imagine why it would risk scuttling the deal simply to determine who would provide the carrot or what it would be named. But if the struggle is interpreted as a contest to shape future geopolitical relations by distributing sunk costs among actors, then the mystery subsides. The North’s first choice of direct provision of LWRs from the United States reflects its stated desire for a bilateral relationship made durable by a U.S. stake in North Korea’s energy future. But as U.S. direct provision proved impossible, the regime insisted on U.S. leadership in the LWR project as a way to preserve U.S. political responsibility for overall AF implementation. In other words, putting an “American face” on the LWR project was an attempt to translate the sunk costs payed by U.S. allies into a political incentive for the United States to keep its commitments. Tensions over the sequencing of implementation steps and the LWRs’ identity prolonged the nuclear crisis by more than a year, bringing the United States and North Korea to the brink of war. In October 1994, however, the AF was finally signed. The U.S.-led consortium — the Korean Energy Development Organization (KEDO) — would build two 1,000 MWe LWRs in exchange for the freezing and eventual dismantlement of North Korea’s GCR complex. The reactors would be of American design and would be built by the United States and its regional allies in the Kumho area near the North Korean port city of Sinpo. Alongside the LWR project, KEDO would deliver regular shipments of U.S.-funded heavy fuel oil (HFO) to Sinpo, and this would continuously signal U.S. commitment to the AF. The stated end goal of the accord was a fundamentally changed relationship between North Korea and the West, culminating in normalization with the United States and denuclearization of the peninsula — precisely the incredible political future articulated by both sides at the outset of the crisis. … [T]he AF itself was expressly not a binding written commitment. Rather, it proposed a sequence of irreversible physical processes to build the credibility of a pending political future — a physical path, in other words, toward denuclearization and normalization. If commitments to that envisioned future were not credible on paper, then the essential innovation of the AF was to take those commitments out of the juridical space of written agreements, and attempt to express them incrementally on the ground at Yongbyon and Kumho. The proposed sequence of physical commitments was more precisely spelled out in Annex 3 of the KEDO LWR supply agreement. North Korea’s most irreversible steps toward denuclearization were to be spread out across time and synchronized with the costliest and most irreversible steps in the LWR construction process. While the carrots associated with many of these interlocking steps would be reversible — at any point during the process, KEDO could simply halt construction and the North could restart the 5MWe reactor — the costs entailed in each step would be irreversible without additional costs associated with backtracking. Dollars invested in LWR construction could not be recovered if the LWRs were never operated, and each dismantlement step or freeze-year of the North’s GCR complex would push it closer toward an unsalvageable physical state. With this careful combination of irreversible costs and reversible pending benefits, each pair of synchronized steps could function as an exchange of costly signals, indicating both sides’ willingness to continue down the path and incrementally shifting the incentive structure in favor of taking the next step. By the time the LWRs would be operational, U.S. allies would have invested upward of $5 billion (1994 dollars) in North Korea’s energy future, and the physical destruction of North Korea’s GCR complex would be complete. Had they been fully constructed, however, the KEDO LWRs alone would not have been enough to ensure expanded relations between North Korea and the outside world. Rather, they were described as a possible “lynch pin” to set the stage for further techno-diplomatic engagements. Toward this end, physical changes on the ground were intended to precede and hopefully catalyze important political changes within KEDO member states. Bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements, labor protections, and lifts on communication and travel bans were previously unthinkable in respective capitals. But with the first large-scale, Western-style construction project in North Korea hanging in the balance, they might suddenly become imperative for both sides. Connecting the LWRs to North Korea’s energy grid would be another avenue for precipitated cooperation. The needed grid upgrades would require North Korea to obtain financing from international institutions, which would in turn require changes in U.S. laws that opposed international loans to North Korea. They would also entail further exposure of the regime to international finance norms and Western civil-engineering practices.81 Because the fate of KEDO’s own loans would be tied to extracting electricity from the LWRs, KEDO members would face new incentive to facilitate these changes. Again, FFPPs sized to fit the existing grid did not offer the prospect of catalyzing any of these further investments or political evolutions. a new reality, but no guaranteed outcome. … Many of the steps outlined in the KEDO supply agreement were never carried out, however. … All told, U.S. allies had invested nearly $2 billion in the first LWR, and North Korea had essentially gutted its GCR complex, leaving its 50MWe and 200MWe reactors in ruins and only a meager plutonium-production capability intact. Two important observations can be made about the partial success and ultimate collapse of the AF. First, the techno-diplomacy of the KEDO process achieved two goals central to U.S. nonproliferation diplomacy: influencing the regime’s long-term nuclear decision-making, and physically rolling back its nuclear weapons capability. Throughout the eight years that the AF was in force, the most salient aspects of North Korea’s nuclear behavior correlated in time with the political and financial status of the KEDO project. These facts strongly suggest that the regime was modulating its nuclear activities in response to signals of a U.S. commitment, or lack thereof, to eventual normalization, and that those signals were embodied in KEDO’s activities. By the time the AF collapsed, North Korea had effectively divested more than 98 percent of its emerging plutonium-production complex. No other U.S. strategy has been so successful at altering the physical capabilities or political choices behind North Korea’s nuclear program. The second observation is that the AF was set on a path toward collapse when the Clinton administration, unable to establish a substantive financial and political U.S. stake in its implementation, was forced to displace most of the costs of diplomacy to its allies. This limited financial stake attenuated the signal of U.S. commitment from the perspectives of both North Korea and U.S. allies, leading the regime to harbor skepticism about the AF and hedge against its collapse. It also opened the way for the Bush administration to abandon the AF with little political cost to itself. … [T]he accounts of the key actors who negotiated and implemented the AF are broadly consistent with my interpretation. For the U.S. side, I conducted a series of semi-structured interviews with U.S. officials who participated in the negotiation or implementation of the AF. For the North Korean side, I describe other empirical sources that shed light on the regime’s intent. Three points of clarification are needed to carefully interpret the accounts of U.S. officials. First, my interview subjects gave varying appraisals for the AF collapse, some of which differ from mine. Second, U.S. officials made clear that they did not pursue normalization with North Korea as an end in itself. Rather, they saw it as a crucial part of any realistic path to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. Finally, no single account describes all elements of the techno-diplomatic nonproliferation strategy that I have described; there was no mastermind behind the AF. Instead, I consider how each actor was situated within a structural context that defined their possibilities for political action, and how the actions taken could in turn influence the structural context for future decision-making. Sociologist Anthony Giddens highlighted this “recursive relationship between structure and agency” in his “theory of structuration,”88 which has since become a mainstay of constructivist international relations. Following his analytical program, I pay particular attention to how negotiators imagined that their concerted actions could incrementally shift their structural environment to create political opportunities that had not previously existed. Their frequent musings about how the KEDO LWR project could create “a new reality” on the Korean Peninsula suggest a vivid awareness of the structural barriers that they faced, and how those geopolitical structures may have been mutable over time. “We didn’t think of the KEDO LWRs as a carrot, but as an instrument to manage the relationship,” observed Thomas Fingar With this remark, Fingar captures the overall theme that U.S. officials presented when I interviewed them. Interview subjects variously described the KEDO LWR project as a “vehicle for engagement,” a “platform for sustained contacts,” and a “means for each side to judge the others’ intentions.” Many explicitly indicated that the LWR project was an attempt to change North Korea’s political relationships with the outside world.94 Meanwhile, inducement metaphors such as “carrots,” “bribery,” and “cheating” were largely absent. Ambassador Robert Gallucci, head of the U.S. delegation that negotiated the AF, illuminated the substantive distinction between inducement and techno-diplomacy when we discussed how the national identity of the LWRs became such a challenge for negotiators: “The LWR project was a manifestation of a changing relationship, because it would take quite a long time to build, and substantial financial investment. The North Koreans wanted the United States to be the ones who were on the hook. That was what the LWR project was a manifestation of. It wasn’t just that they’d get 2,000 MW of electricity, but that the LWR project would have meant the United States was hardwired in. And we would have gone further if there were a way for us to finance it, but there wasn’t.” This passage explicitly foregrounds the financial time structure and irreversibility of the LWR project, while relegating its intrinsic utility to North Korea — 2,000 MWe of energy generation — to the periphery. His focus is precisely the opposite of that of an inducement account, which would instead point to the “carrot’s” intrinsic value to the regime and treat the cost and duration of its delivery as a regrettable trade-off. Two interview subjects presented an interesting exception to the above summary. Mitchell Reiss and Gary Samore interpreted the choice of LWRs over FFPPs as simply an idiosyncratic North Korean demand. In addition, they pointed to North Korean “cheating” as the sole cause of the AF’s collapse (other interview subjects avoided the “cheating” metaphor and gave a more mixed appraisal). At first glance, these dismissals appear to conflict with my account of the AF. But on closer examination, they articulate the techno-diplomatic prospects of LWR export with high fidelity, but from the point of view of U.S. officials entering a negotiating environment already dominated by the prospect of LWR exports to North Korea. Reiss began his account by sidelining the LWR choice and black-boxing North Korea’s motives behind its demand: “The North Koreans wanted LWRs, they didn’t want anything else. So the technology itself wasn’t an option for us. It was the shiny new toy [for the regime].” These are the beginnings of an inducement account. But when later distinguishing between LWRs and FFPPs from a U.S. strategic perspective, Reiss described how the technical challenges of bringing LWRs online could be a mechanism for transparency and U.S. influence in North Korea: “The LWRs would require much more extensive training [of North Korean operators]; they’d be harder for them to manage; they’d take longer to bring online. LWRs are much harder than FFPPs to operate and repair. And then there are the safety and liability issues that require long-term interaction. I wouldn’t call it a Trojan horse because it was their [the regime’s] idea, but we were gonna be in there for a really long time.” Reiss then highlighted how the process of upgrading the grid (to bring LWRs online) could catalyze additional modes of financial and technical collaboration: “We talked about IMF loans [to finance the grid upgrade]. And the Japanese were quietly talking about tens of billions of dollars of infrastructure. So yeah, we’d be all over that country [if the LWRs had materialized]. People were thinking that there was an upside to us being so intimately involved with their fundamental national decisions.” Samore’s account follows a similar trajectory. When asked about the possible North Korean intent behind the LWR preference, Samore responded, “God knows [why they insisted on LWRs]. When pressed, their explanation was something along the lines of ‘Kim Il-sung said so’.” But when discussing Annex 3 of the LWR supply agreement from a U.S. strategic perspective, he recounted the “percent solution,” whereby a maximal nonnuclear investment was to be made on the ground at Kumho to incentivize North Korea to allow IAEA special inspections at Yongbyon: “The theory behind the LWR project [from a U.S. perspective] was that it would create an incentive for the North Koreans to come into compliance with their safeguards agreement, because the project would halt if they didn’t. And it was deliberately set up that way.” These accounts align with my structurationist analysis of techno-diplomacy. Both Reiss and Samore led negotiations with North Korea after the choice of LWRs had already solidified. Hence, unlike earlier U.S. delegations, they were not called upon to critically analyze that choice, and it is unsurprising that they attribute it to North Korean idiosyncrasy. But when situated within a U.S. strategic perspective at the negotiating table with North Korea, Reiss and Samore expertly navigate the unique constraints and opportunities within that strategic setting, which by that time had been shaped by the LWR plan. This recursive relationship between structure and agency emerged poignantly in Reiss’s concluding homage to the achievements of his predecessors: “I used to say that the AF didn’t guarantee anything. What it did was provide an opportunity that didn’t previously exist for North Korea and the outside world to have a fundamentally different relationship. That’s not to minimize what Bob [Gallucci] did — he created a new reality. But he didn’t guarantee the outcome. It was up to the [subsequent] players to fill that role.” When the LWR proposal originally surfaced in 1993, North Korean Ambassador Kang Sok-ju indicated that it was “designed to open up North Korea.” During more than a decade of subsequent negotiations with the United States, North Korea insisted that LWRs were crucial for resolving the “nuclear issue.” As late as 2005, track II diplomats relayed to Washington an unequivocal message from Ambassador Kim Gye Gwan: “No reactor, no deal.”102 Despite the lack of direct access to North Korean official documents or interview subjects, there is ample information to help interpret why LWRs may have been so important to the regime. The accounts of U.S. diplomats provide some of the best insights into the regime’s thinking. Subjects interviewed for this project had either direct negotiations or informal discussions with North Korean officials. All of them report a North Korean fixation on the credibility of a path toward normalization and on the central role of the LWRs in managing that credibility. I also examined notes and summaries from the Stanford track II delegation’s visits to Yongbyon and Pyongyang, which contain quotes from North Korean officials. In these settings, North Korean officials call for a recursive process of “action for action” — composed of steps that are “essentially irreversible” — that would be needed for each side to build the credibility of its commitments. Declassified U.S. documents, which fall into two categories, offer a second data set. First, there are intelligence analyses of the North Korean regime’s strategy and internal politics. These provide insights into how different factions within the regime debated engagement with the United States and the role of LWRs in that process. Second are diplomatic cables that report on what U.S. diplomats were hearing from North Korean negotiators and the sticking points and breakthroughs that emerged in the negotiations. These sources also show a North Korean fixation on the credibility of U.S. commitments and on the importance of LWRs as an “indication of U.S. good faith.” Finally, there are official statements from the North Korean regime. Although often filled with vitriolic statements about the “U.S. hostile policy,” these are regularly interspersed with statements that make North Korean policy contingent on U.S. actions and credibility. Perhaps the most vivid articulation of the techno-diplomatic role of LWRs came in a statement from North Korea’s foreign ministry in 2006, shortly after the United States called for the dissolution of KEDO: “The U.S. should not even dream of the DPRK’s dismantlement of its nuclear deterrent before providing LWRs — a physical guarantee of confidence building. One should wait and see how the United States will move in actuality at the phase of action-for-action in the future.” By explicitly referring to the LWRs as “a physical guarantee for confidence building,” and saying nothing about the energy or prestige that North Korea might receive from them, this statement unmistakably announces a strategy of techno-diplomacy. … [T]he inducement and techno-diplomacy paradigms of nonproliferation engagement are incommensurable in the sense that they cannot be combined into a coherent understanding of nuclear proliferation crisis. In fact, the two framings often suggest precisely the opposite prescriptions for U.S. policy. This insight can help illuminate the political developments in the United States that contributed to the collapse of the Agreed Framework, and it offers lessons for future nonproliferation strategy. … Cognitive scientists and moral philosophers have shown that similar incommensurability can arise in the cognitive realm between different ways of framing and interpreting the world. In the realm of policymaking, these “frame conflicts” can lead to intractable political controversies and incoherent national policies. Below are seven points of incommensurability between the inducement and techno-diplomacy paradigms of nonproliferation engagement. Each point is described as a “shift” in perception that occurs abruptly when the mind switches from the former interpretation to the latter. Under inducement, concessions should be designed to offer an intrinsic utility to the target state in a timely manner to reward good behavior. Conversely, if concessions under techno-diplomacy are designed to bind states into a mutual interest in continued positive engagement (as in a tying-hands costly signal), then they must offer an enduring shared utility that is contingent on that continued engagement. Under inducement, carrots should be given only after the denuclearization steps they are designed to reward have been completed, which in turn should be preceded only by coercive measures to pressure the target state. Under techno-diplomacy, the appropriate order is reversed: U.S. concessions serve as costly signals to establish the credibility of U.S. commitments to normalization, and it does not become rational for the target state to forfeit leverage through nuclear rollback steps until it has received those signals. Coercive measures prior to denuclearization steps can signal and reinforce continued adversarial engagement, and thereby enhance the irrationality of denuclearization steps for the target state. At the same time, implementing techno-diplomatic concessions can create new forms of pending coercive leverage, the growing threat of which can promote future abstinence from nuclear-weapons activities (such as, in the LWR case, the power to shut down an economy by withholding the technical cooperation needed for continued LWR operation). Under the inducement paradigm, the intrinsic value of inducements is central, and their source and cost are of peripheral importance. Under techno-diplomacy, concessions figure as costly signals, and the bearer of the cost is the actor about whose intention the signal speaks. For example, as shown previously, the source and identity of the LWRs became a central issue of AF negotiations, and the 2,000 MWe of energy generation became peripheral. Under inducement, the cost of concessions is relevant primarily to the domestic audiences of the states that pay for them. Costly concessions are more difficult to justify to domestic audiences, so lowering costs adds to the credibility that they will be given. Under techno-diplomacy, the cost itself is the signal about future intent, and the credibility of the signal increases monotonically with cost. If the content of inducements and quick cessation of nuclear activities are the primary stakes, then a final resolution to “the nuclear problem” is preferable to open-ended solutions that can be framed as stop-gap measures. But if the future relationship and nuclear status are the primary stakes (as in techno-diplomacy), then open-ended arrangements are crucial because they indicate endurance of political changes indefinitely. If the realization of inducements themselves is the primary stake, then legally binding, written commitments should be sought to enhance the credibility that they will be realized. But if an envisioned political future is the primary stake (as in techno-diplomacy), then irreversible physical changes on the ground constitute much more binding commitments than do politically reversible written agreements. Under inducement, a clandestine, latent nuclear capability is morally incompatible with concurrent positive inducements and, hence, is considered cheating. Under nuclear techno-diplomacy, possession of a clandestine, latent nuclear capability figures as hedging and can contribute to the mutual leverage needed to stabilize continued engagement. All rational actors will hedge against the possible collapse of a bargain, and these hedges are often needed to make a bargain possible in the first place. … In a Senate hearing on January 19, 1995, Chairman Frank Murkowski described the AF as a list of “what we get” versus “what they get” — the natural focus of inducement diplomacy. He then pointed to the AF’s three major oddities as viewed through an inducement lens: the choice of LWRs rather than FFPPs, the timing of concessions, and the AF’s nonbinding legal status. These anomalies formed the basis of questions from both proponents and critics of the AF; there was little discussion of what the AF’s steps would mean for North Korea’s relationship with the outside world or how those political changes might shift the future incentive structure in favor of nonproliferation. Bewilderment at the choice of LWRs is exemplified in the testimony of nonproliferation expert Gary Milholin: “Why does North Korea want LWRs? Nobody outside the country seems to know. It is agreed … even by the [Clinton] Administration … that the United States could provide coal-fired plants much faster and cheaper.” This question underscored a common theme throughout the hearing, leaving AF proponents to concede that FFPPs “would have been better,” but that North Korea simply would not have accepted them. With little discussion of the political interdependencies associated with the construction and operation of the LWRs or how they might exert leverage over the regime’s future nuclear choices, senators were left to conclude that the United States had been coerced into funding a bizarre prestige project for North Korea. Senator John McCain voiced similar concerns: “There is nothing in that agreement that forces North Korea to account for [previous] diversion … . It places no obligation on North Korea to come into compliance with the Nonproliferation treaty … . Dismantlement of the nuclear facilities will not begin until [North Korea has] received one fully operational $2 billion LWR … and they do not have to complete dismantlement until the second LWR is completed.” For McCain, the timing of the concessions in the AF was backward, because North Korea would receive benefits before correcting past transgressions and thus be rewarded for bad behavior. And without a contractual agreement for both sides to follow through on their respective inducements, the AF would be merely a best-effort arrangement that relied on North Korean trustworthiness. Proponents of the AF generally responded by highlighting the intrinsic value to U.S. security of “freezing the program in its tracks” and buying several years before North Korea reached a nuclear weapons capability. By focusing on the carrots traded in the bargain, the proponents neglected to point out the potential shifts in the incentive structure associated with LWR construction steps, as the following exchange between Senator Murkowski and Gary Samore illustrates:

Senator Murkowski: Why did you negotiate [immediate special inspections] away?

Samore: We focused our attention on the biggest immediate problem … the 25 to 30 kg [kilograms] of plutonium we know the North Koreans have [from the first reactor core] … [and on stopping] their ability to complete their larger reactors. [Those priorities] are addressed in the agreement. The AF calls for North Korea [to allow special inspections] before any nuclear components arrive … . We would not have been able to achieve immediate compliance … as an immediate issue.

Senator Murkowski: Well, immediate or five years [implying a stop-gap or kick-the-can solution].

Samore: What we get in return [freezing the program] … is very attractive to us.

This conversation did not address why IAEA compliance might be more likely once the foundation of the first LWR was in place in North Korea. And by focusing on the intrinsic value of the freeze itself, Samore and other AF proponents say little about why North Korea might have been less likely to resume plutonium production after the LWRs were in place. Under this framing, the AF is nothing more than a stop-gap solution. The general theme of the hearings — that the KEDO project amounts to nuclear bribery — made support for AF implementation politically awkward for Democrats and political suicide for Republicans. Devoting U.S. tax dollars to “rewarding North Korea” became particularly offensive, even when compared to the much higher cost of alternative policies. Secretary of State Warren Christopher (an AF proponent) attempted to correct this perceived ºaw by guaranteeing to Congress that the U.S. financial contribution to KEDO would not exceed $30 million per year. The danger that limiting U.S. funding might damage the credibility of the AF was undetectable through an inducement lens — if KEDO’s activities were simply a package of carrots, then offsetting their cost would not interfere with their function as such. But if KEDO’s activities were a sequence of signals bearing information about U.S. commitment, then diminishing their cost cut to the heart of the AF by attenuating the signal. anomalies under the common interpretation of the nuclear crisis. Many Western analysts interpret North Korea’s clandestine uranium enrichment program as proof that the regime had always planned to cheat on the Agreed Framework. This appraisal suggests that North Korea prioritized nuclear weapons above other goals, and that it used engagement to extract the carrot of energy technology from the West. Although it is impossible to rule out any interpretation of regime intent, several anomalies arise under this common narrative, making it a needlessly convoluted theory of North Korean strategy. These anomalies become clear if one considers the hypothetical perspective of a North Korean regime that was allegedly determined to build nuclear weapons. In the early 1990s, the emerging GCR complex offered North Korea its surest and quickest route to massive stockpiles of bomb fuel. When the regime proposed to dismantle that plutonium complex in exchange for LWRs from the West, it knew that the United States would gain control over North Korea’s ability to operate the LWRs and run its industrial economy. Also, the U.S. delegation had made clear that “no sitting president would ever accept nuclear weapons in North Korea.” Meanwhile, the regime had abandoned its enrichment program after having completed only modest centrifuge studies. The uranium route to the bomb was thus a distant and unsure prospect, and developing any confidence in it would require extensive research and development. Yet, available intelligence suggests that the program remained dormant until 1997, a full four years after the reactor trade proposal was made. With the incorporation of the above observations, the commonly held theory of North Korean proliferation strategy can be restated as follows: the regime apparently chose to forfeit a well-developed plutonium program to buy time for a then-nonexistent uranium bomb program, and to obtain LWRs that would be impossible for North Korea to operate if it ever succeeded in becoming a nuclear weapons state. These pieces simply do not fit into a coherent theory of regime strategy; yet, this is what one is left with if one thinks in terms of carrots, sticks, and cheating. But if North Korea’s centrifuge procurement in 1997 is instead interpreted as a hedge to preserve nuclear leverage while the nominally preferred path toward normalization was coming into question, then it fits parsimoniously into a techno-diplomatic strategy. This is precisely how the enrichment program was later deployed by North Korean negotiators as the AF fell apart. … Two recurrent proliferation crises — one in North Korea and the other in Iran — have many important similarities. Both involve politically isolated states in asymmetric standoffs with the United States; both feature nuclear technologies as prime bargaining chips; and both threaten to change the power dynamics in important geopolitical regions. Further, many area specialists point to prominent reformist factions within both countries that seek reconciliation with the West; these experts argue that engaging those factions may be the key to rolling back their nuclear programs. This section moves beyond the Agreed Framework to examine the strategic dynamics common to these proliferation crises, to characterize the structural barriers that obstruct their resolution, and to identify factors that may have helped circumvent those barriers when progress has been made. One of the hallmarks of these crises is that bargaining usually hinges not on the stated end goal of negotiations, which is often agreed early in the process, but on the sequencing of irreversible steps to reach that end goal and how to manage credibility along the way. These fixations on sequencing and irreversibility can be traced to the time structure of the commitment problem that animates most proliferation crises. Because those commitment problems result from the compact physical dimensions of the nuclear bargaining chips, workable resolutions typically require shifting the focus of engagement to some alternative physical medium that allows the redistribution of political leverage among actors and across time. The reactor trade of the AF was an example of one of these techno-diplomatic circumventions of the commitment problem. The remainder of this section examines recent episodes of U.S. nonproliferation engagement with North Korea and Iran. In each case, bargaining began when both sides identified a mutually acceptable political future, but intuitively recognized the challenge of credibly committing to that envisioned political arrangement. From there, sequencing issues emerged, as both sides guarded against unreciprocated forfeitures of leverage that could have allowed the other to abandon continued engagement. A diplomatic breakthrough was achieved when both sides identified some form of technological infrastructure whose reconfiguration could have changed the structure of the engagement and offset the forfeiture of leverage that denuclearization would entail. Progress halted when one or both of the negotiating teams reverted to inducement thinking and recast diplomacy in terms of carrots and sticks. The 2018 Singapore Joint Statement between the United States and North Korea called for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the normalization of relations between the two countries. In subsequent months, the United States proposed infrastructure investment in North Korea as an “additional pillar of the Singapore Statement.”7 These initial overtures mirror those that took place at the outset of the first nuclear crisis. In parallel, officials from North Korea and South Korea met in a series of historic summits during which Chairman Kim Jong-un committed to full denuclearization and South Korean President Moon Jae-in proposed a series of infrastructure development projects in North Korea that, if completed, would link the two Koreas and incorporate the North into a “New Economic Map” (NEM) in East Asia. As in the first nuclear crisis, however, lofty visions of future reconciliation were complicated by a crucial division over the path to that future. Official statements from the U.S. Department of State specified that the “path to a secure and prosperous future for North Korea runs through the gate of denuclearization.” Until the regime chose to walk through that gate, North Korea would face maximum pressure. Favoring this inducement timeline, hardliners in the Donald Trump administration insisted that no sanctions relief could be negotiated until denuclearization had been fully verified. President Trump’s diplomacy with Chairman Kim, however, faced the same commitment problem that had defined the nuclear crisis for the past twenty-five years. Western analysts highlighted this dilemma by asking, “Could any [written] security guarantees ever be sufficiently credible to convince Kim to give up nuclear weapons?” Meanwhile, other states with a geopolitical stake on the peninsula envisioned a phased process, reciprocated with corresponding measures, as the only imaginable path toward denuclearization. Moon’s administration, for instance, suggested establishing a “virtuous circle” between infrastructure development and denuclearization in North Korea. A close look at the infrastructure investments proposed in President Moon’s NEM reveals all the makings of a techno-diplomatic approach. Like the KEDO LWR of the AF, the construction projects are designed not to simply “reward” North Korea, but to integrate it into inert technological infrastructures that subtend national borders. The techno-diplomacy of the NEM is most visible in its proposed investments in rail-transit infrastructure. Rather than just modernize North Korea’s aging rail lines, the NEM proposes to connect South Korea to the Eurasian mainland through North Korea. This could potentially turn North Korea into an obligatory passage point for the international trade that would be routed along those lines. It would also require considerably more investment, because North Korea’s existing infrastructure would need to be harmonized with the rail lines that span the continent. Physical differences in rail gauge, weight limits, turn radii, and platform heights would all need to be reconciled, 134 at an estimated cost of $35 billion. In early 2018, North Korea signaled its interest in these physical integrations by supporting South Korea’s membership in the Organization for Cooperation between Railways, the international consortium that coordinates these specifications for Eurasian international rail networks.136 It then expressed willingness to verifiably dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear complex in exchange for “corresponding measures” to foster economic development. Other projects proposed in the NEM, including a regional electrical supergrid and shared pipeline for liquid natural gas, were similarly designed to integrate North Korea with neighboring states through costly shared infrastructure. Construction steps for any of these projects are forbidden by international law so long as North Korea remains under the current sanctions regime. But shortly before the second Trump-Kim summit was scheduled to be held in Hanoi in 2019, Special Envoy to North Korea Stephen Biegun suggested that his team was considering a “phased approach” similar to that promoted by the Moon administration.138 Anonymous reports indicate that sanctions waivers for North-South construction projects were on the table in exchange for Yongbyon dismantlement as part of an interim deal to make way for more ambitious negotiations. But when the dramatic summit came to a close, the deal was left unsigned. Although accounts differ on the details of the diplomatic collapse, nearly all suggest that the Trump administration had reverted to its preferred inducement sequencing of denuclearization up front and “rewards” for North Korea after. … The history of the AF and other proliferation crises offers a straightforward lesson for future U.S. nonproliferation diplomacy: isolated latent proliferators have been most responsive to U.S. moves that spoke credibly about their place in a political future; they have been relatively immune to sanctions and transient rewards. This history suggests that nonproliferation diplomacy is not really about inducement at all, but about building credible commitments to the political reconciliation that is needed to make denuclearization a rational path. Instead of attempting to coerce or bribe target states into verifiably ending all weapons-relevant nuclear activity, a techno-diplomatic approach to nuclear nonproliferation would seek to build robust techno-political realities that render nuclear weapons less relevant altogether. The conceptual shift from inducement to techno-diplomacy has several implications for future nonproliferation policy. If the primary stake in a proliferation crisis is a political future, then the most likely path to denuclearization is not coercion or bribery, but a phased sequence of synchronous concessions that constitute mutual commitments to political change. The primary currency of these concessions will not be the intrinsic utility to the target state (as in inducement), but the sunk costs to the conceding state and the pending costs and utilities that are contingent upon continued future engagement. Self-imposed costs and incentive-structure adjustments are the modes through which political commitment is earnestly expressed, and often these are more credible when embodied in irreversible physical processes — such as shared infrastructure investments and physical deconstruction of previous nuclear investments — than when codified in written commitments and bound to politically malleable juridical norms. And finally, any agreeable path to resolving proliferation crises will, in accordance with the basic time structures of technological inertia and rational-actor bargaining, always leave a hedge for the weaker, but nuclear-capable state. (Christopher Lawrence, “Normalization by Other Means,” International Security 45:1 (Summer 2020) 1-50)

Kim Jong Un acknowledged the presence of COVID-19 cases in North Korea in confidential discussions, according to a Japanese press report. Asia Press reported November 20 that the North Korean leader’s comments made during an “emergency Politburo meeting” July 25 were included in an internal document obtained by the news service. The classified document shows Kim addressing the coronavirus pandemic and North Korea’s response to COVID-19 after Pyongyang shuttered its 880-mile border with China. According to Asia Press, Kim said in the document the regime was unable to block the virus from entering the country. The date of the document indicates admissions about the virus were made before KCNA reported a first suspected COVID-19 case in a defector who had escaped from the South. The news service previously mentioned the secret document in an October report, and remarks from Kim in July about North Korea’s “strong emergency quarantine measures” over the previous six months. North Korea’s best efforts did not block the virus from entering the country, however, Kim said, according to the reports. “In spite of strong emergency quarantine measures that were taken nationwide, [Kim] said he could not stop the novel coronavirus entering North Korean precincts,” the report said, citing the “7-page” North Korean document. (Elizabeth Shim, “Report: Kim Jong Un Admitted COVID-19 in North Korea in July,” UPI, November 20, 2020)

KCNA: “Amid the intensified anti-epidemic campaign for thoroughly checking the inroads of the world’s threatening pandemic, an emergency event happened in Kaesong City where a runaway who went to the south three years ago, a person who is suspected to have been infected with the vicious virus returned on July 19 after illegally crossing the demarcation line. The anti-epidemic organization said that as an uncertain result was made from several medical check-ups of the secretion of that person’s upper respiratory organ and blood, the person was put under strict quarantine as a primary step and all the persons in Kaesong City who contacted that person and those who have been to the city in the last five days are being thoroughly investigated, given medical examination and put under quarantine. The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea convened an emergency enlarged meeting in the office building of the Central Committee of the WPK on July 25 as regards the dangerous situation in Kaesong City that may lead to a deadly and destructive disaster. Kim Jong Un, chairman of the WPK, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and supreme commander of the armed forces of the DPRK, was present at the meeting. Attending the meeting also were members and alternate members of the Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK. Present there as observers were members of the Central Emergency Anti-epidemic Headquarters. Party and administrative leading officials of the Cabinet, ministries and national institutions, members of the executive committees of provincial Party committees and senior officials of the leading institutions at provincial level were present in the video conferencing rooms as observers. Upon authorization of the Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK, Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un presided over the meeting. Despite the intense preventive anti-epidemic measures taken in all fields throughout the country and tight closure of all the channels for the last six months, there happened a critical situation in which the vicious virus could be said to have entered the country, the Supreme Leader said, adding that he took the preemptive measure of totally blocking Kaesong City and isolating each district and region from the other within July 24 afternoon just after receiving the report on it. To tackle the present situation, he declared a state of emergency in the relevant area and clarified the determination of the Party Central Committee to shift from the state emergency anti-epidemic system to the maximum emergency system and issue a top-class alert. He specified tasks for each sector to be immediately implemented by Party and working people’s organizations, power organs, public security and state security institutions, anti-epidemic and public health institutions. The meeting unanimously adopted a decision of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the WPK on shifting from the state emergency anti-epidemic system to the maximum emergency system. He instructed all the participants to immediately conduct follow-up organizational work to carry out the decision of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee in their fields and units, and party organizations at all levels and every field to ensure and guarantee the most correct implementation of the directions and assignments of the Party Central Committee with a sense of boundless responsibility, loyalty and devotion. He underscored the need to thoroughly maintain tough organizational discipline and ensure the unity in action and thinking throughout the Party and society, to keep order by which everyone absolutely obeys and moves as one under the baton of the Emergency Anti-epidemic Headquarters and the need for party organizations at all levels to perfectly perform their role and duty. Saying that everyone needs to face up to the reality of emergency, he appealed to all to overcome the present epidemic crisis by not losing the focus of thinking and action, practicing responsibility and devotion to be faithful and true to the leadership of the Party Central Committee, being rallied closer behind it so as to defend the welfare of the people and security of the country without fail. The meeting sternly took up the issue of the loose guard performance in the frontline area in the relevant area where the runaway to the south occurred, and decided that the Central Military Commission of the WPK would get a report on the results of an intensive investigation of the military unit responsible for the runway case, administer a severe punishment and take necessary measures.” (KCNA, “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Convenes Emergency Enlarged Meeting of Political Bureau of WPK Central Committee,” July 26, 2020)

The following is the full text of the speech “The Feats Performed by the Great Victors Will Remain for Ever” made by Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un at the Sixth National Conference of War Veterans on July 27, Juche 109 (2020): “Esteemed comrades war veterans, This is July 27. The victorious July 27 is the day when all the people born on this land celebrate with surging emotions the great victory in the war that is etched in the past history, repeating the word victory. … Esteemed comrades war veterans, The history of nearly 70 years after the war cannot be called peacetime as a fierce confrontation with the enemy has continued, and the threat and pressure by the imperialists to invade and plunder our state have increased moment by moment. With the spirit and will of victory brought about by the immortal July 27, we chose on our own accord the arduous road of strengthening the national power, looking towards a bright future of our state, and have never changed our choice, tightening our belts, when others were vying with one another for the pursuit of immediate “prosperity.” As we must have an absolute strength with which to prevent and deter the war itself so as not to experience once again the pains and sufferings of the war in the 1950s, we have advanced along the road of self-development toward a nuclear state by braving all pressures and challenges and overcoming unprecedented adversity which would have brought others to their knees one hundred times. And now we have become able to reliably defend ourselves against any form of high-intensity pressure and military threat by imperialist reactionaries and other hostile forces. War is an armed clash which can be unleashed only against a weak one. None can now make little of us. We will not allow others to look down upon us and, if they do so, make them pay dearly. Thanks to our reliable and effective self-defense nuclear deterrence, the word war would no longer exist on this land, and the security and future of our state will be guaranteed forever. We celebrate July 27 every year from one generation to the next, but the day of this year, when our state has secured the strategic position the world cannot ignore but recognize, brings us a special emotion, and the significance of the victory in the war and the exploits of performed by the war veterans have become more valuable and prideful.” (KCNA, “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Makes Speech at the Sixth National Conference of War Veterans,” July 28, 2020)

South Korea authorities confirmed today that a 24-year-old man who had defected from North Korea in 2017 had secretly returned to the North, crossing one of the world’s most heavily fortified borders during a pandemic and possibly bringing the coronavirus with him. In 2017, he swam across the western inter-Korea border, which traces a path through a narrow sea strait, to defect to South Korea. On July 19, he swam back across the border into Kaesong, a city in the North, after crawling through a drain under barbed-wire fences, his family said. It was not immediately clear why the defector had returned to the North. The South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that the man had been wanted by the South Korean police for questioning after a fellow North Korean defector accused him of raping her last month. Until yesterday, North Korea had repeatedly said that it had no Covid-19 cases. The claim was questioned by outside experts given that the country shares a long land border with China, where the virus erupted late last year. The North also lacks equipment and medicine to fight an epidemic. But South Korean officials could not say whether the man might have carried the coronavirus across the border. He had never been tested for the virus, Yoon Tae-ho, a senior official at the South’s national disease-control headquarters, said today, and he was not known to have been in contact with a coronavirus patient. The South Korean health authorities have tracked down two people who had frequent contact with the defector while he was in the South, and both tested negative, he said. South Korea’s military said today that its investigators had found a bag belonging to the defector abandoned on Ganghwa Island, west of Seoul. They also found signs that he had crawled through a drain beneath the border’s barbed-wire fences. “We spotted the specific location from which he crossed over to the North on Ganghwa Island,” said Col. Kim Jun-rak, a spokesman for the South Korean military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a briefing. The defector’s current location is not known. South Korean officials said he was a native of Kaesong and was apparently familiar with the terrain around the western front line, where the Han River divides North and South Korea before emptying into the Yellow Sea. At some spots, the two sides are separated by over a mile of water. He apparently swam across the same general area where he had originally defected. At least four other North Koreans have swum across the western river border to the South since 2012. The vast majority of the 33,000 North Koreans who have fled to the South since the early 1990s have gone through China. But some, like Mr. Kim, have crossed the inter-Korean border, which, in addition to being fortified by layers of tall, barbed-wire fences, is guarded by armed sentries and minefields. (Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Says Defector Brought Virus,” New York Times, July 28, 2020, p. A-6)

South Korea announced today it has become able to develop solid-propellant space rockets under the new missile guidelines with the United States, saying the deal is expected to help sharply improve the military’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and boost the space program of the private sector. The allies agreed to lift the decades-old restrictions on Seoul’s use of solid fuels for its space rocket launch, effective as of the day, according to Kim Hyun-chong, deputy national security adviser. “Today, (the two sides) have adopted the 2020 revision of the missile guidelines to completely remove the restrictions on the use of solid fuels for (South Korea’s) space vehicle,” Kim said in a press briefing. Therefore, South Korean companies, research institutes and even individuals are technically capable of “developing, producing and possessing” various types of space rockets, based on not only liquid fuels but also solid and hybrid ones, with no restrictions, he added. It would greatly advance the military’s ISR capabilities by enabling it to launch low-earth orbit spy satellites, flying at the altitude of 500-2,000 kilometers, anytime and anywhere, Kim said. In that case, the entire Korean Peninsula would be under the around-the-clock watch of South Korea’s military, called an “unblinking eye,” he emphasized. As satellites operate closer to the earth, the resolution of imagery taken gets higher. Solid-fuel rockets are faster to shoot and harder to detect ahead of take-off, as well as cost-and fuel-efficient, causing less metal corrosion. They are easier to launch from a transporter erector launcher (TEL). Should South Korea speed up related R&D projects, it would be possible for the nation to have multiple military recon satellites before the end of the 2020s, Kim said. The military is seeking to upgrade ISR assets, in particular, as part of preparations for the “conditions-based” transition of wartime operational control from South Korea’s ally. “Through the revision (of the guidelines), I would like to say a systemic foundation to improve our space infrastructure has been created, and a path has been opened for the Korean-version New Deal to expand into space,” he said, citing rapid growth of the global space industry. He was referring to the Moon Jae-in administration’s digital and green initiative to create jobs and foster economic growth amid the COVID-19 crisis. Seoul first signed the missile guidelines with Washington in 1979. The guidelines were last revised in 2017 to scrap a payload cap of 500 kilograms for South Korea’s ballistic missiles with ranges of 800 kilometers. Kim said the range limit remains in place but that the problem can be resolved “in due time” if necessary for military purposes. This time, he said, South Korea focused on the space rocket issue. He revealed some details of the negotiating process, an unusual move over a sensitive diplomatic issue. Initially, he said, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs talked with the U.S. State Department’s team on international security and nonproliferation, but there was little progress. Moon then instructed the national security office at Cheong Wa Dae in October 2019 to handle the matter in a “top-down” approach. Kim had since led the negotiations primarily with the White House National Security Council. He is known to have made unannounced visits to the U.S. last November and in February this year. In addition, he discussed the issue in meetings with U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris and Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, who traveled to Seoul early this month. Biegun was quoted as telling Kim during his latest trip here that the U.S. wants to “rejuvenate” the alliance. “I replied that ‘recalibrate’ could be a more precise word to mean efforts to strengthen, upgrade and enhance it,” Kim told reporters. “I think it was possible to revise missile guidelines in such a context.” (Lee Chi-dong, “S. Korea Allowed to Develop Solid-Fueled Space Rocket under Revised Missile Guidelines with U.S.,” Yonhap, July 28, 2020) President Moon Jae-in called for “missile sovereignty” on July 29, the day after the revised guidelines were announced, but did not detail what that means for the future of the country’s ballistic missile program. (Kelsey Davenport, “South Korea to Pursue Military Satellites,” Arms Control Today, 50 (September 2020), pp. 38-39)

North Korea’s economy is estimated to have expanded 0.4 percent from a year earlier in 2019, marking its first positive growth in three years on increased exports that came despite a wide range of international sanctions that limit trade, South Korea’s central bank said today. “North Korea’s real gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 0.4 percent in 2019. [It] turned narrowly positive for the first time in three years since 2016 when it expanded 3.9 percent,” the Bank of Korea (BOK) said in a report. The BOK said the communist state’s exports are estimated to have surged 14.4 percent on-year to some US$280 million last year, with its imports jumping 14.1 percent to $2.97 billion. In 2019, North Korea’s exports of watches and parts soared 57.9 percent, while its outbound shipments of shoes, hats and wigs are estimated to have jumped 43.0 percent on-year, according to the BOK. Its imports of textile products climbed 23.6 percent on-year, with its plastic and rubber products surging 21.3 percent. North Korea’s slight but positive economic growth in 2019 is also attributed to the increased output of its agriculture, fishing and forestry sector. Production in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector expanded by 1.4 percent in 2019, the BOK said. Its production in the mining sector dropped 0.7 percent on-year, with that of the manufacturing industry contracting 1.1 percent, it added. The North’s gross national income is estimated at 35.6 trillion won ($29.9 billion) for 2019, about 1.8 percent of that of South Korea. Its per capita income is estimated at about 1.4 million won, about 3.8 percent of that of South Korea, the BOK said. (Yonhap, “N. Korean Economy Expands on Exports: BOK,” July 31, 2020)

William Brown: “ … BOK headlines its report, “North Korea’s real GDP increased by 0.4% in 2019.” So, media and North Korea watchers are going to take that data point and run with it. They won’t question why real, or inflation-adjusted, data climbed whereas nominal data showed declines. The BOK seems to be trying to hide an important fact — it apparently thinks North Korea is undergoing deflation. I say apparently because the methodology — using South Korean prices to measure North Korean output — is confusing. It may be that relevant South Korean prices declined but this would have no real bearing on the North Korean economy, so why calculate it this way? The headline easily could have been “North Korea’s national income fell last year, and people became even poorer.” It is not clear why the BOK is emphasizing growth, even if it’s a tiny amount. Most curiously of all, the report doesn’t even mention inflation, the value of North Korean money or trade deficits, all of which are hidden in its data. Myriad press releases from sources such as Reuters and Bloomberg News and major South Korean newspapers were all headlining something like “North Korea returns to growth despite sanctions.” Aside from the headline “growth” idea, the BOK data shows North Korea to be rather stagnant, certainly not on the “rebound,” as The Korea Times puts it. And The New York Times takes the report and places North Korea’s per capita GDP at an absurdly accurate $1,184.79. The estimated GDP growth is far below any reasonable margin of error and the decline in nominal national income, especially per capita, is very damaging for a country with so many people at a subsistence level. Deflation may sound good, but it is actually very dangerous, suggesting a lack of demand and economic recession. But to say that the North Korean economy is stagnant misses the mark. The bank seems to suggest very low investment levels, which may be the case, and would imply major trouble for the future. And it ignores the fact that Chinese Customs data — which it uses for the trade analysis — say North Korea imported no vehicles, no machinery and no electronics last year, which are normally billion-dollar items. Instead, it focuses on tiny increases in assembled watch and wig exports, neglecting to mention that the country is importing the timing devices and snapping them together. … ” (William Brown, “South Korea’s Central Bank Exaggerates North Korea’s Economic Growth,” 38 North, August 6, 2020)

Makowsky and Liu: “Recent commercial satellite imagery of the Nampo Naval Shipyard indicates that North Korea’s second submersible test barge is berthed at the secure boat basin, but reveals no activity that would suggest it has been or is being prepared for submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) testing. … Meanwhile, there has been an upsurge of activity at the Nampo Coal Port over the past couple of months. On July 22, for instance, coal penstocks were full and three ships were observed taking on cargo. Besides the submersible test barge and NONGO SES, a small, coastal cargo vessel and two to four other small craft have been routinely observed within the basin. Over the last few winters, five to six small fishing boats have been observed in the basin usually from late December to early spring, this past winter included. However, unlike prior years, two additional fishing boats were allowed to enter the basin around mid-March, and instead of departing during the fishing season, a total of 16 small boats were present by June 8. Activity at the Nampo Coal Port, unlike the Naval Shipyard, has picked up in recent months. In January, before the country closed its borders due to the pandemic, a single bulk carrier was observed at the Nampo Coal Port on three separate occasions. In a subsequent period from March through early May, only one large cargo ship and two coastal freighters were observed at the coal quay taking on stores. Since June, however, a mix of vessels, large coastal barges and a bulk carrier were observed here on multiple occasions, with an increasing number of these vessels in July. Most recently, on July 22, one medium and two large bulk carriers were located at the docks taking on coal. The recent upsurge in activity at the coal port and the plentiful coal stocks in open storage areas suggest that illicit coal trade has likely resumed.” (Peter Makowsky and Jack Liu, “Nampo: A Tale of Two Ports,” 38North August 4, 2020)

The government has decided to donate $10 million (11.9 billion won) to North Korea via a World Food Program (WFP) aid project, under which it will provide essential food and nutrition for hundreds of thousands of young children and women, the Ministry of Unification ministry said today. The decision, made during a meeting of the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Promotion Council, marked the first humanitarian aid to the North since the inauguration of Unification Minister Lee In-young in July, who is pursuing more projects between the two Koreas.

“This decision will serve as a starting point for the government to consistently provide humanitarian aid to the North regardless of the political and military situation,” Lee told the council. Last year, the South donated 50,000 metric tons of rice and $4.5 million in cash to cover 10 million people suffering from hunger in the drought-hit North. This year’s money will be used to provide 9,000 tons of fortified food to 143,000 children under the age of 7 and 31,500 pregnant and nursing women in 60 counties in the North (WFP figures), and 3,600 tons of corn, beans and cooking oil, the ministry said. According to a ministry official, the WFP requested the aid earlier this year and relevant discussions began in earnest in March. In response to speculation that the aid may either be diverted to the military or fund the nuclear weapons and missile programs, the official said that the food-assistance branch of the United Nations is well equipped with a monitoring system, having an office in Pyongyang. Along with the WFP aid, the government will spend nearly $2.4 million during the remainder of the year as part of a three-year project to turn the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into a cultural zone. The ministry plans to utilize facilities in the inter-Korean transit office near Kaesong and remodel disabled guard posts into places for cultural exchanges. “We hope to recover national unity between the two Koreas through the peaceful use of the Demilitarized Zone,” the ministry said. (Kang Seung-woo, “S. Korea to Donate $10 Million to N.K. Aid Program,” Korea Times, August 6, 2020)

North Korea’s production of nuclear weapons continues despite aggressive sanctions, according to an article by CNN on August 4 of an unreleased report by a UN panel of experts. The new report says Pyongyang has likely developed the capability to manufacture miniaturized nuclear devices that can fit on its ballistic missiles. The UN report also details a member state’s independent conclusion that North Korea “may seek to further develop miniaturization in order to allow incorporation of technological improvements such as penetration aid packages or, potentially, to develop multiple warhead systems.” Mastery of warhead miniaturization suggests that North Korea could ostensibly deliver a nuclear weapon via its ballistic missiles, including its long-range systems. Although North Korea has not tested a nuclear weapon since September 2017, the experts who contributed to the report assessed that the country’s six nuclear tests likely aided its development of miniaturized warheads. Japan’s 2020 Defense White Paper, released in July, acknowledged for the first time that North Korea possesses the ability to attack Japan. The Japanese Defense Ministry noted that, in addition to miniaturized warheads, “North Korea is presumed to have acquired atmospheric re-entry technologies required for the operationalization of Nodong and Scud-ER ballistic missiles, within whose range Japan lies.” According to the ministry, this suggests North Korea “already has the ability to attack Japan with nuclear weapons fitted to these ballistic missiles.” North Korea is also accelerating its fissile material production, the UN panel report finds. The report also examines the topic of unconfirmed enrichment activities at Kangson, which has been identified by several open-source analysts but has never been addressed by Pyongyang. Ankit Panda, a researcher with access to the classified report, wrote in NK Pro on August 7 that the report says the states that have inquired about Kangson “do not have information to confirm that the facility in Kangson is for the uranium enrichment.” In 2018, the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that the facility at Kangson is “not inconsistent” with an enrichment plant, and also said that the “timeline of [the facility’s] construction is not inconsistent” with North Korea’s reported uranium-enrichment program. The report identifies several instances in which North Korean entities may have succeeded in circumventing UN sanctions to engage with sanctioned groups in China and Russia. In one case, the report details Pyongyang’s Second Economic Committee’s attention to undertaking sustained “efforts to procure dual-use ‘choke point items’ from foreign sources.” (Julia Masterson, “UN Experts See North Korean Nuclear Gains,” Arms Control Today, 50 (September 2020), pp. 29-30)

He was only 17 when Chinese troops backing North Korea overran a hill being defended by his South Korean Army squad and took him prisoner in the early hours of December 28, 1951. He spent the next 40 years toiling in North Korean coal mines as a prisoner of the war between the Koreas. Decades later, the former P.O.W., now 86, scored a landmark legal victory when the Seoul Central District Court ordered North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-un, to pay him the equivalent of $17,600 in damages for holding him against his will and forcing him to work in the mines. The verdict marked the first time that a court in the South recognized P.O.W.s who were illegally held in the North — an acknowledgment of their suffering there. In its ruling, the court blocked part of the man’s name from the public, and fearing that North Korea might retaliate against his children still in that country, the former P.O.W. spoke only on the condition that he be identified by his last name, Han, and that his face be partly obscured. There is little chance that North Korea will pay what’s owed to Han. And it could take years for his lawyers to find and confiscate any North Korean assets. Still, for Han, the verdict was justice served, and justice long overdue. The case set a precedent for thousands of South Koreans whose relatives were kidnapped by the North or who lost family members or property to the North’s military. He would spend the next half-century in the North, most of that time doing backbreaking work in its coal mines. Over the years, North Korea officials allowed the P.O.W.s to form some semblance of a life, giving the miners citizenship in 1956 and allowing them to marry. Han wed a North Korean woman that year, and together they had five children. But the former P.O.W.s from the South and their children were assigned to the bottom of the North’s songbun, or class system, and often given the most dangerous jobs in the mines. Six days a week, Han said, he rode up to half a mile underground into the dark tunnels, where he toiled 12 hours a day in sweltering heat, with methane gas a constant hazard. Prisoners who tried to escape were hunted down and never heard from again. When an armistice was signed in 1953 to halt the fighting, 82,000 South Korean soldiers remained missing or were believed to have been taken prisoner. In 2014, the United Nations’ Commission of Inquiry estimated that at least 50,000 South Korean P.O.W.s were not repatriated. North Korea returned only 8,300, keeping many more for forced labor in postwar coal mines. North Korea has denied holding any South Koreans against their will. The missing soldiers were eventually counted among the war dead and largely forgotten in the South. Han’s mother died in 1961 believing that her son had been killed in battle. Then, in 1994, an emaciated refugee from North Korea named Cho Chang-ho was found adrift on a ramshackle wooden boat off South Korea. He turned out to be a South Korean lieutenant who had survived prison camps and coal mines in the North. Soon, a cottage industry developed for human traffickers to smuggle refugees out. So far, 80 P.O.W.s have made it to South Korea, some later testifying in court in support of Mr. Han’s case — the seeds of which were planted by South Korean activists, who suggested the lawsuit in 2016. Han, who retired from the Hamyon coal mines at age 60, was living in Kyongwon, in northeast North Korea, when a man showed up in August 2001, asking whether he wanted to meet his South Korean relatives. Han said he followed the man across the river border to China, his youngest son tagging along. Around that time, Han Jae-eun, Han’s youngest brother in South Korea, got a call from a human trafficker. I first could not tell whether the man was telling the truth or it was a scam,” said his brother, a taxi driver in Incheon, west of Seoul. “The brother we all thought was dead more than a half century ago turned up alive.” The brothers had a tearful reunion in Hunchun, China, across the border from Kyongwon. The younger brother gave Han what money he had brought with him, $8,000, and asked him to decide whether to travel on to South Korea or return to the North with the money. He used the money in November 2001 to smuggle himself, his youngest son, the son’s wife and their two children to the South. There, Han’s old 7th Army Division promoted him to sergeant and formally discharged him. He received his unpaid salary, military pension and other subsidies that South Korea provides for returning P.O.W.s. He then smuggled his wife, another son and a daughter out of the North. But his family is still divided. Two sons, a daughter and four grandchildren live in the South, and a son, a daughter and four grandchildren in the North. The two Koreas do not allow their citizens to meet or communicate with one another, except during occasional official family reunions. Han’s life story epitomized that of thousands of South Korean P.O.W.s who were abused by North Korea for decades but ignored in their home country. The thought haunts him still. “Think of all those 50,000 men in the North,” Mr. Han said. “That was a few army divisions worth of soldiers trapped in the enemy territory, still in active service because they have never been discharged. And what have you done for them?” (Choe Sang-hun, “Landmark Verdict against North Korea Also Brings Overdue Respect in South,” New York Times, August 8, 2020, p. A-10)

The Defense Ministry said today it plans to roll out enhanced submarines in the next five years that will be capable of carrying more ballistic missiles, as part of a long-term initiative to beef up South Korea’s military capabilities. It also plans to develop its own interceptor system like Israel’s Iron Dome to defend the country’s core infrastructure in the capital area against North Korea’s long-range artillery threats. “We have in mind 3,600- and 4,000-ton submarines for development, much more advanced than the ones in operation now,” a senior ministry official said, referring to the 3,000-ton Dosan Ahn Changho, the first locally made attack submarines. The official said the ministry was positive that the new submarines would be capable of carrying more ballistic missiles than the existing Dosan submarines, which have six launching tubes. The advanced sub and interception system plans are part of the government’s defense blueprint for 2021-2025, unveiled Monday, which calls for spending 300.7 trillion won ($253 billion), a 6.1 percent on-year hike on average over the next five years. As for the submarine development program, the ministry left open the possibility that the new subs could be powered by nuclear energy instead of diesel fuel. “We will discuss that when the right time comes,” the senior official said when asked directly. South Korea initially pushed to build its first nuclear submarine in 2003, amid rising military tensions prompted by North Korea’s withdrawal in the same year from the non-proliferation treaty that prevents the spread of nuclear weapons technology. But Korea had to abort the mission in 2010 as the International Atomic Energy Agency, backed by the US and countries opposing Seoul’s plan, took issue with it, out of fear it could spark an arms race in the region. To develop nuclear-powered military assets, Seoul would also have to revise a nuclear pact with Washington, under which Seoul is committed to using only a limited level of enriched uranium for nonmilitary purposes only. The ministry also said it would develop a variety of missiles that could go with its first locally developed fighter jets, the KF-X, which will be commissioned next year. The KF-X project is the largest undertaking ever by the South Korean military, with some $15 billion earmarked for it and with the end product set to be delivered to the Air Force in 2026. (Choi Si-young, “Defense Ministry Plans to Build Enhanced Ballistic Missile Submarines,” Korea Herald, August 10, 2020)

Israel claimed today that it had thwarted a cyberattack by a North Korea-linked hacking group on its classified defense industry. The Defense Ministry said the attack was deflected “in real time” and that there was no “harm or disruption” to its computer systems. However, security researchers at ClearSky, the international cybersecurity firm that first exposed the attack, said the North Korean hackers penetrated the computer systems and were likely to have stolen a large amount of classified data. Israeli officials fear the data could be shared with North Korea’s ally, Iran. The episode adds Israel to the list of countries and companies that have been targeted by North Korea’s hacking unit, known to private security analysts as the Lazarus Group. American and Israeli officials have said the Lazarus Group, also known as Hidden Cobra, is backed by Pyongyang. U.S. federal prosecutors unmasked North Korean members of the Lazarus Group in a 2018 criminal complaint, which said the group was working on behalf of Lab 110, a North Korean military intelligence unit. The complaint accused the group of playing a role in North Korea’s devastating 2017 ransomware attack, known as “WannaCry,” which paralyzed 300,000 computers across 150 countries; the 2016 cyber-theft of $81 million from Bangladesh Bank; and the crippling 2014 cyberattack at Sony Pictures Entertainment that resulted in the leak of executive emails and destroyed more than two-thirds of the studio’s computer servers. Though the group’s track record is mixed, North Korea’s growing army of more than 6,000 hackers has grown only more sophisticated and emboldened with time, according to American and British officials tracking the group. In a report last April, officials at the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Treasury Department and the F.B.I. accused North Korea of increasingly using digital means to evade sanctions and generate income for its nuclear weapons program. The report also accused North Korea of shopping out its hackers to other cybercriminals and countries in what is known as “hacking for hire.” Israel has been fighting an escalating cyberconflict with Iran in recent months. Israel said it foiled a cyberattack on its water infrastructure in April that officials said was aimed at raising chlorine to dangerous levels as Israelis were quarantined at home with the coronavirus. Israel, which blamed Iran, retaliated two weeks later with a cyberattack on an Iranian port that knocked its computers offline and created miles-long shipping traffic around Iran’s Shahid Rajaee port facility in early May. The North Korean attack on Israeli’s defense industry began with a LinkedIn message last June, ClearSky researchers said. North Korean hackers posing as a Boeing headhunter sent a message to a senior engineer at an Israeli government-owned company that manufactures weapons for the Israeli military and intelligence. The hackers created a fake LinkedIn profile for the headhunter, Dana Lopp. There is indeed a real Ms. Lopp, a senior personnel recruiter at Boeing. She did not respond to a message today. Ms. Lopp was one of several headhunters from prominent defense and aerospace companies — including Boeing, McDonnell Douglas and BAE Systems — whom North Korea’s hackers mimicked on LinkedIn. After establishing contact with their Israeli targets, the hackers asked for an email address or phone number to connect via WhatsApp or, to increase credibility, suggested switching to a live call. Some of those who received the calls, and whom ClearSky approached later, said the other side spoke English without an accent and sounded credible. That level of sophistication had not been demonstrated by Lazarus before, the researchers said. Israeli officials speculated Wednesday that North Korea may have outsourced some of their operation to native English speakers abroad. At some point, the hackers asked to send their targets a list of job requirements. That file contained invisible spyware that infiltrated the employee’s personal computer and attempted to crawl into classified Israeli networks. ClearSky said the attacks, which started early this year, “succeeded, in our assessment, to infect several dozen companies and organizations in Israel” and around the globe. The hacking campaign was a notable step up from a previous attempt by North Korea to hack the Israeli defense industry last year. In 2019, ClearSky reported a somewhat clumsy effort by Lazarus to break into computers of an Israeli defense corporation by sending emails in broken Hebrew that were likely written with electronic translation. The emails immediately aroused suspicion and the attack was stopped. North Korea’s hackers appear to have learned their lesson and in mid-2019 began using LinkedIn and WhatsApp to establish contact with a number of military industries in the West, attacking aerospace and defense companies in Europe and the Middle East. In August, a United Nations report said that North Korean hackers used similar methods to track officials of the organization and of member states. Boaz Dolev, the chief executive and owner of ClearSky, said that in the wake of these reports the company began seeing attempts to attack Israeli defense companies. It quickly found Lazarus’s fake LinkedIn profiles and messages to employees of Israeli defense companies. ClearSky researchers discovered that, in at least two cases, North Korea’s hackers had installed hacking tools on Israeli networks. The tool, known as a remote access trojan, has been used by North Korean hackers in previous cyberattacks on Turkish banks and other victims, stealing passwords and other data. The successful installation was a red flag, researchers said, that North Korea made it further into the Israeli networks than officials let on. “North Korea’s Lazarus is once again proving high capability and originality in its social engineering and hacking methods,” Dolev said. (Ronen Bergman and Nicole Perlroth, “Israel Says It Halted North Korean Cyberattack; Security Firm Suspects Data Theft,” New York Times, August 13, 2020 p. A-9)

KCNA: “The 16th meeting of the Political Bureau of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) took place at the office building of the Central Committee of the WPK on August 13. Kim Jong Un, chairman of the WPK, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and supreme commander of the armed forces of the DPRK, was present at the meeting. Attending the meeting were members of the Presidium and members and alternate members of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee. Present there as observers were directors, first vice directors and vice directors of departments of the WPK Central Committee, vice-premiers of the Cabinet, ministers, chairpersons of provincial Party committees, chairpersons of Party committees of ministries and national institutions, commanding officers of the armed forces organs and members of the Central Emergency Anti-epidemic Headquarters. Upon authorization of the Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK, Supreme Leader of the Party, the state and the armed forces Kim Jong Un presided over the meeting. The meeting discussed and decided on the issues of eradicating the flood damage and providing stable living conditions to the people as early as possible by concentrating all efforts, and on further strictly maintaining the state emergency anti-epidemic system in the face of the worldwide public health crisis, perfecting the regular commanding system for anti-epidemic work, on lifting a lock-down of the frontline area including Kaesong City, and on organizing a new department in the Party Central Committee, and examined the state event preparations for marking the 75th Party founding anniversary with splendor, before studying and discussing relevant measures. There was a briefing on the damage by the recent disastrous heavy rains and floods. During the rainy season 39 296 hectares of crops were damaged nationwide including Kangwon, North and South Hwanghae Provinces and Kaesong City, at least 16 680 dwelling houses and over 630 public buildings were destroyed or inundated, lots of roads, bridges and railway sections broken, a dam of a power station gave way and there was other severe damage in various sectors of the national economy. A particular mention was made of the fact that inhabitants in the areas with severe damage including Kimhwa, Cholwon, Hoeyang and Changdo counties in Kangwon Province and Unpha and Jangphung counties in North Hwanghae Province are living in the evacuated areas, undergoing great pain in their living. Briefing on a general situation of flood damage, the Supreme Leader said that the flood-stricken people must be suffering great as they are living in temporary dwelling places with their houses and family properties lost. He earnestly said that it is a crucial time that our Party must be responsible for their living and we have to go closer to them to share the pain with them and to relieve them of their sufferings. Our state faces two challenges: anti-epidemic work to thoroughly cope with the world public health crisis and unexpected sudden natural disaster, he said, pointing out that our Party and the government must set forth correct policy direction to overcome these two crises at the same time and display excellent leadership arts in the three-dimensional and offensive campaign. Stressing the need to rapidly organize and take all necessary measures no matter how long the state emergency anti-epidemic work may last and how many obstacles and difficulties may lie ahead, the Supreme Leader called on all the Party organizations and the power bodies at all levels to properly discharge their roles. Saying that we cannot make the flood-affected people celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Party homeless, he set forth tasks for different sectors to eradicate the damage of the flood and bring the living of the people to normal at an early date. He specified detailed ways for this. He said that the flood damage rehabilitation should not just be confined to mere construction for removing the damage caused by natural disaster and restoration of the living conditions but should be carried out as an important political work for celebrating the 75th birth anniversary of the Party as a genuine holiday of the people and a revolutionary holiday cementing the single-minded unity. He emphasized that we should spruce up the flood-damaged area to meet not only the desire and wish of the people but also the high standard of the times, and ensure qualitative construction in appropriate places based on the opinions of the inhabitants so that no damage can occur even though there come more natural disasters and flood in the future. The situation, in which the spread of the worldwide malignant virus has become worse, requires us not to allow any outside aid for the flood damage but shut the border tighter and carry out strict anti-epidemic work, he said, adding that information work should be conducted well so as to prevent any violation of anti-epidemic rules among inhabitants in the flood-hit area and those mobilized for the rehabilitation work. He said that through the active rehabilitation drive we have to prove in practice once again the revolutionary nature of our Party which shares misfortune and pain with the people and protects them by removing all those pains, the advantages of our social system. He repeatedly stressed the need for our Party to fulfill its sacred duty so that it won’t feel ashamed of itself before the people and surely live up to the trust and expectation of the people. He suggested issuing a decision of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee and the joint order of the WPK Central Committee, the Party Central Military Commission and the State Affairs Commission reflecting the immediate fighting tasks for finishing the most part of the flood damage rehabilitation and stabilizing the people’s living by October 10 through the coordinated operation of the army and people loyal to the leadership of Party based on the great unity. The Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee expressed a unanimous approval for the ardent appeal of the Supreme Leader. The meeting agreed on an issue of introducing new machinery for setting up nationwide regular anti-epidemic work system, now that the emergency anti-epidemic work has assumed prolonged nature. It also mentioned the issue for the new machinery to correctly exercise the authority it has been vested with and enhance its responsibility and role. The meeting also decided to lift the lock-down of the front-line area, including Kaesong, which has been enforced from July 24 following the emergency incident in the forefront area, based on the scientific verification and guarantee by a professional anti-epidemic organization. Saying that following the past over 20 days of lockdown of the front-line area it has been proved the situation of anti-epidemic work has been kept and controlled stably, he expressed thanks in the name of the Party Central Committee to the people in the locked-down area for having remained faithful to the measure taken by our Party and government, despite of inconvenience in their living under quarantine, and to soldiers, public security officers, security men and members of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards for having performed their duty of locking down the area with responsibility, despite of heavy rains and sultry weather. The meeting also heard a report on how the preparations for state events in celebration of the 75th birth anniversary of the WPK according to the decision made at the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th WPK Central Committee proceed, checked the issues arising in preparing every event and took due measures to prepare at the best level all the celebrations with peculiar style as a great political festival to be provided as an excellent gift to the 75th birth anniversary of the WPK. The meeting discussed and decided on the affair to set up new department in the Party Central Committee and defined its function and role. The Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee expressed belief that the department to be newly established will make tangible contribution to safeguarding the dignity and interests of the state and people, reliably supporting and guaranteeing the political stability and order of the society and impregnably defending our class position and socialist construction. The meeting also discussed an organizational matter. Members of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee were elected. Kim Tok Hun and Ri Pyong Chol were elected as members of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee. The meeting re-called and by-elected a member and alternate members of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee. Pak Thae Dok was by-elected as a member of the Party Central Committee and member of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee. Pak Myong Sun and Jon Kwang Ho were by-elected as alternate members of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee. According to a proposal of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee, the Chairman of the DPRK State Affairs Commission relieved the premier of the DPRK Cabinet and appointed new premier by exercising the power he has been invested with under the Socialist Constitution. The Chairman of the DPRK State Affairs Commission appointed Kim Tok Hun as the premier of the DPRK Cabinet. The meeting elected vice-chairmen of the Party Central Committee. Kim Jae Ryong and Pak Thae Dok were elected as vice-chairmen of the Party Central Committee. It also dismissed the directors of some departments of the Party Central Committee and appointed new directors. Kim Jae Ryong, Pak Thae Dok, Pak Myong Sun, Jon Kwang Ho and Kim Yong Su were appointed as department directors of the Party Central Committee. Chairmen of the provincial committees of the WPK were appointed. Kim Chol Sam was appointed as chairman of the North Hamgyong Provincial Party Committee and Ri Jae Nam as chairman of the Nampho City Party Committee.” (KCNA, “16th Meeting of Political Bureau of 7th Central Committee Held,” August 14, 2020)

President Moon: “ … We as a nation must also respond without fail to the efforts of individuals to prove their own dignity and pool our wisdom to find ways to devise solutions. In 2005, four victims of forced labor filed a damage suit against Japanese companies that mobilized Korean workers in the colonial period. In 2018, the Supreme Court of Korea ruled in their favor. Although the Supreme Court acknowledged the validity of the 1965 Claims Agreement between Korea and Japan, it ruled that the right of an individual to claim damages against unlawful acts had never been waived. A Supreme Court ruling has the highest legal authority and executory power within the Republic of Korea. My administration respects the judiciary’s decision, and we have been engaging in consultations with the Japanese government on how to reach a satisfactory resolution to which the victims could agree. The door for such consultations remains wide open. My administration is ready to sit down with the Japanese government at any time to discuss these issues. Three of the plaintiffs have already passed away. When Japan’s export restriction measures were put in place last year, Lee Chun-sik, now the sole surviving plaintiff, wondered out loud whether the Republic of Korea was “suffering a loss” because of him. We will affirm the fact that protecting an individual’s dignity will never end up incurring a loss for his country. At the same time, we will work with Japan to protect universal values of humanity, the principles of international law and democracy based on the separation of powers. I believe that joint efforts by Japan and Korea to respect individual human rights will become a bridge for friendship and future cooperation between the peoples of our two countries. Fellow Koreans, Dongdaemun Stadium is a place imbued with both the joy of liberation and the pain of inter-Korean division. On Dec. 19, 1945, a national ceremony to welcome the Provisional Republic of Korea Government was held here. That day, independence activist Kim Gu — pen name Baekbeom — called on the public to “Let the entire Korean people unite and build a new Korea of self-reliance, equality and happiness.” However, on July 5, 1949, our people had to bid him a tearful farewell, as 1 million mourners gathered here. Kim Gu dreamed of completing the liberation of Korea that was left unfinished due to the division by bringing about the unification of the Korean Peninsula. That dream has become a task for all of us who remain. Genuine liberation can be achieved when the dreams and lives of each and every one of us are guaranteed on a unified, peaceful and safe Korean Peninsula. The reason we pursue peace and promote inter-Korean cooperation is to ensure that the people of the two Koreas can live together, safe and well. We have awakened to the fact that everyone’s health and safety are closely connected as we fight infectious diseases in livestock and the COVID-19 pandemic while enduring unprecedented downpours triggered by extreme weather. The fact that South and North Korea are one community when it comes to life and safety has been confirmed repeatedly. Security and peace in this era are about guaranteeing the life and safety of everyone living on the Korean Peninsula. I hope that cooperation on epidemic prevention and control and the joint management of transboundary rivers will help the people of the two Koreas sense tangible benefits from peace. It is my hope that along with communities for peace and economic prosperity, there will be a breakthrough for mutual benefit and peace to achieve a community for life. This should accompany closer cooperation on a new security situation in the COVID-19 era through collaboration on health care, medical services and forestry and joint research on agricultural technology and the development of new crop varieties. Along with humanitarian cooperation for the life and safety of the people, working together to allow them to meet whomever they want and visit wherever they want before they die is practical inter-Korean collaboration. Inter-Korean cooperation is indeed the best security policy that allows both Koreas to break away from reliance on nuclear or military strength. The stronger inter-Korean cooperation grows, the more solid the security of each Korea will be. This will in turn become a force that moves us toward prosperity in cooperation with the international community. As agreed upon in the Panmunjom Declaration, we will permanently remove the threat of war and build the foundation of genuine liberation that our forebears dreamed of. The two Koreas conducted a joint survey of and even held a groundbreaking ceremony for the reconnection of inter-Korean railways. It is the key driving force to expand future inter-Korean cooperation into the continent. We will move toward a Korean Peninsula of peace and common prosperity while examining and implementing every single aspect of agreements already reached between the two Koreas.” (Yonhap, “Full Text of President Moon Jae-in’s Speech on Korea’s 75th Liberation Day,” August 15, 2020)

Abe Shinzo is facing some of the toughest challenges of his record-setting tenure as Japan’s prime minister, with persistent flare-ups of the coronavirus, an economy mired in recession, and a public fed up with his government’s handling of the crises. Yet Abe’s administration is focusing on a different threat, one that lines up with a long-running preoccupation for the prime minister: the prospect of ballistic missile attacks by North Korea or China. This month, Abe’s political party began publicly considering whether the country should acquire weapons capable of striking missile launch sites in enemy territory if an attack appeared imminent. For Japan, which two days ago commemorated the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II — and 75 years of renouncing combat — the proposal is fraught. In considering loosening restrictions on Japan’s ability to attack targets in other countries, the party has revived a protracted and politically sensitive debate. The discussion is taking place as Japan finds itself caught between China, whose rising military aggression has reverberated across Asia, and the United States, whose once-ironclad commitment to guaranteeing the region’s security has come into question. In a sign of the sensitivities around the proposal, Kono Taro, Japan’s defense minister, spoke evasively about the idea of acquiring long-range missiles during an interview at the Defense Ministry this week. “Logically speaking, I won’t say it’s a zero percent” chance, said Kono, who noted that any such acquisition would need to include complex radar and surveillance systems and the training of military personnel to use them. “The government hasn’t really decided anything yet.” Kono’s tiptoeing reflects the Japanese public’s strong identification with the country’s pacifist Constitution, which was put in place by American occupiers in 1947 and limits military action to instances of self-defense. Years-long efforts by Abe to revise the pacifist clause in the Constitution have met with strong opposition. Komeito, the parliamentary coalition partner of the prime minister’s party, the Liberal Democrats, has indicated that it does not support the acquisition of long-range missiles. “In the Japanese context, it can be scandalous” to make such a proposal, said Michishita Narushige, director of the Security and International Studies Program at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. “People get freaked out when people start speaking about ‘strikes.’” But given the increasing risks around Japan, including North Korea’s expanding nuclear arsenal and China’s muscle-flexing during the pandemic, Michishita and other security analysts said it should be only natural for the country to consider bolstering its defenses. In a poll this week by NHK, the public broadcaster, half of respondents said that Japan should acquire weapons that could stop missile attacks before they are launched from enemy territory. That approval rating is better than Abe’s at the moment: According to a recent NHK poll, only 34 percent of those surveyed approve of the cabinet’s current performance, the lowest rating since Abe returned to power as prime minister in 2012. The current discussion about acquiring long-range missiles was prompted by the government’s decision in June to cancel a plan to buy an American missile defense system, known as Aegis Ashore, that would have been deployed in northern and western Japan. The governing party said it would need to explore alternatives after the cancellation of the system, which would have served as a shield to intercept incoming missiles. Kono said that though Aegis Ashore represented a good form of defense for Japan in principle, the cost of hardware adjustments, necessary to ensure that rocket boosters would not fall on Japanese territory, would be prohibitive. Given that expense, he said, “I don’t think it’s worth it.” But while Japan has decided against the American missile system, Kono said it was important to “send a clear message” to North Korea about the country’s alliance with the United States and “our resolve about protecting Japan against any missile offensive from North Korea.” Under the alliance, the United States has traditionally assumed the role of providing offensive capabilities, while Japan has stuck to purely defensive activities. “The old paradigm of the U.S.-Japan alliance is that Japan wears the ‘shield’ and hosts the ‘sword,’” said Euan Graham, senior fellow for Asia-Pacific security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore, invoking a commonly used metaphor for the stationing of about 55,000 American troops in Japan. But “that paradigm has been breaking down for many years,” Graham said, a trend that has only accelerated as the Trump administration has pushed allies to assume more responsibility for their own defense. Japan, where three years ago cellphones beeped with warnings of North Korean missiles flying high overhead, must make similar calculations. With the possibility that President Trump could be elected to a second term, Japan is “seeking to leave defense options open,” said Mira Rapp-Hooper, a senior fellow for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “Japan increasingly has to provide for its own defense by Japanese means.” At a news conference in Tokyo this month, a reporter asked Kono, the defense minister, whether Japan would need to consider the sensitivities of either China or South Korea in acquiring long-range missiles. Critics have questioned whether the victims of Japan’s former wartime aggression might consider such missiles a breach of its constitutional commitment to pacifism. “At a time when China is enhancing their missiles, why do we need their approval?” Kono retorted. “Why do we need South Korea’s approval for defending our territory?” Japan’s discussion of long-range missiles goes as far back as 1956, when the government ruled that it had the legal right to send missiles into enemy countries to counter an attack on Japanese territory. At the time, Hatoyama Ichiro, who was serving as prime minister, famously said: “I don’t think the Constitution means that we just sit and wait for death.” In 2003, Ishiba Shigeru, then the defense minister, detailed the conditions under which Japan could launch missiles toward another country such as North Korea: if the enemy’s missile was fueled and loaded onto a launcher, and its intention to attack Japan was apparent. Such criteria can lead to murky decisions and questions about when, exactly, Japan could deploy its own missiles. “Japan does have to in some ways walk a fine line legally because of their own laws and their policies” about allowing only for self-defense, said Jeffrey Hornung, an analyst at the RAND Corporation. “If you see a rocket fueling on a launchpad, you have no idea where it’s going, and if you take it out you’ve just started a war.” As part of its self-defense activities, the Japanese Coast Guard has been closely monitoring ships sent by China to patrol waters around the Senkakus, islands in the East China Sea administered by Japan but contested by China. Japan has also recently signed a deal to lend Vietnam patrol boats to monitor maritime activities in the South China Sea, where China has recently been projecting its military might. Kono said in the interview that Japan did not want any of its actions to be seen as provoking conflict in the region. “I don’t think we are on the verge of going to war or anything,” Kono said. “And I don’t think we should try to escalate tension anywhere.” Some analysts note that Japan has already been moving to develop the ability to mount a missile counterattack. Two years ago, when Japan released new defense guidelines, the government indicated that it would acquire missiles that could be used to attack enemy warships or even land-based targets. Critics say the Abe administration is trying to take advantage of the current circumstances to short-circuit public debate over the idea of acquiring long-range missiles. “I think it’s a common understanding among the vast majority of Japanese people that as a last resort — five minutes before an enemy attack — Japan as a sovereign nation has the right to attack enemy forces that are trying to attack us,” said Koda Yoji, a former commander in chief of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force. But the current proposal, he said, “could be a kind of willful attempt, without discussing anything, to conclude that attacking capability is best.” (Motoko Rich, “A Fraught Proposal for a Pacifist Japan: Should It Acquire Missiles?” New York Times, August 17, 2020, p. A-9)

Unification Minister Lee In-young called today for efforts with the United States to upgrade the joint “working group” forum on North Korea policy so as to help move inter-Korean relations forward. Lee made the case during a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Harry Harris, stressing that the operation and functions of the working group should be upgraded in a way that “facilitates the development of inter-Korean relations and Korean Peninsula peace policy,” according to Lee’s office. The minister said it’s time to improve the forum to “Working Group Version 2.0.” “I believe we must restart inter-Korean dialogue and push ahead with cooperation in the humanitarian field … and small-scale trade as the recent stalemate between the two Koreas and between North Korea and the U.S. has protracted,” Lee told Harris before the closed-door meeting. “Although the working group has received positive feedback on one hand for its effective discussions in terms of sanctions, I would like to mention that there was criticism that it has served as a hindrance to inter-Korean relations,” he said. Harris said that he looks “forward to understanding more fully the parameters of working group 2.0.” South Korea and the United States set up the working group in November 2018 to coordinate their approaches on the North’s denuclearization, humanitarian aid, sanctions enforcement and inter-Korean relations. North Korea has lambasted the working group as a hindrance to progress in inter-Korean relations. Some critics in Seoul also say it has served as a roadblock in seeking cross-border exchanges and cooperation, citing projects that run counter to global sanctions. Today’s meeting was Lee’s first with Harris since he took office last month. (Yi Wonju, “Unification Minister Calls for Upgrading Korea-U.S. Working Group to ‘Version 2.0,’” Yonhap, August 18, 2020)

Back in 2016, North Korea’s freshly minted leader, Kim Jong-un, held the country’s first ruling Workers’ Party’s congress in three decades and laid out an ambitious five-year economic plan to build what he called a “great socialist country” by 2020. Today, he admitted that the plan had failed. One calamity after another has hit North Korea since 2016. Led by the United States, the United Nations Security Council imposed devastating economic sanctions to retaliate against the North for its pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles. Then came the global coronavirus pandemic, followed by massive flood damage because of torrential rain. Kim now plans to chart a new course. North Korea today announced plans to hold a rare Workers’ Party congress in January to work on a new plan to shore up its economy. Kim’s blunt admission of policy shortcomings during a formal party meeting was an indication of how much the North Korean economy had been hammered by the triple crises. Plans to improve the national economy have been “seriously delayed” by “severe internal and external situations and unexpected manifold challenges,” the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party concluded during the meeting in Pyongyang, KCNA reported on August 20. People’s living standard has also “not been improved remarkably,” the committee said. It remains rare in North Korea, if not unprecedented, under Kim’s rule to openly admit to such failures. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, and grandfather Kim Il-sung, who had ruled before him like infallible, godlike figures, never did. In North Korea, it had been a capital crime to criticize the policies of the dynastic Kim regime that has led North Korea since its founding in the 1940s. But since he came to power, the younger Kim has broken that tradition, casting himself as a new type of leader, one who is ostensibly more forthcoming in admitting and addressing economic problems of his country. He has often criticized his state-run factories and construction projects for being unproductive as he tried to rebuild his country’s economy in defiance of international sanctions. When he met with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea in 2018, Kim admitted his roads and railways were in “embarrassing” condition, South Korean officials said. In October, North Korea’s state news media reported that he voiced “sharp criticism” of the “dependent policies” of his predecessors when he ordered the demolition of South Korean hotels and other buildings in a resort complex that the two countries once operated together. North Korea had already been struggling under the stranglehold of United Nations sanctions. Then, last week, the North Korean leader admitted that his nation was facing “two crises at the same time”: fighting the spread of the coronavirus and coping with extensive flood damage. But he ordered his country not to accept any international aid for fear that outside help might bring in Covid-19. In his no-nonsense assessment during the party meeting today, Kim said his country faced “unexpected and inevitable challenges” this year. He also critiqued the “achievements and shortcomings” of his own government, state news media reported. In 2016, when he adopted his economic plan, the North’s economy grew 3.9 percent, the highest since a devastating famine hit the country in the late 1990s, according to the estimates by the South’s central Bank of Korea. The growth was largely the result of ramped-up exports of coal, iron ore, textiles and fisheries to China. But the United Nations Security Council banned such exports after the North rapidly expanded its weapons programs, testing three intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2017, as well as what it said was a hydrogen bomb. As the sanctions tightened, the North’s economy shrank by 3.5 percent in 2017, according to the Bank of Korea. It contracted by 4.1 percent the following year, with its exports to China plummeting 86 percent. North Korea’s economy recovered slightly last year, growing 0.4 percent, as Pyongyang invented ways of easing the pain of the sanctions, such as smuggling banned cargo across the Chinese border at night or between ships on the high seas. It also exported practically anything not banned by the sanctions: cheap watches assembled with Chinese components, artificial eyelashes, wigs, mannequins and soccer balls. But this year, the coronavirus forced the country to shut down the border with China, which had accounted for more than 90 percent of the North’s external trade. North Korea’s exports to China plummeted to $27 million in the first half of this year, a 75 percent drop from a year ago, according to the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. Imports from China dropped 67 percent to $380 million. Fitch Solutions, which had predicted a 3.7 percent growth for the North Korean economy this year before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the global economy, now forecasts a record 8.5 percent contraction for the North. As the North’s economic woes deepened, Kim begun delegating some of his governing work to his deputies, including to his only sister, Kim Yo Jong, the South’s National Intelligence Service said on August 20. She has increased her voice in the North’s relations with South Korea and the United States. (Choe Sang-hun, “Admitting 5-Year Plan Failed, Kim Plots New Course for North Korean Economy,” New York Times, August 21, 2020, p. A-10)

There is no sign North Korea reprocessed spent fuel from its main nuclear reactor into plutonium in the past year, but it seems to have continued to enrich uranium, the International Atomic Energy Agency said. It has not had access to North Korea since the secretive communist state expelled its inspectors in 2009. Since its expulsion the agency has been monitoring North Korea’s activities from afar, including with satellite imagery. It is “almost certain” the experimental 5-megawatt reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, which is widely believed to have produced plutonium for weapons, has been shut down since early December 2018, the IAEA said in an annual report dated Sept. 1 and posted online. There has, however, been no telltale steam at the plutonium reprocessing lab there, suggesting the last batch of spent fuel stayed in the reactor building. “It is almost certain that no reprocessing activity took place and that the plutonium produced in the 5MW(e) reactor during the most recent operational cycle has not been separated,” the IAEA report said, adding that construction appeared to continue on a light-water reactor at Yongbyon. By contrast, vehicle movements and the operation of cooling units at a fuel-rod fabrication plant at Yongbyon suggests North Korea has been producing enriched uranium with centrifuges there, it said. North Korea could also be enriching uranium at a facility just outside Pyongyang known as Kangson that has only attracted attention as a potential enrichment site in recent years “The construction of this complex at Kangson took place before the construction of the reported centrifuge enrichment facility at Yongbyon, with which it shares some characteristics,” the IAEA said. “If the Kangson complex is a centrifuge enrichment facility this would be consistent with the Agency’s assessed chronology of the development of the DPRK’s reported uranium enrichment program” it said. (Francois Murphy, “No Sign North Korea Reprocessed Plutonium in Past Year, Still Enriching Uranium, IAEA Says,” Reuters, September 2, 2020)

A new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on North Korea reveals ongoing uranium enrichment at its Yongbyon facility and continuing progress toward construction of an experimental light-water reactor (LWR). North Korea’s five-megawatt, gas-graphite reactor remains inactive, however; and there are no signs that plutonium reprocessing occurred within the last year, the agency’s September 3 report finds. Although the agency notes that, without inspector access to North Korea’s nuclear facilities the IAEA “cannot confirm either the operational status or configuration/design features of the facilities or locations described,” the report suggests that North Korea’s production of fissile material, specifically of highly enriched uranium (HEU), continues. That the agency detected no indications of plutonium reprocessing would suggest that North Korea’s plutonium production has stalled. But the report suggests the IAEA is not able to determine whether irradiated fuel from the reactor’s most recent operational cycle, which ended in December 2018, remains inside the reactor or whether fuel rods were removed and stored in the spent fuel pond to await reprocessing. The latter action could imply a forthcoming plutonium reprocessing campaign, which would expand North Korea’s stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium. The agency’s report does not estimate how much HEU North Korea produced during the reporting period or how much fissile material it has stockpiled in total. According to the report, Pyongyang is continuing to make progress toward constructing an experimental LWR at the Yongbyon nuclear complex. The report notes that although internal construction appears to have continued during the reporting period, the IAEA is unable to estimate based on available information when the reactor will become operational. Construction on the reactor began in late 2010. North Korea’s failure to cooperate with the IAEA limits implementation of the agency’s safeguards practices to those that can be conducted remotely and without on-site access. Safeguards conclusions, including those reflected in the September 3 report, are drawn largely from open source information and satellite imagery analysis. (Julia Masterson, “North Korea Continues Uranium Enrichment,” Arms Control Today, 50 (October 2020), pp. 29-30)

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un spoke of a “magical force” and a “special friendship” in the letters they exchanged, CNN reported today, citing transcripts of two letters that it obtained. In one of the letters sent a month after Kim’s meeting with Trump at the DMZ in June 2019, the North Korean leader wrote that he was upset that the South Korea-US military exercises had not fully stopped. “I am clearly offended and I do not want to hide this feeling from you. I am really, very offended,” Kim wrote. “Your Excellency, I am immensely proud and honored that we have a relationship where I can send and receive such candid thoughts with you.” For his forthcoming book on Trump’s presidency, “Rage,” US journalist Bob Woodward gained access to 25 letters that Trump exchanged with Kim, and wrote that the letters are filled with “declarations of personal fealty that might be uttered by the Knights of the Round Table, or perhaps suitors.” Addressing Trump as “Your Excellency,” Kim maintained an unusual tone of diplomatic courtship. “Even now I cannot forget that moment of history when I firmly held Your Excellency’s hand at the beautiful and sacred location as the whole world watched with great interest and hope to relive the honor of that day,” Kim wrote to Trump on December 25, 2018, following their first meeting in Singapore. Another meeting “between myself and Your Excellency,” Kim added, would be “reminiscent of a scene from a fantasy film.” Trump wrote back to Kim on December 28, “Like you, I have no doubt that a great result will be accomplished between our two countries, and that the only two leaders who can do it are you and me. Trump has tweeted out two of the 27 letters, but the other 25 have never been seen before. Woodward was able to review all of the letters, but was not given copies, so he recorded transcripts of their contents into his audio recorder for his new book, CNN said. In June 2019, four months after the two leaders’ second meeting in Hanoi, Kim wrote that “every minute we shared 103 days ago in Hanoi was also a moment of glory that remains a precious memory.” “I also believe that the deep and special friendship between us will work as a magical force,” Kim said. Following the DMZ meeting in June 2019, which Trump proposed, the U.S. president wrote to Kim on June 30, “Being with you today was truly amazing,” attaching a copy of the New York Times’ front page from that day. Two days later, Trump wrote again, sending 22 photographs of their meeting: “These images are great memories for me and capture the unique friendship that you and I have developed.” In the second summit in February 2019, Trump said he knew Kim was not ready to make a deal, and the two leaders argued over which nuclear sites Pyongyang would dismantle, according to CNN. “I know every one of the sites. I know all of them, better than any of my people I know them. You understand that,” Trump said, according to Woodward. When Kim refused to budge, Trump tried a new approach. “Do you ever do anything other than send rockets up to the air?” Trump asked Kim. “Let’s go to a movie together. Let’s go play a round of golf.” After Woodward obtained Kim’s letters, Trump warned him in a January 2020 phone call: “You can’t mock Kim. I don’t want to get in a f — -ing nuclear war because you mocked him.” The CIA never said who wrote Kim’s letters to Trump, but Woodward wrote that CIA analysts called them “masterpieces,” and “marveled at the skill someone brought to finding the exact mixture of flattery while appealing to Trump’s sense of grandiosity and being center stage in history.” (Kim So-hyun, “Trump, North Korea’s Kim Exchanged Letters of ‘Magical Force,’ ‘Special Friendship’: Report,” Korea Herald, September 10, 2020) President Donald Trump said in letters to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last year that only they can resolve hostility between their countries and promised to be his friend forever, Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward writes in his upcoming book. “Only you and I, working together, can resolve the issues between our two countries and end nearly 70 years of hostility, bringing an era of prosperity to the Korean peninsula that will exceed all our greatest expectations — and you will be the one to lead,” Trump said in the letter June 12, 2019, according to excerpts of the new book “Rage,” obtained by Yonhap. Trump’s June 12 letter was a reply to a letter from Kim, dated June 10. “Like the brief time we had together a year ago in Singapore, every minute we shared 103 days ago in Hanoi was also a moment of glory and remains a precious memory,” Kim wrote, according to the book. “I also believe that the deep and special friendship between us will work as a magical force,” the North Korean leader was quoted as saying. Such flattery came from a man who, according to the book, had offered to Trump a very graphic account of how he had his own uncle executed. Trump explained to Woodward that Kim had Jang Song Thaek, Kim’s uncle by marriage, decapitated, with his body put on display on the steps of a building used by senior North Korean officials. It was not immediately clear when Kim had offered such a vivid account of Jang’s execution. Still, Trump promised to be Kim’s friend, even after their second summit in Hanoi fell through. “Thank you again for making this long journey to Hanoi. As I said to you when we parted ways, you are my friend and always will be,” Trump wrote in another letter to Kim, dated March 22, 2019. (Byun Duk-kun, “Trump Told Kim Only They Can End Hostility, Promised Permanent Friendship: Book,” Yonhap, September 13, 2020) The U.S. came close to nuclear war with North Korea in 2017, launching a precision missile to demonstrate to Pyongyang that it could strike any target, including North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, according to a new book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward. In response to Pyongyang test-firing its first intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the US on July 4, 2017, retired Gen. Vincent Brooks, who headed US Forces Korea from 2016 to 2018, ordered troops to fire a tactical missile that traveled 300 kilometers before dropping into the East Sea, according to Woodward. “That was the exact distance between the launching point of the US missile and the North Korean missile test site, as well as a tent where satellite photos showed Kim Jong-un was watching the missile launch,” Woodward wrote, according to excerpts obtained by Yonhap. “The meaning was meant to be clear: Kim Jong-un needed to worry about his personal safety,” Woodward said, adding that it was never confirmed whether the North had gotten the message. Following its ICBM test, the North upped provocations, launching a more powerful ICBM on July 28 and another ballistic missile over Japan on August 29, which Woodward described as a “clear escalation” that “changed the character of the threat.” Then-Defense Secretary James Mattis mulled whether the U.S. should carry out a military attack in response, but reconsidered due to the consequences that would likely entail. “(Mattis) began looking for more aggressive response options and wondered if they should take some actual bombing action in a North Korean port to send the message,” Woodward said. “(Mattis) did not think that President (Donald) Trump would launch a preemptive strike on North Korea, although plans for such a war were on the shelf.” With the escalation of provocations in 2017, Trump’s national security team also believed the potential for nuclear war with the North was there. “We never knew whether it was real or whether it was a bluff,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was quoted as saying in the book. Mattis even slept in his clothes so he would be ready in case of a provocation by the North and went to the nearby Washington National Cathedral to pray, Woodward reported. Woodward said the US Strategic Command in Omaha, Nebraska, had carefully reviewed Operation Plan 5027 — the war plans in case of a North Korean invasion — which included “the use of 80 nuclear weapons.” “This weighed heavily on me every day. I had to consider every day this could happen. This was not a theoretical concern,” Mattis was quoted as saying, raising concern that “the worst possible situation might dictate the use of nuclear weapons.” For the book, Woodward conducted 18 interviews with Trump between December and July. During one, Trump told Woodward that Washington came closer to war with Pyongyang than anyone can imagine in 2017. “Much closer than anyone would know. Much closer,” Trump said, insisting that Kim too must have known. “But he knows. I have a great relationship, let me just put it that way.” (Ahn Sung-mi, “U.S. Fired Missiles in 2017 to Demonstrate It Could Target N.K. Leader Kim: Woodward,” Korea Herald, September 14, 2020) The United States reviewed and studied a plan “that could include the use of 80 nuclear weapons” in response to an attack by North Korea, according to U.S. journalist Bob Woodward in his book “Rage.” Woodward also wrote that Trump had delegated authority to then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to use a conventional interceptor missile to shoot down any North Korean missile that might be headed for the United States. Even when Mattis was moving in a car, he was followed by a communications team equipped with a geospatial map that would track the missile’s anticipated flight path and he could issue from his location an order to shoot it down if it appeared to threaten South Korea, Japan or the United States, according to the book. (Kyodo, “U.S. Studied Plan to Use 80 Nuclear Weapons If Attacked by North Korea,” September 15, 2020) In an August 2019 letter, Kim urged that South Korea-U.S. military exercises be cancelled or postponed before working-level negotiation. Planned drills, which Pyongyang has called a rehearsal for war, were scaled back later on, and both sides described it as a move to expedite the talks. “I am clearly offended and I do not want to hide this feeling from you. I am really, very offended,” Kim wrote, referring to the exercises. Trump also said during their first summit that he did not want to “remove” Kim, and that North Korea could become “one of the great economic powers” if it abandons weapons programs, the book said. (Hyonhee Shim, “South Korea Says No Use of Nuclear Weapons in Joint Operational Plans,” Reuters, September 15, 2020) President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un exchanged at least 27 letters in 2018 and 2019, viewed by journalist Bob Woodward for his new book, Rage. Here are excerpts of the correspondence. 2018 The Singapore Summit took place on June 12. June 15 Trump: “I just have arrived back in America, and the media for North Korea and you (have) been fantastic. They have great respect for you and your country.” July 6 Kim: “The significant first meeting with Your Excellency and the joint statement that we signed together in Singapore 24 days ago was indeed the start of a meaningful journey. Wishing that the invariable trust and confidence in Your Excellency Mr. President will be further strengthened in the future process of taking practical actions, I extend my conviction with the epochal progress in promoting the DPRK-US relations will bring our next meeting forward.” Sept 21 Kim: “My confidence and respect for Your Excellency will never change, though many people are skeptical about the current status and the prospects of the relations between our countries about our ideas of resolving the issue of denuclearization in the future. I, together with Your Excellency, will definitely prove them wrong.” Dec 24 Trump: “I look forward to our next summit and to making real progress on denuclearization and a really bright future for your people under your leadership in the year ahead.” Dec 25 Kim: “It has been 200 days since the historic DPRK-US summit in Singapore this past June, and the year is now almost coming to an end. Even now I cannot forget that moment of history when I firmly held Your Excellency’s hand at the beautiful and sacred location as the whole world watched with great interest and hope to relive the honor of that day. As I mentioned at that time, I feel very honored to have established an excellent relationship with a person such as Your Excellency. As the new year 2019 approaches, critical issues that require endless effort towards even higher ideals and goals still await us. Just as Your Excellency frankly noted, as we enter the new year the whole world will certainly once again come to see, not so far in the future, another historic meeting between myself and Your Excellency reminiscent of a scene from a fantasy film.” Dec 28 Trump: “I just received your letter and very much appreciate your warm feelings and thoughts. Like you, I have no doubt that a great result will be accomplished between our two countries, and that the only two leaders who can do it are you and me.” 2019 Their second meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Feb 27 to 28. June 10 Kim: “Like the brief time we had together a year ago in Singapore, every minute we shared 103 days ago in Hanoi was also a moment of glory that remains a precious memory. Such a precious memory that I have in my unwavering respect for you will provide an impetus for me to take my steps when we walk towards each other again someday in the future. I also believe that the deep and special friendship between us will work as a magical force. Your Excellency Mr. President, I still respect and lay my hopes on the will and determination that you showed in our first meeting to resolve the issue of our unique style that nobody had ever tried, and to write a new history. Today’s reality is that without a new approach and the courage it takes, the prospects for resolution of the issue will only be bleak. I believe the one day will come sooner or later when we sit down together to make great things happen, with the will to give another chance to our mutual trust. Such a day should come again. It may well be recorded as yet another fantastic moment in history.” June 12 Trump: “It is hard to believe that a full year has passed since our historic first meeting in Singapore. It was on that day, one year ago, that you and I made a number of extraordinary commitments to one another — you committed to completely denuclearize, and I committed to provide security guarantees. We both committed to establish new relations for our two countries and to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula. I completely agree with you. You and I have a unique style and a special friendship. Only you and I, working together, can resolve the issues between our two countries and end nearly 70 years of hostility, bringing an era of prosperity to the Korean peninsula that will exceed all our greatest expectations — and you will be the one to lead. It will be historic!” June 30 The two leaders met at the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas. Trump later sent a copy of The New York Times‘ front page showing the meeting and 22 photos of the day to Kim. July 2 [June 30]Trump: “Being with you today (June 30) was truly amazing. Even the media, which always like to say that everything is bad, is giving you accolades for inviting me into your country. They said you demonstrated great foresight and courage in accepting a meeting on such short notice and very public notice. Most importantly I thought our meeting went very well. The potential of your country is truly limitless, and I am confident that incredible prosperity awaits you and your people in the future as we continue to work together.” Aug 5 In his longest letter, Kim expressed his disappointment that US-South Korea military exercises had not fully stopped despite Trump’s announcement that he would end them. Kim: “I’m delighted to receive each and every single picture you specifically chose from that day, which holds special meaning and will remain an eternal memory from that momentous and historic day. Those photographs now hang in my office. I express my appreciation to you, and I will remember that moment forever. My belief was that the provocative combined military exercises would either be cancelled or postponed ahead of our two countries’ working-level negotiations where we would continue to discuss important matters … I am clearly offended and I do not want to hide this feeling from you. I am really, very offended. Your Excellency, I am immensely proud and honored that we have a relationship where I can send and receive such candid thoughts with you.” (Charissa Yong, “Excerpts of Letters between Trump and Kim in 2018 and 2019,” Straits-Times (Singapore), September 16, 2020) Moon Chung-in: “Rage, the new book by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, has been drawing much attention these days. The focus is on the truth of its quote about “80 nuclear weapons.” In an interview with Woodward, former U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said, “The Strategic Command in Omaha had carefully reviewed and studied OPLAN 5027 for regime change in North Korea — the U.S. response to an attack that could include the use of 80 nuclear weapons.” A debate has unfolded among major South Korean media over how to interpret this sentence. The Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo, Dong-A Ilbo, and other conservative news outlets saw these 80 nuclear weapons as intended for a retaliatory strike by the U.S.; conversely, the Hankyoreh interpreted them as the weapons that North Korea might use. The questions are the result of the ambiguous wording in the original sentence. In a September 14 interview with Woodward, National Public Radio (NPR) broadcaster Mary Louise Kelly asked him to clarify this point. Woodward responded, “I think given North Korea is a rogue nation, they have, as I report, probably a couple of dozen nuclear weapons well-hidden and concealed that it scared Secretary of Defense Mattis so much that he would sleep in his gym clothes. There was a light in his bathroom as he — if he was in the shower and they detected a North Korean launch.” According to Woodward, Mattis was constantly worried that he might have to issue orders for a nuclear strike on North Korea. Woodward went on to explain that U.S. President Trump had “authorized Secretary of Defense Mattis on his own to shoot it [a North Korean missile] down. If Kim [Jong-un] saw that, he might launch all of his other weapons. I quote Mattis saying, ‘no one has a right to incinerate millions of people,’ but he had to face that. He was not worried that Trump was going to launch against North Korea preemptively. He believes that the problem was Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.” This explanation only compounds the confusion. North Korea is portrayed here as possessing around 24 nuclear weapons, which it could potentially use to incinerate millions of people. The remarks refer to the possibility of escalation — a North Korean missile launch, a US strike, a massive retaliatory launch by North Korea — but make no concrete mention of a preemptive strike or counter-strike by the US. The “80 nuclear weapons” are nowhere to be found. The reference to “80 nuclear weapons” appears to have been problematic to begin with. As of late July 2017, nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker estimated North Korea as having 25 to 30 nuclear weapons; physicist David Albright put the number at 15 to 32, while US intelligence authorities have estimated as many as 60. This was also before it was discovered that North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are capable of a preemptive strike against the continental US. To be sure, North Korea could have launched strikes against South Korea and Japan even then with short-range or intermediate-range ballistic missiles, but the scenario of North Korea launching 80 nuclear weapons toward the continental US was far-fetched then and remains so now. The U.S. possesses more than 80 nuclear weapons, and Trump could push the button at any time if he decides to. But it’s unlikely that the U.S. would completely annihilate North Korea with a preemptive strike of 80 or more nuclear weapons. Launching an ICBM strike against North Korea would require passing through Russian airspace. If that happens, there is a possibility that Russia will misinterpret it and take action in response. A better alternative would be to use forward-deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) in Northeast Asia, but this approach could be similarly misinterpreted by China in light of the missiles’ flight angle. Neither approach is a technically simple option. This is why the US’ scenarios for the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea have long centered on the use of strategic bombers such as the B-2 and B-52. But this too would be by no means simple: transporting 80 nuclear weapons to the region in a short space of time, neutralizing North Korea’s air defense network and command and control system, breaking down major air defense network bases with Tomahawk missiles and other weaponry, and finally using the bombers to conduct aerial nuclear weapon drops. An additional issue concerns the need to evacuate US Forces Korea family members and US citizens living in South Korea ahead of time. It is especially difficult to imagine a military action at this scale being decided and carried out with the consent or understanding of the South Korean government. Let’s go back to the beginning. The “OPLAN 5027” quote cited in Woodward’s book was not a plan for regime change in North Korea, but an operational plan for a combined South Korea-US response to a large-scale invasion of the South by North Korea; it includes no mention of the use of nuclear weapons. Moreover, OPLAN 5027 had already been replaced by OPLAN 5015 in 2015. As excellent a reporter as Woodward may be, his knowledge of Korean Peninsula issues, nuclear strategy, and operational doctrine are unlikely to transcend the limits of the layperson’s perspective. We have no cause for hanging on to every sentence that might appear in his book. A nuclear weapon is not a magic wand or the “One Ring.” It may be easy to talk about using nuclear weapons, but the results are grim. Seventy-five years ago, 70,000 to 80,000 citizens of Hiroshima were killed in an instant when a 13-kiloton atomic bomb was dropped by a US bomber; 69% of the city’s buildings were incinerated. As Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev stressed 35 years ago, a nuclear war “can never be won and must never be fought.” As we recall the significance of these words, our focus now should not be on using those “80 nuclear weapons,” but on eliminating them. (Moon Chung-in, “The Truth about the ’80 Nuclear Weapons,’” Hankyore, October 6, 2020)

A North Korean man previously arrested in connection with the killing of Kim Jong Un’s half- brother has been charged with violating U.S. sanctions against North Korea, the Justice Department announced today. Charging papers filed in federal court in Washington accuse father and daughter Ri Jong Chol and Ri Yu Gyong of conspiring with a Malaysian, Gan Chee Lim, to set up front companies that transmitted banned dollar transactions through the United States to purchase commodities on behalf of North Korean customers. FBI Special Agent Cindy Burnham wrote in an affidavit that Ri Jong Chol was a suspect in the nerve-agent death of Kim Jong Nam, who was attacked in February 2017 at the Kuala Lumpur airport in Malaysia. He was the exiled firstborn son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011. U.N. investigators have reported that the elder Ri was a North Korean diplomat and that his daughter often served as his translator. He was initially detained by Malaysian authorities in connection with Kim Jong Nam’s death but was expelled that March. His alleged role in that incident did not bear on his role in the U.S.-charged scheme, Burnham told the court. (Spencer S. Hsu, “U.S. Charges Suspect in Kim Jong Nam Assassination with North Korean Sanctions Violation,” Washington Post, September 11, 2020)

North Korea could test-fire a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) around the founding anniversary of the Worker’ Party next month, Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman nominee Won In-choul said today. The remark indicates changes in the military’s assessment of what is going on in the North because Defense Minister nominee Gen. Suh Wook said two days ago that chances for an SLBM launch anytime soon are slim given the short time left until the anniversary that falls on October 10. “Currently, recovery work from damage by recent typhoons is under way at the Sinpo shipyard. Once completed, (North Korea) could launch an SLBM by using catapulting devices following preparations for a short period of time,” Won said in his written answers to questions from lawmakers for his National Assembly confirmation hearing slated for September 21. North Korea is at the stage of developing and testing a new SLBM, though the regime has not reached the level of mass production or deployment, the nominee said. According to the U.S. website 38 North, commercial satellite imagery of the North’s Sinpo shipyard showed that a submersible test barge was gone, which may signal an impending SLBM test, though no other indicators of launch preparations were observed. Asked about North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), Won said that those missiles could be capable of reaching the U.S. mainland but that the North’s atmospheric reentry technology has yet to be verified. The technology is deemed critical, as it allows a warhead to withstand extremely high temperatures during reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Pyongyang has three kinds of intercontinental ballistic missiles — Hwasong-13, Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 — all of which are believed to be capable of reaching most of the continental United States, according to U.S. Forces Korea. The North last carried out an ICBM test in 2017. “North Korea is believed to have been developing short-range ballistic missiles into diverse platforms,” Won said. “We are capable of detecting those new ballistic missiles, and such detection capabilities will be enhanced further when early warning radar systems are put into operation.” In an answer to a question about the chances of South Korea hosting U.S. strategic missiles, such as mid-range ballistic missiles, Won said “no official discussions regarding the issue have been made, we have not reviewed the matter and we have no such plans as far as I know.” (Oh Seok-min, “N. Korea Could Fire Submarine Missile around Next Month’s Party Anniversary: JCS Chief Nominee,” Yonhap, September 16, 2020)

North Korea carried out an elaborate money laundering scheme for years using a string of shell companies and help from Chinese firms, moving money through prominent banks in New York, according to confidential bank documents reviewed by NBC News. Wire transfers from North Korean-linked firms with opaque ownership sometimes came in bursts, only days or hours apart, and the amounts transferred were in round figures with no clear commercial reasons for the transactions, according to the documents. Graham Barrow, a London-based anti-money laundering expert, said these kinds of transactions are “red flags,” and are all hallmarks of efforts to conceal the origins of illicit cash. A trove of confidential bank documents reviewed by NBC News offers a rare glimpse into how North Korea — and other rogue actors — move illicit cash across borders despite international sanctions designed to block Pyongyang’s access to the global financial system. The suspected laundering by North Korea-linked organizations amounted to more than $174.8 million over a period of several years, with transactions cleared through U.S. banks, including JPMorgan and the Bank of New York Mellon, according to the documents. “Taken as a whole, you have what really, frankly, looks like a concerted attack by the North Koreans to access the U.S. financial system over an extended period of time through multiple different avenues in ways that were fairly sophisticated,” said Eric Lorber, a former official at the Treasury Department who worked on North Korea sanctions under the Trump administration. The leaked documents are part of the FinCEN Files, a collaborative project with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, BuzzFeed News, NBC News and more than 400 journalists around the world, examining a cache of secret suspicious activity reports filed by banks with the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, known as FinCEN, as well as other investigative documents. The leaked documents were obtained by BuzzFeed. As NBC News and other media outlets prepared to publish stories based on the leaked documents, FinCEN announced plans on Wednesday, September 16, for a major overhaul of the nation’s anti-money laundering rules. Suspicious activity reports (SARs) are filed by banks and other financial institutions to alert law enforcement to potentially illegal transactions, but do not necessarily represent evidence of legal wrongdoing. The reports are highly confidential and closely guarded by both banks and U.S. authorities. The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network condemned the leak of the documents, declined to comment on the content of the suspicious activity reports and said it had referred the matter to the Justice Department and the Treasury’s inspector general. “As FinCEN has stated previously, the unauthorized disclosure of SARs is a crime that can impact the national security of the United States, compromise law enforcement investigations, and threaten the safety and security of the institutions and individuals who file such reports,” the department said. The documents cover a period mainly from 2008 to 2017, during which both the Obama and Trump administrations steadily tightened sanctions against North Korea to try to prevent the regime from building up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenal. The sanctions in part are meant to block the regime’s attempts to buy or sell material for its weapons programs and to secure hard currency. But the records convey a cat and mouse game in which North Korea — often with the help of Chinese companies — found ways to slip under the radar, experts said. “The documents you have in front of you, I think help explain why the North Koreans have been so successful at sanction evasion,” said Hugh Griffiths, who served as head of the UN Panel of Experts until last year tracking sanctions-busting by Pyongyang. “What you have is gold dust because so few journalists, or investigators generally, get access to banking internal compliance documentation.” The leaked records underscore the enormous difficulties the U.S. and other countries face trying to block North Korea and other money launderers from penetrating the world’s financial markets, Griffiths said. In one case, the bank documents convey in unprecedented detail how the chief of a firm in Dandong, a Chinese city on the North Korea border, conducted apparent money laundering even as she made no secret of her business dealings with the North. U.S. authorities in 2016 and 2019 indicted Ma Xiaohong, her company, Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Corp., and other executives in the firm for money laundering and helping North Korea evade international sanctions. No one has been extradited and charges remain pending. Federal prosecutors declined to comment. One of the internal bank documents appears to have been written because of that federal investigation. Before those indictments, Ma and Dandong Hongxiang routed money through China, Singapore, Cambodia, the U.S. and elsewhere to North Korea, using an array of shell companies to move tens of millions of dollars through U.S. banks in New York, according to the suspicious activity report filed by the Bank of New York Mellon. According to the document, the bank reported in 2015 that it handled suspicious transfers of $85.6 million, and the document details $20.1 million of those transactions. The bank wrote that it was prompted to comb through its records because of a “government inquiry.” The bank cited red flags in those transactions, including money that went to firms with obscured ownership that appeared to be shell companies. Some firms were registered in high-risk jurisdictions such as Cambodia, the bank wrote. Some transfers were sent in batches, only days apart and some on the same day. The bank also noted that there were no clear commercial reasons for the transactions and that they were in round amounts. One transaction in 2009 featured a Singapore shipping concern called United Green PTE Ltd., whose directors included Leonard Lai. The Treasury Department later imposed sanctions in 2015 on Lai and his Singaporean company, Senat Shipping Ltd, for their links to a North Korean shipping firm that allegedly tried to move weapons from Cuba to North Korea. The sanctions are still in place. Senat and Lai could not be reached for comment. The bank allowed dozens of transfers to go ahead despite media reports that showed Ma had talked openly about conducting business with North Korea. The Associated Press interviewed Ma in 2014 as part of a report on North Korean trade. North Korea Economy Watch, a newsletter affiliated with The Stimson Center, a Washington think tank, quoted Ma in 2010 looking forward to a new bridge that would increase trade with North Korea. Tracking news coverage is a standard tool for banks trying to prevent money laundering, and the media accounts should have provided additional warning signs for the Bank of New York Mellon, said Barrow and other experts. BNY Mellon said that under federal law it could not comment on any suspicious activity report that may have leaked. But the bank said it “takes its role in protecting the integrity of the global financial system seriously,” assists U.S. authorities and fully complies with applicable laws and regulations. Another major U.S. bank, JPMorgan Chase, informed the Treasury Department in January 2015 about suspicious financial transactions possibly linked to North Korea. In its report, JPMorgan Chase said that it oversaw $89.2 million in transactions between 2011 and 2013 that benefitted 11 companies and individuals with ties to North Korea. The bank said it had previously flagged those companies in its own suspicious activity reports for sending funds to North Korea. The firms included Faith Surplus Trading Development Ltd. of China, which the bank had noted in previous reports that most of its counterparties were suspected of sanctions evasion on behalf of North Korea and Iran. The deals also featured SUTL Corp Pte Ltd of Singapore and Dandong Sanjiang Trading Co Ltd of Dandong, China. The bank wrote that its own “internal intelligence” was “linking them to considerable illicit activity involving the proliferation of weapons involving North Korea and transactions with entities in Iran.” International shipping records maintained by Panjiva show Dandong Sanjiang has made at least 80 shipments to North Korea, and a 2014 United Nations report stated that the company was involved in North Korean shipping. The bank reported that Faith Surplus Trading sent 14 wires worth $3.76 million to China Oil Singapore, a subsidiary of China National United Oil. That company had been cited in a previous suspicious activity report for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, the bank wrote. Faith Surplus went out of business in 2015. SUTL and Dandong Sanjiang did not respond to requests for comment. It’s unclear why JPMorgan approved the transactions, given the suspicions raised previously about some of the entities involved. JPMorgan said it was prohibited by law to comment on specific suspicious activity reports. But the bank said it admitted to shortcomings in a report in 2014 and had invested in efforts to bolster anti-money laundering (AML) measures. “We acknowledged in that 2014 report that our existing AML controls needed improvement, and have since devoted considerable resources to comply with the laws and regulations governing anti-money laundering, terrorist financing and economic sanctions. Today, thousands of employees and hundreds of millions of dollars are devoted to helping support law enforcement and national security efforts,” a bank spokesperson said. A key to much of the money laundering described in the documents involves correspondent banking, when a financial firm like Bank of New York Mellon or JPMorgan provides services to a foreign bank for currency exchange or other transactions. The world’s financial industry relies largely on doing business in U.S. dollars, and correspondent banking is a routine and crucial part of the international financial system that enables global trade, allowing money to flow across borders instantaneously. But it’s also a financial highway that money launderers like North Korea try to exploit, hoping their transactions will be overlooked amid the vast volume of financial traffic, experts said. The Treasury Department said in a recent report that money launderers often use correspondent banking services to move illicit money across borders. In a March 2020 report, the Treasury department said “the most significant vulnerabilities in the United States exploited by illicit actors” include “the significant volume of foreign funds and number of transactions that are intermediated through U.S. correspondent banks.” According to the Treasury report, “U.S. financial institutions often unwittingly process these transactions.” Lorber, the former Treasury official, said both private banks and U.S. authorities lack the manpower and the resources to keep up with all the money laundering and sanctions-busting that takes place. But in recent years, partly because of aggressive U.S. sanctions, Western banks have become more vigilant about scrutinizing transfers and requiring more information from foreign banks, according to Lorber and other former Treasury Department officials. The day-to-day effort to counter North Korea and other money launderers is a grueling contest, Lorber said. Shell companies can be set up quickly, in a matter of days, but it can take months or years to dismantle a laundering network, he said. “It’s a constant game of cat and mouse and the illicit actors really do have sort of the advantage in terms of how they move money,” Lorber said. Bank compliance departments are focused on ensuring their company abides by the law, but they are not designed to operate like law enforcement agencies, Griffiths said. “The compliance departments are there to do as much as possible to avoid consequences on the way they conduct business.” Griffiths said. “Looking forward — if North Korean sanctions implementation is going to be a science again, at some point, then the only way for the U.S. and the wider international community to succeed is to really harvest information” from banks in the United States and Europe. (Andrew W. Lehren and Dan De Luce, “Secret Documents Show How North Korea Launders Money Through U.S. Banks,” NBC News, September 20, 2020)

A South Korean official trying to defect to North Korea was killed by troops in the North who set his body on fire for fear he might be carrying the coronavirus, South Korean officials said today. President Moon Jae-in of South Korea called the killing a “stunning and deeply regrettable act that cannot be tolerated,” his aides said. The South’s Defense Ministry called it “atrocious” and demanded that the North punish those responsible. North Korea has yet to comment on the shooting. If confirmed by the North’s officials, it would be the first time that North Korea has killed a South Korean citizen in its territory since 2008. The episode this week threatened to further derail diplomatic ties between the two countries. It also threatened to undermine South Koreans’ support for their government’s recent efforts to improve relations with the North through humanitarian aid. With all official channels for inter-Korean dialogue cut off since June, the South had few options to force an apology or an explanation from North Korea. The name of the South Korean fisheries official, 47, was not made public. But he was a first mate on a government ship monitoring fishing boats six miles south of a disputed western sea border with North Korea early Monday. He went missing after excusing himself from the pilothouse and going outside. Later, his colleagues found his shoes at the stern of the ship. South Korean Navy and Coast Guard ships and planes began an extensive search for the man but could not find him before he drifted into North Korean waters. A North Korean fishing patrol boat found the man wearing a life jacket and clinging to a floatable device on the afternoon of September 22, South Korean officials said. Hours later, a North Korean Navy ship approached the man and opened fire under orders from higher-ups, although it was clear he was trying to defect, officials in the South said. North Korean soldiers wearing gas masks and other protective gear then poured oil on his body and set it on fire, they said. Today, the South’s Defense Ministry said that it had “confirmed from the analysis of various intelligence that the North shot our citizen found in its waters and cremated his body.” The Coast Guard said that the man appeared to have been trying to defect to the North because he was wearing a life jacket when he was found in North Korean waters. Suh Dong-sam, a senior Coast Guard official, also said that, before going missing, the man had complained of his growing debt to his colleagues. “Our military strongly condemns this atrocious act and strongly urges the North to explain its deed to us and punish those responsible,” said Lt. Gen. Ahn Young-ho, a top official at the South Korean military’s office of the Joint Chiefs of staff. In the past, when North Korea has found fishermen or defectors from the South in its territories, it has usually detained them alive and sometimes returned them. The killing of the South Korean official comes at a sensitive time in inter-Korean relations. In his online speech at the United Nations General Assembly two days ago, South Korea’s leader reiterated his call for dialogue and peace on the Korean Peninsula. Moon also appealed for international support as he revived his diplomatic efforts to persuade North Korea and the United States to sign a political declaration ending the 1950-53 Korean War as a first step toward a permanent peace and denuclearization on the peninsula. The peninsula is technically still in a state of war because the conflict was halted only by a truce. Today, Moon’s office ordered the South Korean military to beef up security along the disputed western sea border, the site of military clashes in the past, and demanded that the North “apologize for an act against humanity.” “The North Korean soldiers’ act of shooting and killing our unarmed citizen who showed no sign of resistance and damaging his body cannot be justified by any excuse,” said Suh Choo-suk, a deputy director of national security at the presidential Blue House. South Korean officials suspect that the North’s violent act against the South Korean official this week was compelled by its fear of the coronavirus. Such fear has driven North Korea to keep its borders shut since January. This month, Gen. Robert B. Abrams, commander of the United States military in South Korea, said the North had deployed crack troops along its border with China with “shoot-to-kill” orders to prevent smugglers from bringing in the coronavirus. (Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Accused of Killing Defector and Burning His Body,” New York Times, September 25, 2020, p. A-9) Overturning its predecessor’s assessment, South Korea’s new conservative government said there is no evidence that a South Korean official slain by North Korea near the rivals’ disputed sea boundary in 2020 had intended to defect to the North. The killing of the fisheries official has been a major source of domestic divide in South Korea, with conservatives accusing then-President Moon Jae-in’s liberal government of failing to strongly respond to North Korea in the hopes of better ties. About a week after his killing, South Korean officials announced the man had gambling debts and swam to resettle in the North. Coast guard and Defense Ministry officials said in a joint news conference that they haven’t found any evidence showing the official attempted to defect to North Korea voluntarily. Yoon Hyeong-jin, director of the South Korean Defense Ministry’s policy planning division, said that causing public confusion by suspecting the fisheries official tried to defect and failing to fully disclose related information to the people was “regrettable.” Senior coast guard officer Park Sang-chun said authorities have suspended an investigation on the unidentified North Korean soldier who allegedly killed the official, and plan to disclose relevant information on the incident. Yoon’s presidential office separately said Thursday it’ll withdraw the Moon government’s appeal to a court ruling that ordered the disclosure of some government documents on the man’s death. In September 2020, South Korea accused North Korea of fatally shooting the fisheries official before setting his body on fire, apparently in line with its tough anti-coronavirus measures. South Korean officials said the 47-year-old had disappeared from a government ship that was checking on unauthorized fishing in the area. Moon’s government had sharply condemned the North’s action initially, but its criticism eased gradually after receiving a North Korean message that it said contained leader Kim Jong Un’s apology over the case. According to the North Korean message disclosed by South Korea, the North shot the official because he attempted to flee after refusing to answer questions and that it burned the object he was floating on, not his body. To resolve some discrepancies, Moon’s government proposed a joint probe, but the North has ignored it. During a parliamentary committee meeting at the time, then-South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook said they believed the official was attempting to defect because he left his shoes on the ship, put on a life jacket and boarded a floating object. The coast guard later said he swam against unfavorable currents with the help of a life jacket and a floatation device and conveyed his intention of resettling in North Korea. At the conference Thursday, Yoon said, “I can clearly tell you that there is circumstantial evidence that North Korea’s military fatally shot one of our nationals and burned his body.” (Hyung-jin Kim, “Seoul: No Evidence Slain Official Tried to Defect to N. Korea,” Associated Press, 16 June 2022)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has offered an apology to the South Korean people for the killing of a fellow citizen by its military earlier this week, Cheong Wa Dae announced today. In a formal notice sent to the South, the North conveyed Kim’s message that he feels “very sorry” for greatly “disappointing” President Moon Jae-in and other South Koreans with the occurrence of the “unsavory” case in its waters, instead of helping them amid their suffering from the new coronavirus, according to Suh Hoon, director of national security at Cheong Wa Dae. The North was informing the South of the results of its own probe into what happened in the notice sent by the United Front Department (UFD), a Workers’ Party organ handling inter-Korean relations. It is quite unusual for a North Korean leader to apologize formally to South Korea, officials here said. National Intelligence Service chief Park Jie-won conveyed the notice to the presidential office, a government source said, suggesting that a communication line between the two Koreas’ intelligence agencies remains functional. In June, the North cut other communication channels with the South, including their liaison and military lines, in anger over anti-Pyongyang leaflets flown in across the border. Meanwhile, Moon and Kim have recently exchanged personal letters, Suh added. In their correspondence, the two touched on “expectations” for the recovery of Seoul-Pyongyang relations by overcoming the ongoing difficulties from the coronavirus outbreak, Suh who serves as Moon’s top security aide, said. Regarding the incident, Suh stated that the government will look at inter-Korean ties once again and make its best effort to establish the security of the Korean Peninsula and bilateral relations to meet the people’s expectations. Cheong Wa Dae made public the full text of the North’s notice in a highly unusual move. Unification Minister Lee In-young, Seoul’s point man on Pyongyang, also noted that the North Korean leader’s apology to South Korea is “very exceptional.” “To my knowledge, it’s unprecedented for the North to issue (its leader’s) position rapidly using the expression ‘sorry’ twice,” Lee said during a National Assembly session. It was a reply to Moon’s letter to him sent on September 8. Kim said he thought about the “grave burden” that Moon is shouldering by himself and that he knows Moon’s “difficulty, pressure and efforts” to overcome the troubles better than any other person. “I once again eagerly wish that southern compatriots’ precious health and happiness will be kept,” Kim wrote. “I sincerely wish for everyone’s well-being.” In his letter to Kim, Moon pointed out that both Koreas are going through “big predicaments,” from the coronavirus to heavy monsoon rain and typhoon damage. Moon expressed his appreciation for Kim’s “strong commitment” to respecting the lives of people. The president said the current situation is regrettable in that South and North Korea cannot help each other despite the challenges. Suh said Cheong Wa Dae made public the full text of the letters at the instruction of Moon. Cheong Wa Dae, however, stopped short of releasing photos of the letters. Moon and Kim had their previous known correspondence in March. (Lee Chi-dong, “N.K. Leader Apologizes for ’Unsavory’ Shooting Case: Cheong Wa Dae,” Yonhap, September 25, 2020)

Text of Kim’s letter translated by NKNews: “To the Blue House: As you have reported, an incident took place on the evening of the 22nd in which one person of unspecified identity was shot to death (presumed death) after an illegal entry deep into our side’s territorial water, in the coastal waters of Kumtong-ri, Kangryong county, South Hwanghae province. According to the investigation, our military unit responsible for guarding relevant waters was dispatched after a report from a ship [associated with] our fishery business office that said it had found an unidentified male. After approaching [the man] within 80 meters, [the soldiers] asked the man who made an illegal entry into our waters on a floating material to confirm his identity. But the man murmured once or twice after he initially said that he is someone from the Republic of Korea, and then the man stopped responding. As he gave no answers and disobeyed orders, our soldiers approached closer and fired blanks twice. According to soldiers it looked as if the unidentified person was surprised by that, laid down flat and tried to flee. Some of the soldiers stated that he moved as if he was trying to cover himself with something. Following the captain’s decision, it is said that our soldiers fired 10 bullets towards the intruder in compliance with the code of conduct, which is approved by regulations of the maritime guard duty, from a distance of 40 to 50 meters away. As there were no movement or response after opening fire, [they] approached as close as 10 meters. But the unidentifiable intruder was no longer on the floating material and they could see a large amount of blood. Our soldiers determined the intruder had been shot dead, and the floating material was burned in the water, following the national emergency quarantine regulation. The investigation result on the full account of the incident, which has been reported to our leadership, is as stated above. We cannot help but express great regret that your military, with no evidence, is using profane and confrontational words such as “atrocity” [and that we will have to “rightly pay the price”] with only one-sided speculation, and without requesting an explanation on the [incident] and how the situation developed. Our leadership commented that something that shouldn’t have happened has taken place, and gave instruction to strengthen maritime monitoring and services to prevent such unfortunate incidents from happening again, and to establish a system to record the entire maritime patrol process so that incidents do not occur [in the future] that may bring minor mistakes or great misunderstandings in the patrol process. We convey our apology to your side that an incident that will surely cause a negative effect on the North-South relationship has happened in our sea. Our leadership has repeatedly emphasized not to loosen up and be more awakened, and to devise necessary safety measures so that what little relationship of trust and respect that has been built between North and South in recent years will not fall apart. Comrade Kim Jong Un, chairman of the State Affairs Commission, has asked to deliver the message that he feels very sorry to President Moon Jae-in and to compatriots in the South — who are suffering from the threat of COVID-19 — for adding great disappointment by the unsavory incident that unexpectedly happened in our territorial waters, let alone help [the South Koreans suffering from COVID-19]. We hope that you have an accurate understanding of the incident. Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee, United Front Department (UFD) September 25, 2020 (NKNews, “Full Text: North Korea Explains Why It Shot and Killed a South Korean Official,” September 25, 2020)

KCNA “issued the following report to warn the south Korean authorities on September 27: In connection with the occurrence of an awful case which should not have happened in the present phase of the inter-Korean relations, we investigated it and notified the south side about its detailed account on September 25. We also took more necessary security measures in order to make sure that no more incident spoiling the relations of trust and respect between the north and the south would happen in any case, true to the intention of our Supreme Leadership. We are about to organize a search operation in the southwestern waters and the western seashore. We even consider the procedures and ways of handing over any tide-brought corpse to the south side conventionally in case we find it during the operation. However, according to a report by the western fleet of our navy, the south side has mobilized many vessels including warships to an action presumed to be a search operation and let them intrude into our territorial waters since September 25. It arouses our due vigilance as it may lead to another awful incident. We don’t care whether the south side conducts any kind of search operation in its territorial waters or not. But we can never overlook any intrusion into our territorial waters and we seriously warn the south side against it. We urge the south side to immediately halt the intrusion across the military demarcation line in the west sea that may lead to escalation of tensions. (KCNA, “S. Korean Authorities Warned against Intrusion,” September 27, 2020)

Cheong Wa Dae today called on North Korea to conduct a joint investigation with South Korea into the recent killing of a South Korean fisheries official and to reopen the bilateral military communication line for related work. Cheong Wa Dae made the statement shortly after President Moon Jae-in had an emergency security-related ministers’ meeting on the incident. Briefing media on the results of the 90-minute session, Suh Choo-suk, deputy director of the national security office, said the government “positively” evaluates the North’s “speedy apology” and promise to prevent the recurrence of a similar case. Suh said the government is requesting a joint probe aimed at finding related facts with an “open attitude” at an early date, without being restricted by last week’s announcement and notice. He called for the restoration and reopening of the military communication line between the two sides for relevant consultations. Suh, who doubles as chief of the secretariat of the National Security Council (NSC), stressed that the first and foremost task is to retrieve the official’s body and belongings to help find the truth behind the case and also in “humanitarian” consideration of his bereaved family members. He also asked Chinese authorities and fishing vessels operating near the inter-Korean sea border, called the Northern Limit Line (NLL), to help with the work. (Yonhap, “Cheong Wa Dae Calls for Joint Probe with N. Korea on Shooting Incident, Restoration of Military Communications Line,” September 27, 2020)

North Korea has a “reliable and effective war deterrent for self-defense” and will now focus on developing its economy, North Korea’s U.N. Ambassador Kim Song said today, though he acknowledged that international sanctions were a hindrance. Addressing the U.N. General Assembly, Kim also said the “anti-epidemic situation in our country is now under safe and stable control” as a result of measures taken to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. “Based on its reliable guarantee for safeguarding the security of the state and people, the DPRK is now directing all its efforts to economic construction,” said Kim. “It is a matter of fact that we badly need an external environment favorable for economic construction. But, we cannot sell off our dignity just in a hope for brilliant transformation — the dignity which we have defended as valuable as our own life. This is our steadfast position.” He said North Korea was still being threatened by military hardware like stealth fighters being used on the Korean Peninsula and “nuclear strike means of all kinds are directly aimed at the DPRK,” he said. “Genuine peace can only be safeguarded when one possesses the absolute strength to prevent war itself,” Kim said. “As we have obtained the reliable and effective war deterrent for self-defense by tightening our belts, peace and security of the Korean peninsula and the region are now firmly defended.” Independent U.N. sanctions monitors reported to the U.N. Security Council in August that North Korea was pressing on with its nuclear weapons program and several countries believe it has “probably developed miniaturized nuclear devices to fit into the warheads of its ballistic missiles.” Jenny Town, a Stimson Center fellow and deputy director of 38 North, said that in the envoy’s speech “there were no overt threats or hints of shows of force or demonstrations of power in the near future. It was very focused on rebuilding and recovering the internal situation.” She added that while North Korea wants sanctions relief “they aren’t going to simply give up their weapons on promises of a brighter future” and there would need to be tangible moves to prove that relations with the United States had changed before Pyongyang could justify taking measures that would jeopardize its security. (Michelle Nichols and David Brunnstrom, “North Korea Tells U.N. Now That It Has ‘Effective War Deterrent’ It Will Focus on Economy,” Reuters, September 29, 2020) The North Korean diplomat noted his country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has already ordered his country to break through the difficulties by “confronting them head-on by dint of self-reliance.” “The maneuvers of hostile forces to stifle the DPRK and other numerous difficulties will continue impeding our advance. However, the struggle of the people to overcome them and open up a road to prosperity by its own efforts will also be further intensified,” the North Korean ambassador told the world body in New York. Kim said, “Based on its reliable guarantee for safeguarding the security of the state and people, the DPRK is now directing all its efforts to economic construction,” he told the U.N. meeting. Kim reaffirmed his country’s resolve to maintain its military capabilities, insisting its security guarantee came from its “absolute strength” to prevent war. “It is an undeniable reality of today that cutting-edge military hardware, including stealth fighters, continue to be introduced into the Korean Peninsula and nuclear strike means of all kinds of directly aimed at the DPRK,” he said. “The conclusion we have drawn is that peace never comes off itself, by a mere wish of one side and it is not granted by someone else, either. In the present world where high handedness based on strength is rampant, genuine peace can only be safeguarded when one possesses absolute strength to prevent war itself,” he added. The North Korean diplomat offered condolences to the bereaved families of those lost to the new coronavirus, and said the situation in his country “is now under safe and stable control” thanks to what he called “far-sighted leadership” of its leaders. (Yonhap, “North Korea Will Not Sell off Its Dignity for Development, Security: UN Ambassador,” Korea Times, September 30, 2020)

KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, sent a message of sympathy to Donald J. Trump, president of the United States of America, on October 3. In the message he said he heard the sudden news that the president and the first lady of the U.S. have been tested positive for corona virus. He offered his sympathy to the president and the first lady. He sincerely hoped that they would be recovered as soon as possible. He hoped they will surely overcome it. He sent warm greetings to them. (KCNA, “Chairman of SAC of DPRK Sends Message of Sympathy to U.S. President,” September 3. 2020)

A senior North Korean diplomat who disappeared from Italy in late 2018 has been living secretly in South Korea since July of last year, members of the intelligence committee of the South Korean Parliament said today. The diplomat, Jo Song-gil, then 48, was North Korea’s acting ambassador to Rome when he and his wife disappeared days before he was scheduled to return home to Pyongyang in November 2018. His whereabouts had since remained a mystery, prompting speculation that he had become one of the most senior diplomats to desert the totalitarian North. The revelation about Jo could further aggravate North-South relations, which have been in a downward spiral for months after the North blew up a jointly run liaison office and its troops killed a South Korean government official during a sea patrol. Diplomats’ defections are a sensitive issue for Pyongyang because they are often interpreted in the outside world as a possible sign of fraying loyalty among the privileged class. They also raise the possibility that the South Korean authorities could glean a wealth of information, especially about smuggling and other illicit ways in which North Korean diplomats earn foreign currency in violation of United Nations sanctions. Ha Tae-keung, a member of the main opposition party in South Korea, said on Facebook today that Jo had arrived in the South 15 months ago and remained under government protection. Ha is a senior member of the intelligence committee of the South’s National Assembly and often briefs the news media on closed-door parliamentary reports from the country’s National Intelligence Service. Ha went public with his revelation hours after JTBC, a South Korean cable channel, reported that Jo had defected to the South. JTBC cited anonymous intelligence sources as confirming Jo’s defection, and other South Korean news outlets followed up with similar stories. The National Intelligence Service said today that it “will not confirm” the news reports or Ha’s statement. The agency has often used such a stock phrase when it wants to keep secret the defection of a prominent North Korean for fear of consequences in inter-Korean relations or to help protect the defector’s relatives in the North. But Jeon Hae-cheol, a lawmaker affiliated with the governing Democratic Party and head of the parliamentary intelligence committee, told reporters today that Jo had arrived in Seoul on his own volition but that the government kept his defection secret to protect his relatives in the North. During today’s parliamentary hearing, a lawmaker asked Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha what role her ministry had played in Jo’s defection. Kang said her ministry “did what it could,” but did not clarify whether he was in Seoul. Jo is the most senior North Korean government official to flee to the South since Hwang Jang-yop, a former secretary of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, defected to Seoul through the South Korean Embassy in Beijing in 1997. The last senior North Korean diplomat to defect to the South was Thae Yong-ho, a minister in the North Korean Embassy in London, who fled to Seoul in 2016 with his wife and two sons. Over the years, some prominent North Koreans like Hwang and Thae have led public lives after their defections to the South. But many others have wanted to keep their defections secret to protect their relatives in the North, and the South Korean intelligence authorities have abided by their wishes. When its diplomats are posted abroad, North Korea requires them to leave some of their children in the North in order to discourage defections. Jo and his wife lived with their daughter in Rome. But when they escaped, they could not bring the daughter with them. Italy later said that the daughter had been taken home by the North Korean authorities. After Jo disappeared from Italy, Thae, who defected with his wife and all his children, issued an open letter appealing to the acting ambassador to defect to South Korea. But after Jo’s daughter was taken to the North, Thae said it would be extremely difficult for Jo to settle in the South. “His daughter would suffer a more severe retaliatory punishment if he chose to defect to South Korea” rather than to other countries, Thae told reporters last year. “He may have to remain silent and keep his whereabouts secret to protect his daughter.” Today, Thae, now a lawmaker affiliated with the main opposition party in South Korea, issued a statement worrying that the revelation in the news media of Mr. Jo’s whereabouts would further jeopardize the fate of Mr. Jo’s daughter in the North. It remains unclear exactly why Jo decided to flee North Korea. He was posted in Rome in May 2015. He served as the North’s acting ambassador after Italy expelled the ambassador, Mun Jong-nam, in 2017 in protest over the North’s sixth nuclear test. Jo’s disappearance was kept secret until a South Korean newspaper reported last year that he was seeking asylum in the West. South Korean lawmakers later briefed by the National Intelligence Service confirmed his disappearance. In August of last year, the spy agency told lawmakers in Seoul that Mr. Jo was safe “somewhere” outside Italy. North Korea has yet to comment on Jo’s case. More than 30,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the mid-1990s. The North typically calls them “human scum” and “traitors,” or claims that they were kidnapped by the South Korean spy agency. North Korea diplomats are usually children of elite families. Jo’s father and father-in-law both had been ambassadors, Thae said. (Choe Sang-hun, “North Korean Diplomat, Missing Since 2018, Is in Seoul, Lawmaker Says,” New York Times, October 7, 2020)

North Korea showed off a gigantic new intercontinental ballistic missile today as the nuclear-armed country defied the coronavirus threat with thousands of troops taking part in a military parade. The ICBM, carried on a transporter-erector-launcher with no fewer than 11 axles, rolled through Kim Il Sung Square as leader Kim Jong Un watched from a rostrum, footage from state broadcaster KCTV showed. Several analysts described it as the largest road-mobile liquid-fueled missile anywhere, with Harry Kazianis of the Center for the National Interest saying it was “much bigger and clearly more powerful than anything in the DPRK’s arsenal.” “It’s a scary prospect for the already underperforming US missile defense system,” Melissa Hanham of the Open Nuclear Network told AFP. The ICBM was preceded earlier by the Pukguksong-4a, a new submarine-launched missile that would add another dimension to Pyongyang’s arsenal, which it says it needs to deter a U.S. invasion. Kim — wearing a grey suit — told the crowd Pyongyang “will continue to strengthen the war deterrent, the righteous self-defense means.” He added, “If we don’t have our own strength, the only thing we have to do is to wipe the streaming tears and blood though our fists are clenched.” Women in the crowd wiped tears from their eyes as he spoke, the footage showed. The widely anticipated display was part of commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, and according to Seoul’s joint chiefs of staff took place early today, several hours before it was broadcast. During the parade unit after unit of soldiers from different specialisms marched through the square, with Kim at times smiling and joking with his generals. Squadrons of warplanes flew overhead dropping flares before a series of armored vehicles and missiles rolled through streets, and none of the participants or the audience in the stands were wearing masks. The ruling party anniversary comes during a difficult year for North Korea as the coronavirus pandemic and recent storms add pressure to the heavily sanctioned country. He repeatedly thanked his citizens for their efforts. “Kim could even be seen choking and tearing up as he was reading his speech,” said former US government North Korea analyst Rachel Lee, describing the address as a departure from “the boilerplate we have seen for years.” (Claire Lee, “North Korea Displays Huge New ICBM at Coronavirus-Defying Parade,” AFP, October 10, 2020) North Korea’s unprecedented nighttime military parade showcased an unusually broad array of new weapons, from a show-stopping “monster” ballistic missile to previously unseen battle tanks. Kim is walking a fine line, seeking to increase pressure on the United States to ease sanctions while not destroying rapport with U.S. President Donald Trump or Pyongyang’s partners in China. “Kim Jong Un’s speech was not threatening to the United States, instead labelling North Korea’s nuclear forces as self-defensive,” said Bruce Klingner, a retired CIA North Korea analyst now at the Heritage Foundation. “The clear message was that, counter to U.S. claims, the North Korean nuclear threat has not been solved.” Video from the parade suggested a huge ICBM potentially more lethal either because of multiple warheads or a bigger payload, larger missile carriers, a next-generation submarine-launched missile, and advances in conventional weaponry, military analysts said. The star of today’s show was a massive, previously unseen ICBM carried on an equally huge “transporter-erector-launcher” (TEL) vehicle with 11 axles. Estimated to be 25 to 26 meters (82 to 85 feet) long and 2.5 to 2.9 meters (8 to 9.5 feet) in diameter, the unidentified missile would be the largest road-mobile ICBM in the world, military analysts said. Given that the Hwasong-15, the largest missile ever test-flown by North Korea, can already target anywhere in the United States, the most likely practical use for the new ICBM would be the ability to carry multiple warheads, said Melissa Hanham, deputy director of the Open Nuclear Network. It is much cheaper for North Korea to add warheads than for the United States to add interceptors, said Jeffrey Lewis, a missile researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS). “If each new North Korean ICBM can carry 3-4 warheads, we would need about 12-16 interceptors for each missile,” he said on Twitter. “The last time the U.S. bought 14 interceptors, it cost $1 billion.” Other analysts said the missile could simply be designed to carry a single, larger warhead. “A bigger warhead doesn’t necessarily mean multiple warheads, a technology I believe North Korea has not secured yet,” said Kim Dong-yup, a former South Korea Navy officer who is now a professor at Kyungnam University’s Far East Institute in Seoul. Analysts said it was also notable that North Korea appeared to have built the huge new TELs to carry the new missiles. “They have a very limited supply of long TELs they acquired from China,” said another CNS researcher, Dave Schmerler, adding that the lack of vehicles has limited the number of ICBMs that could be deployed. “So the longer TELs we saw were indigenously produced.” But the massive size of the new missile and its carrier also has drawbacks, said Markus Schiller, a missile expert based in Europe. “Only special roads and bridges could support this in fueled condition,” he said. “No sane person would drive this ticking bomb through the North Korean countryside.” It would likely take as much as a half a day to fuel such a large missile, making it difficult to quickly deploy in a war, meaning the missile’s main purpose is likely a political warning, Schiller said. North Korea also unveiled what appeared to be a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), labelled the Pukguksong-4. “If the new SLBM is intended to be deployed, it may be intended for the new conventionally powered ballistic missile submarine that North Korea hinted at building in July 2019,” analysts at 38 North said in a report. At least some parts of the missile’s motor case appeared to be filament-wound, which would reduce the missile’s structure weight and allow greater range and payload capability, the report said. The parade featured what appeared to be new or updated weapons for North Korea’s conventional military, one of the largest in the world. The North displayed rows upon rows of multiple launch rocket systems and short-range ballistic missiles that were heavily tested over the past year. “My biggest concern was the solid-fuel, short-range tactical missiles that North Korea had focused on developing over the past year or so,” said Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean nuclear negotiator. The parade also displayed new mobile air-defense radar vehicles and what appeared to be an entirely new tank with anti-tank missiles and smoke grenade launchers more closely integrated into the design than previous imported models. (Josh Smith, “North Korea’s Kim Speaks Softly, Shows off New Weapons,” Reuters, October 11, 2020) Elleman: “ … [W]hile the new missile has the thrust to deliver a heavy payload over intercontinental distances, its mobility is going to be severely limited by its tremendous size and weight. Moreover, the Hwasong-16 is too heavy and brittle to be transported safely when fully fueled, so must be fueled at the launch site after it has been erected — a process requiring several hours to complete. Consequently, the missile would be vulnerable to pre-launch attack. Furthermore, developing MIRV technology is no easy task, and will require further development of missile and guidance systems and significant flight testing. The bottom line is that the Hwasong-16 will need to undergo flight trials conducted over a couple of years to validate its performance and reliability. Taking these factors into account, North Korea is probably years away from having a reliable, highly survivable and operational MIRVed ICBM capability, if that is indeed its intention. North Korea has a history of introducing “fake” missiles during celebratory parades, so it is appropriate to question the authenticity of the Hwasong-16 presented earlier this month. In 2012, North Korea paraded a handful of poorly built, incorrectly configured mock-ups of a new Hwasong-13 long-range missile. The poor quality of those mock-ups had some analysts conclude they were fake and did not represent an operational missile, but could signal North Korea’s long-term ambitions. The mock-ups shown off in 2015 were of higher quality, suggesting a mature missile design and the possible initiation of flight tests of prototype missiles within a few years. The Hwasong -14 and -15 ICBMs North Korea flight tested in 2017, however, were not fully consistent with the models paraded in 2015, which is consistent with missile development elsewhere. Missile designs evolve during the development process, including during flight trials which reveal design flaws requiring alterations to the design. The mock-ups presented on October 10 are similar in quality to those paraded in 2015, possibly indicating that North Korea could soon begin flight trials of the notional Hwasong-16. However, as with the Hwasong-14 and -15, one should expect to see minor modifications of the Hwasong-16 when it is initially flight tested. If a missile’s design documents or technical manuals are available, or if physical access can be gained to the missile to measure its diameter and length, a precise determination of its size can be made. Without such access, one must rely on photographs and other indirect sources for estimating a missile’s dimensions. The resulting estimates will contain errors, the magnitude of which must be included in any missile analysis. Historically, dimensional data extracted from photographs, videos and other indirect measures contain errors of about five to ten percent, relative to the actual values. … Estimates of the Hwasong-16’s diameter derived from photographs taken during the October 10 parade vary. But two values developed by experienced specialists seem reasonable. They indicate a Hwasong-16 diameter ranging between 2.4 and 2.5 meters, and a length of roughly 24 to 25 meters. These data can be used to estimate the missile’s lift-off mass by assuming the Hwasong-16 has an average density consistent with Soviet and American liquid-fuel missile designs from the 1960s and 1970s. … Using the same methodology, and applying it to the Hwasong-15, which has an estimated diameter between 2.0 and 2.1 meters, we get an estimated starting mass between 50,000 and 60,000 kg, which is consistent with reconstructions of the missile using initial acceleration data and the reported burn times for the first and second stages. The Hwasong-16’s first-stage propulsion system cannot be directly determined from the available photographs. Presumably, North Korean engineers would seek to use the same RD-250 engine technology that successfully boosted the Hwasong-12, -14 and -15 missiles. Unlike the Hwasong-15, which relied on an engine consisting of two combustion chambers, the heavier Hwasong-16 would require four combustion chambers to attain an initial acceleration similar to those achieved by liquid-fuel ICBM designs fielded by others, as well as the Hwasong-15. A Hwasong-16’s first-stage diameter of 2.4 to 2.5 meters is large enough to house a cluster of four RD-250 chambers, but not a six-chamber configuration. The Hwasong-16’s second stage appears to be quite small relative to the first stage, as was the case for the Hwasong-15. The first- to second-stage size ratio appears to be just under five-to-one for both ICBM designs. Liquid-fuel ICBMs fielded by others had considerably lower ratios (between 2.6-to-1 and 4-to-1), indicating they employed significantly larger, more powerful second stages than the presumptive Hwasong-16 design. The second stage’s relatively small size suggests North Korea will employ the low-thrust R-27 steering engines. … The reduced performance results from the use of low-thrust, long-action time engines, which are likely to suffer greater gravitational losses than would higher-thrust engines. … These propulsion system configurations for the Hwasong-16 are far from certain. Available photographs do not reveal the types and number of engines North Korea plans to incorporate into the first and second stages. Consequently, we cannot develop a computational model of the Hwasong-16 to confidently calculate the missile’s maximum range for a defined payload mass. However, by examining the ratio of payload mass to lift-off mass of liquid-fuel ICBMs developed by others we can a throw-weight for the new Korean missile, assuming it is designed to achieve the same range capacity as the smaller Hwasong-15. The estimate throw-weight as a function of diameter (i.e., lift-off mass) … suggests the Hwasong-16 can deliver a payload of about 2,500 to 3,000 kg to any target on the US mainland, which is almost double the Hwasong-15’s throw-weight of about 1,500 kg. The estimate’s bandwidth, however, shows that the throw-weight might be considerably more or less than the baseline case. If the Hwasong-16’s second stage is equipped with under-powered engines used on the upper stages of the Hwasong-14 and -15, these projections will trend toward the lower end of the bandwidth estimate. … Regardless of the uncertainties for the projected throw-weight estimate, the Hwasong-16 should have the capacity to deliver either a very large warhead, or two to four smaller reentry vehicles containing a miniaturized bomb design. A large warhead accompanied with light-weight decoys to confound US missile defense systems is another possible configuration. If a multiple reentry vehicle design is sought, North Korea will need to employ slender, highly streamlined reentry vehicles to fit them into the limited volume under the payload shroud. Streamlined reentry vehicles travel through the atmosphere at higher speeds than their blunt-nosed counterparts, requiring a more sophisticated protection scheme to ensure the nuclear warhead survives the intense thermal and mechanical loads experienced during reentry. It is unclear if North Korea has mastered reentry technologies for its Hwasong-14 and -15 missiles. Mastering the technologies for streamlined reentry vehicles will increase the already daunting challenges North Korea’s engineers face. The development of MIRV technology is not easy. It requires a combination of large missiles, small warheads, accurate guidance and a complex mechanism for releasing warheads sequentially during flight. North Korea will also have to develop a bus to carry and release the reentry vehicles. It took the US more than five years to perfect its MIRV capability for the Minuteman ICBM in the late-1960s. The Soviets required a similar amount of time. Further, flight testing will be needed to evaluate and validate a North Korean system, which in turn requires the placement of telemetry reception ships along the ground track of the missile’s flight path. It is unclear if North Korea has such ships it can position far from the peninsula. The Hwasong-16, if operationalized, would be without question the largest liquid-fuel, road-mobile missile ever developed and deployed. The combined weight of the missile and its 11-axle transporter-erector launcher (TEL) will restrict transport to North Korea’s limited network of paved roadways. It might be possible to travel short distances on some dirt roads, but only if they have not been subjected to rain or snow. Further, it is highly unlikely that the Hwasong-16 (and likely its smaller counterparts, the Hwasong-12, -14 and -15) can be fueled at a secure garrison and then driven to a pre-surveyed site where it can be erected and quickly prepared for launch. The inevitable vibrations a fully loaded missile experiences during road travel are liable to crack open seams and joints, leaking highly volatile fuel and oxidizer and leading to a serious incident. Perhaps North Korea does not intend to make the missile ‘road-mobile’ and instead plans to deploy them in highly protected underground sites, where it can be quickly rolled out, fueled, and then launched. The fueling process would require a few hours unless specialized pumps are available to quicken the process. Relying on fixed, underground sites would obviate the need to travel on roads and would allow the North Koreans to position the fuel and oxidizer storage tanks, along with the specialized pumps, adjacent to the launch pad for rapid, on-site fueling. As mentioned above, the Hwasong-16 missile revealed this month featured enough detail to suggest the North Koreans are engineering models that could undergo flight tests in the next year or two. It remains puzzling, however, why the North expended precious resources to develop and build an ICBM of this size and potential capability. Concerns about U.S. missile defenses are warranted, despite the poor test record of the ground-based interceptors deployed in Alaska and California. But if North Korea is worried that it might not be able to penetrate the defenses and reliably land a warhead on the U.S. mainland, it seems reasonable its leaders would want to ensure the dependability of its missile forces. After just one flight test of the Hwasong-15 on a highly lofted, unrepresentative trajectory, along with no discernible proof that the reentry vehicle survived, the regime has no measure of the missile’s reliability. Historical precedence indicates that over half of the Hwasong-15s launched in a crisis would fail. Given the tenuous operational status of the Hwasong-15, and the apparent desire to ensure warheads launched toward the US would successfully arrive on target, it seems more reasonable to continue flight tests to work out the design flaws and quantify its performance and reliability before beginning to design and test a more sophisticated ICBM. As it stands today, Kim Jong Un cannot be certain that his ICBMs will succeed in striking the US mainland. Perhaps the development of the Hwasong-16 is a near-term solution to the perceived need for a mobile, multiple-warhead ICBM. But North Korea has an active solid-fuel development and production infrastructure in place to facilitate the creation of large solid-fuel boosters for an ICBM. Thus, a more prudent and cost-effective path forward would focus on the longer-term development of solid-fuel technologies and a solid ICBM. In a best-case scenario, it will take longer than four or five years to succeed in this enterprise. The resulting ICBM, however, would be far more survivable and operationally flexible than a Hwasong-16, which will have limited mobility. Which direction the North’s ICBM development program will take remains to be seen.” (Michael Elleman, “Does Size Matter? North Korea’s Newest ICBM,” 38 North, October 21, 2020)

KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, supreme leader of the Party, state and armed forces of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, delivered a speech at the military parade held in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea. … How many people have made devoted efforts overcoming harsh circumstances this year so as to bring about and defend this glorious moment of today! How many challenges have we overcome to come as far as here! In particular, our service personnel performed devotion on the anti-epidemic front and the front of removing the aftereffects of natural disasters which we had to face this year unexpectedly. No one would approach their patriotic and heroic devotion without shedding tears of gratitude. They would say that defending their country, people and revolution is a task inherent to the People’s Army, but the pains they have taken are too great. They have undertaken to perform too many tasks and have taken too great pains. This is why I feel deep regret for them, and I feel pain in my heart as they are not all here at this glorious night with us. … Availing myself of this opportunity, I offer my heartfelt consolation to all those around the world who are still combating the disease caused by the malignant virus, and do pray from the bottom of my heart that health, happiness and laughter of all people would be guaranteed. I also send this warm wish of mine to our dear fellow countrymen in the south, and hope that this health crisis would come to an end as early as possible and the day would come when the north and south take each other’s hand again. … Comrades, Our people have placed trust, as high as sky and as deep as sea, on me, but I have failed to always live up to it satisfactorily. I am really sorry for that. Although I am entrusted with the important responsibility to lead this country upholding the cause of the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il thanks to the trust of all the people, my efforts and sincerity have not been sufficient enough to rid our people of the difficulties in their life. … Today’s ranks of military parade lined in gallant array will clearly show how the Workers’ Party of Korea has trained its revolutionary army and how powerful the army’s strength is. As everyone will clearly see today, comparing it with the military parade held in this place in celebration of the 70th founding anniversary of the WPK only five years ago, the modernity of our military forces has remarkably improved and anyone can easily guess the speed of its development. We have a powerful large contingent of faithful and competent personnel in the sector of defense science and technology and workers in the munitions industry, who are firmly equipped with their Party’s revolutionary ideology and truly serve the interests of their revolution. Our military capability has developed and changed to such an extent that no one can make little of and keep parallel with it. We have built a deterrent with which we can satisfactorily control and manage any military threats that we are facing or may face. Our military capability is changing in the rate of its growth and in its quality and quantity in our own style and in accordance with our demands and our timetable. Our Party defined the military capability with which to overpower in advance the forces that may dare to threaten or infringe on the rights to independence and existence of our state and people as the most assured and strong national defense capability. And it has made every effort to possess military forces that can achieve the purpose and is now attaining the upgraded targets steadily. We will continue to strengthen the war deterrent, the righteous self-defense means, so as to contain and control all the dangerous attempts and intimidatory acts by the hostile forces, including their sustained and aggravating nuclear threat. Our war deterrent, which is intended to defend the rights to independence and existence of our state and safeguard peace in the region, will never be abused or used as a means for preemptive strike. But, if, and if, any forces infringe upon the security of our state and attempt to have recourse to military force against us, I will enlist all our most powerful offensive strength in advance to punish them. I never want that our military strength would aim at someone else. We clarify that our war deterrent is being developed not for aiming at others. We are developing it in order to defend ourselves. If we don’t have our own strength, the only thing we have to do is to wipe the streaming tears and blood though our fists are clenched. Our Party, with powerful military strength, will guarantee the sovereignty of the country and reliable security of its territory and safeguard the eternal safety, peace and future of the state and people. Comrades, Thanks to our revolutionary armed forces equipped with the revolutionary ideology of the WPK, unbounded loyalty and filial piety to the country and people and powerful up-to-date weapons embodying the strength and soul of our people, any aggressive force will never be able to make little of our sacred country nor dare to check the advance of the Korean people. What is left now is to ensure that our people enjoy a sufficient and civilized life to the full free from difficulties any longer. Our Party will invariably administer and ceaselessly expand the advantageous policies and measures, which are aimed at improving the people’s wellbeing and providing more benefits to them, and bring as earlier as possible the ideal society of prosperity that our people are dreaming of. Sharing destiny with the people in the face of severe trials and experiencing the united strength of our people till now, our Party has come to know well what it should do in the future. The Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea will advance plans and detailed targets for doing it, and our Party’s struggle for providing the people with happiness will develop onto a new stage. The further we develop, the more rampant the reactionary forces of all hues may become, and more unexpected trials may face us. However, they will be nothing compared with what we have experienced until now and we have the strength and confidence with which to overcome them all. The single-hearted unity of the Party and the masses of the people consolidated in the long course of the struggle and the talent force and asset for self-sustenance provided by our socialism–these will surely become a powerful force that propels and accelerates our advance. Our Party and people, who have achieved everything that others would not have dared to attempt by surmounting all manner of immeasurable trials and hardships that others had never experienced, will start their advance towards new development and prosperity with greater courage and confidence, unusual passion and preparedness. I will ensure that all Party organizations, the government and power and military organs make more and more strict demands on themselves, direct strenuous efforts and work with sincerity for our people and for bringing a better tomorrow to them.” (KCNA, “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Delivers Speech at Military Parade,” October 10, 2020)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has replaced the chief of the renegade country’s Strategic Forces, which is in charge of nuclear weapons and missiles. Gen. Kim Rak-gyom was replaced by Lt. Gen. Kim Jong-gil. It is unclear why the reshuffle has taken place at a time when the North’s missile and nuclear weapons development appears to be progressing by leaps and bounds despite international sanctions. Kim Jong-gil was labeled as head of the Strategic Forces on state TV in coverage of a massive parade marking the 75th anniversary of the Workers Party last week. The North Korean leader has now replaced more than 90 percent of all commanders of the Army corps as part of efforts to bring the overly powerful and unruly military to heel. He has also founded a military academy named for his father, Kim Jong-il. (Kim Myong-song, “Kim Jong Un Replaces Nuclear Arms Chief,” Chosun Ilbo, October 14, 2020)

38 North: “Kim’s brief comment on the possibility of reengaging South Korea appears well-calculated to fit in line with an unfolding approach over the past month. According to the Blue House, on September 12, Kim sent a letter in reply to ROK President Moon Jae-in — not previously reported by either side — saying, ‘I look forward to the days when these hours of this terrible year have quickly gone by and good things await us one after another.’ That more positive tone was then included in a message from the party’s United Front Department (UFD) to the Blue House in response to the September 22 incident in the West Sea (Yellow Sea). The UFD message, not carried by DPRK media, ended by citing Kim directly: ‘Comrade Kim Jong Un, chairman of the State Affairs Commission, has asked to deliver the message that he feels very sorry to President Moon Jae-in and to compatriots in the South — who are suffering from the threat of COVID-19 — for adding great disappointment by the unsavory incident that unexpectedly happened in our territorial waters, let alone helping [the South Koreans suffering from COVID-19].’ A day later, in an authoritative Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) report, Pyongyang tiptoed toward publicly lifting the veil on Kim’s more positive position, noting that: ‘We also took more necessary security measures in order to make sure that no more incident spoiling the relations of trust and respect between the north and the south would happen in any case, true to the intention of our Supreme Leadership.’” (38North, “Kim Jong Un’s October 10 Speech: More Than Missiles,” October 13, 2020)

The United States is raising pressure on Korea to participate in its anti-China alliance. Korea has been reluctant to adopt the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific strategy, aimed at containing China, despite repeated calls from its biggest ally, because a stand against China would come at a large cost, given that it is Seoul’s largest trading partner. Today, Adm. Philip Davidson, the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, made a visit to Defense Minister Suh Wook and discussed the security situation on the Korean Peninsula, according to the Ministry of National Defense. However, the meeting was seen as unusual given that the 52nd Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) was just held a week ago in the U.S., where Suh met with his American counterpart Mark Esper. Davidson also accompanied them. In that respect, Davidson’s visit raised speculation that the U.S. would pressure Korea to jump on the anti-China bandwagon although the Korean defense ministry denied it. “The U.S. badly wanted to be able to cite Korea’s participation in or support for the anti-China coalition in the joint communique (after SCM), but to no avail,” said Park Won-gon, a professor of international politics at Handong Global University. “In that respect, the U.S. commander may have come here and talked about the issue with the defense minister. One of the key missions of the Indo-Pacific Command is to counter Chinese aggression.” Also, the U.S. government wants to include Korea in an expanded version of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a strategic forum established in 2007 to contain China. The Quad is comprised of Australia, India, Japan and the U.S., but the U.S. wants to develop it into an Asian version of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) by inviting Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam to a so-called Quad Plus. In August, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun mentioned including Korea along with New Zealand and Vietnam in the Quad Plus framework. He took a step back, Tuesday, by saying the U.S. was not planning to invite Korea immediately. “There’s no designed policy for Quad expansion that is being advocated by the United States,” Biegun said in a telephone press briefing, adding that the Quad is an undefined entity, so it is premature to discuss its expansion. But still he indicated there is room for possible expansion of the existing Quad. “We’re not necessarily advocating for a Quad Plus, but rather a continuation and regularization of the Quad with an eventual goal of understanding how it can be best formalized and then also, of course, welcoming cooperation with any country in the Indo-Pacific that could defend a free and open Indo-Pacific that guarantees sovereignty and prosperity for its members,” he said. During his trip to Japan for a Quad meeting earlier this month, U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo also said other countries could be added “at the appropriate time” once the current Quad is institutionalized. “The U.S. government has been institutionalizing the Quad in an apparent bid to turn it into an anti-China multilateral alliance in the Indo-Pacific if not an Asian NATO and regardless of who wins in the U.S. election, the policy will be pursued in the medium to long term,” Park said. “In that sense, the U.S. pressure on Korea will continue.” Also on Tuesday, Esper told a webinar hosted by the American think tank Atlantic Council, “We expect them (U.S. allies) to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States in confronting Chinese bad behavior and Russian aggression.” (Kang Seung-woo, “U.S. Continues Pressure on Korea to Stand against China,” Korea Times, October 21, 2020)

Second Presidential Debate: “ … Kristen Welker: We’re going to talk about North Korea now. President Trump, you’ve met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un three times. You’ve talked about your beautiful letters with him. You’ve touted the fact that there hasn’t been a war or a long-range missile test, and yet North Korea recently rolled out its biggest ever intercontinental ballistic missile and continues to develop its nuclear arsenal. Do you see that as a betrayal of the relationship you forged? Donald Trump: No. Kristen Welker: Just 30 seconds here because we need to get onto the next topic. Donald Trump: So when I met with Barack Obama, we sat in the White House, right at the beginning, had a great conversation. Was supposed to be 15 minutes and it was well over an hour. He said, “The biggest problem we have is North Korea.” He indicated we will be in a war with North Korea. Guess what? It would be a nuclear war. And he does have plenty of nuclear capability. In the meantime, I have a very good relationship with him. Different kind of a guy, but he probably thinks the same thing about me. We have a different kind of a relationship. We have a very good relationship and there’s no war. And about two months ago, he broke into a certain area. They said, “Oh, there’s going to be trouble.” I said, “No, they’re not, because he’s not going to do that.” And I was right. Look, instead of being in a war where millions of people, Seoul is 25 miles away, millions and millions, 32 million people. Millions of people would be dead right now. We don’t have a war and I have a good relationship. Kristen Welker:

President Trump, that’s 30 seconds. Vice President Biden to you. North Korea conducted four nuclear tests under the Obama administration. Why do you think you would be able to reign in this persistent threatening? Joe Biden: Because I’d make it clear, which we were making clear to China, they had to be part of the deal, because I made it clear as a spokesperson for the illustration when I went to China that I said, “Why are you moving your missile defense up so close? Why are you moving more forces here? Why are you continue to do military maneuvers with South Korea?” I said, “Because North Korea is a problem, and we’re going to continue to do it so we can control them. We’re going to make sure we can control them and make sure they cannot hurt us. And so if you want to do something about it, step up and help. If not, it’s going to continue.” What has he done? He’s legitimized North Korea. He’s talked about his good buddy, who’s a thug, a thug. And he talks about how we’re better off. And they have much more capable missiles, able to reach us territory much more easily than they ever did before. Kristen Welker: Let me follow up with you, Vice President Biden. You’ve said you wouldn’t meet with Kim Jong-un without preconditions. Are there any conditions under which you would meet with him? Joe Biden: On the condition that he would agree that he would be drawing down his nuclear capacity. The Korean Peninsula should be a nuclear free zone.” (USA Today, Debate Transcript: Trump, Biden Final Presidential Debate Moderated by Kristen Welker, October 23, 2020)

Pabian, Makowsky and Liu: “Commercial satellite imagery of the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center from October 27 indicates activity has picked up throughout the complex. While previously reported construction and flood-damage repair work continues, smoke or vapor is observed emanating from a building just south of the UEP (uranium enrichment plant). Historically, this building was used to recover and purify uranium from yellowcake and, in some cases, from leaching solutions from uranium milling facilities. However, what is taking place now is unclear.” (Frank Pabian, Peter Makowsky and Jack Liu, “North Korea’s Yongbyon Complex: Activity Picks up,” 38 North, October 30, 2020)

Harris: “North Korea’s recent announcement that it is developing a vaccine for COVID-19 has focused renewed attention on Pyongyang’s purported BW program. In a July 2020 Politico article, some experts argued that the North Korean vaccine effort is a ploy to convince China, the United States and other Western governments to provide it with vaccine production equipment that instead will be used for developing and producing new types of biological warfare agents. … However, these fears are misplaced. Given the large number of vaccines rapidly being developed by the US and other countries, there is no reason to believe that export control restrictions and sanctions would be eased for North Korea to acquire technology that could be misused for BW purposes. And there is no public evidence that North Korea is trying to capitalize on the pandemic to obtain such dual-use technology. Indeed, there is nothing in the official public record to suggest that North Korea has an advanced BW program, notwithstanding media reports to the contrary. … Official sources such as government reports and Congressional testimony are far from perfect, as demonstrated by the US government’s past failures to assess accurately whether Iraq or Libya had BW programs in the early 2000s. They did not. But official sources are inherently more authoritative than unofficial sources, such as press or journal articles, which often are highly selective in the information they present, repeat unfounded allegations or information from other articles without trying to determine their accuracy, or rely on information from defectors or other sources whose motivation or credibility is far from clear. It is also worth examining what the US and South Korean governments have actually done since 2010 in order to see whether their policy responses have been consistent with concerns of an advanced North Korean biological warfare program, as the intelligence information is said to have confirmed. In 1988, the director of naval intelligence testified that North Korea was involved in a biological warfare program. However, it was not until the latter part of the 1990s that the issue began to receive further attention. In a report on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation in 1996, the US Department of Defense (DOD) stated that North Korea had pursued an offensive biological warfare program since the early 1960s, and that its biological research infrastructure probably gave it the ability to produce limited quantities of biological warfare agents and weapons. In 2001, the DOD report described this infrastructure as rudimentary, but said that it could support production of biological warfare agents like anthrax, cholera and plague. The report also stated that North Korea’s conventional munitions infrastructure could be used to weaponize biological warfare agents, and that North Korea may have such weapons available for use. In 2013, a new DOD report on the North Korean military threat was more guarded, ascribing what were said to be allegations of a North Korean biological warfare program to open-source reports from defectors. The report also repeated earlier statements that North Korea’s biological research infrastructure could support an offensive BW program and that, together with its munitions industry, gave North Korea a potentially robust biological warfare capability. In 2015, DOD’s North Korea report raised the issue of military doctrine, saying that the North may consider the use of BW an option. But the report made no mention of actual work on these weapons, noting only that North Korea was continuing to develop its capabilities for biological R&D. The 2017 report was the same, with one important exception. After noting that North Korea’s R&D capabilities could support a biological warfare program, it added that most aspects of BW research were inherently dual-use, meaning they could be used to develop both medical countermeasures and biological warfare agents. Most recently, a July 2020 US Army report on North Korean military tactics said it is highly likely that North Korea has done BW research and possibly produced anthrax or smallpox weapons that could be mounted on missiles targeted at regional adversaries. The report also noted that a recent North Korean soldier who had defected to South Korea had been vaccinated against anthrax. However, the significance of this is not clear, given that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) follows the same vaccination policy as the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. Moreover, the US also vaccinates its forces in South Korea and the Middle East against both anthrax and smallpox, as discussed below. As in the case of the Department of Defense, the intelligence community’s public reports on the North Korean biological warfare threat have been far from definitive. In a new report on WMD technology proliferation in December 1997, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said that North Korea was capable of supporting a limited biological warfare effort. In June 2000, North Korea was described as capable of producing and delivering a wide variety of biological agents, though a year later, the language had changed to “possibly capable.” The CIA’s December 2001 WMD technology report did not mention North Korea and BW at all, but the June 2002 report returned to the subject, saying that the DPRK had pursued biological warfare capabilities since the 1960s and possessed biotechnical and conventional munitions infrastructures that could be used to support its BW efforts. Like DOD, the report also said that North Korea might have BW available for use. In a marked shift from two years earlier, the CIA’s 2004 WMD technology report omitted this language on possible BW stocks. It also noted that North Korea had acquired dual-use biological equipment but that the country’s biotechnology infrastructure was rudimentary. And from 2008 until it was ended in 2011, the report referred only to the ability of North Korea’s biotechnology and munitions infrastructure to support BW activities. The CIA’s unclassified worldwide threat assessment testimony to Congress provided even less clarity on the issue of North Korean BW capabilities, mentioning the subject only three times since the mid-1990s. The first time was in 2004, when the CIA director testified that North Korea was enhancing its biological warfare potential, building what was characterized as a legitimate biotechnology infrastructure. However, just a year later, in an apparent shift, the CIA director testified that North Korea had an active biological warfare program and possibly BW ready for use. But then nothing further was said on the subject for 12 years, until 2018, when the director of national intelligence (DNI) testified that North Korea had a longstanding biological warfare capability, reiterating earlier statements that North Korea’s biotechnology infrastructure could support a biological warfare program. In 2019, the last year in which the unclassified worldwide threat testimony was provided, the North Korean BW issue was again omitted. Because North Korea is a party to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the US Department of State (DOS) has addressed the issue of North Korea and BW in its annual arms control compliance reports to Congress. This report first mentioned the subject in 2001 when, like other US government agencies, DOS pointed to the potential for North Korea’s rudimentary biotechnology infrastructure and munitions industry to support the production and weaponization of biological warfare agents. However, the same 2001 report’s actual compliance conclusion was more damning, charging that North Korea had a “dedicated, national-level effort to achieve a BW capability and that it ha[d] developed and produced, and may have weaponized for use, BW agents in violation of the Convention.” The report also stated that North Korea likely could produce militarily sufficient quantities of biological warfare agents within weeks, thus alluding to a possible mobilization capability. The 2005 compliance report offered conflicting comments on the North Korean BW issue. It said information suggested that North Korea had a mature, offensive biological warfare program and may have BW available for use. At the same time, the report acknowledged the dual-use nature of North Korea’s biotechnology infrastructure, noting that North Korea’s vaccine program was largely consistent with its public health needs, given the country’s problems with infectious diseases. In 2010, the State Department compliance report dropped its claim that North Korea was violating the BWC, and in 2011 it omitted any linkage between the continued development of North Korea’s biological R&D capabilities and the possible development of biological weapons. By 2016, the report discussed only Russia, explaining that there was insufficient information to support the inclusion of other countries discussed in prior reports. Russia was also the only country included in the 2018 compliance report. But a different argument was made for the omission of other countries: that some elements of an offensive biological warfare program, such as research or planning activities or military doctrine, were not a violation of the BWC. This could be interpreted as meaning that countries dropped from the arms control compliance report may nevertheless have been engaging in some biological weapons-related activities, but whether this was the case with respect to North Korea was not addressed. The most recent State Department compliance reports, in 2019 and 2020, have come full circle to 2001, once again charging North Korea with developing, producing and possibly weaponizing biological warfare agents in violation of the BWC. The 2019 report also referred specifically to “continued intelligence reporting” that it said illustrated that North Korea has a biological warfare program that it plans to use against US & South Korean military forces. Further information was said to be provided in the classified version of the report. Notwithstanding this reference to intelligence reporting, other language in the 2019 and 2020 reports echoed past uncertainties, including about whether North Korea’s biological R&D capabilities are actually being used to develop BW, and whether it really has achieved what repeatedly has been called a “biological warfare capability.” Most importantly, what had been implicit for more than two decades was finally made explicit in these most recent reports: The US government has only fragmented insight into what was nevertheless called North Korea’s offensive biological warfare program. Public South Korean government reports, particularly the Ministry of National Defense (MND) White Papers, have at times been far more specific about North Korea’s possible BW program than US reports. The MND’s 1997 White Paper traced North Korea’s pursuit of research, development and acquisition of chemical and biological weapons, and protection and detection equipment, to the early 1960s, claiming that the North maintained several facilities for producing biological weapons. The next year, the White Paper stated that by 1980, North Korea had succeeded in developing bacteria and viruses for BW and, by the late 1980s, had completed what were called “live experiments” with such weapons. In 2001, the White Paper reported that North Korea was believed to hold a stockpile of 2,500- 5,000 tons of chemical and biological weapons such as anthrax. The same year, however, an MND handbook on weapons of mass destruction described the weapons stockpile as chemical only, not chemical and biological. But it also claimed that North Korea possessed one or two types of biological warfare agents and marked, but did not identify, what were said to be six research and three production facilities for BW on a map of North Korea. In the years that followed, the MND White Papers seemed to step back from some of their earlier claims, omitting any reference to North Korean facilities or stocks of biological agents. Instead, starting in 2006, they referred only to agents that North Korea was able or suspected of being able to develop and produce, such as anthrax, smallpox and cholera. In addition to examining what the US and South Korean governments have conveyed publicly about the North Korean BW issue in the years before and after new intelligence information was reportedly received in 2010, it is also useful to explore steps the two countries have actually taken to prepare for the possible use of these weapons by North Korea. As noted above, in 2001, the US DOD mentioned anthrax, cholera and plague as among the biological warfare agents that North Korea’s rudimentary biotechnology infrastructure might be able to develop and produce. But it was not until 2004 that a decision was made to vaccinate US forces on the Korean Peninsula, and the vaccination program focused on anthrax and smallpox. DOD officials stated the Korea vaccination decision, as well as a related decision to expand the US military’s anthrax and smallpox vaccination program in the Middle East, were based on an increase in the supply of the vaccines rather than indications of a greater risk of biological attack. But they also said at the time that their concerns about BW attacks against US troops had not diminished, mentioning Al Qaeda specifically.38 In 2015, the Korea vaccination program was expanded to include other DOD personnel and contractors, though no other vaccines were added. In addition to its vaccination program, DOD also collaborated with the South Korean military between 2011-2016 on a series of joint exercises to enhance the South’s ability to detect, identify and respond to a biological event. Andrew Weber has noted that these exercises were a direct response to the 2010 intelligence on North Korea’s BW program and concerns about the vulnerability of US forces and South Korea. South Korean experts have described the impetus for the exercises, known as Able Response, somewhat differently, explaining that recent outbreaks of Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) had demonstrated the need for effective coordination within the South Korean government and with other governments to address disease outbreaks, whether intentional or naturally occurring. Finally, DOD also launched a five-year advanced demonstration project in South Korea, known as Joint United States Forces Korea Portal and Integrated Threat Recognition (JUPITR), to strengthen the bio-surveillance capabilities of US forces deployed there. Begun in 2013, the project involved new equipment for detecting and analyzing biological agents, an online pathogen library for agent identification and a sensor system for rapidly designing defensive perimeters to protect US forces and the South Korean population from biological agents. The project was the focus of repeated protests after 2015 when the US military accidentally shipped what was reported to be live anthrax to one of the US bases in South Korea involved. In contrast to the United States, South Korea has done little over the past 10 years to protect either its military or civilians against the possible use of BW by North Korea. The South Korean military has not been vaccinated against either anthrax or smallpox, despite both agents having been mentioned in MND White Papers since 2006 and the US having vaccinated its forces on the peninsula. Furthermore, the government reportedly did not even begin stockpiling vaccines until 2014, and by late 2017 had only 1,350 doses of anthrax vaccine available. At the time, a South Korean government spokesperson said that the need for anthrax vaccines had become apparent after the US anthrax shipment in 2015. He also made clear that the government would not distribute the vaccine prophylactically to protect South Koreans against the disease, as the US military had done, but would instead hold it in reserve as a treatment in the event of a BW terror attack. A number of themes emerge from this review of what the US and South Korean governments have said and done in response to the purported North Korean biological warfare threat. The first theme involves the ambiguity of many of the terms used by the US government in discussing the possibility that other countries are developing or possess biological weapons. This includes terms like “biological warfare capability,” “biological warfare potential,” and “biological warfare effort,” which, as demonstrated above, often are used by government agencies interchangeably and without explanation. Even more central to any discussion of BW threats, however, is the term “biological warfare program,” which the US government has used publicly for decades, without ever defining what constitutes such a program. Others, however, have offered a definition, most notably the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) investigating Iraq’s biological warfare activities in the early 2000s. Under UNSCOM’s approach, a biological warfare program requires certain key elements: political will (i.e., a decision to pursue a BW program); basic knowledge of biological warfare agents, including their properties and how to safely test and maintain those properties; infrastructure, including personnel with the requisite technical know-how; delivery and weapons systems; and security and concealment measures for its facilities. It is not clear, based on official public information, whether North Korea has all of these elements, particularly the one that is most essential to developing and producing biological warfare agents: the supporting infrastructure and necessary personnel. Therefore, by this definition, probably the most that can be said is North Korea may have or have had a biological warfare program. A second theme is the high degree of uncertainty about exactly what the purported North Korean program entails. This is reflected in the many qualifications used by US government agencies in their public comments on the North Korean program: that the DPRK has built a biological infrastructure that could be used to develop and produce biological warfare agents; that it likely is capable of producing militarily significant quantities of such agents quickly; that its conventional munitions infrastructure could be used to weaponize biological warfare agents; and that North Korea may consider the use of BW as a military option. All but the last of these could be said of any other country with civilian biotechnology and military weapons industries. Even more uncertainty surrounds what is known, or at least what US government officials are willing to say publicly, about actual North Korean stocks of biological weapons: that North Korea could produce biological warfare agents like anthrax, cholera and plague; that it possibly has weaponized biological warfare agents; and that it may have BW available for use. As noted above, even after more than 30 years, the most that a recent US Army report could say about North Korea’s purported BW activities was that it is highly likely that North Korea has done BW research and that it has possibly produced anthrax or smallpox munitions that could be mounted on missiles targeted at regional adversaries.48 The same uncertainty has been apparent in South Korean government reports for the last 14 years: that North Korea was able or suspected of being able to produce agents such as anthrax, smallpox and cholera. A third theme that emerges from this review is the lack of consistency in the public assessments of government agencies or between the assessments and actions of governments. In the case of the United States, the most striking inconsistency is in the State Department’s unclassified compliance reports. These have gone from charging North Korea with having a mature, offensive biological warfare program involving the development, production and possible weaponization of biological agents, to focusing for nine years largely on the continued development of North Korea’s biological R&D infrastructure, and then back again to the same accusation from 20 years earlier of biological warfare agent development, production and possible weaponization. The intelligence community’s written threat assessment testimony on the North Korean BW threat has also shifted significantly over the years, from referring to the DPRK’s legitimate biotechnology infrastructure in 2004, to charging the North with an active biological warfare program, including possible weapons in 2005, to not mentioning the issue at all from 2006 until 2018. Then, after reiterating previous statements concerning the biological warfare potential of North Korea’s biotechnology infrastructure, nothing further was said on the subject in 2019, the last year threat assessment testimony was provided to Congress. In the case of the South Korean government, there has been a lack of consistency both in its public reports and between those reports and its actions. Regarding the former, South Korea has gone from accusing North Korea of maintaining BW facilities and stocks to referring only to agents that North Korea is able or suspected of being able to develop and produce. This seeming shift in South Korea’s assessment may help to explain the government’s failure to procure anthrax or other vaccines to protect its military personnel and civilian population, despite earlier claims regarding North Korea’s biological warfare capabilities. A fourth theme that emerges from this review is that of conflicting assessments between government agencies. As noted above, after some 12 years of not mentioning the North Korean biological weapons issue in its threat assessment testimony to Congress, in 2018, the DNI reiterated earlier statements regarding the ability of North Korea’s biotechnology infrastructure to support a biological warfare program. The DNI then said nothing about North Korea in 2019, even as the State Department was again charging the North with developing, producing and possibly weaponizing biological warfare agents. The 2019 State Department report also points to a final theme, and one that likely helps explain the previous four: the fragmented insight the US government has into North Korea’s biological warfare capabilities and intentions. As is well known, BW development and production activities are among the most challenging intelligence collection targets, given that much of the equipment and materials can be used for both civilian and military purposes. And any available intelligence has been even more highly compartmented, i.e., controlled, within the US government, in the decade and a half since the Iraqi WMD intelligence debacle. Moreover, the availability of modern equipment, such as the fermenters seen at a new biopesticide facility shown on North Korean television in June 2015, or training in handling microorganisms, including using biotechnology, does not translate directly into an ability to produce biological warfare agents successfully. As Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley has pointed out, personnel must be able to adapt from industrial to military-related work. This requires not only scientific expertise but also a stable, continuously resourced work environment. Given the closed nature of North Korean society, both internally and to the outside world, it is unlikely that the US or South Korean governments would know without highly credible sources on the ground whether the North has given BW this degree of priority. In the final analysis, North Korea may once have had an interest in acquiring BW and may indeed still be pursuing what in 2012 DOD called a potentially robust capability, possibly including the use of biotechnology to develop new types of BW agents. DOD’s vaccination decisions, as well as its programs to enhance both its own and South Korea’s ability to detect and identify a covert or other biological attack, can certainly be viewed as supporting that conclusion. It is also possible that North Korea never moved beyond an early stage of BW activities, perhaps involving R&D on traditional agents like anthrax, together with the establishment of a biotechnical infrastructure that could be diverted to biological warfare agent production in the event of imminent hostilities. Finally, it is possible that, as in the case of Libya, the North Korean program never moved beyond initial planning, or like Iraq, the North’s program, whatever its previous nature, has essentially ended. But one thing seems clear: Nothing in the official public record to date indicates that North Korea has an advanced BW program, notwithstanding media reports to the contrary.” (Elisa D. Harris, North Korea and Biological Weapons: Assessing the Evidence, 38North (November 2020)

The U.S. military has shot down an intercontinental ballistic missile in a test that demonstrated for the first time that the United States can intercept ICBMs from a warship at sea. The Missile Defense Agency announced the success of the test today, saying the USS John Finn had struck and destroyed a “threat representative” ICBM using a Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptor in the Pacific Ocean northeast of Hawaii. The test, which took place yesterday local time in the Pacific, comes as the United States steps up its missile defense capabilities in response to North Korea’s advancing arsenal. Up until now, the United States has relied on missile interceptors based in silos in Alaska and California to down ICBMs headed toward the U.S. homeland. This week’s test gives the Pentagon another layer of defense by showing that sea-based systems originally intended to down intermediate-range ballistic missiles can intercept even longer-range ICBMs. The idea is for the ships to serve as a backup if the interceptors based on land in Alaska and California fail to strike an incoming ICBM. Military planners call the concept “shoot look shoot,” meaning they would see whether the silo-based interceptor succeeded in hitting an incoming missile and, if not, shoot at the missile again from a warship. “This was an incredible accomplishment and a critical milestone,” Vice Adm. Jon Hill, the Missile Defense Agency director, said in a statement about the test. Hill said the Pentagon was exploring how to augment its silo-based missile defenses “to hedge against unexpected developments in the missile threat” and described the test as a key step in that process. The test marks an increase in U.S. defenses against North Korean missiles, but it also could trigger Russia and China — long suspicious of U.S. missile defenses — to devise more-sophisticated weapons and continue an arms buildup that has alarmed the Pentagon. To conduct the test, the U.S. military took the SM-3 Block IIA — a missile defense system developed jointly by defense contractors Raytheon and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to down short- and medium-range missiles — and placed it on a warship. The USS John Finn, in the waters off Hawaii, then shot the interceptor at an ICBM test target that the U.S. military launched toward Hawaii from its test site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The strike was successful. “We have known for some time that we thought it had expanded capabilities beyond what it was designed for,” said Bryan Rosselli, vice president of strategic missile defense at Raytheon. “It was designed for short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.” The test originally was supposed to take place in May, but according to the Missile Defense Agency, it was delayed “due to restrictions in personnel and equipment movement intended to reduce the spread of covid-19.” In a recent defense policy law, Congress mandated that the military test the SM-3 Block IIA against an ICBM by the end of 2020. The SM-3 Block IIA is the latest iteration of sea-based missile defense interceptors — and has only just begun to be deployed on U.S. vessels. The events this week marked the sixth test for the SM-3 Block IIA. Two of those tests have failed — one because of human error on the ship and the other because of a failed component. Theoretically, the system also can be used by Aegis Ashore missile defense installations on land. Russia has long complained about U.S. missile defenses, particularly land-based missile defense systems the United States has placed in Poland and Romania, and has cited them as justification for its new nuclear weapons. However, Tom Karako, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the interceptor isn’t targeted at a peer competitor such as Russia, which has a large enough arsenal to overwhelm U.S. missile defenses. “This is not going to chase a Russian ICBM,” Karako said. He said the SM-3 IIA is geared toward defending against North Korea. It also could be deployed on land in Asia to defend U.S. forces in Guam against North Korean and Chinese missiles and in Europe at missile defense installations in Poland and Romania to protect U.S. forces in Europe and NATO allies from Iranian missiles, he said. “The fact that it has performed against an ICBM — what that also tells you is that it is going to be more reliable against intermediate range and increasingly complex intermediate-range missiles over in the area of Guam,” Karako said. “This contributes to deterrence — making sure China doesn’t get the bright idea that they can decapitate our forces over there in a single blow.” Nonproliferation advocates warned that the test could spur an already burgeoning arms buildup by Russia and China, as the two powers view the system as a new threat. “Plans call for deploying hundreds of these new interceptors on mobile, globally-deployable Aegis (ballistic missile defense) ships. The dramatic expansion of strategic defense cannot escape the notice of Russia and China,” Laura Grego, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group, said on Twitter. “It is likely to have a crushing effect on prospects for new nuclear arms control agreements and will also provide motivation (or justification) for Russia and China to diversify and grow their nuclear weapons arsenals.” James Acton, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said on Twitter that the test “is likely to continue stimulating Chinese and Russian efforts to bolster their nuclear forces and make arms control to hinder the burgeoning arms race more difficult.” (Paul Sonne, “U.S. Tests Downing an ICBM from a Warship for First Time,” Washington Post, November 17, 2020)

he incoming U.S. administration of President-elect Joe Biden should not throw away a dialogue channel that President Donald Trump built with North Korea, a former U.S. point man on Pyongyang said today. Joseph Yun, former U.S. special representative for North Korea, made the remark at a virtual seminar hosted by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), calling on the incoming administration to send a message to Pyongyang saying that engagement will remain open. “There’s no reason to close that channel,” Yun said. Yun also said that the Biden administration should acknowledge a joint statement that Trump and Kim issued after their historic 2018 summit in Singapore, under which North committed to working toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Victor Cha, former director for Asian affairs at the White House National Security Council, also said during the seminar that the Biden administration should not “come in and throw out everything that happened in the past.” “And I think certainly, Kim Jong-un’s statement about denuclearization in Singapore would be something you’d certainly want to pocket,” he said. Cha also called for efforts to “politically normalize the relationship,” pointing out that the two countries could begin by taking a political approach, including a peace declaration, security assurances and dialogue on human rights. “With each administration, we’ve tried different things. We’ve tried incremental, we’ve tried bilateral, multilateral, we’ve tried extreme sanctions and summit diplomacy,” he said. “The piece we haven’t really tried yet is really focusing on trying to change the political relationship such that you can move past the incremental freeze to the harder parts of denuclearization.” (Yi Wonju, “Biden Administration Should Not Close Dialogue Channel with N. Korea: Ex-U.S. Envoy,” Yonhap, November 19, 2020) Yun stressed that North Korea will not denuclearize anytime soon and “maximum pressure” does not work. “I think this is where the US has to accept that policy of pressure has failed. It cannot be all pressure. Also a policy of emphasizing only denuclearization has failed,” Yun said at a forum organized by the state-run think tank the Korea Institute for National Unification on Thursday. “We need to make denuclearization a goal but also peace building an equal goal. … These two goals must be equal in status and move in tandem.” He stressed that this two-goal policy is a “very long-term project,” as it requires peace and denuclearization to make equal progress together “hand in hand.” But this approach will appeal to both Koreas as well as China, he added. The starting point for Biden, he said, is to send a message to Pyongyang that the engagement door will remain open and to acknowledge the 2018 Singapore agreement between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un — not to throw away everything Trump has done. Under the Singapore agreement, the North committed to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in return for security guarantees from the U.S. “You may agree or disagree with many of things that Trump has done, but I do think he made some positive contribution on North Korea. And one of them was opening new channel. There is no reason to close those new channels.” Lee Jong-suk, former unification minister and senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, expressed a similar stance — that Biden needs to uphold the results of the Singapore summit — adding that the terms of the agreement are even more abstract than those of the joint communique between then-US President Bill Clinton and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000. “There is nothing negative for Biden on respecting the (Singapore) agreement,” said Lee. “Because with (Biden’s) mention that the agreement will be maintained, North Korea won’t readily provoke.” (Ahn Sung-mi, “Scrapping N.K. Nukes Should Not Be Prerequisite for Peacebuilding: Yun,” Korea Herald, November 19, 2020)

South Korea decided today to mass produce a new type of tactical ground-based missiles designed to destroy underground artillery bases in North Korea, officials said. During the defense project promotion committee presided over by Defense Minister Suh Wook, the government approved the plan to produce more than 200 units of the Korean Tactical Surface to Surface Missile (KTSSM) by 2025, according to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA). Under the 450 with its own technology, and an additional 320 million won was earmarked for its mass production, the DAPA said. “This project is to destroy long-range artillery pieces hidden in underground tunnels in order to neutralize enemies’ attack at the shortest time possible,” the arms procurement agency said in a statement. The ballistic missile, with a flight range of around 120 kilometers, is capable of striking multiple targets precisely at the same time, the officials said, adding that it is expected to be put into combat operations around 2022. North Korea revealed its own novel type of surface-to-surface missile in August 2019, and has test-launched them three times. The missile, fired from a caterpillar-type transporter erector launcher (TEL), bears some outward similarities to the U.S.’ Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), experts said. During the meeting, the committee also approved the third round of mass production of the country’s main K2 battle tank. Around 50 units of the home-grown K2 Black Panther will be built by 2023, which requires around 2.83 trillion won, according to DAPA. (Yonhap, “S. Korea to Mass Produce Advanced Tactical Ground-Based Missiles by 2025,” November 25, 2020)

Under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic and an ailing economy, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is responding with fury, allowing at least two executions in the past three months, South Korea’s intelligence agency told a parliamentary briefing today. “Kim Jong Un is taking irrational actions,” opposition lawmaker Ha Tae-keung told reporters after being briefed by Seoul’s National Intelligence Service. “He is venting his anger excessively and rolling out measures that lack common sense.” Ha said a foreign exchange dealer was executed in late October, while an official at a customs post on the Chinese border was put to death in August for failing to abide by strict rules on imports intended to prevent the coronavirus from entering the country. “Key executives faced harsh punishment and even execution for failing to abide by virus rules,” Ha said. The South Korean intelligence account could not be independently verified. Information flows from secretive North Korea are very limited, and such reports are not always accurate. But experts say that Kim is likely to be feeling pressure after closing the Chinese border at the start of the year as the coronavirus spread around the world. Trade with China is usually seen as North Korea’s economic lifeline, but that lifeline has effectively been cut. The volume of North Korea’s trade with China dropped by 73 percent in the first three quarters of 2020 compared with same period last year, according to a report released Friday by the Korea International Trade Association in Seoul. Fearing the virus, North Korea created buffer zones along the border with China and warned that citizens entering without permission would be shot on sight, a measure condemned as a “serious violation of international human rights law” by Human Rights Watch. Ha, the South Korean lawmaker, said prices of sugar and spices in North Korea have risen fourfold as imports from China dried up, while whole cities and even provinces, mostly near the border, have been placed under temporary lockdowns this month after foreign currency smuggling or foreign goods were detected. Ha said examples of North Korea’s “paranoia” about the risks of coronavirus included its refusal to accept 110,000 tons of rice aid offered by China and a decision to ban fishing and salt production in North Korean waters because of concerns that seawater could be contaminated with the virus. Ha added that North Korea tried to hack into the computer network of a South Korean drugmaker developing a covid-19 vaccine but that the attempt was foiled. Meanwhile, South Korean ruling party lawmaker Kim Byung-kee, who attended the same intelligence briefing, noted that North Korea has not mentioned the U.S. election outcome in state media dispatches, signaling concern in Pyongyang about Joe Biden’s victory. “North Korea has been telling its foreign missions not to issue election reactions or personal opinions, warning that the head of mission will take responsibility for any relevant issues,” he said. The regime was worried that better relations under President Trump would be nullified and that Washington would revert to the Obama-era approach of “strategic patience” toward North Korea, he added. Kim said North Korea’s state media took between two and nine days to acknowledge election wins by George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Trump. (Simon Denyer and Min Joo Kim, “North Korea’s Kim Vents Fury under Strain of Virus and Economy, South Says,” Washington Post, November 28, 2020, p. A-9)

The Trump administration announced a $5 million reward for tips on sanctions-busting activities that allow North Korea to continue developing nuclear weapons and accused China of facilitating the illicit trade. The leads are being solicited through a new State Department website. The targeted activities it lists include money laundering, the export of luxury goods to North Korea, cyberoperations and other actions that support the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. “I assure you, many of the tips we receive through this program will directly implicate that trade,” Alex Wong, the State Department’s deputy envoy for North Korea, said in a virtual speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Wong warned that the United States will impose more sanctions related to North Korea in the two months remaining before the Trump administration ends, including penalties on people and entities in China that facilitate illicit trade. “We’ve imposed numerous such sanctions designations in the past,” Wong said. “And more are forthcoming.” Wong accused China of a “flagrant violation” of its obligation to enforce international sanctions on North Korea. With the impending sanctions against the North Korean regime, the administration is elevating tensions with another international hot spot, creating potential problems that will be waiting for President-elect Joe Biden when he takes office next month. “The biggest obstacle to an economically strong North Korea is the regime’s programs to build nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the means to deliver those weapons around the globe,” Wong said. He expressed U.S. “disappointment” at a military parade in Pyongyang on October 10 that featured a new intercontinental ballistic missile and showed off an array of modernized military systems, from small arms to antitank and air-defense systems. Repeatedly singling out China in his remarks, Wong accused Beijing of helping North Korea obtain the money to continue its military buildup and said the United States had documented 555 incidents of ships carrying coal and other banned goods from North Korea to China. Wong said China is “seeking to undo” U.N. sanctions that are supposed to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Beijing is host to at least 20,000 North Korean laborers whose salaries are funneled to the government in Pyongyang for weapons development. Suggesting a group of potential targets to upcoming U.S. sanctions, Wong said Beijing allows Chinese companies to continue trade in U.N.-prohibited goods including seafood, textiles, iron and steel. “The DPRK still retains shadowy avenues to procure inputs to its weapons programs,” he said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “The DPRK cannot do that without middlemen. It cannot do that without illicit bank accounts. It cannot do that without a network of money launderers. The overwhelming number of those middlemen, bank accounts and money launderers operate within the borders of China.” (Carol Morello, “Trump Administration Launches Rewards Program Targeting North Korea and China,” Washington Post, December 1, 2020)

Suspected North Korean hackers have recently tried to break into at least nine health organizations, including pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson and vaccine developer Novavax Inc, revealing a broader effort to target key players in the race to develop treatments for COVID-19. Four people who have investigated the attacks said the spate of hacking attempts began in September, and used web domains mimicking online login portals to try and trick staff at the targeted organizations into revealing their passwords. The hacking attempts included a bid to get inside British drug maker and vaccine developer AstraZeneca, which Reuters first reported last week was in Pyongyang’s crosshairs. North Korea has not confirmed any coronavirus infections, but South Korea’s National Intelligence Service has said an outbreak there cannot be ruled out as the country had trade and people-to-people exchanges with China — the source of the pandemic — before shutting the border in late January. A Reuters review of publicly-available Internet records show that web domains and servers used by the attackers have previously been identified by the U.S. government and security researchers as part of a North Korean hacking campaign. Other targets identified by the sources, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, included the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, the University of Tübingen in Germany, and four South Korean pharmaceutical firms: Genexine Inc, Boryung Pharma Co Ltd, Shin Poong Pharm Co Ltd and Celltrion Inc. Reuters was not able to determine if any of the hacking attempts, some of which were reported by the Wall Street Journal earlier today, were successful. Novavax spokeswoman Amy Speak said her company was “aware of this threat” and was coordinating with government agencies and private cybersecurity experts. “We are confident we can continue to progress with our COVID-19 vaccine candidate without disruption and that these incursions do not pose a risk to the integrity of our data,” she said. A spokeswoman for the University of Tübingen said staff were repeatedly targeted by hackers but all recent attacks “were detected and blocked by our IT-Team at an very early stage, no damage occurred.” Genexine said it was aware of a malicious website impersonating a company login portal but had not recorded any direct attacks against its staff. Celltrion said it had recently identified and successfully blocked a number of hacking attempts as part of its regular security work. Johnson & Johnson, Beth Israel, and Shin Poong declined to comment. Boryung did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Simon Choi, an expert at South Korean cybersecurity group IssueMakersLab, said he had attributed the hacking attempts to North Korea and it was clear the attackers were specifically hunting for information about COVID-19. In the case of South Korea’s Celltrion, for example, he said the spies tried to break into an email account set up to field queries about Remsima, a monoclonal antibody which is being studied as a treatment for severe cases of the disease. A person familiar with the matter said that some of the fake login pages had been spotted by security experts at Microsoft Corp, helping prompt an alert the company issued last month about the threat of North Korean espionage to COVID-19 researchers. Microsoft stopped short of naming the targeted organizations in its Nov. 13 blog post, but said they were “leading pharmaceutical companies and vaccine researchers” in countries including the United States and South Korea. Lawmakers in South Korea also appear to have alluded to the digital espionage campaign, saying last week that its intelligence service thwarted attempts by Pyongyang to hack into South Korean companies developing coronavirus vaccines, although they provided no further details. Officially, North Korean authorities have reported no cases of coronavirus in their country, making it the only non-island nation — aside from Turkmenistan — to do so. But North Korean leader Kim Jong Un raised eyebrows last month when he was quoted by state media as ordering officials to intensify their anti-coronavirus work. Digital espionage against health bodies, vaccine scientists and drugmakers has intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic as state-backed hacking groups scramble to obtain the latest research and information about the outbreak. (Raphael Satter and Jack Stubbs, “North Korea-Linked Hackers Targeted J&J, Novavax in Hunt for COVID Research,” Reuters, December 2, 2020)

The United States has blacklisted six companies, including several based in China, and four ships accused of illicit exports of North Korean coal, the Treasury Department said today. The United Nations Security Council banned North Korean coal exports in 2017. “The DPRK (North Korea) continues to circumvent the U.N. prohibition on the exportation of coal, a key revenue generator that helps fund its weapons of mass destruction programs,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “The North Korean regime often uses forced labor from prison camps in its mining industries, including coal, exploiting its own people to advance its illicit weapons programs,” he said. An annual report to the U.N. Security Council by independent sanctions monitors earlier this year said North Korea continued to flout council resolutions “through illicit maritime exports of commodities, notably coal and sand” in 2019, earning Pyongyang hundreds of millions of dollars. The U.S. action freezes any U.S. assets of those sanctioned and generally bars Americans from dealing with them. When asked about the action, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China fulfilled its international obligations and opposed countries implementing unilateral sanctions against Chinese companies. “China will continue to firmly protect Chinese companies’ and individuals’ legitimate and legal rights and interests,” Zhao told a daily news briefing in Beijing on December 9. The blacklisted ships — Calm Bridge, Asia Bridge, Lucky Star and Star 18 — “loaded coal directly from North Korean ports and transported their cargo throughout the region,” the U.S. Treasury Department said. The shipping companies sanctioned are China-based Weihai Huijiang Trade Ltd, Always Smooth Ltd, and Good Siblings Ltd. Always Smooth and Good Siblings are also registered in Britain, the Treasury Department said. It also designated Hong Kong-based Silver Bridge Shipping Co-HKG, Vietnam-based Thinh Cuong Co Ltd and Korea Daizin Trading Corporation, which operates in North Korea and Vietnam.(Doina Chiacu and Michelle Nichols, “U.S. Targets North Korea Coal Shipments with New Sanctions,” Reuters, December 9, 2020)

Speaking candidly about the last four years, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said he’s disappointed that Washington and Pyongyang didn’t make more progress, but also urged North Korea to scrape together a plan for more diplomacy at its upcoming Party Congress in January 2021. “You might wonder if I am disappointed that we did not accomplish more over the past two years. I am,” Biegun said today, according to a prewritten copy of his speech seen by NK News. Over the past two and a half years, we have made clear to North Korea that the United States is ready to move past a 70-year-old conflict … Regrettably, much opportunity has been squandered by our North Korean counterparts.” Speaking at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, he said that Washington welcomes “mutually beneficial inter-Korean cooperation” like people-to-people exchanges in education, music, culture and sports. He also said that the U.S. could help North Korea develop. “We could do this by exploring with other countries, including the Republic of Korea, the best ways to mobilize investment, develop infrastructure, enhance food security, and drive economic engagement and trade to facilitate the prosperity that Chairman Kim has promised his people,” he said. When it came to sanctions and security guarantees, Biegun said that Washington “has made it very clear” that these concessions are possible if North Korea is “ready to make progress on denuclearization.” “As I have said from the beginning, we do not expect North Korea to do everything before we do anything, nor should North Korea expect such an outcome from us,” he said. Biegun characterized Trump’s controversial face-to-face summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a “radical new approach to diplomacy” and a “leader-driven reimagining that reflects the strategic landscape of the 21st century.” “This vision was a bold one, and it made many advocates of incrementalism uncomfortable,” he said. However, he was also quick to admit that the approach “has yet to deliver the success we hoped for.” “As we look to the future, I remain convinced that diplomacy remains the best course — indeed the only course — to solving our challenges with North Korea,” Biegun said. “Pyongyang has some pivotal events coming up, in particular the Eighth Party Congress in January. We strongly encourage North Korea to use the time between now and then to set a path for the resumption of diplomacy.” As Biegun looks to his final weeks as deputy secretary of state, he made his hopes for the incoming administration very clear. “Among the points I will convey to the new team is this: The war is over; the time for conflict has ended, and the time for peace has arrived,” he said. (Kelly Kasulis, “Disappointed But Hopeful, Biegun Urges Pyongyang to Prep Diplomacy Plan for 2021,” NKNews, December 10, 2020) Asked about Washington’s rejection of Pyongyang’s offer to dismantle its mainstay Yongbyon nuclear complex during their summit in Hanoi early last year, Biegun stressed that it does not represent the entirety of the North Korean nuclear program. “Of course, Yongbyon remains a great interest to the United States of America, and that’s a historic center of the North Korean nuclear weapons program. It still retains great importance in any process of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” he said. “But the challenge that we faced in Hanoi, the challenge we face to this day, is it is not all of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program,” he added. The deputy secretary, however, pointed out that the U.S. has “never expected one side has to do everything before the other side does anything.” As for the “key” lesson from the no-deal summit in Hanoi, Biegun underscored that his North Korean counterparts were “not empowered” to discuss serious negotiation topics. “We didn’t have enough time in Hanoi to fully explore the limits of what might be possible, in part because the negotiating team that arrived before the summit was not empowered to discuss those issues,” he said. The U.S. envoy also expressed regrets over North Korean counterparts missing opportunities just in “search for obstacles.” “Regrettably, much opportunity has been squandered by our North Korean counterparts over the past two years, who too often have devoted themselves to the search for obstacles to negotiations instead of seizing opportunities for engagement,” he said. “Yet, remarkably, the potential of the Singapore Summit is still fully present, despite our failure to advance what was agreed.” Biegun reiterated that Washington welcomes inter-Korean cooperation to help catalyze lackluster peace efforts. “We also continue to welcome mutually beneficial inter-Korean cooperation as an important tool to cultivate trust and build cooperation on the Korean Peninsula, and people-to-people exchanges in the fields of education, music, culture and sports would be beneficial to all,” he said. (Song Sang-ho and Yi Wonju, “Biegun Says Diplomacy ‘Best’ and ‘Only’ Course to Resolving N.K. Challenges,” Yonhap, December, 10, 2020)

Moon Chung-in: “On September 22, 1971, the first hotline between the two Koreas was installed at the Panmunjom — 26 years after the telephone line between Seoul and Haeju was cut off by the former Soviet army immediately after liberation on August 26, 1945. At the time, the two Koreas had installed two telephone lines between the South’s ‘Freedom House’ and the North’s ‘Panmungak’ upon sharing the need for communication channels at the first inter-Korean Red Cross preliminary talks held on September 20 of the same year, which was organized to prepare for the inter-Korean Red Cross talks proposed by the then Korean Red Cross President, Choi Doo Sun. Since then, the channel has played a central role as a regular liaison system for the authorities of the two Koreas under Article 7 of the Framework Agreement between the two Koreas, which went into effect in February 1992. When the Kim Dae-jung administration came into office, the inter-Korean relations, which had been previously marked by a series of confrontations and antagonisms, changed into one of reconciliation and cooperation. Accordingly, more hotlines were installed in relevant fields. Starting with the opening of a direct telephone line between the Incheon International Airport and Sunan Pyongyang International Airport aviation control centers, under the 1997 inter-Korean and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) agreements, additional hotlines between the South’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the North’s United Front Department were installed in 2000. Along with it, military communication lines in 2002 to 2003, maritime communication lines between maritime authorities in 2005, communication lines for the inter-Korean joint committee of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in 2013, and communication lines for the inter-Korean Joint Liaison Office and also one for the leaders of the two Koreas in 2018. The two Koreas conducted regular check-ups at agreed upon times unless special circumstances arose. As such, the hotline between the two Koreas has repeatedly been suspended and resumed since its opening in 1971 due to changes in the inter-Korean relations and international affairs, but it has been used for a wide-range of cooperation efforts to improve the inter-Korean relations and promote exchanges in various areas, including inter-Korean talks, prevention of accidental military conflicts and information exchanges, and consultations on humanitarian aid. The inter-Korean hotline is operated by the Ministry of Unification (MOU), the Ministry of National Defense (MND), the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT), the United Nations Command (UNC), the NIS, and the Blue House. Based on media reports and government announcements, so far the hotlines between the two Koreas consist of 33 direct lines via Panmunjom (5 lines for the inter-Korean Joint Liaison Office, 21 lines for Seoul-Pyongyang conference support, 2 lines for air control cooperation between Incheon and Pyongyang, 2 lines for maritime authorities in Seoul and Pyongyang, and 3 lines for the inter-Korean joint committee of the Kaesong Industrial Complex) and few other lines that do not pass through the Panmunjom, including 9 lines for military communication, 6 lines for the direct telephone connection for the inter-Korean joint train operation, 1 line connecting the NIS and the United Front Department, and 1 line installed on April 20, 2018 between the inter-Korean leaders (the Blue House-Worker’s Party Headquarters line). These lines add up to a total of 50 lines. In addition to this, as of 2005, 1,300 optical fiber cable lines existed between the Korea Telecom Corporation’s (KT) Munsan branch and the Kaesong Industrial Complex for the purpose of supporting video reunions for separated families as well as for companies operating in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Of these, around 700 lines were reportedly in operation before the suspension of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The hotlines operated by the Ministry of Unification can largely be categorized into inter-Korean liaison, conference support, maritime communication, the Kaesong Industrial Complex support, and the Inter-Korean Joint Liaison Office. Among these, the inter-Korean liaison lines were the first direct call lines between the South and North to be installed in the Panmunjom, and conference support lines are used to exchange opinions regarding various inter-Korean talks. In addition, the wire communications network installed in the South’s Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Office in the Ministry of Unification and the North’s Ministry of Land and Maritime Transport, respectively, is in accordance with the Inter-Korean Agreement on Maritime Transportation, which took effect on August 1, 2005. It has been used as a means of communication between the maritime authorities of the two Koreas, for purposes such as applying for permission to operate a ship or sending notices regarding urgent patients. The three inter-Korean military telecommunication lines were first opened on September 24, 2002, to ensure a safe passage through the South-North Joint Administration Area, as mandated by the ‘Military Assurance Agreement’ signed at the 8th Inter-Korean Military Working Group Meeting. Then, on December 5, 2003, three military telecommunications lines in the East Sea district were installed. Following the passage of the ‘6.4 Agreement’ in 2004, on August 13, 2005, three additional lines for military telecommunications were installed to prevent accidental conflicts in the West Sea district. Since then, North Korea has repeatedly suspended these communication lines due to tense inter-Korean relations. In 2018, the military communication lines in the West Sea district that were suspended due to the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex were normalized on July 16, 2018, whereas the lines in the East Sea district were normalized on August 15, 2018 — both due to the Panmunjom Declaration and the agreement reached at the 8th inter-Korean general-level military talks. However, as of June 9, 2020, North Korea’s unilateral suspension of the military communication lines has blocked all lines. The inter-Korean military telecommunication lines are used as communication channels for purposes such as support of safe passage through the South-North Joint Administration Area, notification of no-fly zone entries, prevention of unintended clashes, by exchanging information on illegal fishing boats in the West Sea or by means of correspondence exchanges between the inter-Korean military authorities. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport also maintains a hotline between the two Koreas. In accordance with the agreement between the two Koreas and the ICAO, the two Koreas originally established two lines for air traffic control between Daegu and Pyongyang. When Incheon International Airport was inaugurated on September 9, 1997, Incheon was connected to the Sunan Pyongyang Airport Control Center instead of Daegu. However, these lines only control aircrafts passing through the Pyongyang Flight Information Region (FIR) and would therefore be a stretch to regard these as liaison lines. The core of the inter-Korean hotline is a direct telephone line that connects the NIS in the South and the United Front Department in the North. Neither Korea has officially revealed the existence of this hotline, but according to the autobiography of President Kim Dae- jung and the memoirs of the former NIS chief Lim Dong-won, President Kim suggested establishing a hotline between the two Koreas at the Pyongyang Summit on June 14, 2000. Chairman Kim Jong-il accepted this suggestion and a hotline was installed between the NIS and the United Front Department. In fact, it is believed that this hotline played an important role at multiple crises in the inter-Korean relations. However, this hotline — between the NIS and the United Front Department — cannot be considered as a communication channel between the two leaders, as it is one between the Director of the NIS and the Director of the United Front Department. The first hotline between the two Korean leaders was installed between the Blue House and the Worker’s Party Headquarters for the first time on April 20, a week before the Panmunjom meeting on April 27, 2020. Call quality tests have also been completed. Direct telephone lines between the UNC and the North Korean military at the Panmunjom are also in operation. This direct line was installed in accordance with the ‘Agreement on the Procedure for Hosting General-Level Talks between the UNC and the North Korean Armed Forces’ on June 8, 1998 and connects the UNC and the North Korean armed forces at the UNC Generals office in the South and the Panmungak in the North, respectively.[10] Then, in July 2018, the line was restored after five years, due to an easing of tensions between the South-North Koreas and the United States. The UNC regularly conducts daily communications tests with the North Korean military. In addition, apart from North Korea, South Korea installed and is operating a hotline with the United States and Japan to prevent military contingencies and diversify communication on regional security issues. Currently, direct telephone lines have been installed and is operating between Korea’s 1st Master Control & Remote Center (MCRC) and China’s Northern Theater Command. It has been confirmed that China notified Korea of the flight route and purpose when it entered the Korea Air Defense Identification Zone (KADIZ) on October 29, 2019. Besides, South Korea is also negotiating the installment of a military hotline with Russia. It has been 50 years since the first inter-Korean direct telephone line opened in 1971. The inter-Korean hotlines have helped to improve the inter-Korean relations and prevent accidental military clashes. In particular, the role of these hotlines during the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong on June 29, 2002 was notable. According to the memoirs of Lim Dong-won, the North sent a message via hotline to inform us, “This incident was not deliberately planned or intended. We confirm that people of lower ranks on the local level were solely responsible for this unintended clash. We regret this has happened,” and they added, “Let’s work together to never let it happen again.” Their Message was such that the high-level leaders of the North were not involved in the incident-it was a localized incident. Expressing apology, the North side did not want an escalation of the incident. In addition, the inter-Korean hotlines occupy an important position in inter-Korean relations, as it has recent been used to dispatch the Moon administration’s envoys to North Korea and the Kim regime’s special envoys to South Korea. However, as can be seen from North Korea’s unilateral decision to suspend direct calls between South and North Korea, the inter-Korean hotline has repeatedly been shut down then resumed whenever North Korea reacted — sensitively — to internal and external conditions. In fact, North Korea has been prone to blocking direct inter-Korean lines for various reasons. Ever since North Korea opened a direct inter-Korean telephone line in 1971, it has shut down and announced termination of all telecommunications between the North and South in seven separate occasions, totaling in 12 years: the Panmunjom axe incident in 1976, suspension of the working group for the inter- Korean prime ministerial talks in 1980, South Korea’s co-sponsorship of the North Korea human rights resolution at the 63rd UN General Assembly in 2008, the South’s 5.24 measures in 2010, UN Security Council sanctions in 2013 and joint ROK-US military exercises, the Kaesong Industrial Complex suspension measures in 2016, and last June 9, when all inter-Korean communication lines were blocked. On top of these environmental limitations, North Korea’s telecommunications infrastructure is also lacking and obsolete, rendering effective communication difficult. Since most of the inter-Korean hotlines are composed of copper cables, the quality of communication is not only poor, but also intermittent. Video conferencing is also impossible. For now, the separated family video reunions and the firms at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the inter-Korean Joint Liaison Office, and military communication lines are connected using optic fiber cables. In fact, the South and the North “shared the awareness of the need to improve the existing communications networks between the inter-Korean authorities and will actively cooperate in the future” at the inter-Korean communication working group held at the North-South Joint Liaison Office on November 23, 2018. In conclusion, the inter-Korean hotline has been used as an important means to build trust between the two Koreas by promoting inter- Korean reconciliation and cooperation and preventing military contingencies. However, it is also true that the inter-Korean hotline has failed to achieve all of the expected results due to the strategic environmental uncertainties — such as the recent declaration of North Korea’s “disposal of the inter-Korean hotline” — and the technical constraints of the outdated communication infrastructure. Therefore, for the inter-Korean hotline to play its role as a medium for building trust between the two Koreas, risks in the strategic environment and technical constraints will need to be overcome.” (Moon Chung-in, “Hotline between Two Koreas: Status, Limitations, and Future Tasks,” NAPSnet, December 17, 2020)

A nondescript cluster of buildings called Kangson on the southwest outskirts of Pyongyang was first publicly identified in 2018 by a team of open-source analysts as the possible location of a facility for secretly enriching uranium, a fuel for nuclear bombs. But the report by North Korea watchers at the 38 North project, reviewed by Reuters before its release today, says satellite imagery points to the facility making components for centrifuges, the high-tech spinners used to enrich uranium, rather than enriching the fuel itself. “The characteristics of the site are more consistent with a plant that could manufacture components for centrifuges,” writes former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) official Olli Heinonen in the report. The imagery suggests the site lacks the infrastructure needed for enrichment, writes Heinonen, a distinguished fellow with the Stimson Center, the Washington think-tank that runs the project. David Albright, one of the first analysts to reveal the site’s existence, told Reuters it could be a covert enrichment facility but that the activity there is not convincing. “We still see anomalies that do not allow us to reach a high confidence level” that enrichment is taking place at Kangson, said Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. Similarly, a source familiar with U.S. intelligence reporting and analysis told Reuters they have reasons to believe Kangson is enriching uranium but that the evidence is not conclusive. Kangson has many of features of an enrichment site, said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. It had been monitored by U.S. intelligence for more than a decade before he and a team of imagery analysts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies identified the spot in 2018, he wrote in a report at the time. The IAEA says Kangson shows some characteristics of an enrichment site but the organization cannot be sure, as North Korea expelled its inspectors in 2009. IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi told Reuters the UN watchdog has “indications,” which he would not specify, that the site has a role in North Korea’s nuclear program. Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a Korea expert at King’s College London, said that “European intelligence officials are more cautious than their U.S. counterparts” on whether Kangson is enriching uranium. The Europeans’ position, he said, “is that we simply don’t know what’s going on there for sure, so they can’t jump to the conclusion that enrichment is taking place without more solid evidence.” Friday’s 38 North report attempts to fill in some gaps. Satellite imagery from 2003, when the main building was being constructed, shows a concrete floor that appears to be like those built for workshops, rather than the concrete pads used in enrichment facilities to protect sensitive equipment from vibrations, the report says. Kangson appears to lacking air conditioning units that are essential for enrichment plants, and its security perimeter is not as extensive as at other nuclear sites, Heinonen writes. He notes that the August U.N. report says an unnamed member state had spotted no cylinders used to transport uranium hexafluoride (UF6), a compound used in the enriching process. While commercial satellites might miss such transfers, he argues, it is unlikely that the intelligence services of foreign countries would fail to spot them. (Josh Smith, “Mysterious N. Korean Site May Be Building Nuclear Components,” Reuters, December 18,2020)

North Korea’s all-out push to halt the coronavirus has exacted a brutal blow to its already-tattered economy, contributing to a slide that will likely be the worst in a generation. Pyongyang had little choice but to mount a heavy-handed defense. Its dilapidated health-care system left it vulnerable to the highly infectious disease. But nearly a year into the pandemic, the pain caused by the Covid-19 measures has become visible. To ward off outbreaks, Pyongyang has locked down entire provinces and shut down foreign tourism — one of the regime’s last sources of outside income amid international sanctions. Trade with China, the North’s main benefactor, has plunged 75% in 2020 versus the previous year, according to data from China’s customs office. It withered to less than $1.7 million in October, a 99% drop from the same month a year earlier. North Korea GDP, change from a year earlier is estimated at -5% to -10%. North Korean exports of wigs, watches and shoes stopped that month, an official at the Seoul-based Korea International Trade Association said, as authorities on both sides of the border tried to minimize human contact. Pyongyang’s imports of food and medical equipment from China also ground to a halt in October, he said, citing Chinese traders and North Korean defectors. North Korea has restricted movement and trade on the border all year to guard against the pandemic. In August, Pyongyang tightened border security further, ordering its customs officials to take extra precautions disinfecting goods and ratcheting up penalties against smugglers bringing in goods that hadn’t been properly cleaned. That has led to longer delays for imports and a likely decrease in smuggling, North Korea watchers say. In November, a North Korean border town known for smuggling, Hyesan, was locked down after regime authorities found a stack of foreign cash had been brought in without being properly disinfected, according to South Korean lawmakers who were briefed by Seoul intelligence officials. Prices of food staples, like sugar and condiments, have quadrupled in recent weeks from earlier this year, according to the lawmakers. The North Korean won, which has remained steady even amid international sanctions, has surged twice this year relative to the U.S. dollar, rising 20% recently. The increase is likely the result of government attempts to prevent depreciation. Authorities have tried to limit the use of U.S. dollars and Chinese yuan by threatening imprisonment. At least one major foreign-currency dealer was executed this year, South Korean intelligence officials told lawmakers last month. It is all contributing to what could be a 10% economic slide this year, according to a recent estimate from Kim Byung-yeon, a professor of economics at Seoul National University, who has studied the North Korean economy for close to two decades. To calculate his forecast, he used figures from South Korea’s central bank, which has data going back to 1990. North Korea hasn’t faced an annual slide of that magnitude during that period. The closest the country came was in 1992, on the eve of a nationwide famine, when the economy shrank by 7.1%, according to the bank’s data. The tough economic times, however, don’t likely portend a collapse of the Kim Jong Un regime or any dramatic shift in Pyongyang’s appetite to re-engage in denuclearization talks with Washington, which have stalled this year, security experts say. At an October 10 military parade, the North showcased waves of new weapons and military gear. In recent weeks, Pyongyang’s state media has championed an 80-day campaign leading up to a Workers’ Party Congress meeting in January, asking North Koreans to help the economy by boosting agriculture and equipment production. Some 300,000 party members were praised for volunteering to rebuild thousands of homes in North Korean regions devastated by summer floods. But signs of strain have been showing. Kim made a rare admission of defeat on the country’s economic policy over the summer. Late last month, he berated top officials for failing to come up with new ideas. He has rejected outside offers for relief, while urging citizens to embrace self-reliance. Over the decades, North Korea and the ruling Kim family have shown resilience through famine, other public-health scares and rounds of sanctions. Pyongyang has developed a multitude of sanctions-evading methods to keep generating cash that don’t pop up on official trade data, from cyber shakedowns to illicit ship-to-ship transfers. This year, China has purchased millions of tons of North Korean coal, despite United Nations sanctions that ban such exports from Pyongyang. Those deals could have provided over $400 million to the Kim regime this year. China won’t let the Kim regime collapse, though its generosity will be limited, said Zhao Tong, a senior fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, in Beijing. “Enough to help avoid an internal crisis,” Zhao said of China’s potential assistance. The drop in trade with China is partly explained by the North’s preparations ahead of the January Workers’ Party meeting, where officials are expected to outline the regime’s next economic plan. Anticipating a gathering of thousands of the country’s elites, including Mr. Kim, the uptick in prevention measures is protection against potential virus spread, North Korea watchers say. Prices of antipyretics and antibiotics have surged as imports from China have all but disappeared in recent months. From August to October, a dose of penicillin more than doubled in price, while aspirin cost rose by a third, according to a report from the Korea International Trade Association. “Chinese customs officials are going to the office as usual — without much work to do,” said a Chinese trader at the border city of Dandong, according to the report. (Andrew Jeong, “Virus Brings Pain to North Korea,” Wall Street Journal, December 19, 2020)

A new missile defense policy directive approved by the Suga administration makes no mention of whether Japan should acquire first-strike capability against enemy targets, but says plans are on track to develop longer-range cruise missiles. Strengthening Japan’s deterrent capability was a major policy pillar advocated by Suga’s predecessor, former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. When Abe in June announced that the government would abandon plans to purchase the costly U.S.-developed land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense system, he stated that a new national security directive was necessary and that discussions could not be put off on whether Japan should acquire first-strike capability. Prior to leaving office in September for health reasons, Abe called for a new defense strategy to be established before year-end. The document approved December 18 amounts to the Suga administration’s response to the request. Despite vague wording, it pledged that further discussions would be held within the government on ways to strengthen Japan’s deterrence, but set no deadline for when that might happen. While no mention was made of possessing first-strike capability, the wording left open the possibility that discussions could lead to agreement in the future on the need for such a posture. The Abe administration at one time also considered making the first revamp of the National Security Strategy, but sources said the Suga administration would only consider such a possibility sometime next year. The newly approved initiative also did not use the wording of “preventing enemy missile attacks” used by the Abe administration and lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in place of first-strike capability. The toned-down nature of the document was clearly a concession to junior coalition partner Komeito, which maintains a strong pacifist stance. It also included wording to appease conservative elements in the LDP close to Abe who are rallying for a more robust defense. The document stated that work would continue on developing a cruise missile with a longer range than the current surface-to-ship guided missiles in the arsenal of the Self-Defense Forces. It was presented as a way of strengthening defense capability through the use of so-called stand-off missiles that can be fired from outside the range of enemy missiles. Current surface-to-ship guided missiles have a range of less than 200 kilometers, but some in the LDP foresee an advanced version with a range of 1,000 km. If successful, the longer-range cruise missile would be the first developed domestically. The advanced cruise missile and the JASSM-ER missile planned for installation on F-15 fighter jets could be converted into missiles capable of striking enemy missile bases. But the Cabinet document only said that the missiles would be used against enemy ships that threaten outlying islands and fired from outside the range of weapons on those vessels. The document also said that in place of the abandoned Aegis Ashore missile defense system, two Maritime SDF destroyers would be converted to allow for installation of the land-based equipment. But final decisions on the capabilities and design of those destroyers would be made next year, the document added. (Teramoto Daizo and Nikaido Yuki, “Suga Cabinet Still on Sidelines on Issue of 1st Strike Capability,” Asahi Shimbun, December 19, 2020)

North Korea wants to forge a good relationship with the United States, according to a Wall Street Journal report, raising speculation that Pyongyang may return to nuclear talks with Washington. The media outlet said the reclusive state first reached out to a committee of the European Parliament days ahead of the U.S. presidential election, November 3, and Lukas Mandl, head of the European Parliament delegation, had a one-hour virtual meeting with the North Korean ambassador to Berlin in December. The report also said that the diplomat repeatedly stressed the North wanted to have good relations with the U.S. should the U.S. abandon its hostile policy against his country, but the North’s stance was not negative, given that the North did not represent a darkening in its position on the incoming Biden administration. Kim Jong-un has remained quiet on Biden’s election. (Kang Seung-woo, “North Korea May Offer Olive Branch to U.S.,” Korea Times, January 3, 2021)

The UN Command (UNC) revealed it had maintained its line of communication with the North Korean military at all times, even amidst extreme tensions with the North. “The UNC maintained its line-of-communication with [its North Korean military] counterparts throughout the year. Through the storied ‘pink phone,’ we passed 86 messages and conducted twice-daily line checks for timely and effective information exchange,” the UNC said in a 2020 review posted to its official Facebook page today. (Hankyore, “UNC Maintained Communications Lines with N. Korea throughout 2020,” January 4, 2021)
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