Analysis of North Korea-US Confrontation in the wake of the Missiles Launch
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1. The current state of the Korean Peninsula
after the second North Korea- US Summit in Hanoi
(1) Behaviors of the United States
Since the second North Korea-US summit in Hanoi, the United States has repeated "Big Deal" assertion that North Korea should do final and fully verified denuclearization (FFVD). That is, the US calls for unilateral denuclearization of North Korea and insists that North Korea, which does not accept that, is not ready to negotiate. In the meantime, [the US] allowed (or ordered) the Korean government to provide food aid to North Korea.
President Trump broke the promise he made right after Singapore Summit of not to hold South Korea-US military exercises and simply renamed and went ahead with resuming one. In addition, [the US military] conducted a series of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) minuteman 3 launch drills on May 1 and 9, threatening North Korea. In particular, along with the ICBM, an unusual submarine-launched ballistic missile Trident 2-D5 launch exercise was also performed on the 9th.
On the other hand, Stephen Biegun, United States Special Representative for North Korea, was sent to Russia to discuss the North Korean policy on April 18. It was aimed at North Korea-Russia Summit on April 25.
Taken together, the United States still has no intention of withdrawing its hostile policy toward North Korea, continues to pressure North Korea, and, yet mentioning food aid, pays attention not to allow North Korea to move toward a "new path," such as resuming its nuclear and missiles activities.
(2) Behaviors of North Korea
North Korea urged the US to change its policy toward the North through Chairman Kim Jong Un's address at the Supreme People's Assembly and the press conference of Choi Sun Hee, First Vice minister of Foreign Affairs. North Korea emphasized that the United States should bring a new formula within the year, and that North Korea would "not even budge" otherwise. In other words, North Korea cannot accept unilateral and unrealistic demands of the United States, and the third Summit is possible only if its demands are accepted by the end of the year, the deadline set by North Korea.
At the same time, it strengthened relations with socialist countries such as China and Vietnam, and expanded cooperation with friendly countries like Russia. North Korea is strengthening anti-US international solidarity.
In addition, military training was carried out on May 4 and 9. In these exercises, they showed new missiles and self-propelled artillery, along with multiple rocket launcher (MRL).
In particular, the short-range missiles introduced this time were similar to the Russian Iskander, and their unique trajectories strained the military authorities of South Korea and the US. For your reference, the Iskander missile, first deployed by Russia in 2006, is a ballistic missile but does not draw an ordinary parabolic trajectory. It can fly on a complex route and change its course while in flight, which makes it impossible to intercept with an existing missile defense system. Though it is a short-range missile, it is so fast that it only takes 5 minutes to fly the maximum range and is a powerful weapon capable of cruise-missile-level precision blow.
The performance of the missiles as well as that of the self- propelled artillery seemed improved. According to JoonAng Ilbo article " It used to take more than four minutes for a one shoot... the North, the new self- propelled artillery has been changed drastically", the North Korean self-propelled artillery newly emerged in the drill on May 9 is believed to have drastic improvement in terms of defense, avoidance , and launch speed by adopting a closed turret.
Though North Korea's military movements are seen as its responding to US military pressure, it can basically be interpreted as the intention that North Korea will not sit back and wait for the US to change its policy on North Korea until the end of the year.
2. How should one view the situation
surrounding North Korea's missile launch?
(1) Reverberation around the world
Although North Korea launched a series of new missiles, the responses of South Korea, US and Japan has completely changed. The responses of them may be summed up as ' forcibly calmed, anxious, and edgy’.
For now, President Trump acted calm saying "I do not consider that a breach of trust at all". On 9th, the day of the second missiles launch, he said, "we're looking at it very seriously right now." He changed two days later to "very standard stuff", "I don’t consider that a breach of trust at all."
Also, they tried to prevent the controversy from spreading by: using the term ‘projectiles’ pretending they weren’t missiles when North Korea obviously launched missiles, then saying 'not concerning' because they weren’t ICBMs. If North Korea launched a ballistic missile, it would violate the UN Security Council resolution that bans all kinds of ballistic missiles. Then they would have to convene the Security Council, which would make the situation more complicated. China and Russia are likely to blame the United States that its breach of the promise caused North Korea's missiles launch, and North Korea may take an issue with the UNSC call itself and take tougher military action. So the US anxiously tried hard not to provoke the North, saying that it is nothing. On May 7, President Moon Jae-in cautioned in a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Abe, both South Korea and Japan not to take a hard line. It also sent a conciliatory message to the North, offering to its food aid.
The problem is that such attitude of the United States has stirred controversy in the United States. The Internet media VOX in the United States claimed it was a serious mistake for Secretary of State Pompeo to say that it is fine because it wasn’t an ICBM, and that he gave North Korea the green light to test any missile short of an ICBM. Unlike the White House, the US Congress has voiced its call for a strong condemnation of North Korea's missiles launch. The same is true in Korea. With the government's ambiguous stance, Liberty Korea Party and others criticized, "Why can't we call a missile a missile?" It looks very tense.
Meanwhile, China and Russia did not show any significant reaction to the North's missile launches.
China's foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on October 10, "There is no concrete information yet," and reiterated the principle standpoint to solve the problem through dialogue.
This series of responses is a big change from before 2017. Back then, no matter what missiles North Korea launched, South Korea, The US, and Japan strongly condemned and stipulated as "provocation”, and strengthened sanctions against the North. It also pressured the North militarily by injecting strategic assets. Other countries around the world have also kept pace with the move; condemning or pressing North Korea to restrain itself. It was the exact opposite of how it is now.
(2) Why is the reaction different
For one, the United States does not want to go back to the showdown. President Trump up until now has boasted that it was his achievement that North Korea suspended its nuclear and missile activities.
He claimed that he kept America safe. Now, if he goes back to confrontation, it would look like he destroys his own achievements. But President Trump has a more fundamental problem than his own political blowback. The odds are against him if he goes back to showdown.
As already seen in 2017, the US has no chance of winning North Korea-US nuclear showdown. In the midst of North Korea’s nuclear and missiles wave, the United States was helpless. There was no way to stop North Korea. The United States, which has already lost its military confrontation, has no fighting chance.
It would be fortunate if we could go back to 2017. If the North and the US militaries confronted each other again, no one can predict what it would be like then and thereafter. Man has an instinctive fear of the unknown. The US was nervous when North Korea mentioned a "new path" because it did not know what a "new path" was.
The military move taken by North Korea this time was a low-intensity exercise. They were, so far, short-range missiles, MRLs, and self-propelled artilleries. Yet, it was enough to make the US quite nervous. Short-range missiles are the type of missiles we have never seen before, and cannot be intercepted by U.S. missile defense systems such as THAAD and Patriot. The performance of self-propelled artillery has improved significantly. This is a low-intensity military action, so one can only imagine what kind of weapon will come out if it goes up to regular or high-intensity. Before a war, the United States enters the military information of the opponent on the computer and simulates the war game. The military plans are drawn up through this to match the enemy's military capabilities. If North Korea continues to release new weapons like these, the US military would not know what information should be put on the computer. The weapons released this time have not yet been analyzed, and if new weapons continue to appear, the United States cannot deal with that.
Along with this, North Korea's political status change also drew a different response from that of 2017. North Korea has raised its international and political status considerably over the past year and a half.
North Korea has first taken several preemptive measures regarding denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and negotiations with the US. It declares to freeze nuclear and missiles activities and blew up the nuclear test sites. It showed North Korea’s authenticity and commitment to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. And what North Korea proposed at the Hanoi talks sure was reasonable. There was an equivalence of partial nuclear freeze versus partial lifting of sanctions, and the proposal of step-by-step simultaneous action was realistic considering the lack of trust between North Korea and the United States. This allowed North Korea to draw the consent of the international community.
The United States, on the other hand, did not fulfill its commitments of Singapore Summit last year, and did it show Hegemonism at Hanoi Summit, making unilateral and unrealistic demands. The US certainly cannot win support from the international community. The US attitude at Hanoi Summit raised critical voices not only in the international community but also in the United States.
North Korea, as a nuclear-owned country, considerably improved relations with socialist countries like China and Vietnam, and other friendly countries like Russia. This shows that North Korea is recognized as a nuclear state in the international community.
The way of denouncing North Korea unilaterally has disappeared as the international status of North Korea is rising.
3. Future Prospects
(1) The United States
The United States seeks unilateral and complete denuclearization of North Korea. The US considered North Korea ready to negotiate only if it concedes to it. It continues to pressure and to strengthen sanctions against North Korea. In addition, the United States controls the pace at which South Korea develops inter - Korean relations. It demands that China and Russia join in sanctions against North Korea. It continues its military pressure as well.
However, North Korea has not responded to unilateral denuclearization at all. North Korea will not respond even a hundred or a thousand years from now. Kim Jong Un, in his address to the Supreme People's Assembly, said, "(The US) misjudges us that we will surrender if it put maximum pressure on us", and continued "With that attitude, even if we sit down face-to-face (with the US) hundreds, thousands of times, we won't even budge."
He also declared on sanctions against North Korea that "I will no longer get hung up on lifting the sanctions, and will find a way to revive on our own." Recently, they tried to propagate the "food shortage" in North Korea through the media as Korea and the US pulled out the food aid card to North Korea, but there is no specific indication that North Korea actually has such problem. Rather, even in the worst sanctions against North Korea, only the fast-growing economy has been manifested.
Kim Jung Un also hinted that North Korea would respond to military pressure of the United States by saying "Our appropriate reaction will follow as the US hostile policy against North Korea becomes overt." And this was realized through two missiles launch drills this time.
It will not be able to change that of North Korea with the current position of the US. Rather, it puts the US in further trouble. The US currently has no practical means to move North Korea to its own way. There is zero chance the future political situation develops as the US perceives.
(2) North Korea
North Korea assures negotiations are possible only when the United States brings a new formula to the table by the end of the year. What North Korea initially suggested in Hanoi was to trade the dismantling of the Yongbyon nuclear facility for the lifting of sanctions against private sectors. In North Korea's point of view, it has made considerable concessions to the United States. But North Korea vows to 'no more concessions' after the failed Summit. Kim Jong Un, in his address to the Supreme People's Assembly, said, "Obviously it will be difficult to have a good opportunity again like last time." That is, North Korea will demand more than it did in Hanoi. The United States missed a quite favorable opportunity.
On the other hand, Putin said in the press conference after the North Korea-Russia Summit on April 25, "North Korea needs a guarantee of its own security and sovereignty, "and that this is a precondition for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. In other words, North Korea now wants to trade denuclearization for guarantees of its security. It is a trickier task for the US. Because it does not end with the establishment of diplomatic relations with the North and the conclusion of Peace Treaty, but demands concrete military action by the United States.
If the United States does not accept these demands, no one knows how things will develop next year. The majority suppose North Korea and the US to go back to 2017, a nuclear confrontation.
Meanwhile, North Korea is likely to continue its military drill until the United States brings a new formula. It intends to actively pressure the US to bring in a new formula by the end of the year.
The United States is now forced to either resume dialogue with a new formula by the end of the year, or have a full-fledged nuclear confrontation. But the United States cannot choose either. The full-fledged nuclear showdown has already been done in 2017 but it has been defeated. A new nuclear showdown won't change anything. No, as we have seen this through North Korea's military training, the North Korea has more of new weapons. So it may lose more severely this time. So the United States rather avoids an all-out nuclear confrontation.
Then how about bringing a new formula? There is no problem the US resumes dialogue with a new formula. North Korea's negotiation proposal is realistic and there is no downside for the US. North Korea does not demand the US to surrender. Wants a win-win for the both countries through co-exist, utilitarianism, and co-prosperity. North Korea's negotiation proposal will boost the American interests and benefit the American people. But the US cannot bring a new formula to the negotiation table.
The US has greed and supremacy in its nature. There is no concept of co-prosperity or utilitarianism in the United States. Only the United States should profit. In other words, it only knows how to pillage its opposition parties. Also, the opponent must follow its lead. North Korea must give up socialism and adopt capitalism. The US would never go for a conversation because it would not give up on greed and supremacy.
At any rate, the US has two roads to choose from and will have to choose one by the end of the year. Which would be its choice? History tells us that it seems highly likely for the US to choose a confrontation. Historically, imperialism never abandoned its greed and supremacy, and it collapsed because of the very greed and supremacy. The US would never abandon greed and supremacy. The greed and supremacy would lead the US to a nuclear confrontation with the North Korea.
Historically, the US, in nuclear confrontation, only came to a negotiation table after it's got strongly beaten up by North Korea. The U.S. is now being beaten, but this would be nothing if comparing what will happen in a year. It will be interesting to see how the things develop. Let's wait and see whether the US comes to its senses and finds a new way, or continues toward a total collapse.
4. Additional Remark
North Korea's missile launches on the 4th and 9th of May is primarily connected to North Korea-US relation. However, it seems to be connected to the current international situation as well.
In recent weeks, the United States has committed acts of aggression against the anti-American countries around the world, including enforcing the Helms - Burton Act targeting Cuba, inciting the Venezuelan coup, and designating Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. North Korea then voiced condemnation of the US on these international issues. However, the voice alone in the international community does not raise great power. Action is necessary to have impact. This is the international significance of North Korea's missiles launch.
Hankook Ilbo (Korea Times) analyzed in its May 13 editorial, " North Korea-US nuclear confrontation, to a face-off between the U.S. and anti-U.S. countries", that unexpected missiles launch drills by North Korea, amid agonizing debate over the US military intervention in Venezuela and Iran, put Trump administration in a foreign policy crisis, and that it became a face-off between the U.S. and anti-U.S. countries. MBN (Maeil Business Newspaper) also analyzed on May 12 that Trump administration's diplomacy got into triple trouble as North Korea, Iran and Venezuela issues burst all at once. North Korea's missile launches have made it harder for US military intervention in Iran and Venezuela.
In 1939, the Battles of Khalkhyn Gol broke between the Japanese Gwandong Army and Soviet forces near the Khalkha River, a border between Mongolia and Manchuria. This battle was a massive battle of over 100,000 troops mobilized from both countries. Kim Il Sung's anti-Japanese units, who were active in Manchuria at the time, attacked Gwandong Army and military supplies, which were put into battlefield to support the socialist Soviet Union. It is a long tradition of North Korea to provide internationalist assistance for a country that has been invaded and looted by imperialist countries.
The missiles launch, in North Korea's point of view, could be interpreted as an act of internationalist support and solidarity that would block the US military attack on other anti - American countries.
한글 원문 문경환 / 번역 김은혜