North Korea planning war with nukes, cyber-attacks? Not likely, but…

**Posted by Phineas

It sounds insane, but is North Korea planning a lightning war to reunify the peninsula and present both Washington and Beijing with a fait accompli? Bill Gertz of the Washington Times (1) reports that US analysts are concerned:

U.S. intelligence officials assessing North Korea’s recent bellicose statements are increasingly concerned that Kim Jong-un could use his limited nuclear arsenal as part of offensive military attack that would be calculated to improve the prospects for reunifying the country rather suffering a collapse of his regime.

According to officials familiar with unclassified assessments, the North Korean leader and his military hampered by economic sanctions and a declining conventional military force remain paranoid about a U.S. military offensive.

Reportedly, the regime in Pyongyang is also worried that the Chinese might be willing to replace the Kim dynasty and its backers with more pliable minions, presumably to remove a problem for their foreign relations, since China wants to be seen as a stable power on the world stage,   not as the allies of a country that regularly threatens regional peace.

But, given the disparity of power between North Korea on the one hand, and the US and its South Korean allies on the other, how would this war be conducted? Gertz, again:

The North Koreans are calling their strategy “the spirit of the offensive.” It calls for decisive, surprise attacks carried out very rapidly.

The strategy also calls for a four-front war against South Korea and the United States involving strategic missiles with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons to destroy U.S. and allied military bases. It would launch conventional military strikes through the demilitarized zone and into South Korea. Special operations commandos would mount rear-guard attacks. Cyberwarfare would take down critical infrastructure.

A nuclear strike itself might involve missile strikes, or even special forces with small suitcase-sized “dirty bombs.”

It’s not a scenario I consider very likely, for a couple of reasons. First, as China analyst Gordon Chang points out, while the Chinese government isn’t all that thrilled with their “friends” in Beijing, the military, an increasingly dominant and assertive faction in Chinese politics. Noting reports of increased Chinese military activity near their border with North Korea, Chang argues that it is possible this is in support of the Kim regime, not a warning to it:

Why would Beijing back the world’s most ruthless regime? The answer lies in China’s fraying political system, which is allowing generals and admirals to cement control over policymaking.

Chinese flag officers gained influence last year as feuding civilians sought military support for their bids for promotion as the Communist Party retired Fourth Generation leaders, led by Hu Jintao, and replaced them with the Fifth, under the command of Xi Jinping. The People’s Liberation Army, which may now be the most powerful faction in the Party, has traditionally maintained its pro-Pyongyang views, and it is apparently using its enhanced standing to push Beijing closer to Pyongyang.

The rise of the military has had consequences. For instance, the PLA has sold the North Koreans at least six mobile launchers for their new KN-08 missile, which can hit the U.S. These launchers substantially increase Pyongyang’s ability to wage a nuclear war and are the primary reason the Obama administration decided last month to go ahead with the 14 missile interceptors in Alaska.

Today, in the Chinese capital there are many academics and Foreign Ministry professionals who know that supporting North Korea is not in China’s long-term interest. Yet where it counts — at the top of the political system — there is no consensus to change long-held policies supporting the Kim family regime.

So the “fear of a Chinese coup” theory looks less compelling. (2)

The other reason I don’t find the analysts’ concerns to be cause (yet) for alarm is that, to be blunt, a blitzkrieg-style assault using WMDs is a sure path to suicide for Kim and his cronies. Killing American troops with nuclear weapons, for example, or blowing off a bomb in Seoul, would generate unbearable pressure on Barack Obama to retaliate — there would simply be no way for him to resist. Likewise with the demand to take out the Pyongyang regime once and for all, though Chinese pressure might be enough to stave off conquest and reunification with Seoul, as opposed to regime change.

The problem, of course, is that the North Korean regime and the thinking of Kim Jong-Un is almost a black box to the outside world, its workings a mystery. What if they believe their own propaganda and think they can pull it off? Nations with far more extensive contact with the outside world have badly miscalculated before: just ask Hitler how his declaration of war on the US worked out.

So, while I don’t think the scenario Gertz outlined is anywhere near likely –I assume the North Koreans are obnoxious and obstreperous extortionists, but still rational actors when it comes to their own survival– it is illustrative of the worrisome possibilities that have to be kept in mind, because our window into Pyongyang is so small and opaque.

Footnotes:
(1) Bear in mind that, while Gertz is a solid reporter, the Times is owned by a faction of the virulently anti-North Korean Unification Church. If we’re going to acknowledge the biases of liberal papers like the New York Times, we should also stipulate those for publications generally on our side, too.
(2) It is possible that the Chinese moves are in support of a North Korean attack, but that would mean the most aggressive faction of the military has taken control, and I’ve seen no sign of that. So they may be showing support for Kim, but not that much.

via Real Clear Defense

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

(Video) The President on the North Korean threat

**Posted by Phineas

The Virtual President, that is. “President” Bill Whittle holds a press conference to explain American policy (and opinion of) North Korea in no uncertain terms:

Honest, direct, and no diplomatic weasel words such as “unacceptable,” “world opinion,” or my favorite, “the international community.” (1)

Neither bellicose nor warmongering; no chest-thumping to be seen. Just a clear, confident statement of the problem and the actions the president will take in defense of American national interest, American lives, and American allies. It’s like Walter Brennan used to say in “The Guns of Will Sonnett”No brag, just fact.

Isn’t that how an American president should be?

Footnote:
(1) Imagine me pausing for a moment to gag. Actually, no. You’re not imagining it at all.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

(Video) North Korea’s air force stands ready to destroy us!

Take note, imperialist warmongering aggressors against the People’s Juche Socialism! The Great People’s Democratic Air Force, under the inspired leadership of Supreme Commander Kim Jong-Un, stands ready to annihilate you with one blow — within two minutes!

All in their vintage 1960s-1970s Soviet aircraft.

Quake in fear America. Quake. In. Fear.

Love that retro look!

via Business Insider

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Have I mentioned that North Korea is weird?

**Posted by Phineas

Here’s a recent propaganda video from the world’s largest prison camp masquerading as a nation, in which a sleeper dreams of what appears to be the North Korean “space program,” but culminates in a missile attack on New York City.

All set to the tune of “We are the World.” Really.

FOX News provides a translation of some of the captions:

“Somewhere in the United States, black clouds of smoke are billowing,” reads a caption translated from Korean. “It seems that the nest of wickedness is ablaze with the fire started by itself.”

The video concludes with the young man saying his dream will “surely” come true. As of early Tuesday, it had been viewed more than 60,000 times.

“Despite all kinds of attempts by imperialists to isolate and crush us … never will anyone be able to stop the people marching toward a final victory,” a final caption reads.

Have I mentioned North Korea is weird?

via Real Clear World

EARLIER: It’s also the “Cannibal Kingdom.”  Nothing amusing about that.

UPDATE: Ooopsie! It seems the Great People’s Propaganda Department also ripped off an American computer game to make this video. I think we know what they’ve been doing in the office, when the commissars weren’t watching.

UPDATE II: Well, you’ll just have to take my word for it; Activision filed a copyright complaint with YouTube and the video is gone. Fair warning to the guys in the Glorious People’s Video Department: the latest Dear Leader does not like people who make him look bad. Don’t be surprised if he drops a mortar on your heads.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Horrific: Cannibalism in North Korea

**Posted by Phineas

Hope and Change?

At least he’s well-fed.

This is the end-state of totalitarianism, if it doesn’t reform like China or collapse on itself like East Germany and the USSR — parents eating their children:

A starving man in North Korea has been executed after murdering his two children for food, reports from inside the secretive state claim.

A ‘hidden famine’ in the farming provinces of North and South Hwanghae is believed to have killed up to 10,000 people and there are fears that incidents of cannibalism have risen.

The grim story is just one to emerge as residents battle starvation after a drought hit farms and shortages were compounded by party officials confiscating food.

Undercover reporters from Asia Press told the Sunday Times that one man dug up his grandchild’s corpse and ate it. Another, boiled his own child for food.

Despite reports of the widespread famine, Kim Jong Un, 30, has spent vast sums of money on two rocket launches in recent months.

There are fears he is planning a nuclear test in protest at a UN Security Council punishment for the recent rocket launches and to counter what it sees as US hostility.

One informant was quoted as saying: ‘In my village in May a man who killed his own two children and tried to eat them was executed by a firing squad.’

The government had apparently been requisitioning stealing food from the countryside to make sure those allowed to live in the capital (and thus most likely to be seen by foreigners) had plenty to eat. Then a drought hit, crops failed, and the last shreds of humanity fell away.

Meanwhile, Boy-Emperor Kim Jong Un and his disgusting toadies throw a banquet to celebrate their latest toys.

I’ve often described North Korea as “the world’s largest prison camp masquerading as a nation.” Scratch that. It’s the world’s largest abattoir.

Republican insiders "help" Paul Ryan

North Korean country home cooking

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

North Korea: Because a bullet to the head is so plebian

**Posted by Phineas

Daddy’s little psychopath

Hey, when you’re Beloved Leader God-King of the world’s largest prison camp masquerading as a nation and you want someone dead, you don’t do it the way just anyone would. That would be too… common. Beneath you. Nope, when you decide to whack a minister as a lesson to others, you do it in a way everyone will notice:

Kim Chol, vice minister of the army, was taken into custody earlier this year on the orders of Kim Jong-un, who assumed the leadership after the death of his father in December.

On the orders of Kim Jong-un to leave “no trace of him behind, down to his hair,” according to South Korean media, Kim Chol was forced to stand on a spot that had been zeroed in for a mortar round and “obliterated.”

The execution of Kim Chol is just one example of a purge of members of the North Korean military or party who threatened the fledgling regime of Kim Jong-un.

Other examples here and here.

via Moe Lane

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

One big, happy North Korean family? Updated: Not Kim’s family, just lucky

**Posted by Phineas

The photo below is of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and his family — say cheese!

(Click for a larger version)

Notice anything… odd? Outside of Kim and maybe the uniformed guy, everyone else looks like they’re about as cheery as someone facing an IRS audit.

If this is the ruling elite being “happy,” imagine how the average “North Korean on the street” must feel.

via Breitbart.com

UPDATE: Okay, this explains the “God help us” looks. An article at HuffPo suggests this isn’t Kim’s family, just a random one he dropped in on for a photo op. Yeah, when the God-King dictator of the world’s largest prison camp masquerading as a nation, who could destroy you and yours on a whim, shows up unannounced…

You might be a little upset, too.

via Shabbosguy

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

Anti-military purge underway in North Korea?

**Posted by Phineas

Hope and Change?

The other day I noted reports of an armed clash between soldiers loyal to North Korea dictator Kim Jong-Un and those of Marshal Ri Yong-Ho, which may have resulted in the army chief’s sudden retirement death. At the time I speculated on a few possible explanations, all of which were equally likely given the difficulty of knowing just what is going on there.

Now news comes of further changes, indicating that the move against Marshal Ri is part of a larger drive to take control of the economy from the military and, perhaps, institute needed reforms:

Impoverished North Korea is gearing up to experiment with agricultural and economic reforms after young leader Kim Jong-un and his powerful uncle purged the country’s top general for opposing change, a source with ties to both Pyongyang and Beijing said.

The source added that the cabinet had created a special bureau to take control of the decaying economy from the military, one of the world’s largest, which under Kim’s father was given pride of place in running the country.

The downfall of Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho and his allies gives the untested new leader and his uncle Jang Song-thaek, who married into the Kim family dynasty and is widely seen as the real power behind the throne, the mandate to try to save the battered economy and prevent the secretive regime’s collapse.

The current Kim’s father had, like Emperor Septimius Severus, decided to “enrich the soldiers, and scorn all others.” While it preserved his rule, it was an utter disaster for the North — repeated famine and economic ruin. If his son (and the son’s eminence grise uncle) are going to institute reforms along Chinese lines, liberalizing the economy while retaining absolute political control, we can only hope for their success. Not only would the people’s lives be improved, but North Korea would move further away from a state collapse that could have catastrophic effects on the region.

Or, maybe not. It may be that the North is too far along the road to failure to stave off the inevitable for more than a few years. And it’s sometimes been noted that revolutions happen when circumstances start improving and the people demand their rising expectations be fulfilled, because a starving, brutalized population hasn’t the time for revolt. In that case, Kim III’s reforms might be the cracks that cause the dam to break.

Who knows? Whatever the truth may be, one hopes that Kim Jong-Un is aiming for real reform and that it succeeds, if only to bring some relief to the long-suffering people of the world’s largest prison camp masquerading as a nation.

Via Walter Russell Mead, who notes that the regime is blustering again about nuclear tests. Sounds to me like a bone tossed to the military, to make the economic changes more palatable.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

North Korean marshal may not have been quite ready to retire

**Posted by Phineas

Gee. And here I thought I was only joking when I said on Twitter that Marshal Ri Yong-ho’s retirement for “health reasons” meant a case of “sudden lead poisoning.”

Looks like it may not have been a joke:

A gunbattle broke out when the North Korean regime removed army chief Ri Yong-ho from office, leaving 20 to 30 soldiers dead, according to unconfirmed intelligence reports. Some intelligence analysts believe Ri, who has not been seen since his abrupt sacking earlier this week, was injured or killed in the confrontation.

According to government officials here, the gunbattle erupted when Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, the director of the People’s Army General Political Bureau, tried to detain Ri in the process of carrying out leader Kim Jong-un’s order to sack him. Guards protecting Ri, who is a vice marshal, apparently opened fire. “We cannot rule out the possibility that Ri was injured or even killed in the firefight,” said one source.

Guess that rules out the traditional gold watch…

Seriously, North Korea is such a tightly closed, controlled state prison camp that’s it’s almost impossible to decide what this means — if it really happened at all. It could be a sign of Kim III consolidating his grip on power by getting rid of rivals and of the resistance being nothing more that a goon squad showing loyalty to their boss, or a small crack hinting at larger fissures in the military. (It’s hard to imagine everyone was hunky-dory with an untried twenty-something taking over as Supreme Leader and Living God) Or it could just be random, murderous wackiness that means nothing in the long run, except to remind outsiders to be grateful they don’t live in North Korea.

Regardless, North Korea will bear watching, even if through a glass, darkly. It’s murderous wackiness could all too easily and all too suddenly turn deadly for the rest of us, too.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

China begs the question: Why would anyone want to “own” North Korea?

**Posted by Phineas

I’ve often referred to North Korea as the “world’s largest prison camp masquerading as a nation.” And let’s face it — it’s a basket-case made in a Stalinist hell: the people are brutally crushed, often rented out as slaves in all but name; the economy is frequently on the verge of collapse, dependent on drug dealing, counterfeiting, and smuggling; famine is an ever-present specter; the regime is nearly isolated internationally as a terror-sponsor and nuclear proliferator; and its almost certain eventual collapse presents nightmare scenarios to the world. So, why would anyone in their right mind want to own it? (1)

I don’t know, but that’s what China has in effect said:

China has told South Korea that it will not allow the unification of Korea under a democratic government. North Korea will remain under Chinese “influence.” If worse comes to worse, China will send in troops to set up a North Korean government that will faithfully follow orders from China. In an effort to dampen some of the anger in South Korea (the United States, Japan, and so on), China would maintain North Korea as a separate entity (and not a new province of China). China wants no misunderstanding about who “owns” North Korea.

Actually, one can understand China’s position. As the linked Strategy Page article notes, China has for years been urging North Korea to liberalize its economy along lines similar to China’s: a form of state capitalism under a one-party regime. For various reasons, North Korea has largely balked and thus often come to China for aid. Pyongyang has also in recent years caused China foreign policy headaches due to its nuclear program, aggressive moves against South Korea, and even harassing Chinese fishing vessels. By all accounts, relations between these two “allies” aren’t at all good.

Thus, as the “big dragon” in the region, China has a deep-seated interest in stabilizing North Korea. A sudden collapse would be almost or just as disastrous for China as it would for South Korea, with potentially millions of refugees flooding over the border into Manchuria and bringing huge headaches regarding food, shelter, and security in their wake.

Almost as bad, from a geopolitical perspective, would be a regime failure similar to that of East Germany’s, which lead to its absorption by West Germany. The specter of the Soviet Union’s collapse soon thereafter is almost certainly in the back of Beijing’s mind, and one of the last things China wants to see is a unified, prosperous, multi-party Korean democracy on its border, giving the Chinese people ideas. The Chinese military, in particular, would blow a gasket if this meant the US military entering the North as part of a stabilization force — which it might, just to secure any nukes.

So, consider this claim of ownership a bit of “defensive imperialism” on China’s part, a message to South Korea, Japan, and their American patrons that “we can handle the problem ourselves, thank you.”

While I’m not in any way a fan of the Chinese regime (unlike certain NYT columnists and US cabinet secretaries), considering the alternatives, I have to hope Beijing is right.

via Breitbart.com

Footnote:
(1) Well, not everyone is unhappy in North Korea. At least Dear Leader Junior gets his Disney stage show and hot date. The rest can go eat grass.

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)