South Korea creating a special military unit to assassinate Kim Jong Un

Amulya Shankar reports: A few days after North Korea tested its sixth nuclear missile — and a few days before Pyongyang fired an intermediate-range missile over Japan into the northern Pacific Ocean on Friday, its longest-ever such flight — South Korea announced its plans to create a special military “decapitation unit” with the goal of assassinating Kim Jong Un, which would be established by the end of the year.

It is a difficult balancing act, pitting South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s preference for a diplomatic solution against his nation’s need to answer an existential question: How can a country without nuclear weapons deter a dictator who has them?

Killing a foreign leader is obviously a covert operation — so why would South Korea reveal its plans so publicly?

“The best deterrence we can have, next to having our own nukes, is to make Kim Jong Un fear for his life,” said Shin Won-sik, a three-star general who was the South Korean military’s top operational strategist before he retired in 2015.

It’s a form of deterrence that doesn’t involve nuclear weapons, says Isaac Stone Fish, a journalist and Asia Society fellow.

“It’s a way for South Korea to say to North Korea, ‘Hey, we really mean business here.’”

“We can now build ballistic missiles that can slam through deep underground bunkers where Kim Jong Un would be hiding,” Shin said. “The idea is how we can instill the kind of fear a nuclear weapon would — but do so without a nuke. In the medieval system like North Korea, Kim Jong Un’s life is as valuable as hundreds of thousands of ordinary people whose lives would be threatened in a nuclear attack.”

Moon was elected in May on a platform of diplomacy and engaging with the North. This shift in policy could be a sign that South Korea believes that President Donald Trump’s increasingly aggressive “fire-and-fury” rhetoric isn’t deterring North Korea from its weapons testing. [Continue reading…]

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Cold War lessons in coercive diplomacy for dealing with North Korea today

Michael McFaul writes: Unfortunately, like many national security debates these days, our national discussion about how to address the growing North Korean threat has quickly become polarized between two extreme positions. In one corner, President Trump has threatened a preemptive military strike in response (I’m paraphrasing his remarks into more analytic terms) to new threats from the North Korean regime. In reaction, Trump opponents have advocated the exact opposite — talks with Kim Jong-un. Both of these options are insufficient. In fact, threatening nuclear war or proposing talks are only partial strategies at best, slogans at worst, for dealing with one of our most pressing national security challenges. What we need instead is first a clearly defined objective, then second a smart mix of both diplomacy and pressure — coercive diplomacy — to achieve that national security goal.

Coercive diplomacy served the United States well in deterring and then reducing the Soviet threat during the Cold War. This same strategy can also work against a much less formidable North Korean foe. Like Stalin, Kim Jong-un is a ruthless dictator, capable of unspeakable crimes against his citizens. But he is not irrational. Like his grandfather and father, he can be deterred. And he might be capable of doing a deal.

All effective national security policies must start with defining the objectives before pivoting to discussions about how to achieve them. Right now, our objectives regarding North Korea are ill-defined and many. Some, including Trump administration officials, argue for denuclearization. Others seek regime change and reunification. Diminishing the North Korean nuclear program through limited military strikes is a third objective proffered. A fourth camp advocates the removal of Kim Jong-un, or decapitation of the regime. A fifth group advocates a more modest goal — the resumption of talks with the North Korean government. The Trump administration itself sends conflicting messages about its objectives.

All of these must be set aside for now. While Kim Jong-un and his regime remain in power, denuclearization is not a realistic goal. The North Korean leader rationally believes that possession of nuclear weapons helps to deter threats to his regime, including first and foremost from the United States. No amount of coercion or diplomacy will ever convince him otherwise. Foreign induced regime change or leader decapitation also is not a realistic goal. Tragically, the North Korean dictatorship has demonstrated real resilience in the face of famine, sanctions and international isolation. American efforts to strengthen internal opposition have not produced pressure on the regime. Assassination or decapitation, even if it could be done (and I am skeptical) would not compel the next North Korean leader to give up his nuclear weapons. On the contrary, the effect would be the exact opposite. And nothing more will rally North Koreans to defend their government than such an action. Nor should resumption of talks be the goal of our efforts. Talks are the means to achieve other objectives, not the objective in and of itself.

Instead, our singular focus for the short term must be to freeze the North Korean nuclear weapons and missile programs. Early arms control during the Cold War (SALT) slowed the acceleration of nuclear weapons acquisition, creating the predicate for eventual weapons reduction in later negotiations (START). The same sequence must be embraced now with North Korea. The objective of freezing North Korean nuclear and missile programs would enhance American national security as well as the security of allies. This objective is also obtainable. [Continue reading…]

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South Korea’s defense minister suggests return of tactical U.S. nuclear weapons

The Washington Post reports: South Korea’s defense minister on Monday said it was worth reviewing the redeployment of American tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula to guard against the North, a step that analysts warn would sharply increase the risk of an accidental conflict.

But in New York, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was “begging for war.”

And even as concern over Korea deepened following North Korea’s huge nuclear test Sunday, South Korea’s defense ministry said Monday that Pyongyang might be preparing to launch another missile into the Pacific Ocean, perhaps an intercontinental ballistic missile theoretically capable of reaching the mainland United States.

President Trump and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, spoke on the phone for 40 minutes Monday night, Korean time — some 34 hours after the nuclear test and more than 24 hours after Trump took to Twitter to criticize Moon’s “talk of appeasement.”

The two agreed to remove the limit on allowed payloads for South Korean missiles — something Seoul had been pushing for — as a way to increase deterrence against North Korea, according to a read-out of the phone call from South Korea’s Blue House.

They also agreed to work together to punish North Korea for Sunday’s nuclear test, including by pushing for tougher sanctions through the United Nations.

In a later phone call, Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel came to the same conclusion, Reuters reported. [Continue reading…]

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Trump must stop lashing out at allies if he wants to rein in North Korea

Time reports: Following North Korea’s sixth nuclear test on Sunday morning, which triggered a 5.7 magnitude tremor that shook buildings as far away as northeastern China, the world rounded on the pariah state with unified opprobrium.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the test “absolutely unacceptable,” while China’s Foreign Ministry “strongly condemned” it. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull denounced Kim Jong Un’s “cruel and evil dictatorship.” Russia urged “all interested parties to immediately return to dialogue and negotiations as the only possible way for an overall settlement of the problems of the Korean peninsula.”

Donald Trump also joined the chorus, tweeting that North Korea’s “words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States.” But then the U.S. President immediately turned on Washington’s closest regional ally, not to mention the frontline state in any possible conflict: “South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!” he tweeted.

Trump’s outburst is hard to read given that South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday agreed to ramp up hosting of the U.S. THAAD anti-missile batteries following North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launches. After Sunday’s estimated 120 kiloton nuclear test, which the regime claimed was a missile-ready hydrogen bomb, that deployment is poised to be ratified domestically. Although Moon was indeed elected in May upon promises to put THAAD under review, and urging dialogue with the North, Trump’s charge of appeasement is hard to justify. As such, the tweet was another of Trump’s capricious utterances on social media that put allies as well as enemies on edge.

“You’ve got this massive crisis and the President of the United States is basically undermining the alliance,” says Prof. Stephan Haggard, a Korea expert at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy. “It’s appalling. Rather that standing in solidarity with Moon Jae-in he’s badmouthing him.” [Continue reading…]

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Seoul tries to ignore Trump’s criticism: ‘They worry he’s kind of nuts,’ one observer says

The Washington Post reports: South Korea’s president tried late Sunday to dismiss talk of a dispute between Seoul and Washington over how to deal with North Korea following its sixth nuclear test, after President Trump criticized the South Korean approach as “appeasement.”

Moon Jae-in’s office said that his government would continue to work towards peaceful denuclearization after tweets and actions from Trump that have left South Koreans scratching their heads at why the American president is attacking an ally at such a sensitive time.

As if to underline Seoul’s willingness to be tough, the South Korean military conducted bombing drills at dawn Monday, practicing ballistic missile strikes on the North Korean nuclear test site at Punggye-ri.

The South Korean military calculated the distance to the site and practiced having F-15 jet fighters accurately hit the target, the joint chiefs of staff said Monday morning.

“This drill was conducted to send a strong warning to North Korea for its sixth nuclear test,” it said.

After North Korea conducted its nuclear test Sunday, Trump tweeted: “South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!”

Trump did not talk to Moon on the phone Sunday — in stark contrast to the two calls he had with Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan and a leader who has proven much more willing to agree with his American counterpart. This will worsen anxieties in Seoul that Tokyo is seen as “the favorite ally,” analysts said. [Continue reading…]

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North Korean nuclear test draws U.S. warning of ‘massive military response’

The New York Times reports: North Korea’s detonation of a sixth nuclear bomb on Sunday prompted the Trump administration to warn that even the threat to use such a weapon against the United States and its allies “will be met with a massive military response.’’

The test — and President Trump’s response — immediately raised new questions about the president’s North Korea strategy and opened a new rift with a major American ally, South Korea, which Mr. Trump criticized for its “talk of appeasement” with the North.

The underground blast was by far North Korea’s most powerful ever. Though it was far from clear that the North had set off a hydrogen bomb, as it claimed, the explosion caused tremors that were felt in South Korea and China. Experts estimated that the blast was four to sixteen times more powerful than any the North had set off before, with far more destructive power than the bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

Yet after a day of meetings in the Situation Room involving Mr. Trump and his advisers, two phone calls between the president and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, and even demands from some liberal Democrats to cut off North Korea’s energy supplies, Mr. Trump’s aides conceded that they faced a familiar conundrum.

While the Pentagon has worked up a series of military options for targeted strikes at North Korea’s nuclear and missile sites, Mr. Trump was told that there is no assurance that the United States could destroy them all in a lightning strike, according to officials with knowledge of the exchange. Cyberstrikes, which President Barack Obama ordered against the North’s missile program, have also been judged ineffective.

Mr. Trump hinted at one extreme option: In a Twitter post just before he met his generals, he said that “the United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea.’’

Taken literally, such a policy would be tantamount to demanding a stoppage of any Chinese oil to North Korea, essentially an attempt to freeze out the country this winter and bring whatever industry it has to a halt.

The Chinese would almost certainly balk; they have never been willing to take steps that might lead to the collapse of the North Korean regime, no matter how dangerous its behavior, for fear that South Korean and American troops would occupy the country and move directly to the Chinese border.

Beyond that, the economic disruption of ending all trade with China would be so huge inside the United States that Mr. Trump’s aides declined on Sunday to discuss the implications. [Continue reading…]

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Why Trump, after North Korea’s blast, aimed his sharpest fire at the South

The New York Times reports: While the world agonized over the huge nuclear test in North Korea this weekend, President Trump aimed his most pointed rhetorical fire not at the renegade regime in Pyongyang, but at America’s closest partner in confronting the crisis: South Korea.

In taking to Twitter to accuse Seoul of “appeasement,” Mr. Trump was venting his frustration at a new liberal South Korean government he sees as both soft on North Korea’s atomic program and resistant to his demand for an overhaul of trade practices that he views as cheating American workers and companies.

For Mr. Trump, the crisis lays bare how his trade agenda — the bedrock of his economic populist campaign in 2016 — is increasingly at odds with the security agenda he has pursued as president. It is largely a problem of Mr. Trump’s own making. Unlike several of his predecessors, who were able to press countries on trade issues while cooperating with them on security, Mr. Trump has explicitly linked the two, painting himself into a corner. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. and South Korea to stage huge military exercise despite North Korea crisis

The Guardian reports: US and South Korean militaries will go ahead with massive sea, land and air exercises later this month, despite a spiralling situation in which North Korea has threatened to fire missiles towards a US Pacific territory.

The annual joint exercises, named Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, have long been planned for 21-31 August, but now come at a time when both Washington and Pyongyang are on heightened alert, raising the spectre of a mishap or overreaction.

The timing is doubly concerning as it is within a timeframe in which Pyongyang says it will be ready to fire four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missiles toward the US-run island of Guam, an unusually specific threat against the US.

Washington and Seoul say the exercises, involving tens of thousands of American and South Korean troops, are a deterrent against North Korean aggression.

In the past, the practices are believed to have included “decapitation strikes” – trial operations for an attempt to kill Kim Jong-un and his top generals, further antagonising a paranoid leadership. [Continue reading…]

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Trump threatens ‘fire and fury … this world has never seen before,’ if North Korea threatens the U.S.

On August 31, 2013, Donald Trump tweeted:

The New York Times reports: President Trump threatened on Tuesday to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea if it endangers the United States as tensions with the isolated nuclear-armed state grow into perhaps the most serious foreign policy challenge yet in his young administration.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Mr. Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

The president’s comments came as North Korea earlier in the day escalated its criticism of the United States, as well as its neighboring allies, by warning that it will mobilize all its resources to take “physical action” in retaliation against the latest round of United Nations sanctions.

The statement, carried by the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency, was the strongest indication yet that the country could conduct another nuclear or missile test, as it had often done in response to past United Nations sanctions. Until now, the North’s response to the latest sanctions had been limited to strident yet vague warnings, such as threatening retaliation “thousands of times over.” [Continue reading…]

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A majority of Americans favor deploying U.S. troops if North Korea attacks South Korea, poll finds

The Washington Post reports: A large majority of Americans consider North Korea’s nuclear weapons program a critical threat toward the United States, according to a new poll.

However, they remain divided on which policy would best contain that threat — and, for the first time in almost 30 years, a majority of Americans were found to support military action if North Korea attacked South Korea.

The poll, conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, offers a glimpse of how Americans are responding to the rapidly evolving tensions with Pyongyang. Just two years ago, 55 percent of Americans listed North Korea as a critical threat facing the United States. Now 75 percent do, making it among the greatest perceived threats in the poll. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea vows to retaliate against U.S. over sanctions

BBC News reports: North Korea has vowed to retaliate and make “the US pay a price” for drafting fresh UN sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons programme.

The sanctions, which were unanimously passed by the UN on Saturday, were a “violent violation of our sovereignty,” the official KCNA news agency said.

Separately, South Korea says the North has rejected an offer to restart talks, dismissing it as insincere. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: The U.N. Security Council’s move to block countries from buying North Korean coal plugs a large loophole that allowed Chinese companies to import more North Korean coal after the first U.N. ban in 2016.

Previous bans have allowed Pyongyang to sell coal for “humanitarian” trade, but Saturday’s vote banned all coal sales in an effort to choke off funding for Kim Jong Un’s weapons programs, where much of the money was funneled, according to recent U.S. court filings.

The coal trade cited in the court documents accounted for as much as one-third of North Korean exports and helps explain how North Korea continued to develop its weapons programs despite being impoverished and under trade sanctions. The connections to the military also undermine Chinese claims that their imports were benefiting North Korean civilians. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: A Southeast Asian diplomatic meeting quietly turned into the first real multiparty bargaining session in eight years to tackle North Korea’s nuclear program, as the country’s top diplomat held a rare round of talks with his counterparts from China, South Korea and Russia.

The United States and Japan were the only members of the so-called six-party talks on the North’s nuclear ambitions, which ended in failure in 2009, whose diplomats did not meet this week with Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho of North Korea. But Rex W. Tillerson, the American secretary of state, kept the door open for talks, saying at a news conference on Monday that he had no specific preconditions for negotiating with Pyongyang.

“Well, the best signal that North Korea could give us that they are prepared to talk would be to stop these missile launches,” Mr. Tillerson said.

But when asked how long such a pause would have to last before talks could go forward, Mr. Tillerson demurred. [Continue reading…]

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South Korea spy agency admits trying to rig 2012 presidential election

The Guardian reports: South Korea’s spy agency has admitted it conducted an illicit campaign to influence the country’s 2012 presidential election, mobilising teams of experts in psychological warfare to ensure that the conservative candidate, Park Geun-hye, beat her liberal rival.

An internal investigation by the powerful National Intelligence Service also revealed attempts by its former director and other senior officials to influence voters during parliamentary elections under Park’s predecessor, the hardline rightwinger Lee Myung-bak.

Claims, now confirmed by the service, that it was behind an aggressive online campaign to sway voters is certain to add to public anger towards South Korea’s political system.

Park, who narrowly beat the current president, Moon Jae-in, to become the country’s first female president in the 2012 vote, is standing trial on corruption and abuse of power charges, and faces life in prison. [Continue reading…]

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As North Korea intensifies its missile program, the U.S. opens an $11 billion base in South Korea

The Washington Post reports: This small American city has four schools and five churches, an Arby’s, a Taco Bell and a Burger King. The grocery store is offering a deal on Budweiser as the temperature soars, and out front there’s a promotion for Ford Mustangs.

But for all its invocations of the American heartland, this growing town is in the middle of the South Korean countryside, in an area that was famous for growing huge grapes.

“We built an entire city from scratch,” said Col. Scott W. Mueller, garrison commander of Camp Humphreys, one of the U.S. military’s largest overseas construction projects. If it were laid across Washington, the 3,454-acre base would stretch from Key Bridge to Nationals Park, from Arlington National Cemetery to the Capitol.

“New York has been a city for 100-some years and they’re still doing construction. But the majority of construction here will be done by 2021,” Mueller said. (New York was actually founded nearly 400 years ago.)

The U.S. military has been trying for 30 years to move its headquarters in South Korea out of Seoul and out of North Korean artillery range. [Continue reading…]

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As many as 64,000 could die in the first three hours of a war with North Korea

David Wroe reports: Robert Kelly is an American living in South Korea. As is well known to the more than 25 million viewers who’ve watched the hilarious video of his children bursting into his BBC interview, the Korea expert has a young family.

While Kelly is sceptical that tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program will lead to war, he and his wife regularly discuss what they will do if there is an attack by the North on Busan, where Kelly teaches at the city’s university.

“With a young family I take it seriously and my wife and I talk about it whenever these things pop up – what to do, where to go, what to pack,” he said.

Busan in the south would be in range of the North’s ballistic missiles, including nukes. The THAAD shield system might stop some of them but not all.

There is no such protective shield to defend the capital Seoul against the rain of artillery and rockets that could be fired by the North from the demilitarised zone. In greater Seoul, which the North has threatened to turn into “a sea of fire” if it were ever attacked, there are an estimated 100,000 Americans living among the population of 25 million people.

If Donald Trump lost patience with the North’s recalcitrance over its nuclear program and decided to launch a pre-emptive strike against the regime of Kim Jong-un, he would have to consider whether he wanted to see images of hundreds, maybe thousands of dead Americans on CNN on top of the tens of thousands of dead South Koreans.

He could evacuate Americans en masse but that would signal an intention and the North would then probably launch pre-emptively anyway. [Continue reading…]

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Four things to know about North and South Korea

File 20170705 21675 xudwrd
People watch news of missile test on a public TV screen in North Korea.
AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin

By Ji-Young Lee, American University School of International Service

Editor’s note: North Korea tested what it claims was an intercontinental ballistic missile at 9:40 a.m. Pyongyang time on July 3. Some analysts say this is evidence that Alaska is now within striking distance of nuclear weapons held by strongman Kim Jong Un.

In response, the U.S. conducted joint military exercises with South Korea, and President Donald Trump accused China of supporting the North Korean government through trade.

Professor Ji-Young Lee of American University answers four questions to help put this conflict into context.


Why is there a North and a South Korea?

Before there was a South and North Korea, the peninsula was ruled as a dynasty known as Chosŏn, which existed for more than five centuries, until 1910. This period, during which an independent Korea had diplomatic relations with China and Japan, ended with imperial Japan’s annexation of the peninsula. Japan’s colonial rule lasted 35 years.

When Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945, the Korean peninsula was split into two zones of occupation – the U.S.-controlled South Korea and the Soviet-controlled North Korea. Amid the growing Cold War tensions between Moscow and Washington, in 1948, two separate governments were established in Pyongyang and Seoul. Kim Il-Sung, leader of North Korea, was a former guerrilla who fought under Chinese and Russian command. Syngman Rhee, a Princeton University-educated staunch anti-communist, became the first leader of South Korea.

[Read more…]

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Why there is no realistic option of a ‘surgical strike’ on North Korea

The New York Times reports: The standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program has long been shaped by the view that the United States has no viable military option to destroy it. Any attempt to do so, many say, would provoke a brutal counterattack against South Korea too bloody and damaging to risk.

That remains a major constraint on the Trump administration’s response even as North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, approaches his goal of a nuclear arsenal capable of striking the United States. On Tuesday, the North appeared to cross a new threshold, testing a weapon that it described as an intercontinental ballistic missile and that analysts said could potentially hit Alaska.

Over the years, as it does for potential crises around the world, the Pentagon has drafted and refined multiple war plans, including an enormous retaliatory invasion and limited pre-emptive attacks, and it holds annual military exercises with South Korean forces based on them.

But the military options are more grim than ever.

Even the most limited strike risks staggering casualties, because North Korea could retaliate with the thousands of artillery pieces it has positioned along its border with the South. Though the arsenal is of limited range and could be destroyed in days, the United States defense secretary, Jim Mattis, recently warned that if North Korea used it, it “would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes.”

Beyond that, there is no historical precedent for a military attack aimed at destroying a country’s nuclear arsenal.

The last time the United States is known to have seriously considered attacking the North was in 1994, more than a decade before its first nuclear test. The defense secretary at the time, William J. Perry, asked the Pentagon to prepare plans for a “surgical strike” on a nuclear reactor, but he backed off after concluding it would set off warfare that could leave hundreds of thousands dead.

The stakes are even higher now. American officials believe North Korea has built as many as a dozen nuclear bombs — perhaps many more — and can mount them on missiles capable of hitting much of Japan and South Korea. [Continue reading…]

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Thinking the unthinkable with North Korea

Graham Allison writes: The United States intelligence community believes that American military strikes against North Korea would almost certainly trigger retaliation that would kill up to a million citizens in Seoul. The South Korean government would respond with a full-scale attack on the North. The United States is committed to support South Korea. But would Mr. Xi ever allow the Korean Peninsula to be reunified by a government allied with the United States?

And history is working against us. A Harvard study I led found 16 cases over the past 500 years when a rising power threatened to displace a ruling power. In 12 of them, the outcome was war. Today, as an unstoppable rising China rivals an immovable reigning United States, this dynamic — which I call Thucydides’s Trap — amplifies risks.

What we see unfolding now is a Cuban Missile Crisis in slow motion. In the most dangerous moment in recorded history, to prevent the Soviet Union from placing nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba, John F. Kennedy was prepared to take what he confessed was a one-in-three chance of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. What risk will Mr. Trump run to prevent North Korea acquiring the ability to strike the United States?

As Kennedy approached the final hour in which he would have to attack, risking nuclear war, or acquiesce to a Soviet nuclear presence in America’s backyard, both he and Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, began to examine previously unthinkable options. In the popular American narrative, Khrushchev capitulated. But we now know that both sides blinked. Kennedy agreed secretly to remove American missiles from Turkey, an option he and his advisers had earlier rejected because of its impact on NATO — and because he would look weak.

Kennedy’s central lesson from the crisis still offers wise counsel for Mr. Trump. “Above all,” Kennedy said, “while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war.” [Continue reading…]

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South Korea’s new president says his election completes the ‘candlelight revolution’

Tim Shorrock reports:  Moon Jae-in, a human rights and labor lawyer who came of age protesting authoritarian military governments backed by the United States, assumed South Korea’s presidency Wednesday after a snap election that repudiated 10 years of right-wing conservative rule.

Moon, 64, took office after securing about 41 percent of a total popular vote of 32.8 million, far ahead of his closest rival, the conservative Hong Joon-pyo, who ended up with 24 percent. It was the largest margin in Korean election history, the wire service Yonhap reported.

“I will restore a government based on principle and justice,” Moon declared Tuesday night in a nationally broadcast speech from Seoul’s Gwanghwamun district, which is famous for its political protests. “I will be the proud president of a proud nation.”

After being sworn in Wednesday, he startled the nation with a ringing declaration calling for a new foreign policy based on negotiations and dialogue. “I will do whatever it takes to help settle peace on the Korean Peninsula,” including visiting North Korea, Moon told the National Assembly. In a nod to Washington, he also declared he would “further strengthen the alliance between South Korea and the United States.”

Moon’s election was the direct result of the impeachment of his predecessor, Park Geun-hye, who had embraced Washington’s hard-line policies toward Pyongyang. She was brought down after millions of citizens angry about corruption, economic mismanagement, abuse of power, and the uncertain future of Korean youth flooded the streets of Seoul and other major cities in a peaceful movement now known as the “candlelight revolution.” [Continue reading…]

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South Korea’s likely next president asks the U.S. to respect its democracy

The Washington Post reports: South Korea is on the brink of electing a liberal president with distinctly different ideas than the Trump administration on how to deal with North Korea — potentially complicating efforts to punish Kim Jong Un’s regime.

He is also a candidate who fears that the U.S. government has been acting to box him in on a controversial American missile defense system and circumvent South Korea’s democratic process.

“I don’t believe the U.S. has the intention [to influence our election], but I do have some reservations,” Moon Jae-in told The Washington Post in an interview.

Barring a major upset, Moon will become South Korea’s president Tuesday, replacing Park ­Geun-hye, who was impeached in March and is on trial on bribery charges. Because Park was dismissed from office, Moon will immediately become president if elected, without the usual transition period.

With Moon pledging to review the Park government’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) antimissile system, the U.S. military has acted swiftly to get it up and running. This has sparked widespread criticism here that the United States is trying to make it difficult, if not impossible, for Moon to reverse it. [Continue reading…]

The Associated Press reports: The anger is palpable on a narrow road that cuts through a South Korean village where about 170 people live between green hills dotted with cottages and melon fields. It’s an unlikely trouble spot in the world’s last Cold War standoff.

Aging farmers in this corner of Seongju county, more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of the capital Seoul, spend the day sitting by the asphalt in tents or on plastic stools, watching vehicles coming and going from a former golf course where military workers are setting up an advanced U.S. missile-defense system.

“Just suddenly one day, Seongju has become the frontline,” said a tearful Park Soo-gyu, a 54-year-old strawberry farmer. “Wars today aren’t just fought with guns. Missiles will be flying and where would they aim first? Right here, where the THAAD radar is.” [Continue reading…]

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