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

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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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Mockery, anger in South Korea over Trump’s fake ‘armada’

CNN reports: US President Donald Trump said he was sending “an armada” to Korean waters to potentially deal with threats from Pyongyang.

But its no-show has caused some South Koreans to question his leadership and strategy regarding their unpredictable neighbor in the north.

And as the country prepares to vote for a new president on May 9, the claim could have far-reaching implications for the two countries’ relations.

“What Mr. Trump said was very important for the national security of South Korea,” Presidential candidate Hong Joon-pyo told the Wall Street Journal.

“If that was a lie, then during Trump’s term, South Korea will not trust whatever Trump says,”​ said Hong, who is currently trailing in the polls.

South Korean media also seized on the conflicting reports on Trump’s “armada” — led by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. [Continue reading…]

Phillip Carter writes: here is a sobering reality beyond this week’s strange “Where’s Waldo?” story of the USS Carl Vinson and its strike group: For a period of time, significant confusion existed as to the location of a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group, one of the most potent weapons in the American arsenal, at a moment of high tension on the Korean peninsula.

Although not (yet) a major crisis, this incident portends deep problems with the White House, its chain of command, and its approach to national security. At best, the Vinson episode suggests policy gaps between the president and his top military advisers over how to act toward North Korea. Worse, it appears the president has not firmly established control over the chain of command—or that he possibly overdelegated authority to his generals and admirals. Further, this incident sends deeply disturbing signals to allies and adversaries regarding the president’s control over the military and the credibility of his statements, diluting the deterrent value of American words and actions.

Let’s start with two fundamental premises of U.S. civil-military relations. First, the president is the elected commander-in-chief of the military; short of declaring war, he has the power to order military deployments and operations, and be held politically accountable for them. Second, the president ought to know with accuracy the locations and readiness of major U.S. military assets, and have the ability to command those forces as needed to protect the country.

Any departure from these norms stands out as potentially threatening to national security. When in 2007 the Air Force lost track of nuclear weapons and inadvertently allowed them to fly over the continental United States mounted on a bomber, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates rightfully saw the incident as an abomination and fired the Air Force leadership. [Continue reading…]

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In South Korea, war hysteria is seen as an American problem

Tim Shorrock writes: When I arrived at Incheon International Airport near Seoul on April 2 to start a two-month stay in South Korea, I was immediately struck by the sharp contrasts between America and this bustling country of 50 million.

First was the airport itself. Incheon is one of the best-designed and most efficient airports in the world; it’s years ahead of the dilapidated structures that US air travelers are forced to endure. The lines for immigration and customs move briskly, and weary travelers are assisted by guides who speak English and politely lead you to the right gate.

Upon entry, the government agents who stamp your passport (and demand your fingerprints on a fancy electronic device) have the same authoritarian air as in most countries. But they’re a far cry from the grim and determined Customs and Border Patrol agents who have become notorious under President Trump for their rude and insulting behavior toward foreign visitors and refugees.

Then, as soon as you emerge into the terminal itself, you encounter South Korea’s fabulous and mostly public Wi-Fi system. Smartphones and computers are immediately connected to the Internet without charge or registration, making it easy to e-mail or text friends or family upon disembarking. High-speed Wi-Fi is prevalent throughout the country, and makes South Korea the most wired place on earth.

And right across the street from the terminal is the beautiful, futuristic structure for KORAIL, South Korea’s high-speed train system, which connects Incheon with every major city in the country. As with Europe, Asia has invested heavily in rail—unlike the United States, where such systems are still pipe dreams. My 159-mile trip the next morning to Gwangju, a city of 1.5 million in the southwest that’s known as the cradle of Korea’s democratic revolution, took less than three hours.

So far, however, my stay here has overlapped with the greatest contrast of all: the sharp difference between American and South Korean coverage of North Korea’s nuclear and missile program and the huge perception gap about the situation by US and South Korean citizens. [Continue reading…]

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