Tag Archive | "military affairs"

Responding to North Korea’s Sixth Nuclear Test

By Mark Tokola

Now that North Korea has defied warnings from the international community not to conduct a sixth nuclear test, including from its friends China and Russia, the challenge is, how to respond?  North Korea knows it has made a hugely provocative step.  The September 3rd test was by orders of magnitude larger than any of its previous tests, indicating a thermonuclear capability.  It comes after a relatively long pause, the last test was in September 2016.  It collapsed a tunnel, showing either by design or by mistake, that it was even more ‘successful’ than intended.  And the test came hours after North Korea broadcast a picture showing Kim Jong-un admiring, up-close, a nuclear warhead (or model thereof) designed to fit into a missile nose-cone.  North Korea must be expecting an international response, or if need be a unilateral response from the U.S., in consultation with South Korea.  What should that response be?

Russia has called for “immediate talks” and talks would be desirable if North Korea was prepared to offer anything, which it has not signaled.  The September 3rd test would seem to indicate that North Korea is still on its path of acquiring a credible, reliable nuclear weapons capability capable of striking the U.S. and its allies, and perhaps to gain a second-strike capability, before it will be willing to talk – if Kim Jong-un is willing to talk at all.  The international community has assumed that North Korea would eventually want to talk to see sanctions lifted.  There is a possibility that Kim Jong-un is relying on the sanctions to internally justify his weapons program.  In that case, Kim Jong-un would only want to talk for the purpose of being welcomed to the international nuclear club.

Following the September 3rd test, the main question is whether there can be a response stronger than the one North Korea undoubtedly expects.  The last, impressively tough, round of sanctions was not enough to deter North Korea from conducting its sixth test.  What kind of response would get their attention?  Among the options are a diplomatic response, an economic response, and a show of deterrence.

A diplomatic response could be to expel North Korea from the United Nations.  This is possible under the U.N. charter and would be a serious blow to North Korea because it cares about international prestige.  This response would show Pyongyang that it lacked any international support, including from Russia and China who could veto the expulsion if they chose.  The grounds are clear enough.  North Korea has repeatedly defied U.N. Council resolutions through its weapons program.  The U.N.’s patience should have limits.  China and Russia would be reluctant to expel North Korea from the U.N., but their patience should have limits, too, and they may prepared to go along with a diplomatic step rather than the alternatives.

An economic response may be to move beyond sanctions and to impose an economic embargo on North Korea, as has been advocated by former South Korean national security official Chun Young-woo.  If no degree of stepped-up sanctions have applied sufficient economic pressure, an embargo would be the last step in the escalatory chain of economic measures.  Would this cause the North Korean people to suffer as well as the North Korean regime?  It would, at least in the short run, but not as much as it would have in the past because of North Korea’s market liberalization of recent years.  Domestically produced food and other necessities would still make their way to the markets.  An embargo might even accelerate the pace of de facto privatization of the North Korea economy.  An exception could be made for medicines and other strictly humanitarian requirements.  It may be worth giving economic measures one last chance to work.

A strong deterrent measure might be to overfly North Korea with short or intermediate range U.S. or South Korean missiles.  North Korea has not hesitated to launch missiles over Japanese territories, so it cannot argue that there is a taboo against such a step.  The North Korean air defense system probably is robust enough that overflying North Korea with military aircraft would be too risky.  They probably would not have the ability to intercept a missile over-flight, and even if they did, the interception of a missile within North Korean air space would still show that its weapons program was not making North Korea any safer.

The goal is still to bring North Korea to a negotiating table.  A strong response to the September 3rd test may be more likely to make that happen than no response at all.

Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from Russ Allison Loar’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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What Might a Conflict with North Korea Look Like?

By Troy Stangarone

In recent weeks tensions have risen on the Korean peninsula as North Korea becomes increasingly bold in its missile tests. In July it tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and recently conducted an intermediate range ballistic missile test over Japan,the first North Korean missile to fly over Japan since 2009. At the same time, President Donald Trump has suggested that North Korea could see “fire and fury” for its actions and recently suggested that “talking is not the answer” for dealing with North Korea. The rise in rhetoric on both sides and the increasing daring of North Korea’s missile tests, and the possibility of North Korea deploying an ICBM, have raised concerns that the United States might engage in preventative actions against North Korea. But what would a conflict between the United States and North Korea look like?

If the United States were to engage in a preventative attack rather than a preemptive attack, the goal would to destroy or at least severely degrade North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. What would be unknown in any operation is how North Korea would respond. While North Korea’s actions cannot be known, we can break down the possibilities.

North Korea Doesn’t Respond to a U.S. Attack

If the United States attacks North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities, there is the possibility that the regime may not respond. If North Korea’s nuclear weapons and delivery systems were successfully taken out by the U.S. attack, North Korea would find itself at a significant strategic disadvantage in regard to the United States and South Korea. Despite China’s suggestion that it would support North Korea if the United States attacked, the regime could judge that China’s support is unreliable and that retaliation could lead to a wider conflict that ends the regime. In this scenario, there would be no response by North Korea. While the likelihood of outcome is very low, it is one potential outcome of a U.S. preventative attack on North Korea.  North Korea would never admit a defeat, of course, but could spin its lack of retaliation by saying, “We’ve withstood the worst the United States could do to us and we have not been defeated.”

North Korea Conducts a Cyberattack

Similar to the prior scenario, the leadership in Pyongyang calculates that the risks of engaging in a kinetic response are too great to risk the regime’s survival and decides to seek asymmetrical methods for retaliation. Having previously engaged in cyberattacks on Sony Pictures, South Korean private and governmental entities, and on the international financial system, responding in the cyber domain may be appealing to the regime. North Korea could attack infrastructure, financial, or other institutions in the United States and South Korea. Attribution can be difficult in the cyber domain, and even with a general consensus that North Korea was behind any attacks, it might be difficult for the United States to respond kinetically since cyberattacks might be viewed as a proportional response to a U.S. strike.  We do not know the extent of North Korea’s cyber capabilities, but it would be prudent to assume that they could cause a major disruption.

North Korea Responds with a Limited Attack on South Korea

In the event of an attack, North Korea may decide that it needs to respond with a kinetic attack. With concerns weighing on the regime about China’s reliability and about the regime’s ability to withstand escalation in any conflict, it could choose a limited attack on South Korea. The northern end of Seoul is well within North Korean artillery range and other parts of South Korea are within the range of North Korean ballistic missiles. Since it is unlikely that a preventive U.S. attack would take out all of North Korea’s ballistic missiles, North Korea would most likely be able to select targets from around South Korea. North Korean might attack ROK naval vessels, invade one of ROK’s nearby islands, or attack ROK forces close to the DMZ.  Pyongyang’s rhetoric in this case might be to claim that their victorious forces have halted an attack on North Korea.

North Korea Responds with a Limited Attack on South Korea and Japan

In previous North Korean rhetoric, Japan has often been a potential target for North Korean retaliation. With U.S. and UN rear forces for any conflict on the Korean peninsula based in Japan, responding with missile strikes on both South Korea and Japan is another possibility. North Korea may choose to include Japan in any response to try and divide the allies in the future by reminding the Japanese public that they could be caught up in a wider war with North Korea.  Another North Korean approach towards Japan might be to threaten Japan with a nuclear attack unless Japan declares neutrality.

North Korea Responds with a Nuclear Weapon

One of the dangers of a preventative attack on North Korea’s nuclear and missile sites is that imperfect intelligence could preclude the United States from being able to take out all of North Korea’s nuclear warheads or delivery systems. If the regime in Pyongyang feels that it must respond and that any conventional escalation could endanger the regime, it could launch a nuclear strike on either Japan or South Korea coupled with the threat of additional nuclear strikes with the hope that the uncertainty of North Korea’s remaining nuclear capacity could deter additional U.S. strikes and be able to declare victory in the confrontation.

China is Drawn into the Conflict

During the recent tensions, China has suggested that if North Korea attacked the United States it would not support Pyongyang, but that should the United States attack, it would defend North Korea.. China could support North Korea in any conflict with the United States in two ways. If Beijing was determined to try and stay out of any fighting should escalation occur, it could decide to supply Pyongyang with the supplies it would need for any sustained conflict. Alternatively, it could choose to provide troops, naval, and air support, though both the United States and China would likely try to avoid any direct conflict. China might attempt to deter the U.S. from further attacking North Korea by placing Chinese assets in the way of U.S. attacks, assuming that the U.S. would not attack them to try and avoid a direct confrontation.

Once the United States engaged in a preventative attack on North Korea, there is a risk that North Korea would be able to choose its means of retaliation, perhaps counting on China’s support and that any retaliation could lead to a wider conflict in Northeast Asia. In a best case scenario, North Korea would choose to not respond to U.S. attacks, but would likely try to reconstitute its nuclear program in secret. Should a conflict break out, it would likely consist of a combination of conventional and cyber weapons.  However, in a worst case scenario, all of the major powers in the region – the United States, South Korea, Japan, and China, as well as perhaps Russia – could be drawn into a conflagration.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Morning Calm Weekly Newspaper Installation Management Command, U.S. Army’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Missiles Over Japan – What are the North Koreans up to?

By Mark Tokola

At 5:58 a.m. on August 28, North Korea launched what was probably an intermediate range missile that passed over Japan and landed in the Pacific after a flight of 1,700 miles.  Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “North Korea’s reckless action of launching a missile that passed over Japan is an unprecedented, serious and grave threat.”  Abe also said that he had spoken by telephone with President Trump and the U.S. and Japanese stances “are completely matched.”  Was this North Korean launch indeed unprecedented and what kind of threat does it pose?

This was not the first time North Korea has launched a missile that flew over Japan.  The first time was in 1998, when North Korea attempted to launch a satellite.  They claimed success, but because no satellite could be tracked most observers believe the launch was a failure.  It may have been significant that the 1998 launch was only a few days in advance of the 50th anniversary of North Korea’s independence from Japan.  In 2009, North Korea again attempted to launch a satellite with a missile trajectory that passed over Japan.  That launch also failed, with the missile falling into the Pacific east of Japan.  Since then, there have been other North Korean missile launches that have passed over the Japanese Ryukyu island chain

There are three aspects of the August 28th launch that qualify it as “unprecedented.”  First, North Korea has abandoned any pretense that their missile program is non-military.  It had claimed that its 1998 and 2009 launches were peaceful satellite launches.  Its 2017 launches are overtly for the purpose of threatening other countries.  Secondly, in 1998 and 2009, North Korea announced its launches in advance, providing warning to shipping in the areas where the boosters would fall.  The August 28th launch was a surprise, reinforcing its non-peaceful nature.  Finally, the site of the August 28th launch appears to have been near Pyongyang, rather than in the remote launch sites previously used.  This may have been a signal from Kim Jong-un that in any attempt by the U.S. to carry out a preventative strike, it could not assume it would be able to operate only in non-populated areas of North Korea.  There would be nothing surprising about Kim Jong-un holding his own population hostage.

We know facts about the August 28th launch, but its meaning is open to speculation.  One interpretation would be that Kim Jong-un is pushing the envelope further.  The previous ICBM tests had avoided Japanese air space by falling into the sea west of Japan. One could interpret the August 28th test as highly belligerent and provocative, intended as a sharp, unyielding response to U.S., South Korean, Chinese and Japanese warnings.  It also could be taken as a rebuff to Secretary of State Tillerson’s public remarks that North Korea may be showing restraint, possibly creating an opening for negotiations.

Those looking hopefully for signs that North Korea may be signaling a tough negotiating posture rather than spoiling for a fight will point out that the missile’s path over Japan seemed intended to avoid populated areas passing over a northern stretch of Japan that is relatively sparsely populated.  They may also point out that this was an intermediate missile test, not that of another ICBM designed to reach the continental American homeland.  It also fulfills North Korea’s promise to react to U.S.-South Korean military exercises without threatening Guam, the most recent target of its rhetoric.

The August 28 test will upset Japan, but is likely to irritate China as well.  Giving Japan reasons to enhance military cooperation with the U.S., to strengthen its anti-missile defenses, and to work more closely with South Korea all run counter to Chinese interests.  North Korea’s actions not only roil the U.S.-Chinese relationship, but the Chinese-Japanese relationship.

Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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The Difference Between a Preventative Attack and Preemption Against North Korea

By Troy Stangarone

In 1994, then President Bill Clinton considered a military strike to take out North Korea’s nuclear facilities. He ultimately decided against the use of military force and in the two decades since the United States and the international community have primarily responded to North Korea’s continued development of nuclear weapons and their component delivery systems with a mixture of sanctions and engagement. However, with North Korea’s two intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests in July, Pyongyang is nearing the point of being able to attack the United States’ mainland. As this prospect becomes increasingly more of a reality, there have been growing discussions of the option of the United States taking military action against North Korea.

In the most recent standoff between North Korea and the United States, President Donald Trump suggested that North Korea would be met with “fire and fury” if it continued to threaten the United States and North Korea responded that it might place the U.S. territory of Guam in an “enveloping fire,” increasing concerns that war could break out on the Korean peninsula. With the United States and North Korea now attempting to deescalate tensions the immediate concern of the United States undertaking military action against North Korea has receded somewhat. However, should the prospect of utilizing a military option return, in the absence of a direct attack by North Korea the United States would be left with the options of taking preventative military action or preemptive military action.

While at times used interchangeably, preemptive military action and preventative military action are actually quite different. In many ways the key differences between a preemptive and preventative attack relate to timing, capability, and intent. A preemptive attack is one where the state taking the preemptive action believes that an attack is imminent with a known capability and that there is no other course of action that would forestall the attack. While attacking first, that action is innately one of self-defense.

In the case of North Korea, the United States and its allies might undertake a preemptive attack if there was intelligence clearly indicating that Pyongyang was preparing to conduct a nuclear strike or undertaking troop movements that signaled that an attack on South Korea was imminent. Because of North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and prior threats to conduct strikes on Busan or Tokyo, the costs of waiting for the North Korean attack before responding could be extremely high. The advantage of taking out North Korea’s weapons capabilities prior to an imminent attack is that preemptive action holds the potential of limiting the damage to South Korea, the United States, and potentially Japan, in any conflict with North Korea that seemed certain.

A preventative strike differs from a preemptive strike in that there is no immediate threat of attack. In fact, it may be unclear that the state in question intends to attack at all. Instead the attack is intended to prevent a state from developing a threatening capability. In contrast to a preemptive strike, the goal is not to strike first in a conflict that is expected to happen, but rather to fight a conflict sooner rather than later when the military situation may be less advantageous.

Applied to North Korea, a preventative strike would be designed to take out North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities before it is able to threaten the United States with a nuclear weapon, not because it is actually in the process of preparing to launch a nuclear weapon. It is less clear that a preventative attack would lead to a lower level of costs for the United States and its allies than refraining from a preventative attack since North Korea is already capable of striking South Korea and Japan with nuclear weapons and there is less certainty about the regime’s intent in using the weapons. In this case, deterrence and diplomacy may be the lowest cost solutions.

A preventative attack also seems unlikely for political and legal reasons. While genuine preemption is viewed as a legitimate act of self-defense, a preventative attack is not viewed as legitimate in international law. International law may not always constrain the actions of states, but the perception of legitimacy of an attack plays an important role in the political calculations of whether to proceed with an attack. In the current situation, we can already see a pushback on a preemptive attack on North Korea by South Korea which has suggested that only it could authorize an attack on the North.

If the United States ultimately determines that it is unable to tolerate North Korea having an ICBM and nuclear weapon, an attack to remove that threat would be an act of prevention. However, if North Korea were to finish its weapons development and then look to use those weapons against the United States, an attack against an imminent threat from North Korea would be one of preemption.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Morning Calm Weekly Newspaper Installation Management Command, U.S. Army’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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The Next Potential Flash Point with North Korea – August Military Exercises

By Mark Tokola

Although tensions with North Korea seem to have eased during the past few days with statements by Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Mattis emphasizing diplomacy over military confrontation, the test of wills between Washington and Pyongyang continues with the U.S. government stating that it will settle for nothing less than talks leading to denuclearization, and soon, and North Korea continuing to say that it will never give up its developing nuclear arsenal.  There is urgency to the question, “What will happen next?”

What happens next could be another missile or nuclear test — the last nuclear test, the fifth, took place on September 9, 2016.  Or, it could be a conventional provocation against South Korean forces, although the last significant incident of that nature was in August, 2015, when North Korean forces planted a landmine where they knew it would injure South Korean soldiers.  Or, it could be another cyberattack against the United States.  North Korea cyberattacks happen frequently enough against South Korea that they attract little attention.  Or, what happens next could take place around the time of the U.S.-ROK military exercise scheduled for August 21-31, “Ulchi-Freedom Guardian.”

Annual U.S.-ROK military exercises have taken place for years, and for years have drawn fiery condemnations and threats from North Korea.  North Korea routinely condemns the exercises as proof of hostile intent towards the DPRK and on occasion has threatened retaliation if exercises proceeded.  China has suggested a “double-freeze”; that perhaps North Korea could refrain from further testing if the U.S. and ROK would refrain from their military exercises.  South Korean President Moon Jae-in has rejected this proposal on the grounds that whereas North Korea’s testing is in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions, military exercises are perfectly legal.  We should not trade a legal practice against an illegal one, he says.  It is also reasonable to question North Korea’s sincerity when it has never offered to suspend its own military exercises.

It may not be a coincidence that North Korea claims that it will have plans ready in mid-August to send missiles in the direction of Guam.  The timing of the threat may be linked to the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercises.  The exercises are almost certain to proceed, particularly at a time when the U.S.-ROK Alliance will feel the need to demonstrate its resolve to defend South Korea.  How North Korea deals with the exercises may be revealing.  It would be unremarkable if it used its normal, threatening language regarding the exercise.  That’s what one would expect.  If it elevates its rhetoric to specific threats or, in the worst case, carries out a provocation in response to the exercise, tensions could significantly increase.  If North Korea issues what appears to be little more than a pro forma objection to Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, that could be a signal that the stage is being set for negotiations.

Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from 210th Field Artillery Brigade, 2ID US Army’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Are the New UN Sanctions Enough to Slow North Korea’s Missile Development Program?

By Troy Stangarone

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously passed new sanctions on North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s intercontinental ballistic missile tests on July 4 and 28. These measures are long overdue. While the international community has taken steps to sanction North Korea over its development of nuclear weapons, its push to develop the delivery systems necessary to utilize those weapons has faced relatively few sanctions. That has now begun to change.

The new sanctions take important steps to significantly reduce North Korea’s efforts to earn hard currency. The key provisions in the sanctions relate to a new ban on exports of coal, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood products. The ban is a step in the right direction, as it continues to remove loopholes from prior resolutions that North Korea has been exploiting. In the case of coal, for example, North Korea was able to earn more from coal exports after the sanctions than it had prior to sanctions due to rising prices. To address this issue, the UN placed a hard cap on coal exports in Security Council Resolution 2321, passed in November 2016. The cap is now gone and a full ban is in place. These new sanctions also ban new joint ventures with North Korea and any additional investment in joint ventures that already exist.

However, the provision prohibiting an increase in the number of overseas laborers will likely have minimal impact. The trend was already in this direction — over the last year, many countries have been reducing their use of North Korean labor. The one significant outlier had been Russia, who earlier this year agreed to expand its usage of North Korean labor. That the new UN sanctions only place restrictions on increasing the usage of North Korean labor likely reflects the reluctance of Russia and China to cut off the usage of low wage North Korean labor completely. Additionally, much as was the case with earlier efforts to reduce Pyongyang’s earnings from coal exports, North Korea could earn increasing amounts from the laborers already abroad if their wages were to increase.

While the new UN sanctions are an important step to begin imposing a price on North Korea’s missile program, we should not expect the new sanctions to stop North Korea’s missile development. Pyongyang has demonstrated consistently that it is willing to bear the burden of sanctions to advance its weapons programs. Additionally, while some expect that these sanctions will result in a one third reduction of North Korea’s total earnings, the impact may not reach that level, as new sanctions primarily cover goods trade. North Korea likely earns significant amounts from illegal arms trade, smuggling, and other activities as well.

Despite the constraints that come from any new sanctions efforts, this move is an important step forward in sanctioning North Korea over its missile development. Prior to the current set of sanctions, there had been few UN Security Council resolutions explicitly in response to North Korean missile tests, despite a significant increase in tests under Kim Jong-un.  So far this year, North Korea has conducted two ICBM tests and has conducted a new missile test once every 2.6 weeks on average. Demonstrating to North Korea that there will be a cost for these tests is important. However, rather than simply reacting to these tests after they occur, the international community should consider pre-negotiating sanctions measures in advance of tests to make clear to North Korea the cost of its actions. At a minimum, the international community should not allow North Korea to continue to conduct new missile tests at this rate without additional sanctions.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from United Nations Photo photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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U.S. Forces in South Korea Open Their New Headquarters

By Seung Hwan Chung

The U.S. Eighth Army, the main symbol of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), transferred its headquarters from Yongsan base in central Seoul to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek on July 11. Located 40 miles south of Seoul, Camp Humphreys is the center of the largest construction and transformation project in the U.S. Department of Defense’s history. Moreover, the new headquarters represents the end of the Eighth Army’s 64-year presence in Seoul.

USFK has been expanding Camp Humphreys under a deal with the South Korean government. Both governments agreed to consolidate USFK through two plans: the Yongsan Relocation Plan (YRP) and the Land Partnership Plan (LPP). The YRP is the relocation of the Yongsan Garrison to Pyeongtaek, while the LPP will consolidate the 2nd Infantry Division from north of Seoul to Pyeongtaek.

Camp Humphreys has been transformed into a new base equipped with up-to-date facilities. Construction projects include unit headquarters buildings, vehicle maintenance facilities, barracks, family housing, medical facilities, a military communications complex, a commissary, a post office, schools, and child development centers. It is estimated that over 42,700 soldiers, civilians, and their family members will move to Camp Humphreys by 2020. There are 28,500 U.S. troops located in South Korea.

Lt. Gen. Thomas S. Vandal, Commander of the Eight Army said, “The $10.7 billion dollar project increased the size of U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, making it the largest U.S. Army garrison overseas in the Department of Defense.”

Not all of USFK is moving, however. Combined Forces Command is expected to maintain its location at Yongsan, and the 210th Field Artillery Brigade will remain near the DMZ. In addition, a joint U.S.-South Korean unit will continue to provide security for the Joint Security Area (JSA). Troops will also make the commute to training ranges, which are located near the border. The Brian Allgood Community Hospital will also remain at Yongsan until the new building is completed at Camp Humphreys.

Vandal emphasized the new base will provide increased security benefits by consolidating units, noting that the U.S. military will no longer have to defend 173 camps and installations scattered nationwide. By moving south of Seoul, the U.S. Army will improve its readiness and effectiveness. Camp Humphreys will facilitate the transformation of the ROK-U.S. alliance. It will also enhance our deterrence against North Korea.

The history of Camp Humphreys goes back to 1919 when the Japanese Military built Pyeongtaek Airfield during its occupation of Korea. During the Korean War, the name was changed to K-6. In 1962, the base was renamed Camp Humphreys in honor of Chief Warrant Officer Benjamin K. Humphreys, a pilot assigned to the 6th Transportation Company. In addition to its airfield, several U.S. Army units are located in Camp Humphreys, including the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, elements of the 1st Signal Brigade, the 501st Military Intelligence Brigade, the 65th Medical Brigade, as well as other military units and commands.

The U.S. Eighth Army was activated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1944. During World War II, it fought in the Pacific Theater of Operations as a field army. With the surrender of the Japanese Empire on 15 August 1945, the Eighth Army led the Army of Occupation in Japan. During the Korean War, the Eighth army served as both a field army and theater army. Since the armistice, it has assisted South Korea, both in rehabilitation efforts after the war and upholding common defense. The Eighth Army has changed from its previous role as an Army Service Component Command to a headquarters that commands and controls the war-fighting South Korea-U.S. Combined Joint Task Force, serving as the Korea Theater of Operations Army Forces command.

Seung Hwan Chung is a reporter with the Maeil Business Newspaper and a visiting fellow with the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Photo from Expert Infantry’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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A Conversation with Charlie Rangel, Former Congressman and Korean War Veteran

KEI President Donald Manzullo, a former member of the House of Representatives, recently interviewed Charlie Rangel, a former Congressman from New York and a Korean War Veteran, for the KEI podcast. Rangel was one of three current and former members of Congress who KEI recently honored for their service in the Korean War. The two former members discussed Rangel’s experiences during the war, his journey after returning from Korea, and his time in Congress.

The following is a partial transcript of that conversation. The rest of the episode can be found here.

Donald Manzullo: Charlie, we thank you for your service. You wrote a book called “And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since,” after the battle of Kunu-Ri – tell us about that battle.

Charlie Rangel: We got to Korea in August of 1950, and one way or another fought our way up past Pyongyang, and the Yalu River separated North Korea from Manchuria. General MacArthur had actually cut off the North Koreans, victory was ours, home was in our minds, and in September, October we were waiting to be home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We waited September, we waited October, we waited November. The weather changed, our clothes didn’t. We were just waiting for that ship to call, to get there.

And we had heard that one of our guys … was captured by the Chinese. I started a rumor, it never entered my mind that there were really Chinese there. And for three days the entire 8th Army, including my outfit – the Chinese had crossed the Yalu River, they were talking to us with loudspeakers in broken English, telling us to surrender. Don, it was a nightmare, the trumpets would be blowing … and at nighttime, they would start their blasts.

That very day all hell broke loose, as tens of thousands of Chinese surrounded us and international troops, the screaming, the yelling, the killing. And I don’t know, I got shot and I got out of there. And like I said, I haven’t had a bad day since because so many … we had 90 percent casualties between those that were captured, killed, wounded.

And in telling this story, I just can’t see how I could be in love with anything that sounds like Korea except the Korea that’s there now. To believe that I had any part of creating a miracle for people I never knew, never heard of, a country I never thought was there – it makes me proud to be an American, and even prouder to see human beings like South Koreans who can come out of the ashes and become a world power economically.

Donald Manzullo: Charlie, your modesty – it’s always been a part of your life, even though you were one of the flashiest dressers in Congress. But during your time in Korea, you earned a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Presidential Unit Citation, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, and three Battle Stars …. Your personal life is absolutely fascinating. Former Congressman, but you’re always a Congressman, high school dropout enrolls in the Army, goes to Korea, comes back home, trying to figure out what to do. The next thing you do is you go back and get your GED. Tell us about the march from the GED to the halls of Congress, Charlie.

Charlie Rangel: I never knew just how ignorant I was until I came out of the Army. I thought a couple of stripes made the difference the same way people get a couple of degrees. When I came out of the Army with all these medals you mentioned, pocket full of money, starched uniform, a couple of stripes, I must have felt like I was 10 feet tall until I went to get a job. They asked what could I do and I start talking about the M1 rife, the automatic carbine…and they said “next.” I was crushed.

And my brother was older, smarter, and so encouraging. He kept me from re-enlisting in the Army, which is what I was going to do. He got me a job at the garment center. I don’t know whether in your part of the country if you have hand trucks – two wheels, carry loads. And I’m carrying a load of lace – wasn’t heavy, just awkward – in the rain, and it slipped out of my hand in Manhattan in the rain, and cop’s cursing me out for blocking the traffic … I went straight to the VA, I told them “I don’t know what the hell’s going on, but I know I need some help.”

And I didn’t know how much help I really needed, I hadn’t completed high school. And the only reason I said I wanted to become a lawyer, which everyone thought was impossible, was because of my grandfather. I wanted to impress him, he was an elevator operator at the criminal court building of New York. He liked me, but he loved judges, he loved lawyers, and he loved the court system.

And I don’t know who laughed the loudest, the people at the Veterans Administration or my grandfather. But somehow we were able to work it out and I became an assistant U.S. attorney. And I got married to the most wonderful, understanding woman in the world – she had finished college while I was in high school.

Donald Manzullo: Well Charlie, I want to thank you for spending the day with us, for talking about old times.

Charlie Rangel: Well let me thank you Don. Like I said, Korea is a small country geographically, but it’s a country with a big, big heart in terms of giving hope to so many people whose countries historically have lived in poverty and never gotten out of it.

Image from KEI’s reception honoring Korean War Veterans in Congress. You can view the video of the event here


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The North Korean ICBM Test: A Significant Step, But Still Just a Step

By Mark Tokola

It usually takes some time to figure out the details of what a North Korean missile test has accomplished – what type of missile it was, how it performed, its capabilities – but from the initial information regarding North Korea’s July 4th missile test, it appears that they have successfully tested an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).

The accepted technical definition of an ICBM is a missile that can travel 3,400 miles. The North Koreans test fired their missile to fly a short range but with a high trajectory; it landed off the west coast of Japan. If the trajectory was flattened out, the missile in theory could have flown over 4,000 miles, enabling it to reach Alaska but not the lower 48 states.

Conducting an ICBM test is a significant step in North Korea’s weapons program, but it is just a step. Kim Jong-un’s stated objective is to develop a reliable ICBM that can carry a nuclear warhead to the American homeland. The July 4th missile did not demonstrate that kind of range, and there is no evidence (yet) that North Korea has a nuclear warhead that could be carried by an ICBM. We shouldn’t downplay the significance of this test, but calling it a “game changer” may be an overstatement.

The true importance of the July 4th test is the timing – following a series of other missile launches in 2017, it is clear that North Korea is not slowing the pace of its quest for nuclear weaponry that can threaten the U.S. Further, Kim Jong-un has crudely described it as a “gift for the American b******ds,” implying it was timed for Independence Day. The language choice shows that the North Korean regime sees no hypocrisy in using such language about other countries while having a hair-trigger sensitivity to slights to its own national dignity. The test also comes on the eve of a G20 meeting, demonstrating North Korea’s desire to be in the international limelight.

Perhaps the most important fact about the timing of the North Korean ICBM test is that it comes on the heels of the first visit of new South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Washington, where he spoke clearly of his desire to engage North Korea in dialogue. If North Korea had any interest in demonstrating an openness to President Moon’s overture, it would not have conducted an ICBM test only days after President Moon’s public remarks. We should all hope that North Korea would be responsive to a South Korean initiative to defuse tension, but the July 4th test makes it hard to believe that there is any basis for that hope. North Korea seems unresponsive to China’s efforts to defuse tensions, and even less so to South Korea’s initiatives. North Korea seems single-mindedly focused on trying to acquire a reliable ability to credibly threaten the United States with a nuclear attack — truly a high stakes gamble on North Korea’s part.

Still, it is not too late for a diplomatic solution. That would be in the best interest of South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, the United States – and even for North Korea. That diplomatic path may be narrowing, and it will only be possible if South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, the United States, and others are able to maintain a common front against North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. There is some evidence that sanctions are beginning to bite – which may be also be contributing to Kim Jong-un’s rush. As the world’s leaders gather for the July 7-8 G20 summit in Hamburg, watch for signs of unity or division to see how the international community may handle this growing threat.

Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from Stefan Krasowski’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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The Son of Refugees who Became President of the Republic of Korea Visits D.C.

By Seung Hwan Chung

On December 19 1950, the SS Meredith Victory, a 7,600-ton merchant marine vessel, was about to leave from the North Korean port city of Hungnam. Hundreds of thousands of refugees flocked to the pier at Hungnam as the bombing of the Chinese army came closer. Leonard Larue, a U.S. Navy captain, made the decision to abandon almost all of the arms and military supplies from the ship and took on 14,000 evacuees in an operation code-named “Christmas Cargo.”

The parents of Moon Jae-in and his older sister were among the 14,000 refugees who fled aboard the Meredith Victory, arriving on Geoje Island in Gyeongsang Province on Christmas Eve. Moon Jae-in was born two years later on Geoje Island in January 1953. Thus, the son of a refugee from Hungnam became the 19th President of the Republic of Korea thanks to this successful rescue operation called the Hungnam Evacuation, which is credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest transportation of evacuees in history.

In the lead-up to the evacuation, the 3rd U.S. Division was advancing northward from Wonsan to assist UN and South Korean forces trapped near the Chosin Reservoir. After losing Wonsan, the 10th U.S. Army Corps and the 1st Korean Army Corps had to withdraw to the sea as their retreat path was blocked, leading them to the port city of Hungnam. The first unit that withdrew from Hungnam was the 3rd Korean Division, followed by the 1st U.S. Marine Division.

According to the Korean Ministry of Patriots & Veterans Affairs, the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir is recorded as among the most brutal battles in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps. During the Battle, 15,000 U.S. marines fought through 120,000 Chinese soldiers in the extreme winter cold of -22 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result, 4,500 U.S. marines died and 7,500 were wounded.

President Moon Jae-in remarked on his family’s story at a reception for Korean War Veterans on  June 23, 2017, saying, “Today we are joined by the heroes of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir and the Hungnam Evacuation from North Korea. These two historic occasions became well known even to postwar generations in Korea who did not experience the war. The son of a refugee from Hungnam could become the President of the Republic of Korea and join you all today. I hope this fact helps make the Korean War veterans of the U.N. Forces feel a sense of delight and reward.”

President Moon Jae-in is scheduled to make a visit to Washington D.C. from June 28 to July 1 for his first summit meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. As his first stop in the United States, he visited the new memorial for the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia on June 28. There, Mr. Moon laid a wreath before the memorial that commemorates the Korean War battle which enabled the evacuation of civilians.

The “Star of Koto-ri,” a symbol of the battle, is on the top of the monument. U.S. Marines started to wear the star to commemorate the bright stars they saw after a snowstorm before succeeding in the evacuation.

President Moon will also visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. along with Vice President Mike Pence, whose father was a Korean War veteran who was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for his service.

Additionally, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha remarked on the Hungnam Evacuation during her visit to the U.S. 2nd infantry division base in Gyeonggi Province, stating “President Moon will invite Korean War veterans who participated in the Hungnam Evacuation” to the White House during the summit.

President Moon’s visit to the United States will lay the foundation for further upgrading South Korea-U.S. relations. The fact that the new Korean president is highlighting his family history and making a point to thank Korean War veterans throughout the trip can make the summit even more meaningful. Through the visit, the two heads of state can share a vision for further developing the Korea-U.S. alliance into an even greater one.

Seung Hwan Chung is a reporter with the Maeil Business Newspaper and a visiting fellow with the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Image from USMC Archives’ photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.