UA-43475823-1

The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Russia’s Growing Influence With North Korea

The Daily Escape:

Lanterns lit last week for Buddha’s Birthday, Samgwangsa Temple, Busan, South Korea – photo by Jason Teale

Yesterday, Wrongo mentioned that Russia might prove helpful to Donald Trump in his efforts to deal with a nuclear-capable North Korea (NK). Today, Stratfor has a column about Russia’s relationship with NK. Rather than quote extensively from a long article, Wrongo has condensed from it, particularly about the history of Russia/North Korean relations.

History gives perspective: The Soviet Union and the US were the actors that split North and South Korea at the end of WWII. In the 1950s, both Koreas became a proxy battleground, pitting the communist North against the US-aligned South. After China and North Korea agreed to an Armistice with the UN and South Korea in 1953, the Soviets helped to build up the military and security forces in NK, ensuring its stability. Some Soviet-era military equipment is still in use today.

The Soviets were a key NK economic partner throughout the Cold War. They accounted for nearly half of NK’s foreign trade in the 1970s and 1980s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, trade dropped off. China now accounts for 90% of NK’s imports, but about a third of that is Russian-sourced.

Putin saw the strategic value of good relations with NK, including how Russia could manipulate its influence in the region to pressure NK, or to put pressure the US and South Korea. Russia has criticized NK’s nuclear weapons tests and ballistic missile programs, and participated in the six-party nuclear disarmament talks along with China, the US, Japan and North Korea and South Korea.

In 2014, Russia joined in levying sanctions against NK, halting supplies of ships, helicopters and minerals in response to its continued nuclear tests. But, neither China nor Russia has cut their economic or military ties with NK. And both governments have opposed expanded sanctions or regime change.

Russia and NK have improved ties since the breakdown in Russia’s relations with the West over Crimea and Ukraine. In 2014, Moscow officially settled NK’s Soviet-era debt of $11 billion, forgiving most of it. NK granted Russian business executives long-term multiple-entry visas for the first time. In addition, Russia has provided millions of dollars’ worth of food aid to NK in recent years, including nearly half of the country’s grain imports.

One way that the two countries have expanded their cooperation is through the employment of temporary NK workers in Russia. Nearly 50,000 North Koreans were granted Russian work permits in 2015. In April, Russia’s parliament passed a bill allowing NK workers to travel visa-free to Vladivostok. Russia estimates that North Korea receives $170 million in remittances from its workers in Russia.

No doubt, Russia sees its relationship with NK as small potatoes. But Russia is not small potatoes for NK. While it will not replace China as NK’s primary partner, Russia has the capacity to play spoiler to the US plans to control NK’s nuclear ambitions. Today, Russia has its hands full with Syria, Crimea and Ukraine. But, its influence on the North Koreans can give it leverage, in the event that America’s Orange Negotiator needs help making a deal on the Korean peninsula.

Putin could add weight to China’s effort to lean on NK, forcing NK to come to the table. In return, His Orangeness might be persuaded to go easy on Putin’s goals in Ukraine or Syria, in addition to whatever he will owe China, if the pressure succeeded.

Russia can’t solve our problem with NK, but it might be able to move the dial enough either to play the spoiler, or to be an ally in any American efforts to defuse the Korean problem.

Here is a martial song from North Korea: “Leader, Just Give Us Your Order!” Don’t you just wonder what that order will be?

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Warning! Don’t scroll through the comments, it weakens the mind. A recent one says:

“Comrade Kim Jong Un, just give us the order to wipe out all imperialists and to reunificate Korea!”

Reunificate!

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – April 29, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Welcome to spring, which has brought a dandelion horror show to the fields of Wrong. Apparently, these are mutant dandelions, completely immune to the weed killer we put down three weeks ago.

But that is far from the only horror show underway in the lives of average Americans. The Trump 100-day roasting or celebration, depending on your viewpoint, is underway today. The NYT’s David Brooks has a perceptive look at the Trump presidency so far: (emphasis by Wrongo)

I wish we had a president who had actual convictions and knowledge, and who was interested in delivering real good to real Americans. But it’s hard to maintain outrage at a man who is a political pond skater — one of those little creatures that flit across the surface, sort of fascinating to watch, but have little effect as they go.

Hard to maintain outrage? Brooks, (not a Wrongo fave) elsewhere minimizes the real and potential damage that the country will face with our Orange Overlord. He still is commander-in-chief and, as such, has his (figurative) finger propped on the (figurative) nuclear button, and can order military action at a moment’s notice. Yesterday, Trump said that

There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely…

That should have made David Brooks cringe, but it didn’t, Brooks opined that:

His foreign policy moves have been, if anything, kind of normal…

Really? Trump says whatever is on top of his mind, words that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un just might take as a pre-invasion threat. That could lead to war with millions of South Koreans, Japanese, or American citizens paying the price for Trump’s bellicosity.

Think about how the Trumpets created a nuclear scare in mid-April: NBC News reported that they were considering a pre-emptive nuclear strike:

EXCLUSIVE: US may launch preemptive strike if North Korea reaches for nuclear trigger, intelligence officials say http://nbcnews.to/2owFmep

After some hysteria, including the false (inaccurate?) reporting of the location of our Aircraft Carrier Carl Vinson, which wasn’t steaming toward a North Korea confrontation, cooler heads have prevailed, and we are now talking about direct talks with the NK’s. Not much of this is new. Consider this from 2010 by Mark Landler of the NYT:

President Obama’s patience with China had been fraying for months, and by November 2010 he was fed up. Meeting with President Hu Jintao in Seoul, South Korea, Mr. Obama warned that if China did not do more to curb North Korea’s bellicose behavior, he would have to take steps to shield the United States from the threat of a nuclear missile attack from the North.

Sounds like where we are today, although the GOP likes Trump’s mas macho ways better than it liked Obama’s.

Once we are done insisting that China will fix this problem for us, and it turns out there’s no real Plan B, Trump will have to consider what it takes to strike a bargain with the North Koreans, or we’ll learn to live in the same dangerous situation that Japan and South Korea already face.

Onward to something that both calms and soothes. Wrongo is going for Chai Latte this morning, along with his Saturday music. Your mileage may vary.

Edward Elgar composed the Enigma Variations between October 1898 and February 1899. It is an orchestral work comprising fourteen variations on a theme. The “Nimrod” is variation IX. This variation is sometimes used at British funerals, memorial services, and other solemn occasions, like your review of Trump’s first 100 days in office. Here is Daniel Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony at Carnegie Hall in 1997 in Elgar’s “Nimrod” variation:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 23, 2017

Sorry for the lack of columns; Wrongo has an acute case of Trump Fatigue. It is difficult to: a) think of anyone or anything else, and b) when writing a column, everything seems linked to every other thing, and none of you want to read a thousand-word rant. On to the rich harvest of cartoons.

Le Pen’s ballots in today’s election in France may be enough to force the big box to open:

The March for Science, unsurprisingly, has opposition:

 

It isn’t enough to just think about the planet on Earth Day:

Fox replaces O’Reilly with another loser:

Why do we still call it the Presidency when the differences are so stark?

Why would millions of people willingly watch a real-time murder?

 

Facebooklinkedinrss

North Korea Poses a Problem for Trump, Bigly

The Daily Escape:

(Key West flower by Denise M. Riggs)

CNN reported that on Monday, North Korea (NK) fired four ballistic missiles into the Japan Sea. CNN was told by a US official that a fifth missile failed to launch. More from CNN:

Later on Monday, two US officials told CNN that US intelligence is closely monitoring the underground nuclear test site via satellite amid signs the regime could be preparing for another underground test…A US official also said that Washington is continuing to see activity including missile engine tests at another North Korean launch site, that signal potential additional launches — which the US widely expects.

This creates a strategic problem for the Trump administration. Trump has already signaled his preference to respond aggressively to NK’s missile program. In a Twitter post after Kim Jong-un issued a warning on New Year’s Day, Trump tweeted “It won’t happen!

Obama used a different approach:

Three years ago, President Barack Obama ordered Pentagon officials to step up their cyber and electronic strikes against North Korea’s missile program in hopes of sabotaging test launches in their opening seconds.

Soon a large number of the North’s military rockets began to explode, veer off course, disintegrate in midair and plunge into the sea. Advocates of such efforts say they believe that targeted attacks have given American antimissile defenses a new edge and delayed by several years the day when North Korea will be able to threaten American cities with nuclear weapons launched atop intercontinental ballistic missiles.

But other experts have grown increasingly skeptical of the new approach…Over the past eight months, they note, the North has managed to successfully launch three medium-range rockets. And…North [Korea] is in “the final stage in preparations” for the inaugural test of its intercontinental missiles — perhaps a bluff, perhaps not.

The US lacks the ability to fully counter the NK nuclear and missile programs. The NYT’s reporting indicates that the NK danger was great enough that as Obama left office, he warned Trump it was likely to be the most urgent problem he [Trump] would confront.

As a presidential candidate, Trump said “we’re obsolete in cyber”. Now, one of the immediate questions he faces is whether to accelerate, or scale back existing cyber efforts. The US is also looking at ways to freeze the Kim family’s assets, some of which are held in Chinese banks. The Chinese have opposed the US deployment of the US high-altitude missile defense system known as THAAD in South Korea; but the Trump team may also deploy THADD systems in Japan.

A Trump administration official told the NYT that they are looking at pre-emptive military strike options, although the challenge is huge, given the country’s mountainous terrain, deep tunnels and bunkers. This is complicated. NK missiles are fired from multiple launch sites and are moved about on mobile launchers in an elaborate shell game meant to deceive adversaries.

Putting American tactical nukes back in South Korea (they were withdrawn 25 years ago) is also under consideration, even though that could accelerate a regional nuclear arms race.

Trump could re-open negotiations with NK to again freeze its nuclear and missile programs, but that would leave the current threat in place. He could prepare for direct missile strikes on the launch sites, but there is little chance of hitting all targets. He could press the Chinese to cut off trade and support for NK, but Beijing has always stopped short of steps that could lead to the regime’s collapse. The NYT said:

In two meetings of Mr. Trump’s national security deputies in the Situation Room, the most recent on Tuesday, all those options were discussed, along with the possibility of reintroducing nuclear weapons to South Korea as a dramatic warning. Administration officials say those issues will soon go to Mr. Trump and his top national security aides.

Dealing with NK requires a steady hand, and an ability to sort through complex relationships. Rash decisions will not work, while well thought-out tactics might.

Sadly, Trump has not convinced us that he has the temperament to deal with a complex situation like NK presents.

Here is the Moranbong Band, an all-female North Korean group whose members were personally selected by Kim Jong-un. Here they are performing “My Country Is The Best!”:

Everyone thinks their country is the best.

This has a decidedly Euro pop flavor. One wag said all that is missing is Robert Palmer standing in the foreground singing “Addicted to Love”. Check out the woman playing lead guitar at 2:34.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss