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Nov 24th, 2010

U.S. Urges China to Restrain North Korea

American aircraft carrier headed for S. Korean waters

Image: Protesters burn portraits of Kim Jong Il
Protesters burn portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010. (Photo credit: Wally Santana / AP)

Nov. 24, 2010

INCHEON, South Korea — The U.S. on Wednesday urged China to press North Korea to halt provocative actions against South Korea, after an artillery attack on the South that the Obama administration called a “premeditated” violation of the truce that ended the Korean War.

As the isolated North’s only ally and main economic partner, China plays a “pivotal” role in reducing tensions and has a duty to tell Pyongyang that deliberate acts “specifically intended to inflame tensions in the region” are not acceptable, the State Department said. …


U.S. pressures China to stop North Korean aggression (NBC Nightly News, Nov. 24, 2010) — Efforts by the White House to diffuse the crisis between North and South Korea by leveraging China’s influence in Pyongyang were met mostly with frustration on Wednesday. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports. (02:47)

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the shelling of the island near the two nations’ disputed maritime border one of the “gravest incidents” since the Korean War.

South Korean troops remained on high alert. In Washington, President Barack Obama pledged to “stand shoulder to shoulder” with Seoul.

The U.S. has more than 28,000 troops in South Korea to guard against North Korean aggression, a legacy of the bitter three-year conflict that ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953.

Seoul and Washington reaffirmed plans to hold joint military exercises later this week in the Yellow Sea, just 70 miles south of Yeonpyeong. The White House said the aircraft carrier USS George Washington would take part.

About 10 homes suffered direct hits and 30 were destroyed in the midafternoon barrage, according to a local official who spoke by telephone from the island just seven miles from the North Korean shore. About 1,700 civilians live on Yeonpyeong alongside South Korean troops stationed there.

The shower of artillery from North Korea was the first to strike a civilian population. In addition to the two marines killed, the bodies of two men, believed in their 60s, were pulled from a destroyed construction site, the coast guard said. At least 18 people — most of them troops — were injured.

Officials in Seoul said there could be considerable North Korean casualties. North Korea’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper published a military statement accusing South Korea of triggering the exchange, but did not mention any casualties.

The skirmish began after North Korea warned the South to stop carrying out military drills near their sea border, South Korean officials said.

When Seoul refused and fired artillery into disputed waters — away from the North Korean shore — the North retaliated by shelling Yeonpyeong.

Seoul responded by unleashing its own barrage of howitzers and scrambling its fighter jets. …


Tensions mount in Korea (MSNBC “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” Nov. 24, 2010) — The U.S., Russia and China are working to keep tensions from escalating on the Korean peninsula. But where do they go from here? Victor Cha, senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and The Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon weigh in. (06:11)

The Obama administration urged China to press North Korea to halt provocative action.

China said late Wednesday that it was “highly concerned” about the artillery exchange and urged restraint. …

Artillery and gunfire break out sporadically along the land and maritime borders dividing the two Koreas, and have brought deadly exchanges four times since 1999.

In March, North Korea was accused of sinking a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors. Pyongyang has denied responsibility.

The North’s most notorious act was the 1987 bombing of a South Korean airliner that claimed 115 lives. And in 1996, a group of North Korean spies slipped ashore from a submarine and killed three civilians and a South Korean army private. …


Related report

Pyongyang Strike Throws Korean Peninsula into Crisis

Military action could signal beginning of hardline policy shift by North

Newsweek logo
Nov. 23, 2010

The Korean Peninsula is in crisis mode as North Korea shelled a South Korean island — injuring civilians for the first time in recent history — and South Korea responded by threatening to strike the North’s missile bases. …

What we are seeing is more likely the beginning of a hardline policy shift, the likes of which the world has not seen since the Stalinist regime’s last power succession, when the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, took the reins from his father, Kim Il-sung. Indeed, the shelling of Yeonpyeong took place in the same waters as the sinking of the South Korean military vessel, the Cheonan, this March, which killed 46 soldiers.

News also emerged this past weekend, from two returning American delegations, that the nuclear-armed regime has built a secret second uranium-enrichment plant. Many analysts expect the North Korean military to proceed with its third nuclear test any day now.

Such hardening aggression against the South suggests that the Dear Leader’s recently anointed successor, his baby-faced third son, Kim Jong-un, has already begun the process of cementing his power base in the military-first society. The recent escalation in fact is analogous to the deadly antics of Kim Jong-il in his early years as ruler-in-waiting. In 1983, he was thought to have orchestrated the attempted assassination of the South Korean president, who was traveling in Burma at the time. The failed attempt killed 21 people, including several members of the South Korean cabinet.

This throwback to the regime’s Cold War antics marks the return of the North’s fire-breathing generals, who have increasingly cemented their control over the younger Kim. Since last year, when succession rumors began trickling out, military branches of the government, such as the National Defense Commission and the Korean People’s Army, have been issuing ever more bellicose statements, instead of official remarks being sent out by the relatively moderate Foreign Ministry. It has been rare until now for soldiers — rather than diplomats — to be the ones hurling the regime’s signature tirades against the West and South Korea.

Though the latest attack may seem like the sort of saber-rattling the North routinely uses to get Washington or Seoul’s attention, the relatively rational moderates in Pyongyang who have perfected this tactic are already out of the picture. The key decision makers are now the hawkish generals, a faction that the Dear Leader has become increasingly dependent on.

The power dynamic here is fast changing: Kim Jong-il looks to be beholden to his generals — rather than the other way around — in order to solidify the rickety succession to his son, who though he has no prior military experience was given a four-star-general rank this September during the rare party conference. …


The Personality Profile
of North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il

Aubrey Immelman
Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics
December 2003

An image from North Korean television on April 9 shows leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang.
Image of Kim Jong-Il on North Korean television, April 9, 2009.

A remote psychological assessment of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il was conducted mining open-source data in the public domain. Information concerning Kim was collected from media reports and synthesized into a personality profile using the second edition of the Millon Inventory of Diagnostic Criteria (MIDC), which yields 34 normal and maladaptive personality classifications congruent with Axis II of DSM-IV.

The personality profile yielded by the MIDC was analyzed on the basis of interpretive guidelines provided in the MIDC and MillonIndex of Personality Styles manuals. Kim’s primary personality patterns were found to be Ambitious/self-serving (narcissistic) and Outgoing/gregarious (histrionic), with a secondary Dauntless/dissenting (antisocial) pattern. In addition, the personality profile contained subsidiary but relatively unremarkable Dominant/asserting (sadistic), Contentious/resolute (passive-aggressive), and Erratic/unstable (borderline) features.

The amalgam of Ambitious (narcissistic) and Outgoing (histrionic) patterns in Kim’s profile suggests the presence of a syndrome that Theodore Millon has labeled the “amorous narcissist” (relabeled hedonistic narcissist in the context of political leadership studies). These personalities have an indifferent conscience and aloofness to the truth, are facile in the ways of social seduction, feign an air of dignity and confidence, and are skilled in the art of deception.

Characteristically, these personalities fabricate stories to enhance their worth andleave behind a trail of broken promises and outrageous acts, including swindling, sexual indiscretions, pathological lying, and fraud. However, the hedonistic narcissist’s disregard for truth and talents for exploitation and deception are rarely hostile or malicious in intent; fundamentally, they are not malevolent. Having never learned to restrain their fantasies, and unconcerned with matters of social integrity, hedonistic narcissists maintain their beguiling ways through deception, fraud, lying, and by charming others through craft and wit. Instead of applying their talents toward the goals of tangible achievements and genuine relationships, they selfishly devote their energies to the construction of intricate lies, cleverly exploiting others and slyly extracting from them what they believe is their due.

In summary, Kim Jong-Il may be characterized as fraudulent, self-indulgent, and conflict averse — preferring guile, craft, and cunning rather than force or confrontation in extracting or extorting from others what he considers his due; he is not a “malignant narcissist.”

The major political implications of the study are the following: First, although North Korea’s military capability undeniably poses a legitimate threat to regional stability, any claim by Kim Jong-Il with regard to his military capabilities are not to be taken at face value, but should be called into question andverified; second, Kim is relatively conflict averse and unlikely to employ military force without provocation; and third, Kim is relatively open to influence by carefully crafted diplomatic and economic means subjectively perceived as bolstering his self-serving ambitions.

May 2009 update

My 2003 threat assessment should be read in the context of August 2008 reports that Kim Jong-Il had suffered a stroke.

Although I did not find Kim to be paranoid or delusional in my 2003 assessment, it is possible for stroke patients to undergo personality changes, including an increase in suspiciousness, or to develop psychiatric syndromes such as post-stroke depression or post-stroke dementia, which may impair the patient’s mental state and cognitive functioning.

Should that be the case with Kim Jong-Il, it may exacerbate a prior siege mentality, resulting in increasingly self-defeating, erratic behaviors patterns.

Despite remaining convinced that Kim is fundamentally risk-averse, I do have a heightened concern that a possible recent-onset organic brain syndrome could impair his insight, judgment, and decision-making capacity.

In the event Kim’s medical condition should color his pre-existing, premorbid personality with paranoid ideation or delusional thinking, he is likely to become increasingly mistrustful and vigilant; irritable and thin-skinned (hypersensitive to perceived slights and easily enraged by narcissistic injury); defiant, hostile, belligerent, and vengeful (determined to “balance the books” with respect to what he perceives as past wrongs); dichotomous (“us versus them” social perception); insular (impervious to corrective action in response to sound advice and new information); self-righteous (arrogant and acting with a sense of entitlement); and self-justifying (viewing his own transgressions either as defensive necessity or as “payback” for the malevolence or wrongs of others).

November 2010 update

North Korea’s November 25, 2010 artillery barrage of Yeonpyeong island, in conjunction with the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan on March 26, 2010, most likely is indicative of a hardline policy shift in North Korea coinciding with the military leadership cementing its control over Kim Jong-il’s successor, Kim Jong-un.

In that context, my 2003 assessment of the threat posed by North Korea, conducted for the U.S. military, should no longer be regarded as valid. By all indications, North Korea’s saber-rattling of late is inconsistent with the personality profile of Kim Jong-il, who is essentially threat averse — suggesting that Kim no longer features prominently in the decision-making process of the North Korean elite.

Consequently, South Korea, the United States, and their allies now face an elevated military threat from North Korea, with the imminent risk that miscalculation on the part of South Korea or the U.S. could prompt misperception on the part of North Korean decision-makers, resulting in a military conflagration.

As suggested in my 2003 threat assessment and associated briefing reports in 2004 and 2005, the ability of the United States and its allies to emerge victorious from a militarily conflict with North Korea is not at issue; the point is that it will be a Pyrrhic victory, considering the capacity of the North to inflict mass civilian casualties on South Korea — most notably in Seoul – where fatalities could run into the hundreds of thousands.


North Korea showing no signs of regret (NBC Nightly News, Nov. 24, 2010) — A day after a deadly assault by North Korea plunged the region into a new crisis, South Korea’s military remained on high alert Wednesday as official news reports from the North accused the South of “driving the situation to the brink of war.” NBC’s Ian Williams reports. (02:46)


North Korean propaganda ‘last of its kind’ (MSNBC, Nov. 27, 2010) — Jim Finn, writer and director of “The Juche Idea,” explains the North Korean government’s use of an “old time Communist propaganda model” to try and sway opinion in its favor. (04:19)


Topical reports on this site

Kim Jong-Un (front row, center), youngest son of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Il, attends a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party in Pyongyang on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010. (Photo credit: Reuters)

Winds of War in Korea (Nov. 25, 2010)

North Korea ‘Very Dangerous’ (Nov. 22, 2010)

Kim Jong-un Succession in N. Korea (Oct. 11, 2010)

North Korea Threatens ‘Sacred War’ (July 23, 2010)

North Korean Saber-Rattling (May 20, 2010)

North Korea Nuclear Threat (June 16, 2009)

Kim Jong Il Threat Assessment (May 31, 2009)

Tensions Rise in Korean Peninsula (May 30, 2009)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — November 24, 2009

Iraq-Afghanistan Casualties

One year ago today, I provided my weekly report of U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas J. Hand, 20, Kansas City, Mo., died Nov. 22, 2009 in Garmsir, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained from small-arms fire while supporting combat operations in Helmand province. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — November 24, 2008

Three Bombs in Baghdad — 20 Dead

Image: Policemen inspect a burnt bus
Policemen inspect a burned bus at the site of a bomb attack in eastern Baghdad on Monday, Nov. 24, 2008. (Photo credit: Thaier Al-Sudani / Reuters)

Two years ago today, on Nov. 24, 2008, I reported that a female suicide bomber had blown herself up near an entrance to the U.S.-protected Green Zone, while a bomb tore through a minibus carrying Iraqi government employees in separate attacks in Iraq, killing at least 20 people.

8 Responses to “Perilous Flare-Up of Korean War”
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