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May 28th, 2009

U.S., South Korea Raise Military Alert on North Korea

Image: A South Korean marine stands guard at an anti-aircraft gun position
South Korean marines at an anti-aircraft gun position.
(Photo credit: Byun Yeong-Wool / AFP — Getty Images)

May 28, 2009

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean and U.S. troops raised their alert Thursday to the highest level since 2006 after North Korea renounced its truce with the allied forces and threatened to strike any ships trying to intercept its vessels.

The move was a sign of heightened tensions on the peninsula following the North’s underground nuclear test and its firing of a series of short-range missiles earlier this week.

In response, Seoul decided to join more than 90 nations that have agreed to stop and inspect vessels suspected of transporting banned weapons.

North Korea says South Korea’s participation in the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative is a prelude to a naval blockade and raises the prospect of a naval skirmish in its western waters.

On Wednesday, it renounced the 1953 truce that halted fighting in the Korean War. It said Thursday through its official media that it was preparing for an American-led attack. The U.S. has repeatedly denied it is planning military action.

“The northward invasion scheme by the U.S. and the South Korean puppet regime has exceeded the alarming level,” the North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. “A minor accidental skirmish can lead to a nuclear war.” …

Alert level

South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae said the South Korea–U.S. combined forces command raised its surveillance from the third to the second-highest level on a scale of 5. He said the last time the alert level was that high was in 2006, when the North conducted its first nuclear test.

A South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff officer, speaking on condition of anonymity citing department policy, said the South’s military has also bolstered “personnel and equipment deployment” along its land and sea borders.

He said, however, that there has been no particular movement of North Korean troops along the heavily fortified border areas.

There are 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea and another 50,000 in Japan. All are within striking range of North Korea’s missiles.

Though the officer refused to give details, South Korea’s mass-circulation JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported Thursday that Seoul has recently deployed more anti-air missiles and artillery at its military bases on islands near the disputed western sea border with North Korea.

A South Korean destroyer also has been deployed near the sea border to prepare for any provocations, the newspaper said.

Seoul has said its military is prepared to “respond sternly” to any North Korean provocation, and would be able to contain the North with the help of U.S. troops.

The U.N. Command on Korea issued a statement defending the armistice and said it would continue to observe it.

“The armistice has served as the legal basis for the cease-fire in Korea for over 55 years and significantly contributes to stability in the region,” it said. “The armistice remains in force and is binding on all signatories, including North Korea.”

Testing Obama

Experts said the recent flurry of belligerence from North Korea may reflect an effort by leader Kim Jong Il, who is reportedly grooming one of his sons as his successor, to boost his standing among his impoverished people by generating fear and claiming to be strong in the face of outside threats.

It was also seen as testing the new administration of President Barack Obama.

North Korea has announced it was abandoning the armistice several times before — most recently in 2003 and 2006.

The truce doesn’t cover the waters off the west coast, and North Korea has used the maritime border dispute to provoke two deadly naval skirmishes — in 1999 and 2002.

Diplomats, meanwhile, discussed further what measures should be taken to punish the North.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned of “consequences” but it remained unclear what action the U.N. Security Council would take.

The five permanent veto-wielding council members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — and the two countries most closely affected by the nuclear test, Japan and South Korea, discussed possible U.N. sanctions and other measures for a new Security Council resolution on Tuesday. …


Late update

Defense Chief: No Need to Add Troops in Korea

Reporter: North Korea has long history of selling weapons (MSNBC, May 28, 2009) — David Sanger of the New York Times talks about the possibility of North Korea selling a nuclear weapon to terrorist groups as well as past arms deals made by the country. (04:33)

May 28, 2009

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY JET — While worrisome, North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests have not reached a crisis level that would warrant additional U.S. troops in the region, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

Gates, flying to Singapore to meet with Asian defense ministers, said he has not seen any moves by North Korea’s military that would prompt the United States to add to the roughly 28,000 troops already in South Korea. He said any military actions would need to be decided upon, and carried out, by broad international agreement.

“I don’t think that anybody in the (Obama) administration thinks there is a crisis,” Gates told reporters aboard his military jet early Friday morning, still Thursday night in Washington.

“What we do have, though, are two new developments that are very provocative, that are aggressive, accompanied by very aggressive rhetoric,” he said. “And I think it brings home the reality of the challenge that North Korea poses to the region and to the international community.”

Gates appeared to try to tamp down some of the tough rhetoric that has flown between Washington and Pyongyang this week, since North Korea said it successfully detonated a nuclear device in its northeast on Monday and followed with a series of short-range missile launches. …

He cited North Korean exports of missile and nuclear technology as a top worry, and said the United Nations, and Russia and China in particular, need to be part of any efforts to curb them.

Full story


North Korean Nuclear Threat Growing, Analysts Say

May 27, 2009

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea’s second underground nuclear test has shown the world that it’s only a matter of time before the secretive regime develops the ability to mount an atomic weapon on a missile, analysts say.

North Korea raises tensions with new threats (NBC Nightly News, May 27, 2009) — North Korea defiantly raised its military rhetoric Wednesday in the wake of more underground nuclear tests. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports. (02:34)

Monday’s blast — by all accounts larger than its first one in 2006 — indicates the impoverished country will keep using nuclear development in efforts to bolster its regime and raise its stature against its main perceived adversary, the United States. The test has also raised fears of increased proliferation.

North Korea’s defiance in carrying out the explosion, which followed its first test in October 2006 that resulted in censure and sanctions by the United Nations, has met widespread condemnation and cast more doubt over prospects for stalled talks aimed at the country’s denuclearization.

President Barack Obama said the blast and North Korea’s test firings of short-range missiles off its coast “pose a grave threat to the peace and security of the world,” while the North responded Tuesday by launching more missiles. And on Wednesday, the North warned South Korea that its decision to participate in a U.S.-led program to intercept ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction is equal to a declaration of war.

North Korea is believed to have processed enough plutonium over the years for at least a half dozen nuclear bombs.

That is paltry compared to the massive arsenals of nuclear powers such as the United States, Russia and China or even newer members of the atomic club like Pakistan.

Moving with determination

Still, North Korea is making measurable progress and showing its determination to posses a credible enough threat to protect its regime, and is unlikely to back down anytime soon given its increasingly strident tone on the world stage.

North Korea’s arsenal Longer-range missiles pose a growing threat

The North is now “more of a threat because they have more data and information about their bomb design,” said Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank devoted to conflict resolution. “They’re demonstrating this decisiveness.”

The size of the explosion is still under debate and will require more analysis to determine. Initial estimates have ranged from a few kilotons to a Russian figure of between 10 kilotons and 20 kilotons.

The latter range, considered way too high by analysts including Pinkston and David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, would be comparable to the U.S. weapons that destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

Evidence suggests North Korea’s ultimate goal is to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile, but analysts vary in their assessment of how close the country is to achieving that objective.

“It’s a weapons program aimed at putting something on a missile to create a credible deterrent,” Albright said. He said he thinks North Korea has the ability to mount a weapon now, though he added that questions remain about how reliable it would be.

‘A matter of time’

Yoon Deok-min, a professor at South Korea’s state-run Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, said North Korea appears to still be in the process of mastering the miniaturization technology required to place a warhead on a missile, though he called its ultimate success just “a matter of time.”

He said its development of a nuclear-tipped missile is the “worst case” security scenario, noting the country has already deployed intermediate-range ballistic missiles that can travel as far as 1,860 miles. That would easily put South Korea and Japan into range and almost reach the U.S. island of Guam.

What is disturbing, Yoon said, is that the country is conducting missile and nuclear tests in close proximity. Monday’s blast came less than two months after the North fired an intermediate-range rocket over Japan and into the Pacific. Though North Korea claimed it launched a satellite, the U.S. and other countries said it was meant to test ballistic missile technology.

Proliferation fears

Still, other analysts do not think the North will quickly master the delivery of a nuclear warhead. Cha Du-hyeogn, a research fellow at the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, estimates it may take about four years to accomplish.

Pinkston said if analysis of the blast ultimately reveals that it was at the lower end of the yield range given so far, perhaps as small as three kilotons, that might suggest “they are working on miniaturization.”

Ivan Oerlich, vice president of the Strategic Security Program at the Federation of American Scientists, said early signs indicate the test was much larger than the one in 2006, though far smaller than the Russian estimate.

Proliferation fears have also increased as a result of the North’s test, analysts said.

“The proliferation part of this is more worrisome than being hit by a North Korean nuclear weapon,” Albright said, noting the North will likely have no qualms about selling its technology.

Bargaining chip

Some, however, see proliferation as a card the North might be willing to bargain away, provided it can achieve a satisfactory deal with Washington.

“North Korea wants to normalize their relations with the U.S. while they keep their nuclear weapons,” said Kim Tae-woo, vice president of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. “North Korea will promise not to proliferate” if it can achieve that, he said.

For Washington, that is unlikely to be acceptable. The United States, besides vocally condemning North Korea’s nuclear tests, has consistently demanded that the country verifiably abandon its nuclear programs if it wants formal relations.

Given the growing chasm over its nuclear program — North Korea pulled out of six-nation talks aimed at its denuclearization last month after the U.N. Security Council condemned its rocket launch — and the North’s increasingly strident tone, pessimism is growing for any quick end to tensions.

“The hawks tend to be in the driver’s seat and I think that’s the case in Pyongyang,” said the ICG’s Pinkston. “The prospects are quite bleak.”

Full story


Related report

‘150-day battle’: North Korea succession drama?
Some suspect nuke and rocket tests are meant to cement national unity


4/1/10 Update

North Korea Defector Touts Ideology Over Force

North Korean defector Hwang Jang-yop, who was responsible for writing North Korea's official state ideology before defecting in 1997, speaks during an on-the-record roundtable discussion hosted by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. Hwang said "ideological warfare" and Chinese pressure can help bring down the hardline regime
North Korean defector Hwang Jang-yop speaks at the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) in Washington on Wednesday, March 31, 2010. (Photo credit: CNN / AFP — Getty Images)

By Elise Labott and Meghan Rafferty
CNN logo
March 31, 2010

Washington — North Korea’s highest-ranking defector said “ideological warfare,” not military action, would help topple the regime of Kim Jong Il.

“We don’t need to resort to force,” Hwang Jang-yop told a small audience Wednesday at the Center for Strategic International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. “We need to use ideology and markets and diplomacy. We need to take a lesson from the cold war.”

Hwang, an 87-year-old former secretary of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, was in Washington meeting with academics and policymakers on his second trip to Washington since defecting in 1997 during a trip to Beijing, China.

“Tell Kim Jong Il he doesn’t qualify as a participant in the Six Party Talks,” he said, referring to multilateral efforts aimed at persuading Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program.”That’s the only punch we could hit him with.”

Hwang said that neither engaging nor attacking the regime would help bring about change in North Korea. Rather, he said, it was critical to educate North Koreans about human rights abuses taking place in their country.

“Simply trying to make Kim Jong Il die would not be the solution,” he said. “The solution is ideological warfare. We need to focus on the people of North Korea and alert them to the human rights abuses that are taking place.”

The former chief of North Korea’s Parliament — believed to have been a mentor to Kim Jong Il and a confidant of his father, Kim Il Sung — is credited with developing the regime ideology “juche,” or “self-reliance.”

In an interview with CNN, Hwang said he defected after that ideology was “distorted” by Kim Jong Il and policies led to the famine of the 1990s, during which more than a million North Koreans died. …

Still, he said, he didn’t believe that Kim Jong Il harbored the vehement anti-American sentiment that has been the hallmark of his regime’s public rhetoric.

“Deep down when he is talking in private with his henchmen, he never speaks ill about the United States,” Hwang said.

He suggested that China, as North Korea’s closest ally, should put more pressure on the Pyongyang. If China were to sever ties with the North, he said, it would be a “death penalty” for the regime.”

“China is the lifeline of North Korea, and I don’t know why they aren’t trying to bring about change,” he said. “Through China we can change North Korea.”

Full story


Related reports on this site

Iran, North Korea Threat Level Rises (Dec. 13, 2009)

Bill Clinton in North Korea (Aug. 3, 2009)

North Korea Ready to Deal? (July 26, 2009)

Independence Day (July 4, 2009)

North Korea Nuclear Threat (June 16, 2009)

Kim Jong-Il Threat Assessment (May 31, 2009)

Tense Stand-Off With North Korea (May 28, 2009)

North Korea Warns of Possible Military Action (May 27, 2009)

North Korea Launches Rocket (April 5, 2009)

U.S. Warns N. Korea on Missiles (Feb. 17, 2009)

North Korea Missile Launch? (Feb. 11, 2009)

Korea Headache Looms for Obama (Jan. 28, 2009)

Obama Faces Daunting Challenges (Nov. 6, 2008)

Kim Jong Il Appears in Public (Oct. 4, 2008)


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 Millon Index 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 and leave 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 and verified; 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).

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