1. Claudius

    Gosh! What a disappointing interview. Peter Lee was either jet lagged or totally disinterested; so many points were erroneous, misleading or confusing. One had to feel somewhat sorry for Paul Jay, whom started out all keen and enthusiastic, but practically ended up asking so many leading questions the interview became, practically, rhetorical.

    One can sense the deflation of Paul’s expectations as the interview proceeds, and as he himself provides more credible reason for the DPRK “saber rattling”; and a more succinct series of leading questions that point to the actual basis for it. The non-specific or even general response to the question as to why the DPRK was not engaged in a “rapprochement with the United States” yielded the answer to “erm…..gain attention (?)”. Gee!

    What all the guff about Japan and ROK being allowed to develop nuclear weapons was about defies rational explanation (The US could, credibly, reverse the 1991 unilateral decision of President George Bush to withdrawal of all the 100 naval and land-based tactical nuclear weapons deployed in South Korea, addressing any nuclear threat toward either ROK or Japan).

    What Peter Lee might have pointed out is that what has agitated DPRK is the US and ROK’s recent and successful conclusion to an agreement that extends South Korea’s missile ranges. Additionally, and (critically) remain, publicly, deadlocked on the revision of a bilateral agreement on civilian nuclear energy (which the DPRK and China see as a potential, domestic Nuclear Weapons program).

    The new (revised 2001) US-ROK missile agreement allows South Korea to extend its maximum range to 800 km (500 miles), enough to reach any target in North Korea even from southern parts of the country. The new agreement also gives greater flexibility in the use of the payload. While South Korea has to limit the payload to 500 kg for ballistic missiles with an 800 km range, the country is now able to use heavier payloads (up to two tons) for missiles with shorter ranges. Under the revised agreement, South Korea will also be able to deploy drones carrying up to 2.5 tons of reconnaissance equipment and weapons.

    Which, all goes someway to explain why the DPRK’s recent and successful “saber rattling” with its Unha-3 rocket launch on Dec.12 (despite UN Security Council resolutions), that saw the successful separation of the three stages of the rocket and, more importantly, the rocket putting a payload into orbit. This DPRK success now establishes a coercive negotiating dynamic; i.e., to force a crisis de-escalation of the ROK’s agreement with the US (not DPRK‘s with the US, per se) regarding both conventional missile development and the ROK’s domestic nuclear program.

    The US had to have been ambivalent over the two years of negotiations with ROK because a.) A missile range extension will not increase response time to a North Korean provocation (not enhancing deterrence), but would b.) Heighten tensions with DPRK (which as has proven to be the case) and in the region general (Japan).

    Unsurprisingly, since the beginning of the US-ROK negotiations – which started in 2011 – China has been opposed to any revision of the 2001 terms and limitations; which, if further increased, will pose a direct threat to China (which might help explain the, coincidental, two years of progress and improvement in the DPRK rocket and launch capabilities). Go figure!

    1. Susan the other

      What an informative comment Claudius. Thank you. Now my wheels are spinning. Is this a chess move by China to bring the issue of nuclearization into the open and force some kind of acknowledgement by the US? Some move which protects Chinese cities like Shanghai and Beijing. A nuclear NK might well serve our purposes – just remembering Bill Richardson’s trip to NK over those hostages… Why didn’t Lee mention that and the very strange episode in Secretary Richardson’s own state of New Mexico. The Los Alamos “spy scandal” supposedly passing nuclear weapon technology on to a “Chinese” national.

      1. Claudius

        I doubt China is, so much, worried about an ROK civilian nuclear program as they are about the ROK’s (US’s) ability to have extended range missiles, with higher payload sitting further behind the demilitarization-zone. It’s clear that existing missiles (both in numbers and payloads) already act as an offensive deterrent with regards to the DPRK targets.

        However, bigger missiles with greater ranges that, long with any further agreed increments in payload, size (and range), they can be nuclear tipped can only be, ostensibly, interpreted as being “aimed” at China. . This “nuclear tip” is easier and more stealthily achieved than, say, reversing the George HW Bush’s withdrawal of nuclear missiles from the region – which would be an overt and dangerous step., and one that China would counter by deploying it’s on missiles on DPRK soil.

        So, perhaps, the challenge for the US is how to strategically develop the missile “defense” capabilities of the ROK (US in region), while correspondingly drawing-down the armed forces on the ground and limit the ROK’s civilian nuclear program (rapprochement) while simultaneously extending its (the US’s) rapid capability to deploy nuclear weapons (nuclear payloads) on the peninsula, should it require.

        Neither China nor the US want, nuclear weapons deployed in the DPRK or ROK, but both super powers are nevertheless readying for such an eventuality.

        1. Roland

          Of course the PRC and USA don’t want nuclear Koreas.

          But what about the Koreans? What about their long-run independence and security?

          Just since the late 1800’s, Korea has been at various times invaded or occupied by China, Russia, Japan, and the USA. Many Koreans have perished in conflicts which need never have directly involved Korea. I think Korea would be justified in developing their own nuclear deterrent capability, rather than being a doubtfully protected piece on other people’s chessboards.

          Indeed, why should the state of USA-PRC relations ever involve the stake of Korean sovereignty?

          Same logic applies to Taiwan and Japan, too. The republics of modern Asia have the wealth and technology to establish their own wholly self-sufficient deterrent defenses.

  2. Paul Tioxon

    Well, I’m not worried about N. Korea either. Accidental war with a computer foul up is more of a problem, that’s what worries me. Think of High Frequency Trading technology with the usual unintended consequences running our ICBM and NUKE subs forces.

    Notice how a bomb goes off in Boston and how quiet the world, particularly the N. Koreans are? No one should confuse what they read in news for what goes on between nations and their military establishments. There is not one government that is not sick with worry about who will get blamed for this and what we will do about it. No one. We can export that stone age patina at will to any place on earth.

  3. Heron

    He makes some very good points, but I think there would have been great value in Mr. Lee going into the geopolitics of the Korean situation a little bit more deeply. China is not going to allow a unified, or split but self-determined, Korean Peninusla; full-stop. Keeping the Korean peninsula weak, tributary, or devided has been a significant goal of Chinese foreign policy literally for centuries. Everytime Korea has been unified and politically active -most recently against its will under the Japanese, but also a handful of times natively before that- it has become a significant military threat to the Chinese political regime of its day.

    By virtue of simple geography, any regime headquartered in Beijing will be menaced by a robust and active government on the peninsula. A Korea under unified or allied rule will necessarily challenge China’s command of the Korean Bay and Yellow Sea, which in turn will threaten China’s access to the Northern Pacifi, and undermine its claims to the East China Sea. Historically and culturally, Manchuria has always had closer ties to Korea than to the polities based in the North China plains, and a strong Korean government and would eventually play up those ties, inevitably undermining Chinese rule there. Given that the North-China culture which has long dominated the land we think of as unifed China has perenially shown a great reticence towards moving its capital further south and west (due mostly to Han chauvinism), an insecure Manchuria means an insecure Beijing regime, which means an insecure China in total. Regardless of what rapproachment the US could or does achieve with NK (and we should certainly seek such a goal over this constant and useless saber-rattling), China is never going to allow a Korean peninsula that is not, at least in part, under its thumb or rendered by treaty non-threatening. I sometimes wonder how much of our hostility expressed towards NK is theater derived from understanding this.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      I think you are giving U.S. foreign policy too much credit. Its a barely regulated and bloated bureaucracy dependent on the whims of the current President. I would say our primary responsibility in the Korean Peninsula is that Americans are so ignorant and wrapped up in the idea of their own superiority the very idea of dismantling a base or seeking peace with a perceived enemy is anathema. In the absence of smart politicians, leaders don’t function outside the existing paradigm because of the poorly educated electorate and the bloated bureaucracy. That paradigm is stalemate on the Korean Peninsula.

      Look no further than our relationship to Cuba and Israel. We still acts as if its 1965.

      1. Heron

        Yeah, as I said it’s only sometimes that I wonder, typically when I’m in an absurdly conspiratorial frame of mind. If we had an actual understanding of this dynamic at the administration level, then there wouldn’t be all this confusion over why China hasn’t been more helpful in reining in NK “recalcitrance”. DC, in spite of having access to some the world’s best scholars, always wants to assume that its interests are everyone else’s which leads it to ignore obvious and rational motivations in favor of labelling those who resist it as “evil” and “mean” and “crazy”. And it isn’t restricted to the foreign plane either; we see DC do the exact same thing to domestic “opposition”(how can US citizens be “opposed” to themselves anyway?) as well.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          “absurdly conspiratorial frame of mind.”

          Oh, I thought you were suggesting our leaders were competent, I suppose the biggest conspiracy theory of all. Other than that, your explanation seems pretty reasonable. Politics and moral platitudes are great fun to discuss, but like the U.S. in the New World, China and Russia get to dominate their border countries by virtue of their size. I’m not certain our foreign policy establishment grasps this, and I have less confidence in the non-credentialed foreign policy people.

      2. Cynthia

        Seems to me the plight of the North Koreans could be compared to that of the Palestinians or the Cubans. Are not the citizens of both countries essentially trapped in their little enclaves by superpowers that will not allow them to advance? Why does our despicable MSM not question the gov’t line that we need to apply harsh sanctions – which kill thousands and destroy their struggling economies? Are not sanctions war without the bombs? The tendency of the US is to always look at other countries through our own warped jingoistic prism. Like the old saying goes – we should walk a mile in their shoes before we start throwing stones.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          The MSM is nothing more than a glorified stenography corp. Its not just that its infotainment. The real problem is the news media is by and large populated by Wolf Blitzers and “journalism majors.”

          Jon Stewart asks tougher questions because he knows more. He is a history from William and Mary. Even if he isn’t an expert, he knows enough to talk to his guests or ask questions from stuff he has been exposed to. His question on foreclosures to the President was probably the toughest question the President has faced, and its not because of prepared questions. Its because media people are morons who took dick and jane stupid classes to learn skills they would have picked up had they taken real classes or read books. Stewart’s public criticism of CNN’s Crossfire apply to the whole press corp. CNN hasn’t declined in quality. They dabble in the absurd, but they were always a clown show except for Bernard Shaw and that Persian Gulf war reporter in Baghdad.

    2. Susan the other

      Also very interesting. I wonder about your point that the Chinese have never considered moving their seat of government to the south or out of harms way from stuff like this. I remember watching in the late 90s Jiang Zemin’s press conference when he came to Washington to talk trade with Clinton. And the comment he made, on the air, which was scrubbed from the transcript (I was so stunned I read it) was that “China never had control over southern China anyway.” Which led me to believe that part of the trade agreement gave the US and the UK control over certain economic aspects in southern China, esp Hong Kong which was due to be returned to China in 2000.

      1. sierra7

        “…. Which led me to believe that part of the trade agreement gave the US and the UK control over certain economic aspects in southern China, esp Hong Kong which was due to be returned to China in 2000.”

        The crux: That statement goes to the heart of past European (then American) China colonial (occupation) policies in the late 19th and then early to mid 20th centuries).

        Apparently the US still feels it has the “right” to dictate to China (and so many others) how to live, both politically and socially).

      2. Claudius

        China has had many different national capitals in different dynasties, based mainly around central China: such as Luoyang, Anyang,and Xian; but have included Kaifeng and Hangzhou (Song Dynasty).
        Nanjing though was a capital for many different dynasties including latterly The Republic of China (Kuomintang). Nanjing literally meaning South Capital

      3. Up the Ante

        “Jiang Zemin’s .. comment he made, on the air .. was that “China never had control over southern China anyway.”

        Since Jiang’s comment begs the definition of “China” it probably applies to his definition of how far west “southern China” extends.

        Jong-un’s threatening to use nuclear weapons on a nation with every imaginable means of delivering them to him while he has no methods of similar capability should have the current Chinese leader coaching the little guy on the current definition of ‘wise’. Openly coaching him. This is why heron’s “hostility” is theater. What you see on Jong-un’s face is recognition that he’s way behind where he should be in presenting himself to others.

        Puppet leader, dumb military games.

    3. Andrew Watts

      I agree, to a certain extent. Though a unified Korea presents a problem for not just China, but Japan as well. Shortly after Japan started to modernize a German military adviser took a map out and pointed to the Korean peninsula and said “This is a dagger aimed at the heart of Japan”. It’s in the interests of both countries for the status quo to reign.

      The question is, does it make sense for the United States to work towards reunification regardless? A united Korea in alliance with (or even just on friendly terms) would allow the US to withdraw militarily. While leaving China contained by a ring of suspicious countries. Asians have long memories of Chinese domination. The general level of incompetence that Washington has displayed over the years has rendered it unable to exploit that historical fact. In the years following the Vietnam War, those fools could only watch as the Vietnamese invaded neighboring Cambodia. At the time Cambodia was backed by China. This war was soon followed by a border war between Vietnam and China.
      Du. du, domino theory?!

      1. Coldtype

        Doesn’t this beg the question of whether the people of the region remember domination and utter exploitation from European powers? It’s also telling that you mention Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia but not the rationale. It was the Vietnamese intervention that stopped the Khmer Rouge cold.

        1. Andrew Watts

          The attitude of Ho Chi Minh was that the French occupied Vietnam a couple of decades, and the Americans would stay a few years. The last time the Chinese occupied Vietnam it was for centuries.

          Western civilization and it’s history are not the center of the universe. A humanitarian intervention was not the cause of the Cambodian–Vietnamese War. That is strictly a self-serving western concept anyway.

          1. Coldtype

            Actually the French occupied Vietnam for the better part of a century and the attitude of the resistance–it comprised of more than Ho alone–was that the US had no legitimate right to impose its will upon them for a few moments to say nothing of years.

            China’s influence in Vietnam has been resisted for centuries we agree but is there a qualitative difference between China’s attempt to dominate them and those of other powers such as the Japanese, French, or Americans? There is nothing in the historical record of the Vietnamese resistance to serial invasions over the centuries that indicates that they thought there was (really the only opinion that counts).

            As to your assertion regarding Vietnam’s intervention in Cambodia it is completely ahistorical and I would suggest that you better familiarize yourself with the period. It was the Vietnamese who put the Khmer Rouge out of business explicitly for reasons both humanitarian and strategic.

          2. Andrew Watts

            Oh, please. I never said otherwise. The French occupation didn’t last longer then fifty-five years. After the second World War the French didn’t even try to reestablish themselves in North Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh was right on the money.

            It was simply a matter of duration and willpower. The Americans being the paper tiger of the lot. Do you really think that when China presently claims the entire South China Sea it doesn’t stir some of those memories?

            “As to your assertion regarding Vietnam’s intervention in Cambodia it is completely ahistorical and I would suggest that you better familiarize yourself with the period. It was the Vietnamese who put the Khmer Rouge out of business explicitly for reasons both humanitarian and strategic.”

            Cambodia was worried about Vietnamese expansionism. It was the Khmer Rouge who fired the first shots in the war over disputed territory. Vietnam responded by invading.

            Humanitarian causes? I don’t think so. Though I will admit that is strictly a matter of opinion.

          3. Up the Ante

            Andrew, what is your opinion of the Japanese taking an interest in northern Laos during the War? Relatively inpassable terrain with logistics problems yet the Japanese met some kind of opposition or breakdowns and left equipment there. Why were they so interested in Laos?

            Certainly wasn’t humanitarianism. Probably has a lot more to do with the dagger to the heart stuff as Japan was noted as pushing amphetamines and doubtless other stuff into Manchuria and China. Weapons in Asia.

          4. Andrew Watts

            Honestly, your best guess is as good as mine. The Japanese established bases in Southeast Asia that they they used to leapfrog into Malay, Indonesia, and the Philippines during the war. They also later used them to cut the Burma road.

            The rest is all idle speculation, but this is the Golden Triangle we’re talking about.

  4. Cynthia

    It seems to me that Washington is most definitely what is standing in the way of reunification. Unless the South can expel U.S. troops, then the war will not end. Clinton had begun the process of the soft road to reunification, but that was halted by Bush, Jr. Why? Because Washington doesn’t want a unified Korea with nuclear weapons. A unified Korea with nukes makes it irresistible for Japan to build them, and then the balance of forces in this important region could be stacked against Washington.

    If you’re a South Korean general or employer, you can’t wait for reunification. The generals because they can’t wait to get their hands on the North’s nuclear capacity, and South Korean employers because they can pay workers in the North much less than do in the South. Obviously, this aspect of reunification you’re not looking forward to if you are a worker in the South, but when has Washington ever cared about the well being the workers in the countries it had occupied.

  5. pws

    The US is on its way out as a World Power. We’re in the process of destroying what’s left of the institutions that made us a First World country (privatization, everywhere, selling the family silver for pennies on the dollar, to paraphrase a description of Thatcherism. And do I really need to go into the corruption in our private institutions?), and after that, we’ll have a hollowed out country and economy with only the military staying ahead.

    As the rot gets out of control, even the military, finally, will start to fall behind. At that point, as long as China is patient and smart, we won’t really be anything to worry about anymore. So, I think our North Korea policy (which is really our China policy “cleverly” disguised to avoid upsetting stupid people), is primarily based on the delusion that the Us is going to be a superpower indefinitely (or even a power). I think the total collapse will happen far more quickly than we think, and we’ll really see it when we lose a major war with a complete rout for our side.

    At which point everyone in the world will start to figure out they don’t have to take us seriously, and will start to figure out how to take all this lovely real estate we control off of our hands for pennies on the dollar.

    Strongly suggest that if you have children or grand children, they learn how to speak Chinese in a properly obsequious way.

  6. wunsacon

    A 10-minute dive into wikipedia tells me that these problems in Korea stem from major powers bullying it for centuries.

    As one example, the USA’s earliest mission to Korea was via “armed” merchant ship:
    It was followed by greater force:

    Shorter version: “We want to tradez wit u! We want to be your ally! And if you refuse, we’ll shoot you!”

  7. Middle Seaman

    Reluctance to fully accept the nature of totalitarian regime of the North Korean type seems to permeate the interview and the comments. This includes Peter Lee. The North Korean typical Stalinist monarchy-like regime is always violent, belligerent, threatening, etc. This doesn’t imply that the US policy is wise or helpfully, but it doesn’t relieve N. Korean of blame. It also contradicts the terrible history of the 20th century and the awful suffering of the Korean who live in the North.

  8. sierra7

    So many good comments!

    But, in a “….in a nuclear world, war is the true enemy” (From “Crimson Tide”…Denzel W.)

    No more true statement has been made and popularized by the arts.
    The true enemy in the US/NK verbal (and black operations) is an escalation to real outright bloody war.

    The solution (in a nuclear age) is complete global de-nuclearization of any weapons whatsoever.
    The weapons nuclearization changes the global dynamic of “….war as an extension of diplomatic means”.

    Until the global population forces their governments to de-nuclearize, human life on this beautiful planet is held hostage by forces beyond the control of ordinary folk.

    It’s nuclear weapons, stupid.

    (Just saying)

  9. Massinissa

    Well thats exactly what we did with Japan as well.

    And China’s recalcitrance when it came to foreign trade is what made Britain & Friends pull that whole Opium War stunt.

    Trade is a big deal to western capitalist economies. They dont take ‘no’ for an answer.

  10. kevinearick

    do you really think NK has an independent nuclear program?


    The global capital cabal is committed. It cannot turn back and it has no exit. The container ship complex and the artificial oil demand it created is collapsing, along with the WalMart business model of importing free product and paying on sale, as is the US Navy monopoly of trade. Because it is based upon dc electronics, and anyone with kernel space can intercede, WWIII will be asymmetric. The point of bombing is to lock populations into starvation and disease. The result is always a food war and because of perennial planting, soil deprivation, biological weaponry, and martial law prototyping, the result is going to look like Haiti. You might want to be where independent farmers with viable seed and land want you to eat. Gold is not a bad bridge to the end of local economic viability, but you can’t eat it, and once this starts, all the bridges will be taken out.

    The pathway to the future always goes through commodity currencies, as it did during the Revolution, but you go ahead and prove me wrong. The cartel is implicitly offering individuals extortion of full participation or total economic collapse, and more and more economically viable individuals are telling it go F- itself. The first tenet of war is to destroy the food supply. As communities split off, revolution becomes possible, and once that happens…The American China prototype of communist capitalism is collapsing into greater socialism, proving once again that importing a failed culture to fix a failed culture can only lead to greater collapse. Never, ever, never depend on a banker. Always build your own bank.

    What do you see happening?

    1. kevinearick

      that would be me, hitting the pause button…what is the price of the stock market priced in commodity units? what is the price of oil doing, again.

  11. Gil Gamesh

    All we need to know:

    1) the US Asia Pivot (i.e. a renewed cold war with the ROC).
    2) the unimaginable savagery of the US against the North Koreans between 1950-53 (every city extensively bombed; most napalmed; nearly 30% of North Koreans killed),and that’s within living memory.
    3) the ongoing hostilities waged by the US against NK (see http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/04/09/whats-annoying-the-north-koreans/for details).

    For the cynical, ruthless Obama administration, North Korea is a pawn and pressure point against the true “enemy”, the ROC. For the North Koreans, their very survival is at stake. And that in the US owned world makes them crazy.

  12. American Slave

    One ting that people don’t seem to know about is North Korea said more or less that they wanted nuclear weapons so they no longer have to have a large (million man) army (which probably wouldn’t do anything anyway unless China helps them) and focus on there economy instead which is what China did in the early days too. But with sanctions and a military blockade im not sure they will be able to do much for there economy unlike Iran who is Islamic and therefore has a huge network for smuggling in basic supplies.

  13. Peter Lee

    Ah, Claudius,
    Sorry to come to this debate so late. My innate incoherence, combined with your eagerness to hear about missiles, seems to have buried the point I was trying to make.
    The key element in the Korea equation for the US is trying to forestall the rise of independent-minded, nuclear armed ROK and Japanese governments.
    The bedrock reality of the PRC’s Korea policy is the desire to encourage the ROK (with whom the PRC has an immense economic relationship) to pursue an independent, preferably but not necessarily nukeless, foreign policy and not act as a frontline pivot state for the US.
    The ROK’s pursuit of increased missile and drone capabilities reflects its desire—for understandable political and strategic reasons– for an independent security policy, one that allows them to rattle their own sabers at North Korea (and, maybe Japan in the future) without waiting for Uncle Sam’s OK.
    I don’t think the PRC is worried about those missiles, or what’s on top of them. A missile attack on China is not on top of anybody’s to-do list in Seoul. In fact, as long as the issue drives a wedge between the US and ROK, the PRC isn’t going to get too upset about it.
    Joint US-ROK military maneuvers, on the other hand—designed to facilitate joint power projection into North Korea and up to China’s border and unify the peninsula under a pro-US regime—are something that the PRC demonstrably does not like at all.
    Both North and South Korea suffer from a bad case of clientitis. The fact that the ROK is taking steps to dilute its client status, thereby undercutting the pivot, while the DPRK squirms under Beijing’s thumb is a matter of some satisfaction to the PRC.
    For the reasons outlined in my remarks, I believe that the target of DPRK brinksmanship is to achieve a modus vivendi with the United States, not a rollback of the ROK missile doctrine.
    If my take is correct, the opposite will probably occur: any US negotiations with the DPRK will involve preserving the ROK’s missile privileges, in order to get the ROK to go along with whatever deal Washington cuts with Pyongyang.
    Peter Lee

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