From Sunshine Policy to Sabre-Rattling and Back Again? by Hans-Joachim Schmidt

Satellite image of Korea.

Image via Wikipedia

[The following is a revised and updated version of an introductory lecture presented on 26 April 2011 at a Conference entitled “Collapse or blossoming landscapes? Scenarios for the future of the Korean Peninsula,” which took place at the Evangelical Academy Thuringia in Neudietendorf, Germany. The author, Dr. Hans-Joachim Schmidt, is Senior Research Fellow at the Hessische Stiftung Friedens- und Konfliktforschung (HSFK) – also known in English as Peace Research Institute Frankfurt/M (PRIF) – and an expert on the Six-Party Talks. We thank the author for making the full German version of this paper available to CanKor. An abbreviated version is also being published in Korea Forum, a publication of Korea Verband. –CanKor.]

The following are a few excerpts from the paper’s Introduction, translated into English by Erich Weingartner. For the full version of the German paper, please follow this link: Schmidt: Von der Sonnenscheinpolitik zum Säbelrasslen und zurück

The situation on the Korean Peninsula has clearly worsened since our last conference in 2008. The relationship between the two Koreas has become problematic for the region, with their increasingly confrontational and irreconcilable stance toward each other. China and the USA press North and South toward rapprochement, because they have no interest in further sharpening the confrontation. They don’t want a worsening North-South relationship negatively to affect their bilateral relationship. (…) Read the rest of this entry »

Russia Gets Into the Act, by Jeremy Paltiel

[DPRK leader Kim Jong Il made headlines again as he traveled to Russia for talks with President Medvedev. What was the purpose of this trip, and what’s in it for the Russians? CanKor Brain Trust member Jeremy Paltiel, Professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, looks at the possibility of a win-win outcome for all sides. –CanKor.]

Kim Jong Il with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev (Photo by Reuters)

For months now, Kim Jong-il has been trying without success to escape from the international straitjacket he imposed on himself since the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. He has appealed for international aid without much response. He has offered unconditional talks with the US; he has alternately engaged and threatened the ROK, most recently evicting South Koreans form the Mt Kumgang “Peace Village”; he has visited China on three occasions… all of which seemed only to magnify his isolation and dependence on his sole ally. With only four months until his beleaguered garrison satrapy is slated to become a “strong and prosperous country” he ventured back to the land of his birth, travelling to the Russian Far East to meet Russian President Medvedev. Russia has been eager to get back into the game without antagonizing its partners in the Six Party talks or throwing good money after bad on an unreliable former client. Read the rest of this entry »

The Survival of North Korea by Suk Hi Kim

[From the Nautilus Policy Forum comes the following summary of a new book by Suk Hi Kim, Editor of North Korean Review. Entitled “The Survival of North Korea: Essays on Strategy, Economics, and International Relations”, the book interweaves threads of argument and evidence to reflect the complicated nature of the international conflict focused on and in Korea and the urgency of ending the standoff on the Peninsula to avoid what could easily escalate into a catastrophic, nuclear war. This summary provides an overview of the engagement options that the USA and its allies should consider as part of a long-term strategy to complement short-term efforts to address North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities. –CanKor.]

The Longevity of North Korea and Solutions to its Nuclear Standoff
In the late 2000s, North Korea faced its third wave of possible state collapse, a phenomenon largely rooted in Kim Jong-il’s poor health, an impending power transition to his son, Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s ongoing food shortages, and its failed currency and economic reforms. This latest speculation of North Korean collapse came from an array of intelligence analysts, Asian and American scholars, think tank specialists, and workers in relief organizations. [1] The first wave that predicted North Korea’s collapse occurred in the 1980s, when the North Korean economy spiraled downward as the country’s chief allies–the Soviet Union and China–discontinued new loans and demanded repayment of outstanding debts. [2] The second wave came in the mid-1990s, when the great North Korean famine claimed the lives of between 200,000 and 3,000,000 people. Since the end of the Cold War, most communist countries either collapsed or carried out significant economic reform except for North Korea. Why should we assume that North Korea, one of the survivors that did not implement economic reform, will continue to be an exception to the pattern of history and survive? Read the rest of this entry »


The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) released a new dossier warning that DPRK provocations increase the risk of retaliation from South Korea. A press release issued by IISS summarizes the dossier as follows:

The latest IISS Strategic Dossier, North Korean Security Challenges: a net assessment, is the most systematic and thorough public analysis of the range of threats emanating from the state. This includes its two nuclear programmes, the world’s third largest chemical weapons arsenal, a range of ballistic missiles – all of which it appears willing to sell – plus the world’s fourth largest army. North Korea is the most militarized country on earth. North Korea is also threatening because of the criminality that seems hard-wired into the regime and the human security problems created by its repression and economic mismanagement.

The press release and a launch statement by its editor, Mark Fitzpatrick may be read by following these links:

US Admiral Mullen on DPRK stability threat by Chris Nelson

[The following commentary is taken from the 14 July 2011 edition of the Nelson Report, with permission of the author. –CanKor.]

Out there in the real world, at least the version known as Asia, Adm. Mullen wrapped up his very interesting four days in China with a visit to ally S. Korea, and jumped right into the domestic ROK debate over N. Korea…saying the Kim Jong-il/Kim Jong-un succession process helped prompt last year’s DPRK sinking of the Cheonan.

U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, left, speaks to incoming commander of combined U.S.-South Korea forces, U.S. Army Gen. James D. Thurman during a change-of-command ceremony for the United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, and United States Forces Korea at a U.S. military base in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, 14 July 2011. (AP Photo/ Lee Jin-man)

U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, left, speaks to incoming commander of combined U.S.-South Korea forces, U.S. Army Gen. James D. Thurman (AP Photo/ Lee Jin-man)

Warming to a theme he’s been stressing to China since last December, Mullen spoke about “the whole provocation cycle” facing S. Korea, warning that the “threat remains very real” as the DPRK continues to improve its nuclear weapon capabilities, adding “I’m not convinced they won’t provoke again. I’ve said for a long time that the only thing predictable about N. Korea is their unpredictability”.

His conclusion: “We have a sense of urgency to essentially work on planning to deter the North from further provocations. Whether they will be deterred or not, that’s to be seen.”

So what’s Mullen up to here? Read the rest of this entry »

Security and Peace Settlement in North East Asia by Victor Hsu

[At a conference on Common Prosperity in the 21st Century, North East Asia held in Kwangju, South Korea on 7 July 2011, CanKor Brain Trust member Victor Hsu (Professor at the KDI School of Public Policy and Management in Seoul) made a number of points as a discussant. Some excerpts from his intervention are reprinted below. The full text can be accessed by clicking this link: Security and Peace Settlement in Northeast Asia. –CanKor]

The one dimension that should elicit more analysis in depth is the Inter-Korean conflict resulting from the post WWII division of the peninsula. Perhaps the speakers simply assumed that it is unnecessary given that we are meeting in Korea. Nevertheless, I would like to emphasize that our geopolitical analysis must not be limited to the DPRK’s nuclear program in the 6-Party Talks, important as it is. There are several equally urgent issues that require our collective attention.

  • The peace and prosperity of North East Asia will remain elusive as long as Korea remains divided. Should there be any doubt let’s remind ourselves of the military tensions created by the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeongypong Island.
  • The division of Korea represents a dangerous tripwire for a major military conflagration. Political miscalculation, misperception of the other’s intentions, posturing or brinksmanship, however you call it, can easily ignite the peninsula with unimaginable consequences. The world’s top four armies may be pulled in, unleashing fire power hitherto unseen in any war theatre. Read the rest of this entry »

US reaction to European food aid by Chris Nelson

[The following item is taken from the 6 July 2011 edition of the Nelson Report, with the kind permission of the author. –CanKor.]

We are reliably informed by experts like Marc Noland at Peterson IIE that the 10-million Euro program announced by Europe over the weekend is not “fairly large”, as we suggested last night, but in fact rather modest, in comparison to previous international efforts.

Yonhap has an excellent summary of the situation on a briefing by US State Department‘s Victoria Nuland (following this introduction) to which we would add one or two bits of analysis, based on our own probings:

We are told to take with a grain of salt any claim the US is close to agreeing with the Europeans on this, unless you understand that in fact, it appears the Euro’s food is seen by the donors as “the least they could do, so they did it”, given the generally “soft” Euro humanitarianism in the face of unpleasant strategic realities. Read the rest of this entry »

Interview with Mr Christian Ehler, Member of the European Parliament

[The European Union (EU) is still deliberating over the results of a field visit to North Korea by a team of the European Union Humanitarian Aid department aimed at assessing the country’s food shortages. No results have been published, and a decision regarding food aid is yet to be made. Furthermore, last month marked the 10th anniversary of the European Commission’s (the EU’s executive body) relations with North Korea. Coinciding with these two benchmarks, Javier Delgado Rivera of interviewed Mr. Christian Ehler, a German Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and Chair of the European Parliament Delegation for relations with the Korean Peninsula. –CanKor.]

Christian Ehler (photo:

How would you best describe today’s EU ties with the North Korea?

The European relations with North Korea could be better portrayed by its intermittent character. Although 25 EU member states maintain bilateral relations with Pyongyang, and the EU is represented by its ambassador in Seoul, diplomatic relations remain difficult.

The at times unsystematic engagement of Brussels with North Korea depends heavily on the developments of North Korea’s nuclear programme. On top of this, there are a number of regional security concerns that the EU has to watch carefully and react accordingly to.

Such hurdles have not put us off though. Over the years, a multi-tiered dialogue with the North Korean regime has been pursued and, even if characterized by up and downs, has been successfully held. It is worth noting that any kind of exchange with Pyongyang has to be carried out under peculiar terms. North Korea’s political system differs so much from ours that certain adjustments have to be necessarily made if we really aim at cutting short the country’s isolation. Read the rest of this entry »

Perspectives on DPRK blast against ROK President Lee by Nelson, Witt, Revere et al

[The following is taken from the 31 May 2011 edition of The Nelson Report, with kind permission by Chris Nelson. Joel Witt is Editor of our “Partner” 38North, a project of SAIS (Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University). Evans Revere was the US State Department’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and former CEO of the Korea Society in the USA. –CanKor.]


The official DPRK news service, KCNA, delivered a harshly worded blast declaring that it would “never” negotiate with ROK President Lee…so we pulsed our Loyal Reader Korea Network for thoughts, and have some “on the record” responses from former PDAS Evans Revere, and former Clinton-era nuclear negotiator Joel Witt, plus a cross section of the “must be protected” experts for your consideration, below. Read the rest of this entry »

Kim Jong Il’s Whistle Stop Tour in China by Jeremy Paltiel

[Was the recent visit by Kim Jong Il to China a resounding failure, as reported in the South Korean press? CanKor Brain Trust member Jeremy PaltielProfessor at Carleton University in Ottawa, summarizes his take on the trip based on Korean and Chinese sources. –CanKor.]

The woman in a yellow jacket is thought to be Kim Jong-il’s fourth wife Kim Ok at a banquet in the Great Hall of the People in Bejing, 25 May 2011. (Captured from CCTV Yonhap)

Kim Jong-Il’s third tribute mission to his Chinese patron in less than a year took place between May 20 and May 26. Once again, the head of North Korea’s Kim family holding company toured sites of China’s economic success in Jilin, Heilongjiang and Jiangsu provinces, and met with all the members of the Standing Committee of the CCP Politbureau. Chinese media did not give any special reason for this unofficial visit but instead carried the speculative reports coming from South Korean media outlets. As Chinese official media normally do not carry news of Kim’s official tours until he has safely crossed the frontier of his own country, this quaint courtesy to Kim’s sensibilities was undermined this time around when the People’s Daily sister publication Global Times carried a report citing “South Korean sources” that Kim Jong-il was indeed in China.

While there was much speculation that Kim was seeking to pave the way for his third son Kim Jong-Un’s succession, newly-minted General did not accompany his father. Instead, Kim Jong-il was accompanied by his brother in law Jang Kai-Taek, and more unusually his current consort,Kim Ok whose picture surfaced at the Beijing banquet, seated next to Hu Jintao’s top foreign policy advisor, Dai Bingguo. (See Kim Jong-il calls for early resumption of six-party talks.) Read the rest of this entry »

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