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Maximum Pressure 2.0: How to turn the tables on North Korea

David Maxwell

North Korea has been warning for months that the United States only has until the end of the year to change its hostile attitude. If Washington does not make amends for its “betrayal,” Pyongyang may restart its nuclear tests and long-range missile launches. These accusations may ring hollow, yet North Korea is clearly comfortable making threats and setting deadlines.

President Trump made history by engaging Kim Jong Un in multiple rounds of unconventional and experimental top-down diplomacy, but North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs as well as its conventional and asymmetric forces remain as dangerous as ever. It is time for a new strategy – call it Maximum Pressure 2.0 – that puts Kim in a position where he must disarm or pay a heavy price.

North Korea is eager for relief from U.S. sanctions. The regime elite, military, and population have been expecting relief since the first Trump-Kim meeting at the Singapore Summit. At their Hanoi summit in February, Kim pressed hard for sanctions relief, only to discover that Trump was ready to walk away from the table. When Kim approved working-level discussions in Stockholm in October, his negotiators demanded the same thing, but to no avail.

Between the Hanoi summit and Stockholm discussions, North Korea conducted 12 short-range ballistic missile and rocket tests, including the launch of a submarine launched ballistic missile just three days before Stockholm. Kim continued demands for security guarantees and sanctions relief. Clearly, Kim believes that he is the one positioned to secure concessions by exerting more pressure. The response to Trump’s recent tweet seemingly calling for a summit, was Kim Gye Kwan and Kim Yong Chol making pronouncements that there will be no more “fruitless” summits until the U.S. makes a “bold decision” and provides concessions.

There are two assumptions that should guide the rethinking of U.S. policy toward North Korea. First, Kim Jong Un will only denuclearize if he determines that holding onto his nuclear weapons is more dangerous than of giving them up. The second is that Kim will continue to pursue the traditional North Korean strategy of employing subversion, extortion, and force to unify the Korean Peninsula under the rule of his “Guerrilla Dynasty and Gulag State.” In short, Kim will not change, but his fear and internally generated threats can be used against him.

In a new report from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), my colleagues and I lay out in detail how to accomplish this goal. It depends on maximizing the pressure on Kim Jong Un along five distinct but complementary lines of effort: diplomacy, military deterrence, sanctions enforcement, cyber operations, and information and influence activities. All these lines of effort will require close coordination between Washington and Seoul.

The diplomatic line of effort should promote the imperative of enforcing domestic and international law to stop the Kim regime’s illicit activities. Military efforts should enhance the readiness of the ROK/U.S. alliance, since Kim only respects strength. This will require greater combined training and other military activities.

The U.S. and its partners should expand sanctions to target the non-North Korean entities, banks, and individuals who facilitate Pyongyang’s sanctions evasion activities. A much more aggressive cyber campaign is also necessary because of the damage caused by the North’s “all purpose sword” of cyber activities as well the funds they generate through theft. Finally, a robust information and influence activities (IIA) campaign should work to drive a wedge between the Kim family’s inner circle and the country’s second-tier leadership and broader population. This last line of effort is essential, because only an internal threat can persuade Kim that keeping his nuclear weapons is riskier than giving them up. The IIA and diplomatic approaches must include a human rights component since Kim Jong Un denies human rights in order to remain in power.

Our new report proposes specific measures to ensure the effectiveness of each of the five critical lines of operation. It is effectively a blueprint for the White House and Blue House (Korean president’s residence) to employ once they recognize the current approach is incapable of delivering the long-promised breakthrough. That breakthrough never materialized, because a close personal rapport between the U.S., ROK, and North Korean leaders – while valuable on its own – could not change Pyongyang’s strategic calculus.

The Trump administration’s original maximum pressure policy, which persisted throughout 2017 and into early 2018, helped persuade Kim that negotiating was a better option than continued threats of “fire and fury.” Yet the pressure campaign lost momentum amid the fanfare of the Singapore and Hanoi summits and backsliding by China and Russia. This may be exactly what Kim hoped for.

A Maximum Pressure 2.0 strategy rests on the foundation of sustained pressure and military strength to support diplomacy. Pressure and deterrence are essential to the success of working level negotiations. Ultimately, however, the choice about North Korea’s future belongs to Kim. He can make the strategic decision to denuclearize (which also entails putting an end to his chemical, biological, and missile programs). If Kim makes the wrong choice, then Maximum Pressure 2.0 will weaken the north, and bring Korea one step closer to unification and a United Republic of Korea (UROK).

David Maxwell, a 30-year veteran of the United States Army and a retired Special Forces colonel, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). Follow David on Twitter @davidmaxwell161. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman,

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South Korea releases pre-emptive strike video amid rising tensions

UPI  |  By Elizabeth Shim

Dec. 12 (UPI) — South Korea’s air force released a video of a simulated pre-emptive strike against North Korean weapons systems on Thursday, amid concerns Pyongyang could be preparing to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The video from Seoul’s military shows fictitious footage of the Global Hawk, a remotely piloted surveillance aircraft, detecting activity in North Korea, where the regime is seen setting up an ICBM on a mobile launch pad, South Korean television network JTBC reported Thursday.

The video then shows F-35A jet fighters being deployed. Their precision strike capabilities are depicted as being used against North Korea’s Hwasong-14, a North Korean ICBM first tested on July 4, 2017.

A voiceover in the South Korea video says the “glory of victory is promised under any circumstances” in the event of a pre-emptive strike against the enemy.

The simulation is not real, but South Korea retains 13 F-35A fighter jets. Global Hawk will be deployed to Seoul’s air force before the end of December.

Cho Se-young, head of public relations at South Korea’s air force, said simulations have previously been issued. On Thursday the video was released amid fresh tensions following what North Korea claimed was a “very important test” of a rocket engine at Sohae satellite launch pad.

North Korea condemned the United States on Thursday for holding a United Nations Security Council meeting.

Pyongyang’s foreign ministry called the meeting a platform for pressure building against the regime.

“We will never tolerate the United States for fostering the mood of pressure against North Korea by spearheading the U.N. Security Council public meeting that discussed our problem at such a sensitive time as right now,” the North Korean statement read, according to Yonhap.

“The United States took a stupid act like hitting at its own foot with an ax by holding the meeting,” the official added. “It has also given us decisive help in making up our mind clearly on which way we will take.”

On Wednesday at the U.N., U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft had warned ballistic missiles would not bring greater security for North Korea.


Photo credit: South Korea is to deploy surveillance aircraft Global Hawk by the end of December. File Photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman/UPI

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USFK Returns Land to South Korea

PA-001-19 | Dec. 11, 2019

United States Forces Korea and the Republic of Korea announced the return of four U.S. military sites and plans to initiate more returns from U.S. to ROK government control today.

Lt. Gen. Kenneth S. Wilsbach, USFK Deputy Commander, and Director General Ko Yunju, North American Affairs Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs presided over the 200th Status of Forces Agreement Joint Committee meeting at Camp Humphreys.

During this meeting, the finalized and permanent returns of Camps Eagle and Long (Wonju), parcels of Camp Market (Bupyeong), and the Shea Range parcel located at Camp Hovey (Dongducheon) completes the return of these four sites back to Korean control effective today. This marks the biggest land return of former U.S. sites to the ROK since 2015, and USFK has 13 additional completely vacated and closed sites ready for return now.

The SOFA Joint Committee also initiated the return process for Yongsan Garrison which reaffirms the U.S. commitment to the Korean people and the Korean government in the execution of the Yongsan Relocation Program.

As a testament to our ROK-US alliance, USFK remains committed to returning installations as expeditiously as possible to ROK government control in accordance with the 2002 Land Partnership Program, 2004 Yongsan Relocation Program and the provisions of the Status of Forces Agreement.

United States Forces Korea

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U.S. has never abandoned military options for N. Korea: Pentagon official

WASHINGTON, Dec. 4 (Yonhap) — The United States has never taken military options off the table when dealing with North Korea and has shown restraint not to respond to every North Korean provocation, a Pentagon official said Wednesday.

Heino Klinck, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, also warned that while the Pentagon has provided space for the State Department to use diplomacy to dismantle the North’s nuclear weapons program, that may not always be the case.

The comments came hours after North Korea threatened to take “prompt corresponding actions” should the U.S. use military force against it. U.S. President Donald Trump had hinted in London on Tuesday that the United States could launch military action if necessary.

The exchange reflected the frustrations both sides have felt amid stalled negotiations on denuclearizing North Korea in exchange for U.S. concessions.

This photo shows Heino Klinck, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, speaking at a conference on the South Korea-U.S. alliance at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington on Dec. 4, 2019. (Yonhap)

This photo shows Heino Klinck, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, speaking at a conference on the South Korea-U.S. alliance at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington on Dec. 4, 2019. (Yonhap)

“The military option was never taken off the table,” Klinck said in response to a reporter’s question at a conference discussing the South Korea-U.S. alliance. “I mean, the military exists to serve as a deterrent. It serves as a stabilizing force.”

North Korea has set the end of the year as the deadline by which the U.S. must show flexibility in their negotiations, suggesting it could otherwise return to testing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“I think that North Korea also understands that if they were foolish enough to act aggressively, that there would be a very strong response from the alliance as a whole,” Klinck said.

South Korean and U.S. forces train in order to deter aggression, and “if deterrence fails, it is their role to fight and win,” he said.

The Pentagon has said it is supporting diplomatic efforts to denuclearize North Korea by suspending some military exercises with South Korea, including a combined air drill last month.

Klinck made clear that the allies remain ready to respond to any threat.

“We, the Department of Defense, have provided the space and intentionally so, for the diplomats of the State Department to do their work,” he said. “We have shown restraint by not responding to every single North Korean provocation, whether it was a rhetorical provocation, or something like a missile test.

“There may come a time where our response may be different, and where the lead for the State Department may switch to something else,” he continued. “It’s our role within the Department of Defense to give our civilian leaders options.”

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U.S. JCS official unaware of discussion of troop drawdown in S. Korea

WASHINGTON, Dec. 4 (Yonhap) — A U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff official said Wednesday that he is not aware of any discussion inside the Pentagon of a possible drawdown of American troops in South Korea.

Speculation of a possible reduction of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea has grown in recent weeks amid tough negotiations on how the allies will share the costs for the troops’ upkeep.

U.S. President Donald Trump added to the uncertainty on Tuesday when he told reporters in London that the benefit of continuing the U.S. military presence in its current state is up for debate.

This photo shows Rear Adm. Jeffrey Anderson, deputy director for political-military affairs for Asia on the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking at a conference on the South Korea-U.S. alliance at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington on Dec. 4, 2019. (Yonhap)

This photo shows Rear Adm. Jeffrey Anderson, deputy director for political-military affairs for Asia on the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking at a conference on the South Korea-U.S. alliance at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington on Dec. 4, 2019. (Yonhap)

“I know of no discussions within the Pentagon that talks about any type of drawdown in, reduction of forces or anything like that,” Rear Adm. Jeffrey Anderson, deputy director for political-military affairs for Asia on the Joint Staff, said at a conference discussing the South Korea-U.S. alliance.

“That said, we’re always assessing the effectiveness of our organizational structure,” he added. “That’s a continuous thing that militaries throughout the world do. But there’s certainly no discussions that I know of regarding a reduction.”

Trump’s comment on Tuesday came as Seoul and Washington have been negotiating a new cost-sharing deal for next year. The U.S. has reportedly demanded a fivefold increase in South Korea’s contribution to nearly $5 billion.

Trump said on the continued U.S. troop presence that he thinks “if we’re going to do it, I think it’s — you know, they should burden share more fairly.”

The comments suggested the U.S. president was using the threat of a troops reduction to clinch a favorable deal in the cost-sharing negotiations that have been under way in Washington Tuesday and Wednesday.

Last month, a South Korean newspaper reported that the U.S. is considering withdrawing a brigade from South Korea in the event that Seoul refuses to accept Washington’s demands for burden-sharing.

The Pentagon dismissed the report as having “absolutely no truth.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper also said he had not heard of such plans, adding, “We’re not threatening allies over this. This is a negotiation.”

Yonhap News  |  By Lee Haye-ah


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U.S. encouraged by S. Korea-Japan efforts to improve relationship: official

WASHINGTON, Dec. 4 (Yonhap) — The United States is encouraged that South Korea and Japan are seeking ways to improve their relationship, a State Department official overseeing the region said Wednesday, after the two U.S. allies salvaged their military intelligence-sharing pact.

Marc Knapper, deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan, was referring to South Korea’s decision to conditionally renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan despite ongoing bilateral disputes over trade and wartime history.

Marc Knapper, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan, speaks at a conference on the South Korea-U.S. alliance at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington on Dec. 4, 2019. (Yonhap)

Marc Knapper, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan, speaks at a conference on the South Korea-U.S. alliance at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington on Dec. 4, 2019. (Yonhap)

“This decision, we believe, sends a very positive message that like-minded allies like ourselves can work through bilateral disputes and cooperate to address shared challenges,” Knapper said in remarks at a conference discussing the South Korea-U.S. military alliance.

“We’re also encouraged by the fact that both South Korea and Japan continue to discuss ways to further improve their relationship. And the United States will continue to pursue ways to support these efforts and strengthen relations between and among our three countries,” he said.

The U.S. strongly opposed South Korea’s decision in August to terminate GSOMIA, citing the potential negative impact on trilateral security cooperation against North Korea’s nuclear threats and China’s military rise.

“As an ally and friend to both countries, both Japan and the (Republic of Korea), we believe now, more than ever, is the time to ensure that there are strong and close relationships between and among our three countries,” Knapper said, citing challenges from North Korea, China and Russia.

“When our relations suffer, no one benefits — no one in Tokyo, no one in Seoul, no one in Washington,” he added.

Paying tribute to the evolution of the South Korea-U.S. alliance over 70 years, Knapper expressed confidence that the relationship will continue to grow through the planned transfer of wartime operational control of the countries’ combined forces from Washington to Seoul.

The allies have been eyeing a conditions-based transition in or around 2022.

“This is an alliance that is ironclad. This is an alliance that is the linchpin of peace and stability, not just on the Korean Peninsula, but throughout the Indo-Pacific,” Knapper said. “And we believe that through our efforts — our joint, our shared efforts to realize OPCON transition — that we’ll make our alliance stronger, more capable and better able to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Yonhap News  |  By Lee Haye-ah


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N. Korea blasts Trump’s warning, says it has nothing more to lose

By Choi Soo-hyang

SEOUL, Dec. 9 (Yonhap) — North Korea has nothing more to lose, a senior Pyongyang official said Monday, after U.S. President Donald Trump warned that the communist nation could lose everything if it engages in hostile acts.

Kim Yong-chol, a former North Korean nuclear negotiator, made the remarks in a statement carried by the North’s Korean Central News Agency, stressing that the U.S. should think about how to keep the two countries from clashing, rather than spending time choosing warning expressions.

“Trump has too many things that he does not know about the DPRK,” Kim said, referring to the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “We have nothing more to lose.”

Trump issued the warning in a tweet on Sunday after North Korea announced it conducted a “very important” test at its satellite launch site over the weekend, deepening concerns Pyongyang could restart testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The tweet came a day after Trump warned the North not to interfere with next year’s U.S. presidential election, saying he would be “surprised” if the North acted in a hostile way.

The North’s official said that the country has no willingness to reconsider what they “should do in the future” because of what Trump said.

“As he is such a heedless and erratic old man, the time when we cannot but call him a ‘dotard’ again may come,” he said.

“Dotard” is an expression North Korea used to ridicule Trump when the two sides exchanged threats and insults in 2017, with Trump belittling the North’s leader Kim Jong-un as “little rocket man.”

Still, the official said the North Korean leader has not yet used any harsh words against Trump, in an apparent effort to prevent the situation going to the worst.

“But if thing continues to go this way, our Chairman’s understanding of Trump may change,” the former nuclear negotiator said.

Kim Yong-chol also hinted at a possible military provocation by the North in the near future, saying that they would be “irritated” if Trump “does not get astonished” by the North’s action intended “for his surprise.”

“If the U.S. has no will and wisdom, it cannot but watch with anxiety the reality in which the threat to its security increases with the passage of time,” Kim Yong-chol said.

Trump and Kim Jong-un held their first summit in Singapore in June 2018 and agreed to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for U.S. security guarantees.

But little progress has been made since their second summit in Hanoi ended without a deal in February.

The two sides held their last working-level talks in Stockholm in October, but the meeting also broke down with Pyongyang accusing Washington of failing to come up with a new proposal.

Last week, Trump hinted that the U.S. will use military force against North Korea if necessary. The North responded angrily, saying it will take “prompt corresponding actions at any level” if the U.S. uses force against it.

This June 4, 2018, file photo shows Kim Yong-chol, a senior North Korean official who led nuclear negotiations with the United States at the time. (Yonhap)

This June 4, 2018, file photo shows Kim Yong-chol, a senior North Korean official who led nuclear negotiations with the United States at the time. (Yonhap)


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North Korea warns US to prepare for ‘Christmas gift,’ but no one’s sure what to expect

CNN  |  By Joshua Berlinger

(CNN) North Korea will send a “Christmas gift” to the United States, but what that present contains will depend on the outcome of ongoing talks between Washington and Pyongyang, a top official has warned.

The ominous comments, which some have interpreted as a sign that North Korea could resume long-distance missile tests, comes as the clock ticks closer to the country’s self-imposed end-of-year deadline for nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration.
Talks between the two sides have appeared to be in a rut in recent months, with North Korea conducting several shorterrange missile tests.
In a statement translated on the state news agency, Ri Thae Song, a first vice minister at the North Korean Foreign Ministry working on US affairs, accused US policy makers of leveraging talks with Kim Jong Un for domestic political gain.
“The dialogue touted by the US is, in essence, nothing but a foolish trick hatched to keep the DPRK bound to dialogue and use it in favor of the political situation and election in the US,” Ri said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“It is entirely up to the US what Christmas gift it will select to get,” added Ri.
In 2017, North Korea referred to its first test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as a “gift” for the US on the Fourth of July holiday. That launch sparked what became a tense, months-long standoff between the two sides.
What happens in the coming weeks will likely determine if Washington’s next so-called “Christmas gift” turns out to be similarly volatile.
“It’s hard to predict because it could go either way,” said Duyeon Kim, senior adviser on Northeast Asia and nuclear policy to the International Crisis Group. “It really depends on the circumstance and the situation, which will better inform how North Korea reacts.

An important meeting

On Wednesday, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency announced that the country’s most powerful political body, the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, will meet at the end of December “in order to discuss and decide on crucial issues in line with the needs of the development of the Korean revolution and the changed situation at home and abroad.”
Whatever North Korean leader Kim Jong Un plans to do with respect to nuclear negotiations will likely be finalized at that meeting, according to Duyeon Kim.
“The outcome of this meeting and Pyongyang’s policy line will depend on how happy they are with Washington and will be revealed in (Kim Jong Un’s) New Year’s Day address,” said Duyeon Kim.
Diplomats from Pyongyang and Washington have been attempting to negotiate a trade that would see Kim give up the country’s nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles used to deliver them in exchange for relief from punishing US and United Nations sanctions that have crippled the North Korean economy.
Though North Korea first detonated a nuclear device in 2006, Pyongyang successfully test-fired missiles that could potentially hit the US mainland with a nuclear warhead for the first time in 2017 — upping the stakes significantly and increasing the urgency to reach a peaceful solution to a decades-long struggle.
Washington, for its part, has not voiced increased alarm over the status of talks with North Korea.
Speaking in London on the sidelines of a NATO summit Tuesday, US President Donald Trump said “we’ll see what happens” when it comes to North Korea.
“My relationship with Kim Jong Un is really good, but that doesn’t mean he won’t abide by the agreement we signed,” Trump said. “I hope he lives up to the agreement, but we’re going to find out,” added Trump.
“(Kim Jong Un) definitely likes sending rockets up, doesn’t he? That’s why I call him “Rocket Man.”
This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Wednesday shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un posing as he visits Mount Paektu.

Kim’s back on a horse

North Korea’s decision to hold the meeting was announced the same day as KCNA released dozens of photographs showing Kim Jong Un on horseback touring Mount Paektu, an active volcano that sits on the country’s border with China, alongside his wife and other officials. This was Kim’s second trip on horseback atop the mountain since October.
While the photographs are the butt of jokes and mockery online, the images of Kim on horseback touring the mountain are imbued with potent symbolism.
According to legend, Mount Paektu is the birthplace of Dangun, the mythical founder of the first Korean kingdom some 4,000 years ago.
Kim Jong Un is seen riding a horse as he visits Mount Paektu in this KCNA photo.

Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather and North Korea’s founding father, is also believed to have led a cavalry unit against the Japanese occupation from a base on the mountain.
Putting Kim on a horse at Mount Paektu, wearing a similar coat to the one his grandfather was often seen wearing publicly, is likely meant to remind North Koreans of the Kim family’s legacy of fighting imperialism, according to Michael Madden, an expert in North Korean leadership at the Stimson Foundation.
“Kim Jong Un is taking on the anti-imperialist credentials of his grandfather,” added Madden.
However, it’s unclear why Kim held the photo shoot at the mountain. Kim may have stopped there after a recently reported visit to the nearby township of Samjiyon, rather than making a dedicated visit.
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America and South Korea Must Negotiate a Fair Extension of the SMA

“It is in the interest of the U.S. and South Korea to negotiate a fair extension of the SMA that does not raise accusations among the Korean population that the U.S. is a mercenary force in their country while also addressing concerns of the U.S. that its allies shoulder as much of their own defense burden as possible.”

The National Interest  |  By Thomas Byrne Walter L. Sharp

Contentious talks to renew the U.S.-South Korea military cost-sharing agreement threatens to strain an over six-decade alliance, one that advances key American interests and serves as the cornerstone of peace and security in one of the world’s most important regions. 

This comes at a critical time with North Korea ramping up its conventional weapons threats to South Korea and Japan. Talks this week in Seoul ended prematurely when the U.S. cut short negotiations arguing that the South Koreas “were not responsive to our request for fair and equitable burden-sharing,” while the South cited “quite a big difference in principle.”

Since 1991 the U.S. and South Korea have negotiated multiyear Special Measures Agreements (SMA) that govern how costs are shared for the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in Korea. When the previous agreement expired at the end of 2018, talks proved so difficult that a makeshift one-year agreement was all that could be managed. Nonetheless, South Korea agreed to raise its contribution 8.2% to KRW 1.04 trillion (almost $900 million), which covers about 50% of local basing costs, a bottom-line target for the U.S. last year.

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris has stated that “Korea, like other allies, can and should do more.”  In one regard Ambassador Harris is right: the cost of deterring North Korea’s relentless weapons build-up continually increases the cost of common defense.

But the Korean press has reported that the U.S. “ask” is for South Korea to increase its annual contribution five-fold (to nearly $5 billion), while the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs is seeking a “reasonable and equitable” increase. Closing such a large gap would be extremely challenging politically for the South.  And it is worth noting that some in Congress, such as U.S. Senator Jack Reed, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, have praised South Korea’s contribution.

Are the U.S. demands fair or are they mercenary? And is South Korea a “free rider,” a country that scrimps on its own defense spending and overly depends on allies?  Let’s look at how South Korea measures up.

First, South Korea’s numbers show that it is not shirking its defense burden. It spent 2.6 % of GDP in 2018 on its defense budget, and plans to spend 2.9% by 2022. That far outpaces the NATO benchmark of 2% and eclipses the levels spent by Germany, 1.2%, and Japan, 0.9% (the U.S was 3.2%). 

Second, South Korea is the third-largest purchaser of military goods from the U.S. –  $6.7 billion from 2008 to 2017 – and it does not seek subsidies from U.S. taxpayers for its purchases, unlike Israel and Egypt. South Korea is ramping up its defense spending to localize its defense capability and raise its military posture. 

Third, South Korea shouldered around 90% of the $11 billion capital expenditure for the consolidation of U.S. bases south of the Han River to Camp Humphreys, forming America’s “largest power projection platform in the Pacific,” according to the Defense Department. And South Korea does not charge rent. 

Moreover, South Korea has demonstrated that it is a dependable ally supporting U.S. military actions in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq in the past and most recently agreeing to a U.S. request to send a naval destroyer to guard merchant ships in the Strait of Hormuz.

Even though the evidence shows that South Korea is not a “free rider,” does that alone justify maintaining the alliance?  

Yes. Much is at stake in maintaining global order. The 66-year U.S.-South Korea alliance has kept the peace and maintained geopolitical conditions for mutual prosperity. South Korea is America’s sixth-largest trade partner and its major corporations are increasingly investing in the U.S, creating high-paying jobs for American workers. A prosperous South Korea is good for America. 

It is in the interest of the U.S. and South Korea to negotiate a fair extension of the SMA that does not raise accusations among the Korean population that the U.S. is a mercenary force in their country while also addressing concerns of the U.S. that its allies shoulder as much of their own defense burden as possible. Polling shows that Korea’s highly favorable perception of the U.S. has taken a big hit. And the Korean government is hyper-sensitive to public opinion. 

There is too much at stake for the U.S. to ask for too much, and thus risk alienating a responsible and reliable ally, and for South Korea to not pay its fair share given the wealth that Korea has achieved thanks to the security ensured by the U.S. military presence. Creative negotiations could strengthen, not weaken, the alliance.

At a congressional hearing in July, members of Congress expressed concern that the failure of the SMA talks could lead to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Korea, a result China and Russia would welcome. That would probably be the death knell of the alliance.

Thomas Byrne is President and CEO of The Korea Society, and former Asia Pacific/Middle East Regional Manager at Moody’s Sovereign Risk Group. 

General (Ret) Walter L. Sharp is former UNC/CFC/USFK Commander, a Director of The Korea Society and the current Chairman of the Korea Defense Veterans Association.

Download: America and South Korea Must Negotiate a Fair Extension of the SMA – National Interest – Byrne and Sharp

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Japan-South Korea tensions challenge postwar order

FT Financial Times

Opinion South Korea Politics & Policy

Yoichi Funabashi August 29, 2019


The trade and diplomatic dispute between Japan and South Korea has escalated sharply in recent days. On Wednesday, Tokyo officially struck South Korea from its export control “white list” of friendly countries, less than a week after Seoul announced it would terminate their intelligence-sharing agreement. Tokyo had previously restricted the export of three chemicals to South Korea in July.

It is clear that these countries no longer see each other as like-minded peers worthy of mutual trust. The current meltdown was triggered last year, when the South Korean Supreme Court ordered two Japanese companies to compensate Korean individuals for their forced labour during the Japanese occupation in the second world war.

Japan contends the issue was settled decades earlier via treaty. The court decision has opened a Pandora’s box and could lead to a slew of disputes that would present a fundamental challenge to the peace and security of north-east Asia and the postwar order.

Washington, meanwhile, has failed to recognize the gravity of the crisis. While previous US administrations tried to bring its two most important east Asian allies closer together, president Donald Trump’s team has refused to pick up the baton.

On a visit to Tokyo in July, national security adviser John Bolton made clear that the US does not intend to get involved in the spat. A Japanese government official told me that he concluded by wishing Tokyo “good luck”.

As the crisis unfolds, there are three points that leaders in Tokyo, Seoul and Washington would do well to keep in mind. First, Tokyo needs to realise that it has both an interest in maintaining global supply chains and a responsibility to do so. Although Japan may have legitimate concern about sales of semiconductor components to undesirable countries, its government must ensure that export control regulations are implemented fairly and transparently.

The combination of Japanese materials and Korean prowess in semiconductors is a strength that should be further harnessed, not damaged. Preventing South Korea from importing Japanese chemicals critical for the semiconductor industry does exactly the wrong thing. A disruption of those supply chains would inadvertently present China with a chance to gain a stronger foothold in key technologies. Japan must recognize that South Korea is a partner, not a rival.

Second, Seoul will need to find an appropriate balance between respecting the decision of its courts, and honouring international law by upholding the 1965 Japan- South Korea normalisation agreements, which were crafted in the spirit of the 1951 San Francisco peace treaty that ended the Allied occupation of Japan.

These postwar treaties sought to avoid the mistakes made after the first world war when the Treaty of Versailles imposed punishing reparations on Germany. The agreements deliberately waived future compensation claims against Japan in an attempt to avoid a new, dangerous cycle of revenge. As such, they are the foundation of the postwar international order.

South Korea should reflect on the way other democracies have handled such competing obligations. Back in 2000, the US Department of Justice intervened in an American court case brought by US prisoners of war who sought compensation for being forced to perform labour in Japan. Government lawyers argued that the POW lawsuits were barred by the San Francisco peace treaty and that agreement would not have been reached if it had allowed for future compensation claims.

Finally, the US needs to decide on — and follow — a more coherent policy toward its allies. Mr Trump’s constant questioning of the value of the US alliances with Japan and South Korea has sparked fears within these countries of an American military withdrawal from north-east Asia.

In the early days of the post-cold war era, voices both in the US and among its allies called in to question the value of these international arrangements. But the US stood behind them and defended their value. Joseph Nye, a former defence department official and Harvard professor put it this way in a 1995 strategy report: “Security is like oxygen: you do not tend to notice it until you begin to lose it . . . The American security presence has helped provide this ‘oxygen’ for east Asian development.”

As that oxygen withers away, Asia is finding it harder to breathe. While we must continue to encourage the US to affirm its commitment to its allies, these new realities also present an opportunity. Solving the current crisis between Seoul and Tokyo will require leadership, diplomatic tactfulness, and, above all, a long breath.

The writer is chairman of the Asia Pacific Initiative, a think-tank

This article has been amended to make clear that South Korea was not a party to the 1951 San Francisco treaty.

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