NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has a new column today highlighting something else to worry about. He points to a recent analysis of North Korea by two individuals with decades of expertise on the subject. Their names are Robert Carlin and Siegfried Hecker:
I’ve seen many false alarms since I began covering and visiting North Korea in the 1980s. I wouldn’t write about this latest warning except that it comes from two particularly credible experts who bluntly conclude that “Kim Jong-un has made a strategic decision to go to war.”
That’s speculation without hard evidence to back it up, and they acknowledge that this kind of prediction is fraught. But one of those experts is Robert Carlin, who has been analyzing North Korea for 50 years for the C.I.A., State Department and other organizations. The other is Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear expert at Stanford who has visited North Korea seven times and was given extensive access to that country’s nuclear programs; he’s apparently the only American to have held North Korean plutonium (in a jar) in his hands.
Carlin and Hecker published their analysis last Thursday and it’s definitely and eye-opener.
The situation on the Korean Peninsula is more dangerous than it has been at any time since early June 1950. That may sound overly dramatic, but we believe that, like his grandfather in 1950, Kim Jong Un has made a strategic decision to go to war. We do not know when or how Kim plans to pull the trigger, but the danger is already far beyond the routine warnings in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo about Pyongyang’s “provocations.” In other words, we do not see the war preparation themes in North Korean media appearing since the beginning of last year as typical bluster from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea).
The authors argue that Kim Jong Un’s summit with Trump was essentially an embarrassing failure, one that led him to take a completely new approach.
This shift in perspective provided the foundation for a grand realignment in the North’s approach, a strategic reorientation toward China and Russia that was already well underway by the time of the Putin–Xi summit of February 2022 and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There are few signs that relations with China have moved very far, and, in fact, signs of real cooling in China-DPRK relations. However, ties with Russia developed steadily, especially in the military area, as underscored by the visit of the Russian Defense Minister in July and the Putin–Kim summit in the Russian Far East last September…
At the start of 2023, the war preparations theme started appearing regularly in high-level North Korean pronouncements for domestic consumption. At one point, Kim Jong Un even resurrected language calling for “preparations for a revolutionary war for accomplishing…reunification.” Along with that, in March, authoritative articles in the party daily signaled a fundamentally and dangerously new approach to the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea), introducing formulations putting South Korea beyond the pale, outside what could be considered the true Korea, and thus, as a legitimate target for the North’s military might.
North Korea may have as many as 50 or 60 nuclear weapons which can be launched on missiles. They have the ability to strike anywhere in South Korea, Japan or Guam. The general thinking in Washington is that North Korea would never use these weapons because the US has made it clear doing so would be fatal for the North Korean regime. But the authors really believe Kim may have decided this is his next step.
Whatever the case, something has definitely changed about North Korea’s thinking about South Korea.
…according to state media reports on Tuesday, North Korea has formally abandoned peaceful reunification as a key policy goal. In announcing the drastic shift, the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said the North no longer saw the South as “the partner of reconciliation and reunification” but instead as an enemy that must be subjugated, if necessary, through a nuclear war…
He also ordered the revision of the North’s constitution, as well as its propaganda guidelines, to remove references to “peaceful reunification,” “great national unity” or to South Koreans as “fellow countrymen” and to instill in his people the view that the South was “a foreign country” and “the most hostile state.”…
Endorsing Mr. Kim’s new policy, the North Korean parliament dismantled all government agencies charged with promoting exchanges with the South, state media said. In the past week, the North has also shut down radio broadcasts and propaganda websites promoting Korean reunification, according to South Korean officials. Mr. Kim also ordered the removal of propaganda monuments dedicated to the same cause.
Who knows what Kim Jong Un is thinking or planning. Maybe he’s just gotten a little carried away watching Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s constant threats about attacking Taiwan. But whatever the reason he does have the capability to carry out a devastating surprise attack on our close allies and his new approach to South Korea doesn’t sound like the usual bluster.