Sunday 18 Feb 2018 | 09:23 | SYDNEY
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North Korea

Olympic détente just another North Korean deceit

It is tempting to view North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics as an olive branch, a step back from the edge of nuclear brinkmanship. That’s certainly how much of the media is choosing to see it. Of course, it helps that the North Korean “unification” team is accompanied by

Sanction busting, North Korea–style

A recent report from the UN sanctions committee suggests that North Korea has been able to generate an estimated US$200 million from illicit dealings in the past year. Coal is being exported to China, Malaysia, Russia, and Vietnam in violation of current sanctions, and weapons (and materials

Asia’s escalating missile race

If the Cold War was one long arms race, the modern era could be accurately described as an arms jog. Countries are defined less by how many nuclear warheads they have, and more by what they can do with them. This is particularly the case in Australia’s immediate region, where a

Joining the dots to Vancouver

Represented by Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Frances Adamson, Australia was one of 20 countries that participated in a conference last week on coordinating international approaches to North Korea. Co-hosted by Canada and the US, and held in Vancouver, the conference had

China’s agenda behind inter-Korean talks

The first two weeks of 2018 have seen a significant thaw in inter-Korean tensions. In the highest-level talks between North and South Korea since December 2015, Pyongyang agreed to send a delegation to the 2018 South Korean Winter Olympics. China welcomed the developments, which it considers, in its

Don’t assume North Korea is happy with the status quo

In an earlier Interpreter article I argued the need for policy makers in the US and elsewhere to consider not only the now well-rehearsed and well-founded risks of attempting to compel Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons, but also the often overlooked but equally well-founded risks of

North Korea probably does not seriously seek unification

After North Korea burnished its credentials last year as a nuclear-armed state, there's been much discussion about what Pyongyang aims to do with its nuclear missiles. The panic in the western media has been palpable. But so is the contrast with the South Korean media's more sanguine response. I

An emerging role for the UN in the North Korean crisis

Last month, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman visited North Korean officials to promote a political solution to heightened tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear program. Feltman's mission has not received the attention it should have. The visit was the first

China and North Korea: Following the paper trail

Bill Gertz, senior editor of The Washington Free Beacon, specialises in scoops. But even by his high standards, his 2 January story that states a ‘(s)ecret Chinese Communist Party document reveals covert support to North Korea, including missiles, increased aid’ was a major coup. If true,

Clear messages required in Twitter-age of diplomacy

Robert Ayson is quite right to pick me up on the distinction between pre-emptive and preventative military strikes. My post on Australia’s policy towards a US attack on North Korea argued Australia should make clear that it would not support a pre-emptive US strike at the North’s nuclear and

What should Australia rule out on North Korea?

In place of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's ambiguous commitment to support US military action against North Korea, Hugh White wants a clear statement ruling out Australia's participation in a 'pre-emptive' attack. But in turn there are two points of ambiguity in White's argument that may get in

How Australia can help avoid a disastrous Korean war

Pyongyang’s latest long-range missile test raises the probability that Washington will decide to launch a pre-emptive military campaign against North Korea, simply because it will come to see this as the only alternative to accepting that North Korea will soon be

The Korean Peninsula’s year in review

This has been a rollercoaster year for the Korean Peninsula. The South Koreans impeached their president. The North Koreans tested dozens of rockets, including intercontinental ballistic missiles. The US President repeatedly threatened war, possible nuclear war, against the North. And some

Echoes of Saddam at Kim Jong Nam assassination trial

The trial of the two young women accused of murdering North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s half-brother Kim Jong Nam in Malaysia is now in its first month. Already it has provided some glimpses into how the deed might have been done and over the coming months more revelations can be

Cyber crime: North Korea’s billion-dollar soft spot

Cyber-crime is now a billion-dollar industry for North Korea. Cracking down on this criminal enterprise presents a strategic opportunity to apply further pressure on the Kim Jong-un regime. Hard currency generated from cyber-crime is undermining global efforts to impose economic pressure on

North Korea’s space program aims higher

Earlier this week, North Korea reaffirmed that its space program is ongoing and getting more ambitious. There have been six North Korean satellite launch attempts since 1998. Only two have placed satellites in orbit, and both satellites failed to transmit. Clearly, there is room for improvement, so

North Korea: How to start a nuclear war without even trying

If effective strategy requires realistic aims, then America is in trouble. US officials have shown themselves to be pathologically overconfident in their ability to achieve political outcomes with military signals, and the outcome they’re trying to achieve is utterly unrealistic.   Imagine

Reading between the lines of North Korea’s letter

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the DPRK Supreme People's Assembly has been busy sending open letters to various foreign parliaments. Our letter seems specifically tailored, as the DPRK web-based news includes parts of the other letters that aren't included in the one sent to Australia. It seems we

War on the Korean Peninsula: Targeting a better peace

The rhetoric emanating from Washington and Pyongyang may soon reach the point at which a peaceful resolution is no longer be possible. A year ago the chance of war on the Korean Peninsula would have been considered remote. Now, the call for a US pre-emptive strike is gaining support while North

What drives Russia’s Korea policy?

To discuss what's driving Russia's Korea policy, we need a framework within which we can begin to understand Moscow’s motives regarding North Korea’s nuclearisation and the ensuing international crisis.   First, peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and more broadly in

A modest proposal for Australian engagement in North Korea

I have a modest proposal to make for Australia to directly engage with North Korea. Australia maintains diplomatic relations with North Korea, but has no representation in Pyongyang. Instead, Australia's embassy in Seoul is cross-accredited, a common arrangement among countries that lack an

On North Korea, China’s interests are unchanged

China's recent move to close North Korean businesses operating in China is undoubtedly welcome news to Australian and US policymakers. However, this is should not be seen as a shift in China's approach to North Korea. Rather, it is a tactical manoeuvre – China's goals and interests regarding

North Korea’s underground N testing reaching a limit

A test of a North Korean thermonuclear weapon (or H-Bomb) over the Pacific Ocean is horrifying proposition. Apart from the serious strategic implications, the physical blast and electromagnetic effects of such a detonation would be catastrophic. If such a test occurred without warning, planes

Don’t discount the chances of a new Korean war

Robert Kelly all but discounts the possibility of conflict on the Korean Peninsula. While this is plainly wrong, he is right on other points, namely the emotional differences between South Korea and America in how they react to the North Korean threat.   The American press does inflate

North Korea: Trump’s terrible binary choice

It is critical that we understand what North Korea’s test of a thermonuclear device means. North Korea claims that the weapon is miniaturised to fit onto a Hwasong­–14 intercontinental ballistic missile. We must assume this claim is true. North Korea’s advances have exceeded every expectation

North Korean nuclear crisis: Talks still the best option

North Korea has just carried out its sixth nuclear test, claimed to be of a hydrogen bomb suitable for fitting on a missile capable of reaching the United States. At this stage there is insufficient information to determine whether it was a true hydrogen (fusion) weapon or a less-technically

What is gained by shooting missiles across Japan?

On Tuesday morning, North Korean launched a missile over the southern tip of Hokkaido in northern Japan. Given the close interdependence of North Korea’s satellite launch program and its missile development, the latest launch invokes memories of August 1998, when the North Korean Kwangmyŏngsŏ

Big job ahead for China’s new envoy to North Korea

Competition for the world’s most thankless jobs is hotting up. Donald Trump’s chief of staff, the Premier of China, the official standing next to the UK’s Panglossian Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davies – all these jobs have, as their number one objective, taking endless

Australia and Korea’s wars: A debate worth revisiting

Tensions have temporarily abated on the Korean Peninsula, following the latest blustery exchanges between Washington and Pyongyang. In typically mercurial fashion, after threatening 'fire and fury', President Donald Trump has now praised Kim Jong-un’s 'decision' not to launch missiles at Guam as '

Australia and Korea’s wars

In light of recent discussion about Australia's responsibilities under the Korean Armistice Agreement, we are republishing this post that first appeared on 29 November, 2010. In 1985, I published a paper entitled 'Australia and the Republic of Korea: Still Allies or Just Good Friends'. I had not

New sanctions spark a China-North Korea diplomatic row

The UN Security Council sanctions resolution (UNSCR 2371) on North Korea, passed last week, is the toughest yet. It fully bans the export from North Korea of iron, lead, coal and seafood, expands the number of sanctioned entities and individuals, prevents new joint ventures or additional investment

North Korea has goals other than nukes

As you will no doubt have seen by now, President Trump has issued a threat to North Korea: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state. And as I said, they

North Korea missile test: It’s all in the timing

The second test of a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has elevated concerns over the potential for this nation to launch nuclear strikes on the continental United States. Several major cities are in range. There has been some boffin speculation on the accuracy of North Korea’

Entering the North Korean re-entry debate

South Korean intelligence claims that the recent test of a North Korean ICBM possibly failed to produce a successful warhead re-entry. The statement from Yi Wan-young (a member of the South Korean parliament’s intelligence committee) seems intended to soothe concerns over the potential for North

How to complicate North Korea’s nuclear weapons plans

North Korea has the strategic initiative. Its plan to build a nuclear armed, long-range missile force is nearing completion. Other countries can do little – with China's ongoing support, sanctions can be evaded and UN resolutions ignored. Accordingly, many commentators now argue that the Trump

Learning to live with a North Korean ICBM

Last week’s test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by North Korea raises the time-honored question of East Asian international relations: what to do with a neo-feudal, cold war-relic wildly out of touch with the modernising ethos of the fast developers of this region? North

North Korea: Jake Sullivan on America's policy dilemma

As world leaders gather in Hamburg for the G20 Summit, North Korea will be high on the agenda following Pyongyang’s successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Tuesday. On Wednesday, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told a UN Security Council meeting the US was

North Korea’s ICBM weakens Washington’s hand in Asia

So North Korea has tested an intercontinental ballistic missile. That is definitely alarming, though a few caveats: the missile is almost certainly not operational with the North Korean armed forces, and nor have we seen evidence that North Korea could mount a minituarised nuclear warhead on such a

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