The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Author: Robert Koehler (page 1 of 586)

Open Thread: Aug. 29, 2015

Monkey grass and pines in the fog, Sango-ri, Sangju, Gyeongsangbuk-do

Enjoy the last weekend of the summer, folks.

New Korea-US OPLAN calls for “preemptive attack,” R-E-S-P-E-C-T… and other things

– A South Korean military official who asked not to be named told the JoongAng Ilbo that Korea and the United States signed in June a new operation plan (OPLAN) which would guide joint military operations in the event of a war with North Korea. What’s interesting about this OPLAN is that unlike the OPLANs of the past, which called for the allies to respond to a North Korean invasion by falling back to assigned locations, waiting for reinforcements and counterattacking, the latest plan – called OPLAN 5015 – calls for launching an immediate counterattack sans retreat, and operations to take out North Korea’s missiles, nukes and other WMDs, something the JoongAng calls a “virtual preemptive attack.”

The military official said offensive punch has grown significantly with its development of nuclear weapons and missiles and the OPLAN was changed because the South would suffer too many losses unless the North’s offensive power was blunted quickly.

That’s not all. The military official said OPLAN 5015 also includes joint plans to respond to localized North Korean provocations. Seoul had been calling for such a joint action plan, but Washington had been worried that the South Korean military might overreact to a provocation and blow things up into a full-scale war. Now, however, the United States would provide support with its own weapons in the case of a localized North Korean provocation should such support be needed. The official said the United States’ basic position is to deter North Korean provocations and maintain the peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, but the new OPLAN greatly reflects the South Korean position.

MARMOT’S NOTE: Seems to me Seoul is trying to keep the North Koreans honest by scaring them with the United States, something the South Koreans have done before. Not sure how the Americans are going to feel about leaking this stuff to the press, though.

– Speaking of Korea-US military cooperation, SBS laments the fact that during the last crisis, South Korea was almost completely dependent on US intelligence gathering and strategic weaponry. It was the United States that detected the disappearance of North Korea’s submarine fleet. It was the United States that detected the movement of North Korean hovercrafts south towards the DMZ. Seoul had to rely on American strategic assets to respond to North Korea’s show of force.

SBS concludes with some quality whinging about how South Korea has been prevented by “surrounding nations” (but really, mostly the United States) from developing nuclear submarines and missile/rocket systems that could be used to deter the North or launch spy satellites into space. Mind you, these complaints are in large part justified IMHO, but me thinks a large part of the problem is simply bureaucratic inertia – Korea has been relying so long on US intelligence and strategic assets that it’s simply easier to keep doing so rather than change it. And perhaps that’s not such a bad thing – alliances, like all organizations, need a division of labor, and perhaps its more efficient to rely on the Americans to do what they do best – like high-tech intelligence gathering and strategic air and sea assets.

– Heo Yeong-il, the vice spokesperson for the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, has resigned after he posted on Facebook that he “respects” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Well, he actually said he respected both South Korean president Park Geun-hye and Comrade Kim for making tough decisions during the latest crisis, and that he actually respected Park more for making the really tough call, but that was enough for people to call for his head. In announcing his resignation, he apologized to the two soldiers who had their legs blown off at the DMZ and explained that all he was trying to do convey to people how much he wanted peace and reunification.

PHOTO: Joint Korea-US exercises in 2011. © Republic of Korea Armed Forces

Somebody won’t be getting any Father of the Year gifts next year

And in the other Korea…

A 28-year-old woman accused of secretly filming women in the showers and dressing rooms of four waterparks and pools was arrested yesterday in her hometown in Jeollanamdo.

Turns out she was ratted out by her dad.

Apparently, dad beat her after realizing it was his she who did the filming – seeing as she screwed up and recorded herself in a mirror, a real rookie mistake as one of the first things they teach you in photography is always be aware of where the mirrors and windows are. She called the police to report her dad for domestic violence, and the dad told police, basically, “Well, of course I beat her. She’s the Water Park Secret Camera Girl. What would you suggest I have done?”

One suspects this girl’s problems began long before her cinematography debut.

Anyway, the suspect is believed to have shot about 180 minute’s worth of footage of about 200 women using a Taiwanese camera shaped like a cell phone case. This was later edited down to about 10 minutes and uploaded onto the Interweb. She says she was paid by some guy she met online – no, she apparently doesn’t know his identity – to shoot and turn over the video. Police are investigating whether this is true, who the guy is and who distributed the video.

UPDATE: The police have arrested a man in his 30s at a rest stop in Jangseong, Jeollanam-do who they believe is the man who ordered the videos.

DPRK gov’t increasingly sensitive to public opinion: report

Yonhap reports that North Korea has seemed unusually conscious of public opinion under Kim Jong Un’s watch.

Take, for instance, North Korean military politburo chief Hwang Byeong So, the head negotiator during recent talks with the South in Panmunjeom, going on North Korean TV on Tuesday morning to brief the public on the results of the talks from the night before (see photo above).

Now, North Korea usually announced agreements with the South through media such as the KCNA or Rodong Shinmun, but you never see a chief negotiator going on TV himself to a) explain the deal and b) calm the public down after going all “semi-war” on them.

Ditto his attempt to spin the joint agreement, which doesn’t-technically-apologize-but-really-actually-apologizes for the land mine attack, in a way that makes it seem as if Pyongyang is sticking to its previous story, namely, that the land mine attack was a South Korean frame job.

According to Yonhap, this is in line with a noticeably growing number of measures taken under Kim Jong Un that seemed aimed at domestic public opinion.

When a high-rise apartment collapsed in Pyongyang in May of last year, the authorities reported it immediately in the KCNA and other media, blaming the accident on poor supervision by the builders. The Rodong Shinmun ran a photo of State Security Minister Choe Pu Il, whose ministry was responsible for the construction site, apologizing before local residents.

Just prior to Kim taking official power in February 2010, Prime Minister Kim Yong Il went before the public in December 2009 to calm things down when currency reform measures went sideways. Speaking before thousands in downtown Pyongyang, Kim apologized for the side-effects caused by the currency reform and closing of markets and promised that measures would be taken to improve things. Such a spectacle, Yonhap notes, is even rarer in North Korea than news of executions, such as the one that befell Korean Workers Party secretary Pak Nam Ki, the actual architect of the currency reform.

Yonhap says the measures show that Kim, who took power rather unexpectedly with hardly any preparation, is working hard to win public support.

I’ll give the North Koreans this – they really know how to troll

The Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, North Korea’s equivalent of South Korea’s Unification Ministry, is engaging in some creative trolling by denying-but-not-really-denying responsibility for a land mine attack on a South Korean patrol in the DMZ that they apologized-but-not-really-apologized for.

At Uriminzokkiri, the committee quoted an unnamed South Korean civil group which released a statement claiming, among other things, that the mine attack was a frame-up by the South Korean government.

Let’s be clear – the North Korean government itself isn’t denying it planted the mines… not that it has ever actually admitted to having done so, mind you. All it is doing is simply quoting a South Korean civic group which is claiming North Korea didn’t plant the mines. Nudge nudge, wink wink.

Then we have Hwang Pyong So, head of North Korea’s military politburo and his side’s chief negotiator during the marathon talks at Panmunjeom, doing some trolling of his own on North Korean state TV:

During his appearance on the North’s Korean Central Television, the director of the General Political Department of the (North) Korean People’s Army, said, “South Korea promised to stop its propaganda broadcasting that it unilaterally resumed after creating a groundless incident. So, we decided to lift our semi-war state.”

He made the remarks after returning to the North after completing four days of marathon talks with his South Korean counterparts.

Hwang’s remarks that avoided using the word “landmine” were seen as an apparent effort to indirectly deny the North’s provocative act, which maimed two South Korean soldiers.

On a related note, Moon Jae-in, the head of South Korea’s largest opposition party, is criticizing national security adviser Kim Kwan-jin for telling the press that North Korea apologized for the mine attack and promised to take measures to prevent a recurrence when, according to the joint statement, it didn’t. He said this could harm trust with North Korea, although given North Korea’s subsequent antics, I think it’s safe to assume trust isn’t really a major concern beyond the Military Demarcation Line. I do worry, however, that the opposition may use Kim’s overenthusiastic explanation of the agreement results to explain away North Korean bad behavior, i.e., “North Korea wouldn’t be trolling us if Kim Kwan-jin hadn’t provoked them.” I haven’t seen anyone go there yet, but let’s watch and see.

Oh, and that link has a photo from Tony Toutouni’s Instagram feed on the sidebar. Christ, what a douche.

On the MUST READ list is Joshua Stanton’s breakdown of the agreement. Read it in its entirety, but here’s his executive summary which, I’m sad to say, is probably as good a postmortem as you’ll find:

They came, they talked, and they signed, but they solved nothing. Plus or minus one piece of paper, three severed legs, and an implicit promise of payment, we are where we were on the morning of August 4th, when Staff Sergeant Kim Jung-Won and Sergeant Ha Jae-Heon embarked on their fateful patrol.

As I predicted hours before the deal was announced, Pyongyang didn’t apologize, and Seoul will continue to pay. The loudspeakers will be switched off. There will not be an all-out war, and probably never would have been. The limited, incremental war will resume, only at a time and place more to Pyongyang’s advantage.

My guess is that most analysts who prefer not to label the Ikes and the Tinas will be pleased that “both sides” found a “face-saving” way to “de-escalate” a situation that one of the sides created with malice aforethought, and will now use for its financial and political benefit, but I can’t see how we’re any closer to lasting peace or security.

Oh, and if you’re the parent, spouse or child of a North Korean submariner, you’ll be happy to learn that all those missing subs have been returning to base.

PHOTO: South Korean marines looking for North Korean wood box mines on the coast of Ganghwado Island in 2010. © Republic of Korea Armed Forces.

Inter-Korean agreement: shiny happy people

When I went to bed last night, the prospect of an agreement was looking bleak… which, of course, meant a last-minute accord would be waiting for me when I awoke.

The two Koreas narrowly avoided – well, I’m not sure exactly what, but it probably wasn’t war – by agreeing to a six-point agreement. The joint press statement reads:

1. North and South Korea agreed their officials would hold talks in Pyongyang or Seoul at an early date in order to improve ties and have multi-faceted dialogue and negotiations in the future.

2. The North expressed regret over recent land mine blasts that occurred on the Southern side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which maimed two South Korean soldiers.

3. South Korea agreed to stop all loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts along the military demarcation line from noon Aug. 25, considering no unusual activity along the border occurs.

4. The North will lift its quasi-state of war declaration.

5. North and South Korea agreed to arrange reunions for the families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War on the occasion of the upcoming Chuseok Holidays in September and continue to hold reunions in the future. The two sides agreed to have working contact with the Red Cross for the event in September.

6. North and South Korea agreed to renew NGO exchanges in various fields.

This was probably the best 43 hours of talks could produce, even with South Korean national security adviser Kim Kwan-jin reportedly negotiating like a bit of a bad-ass. Frankly, I’m surprised the South even got the North Koreans to issue a statement of regret – a.k.a. the closest thing, practically speaking, you’ll ever get to a public apology from the North Koreans – regarding the mines. Nothing on the rocket fired over the DMZ, it seems, though. No harm, no foul, I suppose.

Anyway, South Korea’s free K-pop broadcasts to the Korean People’s Army were suspended at noon today. But don’t frown, comrades – the agreement does suggest the broadcasts could begin again if your government screws up. And nobody ever lost money betting on Pyongyang to screw up.

In its editorial on the agreement, Ye Olde Chosun indicated general satisfaction with the agreement – the North’s de facto admission that it was responsible for the landmine attack stands in sharp contrast to its attitude following the sinking of the Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeongdo. The paper also said we should draw three lessons from the experience:

1) The government and military should respond according to principle from start to finish. President Park and the ROK military stuck to their guns, so to speak, and they got North Korea to back down. In the past, the South Korean authorities had been all talk.

2) Politicians and public opinion can lend support to the government and military by speaking with one voice. Condemnation of the North was very much a bipartisan effort in the South, and the ruling party and opposition showed a great deal of bipartisan cooperation. Again, this stands in contrast with the past, when the North would take advantage of political divisions within the South between doves and hard-liners.

3) South Korean citizens were united in their desire to see their government stick it to the North. Local residents along the DMZ who were forced into evacuation bunkers told the public they were fine and that the government should concentrate on correcting the North’s bad habits.

Anyway, Ye Olde Chosun thinks the agreement could become a starting point for Park to improve relations with the North and to begin realizing her vision for inter-Korean relations. The paper hopes, though, that in future talks with the North – over such likely topics as the restart of tourism to the Geumgangsan Mountains and the ending of punitive measures taken by the South following the Cheonan sinking – the president sticks to her principles even while showing flexibility.

The Dong-A Ilbo took a much grimmer view of the agreement, expressing regret that the South agreed to end its broadcasts – Seoul’s only real asymmetric asset against Pyongyang, the paper said – even though the North did not outright apologize for its wrongdoing. As far as the Dong-A’s concerned, it’s rewarding the North for its bad behavior, or more of the same old same-old.

The Hankyoreh, meanwhile, seemed pleased with the results – despite having been apprehensive about the administration’s tough stance vis-a-vis the North.

Fun Fact: North Korea has apologized or expressed “regret” over a military provocation a grand total of five times, including this latest time. The previous four times, you ask?

– Late North Korean leader apologized – not “expressed regret,” but outright apologized – to visiting South Korean intelligence chief Lee Hu-rak when the latter secretly visited Pyongyang in May 1972. Kim was apologizing for the attempted attack on the South Korean presidential mansion by a North Korean commando team on Jan. 21, 1968. It should be pointed out, though, that the North Korean leader still avoided taking direct responsibility for the attack, instead blaming in on radicals within North Korea.

– Four days after North Korean troops killed two American officers during the so-called Panmunjeom Axe Murder Incident on Aug. 18, 1976, a North Korean commander apologized to a UN commander, but only after the United States had executed the Mother Of All Tree-cutting Exercises, which included parking an aircraft carrier off the Korean coast.

– In December of 1996, the North Korean foreign ministry expressed regret for an armed incursion by North Korean commandos into South Korea’s eastern coastal area in September of that year. It also said it would work to ensure such things didn’t happen again. Which was nice of them.

– During military talks in July 2002, the head of the North Korean delegation expressed regret to his southern counterpart for the “accidental” naval clash that took place off the coast of Yeonpyeongdo Island in June.

All not so quiet on the DMZ front

OK, where to begin:

According to Yonhap, not only has North Korea sortied 50 submarines to God-only-knows-where, but it’s also moved about 10 hovercrafts from a base in the northern part of the country to West Sea base of Goam-po, just 60 km from the NLL and, incidentally, a Kaesong mandu‘s throw from Baengyeongdo. The Chosun Ilbo reported back in 2011 that the Goam-po base can house about 60 hovercraft in its hangers. If mobilized all at once, those 60 craft could land 1,800-3,000 North Korean special forces operators on Baengyeongdo within 40 minutes.

The Yonhap article also notes that North Korea has dispatches some elite special forces operators to the DMZ area, presumable to take out the loudspeakers Pyongyang hates so much.

Anyway, the North Korean military has been very, very busy, but South Korean military officials think this might be a good opportunity to figure out what North Korea’s operational manual for “semi-war” situations might look like.

– Yes, North Korea’s submarines are old and probably more a threat to their crews than anybody else, but they can still cause plenty of damage, as the 2010 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan well demonstrated. SBS reports that once submerged, North Korea’s diesel subs are notoriously difficult to find, and they could be put to use launching attacks on South Korean warships or shutting down South Korean ports by mining shipping lanes – both really dick moves.

SBS also did some whinging about how South Korea doesn’t have nuclear-powered subs it could use to permanently loiter outside North Korean sub pens. It also noted something else I’d never considered. South Korea, too, could also sortie its sub fleet, but since North Korea doesn’t have satellites and, presumably, would never know unless the South Korean Navy issued a press release, such a move would have little effect as a show of force.

– South Korea might not have nuclear subs, but you know who does? America! South Korea’s defense ministry spokesman said in a briefing this morning that South Korea and the United States were closely watching the “crisis situation” – his words, not mine – on the Korean Peninsula and were flexibly considering when to deploy strategic U.S. assets. And by strategic assets, we mean the B-52s in Guam, B-2 stealth bombers and nuclear-powered subs based in Yokosuka, Japan. The United States has deployed these assets during North Korea’s previous seven declarations of “semi war” in the past. For instance, it deployed a significant number of assets, including the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, to Korea after the shelling of Yeonpyeong-do in 2010.

The ministry spokesman’s statement may generate controversy, though, as high-level inter-Korean talks are currently underway, and if there’s anything guaranteed to make the North Koreans freak, it’s talk about U.S. strategic assets.

– Speaking of those talks, which are going on their fourth day, they don’t seem to be going much of anywhere, but who knows – the fact that they’ve kept talking for two days might itself indicate some progress. Or not.

More later…

PS: Yep, I’m still alive.


– Well, maybe the stuff about the hovercraft is BS (HT to Steve Miller. The blogger/podcaster, not the vocalist/guitarist):

This is odd as the Korean press is citing “multiple military officials” in the story about North Korea moving the hovercraft. Of course, they might not necessarily mean as much as you might ordinarily think.

– Speaking of bullshit, get a load of what the North has been saying about the South. Hey, whatever helps you sleep at night, comrades.

Oh, and North Korea has gone back to calling the South the “puppet government.”

– President Park said at a meeting this morning that unless North Korea apologizes and takes measures to prevent provocations from happening again, South Korea would take corresponding measures AND keep the loudspeakers in place.

– B-52s, butts and boobs. This is why I love the Dong-A Ilbo – it’s almost as good as an episode of “Strike Back.”

스크린샷, 2015-08-24 13:52:09


Explosion at a U.S. military base in Tokyo (police are investigating) and a massive fire at Nippon & Steel Sumitomo Metal. Could all be an accident, of course (HT to Joshua Trevino).

Top Image: South Korean marines on coastal patrol, June 3, 2015. © Republic of Korea Armed Forces

Blog undergoing repairs

Excuse the mess – the blog is undergoing some much-needed repairs.

Open Thread: Mar. 16, 2015


Bukseong Pier, Incheon. More photos at my Tumblr blog.

Hope you all had a good weekend.

BREAKING: Would the nice wackjob PLEASE stop attacking ambassadors. Thank you very much.

U.S. ambassador Mark Lippert was reportedly injured in an attack this morning by a knife-wielding, war-opposing, Dokdo-protecting assailant:

Kim slashed the right side of Lippert’s face opening a five centimeter gash while shouting that South and North Korea must be unified and the military training to prepare for war must halt.

Kim shouted “Oppose the war” as he was taken away in the police car.

Lipper was sent to Kangbuk Samsung Medical Center as he was severely injured and bleeding from his face and arm.

The kicker is, the guy had been arrested before for throwing a chunk of concrete at the Japanese ambassador in 2010.

UPDATE: The attacker apparently got a suspended sentence for the attack on the Japanese ambassador. Oh, and he also tried to light himself on fire in 2007 as a call to investigate a 1988 attack on the headquarters of the pro-unification civic group he now heads.

The ruling party, meanwhile, is calling the attack an “attack on the Korea-U.S. alliance” and promised to get to the bottom of it. Translation: expect more arrests.

UPDATE 2: Well, on a positive note, at least Kim was well dressed, although I’m not sure about the pink-yellow combo.

UPDATE 3: According to the Hani, some of the participants at the event Lippert was attending were wondering how the hell Kim – a well-recognized troublemaker – was able to get in. No doubt the U.S. side will be wondering, too.

Oh, and President Obama called the ambassador to wish him well, too.

UPDATE 4: The ambassador’s a trooper.

And back to Mr. Kim. On his blog, he apparently lists as “disklikes” the Taft-Katsura Memorandum and that Korea was divided because of the “American and Japanese bastards.” On his wishlist, he apparently wants South and North Korea to both use “Corea” and, of course, reunification.

UPDATE 5: This piece has a Nifty graphic of how the attack went down.

And interestingly enough, Ambassador Lippert was an intelligence officer with SEAL Team 6, although his last deployment might not necessarily have been voluntary.

Open Thread: March 1 Edition

Happy March 1 Independence Movement Day, folks.

Open Thread: Feb. 7, 2015

Yes, I’m still alive. And I see light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Photo: Ikseon-dong, Seoul

Open Thread: Feb. 1, 2015

Have a good Sunday, folks.

I’m gonna go pray against the Pats now.

Photo: Changsin-dong neighborhood.

Open Thread: Jan. 25, 2015

Sorry for posting this late: busy week.

Photo: P-road in Ihwa Mural Village

Open Thread: Jan. 17, 2015

Beautiful day today.

Enjoy the weekend, folks.

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