The Marmot's Hole

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Category: Korean Military (page 1 of 4)

Chinese Armour Moving Towards the DPRK Border?

When there are threats to the whole of Korea, can America realistically be relied upon to guarantee the integrity of all of Korea for Koreans?

chinese tanksThere are reports that China is shifting armour and military assets to the border region with North Korea (cite).

The Hong Kong-based Oriental Daily reported Saturday that internet users have been uploading photos of what appear to be PLA armored vehicles and tanks passing through the streets of Yanji, the seat of the Yanbian Korean autonomous prefecture in eastern Jilin province. The city, considered a key transport and trade hub between China and the DPRK, is less than 30 kilometers from the 1,400-kilometer border. The military deployment is believed to reflect how seriously Beijing considers the the current standoff between North and South Korea.


Trump on US-ROK Cost Sharing Agreement: “It’s Crazy”

(Current) Republican presidential nominee front runner Donald Trump blew a sour note in Korean media, criticizing South Korea for riding the backs of U.S. taxpayers for its security while giving “nothing” in return.   According to the Korea Herald,

Trump made the remark during a campaign speech in South Carolina on Tuesday, mentioning South Korea apparently as a nation similar to Saudi Arabia that he accused of enjoying a security free ride on U.S. taxpayers’ money while giving “nothing” in return.

“I like the Saudis … They buy all sorts of my stuff, all kinds of toys from Trump. They pay me millions and hundreds of millions. But you know what? They make a billion dollars a day, folks, and whenever they’re in trouble, our military takes care. You know we get nothing,” he said.

“South Korea,” he said before a member of the audience apparently shouted “crazy.”

“Who said that? Stand up, stand up. He said it’s crazy. It’s true! It’s true! It’s crazy. They make a billion dollars a day,” Trump said.

Trump did not elaborate on South Korea, but in 2011, ahead of the 2012 presidential election, he made a similar remark that the U.S. is protecting South Korea, but “they don’t pay us.”

Seoul and Washington reached a new five-year Special Measures Agreement (SMA) last year, with Seoul agreeing to increase its contribution 5.8% to $867 million adjusted each year by formula for inflation with increases capped at 4%.  The agreement increased Korea’s cost share from approximately 40% to 42% and proved unpopular with Korean media and among Koreans.


Arirang TV broadcast two different segments.  In the first segment Mark Broome cited Trump’s “critical comment”.  In the later segment, the visibly ambivalent Broome cited Trump’s “misguided comment” and opined that “the flamboyant American billionaire… might want to get his facts straight.

Here’s the first, “critical comment” video:

…and here’s the “misguided comment” video:

Arirang Television is operated by the Korea International Broadcasting Foundation (KIBF).


Whiplash and Bullying in Korea

Warning: This blog post will be discussing the movie Whiplash. If you have not yet seen the movie and would like to avoid any spoilers, please, stop reading this post.




I went to the cinema yesterday to see what all this hype around Whiplash was about; seeing how well the movie did in Korea. By the time the movie ended, I felt conflicted. The movie aroused a mix of emotions that seemed like a combination of revulsion, hatred, pity, sympathy and, oddly, admiration. In other words, it was a very similar mix of emotions that I had felt during my time in the ROK Army.

As I watched J.K. Simmons‘ portrayal of Terence Fletcher, the abusive conservatory professor at the fictional Shaffer Conservatory in New York, I felt like I was back in Nonsan Army Training Center. The moment he walks into his classroom, the students sit at attention and stare forward in complete silence, vigilantly watching Fletcher’s hands for the slightest movement to begin playing their assigned parts to his brutal level of perfection or else.

Of course, there are many differences between the fictional Fletcher and the real-life drill sergeants at Nonsan. Today’s ROK Army is a kinder and gentler army where every officer, commissioned and non-commissioned, has to be wary of conscripts who could potentially kill themselves and others. In fact, the ROK Army has gone to the other extreme in trying to eliminate bullying and hazing. A few months before I was discharged, the battalion that I served in became one of the first units in the ROK Army to implement a new barracks policy. To explain, under this new policy, conscripts were no longer bunked with their squadmates (who each has a different rank), but rather with other conscripts of the same rank – regardless of the fact that those other same-rank conscripts might not even be part of the same company.

Although this certainly reduced the ability for soldiers to bully and haze each other, what this has done to discipline,  unit cohesion, overall morale, and combat-readiness, however, is a different matter. But I digress.

The point is that comparing Fletcher, an abusive and probably racist tyrant who would endanger a student’s life, to any typical real-life army drill sergeant in the ROK Army is ridiculous. However, the intensity, the motivation, the drive, and the intimidation that one feels whenever Simmons is on scene is the same. Simmons’ acting skill was the epitome of raw talent and the man certainly deserved the accolades that he had been awarded.


Image Source:

Image Source:

Toward the end of the movie, as Fletcher is having a drink with one of his former students, Andrew Neiman, who was played by baby-faced Miles Teller, Fletcher says something that I thought was truly amazing.

He says that the reason he was so hard on his students was in order to push them to be greater than they thought possible; that he would never apologize for trying to make his students great. And the thing that he says that nearly won me over is that in today’s society, people don’t seem to want to push people to greatness, but rather tell them that they are good enough, no matter how mediocre they may be. Fletcher then says, “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job.””

I wasn’t sure whether that was the lie that Fletcher told himself to justify his actions or if he was being honest. But it was an unapologetic call to say “no” to mediocrity. Regardless of what else was going on in the movie, that single line was what made me feel admiration and respect for this monster. And Fletcher truly was a monster.

I had to leave the cinema where the magic that is movie-making could no longer cloud my judgment before I realized just how truly horrific Fletcher was. Fletcher was no Coach Carter or even a Tiger Mom whose actions might possibly be defendable. Not even close. Fletcher was a simple bully and bullies do not do anything to protect or help their victims. They only seek to inflict pain and misery on their victims.

A few years ago, I remember watching on the news about a group of university students (선배) who had beaten their 후배 to “instill discipline.” The savagery of the beatings that they committed were overshadowed only by the threats and the insults they hurled at the freshman students.

When the story aired on the news, the abusers sat next to their parents as they were being interviewed, their faces blotted out and their voices disguised. They were weeping. They desperately defended themselves by saying that they only did what they did to help their 후배. I remember feeling nothing besides revulsion and disgust at those vile creatures. What was truly bizarre, however, was that some of the victims came to the defense of the abusers, giving the same excuses for them that they gave for themselves. It was absolutely chilling to see Stockholm Syndrome in action.

(For the life of me, I cannot find the link to that story.)

In the movies, however, even monsters can be made to look like misunderstood heroes. And that’s how Fletcher is portrayed in the movie. “The next Charlie Parker would never be discouraged,” Fletcher says. And Neiman, the perennially bullied student, keeps trying to win Fletcher’s respect because Neiman is determined to be the next Charlie Parker. Never mind the fact that it is revealed in the movie that one of Fletcher’s previous students, who never appeared on screen, killed himself after having been abused by him for so long – something that is not unheard of in Korea.

In real-life, bullies are the furthest thing from heroes, even the most misunderstood types. By the time I came to, a part of me was concerned about the movie’s popularity. Was it so popular in Korea because the bullying that was portrayed was reflective of so much of Korea’s militaristic and hierarchical society? Or was it popular because so many Koreans might be suffering from some form of Stockholm Syndrome, therefore using that movie to justify their behavior or to tell themselves that they should endure as much bullying as they can because “the next Charlie Parker would never be discouraged?”

Whiplash was a truly amazing movie and J.K. Simmons’ acting chops has made him my new favorite actor. However, it was also a terrifying movie because it romanticizes and justifies bullying.

Regardless of how one may feel after having watched the movie, no one will leave the cinema without a strong opinion about it one way or the other.

Yes, Seoul can defend itself and the U.S. should probably pull out. But to be fair…

Over at War is Boring, Kyle Mizokami argues that South Korea’s military spending choices indicate one of two different things, and both of them mean the United States no longer has any business basing troops in the country:

Maybe South Korea believes North Korea is no longer a serious problem and the South can safely strive for regional standing. If Pyongyang is no longer a threat, U.S. troops should no longer be necessary on the Korean peninsula.

The alternative is that South Korea believes North Korea is still a threat, but with Americans defending the South, Seoul can risk turning its attention outward. That amounts to United States subsidizing South Korea’s foreign policy, potentially at the cost of American lives.

Either makes a strong case for pulling U.S. troops from South Korea.

Now, we here at the Marmot’s Hole have been arguing for a withdrawal of U.S. ground troops from Korea for as long as I can remember. South Korea is more than capable of defending itself on its own, and all the United States should be providing is naval, air and logistical support.

The thing is, the arguments for pulling U.S. troops out of Korea were just as valid long, long before Seoul started spending money on amphibious landing craft instead of upgraded missile defense systems.

But before we criticize Korea for taking in interest in things such as a blue water navy and F-35 fighters, it should be noted that Korea – the world’s 12th largest economy, its seventh largest exporter and ninth largest importer – has global economic, security and humanitarian interests that have absolutely nothing to do with North Korea. Since 1993, it has sent over 40,000 troops overseas on peacekeeping missions, including ongoing operations in Lebanon, South Sudan, Afghanistan and off the Somali coast and a recently concluded one-year relief operation in the Philippines. Vessels like the ROKS Dokdo and Aegis destroyers may come in handy in these kinds of operations, which countries like Korea are going to be counted on to undertake more and more in the future.

And frankly, I don’t find this allocation of military resources to be especially unusual. Even during the Cold War, when Western countries were focused squarely on the Soviet threat and U.S. armored cavalry regiments were defending the Fulda Gap, U.S. allies such as Great Britain and France still devoted resources to protecting their interests outside of Europe, such as the Falklands and West Africa. Heck, even South Korea managed to pony up 320,000 of its best fighters to send to Vietnam from 1964 to 1973, a time when Seoul was much, much less capable of defending itself against a much more aggressive North Korean threat.

It should also be noted that the United States has not been unsupportive of Korea’s growing regional and, especially, global role. From the joint communique of 2010’s South Korea-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting:

The Secretary and the Minister reaffirmed the commitment of the U.S. and ROK Presidents to build a comprehensive strategic Alliance of bilateral, regional, and global scope, based on common values and mutual trust, as set forth in the June 2009 Joint Vision for the Alliance of the ROK and the U.S. They also reaffirmed their shared view expressed at the ROK-U.S. Foreign and Defense Ministers’ Meeting in July that the scope of Alliance cooperation should continue to broaden and deepen to encompass both closer security cooperation and more comprehensive cooperation in other areas.

And from this October’s South Korea-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting:

The Secretary and the Minister pledged that the ROK and the United States would continue to enhance close Alliance cooperation to address wide-ranging global security challenges of mutual interest, including through peacekeeping activities, stabilization and reconstruction efforts, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief. In addition, the Secretary and the Minister emphasized that the Alliance’s joint response capabilities against various biological threats including disease and terrorism have been continuously enhanced through the Able Response Exercise (AR) and decided to pursue even more active bilateral cooperation on this issue. The Secretary praised the ROK’s contributions to counter-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden, UN peace-keeping mission in Lebanon, and reconstruction efforts in the Republic of South Sudan. Moreover, the Secretary expressed appreciation for the ROK government’s continued active participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).

I think it’s a good thing that we’re beginning to redefine the Korea-U.S. alliance from a strictly defensive one against North Korea to a broader strategic global partnership. In fact, I’d argue that North Korea won’t be around forever, and if the Korea-U.S. alliance is to have a future, it needs to be based on the defense and promotion of common global interests and values, much in the same way NATO has become. Obviously, South Korea’s ability to contribute globally will be limited for the time being by its unique security situation, i.e., North Korea, but that’s no reason for it not to begin helping out now (as it has been) given the strong state of deterrence it currently enjoys vis-a-vis the North, in part thanks to the United States. And more to the point, we should not be surprised when South Korea starts acquiring the tools it needs to carry out those global missions.

One last point here. While some of Korea’s weapons systems procurements may be of limited use and/or overkill when it comes to the North Koreans – as Mikozami notes, “shooting down obsolete MiG-29s does not require budget-busting F-35s*” (Marmot’s note: shooting down Chinese J-31s in the event of a Chinese intervention would, though). Like many weapons procurements, however, there are political factors at work here, too, one of the most important on the Korean side being “solidifying the Korea-U.S. alliance.” The US$ 7 billion Seoul will spend on the F-35s might not be money spent “on equipment that’s actually useful for South Korea’s main problem, North Korea,” but it is money going to Lockheed Martin. And it’s not like Washington told Seoul, “Hey, don’t buy those F-35s! The alliance doesn’t need them!” In fact, the Americans were quite pleased with the sale, and it strikes me as a bit odd to punish Seoul with reduced security commitments for buying a weapon system we encouraged them to buy.

*Apparently, it’s something of a trend for Asian-Pacific nations with Aegis warships (namely, Korea, Japan and Australia) to also buy the F-35, and the United States very much views this as strengthening, not weakening, its Pacific alliances, including the one with Korea:

Both the Aegis and the Joint Strike Fighter, as well as the interaction between them, demonstrate how America is using military technology to strengthen its worldwide network of alliances. To begin with, the programs are both designed to strengthen the economic interdependence of America’s allies across the globe, with each nation utilizing comparative advantages in producing various parts for the Aegis and JSF, as well as further innovating them.

At the same time, systems like the F-35 and Aegis inherently foster greater interoperability between militaries that use them. This will be especially important for the U.S. in the Asia-Pacific, which currently lacks the kind of collective security mechanisms found in Europe or even the Persian Gulf. Although military systems like the F-35 and Aegis won’t be as effective in integrating regional defense as an organization like NATO, they should help prevent the kind of disasters seen at the Battle of Java should the U.S. and its allies ever find themselves fighting together in an actual conflict.

Photo courtesy of UNC – CFC – USFK

To THAAD or not to THAAD? That is Korea’s question.

What is THAAD?  It stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense and it’s essentially a province/state, small country-wide anti-ballistic missile defense system.  It apparently has a range of 2,000 kilometers and the U.S. is offering it to both Japan and South Korea.  So what?  Well, the Chinese don’t like it.

(Image from JoongAng Ilbo)

Although the U.S. says it’s to protect South Korea and Japan against possible missile attack from North Korea, the pure raw capabilities of the THAAD system would indicate that the defensive target isn’t just North Korea.  The long-range THAAD missiles, along with their powerful X-Band radars, if deployed in both South Korea and Japan, offers a multilayered anti-ballistic missile defense that could theoretically render a sizable chunk of China’s ballistic missile arsenal obsolete.

Earlier this year the U.S. delivered the enormous X-Band radar that helps power the THAAD, to Kyoto, Japan and the PRC was not pleased.

The spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, Hua Chunying, said “the deployment of anti-missile systems in the Asia-Pacific and seeking unilateral security is not beneficial” to regional security. In an apparent reference to the Washington’s often quoted excuse of protecting against North Korean antagonism, Hu said the deployment should not be an “excuse to harm the security interests of other countries.”

The Chinese have given rather ominous warnings to South Korea not to adopt THAAD:

China has told South Korea that joining the U.S. missile defense system would cross a “red line” in their bilateral relationship.

And the PRC’s ambassador to South Korea Qiu Guohong:

“The THAAD would have a range of around 2,000 kilometers, which goes beyond the goal of countering missiles from North Korea,”


“The deployment of the THAAD will badly influence the relations between South Korea and China … It would harm China’s security system,”

Cross a “red line?”  Badly “influence” relations?  Uh, oh.  That doesn’t sound good.  South Korea, for their part, says they are not interested in THAAD because they are apparently developing their own anti-ballistic weapons system.

In Oct., 2013, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said South Korea would “definitely not join the U.S. missile defense system,” citing the associated costs and plans to develop South Korea’s own, similar system.

And that would be the so-called KAMD (“Korean Anti Missile Defense“) system, a mix of  Patriot  PAC-3 missiles, SM-6 and perhaps SM-3 missiles,  guided by the Israeli Green Pine radar.  There is also an apparent “indigenous” Korean anti-ballistic missile in the works, which may be similar to an Israeli Arrow type missile.

Publicly, this has been what the Korean government has said about why they may not adopt THAAD, but some Koreans are taking China’s tough talk seriously.  One of Korea’s most popular best selling authors, Kim Jin-myung, suspended all this other projects to rush and write a new novel titled “THAAD.”  According to Kim:

If it accepts the U.S. calls to deploy the anti-ballistic missile system here, he predicts, this will cost the country its No. 1 trading partner. China remains suspicious of the U.S. motive to deploy THAAD on the Korean Peninsula because it will nullify its ballistic missile system.

[China] reportedly believes that the United States seeks to encircle it.

If South Korea rejects the U.S. calls, Kim claims, it will not only lose its closest ally but also may face a catastrophic circumstance — a war on the peninsula.

A “war on the peninsula?”  A bit of hyperbole IMHO, but Kim Jin-myung says he’s not going to take a side in his novel.  He just believes there should be public discourse and concensus before the Korean government makes a decision on THAAD.

South Korea’s traditional ally the U.S. or China?  Not saying the choice is between the two here, but the choice for South Korea is getting increasingly more complex, especially in light of China’s growing economic power and influence.

(Graphic from the WSJ).


Russia doesn’t like THAAD in Korea either.


The Korean defense industry’s armored albatross

To much fanfare in 2007 the South Korean Agency for Defense Development (“ADD“) introduced four working prototypes of the Korean army’s next generation main battle tank- the XK-2 Black Panther.  Demonstration videos and the specifications sheet looked impressive.  It was apparently fast, mobile, powerful and well armed and armored.

The Koreans have the questionable habit of saying that a new weapons system of theirs is of “indigenous” design when the truth is far more, ah, textured.  The K-2’s main gun is a licensed German Rheinmetall L55/120mm gun design, the autoloader was based on the one in the French Leclerc, the snorkel based on the one in the Russian T-80U (a battalion’s worth of tanks given to Korea by Russia to pay off some old Cold War era debts).  The crown jewel of the technology in the K-2 was the powerplant (i.e. engine and transmission) which was the German MTU-890 1,500 hp diesel engine used to propel the four original prototypes.

The K-2 main battle tank (Yonhap file photo)

(Image from Yonhap News)

The Koreans had successfully reversed engineered, licensed and developed pretty much all the technologies to go mass production on the tank with the exception of the MTU-890 powerplant.  Doosan Infracore was tasked with developing an “indigenous” Korean version of the MTU-890.  They said it would take two years.  It ended up taking over seven.   Doosan missed deadline after deadline (Feburary 2009, October 2010, April 2013 and September 2013).  The last failed engine test in September 2013 forced ADD to deploy the first 100 tanks, starting earlier this year in June, with the German engine.

Even as of now, the engine built by Doosan isn’t on par with the German engine.  Instead of going 32 km/hour in eight seconds, it does so in nine seconds.  The military finally had to “relax” their standards.  The plan is to put the Doosan engine into the tank at some point before 2017.

An official from Hyundai Rotem [the main contractor] confirmed to IHS Jane’s that deliveries to the ROK Army of an initial batch of 100 K2s fitted with a foreign engine and transmission started in June 2014, and that subsequent batches are to be fitted with indigenous systems.  100 tanks by 2017?  Originally, there were suppose to be 660 tanks built by 2011.

In addition to being way past schedule, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the K-2 is  currently the most expensive tank in the world at about USD $8.8 million per unit.

GOP rampage suspect captured, but questions remain

The soldier who went on a rampage at his DMZ guard post in Gangwon-do has been caught—alive, no less—but the story is by no means over.

The Ministry of Defense is saying there are a lot of potential problem soldiers in the military. How many, you might ask? This many:

Speaking at a June 23 morning briefing on a recent incident in which a soldier identified by his surname Lim fatally shot five colleagues, ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok explained, “The 22nd Infantry Division [where Lim worked] has around 1,800 troops listed as ‘requiring special attention’ in the three categories of A, B, and C, or about 20% of all troops.”

Kim went on to say, “They’re not all clustered in the 22nd Division. There’s just generally a lot of soldiers that require attention.”

When asked by a reporter if the issue extended throughout the military, Kim said, “I believe the rate is similar [around 20%] for the military as a whole.”

Lim was one such soldier:

According to the Army, Lim enlisted in December 2012 after his freshman year in college and was assigned to the 22nd division in February 2013.

However, he was sidelined from performing patrols at the border in April last year following the outcome of a military-conducted personality test, which showed that he required special attention.

Lim’s test results put him in the highest Level A, indicating that he needed extra supervision and was mentally unfit to perform the border patrols. Level C is for those who just joined the Army less than four months ago or are deemed too weak to perform their duties.

But just seven months later, the sergeant was downgraded to Level B, which enabled him to perform border patrol duties, a task that carries a high risk. One military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Lim’s unit downgraded his personality assessment because he had shown improvement in his character in the time since.

The problem, both military and non-military folk say, is that the army’s chronic manpower shortages—which won’t be getting any better—make it necessary to put “soldiers of interest” on the DMZ for guard duty. One army captain who lead a platoon on the DMZ told Newsis that in some platoons, half the guys are “soldiers of interest.”

Meanwhile, the military response to the incident is being criticized for being something of a clusterfuck, with poor communication between the military and the police, belated orders to evacuate civilians, and a friendly fire incident in which one trooper almost got his head blown off.

As for why a guy with only three months left in the service would go postal, it appears he was just a very introverted guy who did not get along with his fellow soldiers and, on a practical level, may have been treated lower than his actual rank.

UPDATE: Great, if somewhat disconcerting, photograph from the standoff:

Korea to buy Israeli low-altitude radar system; thinking about frikin lasers

Seoul is bolstering its ability to detect low-flying North Korean drones by acquiring Israeli-made RPS-42 tactical air surveillance radar systems:

A government source says Seoul plans to buy around ten RPS-42 tactical air surveillance radars to detect North Korean drones.
The source said the military plans to deploy the RPS-42 radars next year to key government facilities, including the presidential office, and to the western front.

The Israeli made radars are optimized to detect and track all types of aerial objects within a 30-kilometer radius. Each radar costs around 900 million won.

You can read more about the system here at the RADA Electronic Industries website. There’s a nice PDF factsheet just in case you wanted to pick up one yourself.

Yonhap, meanwhile, reports that the Ministry of Defense is also considering attaching to the new radar system a German-made laser weapon to, you know, shoot down the drones.

Which, when you think about it, is pretty cool.

Naysayers, however, express concern that because the new radar system is capable of detecting small drones within a range of only 10km, it’s can be used to defend key facilities only; drones that enter through mountain regions in Gangwon-do, meanwhile, could still enter undetected.

North Korea might also just, you know, fly their drones using paths that avoid the new radar systems.

A military official told Yonhap that to detect every small drone North Korea sends over would require a tight net of hundreds of low-altitude radar systems, which in turn would requires lots and lots of cash.

The KF-X merry-go-round

Discussions regarding an indigenous fifth generation fighter jet have been swirling around the halls of Korean government, military and industry ever since President Kim Dae-jung blabbed about it way back in 2001 at some Air Force cadet graduation ceremony.  13 years later, it’s still mostly talk.  Sure, we got a few scale mock-ups, drawings, etc.  We may have some “just for shits and giggles” nascent technical drawings someplace too.

According to DefenseNews, here is the latest:

The state-funded Agency for Defense Development (ADD) has long studied a twin-engine concept, either of the C103 design that looks somewhat like the F-35 or the C203 design following the European approach and using forward canards in a stealth-shaped airframe.

Both of the twin-engine platforms would be powered by two 18,000-pound engines, ADD officials said.

Korea Aerospace Industries, on the other hand, prefers a single-engine concept, dubbed C501, which is to be built based on the FA-50, a light attack aircraft version of the T-50 supersonic trainer jet co-produced by Lockheed Martin.

The C501, powered by a 29,000-pound engine, is designed to be fitted with a limited low-observable configuration and advanced avionics.

Ah, the C501 vs. the C103.  The choices that a medium sized country with a limited aerospace budget has when it comes to developing stealth.  C103 will be the hard way and very expensive, but tempting for those who want to have a jet that can be spoken in the same breath as China’s J-20, Russia’s T-50 or America’s F-35.  The C501 is the easier way and more realistic for a country that doesn’t have unlimited fighter development budgets.  It will, however, create what may be just a stealthy, but up engined, version of an FA-50, with limited stores for weapons or future upgrades.

As South Sudan goes to shit, Korea and Japan squabble over ammo shipment

So, things are looking pretty bad in South Sudan, where the UN is saying thousands are dead in communal violence that is threatening to tear the world’s newest nation apart.

If there was one potential bright side to genocidal ethnic strife, though, it was that it might have provided a golden opportunity for Korea and Japan to play nice with one another.

You see, Korea has 280 troops deployed as peacekeepers to the town of Bor. Things around Bor have gotten very bad—today in fact mortar rounds landed on the UN base the Koreans share with Indian and Nepalese peacekeepers, wounding several Nepalese troops. The Korean force—composed mostly of lightly armed engineering and medical units—felt they needed more ammo in case the shit hit the fan, so the unit commander asked the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) for ammunition. And they got it in the form of 10,000 rounds from the Japanese SDF, which has 300 men deployed to the South Sudanese capital of Juba.

Great, you say—Korea and Japan are working together in the face of a common crisis. Might this be the start of a rapprochement?

Sadly, it appears not.

In fact, the Japanese supply of ammo to Korean troops in South Sudan now appears to be becoming, as they say, a diplomatic issue.

For starters, Seoul and Tokyo are putting out differing stories as to how this all went down. The Korean side says this was entirely a UN thing—the Korean commander put in a request to UNMISS command, and it just so happened that the only folk around using God-fearing 5.56 NATO rounds were the Japanese in Juba.

The Japanese, meanwhile, released on Tuesday a video of Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera receiving a report from the Japanese colonel in charge of the SDF forces in South Sudan. The SDF commander said the Korean colonel in charge of the Korean troops in Bor called the SDF unit directly to make an emergency request for ammo. He said the Korean colonel told him that 15,000 refugees were camped out around Bor, that the Koreans were the only troops defending the town, and the area was full of hostiles. He also said the Korean commander expressed his appreciation for the ammo shipment.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said during a press conference the same day that the Korean government had made a request for ammo through the Korean embassy in Tokyo on Sunday.

The Korean side is now accusing the Japanese of politically using the emergency faced by Korean troops in South Sudan, with one unnamed official telling the Chosun Ilbo that the Abe government’s linking of the ammo supply to its “active pacifism” initiative was a “clear political provocation.” Another unnamed official said Korea had told the Japanese to handle this quietly out of fear that the locals would turn hostile and attack Korean troops if word got out that they’d received ammo, but the Japanese were instead turning this into a big story. Korean government officials are also saying that they intend to return all the ammo to Japan once Korean ammo arrives from Korea, despite the fact that the Japanese said they could keep it.

The Japanese side, meanwhile, is pissed off with the Koreans—and not without reason, IMHO—for not only being ungrateful, but brazenly so. The Hani says one exasperated high-ranking Japanese government official was crying, “How the heck can we hold a summit with a nation like Korea?” It also seems that a lot of the alleged “noise” Japan was making was not to show off what they were doing for the Koreans, but rather to fend off domestic criticism that Abe and Co. were using the crisis in South Sudan to break Japan’s long-standing self-imposed ban on weapon exports.

Well, at least Ban Ki-moon thought the ammo supply was a good thing.

In an editorial, Ye Olde Chosun—sit down for this—criticizes Japan for acting as if Korea now supported the Abe government’s “active pacifism,” but at the same time blasted the Korean Defense Ministry for incompetence (the second rotation of Korean troops arrived in South Sudan in October with little in the way of arms, despite three months having passed since the South Sudanese president sacked his vice president, kicking off the current crisis) and the Park administration’s foreign policy making process (the Defense Ministry apparently made the decision to accept Japanese ammo on its own, with no larger discussion of the political ramifications).

For their part, Japanese newspapers don’t appear especially thrilled about the ammo supply, either, but for very different reasons. Both the Asahi and Mainichi think the Abe government have a lot more explaining to do. Says the Asahi:

At the end of the day, there are too many unclear points about this “exceptional case” to verify the appropriateness of the government’s decision.

For instance, we don’t know the circumstances under which the United Nations asked Japan for the ammo giveaway. The South Korean side said it did not request Japan’s help in desperation, but what, exactly, was the situation? And what sort of discussion did the newly created National Security Council have before it decided to provide the ammunition? The government needs to answer these questions in detail.

Any discrepancy between Seoul’s explanation and Tokyo’s could aggravate the already strained bilateral relationship. And down the road, Tokyo ought to disclose how the ammo was used.

The National Security Council, whose members include the prime minister and the defense minister, is a very small organization. If the government fails to tell the public how the council discussed the matter, it cannot expect to gain widespread understanding.

The last thing our country needs is for the Abe administration to get the SDF more deeply involved in international conflicts by letting the National Security Council call the shots and establish new precedents in the absence of any legal framework, and in the name of “proactive pacifism.”

For that matter, the Mainichi says even if the Koreans desperately needed ammo, the way the decision to give it to them was made was “unruly.”

Honestly, this is extremely frustrating. I admit when I first read a Yonhap report on the ammo shipment two days ago, my first reaction was “Holy shit, they’re getting ammo from who?”, but this was soon followed by optimism that this might provide an opportunity for the two sides to pretend they play for the same team for a change.

Alas, it seems I was wrong.

Meanwhile, Korea says it is not considering sending more troops to South Sudan, but is willing to review “all options” if the UN makes a request.

Unintentionally ironic Chinese statement of the day

China thinks the expansion of Korea’s Air Defense Identification Zone (KADIZ) is mean:

Lü Chao, a researcher at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said the latest gesture shows a provocative stance.

“The original KADIZ was established by the US more than 60 years ago and it hasn’t changed all these years. South Korea and China have been at peace over the zone. This time the change in attitude is obviously a response to China’s ADIZ, it’s not a friendly gesture towards China,” he told the Global Times.

On the other hand, as Joshua Trevino writes on Facebook, “If you can’t get the Koreans on board with your anti-Japanese gambit, things have gone badly amiss.”

The Korean military has recently increased its P3-C surveillance flights over Ieodo to one a day and is considering shifting some of its F-15Ks from Daegu to Gwangju if foreign (read: Chinese) warplanes make it a habit of entering the KADIZ uninvited.

President Park, meanwhile, said this morning that the expansion of the KADIZ was done to guarantee Korea’s national interests as a sovereign nation. She did criticize some people—including, presumably, the media—for causing public insecurity by calling for immediate action, making exaggerated reports or expressing speculative opinions.

photo credit: Steve Webel via photopin cc

And on the ADIZ front…

China apparently sent warplanes into its newly declared ADIZ in the East China Sea.

I don’t believe they flew over anything especially important (like the Senkakus!), as I’m sure that would have been mentioned.

Anyway, Northeast Asian ADIZ quiz—which nation has violated Korea’s ADIZ the most this year?


No, it’s Russia, which has violated Korea’s ADIZ 18 times this year. China has violated it thrice, and Japan just once.

Over the last five years, Russia has violated Korea’s ADIZ 64 times.

South Korean first-strike capabilities has got American, Chinese attention: US researcher

In town for a forum hosted by the Korea Economic Institute (KEI), Hudson Institute researcher Richard Weitz said Seoul has made so much progress preparing for a preemptive strike contingency against the North that its arousing the attention of Chinese and American officials.

Preemptive strikes would see the use of ballistic and cruise missiles and long-range guns. Weitz said Korea’s response system has improved greatly since the 2010 sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeongdo.

He says, however, that experts worry Seoul might not be able to properly respond to a collapse of the North Korean regime, noting that in such a scenario, the South Korean military would have to enter North Korea, secure nuclear weapons and handle a humanitarian crisis with US forces playing a minimal role.

He said such a mission would require large-scale ground forces rather than advanced weapons, but South Korea has been gradually reducing its manpower and adopting more advanced weapons systems. He says it does not appear Seoul is well-prepared to handle a non-military clash lake reunification.

Weitz also noted that there’s a severe trade imbalance between Korea and the United States in terms of arms and defense products, and this imbalance could eventually limit Korea’s ability to purchase American fighter jets. To help avoid controversy over Korea joining a missile defense system and relax tensions surrounding the negotiations on burden sharing, the United States should purchase more Korean-made weapons and defense-related products.

Referring to the Foreign Policy piece on US suspicions that Korea was stealing its weapon technology, he said it seems this is merely a suspicion, and that the similarity of Korean systems to American ones appears to be the product of a strategy of boosting interoperability. He also said American firms have generally wanted Korea to produce weapons systems similar to their American counterparts as this could boost Korea’s dependence on US imports for things such as parts.

Marmot’s Note: Seoul’s preemptive strike capacity does seem impressive, which makes the less-than-inspiring comments coming out of the Ministry of Defense over the last couple of days even more bewildering. Not only do you have the Defense Intelligence Agency director saying that the South would lose a war to the North without US help, but yesterday you had Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin tell the National Assembly that South Korea’s military strength was only about 80% that of the North’s—a claim made all the more bewildering as he a) made it while simultaneously boasting that the South would destroy the North in a war even without US help, and b) he also noted that South Korea spent 34 times as much on defense than the North in 2013.

For what it’s worth, Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA) studies found that while South Korea’s military strength was just 88% of the North’s in 2004, by 2009 it was already 110% of the North’s. And as the Hankyoreh notes, the Defense Ministry-run KIDA’s estimations are considered conservative. According to, South Korea ranked eighth in the world in military strength—right behind Ze Germans and right ahead of the Italians—while the North placed only 29th, which ranked it a spot below Ethiopia. For those keeping score at home, Mongolia placed 61st.

Losers, NLL transcript, invisible US ambassador, Japan and UNESCO redux, complaining foreigners, pretty shaved heads and Lego


With guys like this running the Ministry of Defense, is it any surprise they’re dragging their feet with the transfer of wartime operational command?

The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency touched off a furor by saying at a National Assembly audit that South Korea would “lose” in a one-on-one war with North Korea.

South Korea’s 2013 military spending is 33 to 34 times more than North Korea‘s.

Speaking at the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee annual audit of his office at the Ministry of National Defense on Nov. 5, Cho Bo-geun reportedly responded to a question about who would win in a war between South Korea and North Korea by saying, “If we fight as an alliance with the US under the current operational plan, we‘ll win by an overwhelming margin. If South Korea fights alone, North Korea has the superior fighting strength, so South Korea would lose.”

Twice the population, a military budget 34 times the size of North Korea’s, an economic gap that looks like this, and you still think you’d lose?

I just don’t know what to say, other than the Defense Ministry should hire Doug Bandow as a consultant or something.

Which way did the transcript go, George? Which way did it go?

More nonsense with the NLL:

“People all know that President Roh Moo-hyun guarded the NLL (Northern Limit Line),” Moon told reporters before his questioning. “The transcript [of the summit] is intact.

“The crux of this matter is that the ruling party and the National Intelligence Service abused the transcript stored at the NIS by distorting its contents for [last year’s] presidential election,” said Moon, who was also the Democratic Party candidate defeated in last year’s presidential election.

When asked by reporters why the transcript wasn’t transferred to the National Archives, Moon did not answer.

He’s probably right about the NIS using the transcript for political purposes in the last election. As far as everyone knowing that Roh defended the NLL, I’d say recent elections and polling would suggest that’s far from the case.

US ambassador needs to drink more

Somebody at the JoongAng Ilbo apparently doesn’t think US Ambassador Sung Kim is drinking enough:

Modesty and passiveness are different. Kim’s background is too special for him to be just another ambassador.

Because he is the first Korean-American to be appointed U.S. ambassador to Seoul, and because he is the forerunner for other people of Korean descent who will take senior posts in other countries, our expectations are high.

It is not too late. We want to see His Excellency Kim meeting Koreans over glasses of makgeolli during the rest of his term.

There seems to be some confusion here, and I’ve noticed it with previous ambassadors here, too. More specifically, it sometimes seems the media expects the US ambassador to represent Korean interests to the US government. Sure, I guess in terms of public policy, it doesn’t hurt to mix with the locals. Could be fun, too. But that’s not his job.

Oh, not this again…

The JoongAng Ilbo thinks the Japanese are being insensitive by pushing the registration of their modern cultural heritage with UNESCO:

Japan was a regional front-runner when it came to industrialization and economic success. The government is seeking to register its early industrial sites as Unesco World Heritage sites to rekindle pride in its economic legacy. Doing so, however, the country has once again demonstrated insensitivity toward its neighbor. Eleven out of the 28 “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution” it plans to seek for UN recognition in February 2015 served as labor camps for Korean prisoners and civilians during World War II.

At least 1,481 Koreans were forced to work as slaves in sites that include a shipyard in Nagasaki, a defunct coal mine and a steel mill in Fukuoka, according to a study by the Prime Minister’s Office.The Hashima coal mine was notoriously referred to as the “island of hell” because Koreans were forced to work for 12 hours a day in pits of 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) below the surface. Few Koreans came out alive or even healthy.

Any country is entitled to vie for international recognition and protection for its heritage and cultural properties under the World Heritage Treaty of 1972. The places Japan wants to list as World Heritage sites may be valuable assets to the Japanese, but they trigger bitter and painful memories for Koreans. It is spiteful to honor its past glory at the expense of others’ pain.

I’ve already explained why I think this is a losing fight for the Korean side here.

Sometimes, this blog just writes itself

OK, it’s a bit dated, but in case you missed the Korea Times piece about the gay American pastor in HBC complaining about Korea’s homophobic textbooks, then you also missed this beauty from an Education Ministry official—be warned, though, that you should not be drinking anything when you read it, especially coffee, which can be especially difficult to wipe off your monitor:

“Every country has its own set of laws in evaluating and approving the education material for books. I don’t know if it’s appropriate for a foreigner to judge how we manage our education. You won’t see us commenting how other countries teach at schools.”

I’ll give you a minute to stop laughing.

Like a very pretty bhikkhunī

Say what you will about Rep. Kim Jae-yeon’s politics—needless to say, I’m not a fan of her party. Still, she does look good with a shaved head.

Lego screwing Korea

Or that’s what some folk are complaining, anyway:

“Lego is too expensive, that’s why moms usually band together and make bulk purchases through the Internet,” Park Jin-hai, 38, a mother of two kids aged nine and six, said.

“Moms all know Lego is expensive, but we have no choice because kids love it. Also, it is difficult to find individual stores and service centers where customers can get the customer service in person,” Park added.

“Lego uses its international economic scale to raise awareness and the price here. Comparably smaller Korean toy firms cannot win with those strategies,” a market insider added.

Foreign coffee chains, outdoor fashion brands, Danish toy companies… when will these outrages stop?

PGH Speaks, Suh Chung-won’s Back, the FA-50 and Korea’s Gay-friendly but Xenophobic Youth

President Park says something about the NIS

Ahead of a tour to Europe, President Park speaks about the NIS allegations:

“I personally didn’t do anything suspicious, but suspicions have been raised that state agencies meddled in the election. I will clearly shed light on those suspicions without fail” and punish those responsible, Park said during a meeting with senior secretaries.

She also called on politicians—read: the opposition—to avoid causing public division and patiently wait for the legal system to do its job. Considering a) if it weren’t for politicians causing public division, it’s doubtful this issue would have even come to light, and b) the chicanery within the prosecution doesn’t instill much confidence in the legal system, I think it’s safe to say Park’s statement won’t shut the opposition up.

Some foreign correspondents offered their opinion on the NIS mess to the Korean Times. For instance:

“What President Park needs to do is open a bipartisan, cross-party investigation,” said Andrew Salmon, a Seoul-based journalist. “The prime minister’s pledge comes only halfway.”
“I think she needs to get the house in order and get rid of old-fashioned right wingers in certain institutions who may be thinking that they are helping her but in fact are a danger to the democratic process,” Salmon said.

As to why these right-wingers would operate in such fashion, he saw them stuck in a past mindset ― in the Cold-War perspective. “Such forces should leave the institution or start writing blogs.”

I’ll do my part by offering any stuck-in-the-past, Fifth Republic holdovers space on my blog, provided they first resign from their official posts.

2013 By-elections: Return of the Suh Chung-won

So, the Saenuri Party swept both by-elections. The key one was Hwaseong-A District, where Suh Chung-won won, and won big. Everything you need to know about Suh I shall reprint below:

The return to the political scene of heavyweight Suh, President Park’s long-time ally who served two separate prison terms for violating election-finance laws, may signal a wind of change in the leadership structure at the ruling Saenuri Party.


He is also expected to present a challenge to Representative Kim Moo-sung, who has been building his clout in the party and has recently emerged as one of the strongest candidates for the next presidential race. Kim is highly likely to run for the party chairmanship in a party convention scheduled for next year.

Party insiders say Kim is remote from the president, who has strong confidence in Suh because he is less politically ambitious and more loyal.

Double ugh.

The FA-50 Is a Good Plane. But It’s Not an Easy Sale

Will anybody buy the FA-50? That’s what the boys and girls at War is Boring ask (HT to Geek Ken):

Nonetheless, at $35 million a pop, the FA-50 is a bargain for the capabilities it offers. Plus the aircraft has operating costs that are a fraction of that of other fighters—even something as small and comparatively low-cost as a JAS-39 Gripen. For that relatively low price, a country gets an aircraft that has much of the performance of a full-sized fighter — a 75-percent solution.
But as impressive as the FA-50 is, especially for its price, the small fighter faces an uncertain future. “The problem isn’t the plane — they have designed one of the best lightweight fighters in years,” says Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at the Teal Group. “The problem is the market.”

The market has shifted in over the years. Countries that used to buy light fighters such as the F-5 — Turkey, for one — have moved on to more expensive aircraft like the F-16. But other nations have fallen upon hard times and have not been able to purchase modern fighters in decades — Argentina, for example. “The market has kind of bifurcated into haves and have-nots,” Aboulafia says.

Now, Korea did sign earlier this month an MOU with the Philippines to export a dozen FA-50s. What make that sale even MORE interesting is that Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun—quoting multiple Korean officials—reports that Seoul made that deal over the objections of the Chinese, who asked Korea not to sell the fighters to the Philippines.

Koreans Grow More Conservative. Young Koreans Least Homophobic, Most Xenophobic

The Dong-A Ilbo and The Asan Institute for Policy Studies conducted a poll of attitudes in Korea, yielding some interesting results. Up to last year, self-identified progressives outnumbered self-identified conservatives by about 10 percentage points, but this year, centrists (41.2%) and conservatives (32.7%) outnumbered progressives (26.1%). In particular, the percentage of self-identified conservatives grew by 9 percentage points among those in their 20s and 11 percentage points among those in their 60s.

A researcher at the Asan Institute said the drop in support for progressives was largely thanks to support for Park’s strong response to North Korean provocations soon after she took office, late President Roh’s statements about the NLL, and the whole UPP/Lee Seok-ki fiasco.

Meanwhile, conservatives are growing more conservative and progressives more progressive. Slightly more Korean feel the government should focus more on growth than distribution, but conservatives and progressives responded to this quite differently. Conservatives also tended to more heavily favor limits on personal freedom for the public interest—not exactly good news for you classical liberals out there.

Even more interesting—especially for some readers—is that it was young respondents in their 20s that revealed the highest degree of xenophobia. Some 23.9% of respondents in their 20s said they disliked foreigners living in Korea, the highest of any age group. Respondents in their 30s were the least xenophobic, with just 16.1% saying they disliked foreigners living in Korea.

Likewise, 31.3% of respondents in their 20s agreed that foreign laborers were making a mess of Korea’s social values, 10 percentage points higher than the 21.5% for the survey as a whole. This was followed by 21.6% for those in their 50s and 60s and 19.1% for those in their 30s. Only 15.3% of those in their 40s agreed with the statement. Furthermore, 35.1% of those in their 20s said that multicultural families were raising the level of social instability and complicating social unity.

That said, those xenophobic 20-somethings are not equal-opportunity in their hate. They especially dislike immigrants from China and the Philippines, but they are actually less adverse to immigrants from the United States and Japan than those of other age groups, and especially those in their 60s. This is believed to be the result of discomfort resulting from the growth in the number of Chinese students studying in Korea and concern about crimes committed by foreign laborers like the Oh Won-chun murder. Also believed to be at play is the feeling that foreigners are stealing jobs at a time when it’s difficult to find work.

Koreans still don’t like gays, though. Some 78.5% of respondents said they didn’t like homosexuals, although this number has come down year-to-year. That said, 42.5% of respondents in their 20s said they didn’t dislike gays, as opposed to only 8.3% of respondents of in their 60s. Some 53.0% of respondents in their 20s said same-sex marriage should be legalized, while only 7.6% of those in their 60s believed so. Interestingly, there was little ideological difference on the question of homosexuals—84.9% of conservatives and 70.3% of progressives disliked gays.

As for abortion, 55.3% of respondents said they believed abortions should be permitted only when the life of the mother is threatened. Only 29.9% said abortion should be left up to the mother’s choice, and even fewer (14.8%) said it should be banned outright. Younger respondents tended to support the permitting of abortion, while older ones did not. As with homosexuality, the numbers did not change much according to ideology, with conservatives and progressives responding similarly.

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