Reuters blog archive
from Ian Bremmer:
For an American emissary looking to have an impact, there’s no better place to visit than North Korea. Most of the world is shut out of Kim Jong-un’s country, and the U.S. government has so few levers to influence policy that any American who finds his way in will make news.
That doesn’t mean the news will be good news. Former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt didn’t accomplish much during their January visit, and basketball carny Dennis Rodman was as embarrassing as one would expect. In North Korea, even tourists can make headlines: Laura Ling and Euna Lee were detained in 2009 after filming refugees on the China-North Korea border. They became flashpoints in the U.S.-North Korean standoff because Pyongyang had nothing else to work with.
Unfortunately, the latest outsiders to insert themselves into the picture are hackers that answer to the name Anonymous, the group that became famous by mixing digital activism with clandestine revenge. Anonymous has begun a campaign against North Korea, crashing several North Korean websites, hacking North Korean social media accounts, and perhaps infiltrating North Korea’s intranet. Anonymous is promising more attacks to come. There is a chance for serious trouble here.
North Korea, let’s remember, has proven nuclear capacity, the most militarized border in the world, and lies between South Korea, an advanced industrial democracy, and China, the world’s preeminent authoritarian state. The DPRK is governed by an untested 29-year-old princeling under unknown amounts of internal pressure to assert his leadership through demonstrations of militarist machismo, even if it starves his people. For outsiders, Kim is a wildcard. We can’t know how far he will go or how he might react if he doesn’t get what we think he wants.
from John Lloyd:
As Donald Rumsfeld used to say, there are known unknowns. Two of them are confronting the world today, and both stem from the Korean peninsula.
One: What will North Korean leader Kim Jong-un do now? He’s ordered missiles to be ramped up, fired a gun on TV, watched missiles shoot down dummy planes and told his military they were cleared for an attack on South Korea and the United States. He said “a sea of fire” would engulf his enemies if they dared to provoke him. Earlier this week, South Korea’s Unification Minister, Ryoo Kihi-Jae, said “there are signs” that a fourth nuclear test is being prepared at the Punggye-ri test site. What is the next move?
from Ian Bremmer:
President Obama’s recent trip to South Korea may have gained attention for his “open mic” slipup with outgoing Russian President Medvedev over missile defense, but that’s just a media distraction from the importance of Obama’s visit to the Korean peninsula. After Kim Jong Il’s death in December, the U.S. took an early lead in negotiations with North Korea – doing so because Obama and his team thought it could be an easy diplomatic win. With the promise of aid and food, the U.S. could let new leader Kim Jong-un quietly drop the consistently belligerent stance the country has taken in what passes for its foreign policy.
It’s now clear that easy win is not going to happen. Despite Kim’s titular status, we still don’t really know who is in charge in North Korea. While there have been no major coups, protests, or blowups, there have been plenty of smaller events, like military executions due to insubordination, that point to a high likelihood of purges happening in the regime. Now factor in that North Korea has gotten decidedly more, rather than less, militant on the nuclear arms front. Its announcement of a satellite test is a thinly veiled attempt to launch a long-range ICBM. The global community is perceiving it as such – with South Korea threatening to shoot the missile down. The vitriol coming out of the North Korean propaganda machine is as hardline and aggressive as we’ve seen in many years.
By Martin Hutchinson
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
A limited nuclear deal with the United States suggests North Korea’s Kim Jong-un might be looking for a thaw. If the country’s basketball-loving young master really wants to build on that agreement and bring economic growth to his impoverished citizens, land reform would be a good place to start.
By John Foley (The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)
The greatest achievement of Kim Jong-il was to keep North Korea cut off as the rest of the world joined up. The Dear Leader, who died on Dec. 17 according to state media, didn't manage it perfectly - the "hermit state" imports energy and food from China, and until lately the odd bottle of French cognac. But North Korea's quest for self-sufficiency has left the people in ignorance of the modern world and created grinding economic hardship. Kim's successor, likely his youngest son Jung-un, will struggle to lift that heavy burden.
from Tales from the Trail:
"We will not be drawn into rewarding North Korea for bad behavior," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said today, after revelations that the world's most reclusive state showed off its latest advances in uranium enrichment. "They frequently anticipate doing something outrageous or provocative and forcing us to jump through hoops as a result. We're not going to buy into this cycle."
Those are sound intentions, although analysts are already predicting the United States will find a way to restart six-party talks in the next six months or so if only as a containment strategy, despite the fact that North Korea appears completely unwilling to talk seriously about denuclearization.
from Russell Boyce:
North Korea opened its doors and the internet to the World's media to allow a glimpse of the parade which marked the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party. More importantly, it gave the world its first independent look at the protege Kim Jong-un. China based Chief Photographer Petar Kujundzic took full advantage of the opportunity. The warmth of the picture of the women soldiers smiling - a rare glimpse into the world from which we normally only get formal, over compressed and pixelated images.
North Korean female soldiers smile before a parade to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang October 10, 2010. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic
from Global News Journal:
Former U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld's attempts to be philosophical about 'known unknowns' and 'unknown unknowns' gave him a reputation for slipperiness and cant. The phrases uttered in 2002 to explain the military's failure to improve security in Afghanistan have passed into folklore, alongside such gems as 'stuff happens,' which was his explanation for the looting that followed the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003.
The 'known unknown' concept is a more useful tool in journalism than you would think from the derision heaped on Rumsfeld by reporters. As journalists we spend our time uncovering facts, reporting data, breaking news and offering insights into the meaning of events. We rarely stop to contemplate what we do not know, what we cannot know and what impact that ignorance has in shaping perceptions.
from Raw Japan:
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's reported annointing of his youngest son, offspring of a Japan-born dancer, as heir highlights a dark chapter in Japan's history and a possible refugee headache if the regime collapses.
Apparent heir Kim Jong-un is said by South Korean media to be a son of Ko Young-hee, one of about 100,000 Koreans who returned to the North from Japan in the 1960s hoping to find a workers' paradise. Many were brought to Japan as forced labour before World War Two and faced discrimination after the war.