Archive for the ‘North Korea’ Category

Ethiopia is using the water flowing through it.

June 15, 2013

Four years ago, I wrote about trans-boundary water issues in Korea and about one flood that killed six in South Korea.  This slight familiarity with international treaties on the subject made this article in Scientific American about Ethiopia ending a decades-long agreement with Egypt over water use catch my attention.  Ethiopia is part of a new treaty involving five other Nile Basin countries that gives them greater autonomy over water use and leaving Egypt’s 84 million people in some jeopardy.

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi said on Monday he did not want “war” but would keep “all options open”, prompting Ethiopia to say it was ready to defend its $4.7 billion Great Renaissance Dam near the border with Sudan.

Ethiopia and five other Nile basin countries – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda – have now signed a deal effectively stripping Cairo of its veto, based on colonial-era treaties, over dam projects on the Nile, source of nearly all of Egypt’s water.

Canada and the US continue to have good relations regarding water use.  If the subject interests you, here are reports on Great Lakes Water and the Columbia River treaty.


Added a week later:


“Some pronouncements were made in the heat of the moment because of emotions. They are behind us,” Mohamed Kamel Amr, Egypt’s foreign minister, told a joint news conference with his Ethiopian counterpart Tedros Adhanom in Ethiopia’s capital.

North Korean aggression – an attempt at big picture thinking

March 15, 2013

This woman may have stolen my thunder:

Lately, the threats have been more jarring than in years past. However, like many Koreans, most of the expat community shrugs it off, likening the threats to whining from a petulant child.However dismissive we are to news of Kim Jong-un’s (김정은) newest tantrum, we quietly acknowledge that the threats are not completely empty. There is a danger of escalation. We simply keep an eye out for that email or phone call from the embassy telling us it’s time to go (or hope we will have the luxury of time and notice to do so).


I have been in the small town of Penetanguishene, Ontario for about six weeks now and feel settled.  The times I get confused here and have to explain that I have lived abroad for many years have decreased and I mostly understand how things work.
The opposite is not true. When people hear that I am from South Korea, and they have time to care and talk about it, they ask about North Korea’s recent belligerent threats.  Here is what I would tell them if my thoughts were properly organized and they really wanted a lecture on the subject.  People who have lived in Korea for any significant length of time may choose to skip the rest of this post.

For ex-pats with some experience in Korea, the USFK are a great comfort and much beloved.  Yes, individual soldiers do stupid things, but no more frequently than individual English teachers.  As a group, as a military force, they are on the side of angels.

I need to belabour this point a little.  I think the reasons behind the second Gulf War were petty, deceptive and have hurt America’s image worldwide.  The American-led attacks in Afghanistan started for good reasons but the military and political leadership are doing stupid things and their coverups are only making things worse.  Bush Junior started digging a hole to bury America’s reputation and Obama is using drones to deepen it.

There’s a lot I don’t trust about American foreign policy.

Regarding Korea, I believe nearly every word.  Often, I trust the American reports over Korean ones.

I have lived in, and watched carefully, Korea for about a quarter of its sixty years of armistice.  What I have seen in sixteen years is an excellent example of the whole.  I arrived in Korea just after a North Korean submarine ran aground near Gangneung,a place where I would work for seven years.  The crew and their cargo of commandos slipped inland and evaded capture for two months before being killed or captured.  They killed many South Koreans during this period.  More recently, the North Koreans sank a South Korean naval vessel and fired artillery shells at an island of civilians.  The BBC has a timeline of attacks but it is outdated as it does not include the Baeknyeong Island shelling of 2012.

Now, they are making threats of more, and more violent, action.  My Canadian friends don’t understand why.  To some extent, I join them.  Nobody really understands what happens in North Korea.  This is what my friends and I think is happening.

From 2000 to 2008, presidents Kim Dae Jung and Roh Mu Hyun pursued a ‘Sunshine Policy’, that of giving North Korea vast amounts of aid and not watching to see where it was going.  Kim won the Nobel Peace Prize for it.  However, many felt that the lack of oversight meant that the aid was going nowhere or nowhere useful.  Now, I must admit to descending into rumour: I have heard that when bags of rice are sent into North Korea, the bags are labelled “Product of South Korea” or “A gift from the USA” and the rice then either emptied into new bags with North Korean labels or described as war reparations from these countries.  I place slightly more stock in the latter scenario but both are believable.

From the New York Times:

Tired of giving billions of dollars of aid and trade to the Communist North but getting little in return, South Koreans in 2007 abandoned the policies of Mr. Kim and his successor, Roh Moo-hyun, by electing Lee Myung-bak, a conservative leader who promised a tougher stance on Pyongyang.

With Lee Myung-bak came restrictions on aid and a return to violence by North Korea.  Although not precisely admitted as such, it sure appears that the North Korean government is saying give us aid or we will kill South Korean citizens.  This is a protection racket writ large.

The Daily Maverick has it right in an article titled North Korea: Eccentric, yes; Irrational, no.

Contrary to what is often said about North Korea’s leadership, it is not irrational. The Pyongyang leaders pursue highly rational goals in a highly inhospitable environment. They are not zealots of a mechanistic ideology or religion; rather, they are a hereditary oligarchy where a young king, Kim Jong-Un, is surrounded by aging lords whose forefathers once served the kings that came before,” writes Andrei Lankov in Asia Times. “These people have not the slightest desire to initiate a nuclear holocaust and bring the threat of nuclear annihilation merely for the pleasure of killing a few ten thousand Americans, Japanese or South Koreans.”Lankov argues – and it’s hard to disagree – that the real point of the nukes, and the bravado, is self-defence, and diplomatic blackmail. “Without nuclear weapons it would be virtually impossible for them to attract international attention and squeeze unconditional aid from the international community,” continues Lankov.

Finally, this account has caught up to current events.  North Korea has threatened to tear up the armistice agreement and attack both the US and South Korea.  Is this the same ol’, same ol’?

I think so.  The novel part of the situation is that we have two new players or perhaps two new leaders of the original players.  Both North and South Korea have relatively inexperienced leaders and who can say what the testing will reveal.

From the above-linked Daily Maverick article:

Park Geun-hye was inaugurated just a fortnight ago, and already she’s had to deal with an opposition that keeps blocking her cabinet appointments, plummeting opinion polls and a major escalation in hostilities with North Korea. It’s been less a baptism of fire than a baptism of impending nuclear apocalypse, and so far it is her equally inexperienced North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-Un that seems to be holding all the cards.

Lee Myung Bak claims to have been held back by the Americans and Southern generals appear prepared this time to retaliate rather than merely bluster.  Nobody calls an evened scale revenge.  You always have to reply with interest and who knows how quickly that interest will compound?

Kim JongUn and Bak GeonHye are new to their posts but their respective military leaders aren’t.  My prediction is caution with a chance of stupidity.  I rate the possibility of localized violence over the next year as around 10% and wider action as well under 1%.

The DMZ to become a protected wildlife zone… again

September 29, 2011

From the Ministry of Environment via Scientific American:

I guess the DMZ, the four kilometre wide and 250 kilometre long area between North and South Korea, appears in many ways to be an excellent place for the preservation of wildlife.  It is already home to many animals that are otherwise locally extinct and it is by definition a no-man’s land.

As the joke goes, there are a lot of three-legged animals there that are ‘protected’.  Hmm, I wonder if the local wildlife has evolved the ability to sniff out the landmines.

I have two concerns, one structural and one, I don’t know, sociological.  First, although the DMZ is definitely long enough, I am concerned about it’s depth.  Four km isn’t that far for some of the larger animals that are rumored to live there.

Second, encouraging wildlife there may well encourage hunting by starving North Korean soldiers.  The DMZ is nearly empty of human life but is also the focus of huge military and political forces.  It is a carefully balanced level.

My point here is that the Koreas should not forget or cover up what the DMZ really stands for.  It was created and lives today solely due to war.  It is not a symbol of peace nor of animal protection. My opinion is unchanged. “The DMZ is a pretty bandaid hiding a hideous wound and we are admiring the bandaid.”

Is what I know actually true?

November 29, 2010

This is a sort of ‘big-think’ post: big as in an overview of the way I think and what I think about, not as in international politics, although I will be discussing international politics.  There will be a scattering of links but this post is about my opinions.

I am writing it to learn what I think about certain things and to see if they seem rational.  For this reason, although I will engage in some revising before I post, I do not promise a rational train of thought. This could well be a Grand Canyon style set of curves and twists, although likely as shallow as the Grand Canyon is deep.

I am in an email debate with a coworker about evolution and creationism.  I am convinced his views and claims have no merit.  There are a few points where I can see why is confused while still denying there is room for confusing.

I recently read a post on Facebook from a ‘friend of a friend’ (this is the literal term used) about how the North Koreans were provoked by the US and that the US and South Korea engineered the sinking of the Cheonan.

Last March, North Korea was falsely blamed for sinking a South Korean ship, a topic an earlier article addressed, accessed through the following link:

[link removed – find it in the original article]

Seoul said there’s “no other plausible explanation….The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that (a) torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine,” even though none was detected in the area.

At the time, evidence suggested a false flag, manufactured to blame the North. The incident occurred near Baengnyeong Island opposite North Korea. US Navy Seals and four US ships were conducting joint exercises in the area. The torpedo used was German, not North Korean as claimed. Germany sells none to Pyongyang. Yet it was blamed for what it didn’t do, what apparently was Pentagon-manufactured mischief.

I am convinced these claims have no merit.

Articles likethis have me confused:

I have found at least something to like about each Republican or Democrat I have met. I have close friends in both camps, in which I have observed the following: no matter the issue under discussion, both sides are equally convinced that the evidence overwhelmingly supports their position.

During the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, while undergoing an fMRI bran scan, 30 men–half self-described as “strong” Republicans and half as “strong” Democrats–were tasked with assessing statements by both George W. Bush and John Kerry in which the candidates clearly contradicted themselves. Not surprisingly, in their assessments Republican subjects were as critical of Kerry as Democratic subjects were of Bush, yet both let their own candidate off the hook.

The neuroimaging results, however, revealed that the part of the brain most associated with reasoning–the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex–was quiescent. Most active were the orbital frontal cortex, which is involved in the processing of emotions; the anterior cingulate, which is associated with conflict resolution; the posterior cingulate, which is concerned with making judgments about moral accountability; and–once subjects had arrived at a conclusion that made them emotionally comfortable–the ventral striatum, which is related to reward and pleasure.

I am convinced that the US government has lied many times and consistently on several specific subjects.  I believe that they attacked Iraq simply because they could.  There was no evidence of recent use or creation of WMDs.  Just about everything we were told was a lie.  I am more accepting of claims made about Afghanistan but still distrust most everything I hear about US foreign policy.

And yet I accept almost everything I read about North Korea and see the Americans, and the South Koreans, as the good guys who don’t have any special reason to do wrong.  The North Korean government is evil and I can’t recall hearing of them doing anything that I approve of.

If I read or heard that sentence describing anything else, I would consider the writer or speaker to be simple or naive.

I do want to think of myself as rational and not overly set in my ways.  I like to think of myself as open to new ideas and have made an effort online to admit, on occasion, when I was wrong.

There was a blog in the old days called incestuous amplification.  The name referred to the way people with set viewpoints only read media that agreed with them so their own views were strengthened artificially.

The internet and other media all seem consistent in their vilifying of North Korea.  Defectors all tell stories varying only in how horrifying the conditions there are.  Still, people escaping a country can hardly be expected to describe it glowingly.

These same defectors are treated poorly here in South Korea.  They are watched with suspicion and can only find menial jobs.

North Korean pronouncements seem almost comical in their unrestrained attacks on South Korea and the US- so comical that I can easily imagine they have been doctored by translators.  And yet, I do see vicious verbal attacks followed by demands that the South give them more aid and reopen factories based on North Korean soil.  They seem crazy, but their demands are often met.

Is there anyway my reader(s) could imagine the North Koreans are not the total bad guys I believe them to be?

North Korea shells YeonPyeong Island

November 23, 2010

The Marmot wasn’t nervous,

How’s this: North Korea shows off an advanced uranium enrichment program, special envoy Stephen Bosworth calls it the worst North Korean provocation in 20 years, South Korean defense minister Kim Tae-young is talking about the reintroduction of US tactical nukes to South Korea… and I still can’t bring myself to care.

But now he is:

Local news is reporting that North Korea has fired some 50 shells at the West Sea island of Yeonpyeong-do, with South Korea firing 30 rounds in return.

More worrying, some of the North Koreans shells reportedly landed on the island itself, destroying about 60—70 homes and fields. The island’s population has also reportedly taken shelter. No word on casualties.

This is not good. This is not good at all.

I, too, am a little nervous.

Still, this doesn’t feel like the prelude to a deliberate attack.  The North isn’t a democracy that needs to sway it’s citizens with news of being attacked or the like to whip them into a frenzy before launching a real attack.  If they wanted to attack, they would doubtless do so across many fronts at once; across the full length of the DMZ and with hijacked container ships at many harbors and with local agents spreading chaos.  If there was a plan, it would contain some of the above aspects, not the shelling of a single island.

Still, shelling an island is pretty stupid.  Since I can’t see any reason for it, I must assume the North Koreans are crazy and then, who can expect a reasonable attack plan from crazy people?

More news from the Herald, the Times, The Chosun and the Joongang.

The herald reports one ROK soldier killed and the other sources report only injured casualties, including civilians.

Unification tax could be used to reforest North Korea

August 27, 2010

President Lee’s government recently tested the idea of a re-unifictation tax and many wondered what it was for and why it was being suggested now.

I suppose people are right to be suspicious, but I like the idea of a government planning for the future. The US (and probably my homeland, Canada) are infamous for reducing tax and increasing various programs that voters won’t have to pay for but their children will.  I can’t say that’s crazy, but I can say it’s a pretty cold thing to do to your descendants.

Anyway, in today’s Korea Times I see a discussion about reforesting North Korea after unification.  Again, a great idea, but why now?  What bad action has taken place domestically that they want to hide or what do they know about KJI’s health?

From the article:

Traditionally, the mountainous North had more forests than the South. But reckless logging denuded the mountains of the former, while the latter has put forth great efforts for forestation.

As a result, the South has become the world’s fourth most forested country among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in terms of size compared to territory.

“Currently, mankind is facing the three major threats of climate change, reduced bio-diversity and fast desertification. Trees hold the solution to all three problems,” the 56-year-old said.

“The world is also well aware of the fact as demonstrated by the United Nations, which declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests.”

Chung said the so-called “Miracle of the Han River” was not only about the fast economic growth of South Korea but also about the successful forestation over the past few decades.