Korea Crisis Round-Up. Missiles Moving, Trump on Twitter and the Crazy Man Strategy

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The weekend has been dominated by a lot of disinformation on Puerto Rico and a sense of disappointment that President Trump is not personally driving a flatbed truck loaded with bottled water and bags of rice somewhere in the hinterlands of that island to personally deliver supplies because every other president in history was always out there, shovel in hand, leading the way.  Because our media can only cover one Twitter trending topic at a time some stuff was happening in Korea that got little coverage or only the most click-baity type of notice.

Missiles on the move.

Via Reuters

Several North Korean missiles were recently spotted moved from a rocket facility in the capital Pyongyang, South Korea’s Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) reported late Friday amid speculation that the North was preparing to take more provocative actions.

The report cited an unnamed intelligence source saying South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials detected missiles being transported away from North Korea’s Missile Research and Development Facility at Sanum-dong in the northern part of Pyongyang.

What does this mean? Center for Strategic and International Studies has a fascinating infographic that correlates US diplomatic efforts towards North Korea with North Korea acting out. You really have to see it. I couldn’t figure out how to either embed or pirate it.

  • There appears to be an inverse correlation between U.S.-DPRK diplomacy and the frequency of North Korean provocations in this 25-year period. That is, there is a correlation between periods when the U.S. is at the negotiating table with North Korea, in a bilateral or multilateral setting, and a decrease in DPRK provocations.
  • The absence of missile tests or other kinetic provocations does not necessarily suggest a halt in North Korean weapons development or a reduction of the overall nuclear threat. But, diplomacy does seem to have some restraining effect on the number of provocations carried out.
  • The ratio of negotiations to provocations is highest under North Korean leader Kim Il-sung from 1990 to 1994. The ratio of negotiations to provocations is lowest under North Korean leader Kim Jong-un from 2012 to the present.
  • Whether the U.S. president is a Democrat or Republican, party control of the White House appears to have no effect on the pace of North Korean provocations.
  • Negotiations under Kim Jong-un hit historic lows in comparison to his predecessors, even when accounting for tenure in office.

The infographic is stark proof that talking to the North Koreans gets you nothing but if you stop talking to them, they act batsh** crazy. If we take the current status of diplomatic relations, refer to how Kim Jong Un has operated, consider his threat to pop a nuke over the Pacific, and then we see missiles moving, it could lead the average person to think we can expect some really crazy crap in the next few weeks.

Cyber Command carries out a DDOS Attack on North Korea.

This is not the kind of stuff you want to read in the Washington Post, but such is the state of honor and integrity in the intelligence community:

Early in his administration, President Trump signed a directive outlining a strategy of pressure against North Korea that involved actions across a broad spectrum of government agencies and led to the use of military cyber-capabilities, according to U.S. officials.

As part of the campaign, U.S. Cyber Command targeted hackers in North Korea’s military spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, by barraging their computer servers with traffic that choked off Internet access.

The Cyber Command operation, which was due to end Saturday, was part of the overall campaign set in motion many months ago. The effects were temporary and not destructive, officials said. Nonetheless, some North Korean hackers griped that lack of access to the Internet was interfering with their work, according to another U.S. official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a secret operation.

Cyber Command and the White House had no comment. But the senior administration official said, “What I can tell you is that North Korea has itself been guilty of cyberattacks, and we are going to take appropriate measures to defend our networks and systems.”

Eric Rosenbach, who led the Pentagon’s cyber-efforts as assistant secretary of defense in the Obama administration, said the operation “could have the advantage of signaling to the North Koreans a more aggressive posture. However, there’s accompanying risk of an escalation and a North Korean cyber-counterattack.”

And this:

This is why we will either have war or abject surrender in North Korea. Russia and factions in the Chinese government see North Korea as a useful tool for keeping us occupied.

Tillerson says US has direct contact with North Korean officials.

Via The New York Times:

The Trump administration acknowledged on Saturday for the first time that it was in direct communication with the government of North Korea over its missile and nuclear tests, seeking a possible way forward beyond the escalating threats of a military confrontation from both sides.

“We are probing, so stay tuned,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said, when pressed about how he might begin a conversation with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, that could avert what many government officials fear is a significant chance of open conflict between the two countries.

“We ask, ‘Would you like to talk?’ We have lines of communications to Pyongyang — we’re not in a dark situation, a blackout,” he added. “We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang,” a reference to North Korea’s capital.

As Winston Churchill said, “jaw-jaw is better than war-war.” With direct contacts the possibility of miscalculation on both sides goes down–though calculation might be dangerous enough. Talking without intermediaries is good. Obviously, having contacts is not the same as negotiating. The US basic position is that it is willing to negotiate once North Korea complies with UN Resolutions. Of course, if it complies, there is little left to negotiate.

Trump tells Tillerson not to waste his breath.

A lot of people wet themselves over this. Of course, most of them fall in the Donald Trump is an idiot crowd (quick test: look at Trump’s career, look at the career of the typical person calling him an idiot. Who has the greater chance of being an idiot?). I don’t think Trump is an idiot, I think he is bringing to the White House business strategies that worked for him in New York real estate. Whether those strategies are transferable or not, I don’t know. It is too soon to tell, for instance:

I don’t see this as hurting anything Tillerson is doing or undercutting him in anyway, it isn’t like Trump told him to stop talking. In fact, State seems, at least to me, to be saying pretty much the same thing only nicer (YMMV):

On Saturday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said: “Despite assurances that the United States is not interested in promoting the collapse of the current regime, pursuing regime change, accelerating reunification of the peninsula or mobilizing forces north of the DMZ, North Korean officials have shown no indication that they are interested in or are ready for talks regarding denuclearization.”

On Sunday, Nauert tweeted: “Diplomatic channels are open for #KimJongUn for now. They won’t be open forever.”

I do see it as a way of increasing the sense of urgency of the diplomacy. If the North Koreans are talking in good faith, which is highly unlikely, knowing that Trump is not invested in the outcome is a good thing for Tillerson to have. As I pointed out late last week, we have a window of about six months to a year to either prevent North Korea from developing a viable nuclear-armed ICBM or we have the choice of going to war or accepting that Pyongyang can hold Washington, DC and New York City hostage.

The tweets, ironically, have the virtue of being not only true but well known to anyone with a passing familiarity of our diplomatic history with North Korea. Clinton, Bush, and Obama tried to either ignore North Korea or buy them off or otherwise placate them. We got nothing–refer to the CSIS infographic again. North Korea has made it clear they will not give up their nukes. If they won’t give up their nukes, there is nothing that they have that we want. The jury is out on whether Trump will succeed.

Congress wants Trump to be more aggressive with North Korea.

The Hill frames this a Congress vs. Trump battle but that is bullsh** on stilts. Lawmakers look to bypass Trump on North Korea sanctions. There is no action Congress can take that has a veto proof majority. Having said that, there are some interesting nuggets in here.

“Is there any reason why we shouldn’t throw the kitchen sink at them?” asked Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a defense hawk and army veteran. “Hit them as hard as we can, as fast as we can, with everything we can?”

And this:

Warner openly wondered whether there was time for the sanctions in place to work.

“Do we have any sense at all that we’re going to have the time for these sanctions to take effect given the progress they’ve had on the nuclear front,” he asked.

The ‘Crazy Man’ theory of management.

Via Axios. This has some very interesting implications for everything we’re seeing on North Korea.

In an Oval Office meeting earlier this month, President Trump gave his top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, an Art of the Deal-style coaching session on how to negotiate with the South Koreans.

Trump’s impromptu coaching came in the middle of a pivotal conversation with top officials about whether or not to withdraw from the U.S.-Korean trade deal. Sources familiar with the conversation paraphrased the exchange for Axios, and the White House did not dispute this account.

A number of senior officials and cabinet secretaries were present for the conversation, including Defense Secretary Mattis, Agriculture Secretary Perdue, and Secretary of State Tillerson. At issue was whether the U.S. would withdraw from the Korean trade deal — an action Trump threatened but still hasn’t done.

“You’ve got 30 days, and if you don’t get concessions then I’m pulling out,” Trump told Lighthizer.

“Ok, well I’ll tell the Koreans they’ve got 30 days,” Lighthizer replied.

“No, no, no,” Trump interjected. “That’s not how you negotiate. You don’t tell them they’ve got 30 days. You tell them, ‘This guy’s so crazy he could pull out any minute.'”

“That’s what you tell them: Any minute,” Trump continued. “And by the way, I might. You guys all need to know I might. You don’t tell them 30 days. If they take 30 days they’ll stretch this out.”

The article points out that while Trump was talking about how bad NATO was, NATO countries started spending money. When he stopped, they stopped increasing defense spending. They have a great summary:

Trump’s threats can only produce short-term results, if he doesn’t follow through on them. As the senior official put it: “If you make a threat and don’t carry it out — such as Obama’s ‘line in the sand’ in Syria — your credibility is shot. ‘There he goes again’ will be the response to any new declaration.”

That is exactly right.