Saturday, April 28, 2018

My Observations of the InterKorean Summit 2018

 These notes are just personal observations which may be of some value [or may not].  They are not meant to be political in nature but little details that caught my eye.
  • Kim Jong Un’s usual bodyguard who had his back during Dennis Rodman’s trips to Pyongyang was not there.  That individual had been Kim Jong Il’s bodyguard as well.  All the bodyguards appeared to be much younger than previous crew.  Presumably, as he has gotten older he’s probably training new generation of bodyguards at KPA Unit 963 
  •   Kim Yong Un invited Moon Jae In to cross into the north – unscripted.  Very nice gesture.  Symbolism counts
  •  Kim Yong Chol twice got confused as to where to go when Kim Jong Un was walking towards Moon Jae In.  Kim Yo Jong also got called over once from where she was following her brother
  • At all times, Kim Yo Jong walked near her brother, and she handed all documents and things, such as gloves, pens, water pitcher to Kim Jong Un.  Did not observe anyone else doing so. Mother-Hen sister as well as trusted comrade.  Noted that Kim Yo Jong had some type of cell phone or recorder which she placed on the table as Kim Jong Un was delivering his opening remarks.  At some point thereafter, she began to take notes, though I could not tell if she was taking notes on the electronic device or some other notebook.  She did not take notes during Moon Jae In’s opening remarks.
  • Kim Jong Un is a heavy smoker.  Did not observe him light one at all.  He was probably going bonkers at times.
  • Kim Jong Un has a good sense of humor and cracked a lot of jokes
  • Pictures and videos of Kim Jong Un always show him talking and everyone else listening.  During his one-on-one talk in the park with Moon Jae In, it was interesting to observe Kim Jong Un listening to Moon.  Kim would nod in apparent agreement, at times he gazed to the side or downwards in thoughtful contemplation of the merits of what Moon Jae In was saying.  He gave the impression of being a good listener
  • Li Sol Ju did not stand as close to Kim Jong Un as Kim Jong Suk stood to her husband, Moon Jae In.  Wonder if she was pissed off at Kim for not having made the initial trip earlier in the day
  •  New heavyweights:  Kim Yo Jong and Kim Jong Chol.  Missing and presumably out of favor:  Hwang Pyong So and Choe Ryong Hae

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


Ultimately, the successful denuclearization of North Korea will likely require the following conditions as a minimum:
·      Kim Jong Un’s commitment to denuclearization and his ability to actualize such a policy within the DPRK without opposition.  This is not as simple as it appears.  The DPRK has invested heavily in its nuclear weapons programs, and presumably, there are interest groups within national security and military-industrial organs who could oppose giving up weapons.  While it appears that Kim Jong Un has control over party and military structure (any opposition appears to have not fared too well so far) the possibility nevertheless exists of the emergence of serious opposition to actual denuclearization

·      South Korean commitment not to alter or destabilize political structure of DPRK,
-       No direct or indirect challenges to regime legitimacy and political structure
-       North Korea will likely evolve into Chinese-style communism, i.e., closed political structure with open economy
-       Human rights to be overlooked for a time.  China can help North Korea in this regard.  Not likely to be a problem for South Korea itself

·      DPRK’s need for South Korean and American investment and technology to develop its mineral resources and economy, which will not be forthcoming unless the country agrees to denuclearize.  The value of these golden carrots must be seen in context of Kim Jong Un’s speech before the 7th Korean Worker’s Party Congress from May 6 to May 9, 2016, after a 36-year hiatus.  Frank Ruediger of the University of Vienna most appropriately titled the Congress “A Return to a New Normal.”[1]  In his speech:
Kim Jong Un refrained from following the typical socialist fallacy of promoting producer goods over consumer goods. Rather, he emphasized the need for a balanced development of the sectors of the national economy. In fact, he even sounded slightly critical of past economic policies when he stressed that past investments, which were mainly in the economy’s foundations, need to translate into actual improvements of the people’s lives. Developmental economists will feel reminded of the debate between supporters of balanced and unbalanced growth in the 1960s. Once again, we see that many of North Korea’s problems are far from unique.[2]

·      China’s determination to ensure a nuclear-weapons free Korean peninsula, and willingness to cooperate with the United States, North Korea and South Korea in pursuit of that goal,

·      Security guarantee to DPRK provided by the United States, China, and perhaps Russia.  In Kazakhstan’s case, security assurances were provided by Permanent Five (P-5) states of the United Nations (UN) Security Council (UNSC)[3],
-       Will likely require an iron-clad guarantee and some security mechanism as remedy for a breach thereof
-       May require US to remove forces from South Korea as a security guarantee to North.  On the other hand, Soviets agreed to German unification without requiring unified Germany withdrawal from NATO

·      The personal involvement of senior-level policy officials on all sides, and

·      U.S. technical and financial assistance through the Nunn-Lugar CTR program to support the elimination of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) infrastructure and expand the scope of U.S.-DPRK relations.  While originally “created for the purpose of securing and dismantling weapons of mass destruction and their associated infrastructure in the former states of the Soviet Union … CTR assistance has expanded to non-Soviet countries such as the South Asia region, Iraq, Afghanistan, China, and African nations such as Djibouti, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda.” [4]  The CTR provides a credible and time-tested mechanism for the elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

·      As was the case in Kazakhstan, it will be Kim Jong Un’s “support for, and ability to lead the political process without domestic opposition”[5], as well as his ability to implement the process that will be keys to successful denuclearization. 

[1] Frank Ruediger, The 7th Party Congress in North Korea: A Return to a New Normal,  38 North (May 20, 2016) accessed on September 10, 2016.
[2] Reudiger, Id.
[3] Dena Sholk, The Denuclearization of Kazakhstan (1991-1995), Georgetown University INAD 912, April 30, 2013; (accessed on January 8, 2017), p. 3
[4] Fact Sheet: The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.  The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation,  June 1, 2014;
[5] Sholk, p. 3.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

One Day at the Pentagon

So there I was… a junior field-grade officer [a staffer] at Headquarters United States Air Force, Pentagon.  I kept telling myself this is a good assignment—everyone said so—and supposedly it meant certain promotion; and it did ... but…  

In any case, here’s a couple of war stories

1.         The Memo

After initially reporting for duty at my new assignment, I spent a couple of weeks of inprocessing, i.e, signing in, getting appropriate badges, etc. I also attended various briefings, the topics ranging from nuclear strategy to office safety.  Finally, I was ready.  First task: I was directed to prepare a staff memo on some topic or other, for the higher ups. It was time sensitive and I was given a deadline of a few days.  As an eager beaver, I gave myself entirely to the task.  I imagined my memo having a direct impact on the readiness of the strategic nuclear forces of the United States and our national security.  On Friday, I turned in my memo to the colonel in charge of our division.  He thanked me and told me he would review it.   I was somewhat taken aback by his lackadaisical manner:  I’d been told this was a priority, I spent almost a week researching and analyzing the topic; therefore, it was ready to be given immediately to the President for his approval.

The following week, I received back my memo. It had red ink all over it… Diligently I redid the memo per the changes noted; and turned it in.  The colonel seemed satisfied that I incorporated  all of his changes.  We sent it up the chain.  A few days later my time-sensitive memo returned, this time with green ink all over it… more changes from some other colonel.  Once again I redid the memo incorporating all ‘suggested’ [a.k.a. mandatory] changes; and turned it in.

You guessed it… the memo came back with orange ink with further changes… After what seemed to be a couple of dozen changes in various colors, the memo was approved at division level, signed and sent upwards.  I compared the final version to my original version:  except for a couple of “glad” to “happy” changes, the original version did not differ much from the final version. 

Bottom line of story:  Air Force is top heavy with rank and Pentagon contains too many colonels with nothing to do but to edit memos with multi-colored pens… BTW:  The memo disappeared into the Pentagon’s black hole of busy work…

True story

2.         The Reception

While stationed there, I became friends with another junior field-grade officer.  He was a really nice guy, very quiet, diligent and focused, and totally dedicated to Air Force mission [Yes, he was a Zoomie [Air Force Academy graduate]].  Socially, he was quiet, never drank much at functions we attended [a.k.a., mandatory] His work was always impeccable and was generally considered a rising star.

One fine day, we were required to attend a social function hosted by a three-star general for some event or other – YAWN --  Various foreign officers had been invited and were in attendance.   Dinner was scheduled to start at 1900 (7:00 p.m. for civilians)  We were instructed to mingle about and just socialize with the foreign officers… My friend and I got there around 1630 (4:30 p. m.).  They had just opened the bar and drinks were free… I just settled with my usual Whisky Sour preparing to nurse it for a couple of hours. 

While mingling with some RAF officers, I noticed that my friend had gone over where a group of Korean army officers were drinking.  Having lived in Korea for three years, I can definitely say that Koreans know how to drink.  They were having a party all by themselves, drinking and laughing; and my friend was happily in the middle … socializing …

At 1855 (6:55 p.m.) the bell rang: dinner is about to start.  The Air Force three-star arrived.  He was one of those typical Air Force generals:  Skinny runner-type fighter pilot with a dour-face, totally humorless, and entirely focused on the mission (and his career therein).  I didn’t ‘socialize’ with him…

As I came to our table I saw my friend—he was shit-faced drunk… I had never seen him like that… I told him to get his shit together and maintain himself.  Promptly at 1900 the place was called to attention and the general formally entered into the dining hall; the entire assembly still at full attention.  As the general got to his table, suddenly there was a really loud CRASH:   Yep, my friend fell flat on his face in front of the entire assembly, taking some dishes with him to the floor.


After a moment, the general said: “Everyone may laugh now… "


"And I want to see that man in my office at 0630 tomorrow morning”

Thereafter my friend got every shit job and detail possible; he was everyone’s gopher and point man for shit.  He never mentioned the incident, and bore all the crap with stoic dignity never complaining… That must have impressed the general because my friend did get promoted; though, to the best of my knowledge, he never went drinking with Korean army officers again…

True story