Recent Commentary


September 7 – 2017

On August 29th North Korea launched a ballistic missile which flew over Japan, narrowly missing an Air France aircraft before it broke into three pieces that fell into the North Pacific. It was their 18th ICBM test this year. On Sunday, September 3rd, the DPRK detonated the largest nuclear weapon, estimated at 100+ kilotons, about eight times the Hiroshima device. It is obvious that Kim Jong Un, the 32 year old ruler of the DPRK, is determined to acquire an arsenal of tested ICBM’s supposedly as a deterrent to the US and its allies from invading North Korea, as if anyone has any desire to do so.

Of course, these nuclear and ICMB activities are intended to preserve the seventy year rule of the Kim Dynasty. The possession of an arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying nuclear, or even hydrogen warheads by a country ruled by an avowed enemy of the United States is a grave threat to the United States and its allies.

What to do? In a comprehensive essay in the Atlantic, “The Worst Problem on Earth”, Mark Bowden cited four possible broad strategic options actions that the US could take in dealing with the North Korean situation:

a. Prevention – All out attacks on DPRK nuclear and missile facilities;
b. Turning the Screws – Military responses to any DPRK missile launches, etc.
c. Decapitation – Removal of Kim Jong Il and his immediate military command structure;
d. Acceptance – Tacitly acknowledge that the DPRK will indeed develop sufficient nuclear and missile launch capability to provide an effective deterrent to any US activities toward regime change in the DPRK.

After citing a long list of reasons Mr. Bowden concluded that that “acceptance is “how the current crisis should and most likely will play out”. We submit that acceptance would be a terrible result that should be avoided if at all possible.

Russia and China share responsibility for the present situation. In 1945 Russia was awarded North Korea for its belated entry into WWII, and installed Kim Il -Sung, then a major in the Russian army as the first President of DPRK. In 1950, sensing an opportunity to unite all of Korea under his rule, he invaded South Korea. After achieving initial success, the US led coalition drove the DPRK forces, including some Russian elements back to the Chinese border. China then joined the war and with massive forces turned the tide. The adversaries agreed to return to the original border on the 38th Parallel. No armistice was ever signed and the two countries are technically still at war.

Without Chinese intervention the Korea Peninsula would now be unified under the government of the Republic of Korea. Without China’s economic support, the DPRK would be even more of a disaster – it currently imports about 90% of its oil from China, the lifeblood of its military which includes any Chinese officers. Obviously, China provides this support because it believes it is in their self-interest to do so.

In his recent Op/Ed piece, Dr. Henry A. Kissinger described multiple adverse effects of DPRK acquiring a capable nuclear deterrent which imply that the “Acceptance” strategy would be a terrible outcome. He concludes that “An understanding with China is needed”. We concur with this statement, and believe that it that offers the best chance for a favorable outcome to this “Greatest Problem”.

Although deep divisions that exist between China and the US, the two largest economies in the world with many close commercial relationships and peace in the North Pacific is in the interests of both countries.

In summary, it appears that no reduction in the DPRK nuclear threat will be possible as long as the evil Kim dynasty rules the DPRK, and further negotiations involving him are counter-productive. The delays involved only provide further time to perfect his weaponry. Although it denies it, China has enormous power over the DPRK, including the ability to accomplish regime change. The two Superpowers have many crucial interests in common that could lead to an acceptable arrangement for all. It is time for the two adults in the room to make this happen, preferably before any military response from the countries threatened. Without an agreement, some defensive military action to destroy future launched missiles would seem an appropriate next step.

Byron K. Varme
Executive Director

Of Course We Want Regime Change!

5 – October 5, 2017

5 – October 5, 2017
In his earlier statements regarding US policy towards the Democratic Peoples Republic of North Korea (DPRK) US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson assured Kim Jong Un that the US was not seeking to overthrow his regime, but simply have them cease further developing nuclear weapons and the intercontinental missiles that threaten the US and elsewhere. This statement was
“Diplomatically Correct” nonsense. Of course, the US and almost all of the free world, and especially China, would be delighted to see the sadistic young despot not only leave North Korea but also the rest of the planet. The world would be a better place without the Kim dynasty ruling North Korea.
For seventy years, beginning with Kim Il-Sung in 1950, each of the Kim rulers have told their people that the US and South Korea want to invade North Korea, and have fortified their side of 38N to defend against this remote possibility. Why would anyone in their right mind want to invade North Korea except to get rid of Kim Jong Un and his regime? He knows this, and has developed their nuclear arsenal and its inter-continental delivery system solely to stay in power.
This strategy has been pursued by three generations of Kim’s very successfully, but at enormous humanitarian cost to his people. President Trump in his inimitable way has acknowledged this situation and in a speech on September 22nd called the latest Kim “the little Rocket Man”. The North Koreans regard the US as their major adversary and have long sought direct contact with the US, rather than through either China or South Korea. Having opened the door to direct contact with his taunts of Kim Jong Un, provoking even stronger response from North Korea, last week President Trump told Secretary Tillerson to “forget negotiations” with North Korea because they would be useless. He is correct in this assessment, but it was worth the effort to show that the US at least tried the diplomatic approach.
Our last Commentary listed four potential scenarios of this awful situation, concluding that
“Acceptance” of DPRK as a nuclear armed state was the most likely outcome. However, it would be a terrible non-solution to the problem. In his column on Tuesday, October 3rd, Gerald Seib1 softening the dismay that “Acceptance’ implies, compared it to the long term strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union set forth by the esteemed George Kennan in 1947 calledv “deterrence and containment”. This sounds suspiciously like the policy of “Strategic Patience”

propounded by Barack Obama who, following the example of his predecessors, also kicked the North Korean can down the road. Returning to the disparity of the Trump-Tillerson comments, there is some good news here. This situation is reminiscent of the First Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. James A. Baker, then Secretary of State under George H.W. Bush, spent six months in fruitless negotiations while the Western countries assembled a coalition of forces and planned a massive military response which was unleashed after all negotiations failed. The result was a textbook success.
Secretary Tillerson should continue his diplomatic efforts and quietly encourage (covert activities being frowned upon) the Chinese to act to remove the Kim dynasty from power. The US has one major incentive to offer, namely the withdrawal of US forces from the Korean Peninsula. While the new sanctions imposed by the UN may take limited effect, the US, Japan and South Korea should accelerate their missile defenses, and whenever ready, destroy illegal ballistic missile tests by the DPRK, either in flight or while on the launch pad. These can be characterized as purely defensive actions, not knowing whether the missiles are carrying standard or nuclear warheads. Although Kim Jong Un may call such attacks an act of war, he does not need an excuse to start a war.
A better outcome would be a coup d’état arranged by China, with a new regime headed by a North Korean installed by them, much as Kim Il-Sung was put in power by Russia following the end of WWII. It is now their turn.

Byron K. Varme
Executive Director


April 01 – 2017

The Grand Fenwick comedy has turned into a horror story. Following WWII the Korean Peninsula was partitioned into two separate nations, with the northern country (DPRK) allocated to the Soviet Union and the Republic of Korea (South Korea or ROK), under the authority of the Allied administration headed by General MacArthur in Tokyo. The Russians installed Kim Il Sung, then a major in the Russian army, who through assignations and established a total dictatorship. Their objective then and now was to unify the entire Korean Peninsula under their control.

Sensing the military weakness and lack of commitment by the US, on June 26, 1950 Kim launched an attack on South Korea, which initially succeeded brilliantly against the ill-prepared Allied Forces, until, backed by a UN resolution, the Allies reassembled a broad coalition which forced the DPRK army to retreat to almost the northern border. The outcome of the war changed when China intervened with massive support which drove the Allied forces back to the original borders.

The net result of the Korean War was re-establishment of the border at the 38th Parallel. The two countries have never signed peace agreement and are technically still at war.

Over the seven decades since the end of the Korean War, the ROK has developed into a free economic powerhouse with a GNP of $1.7 Trillion and an average annual income of $37,000 per person.

In contrast, the DPRK converted itself into an armed fortress to protect its leaders, imbedding thousands of artillery pieces in tunnels within range of Seoul; creating a standing army of over one million soldiers; developing an arsenal of nuclear weapons; and finally, testing intercontinental ballistic missiles with the capability to hit North American cities. All this was accomplished by diverting funds from domestic development and its impoverished citizens.

Assuming that the West takes no action to prevent Kin Jong Un from acquiring an arsenal of nuclear weapons and intercontinental weapons capable of reaching the US, he would hold a “trump card” against any interference with his dream of reuniting the entire Korean Peninsula as the DPRK.

When the US entered into mutual defense treaties with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines seventy years ago there was little thought that any potential adversary could endanger the US or its Pacific territories. With the DPRK in possession of nuclear ICBM’s would US public opinion cause Washington to rethink its mutual defense treaty obligations, including the US Forces stationed at the 38th Parallel? Would the pacifists in Seoul respond with military action believing that the US would not fulfill its mutual defense treaty obligations? They might accept a “Special Relationship” as Hong Kong has with China. Korea could again be reunited, but under the rule of the evil Kim dynasty.

If this scenario ever did play out, future historians could reasonably ask which country made the better use of its funds?

Byron K. Varme
Executive Director

North Korea – “The Mouse That Roared”

January 17 – 2017

Although it is highly unlikely that the Kim dynasty that has ruled the DPRK (North Korea) since the 1953 partition had ever seen the film, their actions during the last sixty years appear to follow its scenario. Many other totalitarian countries have acquired (or tried to acquire) nuclear weapons to remain in power.

However, the possession of any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by North Korea is no joke. Under the rule of Kim Jong-Il and his really weird son Kim Jong-Un, North Korea has conducted four tests of nuclear weapons from 2006 to 2016. Further, North Korea is developing ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads and sufficient range to reach the US West Coast. As a further deterrent, the DPRK fortified its border with South Korea with strongly imbedded artillery capable of reaching Seoul. Over these years the world has watched with increasing apprehension as ongoing diplomatic efforts and various incentives for the “Hermit Kingdom” to abandon these programs and join the civilized world have failed.

The optimum solution for the DPRK’s long-suffering citizens is to overthrow the Kim Jong-Un regime, but it is extremely difficult for the people of any autocracy to overthrow their government. There is a long list of recent failed coup attempts, including the Green revolution in Iran, the “Arab Spring” countries (except Tunisia), the disaster in Syria and most recently, Turkey. In all these cases the leaders of the failed coups suffered horribly. However, there are some encouraging developments.

As described by Jieun Baek in Foreign Affairs,[1] ongoing programs conveying information on the world outside DPRK are having some success. Recently, Thae Yong Ho, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to Britain, defected to South Korea. He stated that “Kim Jong-Il’s days are numbered” and is working to overthrow the regime.[2] These efforts are worthwhile and should be augmented with professional covert activities, presumably by South Korean agencies, to support the insurgent groups at such time as a coup is launched with sufficient arms to overcome the formidable defenses protecting the Kim leadership group.

As a final option, the US, together with Japan and South Korea, should quickly establish the air defense missile systems similar to the Iron Dome in Israel to be able to intercept and destroy any missiles launched by the DPRK in their development programs. This missile can be launched quickly from mobile platforms, making them difficult to find and destroy on the ground.

The immediate justification for destroying any missiles launched by the PDRK is that the allies had no way of knowing the destination of the missile or whether or not it was armed with a nuclear warhead. Therefore, the action taken was deemed to be totally defensive, and not an “act of war”. However, any such attack likely would bring a new set of unknown consequences, notably China’s response. The dream of creating a united, democratic and prosperous country occupying the entire Korean peninsula is long sought objective, but likely will remain a dream as long as it is in the interest of China to keep North Korea as a thorn in the sides of South Korea, Japan and the United States.

In summary, “The Mouse That Roared” has grown into a large rat which, with nuclear weapons and delivery capabilities, can threaten the US and our Pacific allies. Prior US administrations have “kicked this can down the road”, it is now the challenge for the Trump administration to address the issue.

We expect that General Mattis, our erudite new Secretary of Defense, discussed these options during his recent visit to Asia. It was reported that he gave strong reassurance to both South Korea and Japan that the US would honor or treaty obligations, which had been a major concern of both countries and Taiwan. That certainly is very good news.

Byron K. Varme
Executive Director

“Simple Solutions” Response

January 4, 2017

In an essay entitled “Simple Solutions” written in October, 2006 (1) I wrote about the most troubling of the challenges facing the Free world. Upon review, we find that most of these challenges not only remain, but have become substantially more dangerous. In effect, the countries of the free world have essentially “kicked the can down the road”, leaving it to their successors to solve the problem.

Because of considerations of length, we propose to address each of these challenges separately, first quoting the 2006 commentary, then adding our current comments and recommendations.

As our first selection we have chosen the North Korean situation. In 2006 we wrote:

North Korea is the prime example of an international basket case which has been created by a totalitarian dictatorship. The county has a population of 23 million people with a 99% literacy rate in an area about the size of Mississippi. There is no starker contrast of the effects of two disparate political systems in the world than DPRK and the Republic of South Korea. It is a tragedy for the North Korean people, who certainly share the same culture and work ethic of their prosperous blood relatives to the South, but are ruled by a barbaric government whose only objective is self-preservation.

To insure his power, Kim Jong Il, the weird and unpredictable Chief of State, has squandered their scant resources to create a standing army of over one million, armed with enough missiles with sufficient fire power to devastate Seoul, the capital of South Korea about 20 miles south of the DMZ. However, traditional military forces were not sufficient to achieve Kim Jong Il’s self-preservation objectives. For the past fifteen years DPRK has been trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, including chemical, biological and nuclear devices. Apparently the DPRK is now within a few years of achieving that objective.

On July 4, 2006, the day that the US launched its peaceful space shuttle vehicle Discovery, North Korea test launched a barrage of seven missiles including the ICBM Taepodong 2. This missile has a designed range of about 8,000 miles, capable of hitting the West Coast of the US. Although the rocket blew up shortly after launch, it certainly indicates the seriousness of its intent to develop a delivery system for its nuclear weapons. If the other concerned nations allow this to happen, the DPRK will have achieved its primary objectives, namely to create a deterrent that will keep its megalomaniac ruler in power; and the means to blackmail the outside world for increased economic support.

After ten days of negotiations, on July 15, 2006 the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed resolution No. 1965 condemning the DPRK for its missile testing program, forbidding the sale and export of nuclear and other technology and requesting that the country rejoin the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which it abandoned some time ago. This resolution was not made under the provisions of Chapter 7 of the UN regulations which would have authorized the use of force to assure compliance. This stronger authorization would have been vetoed by China and Russia.

The possession of atomic weapons certainly is a threat to neighboring countries, but without a long distance delivery system the threat is limited to the sale of weapons to terrorist groups. On October 9, 2006 North Korea detonated a small nuclear device underground, and soon thereafter Kim Jong Il bragged that the country had therefore become a member of the exclusive “Club of Nine” nations that have nuclear weapons. Although both their missile and nuclear programs are still relatively primitive, over time they certainly can develop into very credible threats. The combination of WMD and intercontinental missiles is indeed bad news.

The foreign policy of DPRK can best be described as another “Roaring Mouse” situation. It is a blatant attempt to force the outside world – mainly the US – to provide economic support to the country to keep the Kim regime in power.
However, the DPRK does possess one viable threat to U.S. interests. Since the division of the country in 1954 the United States has stationed a large contingent of ground forces, about 40,000 strong, along the DMZ. In the event of an all-out invasion from the north, they certainly would be amongst the first troops overrun, albeit with the infliction of heavy casualties on the invaders. These U.S. troops are, in effect, hostages which demand our involvement in the confrontation between the DPRK and South Korea.

The US forces are there under a treaty arrangement, but the original purpose, essentially to defend the weaker South Korean people from their blood relatives to the north, is no longer valid. After two generations, young Koreans look on the American military as occupiers, and blame much of the world’s troubles on US foreign policy.

These agreements should be renegotiated. There is no longer any need for the United States to be involved in a conflict between North and South Korea. This is a problem best solved by the countries most threatened, namely ROK, Japan, China and Russia, or a world organization such as described later.

Some Lessons:

a. Nip a dictatorship situation in the bud before he gains control of the country. Destroy the palaces and, hopefully, the dictator with precision weapons, but do not occupy the country. This will dissuade other would-be dictators

b. Don’t fall for the old “Mouse that Roared” ploy. Ignore the country and let its neighbors – China, Japan and South Korea – solve the problem.

c. Remember U.S. history in dealing with the Barbary pirates – “Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute!”

Simple Solutions:

a. Withdraw all US troops from South Korea as soon as possible (renegotiate treaties if necessary). These troops are, in reality, hostages which enshrines the status quo. Their withdrawal will remove a great deal of leverage of the DPRK on the U.S.

b. To replace this deterrent, the U.S. could provide the ROK Army tactical atomic artillery. Most certainly the US Navy has nuclear equipped submarines stationed offshore. Any attack on South Korea would result in a ‘dead zone” along the northern side of the DMZ, as well as strikes against strategic targets, such as were quickly disabled in the Iraq campaigns.

c. Resolve the situation the old fashioned way – take Jong out! Invite a selected ally (e.g. Israel) to put out a contract on Kim Jong Un. Then forget about it.

Current Comments

Obviously, the actions recommended above were never taken, and in the ten years since this paper was written, the DRK under Kim Jong Un, Kim Jung Il’s corpulent son, has made significant progress towards achieving his father’s dream. Current reports indicate that the country is about to launch another inter-continental ballistic missile, and have already successfully tested underground nuclear weapons. Whenever these new tests are successful, the situation then becomes critical for South Korea, and North Korea will be essentially immune from attack without risking nuclear retaliation, which seems highly likely.

The non-military actions, such as the distribution of Western media as described by Jeun Baek in the current Foreign Affairs (2) are intended to result in overthrowing the Kim Jong Un regime are very worthwhile and should be continued, but will not result in defraying the immediate risks.

In a lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, January 3, 2017 the paper’s editorial board recommended that the US Navy use interceptor missiles to shoot down the next test firing of a ballistic missile by North Korea. We concur, but because these defensive measures may not work, it would be more certain to destroy the missile on its launch pad. The reaction by the Kim Jong Il regime is unpredictable, but any artillery attack on Seoul would certainly be met by counter barrages. China might overtly object, but would probably be pleased.

Byron K. Varme
Executive Director