Don’t Risk War with North Korea, Experts Warn

F-16 figher jets South Korea
American F-16 fighter jets at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, August 15, 2013 (USAF/Armando A. Schwier-Morales)

American president Donald Trump’s advisors have floated the possibility of what they call a “bloody nose” attack on North Korea.

The Wall Street Journal reports that officials are “quietly debating whether it’s possible to mount a limited military strike against North Korean sites without igniting an all-out war on the Korean Peninsula.”

Experts doubt it. Read more “Don’t Risk War with North Korea, Experts Warn”

Trump’s Welcome Change of Heart on South Korea Trade Deal

Presidents Moon Jae-in of South Korea and Donald Trump of the United States meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, October 2
Presidents Moon Jae-in of South Korea and Donald Trump of the United States meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, October 2 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

American president Donald Trump appears to have changed his mind about a trade deal with South Korea.

As recently as a month ago, there were reports Trump was on the verge of withdrawing from the agreement.

Now American and Korean trade negotiators have agreed to amend the treaty in order to make it “fair” and “reciprocal”.

I doubt changes will really make the pact fairer and not more favorable to the United States. But that would still be better than canceling it. Read more “Trump’s Welcome Change of Heart on South Korea Trade Deal”

Canceling South Korean Trade Deal Would Be a Mistake

View from the Lotte World Tower in Seoul, South Korea
View from the Lotte World Tower in Seoul, South Korea (Unsplash/Jeonguk Ha)

Various American media report this weekend that President Donald Trump is thinking of canceling a trade agreement with South Korea.

This may be bluster: an attempt to force the South Koreans to make concessions. It’s the way Trump “negotiates”.

But if he makes good on this threat, it would be another self-inflicted wound for American commerce and a setback for America’s strategy in East Asia. Read more “Canceling South Korean Trade Deal Would Be a Mistake”

North Korea in the Next Five Years

View from the Lotte World Tower in Seoul, South Korea
View from the Lotte World Tower in Seoul, South Korea (Unsplash/Jeonguk Ha)

The Korean War, fought from 1950-53, was a result of two earlier wars in the 1940s: the American-Japanese War, which ended with the destruction and occupation of Japan in 1945, and the Chinese Civil War, which ended in a Communist victory (and Nationalist retreat to Taiwan) in 1950.

With the Communists and Americans as the only powers in East Asia following these wars, the Korean Peninsula was split in two, each side taking a piece for itself. Read more “North Korea in the Next Five Years”

Obama Slaps Ally in the Face with Steel Tariffs

Presidents Barack Obama of the United States and Park Geun-hye of South Korea walk in the garden of the Blue House in Seoul, April 25
Presidents Barack Obama of the United States and Park Geun-hye of South Korea walk in the garden of the Blue House in Seoul, April 25 (White House/Pete Souza)

Less than three years ago, the Obama Administration finalized a free-trade agreement with South Korea, one of America’s most important trading partners and allies in East Asia. The president was enthusiastic about the deal, saying it would “significantly boost exports that bear the proud label ‘Made in America,’ support tens of thousands of good paying American jobs and protect labor rights, the environment and intellectual property.”

Indeed, the International Trade Commission, an independent federal advisory body, said the deal could boost American exports by up to $12 billion per year and create as many as 280,000 jobs in the United States.

Yet the same Barack Obama is now rolling back trade with South Korea.

On Friday, his Commerce Department slapped a 10 to 16 percent tariff on South Korean steel. Smaller exporters elsewhere could face rates as high as 118 percent — a punishment for allegedly “dumping” steel into the American market at “unfair” prices, i.e., what happens if there is free trade.

The tariffs could become permanent if a special trade commission finds that the alleged dumping hurts American steelmakers — which, of course, it does. Which would, in turn, raise their profit margins while increasing costs for American consumers, including other businesses.

The Koreans expressed disappointment. “We had expected the American government to lead by example and resist protectionist pressure,” said a Korean embassy official in Washington DC.

They shouldn’t have been so surprised. Read more “Obama Slaps Ally in the Face with Steel Tariffs”

South Korea Should Study Its Past to Deal with North’s Future

North Korea is known for its exaggerated and bellicose proclamations against South Korea. Recently, it declared that strikes “without warning” would occur if protests in Seoul marking the anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il continued. But the recent execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Sung-taek, demonstrates a far deeper issue that North Korea wants contained: the internal desire for reform or revolution. If South Korea reflects on its previously successful and not so successful engagements with North Korea and learns from them, it is possible for a reunification or positive reform to eventually occur without war or destruction.

Despite losing many of its allies and supporters following the Cold War, North Korea has persisted in rebelling against international etiquette and refuses to collapse. South Korea is experienced in the rogue state’s belligerent attitude and has actively spent the last fifteen years dedicating policy experts and analysts to the task of avoiding war and establishing a peacefully feasible reunification. Some have been historically progressive whereas others have led to armed confrontation. These precedential dealings are the best platform to successfully move forward regarding a rogue state that cannot be understood through standard rational analysis. Read more “South Korea Should Study Its Past to Deal with North’s Future”

Pentagon Hopes Asian Allies Drive F-35’s Costs Down

An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, April 4
An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, April 4 (USAF/Brett Clashman)

The United States are counting on additional foreign sales of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet to help drive down the plane’s costs.

Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, the Pentagon’s F-35 program chief, told the Senate on Wednesday that he is “cautiously optimistic” about South Korea joining the multinational development program in June when it is due to announce the winner in a procurement competition for the acquisition of sixty planes. Boeing’s F-15 and the Eurofighter Typhoon are among the other systems competing for the contract.

Bogdan also said that Singapore had shown “tremendous interest” in the F-35. The city state, which has a small but highly sophisticated air force, is reportedly in the “final stages” of deciding which plane should replace its three dozen Northrop F-5s which entered service there in the 1970s.

The United States’ Asian allies’ interest in Lockheed’s plane has increased since China unveiled two separate fifth-generation fighter jets of its own which are suspected to have a similar stealth capability.

The American airplane manufacturer and Defense Department claim that the F-35’s capabilities are still superior to those of China’s warplanes.

Even if Singapore and South Korea join the Joint Strike Fighter program, it might not make up for other participating nations reducing their F-35 buys.

Britain, which was supposed to cover some 10 percent of development costs, or $2.5 billion, plans to buy fewer planes as do Italy and the Netherlands which allocated $1 billion and $800 million to the project, respectively. Canada and Japan are increasingly wary as well.

Cost estimates have skyrocketed and varied since Lockheed was awarded the Joint Strike Fighter contract in 2001. The United States Air Force put the F35’s flyaway cost at anywhere between $89 and $200 million in 2010. In February 2011, the Defense Department said the 32 planes it expected to buy the next year would cost almost $210 million each, discounting research and development costs.

The Pentagon expects to finalize the acquisition of the sixth and seventh batch of F-35s by the end of next month, Bogdan told senators on Wednesday. The deal could involve 71 planes at a cost of some $9 billion.

The United States plan to eventually buy several thousands of F-35s which should bring down the costs per individual plane. But the new fighter will also likely be far more expensive in maintenance than the ones it is supposed to replace. The entire program has exceeded its original cost estimate by more than 50 percent. The Americans could pay over $1 trillion to operate the stealth warplanes over the next half century.

As a result of delays in the Lockheed program, the Air Force is refurbishing Boeing F-16 jets, some three hundred of which could remain in service through the 2020s when they would average forty years in service. It will also continue to fly some five hundred F-15s beyond 2030 when the youngest models will be almost fifty years old.

Of the Air Force’s 2,000 fighter jets, less than two hundred F-22 Raptors are currently on the cutting edge of aviation technology.

Would Korean Reunification Cripple the South?

North Korea, poor, malnourished, authoritarian, with supposed nuclear capabilities and a new crowned boy leader, is wildly different from its cousin beneath the 38h parallel. There they grow four inches taller, are workaholics, cyber obsessed users of democracy who lay claim to some of the most successful companies in the world such as Hyundai, LG and Samsung.

There are always rumors flying about over whether the two will take the same path as East and West Germany did even when they are busy trying to slay each other’s citizens, whether through sinking ships or the shelling of South Korean islands. Many believe that the economic cost of reunification to South Korea and the loss of Chinese influence in the North mean that it will not happen. But if it does, there’s some reason to be optimistic.

In 1960, South Korea was a starveling with a per capita annual income of $80. Since then, “The miracle on the Han River” has boasted the world’s most explosive economy: 8.7 percent annual growth through 1990 transformed it from an agricultural nothing into techno-metro sophisticate.

Just think what all those comparative undereducated North Koreans could do to the country. Goldman Sachs projects that, in an ideal scenario, the gross domestic product of a united Korea would overtake that of Japan and other highly industrialized economies in thirty to forty years — if North Korea’s full growth potential were tapped. Read more “Would Korean Reunification Cripple the South?”

Park Holds Onto Presidency for South Korea’s Conservatives

South Korea’s conservatives are the projected winners in Wednesday’s election. With 75 percent of the votes counted, Park Geun-hye is set to become the country’s first female president.

The incumbent, Lee Myung-bak, served his mandated five year term, having been elected in 2007.

Voter turnout of 75.8 percent was the highest in a decade, according to the National Election Commission. More than 37 million voters braved the cold weather and long lines at polling stations in order to cast their ballots.

The race between Park, from the ruling Saenuri Party, and Moon Jae-in, of the main opposition Democratic Union Party, had been a dead heat with pollsters unable to project a clear winner in the final days of the campaign. Read more “Park Holds Onto Presidency for South Korea’s Conservatives”