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Trump, Naturally, is Making this the Weirdest North Korea Crisis Ever

Koreabridge - Wed, 2017-10-11 18:04
Trump, Naturally, is Making this the Weirdest North Korea Crisis Ever



This is a re-post of something I wrote for the Lowy Institute this month. In short, Trump is not only making this rolling semi-crisis more dangerous, but weirder too. US presidents don’t talk like vengeful Old Testament prophets, ratings-seeking reality TV stars, or children taunting their siblings, but I guess they do now. *sigh*

I spoke at the New Yorker Festival of Ideas last week on North Korea. I said then that if Trump would simply get off Twitter, there would be a noticeable step down in the tension our here. By extension, I mean he should stop ad-libbing scary, off-the-cuff remarks like the ‘calm before the storm.’ I did the best I could to explain these sorts of remarks here, but honestly, I wonder if he really even grasps the scale of his office. Today’s preposterous comment on the US nuclear stockpile suggests he doesn’t.

My full essay on how Trump is changing this NK crisis from the usual pattern is below the jump.

 

 

In the ten years I have lived in South Korea, I cannot remember a North Korea crisis like this. Usually these events stem from some obvious North Korean provocation, such as the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan in 2010 or the landmine attack of 2015. There then follows a set of steps all but ritualized at this point: a UN Security Council meeting followed by sanctions; a declaration of alliance solidarity so well-trodden I could draft it myself; a demoralizingly head-in-the-sand call from China for ‘calm’ on all sides; outlandish counter-rhetoric from the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) about aggression its ‘sacred’ sovereignty; and South Korean (and Japanese) media frustration on how to hit back. And not to forget that requisite Western media hysteria about imminent war. Then everyone sorta forgets about it for awhile until the North throws another tantrum.

A lot of this is playing out again this time too. But US President Donald Trump, as is his wont, is upsetting yet another ‘establishment,’ although not obviously for the better. Here are five lessons to date from the weirdest ever North Korean crisis:

1. When US Presidential Leadership is Poor, it becomes the Defining Variable of North Korean Crises.

 

No one would have thought to say this a year ago, because usually US presidents have been admirably responsible in dealing with North Korea given how dangerous it is. But Trump, with his own KCNA-style rhetoric, is adding a whole new variable, or rather, activating one we never really thought to consider before. There seem to be at least five explanations floating around on cable and social media for his behavior: 1. He actually means what he is saying. 2. He is trying to divert attention away from domestic challenges like the Mueller investigation of his Russia activities. 3. He is pushing back against John Kelly and his own staff, because he instinctively resents direction. 4. He is is trying to bait North Korean leader Kim Jong Un into a casus belli-worthy provocation. 5. He is just mentally overwhelmed by the office and saying whatever comes tumbling through his head. Whatever your choice, the recklessness of Trump’s nuclear threats is astonishing. It is no longer an exaggeration to say that the biggest variable in this crisis going forward is Trump’s own psychology.

2. The North Koreans will Match Trump Insult for Insult.

This should not actually come as a big surprise. If you follow North Korea, you know they are prone to over-the-top commentary. This is the reason the Korea analyst community has encouraged Trump not engage KCNA round-for-round in this war of words. Most knew it would turn into an undignified food fight, and so it has. Trump cannot win. The North will say anything it has too. It is not constrained by typical diplomatic niceties. It referred to US President Barack Obama as a monkey, and previous female South Korean President Park Geun-Hye as a prostitute. It is only a matter of time before KCNA creates a nickname for Trump, starts mocking his hair, or picks up on the common left-wing critique that Trump is mentally ill. This would all be childish and irrelevant, except that psychology, like Trump or Kim’s own anger, paranoia, anxiety, and so on, is increasingly driving this contest.

3. The Western Media Risks Complicity in a Panicked March to War.

 

Last month I argue for Lowy that the disjuncture between Western, especially American, media, and South Korean media on North Korea was inexplicably large, with the Westerners far more alarmed than South Koreans. This continues to be the case. Most recently, the North Korean earthquake that turned out to just be an earthquake got far too much speculative attention that it might be yet another nuclear test before it was disproved. I also continue to notice the large gap between Korea experts brought onto the networks and the networks’ own in-house panels of generalist journalists and commentators. The latter are almost always more alarmist and hawkish than the former, who almost uniformly seem to think this crisis need not tip into a conflict. I find Fox, especially “The Five” show, to be the most egregious on this.

Reaching to established contributors is cheap and convenient, but this is such a serious topic that TV producers should think twice about defaulting to Washington generalists. The run-up to the Iraq War similarly failed to tap the expert community deeply enough, and the crisis this involves nuclear weapons. There are a lot of very good Korea experts out there, and they do not get nearly the airtime they should compared to generalist journalists and pundits.

4. China is Still the Key

 

There is growing acceptance that the China track has failed, but it is still the most realistic way achieve some cap on the North’s programs which does not involve the huge risks of air-strikes, or the huge concessions required by talks. Probably the smartest thing Trump has done on North Korea to date is push China hard. Yes, it has not worked out well, but the alternatives are all so poor, I find all the criticism of this track curious. China’s economic leverage is established – critical oil exports, recipient of 92% of North Korean exports, banking access, and so on. That leverage is vastly preferable to the other two options – conflict or talks. Airstrikes have well-established risks and should only be an absolute last, preemptive resort if Northern missiles are actually fueling. Airstrikes could easily ignite a spiraling regional conflict. Talks are similarly a weak vehicle. The North Koreans will demand huge concessions now. They have nuclear weapons and have endured months of Trump’s taunts. They will ask for so much, that the South and the US will almost certainly demur. So if hawkish military alternatives are too risky, and dovish negotiations sure to flim-flammed by the North, what is left? Sanctions, missile defense, and other unilateral actions will buy us time, but they will not cease or cap the programs. Only China has the economic weight to really punish the North. China’s tolerance for NK shenanigans – up to and including a fusion weapons on an ICBM – is much higher than almost anyone expected. But I see little alternative but going back to them yet again.

5. South Korea is being Sidelined.

 

This may be inevitable given the character of the US president. Trump cannot help but make events about himself, but his shenanigans are nonetheless pushing South Korea out of the loop. When I discuss this crisis with my students, the questions mostly circle around Trump and his Twitter feed, not their own government. The Korean media even has a term for this – ‘Korea passing.’ This is obviously bad all around. It is South Korea who will bear the brunt of any North Korean retaliation, as well as the massive burden of unification, plus the catastrophic costs of any American nuclear strike against North Korea – because North Korea would almost certainly collapse in the wake of that, and South Korea would then inherit the blast zone(s). South Korean President Moon Jae In may be a dove, but Trump the hawk is dominating the debate. Secretly though, I imagine, a fair number of South Koreans do not really mind. Support for unification has declined over the years, and anxiety over its costs is high. North Korea’s weirdness and backwardness is deeply off-putting for a country that wants to join the modern world. Unfortunately, the South cannot escape the North’s shadow. When it falls apart, the world will look to South Korea to clean up the mess whether its wants that burden or not. If Trump obscures the South’s primary responsibility for the North by seemingly taking over the issue from them, he is only making things worse when the North Korea burden inevitably returns where it belongs.


Filed under: China, Korea (North), Korea (South), Trump, United States

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University

@Robert_E_Kelly

 

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DE POCO UN TODO. 3 Octubre de 2017. Taller de radio ViaRadio. Colegio Sta. Mª del Naranco Alter Via. Oviedo. Asturias. España

Puentes al Mundo - Thu, 2017-10-05 23:19

18:24 minutes (16.85 MB)

Programa Magacín de 30 minutos. Con Ismael Alba, Cassandra Fernández, Iván Rubio, María Suárez, Álvaro Díaz y Macarena Peri. Coordinación de Nacho Matías.

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DE POCO UN TODO. 13 Junio de 2017. Taller de radio ViaRadio. Colegio Sta. Mª del Naranco Alter Via. Oviedo. Asturias. España

Puentes al Mundo - Thu, 2017-10-05 22:39

25:12 minutes (23.07 MB)

Programa Magacín de 30 minutos.Con Ismael Alba, Cassandra Fernández, Iván Rubio, María Suárez y Daniel Calleja y la coordinación de Nacho Matías.

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Interview With Michael Breen, Author of The New Koreans

Koreabridge - Thu, 2017-10-05 06:21
Interview With Michael Breen, Author of The New Koreans Read more at h

 

Since 1982, Michael Breen has written about the two Koreas, first as a correspondent for The Guardian and The Washington Times, and later as the author of a lengthening shelf of books including The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, and Where Their Future Lies, and Kim Jong-il: North Korea’s Dear Leader.

In his newest book, The New Koreans: The Story of a Nation, which hit bookstores earlier this year, Breen again employs his journalistic eye and avuncular storytelling to bring readers up to date on the trials, triumphs, and transformations of contemporary South Korea.

Your first book on Korea has been around for almost 20 years. What made you want to write “The New Koreans”?

I had it in mind when I completed the first book that fifteen or so years later I would writea new one about reunification and how it had changed people’s lives in every way imaginable. I’ll call it The Unified Koreans, I thought.

I have an agent who is very enthusiastic, and in 2014 she suggested I update the first book again (I’d previously updated it in 2004). Korea was “really hot” in the publishing world, she said, but it’s all fiction or North Korea. There’s a gap with non-fiction on South Korea. I wasn’t that keen, but she said all I needed to do was update the references, which are from the 1980’s and 90’s, and add a new chapter. The publisher gave me three months.

I sat in front of my screen all day every Saturday – my writing day – and couldn’t get past the first page. Something was really bugging me. Not only had Korea changed so much that it seemed stupid to just “update” something that was written a whole generation ago – or four generations, when you consider that every five years is a new generation here – but also I now looked at Korea in a different way than I did 20 years earlier. After two months of blockage, I realized I had to do a whole new book. So, they gave me another year.

What is new about the New Koreans?  What makes them so different from the Koreans you wrote about before?

The Koreans I first knew almost all knew poverty, they knew how to duck and weave in an authoritarian political and cultural environment. Most men, and many women, had been beaten by their parents and older brothers. Even their teachers and superiors had been free with their fists. Many had close family in North Korea. They looked at countries hierarchically and believed they were quite a way down the ladder.

The position in the democratic South is: Let’s maintain peace and delay unification til the time is right.

Now they’re middle class, sensitive to their rights, and there’s a generation now that never knew poverty or dictatorship. They have never known life without a family car or a computer. Their teachers don’t beat them anymore. Above all, there is a confidence in their identity as South Koreans that wasn’t there before.

Then there are all the things that nobody – at least, nobody I ever knew – predicted: that the sons of those unfashionable men would become the world’s biggest consumers of male cosmetics, that Samsung, LG and Hyundai would become global brands and that Daewoo would disappear, that kids would no longer dream of being heroes and heroines of reunification or even of working in a chaebol or being a doctor or a lawyer, and dream instead of being actors, models, singers and chefs.

Have some of your own analyses and predictions also changed over the years?

Oh yes. I don’t have a feel for economics so I never really predicted anything there. That was handy because most experts were forever predicting doom and gloom.

In politics, I suffered from the mistake of projecting my hippie liberal fantasies onto Korea. For example, I figured in the first democratic election in 1987 that Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam would agree on a unified candidate for the sake of democracy. They didn’t.

My failure was to assume that national interest is more important to people than their own careers. It seldom is. National interest is a kind of theoretical thing compared to real life and big changes – like democracy – may appear like huge moments when you look back on them, but actually, at the time, for most people they’re just another day’s news.

Kim Dae-jung (left), and Kim Young-sam in 1987.

I predicted Korea would never have an opposition president – but opposition has won three times in four elections so far. I predicted that Korea would never have a woman president. I predicted Korea would have its own version of Woodstock, whereby the middle class young would dramatically drop the values of hard work or obedience that sustained their parents’ generation.

There’s probably a bunch of other fine forecasts I’ve forgotten. Fortunately, these things don’t get held against you because, unless there is serious commitment involved – like predicting which stocks will rise or fall or which employee will work out great – no one pays much attention.

Books in English on Korea these days all seem to be about North Korea. Why is that?

I’d like to believe that this is because the unimaginable suffering of North Koreans under their peculiarly vicious system has prompted the conscience of mankind. We want to know about the plight of our northern brothers and sisters and do something about it. But I think this is a bonus rather than the real reason.

I have wondered if it is because the evil twin of the North is more fascinating than the boring good boy of South Korea. The North Korean material is certainly very compelling – a dictatorship with 60-foot statues of its leader, who is both clown and psychopath, a famine in the middle of booming Northeast Asia, a people so controlled they’ve still not heard of The Beatles, nuclear weapons, and all in stark contrast with the successful Koreans from the South.

In politics, I suffered from the mistake of projecting my hippie liberal fantasies onto Korea. For example, I figured in the first democratic election in 1987 that Kim Dae-jung and Kim Young-sam would agree on a unified candidate for the sake of democracy. They didn’t.

But I think the real reason is that this little country, as an issue, has reached the desk of the American president. This happened mid-way through the Clinton years. Before that, North Korea was handled lower down the chain of power in Washington, and only Korea experts wrote about it, as experts might write about Burma or Peru.

Right now, with North Korea presenting itself as Donald Trump’s number-one foreign policy issue, academics, policy types, and journalists who are ambitious to influence the world’s most powerful government clamor to take it on. Those already involved in Korea can flash their knowledge and wisdom to a broad audience.

The blurb describes South Korea as an “overlooked nation.”  Why is that?

For a long time, expatriates who live in South Korea have felt that the country was different, dynamic and somehow important – only to find when they went home or traveled, even around Asia, that nobody knew or cared much about it. Perhaps this is true for many countries. I’ve not thought to ask people who’ve lived, as foreigners, in say Ecuador or Malaysia or Algeria if they have this experience. But for expatriates in Korea, this is a puzzling thing.

I think it comes down to a certain type of culture, especially in business and in the bureaucracy that distorts how Koreans communicate to the outside. I’m reminded of a meeting I once had in a Korean company with a couple of visitors from India. It seemed normal enough to me. But afterwards, one of the Indians, a lady, whispered to me, “Why are they so regimented?”

I realized then that the fact that most people in the room had said nothing during the entire meeting and bowed and shook hands, limply supporting the arm doing the shaking with the other, and that the most senior person present had done all the talking, but been very formal, itself gave an impression that was very disengaged and unattractive.

Until recently expatriates in Korea have exhibited a rather shallow habit of criticizing things that happen here and lumping them under the label, ‘Korean.’

When you look at promotional material, from chaebol or on government websites, it’s as if the writer is ticking a task box and has no sense that he is writing for someone who might actually read it. When the government promotes the Joseon dynasty for western tourists, nobody seems to have asked, “What will they be most interested in?” (The answer would be North Korea, war and the DMZ).

When you read the information at tourist sites, you wonder why the place seems so lifeless and two-dimensional, as if the only thing that happened there in 600 years was the delivery of 3,292 tiles to be used to build the roofs. What I’m saying is that I think, when it comes to presenting itself to the outside, the bureaucrats override the designers, artists and communicators. At least, that’s how it seems to me.

You’ve mentioned that you’ve received some comments by English-speaking Koreans questioning your right to write about Korea. Are you sensitive to the charge of cultural appropriation?

Nobody has said it to my face, but I’ve been told of such reactions and seen one or two online. Like, someone wrote, “Looks like shit to me.” I think this review was on the basis of the cover page information. Fair enough; it’s not what an author wants to hear after a year’s slog, but we all make such judgments every time we go into a shop. I’ve not heard anything about cultural appropriation per se.

Perhaps if the cover was me in a hanbok, I might have. (I wouldn’t buy it myself, then). It’s more the, “How can he write about Korea when he doesn’t have Korean blood?” type of thing. As far as I know, it’s not coming from Koreans seriously questioning a foreigner’s “right” to write a book about them. Obviously, in a free marketplace, such “rights” do not exist to be given out.

If there’s a real point it is that someone might immediately not relate to me as their interpreter of Korea. I get that. Reading a book is like taking a journey with someone, the author, who starts off as a stranger. If you don’t like him for her for whatever reason, the journey is unsatisfactory. I won’t say which one, but there’s one book in English on Korea that I really didn’t like – even though it was well written – because the writer was both bitchy about people he met and couldn’t keep his pants on. I just stopped caring for what he thought about Koreans.

There’s another part of this that occurs to me. Until recently expatriates in Korea have exhibited a rather shallow habit of criticizing things that happen here and lumping them under the label, “Korean.” English-speaking Koreans are not doubt aware of this. They may even participate in it. This habit was very prevalent when I wrote the first book and I consciously wrote in opposition to it, even though I was criticizing things about Korean politics and so on. For this reasons, when I saw that a book entitled The Korean Mind was written by a foreign author, I reacted negatively, because I immediately assumed – rightly or wrongly – that it would be condescending. I guess if I fall victim to the same reaction, I can’t complain.

How do you see relations with North Korea playing out in the future? Are you still sanguine on the prospect of reunification?

I predict it will happen. Given my track record, this probably means it won’t.

Here’s my history of error on this one: Back in 1988, I interpreted the Seoul Olympics as a kind of outward manifestation of the end to the rivalry between the two Koreas. All North Korea’s allies, bar two or three small countries, participated, ending a series of Olympic boycotts. It was, I thought, the moment the world acknowledged the ascendancy of the South. North Korea had lost. You can get on the chopper to Hawaii, Mr. Kim.

The next year European communism collapsed and in 1990, I predicted reunification – or some big power shift and reconciliation – by 1992. That was after going to North Korea. During that trip, a diplomat in Pyongyang told me in hushed tones, “The lid is ready to blow off this place.”

Now, 25 years later, I’m wondering if in fact I’d not been wrong all along and that the North Koreans still actually think they can win this thing, and that the use of nuclear weapons against South Korea, once the Americans are out of the way, is part of their strategy. If that is their thinking, the only solution – bar war now – is massive containment and possibly an arms race on the peninsula until the North crumbles.

Berlin, 1989

The prospect of this continued impasse gives me another thought. The reason for the standoff between the two Koreas is not that one has nuclear weapons or one has American troops or that we need to build trust and all that. These things are all movable. The problem is more fixed. It is that each Korea claims sovereignty over the other, and, it seems, nobody on their respective side believes they shouldn’t.

Some people say they don’t really believe this – that it’s just a posture – but that’s not true. Try telling South Koreans, “Okay, give up the posture, then. Drop your claim over North Korea. Change the Constitution to say that its citizens are no longer South Korean.” What this means is, sacrifice unification for peace. I mean, really sacrifice it. Postponing it is not sacrificing. Develop a vision as a separate country and forget North Korea. Right now, nobody will agree to that. In fact, I’m not aware anyone has even mentioned it as a remote option.

The position in the democratic South is: Let’s maintain peace and delay unification til the time is right. But this posture brings us back to the reality that the vision of unification means the end of the regime on the other side. “The time is right” means when the other side has changed and both now have shared values – preferably, when they are both free-market democracies, like Holland and Belgium.

That may be how it happens, but if we were to sacrifice unification and if the North were to follow suit, we would reduce the chances of bloodshed on the way. As it is, I expect bloodshed. I just hope it is contained within North Korea when its Park Chung-hee launches his coup.

Michael Breen will be the featured guest at an Author Panel at HQ Gwangan in Busan on Friday, October 13th. Check event page for details.

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KoreaFix: Korea This Week – September 25th – October 1st

Koreabridge - Mon, 2017-10-02 10:19
KoreaFix: Korea This Week – September 25th – October 1st No Kids Allowed

An increasing number of cafes and restaurants around Korea have been closing their doors to young kids in recent years, in response to complaints from customers about the oft-noted laxity of many parents in reigning in their rambunctious young ones. The trend started in Seoul some years ago but has spread to other parts of the country, as noted in this recent Jeju Weekly article.

A young cafe patron reacts to the suggestion that he “settle down”

The bans appear to be popular with most customers, but have upset some parents who feel they are being punished for the poor parenting of others. One young mother quoted here suggests that No Kids Zones “should be called more like a no-irresponsible parents zone.” Amen, sister, though it must be admitted that toddlers are much easier to spot at the door.

While many regular cafe- and restaurant-goers, even those with kids of their own, are glad for the chance of a kid-free hour or two to chat, read, or unwind, I also found myself wondering whether the noticeably declining tolerance for kids has to do with Korea’s declining birth rates turning the whole country into a Fewer-and-Fewer Kids Zone. I don’t know, so for now, I merely speculate over a quiet, meditative Americano.

Welcome! First Time in Korea?

A new reality TV show called Welcome! First Time in Korea? has been getting a lot of attention lately around Korea (including among the three teenagers in our house). The show features groups of young foreigners from different countries experiencing different facets of Korea (food, drink, historical sites, etc) for the first time and reflecting on their experiences.

Though similar shows have appeared in the past, one culture critic cited in the following Korea Herald article points out that shows like Welcome! hint at a new, “laid-back nationalism”, where the focus is less on aggressively promoting Korea to outsiders as it is about revealing to Korean viewers how many of the everyday features of life they take for granted are seen as novel, fun, and exotic when experienced by cultural outsiders.

Stills from “Welcome! First Time in Korea?” Three young Germans sample Korean barbecue and beer.

I was especially encouraged by the following quote from the show’s producer, Moon Sang-don, about the genesis of the idea for the show:

I saw foreigners in a bookstore looking around with huge backpacks on their backs…I wondered, ‘What are these people trying to see here?

In a country where the domestic tourism industry has long been more about promoting a particular version of Korea to tourists (as opposed to considering what they are actually interested in), questions like this are a step in the right direction.

Another encouraging sign was that not all of the foreigners’ observations are necessarily flattering, and may undermine some of the common myths that Koreans entertain about Korean culture. Case in point, the recent episode of Welcome in which three young Russian women proclaim soju to be “like water.” Will future episodes feature Indians declaring kimchi to be “not that spicy,” or Canadians proclaiming chopsticks to be “rather easy to use”? Stay tuned…

Super Chuseok

This year, a fortunate alignment of holidays, coupled with a touch of government benevolence, has created a 10-day holiday for Chuseok. How it happened: Chuseok, which is reckoned by the lunar calendar, fell on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th of October, and thus overlapped with National Foundation Day (which is always Oct. 3), which was then compensated for by adding the “substitute holiday” of Friday July 6th. Hangeul Day (celebrated every October 9th), fell on the following Monday, creating a 7-day holiday, to the sound of much rejoicing. Then, on September 5th, President Moon Jae-in answered the nation’s prayers and announced that Monday October 2nd, the sole remaining workday wedged among a string of red X’s on the calendar, would be declared a one-time holiday, creating an unprecedented 10-day Chuseok holiday.

Though many Koreans will be spending much of that time the old-fashioned way by observing ancestor memorial rites (called charye) with members of their extended family, many others will be bowing out of these holiday observances in favor of some quiet Me-Time. In a recent survey, six in ten twenty-somethings said they’ll be sitting this year’s family get-togethers out, citing work, study, and a desire to avoid the inevitable when-are-you-getting-married interrogations associated with large family gatherings.

However you spend the week, have a Happy Super Chuseok!

Traditional Chuseok meals like this one are increasingly being replaced by cheaper, no-fuss alternatives like fried chicken, Chinese takeout, and convenience store microwaveable meals.
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Get Real: We’re Not Going to ‘Totally Destroy’ North Korea. We’re Going to Manage It

Koreabridge - Sun, 2017-09-24 06:52
Get Real: We’re Not Going to ‘Totally Destroy’ North Korea. We’re Goin

This is a local re-post of an essay I published earlier this month at The National Interest.

President Trump’s outlandish UN speech was yet another national embarrassment, and his threat to ‘totally destroy’ another country verges on a war crime. And it’s not in our interest to do that anyway, so let’s start thinking practically about how we’re going to manage this mess.

My TNI essay below argues that we need to try to manage North Korea, rather than seek some final solution, because North Korea is persistent whether we like it or not, and because it is a nuclear weapons state whether we like it or not. That sucks. But I don’t see what other choice we have. Bombing North Korea is a terrible idea for reasons I’ve been saying all year on this website. Talking to North Korea and getting a real deal that they’ll stick to, like JCPOA, would great. But they flim-flam us so much, and so many hawks in the US and South Korea are unwilling to negotiate seriously with the North (remember that Congressional Republicans helped undercut the Agreed Framework; it wasn’t just Nork cheating which undid it), that I doubt talks will go anywhere. So we’re left muddling through. Did I say already that this sucks?

So what does ‘management’ mean? Recognizing that we can’t sole every problem as we want and that bad stuff we just have to live with, like NK nuclear weapons. They are lots of smaller things we can do – sanctions, going after NK money in Chinese banks, missile defense, pruning NK’s diplomatic/money-raising global network, continuing to bang away on China to take this more seriously, and so on. So please, can President Trump and Nicki Haley stop talking like Dr. Strangelove so that the rest of us can get back to the problem of what we can realistically do about North Korea?

The full essay follows the jump:

 

 

As this summer’s North Korea war crisis winds down, the only serious option for dealing with a nuclear missilized North Korea is re-emerging: adaptation. As Richard Hass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, put it: “Not every problem can be solved. Some can only be managed…It remains to be seen what can be done vis-à-vis North Korea. Managing such challenges may not be satisfying, but often it is the most that can be hoped for.” This is almost certainly correct.

Numerous treatments have established that the military options against North Korea are terrible. (Here is mine.) Steve Bannon openly admitted this on his way out of the White House: “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.” That 10 million number is exaggerated, but the basic problem Bannon taps – Seoul’s tremendous vulnerability, and the strict limitation that puts on kinetic choices – is well established. It is almost certainly the reason the US and South Korea have never yet struck North Korea despite decades of retaliation-worthy provocations. Decentralizing South Korea is a long overdue idea to loosen this constraint, but in the short- and medium-term, military options are, in fact, ‘off the table,’ no matter what Donald Trump says.

Talks would be an ideal choice – if anyone really thought at this point that North Korea would negotiate in good faith or could be trusted to follow through. Sure, we should always try. We have nothing to lose if we enter negotiations with the appropriate doubts. But if any observers are harboring notions of a big break-through or a grand bargain – such as the recent Sino-Russian ‘dual freeze’ proposal to halt North Korean nuclear development in exchange for a US-South Korean military exercise halt – they are not paying attention. North Korea’s record of flim-flamming agreements is so entrenched, that the only way to re-start negotiations would be small, undramatic steps, such as those proposed by South Korean Presidents Park Geun-Hye and Moon Jae-In. And naturally Pyongyang as summarily dismissed those.

There is simply not enough strategic trust – not by a long shot actually – for a big package deal, and indeed, the US and South Korea rejected the dual freeze proposal almost immediately. Lest one think this stems from unremitting US hostility, consider the Iran nuclear deal, which even the Trump administration is grudgingly cleaving too. The US will talk to North Korea – indeed the dual freeze might actually be worth considering if we thought Pyongyang would hold to it. The problem is that no one trusts the North to take talks seriously anymore, not even the Chinese.

Hence we are back to where we started: defense, deterrence, alliances, missile defense, sanctions, cajoling China over sanction enforcement, pruning North Korea’s diplomatic relationships, chasing Northern money out of banks in Asia, hauling Pyongyang before the UN Security Council to keep up the global pressure, and all the rest. One must not call this ‘strategic patience’ – perhaps we can call it ‘management,’ per Haas, or ‘maximum pressure,’ per the Trump administration. But in the end, it is more or less strategic patience yet again. And in fact, strategic patience was just an Obama administration pseudo-neologism for what we have been doing with North Korea for decades. All these actions are depressingly familiar, but there are really no good alternatives. War is much too risky, talks a likely charade.

North Korea is maddeningly persistent. From the outside, it always appears on the verge of collapse, especially since the end of the Cold War. In the 1990s, it suffered the kind of serious shocks – the death of its founder (in 1994), the withdrawal of Soviet aid, a massive famine – which brought down fellow communist states in that era. Yet North Korea persisted. It has survived yet another dynastic transition (in 2011) and punishing sanctions isolation, while astonishly developing a serious nuclear and missile arsenal.

This is not a state on cusp of implosion, and it would help the practicality of our policy proposals if we could accept that. For example, it should be pretty obvious at this point that North Korea is not going to disarm its nuclear weapons, no matter how much the US and South Korea insist on it. The concessions Pyongyang would demand for such disarmament – a retrenchment of the US from the peninsula, or permanent South Korean subsidization of the North, e.g. – would be so large, that Washington and Seoul would never accept. Instead, we need to ask how are going to manage this new, truculent nuclear power.

So muddling along is our future with North Korea, no matter how much we dislike that. The more we focus on small and medium-sized steps rather than ideal, but extremely unlikely, North Korean nuclear disbarment, the more progress we will make. The Iran nuclear deal is instructive here. There too we confronted a (almost) nuclear rogue state. We tried sanctions, deals, sabotage, missile defense, enhancing the defense of regional allies, and so on. Those worked reasonably well in slowing the nuclear march. Next, we clenched a concluding deal, which was surely not ideal. Conservatives worry about the return of resources to Iran, possible future nuclearization, and the regime’s continuance. But we did get a fair amount. North Korea may not come to the table as Iran did, but in the same that way are managing, rather solving, the Iran problem, that too should be our template in Korea.


Filed under: Diplomacy, Korea (North), Nuclear Weapons, The National Interest, Trump, United States

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University

@Robert_E_Kelly

 

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Yeouido is a large island in the Han River in Seoul

Koreabridge - Sat, 2017-09-23 16:30
Yeouido is a large island in the Han River in Seoul

 

Yeouido is a large island in the Han River in Seoul, South Korea, which contains five parks. Visit in April to see the Cherry Blossom Festival held in the streets of Yeouido. 

Otherwise, my favorite park would probably be Yeouido Park (여의도공원) because it’s so large and I love seeing the contrast of the public park in Seoul’s main finance and investment banking district. The area is home to some of Seoul and South Korea’s tallest skyscrapers, including the International Finance Center Seoul, the Federation of Korea Industries building, and the iconic 63 Building.

I also highly recommend going to the restaurant, Hadongkwan (하동관), which is nearby at 영등포구 은행로 3 (여의도점) – but it’s a chain restaurant and you can find it in other parts of the city too. They serve a really beef bone soup called Gomtang (곰탕).

Address: 120, Yeouigongwon-ro, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 영등포구 여의공원로 120 (여의도동)

Directions: Walk from Yeouido or Yeouinaru subway station. Just follow the signs!

 


















 

Yeouido is a large island in the Han River in Seoul, South Korea, which contains five parks. Visit in April to see the Cherry Blossom Festival held in the streets of Yeouido. 

Otherwise, my favorite park would probably be Yeouido Park (여의도공원) because it’s so large and I love seeing the contrast of the public park in Seoul’s main finance and investment banking district. The area is home to some of Seoul and South Korea’s tallest skyscrapers, including the International Finance Center Seoul, the Federation of Korea Industries building, and the iconic 63 Building.

I also highly recommend going to the restaurant, Hadongkwan (하동관), which is nearby at 영등포구 은행로 3 (여의도점) – but it’s a chain restaurant and you can find it in other parts of the city too. They serve a really beef bone soup called Gomtang (곰탕).

Address: 120, Yeouigongwon-ro, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 영등포구 여의공원로 120 (여의도동)

Directions: Walk from Yeouido or Yeouinaru subway station. Just follow the signs!

About 

Hi, I'm Stacy. I'm from Portland, Oregon, USA, and am currently living in Busan, South Korea. Check me out on: Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Lastfm, and Flickr.

 

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The Wide Gap between South Korean and American Media Coverage of North Korea

Koreabridge - Fri, 2017-09-15 21:10
The Wide Gap between South Korean and American Media Coverage of North

 

 

This is a re-post of an essay I wrote earlier this month for the Lowy Institute.

Every time there is a war crisis around North Korea, I notice the wildly different coverage between US and South Korea media, with the former being too alarmist and the later 

being almost too sanguine. My Korean cable packages includes CNN and Fox, so I can quickly parallel the coverage, and the difference is extraordinary. Fox is freaking out over impending nuclear wear, while YTN is talking about so celebrity with a drinking problem before getting to North Korea. The contrast really is that extreme.

Western pundits particularly tend to get carried away every time we have a North Korean war-scare. All sorts of irresponsible rhetoric gets thrown around about how we should invade or pre-emptively attack North Korea (we shouldn’t). In fact, so often do I read these sorts of op-eds when North Korea re-surfaces in the Western media, that I now call this the Kelly Rule, only half in jest. Just look at some of the frightening examples in that link.

The short version of these war-scares is that no, North Korea is not going to nuke the US out of the blue, so stop freaking out about and stop listening to Fox pundits scaring the hell out of you. The real threat is that North Korea the gangster state will use the nukes to shake down South Korea and Japan. Coercive nuclear bullying – not war – is the real threat. But that’s not as exciting as dramatic red arrows flying across the screen or ‘fire and fury,’ so let’s all get carried away over a war that’s not going to happen.

 

 

This summer’s war-scare over North Korean missiles is now spilling into the autumn as we debate the whether the North really has a fusion weapon. The outcome, however, of all the rhetoric is not really in doubt. I do not know one person in the Korea analyst community who thought that war was likely. Nor do I know anyone serious who advocated airstrikes or other kinetic options. Even hawks on North Korea know that bombing North Korea is hugely risky, for reasons elaborated every time one of these crises strikes. Donald Trump and Fox News may have said dangerous, or just plain bizarre, stuff, and neocons like John Bolton can always be relied on to threat-inflate. But no Korea analysts of any stature argued for war.

Indeed, so ritualized are North Korea war-scares that the interesting parts are not the rehearsed statements and events themselves, but how people react to them. One regularity I have increasingly noticed is the tendency of outside analysts, especially in the West, to, for lack of a better word, freak out over North Korea. As I said on Twitter a few weeks ago about an analyst advocating a preemptive nuclear strike on North Korea (yes, really – follow the link): “North Korea has this effect. People kinda lose their minds and say gonzo stuff they wouldn’t say about other foreign policy problems.” Here are a few more chestnuts: North Korea’s missiles are apparently “franken-missiles” or “game-changers,” because they look like other missiles, or something. National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster seems to believe North Korea is undeterrable, despite seventy years of successful peninsular deterrence. Not to be outdone, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has repeatedly said North Korea is an “existential” threat to the US, even though bringing down the American state (not just killing people) would require dozens of nuclear strikes. President Trump of course threatened “fire and fury” like some Old Testament prophet. And when in doubt, you can just turn on Fox for your run-of-the-mill ‘the-North-Koreans-are-insane-and-believe-in-unicorns’ flim-flam. For a nice run-down of just how alarmist and irresponsible western, especially American, media coverage is, try this. In my own TV experience, I am constantly asked in these crises if war is about to break out. I often have the impression the hosts or producers are slightly disappointed I am not more alarmist.

The contrast with Japanese, but especially South Korean, news is striking. As I pointed out a few times during this summer’s hype, South Koreans were barely paying attention. The South Korean president and then foreign minister both went on vacation (yes, really) in early August, at the peak of the Kim Jong Un-Donald Trump war of words. The big political issues here this summer have been the prosecution of the Samsung dauphin and the continuing drama around impeached former president Park Geun Hye. South Koreans were obviously paying attention. But there were no runs on the supermarket; no one is building bomb shelters; civil defense (unfortunately) is still treated as an afterthought; my students still have not the slightest idea what to do if Busan is nuked and continued to be amazed that I give them advice (‘go uphill to escape ambient radiation’), and so on. But at least American ‘preppers’ are getting ready for a North Korean nuclear strike on the US.

This contrast cries out for a graduate student in media studies and political science to address, especially as this is such a durable phenomenon. These sorts of scares happen every few years, and the contrast between CNN – with its virtual maps with dramatic red arrows – and the South Korean media yakking about some celebrity pregnancy is startling. Here are two hypotheses (more substantive than the tritest possible explanation: that scare-mongering to fill air-time drives up rating):

1. South Koreans are much more cognizant of the North Korea threat, so it is never new news.

North Korea abuts South Korea and has provoked it relentlessly since the 1960s. So dangerous is the North, that South Korea retains conscription. It is the dominant issue of South Korean national security strategy, and it constantly overwhelms and blows off course South Korean presidencies who seek to ‘normalize’ South Korea by de-linking it from the mad uncle in the attic. This current president – Moon Jae In – sought to emphasize the domestic issues, such as corruption and social welfare which elected him. Instead, North Korea has consumed his first four months in office.

By contrast, Americans seem to ‘re-discover’ the North Korean threat whenever it pops up. US attention toward Asia is mixed at best. Elites care, but I doubt most regular Americans care much about the ‘pivot to Asia’ or North Korea, especially compared to the war on terror and the ‘clash of civilizations’ cultural anxieties it activates.

The upshot is that whenever North Korean bad behavior spikes enough to make it into international news, the Americans suddenly pay attention. But in the interim, the South Koreans have also been paying attention. So they appear sanguine when western journalists suddenly show up at those peaks.

2. Americans are Curiously Alarmist about their Thick Security

This is a point Stephen Walt has helpfully made again and again at his Foreign Policy blog. America is remarkably safe. Ensconced between two oceans and two weak neighbors and far from the tightly-packed Eurasian cauldron of competition, the United States is one of the most secure great powers in history. Yet we are prone to extraordinary outbursts of national security panic, most recently on display after 9/11. In response to approximately three thousand fatalities, the US has killed orders of magnitude more people than that in so many wars in the Middle East, that analysts now use terms like ‘forever war’ to describe our engagement there. Neoconservatism as a foreign policy posture is based on the notion that American security is constantly threatened, even in weak, far-away places like Yemen or Venezuela.

North Korea activates these impulses more than most rogues. America depicts North Korea in outlandish terms – video games and movies repeatedly depict North Korea invading the United States, acquiring super-weapons, or otherwise as crazy. In my media experience, this has sunk in. I am regularly asked if the Kims are crazy, insane, war-mongers, and so on. They are not. They are just gangsters, not suicidal ideologues.

My own sense is that # 2 is probably more causal. We are prone to threat-inflation, and North Korea is so easy to caricature.


Filed under: Korea (North), Korea (South), Lowy Institute, Media, United States

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University

@Robert_E_Kelly

 

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Learning to Live with a Nuclear N Korea: Awful, but Better than the Alternatives

Koreabridge - Fri, 2017-09-01 23:24
Learning to Live with a Nuclear N Korea: Awful, but Better than the Al


We live Pakistani nuclear missiles; we can live with North Korean ones too.

This is a re-post of an essay I wrote for the New York Daily News a few weeks ago, at the peak of the summer war-scare.

I argue that we can in fact live with a nuclear missilized North Korea. Yes, that sucks. But all this irresponsible talk that we can’t adapt, that nuclear North Korea is an undeterrable, existential threat is just threat-inflating baloney. We’ve learned to live with nuclear missiles in the hands a Muslim state with a serious jihadi problem. Would America prefer this not to be the case? Yes. But is living with a nuclear Pakistan a better choice than bombing it or sending in US special forces to destroy their nukes? Absolutely. Or we would have done it already.

It’s not clear to me why this is so hard for people to absorb. What is it about North Korea that makes people lose their mind and say bonkers s*** about risking a huge regional war?

The full essay follows the jump.

 

 

As the current war-scare with North Korea heats up, it is worth observing that the United States has learned to live with other countries’ nuclear weapons and missiles without a war. As loathsome as North Korea’s domestic politics are, it is not at all clear that North Korea intends to use its nuclear weapons offensively against the United States or American allies in the northeast Asia. As former National Security Advisor Susan Rice put it recently, the United States can “tolerate” a nuclear North Korea.

Language is important here. “Tolerate” does not mean endorse or approve. No one wants North Korea to have nuclear weapons, not even the Chinese, who often abet North Korean bad behavior. But we have little choice. This is teeth-grinding, grudging tolerance, because the other options are so poor. And it does not preclude us from taking actions to defend ourselves and otherwise pressure North Korea.

For convenience, those options might be arrayed along a typical, left-center-right spectrum. Doves on the left would seek engagement and dialogue with the North. They argue that the US and South Korea have demonized North Korea over the years so much, that the North is understandably hostile. George W. Bush famously placed North Korea on an ‘axis of evil’ and said he ‘loathed’ Kim Jong Il, the father of current leader Kim Jong Un. North Korea itself routinely claims that the US pursues a ‘hostile policy’ toward it, and that it needs nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantee against American-led regime change. The Kims have been quite explicit that they do not wish to meet the fate of Saddam Hussein or Muammar Kaddifi. The South Korean left has sought a dovish engagement policy for years, peaking in the so-called ‘Sunshine Policy’ from 1998-2008. The most prominent figure of such thinking is the current liberal South Korean president, Moon Jae In.

Hawks on the right would argue that military action must be contemplated, because North Korea is the most dangerous state in history to possess nuclear weapons. These critics would suggest that engagement is a ruse, that North Korea cheated on the ‘Sunshine Policy,’ and that Pyongyang’s brutal, gangsterish dictatorship cannot be trusted to have the world’s most powerful weapons. Indeed the ruling Kim family may not even be rational. They may use these weapons offensively against the United States, or to coerce Korean unification on Northern terms. The most prominent figure making such arguments in the United States today is probably John Bolton.

Centrists – the position taken here – would argue that engagement with North Korea has traditionally failed, and that military action is too risky. Doves have indeed struggled to show results from engagement or negotiation. Talks with North Korea often seem to drag on forever, with constant trickery and backsliding on the North Korean side. The last serious US-North Korean deal, struck in 2012, began to unravel within weeks because of North Korean noncompliance. Talks in the Bush years also seemed to go nowhere. On the South Korean side, the Sunshine Policy, despite great commitment from Seoul, yielded little, and Moon’s recent, renewed effort at outreach has been batted away by Pyongyang.

Trying to talk to North Korea is always a good idea. As Winston Churchill said, ‘jaw jaw is better than war war.’ But we must go in with deep skepticism. We must not allow talks to become an end in themselves, a play for time by North Korea to continue developing its weapons. Nor must talks degenerate into subsidies to a dictatorship as an effort to ‘buy’ good behavior from North Korea. This is ultimately what undid the Sunshine Policy. So in this current crisis, we should support Secretary of State Tillerson’s efforts. He said to Pyongyang just a few days ago, ‘we are not your enemy,’ in an effort to draw out the North. But after decades of effort, our expectations of engagement should be low.

Hawks have similarly struggled to find an answer to the North Korean conundrum. Force is an attractive option for a superpower. The US has the world’s best military, and it is tempting to use that powerful leverage, as President Trump seems to be hinting. We do this frequently in the Middle East, where we have used invasion, special forces, and drones to pursue our opponents. But that is feasible there, because the US is relatively secure from counter-strikes, other than limited terrorist action. In the Korean case, North Korea has significant capabilities to do great damage to our allies in the region, South Korea and Japan, and perhaps now to the US homeland itself via its emergent intercontinental ballistic missiles. South Korea is especially vulnerable. Its capital, Seoul, lies just twenty miles from the demilitarized zone border. Some twenty million people live in Seoul and its nearby cities. Were the North Koreans to retaliate against an American airstrike, they could do great damage to Seoul, potentially killing tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands if they used nuclear weapons. As North Korea’s missile tests have accelerated, Pyongyang can now range Japan’s cities too, plus, perhaps, American cities. All this means that North Korea could respond devastatingly to an American airstrike.

This knowledge has stayed the hand of American and South Korean planners for decades. North Korea has provoked the US and South Korea plenty. There have been repeated North Korean provocations which could reasonably have warranted South Korean and/or American counterstrikes. In 1968, 1969, 1976, 1987, and 2010 occurred the worst North Korean provocations of the decades-long Korean division. Despite casualties and heated debate in South Korean and American media over the need to ‘finally’ punish North Korea, no action was taken. This was not from reticence – the US has been more than willing to pursue an aggressive drone war in the Middle East – but rather from the exposure of millions of innocent South Koreans and Japanese to North Korean retaliation.

Kinetic options have other downsides the Trump administration would be wise to contemplate before it unleashes the bombers. North Korea has been tunneling since the 1960s to prepare for just such an American air campaign. The US punishingly bombed North Korea during the Korean War, 1950-1953. Over a million died. North Korean planners learned that lesson and have been digging ever since. This means that any airstrike on North Korea would not look like what we have become accustomed to in the Middle East. There could be no limited cruise missile or drone strike which could be wrapped up in a day. Instead, North Korea’s decades-old hardening would require an extensive air campaign, involving hundreds, perhaps thousands, of air sorties, pursuing dozens of targets. We would call it a ‘surgical strike’ before global public opinion, but in practice it would be a war.

Once the bombs started to fall, the North Koreans would move everything underground, requiring yet more airstrikes. They would also use human shields, with grandmothers and infants placed around any targets which could not be moved below ground. Pictures of dead innocents would immediately be broadcast globally.

Finally, the North Koreans have a defensive alliance with China. China would not support North Korean aggression against the South or US, but it would, technically, be required to help North Korea if it were attacked. And an American air campaign would look so much like a war – no matter what we call it – that North Korea would almost certainly call on its ally for help. We do not actually know the redlines of that alliance. Perhaps China would abandon North Korea. But China intervened in 1950 to bail out North Korea as it began to lose the Korean War, and its strategists still refer to North Korea today as a ‘buffer’ between China and the robust democracies of South Korea, Japan, and America. Were China to enter the war on Pyongyang’s side, that could be disastrous. Americans and Chinese shooting at each other could easily spiral into a major regional, or even global, conflict sucking in Russia, whose Siberian backyard extends all the way to east Asia, and Japan as well.

These combined risks are so high that centrists reject the use of force as too risky, at the same time they grasp the general futility of negotiating with North Korea. The answer then is an unsatisfying ‘more of the same.’ For 64 years, deterrence and defense have worked on the peninsula. For all the tension, cable news hysteria, and North Korean provocation, the Korean War has not returned. Deterrence has been stable, however morally unsatisfying we find that, because it allows vicious North Korea to hang on.

North Korean nuclearization does not fundamentally change this. The United States already lives in a permanent nuclear deterrence relationship with Russia and China, and we have for decades. We have adapted ourselves, however grudgingly, to those countries’ nuclear missilization. The Cuban Missile Crisis is remembered as an American victory over the Soviet Union, but within a decade the Soviets had the ability to strike the US homeland without Cuba. We have lived with that, plus later Chinese and Pakistani nuclearization. This was unwanted, but, as with North Korea, the alternatives, particularly the military ones, were simply too risky. We learned to tolerate, just as Rice suggests we now do with North Korea.

This is depressing, but nonetheless the likely outcome of the current crisis. Trump may bluster and threaten, but I have little doubt his national security staff has warned him of the great risks of a strike. Nor should we think that North Korea intends to use these weapons to offensively strike the US. The American retaliation for an out-of-the-blue Northern strike would be devastating. North Korea as a functioning state would be utterly destroyed, and its elite killed. And that elite is not suicidal ideologues. They are not ISIS or Osama bin Laden. If they wanted to go down in a blaze of anti-American glory, they could have done so at any time of the last few decades. They wish to survive.

Sticking to the deterrence posture we have pursued since 1953 is not passivity in the face of threat. We can, and likely will, put resources into missile defense. If the North insists on missilization, then we should respond in kind with a ‘roof.’ And we can continue to pursue ever-tightening sanctions, which even China recently supported, to constrict North Korea’s pipeline to the global economy. North Korea’s gangster elite enjoys a life of privilege which requires that pipeline, as do its nuclear and missile programs. Going after their money and access will hurt.

If this feels unsatisfying or disappointing, it is. There is no silver bullet regarding North Korea. Were there, we would have used it long ago. North Korean nuclear missiles are a fact we can either adapt to, or risk a major war over. The US has, despite all our power, not risked that war to date, and I imagine Donald Trump will not in the end either.


Filed under: Asia, Defense, Engagement, Foreign Policy, Korea (South), Media, Missiles/Missile Defense, United States

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University

@Robert_E_Kelly

 

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Poetry Plus+45 @ Vinyl Underground

Koreabridge - Thu, 2017-08-31 09:43

From: https://www.facebook.com/events/1283304158465841/

 

POETRY PLUS+45 is back and ready! Are you ready to possibly laugh, cry, think, cheer, dance, applaud, and be part of this gathering of creatives and folx from all walks from Busan, Daegu, Jinju, and Ulsan? I am. Let's do this. We've got music, poetry, dance, stories, and a whole lotta love to share. 

All are welcome. FREE admission. We will be collecting optional donations and selling raffle tickets to benefit a grassroots community school, Batibot Early Learning Center, in Manila.

Doors open at 7:00pm
Music begins at 7:30pm
Show begins promptly at 8:00pm

To get there: In Kyungsung (subway stop 212). Go up exit 3 and keep walking straight. Starbucks is on your right. Turn right at the first street and walk 2.5 blocks. On your right, a sign with the Warhol banana, head down the stairs and glide right in.

Poetry Plus 45 features the talents of

Aiden Hobbs 
Allison Barratt and Michael Grady Wheeler directed by Patrick Sanders
Amber Corrine
Carlos Williams
Cecile Hwang aka "Lady ZooKweenie"
Chris Dunkin
Cindi L'Abbe
Dorian Cliffe 
Farnaz Pirasteh
Grace LaFace
Hyun Sook Kim and Ryan Estrada
Jack Joseph
Kenneth May and Mike Ventola
Kobus Kotze and Marike Kotze
Marcia Benedicta Peschke

doing words, music, live painting, or some permutation of it all!

Opening the show's music set and recording live is Busan's own Skinship!

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Korean Baseball 101: Way Beyond the Bat Flips

Koreabridge - Wed, 2017-08-30 00:39

Baseball in South Korea is more than a game. It’s akin to a religion. American missionaries first brought the sport to the peninsula in 1905, and the country absolutely loved it. Today, the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) features 10 teams and a unique sporting culture all its own. The city of Busan and its hometown Lotte Giants have a particularly passionate fan base. From the hitters’ flashy bat flips, to the team’s famous “cheermaster” and its unlikely American super fan, consider this is your crash course on the joyful madness that is Lotte Giants fandom.

This Great Big Story was inspired by Genesis.

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Korean Baseball 101: Way Beyond the Bat Flips
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Bombing North Korea would be a War of Choice

Koreabridge - Fri, 2017-08-25 19:00
Bombing North Korea would be a War of Choice


This essay is a re-post of a piece I wrote earlier this month for The National Interest. It is an extension of the arguments a made earlier in the month, that North Korea is not in fact an existential threat to the United States. And that wonderfully scary photo is courtesy, naturally, of the Chosun Ilbo.

In brief, my argument is that the US has the ability to survive a North Korean nuclear attack, and therefore, we do not need to threat-inflate North Korea into some state-breaking threat to the United States. It is not. North Korea is dangerous enough without scaring the crap out of people unnecessarily. Killing a lot of Americans is not the same thing as bringing down the Constitution, and too many Trump officials are eliding that critical distinction. Strategic bombing has yet to bring down a country, and there is no reason to think the US is different. We do not need to bomb North Korea because it is on the cusp of destroying the American way of life. It could not do that even if it wanted to, which it does not. So an air campaign would still be a war of choice, no matter how much fire-breathing rhetoric you hear from Trump, Dan Coats, or Bolton.

The full essay follows the jump.

 

 

In my time with The National Interest, no column I have written received so much criticism as my claim last week that North Korean nuclear weapons do not represent an existential threat to the United States. Perhaps due to the current, ‘Summer of 1914’ atmosphere, critics found it ‘strangelovian’ or insouciant about the use of nuclear weapons. I appreciate the TNI editors allowing me an opportunity to address these concerns.

Normative vs Empirical Analysis

A basic distinction in social analysis is between normative or moral concern, and empirical explanation. Soberly discussing potential US survivability was too dispassionate for some readers. Perhaps nuclear weapons discourse should be morally rejected as too awful to contemplate. This is an old concern in strategic studies, often called ‘thinking the unthinkable.’ Perhaps analytically discussing nuclear weapons helps ‘normalize’ them; perhaps thinking about nuclear war strategy, survivability, state resilience, and so on makes the appalling less appalling.

There is no easy answer to this, but it seems to me that not discussing how the US might respond to a nuclear attack is irresponsible as national policy. Nuclear weapons exist. That genie will never be returned to its bottle, no matter how much we wish it so. Similarly, North Korea is a nuclear missile power, and we are unlikely to roll that back either. These are empirical facts, and no amount of normative revulsion over nuclear weapons’ awfulness will undo them.

I find nuclear weapons as appalling as anyone, pray they will never be used, and fear deeply that the world’s most dangerous state, North Korea, now has them. But revulsion alone is not enough. We must also think soberly about how we will respond in a worst-case scenario.

Worst-Case Scenario Planning

If we accept the empirical reality of the Northern program, and the policy requirement to deliberate its possible use against the United States, then we return to my original essay. There I presented a worst-case scenario: multiple North Korean nuclear strikes against the United States. Worst-case thinking is unnerving but ultimately part of responsible policy planning in order to grasp a problem’s maximal contours. If one lives in an earthquake or tornado zone, one hopes for the best, but plans for the worst. The logic is the same here, if not more accentuated with nuclear weapons. We all, obviously, hope that North Korea never launches against the United States. Indeed, this is extremely unlikely, unless the United States attacks North Korea first, because the North Koreans are not suicidal, and they know that American retaliation would destroy them.

Nonetheless, when planning we should at least consider the worst-case scenario in passing. Specifically, is the current, worst-case talk correct that nuclear missilized North Korea is now an ‘existential’ threat (see below) to America? Were North Korea to launch against the United States, could it do enough damage to actually bring down the American order – the state, the Constitution, the American way of life? It is obvious that many Americans would die, the economic and ecological consequences would be disastrous, a sharp, brutal turn in US foreign policy would follow, and so on. I contest none of that in the original essay. Rather I express skepticism that the United States could not absorb at least some North Korean nuclear strikes without political implosion as well. The humanitarian catastrophe would, of course, be tremendous. Rather, I am asking if the US government would collapse as well, which the ‘existential threat’ language suggests.

In the essay I speculate that it would require dozens of strikes on American cities to actually pitch the United States into political collapse. Cooler-headed respondents suggested a lower threshold, or that even a few strikes would catalyze a military takeover. Perhaps. But the experience of states under strategic bombing in the twentieth century suggest far greater social and political resilience than that. The US launched massive air campaigns against Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, communist North Korea, and communist North Vietnam, including nuclear weapons against Japan. Cities were razed; millions killed; millions more wounded. But none of the regimes collapsed or were overthrown, nor did those societies meltdown into some kind of Mad Max/Lord of the Flies dystopic anarchy. The Nazi and Imperial governments survived to surrender in good order, while the North Korean and (North) Vietnamese governments are still with us today.

In fact, the social resilience of the populations under these punishing campaigns astonished US planners and is a reason why the US no longer contemplates such large-scale civilian bombing. It does not seem to work. Perhaps the US is different. Perhaps it is politically more vulnerable. But I suspect not, as I argue in the original essay. The US has major advantages those countries did not have: it is geographically and demographically very large, with multiple, federal layers of government, wealthy, and has deep political stability. By way of example, if multiple cities in the American west – those closest to North Korea – were struck, why should that lead to social collapse in Alabama or Maine or Pennsylvania? Fear, alarm, and martial law would likely ensue – but why collapse? Would city, county, and state governments all over America simply cease to function if Washington, D.C. were struck? Perhaps, but that is not intuitively obvious, even if it is deeply disturbing to contemplate.

I see no reason why saying this is somehow inappropriate; indeed, it strikes me as a good thing that the US has these depths of resilience. (Why would we not want that?) To see cases where North Korean nuclear weapons really are an existential, constitutional, or state-breaking threat, consider South Korea or Japan. Both are geographically and demographically much smaller and denser than the US, with highly centralized governments. That makes them extremely vulnerable to just a few strikes on their biggest cities.

All this suggest that, even in a worst-case scenario, the United States – its government, constitution, and way of life – could in fact ‘ride out’ a North Korean nuclear strike, despite the awful human toll. This is an important, if macabre, point to make, and one that is being inappropriately elided in the current atmosphere of paranoia.

Not an Existential Threat

North Korea is a great enough danger without unnecessary threat-inflation from US officials regarding Northern missiles. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has repeatedly said North Korea’s nuclear weapons are an “existential” threat to the United States. National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster suggested that North Korea is undeterrable, and that Donald Trump believes a North Korean nuclear missile – not its actual use, but simply its existence – is “intolerable.” John Bolton, naturally, agrees; even the potential of a North Korean nuclear missile warrants a military strike.

Coats’ assessment is almost certainly inaccurate given the four strategic bombing cases discussed above, while the Trump White House and Bolton would have us fight just over the potential of a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The US has lived with Soviet/Russian and Chinese nuclear ICBMs for years. Pakistan too has nuclear weapons. Most Korea analysts agree that the Kim elite of North Korea is rational. They are not suicidal ideologues like Osama bin Laden or ISIS. They firstly want to survive – whatever their other goals might be – which means they are highly unlikely to simply launch at the US out of the blue.

Hence we do not need to preventively bomb North Korea – with the huge risk of regional or even global conflict that entails – just because they have nuclear weapons. Pyongyang will not launch against the US, unless we attack them first, and the US would, even in that extremely unlikely, worst-case scenario, survive. If we knew the North was about to attack, we should indeed preemptively strike. But that is almost impossible to know, especially with a state as opaque as North Korea, so any US attack would be globally viewed as unnecessarily preventive, not legitimately preemptive.

As this essay has tried to argue, there is no clear-cut case for that, which is perhaps the root of all the administration threat-inflation. President Trump would have to sell to the US public why the US cannot adjust to Northern nuclear weapons as we did to Soviet/Russian, Chinese, and Pakistani nukes. Indeed, the preventive attack case is much stronger for more vulnerable South Korea and Japan, but they have made their peace living next to nuclear North Korea. President Trump might consider that harrbefore we do something rash. US officials should be more honest about all this in the current febrile atmosphere. We are not on the cusp of World War III, the apocalypse, or any of that cable news hysteria unless the Trump administration chooses to attack. And such an attack is not ‘existentially’ necessary. Let’s at least be honest about th


Filed under: Alliances, Defense, Korea (North), Missiles/Missile Defense, Nuclear Weapons, The National Interest, United States

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University

@Robert_E_Kelly

 

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The 4 Best Korean Dramas for Learning Korean

Koreabridge - Tue, 2017-08-22 00:00
The 4 Best Korean Dramas for Learning Korean

If you’re in the process of learning Korean, you’re probably aware that there are seemingly infinite methods of learning. You can work through Korean textbooks, listen to audio clips of conversation, or work through challenges like our own 90 Minute Challenge to learn Hangul, the Korean alphabet. You can mix and match these different activities to come up with a learning method that works best for you, but the most important thing is that you’re consistent and motivated to stay engaged with the learning process.

What better way is there to keep your motivation for learning Korean high than to have fun while you’re learning? Grab your popcorn, because Korean dramas are about to make learning way more entertaining!

Korean dramas are some of the most entertaining shows on television — whether you’re after tragedy, heartbreak, comedy, or all of the above, the Korean dramas on this list will deliver. However, not all Korean dramas are created equal if you’re in the beginning stages of learning Korean. Some are ideal for learning Korean conversational skills, and some use more complicated dialogue that can be tricky to parse for beginners.

Read on for a list of the best Korean dramas to get you started with learning the Korean language. Be sure to let us know which is your favorite in the comments below! Also check out our useful Korean drama phrases to help with your study.

*Ready to learn Korean yet? Click here to learn about our 90 Day Korean learning program! 연애시대 (Alone in Love)

Photo credit: http://hancinema.net

Alone in Love is a great Korean drama to dive into if you’re just getting started with learning Korean. It’s very approachable as far as Korean dramas go — the story follows a married couple that splits up after the death of their baby, and what their lives look like after they begin dating other people. It’s heart wrenching, it’s (relatively) realistic, and you’ll get emotionally invested very quickly!

The dialogue in this drama is straightforward and easy to follow, which makes it great for learning Korean. The conversations can be a little harder to follow when emotions run high between the main characters and they begin speaking quickly, but the majority of the conversations are realistic day-to-day Korean conversations and are full of vocabulary words that will serve you well.

식객 (Gourmet)

Photo credit: http://dramafever.com

If you’re already a fan of Korean food (and really, who isn’t? Korea has tons of delicious dishes!), you are going to love Gourmet, a Korean drama that follows sibling rivalry between two sons fighting to inherit their father’s restaurant.

Of course, this drama has all of the elements that make Korean dramas so great — there’s rivalry, there’s heartbreak, and there are definitely moments that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat. What this drama has that others don’t have, however, is a focus on traditional Korean cooking.

Not only will you get to learn the meaning and history of a variety of Korean dishes as you’re watching this drama (as well as how to make the dishes), but you’ll also pick up useful vocabulary words that you’ll use in future conversations at restaurants and about Korean food.

Get your Korean food fix and your Korean entertainment fix at the same time — check out Gourmet today!

커피 프린스 1호점 (Coffee Prince)

Photo credit: http://dramafever.com

Coffee Prince was one of the Korean dramas that was so popular that it raised awareness for how wonderful Korean dramas are to viewers outside of Korea. Once you start watching, you’ll see why it helped spread the word about Korean dramas — it’s addicting, and it’s very hard to stop once you get started!

This drama follows the off-beat romance between a clumsy tomboy, Go Eun-Chan, (who is actually mistaken for a boy!) and a well-off gentleman who isn’t interested in the women he has been set up with by his family.

These two hit it off and form an unlikely friendship, and viewers are left wondering when it will progress to be more and what that could even look like, considering Choi Han-Gyul, the male protagonist, thinks that Go Eun-Chan is a boy. Will he ever learn her true identity? Will his trust be shattered, or will they fall in love? Start watching to find out!

Part of what makes Coffee Prince so great to follow when you’re learning Korean is how easy it is to get invested in the characters and the story. Even if you miss some of the more difficult conversational elements the first time watching, you’ll be hooked and you’ll feel as if you need to keep watching to find out what happens to the main characters.

Turn on Coffee Prince the next time you sit down to study Korean and you’ll quickly see why we consider it one of the best Korean dramas!

별에서 온 그대 (My Love from Another Star)

Photo credit: http://dramafever.com

If you’re a fan of television shows and movies that have fantastical elements, you’re in for a treat! My Love from Another Star is not your typical Korean drama. This drama follows a superhuman alien that landed on planet Earth hundreds of years ago. Think of it as Doctor Who meets Twilight… kind of? You’ll understand when you check it out for yourself!

This alien, Do Min-joon, has had several superhuman gifts bestowed upon him — he has out of this world good looks, he has super speed, and he can hear even the faintest of sounds, which makes spying on conversations very easy.

As you can imagine, he becomes disillusioned with humans very quickly as a result of all of the hatred and malice he picks up on through listening and paying attention. Imagine his surprise when he falls in love with human woman!

This drama really does have something for every viewer — whether you’re a fan of alien story lines, true love, or period pieces, you’ll enjoy watching My Love From Another Star.

It’s also great for viewers who are just beginning to pick up Korean, because the dialogue is all written in a very deliberate way. Being an alien, Do Min-joon uses formal Korean dialogue for most of the show, but the script writers do a great job of having him transition slowly to more casual dialogue as he becomes comfortable around other characters.

 

Do you have a favorite Korean drama that has helped you learn the language? Let us know in the comments below so we can add it to our list!

 

Photo Credit: http://bigstock.com

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Korean lessons   *  Korean Phrases    *    Korean Vocabulary *   Learn Korean   *    Learn Korean alphabet   *   Learn Korean fast   *  Motivation    *   Study Korean  

 

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LTW: The Barking War

Koreabridge - Sun, 2017-08-13 05:09
LTW: The Barking War Good morning,
A series of bellicose rhetoric exchange between North Korea and Donald Trump keeps raising tension in Korean Peninsula. North Korean Foreign Minister threw the first punch on Aug 7, declaring his country will “teach the U.S. a severe lesson with its nuclear strategic force.” Trump countered on Aug 8, saying “North Korea best not make any more threats to the U.S. They will be met with fire and fury the world has never seen.” The commander of North Korean Army responded on Aug 10, threatening they can fire four Hwasung-12 ICBMs over Japan to lfall 30km (19 miles) away from Guam with the final order from Kim Jung-un. Donald Trump then tweeted on Aug 11 that U.S. military plans are “locked and loaded” and ready to go “should North Korea act unwisely.” Gen.Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff met with President Moon Jae-in Seoul on Aug 14.
 

While the rest of the world is watching Korean Peninsula in worries, South Koreans are not really feeling the tension. South Koreans have lived under Kim family’s verbal threats since Korean War ended in 1953. If South Koreans cannot sleep because of Kim Jung-un’s recent bad words from his mouth, neither can Japanese because of earthquakes. My wife can be more concerned about possible Louis Vuitton store pullout from Lotte Department Store than possible North Korean ICBMs flying over Japan to Guam. The recent exchange of menacing words between Kim Jung-un and Donald Trump fits below scenes to many South Koreans.

Regards,
H.S.


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No, North Korea’s Nuclear Missiles are Not an ‘Existential’ Threat to the US

Koreabridge - Sat, 2017-08-12 23:45
No, NK's Nuclear Missiles are Not an ‘Existential’ Threat to the US


This is a re-post of an article I just wrote for The National Interest. It is a response to the increasing hawk threat inflation – presumably to justify possible airstrikes –  that even one North Korean nuclear weapon is intolerable, or that even one North Korean nuclear strike on America would bring down the country, or that the NK nuclear program is an ‘existential’ threat to the US.

None of that is true. Is it bad that NK has nukes and missiles? Of course. Would it be a humanitarian catastrophe if NK nuked one or several American cities? Obviously. Would that bring down the American state, the US Constitution, and the American way of life? No, it would not. Is it creepy and strangelovian to talk like this? Yes. But NK nukes are here to stay; we need to adapt to this reality. We need to start thinking soberly about these sorts of frightening questions, especially if we are contemplating the use of force against North Korea, with its huge attendant risks.

The below essay argues that the US has some resilience against even the disasters which would follow a North Korean nuclear attack on the homeland. Many people would die but that is not the same is bringing down the whole country. Killing people is not the same as breaking the state, and way too many hawkish threat-inflators, like President Trump or John Bolton, are eliding this point. In the four US strategic bombing campaigns of the 20th century – against Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, North Korea, and North Vietnam – none of them lead to governmental breakdown and domestic anarchy. We are not on the cusp of Lord of the Flies or Mad Max, and we should be honest about that, even as we try to contain the NK nuclear program. To do otherwise just scares the hell out of the country even more than it is now. Even in the worst case scenario, which this essay presents, NK almost certainly does not have the ability to destroy America, even if it can kill many Americans. That is a distinction, however macabre it may seem to point it out.

The full essay follows the jump:

 

 

Late last month, the American Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats called North Korea’s nuclear weapons program a “potential existential threat to the United States.” Coats hedges a bit by throwing in the modifier “potentially,” but he has spoken this way before. Unless he has spectacular secret information, this is woefully inaccurate. North Korea is a growing threat to the United States with its nuclear missile program, and it is indeed an existential threat to South Korea and Japan. But its threat to the US is actually not existential – as, for example, Russian and Chinese arsenals are – and is unlikely to become so.

Language is important here. North Korea is a indeed a threat to the US, but it is a greater threat to US regional allies, and its proven ability to strike the US with a nuclear warhead is still hotly disputed. Ranging the US with a missile is not the same as hitting the US with a reentry-survivable nuclear warhead that could evade US missile defense. Nor, even, does one or two or a dozen North Korean nuclear strikes on the US mainland constitute an “existential” threat.

Such a scenario would, of course, be terrible, but for North Korea to actually threaten the existence of the United States would take dozens of nuclear strikes across almost all of America’s major cities. The humanitarian costs of even one nuclear detonation would be enormous, of course, and the national psychological shock would be akin to nothing in US history, bar perhaps the Civil War. But this is not the same thing as actually hitting the United States hard enough that its society begins to fragment and its government collapse. DNI Coats does not use those terms, but presumably that is what an “existential” threat is. Large numbers of civilian casualties, even in the millions, and the loss of several American cities is not existential. Horrible, yes. A dramatic reorientation of American life, absolutely. But not the end of America.

In fact, the United States is actually well postured to survive – or ‘ride out,’ in nuclear war parlance – a nuclear strike. The US is a large country, with a widely dispersed population. According to the Census Bureau in 2015, it has only ten cities whose populations exceed one million people. And twenty percent of its population lives in rural areas, distant from any realistic North Korean target. That is sixty million people. Residents of large cities like New York and Los Angeles are threatened, but much of the US population is not. It is important to be honest about this.

American governmental federalism is another benefit. Even if Washington, D.C. and other large US metropolitan centers were devastated, the US has multiple levels of government which would continue to operate. States, counties, and cities would continue to function, uphold law and order, and provide points from which to rebuild damaged national structures. By way of example, the collapse of government in New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 did not lead to cascading collapse across Louisiana or the Gulf Coast. Even Imperial Japan in 1945, after months of punishing US bombing, managed to ride out the nuclear detonations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki without a national breakdown.

Nuclear strikes in America will not necessarily lead to apocalyptic outcomes, and we should be cautious about using Coats’ frightening language. Highly centralized states are at greater risk than America. Where one national capital represents the national center gravity – as with Seoul in South Korea, or Paris in France – the risk of a nuclear ‘decapitation strike’ to throw the country into chaos is real. Hence North Korea’s greater threat to highly centralized, and more proximate, Japan and South Korea. But America’s thick decentralization makes it more resilient.

Finally, long-term US political stability suggests socio-political resilience. Assuming again that North Korea strikes Washington and America’s other large cities, it is not obvious that the US would then fall into some manner of political anarchy or revolution. The US is a wealthy, stable state with the world’s longest running constitution (230 years). Its population has never had any meaningful political traditions besides liberal democracy. There are no serious revolutionaries waiting for social chaos to strike, like in czarist Russia or Weimar Germany.

Indeed, Coats himself likely knows all this, which is why he appended “potentially” to his comments. By calling the North Korean nuclear missile threat “existential,” he is probably trying to capture and focus attention, both in the US and, especially, China. But adding “potentially” allows him to pull back so that he does not appear too alarmist and incur the jeering of the analyst community over something that is really not true. This political and somewhat contradictory phrasing leaves Coats’ actual beliefs rather unclear.

His exaggeration is understandable, however, due to China. In fact, I imagine much of the overheated rhetoric coming from the Trump administration about North Korea is intended to pressure China to finally do something on the issue, rather than accurately portray the threat from Pyongyang. But this is risky threat-inflation. Scare-mongering contributes to the growing drumbeat for airstrikes against North Korea which could ignite a disastrous regional conflict, even though North Korea almost certainly does not intend to offensively strike the United States with its nuclear weapons.


Filed under: Korea (North), Nuclear Weapons, Strategy, The National Interest, United States

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University

@Robert_E_Kelly

 

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Nights Out Up North – Where to Go in the PNU Area in Busan

Koreabridge - Thu, 2017-08-10 01:33
Nights Out Up North – Where to Go in the PNU Area in Busan Read more a

Originally appeared in HAPS, Aug. 9, 2017. Click here for the original story.

Do you have any suggested places for fun nights out, in the PNU area or throughout Busan that you would like me to check out? Leave a comment.

This article took a lot longer than I expected it would. I am not entirely sure why. I didn’t have much trouble getting comments from sources, especially Liam Cullivan, who is a wealth of great information and conversation if you’re curious about Busan’s expat history at least since the mid-1990s. Super fun.  I think it was just a lull in my desire to write. That happens to a lot of people. I don’t know if it’s ever happened much to Stephen King. That guy seems to churn out book after book, even when he got run over by a van almost 20 years ago. But, I get those times where I just don’t feel like it. A good trick to get the juices pumping again is to suck it up, buckle down, some other cliche phrase or two and then follow the sage advice of the Nike “swoosh” and Shia LeBeouf.

“DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK, BECAUSE THEY NEVER REALLY LEFT.”

That’s from Liam Cullivan, owner of Basement, in the Pusan National University downtown area on a Facebook post announcing a new venture: pizza at an adjacent establishment dubbed “Cullivano’s.” While meant to be tongue-in-cheek, this long-established member of the Busan bar community hammers home the point that, despite the popularity of other downtown destinations in Busan like Gwangalli, the Kyungsung University area and tourism-heavy Haeundae, PNU too has remained a popular spot for both foreigners and locals looking to have a fun night out further north.

Local history wonks will also note the Pusan National University area is also where expats found their first Busan nights about two decades ago.

“The English teacher population exploded with the introduction of EPIK (English Program in Korea) in 1995,” says Cullivan, who has operated Basement since 2002, and previously managed a bar in Masan.

As new metro lines and additional stops on existing ones made it easier to commute across this vast city, and as more Korean business owners sought to appeal to expats, other locations besides PNU began to flourish. Cullivan specifically cites the Thursday Party chain, which started in Busan but now has more than 20 locations throughout Korea.

“It was hard to find any western style bars,” Cullivan notes of years past. “So, people flocked to havens where they could speak English and be understood.”

In Busan, that haven was the PNU area. “This is what the old timers gush about,” he says.

But, like everything in life, change was inevitable. “Frankly, Korean bar culture and English abilities have changed,” Cullivan says. Despite the shift in customer base, Basement has remained.

But, while many expats moved on from PNU, Cullivan says “we still had a huge student population at our doorstep. We became more of a student bar.”

In its current incarnation, Cullivan notes that, while expats have started to return to PNU, “it’s not who you think. PNU (the university) has really upped their game in attracting students from around the world, especially from Europe and the former Soviet republics.”

Still, some “old timers” find themselves in PNU “for mostly music events,” Cullivan says. “But, in general, the expat crowd in PNU is much younger and frankly everything in PNU is a little bit cheaper because of the college students.”

Cullivan also notes a couple new bars, like Galmegi Brewing Company, have found a place in PNU. “So, yes, the big wave of teachers who arrived a decade or more ago did move on to other areas, but we haven’t been lonely in PNU,” he says. “The students and punks stayed and now I think some of the expats outside of the ‘hood are starting to realize what a cool little place PNU is.”

To see for yourself, here’s a shortlist of destinations to try on your own PNU night out:

Someday

416-1, Jangjeong-dong, Geumjeong-gu, Open daily 6pm-5am, 010-5557-4626 , Facebook

What began in 2011 as a single-story dive in an old industrial storefront has turned into a two-story must-visit destination. The freshly-renovated Someday offers a cool and laid back venue for live music, or simply a place to sip a variety of adult beverages. These range from assorted cocktails to a wide selection of beers, from OB for the skinflint, to Goose Island for those who want a little craft in their draft.

“The old Someday was kind of just a local bar in PNU,” says Donghyuk Heo, one of three partners responsible for the renovations. “Now, we hope many people will come to know about it and enjoy it.”

Heo says Someday is a place for everyone, Korean or foreign, a neighborhood spot for those with a liberal mindset. “I can’t explain it well, even if I explain it in Korean,” he laughs. “But, it has something different, an atmosphere you can only feel here. I suggest you come here and feel it for yourself.”

Galmegi Brewing Company

Pusandaehak-ro58, Jangjeong-dong, Geumjeong-gu – Monday-Thursday, 6pm-midnight; Friday and Saturday, 6pm-1am, Sunday 6-11pm – 010-3782-6116 – Facebook

Galmegi Brewing Company ushered Busan into Korea’s burgeoning craft beer movement back in 2014 when it opened its Gwangan brewery (they first began serving contract-brewed suds the previous year at a location closer to Gwangalli Beach). Its PNU location is Galmegi’s fifth (following the popular brand’s other locations in Gwangan, Haeundae, Seomyeon and Nampo) to open and sixth overall (a location near the Kyungsung University/Pukyong National University subway station opened in July).

PNU Galmegi owner Andrew Bencivenga prides himself on adding his own signature to the location, including a playlist that lends itself more to a chill night chatting with friends than competing with the sound system. There’s a full slate of familiar bar food favorites as well as special menu items like handmade sausages and location-specific pizzas. Those seeking a liquid diet can choose from a number of bottles and drafts that cannot be found at any other location, from throughout Korea and around the world. And, if beer is not your thing, Galmegi PNU has several bourbons and tequilas to whet your whistle with, as well.

Red Bottle

Jangjeon-dong 417-2, 2nd floor, Geumjeong-gu, Monday-Saturday 7pm-4am, Sunday 6pm-1am, 010-6213-2198, Facebook

The bartenders at Red Bottle, opened in 2010, pride themselves on their cocktail skills, something owner Nanhee Lee says has created a loyal following at her relaxed second-floor establishment.

“We’ve made a unique atmosphere in front of Pusan National University,” she says of Red Bottle. “I want to have even more live events for indie bands. I am trying to make this a place for exchanges between Korean people and foreign people.” Live music is also a regular facet at Red Bottle.

Crossroads

389-51 Jangjeon 1dong, Geumjeong-gu, Daily 7pm – 3am, 051-515-1181, Facebook

Owner Juhee Kim points to consistency for this 20-year-old PNU landmark’s staying power. Folks can enjoy music from the 1970s to today at Crossroads, which offers both local and imported beers, as well as over 30 cocktail choices, with prices that haven’t changed in many years.

“It’s cheap and it’s for everyone who loves music and enjoys drinking,” Kim says. “Anyone can be friends with anyone and can enjoy it comfortably. That’s what’s attractive about Crossroads.”

Basement

418-32 Jangjeon 3dong, Geumjeong-gu, Daily 7pm – 4am, 010-3221-2500, Facebook

One of PNU’s mainstay establishments. They recently began to offer pizza by the slice next door under the moniker “Cullivano’s,” a nod to owner Liam Cullivan. Cheap drinks and cocktails, with a number of Korean and international indie acts passing through for raucous concerts.


JPDdoesROK is a former news editor/writer in New Jersey, USA, who served a one-year tour of duty in Dadaepo/Jangnim, Saha-gu, Busan from February 2013 to February 2014. He is now a teacher in Gimhae.

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