Security Studies Program Seminar
North Korea's Military-Diplomatic Campaigns: History and Analysis
Assistant Professor, Security and International Studies Program,
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), Tokyo, Japan
September 26, 2007
This talk traces the history of North Korea's use of force focusing on how political objectives, modalities of the use of force, and its effectiveness changed over time. This talk is based on a 2002 dissertation and also includes recently declassified information and new developments since 2002.
North Korea's use of force evolved over four different periods.
1. Genesis of Military-Diplomatic Campaigns, 1966-1972
- 1966-68 - Sustained assault on US-Republic of Korea (ROK) forces along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Not heavily armed, but reasonably armed North Korean forces attacked patrols and barracks. The peak in U.S.-ROK casualties came in 1968. North Korea's casualties were sometimes larger, however.
- January 1968 – A thirty-one man North Korean special operations forces team attacked the blue house trying to kill President Park Chung-Hee. One of the agents was captured alive and he later confessed to the objectives.
- Two days later, North Korea (DPRK) assaulted the USS Pueblo. There were 82 men aboard. The DPRK used for propaganda purposes and to bring about bilateral negotiations with the United States.
- On April 14, 1969 the DPRK shot down a U.S. Navy aircraft in the Sea of Japan.
- In 1970, DPRK agents attempted to assassinate President Park Chung Hee.
- Political objectives
- Divert US and ROK attention from the Vietnam War.
- Support international communist movement to bog down U.S. “ imperialists”
- Unification of the Korean Peninsula in the near future
- Overthrow the ROK government.
- Hamper US intelligence activities (attacking Pueblo and US Navy EC-121 plane)
- Characteristics of use of force
- Aggressive and direct uses of force.
- Use of coercive, subversive, and controlling strategies.
- Reasonably successful in diverting US attention from Vietnam. After these events, the ROK said it couldn't devote more forces to Vietnam
- Unsuccessful in overthrowing ROK government.
- U.S. terminated Pueblo-type operations after the incident, so the DPRK was successful in hampering U.S. intelligence efforts.
- The USS Pueblo incident resulted in serious damage to U.S. intelligence efforts. The DPRK gained access to highly classified documents on the USS Pueblo. At the time, the intelligence community wasn't that worried because the DPRK didn't have the keys to access the information. But KGB human intelligence activities gained the key and eventually the Soviet Union gained access to the information.
- Gaining bilateral talks with the U.S. was a significant success.
- Negative consequences to the use of force (mid to long-term)
- DMZ was fortified by the US-ROK side. Up to this time, the security was pretty loose. Many North Korean agents were able to get across the DMZ. Now, elaborate modern defense system with metal fence, mine field, and rapid reaction forces were in place.
- Establishment of 2.5 million man Homeland Reserve Forces in the ROK. DPRK action created imperative to arm people in the ROK.
- Defense cooperation with Japan started in earnest in this period. The ROK developed an indigenous defense industry that was heavily financed by Japan. Japan called it economic cooperation, but it was really security cooperation.
2. Diplomatic Use of Military force 1973-1982
- In October 1973, the DPRK started crossing the Northern Limit Line (NLL). The NLL was not in the Korean Armistice agreement. In fact, there is still no official maritime demarcation line. The NLL was an informal line drawn by UN command. It was intended to stop ROK fishing boats from crossing too far north. The NLL was not really designed to address North Korean boats. The DPRK started to cross this line in order to make the point that this unilateral line was not legitimate.
- In 1974, the DPRK used a South Korean resident of Japan to attempt to assassinate President Park.
- In 1976, the UN command began pruning a poplar tree between the observation posts at Panmunjom. North Korean soldiers asked the UN to stop the operation and then began attacking when the UN didn't stop. Two US officers killed with axes. The axes were there from the pruning activities, rather than brought in by the North Koreans. It turned out to be more brutal than DPRK had intended.
- In 1981 the DPRK attacked a U.S. SR-71 recon aircraft, but missed.
- Objectives – Less ambitious than during the 1960s.
- Making maritime territorial claims.
- Conclude peace agreement with the U.S.
- Withdrawal of US forces in South Korea.
- Axe murder attacks were probably intentionally in concert with other diplomatic activities.
- Hampering U.S. intelligence activities.
- Kill South Korean president
- Limited or indirect use of force.
- Attempted attack against US SR-71 was the last example of direct use of force against the U.S.
- Maritime balance of power was not in favor of ROK at that time, so ROK could not retaliate with naval forces.
- Axe murder incident was not trying to provoke a war. Later Kim Il-Sung said he was “regretful” about the incident.
- Explicit coordination between military and diplomatic activities (in contrast to previous period). When the DPRK crossed the Northern Limit Line, they began saying that the line was illegitimate in diplomatic settings.
- Use of coercive strategies.
- Making territorial claims was important, but failed on other goals.
- Axe murder episode was disastrous for NK. International outcry over the brutality.
- Negative consequences
- The ROK started to build up naval forces to counter the DPRK
- The ROK started to fortify offshore islands.
3. Rise of Terrorism, 1983-1992
- NK special agents infiltrated Rangoon, Burma trying to kill President Chun Doo-Hwan with remote control bomb. It exploded successfully killing cabinet ministers, but missed the president.
- Two NK spies set off bomb on a passenger plane (Korean Air)
- Undermine ROK stability
- Undermine Seoul Olympic games in 1988
- Both objectives reflect DPRK sense of desperation. ROK was doing better than DPRK and DPRK knew it was on the losing side. Despite aggressive nature of DPRK uses of force, their political objectives were defensive from their perspective.
- Subversive/coercive uses of terrorist activities.
- Rangoon incident was the last assassination attempt against South Korean president.
- Negative consequences
- DPRK designated as terrorist sponsoring country.
4. Elaborate and sustained military-diplomatic campaign, 1993-Present
- 1993-1994 - First nuclear crisis ends in Agreed Framework
- 1994-1996 - Armed demonstration in the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom.
- 1998 – Launched Taepo Dong 1 ballistic missile
- 1999 - Second West Sea Incident - South Korea 's naval capabilities were stronger at this point. South Korea harassed North Korean vessels. North Koreans started shooting at ROK forces in the Yellow Sea. South Koreans sunk a few ships.
- 2003 - Second Nuclear Crisis
- Regime survival
- Obtaining economic assistance
- Normalizing relations with the U.S. and Japan.
- Minimalist policy objectives were defensive and cooperative in nature even though means were aggressive.
- Indirect use of force – very few casualties and stopped using serious force against ROK forces.
- Successful in regime survival and gaining assistance.
- Normalization with the US and Japan not yet realized.
- Negative Consequences
- Imposition of economic and financial sanctions. The U.S. has allowed Banco Delta Asia to give money back to North Korea now, but the sanctions are still in place.
- Because of isolation, North Korea has begun to depend even more on South Korea.
Patterns of North Korea's use of force
- North Korea's use of force has reflected its policy objectives and the changing military balance in favor of the U.S.-ROK side.
- Location of use of force changed as military balance changed
- North Korea moved from land incursions to maritime once route was blocked then the North began digging tunnels.
- These activities, while aggressive, were responses to the U.S. and ROK activities.
- Now, North Korea has to use submarines to infiltrate South Korea.
- Modality of use of force has also changed as the military balance of power has changed
- Changed from direct and large scale to indirect and limited
- Went from subversive, coercive, and controlling strategies to only coercive then to subversive , and finally back to coercive strategy.
- Now, the North Koreans want diplomatic friendship with the U.S.
- More repetition in their military behavior.
- 1992-1994 - Armed DPRK soldiers entered the Joint Security Area to construct positions was symbolic coercion. It was a lot like the Axe Murder incident (only indirect rather than direct use of force)
- MIG chasing the US RC -135S in 2003 was like the Pueblo and U.S. SR-71 incidents combined.
- North Koreans have linked these incidents calling them the “War of Brains”
- First “war of brains” against the US was Pueblo incident
- The second “war of brains” was the first nuclear incident
- The purpose of the second nuclear crisis was to put pressure on the U.S. to get more diplomatic attention from the U.S. rather than to divert attention from Iraq.
- Both the DPRK and the ROK want to keep the US engaged in the peninsula. For the DPRK, the best outcome is to be friendly with the U.S. and Japan while sidelining the South Koreans.
- They would like to recreate the relationship with the U.S. during the 1990s. At that time the US relationship with the DPRK was in some way better than with South Korea. In order to do so, the North Koreans do not want a bilateral peace agreement with South Korea, however they know that without the ROK, the US will not sign an agreement. So now, the DPRK is pursuing a trilateral agreement. Seeing that the U.S. might be disengaging, North Korea is worried. At the upcoming summit between Kim Jong-Il and Roh Moo-hyun may agree to sign a peace agreement and invite the U.S. to join. In that case, it would be hard for the U.S. to decline the proposal.
- Japan's and China's roles in the different periods
- Japan helped South Korea from 1960s into the 1980s, then South Korea became more confident, limiting Japan's importance.
- China has not had a lot of impact on North Korean behavior. If anything, China added to the DPRK's sense of abandonment, adding incentive to pursue its massive military program in 1962.
- In the first nuclear crisis, China played a negative incentive role.
- China plays an important facilitating role by organizing the six party talks. However, bilateral US-DPRK negotiations turned out to be most important.
- China wants to keep the DPRK intact as a buffer. There is therefore a debate about how much pressure China can exert. In fact, China can exert pressure, but is not willing to do so for it might destabilize North Korea.
- North Korea got lucky because they couldn't have known that the U.S. would get bogged down in Iraq.
- North Korea will not agree to total dismantlement of nuclear weapons.
- Mismatch between ends and means especially on reunification policy reflect that the North Koreans are good tacticians but not good strategists.
Rapporteur: Miranda Priebe
back to Wednesday Seminar Series, Fall 2007