250,000 US casualties from American invasion of North Korea?

Today North Korea can’t seriously threaten North America with missile strikes, but it probably will by 2019. Meanwhile, North Korean nuclear and conventionally-armed missiles (and this could include poison gas and biological warheads) today threaten the 80,000+ US military personnel based in Japan, South Korea and Guam. They would be immediate targets should the US and South Korea attack the north.

Add tens of millions of South Korean and Japanese civilians who are at risk of North Korean retaliation. It would take only three nuclear weapons to shatter Japan and just two to cripple South Korea, not to mention polluting the globe with radioactive dust and contaminating North Asia’s water sources. Nuclear explosions would spread radioactive contamination over northern China and Pacific Russia.

Almost equally important, North Korea boasts one of the word’s biggest armies – 1,020,000 men, 88,000 crack special forces, and an trained militia of over 5 million. The North’s weapons are obsolescent; its small air forces and navy will be vaporized by US power but its troops are deeply dug into the mountainous terrain and would be fighting from prepared positions. War against North Korea would be a slow and bloody slog.

The Pentagon is not eager to tangle with the tough North Koreans. Estimates of the cost of a US invasion of North Korea have run as high as 250,000 US casualties and tens of billions of dollars.

[Excerpts of article by Eric S. Margolis, internationally syndicated columnist.]

North Koreans in Russia and other countries earning cash for regime

Human rights groups say North Korea workers in Russia are little more than slaves, subjected to everything from cruel and violent acts to ruthless exploitation at the hands of corrupt officials, while being forced to turn over large chunks of their pay to the North Korean government.

One Russian boss was quoted as saying, “They don’t take holidays. They eat, work and sleep and nothing else. And they don’t sleep much. They are basically in the situation of slaves.”

A report issued earlier this year by the Seoul-based Data Base Center for North Korean Human Rights estimates that about 50,000 North Korean laborers are working low-paying jobs in Russia. They send at least $120 million every year to the regime in Pyongyang.

“The North Korean government maintains strict controls over their workers’ profits, in some cases probably taking 90 percent of their wages,” Scott Synder, director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy at the Council of Foreign Relations, told Fox News.

Even so many North Korean laborers are willing to pay bribes to be sent to Russia given the dire economic and political situation at home.

The U.S. State Department issued a report on human trafficking last month that concluded that North Korean workers in Russia had been subjected to “exploitative labor conditions characteristic of trafficking cases such as withholding of identity documents, non-payment for services rendered, physical abuse, lack of safety measures, or extremely poor living conditions.”

Such North Korean laborers work in other countries besides Russia. China uses large numbers of them, and Qatar has North Korean laborers helping build its World Cup stadium.

[Fox News]

North Korean defectors point out locations of mass graves using Google Earth

Commercial satellite imagery and Google Earth mapping software are helping a human-rights organization take inventory of the worst offenses of the North Korean regime and identify sites for future investigation of crimes against humanity.

A new report from the South Korea-based Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG)—a non-governmental organization that tracks human-rights abuses and crimes against humanity by the world’s most oppressive regimes—details how the organization’s researchers used Google Earth in interviews with defectors from North Korea to identify sites associated with mass killings by the North Korean regime. Google Earth imagery was used to help witnesses to killings and mass burials precisely point out the locations of those events.

“Although it is beyond our current capabilities to investigate and analyze the sites due to lack of access,” the researchers noted, “this research is a crucial first step in the pursuit of accountability for human rights crimes. It is also designed to serve first responders [NGO workers, forensic scientists, journalists, and others] who may enter North Korea in the future.”

Efforts to bring charges against North Korea’s regime in the International Criminal Court have been held up by resistance in the United Nations from China and Russia. However, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea (UN COI) continues to bring attention to abuses by the North Korean regime, and it has called for measures to be taken to end human rights abuses and hold those responsible for the abuse accountable. And the UN COI continues to gather evidence in a repository for use in a future process.

While the Mapping Project is still in its early stages, TJWG released the report to “attract wider participation from both informants and technical practitioners with expertise and knowledge that will advance the project,” the researchers said.

[Ars Technica]

North Korea drought: “Worst crisis since 2001”

North Korea is facing severe food shortages after being hit by its worst drought since 2001, a report from the United Nations says. Crop production in the country has been hampered by a prolonged dry period and food imports are now urgently required to fill the gap, the UN has warned.

The most vulnerable, such as children and the elderly, will be worst hit.

In the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are believed to have died during a widespread famine.

The latest drought is serious, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Thursday, because bilateral food aid to the country has dramatically fallen in recent years. A persistent lack of rainfall in North Korea in recent months has decimated staple crops such as rice, maize, potatoes and soybean, which many of the country’s citizens depend on during the lean season that stretches from May to September.

The key regions affected include the major cereal-producing provinces of South and North Pyongan, South and North Hwanghae and Nampo City, which normally account for about two-thirds of overall cereal production, the FAO said. Inefficient food production means that large parts of the North Korean population face malnutrition or death.

[BBC]

Homosexuality virtually unheard-of in North Korea

When North Korean defector Jang Yeong-jin arrived in South Korea in 1997, officials debriefed him for five months but still hesitated to release him. They had one crucial question unanswered: Why did Mr. Jang decide to risk crossing the heavily armed DMZ border between the two Koreas?

“I couldn’t explain what it was that bothered me so much, made my life so miserable in North Korea, because I didn’t know until after I arrived here that I was a gay, or even what homosexuality was.” Mr. Jang said. His struggle continued even in the capitalist South, where he said he felt like a “double alien”: a North Korean refugee who was also gay.

Mr. Jang, 55, is the only known openly gay defector from North Korea living in the South. In  an autobiographical novel, “A Mark of Red Honor,” he described his experiences as a gay man growing up in the totalitarian North, where the government maintains that homosexuality does not exist because people there live with a “sound mentality and good morals.”

Mr. Jang said he never heard of homosexuality while growing up in Chongjin on the eastern coast of North Korea, even when he developed a crush on another boy. “When the subway was crowded, I sat on his lap, and he would hug me from behind,” Mr. Jang said. “People didn’t care, thinking we were childhood friends.”

“In North Korea, no ordinary people conceptually understand what homosexuality is,” said Joo Sung-ha, who attended the elite Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, in the 1990s and now works as a reporter for the mass-circulation South Korean daily Dong-A Ilbo. “In my university, only half the students may have heard of the word. Even then, it was always treated as some strange, vague mental illness afflicting subhumans, only found in the depraved West.”

[New York Times]

A North Korean refugee cartoonist draws what life is like for those who escape

An online comic strip series created by a North Korean refugee, who now lives in Seoul, attempts to bring some humor to what is an often-harrowing journey and difficult resettlement.

After his defection to South Korea in 2010, Choi Seong-gok, 37, soon realized that the two Koreas were no longer the same country — many cultural and linguistic differences have arisen during more than 70 years of division.

Choi once worked for Pyongyang’s premier animation studio, SEK. In 2016, he returned to drawing and began an online comic strip series called “Rodong Shimmun,” which means “labor interrogation” — it’s a play on the name of North Korea’s “Rodong Shinmun,” the labor newspaper.

The satirical series follows a group of newly arrived refugees as they spend their first months in South Korea at a government–run integration center. Choi pokes fun at their ‘newbie-ness,’ like their shock about all the food at a buffet restaurant.

Not all of Choi’s drawings are funny, though. Some depict scenes in North Korea of people starving in the streets. Others portray how some defectors made their escape under fire from border guards.

Choi says he hopes his comic series will help change the mindset of South Koreans, who are generally apathetic toward North Korean refugees. And it might be working.

“Rodong Shimmun” now receives tens of thousands of views and some readers leave comments saying it’s helped them better understand the cultural differences between North and South Korea. Others write that they feel more empathetic toward defectors.

[Read full PRI article]

Experts say North Korean ICBM has at least 4100 mile range

North Korea is reporting that their missile test launch early Tuesday was a success, marks their first successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a significant milestone in a missile development program.

US military analysts expressed “high confidence” that the report of an ICBM launch was correct, and private scientists said the missile, which is being dubbed the Hwasong-14, demonstrated a range of at least 4,100 miles, which would allow it to reach any spot in Alaska.

As tested, the missile flew some 578 miles, landing in the sea just west of Japan, with Japanese officials complaining that it landed in their exclusive economic zone.

Officials say this is sooner than they expected North Korea to have such a delivery capability by a couple of years, though it is still generally accepted that North Korea does not have the capability of miniaturizing their nuclear warheads to launch them from such a missile.

Still, the launch earned rebukes from Russia and China, who are trying to talk down the risk of a US attack on North Korea, and led to a new push by President Trump for China to put “a heavy move” on North Korea, or risk having the US make its own move.

[antiwar.com]

North Korean missile test with claim to reach anywhere in the world

North Korea claims to have conducted its first successful test of a long-range missile that it says can “reach anywhere in the world.”

Tuesday morning’s missile test reached a height of 2,802 kilometers (1,741 miles), according to state broadcaster Korea Central Television, which would be the highest altitude a North Korean missile had ever reached.

The country claimed it was an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, which would put the United States on notice that Pyongyang could potentially hit the US mainland. South Korea said this latest missile had an “improved range” compared with its May launch.

North Korea appears to have timed the launch for maximum political effect, giving the order to fire on the eve of the July Fourth holiday, just days after President Donald Trump spoke with Japanese and Chinese leaders about the North Korean threat and before this week’s G20 meeting.

The launch was North Korea’s 11th missile test this year and comes amid increasing frustration from Trump about the lack of progress in curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

[CNN]

North Korea’s big guns

North Korea’s military exercises leave little doubt that Pyongyang plans to use large numbers of nuclear weapons against U.S. forces throughout Japan and South Korea to blunt an invasion. In fact, the word that official North Korean statements use is “repel.”

North Korean defectors have claimed that the country’s leaders hope that by inflicting mass casualties and destruction in the early days of a conflict, they can force the United States and South Korea to recoil from their invasion.

This isn’t new. This threat has been present for more than 20 years. “It is widely known inside North Korea that [the nation] has produced, deployed, and stockpiled two or three nuclear warheads and toxic material, such as over 5,000 tons of toxic gases,” Choi Ju-hwal, a North Korean colonel who defected, told a U.S. Senate subcommittee in 1997.

For years North Korea has had extensive batteries of conventional artillery–an estimated 8,000 big guns–just north of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), which is less than 40 miles from Seoul, South Korea’s capital, a metropolitan area of more than 25 million people. One high-ranking U.S. military officer who commanded forces in the Korean theater, now retired, told me he’d heard estimates that if a grid were laid across Seoul dividing it into three-square-foot blocks, these guns could, within hours, “pepper every single one.” This ability to rain ruin on the city is a potent existential threat to South Korea’s largest population center, its government, and its economic anchor. Shells could also deliver chemical and biological weapons.

Adding nuclear ICBMs to this arsenal would put many more cities in the same position as Seoul. Nuclear-tipped ICBMs, according to Lewis, are the final piece of a defensive strategy “to keep Trump from doing anything regrettable after Kim Jong Un obliterates Seoul and Tokyo.”

[The Atlantic]

Trump meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in

The Trump administration is considering a wider range of strategies on how to deal with North Korea, including the military option, Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster said Wednesday. He said it would be insanity to continue to do the same thing the U.S. has done for years and expect a different result.

McMaster’s comments come a day before Trump is scheduled to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. South Korea’s new leader vowed to stand firmly with Trump against North Korea, downplaying his past advocacy for a softer approach toward the isolated regime. The talks between Moon and Trump, which begin with dinner on Thursday night and then formal talks on Friday, come amid intense wrangling over North Korea.

China is pushing the United States to start negotiations with North Korea. That prospect appears unlikely as Trump grows frustrated over Beijing’s level of economic pressure on the North, its wayward ally.

President Moon told The Washington Post that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is “unreasonable” and “very dangerous” and that pressure was necessary. But Moon said sanctions alone would not solve the problem, and dialogue was needed “under the right conditions.”

The THAAD missile defense is also expected to be on the agenda. Seoul delayed the full deployment of the U.S. system that is intended to protect South Korea and the 28,000 U.S. forces on the peninsula.

[Fox news]