North Korea’s Second Rocket Launch in 2012 | Center for Strategic and International Studies

North Korea’s Second Rocket Launch in 2012 | Center for Strategic and International Studies.

DEC 5, 2012

On December 1, North Korea announced that it will launch a Unha-3 rocket between December 10 and December 22. This is the country’s second rocket launch in 2012 following its failed launch eight months ago on April 12. North Korea’s state news agency claimed the planned launch is an effort to put a Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite into orbit, exercising its right for peaceful activity in space. However, the country’s rocket launch using ballistic missile technology is widely believed to be a long-range missile test in disguise. North Korea is banned from testing any ballistic missile technology by UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874 and is currently under UN sanctions for its previous tests. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed deep concern at a recent meeting of the NATO-Russia Council and called on countries to put pressure on North Korea to suspend its planned launch. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations and representatives of other countries like China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea have all expressed opposition and urged North Korea to comply with its UN Security Council obligations and call off its launch plan.

Q1: How often has North Korea undertaken these launches?

A1: North Korea has a long history of developing and testing ballistic missile technology. Its four most recent ballistic missile tests include two Taepodong missile tests in 1998 and 2006 and Unha-2 and Unha-3 rocket launches in 2009 and 2012. The April 2012 test was a failure. The 2009 test was more successful with successful separation of the first and second stages of the missile.

Q2: What if this test is successful?

A2: The successful launching of a satellite into orbit would suggest that North Korea has overcome a major hurdle in its efforts to demonstrate long-range ballistic missile capability. While there would still be some other remaining technological thresholds to cross, this would constitute a major advance on the North’s part to mate a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability with a growing nuclear weapons program. A successful test would raise as a topline national security issue for the Obama administration the specter of a direct North Korean threat to the U.S. homeland. This would (or should) thrust the North Korea issue to the top of the security agenda, along with Syria. Thus far, the president has not made a direct statement warning the North Koreans against a missile test, as he has done, for example, with regard to Syria’s possible preparations for chemical weapons warfare.

Q3: Is there anything different about this test?

A3: Unlike the April test, the North Koreans have not invited foreign journalists to view the launch, and they have not yet announced the launch to their domestic audience. This suggests that they might seek to cover up another failure or that they will declare it a success, regardless of the outcome.

Q4: Why doesn’t the international community simply accept that this is a satellite launch and not a military missile test?

A4: The North Koreans are basically disguising a military program as a civilian one. Should the satellite launch be successful, military application of the technology would almost certainly follow. The civilian space program would later follow after the military program. This was the path taken by both China and the Soviet Union in developing their missile force, which Pyongyang appears to be following.

Q5: Why now?

A5: No one ever knows for sure why the North Koreans do what they do. There are several possible theories. First, the timing of the launch coincides with the one-year anniversary of Kim Jong-il’s death. Second, Pyongyang may seek to test the resolve of new political leaders in China and South Korea. Third, the new leadership in Pyongyang may feel the need to demonstrate a successful test after the well-publicized failure of the April launch. The young leader does not have the credentials of either his father or grandfather and therefore may be held up to a performance metric in both the party and the military. The latter in particular has seen a number of high-level purges under Kim Jong-un. A fourth theory may be the simplest one: North Korea is determined to develop ICBMs, and they need to test their technology to see if it works, regardless of the political timing.

Q6: What does the road ahead look like?

A6: Some analysts believe a test is likely earlier in the December 10–22 window because the weather conditions appear ideal. This will likely be followed by U.S.- and South Korea–led efforts to condemn North Korea in the UN Security Council and lead perhaps to another resolution that seeks additional sanctions against entities involved in North Korean weapons development and proliferation. Our research at CSIS finds that since 1992, North Korea has done some sort of provocation (cruise/ballistic missile tests or other provocations) within an average 18 weeks of every South Korean presidential election. This suggests: (1) in the unlikely event that they do not test before the South Korean elections (December 19), they will almost certainly do so after the elections; and (2) even if they do test before the South Korean elections, we cannot rule out the possibility of more provocations in the weeks immediately following the election.

Victor Cha holds the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Ellen Kim is assistant director and fellow with the CSIS Korea Chair.

Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2012 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.

The Aquariums of Pyongyang: a book review and interview with a teacher

Having worked in the field of North Korean human rights, I come across accounts of defectors’ experiences in North Korea quite often. However, I am ashamed to admit that it took me years to finally get around to reading this book. Of course, it wasn’t because I had never heard of it until now. Just about everyone I know that works in the field has read The Aquariums of Pyongyang and I feel like it’s even become a sort of rite of passage.

About a month ago, I met with my high school literature teacher, Mrs. Jeanelle Francis. I haven’t seen her and her husband, another teacher at the same school, since I graduated high school six years ago and I wanted to grab lunch to catch up. When she heard that I was working at a non-governmental organization in Seoul on North Korean issues, she got very excited. She began telling me that she had read the book The Aquariums of Pyongyang and then had incorporated it into her AP Literature class lessons. I later asked if she would do an interview for me regarding her experiences teaching the book, which I have included in the article at the bottom. But first, I’d like to discuss my impression of the book. Continue reading

Basketball in North Korea: Brunch with Luke Elie

CNN Luke Elie North Korea Basketball Video

Last month I introduced to you Luke Elie. You might have seen him in the news recently because he’s been quite a sensation since his trip to North Korea. He’s been extremely busy with all of the interview requests from big name news outlets like CNN, but I managed to bribe him into meeting me for brunch. Coming from experience, connections and food will go a long way.

When he asked me what I’d like to ask him in regards to his trip to North Korea, I told him that I had no interest in the politics of it. There is plenty of information out there on the politics of North Korea and its current state and I didn’t think that it would be necessary to add another redundant article to that list. What I was curious to hear about was his personal experience and interactions with the North Koreans he met while there.

I also didn’t want our meeting to be a stiff interview but instead wanted it to be just friends getting together to catch up… which will then result in an article. But let’s not linger on that. We met at Itaewon in Seoul, or the foreigners’ district, on a rainy morning and ate at a restaurant that specializes in brunch foods. We sat down and just started to talk. I told Luke what I had been up to since high school, which is when I last saw him, and he told me his story about how he ended up going to North Korea. I felt like it was a fair deal. Continue reading

In the News – Power Struggles and Purges in Pyongyang


In the News – Power Struggles and Purges in Pyongyang


Concerns about possible instability in North Korea were raised this week when Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, head of the General Staff, was abruptly dismissed. The move smelled of a power struggle. The subsequent announcement that Kim Jong Eun was elevated to marshal—a military rank second only to the “Grand Marshal” bestowed on Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il—indicated that he retained the upper hand in the battle for control in Pyongyang.

Last week the news out of Pyongyang provided some amusement and hope for positive change, as Kim Jong Eun was serenaded by Disney characters and other Western cultural icons. That sparked serious speculation that the new leader might be more open to economic and political reform than his late father.

Clearly the North Korean leadership transition is more fraught than previously thought. But what is driving events in Pyongyang remains uncertain. Potential explanations revolve around four Ps—power, parity, people and policy:

• A classic struggle for power between the leader and potential contenders is the most likely explanation for recent events. But was Gen. Ri’s sudden removal due to a more secure Kim Jong Eun able to purge from even the innermost circle to further consolidate his power? Or did it indicate that older leadership elites felt emboldened enough to attack a key Kim loyalist? We don’t know.

• Then there’s also the issue of parity between the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) and the military. Under Kim Jong Il, power shifted from the former to the latter, as the National Defense Commission became the preeminent center of government power. But under Kim Jong Eun, the KWP has attained a stronger status, regaining some power from the military. Some experts speculate that the KWP’s Central Military Commission could eventually eclipse the National Defense Commission as arbiter of North Korean military policies.


Associated Press Vice Marshal Choe with the new boss.

In that light, Gen. Ri’s dismissal could reflect a struggle for parity between the party and the military, the goal of which is to reduce entrenched military power. The problem is that Gen. Ri ouster had a foot in several competing camps. He was rewarded by both Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Eun, he was one of Kim Jong Il’s pallbearers, and he was—until this week—thought to be the younger Kim’s military mentor.

Thus, he was a “made” member of both the old guard and the new regime. He also held positions of authority in both the military and KWP. He was a member of the KWP Central Committee Presidium, the party’s highest-level body, and co-chairman of the Central Military Commission.

• Rather than a struggle to wrest power from Kim Jong-un, the purge may instead result from people fighting for closer access to Kim. There are widespread rumors that Gen. Ri was defeated in a struggle with personal rival Choe Ryong-hae, a senior party official.

Gen. Choe also recently became vice marshal, a member of the decision-making KWP Politburo Presidium and vice chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission (despite no military experience). He is thought to be close to Jang Song Taek, Kim’s uncle. During the important 100th anniversary celebrations of Kim Il Sung’s birth, Gen. Choe stood at Kim Jong Eun’s side, indicating his status had overtaken that of Gen. Ri.

• The least likely explanation for the purge is a debate over policy. Kim Jong Eun’s Mickey-Mousing resurrects the discredited theory that a despot’s appreciation of Western culture is supposed to presage an embrace of democracy and market principles. Gen. Ri’s removal played into this theory with adherents depicting him as a hardliner striving to obstruct Kim’s desire for bold reforms.

Yet there is no evidence that North Korea has become any less dangerous under its new leader or that Kim will pursue different policies. While the junior Kim has displayed a more dynamic and pragmatic image than his reclusive father, no one should think Pyongyang has embraced reform. Since Kim Jong Eun assumed power, the regime has called for the assassination of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and threatened to reduce South Korean media organizations to “ashes in three or four minutes.”

Most importantly, Kim violated U.N. resolutions by ordering April’s launch of a long-range ballistic missile. Nor should we forget that he oversaw the brutal purges that killed of hundreds during the past two years and has been credited with masterminding Pyongyang’s two acts of war against South Korea in 2010.

There’s one thing we know with relative certainty: That Kim Jong Eun felt it necessary to purge Gen. Ri strongly indicates his transition isn’t proceeding smoothly. Additional purges and organizational shakeups should be expected in coming months. All this is worrisome to the U.S. and its allies, since it increases the potential for provocative acts or, more ominously, the implosion of a regime possessing nuclear weapons.

Original Article

In the News – N. Korean leader’s brother advised not to criticize power succession: report


In the News – N. Korean leader’s brother advised not to criticize power succession: report

Jang Song-thaek told Kim Jong-nam to refrain from making comments critical of the power succession to foreign media, Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper reported from the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, citing an unidentified source on North Korean affairs in Macao.

Kim Jong-un took over the communist country following the December death of his father, longtime leader Kim Jong-il, marking the second hereditary power transfer in the North. The late Kim also inherited power upon the 1994 death of his father, the country’s founder Kim Il-sung.

Jang, who has long been considered a key official in helping the new leader consolidate power, gave the recommendation to Kim Jong-nam during Kim’s trip to Pyongyang in May, the Yomiuri newspaper said.

Still, Jang is believed to be on good terms with Kim Jong-nam, who has expressed doubts about his younger brother’s grip on power.

Jang, who is married to the late leader Kim Jong-il’s younger sister, Kim Kyong-hui, is believed to be wielding a strong influence in state affairs as he serves as vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, once headed by the late Kim.

In January, Kim Jong-nam told the Tokyo Shimbun in an e-mail that he had “doubts about how a young successor with some two years (of training as heir) can retain the 37 years of absolute power” wielded by his late father.

Kim Jong-nam also said “it is difficult to accept a third-generation succession under a normal reasoning” process.

Kim, believed to be in his early 40s, has made critical comments to mostly Japanese media in recent years. He has been reported to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the Chinese enclave of Macao after apparently falling out of favor with his father for attempting to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001.

Original Article

Interview with Andy (March 20th, 2012) on his August 2011 visit (10 days long)

On a sunny afternoon, I sat down with Andy. I met Andy during my visit to London over spring break, when I was visiting my sister who works for a consulting company. Andy recently graduated from Oxford University, where he studied Politics, and he recently started working with my sister at a consulting firm based in London. When I first met him Andy struck me as a well-travelled person; the type of guy who would mention a new place he visited every time you strike up a conversation with him. But one of the most interesting places that he had been to recently included Pyongyang. For 10 days last summer (August 2011), Andy travelled to North Korea with a group of other tourists. I had actually never met anyone who had been to North Korea for pure tourism purposes. I was curious to hear about his perspective on the country, and also his experiences during the trip.   Continue reading

In the News – Lee: Tolerance Won’t Stop the Attacks


In the News – Lee: Tolerance Won’t Stop the Attacks

President Lee Myung Bak, speaking in San Francisco on Tuesday 26th, once again emphasized the importance of maintaining peace on the Korean Peninsula through strength.

“The Republic of Korea has always tolerated [provocations] not because it lacks strength, but in order to maintain peace,” he asserted. “However, we have come to realize that tolerance is not the way to deter provocations.”

“If North Korea provokes us, it is now our firm stance that it should receive a still greater punishment,” he went on.

In addition, President Lee compared the per capita income of North and South, saying that in the 60 years since division, South Korea has achieved economic success and development similar to that of Japan because “we maintain liberal democracy”.

He noted also that although there are a multitude of different views in South Korea, he affirmed the success of his country “through a strong liberal democracy and a market economy we have created a society in which citizens live well and human rights are guaranteed.”


Original article can be found here.

“Why are you here?”: The Quintessential Question about North Korean Human Rights

The Interns this summer for the Ministry of Unification, especially the foreigners, were always met with some intrigue as to how we learned about the issue of North Korean Human Rights, Unification of the Korean Peninsula, and why we decided to get involved. Since many of us had learned about the issue through our Korean friends or student organizations back in the states, I had not realized what a unique position we were in as American ambassadors on the topic due to the specificity of the issue. However, to other interns and me, it hadn’t seemed like such a niche topic at all. Rather, it was something that was connected to American history and was a general area of interest for those committed to protecting human rights and liberties. I had only formally learned about North Korea in the context of it being a national security threat to America, but it also seemed to be, equal to Africa and other regions that are the center of charity and social entrepreneurship against poverty and starvation, an area that deserved attention for the low living standards of its citizens. Continue reading

Interview: Sang-Hun Choe, Journalist for New York Times & International Herald Tribune

By Grace Kim 

My favorite journalist had been a certain white-haired fellow on a cable news station until I met Mr. Sang-Hun Choe of the New York Times and International Herald Tribune at a lecture about North Korean issues in the media at Wellesley College this past spring. Thoughtful and soft-spoken, Mr. Choe was too polite and humble for my presumptions of what a New York Times Asia Correspondent with a Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Bridge At No Gun Ri, co-authored with Charles Hanley and Martha Mendoza under his belt would could be like. I had been a fan of his New York Times pieces on North Korea in the past because his articles were comprehensive and clearly revealed that he did his research. Judging from his writing, I assumed that he crafted his English in the United States or another English- speaking country, but much to my surprise, and probably to many Korean parents eager to send children abroad, he had never studied outside South Korea until his recent stay as a Koret Fellow at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University. Meeting him in person not only bumped the Silver Fox down my fan list, but also reminded me of the dedication that some journalists put into investigating topics and publishing their work for the world to read. The following interview shows a glimpse of journalism, North Korea issues in the media, and of the man behind the text.

Continue reading

2nd MOU Overseas Correspondents


Interviews are now in process for the Ministry of Unification Summer 2011 Internship!

Meet Professor Grace Chae

GI YOON KIM (edited by CL)
“People jump to assumptions, because it’s easy— I hope to show a bigger picture”

Grace Chae is a Korea Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellow at Wellesley College. She received her Ph.D. in History at the University of Chicago, specializing in Korean War POWs. Right now she teaches Modern Korean History: From the 1800s to the Present and Prisoners of War: International Norms and Practice at Wellesley College. Continue reading

A Talk With Professor Andrei Lankov


As a study abroad student through the CIEE program, I was recently privy to attend a talk on North Korea by Professor Andrei Lankov, one of the world’s most renowned scholars on North Korea, a current professor at Kookmin University and even a past attendee of Kim Il sung University.

Professor Lankov’s goal was to introduce and talk about the North Korea regime in one hour or less, and in that time he addressed many off-hand questions I’ve wondered about in the past. Let me share with you what I learned!

1. Current Leadership and the Heir.

One question I’ve always had is why nothing happened to Kim Jong Eun, the third son of Kim Jong Il, when he was studying abroad in Switzerland. He attended classes, met professors and interacted with students to some degree, right? Here was a chance for the regime to end and for North Korea to drastically change! However, Kim Jong Eun wasn’t touted as Kim Jong Il’s son but rather posed as the son of an ambassador. He had personal bodyguards around him all the time, had limited interaction with others around him, and of course, being in Switzerland, was protected (since Switzerland is a neutral country).

And even though many would say that North Korea isn’t even close to collapsing, or changing, or to being an open country, the leadership of North Korea is so old that something potentially good and unexpected can happen soon. The advisors to Kim Jong Il aren’t getting any younger. The average age of the leaders is about 78 years old. This may be a very important factor in how strong the regime continues to be in the next five or ten years. Continue reading

Interviews: Exec. Director of PSALT


She’s one of the most amazing women I have met not only in this field, but also in my life. She works as a banker by day, and runs a non-profit when not in the office. Crazy busy, humble, grounded, and passionate about serving the North Korean defectors.

Q1. Please describe PSALT’s purpose and acronym.

PSALT is an acronym for Prayer, Service, Action, Love, Truth. The full name of the organizations is PSALT NK (North Korea)

Our organization is a 501c3 non-profit Christian ministry that works to educate others about North Korea and carrying out work to help the North Korean people – particularly the North Korean refugees. As a Christian group, we focus particularly on the spiritual aspect of the battle over North Korea, and work to educate and mobilize the response of sincere, committed and praying people to meet both spiritual and physical aspects of the needs.

Due to the very sensitive nature of this area of work, one of our purposes began with bridging the gap between the missionaries out in the field who cannot be open or public about their work, and the citizens in the ‘free world’ who learn about the sufferings of the North Korean people and are looking for straightforward and reliable channels through which they can make a difference.

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Jason Ahn, Director of Divided Families


“My best friend says, 'Jason, I’m not envious of you. You bring it all onto yourself'”

Grew up in: California

Favorite TV Show/Movie: The Simpsons, Glory

Favorite childhood memory: skateboarding through K-town with his brother

What would you say to Kim, Jung Il if you met him today:  “….”

When I first heard about Jason Ahn, I was surprised. Read his profile and you’ll know why: Jason is from California and the Director/Producer of Divided Families (, a documentary film that tells the story of the first generation Korean Americans who were separated from their family during the Korean War. He is also a third year medical student at Harvard Medical School. Last year, he finished a year-long study at Harvard Kennedy School, part of his MD and MPP (Master’s degree in Public Policy) joint degree program. In fact, here is a snapshot of his life: he stays up all night waiting for babies to be born for his residency program, comes back home in the morning, catches some sleep, attends a conference, meets up with a MOU Overseas Student Correspondent for a quick interview about his film, before he runs back to the hospital where more babies are born, with barely a time to grab his dinner. Plus, he has to finish editing the documentary film, which is coming out at the end of this year. No wonder his favorite show is The Simpsons— he admits not having watched TV for a long time.

The intensity of his life got me very curious: why is he doing the Divided Family project? What could have possibly ticked this already sleep-deprived physician-in-training to sacrifice more hours of his sleep?

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Matthias Vollert, Assistant Counselor of the German Embassy in ROK


The first Korea Global Forum was held in Seoul, Korea on September 9-10, 2010. Co-hosted by the Ministry of Unification and the Ilsun International Relations Institute, there were 11 countries present, and had Former U.S. Secretary of Defense, William S. Cohen, as the keynote speaker.

As a student reporter for Korea’s Ministry of Unification, I had the chance to meet the Assistant Counselor of the German Embassy in Korea, Matthias Vollert. He agreed to sit down for a quick interview about his impressions and Germany’s part in the Forum:

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Korea Global Forum, 2010


The very first Korea Global Forum (KGF) was held on September 9-10, 2010, in Seoul, Korea. Co-hosted by the Ministry of Unification and the Ilmin International Relations Institute and sponsored by Dong-A Ilbo, the Forum was created to foster international dialogue about three main issues: recent security developments in the Asia-Pacific region, issues and prospects for the North Korean nuclear problem, and peace on the Korean peninsula and global security architecture.

With the theme being “The Korean Question in a Regional and Global Context”, the Korea Global Forum is meant to be a consultative body of eleven countries: South Korea, the United States, Japan, China, Russia, England, France, Germany, Australia, India and Singapore, with former and present government representatives as well as private sector experts present. Continue reading