15 August 2017   Leave a comment

The US-North Korean dispute has a very strange twist.  If a conflict were to break out over a perceived North Korean attack or threat to the American homeland, at least the initial phases of the conflict would likely be fought on South Korean soil.  As US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was quoted as saying on NBC News:

“‘If there’s going to be a war to stop [Kim Jong Un], it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here. And He (sic) [US President Donald Trump] has told me that to my face,’ Graham said.

“‘And that may be provocative, but not really. When you’re president of the United States, where does your allegiance lie? To the people of the United States,’ the senator said.”

The question is what voice does South Korea have on this matter?  Is it true that the US could make a decision that leads to the death of millions of South Koreans without the active consent of the South Korean government? The answer is, apparently, yes.  At the beginning of the Korean War (which has not officially ended since there never has been a peace treaty between North and South Korea), a decision was made to place operational control of both South Korean and American troops in South Korea in the hands of the US.  At the time, these forces were operating under the authority of the United Nations, and many states participated under that authority (South Korea, the US, United Kingdom, Thailand, Canada, Turkey, Australia, Philippines, New Zealand, Ethiopia, Greece, France, Colombia, Belgium, South Africa, Belgium, and the Netherlands).

Subsequently, in 1978 a joint committee was formed, the Republic of Korea – United States Combined Forces Command (CFC).  The Commander of the CFC is American and the Deputy Commander is South Korean.  There was a decision made to transfer complete operational control of all South Korean forces to a single South Korean command no later than 2012, but that transfer has yet to be effectuated.  So the US does have the theoretical ability to make a unilateral decision about the use of military force in South Korea.

However, the South Korean President Moon Jae-in gave a speech on 15 August in which he stated:

“War must never break out again on the Korean Peninsula. Only the Republic of Korea can make the decision for military action on the Korean Peninsula. Without the consent of the Republic of Korea, no country can determine to take military action. The Government will do all it can to prevent a war from breaking out. No matter what twists and turns we undergo, the North Korean nuclear problem must be addressed in a peaceful manner. In this regard, my Administration`s position is not different from that of the U.S. Government.”

He went on to talk about the conditions for negotiations with North Korea:

“The resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue has to start with a nuclear freeze. When the North at least stops additional nuclear testing and missile provocations, the conditions for dialogue can be created. The purpose of enhanced sanctions and pressure against the North is not to heighten military tensions but to bring it back to the negotiating table. In this regard, the position of the Korean Government is not different from that of the U.S. Government.”

Actually, those conditions are different from the condition of denuclearization which has been the stated objective of some US officials.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in


Filip Novokmet (Paris School of Economics), Thomas Piketty (Paris School of Economics), and Gabriel Zucman (UC Berkeley and NBER) have published a fascinating paper, “From Soviets to Oligarchs: Inequality and Property in Russia 1905-2016″.  The paper documents what many of us have believed but could never find the evidence to support the belief.  The paper finds that ” Russian living standards were about 60-65% of the Western European average in 1989-1990, and reached about 70-75% by the mid-2010s.”  In terms of income and wealth inequality, the authors found that the relative equality of both under the Soviet regime has changed substantially after the collapse of the Soviet regime in 1991 and that inequality in Russia is now roughly comparable to other rich countries.  According to the abstract: ” According to our benchmark estimates, top income shares are now similar to (or higher than) the levels observed in the United States. We also find that inequality has increased substantially more in Russia than in China and other ex-communist countries in Eastern Europe. We relate this finding to the specific transition strategy followed in Russia. According to our benchmark estimates, the wealth held offshore by rich Russians is about three times larger than official net foreign reserves, and is comparable in magnitude to total household financial assets held in Russia.”  Finally, the authors make an interesting political observation about the phenomenon in Russia today:

“In effect, extreme inequality seems acceptable in Russia, as long as billionaires and oligarchs appear to be loyal to the Russian state and perceived national interests. Whether this fragile equilibrium will persist in the coming years and decades remains to be seen.”

Posted August 15, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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