From The Wall Street Journal:

South Korea Wants to Talk Olympics (And Nuclear Weapons) With North

Seoul seeks to meet next week at DMZ

By Andrew Jeong | Updated January 2, 2018 | 9:03 a.m. ET

SEOUL—South Korea proposed talks with North Korea over its possible involvement in next month’s Winter Olympics—and Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program—a day after the North Korean leader said Pyongyang would be open to sending a delegation to the Games.

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said Tuesday that his country seeks to meet North Korean officials Jan. 9 at the Panmunjom truce village, an enclosed area within the demilitarized zone on the inter-Korean border that has been a venue for previous talks. The Olympics will be held Feb. 9-25 in the South Korean ski resort city of Pyeongchang.

“The North will have its own objectives for coming to talks, if it accepts our proposal,” Mr. Cho said in a press briefing. “But considering Kim Jong Un mentioned the possibility of North Korea participating in the Winter Games, we expect the North to be prepared for that topic, and although we will seek to discuss other topics, the Winter Olympics will be the priority.” . . . .

With tensions on the Korean Peninsula high a few weeks out from the Pyeongchang Games, South Korean officials appear to be using the Olympics as a way to reduce the likelihood of a military provocation from Pyongyang. A Unification Ministry spokeswoman said Mr. Cho believes the North’s participation in the Winter Olympics would lower the probability of a clash.

Mr. Kim on Monday appeared to demand that in return for sending a North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics, Seoul must suspend its participation in annual military exercises with the U.S.

There’s more at the original.

Naturally, Kim Jong-un wants something. The idea that he’ll get the Republic of Korea to suspend or cancel its military exercises with the United States seems far-fetched, but the North almost certainly has a fall-back position. The real question is: what does he want that he reasonably thinks he can get?

I have said previously that Kim Jong-un might be crazy, or he might be crazy like a fox, and I was leaning toward the latter:

Kim Jung-un might be crazy, or might be crazy like a fox, but one thing is certain: he is a very able man. He wasn’t part of the succession plans at all until his half-brother, Kim Jung-nam fell out of favor, and his elder full brother, Kim Jung-chul wasn’t considered forceful enough. His father could see his own end coming, and rapidly promoted his favored son, but still Kim Jung-un took power when he was only around 28, and he managed to not only secure power, but consolidate it very swiftly; his authority is unquestioned at this point, and we should not underestimate him.

Crazy like a fox. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has even kept the birthdays of both him and his wife, Ri Dol-ju, confidential, drumming up speculation and sowing confusion in the West. There’s little reason to keep those things secret, other than to create an air of mystery, and it has worked that way.

From The Washington Post:

Why North Korea succeeded at getting nuclear weapons — when Iraq and Libya failed

By Malfrid Braut-Hegghammer¹ | January 2, 2018 | 6:00 AMNorth Korea was considered too poor, authoritarian and vulnerable to succeed with its nuclear and missile programs. And yet Pyongyang has acquired advanced nuclear weapons capabilities — and, at the end of November, tested an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Why has North Korea succeeded when other countries such as Iraq and Libya have failed?

Three factors are central to North Korea’s success. This analysis draws on findings about the North Korean program from a recent New York Times article, as well as my recent book on the Iraqi and Libyan nuclear programs.

Yes, Dr Braut-Hegghammer is promoting her book, but she posited three good reasons why President Kim succeeded where others have failed:

  1. Mr Kim made nuclear weapons his top priority, where Moammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein did not;
  2. Mr Kim shielded scientists from political penalties, and promoted science education in ways the other dictators did not; and
  3. Mr Kim made North Korea’s nuclear program as self-reliant as possible, reducing problems stemming from having to import material and technology.

These are not the policies of a crazy man, but an able one. Dr Braut-Hegghammer noted, in particular, how Mr Kim “shielded scientists from (key institutional) purges, and has given them exclusive privileges, including better food rations and new apartments.”

Kim Jong Un has reportedly not killed scientists and has even developed a reputation for tolerating failures as part of the scientific learning process. He appears to have adopted a meritocratic approach to hiring scientists into the military programs and to selecting the new generation of scientific leaders. These efforts may have helped accelerate the missile program’s success in recent years.

Considering the (sometimes overblown) reports concerning how President Kim has purged those he believed to not be completely loyal, to have protected scientists in this way would appear to be completely out of character, at least for someone frequently portrayed as half-crazy. But adapting his techniques and management style, in ways he might not personally prefer, to further a particular goal is a sign of a very able man, not a nutcase. He’s working for what he sees as his country’s, and his, best interests, and is, if anything, overachieving.²

This guy is sharp, and we’d better not forget it.
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Cross-posted on The First Street Journal.
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¹ – Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer is an associate professor of political science at the University of Oslo and the author of “Unclear Physics: Why Iraq and Libya failed to build nuclear weapons” (Cornell University Press, 2016).
² – I have previously noted that I love it when the only fat kid in North Korea wastes another missile shooting at an empty spot in the Pacific, and I love it when he wastes hard-to-produce weapons grade fissile material blowing up empty holes in the ground. Every missile expended, every weapon tested, is something removed from the North Korean arsenal. The North Koreans know this, and they are using these things to provoke a Western response, knowing that such a response will be yet another torrent of words.