Robert E Kelly Profile picture
Professor of Political Science, Pusan Nat'l Univ.; 부산대학교 정치외교학과 교수; Int'l Relations, Koreas, East Asia; Classical Music; Running; that BBC Dad guy (yes, really)
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4 Oct
Worth remembering just what a boondoggle give-away to North Korea the Kaesong Industrial Zone was. 'Detente' it was not:

"Throughout its life cycle until its closure in 2016, the Kaesong complex faced nagging questions - not only about slave labor & unsafe working conditions,

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but also about the use of its proceeds to fund Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program...Kaesong provided Pyongyang nearly $100 million a year in hard currency. No one but Kim Jong-un really knew where the money went. The N Korean workers at Kaesong were selected by the regime, had
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no rights to strike or bargain for better working conditions, were not permitted to speak to their S Korean managers, and received as little as $2 a month out of $130 a month in “wages” paid to the N Korean government by the S Korean manufacturers who invested there. None of

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Read 4 tweets
29 Sep
Good op-ed from @JRubinBlogger on why the Afghan withdrawal went about as well as can realistically be expected.

The evacuation was planned and moved out more people than expected despite early chaotic imagery.

Most Americans did get out, and the US

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washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/…
gov't warned them for months but can't force people to go

There is no clean exit from a lost war with a brutal, mendacious counter-party like the Taliban. Obviously

The Trump Doha deal set the frame within which Biden operated, and had we violated it,

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crooked.com/articles/biden…
the Taliban would hit back harshly. A small US force in Afghanistan could not have contained that offensive.

GOP critics knew the deal was Trump's and supported it. So most of the Fox critics about 'leaving our people behind' were bad faith.

The real issue is American

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Read 6 tweets
19 Sep
THREAD: Why North Korea would Prefer Leaching Off South Korea to Absorbing It

There is a lot of debate on whether NK still seeks full-blown conquest/absorption of SK.

I am skeptical, bc I think the ruling Kim family are more degenerate gangsters than nationalist ideologues.

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They won't seriously risk their rule or material perks for a psychological (nationalist) pay-off. In fact, IMO, both Koreas are de facto status quo states, despite de jure revisionism:

1. Talk is Cheap

So sure, both Koreas talk tough and maintain formal commitments to

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unification, but talk is cheap obviously and leaders lie a lot. Unification might be formally retained as an end-goal, but only as a far-off, de rigeur ideal recited ceremonially, rather than actually seriously planned for or built into NK strategy. I could be convinced of the

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Read 15 tweets
15 Sep
THREAD: Why there is No Korean Peace Treaty (It wouldn’t Change Anything)

Much of the linked thread is highly contestable:

A. Korea obviously is not a 'forever war'

This is a grossly inaccurate description. 'Forever war' implies sustained kinetic activity in an unwinnable

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quagmire with no obvious endpoint. That is not K at all. The war has been over since mid-1953, and it is NK, not the allies, who provokes. The lack of paperwork - a formal peace treaty - has no bearing on the empirical situation on the ground which is far from open conflict.

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B. A 'War-Ending Declaration' (종전선언) is a legally bizarre neologism which no one really understands

The only reason this strange language is used is bc the Moon government's first effort to get a 'peace treaty' failed, as did its second, vaguer 'peace regime' effort. So

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Read 18 tweets
11 Sep
THREAD: Strategically, 9/11 was a one-off sucker-punch. That’s it.

1. 9/11 did not ‘change everything.’ In fact, it changed surprisingly little

This language was deployed to create political space for a vast expansion of US coercion, especially in the Middle East. If all the

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rules have suddenly changed, then all sorts of behavior are suddenly permissible – like domestic spying, torture, and Iraq. But strategically, 9/11 did not change that much: US GDP continued to expand; US military power was scarcely affected; US alliances did not fracture; the

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stock market re-opened after a few days and did not crash; gas prices did not spike; the global Islamic revolution Osama Bin Laden hoped this would ignite did not materialize:

2. 9/11’s big change was psychological – our shared national trauma fully

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Read 17 tweets
10 Sep
THREAD: Post-'War on Terror' Restraint

If the Afghan withdrawal & 20th anniversary of 9/11 can wind-down our big foot-print 'war on terror' (for a more measured counter-terrorism), here is a quick case for greater restraint:

1. Strategic: Over-Extension

A well-known problem

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of empires/hegemonies is too many commitments and too few resources. We should, obviously, avoid such overstretch, & given rising China, US commitments in the Middle East particularly (Afghanistan, e.g.) should be re-considered

2. Domestic/Democratic: Blowback Militarization

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The post-9/11 militarization of US foreign policy has come home: in the torture debate (yes, we actually 'debated' torture), domestic surveillance, endemic governmental secrecy, near reverence on military and police issues (just watch Fox for 5 minutes),and the militarization/

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Read 6 tweets
25 Aug
The biggest surprise, revelation even, of Afghanistan’s fall is not that the Taliban are bad or that the departure is messy. We knew that already

It’s how belligerent, even militaristic, the American and British media are, how totally captured by blob talking points about the

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‘necessity’ that America fight all over the place and that it’s always ‘defeat’ rather than retrenchment or cutting your losses.

Two weeks ago, there was almost no reporting on Afghanistan. Suddenly a few days of inevitability chaotic imagery, and America is abandoning its

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responsibilities in a fiasco.

And it was all hawks all the time on-air to comment. No retrenchers or restrainers to place the withdrawal in greater context.

Even in academia, a lot of international relations scholars have deeply soured on the war for more than a decade. But

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Read 4 tweets
19 Aug
THREAD: 5 Bad Afghanistan Takes you should Ignore

1. Tragic: ‘What about all we lost there?’

If Afghanistan collapses this fast, there wasn’t actually that much there to lose. If anything, the rapid collapse indicates just how accurate were all those leaks over the last

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decade, including the A Papers, about how little progress we were making, how corrupt the government was, how soft its military’s independent capabilities were, and so on.

2. Demagogic: ‘Did our soldiers die for nothing?’

That is an emotionally manipulative version of the

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sunk cost fallacy. We cannot bring back our war dead. If we must stay in an unwinnable conflict to ‘honor their sacrifice,’ then we condemn more to die later. That’s immoral. The logic of this argument means also we can never leave a commitment, no matter misconceived, which

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Read 12 tweets
14 Aug
THREAD on South Korea as a regional geopolitical pivot or broker arbitrating between the US and NK, or the US and China.

This is not true.

I’ve reviewed repeated journal articles during the Moon years making this argument, and my comments are always the same. So to the left-

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wing SK scholars who continue to push this (bc SK hawks never say this), please consider how obviously falsifiable this idea is:

1. SK is a formal, MNNA US treaty ally. That right there makes neutralism more a normative desire than an empirical claim.

2. There are emplaced

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US bases, equipment, warfighters, and consultants all over the peninsula. Not that many US allies or partners actually have as much stuff as the US parks here.

3. USFK is pretty integrated with the ROK military. The relationships with Japan and NATO are more siloed.

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Read 13 tweets
1 Jul
Rumsfeld pushed a war of choice on evidence he knew was thin, catastrophically mismanaged the war’s follow-up, then embraced torture.

That puts him at the bottom among SecDefs along with McNamara, who at least had the humility to eventually publicly apologize.

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Rumsfeld had a few good ideas domestically:

Like McNamara he strongly asserted civilian control over DoD. You may not have liked the choices he made, and he should have listened to the generals more on troops numbers to stabilize Iraq, but reinforcing civilian control

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was valuable after President Clinton let DoD operate too freely (bc he was worried about being criticized as Vietnam draft dodger).

Rumsfeld also - again like McNamara - sought to bring some discipline to DoD procurement, trying to end the Cold War inertia buying of the 1990s

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Read 7 tweets
3 Jun
The big critique of this thread is that the ‘liberal media’ should have taken the lab leak theory seriously last year, regardless of who promoted it.

That is correct only in an absolute, context-less sense.

So yes, ceteris paribus & with unlimited resources, journalists

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should have dug into it. But such a strict methodological posture ALSO then demands taking the other bats*** corona ideas from MAGA, anti-vaxxers, & so on seriously too. Should we have investigated whether Bill Gates was micro-chipping vaccine recipients too? What about George

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Soros masterminding this to undercut Trump’s re-election?

Obviously we didn't look at those, bc in the real world, choices to use one’s time and energy must be made. Because of these real-world constraints, and in the context of a torrent of other absurd MAGA ideas on corona

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Read 6 tweets
1 Jun
I keep reading that the media blew the origins of covid story by not listening to Trump & co. saying it escaped from a lab.

Yes, but in only barest possible way.

MAGA’s ‘reasoning’ for the lab origin claim last year was entirely motivated, political,

nytimes.com/2021/05/29/opi…

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and non-evidentiary. Hence, there was no reason to believe them. They were guessing conveniently. And don’t say they couldn’t reveal the evidence. Opportunistic Trumpers had no inhibitions about leaking.

Cotton, Pompeo, and the rest were looking to shift the blame for Trump’s

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disastrous response, and they grasped anything they could find. Worse, all had a long history of lying and racism, provided no evidence, and clearly knew almost nothing about epidemiology or China.

So again, there was no reason to believe MAGA last year, and a lot of legacy

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Read 12 tweets
30 May
G Floyd is NOT a left-wing analogue to Ashli Babbitt. This is appalling. Is this equivalence framing a thing in MAGA-world?

A. Babbitt was engaged in voluntary, aggressive violence at the time of her shooting. Floyd was cuffed, immobilized & begging for his life when he died.

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B. Babbitt was committing extremely dangerous political violence; she was breaking through the final barrier between a violent mob and dozens of US Congresspeople, our democratic government. Floyd was a arrested for street misdemeanor.

C. The use of force against Floyd was

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excessive, and a court ruled as much. Floyd was not a threat to the police officers, citizens, and property around him at the time of his death.

The use of force against Babbitt was much more justified. She was at the leading edge of a violent mob steps away from Members of

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Read 7 tweets
19 May
These new GOP voting laws are designed to make voting so complex, that almost any election can be disputed. The point isn’t so much to make voting harder but rather, more legally contestable. Voters & poll workers won’t learn all these new rules, providing the legal basis for

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endless lawsuits over whether this or that voter voted legally: should citizen XYZ should have his vote disqualified bc his wife gave him a ham sandwich while he was waiting on line? It will be Florida 2000 again & again in states where the vote is close. If you can’t win at

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the polls, or won’t accept that the Democrats legitimately win major races, then make voting rules so absurdly murky & results therefore so unknowable, that you can push decisions into the courts or state legislatures. This is basically adding legal grounds of over-complexity

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Read 5 tweets
14 May
The weirdest part about amateur #running is all the metaphysics running websites try to instill in an otherwise monotonous sport.

I run for things like weight control, cardio-pulmonary depth (VO2 max), & better health for my family, but according to the internet, I am a hero,

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finding my true self, forging new paths, finding my fast, breaking barriers, and most recently, advancing progressive social causes like equity. Wow. I am doing all that just putting one foot in front of the other at speed?

I am not. Only ultrarunners with careers in the

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talk like this; no one in my running club ever did. The rest of us are schlepping along.

In fact, these sites should be honest about the biggest problem with #running for amateurs - it's dull. Once you get to serious distances - 50+ miles a week - you need to learn how to

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Read 7 tweets
6 May
Everyone is complaining about what a dud the new Biden N Korea policy review was. washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/…

It basically recommends deterrence/containment/sanction/isolation, which is what we've done for decades.

There is a reason we keep coming back to this posture - bc all

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the other alternatives have clear downsides:

A. The hawkish/conservative alternative - to use force or drones as we do so often in the greater Middle East - is hugely risky. NK has lots of capabilities to hit back, and SK is very vulnerable, especially with its capital right

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on the border (a terrible strategic problem which really ties US-ROK military hands)

B. The dovish/liberal alternative - engagement and concessions - has a poor record of success. NK loves stringing out talks forever as a way of muddying the waters and creating the perception

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Read 6 tweets
24 Apr
THREAD on Trump’s Rant about the S Korean President calling Him, Correctly, a 'Failure' in the NYT

1. Moon Jae-In indeed throws T under the bus in the Times

Moon & his advisors quickly realized that T, like Fredo, was weak & stupid & wanted respect. M deluded T with visions

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of a Nobel Prize if he met the NK leader Kim Jong Un. M wanted that meeting, bc the SK left has long thought an apex summit was the best way to side-step the hawkish-on-NK US foreign policy community. All spring 2018, that hawkish FPC community indeed told T not meet KJU; T

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didn’t listen to us of course; and then made a colossal hash out of negotiations, bc he is an idiot: . M then called T a failure last week. Harsh

2. T’s response illustrates yet again that he is totally unfit for public office

It’s petty, mean-spirited

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Read 8 tweets
21 Apr
Exactly. This is a language game. To my mind, it’s pretty simple:

We should do the best we can to avoid a cold war with China. But we’re not, and neither is the Xi government. So we’re all sliding into one anyway. Bad.

And far too many Beltway types are fine with that bc:

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a) The natsec community draws influence and a salary in an environment of strategic competition; China hawkishness will pay.

b) 30 years of unipolarity has impoverished American thinking about diplomacy. We’re too used to knee-jerk belligerence.

Consider, eg, that much GOP

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hawkishness on China is simply to cover-up for Trump’s massive incompetence on corona. Trump and MAGA would happily risk dangerous cold war competition rather than admit that Trump is a colossal idiot who didn’t care if Americans died.

So yeah, stumbling into a cold war with

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Read 7 tweets
29 Mar
I’m not saying it’s impossible. But it’s fairly outlandish: Would not a disaster so massive that it wiped out the cops, Guard, and military also send gangsters fleeing? When Katrina hit and the police disintegrated, didn’t the bad guys run also?

The American state is far

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more capable than these apocalypse scenarios - to justify long gun ownership - admit. The US is NOT on the brink of anarchy, about to be invaded, about to collapse under the national debt, and so on. The American state has multiple levels and multiple agencies which use force.

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For them ALL to collapse so badly that you’re on your doorstep fighting off Mad Max with your AR-15 would require something like a nuclear strike to bring about. This is the scenario of the movie ‘Amerigeddon,’ not, um, anything remote plausible.

The smart play for personal

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Read 5 tweets
29 Mar
Consider the extremely low probability of Graham’s scenario:

- a natural disaster so massive that

- the police/National Guard/military are so overwhelmed that

- gangs have take over the streets like Death Wish 3

Versus the far greater likelihood of an armed lunatic in a store
I’m not saying it’s impossible. But it’s fairly outlandish: Would not a disaster so massive that it wiped out the cops, Guard, and military also send gangsters fleeing? When Katrina hit and the police disintegrated, didn’t the bad guys run also?

The American state is far

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more capable than these apocalypse scenarios - to justify long gun ownership - admit. The US is NOT on the brink of anarchy, about to be invaded, about to collapse under the national debt, and so on. The American state has multiple levels and multiple agencies which use force.

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Read 6 tweets
27 Mar
THREAD

3 Issues/Problems in S Korean Foreign Policy unrelated to the usual ‘shrimp among whales’ narrative

1. Sharp Partisan Polarization, particularly regarding NK

The result is abrupt right/left swings in foreign policy across partisan changes in the presidency, plus NK

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fantasies on both sides: the right’s strangelovian paranoia about NK infiltration and NK manipulation of the SK left; the left’s adamant refusal to admit that NK is '1984' and similarly adamant insistence that NK is a normal country & brother Korean state whose inherent

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cooperativeness is undercut by the Americans and sanctions.

2. Not Enough Grand Strategy

The Lee and Park governments produced rudimentary national security strategies; the Moon gov’t hasn’t even bothered. And MOFA white papers are more boosterish about Korean pop culture

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Read 8 tweets