Tag Archives: North Korean nuclear weapons

Dangers, Stakes of North Korean Confrontation, Part 2

The New York Analysis of Policy and Government concludes its examination of the dangers and stakes in responding to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. 

In April, The Arms Control Association noted that:

“For years, the United States and the international community have tried to negotiate an end to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and its export of ballistic missile technology. Those efforts have been replete with periods of crisis, stalemate, and tentative progress towards denuclearization, and North Korea has long been a key challenge for the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.

“The United States has pursued a variety of policy responses to the proliferation challenges posed by North Korea, including military cooperation with U.S. allies in the region, wide-ranging sanctions, and non-proliferation mechanisms such as export controls. The United States also engaged in two major diplomatic initiatives in which North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons efforts in return for aid.

“In 1994, faced with North Korea’s announced intent to withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires non-nuclear weapon states to forswear the development and acquisition of nuclear weapons, the United States and North Korea signed the Agreed Framework. Under this agreement, Pyongyang committed to freezing its illicit plutonium weapons program in exchange for aid. Following the collapse of this agreement in 2002, North Korea claimed that it had withdrawn from the NPT in January 2003 and once again began operating its nuclear facilities.

“The second major diplomatic effort were the Six-Party Talks initiated in August of 2003 which involved China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. In between periods of stalemate and crisis, those talks arrived at critical breakthroughs in 2005, when North Korea pledged to abandon “all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs” and return to the NPT, and in 2007, when the parties agreed on a series of steps to implement that 2005 agreement. Those talks, however, broke down in 2009 following disagreements over verification and an internationally condemned North Korea rocket launch. Pyongyang has since stated that it would never return to the talks and is no longer bound by their agreements. The other five parties state that they remain committed to the talks, and have called for Pyongyang to recommit to its 2005 denuclearization pledge.”

North Korea is also strongly suspected of proliferating its missile and nuclear technology, particularly to Iran. South Korea’s Yonhap  news agency reported that “ Officials from a North Korean firm on a U.N. sanction list over its suspected arms trade visited Iran earlier this month after the U.N. Security Council imposed tougher punitive measures on the firm, a source said Monday. The Korea Mining Development Trading Corp. (KOMID), known as North Korea’s primary arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons, has been sanctioned by the U.S. and the United Nations since 2009. Ranking officials from the company visited Iran on March 6, which has been long suspected of maintaining ties with North Korea over nuclear and missile programs, according to a source familiar to North Korean affairs. Tehran has denied such speculation.”

A 2010 United Nations report stated that North Korea had exported nuclear and missile technology to both Iran and Syria. A Syrian nuclear plant was said to be based on North Korean blueprints.

As North Korea continues to rapidly move ahead with its nuclear program, and the land and submarine-launched missile capabilities with which to deliver them against targets throughout the world, (as well as the potential to sell or give these weapons to terrorist organizations or the nations that support those terrorist forces) crucial decisions will have to be made.

As North Korea continues to loudly proclaim its willingness to engage in a nuclear attack on other nations, a new concern has now been added.

During the Obama Administration, deep cuts to U.S. defenses included the White House elimination of the American ability to effectively fight a war in two separate theaters at the same time.  Recently, North Korea threatened Israel in response to statements by Israeli officials about Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. The potential for actions against American allies in other parts of the world, the Middle East being the most likely, exists if the U.S. took action against North Korea’s nuclear program.  This would place the U.S. in the position of having to fight on two diverse fronts, at a time when its military is at an extremely weak state.

Additionally, President Obama’s opposition to U.S. missile defenses has left the U.S. with only minimal protection against a missile attack.  The fact that a signal nuclear blast, detonated at a precise location, could destroy, through an electromagnetic pulse, most continental U.S. electrical facilities, thus devastating the American economy, remains.

Considering that sobering fact, and the ongoing threats from North Korea, means that any attempt to destroy North Korea’s missile and nuclear capabilities would have to be thorough to an extraordinary degree, a feat that may wind up involving the U.S. in conflict with Chinese or Russian interests.

Danger on the Korean Peninsula includes China

The New York Analysis of Policy and Government takes a two-part look at the growing danger on the Korean Peninsula. 

The most basic outline of the situation on the Korean peninsula is this:

North Korea, contrary to international agreements, has developed and launched missiles capable of delivering the nation’s illegal nuclear arsenal to regional U.S. forces, U.S. allies in the region, and possibly the American homeland itself.  Its leadership openly threatens to do just that. The nation continues on an imminent war footing, starving its population while devoting vast sums to its advanced armaments programs, which it engages in with the assistance of Iran, which also is testing nuclear capable rockets. The only country with the influence to deter North Korea is China, which, instead of doing so, criticizes the U.S. for engaging in reasonable defensive measures with purely defensive technology that in no way poses a threat to either China or North Korea, except that it might prevent those nuclear weapons from killing millions of GIs and allied civilians.

Claudia Rosett, writing for Security Affairs, described North Koreas military buildup in 2014. the situation has only grown worse since then: “Not only does North Korea still qualify as one of the most dangerous countries on the planet, but as the country heads into its fourth year under the rule of Kim Jong Un, the dangers emanating from Pyongyang have continued to grow. Indeed, the threats have been expanding in such dazzling variety and abundance that it might help to sort them into three rough categories. There are the weapons programs themselves, including conventional, chemical, biological and nuclear, as well as an increasingly adept program for cyber warfare. There are the precedents—corrosive to any civilized 21st century world order—that North Korea’s regime sets for other rogue states, most notably Iran, by grossly abusing and exploiting both its own people and international rules and norms, and demonstrating that with enough threats, weapons and lies, it is possible to get away with it. And then there are North Korea’s global networks for illicit trafficking, through which the Pyongyang regime sustains itself and in some cases makes common cause with other despotisms that double as business partners, including Iran, Syria, China, Cuba and, increasingly in recent times, Pyongyang’s old patron, Russia. Put together, all this amounts to a menace that extends far beyond Northeast Asia.”

The Russian News source RT states that “the missiles [North Korea] fired toward Japan were part of an exercise targeting US military bases there…The test launches of four missiles, fired by North Korea into the Sea of Japan on Monday morning, were a drill carried out by an army unit commissioned with attacking US military bases in Japan, the country’s official news agency KCNA said…North Korean leader Kim Jong-un personally supervised the drill….”

The U.S. has responded to Pyongyang’s intensive drive to develop a nuclear arsenal which they have repeatedly threatened to use by deploying the THAAD anti missile system. In July, the Pentagon stated  that “Based on recent consultations, the United States and South Korea have made an alliance decision to deploy a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense [THAAD]missile battery to U.S. Forces Korea as a defensive measure to ensure the security of South Korea and that of its people, and to protect alliance military forces from North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile threats…North Korea’s nuclear test and multiple ballistic missile tests, including the recent intermediate-range ballistic missile launches, highlight the grave threat that North Korea poses to the security and stability of South Korea as well as to the entire Asia-Pacific region…THAAD provides the ballistic missile defense system with a globally transportable, rapidly deployable capability to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles inside or outside the atmosphere during the final phase of flight…The THAAD deployment will be focused solely on North Korean nuclear and missile threats and would not be directed towards any third-party nations.” In fact, as a defense-only weapon, THAAD’s only use is to discourage a nuclear assault.

The Report concludes tomorrow

North Korean Threat, Part 2

The New York Analysis of Policy and Government concludes its report on North Korean threats

Hwang Sunghee, writing in the authoritative Spacewars site  notes that “A senior US defense official said last month that the North has developed the capability to pair a nuclear warhead with a missile and launch it.” According to the report, targeting appears to be the only remaining obstacle.

The danger posed by North Korea is magnified by the deep nuclear and technological relationship it possesses with Iran, and Pyongyang’s willingness to transfer its military assets to unsavory forces throughout the world.

North Korea has been under United Nations sanctions since 2006 because of its nuclear program. It has reneged on arrangements similar to those reached with Iran by the Obama Administration.

In May, Michael Elleman and Emily Werk noted this for the Arms Control Association:

“In January 2011, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates mused that “North Korea will have developed” an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by 2016, with the caveat that the arsenal would be small with limited operational capability. Five years later, in 2016, there still is hope that the United States and its Asian allies can prevent North Korea from developing a nuclear-capable ICBM. Pyongyang, however, is not cooperating. North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January, with Kim Jong Un boasting that it had exploded a hydrogen bomb. A month later, it successfully lofted a satellite into orbit using a large, long-range rocket. Then in March, North Korea unveiled a mock-up of a miniaturized nuclear bomb and performed two separate missile-related ground tests. The first test simulated the conditions a warhead would experience during re-entry into the atmosphere to evaluate the thermal protection technologies. The other was a stationary firing of a large, solid-fueled rocket motor.”

Last March, reports Bill Gertz in the Free beacon, “North Korea ..developed a new long-range mobile intercontinental ballistic … The new missile is called the KN-14 by the Pentagon…Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center who has studied the two missiles’ Chinese launchers, said Russia has estimated the KN-14 could have a range between 5,000 and 6,200 miles.

According to a Washington Times  article by former CIA chief James Woolsey James Woolsey,  former and  Peter Vincent Pry executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, “The public is being misled by the White House, some so-called ‘experts’ and mainstream media casting doubt” on the extent of the North Korean threat.

Woolsey and Pry report that “defense and intelligence community officials warn North Korea probably already has nuclear armed missiles. The Defense Department’s 2016 report “Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea” warns that, in addition to medium-range missiles, they have six KN-08 mobile nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that can strike the U.S. mainland.Recently, the Pentagon warned North Korea rolled out a new longer-range ICBM, the KN-14, that can probably deliver a nuclear warhead to Chicago.

The refusal by the Obama Administration and others to acknowledge the extraordinary danger posed by North Korea has many deeply concerned.  Joshua Pollack, writing in Arms Control Wonk  writes: “If there’s one thing in the public discussion of proliferation that troubles me the most, it might be this: the systematic minimization of North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities in the American news media…News reports persistently describe North Korea’s three-stage space launcher, the Taepodong-2 (TD-2), as capable of delivering a reasonably sized warhead to Alaska or maybe to the western continental United States. But at least if we go by the official, unclassified, publicly released estimate of the U.S. government, that’s wrong! The TD-2 can range all of the USA, from sea to shining sea. Here it is in black-and-white from the National Intelligence Council’s September 1999 paper, ‘Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015:’‘A two-stage Taepo Dong-2 could deliver a several-hundred kilogram payload to Alaska and Hawaii, and a lighter payload to the western half of the United States. A three-stage Taepo Dong-2 could deliver a several-hundred kilogram payload anywhere in the United States.”

An electromagnetic pulse unleashed by even a single nuclear explosion could permanently disable all electrical and computer systems within a very wide area. The danger is clear: just one or two North Korean nuclear weapons detonated over the midsection of the United States could send America back to the 1800’s, incapacitating the nation’s infrastructure with the resulting death of the majority of the population through lack of food, water, medicine, and transportation.

A Federalist review of that issue outlined the challenge:

“Many people complacently ignore the threats posed by the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK]…What kind of an attack could Kim hurl at us? One that could kill between 75 percent and 90 percent of our population, relegating Americans to endangered society status and transporting those surviving back in time to the mid-1800s—if we’re lucky…We are all deeply concerned about the horrendous potential for Kim Jong Un to use just one device—one which poses a threat far more devastating than a full-on Russian nuclear attack…the DPRK isn’t interested in making several of our cities glow. They want to take us out “all at once.” After the January test came this from North Korea’s news service, KCNA: “The scientists and technicians of the DPRK are in high spirit to detonate H-bombs of hundreds of Kt (kiloton) and Mt (megaton) level capable of wiping out the whole territory of the U.S. all at once…”

According to reports in the Daily Mail, President-elect Trump has requested a special classified intelligence briefing on the issue.

North Korean Nuclear Threat Grows

Tensions in the Sea of Japan region are reaching the boiling point.  As the diminished U.S. Navy no longer possesses the overwhelming power necessary to discourage any thoughts of aggression, and North Korean and Chinese military power continues to rise, the danger of a significant conflict grows rapidly. North Korea appears to be the most imminent threat.

Van Jackson, writing in Foreign Affairs, noted:

“Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s approach to developing its strategic forces is markedly different—more aggressive—than it was under his father or grandfather. The striking change puts the Korean Peninsula on a path to nuclear war unless the U.S.-South Korean alliance can adapt to the constraints of deterrence and defense against a second-tier nuclear-armed adversary. Whereas Kim Jong Il’s North Korea conducted 18 missile tests during his 18-year reign, the last four years under Kim Jong Un have already seen 35 missile launches and three nuclear tests. In word and deed, Kim Jong Un has laid bare his intentions to mate nuclear warheads to long-range missiles, pursue a hydrogen-based nuclear bomb, and develop a submarine-launched ballistic missile capability…Gone are the days in which it is possible to speculate that North Korea’s nuclear weapons were mere symbols or bargaining chips…”

Robert G. Cantelmo, writing in The National Interest, writes that “the notion of getting the North Koreans to denuclearize is probably a lost cause.”

38 North researchers, specializing in analyzing North Korean developments, warn:

“North Korea’s core weapons capabilities are reaching an apex. Even more concerning is the fact that North Korea’s relentless trial-and-error—…is principally generating its positive momentum. For policymakers in Washington and Seoul… North Korean weapons development highlights the urgency of reevaluating North Korea policy before it has perfected its nuclear and missile technologies…”

The site believes that it is possible North Korea is on the verge of successfully launching submarine-based nuclear-capable missiles. In August, Pyongyang did in fact launch a missile, identified by U.S. sources as a KN-11, from a submarine. It travelled approximately 300 miles, indicating a significant new capability.

The ability to place nuclear weapons on submarine-launched missiles would virtually eliminate any ability of the world community to preemptively eliminate North Korea’s nuclear attack capability if such action became necessary in the event of either an attack by Pyongyang on South Korea, or a threatened nuclear assault on other nations.   A further significant danger comes from North Korea’s willingness to export its military technology to unsavory customers.

According to the Arms Control Association, North Korea made extraordinary progress in building a world-class nuclear attack capability, in defiance of United Nations sanctions and prior agreements. On February 7, Pyongyang successfully launched “a long-range ballistic missile carrying what it has said is an earth observation satellite in defiance of United Nations sanctions barring it from using ballistic missile technology.  Several months later, after several failures, North Korea achieved launches of its “Musudan” intermediate range missiles. A medium range missiles, the Nodong, was also successfully launched. Pyongyang has also fired up to three medium-range ballistic missiles simultaneously.

Perhaps most worrisome, as previously noted, it successfully launched its KN-11 missile from a submarine.

Beyond missiles, in 2016 North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test, and began reprocessing nuclear material to separate additional plutonium for weapons use.

Despite the dire poverty that its population endures, North Korea has a greater number of its citizens under arms in its combined active duty and ready reserves (5,200,000) than the United States (2,500,000), has a roughly equal number of submarines, and possesses more towed artillery (4,300) than the U.S. (1,299) and multiple launch rocket systems (2,400 to 1,331) according to statistics provided by Global Firepower.

In October, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated that “the notion of getting the North Koreans to denuclearize is probably a lost cause.”

The ability of the once-preeminent power of the U.S. military to reduce tensions has been reduced sharply by the significant reduction in funding and general pacifism in dealing with major threats during the Obama Administration.

The Report concludes tomorrow

North Korea: An Analysis, Part III

The New York Analysis of Policy & Government concludes its review of the Department of Defense’s 2015 Report to Congress on the Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea . In this segment, we examine Pyongyang’s nuclear, missile, biological, chemical and cyber warfare capabilities, as well as its proliferation of advanced weapons technology. 

Ballistic Missile Force. North Korea has several hundred short- and medium-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs and MRBMs) available for use against targets on the Korean Peninsula and Japan. A developmental intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), though untested and unreliable as a weapon, could also be launched at targets in the region.

North Korea has an ambitious ballistic missile development program in addition to its deployed mobile theater ballistic missiles. Since early 2012, North Korea has made efforts to raise the public profile of its ballistic missile command, now called the Strategic Rocket Forces. In 2014, Kim Jong Un personally oversaw several ballistic missile launch exercises, and North Korea launched an unprecedented number of ballistic missiles. The State media covered the usually secretive events, including reporting on two launch cycles in the same week. Kim’s public emphasis of the missile force continued into 2015, when he appeared at what North Korea portrayed as the test launch of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). In late November 2015, the ROK’s Yonhap news agency reported that North Korea appeared to conduct an SLBM test but it ended in failure with no indication that the missile successfully ejected from the vessel.

North Korea is committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States. Pyongyang displayed the KN08 ICBM, which it refers to as Hwasong-13, on six road-mobile transporter-erector-launchers (TEL) during military parades in 2012 and 2013. If successfully designed and developed, the KN08 likely would be capable of reaching much of the continental United States, assuming the missiles displayed are generally representative of missiles that will be fielded. However, ICBMs are extremely complex systems that require multiple flight tests to identify and correct design or manufacturing defects. Without flight tests, the KN08’s current reliability as a weapon system would be low. In October 2015, North Korea paraded four missiles on KN08 TELs. These missiles are noticeably different from those previously displayed on these TELs.

North Korea also continues to develop the TD-2, which could reach the continental United States if configured as an ICBM. In April and December 2012, North Korea conducted launches of the TD-2 configured as a SLV, which used ballistic missile technology. The April launch failed but the December launch succeeded.

Developing an SLV contributes heavily to North Korea’s long-range ballistic missile development, since the two vehicles have many shared technologies. However, a space launch does not test a reentry vehicle (RV). Without an RV capable of surviving atmospheric reentry, North Korea cannot deliver a weapon to target from an ICBM.

Advances in ballistic missile delivery systems, coupled with developments in nuclear technology

are in line with North Korea’s stated objective of being able to strike the U.S. homeland. North Korea followed its February 12, 2013 nuclear test with a campaign of media releases and authoritative public announcements reaffirming its need to counter perceived U.S. hostility with nuclear-armed ICBMs. North Korea continues to devote scarce resources to these programs, but the pace of its progress will also depend, in part, on how much technology and other aid it can acquire from other countries.

Cyberwarfare Capabilities. North Korea has an offensive cyber operations (OCO) capability. Implicated in malicious cyber activity and cyber effects operations since 2009, North Korea probably views OCO as an appealing platform from which to collect intelligence and cause disruption in South Korea and other adversaries including the United States. North Korea likely views cyber as a cost-effective, asymmetric, deniable tool that it can employ with little risk from reprisal attacks, in part because its networks are largely separated from the Internet and disruption of Internet access would have minimal impact on its economy. On November 24, 2014, North Korean cyberactors using the name “Guardians of Peace” attacked Sony Pictures Entertainment, shutting down employee access and deleting data. As a result of North Korea’s historical isolation from outside communications and influence, it is likely to use Internet infrastructure from third-party nations.

Nuclear Weapons. North Korea continues to pursue a nuclear weapons program, having conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, and 2013. In April 2013, less than two months after its third nuclear test, North Korea promulgated a domestic “Law on Consolidating Position as a Nuclear Weapons State” to provide a legal basis for its nuclear program and another signal that it does not intend to give up its pursuit of nuclear development. The law states “the nuclear weapons of the DPRK can only be used by a final order of the Supreme Commander of the Korean’s People’s Army (Kim Jong Un) to repel invasion or attack from a hostile nuclear weapons state and make retaliatory strikes.” North Korea continues to invest in its nuclear infrastructure and could conduct additional nuclear tests at any time. In 2010, North Korea revealed a uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon that it claims is for producing fuel for a light water reactor under construction. In April 2013, North Korea announced its intent to restart and refurbish the nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, including the nuclear reactor that had been shut down since 2007 and the uranium enrichment facility.

The director of the DPRK Atomic Energy Institute confirmed in September 2015 that all of the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, including the uranium enrichment plant and reactor, were “adjusted and altered” following the April 2013 announcement and restarted for the purpose of building its nuclear force. The director also claimed that scientists and technicians were enhancing the levels of various nuclear weapons in quality and quantity.

These activities violate North Korea’s obligations under UNSCRs 1718, 1874, 2087, and 2094, contravene its commitments under the September 19, 2005 Six-Party Talks Joint Statement, and increase the risk of proliferation.

Biological Weapons. DoD assesses that North Korea may consider the use of biological weapons as an option, contrary to its obligations under the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention (BWC). North Korea continues to develop its biological research and development capabilities, but has yet to declare any relevant developments and has failed to provide a BWC Confidence-Building Measure declaration since 1990.

Chemical Weapons. North Korea probably has had a longstanding chemical weapons (CW) program with the capability to produce nerve, blister, blood, and choking agents and likely possesses a CW stockpile. North Korea probably could employ CW agents by modifying a variety of conventional munitions, including artillery and ballistic missiles. In addition, North Korean forces are prepared to operate in a contaminated environment; they train regularly in chemical defense operations. North Korea is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Proliferation. North Korea has been an exporter of conventional arms and ballistic missiles for several decades. Despite the adoption of United Nations Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs) 1718, 1874, 2087, and 2094, which prohibit all weapons sales and the provision of related technical training from North Korea, the DPRK continues to market, sell, and deliver weapons-related goods and services. Weapons sales are a critical source of foreign currency for North Korea, which is unlikely to cease export activity in spite of UN Security Council sanctions; the implementation of Executive Order 13382, under which designated WMD proliferators’ access to the U.S. and global financial systems are targeted; or increased international efforts to interdict its weapons-related exports.

North Korea uses a worldwide network to facilitate arms sales activities and maintains a core, but dwindling group of recipient countries including Iran, Syria, and Burma. North Korea has exported conventional and ballistic missile-related equipment, components, materials, and technical assistance to countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Conventional weapons sales have included ammunition, small arms, artillery, armored vehicles, and SAMs.

In addition to Iran and Syria, past clients for North Korea’s ballistic missiles and associated technology have included Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, and Yemen. Burma has begun distancing itself from North Korea but concerns remain regarding lingering arms trade ties.

North Korea uses various methods to circumvent UNSCRs, including falsifying end-user certificates, mislabeling crates, sending cargo through multiple front companies and intermediaries, and using air cargo for deliveries of high-value and sensitive arms exports.

North Korea’s demonstrated willingness to proliferate nuclear technology remains one of our gravest concerns. North Korea provided Libya with uranium hexafluoride, the form of uranium used in the uranium enrichment process to produce fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons, via the proliferation network of Pakistani nuclear scientist AQ Khan. North Korea also provided Syria with nuclear reactor technology until 2007.

North Korea: An Analysis, Part II

The New York Analysis of Policy & Government continues its review of the Department of Defense’s 2015 Report to Congress on the Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea . In this segment, we examine Pyongyang’s conventional military strength. 

NORTH KOREA’S CONVENTIONAL MILITARY FORCES

The North Korean military poses a serious threat to the ROK [Republic of Korea], its other neighbors, and U.S. forces in the region despite its many internal challenges and constraints, including deterioration of its conventional capabilities.

North Korea’s national military strategy is designed to support its national security strategy by defending the Kim regime’s rule and enabling the regime to conduct coercive diplomacy. This strategy relies heavily on deterrence, strategically through its nuclear weapons program and supporting delivery systems and conventionally by maintaining a large, heavily-armed, forward-deployed military that presents a constant threat to South Korea, especially the greater Seoul metropolitan area. These two aspects of its military strategy are meant to be mutually supporting; the threat posed by one is employed to deter an attack on the other.

North Korea’s force modernization goals are aimed at maintaining the credibility of its conventional forces through more realistic training and the modest production of new systems; enhancing the credibility of its strategic deterrence by advancing its nuclear and missile programs; and developing new or improved means to support its coercive diplomacy – most notably via its cyber and missile programs. North Korea directs its limited resources to areas where it sees the potential for localized comparative advantage.

North Korea’s large, forward-positioned military can initiate an attack against the ROK with little or no warning, minimizing the logistics strain it would incur if deploying forces from further away. The military retains the capability to inflict significant damage on the ROK, especially in the region from the DMZ to Seoul. Although North Korea is unlikely to attack on a scale that would risk regime survival by inviting overwhelming U.S.-ROK counterattacks, North Korea’s threshold for smaller, asymmetric attacks and provocations is unclear. Recent provocations (e.g., the November 2014 cyber attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment and the August 2015 DMZ landmines incident) suggest that North Korea sees some value in such attacks. Indeed, North Korea’s special operations forces (SOF), growing artillery, and missile forces provide significant capabilities for small-scale attacks that could rapidly escalate into a larger scale confrontation.

North Korea is making efforts to upgrade select elements of its large arsenal of mostly outdated conventional weapons. It has reinforced long-range artillery forces near the DMZ and has a substantial number of mobile ballistic missiles that could strike a variety of targets in the ROK and Japan. However, the DPRK’s force modernization will likely emphasize defensive and asymmetric attack capabilities to counter technologically superior ROK and U.S. conventional forces.

North Korea will likely continue to develop and test-launch missiles, including the Taepodong (TD)-2 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)/ space-launch vehicle (SLV). North Korea’s desire to enhance deterrence and defense and to improve its ability to conduct limited attacks against the ROK drives its road-mobile ICBM development, missile tests, and programs to improve unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), denial and deception, cyber, electronic warfare, and submarines.

The Korean People’s Army (KPA) — a large, ground force-centric organization comprising ground, air, naval, missile, and SOF — has over one million soldiers in its ranks, making it the fourth largest military in the world. Four to five percent of North Korea’s 24 million people serve on active duty, and another 25 to 30 percent are assigned to a reserve or paramilitary unit and would be subject to wartime mobilization. With approximately 70 percent of its ground forces and 50 percent of its air and naval forces deployed within 100 kilometers of the DMZ, the KPA poses a continuous threat to the ROK and U.S. forces stationed there. The general disposition of the KPA has not changed in the last two years.

The KPA primarily fields legacy equipment, either produced in or based on designs from the Soviet Union and China dating back to the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Although a few weapons systems are based on modern technology, the KPA has not kept pace with regional military capability developments. The KPA has not acquired new fighter aircraft in decades, relies on older air defense systems, lacks ballistic missile defense, its Navy does not train for blue water operations, and recently unveiled artillery systems include tractor-towed rocket launchers while most other countries are improving the mobility of such systems.

Kim Jong Un seems to prioritize the development of new weapons systems, as demonstrated by his numerous appearances with military units and research and development organizations. He has personally overseen land- and sea-based ballistic missile and anti-ship cruise missile testing activity in 2014 and 2015. He has also overseen events designed to demonstrate the proficiency of his conventional military forces.

Ground. The KPA’s ground forces are predominantly regular and light infantry units, supported by armor and mechanized units and heavy concentrations of artillery. These forces are forward-deployed, fortified in several thousand underground facilities, and include long-range cannon and rocket artillery forces that are capable of reaching targets in Seoul from their garrisons.

The ground forces possess numerous light and medium tanks, and many armored personnel carriers. The KPA’s large artillery force includes long-range 170-mm guns and 240-mm multiple rocket launchers (MRL), many deployed along the DMZ posing a constant threat to northern parts of the ROK.

In October 2015, North Korea paraded what appears to be a large-caliber MRL — larger than its 240-mm MRL — that carries eight tubes on a wheeled chassis. In recent years, North Korea has unveiled other new ground force equipment, including tanks, artillery, armored vehicles, and infantry weapons. The display of these systems shows that North Korea continues to produce, or at least upgrade, limited types and numbers of military equipment.

Air and Air Defense. The North Korean Air Force (NKAF), a fleet of more than 1,300 aircraft that are primarily legacy Soviet models, is primarily responsible for defending North Korean air space. Its other missions include SOF insertion, transportation and logistics support, reconnaissance, and tactical air support for KPA ground forces. However, because of the technological inferiority of most of its aircraft fleet and rigid air defense command and control structure, much of North Korea’s air defense is provided by surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and anti-aircraft artillery (AAA).

Naval. The North Korean Navy (NKN) is the smallest of the KPA’s three main services. This coastal force is composed primarily of numerous, though aging, small patrol craft that carry a variety of anti-ship cruise missiles, torpedoes, and guns. The NKN maintains one of the world’s largest submarine forces, with around 70 attack-, coastal-, and midget-type submarines. In addition, the NKN operates a large fleet of air-cushioned hovercraft and conventional landing craft to support amphibious operations and SOF insertion. The force is divided into East and West Coast Fleets, which each operate variety of patrol craft, guided-missile patrol boats, submarines, and landing craft.

The NKN has displayed limited modernization efforts, highlighted by upgrades to select surface ships and a continued program to construct submarines. North Korea unveiled a new submarine in mid-2015, which it claims was developed domestically and can fire a ballistic missile.

Special Operations Forces. North Korean SOF are among the most highly trained, well-equipped, best-fed, and highly motivated forces in the KPA. As North Korea’s conventional capabilities decline relative to the ROK and United States, North Korea appears to increasingly regard SOF capabilities as vital for asymmetric coercion.

Strategic SOF units dispersed across North Korea appear designed for rapid offensive operations, internal defense against foreign attacks, or limited attacks against vulnerable targets in the ROK as part of a coercive diplomacy effort. They operate in specialized units, including reconnaissance, airborne and seaborne insertion, commandos, and other specialties. All emphasize speed of movement and surprise attack to accomplish their missions. SOF may be airlifted by An-2 COLT or helicopters (and possibly Civil Air Administration transports), moved by maritime insertion platforms, or travel on foot over land or via suspected underground, cross-DMZ tunnels to attack high-value targets like command and control nodes or air bases in the ROK.

Intelligence Services. North Korean intelligence and security services collect political, military, economic, and technical information through open-source, human intelligence, cyber, and signals intelligence capabilities. North Korea’s primary intelligence collection targets remain South Korea, the United States, and Japan.

The Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB) is North Korea’s primary foreign intelligence service, responsible for collection and clandestine operations. The RGB is comprised of six bureaus with compartmented functions including operations, reconnaissance, technology and cyber, overseas intelligence, inter-Korean talks, and service support.

The Ministry of State Security (MSS) is North Korea’s primary counterintelligence service and is an autonomous agency of the North Korean government reporting directly to Kim Jong Un. The MSS is responsible for operating North Korean prison camps, investigating cases of domestic espionage, repatriating defectors, and conducting overseas counterespionage activities in North Korea’s foreign missions.

 

North Korea: An Analysis

Intelligence reports indicate that North Korea conducted a partial test of components necessary for the development of a hydrogen bomb, which the Pyongyang government seeks to use with its rapidly advancing ICBM technology.

 As the “Hermit Kingdom” obtains ever more dangerous military prowess under the control of a leadership that is, at best, unconventional and at worst irrational, an understanding of this nation becomes more essential.  We have reviewed The Department of Defense’s latest report, the 2015 Report to Congress on  the Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and excerpted the key points.

General Overview 

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) remains one of the most critical security challenges for the United States and the broader international community. In particular, North Korea’s willingness to undertake provocative and destabilizing behavior, including attacks on the Republic of Korea (ROK), its continued development of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles, and its proliferation of weapons in contravention of United Nations Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs) pose a serious threat to the United States, the region, and the world.

Since assuming control in December 2011, Kim Jong Un has solidified his grip on power by embracing the coercive tools used by his father and grandfather. His regime has used force and the threat of force combined with inducements to quell domestic dissent and strengthen internal security; co-opt the North Korean military and elites; develop strategic military capabilities to deter external attack; and challenge the ROK [Republic of Korea] and the U.S.-ROK Alliance. In April 2013, Kim announced the “byungjin” policy, which emphasizes the parallel development of the country’s economy and nuclear weapons program, to reinforce his regime’s domestic, diplomatic, economic, and security interests.

North Korea fields a large, conventional, forward-deployed military that retains the capability to inflict serious damage on the ROK, despite significant resource shortfalls and aging hardware. The U.S.-ROK Alliance has deterred large-scale conventional attacks by maintaining a robust combined defense posture and strong military readiness. On a smaller scale, however, the DPRK has demonstrated a willingness to use military provocation to achieve national goals. In August 2015, two North Korean landmines exploded in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which seriously wounded two ROK soldiers, raised tensions on the Korean Peninsula for several weeks, and was resolved through high-level inter-Korean talks.

North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear technology and capabilities and development of intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile programs underscore the growing threat it poses to regional stability and U.S. national security. North Korea’s pursuit of a submarine-launched ballistic missile capability also highlights the regime’s commitment to diversifying its missile force, strengthening the missile force’s survivability, and finding new ways to coerce its neighbors. Furthermore, North Korea continues to proliferate ballistic missile technology prohibited under [United Nations Security Council Resolutions] UNSCRs 1718, 1874, 2087, and 2094, exacerbating the security challenge for the United States and the international community.

Given the continued and growing threat from North Korea, its nuclear and missile programs, and its proliferation of related technology, the U.S. Department of Defense will continue to manage the North Korean security challenge through close coordination and consultation with the international community, particularly the ROK and Japan. The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korea’s continued provocations and steadfast in its commitments to allies in the region, including the extended deterrence commitments provided through both the nuclear umbrella and conventional forces.

HIGH TECHNOLOGY

North Korea continues to advance its nuclear program. In September 2015, the DPRK’s Atomic Energy Institute noted that its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, including the uranium enrichment plant and reactor, have been “adjusted and altered,” and that operations have restarted for the purpose of building its nuclear force.

North Korea has also maintained efforts to develop its nascent space program, likely as an attempt to provide a veneer of legitimacy to its ballistic missile program. In mid-September 2015, North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration announced that it was pressing forward with development of weather and geostationary satellites and that more long-range space launches to place satellites into orbit would occur. North Korea’s space-vehicle launches use ballistic missile technology similar to the type used in inter-continental ballistic missiles, which is prohibited by UNSCRs 1874, 2087, and 2094.

ROLE OF THE MILITARY

The North Korean military supports the Kim regime’s use of coercive diplomacy as part of its larger foreign policy strategy. North Korea uses limited provocations — even those that are kinetic and lethal in nature, such as military actions and small-scale attacks — to gain psychological advantage in diplomacy and win limited political and economic concessions.

Closely tied to its coercive diplomatic strategy are North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. DPRK leaders see these programs as necessary for a credible deterrent capability essential to its survival, sovereignty, and relevance, and supportive of its coercive military threats and actions.

North Korea remains focused on extracting economic aid and diplomatic concessions from the international community while defending against perceived threats to its sovereignty. Since 2013, North Korea has increased diplomatic overtures to other countries in an attempt to secure foreign investment and improve its economy, but such outreach has failed to produce meaningful gains due to international sanctions and stigmatization related to concerns about its nuclear weapons program and human rights record. North Korea likely believes periodic “charm offensives” will eventually lead to improvements in regional relationships and gradual advancement of its strategic objectives.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

North Korea remains dependent on China as its key economic benefactor, and North Korea’s leaders are conscious that efforts to advance its nuclear and missile capabilities angers China. Nevertheless, the regime likely thinks China prioritizes the preservation of regional stability and will refrain from punishing North Korea too severely or entirely cutting off diplomatic or economic ties.

North Korea also maintains friendly relations with Russia, though the relationship is less robust than North Korea’s relationship with China. Long-stalled plans for the creation of a natural gas pipeline from Russia to South Korea through North Korea — a project that could earn North Korea millions of dollars annually in transit fees — have made little concrete progress in recent years.

North Korean relations with Japan thawed somewhat in 2013 when North Korea accepted a visit by a Japanese delegation and indicated it might be willing to discuss the longstanding issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. In May 2014, the Japanese and North Koreans held official talks in Stockholm, Sweden, which resulted in North Korea agreeing to re-open its investigation into the fate of the Japanese abductees and provide Japan with a report, in exchange for Japan easing some of its unilateral sanctions against North Korea. To date, however, North Korea has not provided Japan with any new substantive information. In August 2015, North Korea claimed to have a report but that the Japanese refused to receive it, a claim Japan denies. Regardless, Japan continues to seek resolution with North Korea on the abductee issue.

North Korea remains willing to disrupt temporarily relations with regional neighbors, including Russia and China, and absorb the associated cost when it believes coercive actions toward South Korea or the United States will advance its strategic objectives.