My post on North Korea’s alarming progression toward a nuclear missile capability inspires a knowledgeable reader and friend to send me an extended comment. Because he has asked me to withhold his name and where he works, we’ll call him “Basho, an observer of Things, and international affairs raconteur.” Without saying more, I’m confident that Basho has a basis to know what he’s talking about. I print his comments in their entirety, unedited except that I embedded his hyperlinks.
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There are tested and fielded road mobile missiles in the DPRK inventory. The biggest threat to us is the question of whether they have a tested, capable, and fielded, road mobile ICBM. The surmised vehicle that may have an intercontinental capability (defined as a missile capable of 5,500 Km or more range) is the KN-08. (link)
Western ‘experts’ have said until relatively recently the ICBM threat from nK is negligible because the north Koreans are not capable of making a small enough nuclear warhead to fit on an airframe like the KN-08. In Spring ‘14 the north Koreans put the launch vehicles on display with mock up missiles. (The transporter vehicles were sold by PRC to north Korea as ‘lumber trucks’).
So last week, when I was busy writing about the U.N. and human rights, the Commanding General of U.S. Forces Korea went to a press conference at the Pentagon and said, “I believe [the North Koreans] have the capability to miniaturize a device at this point and they have the technology to potentially deliver what they say they have.”
The general added that even if we haven’t seen a test, we’re at the point where we have to operate under the working assumption that Pyongyang is nuked up—specifically, that it has the capacity to miniaturize a warhead enough to put it on a missile.
The Pentagon’s Press Secretary later clarified that miniaturization is “not the same thing as … the capability to mount, test and deliver a nuclear weapon in an ICBM.” Duly noted.
The ROK’s new Defense Minister, Han Min-Koo, also agrees that Pyongyang has made significant advances in miniaturization. Not surprisingly, Deutsche Welle found some experts in Europe who say they aren’t sure. Oh, and the Chinese have joined the South Koreans in expressing their “deep concern.” Also duly noted.
Whether the North also has road-mobile missiles is a matter of furious debate, but if they do, that would be even more worrying.
South Korea and the United States are drawing up a joint contingency plan to employ Washington’s missile defense (MD) system against growing threats from North Korea’s ballistic missiles, a government source here said Tuesday.
The joint contingency plan would employ not only missiles and surveillance equipment the U.S. Forces Korea and South Korea have been developing under their Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) project, but also key assets of the U.S. MD system, according to the source.
The U.S. air defense includes the X-band radar system, the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system and the high-altitude, unmanned aerial vehicle, Global Hawk. [Yonhap]
Better late than never. Despite the objections of China, North Korea’s number one supplier of missile technology and a major exporter of chutzpah, the arrangement under discussion would have the U.S. sharing intelligence, technology, and backup, and the South supplying its flat refusal to join in an integrated air defense system with the U.S. and Japan. Seoul also seems to be leaning toward the deployment of THAAD.
”A missile launch tube on a North Korean submarine was observed recently by U.S. intelligence agencies and is raising new concerns about the missile and nuclear threat from the communist regime in Pyongyang, according to two defense officials familiar with reports of the development.” [Free Beacon]
That would complicate the interception of North Korean missiles immensely.
The United States has wrapped up its survey of candidate sites for its advanced missile defense (MD) system to be deployed in South Korea, with a final decision likely to be made before their annual defense ministers’ meeting in October, sources said Monday.
Washington has made no secret that it is considering deploying a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, an integral part of its MD system, to South Korea, citing evolving threats from North Korea. [Yonhap]
But take some comfort in this — if you’re not South Korean, that is: South Korea, under pressure from the ChiComs and the neo-Soviets not to deploy THAAD, is saying that the system is only for the protection of U.S. Forces Korea. Tough luck, people of South Korea.
For the last year, the South Korean government has been saying that it considers a North Korean attack a very real risk, and it has also said that if attacked, its retaliation will be swift and severe. Its President, Park Geun-Hye, recently expressed concern about a North Korean “misjudgment,” and touted the U.S.-ROK military alliance as the best deterrent against that. As recently as this week, she has been warning her army of the dangers of “complacency.”
I don’t have access to the intelligence that President Park has, so I have no basis to either affirm or question her premise. Part of this is probably deterrent bluster, but I doubt Park would bluster without some basis. I’ve always thought President Park was a smart and shrewd politician. In South Korea, appeasement is still politically popular — up to a point — although it’s not as popular as it was a decade ago. Still, I doubt that a politician as shrewd as Park would fabricate a threat that wouldn’t serve her political interests. (I’m sure others will disagree; so be it).
He accused the United States of using its military power to deliberately subvert any dialogue between North and South Korea — which is also a standard North Korean assertion. But in a variant of that theme, he said the American behavior “is reminding us of the historical lasting symptom of a mentally retarded patient.” Asked later to explain the analogy, Mr. Ri said, “The U.S. has been doing it for over six decades on our doorstep.” [N.Y. Times]
I don’t think I’ll ever get over my amazement that North Korea, a flagrant violator of U.N. Security Council resolutions that keeps 100,000 men, women, and children in political prison camps, is a member of the United Nations in good standing.
“Ambassador” Ri also threatened that Pyongyang would continue its nuclear weapons development if the U.S. continues its “threats” against North Korea, and demanded that the Security Council conduct an emergency session to review joint U.S.-South Korean training exercises.
“QUIET” NORTH KOREA has tested another missile to celebrate the anniversary of its survival of its invasion of South Korea. Based on the range, it was probably a SCUD, which makes the test a violation of UNSCR 1695, 1718, 1874, 2087, and 2094, in case you’re keeping track. According to Yonhap:
Saturday’s firing is the 15th rocket launch, and the sixth ballistic missile launch, by the North this year, which the international community condemned as a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions.
I think Yonhap meant to say that this is the 15th missile launch; after all, North Korea has probably fired at least 100 artillery rockets.* His Porcine Majesty was present to oversee the festivities in person. Knowing that our current Secretary of State can be a bit hard of hearing, he spoke in our direction:
“He examined a firing plan mapped out in consideration of the present location of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces’ bases in South Korea and under the simulated conditions of the battle to strike and destroy them before guiding the drill,” the KCNA said in an English dispatch.
With the world erupting in the greatest cascade of escalating conflicts since 1975 and President Obama’s approval rating on foreign policy at negative 21.2% — 11% lower than his overall (dis)approval rating — John Kerry eked out some time over the weekend to tempt fate with a dubious boast:
I just came back from China, where we are engaged with the Chinese in dealing with North Korea. And you will notice, since the visit last year, North Korea has been quieter. We haven’t done what we want to do yet with respect to the de-nuclearization. But we are working on that and moving forward. [John Kerry, Meet the Press, July 20, 2014]
If you’re in Seoul or certain parts of Washington, that clapping sound isn’t applause; it’s the smack of palms against foreheads. Kerry’s observation rubs a lamp that wiser men do not touch for fear of the genies they would rather not summon. One may as well compliment a politician’s moderate views during primary season, or announce one’s arrival in the cellblock by telling the gang leader that he seems a decent enough fellow. As if on cue, yesterday, North Korea threatened South Korea and the United States with “practical retaliatory actions of justice.”
It is already the 2nd of July in Korea, where Yonhap is reporting more missile launches off North Korea’s East Coast. This time, the missiles are said to be KN-09 cruise missiles,* a brand whose alleged proliferation to the North recently generated controversy between twobloggers, each of whom is not me.
Before the latest launch, Reuters reported that “North Korea has so far conducted test firing of its ballistic missiles and rockets 11 times this year, including four involving ballistic missiles,” and that fireworks are routine before and during joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises. The last joint exercises ended months ago, however, and the next one, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, won’t happen until August or September.
All of the launches are either flagrant or potential violations of multiple U.N. Security Council Resolutions. Each may represent a modest improvement in North Korea’s technical and operational capabilities, but the launches themselves aren’t really the story.
The new pad clearly shows the flame channel, similar to the one at the Seohae launch facility. In April 2010, there was nothing there but empty fields:
Here’s what it looked like last April:
The angle of the shadows suggests a disturbing possibility — that rather than an above-ground launch pad, this is a silo, which would would significantly harden the site against air strikes. Whereas the shadow inside the flame channel suggests depth, there is no such shadow at the launch site itself, suggesting the absence of a gantry. This image also suggests that construction was incomplete, but proceeding rapidly.
A nearby assembly area shows substantial evidence of new construction since the next most-recent image, from April 2010.
Similarly, this support area more ongoing construction … and a substantial amount of demolition, as well. See the village on the center right?
… Professor Sung Yoon Lee and I have a piece up discussing the world’s next, almost-certain-to-be-lost opportunity to respond to North Korea more effectively than having Susan Rice continue to beat her cranium against the Great Wall of China at the Security Council. It’s a blend of Professor Lee’s prognostications about what the North will do next, and some of the financial constriction ideas I’ve been pushing as one of those Three C’s.
I’ll say this about FP — it’s certainly a great place to find an audience that isn’t, erm, accustomed to reading that sort of proposal, which makes me all the more appreciative that they decided to publish it. I’m sure the comments will be just … fascinating.
I want to offer my sincere thanks to Professor Lee for his co-authorship, without which I doubt FP would have given this serious consideration. Admittedly, there are many people who share his linguistic head start toward understanding the pathology of North Korea; very few who are his equal in judgment, intellect, and knowledge; and none who can communicate that understanding so cogently to those of us who aren’t Korean. Honestly, I think his English is actually several levels better than mine.
Prof. Sung Yoon Lee is the Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Assistant Professor of Korean Studies at Tufts University, a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and Foreign Affairs, and a good friend of mine. If you’re wondering how he lowered his standards so far so fast, the answer is that he wrote a comment that outgrew the comments section, and he graciously agreed to let me publish it as a guest post.
North Korea’s long-range ballistic missile on Dec 12, 2012, was almost pre-ordained. For Pyongyang, it almost always pays to provoke, and never hurts to do it. What’s more, the constellation of events in mid-December made provoking its longstanding adversaries, Seoul and Washington, near irresistible.
Some past patterns to consider:
North Korea has a long history of provoking South Korea and the US at a time it determines to be in its strategic interest; that is, when its adversaries are weak or distracted. Pyongyang also delights in adding insult to injury by provoking on major holidays. It also finds Sundays an opportune time to cause trouble, thereby capturing the global headlines for the rest of the week and putting added pressure on its adversaries to respond with concessionary diplomacy.
As North Korea completes preparations for its latest ICBM test, the United States, Japan, and South Korea are trying to deter it with state-of-the art, laser-guided words. Success, while unlikely, isn’t completely out of the question; after all, Kim Jong Un seemed to be preparing to conduct a nuke test several months ago, but never went through with it. If Kim Jong Un really did defer a nuke test, I have no idea why, but it probably wasn’t because he wants a fresh start in his relations with Earth.
So far, the public face of U.S. deterrence has been to threaten what has never worked before — to take North Korea to the Security Council. Our diplomats aren’t specifying what measures we’ll take against Kim Jong Un’s regime, but they’re hinting at more sanctions:
A senior security aide to President Barack Obama said Monday the U.S. is concentrating efforts in cooperation with South Korea, China, Russia and Japan to dissuade North Korea from pressing ahead with another rocket launch.
Gary Samore emphasized that if the launch takes place Washington will take “appropriate actions.”
“We’ve made it very clear that we consider this to be a very unfortunate provocative event, which is not going help North Korea nor the people of North Korea,” Samore told Yonhap News Agency.
OK, I admit it — I’m disappointed in the North Koreans for wimping out:
North Korea on Tuesday ruled out an imminent nuclear weapon test, but vowed to expand and bolster its nuclear deterrence as well as its sovereign right to launch satellites, while slamming the Group of Eight nations’ condemnation of its failed long-range rocket launch in April.
In a remark given to Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency, a spokesman for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said that the North didn’t have a plan for a nuclear test from the beginning, because it sought to launch a scientific and technical satellite.
“From the beginning, we did not envisage such a military measure as a nuclear test as we planned to launch a scientific and technical satellite for peaceful purposes,” said the official.
“Several weeks ago, we informed the U.S. side of the fact that we are restraining ourselves in real actions though we are no longer bound to the February 29 DPRK-U.S. agreement, taking the concerns voiced by the U.S. into consideration for the purpose of ensuring the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula necessary for focusing every effort on the peaceful development.” [Yonhap]
Well, damn. I wanted an election-year demonstration of how our desperate diplomatic appeals and offers failed to buy North Korea out of the headlines.
Shortly after the disclosure that China sold missile transporters to North Korea, in violation of UNSCR 1695, 1718, and 1874, the White House decides to reconsider a decision about weapons sales to Taiwan:
Taiwan said it welcomed the pledge by the United States to reconsider a proposed sale of new fighter jets to the island, a defence deal likely to upset Beijing. Taiwan has been pushing for the purchase of 66 new US-made F-16 fighter jets, but the deal has been stalled by Washington. The White House on Friday promised “serious consideration” to selling the jets in the wake of “the growing military threat to Taiwan”. [….]
Washington announced in September it would equip Taiwan’s 146 F-16 A/B jets with new technologies, in a $5.85 billion deal which falls short of the island’s fervent wish for 66 new F-16 C/Ds. [AFP]
I fear that certain personalities in the State Department will feel constrained from reversing this decision, because they’re only willing to upset the Chinese so much during one period. Some will even see it as a trade-off for offering protection to oppressed Chinese dissidents like Chen Guangcheng.
A campaigner against forced abortions and sterilizations, Chen spent four years in prison and then was kept in punitive house arrest for the past 20 months, despite the lack of legal grounds for doing so.
By now, everyone knows that the North’s missile test was a fiasco, but North Koreans don’t have this fiasco all to themselves. For example, until the day of the launch, the North had never done a better of job handling of the foreign press. It had successfully co-opted the largest wire service in the United States into a megaphone for its propaganda, and it had so effectively focused much of the rest of the U.S. media on its stage-managed rocket porn that the White House more-or-less called them tools. Even after Friday’s humiliation, the North Koreans are still writing their own narrative, portraying themselves as disciplined, spartan, and menacing, instead of revealing the pitiful anarchy that prevails where the cameras aren’t allowed to go:
The regime’s narrative went off-course, literally, when one bus driver took a wrong turn, showing reporters an unauthorized view of Pyongyang’s slums, potholes, and even people in wheelchairs. Even an AP reporter was candid enough in his observations to put the local Pyongyang bureau to shame. Then, when the rocket launched, the reporters who had gathered in North Korea were not only denied the chance to film the lift-off, they were the last ones to know that the launch failed … except for their North Korean minders. Continue reading »