DPRK (North Korea) Chronology for 2022


DPRK (NORTH KOREA) CHRONOLOGY FOR 2022
Compiled by
Leon V. Sigal
Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project
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1/1/22:
KCNA: “The 4th Plenary Meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) was held at the office building of the Party Central Committee on December 27-31 … The national defense industrial sector developed one ultra-modern weapon system after another under its correct plan, thus demonstrating the advancement and modernity of our military force. This is one of the very important achievements made this year. … The conclusion stressed once again that the emergency epidemic prevention work should be made a top priority in the state work and it is the most important work to be powerfully conducted with no allowance given to slight slackness, pores and drawback. … The conclusion referred to the tasks for further positively conducting the struggle against anti-socialist and non-socialist practices in the entire Party and the whole country and society, thoroughly ensuring the social order and people’s safety by raising the role of law enforcement organs, establishing the revolutionary atmosphere of law observance and further strengthening the socialist law system. The General Secretary set forth militant tasks facing the national defense sector. The military environment of the Korean peninsula and the trend of the international situation getting instable day after day demand that bolstering the state defense capability be further powerfully propelled without a moment’s delay. The People’s Army should steadily intensify the work of modeling the whole army on the revolutionary idea of the Party Central Committee and developing it into the revolutionary army of the Party that remains faithful and obedient to the guidance of the Party Central Committee, and direct all efforts to maintaining the training-first principle and putting weapons and equipment on a regular readiness and establishing the firm military discipline. The munitions industrial field should dynamically push ahead with the production of the powerful equipment corresponding with the modern warfare while steadily expanding the achievements true to the decisions made at the 8th Party Congress, powerfully fuel the change of quality of the national defense capacity and attain the goal of putting the defense industry on a Juche, modern and scientific basis in a planned way. It is necessary to take a decisive measure for bolstering the capability of the militia defense force as required by the modern warfare, and increase the military qualifications and commanding capability of the commanding officers of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards and the practical ability of the militia force by effecting drastic turn in the training. The conclusion set forth principled issues and a series of tactical orientation, all of which should be maintained by the sectors of the north-south relations and external affairs to cope with the rapidly changing international political situation and the circumstances in the surroundings. … The meeting discussed the third agenda item “On the Immediate Tasks for the Correct Solution of the Socialist Rural Question in Our Country”. Kim Jong Un made a historic report “Let us open up a new great era of our style socialist rural development”. Reviewing the policy of our Party that attached importance to the rural question from the first period of its founding and the historic path for its materialization, the General Secretary clarified the importance and significance of the proper solution to the socialist rural question at present. To make drastic change of the rural communities today when it presents itself as a mature requirement to wage the struggle for the overall development of socialism becomes a very important revolutionary task in turning around the rigorous situation in favor of increasing the driving force of our own and achieving prosperity and development of the country and welfare of the people” (KCNA, “Let Us Strive for Our Great State’s Prosperity and Development and Our People’s Wellbeing: Report of 4th Plenary Meeting of 8th C.C., WPK,” January 1, 2022)


1/5/22:
KCNA: “The Academy of Defense Science of the DPRK test-fired a hypersonic missile on Wednesday. Leading officials concerned of the Department of the Munitions Industry of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the sector of national defense science watched it. The successive successes in the test launches in the hypersonic missile sector have strategic significance in that they hasten a task for modernizing strategic armed force of the state put forward at the 8th Party Congress and help fulfill the most important core task out of the five top priority tasks for the strategic arms sector in the five-year plan. The Party Central Committee expressed great satisfaction at the result of the test-firing and extended warm congratulations to the relevant sector of the national defense science research. In the test launch the academy reconfirmed the flight control and stability of the missile in the active-flight stage and assessed the performance of the new lateral movement technique applied to the detached hypersonic gliding warhead. Having been detached after its launch, the missile made a 120 km lateral movement in the flight distance of the hypersonic gliding warhead from the initial launch azimuth to the target azimuth and precisely hit a set target 700 km away. The reliability of fuel ampoule system under the winter weather conditions was also verified. The test launch clearly demonstrated the control and stability of the hypersonic gliding warhead which combined the multi-stage gliding jump flight and the strong lateral movement.” (KCNA, “Hypersonic Missile Newly Developed by Academy of Defense Science Test-Fired,” January 6, 2022)

North Korea says it tested a hypersonic missile on Wednesday, its second alleged test of such a weapon by the Kim Jong Un regime. But after both North Korea’s first-claimed hypersonic test in September and the second this week, analysts were circumspect. “A hypersonic missile that can defeat advanced missile-defense systems is a game changer if a nuclear warhead is mated to it,” Drew Thompson, a former United States Defense Department official and a visiting senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said after the September test. But he cautioned, “that’s a huge if. Having it and wanting it are not the same thing.” And after Wednesday’s test, Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute, a private South Korean think tank, said more time and refinements will be needed before Pyongyang could field a hypersonic weapon. “North Korea will need at least two or three more test launches in the future to complete its hypersonic missile,” he said. When referring to a hypersonic missile, what we are actually talking about is its payload, or what rides atop the rocket. In this case the payload is what is called a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV). HGVs can theoretically fly as fast as 20 times the speed of sound and can be very maneuverable in flight, making them almost impossible to shoot down, according to experts. Like ballistic missiles, hypersonic glide weapons are launched by rockets high into the atmosphere. But while a ballistic missile warhead is largely powered by gravity once it begins its descent to its target from as high as 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), hypersonics dive back to Earth sooner before flattening out their flight path — flying just tens of kilometers above the ground, according a hypersonics report from the Union of Concerned Scientists. The weapon then uses internal navigation devices to make course corrections and keep it on target while traveling up to 12 times the speed of sound, the report said. The Kim regime certainly tested a missile on Wednesday and released an image of the test Thursday. Missile experts who have looked at the photo can’t be certain of what was shown. “This missile is carrying a maneuvering reentry vehicle, or MaRV. The North Koreans are billing it as ‘hypersonic,’ which is not wrong, but just to be clear, that doesn’t mean it’s a novel sort of weapon,” Joshua Pollack, senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, said on social media. “Whether or not we class this as a HGV (as indicated) or a MaRV is unconfirmed,” Joseph Dempsey, research associate for defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said in a social media post. An MaRV is essentially a missile warhead that alter its flight path after reentering the atmosphere once it has separated from the rocket that launched it. It is technology the US military has employed for decades and South Korea has demonstrated before, according to Pollack. What distinguishes an MaRV from an HGV is the latter’s ability to flatten out its flight path then rise up and dive on a target. Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, put that in layman’s terms, saying North Korea has tested a warhead that can “move up and down several times like a hang glider coming down from a mountain, and fly left and right … for a considerable distance, but still reach the target accurately.” (Brad Lendon and Yoonjung Seo, “North Korea Claims to Be Testing World’s Most Advanced Weapon; Experts Are Doubtful,” CNN, January 6, 2022)

Van Diepen: “On January 5, the South Korean and Japanese governments reported that North Korea had launched a ballistic missile. The missile reportedly flew about 500 km into the East Sea/Sea of Japan. (No source has thus far reported the altitude reached by the flight.) The next day, North Korea announced the test launch of an unnamed “hypersonic missile” that “precisely hit a set target 700 km away.” The missile’s “detached hypersonic gliding warhead … made a 120 km lateral movement … from the initial launch azimuth to the target azimuth,” combining “multi-stage gliding jump flight” and this “strong lateral movement,” which was termed a “new” technique. The test also was said to have verified “the reliability of fuel ampoule system under the winter weather conditions.” “The successive successes in the test launches in the hypersonic missile sector have strategic significance in that they hasten a task for modernizing strategic armed force of the state … and help fulfill the most important core task out of the five top priority tasks for the strategic arms sector in the five-year plan,” the North Koreans announced. They also published a single photograph of a non-canisterized, liquid-propellant missile with a conical, finned payload just alighting from a road-mobile launcher. A number of important points emerge from the recent test: MaRV or Boost-Glide Vehicle?The missile in the photograph appears to be one of those displayed by North Korea in October 2021 at the “The Defense Development Exhibition Self-Defense 2021,” nearby the “hypersonic missile Hwasong-8” launched on September 28, 2021. Both missiles appear to use the same or a similar booster (resembling a shortened version of the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile [IRBM]), but have different payloads. The September 2021 Hwasong-8’s arrow-shaped payload strongly resembles the boost-glide vehicle (BGV) used with the Chinese DF-17 missile, while the January 2022 missile’s payload resembles a traditional maneuvering reentry vehicle (MaRV) akin to that on the North Korean KN-18 variant of the Scud short-range ballistic missile and the 1980s US Pershing-II medium-range ballistic missile. However, it is not clear from the available data whether the payload of the January 2022 missile is a traditional MaRV or a conical boost-glide vehicle (BGV) like the US Common-Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB). Either one, as well as a standard ballistic reentry vehicle, would technically be “hypersonic” (i.e., travel at speeds better than Mach 5) when launched from a booster of the size shown by North Korea. State media’s reference to the January test combining “multi-stage gliding jump flight” (which sounds like a BGV) and “strong lateral movement” (which sounds like a MaRV) does not help resolve this question. A BGV would be capable of greater speed and maneuverability, and would be more technically demanding than a MaRV, but either type of payload would be useful in evading US and allied missile defenses. More Clarity on the September 2021 Hwasong-8 Launch The information released by North Korea on January 6 clarified two aspects of the September 2021 launch: The depiction of a road-mobile launcher for the January 2022 test, and Japanese reporting that this test was conducted from the same general location as the September 2021 launch, lends further credence to the original assessment that the September test was conducted from a mobile launcher. (North Korea did not announce the launcher type in September and only showed photos of the missile in flight, not the launcher.) The January announcement may also have resolved some of the confusion the North Koreans created in their September 2021 attribution of “missile fuel ampoules” to the Hwasong-8. Some analysts took this to mean that the missile was transported in and launched from a canister, which they assessed would permit the missile to be maintained “pre-fueled” and “launch-ready for years.” But the January 2022 photo shows that the new missile (and thus presumably the Hwasong-8, which uses the same or similar booster and probably also was launched from a mobile launcher) is not canisterized, and the North announced that the new missile also uses the “fuel ampoule system.” This seems to confirm that “ampoulization” is not canisterization but akin to the Soviet/Russian practice of preloading submarine-launched ballistic missiles with propellants at the factory and maintaining the fueled missile as a sealed unit for loading into the launcher. As noted previously, it is in fact not “ampoulization” or canisterization but the use of storable liquid propellants in missiles like the Hwasong-8 and the new system that permit such missiles to remain fueled on a day-to-day basis. Possible Implications for Long-Range Missile Reliability The rocket engines used in the September and January tests probably are the same type used (in different configurations) in the North’s Hwasong-12 IRBM and Hwasong-14 and –15 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), none of which have been flight tested since 2017. (The same engine probably also is used in the large ICBM North Korea paraded in October 2020 and has not yet been flight tested.) The fact that both of the “hypersonic” systems apparently functioned successfully through the boost phase will probably give the North a bit of comfort that these larger systems have some degree of launch reliability. The North clearly enjoys the sense of military threat and technological prowess conveyed by having “hypersonic missiles.” Interestingly, the January 6 announcement called hypersonic missiles “the most important core task out of the five top priority tasks for the strategic arms sector in the five-year plan,” while the announcement of the September 28 test called them just “one of 5 top-priority tasks of the five-year plan.” As with the Hwasong-8, the new missile would only make a niche contribution to the North’s existing large ballistic missile force, primarily in providing another option to evade missile defenses. It is unclear why the North might be pursuing two types of “hypersonic” missiles or two types of “hypersonic” payloads for essentially the same missile. The two types might be competitors for the same role, fulfill two different targeting needs, or be intended to provide extra bang for North Korea’s political and propaganda buck. Regardless, if the North intends to deploy either system as a credible weapon, it will need at least a few more successful and longer-range tests, probably taking at least a few years. (Vann H. Van Diepen, “Another North Korean ‘Hypersonic’ Missile?” 38North, January 7, 2022)

North Korea has exploited “non-financial” businesses and professions, including precious metals dealers, estate agents and a casino, to evade international sanctions, a report has revealed. Debates on the enforcement of international sanctions tend to focus on the role of financial institutions, principally banks. But a report published yesterday by the Royal United Services Institute in London (RUSI) suggested vague international standards governing the activities of other actors were aiding North Korean efforts to accumulate and transmit wealth around the world. “One of the key reasons that North Korea is able to access global commercial channels despite international sanctions is because of regulatory blind spots that miss important entry points,” said Aaron Arnold at RUSI, a former member of the UN Panel of Experts that monitors implementation of UN sanctions on North Korea. “These are the gatekeeper services and professions, like the accountants and lawyers who help North Korea establish front companies, or the notary who signs vessel sales documents.” Analyzing 87 cases of North Korean sanctions evasion and proliferation financing, the report said in every case international standards set by the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental body, failed adequately to capture activities related to “designated non-financial business and professions”. These included North Korea’s attempts to procure and sell precious metals and stones, its global property investments and its use of a casino “to obfuscate the traceability of funds.” “North Korea has become increasingly skilled at evading targeted financial sanctions and has often exploited or used designated non-financial businesses and professions to do so,” wrote the report’s author, Sasha Erskine, a research analyst at RUSI. “Despite this, there is a lack of guidance available to the sector on the sanctions evasion risks they face. This gap needs to be urgently addressed.” Arnold added: “It’s not just relevant to North Korea, addressing these blind spots has implications for other sanctions regimes, too.” (Christian Davies, “North Korea’s Use of Casino to Dodge Sanctions Revealed,” Financial Times January 6, 2022 p. 4)


1/11/22:
KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), watched the test-fire of hypersonic missile conducted by the Academy of Defense Science on Tuesday. He was accompanied by Jo Yong Won, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau and secretary for Organizational Affairs of the WPK Central Committee, vice- directors of the departments concerned of the Party Central Committee and leading officials in the sector of the national defense science. The 8th WPK Congress set forth a strategic task of developing the hypersonic missile sector on a preferential basis for the sector of the national defense scientific research in order to bolster up the country’s war deterrent, and the Party Central Committee has powerfully led the whole course of developing the hypersonic weapon system for implementing the task. The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un was briefed on the hypersonic missile weapon system by the president of the Academy of Defense Science before the test-fire. The test-fire was aimed at the final verification of overall technical specifications of the developed hypersonic weapon system. Toward daybreak, the Juche weapon representing the power of the DPRK roared to soar into sky, brightening the dawning sky and leaving behind it a column of fire, under the supervision of Kim Jong Un. After its release from the missile, the hypersonic glide vehicle made glide jump flight from 600 km area before making a 240 km-long turning maneuver from the initial launch azimuth to the target azimuth and hitting the set target in waters 1 000 km away. The superior maneuverability of the hypersonic glide vehicle was more strikingly verified through the final test-fire. Kim Jong Un highly appreciated the practical achievements made by the scientists, technicians and officials of the missile research sector and by the Party organizations concerned that brought a great success in the field of developing hypersonic weapon which is of the most important strategic significance in the five core tasks of the five-year plan for building up the national defense capability set forth at the 8th WPK Congress. He gave special thanks on behalf of the Party Central Committee to them. Stressing the need to further accelerate the efforts to steadily build up the country’s strategic military muscle both in quality and quantity and further modernize the army, Kim Jong Un encouraged the national defense scientific research sector to continuously make admirable successes in the historic sacred cause for remarkably increasing the war deterrent of the country, true to the Party’s strategic policy of national defense development and strategic guidelines. That day he called the core members in the sector of hypersonic weapon research and development to the office building of the Party Central Committee and warmly congratulated them. He had a photo session with them, expressing great expectation and conviction that they would help bolster the war deterrent of the country with their continued ultra-modern scientific research achievements for national defense and reliably guarantee the sovereignty and security of the state.” (KCNA, “Distinguished Feat of WPK in History of Juche-Based Defense Industry: Success in Another Hypersonic Missile Test-Fired; Respected Leader Kim Jong Un Watches Test-Fire in Field,” January 12, 2022)

North Korea launched a ballistic missile off its east coast today, its second weapons test in a week, as the United Nations Security Council met to discuss the country’s growing missile threat. With its latest launch, North Korea appeared to demonstrate progress in developing what it calls a hypersonic missile, the South Korean military said. The missile flew about 435 miles, traveling at up to Mach 10, or 10 times the speed of sound, it said. It was not only the new missile’s speed that highlighted North Korea’s growing missile threat to the United States’ military and its allies in the region. The new missiles North Korea has tested in the past week also had a so-called maneuverable re-entry vehicle, or a warhead that can thwart missile defense systems by changing course in the atmosphere after it is detached from the booster rocket, South Korean defense officials said. When North Korea conducted its last test of a hypersonic missile off its east coast on January 5, South Korea refused to call it hypersonic, noting that it had flown at Mach 6. As if to rebut the South, the missile North Korea launched on today flew much faster. “Our military has the ability to detect and shoot down the projectile North Korea launched today, and we are continuing to strengthen our response system,” the South Korean military said in a statement on today. Still, the North’s latest test, it said, amounted to a “grave threat to international peace and stability.” The United States military in South Korea said that although the test “does not pose an immediate threat” to the United States or South Korea, it “highlights the destabilizing impact” of the North’s illicit weapons program. Evidence of North Korea’s hypersonic missile program first emerged publicly in January last year, when the country disclosed an array of new weapons it said it was developing, including multiple-warhead nuclear missiles and a nuclear-powered submarine. Then, the North conducted its first test of what it called a hypersonic missile, the Hwasong-8, in September. In an exhibition of military gear the following month, it also displayed what looked like a hypersonic missile with a detachable gliding warhead. The recent tests are all in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from developing or testing ballistic missiles or nuclear devices. North Korea’s actions occurred as the Security Council met at the U.N. headquarters in New York to discuss the country’s last ballistic missile test, which envoys from the United States, Japan, France, Britain and two other countries called “a threat to international peace and security.” “Each missile launch serves not only to advance the D.P.R.K.’s own capabilities, but to expand the suite of weapons available for export to its illicit arms clients and dealers around the world,” the envoys said in a joint statement. “The D.P.R.K. makes these military investments at the expense of the well-being of the North Korean people.” The envoys urged the council to “stand united in opposing the D.P.R.K.’s ongoing, destabilizing and unlawful actions,” and called on all U.N. member states to “fulfill their sanctions obligations under the Security Council resolutions.” Prime Minister Kishida Fumio of Japan told reporters on Tuesday morning, “It is extremely regrettable that North Korea launched a missile in this situation.” (Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Launches 2nd Ballistic Missile in a Week, South Korea Says,” New York Times, January 11, 2022)

Van Diepen: “Information to date on the January 11 launch has several implications, factoring in what was learned from the first launch of this unnamed type of “hypersonic missile” on January 5, and from the first (and thus far only) launch of the “Hwasong-8” type of “hypersonic missile” in September 2021. They include: The payload on the January missiles is more likely a maneuvering reentry vehicle (MaRV) than a boost-glide vehicle (BGV). The North termed the payload of the January 11 launch a “hypersonic glide vehicle” (aka, boost-glide vehicle [BGV]). But the relatively modest “turning maneuver” depicted on the video display in the North Korean photographs—which seems to match tracking information released by Japan—and the North’s claim that this second launch was the final one in the system’s development are more consistent with the payload being a MaRV. MaRVs are less maneuverable and less technically demanding (thus requiring less flight testing) than a BGV. (Interestingly, the North termed the payload on the September 2021 launch—which was a BGV—a “hypersonic gliding warhead.”[3]) In any case, a BGV, a MaRV, and a traditional reentry vehicle would all be “hypersonic” when launched from a booster of the size used in the January launches. The booster is an MRBM. Both the Hwasong-8 and the two January launches use the same or similar booster, which appears to be a shortened version of the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM: 3,000-5,500-km range). The January 11 launch’s reported 1,000-km range, 60-km altitude, Mach 10 speed and 240-km maneuver collectively indicate this booster could deliver a traditional reentry vehicle on a typical “minimum energy trajectory” to an even greater range, making it a medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM: 1,000-3,000-km range). It remains to be seen whether the North only uses this booster to deliver specialized payloads like the Hwasong-8 BGV and January 2022 MaRV, or whether it also tests and deploys it with a traditional reentry vehicle to augment or replace its older Nodong and Hwasong-9 Extended-Range Scud MRBMs. The new booster’s use of more energetic, storable propellants would offer performance and operational advantages over the older systems.The system’s developmental status remains unclear. The North has termed development of the new system to be complete. North Korea traditionally develops and deploys missiles after fewer flight tests than the US, USSR/Russia and China employ. By Pyongyang’s standards, the booster of the new missile, which was apparently successful in both January launches as well as in the September 2021 Hwasong-8 launch, probably is “deployable.” Regarding the payload, as noted above, it is more likely that a MaRV (which the North has experience with on the KN-18 Scud variant) could complete development after two flight tests than a BGV. It remains to be seen if there are further launches of the January 2022 missile (whether North Korea calls them “flight tests” or not) and if the system actually is deployed. What about the Hwasong-8? We do not know what, if anything, the proclamation that the January 2022 system has completed development (not to mention the description of its payload as a “hypersonic glide vehicle”) means for the Hwasong-8 program. It remains to be seen whether the Hwasong-8 will fall by the wayside in favor of the January 2022 missile or whether Hwasong-8 tests will continue, and if so, whether the Hwasong-8 will be pursued in competition with the January 2022 system or in parallel to fulfill a different role.” (Vann H. Van Diepen, “Implications of the Second Launch of North Korea’s Second ‘Hypersonic’ Vehicle,” 38North, January 18, 2022)


1/12/22:
The Biden administration today imposed its first sanctions over North Korea’s weapons programs following a series of North Korean missile launches, including two since last week. The sanctions targeted six North Koreans, one Russian and a Russian firm Washington said were responsible for procuring goods for the programs from Russia and China. The U.S. Treasury said the steps aimed both to prevent the advancement of North Korea’s programs and to impede its attempts to proliferate weapons technologies. The United States also proposed that five of those individuals also be blacklisted by the United Nations Security Council, which would need consensus agreement by the body’s 15-member North Korea sanctions committee. The Treasury Department said the sanctions followed six North Korean ballistic missile launches since September, each of which violated U.N. Security Council resolutions. South Korea, a U.S. ally that has pushed Washington to back more engagement with North Korea, said it did not believe the move meant that Biden’s administration had hardened its position. “We think the U.S. measure reflected the existing U.S. position that implementing sanctions is also important, together with dialogue,” a South Korean foreign ministry spokesperson told a briefing. Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said the moves targeted North Korea’s “continued use of overseas representatives to illegally procure goods for weapons.” North Korea’s latest launches were “further evidence that it continues to advance prohibited programs despite the international community’s calls for diplomacy and denuclearization,” Nelson said in a statement. It said the State Department had designated Russia-based North Korean Choe Myong Hyon, Russian national Roman Anatolyevich Alar and the Russian firm Parsek LLC for “activities or transactions that have materially contributed to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery.” It said Choe Myong Hyon, a Vladivostok-based representative of North Korea’s Second Academy of Natural Sciences (SANS), had worked to procure telecommunications-related equipment from Russia. Four China-based North Korean representatives of SANS-subordinate organizations—Sim Kwang Sok, Kim Song Hun, Kang Chol Hak and Pyon Kwang Chol—and one other Russia-based North Korean, O Yong Ho, were also targeted. Sim Kwang Sok, based in Dalian, had worked to procure steel alloys and Kim Song Hun, who was based in Shenyang, software and chemicals, Treasury said. Today’s actions freeze any U.S.-related assets of those targeted and prohibit all dealings with them. In a statement, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that between at least 2016 and 2021, O Yong Ho had worked with Parsek LLC and Alar, the firm’s director for development, to procure multiple goods with ballistic missile applications, including Kevlar thread, aramid fiber, aviation oil, ball bearings, and precision milling machines. Blinken said Alar also provided O Yong Ho with instructions for creating solid rocket fuel mixtures. “The procurement and supply relationship between O Yong Ho, Roman Anatolyevich Alar, and Parsek LLC is a key source of missile-applicable goods and technology for the DPRK’s missile program,” his statement said. It also said O Yong Ho had worked to procure items including aramid fiber, stainless steel tubes and ball bearings from “third countries” it did not name. North Korea’s U.N. mission, Russia and China’s embassies in Washington and the Russian firm did not respond to requests for comment. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States remained committed to pursuing diplomacy with North Korea. “What we have seen in recent days … only underscores our belief that if we are going to make progress, that we will need to engage in that dialogue,” he told a regular news briefing. Price did not respond when asked why no Chinese individuals or entities were targeted, or specifically when asked if China and Russia were doing enough to enforce sanctions, but stressed the importance of all U.N. states doing so, while adding: “Obviously we’ve not seen all of that.” (David Brunnstrom and Chris Gallagher, “Biden Imposes First Sanctions over North Korea Weapons Test aster Missile Test,” Reuters, January 12, 2022)


1/13/22:
Rogin: “Kim Jong Un seems determined to force the world to pay attention to North Korea in 2022 by shooting off new and more dangerous missiles. Dealing with the Kim regime is the last thing Biden administration officials want to do, but they really have no choice. The good news is that there might be a new and creative way to break the increasingly dangerous diplomatic logjam. … Biden’s version of “strategic patience” is unsustainable. The North Korean missile and nuclear threat is growing apace, and North Korea has one of the largest unvaccinated populations in the world. For most of 2020, North Korea rejected offers of the Sinovac and AstroZeneca vaccines, citing concerns about their efficacy while insisting that there were zero cases of covid-19 in the country. Kim’s lockdown forced all humanitarian organizations and most foreign diplomats to leave Pyongyang in 2020. But in late 2021, North Korea resumed accepting medical supplies from the World Health Organization and allowed the International Red Cross to conduct some anti-pandemic work inside the country. That presents a diplomatic opportunity, said several North Korea experts and former officials I spoke with this week. “The one thing that is different right now is Covid, and Kim Jong Un wakes up each day like every leader in the world and wants to know how to get his population vaccinated,” said Victor Cha, the National Security Council’s director for Asian affairs during the George W. Bush administration. “There might be a humanitarian opening here that didn’t exist in the past that could lead to broader negotiations on the security side.” Kim’s recent actions indicate that he might be ready to accept a larger Covid-19 humanitarian package that would include the best vaccines (which are made in the United States) and therapeutics. The United States should at least test that proposition — not by offering this aid directly but by working through international organizations, said Stephen Biegun, who was the U.S. special representative to North Korea and deputy secretary of state in the Trump administration. Kim may not be willing to negotiate on security issues regardless, Biegun said, because he could be waiting for a new South Korean president to take office in Seoul later this year. But even if humanitarian outreach doesn’t result in a diplomatic breakthrough, finding a way to get vaccines into North Korea is a public health imperative for the rest of us. “North Korea is a country of 25 million people with severe health problems and the potential for being a petri dish for the development of variants,” Biegun said. “Every North Korean getting vaccinated is as important as every American, European, Chinese and African getting vaccinated.”

Biden has shown little inclination to devote energy to North Korea. The State Department’s special representative is also a full-time ambassador. The White House hasn’t even bothered to nominate anyone for the positions of North Korean human rights envoy or ambassador to South Korea. Even if the vaccine offer does kick-start diplomacy, the Biden team may not want to devote time and effort to another low-reward, high-risk set of negotiations with the Kim regime. But it must return to the negotiating process, said former nuclear negotiator Joel Wit, who notes that what happens in Pyongyang doesn’t stay in Pyongyang. An arms race is heating up in Northeast Asia, and North Korea is winning, he said. “It’s trench warfare, and it’s ugly and unglamorous and politically fraught, but the administration has to find a way to sit down with the North Koreans, and maybe the foot in the door is vaccinations,” said Wit, now a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center. China uses vaccines to coerce and threaten other countries. The United States should use them to build bridges, starting in North Korea but then on a global scale. Right now, our neglect of North Korea and several other poor countries is harming our health security and our national security, which are intertwined more than ever. (Josh Rogin, “We Can’t Neglect North Korea for Another Year,” Washington Post, January 13, 2022)

David Wright: “What role might missile defense play in the event of the use of nuclear weapons in Northeast Asia? Advocates discuss various possible missions for missile defense. Some of those missions, like reassuring allies that the United States will not be deterred from coming to their aid by the threat of a missile strike, are largely political and depend heavily on the perception of how well the defenses might work. Other missions, such as allowing “freedom of action”—that is, enabling a country to decide to take aggressive military actions in a situation under the assumption it can blunt possible retaliatory missile strikes—depend instead on the actual level of demonstrated capability of the defense in tests under realistic conditions. Similarly, if deterrence fails and an adversary launches a missile attack, the ability to reduce the damage from such an attack will depend on the actual effectiveness of the defenses under the particular conditions of the attack. Because of the limits of testing programs, and because the defender is not likely to know the specific characteristics of a missile attack before it is launched, the actual effectiveness of a defense against that attack will be highly uncertain, or largely unknown, prior to the attack. If a significant discrepancy exists between (1) the capability leaders believe a defense system has and (2) its actual capability against a real-world attack, that discrepancy can be a recipe for disaster. If political and military leaders believe defenses have greater capability than they in fact have, those leaders might take actions that precipitate retaliatory missile strikes that the defense is unable to stop. The main conclusion of this article is that the DPRK will have options for missile attacks against the Republic of Korea (ROK), Japan, and the United States that have a high probability of success, despite the deployment of missile defenses (at least of the kinds currently deployed). Defenses may be able to stop some types of attacks, but North Korean leaders will know which attacks are most likely to succeed and can shape their launch strategy around those. In particular, this article does not assume that missile defenses would be incapable of stopping some missiles fired at the United States and its allies in a conflict, or that there is no rationale for deploying certain types of missile defenses. What it instead shows is that current defenses will not be able to provide US leaders with enough confidence that they can stop a retaliatory strike to allow them to decide to take military actions that they would not take in the absence of missile defense. In other words, missile defenses will not be able to provide “freedom of action” if that freedom is not believed to exist in the absence of missile defenses. US and allied military leaders must be clear about the effectiveness that missile defense may realistically be able to provide against a determined adversary based on the demonstrated capability of the defense systems in realistic test programs. While posturing and exaggerating the capability of missile defense may be a tactic that leaders use to shape the context of a crisis, deciding to take aggressive military action assuming an unrealistic or undemonstrated effectiveness for missile defenses can have catastrophic consequences. The analysis in this article assumes that over the next decade there will be evolutionary modifications of current defense systems, with testing continuing at roughly the same pace as in recent years; possible development of a ship- or drone-based boost-phase missile defense system applicable to the DPRK, but no deployment of a mature, tested system; and evolutionary modifications of the DPRK’s missiles and nuclear weapons. The Political Role of Missile Defense As noted above, there are two general roles that missile defenses are likely to play in cases related to possible nuclear use in northeast Asia. The first is a political role that could influence the context of a crisis and might therefore affect the probability that certain cases occur. This role depends largely on perceptions of how effective defenses might be, rather than on their actual ability to defend areas against attacks. The second is the role missile defense might play in actually intercepting missiles and reducing the effects of an attack during a conflict. How effective defenses might be at this role will be highly uncertain, and may be largely unknown, since it will depend both on the maturity and level of testing of the defenses but also on the details of the attacking missiles and any countermeasures the attacker may take, which the defender is unlikely to know in advance. This paper will focus on the second of these two roles but will start with a brief discussion of the first. US political and military leaders have repeatedly made exaggerated claims about the capabilities of US missile defense systems. In the context of a crisis in Northeast Asia, the United States will certainly continue to exaggerate the potential effectiveness of its Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system against the DPRK’s long-range missiles, which it has been doing despite GMD’s mixed records in tests and the lack of tests in realistic scenarios. Such exaggeration is seen in part as important for reassuring Japanese and Korean policy makers. These leaders have expressed concerns that although their countries are under the US nuclear umbrella, the United States might be deterred from using nuclear weapons to defend them by the prospect that such use would lead to a retaliatory nuclear attack against the US homeland. Overstating confidence in the ability of missile defense to stop such retaliation is an attempt by the United States to reduce such fears of “decoupling.” Concerns about decoupling similarly led to uncertainties about the credibility of the US nuclear umbrella for NATO during the Cold War once the Soviet Union gained the ability to attack US territory with its nuclear missiles. To increase the credibility that nuclear weapons would be used in the theater, NATO took several steps, including forward-deploying tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield to increase pressure for NATO commanders to use them if enemy advances threatened to overrun them, and by having a “two-key” system that effectively allowed the United States to turn over launch control of some theater nuclear weapons to West Germany in a crisis. Some Japanese bureaucrats have privately expressed the desire for a similar two-key system with nuclear weapons the United States might use in the Asian theater, as a way of increasing the credibility that these weapons would be used in a crisis, although they acknowledge that such an arrangement is very unlikely. Another political use of missile defenses is to help leaders in various countries build support for military engagements by reducing public fears about the effects of retaliation that might result from such engagements. For example, some years ago a Taiwanese official told me that while he did not have confidence that US Patriot missiles in Taiwan would be effective at stopping possible Chinese missile attacks on the island, he thought deploying Patriots was an important step to reassure the public, which he believed had an inflated sense of the missile threat. His concern was that such fears by the public might constrain Taiwanese military options in a crisis. A related example occurred during the 1991 Gulf War, when erroneous US claims that Patriot missile defenses were successfully intercepting Iraqi Scud missiles were used to reduce pressure on the Israeli government to launch retaliatory attacks. The United States was concerned that such attacks by Israel would fracture the coalition of countries the United States had put together to oppose Iraq. Analysis after the war showed that in fact the Patriots were ineffective at intercepting missiles, and that the Israeli military was aware of this fact during the war. At the same time, the existence of defenses has also been used by political leaders to reduce the pressure to launch a preemptive attack on the DPRK in response to perceived threats. An additional political effect of the US focus on developing and deploying missile defenses has been to reduce the pressure to try to resolve the underlying security issues with the DPRK using diplomacy. Despite evidence late in the Clinton administration that DPRK leaders were open to accepting intrusive measures that would significantly limit, if not end, its development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, the incoming Bush administration instead pulled back from the negotiations and ramped up development of missile defenses. By exaggerating their confidence in the ability of missile defenses to stop a DPRK missile attack, US leaders have been able to reduce public fears about such attacks that might otherwise create strong pressure to engage the DPRK diplomatically to reduce the nuclear and missile threat. The Effectiveness of Missile Defenses in Intercepting Missile Attacks In differentiating the roles that missile defenses might play, it is important to distinguish between (1) the subjective “confidence” a military or political leader might express in the effectiveness of a certain defense system, and (2) the objectively defined “confidence level” that is mathematically determined from the results of actual tests of the system. The latter is a concept in probability theory that expresses what expectations one can logically draw, based on test data, about the kill probability of the defense system under the conditions of the tests. It is this rigorously derived confidence level in a given probability of intercepting incoming missiles that matters for assessing the ability of missile defenses to stop or reduce the damage from an actual attack. Mathematics requires that, in order for a test series to provide a defender with high confidence in the level of effectiveness the defense system is likely to demonstrate in a particular scenario, the test series must consist of an adequately large number of tests. Such a test series must be repeated for those attack scenarios that differ in important ways, which further increases the total number of tests required. One important consequence of this fact is that the number of tests required to establish high confidence is typically much larger than the number of tests that are actually performed for a defense system. As a result, the defender will have only a general sense of the actual effectiveness that can be expected of the system. Moreover, it is critical to recognize that the test record only gives information about the performance of the defense system under the conditions of the tests. For example, care has been taken in past US missile defense tests for the target warhead to be spin-stabilized and travel on a well-behaved trajectory, and to be easily distinguished from other objects, such as missile stages and balloon decoys—all of which increases the likelihood of a successful intercept. These defenses have still not been tested, for example, against tumbling or significantly spiraling (cork-screwing) warheads, which can pose particularly difficult targets for interceptors to hit. As a result, the existing test records of these defenses gives little information about how well they would work against such targets. Even more importantly, there are attacks that simply fall outside the conditions under which a defense is designed to operate. In those cases, one can say with high confidence that the defense will not be effective against such an attack. For example, the US Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) and Aegis SM-3 defenses can only operate above the atmosphere—higher than about 100 km altitude—because at lower altitudes the combination of their speed and the atmospheric density heats and blinds their sensors. They cannot even attempt to intercept warheads at lower altitudes (technically, a “firing solution” does not exist). It is therefore useful to distinguish between (1) cases in which an interceptor is unable to engage a warhead, meaning that it cannot even attempt to intercept under the scenario of the attack, and (2) cases in which an interceptor is able to engage the warhead but may not actually succeed in intercepting it due to details of the homing process, the presence of countermeasures the missile may release, etc. In case (1), in which the attacker denies the defense the ability to engage the warhead, it also denies it the ability to intercept. What the analysis below shows is that there certainly exist attack cases in which US and allied defenses are able to engage the attacking warheads. Because of the limits of testing, the existence of countermeasures, etc., even in those cases US and allied leaders may have little confidence in the effectiveness of the defense.[9] But beyond that, in many cases the DPRK would have attack options that can prevent some defenses from even engaging the warheads, while presenting the remaining defenses with targets they are not designed to intercept. Those cases must clearly be recognized and considered by US and allied leaders. Summary of Missile Defense Systems Before considering possible conflict cases, this section summarizes the missile defense systems the United States and its allies have that might come into play in a Northeast Asian conflict. It describes their operation, how they have fared in tests, and what factors limit the confidence one could reasonably have in their effectiveness. … There are several general points to start with:

  • Midcourse defenses, like the US GMD and Aegis Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) systems, attempt to intercept missile warheads at high altitudes and cannot engage a warhead below about 100 km altitude. At those lower altitudes, heating of the kill vehicle’s infrared sensors by the atmosphere prevents it from homing on the target. Such exo-atmospheric kill vehicles maneuver using rocket thrusters, and the kill probability depends on the relative speed of the kill vehicle and the warhead (called the “closing speed”). These defenses are vulnerable to a range of countermeasures, such as light-weight decoys, that can prevent the interceptor from identifying the real target.
  • Terminal defenses, like Patriot, attempt to intercept as the warhead is re-entering the atmosphere above its target. These interceptors typically rely on radar sensors and maneuver using atmospheric forces. In this case the kill probability depends on the relative maneuverability of the interceptor and the warhead, which in turn depends in large part on the absolute speed of each object. To be effective, an interceptor must be able to generate lateral accelerations two to three times that of warhead. Since maneuvering forces of an object in the atmosphere increase with the square of its speed, the interceptor is unlikely to be able to hit targets moving significantly faster than the interceptor since it will not be able to match the target’s maneuvers, whether those are intentional or not (for example, due to tumbling or spiraling).
  • Dividing chemical or biological weapons into large numbers of small submunitions that are released shortly after the missile booster burns out is not only the most effective way to deliver these agents by missile, it also creates too many lethal objects for midcourse or terminal defenses to stop. Developing submunitions is within the DPRK’s technical capability, and, if its goal is to be able to retaliate by attacking population centers, it seems likely to have developed this capability to deliver these agents, which it is believed to stockpile.
  • Boost-phase defenses are intended to destroy missiles early in flight during their boost phase, before the missile releases its warhead(s). The advantage of this defense is that, if successful, it would stop a missile before it could release either a cloud of submunitions or countermeasures to accompany a warhead. The main disadvantage is that because the boost phase is very short—typically one to a few minutes—the interceptor must be based very close to the launch site of the missile to reach it in time. The United States does not currently deploy boost-phase defenses. However, such a defense against a country like the DPRK, which is geographically small, may be possible using interceptors based either on drones or ships stationed near the borders, and such systems have been proposed. One potential countermeasure to boost phase defenses is for the attacker to fire several missiles closely spaced in time and location, some of which can be decoys without live warheads, as a way of creating more targets than there are interceptors that can reach them. US Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) The United States currently deploys 44 GMD interceptors, with 40 located in Alaska and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The interceptors boost an Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) into space, which uses information from ground-based radars and on-board infrared sensors to attempt to physically collide with a warhead in flight (called “hit-to-kill”). Despite repeated claims of high confidence by US officials that the GMD system could intercept long-range DPRK missiles, there is no physical justification for that assertion based on the testing record. There have been only nineteen intercept tests since the testing program began in 1999—about one per year—and only four tests in the past decade. Currently the GMD system has successfully intercepted its target in about half of its intercept attempts, even though the tests have not been designed to be stressing. In these tests the target warhead has followed a well-behaved trajectory and has been easily distinguished from other objects, such as missile stages and balloon decoys. The system has still not been tested against tumbling or spiraling warheads, which are stressing for the kill vehicle and may in fact be likely targets the defense would encounter in a DPRK attack. Moreover, only two of the GMD tests have included intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM, with ranges greater than 5,500 km). More generally, the details of an actual attack may differ in important ways from those of the tests, in part because the attacker can take steps to make the situation as difficult as possible for the defense. It is likely that these actual engagements would be the first time the defenses are used against missiles from these attackers, giving the attacker the element of surprise. Exo-atmospheric defenses like GMD are inherently vulnerable to a range of countermeasures that are well within the capability of a country that is able to build a ballistic missile and a nuclear warhead to put on it. Many countermeasures have the property that they represent a common-mode failure for interceptors, meaning if they evade one kill vehicle, they will evade all the kill vehicles engaging the target. That means that launching multiple interceptors at a target may not increase the kill probability. To try to address the problem of countermeasures, the United States announced that it would build a set of large Long-Range Discrimination Radars (LRDRs), with the first one reportedly completed in Alaska in late 2021. However, rather than using radar waves in the X-band the LRDR was designed instead to use S-band, which reduces the spatial resolution of the radar and undercuts its ability to discriminate warheads from decoys. More recently, there are signs that the remaining LRDRs will not be built due to a new focus on building space-based sensors to track hypersonic weapons. It is illogical to assume the DPRK would be building nuclear missiles with the intention of using them if necessary and yet would not equip them with countermeasures that would increase their effectiveness against known missile defenses the United States is building. Russia and China are both believed to have developed and likely deployed such countermeasures on their long-range missiles. For all of these reasons, US confidence that its GMD system would be effective in stopping an actual attack by North Korean long-range missiles (as well as an attack by Chinese or Russian missiles) is low today and will remain low in the coming decade. The data simply does not exist—and will not exist by the end of the decade—to provide a high confidence level of high effectiveness under real-world attack conditions. Aegis SM-3 Defense The Aegis missile defense system based on the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) was developed initially to intercept missiles with ranges up to a few thousand kilometers, although the most recent version has been tested once against an “ICBM-representative target.” Like the GMD system, the SM-3 kill vehicle also is a hit-to-kill system that works above the atmosphere, and is unable to engage missiles at altitudes below about 100 km. This system has been tested forty-five times since 2002 (about 2.5 tests/year) and has reportedly been successful in 80 percent of these tests. In the twenty-four tests against medium or intermediate range targets (1,000 to 5,500 km range), the success rate appears to have been about 86 percent, but even these successes provide only 50 percent confidence that the kill probability is as high as 82 percent. Assuming the kill probability for a single interceptor against a target is 82 percent, then targeting two interceptors on each target could give an effective kill probability of 97 percent, assuming the probabilities are independent of one another (which may not be true in practice). However, as with the GMD system, these tests have not been conducted against stressing targets, such as tumbling warheads, and the tests appear to have been designed to minimize spiraling of the targets to provide a stable target. Moreover, because it is an exo-atmospheric defense it is also vulnerable to countermeasure issues similar to the GMD system. The tests conducted to date have not included realistic countermeasures. As a result, while political and military leaders may be led to believe the system would have a high effectiveness against an attack, there are uncertainties and unknowns that keep one from assigning high confidence to the system’s performance. People have occasionally suggested that Aegis SM-3 might be used to intercept ballistic missiles during the missile’s boost phase, but it is not designed to engage an accelerating target—which is what a booster would be—and does not have the divert capability to do this reliably. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) THAAD is a hit-to-kill interceptor designed to engage short- and medium-range missiles (less than 3,500 km), although it has had one test against an intermediate-range missile (3,500 to 5,500 km). It is designed to intercept targets between roughly 40 and 150 km altitude, so it operates in the high endo-atmosphere and low exo-atmosphere. It is believed to have a top speed of 2.6-2.8 km/s (Mach 8.7-9.3), and a maximum operational range of about 200 km. The Pentagon lists the THAAD system as having sixteen successes in sixteen intercept tests since 2005. However, because of the relatively small number of tests conducted under similar scenarios, the test record implies lower confidence levels than it might at first appear. For example, ten of these tests were conducted against short-range targets, and half of those cases were “unitary” targets, meaning the warhead did not separate from the missile body, which presented a very large target to the interceptor. Only five of the sixteen tests have been against medium-range targets. Five successful tests provide only 50 percent confidence that the kill probability against a single missile is as high as 87 percent. Alternately, these results mean that the United States could have high confidence (95 percent) that the kill probability is only greater than 47 percent. Even for a kill probability of 87 percent, there is a greater than 50 percent chance that at least one missile in an attack by five missiles would evade the defense. Firing more than one interceptor at each target might improve the total kill probability if the individual kill probabilities are independent, but countermeasures could cause what is called a “common mode failure,” in which case firing multiple interceptors would not help. For endo-atmospheric engagements, THAAD should be able to engage some medium-range missiles if they are on a smooth, stable trajectory. However, it is unlikely to be successful at intercepting maneuvering or weaving targets that have speeds much greater than about 3 km/s, which corresponds to a range of about 1,000 km. It would have to engage intermediate-range missiles above the atmosphere. If it is engaging targets at altitudes above about 100 km, THAAD would be vulnerable to the countermeasures described above designed for use against midcourse defenses. Patriot The Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC)-2 defense system used in the 1991 Gulf War relied on a proximity fuse to trigger a blast fragmentation warhead that attempted to destroy incoming missiles low in the atmosphere. This system was followed by development of the PAC-3 defense, which also operates in the atmosphere using aerodynamic forces to maneuver but is designed as a hit-to-kill system. The PAC-3 interceptor (now called the PAC-3 CRI (Cost Reduction Initiative)) has a speed of about 1.4 km/s (Mach 4.1) and is able to engage targets below about 24 km altitude. The maximum operational range of the interceptor is reported to be 15 to 20 km. A newer version of the system, called PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (PAC-3 MSE), was fielded in 2016. The PAC-3 MSE includes an additional booster segment, so the interceptor is believed to have a top speed of 1.7-1.8 km/s (Mach 5.7-6), is able to engage targets below about 36 km altitude, and has an operational range of about 35 km. Patriot is said to be designed to intercept short-range missiles. While that designation includes missiles up to ranges of 1,000 km, actual testing appears to have been against missiles with much shorter range. As discussed above, the interceptor is unlikely to be able to hit targets moving significantly faster than the interceptor, which may limit its ability to reliably intercept maneuvering or weaving warheads from missiles with ranges longer than 500 to 600 km. Because of the short range of the interceptors, Patriot can defend areas within a few tens of kilometers around the location where the interceptor is deployed. Aegis SM-2 and SM-6 Aegis ships also carry shorter range interceptors than the SM-3 missile. These systems use fragmentation warheads and are intended primarily to defend against aircraft and cruise missiles but may have some capability against short-range missiles. Possible Nuclear-Use Cases … The DPRK’s goal for such an attack—for example, whether it was intended to have a counterforce effect or was simply retaliation targeted against population centers—affects the options Pyongyang would have for launching such an attack. Attacks against the ROK Because all of the ROK’s territory lies within 500 km of the border with the DPRK, the entire country is within range of many DPRK missiles. Seoul is located less than 50 km from the border with the DPRK, and as a result it is within range of the DPRK’s artillery attacks. Because it is a very large population center it is vulnerable to missiles with low accuracy. The ROK has deployed US Patriot PAC-2 defenses for some time, and it recently received and deployed PAC-3 units. These systems can be used for air defense as well as defense against short-range ballistic missiles and are assumed to be deployed around Seoul. However, if the DPRK decided to attack this area with missiles, it could penetrate the defense in several ways. It has a number of different missiles with ranges greater than 1,000 km, which could be launched to shorter ranges on depressed trajectories that would fly too low to be attacked by Aegis SM-3 and might have reentry speeds that are too high for Patriot to intercept reliably. The United States deploys a THAAD battery in the ROK, which for political reasons is located nearly 200 km south of Seoul. Because of its location, THAAD is unlikely to be able to reach and engage missiles targeted on Seoul. In addition, since attacking Seoul does not require high accuracy, the DPRK could cause the incoming warheads to tumble or spiral, which would make them more difficult to intercept. It might also deliver chemical or biological weapons using submunitions that were released early in the missile’s flight, creating too many targets for the defenses to stop. Another potential target near Seoul is Camp Humphreys, which is the US army base that houses the 28,000 US soldiers that are stationed in the country. Nearby is Osan Air Base, one of two major US Air Force bases in the country. Both are within about 100 km of the border and are therefore likely out of the range of most DPRK artillery but easily reachable by ballistic missiles. As with Seoul and other targets throughout this small country, the DPRK could attack with missiles on trajectories that underfly SM-3 but might approach the targets at speeds faster than Patriot could reliably intercept. As above, THAAD is far enough south to make it unlikely that it would be effective at intercepting missiles fired at Camp Humphreys if the attack used missiles flown on depressed trajectories. In principle, THAAD could engage missiles aimed at targets further south, such as bases at Busan and Kunsan, and the industrial center of Ulsan, if those missiles flew on standard trajectories. However, the DPRK could launch a medium-range missile to these targets on a depressed trajectory that would fly too low for THAAD to engage. It could also cause its warheads to tumble, which would reduce the effectiveness of the interceptors, or it could launch submunitions carrying chemical or biological weapons. In addition, the DPRK has been testing two new missiles—the KN-23 and 24—that are designed to reach ranges of several hundred kilometers by flying on non-ballistic trajectories, using fins to allow them to travel at about 50 km altitude. Flying them at somewhat lower altitudes would reduce their range somewhat but could place them at an altitude throughout their trajectory that was too low for THAAD to engage. While these missiles might approach their targets at low enough speeds to be engaged by Patriot interceptors in areas where Patriots were deployed, they would be able to attack targets throughout most of the country that were not within a few tens of kilometers of a Patriot deployment. The DPRK is developing the Pukguksong missile to be launched from submarines in the future, and there have been some statements suggesting that the KN-23 could be launched from submarines. Both missiles would allow the DPRK to be able to attack targets in the ROK over short distances from unexpected directions if launched from submarines. However, North Korean submarines would likely be noisy enough in the foreseeable future to make them vulnerable to US anti-submarine forces if the submarines traveled very far from the DPRK coast. Similarly, North Korean surface ships carrying missiles would likely be detected by allied forces and could be destroyed early in a conflict, so these options might not appear attractive to Pyongyang. The conclusion is that the ROK would need to rely on Patriot for missile defense. Although it may be able to protect some targets, albeit with uncertain effectiveness, it could not cover all of the ROK. The country would therefore be vulnerable to attack despite the deployment of missile defenses expected to operate in the next decade. Development of drone- or ship-based boost phase defenses to cover the DPRK could affect this conclusion, if shown to be effective and reliable. Attacks against Japan Unlike the ROK, Japan is far enough from the DPRK that if Pyongyang attacked using medium-range missiles launched from its territory on standard trajectories they would have to travel to high enough altitudes that they could be engaged by either THAAD or Aegis SM-3 above the atmosphere. For example, a 1,300 km range Nodong missile, which could reach Tokyo, would have an apogee on a standard trajectory of about 300 km. Patriot would have little or no capability against these missiles; unless the DPRK launched short-range missiles from ships or submarines, the reentry speeds of the missiles would likely exceed what Patriot could engage. But either surface ships or submarines operating within a couple hundred kilometers of Japan during a crisis would be at high risk of being detected and sunk once a conflict started. As above, if the DPRK were targeting population centers or other relatively large soft targets with nuclear weapons, it could release warheads that tumbled or spiraled during flight, which would reduce the effectiveness of interception by THAAD or Aegis. The DPRK could also launch long-range missiles on depressed trajectories that would reduce or eliminate the amount of time they were high enough for an exo-atmospheric defense like Aegis to engage and would have a speed well above what THAAD has been reliably tested against and is likely be able to intercept during terminal phase. US and Japanese leaders would have little or no confidence that they could intercept such missiles. For example, a long-range missile like the Hwasong-14 with a speed of about 7 km/s when its engines stop burning—giving it a range of about 10,000 km on a standard trajectory—could be flown on a depressed trajectory to a range of 1,300 km with an apogee of about 100 km, which is likely too low for Aegis to intercept. The flight time of such an attack would be about six minutes, giving very little warning time; the flight time of a Nodong missile over that range would be ten to eleven minutes. A warhead on this trajectory would be traveling too fast for THAAD to intercept while it was at high enough altitudes for THAAD to engage (above 40 km). Because of its relatively long path through the atmosphere on this trajectory, if the ballistic coefficient of the reentry vehicle was low enough it might slow to speeds that would allow Patriot to engage it. However, the defense would not know this in advance and would therefore not be able to count on Patriot. Even if effective, Patriot would defend a small area compared to a large population center like Tokyo, so many batteries would be needed. If the DPRK monitored where these defenses were deployed, it could direct attacks at undefended population centers throughout Japan. Although so far the DPRK has only launched its long-range missiles on highly lofted trajectories, there does not seem to be a technical barrier to flying them on depressed trajectories. While flying on this trajectory would reduce the accuracy of the missile, these attacks would presumably be used against large population centers and this decrease would not matter. If the DPRK’s goal was primarily to create terror and complicate military operations, it could also use chemical or biological weapons against population centers and military bases in Japan. Delivering these agents using submunitions released from ballistic missiles shortly after burnout would not only optimize the distribution and release of these agents but would also present too many objects for a defense to engage. Drone- or ship-based boost phase interceptors off the DPRK coast could potentially play a role if they were successfully tested and deployed in the coming decade. The bottom line is that the DPRK appears to have ways to evade missile defenses if it decided to attack Japan, and that Japan would therefore have no confidence that it could be protected from such an attack in a conflict. Attacks against Guam Beyond Japan, the next closest land target that the DPRK is likely to attack is Guam, which is 3,300 km away and houses a major regional US military presence at a number of bases. Guam is also a potential symbolic target because it is US territory. However, the goal of an attack on Guam would likely be a counterforce mission to disrupt the operation of the bases, rather than a terror attack against a population center, given the small population of the island (fewer than 200,000). Because of the distance, any missile attack launched from DPRK territory would reach high enough altitudes that it could be engaged by Aegis or possibly by THAAD. Moreover, because Guam is physically small—roughly 10 km across in most places—Pyongyang might have little confidence that it could target Guam effectively without firing a large number of missiles. It currently has little or no information about the accuracy of its intermediate and long-range missiles, due to either systematic or random errors. The DPRK has conducted only two non-lofted tests of these missiles and there is no indication it was collecting telemetry from the missile during the tests. Such telemetry, as well as a number of additional tests, would be required for the DPRK to have confidence that the missile could have an accuracy as small as 10 km over these distances. The small size of the island suggests that the DPRK would not try to defeat Aegis defenses by tumbling or spiral the warhead in flight, which could further reduce the accuracy. For these reasons, attacking Guam does not seem like an attractive option for the DPRK. An Aegis Ashore system might make sense rather than having an Aegis ship posted offshore and might be more effective than THAAD; this is the upper end of what THAAD has been tested against. A drone- or ship-based boost phase around the DPRK might add an additional layer of defense. Attacks against Hawaii Like Guam, Hawaii houses major US military bases, including the headquarters of the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM), which is made up of the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy, all of which have bases in Hawaii. The most populated island is Oahu, with nearly a million people; it is roughly square, about 40 km across, and 7,300 km from the DPRK. The USPACOM headquarters is on Oahu, as is the base at Pearl Harbor. The big island of Hawaii is 7,500 km from the DPRK. It is about 130 km across and houses 200,000 people. Like Guam, Oahu is an inviting military target. But it is far enough away from the DPRK that nuclear warheads launched on ballistic missiles would travel high above the atmosphere and could be engaged by the US GMD system based in Alaska, assuming it had sufficient warning time. Such warheads could also potentially be engaged by Aegis SM-3, if it was in position and if tests over the next decade show it to be capable against long-range missiles. These warheads might also be engaged by an Aegis Ashore deployment in Hawaii, which has been discussed but is not currently planned. As noted above, however, because of the limits of testing, the existence of countermeasures, etc., even in cases in which engagement is possible US and allied leaders would have little confidence in the ability of the defense to actually kill the warhead. Moreover, the DPRK might consider a missile attack against Oahu using chemical or biological submunitions because of the large population density there; such an attack could successfully evade defenses. While it might not significantly affect operation of the military bases on Oahu, it would demonstrate the vulnerability of a large number of US citizens to a missile attack. Attacks against the Continental United States Having successfully tested long-range missiles in 2017 (Hwasong-14 and 15), the DPRK appears to have the ability to reach the continental United States with nuclear weapons. Pyongyang presumably sees this fact as helping to deter US attacks on its territory. The accuracy of its long-range missiles is not expected to be good enough to effectively attack military targets, and its goal would instead be to threaten large population centers. Because of the apparent range of the Hwasong-15, the DPRK would be able to target cities throughout the United States. Since the possibility of delivering such an attack appears to be what has motivated the DPRK to develop long-range missiles and nuclear weapons, one has to expect that it has also equipped these missiles with countermeasures that it has either developed or purchased. Although the United States may not have seen tests of countermeasures, as Donald Rumsfeld noted, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Russia, which appears to be the ultimate origin of much of the DPRK’s missile technology, is known to have had an active countermeasures program. As a result, while DPRK leaders might not have high confidence that they could successfully deliver an attack, US leaders could have little confidence in the ability of its missile defense systems to stop such an attack. If the DPRK’s goal was terror attacks against the US public, it could also defeat midcourse and terminal missile defenses by using submunitions on its long-range missiles to deliver chemical or biological agents. As noted above, boost phase defense against the DPRK—either from ships or drones—may be feasible due to the small geographic size of the country. Such systems have not been built but could likely be developed over the next decade. Attacks against ships A large component of US and allied forces in a conflict with the DPRK would be sea-based, including carrier groups, and these would present tempting targets for Pyongyang to attack if possible. Since the DPRK air force would be no match for US and allied aircraft protecting the fleet, the DPRK would likely be limited to launching missile attacks against the ships, assuming it had the ability to locate them, which is not a given. Because ships are relatively small and mobile targets, the DPRK may lack confidence in its ability to use high-accuracy or homing missile warheads to attack them effectively using conventional missile warheads in the foreseeable future. The DPRK might consider using a nuclear weapon instead, which could have a relatively large destructive radius against a relatively soft target like a ship. Since such an attack would clearly be against a military target and take place at sea far from population centers, Pyongyang might see it as more justified and less provocative than an attack on cities. And, if successful, such an attack could potentially have a significant—although certainly not decisive—military effect. The effectiveness of such an anti-ship attack would depend on the range to the ships, as discussed below, and the accuracy of the missile used in the attack. For example, a 20-kiloton airburst would lead to a destructive radius on the sea below it of roughly one to two kilometers. A 150 kiloton airburst, comparable to the largest yield weapon the DPRK has tested, would have a destructive radius below it of roughly three to five kilometers.[40] However, since the DPRK has not tested its longer range missiles enough to have an estimate of their accuracies, it would have little confidence that it could place a warhead close enough to a ship to destroy it. Consider several cases: If ships were within about 400 km of the DPRK, Pyongyang could use KN-23 and KN-24 missiles, which would fly too low to be engaged by Aegis SM-3 interceptors but might be engaged by Aegis SM-2 or SM-6 interceptors. However, the DPRK could also use longer range missiles on depressed trajectories, which could fly too low for SM-3 but could have too high a terminal speed to be engaged by SM-2 or SM-6. Flying its missiles on depressed trajectories could significantly reduce their accuracy. If the ships were within about 2,000 km of the DPRK, Pyongyang could use a long-range missile like the Hwasong-14, with a burnout speed of about 7 km/s, on a depressed trajectory. As in the case of attacks on Japan discussed above, such a missile would likely fly too low for SM-3 to engage, and it would be too fast for SM-2 or SM-6 to intercept. However, at this range ships could be stationed with Japan between them and the Korean peninsula, and if THAAD interceptors were deployed in Japan they might be able to engage these missiles as they flew over Japan, since they would be at an altitude of 60-80 km at that point in their trajectories (Figure 1).

Chart of ICBM Depressed Trajectory
Figure 1: Potential depressed trajectory flown by a Hwasong-14 missile

If the ships were significantly farther from the DPRK, missiles attacking them would have to fly higher trajectories and would likely be vulnerable to attack by SM-3. The ability of SM-3 to actually intercept warheads from these missiles depends on the considerations discussed above, such as whether the missiles included countermeasures or the warheads were tumbling. The conclusion is that the DPRK is unlikely to have high confidence in the success of such an attack and therefore may choose to attack other targets. At the same time, if such an attack occurred, the United States and its allies may not have high confidence in stopping the attack, since it would depend on the details of the attack. High altitude nuclear explosion: An EMP or ASAT shot By detonating a nuclear weapon at high altitude, the DPRK could create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to disrupt electronics over large areas of the Earth below the blast and disrupt or destroy large numbers of satellites in low Earth orbits (LEO). An airburst at an altitude of about 30 km would create EMP in a ground region with a radius of about 600 km; the radius would increase to 1,100 km for a blast at 100 km altitude. Such an attack could significantly disrupt civil infrastructure in the affected region, but because most critical military equipment is hardened against EMP, it is unlikely to seriously affect US and allied military capabilities. An airburst at an altitude of 100 km or higher could disable essentially all LEO satellites in line of sight of the blast very quickly due primarily to X-rays. Such an airburst would pump the Earth’s radiation belts to a level that would cause many other LEO satellites to fail over weeks or months as they repeatedly passed through regions of high radiation. Important military satellites could be radiation-hardened to reduce their vulnerability to this effect, and such an attack would not affect satellites in higher orbits, such as navigation satellites in semi-synchronous orbits or communication satellites in geo-synchronous orbits. As a result, such an attack would be highly disruptive, but its military effects are not likely to be significant. In both cases, the DPRK would have to expect retaliation for launching such an attack, while not significantly degrading military capabilities or destroying population centers. The DPRK is therefore likely to see such an attack as inviting retaliation for little gain. Whether the booster carrying this warhead could be intercepted depends on where it was targeted. The DPRK seems unlikely to attempt an EMP attack against the ROK because it could also affect electronics in its own country. An EMP attack on Japan could be launched on an ICBM following a depressed trajectory that remains below 100 km as described above. Such a warhead would underfly SM-3 interceptors, detonate before reaching low enough altitudes to be engaged by Patriot, and would be traveling too fast for THAAD to intercept reliably. An EMP attack against the United States would require delivery by long-range missile, which could be engaged by Aegis SM-3 or GMD interceptors. Estimates of how successful these defenses would be must take into account their demonstrated effectiveness in tests and the likely presence of countermeasures accompanying the warhead. Low-altitude nuclear explosion: Test/warning/demonstration shot The DPRK might also consider detonating a nuclear weapon at low altitude, say 10 km, over a remote location in the Pacific Ocean as a warning shot or a demonstration of its nuclear capability, with the intention of forestalling or stopping a conflict. A detonation at this altitude would be low enough to have little or no effect on satellites and would create little EMP on Earth. It would also be high enough not to place a large amount of irradiated water vapor into the atmosphere, thereby reducing the amount of fallout produced. The DPRK could portray such an explosion as a warning shot with minor enough physical consequences that it might believe the United States would not respond militarily; it is unclear, of course, how the United States might actually respond. This warhead would be carried on a missile with a range of several thousand kilometers, in order to reach a remote part of the ocean. It could be launched in a direction that was clearly not aimed at US or allied territory, but it would need to overfly Japan early in flight, and Aegis SM-3 interceptors might be able to engage it. The DPRK might announce the test in advance to reduce the risks that it could lead to dangerous escalation, although doing so might allow the United States or Japan to position an Aegis cruiser to attempt an intercept. Depending on the location of the test, the US GMD system might or might not be able to engage it. In either case, the DPRK would presumably launch the warhead with countermeasures to attempt to defeat interceptors. Conclusions This paper discusses specific types of missile attacks the DPRK might launch in a conflict. It finds the DPRK will have options for missile attacks against the ROK, Japan, and the United States that have a high probability of success, despite the deployment of missile defenses (at least of the kinds currently deployed). Even if defenses are able to stop some types of attacks, DPRK leaders will know which attacks are most likely to succeed and can shape their launch strategy around those. It is crucial for US and allied leaders to recognize this vulnerability if they are considering taking military action under the assumption that defenses will be effective in protecting US and allied populations. Current defenses will not be able to provide US leaders with enough confidence that they can stop a retaliatory strike to allow them to decide to take military actions that they would not take in the absence of missile defense. In other words, missile defenses will not be able to provide “freedom of action” if that freedom is not believed to exist in the absence of missile defenses.” (David Wright, “The Role of Missile Defense in Northeast Asia,” NAPSnet, January 13, 2022)


1/14/22:
DPRK FoMin spokesperson’s statement: “The U.S. is coming out provocative again, finding fault with the DPRK’s exercise of its right to self-defense. The DPRK’s recent development of new-type weapon was just part of its efforts for modernizing its national defense capability. It did not target any specific country or force and it did not do any harm to the security of neighboring countries. Nevertheless, the U.S. is intentionally escalating the situation even with the activation of independent sanctions, not content with referring the DPRK’s just activity to the UN Security Council. The U.S. accusation of the DPRK’s legitimate exercise of the right to self-defense is an evident provocation and a gangster-like logic. This shows that though the present U.S. administration is trumpeting about diplomacy and dialogue, it is still engrossed in its policy for isolating and stifling the DPRK. To bolster up the national defense capability is a legitimate right of a sovereign state. The DPRK will not abandon its just right. If the U.S. adopts such a confrontational stance, the DPRK will be forced to take stronger and certain reaction to it.” (KCNA, “Bolstering Defense Capability Is Legitimate Right of Sovereign State: Spokesperson for DPRK Foreign Ministry Spokesperson,” January 14, 2022)

KCNA: “A firing drill for checking and judging the proficiency in the action procedures of the railway-borne missile regiment of North Phyongan Province took place on Friday. It was supervised by commanding officers of the Korean People’s Army and leading officials of the Academy of Defense Science. The drill was aimed at checking the alert posture of the combatants of the regiment and bolstering their ability of discharging firepower mission. The regiment received a firepower mission at short notice from the General Staff in the morning on Friday before swiftly moving to the firing ground, and precisely struck the set target in the East Sea of Korea with two tactical guided missiles. The combat posture of the railway-borne missile regiment of North Phyongan Province which demonstrated high maneuverability and rate of hits in the drill was highly appreciated in the review and the issues were discussed to set up proper railway-borne missile operating system across the country and to find out ways for further completing our style fighting methods with the railway-borne missiles.” (KCNA, “Firing Drill of Railway-Borne Missile Regiment Held,” January 15, 2022)

North Korea fired two ballistic missiles today, its third missile test this month, hours after it warned of “stronger and certain reaction” if the United States helped impose more sanctions on the North in response to its recent series of missile tests. Two short-range ballistic missiles took off from Uiju, a county near the northwestern corner of North Korea, and flew 267 miles before crashing into waters off the country’s east coast, the South Korean military said. It added that its analysts were studying the trajectory and other flight data from the launch to learn more. Earlier today, the North’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement denouncing a proposal by the United States that the U.N. Security Council place fresh sanctions on North Korea following several ballistic and other missile tests since September 2021. The Foreign Ministry insisted that it was exercising “its right to self-defense” and that the missile tests were “part of its efforts for modernizing its national defense capability.” “The U.S. is intentionally escalating the situation even with the activation of independent sanctions, not content with referring the D.P.R.K.’s just activity to the U.N. Security Council,” the ministry said in a statement. It added, “If the U.S. adopts such a confrontational stance, the D.P.R.K. will be forced to take stronger and certain reaction to it.” North Korea reiterated that its missile tests “did not target any specific country or force and it did not do any harm to the security of neighboring countries.” But in the December 11 test, the North’s hypersonic missile traversed the country from west to east and then veered to the northeast, flying over the waters between the Russian Far East and Japan toward the Pacific, according to its trajectory graphic in one of the photos released in North Korean state media. The missile hit a target 621 miles away, the North said. And as the missile hurtled out of North Korea at up to 10 times the speed of sound, aviation regulators briefly halted flights out of some airports on the U.S. West Coast as a precaution. China, which can veto Washington’s attempt to impose more sanctions at the Security Council, called for dialogue. “Willful sanctions do not help resolve the Korean Peninsula issue, but only worsen the confrontational mood,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said during a news briefing on December 12. (Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Fires 2 Ballistic Missiles after Lashing out over Sanctions,” New York Times, January 14, 2022)

Panda: “On Saturday morning, North Korean state media reported that the two missile launches detected by South Korea, Japan and the U.S. on January 14 were part of a “firing drill” involving rail-mobile missile units with the Korean People’s Army (KPA). The KPA’s Railway Mobile Missile Regiment tested the missile system, first introduced in Sept. 2021, from Uiju in the country’s northwest, near the Chinese border. According to state media, the launches were operational and not developmental tests, unlike the first two missile tests in Jan. 2022. Notably, the January 14 launches came after the Biden administration sanctioned six North Koreans for illicit procurement activities relating to North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction programs, including missiles. The missiles involved in this latest rail-mobile launch appear to be KN-23-type short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs). According to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the trajectory exhibited this time covered a range of 430 kilometers, with a detected altitude of 36 kilometers and a maximum speed of Mach 6. This is consistent with the performance of other KN-23-type SRBMs, although on a slightly more depressed trajectory. Based on photographs released by state media, the missiles impacted a designated site on Alsom Island off North Korea’s east coast, a frequently used target in the country’s missile tests. While the state media announcement of the missile launches did not make any reference to the U.S. or sanctions, it noted that the order to carry out the launches came “at short notice from the General Staff in the morning on Friday.” This level of specificity suggests an intention to demonstrate that the launch was authorized specifically in the aftermath of the sanctions action. (North Korea also carried out the inaugural test of rail-mobile missiles in Sept. 2021 “without notice,” per state media, but with a lower level of specificity.) Launching these KN-23-type SRBMs from a rail-mobile launcher aims at pre-launch survivability. And they follow North Korea’s firing of “hypersonic” missiles on two occasions earlier this month, tests that appeared to emphasize missile defense defeat through the use of maneuverable reentry vehicles. North Korea remains heavily focused on rendering its missile forces more responsive and survivable. Expect these types of demonstrations to continue through this year. The fact that North Korea may have launched the train-launched missiles in part as a response to the new U.S. sanctions does not mean the tests merely represent an empty gesture. As the second-ever test event for the Railway Mobile Missile Regiment, the drill also allows the country to gather important insights, and state media reported that the operational launch was meant to verify the regiment’s operational readiness. This adds credence to North Korea’s previous claims at the Railway Mobile Missile Regiment had been deployed. The latest launch also confirms that the geographic dispersion of rail-mobile missile units is likely to be significant. Unlike road-mobile short-range ballistic missile units, which are generally known to be based at southern missile operating bases, North Korea’s rail-mobile missile units may be located anywhere in the country. (Road-mobile launchers could be too, but their existing support infrastructure is generally oriented to the south.) The choice to carry out this launch from Uiju County in North Pyongan province is also notable. Uiju sits along the Yalu River and, consequently, across from China near the border. It represents one of the northernmost launch sites for short-range ballistic missiles. The rationale for this is unclear. A missile launch from the other side of the Yalu River may appear provocative to China, especially weeks before the start of the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. But there may be another strategic rationale at play. First, a North Korean missile that travels 430 km from Uiju County can reach Alsom Island, but it also corresponds almost exactly to the distance required to range U.S. Forces Korea headquarters at U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys in Pyeongtaek. Second, North Korea has described its rail-mobile missile forces as playing a counter-strike or retaliatory role. “The railway mobile missile system is an effective counter striking means to deal a heavy blow at the threatening forces with dispersive firing across the country,” top KPA military official Pak Jong Chon said after the first rail-mobile test in Sept. 2021. In a limited conflict, preemptive attacks by the U.S. and South Korea may destroy North Korea’s more southerly short-range ballistic missile launchers. However, targeting more northerly locations may prove challenging — not because of the distance, but because of the apparent proximity to the Chinese border. This latest test may reveal part of the logic behind North Korea’s emplacement of short-range ballistic missile units at previously unused northern launch sites. This particular site at Uiju doesn’t deserve additional scrutiny. Rail-mobile units, by their very nature, are designed to be relocated and rapidly deployable. North Korea’s railway network is sufficiently large that tracking these mobile missile units may not be feasible in a crisis. While the survivability benefits from rail-mobility are more limited compared to road-mobility (particularly when off-road tracked transporter erector launchers are involved), North Korea has previously shown its rail-mobile launchers leaving tunnels, which could be deeply buried and resistant to preemption with conventional weapons. Looking ahead, we should expect to see similar operational drills by North Korea’s new rail-mobile missile units. Based on the two test events so far, it appears that these capabilities are set to play an important role in the KPA’s overall missile strategy.” (Ankit Panda, “North Korea’s Test of Rail-Based Missiles Continues Emphasis on Survivability, NKNews, January 15, 2022)


1/17/22:
KCNA: “Test-fire of tactical guided missiles was conducted on Monday under a plan of the Academy of Defense Science, the Second Economy Commission and other institutions concerned. The test-fire was aimed to selectively evaluate tactical guided missiles being produced and deployed and to verify the accuracy of the weapon system. The two tactical guided missiles launched in the western area of the DPRK precisely hit an island target in the East Sea of Korea. The Academy of Defense Science confirmed the accuracy, security and efficiency of the operation of the weapon system under production.” (KCNA, “Test-Fire of Tactical Guided Missiles Held,” January 18, 2022)

North Korea fired two suspected short-range ballistic missiles eastward from an airfield in Pyongyang today, South Korea’s military said, in the recalcitrant regime’s fourth show of force this year. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the projectiles fired from the Sunan airport at 8:50 a.m. and 8:54 a.m., respectively, and that they flew about 380 kilometers at an altitude of 42 km. The missiles traveled at a top speed of Mach 5, five times the speed of sound, according to an informed source. The North’s latest weapons test appears aimed at enhancing its ability to consecutively launch missiles with increased accuracy, a JCS official said on condition of anonymity. The official added that South Korea’s military possesses capabilities to both detect and intercept the projectiles in question, and has continuously been reinforcing its system to respond to them. Today’s launch came just three days after the North launched two suspected short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea that it later claimed to be guided missiles fired by a railway-borne regiment during a firing drill. Soon after the latest launch, South Korea’s presidential National Security Council held an emergency meeting and called the North’s continued weapons tests “very regrettable.” Separately, Seoul’s unification ministry urged the North to restart dialogue rather than missile launches for the goal of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. (Song Sang-ho, Kang Yoon-seung and Chae Yun-hwan, “N. Korea Fires 2 Apparent Ballistic Missiles Eastward from Pyongyang Airport: S. Korean Military,” January 17, 2022) The report suggested that North Korea test-fired KN-24 short-range ballistic missiles, which look similar to the US MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS. The KN-24 single-stage solid-propellant missile is a tactical system with a mobile launcher. The KN-24 reportedly performs “pull-up maneuvers” in flight to avoid interception and is capable of carrying out a precision strike with its guidance system and in-flight maneuverability.

Monday’s test-firing aimed to “selectively evaluate tactical guided missiles being produced and deployed and to verify the accuracy of the weapon system,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported in an English-language dispatch. KCNA said the “two tactical guided missiles launched in the western area of the DPRK precisely hit an island target in the East Sea,” without further details. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the North’s formal name. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff today said the two missiles were fired from the Sunan airfield in Pyongyang, which was last used as a launch site in September 2017. The missiles traveled around 380 kilometers from the airfield to the small Alseom, an uninhabited island off the country’s east coast. The travel distance is approximately equidistant from the launch site to the South Korean Army, Navy and Air Force Headquarters in Gyeryong, South Chungcheong Province. “As to why they choose to test this system, North Korea needs to continue to test ‘relatively new’ missile systems to ensure they perform as designed, which does require continued testing,” David Schmerler, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told The Korea Herald. Since 2019, North Korea has test-fired a newly developed triple set of new weapons systems, which consist of the KN-23 and KN-24 short-range ballistic missiles and KN-25 “super-large caliber” multiple-rocket launcher. But Pyongyang notably test-fired the KN-24 missiles for the first time since March 2020. Today’s test-firing marks the seventh and eighth test launches of the KN-24. “The two-year delay between tests could be due to a number of factors, including political expediency. North Korea is most likely to conduct missile tests when they consider it to be politically beneficial,” said Michael Duitsman, a research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “Each of these windows can only fit a limited number of tests, and developmental tests of new systems probably take a higher priority than testing systems that have completed initial flight tests and entered service.” Duitsman said today’s launch was a “test to evaluate missiles that are in production and deployed“ based on the North Korean media report. Echoing the view, Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the media report suggested that the triple set of KN-23, KN-24, KN-25 solid-propellant, short-range ballistic missiles had been deployed. Kim forecast that North Korea would establish a new corps of missiles comprising the solid-propellant Pukguksong missiles, Hwasong 12, 14 and 15, KN-23, 24 and 25, and others. The missiles have enhanced mobility, precision and maneuverability, as well as the ability to evade defenses. “There appears to have been a step change in North Korea’s established tri-axis missile program consisting of Scud, Nodong (or Rodong), Musudan-type missiles as well as in the country’s strategies and tactics for missile employment,” he said. Kim raised doubts about whether the missile defense system pursued by the South Korean military is capable of intercepting newly developed, enhanced missiles. South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense on Tuesday also said it “assessed North Korea’s every missile launch as a direct and grave military threat” to the country. “North Korea will continue to develop more advanced and accurate systems as their program continues. Concerns over this test should rather be aimed at the overall advancement of their missile program as a whole,” Schmerler said. In Seoul, concerns over today’s missile test particularly stem from the possibility of a KN-24 missile with its relatively large payload carrying tactical nuclear warheads. Some analysts see Pyongyang would seek to turn the KN-24 into a dual-capable missile. But U.S. missile analysts share the view that the KN-24 system is mainly intended for delivering conventional warheads. “The KN-24 appears to be designed for a range of conventional submunitions, which may be field-swappable,” said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “North Korea has provided no indication that the KN-24 will be nuclearized, but based on North Korea’s efforts in nuclear weapons design to date, they may be able to manufacture a compact enough warhead for this weapon.” At the Eighth Party Congress, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un urged the country to produce more miniaturized and lighter nuclear warheads and to develop “tactical nuclear weapons.” “The KN-24 could potentially carry a small nuclear warhead. Whether or not it carries a nuclear weapon in service depends on the role assigned to it in the North Korean military,” Duitsman said. Analysts also say North Korea’s recent test-firing of four ballistic missiles in two discrete launches, which came after the Biden administration’s first sanctions designations, were carried out for both domestic and foreign policy purposes. The North Korean media also conspicuously and unusually reported that the Second Economic Committee, which is subject to UN and U.S. sanctions, conducted the plan for today’s missile test along with the Academy of Defense Science and other related institutions. But this is not an unprecedented report. “I find the mention of the Second Economic Committee interesting,” Panda said. “The SEC is involved with missile production and overseas procurement; mentioning the Second Economic Committee’s involvement in a missile test shortly after the US sanctions action could be seen as a form of defiance, but we have no way of knowing for sure.” (Ji Da-gyum, “’Tactical Guided Missiles’ Now Under Production, Pyongyang Says, Korea Herald, January 18, 2022)

Van Diepen: “North Korea’s launches of two rail-mobile KN-23 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) on January 14 and two road-mobile KN-24 SRBMs on January 17 show continued progress in deploying these solid-propellant missile systems, as well as continued interest in rail-mobile missile deployment. But even if they turn out to be sufficiently accurate (their guidance method is unknown) and deployed in significant numbers, these systems would provide only an incremental increase to the large, longstanding North Korean SRBM threat. Although not accompanied by explicit North Korean political messaging, the timing of the KN-23 launches clearly was intended in part as a riposte to new US sanctions, and the launches implicitly message foreign and domestic audiences of Pyongyang’s defiance, military strength and technological achievements. Second round of rail-mobile KN-23 SRBM launches. On January 14, the Republic of Korea (ROK) reported the launch that afternoon of two SRBMs, 11 minutes apart, from northwest North Korea near China. The missiles reportedly flew about 430 km at an altitude of 36 km and a speed of Mach 6, apparently impacting on an island off North Korea’s east coast. The next day, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) released a brief statement terming the launches “A firing drill for checking and judging the proficiency in the action procedures of the railway-borne missile regiment of North Phyongan Province.” According to the statement, “The regiment received a firepower mission at short notice from the General Staff in the morning on Friday [January 14] before swiftly moving to the firing ground, and precisely struck the set target in the East Sea of Korea with two tactical guided missiles.” The drill reportedly fed into a discussion of how “to set up proper railway-borne missile operating system across the country and to find out ways for further completing our style fighting methods with the railway-borne missiles. The statement was accompanied by photos of a KN-23-type solid-propellant SRBM lifting off from a railcar and of an apparent missile warhead striking an island. Two KN-23s were previously launched from a railcar on September 15, 2021. Fourth round of road-mobile KN-24 SRBM launches. On January 17, South Korea reported that two SRBMs were launched, four minutes apart, from Sunan Airport in Pyongyang. The missiles reportedly flew around 380 km at an altitude of 42 km (Japan reported a 300-km range and 50-km altitude), striking an island off North Korea’s east coast. On January 18, North Korea released a brief statement announcing a “test-fire [that] was aimed to selectively evaluate tactical guided missiles being produced and deployed and to verify the accuracy of the weapon system,” which “precisely hit an island target.” A photo released with the statement, and subsequent photos released on North Korean TV, showed a KN-24 (Hwasong-11Na) solid-propellant SRBM launched from one of two canisters mounted on a tracked road-mobile launcher, and an explosion on an island. Three previous rounds of dual KN-24 launches were conducted on August 10 and 16, 2019, and March 21, 2020. There are several implications to take from these two sets of launches. They include: Continued progress in solid-propellant SRBM deployment. It seems reasonable to take the North Koreans at their word and regard the KN-23 launches as operational training of a deployed rail-mobile missile regiment and the KN-24 launches as accuracy evaluation of a missile type in the process of being deployed. If the rail-mobile KN-23 is operational, then presumably the road-mobile version (with seven successful launches and over 30 years of North Korean experience with road-mobile missiles) is deployed, as well. Continued interest in rail-mobile deployment. This time, the North’s designation of the “railway-borne missile regiment of North Phyongan Province” is an interesting evolution from the use in September 2021 of the singular appellation “the Railway Mobile Missile Regiment.”[4] This would appear consistent with the marker put down in 2021 that the North would discuss “expanding the regiment into [a] brigade,” as well as the January 15 statement’s reference to “set[ting] up proper railway-borne missile operating system across the country.”[5] The latter also leaves open the possibility of using rail-mobility in the future with larger missiles that are harder to transport by road than solid-propellant SRBMs, such as liquid-propellant intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles (IRBMs and ICBMs). Missile guidance methods remain unclear. South Korea seems to confirm both types of missiles hit their intended island targets, although we do not know how close they came to their precise intended aim points on those islands. The level of precision the North is implying in its statements would require some sort of in-flight update and/or terminal guidance. A recent claim that North Korean missiles use satellite updates from the Russian GLONASS system or Chinese BeiDou system (and would not use the US GPS “because of their worries about possible disruption or interference by the US military”) is unsubstantiated. There is, in fact, no direct indication from open sources as to what type of guidance is being used, whether satellite-based or otherwise. Incremental addition to the North’s missile threat. As noted in 38 North’s 2019 discussion of the KN-23 and KN-24, their true contribution to the DPRK missile threat will depend most heavily on how many launchers and missiles of each type are deployed and how accurate the new systems turn out to be. But even if deployed in significant numbers, they will add only incrementally to the longstanding SRBM threat that ROK and US forces have faced for over 25 years. In particular, they would allow North Korea to subject more US and ROK targets to SRBM attacks (particularly more point targets), add to the intensity of attacks, increase the North’s opportunities to tailor particular attacks to particular missile systems and further complicate the task of US and ROK missile defenses. While North Korea continues to show advancements in its missile capabilities, these launches send an implicit political message as well. It is interesting that the North Korean statements about the KN-23 and KN-24 launches were confined to technical and operational matters. That said, the North’s claim that the January 14 afternoon KN-23 launches were ordered that morning—the same day that the DPRK Foreign Ministry issued a statement criticizing US January 12 sanctions against six North Korean individuals for obtaining missile technology and asserting that Pyongyang would not abandon its “just right” to “bolster up the national defence capability”—strongly suggests those launches had a political component.[6] And like most North Korean missile activities, recent launches implicitly message the international community and the North Korean public that Pyongyang is defiant, militarily strong, technologically capable and competently governed. Moreover, North Korea’s recent threat to consider restarting “temporarily-suspended activities” (i.e., long-range missile and/or explosive nuclear testing) suggests missile testing will continue.[7] It remains to be seen whether that will include intermediate-range or intercontinental-range ballistic missiles, or whether the North continues testing only shorter-range missiles as it has since Kim’s December 2019 public renunciation of the unilateral testing moratorium.” (Vann H. Van Diepen, “Implications of North Korea’s January 14 and 17 Shot-Range Ballistic Missile Launches,” 38North, January 25, 2022)


1/19/22:
KCNA: “The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) convened its 6th Meeting of the 8th Central Committee at the office building of the Party Central Committee on January 19 to discuss and decide immediate work and important policy issues of the Party and the state. Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the WPK, was present at the meeting. Attending the meeting were members of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK and members and alternate members of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee. The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un presided over the meeting. The meeting first discussed the issue of celebrating with splendor the 110th birth anniversary of President Kim Il Sung and the 80th birth anniversary of Chairman Kim Jong Il (the Day of the Sun and the Day of the Shining Star). To most auspiciously and significantly celebrate the Day of the Sun and the Day of the Shining Star this significant year is the bounden duty and moral obligation of the descendants of the President and the soldiers and disciples of the Chairman and also the boundless honor and pride of our people who have struggled, remaining faithful to the cause of the President and the Chairman. No holidays are more significant than the Day of the Sun and the Day of the Shining Star for our Party and people struggling to carry forward and accomplish the revolutionary cause of the President and the Chairman under the uplifted banner of great Kimilsungism-Kimjongilism. The very existence of our dignified Party and state is unthinkable without the immortal exploits left by the President and the Chairman in the glorious course of the Korean revolution. The meeting called for making the Day of the Sun and the Day of the Shining Star this historic year important political occasions of further cementing the firm faith of our people to carry forward and accomplish the revolutionary cause of Juche pioneered and led by the President and the Chairman under the guidance of the Party to the end, and also of demonstrating before the world the high enthusiasm and revolutionary mettle of all the Party members and other people to glorify the decade of Juche 110 as the annals of victors bringing about the overall development of our style socialism. The Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee gave detailed assignments to the organs of the Party and the state to celebrate with splendor the 110th birth anniversary of the President and the 80th birth anniversary of the Chairman as the great festivals of victory and glory to shine long in the annals of the country. The meeting adopted a resolution of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee “On celebrating with splendor the 110th birth anniversary of the Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung and the 80th birth anniversary of the Great Leader Comrade Kim Jong Il”. The meeting heard a report analyzing the current situation around the Korean peninsula and a series of international issues and discussed the orientation for countermeasures against the U.S. for the future. Also communicated to the participants were the U.S. recent moves of recklessly faulting for no reason the DPRK’s legitimate exercise of sovereignty. In the last few years alone after the DPRK-U.S. summits the U.S. held hundreds of joint war drills which it committed itself to stop and conducted tests of all kinds of strategic weapons, while shipping ultra-modern attack means into south Korea and nuclear strategic weapons into the region around the Korean peninsula, seriously threatening the security of our state. The U.S. viciously slurred our state and committed the foolish act of taking over 20 independent sanctions measures. Especially the present U.S. administration persists in maneuvers to deprive the DPRK of its right to self-defense. All the facts clearly prove once again that the hostile policy towards the DPRK will exist in the future, too as long as there is the hostile entity of U.S. imperialism. Assessing that the hostile policy and military threat by the U.S. have reached a danger line that cannot be overlooked any more despite our sincere efforts for maintaining the general tide for relaxation of tension in the Korean peninsula since the DPRK-U.S. summit in Singapore, the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee unanimously recognized that we should make more thorough preparation for a long-term confrontation with the U.S. imperialism. It concluded to take a practical action to more reliably and effectively increase our physical strength for defending the dignity, sovereign rights and interests of our state. The meeting of the Political Bureau reassigned the policy tasks for the national defense to immediately bolster more powerful physical means which can efficiently control the hostile moves of the U.S. against the DPRK getting ever more serious day by day. It gave an instruction to a sector concerned to reconsider in an overall scale the trust-building measures that we took on our own initiative on a preferential ground and to promptly examine the issue of restarting all temporarily-suspended activities. The decision of the meeting is a timely and rightful step for reliably guaranteeing the existence and sovereign rights of our state in view of the urgent requirements of the developing revolution and under the prevailing situation. The meeting fully demonstrated the revolutionary will and indomitable spirit of the WPK to uphold President Kim Il Sung and Chairman Kim Jong Il, who are the eternal sun of Juche and sacred image of socialist Korea, in high esteem forever and to build an independent and dignified powerful country on this land without fail.” (KCNA, “6th Political Bureau Meeting of 8th C.C., WPK Held,” January 20, 2022)

A New York court has ruled that the family of deceased American student Otto Warmbier, who was detained in North Korea, should be awarded more than $240,000 to be seized from the secretive state’s assets. His parents sued North Korea over their son’s death. In 2018, Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that North Korea was liable for $501 million in damages, adding that the award was “appropriate to punish and deter North Korea” for the “torture, hostage taking and extrajudicial killing of Otto Warmbier.” North Korea ignored the order. Last week, the Northern District Court of New York approved a seizure of funds from the country’s Korea Kwangson Banking Corp. (KKBC) on January 12, in an “unopposed motion” after both North Korea and the bank failed to respond to court orders and notices — including those filed at North Korea’s mission to the United Nations in New York. The latest missed deadline was Jan. 10, the court documents showed. “Neither North Korea nor KKBC has appeared in this action or filed any objections or responses to the petition for turnover within the applicable time periods,” Judge Lawrence Kahn said in the order. The court found that the bank was an agent of the North Korean state and directed New York’s Office of the State Comptroller to turn over the funds in its possession to Otto Warmbier’s estate “on a final basis.” The New York court’s ruling comes as plaintiffs in South Korea and Japan are pursuing similar legal avenues to hold North Korea liable for damages. In South Korea, former prisoners of war who escaped the North are seeking damages that would be paid with money held in an inter-Korean cooperation fund, which holds copyright fees collected on behalf of North Korean broadcasters. Two days ago, a South Korean court ruled that the judgment could not be enforced against the fund, and the case is now headed to an appeal. In Japan, a group of ethnic Korean residents are suing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, claiming violations of their human rights when they participated in a repatriation program to North Korea that ran from 1959 to 1984. The plaintiffs were among thousands of ethnic Koreans living in Japan who moved to North Korea, and they accuse the regime of “false advertising” about living conditions there. The plaintiffs are among those who subsequently managed to defect, fleeing to Japan or South Korea. A judgment in the case is expected this spring. (Adela Suliman and Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Washington Post, January 19, 2022)


1/25/22:
North Korea seems to have test-fired at least two cruise missiles from an inland area, a South Korean official said, in what would be Pyongyang’s fifth known round of missile launches this year. “We still need to conduct a detailed analysis (on the launches),” the military official told reporters on condition of anonymity. “But I want to say that should such a missile be launched southward, our detection and interception systems have no problem countering it.” The official did not offer details, including origins and targets. The North conducted the last known test of a cruise missile in September last year. At the time, it claimed to have fired a “new-type long-range cruise missile,” calling it a “strategic weapon of great significance.” A cruise missile test does not run afoul of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning any launch using ballistic missile technology. (Song Sang-ho, “North Korea Fires Two Apparent Cruise Missiles from Land: Seoul Official,” Yonhap, January 25, 2022)


1/26/22:
KCNA: “The Academy of Defense Science of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conducted the test-fire for updating long-range cruise missile system and the test-fire for confirming the power of conventional warhead for surface-to-surface tactical guided missile on Tuesday and Thursday respectively. Officials of the Department of the Munitions Industry of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and leading officials of the Academy of Defense Science guided the important weapon tests in field. In the test-fire for updating the long-range cruise missile system conducted on Tuesday, two long-range cruise missiles flew for 9 137 s along the flight trajectory over the East Sea of Korea to hit the target island 1 800 km away. The practical combat performance of the long-range cruise missile system would hold a reliable share in boosting the war deterrence of the country. In the test-fire for confirming the power of conventional warhead for the surface-to-surface tactical guided missile conducted on Thursday, two tactical guided missiles precisely hit the target island, proving that the explosive power of the conventional warhead complied with the design requirements. The Academy of Defense Science clarified that the missile warhead institute under it will keep developing powerful warheads capable of performing combat function and mission. The results of the successful test-fires of the weapon systems were reported to the WPK Central Committee to be highly appreciated.” (KCNA, “Academy of Defense Science Conducts Important Weapons Tests,” January 28, 2022)

Panda: “ … Though neither the cruise nor tactical missiles demonstrate substantial qualitative improvements over previously demonstrated capabilities, both of this week’s tests underscore steady developmental progress in North Korea’s cruise and ballistic missile programs. The spate of missile tests this month — and the particular focus on operational training — could reflect a deliberate substitution of regular wintertime army training exercises with missile tests. The new “long-distance cruise missile” tested this week appears to have a subtly different design than the cruise missile tested in September 2021, though they are largely based on the same underlying technology. Both are subsonic systems with a prominent air inlet for the turbofan engine and both make use of a similar transporter-erector-launcher. The design of the air inlet varies slightly between the two missiles, with the September 2021 cruise missile featuring a semi-conical inlet compared to a trapezoidal inlet on the January 2022 missile. New cruise missiles were one of the priorities Kim Jong Un identified at the Eighth Party Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) back in Jan. 2021. North Korea’s September cruise missile test demonstrated for the first time a cruise missile capable of ranging more than 1,000 kilometers. The assessed distance of that test was not independently confirmed by South Korean and Japanese authorities, who may have had difficulties tracking the low-flying cruise missiles. The most prominent visual difference between last year’s test and this most recent one is in the external paint scheme. The September 2021 cruise missile featured a black-dominant scheme, with a white warhead section, while Tuesday’s cruise missile is largely white-dominant, with a black warhead section and a checkerboard trim that can help study missile acceleration with video footage. Both paint schemes appeared at the October 2021 “Self-Defense” Expo in Pyongyang, suggesting that these may be two cruise missile variants based on the same fundamental turbofan engine. The latest cruise missiles, per North Korea’s own claims, “made a flight for 9,137 seconds along the set flight orbit on the East Sea of Korea and hit the target island 1,800 kilometers away.” That translates to a total flight time of 2 hours and 32 minutes. The Sept. 2021 cruise missile was reported to have flown for 2 hours and 6 minutes, covering 1,500 kilometers. The word “strategic,” which North Korea often uses to describe missile systems designated for nuclear weapons delivery, does not appear in the statement concerning the latest cruise missile. This raises the possibility that the differences between these two cruise missiles may be internal. To potentially accommodate a nuclear warhead, the Sept. 2021 cruise missile may have a small fuel load. The January 2022 variant could be intended for smaller conventional warheads with additional fuel. This is speculative, but could explain the apparent difference — particularly the claimed differences in flight time. Different warhead loadouts and fuel section lengths would also affect the handling of the missile in flight. North Korea’s state media report on the latest test complicates matters further by noting that the Jan. 2022 test focused on “updating” the “long-distance cruise missile,” suggesting that the newer missile could be a meaningful qualitative advancement. The balance of evidence, however, appears to point to two prototype long-range cruise missiles, either as part of an iterative prototyping process or as two separate variants. The January 27 test of two short-range ballistic missiles appears to have involved KN23-type short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), according to images released by North Korea. This marked the second test of KN23 SRBMs this month, including the “surprise” drill involving a rail-mobile missile unit on January 14. The KN23 is now among North Korea’s most frequently launched ballistic missile systems and has no known in-flight failures. The January 27 test was notable for featuring a particularly punishing trajectory for the KN23. The launched missiles covered 190 kilometers at an apogee of 20 kilometers, an unusually depressed trajectory. Depressed trajectories have the advantage of considerably reducing the total flight time and, as a result, the time-to-target of a given ballistic missile, but at the cost of significantly increasing the aerodynamic stresses and thermal load on the missile’s airframe or reentry vehicle. Because the KN23 is what’s known as a non-separating or “unitary” missile, the missile’s entire airframe undergoes these stresses. In one image of the latest tests released by North Korea, a KN23 is seen in its terminal flight phase, moments from striking Alsom Island, a frequently used target island by North Korea in missile testing. In the image, the KN23 is seen glowing bright orange, indicating a tremendous amount of thermal load on the missile’s airframe. The flight time for such a test should be on the order of about one minute; in a wartime scenario, such a trajectory would offer no useful warning to South Korea or the United States, even if they detected the initial launch using space-based assets. The test represents not only the shortest-range flight to date of the KN23, but the first to incorporate what appears to be a new conventional warhead. Based on the images released, the conventional warhead in these KN23 tests appears to have been detonated in the air, which could suggest the implementation of a new fuze in addition to a new warhead design. Conventional explosive air bursts are generally used against lightly armored targets, including infantry, because they better disperse the explosive energy over a greater range, at the expense of energy imparted against the surface aimpoint. For the destruction of structures, ground bursts are preferable. The Academy of Defense Science noted in its statement on this test that “its missile warhead research institute will, in the future, too, continue to develop powerful warheads capable of performing different combat functions and missions.” We should expect further missile testing to continue. These tests could reveal new capabilities related to North Korean short-range ballistic missiles, conventional warheads and possible submunitions.” (Ankit Panda, “North Korea’s New Missiles Create Headaches for U.S. Defense Systems,” NKNews, January 28, 2022)

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on today in its sixth missile test this month, the South Korean military said. The two missiles flew 118 miles after they were fired from Hamhung, a port city on the North’s east coast, according to the South Korean military, which said its analysts were studying the trajectory and other flight data to help determine the types of missiles launched. The latest flurry of missile tests suggests that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, is both pushing ahead with his program of modernizing his country’s missile forces and trying to jolt the Biden administration out of its diplomatic slumber and force Washington to engage with North Korea on Kim’s terms. The Biden administration has so far taken no real steps to entice Kim, other than proposing talks “without preconditions,” a lukewarm entreaty that North Korea has rebuffed. Amid the latest series of missile tests, Washington has again urged North Korea for talks. “We have made it very clear to Pyongyang,” Mark Lambert, the United States’ deputy assistant secretary of state for Japan and Korea, said today. “We will go anywhere. We will talk about anything. There are no reservations we have.” “We have to have a serious discussion about the denuclearization of North Korea, and if North Korea is willing to do that, all sorts of promising things can happen,” he said. North Korea’s latest launch came amid reports that its internet service appeared to have been hit by a second wave of outages in as many weeks, possibly caused by a so-called distributed denial-of-service cyberattack. (Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Launches 2 Missiles, New York Times, January 27, 2022 p. A-8)

President Joe Biden nominated a former sanctions enforcer to be his first ambassador to South Korea, but it is too early to predict if the United States will return to a hardline stance against North Korea, according to diplomatic observers. According to diplomatic sources, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Philip Goldberg has been tapped to head the U.S. Embassy in Seoul and the South Korean government is now said to be in the process of granting an agrement, which refers to a state approval of accepting a member of a diplomatic mission from a foreign country.

Since the last U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Harry Harris, resigned and left the country on January 20, 2021, the post has remained unfilled, with U.S. Charge d’Affaires to Korea Christopher Del Corso currently serving as acting ambassador. News of Goldberg’s nomination have fueled speculation in South Korea that the U.S. government will adopt a hardline policy toward Pyongyang, which has refused to return to the negotiating table and continued instead to test-fire ballistic missiles in a show of force. Such speculation is based on his past career as the coordinator for the implementation of United Nations (U.N.) sanctions on North Korea under the Barack Obama administration. “I think the Biden administration has nominated a big shot among Career Ambassadors, the State Department’s highest diplomatic rank, given his past overseas assignments, but given that his one-year tenure from 2009 to 2010 as coordinator for implementation of U.N. sanctions on North Korea, I think it is hasty to jump to conclusions that the U.S. will increase sanctions pressure on the North,” said Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University. “Considering his past career, including three ambassadorial posts in Bolivia, the Philippines and Colombia, he has a good understanding of the key U.S. foreign policy principles and in this regard, he is a good fit to effectively deal with U.S. strategic competition with China, which is a greater interest to Washington, as well as North Korea’s nuclear issue.” Shin Beom-chul, director of the Center for Diplomacy and Security at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, presented a similar view. “Considering South Korea’s status in East Asian security, the U.S. has decided to send a career diplomat, who is well versed in the situation on the Korean Peninsula. However, it’s going too far to say the U.S. will be hawkish on North Korea because Goldberg served as a sanctions enforcer,” Shin said. “Usually, career diplomats tend to stick to the stance of a current administration, so we need to refrain from predicating that the new ambassador would be a hardliner on North Korea.” However, Shin added that the Biden administration may have picked him in consideration of additional sanctions on North Korea in the event of the Kim Jong-un regime ramping up the magnitude of its provocative actions. (Kang Seung-woo, “Goldberg Pick Harbinger of U.S.’ Hawkish Policy?” Korea Times, January 27, 2022)


1/30/22:
KCNA: “The evaluation test-fire of Hwasong 12-type ground-to-ground intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile was conducted Sunday under a plan of the Academy of Defense Science, the Second Economy Commission and other institutions concerned. The test-fire was aimed to selectively evaluate the missile being produced and deployed and to verify the overall accuracy of the weapon system. It was conducted by the highest-angle launch system from the northwestern part of the country toward the waters of the East Sea of Korea in consideration of the security of neighboring countries. The Academy made public the earth image data taken from space by a camera installed at the missile warhead. It confirmed the accuracy, security and effectiveness of the operation of the Hwasong 12-type weapon system under production.” (KCNA, “Test-Fire of Hwasung12-Type Ground-to-Ground Intermediate- and Long-Range Ballistic Missile Held,” January 31, 2022)

North Korea today carried out what appeared to be its boldest ballistic missile test in years, raising the stakes in a flurry of launches that analysts said were meant to put pressure on President Biden. The missile was launched at 7:52 a.m. from the North Korean province of Jagang, which borders China, and flew across the North before falling into the sea off the country’s east coast, the South Korean military said. It was the North’s seventh missile test this month. The office of South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, called the projectile an intermediate-range ballistic missile and condemned the test as a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. Flight data suggested it was the North’s most powerful launch since November 2017, when it tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that flew much higher. “If it’s an intermediate-range ballistic missile that they launched, it means that North Korea has come close to abandoning its moratorium,” Moon said at a meeting of his National Security Council, which he convened in response to today’s launch, his office said. “North Korea must stop raising tensions and pressure and accept offers from South Korea and the United States to restart dialogue,” he said. North Korea appears to have carried out more missile tests in January than in any month since Kim came to power a decade ago. The launch on Sunday was its third in the last week. Moon and South Korean analysts said the recent tests reminded them of 2017. That year, the first of Trump’s presidency, the North steadily escalated its weapons tests, from short-range missile launches to intermediate-range ballistic missile tests. Eventually, it tested three ICBMs and what it said was a hydrogen bomb. “It has been the same cycle repeating itself: North Korean provocations, followed by a round of negotiations and their collapse and a pause in diplomacy,” said Cheon Seong-whun, a former head of the Korea Institute for National Unification, a government-funded research institute in Seoul. “North Korea is now starting the cycle all over again, raising tensions with missile provocations.” “Its goal is to make the United States and its allies accept its nuclear arsenal as a fait accompli,” he said. The last time North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile was in September 2017, when it tested its Hwasong-12 missile. The missile launched today was fired at a steep angle, reaching an altitude of 1,242 miles while covering a distance of 497 miles, South Korean defense officials said. When North Korea tests intermediate- and long-range missiles, it usually launches them at a steep angle. That ensures that they don’t fly over Japan, which would be considered extremely provocative by Tokyo, Washington and their allies. Such missiles could cover much more distance if they were launched at normal ballistic missile trajectories. The flight data from Sunday’s launch was comparable to that of a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile that North Korea launched in May 2017. That missile reached an altitude of 1,310 miles, landing in the sea 480 miles from the launch site. But later that year, North Korea carried out more provocative tests of the same type of missile, launching them on trajectories that sent them over Japan. In those two tests, the missiles flew up to 2,300 miles before landing in the Pacific. That range would enable them to reach American bases on Guam. When the North last tested an ICBM, in 2017, it reached an altitude of 2,796 miles and covered a distance of 596 miles. After that test, North Korea claimed that its ballistic missiles could target parts or all of the continental United States with nuclear warheads. Cheon and other analysts said they did not expect the North to test another ICBM immediately. They said it was likelier to raise tensions gradually, with a series of increasingly provocative moves. Still, Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said it was only “a matter of time” before the North launched another ICBM. “North Korea thinks that Washington is ignoring it despite its recent tests of short-range missiles,” he said. “So it is upping its pressure on Washington, calculating the timing for an ICBM test based on how Washington will respond.” The tests enable the North to upgrade its missile forces while putting more pressure on the Biden administration to come to the table with more favorable terms, analysts said. Professor Yang said the North was likely to keep testing missiles at least through May, when whoever wins South Korea’s presidential election in March will take office. “It will create an extreme situation before switching to a new phase of diplomacy with Washington and the new government in Seoul,” he said. (Choe San-hun, “North Korea’s Latest Missile Test Seems Its Boldest in Years,” New York Times, January 30, 2022)

Van Diepen: “On January 30, North Korea conducted its seventh round of missile testing this year and its first launch of the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) since 2017. It deliberately understated the recent launch by not overflying Japan; it also emphasized the technical and operational aspects of the test in its state media reporting rather than engaging in threatening political messaging, unlike the two 2017 launches. Nonetheless, the launch is important for North Korea’s missile force in two key ways. First, the continued success in Hwasong-12 launches and the North’s characterization of the missile as being on the cusp of, if not already at series production and operational deployment, underscore that IRBMs are a solid and enduring part of the North Korean ballistic missile threat landscape. Second, the resumption of IRBM launches makes it more likely that the first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch in over four years will be occurring soon, reflecting a likely North Korean judgment that the benefits from resuming ICBM launches have increased and the costs are bearable. South Korea and Japan reported that North Korea launched an IRBM on January 30, flying into the East Sea/Sea of Japan on a highly-lofted trajectory with a range of 800 km and an altitude/apogee of 2,000 km. The next day, a North Korean media report confirmed the state had conducted an “evaluation test-fire of Hwasong 12-type ground-to-ground intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile.”According to the report, “The test-fire was aimed to selectively evaluate the missile being produced and deployed and to verify the overall accuracy of the weapon system,” and the launch “was conducted by the highest-angle launch system … in consideration of the security of neighboring countries.” The launch reportedly “confirmed the accuracy, security and effectiveness of the operation of the Hwasong 12-type weapon system under production.” The statement was accompanied by photographs of a Hwasong-12 IRBM lifting off from a road-mobile launcher, the missile in the early boost phase and four photos said to be from “the earth image data taken from space by a camera installed at the missile warhead.” This is the first launch of the Hwasong-12 since September 2017 and the seventh overall since the system’s first known flight in April 2017. This launch also is the fourth consecutive apparently successful launch of the system after the first three launches failed at various points in flight. Some key points to take away from this test include: Missile is apparently unchanged. There are no apparent visible differences between the missile in the photos from the latest launch and photos of the Hwasong-12 from 2017.The North Koreans did not mention any modifications, or anything about the “ampoulization” of the Hwasong-12 booster, as they had for the three “hypersonic missiles” tested in September 2021 and January 2022 that used a scaled-down Hwasong-12 booster. (“Ampoulization” apparently refers to preloading the missiles with liquid propellants at the factory and maintaining the fueled missile as a sealed unit for loading into the launcher.) Whether the Hwasong-12 is “ampoulized” or not, it uses the same storable liquid propellants as the “hypersonic missiles” (and the North’s liquid-propellant ICBMs) that inherently permit such missiles to be maintained pre-fueled and launch-ready for years. Lofted trajectory shows longer range. The trajectory flown in the latest launch is very similar to that in the May 2017 test, which prevented the missile from overflying Japan—presumably one of the “neighboring countries” the North said it took into consideration in choosing that flight path. In its two previous flights in August and September 2017, the missile overflew Japan to ranges of 2,700 and 3,700 km, respectively. These flights were the only launches of a North Korean IRBM or ICBM on an operationally realistic trajectory; all others—including all ICBMs—have been highly lofted. Based on the missile’s performance on January 30, it is estimated the Hwasong-12 could have flown on a lower trajectory to a range of some 4,300 to 4,500 km, making it able to reach Guam (as well as all of Taiwan and the Philippines, and of course, all of Japan and South Korea) from any point in North Korea. From northeast North Korea, the IRBM could reach the southwest end of the Aleutian Islands, including the missile tracking radar on Shemya Island. Series production and deployment ready or ongoing. North Korea’s characterization of the January 30 launch as an “evaluation test-fire … to selectively evaluate the missile being produced and deployed and to verify the overall accuracy” implies that the Hwasong-12 is already deployed/operational or is in the process of being deployed, and that the missile is in series production or just ready to begin such production. Interestingly, North Korea did not portray the launch as troop training for an operationally deployed unit, as it did for the January 14 launch of two rail-mobile KN-23 short-range ballistic missiles. Another technical, not political, announcement. The North Korean statement on the Hwasong-12 launch was devoid of policy/political content, sticking instead to technical matters. While this is very different from the North’s reporting of the 2017 IRBM launches, which were pointedly directed at the US threat, it is consistent with North Korean reporting of the other six missile launches conducted this year. Implications The January 30 Hwasong-12 launch has two important direct implications for North Korea’s ballistic missile force: North Korean IRBMs an enduring part of the force. The apparent success of the January 30 launch and its reported deployment status underscore that IRBMs are a solid and enduring part of the North Korean ballistic missile threat landscape. No longer being portrayed as a political messaging tool, the Hwasong-12 has a compelling military reason to exist: posing a deterrent threat to US territory and having the ability to disrupt bases in Guam (as well as the Philippines and farther-flung reaches of Japan) that could support US operations against North Korea. Moreover, the North is likely to continue to improve its IRBMs in the future. The Hwasong-12 poses a nuclear threat for now, but North Korea may at some point improve its missile guidance technology sufficiently to permit a viable conventional capability at IRBM range as well, allowing it to disrupt US operations on Guam during the conventional phase of a war. The North might even decide to develop the ability to deploy a few IRBMs with maneuvering reentry vehicles (MaRVs) to help suppress US missile defenses on Guam or even the Shemya radar. The Hwasong-12 also is a good candidate for rail-mobile deployment, with which the North is gaining experience using the KN-23, and a future solid-propellant IRBM would provide operational advantages. ICBM testing is more likely. A case can be made either way that launching an IRBM (as opposed to an ICBM) breached the limits on long-range missile flights Pyongyang imposed on itself in April 2018, and that it renounced in December 2019 and “reconsidered” breaching on January 19, 2022. Whether that Rubicon has already been crossed or not, the resumption of IRBM launches after over four years increases the likelihood that an ICBM launch will be occurring soon. After over four years, and as underscored by the IRBM launch, the North probably now sees refraining from ICBM testing as imposing greater costs and providing fewer benefits than it has in recent years. North Korea probably regarded the two successful Hwasong-14 and one successful Hwasong-15 tests in 2017 as yielding an ICBM threat sufficiently credible and reliable to meet its objectives without further flight testing for some time. After four years without flight-testing, however, the credibility of that threat has objectively declined. North Korea’s push since the fall of 2021 to demonstrate that its missile force is technically capable and operationally credible is consistent with likely a desire to resume also fuels a desire to resume ICBM testing. Moreover, resumed flight testing is necessary to realize a number of follow-on ICBM developments that North Korea has revealed or committed itself to, including the new large road-mobile ICBM it paraded in October 2020, the solid-propellant ICBMs Kim Jong Un sought to “push ahead with the development of” in his report to the January 2021 Eighth Party Congress, and ICBMs with multiple warheads (highlighted in that same report) or even “hypersonic” payloads like the North has been testing on medium-range ballistic missiles. The US attitude toward North Korea has worsened since the advent of the launch hiatus, with no near-term prospect of improving, and US and UN sanctions have persisted. Having survived almost five years of US “maximum pressure,” as well as two years of self-imposed isolation due to the COVID pandemic, Pyongyang may not see resumed ICBM launches as resulting in appreciable additional economic costs. It also may regard worsening US relations with China and Russia over the past few years as reducing the likelihood those countries would permit the substantial increases in UN sanctions needed meaningfully to add to the already “maximum” pressure from US unilateral sanctions. (Vann H. Van Diepen, “Understated but Still Important: North Korea’s First IRBM Test Since 2017,” 38North, February 4, 2022)


2/4/22:
China’s UN ambassador has called on the United States to be more flexible in its dealings with North Korea, as Beijing joined others to scrap a U.S.-drafted Security Council joint statement condemning Pyongyang’s recent missile launches, according to diplomats. Washington had proposed a statement decrying those launches, but China and Russia, along with other nations, refused to sign on to it, the diplomats told AFP today. “If they do want to see some new breakthrough, they should show more sincerity and flexibility,” China’s ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, said of U.S. officials ahead of a closed-door meeting convened at Washington’s request on North Korea. “They should come up with more attractive and more practical, more flexible approaches, policies and actions and accommodating the concerns of the DPRK,” Zhang told reporters. “What I see is the key in solving this issue is already in the hands of the United States.” The Chinese official noted that as a result of former President Donald Trump’s policy on North Korea, Pyongyang had suspended nuclear tests and international ballistic missile launches. However, in recent months, Zhang lamented, “we have seen a vicious circle of confrontation, condemnation, sanctions.” China and Russia have been blocking UN Security Council action on North Korea, and last year proposed a resolution that would ease sanctions on Pyongyang on humanitarian grounds, but the draft has not been put to a vote due to lack of support. “At least we are doing something to facilitate further improvement and avoiding the escalation of the tension,” Zhang said. After the meeting, the U.S. envoy to the world body, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the Chinese-Russian proposal to ease sanctions would effectively reward North Korea for what she called “bad behavior.” “There’s no reason for this Council to reward them for nine tests in one month and almost as many in the previous years,” she told reporters. “To spend millions of dollars on military tests when your people are starving indicates that this country does not care about its own people.” Today’s meeting on North Korea was the third in the space of a month. In the last one, on January 20, eight Council members—Albania, Brazil, the United Kingdom, France, Ireland, Norway, the United Arab Emirates and the United States—along with Japan released a joint statement condemning the North’s tests. The other seven Council members—China, Gabon, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mexico and Russia—refused to sign on. Today, those same eight countries and Japan, again led by Washington, issued a new statement reiterating a call for North Korea to “cease its destabilizing actions and return to dialogue.” “We continue to urge the DPRK to respond positively to the offers from the United States and others to meet without preconditions,” it said. The statement also called out the other members of the Security Council, saying the “cost of the Council’s ongoing silence is too high.” (AFP, “China Urges ‘Flexibility’ amid U.S. Rebuke,” Al Jazeera, February 5, 2022)


2/7/22:
In a report published today, a team of analysts at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said they had located an underground, regiment-size military base used for housing North Korean ICBMs just 15 miles from the border with China. The location, the analysts say, was chosen to deter pre-emptive strikes from the United States against North Korea’s most important weapons as the country to continues to expand and modernize its arsenal. “As best as can be determined from satellite imagery, informed sources, and what little data is available, the base is ready to receive an operational ICBM unit,” said the report. North Korea is not expected to do any new missile tests in February, possibly out of deference to its ally China, which is hosting the Winter Olympics in Beijing this month. But observers fear the provocations will intensify once the Games are over and North Korea seeks to prod the Biden administration to resume stalled negotiations. “North Korea will likely escalate pressure on the United States by taking a series of steps toward an ICBM test,” said Cheon Seong-whun, a former head of the Korea Institute for National Unification, a government-funded research institute in Seoul. Should Kim launch an ICBM this year, it would most likely be from vehicles housed in a base such as Hoejung-ni, the facility identified in the report. Though it is unclear if Hoejung-ni is fully operational, most analysts believe a North Korean ICBM would be launched from a similarly concealed military installation. Hoejung-ni is the second possible ICBM base in North Korea that CSIS analysts have identified. Yusang-ni, a base 39 miles northeast of Pyongyang, the capital, was identified in 2019. “The position near the Chinese border acts as a potential deterrent to a pre-emptive strike that might impinge on Chinese security equities,” said Victor Cha, a senior vice president and North Korea expert at the CSIS. The location also allows Pyongyang to keep its most prized weapons far from South Korea’s stealth jets and conventional missiles, the range and destructive power of which have increased in recent years to target the underground facilities. Building activities at Hoejung-ni and the nearby Yeongjeo-dong facility were first reported in 2018. But the new report claims to be the first to confirm Hoejung-ni as an ICBM base. The researchers also used new satellite imagery to provide updated details on entrances to the underground facilities, support buildings and hardened drive-through concrete shelters where missiles are armed and fueled. “North Korea doesn’t have a strong air force or air defense system, so the best way for the country to protect its missiles is to conceal them in underground facilities,” said Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense Security Forum in Seoul. “When it launches missiles, its launcher vehicles will spread out from these bases to their launching positions.” South Korea said the North’s Strategic Force command has added four regiments since 2018, for a total of 13. All four — including one based in Hoejung-ni — were reported to be located near the border with China. The location of Pyongyang’s nuclear missiles is among the most tightly guarded secrets within the North Korean military. “An underground facility in North Korea is so tightly guarded that soldiers who work there can have access to their assigned area only, so it’s extremely hard to get a blueprint of the place,” Maj. Park Sung-man, an officer at the South Korean Army’s Special Warfare Command, said in a paper published in 2015. What little data that is available on North Korea’s weapons development can come from unexpected sources. In April 2019, a pro-North Korean website boasted that nuclear missiles launched from train cars rolling out of tunnels — like in the old Soviet Union — would be another potent addition to the North’s growing arsenal. In a first, the country launched two missiles from a train car last September and another pair last month. North Korea is crisscrossed with rail lines going through numerous tunnels that provide cover from spy satellites. While most of the country’s rail lines are electric, its military railways run diesel locomotives. The country recently switched from electricity to diesel engines to power the Haesan-Manpo railway, a 156-mile rail line that runs near the border with China, according to the pro-North Korean website. The Haesan-Manpo line goes straight through Hoejung-ni. (Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Build a Base Near China to Store ICBMs,” New York Times, February 8, 2022, p. A-8)


2/8/22:
DPRK MOFA: “The entities carrying the mighty power of the DPRK soared into the sky one after another with the blasts of the Juche-oriented weapons rending the heavens and their flames blazing down the earth. The winter is still bitingly cold. But the hearts of all our people along with the ones of the world progressive humankind are much more warmed up by the hot wave of passion.

That is probably due to the fact that their hearts are overflowing with the pride and confidence of being a citizen of Juche Korea which is moving forward in the front row of the world powers.

From the outset of the New Year, remarkable successes have been achieved in the sacred historic work to remarkably strengthen the war deterrent of our state. These include series of successes from test launch of hypersonic missile to the evaluation test-fire of Hwasong 12-type ground-to-ground intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile. Herein lies the real profound significance that it represents the historic and heroic deed of demonstrating once again to the world the steadfast will of respected Comrade Kim Jong Un who said that he will not show a slightest pardon or mercy to those who hurt the dignity of our people even a bit. There are more than 200 countries in the world, but only a few countries possess even H-bomb, ICBM and hypersonic missile. Moreover, today’s world finds many countries which are reading the U.S. face and are wasting time submitting to and blindly following it. But only our state on earth stands against the U.S. saying whatever it wants to say, and sets the world atremble with a seismic amplitude from the missile test, putting the U.S. mainland in the firing range. Now, the mass media of the whole world are competing to report the tests of the powerful missiles launched by our country. In particular, when we conducted the test-launch of hypersonic missile and the evaluation test-fire of Hwasong 12-type, they raised their voices of recognizing surely about our great military power, saying that “the countries which succeeded in developing hypersonic missiles can be counted on the fingers of one hand” and “north Korea conducted the test of powerful missiles which could strike Guam of the U.S., the major ICBMs of north Korea possess the ability to strike the U.S. mainland as they are in the type of ICBM Hwasong-15 launched in 2017.” All these victories are the immortal feats which can be achieved only by matchless courage and pluck possessed by respected Comrade Kim Jong Un who writes up a new page of the great history of defending genuine justice and peace with the treasured sword of the Juche-oriented nuclear force. From olden times, there is a saying that “Look at the spirit first before you fight.” As we hold in high esteem respected Comrade Kim Jong Un , the ever-victorious brilliant commander whose spirit is good enough to strike terror into the hearts of the huge enemy and drive them into the corner, our fatherland will emerge victorious forever in the future, too.” (DPRK Foreign Ministry, “Great Victory Won y Great Courage and Pluck,” February 8, 2022)

A North Korean official, known for his role in inter-Korean engagement years ago, has emerged as an apparent policymaker on overseas ethnic Korean affairs, Pyongyang’s state media showed today, raising questions over a potential shift in his job. Maeng Kyong-il led a debate on legislating an act aimed at enhancing rights of ethnic Koreans abroad during a session of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), the North’s rubber-stamp parliament, earlier this week, according to Rodong Sinmun. Maeng, currently a vice director of the United Front Department (UFD) in charge of inter-Korean affairs, is said to have played a role in paving the way for a thaw in cross-border ties during the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics in South Korea. During the Winter Games, he reportedly worked with Andrew Kim, then head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Korea Mission Center, to set the stage for rare high-level talks between the two countries. It remains uncertain whether Maeng solely deals with affairs related to ethnic Koreans or his UFD role has broadened to cover the matters. “Now a powerful legal guarantee has been crafted to more widely and actively push for projects for ethic Koreans, including those aimed at further lifting their ethnic pride and patriotic enthusiasm,” he was quoted as saying. The sixth session of the 14th SPA took place in Pyongyang on the past two days. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was not seen joining the session packed with senior ruling party and Cabinet officials. (Yonhap, “N.K. Official, Known for 2018 Cross-Border Thaw, Appears to Be Leading Overseas Korean Issues,” Korea Herald, February 8, 2022)

/2/22/22:
Most South Koreans support their country going nuclear, but not necessarily to deter North Korean threats, a new poll released today shows. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 71% of South Koreans support an indigenous nuclear weapons program, and strongly prefer a domestic program compared to stationing U.S. nuclear weapons in their country. The results track with long-standing public support for a nuclear South Korea. However, the latest poll showed less than a quarter of respondents (23%) cited North Korea as the main reason why South Korea should develop the bomb. Instead, 39% of respondents said threats “other than North Korea” justified South Korean nuclear weapons acquisition, with another 26% citing international prestige as the primary driver. “When we look at the numbers among those who support a domestic weapons program and cross-tab those with specific countries identified as current or future threats, there is virtually no difference,” said Karl Friedhoff, a Marshall M. Bouton Fellow for Asia Studies at the Chicago Council and co-author of the study. The poll also found a “growing recognition” in South Korea that China is an increasingly looming threat in the region. A plurality of those polled cited North Korea as the biggest current threat, but over half (56%) said China will take that place in 10 years. But there was little difference in threat perception and support for nuclear weapons, the report shows. “Those that cite North Korea or Japan are just as likely to support a domestic weapons program as are those that identify China as a current or future threat,” Friedhoff explained. “That’s a significant nuance in the data.” A similar poll late last year by Seoul’s Asan Institute also showed significant support for nuclear weapons in South Korea since 2010. Another 2021 survey, from the government-affiliated Korea Institute for National Unification, also found a broad majority favored nuclear weapons—but not if this meant ending the presence of United States Forces Korea (USFK). While these findings align with more conventional takes on alliance politics, the Chicago Council poll found a positive association between trust in U.S. defense commitments and support for nuclear weapons “contrary to beliefs” that concerns over Washington’s commitment to the alliance is the principal driver of South Korea’s views on nuclear acquisition. “That suggests to me that many South Koreans see taking responsibility for their own security as an important part of the alliance, and that U.S. messaging trying to discourage such a step [is] not reaching the public,” Friedhoff told NK News. Asked what accounts for the different outcomes in the two surveys, Friedhoff said the Chicago Council and KINU polls asked “fundamentally two different questions,” with KINU framing nuclear weapons and USFK as a “direct trade-off” rather than two separate variables. Regardless, support for the U.S.-ROK alliance remains high in the South, with over 93% of respondents saying they support the alliance regardless of their armament preferences, according to the KINU survey. Though support for nuclear weapons abounds on both sides of the political aisle in South Korea, Friedhoff cautioned against interpreting this as a “call to action.” Indeed, leading presidential candidates Yoon Suk-yeol and Lee Jae-myung have both indicated recently that they won’t pursue a domestic program or a redeployment of U.S. tactical weapons. But the implications of South Korea’s pro-nuclear attitudes may be harder to square in Washington, Friedhoff said. “For the Biden administration, and future U.S. administrations, it looks like walking a fine line. How do you tell an ally they have full U.S. support, without the public seeing that as a free-hand to pursue all avenues for their own defense?” (Arius Derr, “China, Not North Korea, Driving Major South Korean Support for Nukes: Poll,” NKNews, February 22, 2022)


2/23/22:
South Korea today test-fired a long-range surface-to-air missile, Yonhap reported, a month after North Korea tested a record number of increasingly powerful missiles potentially capable of evading defenses in the South. An L-SAM was successfully launched from a testing site in Taean, 150 km (90 miles) southwest of the capital Seoul, Yonhap reported, citing unnamed sources. The Ministry of Defense declined to confirm the report. The L-SAM is a “cutting-edge indigenous weapon system” currently under development to defend against missiles or other high-flying threats, according to South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development. Plans call for it to target incoming missiles at altitudes of around 50-60 kilometers (30-37 miles), and it is due to become operational by 2026. Yonhap said Wednesday’s test raised the prospect that its deployment could be accelerated. The L-SAM is designed to be part of a “layered defense network” that already includes U.S.-made Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles and locally produced Cheongung II KM-SAM medium-range weapons, capable of intercepting targets at varying altitudes and ranges. Seoul plans to produce a $2.6 billion artillery interception system, similar to Israel’s “Iron Dome”, designed to protect against North Korea’s arsenal of long-range guns and rockets. Seoul is looking as well into exporting some of its latest missile interceptors. It inked its largest defense sale ever in January with the export of KM-SAM to the United Arab Emirates in a deal valued at around $3.5 billion. (Josh Smith, “S. Korea Tests Missile Interceptor a Month After N. Korean Launches,” Reuters, February 23, 2022)


2/27/22:
KCNA: “The DPRK National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) and the Academy of Defense Science conducted an important test on Sunday under the plan of developing a reconnaissance satellite. The test helped the NADA and the Academy of Defense Science to confirm the characteristics and working accuracy of high definition photographing system, data transmission system and attitude control devices by conducting vertical and oblique photographing of a specific area on earth with cameras to be loaded on the reconnaissance satellite. The test is of great significance in developing the reconnaissance satellite.” (KCNA: “NADA and Academy of Defense Science Conduct Important Test for Developing Reconnaissance Satellite,” February 28, 2022)

North Korea fired a ballistic missile toward the East Sea today, South Korea’s military said, in the recalcitrant regime’s eighth show of force this year. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch from around the Sunan area in Pyongyang at 7:52 a.m., and that the missile flew about 300 kilometers at a top altitude of 620 km. The latest launch, the first in just under a month, came 10 days ahead of South Korea’s presidential election and amid the armed conflict in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion of the country last week. “For other specifics on the missile, the intelligence authorities of Sout h Korea and the United States are conducting a detailed analysis,” the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters. “Our military is tracking and monitoring related (North Korean) movements and maintaining a readiness posture,” it added. The North is presumed to have fired the missile from a Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) at a steep angle from the Sunan airfield, informed sources said, raising speculation it could be a medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM). The missile appears to be similar to the Pukguksong-2 missile, a road-mobile solid-fuel MRBM, known to be the North’s ground-based variant of its submarine-launched ballistic missile, the Pukguksong-1, according to observers. Soon after the latest launch, Seoul’s JCS Chairman Gen. Won In-choul and Gen. Paul LaCamera, the head of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, held video talks and reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring the allies’ “solid” defense posture, the JCS said. The presidential National Security Council convened an emergency standing committee session and expressed “grave regrets” over the launch. The session was presided over by National Security Office Director Suh Hoon. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command condemned the North’s latest missile launch and called on it to refrain from “further destabilizing acts” “While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel, territory or that of our allies, we will continue to monitor the situation, the command said in a press release. “The U.S. commitment to the defense of the ROK and Japan remains ironclad,” it added. (Song Sang-ho and Kang Yoon-seung, “N. Korea Fires 1 Ballistic Missile toward East Sea: S. Korean Military,” Yonhap, February 27, 2022)

North Korea said today it conducted an “important test” for developing a spy satellite, which the country’s leader Kim Jong-un previously pointed to as a key task in its defense development plan. North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said the National Aerospace Development Administration and the Academy of Defense Science “conducted an important test Sunday under the plan of developing a reconnaissance satellite.” The test confirmed the “working accuracy of the high-definition photographing system, data transmission system and attitude (positioning) control devices by conducting vertical and oblique photographing of a specific area on Earth with cameras to be loaded on the reconnaissance satellite.” The state media said the “test is of great significance” in the satellite development process, without providing further details including the type of launch vehicle used for the test. The announcement came a day after South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea launched a “ballistic missile” eastward from the Sunan area in Pyongyang, which flew around 300 kilometers at an altitude of 620 km. Analysts said North Korea may have mounted satellite equipment, including a camera, on a ballistic-missile reentry vehicle. Xu Tianran, an analyst for Open Nuclear Network, said Sunday’s launch could have been aimed at testing a “satellite with a suborbital launch” if the media report is accurate. “Supposedly, the payload could test how it stabilizes itself in space, direct itself to a certain angle to take photos, and send data back,” Xu told Korea Herald. Xu said the media report, albeit independently unverifiable, shows that Pyongyang is serious about “sending a satellite into orbit, using a big rocket,” which “would result in more sanctions.” “In my mind, it is quite rare to use a suborbital launch to test a satellite, because a satellite needs to stay in orbit for a long time. But there are plenty of suborbital launches for different scientific purposes,” Xu said. “So I would not be surprised if they put a test satellite on an MRBM or a bigger rocket for testing purposes —- the DPRK has shown ingenuity in its weapon testing activities.” The development of the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance systems was a key part of North Korea’s five-year defense development plan, which was proposed by the North Korean leader at the Eighth Party Congress in January 2021. Pyongyang also said it will “operate a military reconnaissance satellite in the near future.” But generally, it is hard to confirm the credibility of the report in view of the interchangeability between a space launch vehicle and a missile. The difference is what sits on top — a satellite or a warhead. Against that backdrop, analysts said North Korea could have used the strategy of labeling a missile test as a space satellite launch at a sensitive time, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In addition, the two images of the Korean Peninsula from space, which were released by North Korean state media, are relatively low resolution, with the quality hardly verifiable due to limited information. Cha Du-hyeogn, a principal fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, assessed North Korea’s claim of conducting a test for a reconnaissance satellite as the country’s adjusted behavior amid the Russia-Ukraine crisis. North Korea’s move mainly aims to draw US attention, which has been largely diverted to the war in Ukraine without “overly irritating” the US, Cha said. Cha explained that Pyongyang’s biggest concern would be being relegated in the Biden administration’s foreign policy priorities. “It is probable that North Korea tested a Hwasong-12 or 14 at a medium-high angle, but the country may consider that it would be too provocative to explicitly announce the test at this juncture,” Cha said, adding Pyongyang might have tested a Pukguksong-type missile. “In light of the international political situation, Pyongyang also seeks to justify its test and is more conscious about the international opinion this month, unlike in January,” he continued, adding the country explicitly announced its seven discrete missile launches last month. But simultaneously, Cha said North Korea may set the tone for testing an intercontinental ballistic missile or ICBM for the foreseeable future in the name of space launch activities. Soo Kim, a policy analyst at the Rand Corp., pointed out that the latest test could be seen as a “sign of another satellite launch to come in the near future” as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had pledged at the party congress. “On that note, it could be Kim’s way of telling his audience that he is following through with his plans and keeping his promises,” Soo Kim told The Korea Herald. Kim said North Korea was “simply picking up where it left off” after a one-month temporary pause in testing missiles during the Beijing Olympics. But Pyongyang’s move suggests that the country has been pressing on toward resuming an ICBM test. “I think the gradual progression in North Korea’s missile activities in recent months — notably, its (Hwasong-12) IRBM test late last month — underscored the possibility that the DPRK will abandon its nuclear/ICBM moratorium,” Kim said. “So in this light, today’s missile test is simply the next step in Kim’s continuum of weapons testing. Let’s also remind ourselves that the regime alluded to ending the moratorium, so this could be another question of ‘when’ versus ‘if’ for the rest of us.” “North Korea Says It Conducted ‘Important Test’ for Developing Spy Satellite,” Korea Herald, February 28, 2022)


2/28/22:
DPRK FoMin spokesperson’s answer to the question put by KCNA on February 28, as the U.S. piles up sanctions and pressure against Russia with the Ukrainian crisis as a momentum: “As it became known, the situation of Ukraine is now focusing the attention of the international society. The root cause of the Ukraine crisis totally lies in the hegemonic policy of the U.S. and the West which indulge themselves in high-handedness and arbitrariness towards other countries. The U.S. and the West, in defiance of Russia’s reasonable and just demand to provide it with legal guarantee for security, have systematically undermined the security environment of Europe by becoming more blatant in their attempts to deploy attack weapon system while defiantly pursuing NATO’s eastward expansion. The U.S and the West, having devastated Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, are mouthing phrases about “respect for sovereignty” and “territorial integrity” over the Ukrainian situation which was detonated by themselves. That does not stand to reason at all. The greatest danger the world faces now is high-handedness and arbitrariness by the U.S. and its followers that are shaking international peace and stability at the basis. The reality proves positive once again that peace would never settle on the world at any time as long as there remains the unilateral and double-dealing policy of the U.S. which threatens peace and security of the sovereign state.” (KCNA, “Answer of Spokesperson for Ministry of Foreign Affairs of DPRK,” February 28, 2022)


3/3/22:
Heinonen, Makowsky and Liu: “Recent commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center indicates ongoing production of fissile material—both plutonium and enriched uranium—which is necessary for Kim Jong Un to achieve his stated nuclear development goals, as well as evidence of operations at each of the major facilities around the nuclear research center. Activity has been increasing at Yongbyon over the past few years, especially after the failed Hanoi Summit. New construction of support buildings throughout the complex was started more than a year ago. Last year, activity at the Radiochemical Laboratory (RCL) complex suggested reprocessing was underway, followed by the restarting of the 5 MWe Reactor. These activities, as well as the gradual expansion and evident occupation of personnel housing over the past few years, all suggest that the complex is primed for expansion. The 5 MWe Reactor, which was restarted last summer after a two-year hiatus, appears to still be operating, as evidenced by recent snow melt at the reactor building, adjacent turbine hall and several support buildings. In addition, signatures, such as occasional steam emissions and the steady, warm water discharge into the Kuryong River, have been observed since last year. Despite this period of operations, there are no signs to date of preparations for the first core discharge, such as increased vehicles and activity around the spent fuel storage building. In fact, there is no snow melt on the building roof, suggesting little to no activity is taking place inside. In the past, North Korea has maximized the production of plutonium by running the reactor up to two years before refueling. However, the announced plans to further develop miniaturized nuclear warheads, which requires plutonium with an isotopic composition of more than 95 percent (Pu-239), can best be achieved by shorter irradiation campaigns and partial core replacements. Therefore, instead of a two-year cycle, refueling is likely to be carried out more frequently and can be done without shutting down the reactor. Work continues to complete the ELWR. Snow melt on the roof of the turbine building suggests possible testing activities in the areas that house the secondary cooling systems of the reactor continue. Some cooling test activities were also reported in July 2021. This, together with the construction of the cooling water pump house and electric switchyards, indicate that the reactor might be approaching its inauguration. The Thermal (Steam) Plant, supporting the RCL, operated for about five months last year, suggesting a reprocessing campaign had been carried out. Since then, little activity has been observed at this facility. However, while there have been no signs of preparations for a new reprocessing campaign, imagery does show snow melt on the building that prepares chemicals for the reprocessing plant. This is a normal support activity as chemicals are needed for the plant and its waste storage even when no reprocessing operations are underway. Snow melt is observed on several support buildings for the UEP. In particular, snow melt at the uranium hexafluoride (UF6) feed and withdrawal sections of the plant suggests that the facility is likely operating. Progress made in the construction of the new building remains unclear. The plant converting yellowcake to uranium dioxide (UO2) has operated occasionally during past years. This suggests there has been a steady supply of feed material available for the old Fuel Rod Fabrication Plant, which fabricates fuel after conversion of UO2 to a uranium metal alloy for the 5 MWe Reactor. There appear to be some activities at the possible fabrication plant for the ELWR. However, it is unknown where the required enriched UO2 is obtained. Judging from the size of the plant, it is possible that enriched UF6, obtained, for example, from the UEP, is converted to UO2 at this location. The most recent imagery revealed a snow-blanketed Yongbyon complex, but with clues to ongoing operations. This included snow melt on certain building roofs and snow removal from the roadways, indicating ongoing activity throughout the complex. In particular, snow melt is observed at installations such as the Institute of Radiochemistry and Isotope Production Plant (IPP, or Radioisotope Production Plant), but the scope of the work carried out at these facilities remains unknown. There are also three large buildings under construction in the research and development (R&D) area, one of which may be in operation, while work on the other two is proceeding slowly. At this stage, the activities observed in Yongbyon indicate ongoing fissile material production as well as the groundwork for further expansion. If the ELWR becomes operational, as it appears to be nearing completion, North Korea’s plutonium production capacity could increase substantially. However, this increased production capacity will also require modifications to the RCL to increase its reprocessing capacity. To date, no signs of substantial work in this area have been observed. (Olli Heinonen, Peter Makowsky and Jack Liu, “North Korea’s Nuclear Reactor Center: In Full Swing,” 38North, March 3, 2022)


3/5/22:
Rodong Sinmun: “The DPRK National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) and the Academy of Defense Science conducted another important test on Saturday under the plan of developing a reconnaissance satellite. Through the test, the NADA confirmed the reliability of data transmission and reception system of the satellite, its control command system and various ground-based control systems. (Rodong Sinmun, “NADA and Academy of Defense Science Conducted Another Important Test for Developing Reconnaissance Satellite,” March 6, 2022)

North Korea fired a ballistic missile toward the East Sea today, South Korea’s military said, in the latest flare-up of tensions just four days ahead of the presidential election here. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch from around the Sunan area in Pyongyang at 8:48 a.m. and that the missile flew around 270 kilometers at a top altitude of 560 km. The latest launch, the North’s ninth show of force this year, came less than a week after it claimed to have conducted a “reconnaissance satellite” development test that the South called a ballistic missile launch. “The North’s recent series of ballistic missile launches are a significant threat to not only the international community but also peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters. “We strongly urge the North to immediately stop them.” The North appears to have launched the missile at a steep angle from a Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) from the Sunan airfield, a JCS official said. “For other specifics, the intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are conducting an additional analysis as we leave various possibilities open,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity. Given its range and other details, Saturday’s missile appears to be similar to the one fired also at a steep angle at the Sunan airfield on Feb. 27, the official said. If launched at a standard angle, the missile would have traveled between 1,000 km and 1,200 km — a flight distance for a medium-range ballistic missile, analysts have said. (Song Sang-ho and Kang Yoon-seung, “N. Korea Fires 1 Ballistic Missile toward East Sea: S. Korean Military,” Yonhap, March 5, 2022)

North Korea needs indigenously produced satellites in order to independently acquire imagery and information, Choson Sinbo claimed, saying such capabilities are necessary in its continuing “war” with the U.S. The article comes two days after the DPRK tested “reconnaissance satellite” systems for the second time in a week and while preparations appear ongoing for a major event in Pyongyang. “The domestically produced satellite, which contributes to the DPRK’s bolstering of self-defense power, will … be launched to space at a time and place that the supreme leadership decides,” according to the Choson Sinbo article. “Operating reconnaissance satellites is one of the strategic tasks for developing the national defense industry,” the Choson Sinbo stated, adding that Pyongyang will “continue without fail” to achieve the weapon development goals that Kim Jong Un laid out at the Eighth Party Congress in Jan. 2021. Kim said in the past that the road toward “conquering space” is a fight with “hostile forces” that try to “steal away peace” and sovereign rights, according to the article, which also attempted to justify Pyongyang’s recent satellite-related tests. “The DPRK is still in a state of war with the U.S. — which launched numerous reconnaissance satellites and is thoroughly surveilling various places around the world,” the Chosun Sinbo claimed, adding that depending on others for satellite images creates limitations in acquiring specific information that North Korea wants. (Jeongmin Kim, “North Korean Satellites Will Bolster in ‘War’ with U.S.: Chosun Sinbo,” NKNews, March 7, 2022)

The White House said that North Korea had begun testing a new intercontinental ballistic missile in recent days, and that American forces were putting their missile defense units in Asia in a state of “enhanced readiness” for what they expect will be another launch intended to demonstrate the range of the new missile. In a briefing on March 10, a senior American official told reporters that in a departure from the past, North Korea had tried to hide the nature of the tests, both of which have taken place during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They identified the missile as the same one that the North had rolled through Pyongyang in October 2020. But until recently, it had not been tested. It is not clear whether the tests were timed by Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, to come at a time of maximum distraction in Washington and fear of a broader war in Europe. Whatever the reason, the emergence of a new intercontinental missile, ultimately intended to show that North Korea could reach American cities, adds to the list of simultaneous national security challenges facing President Biden. The White House said the North had “tried to hide these escalatory steps,” suggesting it was not ready to unveil a working version of the missile. While the missiles that were tested recently were designed as intercontinental missiles, the tests themselves were fairly short range. That suggests that components of the missiles were still being tested, and that the United States was trying, with the revelation, to short-circuit a more comprehensive test that might show whether the weapon could reach American shores. The United States, the senior administration official said, shared the intelligence with allies and then revealed the new missile tests — and warned of the possibility of a much larger test, thinly disguised as a space launch — in an effort to raise awareness and begin a rallying call for new sanctions against Kim’s government. Several senior American officials said they believed Kim would also go ahead, in an effort to demonstrate that the new missile could strike the United States or its allies — and to seize attention. Kim visited his country’s space launching station near its northwestern corner, ordering his engineers to expand and modernize the facilities there so that “various rockets could be launched to carry multipurpose satellites, including a military reconnaissance satellite, in the future,” KCNA reported. South Korea’s Defense Ministry said on March 11 that North Korea may test its new ICBM under the disguise of launching a satellite. The two tests conducted over the past 12 days were notable for several reasons. They marked the end of a moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missile tests that has been in place since 2018. Some experts believe that same warhead was part of the tests conducted on February 26 and March 4. But American officials would not answer questions about whether they had determined it was a maneuverable, hypersonic warhead, intended to evade traditional American missile defenses. Reports emanating out of South Korea, along with pictures released by the North Koreans, suggest it was most likely a crude version of a maneuverable vehicle. “This is not like what the Chinese are testing,” said Thomas Karako, who directs the missile defense project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and recently published a report on how to counter such weapons. “It’s at the lower end of the technology scale.” But he noted that American efforts to field missile defenses for such weapons had been slowed in recent months, in part because of budgetary concerns. At the time of its public debut in October 2020 — at a North Korean military parade, as noted by the senior administration official — the weapon made a splash among missile experts. Vann H. Van Diepen, a former weapons analyst in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that October in an analysis that the weapon was a mobile missile that appeared to be up to 85 feet long. A photo showed the missile’s transporter bearing 11 enormous black tires on each side. The two experts judged the missile’s engines to be liquid-fueled and said that if its first stage held four engines, the missile could, “in principle,” deliver up to nearly four tons of payload “to any point in the continental United States.” Its lifting power, they added, would thus be “much greater” than that of the Hwasong-15 — previously North Korea’s most capable ICBM, tested in November 2017. In an interview, Van Diepen said he was surprised at Washington’s characterization of the missile as a new ICBM because it went to peak heights of just 385 and 350 miles, respectively, during its testing on the first and second day this year. In an article, he had characterized it as a medium-range missile. In contrast, the Hwasong-15, on its one and only test flight, flew to a height of 2,780 miles, according to the North Koreans. Van Diepen said that if Washington’s ICBM analysis was correct for the new missile, it had soared far short of its capabilities, perhaps as part of a cautious approach to engine testing. “Maybe it was not fully fueled or they cut off the engines,” he said. Still, if more flight-testing proves it to be the same missile that made its public debut in 2020 during the military parade, Van Diepen said, it would represent a fearsome addition to North Korea’s expanding arsenal. For instance, its vast lifting power in theory would let it loft multiple nuclear warheads at once, greatly increasing its destructive power. “It’s another potential threat to the homeland,” he said. “But they’ve got a way to go” to perfect its hundreds of systems and prove its ability to send a warhead that speeds easily through space and then experiences the jolt of a fiery atmospheric re-entry toward a target on the ground. To date, Van Diepen said, “they haven’t yet tested any ICBM to full range, so by definition they haven’t confirmed that their warheads could survive re-entry.” (David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, “North Korea Has Twice Tested New Intercontinental Missile, U.S. Say,” New York Times, March 11, 2022, p. A-8)


3/7/22:
North Korea is undertaking construction work at its main nuclear weapons test site for the first time in about four years, according to an analysis of satellite imagery, raising fresh security concerns as South Korea elects a new leader. Images captured Friday show “very early signs” of activity at the mountainous area of Punggye-ri, including the construction of a new building and repairs to another structure, weapons expert Jeffrey Lewis wrote on his Arms Control Wonk website. “North Korea uses a substantial amount of wood at the site both for buildings and shoring up tunnels. These changes have occurred only in the past few days,” Lewis wrote today. North Korea appears to be preparing to roll out heavy weaponry, including missiles capable of carrying nuclear payloads, for its largest military parade in over a year, North Korea-monitoring service NK Pro reported Tuesday, also citing satellite imagery. The parade could coincide with the birthday celebrations for the former leader. (Jon Herskovitz and Shinhye Kang, “North Korea Building at Nuclear Sites for First Time Since 2018,” Bloomberg News, March 7, 2022)

IAEA Secretary General: “Since my report to the Board and General Conference in August last year we have continued to monitor the DPRK nuclear program. There are ongoing indications consistent with the operation of the 5MW(e) reactor at the Yongbyon site. There have been no indications of operation of the Radiochemical Laboratory since early July 2021. We continue to observe construction activities at the Yongbyon site, including construction of an annex to the reported Centrifuge Enrichment Facility, the purpose of which has yet to be determined. Near the light water reactor (LWR) under construction a new building is still being constructed, possibly to support the fabrication or maintenance of reactor components. There are ongoing indications of activities at the Kangson complex and the Pyongsan Mine and Concentration Plant. The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear program is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable. I call upon the DPRK to comply fully with its obligations under relevant UN Security Council resolutions, to cooperate promptly with the Agency in the full and effective implementation of its NPT Safeguards Agreement and to resolve all outstanding issues, especially those that have arisen during the absence of Agency inspectors from the country. The Agency continues to maintain its enhanced readiness to play its essential role in verifying the DPRK’s nuclear program.” (IAEA, “IAEA Director General’s Introductory Statement to the Board of Governors,” March 7, 2022)


3/8/22:
A North Korean military patrol ship retreated after breaching the disputed inter-Korean western maritime border thius morning, marking the first such case since September 2018, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. The patrol boat crossed the Northern Limit Line at 9:49 a.m. while it tracked another purportedly stray vessel that violated the NLL and crossed into South Korean waters around 15 minutes earlier, according to South Korean military officials. The patrol boat traveled about 1 kilometer south of the NLL and stayed in the southern part of the NLL for seven minutes. But the patrol boat turned back toward North Korean waters three minutes after the South Korean Navy’s Chamsuri-class patrol vessel fired three warning shots with the 40 mm naval gun and sent warning messages. Seoul also sent messages to Pyongyang about the North Korean military ship’s breach of the NLL two times through maritime and western military communication hotlines, the South Korean military said. The South Korean Navy also seized the other steel vessel, which was carrying seven unarmed persons including six in military suits, and towed the vessel into a port at South Korea’s remote island Baengnyeongdo at 11:42 a.m for a formal investigation. The seven people stated that they did not have any intention to defect to South Korea during the government‘s initial investigation. They reportedly claimed that they deviated from the planned course and accidentally crossed the NLL while moving cargo for relocation. If the South Korean government confirms their intention to return to North Korea at the joint investigation, Seoul will repatriate the seven people to the North. (Ji Da-gyum, “N. Korean Military’s Patrol Ship Breaches NLL for First Time since 2018,” Korea Herald, March 8, 2022) South Korea sent a North Korean boat and seven sailors back home a day after it veered across their western sea border due to a “navigational error and mechanical glitch,” Seoul’s defense ministry said. Seoul decided to repatriate them on the basis of “humanitarian” considerations and in respect for their wishes, the ministry said. The South Korean Navy seized the boat and crew for investigation yesterday morning after the vessel crossed the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de facto maritime border in the Yellow Sea. “It has been confirmed that the North Korean boat crossed the line (NLL) due to a navigational error and mechanical glitch, and all of the sailors have expressed their will to return to the North,” the ministry said in a text message sent to reporters. The South handed over the boat and sailors to the North in waters around the NLL at 2 p.m., according to the ministry. (Yonhap, “South Korea Repatriates North Korean Boat and 7 Sailors One Day after NLL Crossing,” Korea Times, March 9, 2022)

The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today it was distributing humanitarian supplies to health facilities in North Korea after their release from the reclusive country’s quarantine measures against COVID-19. The first batch of nutrition supplies for North Korea was released from months of quarantine at the western port of Nampo, following the reopening of its western sea routes in October last year, according to the agency’s recent report. “Humanitarian supplies recently released from quarantine and disinfection procedures are in the process of being distributed to health and nutrition facilities in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health in DPRK,” a UNICEF spokesperson said in an emailed statement, using the acronym for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The supplies include micronutrient treatments for 160,000 pregnant women and new mothers, tuberculosis treatments and preventative medicines, as well as oral rehydration salts to treat diarrheal disease for at least 400,000 children, according to the spokesperson. “This is an initial step towards addressing some shortages in essential items needed for children and women, and we hope this marks the beginning of a more regular supply operation,” the official added. (Yonhap, “UNICEF Distributing Humanitarian Aid after Quarantine Release,” March 8, 2022)

ODNI, “ … REGIONAL AND GLOBAL OBJECTIVES AND ACTIVITIES North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will continue efforts to steadily expand and enhance Pyongyang’s nuclear and conventional capabilities targeting the United States and its allies, periodically using aggressive and potentially destabilizing actions to reshape the regional security environment in his favor. These actions will include developing and demonstrating capabilities up to and possibly including the resumption of nuclear weapons and ICBM testing. · We assess that Kim views nuclear weapons and ICBMs as the ultimate guarantor of his totalitarian and autocratic rule of North Korea and believes that over time he will gain international acceptance as a nuclear power. He probably does not view the current level of pressure on his regime, the economic hardships resulting from sanctions and his domestic COVID-19 countermeasures as enough to require a fundamental change in approach. · Kim also aims to achieve prestige as a nuclear power as well as strategic dominance over South Korea. Kim probably will continue to try to undermine the U.S.–South Korea alliance by vacillating between periods of escalatory behavior and symbolic gestures toward the South to exploit differences between Washington’s and Seoul’s approach to solving the Korea problem. · We assess that North Korea continues to engage in illicit activities, including cyber theft and the export of UN-proscribed commodities to fund regime priorities, including Kim’s WMD program. MILITARY CAPABILITIES North Korea will pose a serious threat to the United States and its allies by continuing to invest in niche capabilities that will provide Kim with a range of options to deter outside intervention, offset enduring deficiencies in the country’s conventional forces, and coercively advance his political objectives. · In early 2021, in a public report to the Eighth Party Congress, Kim identified priorities for developing new weapon systems, such as a nuclear-powered submarine, hypersonic glide vehicles, long-range solid-propellant missiles, and multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV). Although some of these capabilities are longer-term projects, we assess that they represent Kim’s commitment to expanding and diversifying his arsenal over time. Kim is continuing to prioritize efforts to build an increasingly capable missile force designed to evade U.S. and regional missile defenses. Kim probably will continue to order missile tests—including of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), cruise missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and HGVs—to validate technical objectives, reinforce deterrence, and normalize Pyongyang’s missile testing. · In September 2021, North Korea claimed for the first time to have tested an HGV that probably would be capable of reaching regional targets. North Korea followed with two more claimed hypersonic missile flight tests in January 2022, demonstrating its commitment to continued development of hypersonic weapons. WMD Kim remains strongly committed to expanding the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal and continuing ballistic missile research and development. North Korea’s continued development of ICBMs, IRBMs, and SLBMs demonstrates its intention to bolster its nuclear delivery capability. · Fissile material production continues in North Korea, which maintains its plutonium program and probably is expanding it uranium enrichment program. In January, North Korea began laying the groundwork for an increase in tensions that could include ICBM or possibly a nuclear test this year—actions that Pyongyang has not taken since 2017. Flight tests are part of North Korea’s effort to expand the number and type of missile systems capable of delivering nuclear warheads to the entire United States. · North Korea continues to seek a sea-based nuclear-strike capability. In October 2021, North Korea flight tested a new SLBM. North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons (CBW) capabilities remain a threat, and the IC is concerned that Pyongyang may use such weapons during a conflict or in an unconventional or clandestine attack. CYBER North Korea’s cyber program poses a sophisticated and agile espionage, cybercrime, and attack threat. Pyongyang is well positioned to conduct surprise cyberattacks given its stealth and history of bold action. · Pyongyang probably possesses the expertise to cause temporary, limited disruptions of some critical infrastructure networks and disrupt business networks in the United States. Cyber actors linked to North Korea have conducted espionage efforts against a range of organizations, including media, academia, defense companies, and governments, in multiple countries.” (ODNI, Annual Threat Assessment, February 8, 2022)


3/9/22:
Yoon Suk Yeol elected President of South Korea.

Rodong Sinmun: “Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, inspected the National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA). Accompanying him were Department Director Yu Jin and Vice Department Director Kim Jong Sik of the WPK Central Committee. The respected General Secretary was greeted on the spot by leading officials of the NADA and the Academy of Defense Science. Kim Jong Un learned in detail, from leading officials of the NADA, about the process of scientific research and development intended to hit the goals for attainment of space defense science and technology set forth at the 8th WPK Congress and the 4th Plenary Meeting of the 8th WPK Central Committee. After acquainting himself with the development and preparations of optical photographing equipment, video transmitter and other communication data transceivers and various kinds of sensors and devices for satellite, he heard reports on the major test results recently conducted by the NADA. He expressed his great satisfaction at the fact that they confirmed the aerospace photographing method, the operating characteristics of high-resolution photographing equipment and the reliability of image transmission system through the recent important tests. Seeing the vertical and oblique high-resolution images on specific ground regions taken through the major tests, he highly appreciated the successes the NADA has recently made in settling the image composing and processing technology, the ability of processing a large volume of data communication, the accuracy of control command system, the technology of communication encryption, etc., true to the space development policy of the Party. The development of a reconnaissance satellite takes an important share in attaining the five major goals for developing the defense power set forth at the 8th Party Congress, he said, stressing once again the strategic significance of the reconnaissance satellite in enhancing the war deterrent of the state and the capability of war preparedness. Saying that the development of reconnaissance satellite is not merely a scientific research work for the development of information-gathering means, but a work for the protection of our sovereignty and national interests, the exercise of the legitimate rights to self-defense and the elevation of national prestige, he stressed that this urgent project for perfecting the country’s war preparedness capacity by improving our state’s war deterrent is the supreme revolutionary task, a political and military priority task to which our Party and government attach the most importance. He called on the officials, scientists and technicians in the space and defense science research sectors to successfully accomplish the development of a Korean-style reconnaissance satellite within the period set by the Party Central Committee by getting united and closely cooperating with each other, true to the WPK’s policies for aerospace development and national defense development. The General Secretary also learned about the construction of the Academy of Space Science and a cosmic environment experiment center. Noting that it is very important to lay a solid material and technical foundation for the field of space science research so as to attain the high sci-tech goal for space conquest set forth by our state, he stressed the need to give more state support to the space science research sector and examine the important measures for its steady development. He said that it is our Party’s important strategic and tactical policy on bolstering the national defense capability to keep a close eye on and distinguish the character of hostile military actions against the DPRK committed by the aggression troops of the U.S. imperialism and its vassal forces in and around the Korean Peninsula and enhance the capability for controlling situation and improve the rapid counteraction capability of the armed forces of the state according to the relevant situations. And he set forth the militant goals related to the development and operation of the reconnaissance satellite in the period of the five-year plan to implement this policy.He noted that the purpose of developing and operating the military reconnaissance satellite is to provide the armed forces of the DPRK with real-time information on military actions against it by the aggression troops of the U.S. imperialism and its vassal forces in south Korea, Japan and the Pacific. And he said that the Party Central Committee fully supports the decision of the National Aerospace Development Administration on diversely putting a lot of military reconnaissance satellites into sun-synchronous polar orbit in the period of the five-year plan so as to possess the strong capability for gathering intelligence by satellites … .” (Rodong Sinmun, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Inspects National Aerospace Development Agency (NADA), March 10, 2022)


3/10/22:
North Korea’s two most recent missile launches were aimed at testing a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system ahead of a possible full-fledged ICBM test, a senior U.S. official said today, adding the U.S. plans to take action that will hinder Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs. “After careful analysis, the U.S. government has concluded that the DPRK’s two ballistic missile tests on February 26, March 4 (U.S. time) of this year involved a relatively new intercontinental ballistic missile system,” the U.S. administration official said in a telephone press briefing. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the new ICBM was first unveiled during a 2020 parade in Pyongyang. Pyongyang had showcased its new ICBM, Hwasong-17, during a parade that marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party on October 10, 2020, Experts have since noted the Hwasong-17 was mounted on a transporter erector launcher (TEL) with 22 wheels, compared with a 18-wheel TEL used to transport the Hwasong-15 ICBM, a possible indication that it may have a longer range than previous models. The US official said the North’s latest missile tests did not demonstrate the range or capability of an ICBM. “These launches are likely intended to test elements of this new system before the DPRK conducts a launch at full range, which they will potentially attempt to disguise as a space launch,” said the official. The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff earlier said the North Korean missile launched on February 27 flew about 300 kilometers at a maximum altitude of 620 km, and that the missile fired Saturday flew 270 km at a top altitude of 560 km. North Korea reported on Thursday (Seoul time) that leader Kim Jong-un had visited the country’s space agency and commended recent efforts to develop a reconnaissance satellite. North Korea has maintained a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing since late 2017, but said in January that it may consider restarting “all temporarily-suspended activities” amid a stalemate in dialogue with the U.S. John Kirby, press secretary of the Department of Defense, said the U.S. normally does not disclose details of North Korean missile launches, but decided to do so “because we believe that the international community must speak in a united voice to oppose the further development and proliferation of such weapons by the DPRK.” “While the United States remains committed to a diplomatic approach, we will continue to take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the United States and our allies,” he added. The U.S. administration official underlined the U.S.’ commitment to dialogue with the North, noting that President Biden also remains open to meeting with Kim. “We continue to seek diplomacy and we are prepared to meet without preconditions,” he said. “President Biden himself has previously made clear that he is open to meeting with Kim Jong-un when there is a serious agreement on the table, which will need to be based on working-level negotiations because, as we saw in the past administration, leader-level summits alone are no guarantee of progress,” added the official. The U.S. Department of Treasury will announce a set of new steps tomorrow that will help prevent North Korea from “accessing foreign items and technology that enable it to advance prohibited weapons programs,” the US administration official said. “The United States strongly condemns the DPRK for these tests. The launches are a brazen violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions, needlessly raise tensions and risk destabilizing the security situation in the region,” he added. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Tests New ICBM System; U.S. to Impose New Sanctions: Official,” Korea Herald, March 11, 2022)

South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol vowed today to strengthen strategic alliance with the United States, build a strong national defense to deter North Korean provocations and pursue a future-oriented relationship with Japan, hours after winning the nation’s closely contested presidential election. Yoon of the conservative main opposition People Power Party (PPP) was elected president earlier Thursday with the smallest-ever 0.73 percentage-point gap over liberal Democratic Party (DP) candidate Lee Jae-myung. Apparently aware of the razor-thin victory, Yoon emphasized national unity and close cooperation with the DP controlling the National Assembly in a news conference held soon after his election win. On diplomacy, Yoon said his priority policy goal is to solidify South Korea’s status as a global pivotal country to contribute to freedom, peace and prosperity, based on dignified diplomacy and strong national security. He promised to reconstruct South Korea-U.S. alliance and strengthen comprehensive strategic relationship with Washington by sharing the core values of human rights, market economy and human rights. Earlier, Yoon talked with President Joe Biden on the phone prior to his visit to the Seoul National Cemetery and they affirmed strong bilateral alliance and close cooperation, according to PPP officials. Biden congratulated Yoon on his election win and invited him to visit the White House during the 20-minute conversation, they said. Yoon emphasized the need for stronger cooperation over North Korea’s provocations, while Biden said that the U.S. is closely monitoring the situation in North Korea and that close coordination among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo is important for policies on Pyongyang, they said. Biden was the first foreign leader to personally congratulate Yoon on his election, they added. The White House also confirmed the two leaders’ phone conversation, saying they affirmed the strength of Seoul-Washington alliance and committed to maintain close coordination on addressing the threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Yoon also mentioned his phone talks with Biden in the news conference, saying the U.S. leader expressed a wish for a summit meeting soon after his inauguration to discuss further development of the bilateral relationship. “I cannot disclose all the details of my conversation with the U.S. president here. I received his congratulations on my election win,” Yoon said. Yoon said he is determined to build a future-oriented relationship with Japan. “In relations between South Korea and Japan, it is important to find out what will be beneficial to both countries and to the people of both countries in the future rather than in the past,” the president-elect said. South Korea and Japan have long been at odds over territory and other historical disputes stemming from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. On relations with China, Yoon said he will promote a bilateral relationship of mutual respect. On North Korea, Yoon said he will “sternly” respond to any illegal or unreasonable behavior by the country “in accordance with principles,” but the window of conversation with Pyongyang will “be always left open.” He then vowed to build a strong national defense that can reliably deter any provocations from the North in order to protect the people’s safety and property and his nation’s territory and sovereignty. “We also face the task of strengthening our global diplomatic capabilities amid the North Korean nuclear threats and growing tensions over U.S.-China strategic competition,” Yoon said. Yoon faces a daunting challenge of how to work with an unfriendly National Assembly controlled by the DP and heal deep national divisions laid bare in one of the most bitter political campaigns in recent memory. Including the DP, the liberal bloc holds some 180 seats in the 300-seat Assembly. (Yonhap, “Yoon Vows Closer Cooperation with U.S. to Deter N. Korea,” March 10, 2022)

Russia’s Defense Ministry said that it conducted a missile drill today on the Moscow-held, Tokyo-claimed islands off Hokkaido, according to NHK. The ministry said that it conducted an exercise involving the S-300 surface-to-air missile system. The S-300 is designed to shoot down fighter jets and missiles with a range of 400 kilometers. The system intercepted all airborne targets during the drill, the report said. Due to its invasion of Ukraine, a large portion of Russia’s military forces on the islands of Etorofu and Kunashiri, which Moscow calls Iturup and Kunashir, are reportedly deployed to Eastern Europe. The latest move is seen as a signal to Japan and other countries in Asia. Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno Hirokazu said March 11 the government lodged a protest against Russia through diplomatic channels, adding that the drill had been conducted without prior notice. Speaking at a news conference, Matsuno said the government conveyed to the Russian side that the drill is incompatible with Japan’s stance and is unacceptable. He said that Tokyo is watching Russia’s military activities near Japan “with grave concerns from national security perspectives.” Meanwhile, 10 Russian navy ships passed through the Tsugaru Strait, which separates Honshu and Hokkaido, the Defense Ministry said Friday. In February, the navy conducted a large-scale maritime exercise in Russia’s Far East region and the 10 warships are believed to have participated in that exercise. “It is concerning that the Russian military is stepping up operations around Japan while Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues,” Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told a news conference Friday. “We will keep a close watch with a sense of tension,” he added. Kishi also said that Japan has expressed its concern through diplomatic channels. Around 2 a.m. Thursday, Maritime Self-Defense Force patrol aircraft spotted the 10 ships, including a Udaloy-class destroyer, sailing in the Pacific Ocean at a point some 180 kilometers east-northeast of Cape Erimo in Hokkaido, according to the ministry. The 10 ships passed through the Tsugaru Strait from Thursday night to early Friday, heading for the Sea of Japan. It appears that they did not intrude into Japanese territorial waters. The sailing of Russian navy vessels in the Tsugaru Strait was the first since last October, when Russian and Chinese warships passed through the strait together. The Self-Defense Forces are closely monitoring the Russian moves, which may have been in response to Japan’s sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and Japan’s support for Kyiv. The Tsugaru Strait is designated as an international strait, meaning that areas 3 nautical miles or more from the coasts are classified the same as the high seas and are therefore open to foreign ships. (Kyodo, Jiji, “Russia Conducts Missile Drill on Disputed Islands off Hokkaido,” March 11, 2022)


3/11/22:
KCNA: “Kim Jong Un , general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, inspected the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground. Accompanying him were Kim Jong Sik, Jang Chang Ha and other leading officials of the munitions industry and national defence scientific research sectors and officials concerned of the National Aerospace Development Administration. Going round different parts of the ground, the respected General Secretary set forth a target for modernizing it and the detailed orientation and ways for doing so. He learned about and evaluated the present state of the ground, and advanced the task to modernize it on an expansion basis so that various rockets could be launched to carry multi-purpose satellites, including a military reconnaissance satellite, in the future. He also set forth the task for building some facilities in the launching ground. To enable large carrier rockets to be launched there, he assigned the tasks for reconstructing on an expansion basis the launching ground zone and the facilities for the general assembly and trial gearing of rocket and for the trial gearing of satellite, establishing extra facilities for the injection and supply of fuel and modernizing parts of the launch control facility and major technical posts on an expansion basis. He also gave detailed instructions as regards the matters arising in modernizing the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground on an expansion basis, including the matters of expanding the capacity of the engine ground jet test site, ensuring the convenience of carrier rocket transport, improving the ecological environment around the launching ground and building a grandstand in the safe zone opposite to the launching ground. He said that the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground is a place associated with the desire of President Kim Il Sung and Chairman Kim Jong Il for a space power and it is a significant place where our state successfully launched artificial satellites twice with its own efforts and technology, true to the lifetime intention of the President and the Chairman. And he stressed that it is the noble duty of our Party and space scientists and technicians in our era to turn the launching ground, associated with our state’s great dream and ambition for a space power, into an ultramodern advanced base and a starting line of space conquest for the future suited to the prestige of the DPRK. Encouraged by his teachings, the officials, scientists and technicians hardened their strong will to turn the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground into the best model suitable for the dignity and prestige of our state by devotedly carrying out the militant tasks set forth by the General Secretary, fully aware of their mission as space pioneers who should surely carry into practice the grand plan of the Party Central Committee for building a space power, true to the behest of the President and the Chairman.” (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Inspects Sohae Satellite Launching Ground,” March 11, 2022)

North Korea appears to be working to restore underground tunnels of its purportedly demolished Punggye-ri nuclear test site, government sources here said today. Indications have also emerged the North has started work to remove South Korean-built facilities at the Mount Kumgang resort on its east coast, once a symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation, in yet another move likely to raise cross-border tensions. The moves came as Seoul and Washington are stepping up combined defense amid concerns Pyongyang could engage in provocative acts after its veiled threat in January to lift a voluntary moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests. The North appears to be restoring part of the four tunnels at the nuclear test site, which the North claimed to have demolished in May 2018 in the presence of international reporters to demonstrate its willingness to denuclearize, the sources said. Tunnels 3 and 4 could be under restoration, as the North has claimed Tunnel 1, the site of its first nuclear test in 2006, already collapsed, while Tunnel 2 was used for the North’s next five underground nuclear experiments. Seoul officials have presumed it might be difficult to immediately restore Tunnels 1 and 2, but Tunnels 3 and 4 could be usable after restoration work. (Yonhap, “Signs Emerging of N. Korea Restoring Demolished Punggye-ri Nuke Testing Tunnels: Sources,” March 11, 2022)

The United States imposed sanctions on five Russian entities, including two Russian nationals, Friday, for aiding North Korea’s ballistic missile programs. “The DPRK continues to launch ballistic missiles in blatant violation of international law, posing a grave threat to global security,” Brian Nelson, undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, was quoted as saying. “Today’s actions respond to this threat by targeting a network of Russia-based individuals and entities complicit in helping the DPRK procure components for its unlawful ballistic missile systems,” he added, according to the Treasury Department. The department said the two Russian individuals and three Russian companies have been helping Park Kwang-hun, a North Korean representative based in Vladivostok who was designated by both the U.S. and the United Nations in 2018 as procuring supplies for the North’s illicit weapons programs. “As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the individuals and entities that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC (office of foreign assets control),” the department noted in a press release. (Yonhap, “U.S. Imposes Sanctions on 5 Russian Entities Related to North Korean Missile Program,” Korea Times, March 12, 2022)


3/15/22:
The U.S. military conducted an aircraft carrier-led exercise in the Yellow Sea and intensified air defense artillery drills at a base in South Korea in response to increased missile tests from North Korea, U.S. forces said today. “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has significantly increased the pace and scale of ballistic missile launches since September 2021,” U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (Indopacom) said in a statement. “The United States strongly condemns these launches.” In response, Indopacom conducted an air demonstration in international airspace over the Yellow Sea, mobilizing fighter jets from the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier along with other regionally based Air Force aircraft. At the Osan Air Base, in South Korea, the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade “increased the intensity of their certification exercise” to demonstrate its capabilities and commitment to defend the peninsula “against any threat or adversary,” according to a statement from U.S. Forces Korea. “DPRK’s significant increase in its missile testing activity undermines peace, security and destabilizes the Northeast Asia region,” USFK said. “While this type of training is routinely conducted by U.S. Patriot batteries across [South Korea], its increased intensity of its certification underscores the seriousness USFK takes against the DPRK’s recent missile launch behavior,” the statement added. (Ellen Mitchell, “U.S. Holds Military Exercises in Yellow Sea amid Signs N. Korea Is Prepping Missile Test,” The Hill, March 15, 2022)


3/16/22:
North Korea fired an apparent ballistic missile today, but the launch appears to have ended in a failure, South Korea’s military said. The North shot the projectile from the Sunan area in Pyongyang at around 9:30 a.m., according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). It did not elaborate further, only saying an additional analysis is needed. The missile appears to have exploded in midair at an altitude of below 20 kilometers, informed sources said later. “At this point, our assessment is that the projectile launch appears to have been botched as it failed to reach a certain altitude in its early boost phase,” a JCS official told reporters. (Song Sang-ho and Kang Yoon-seung, “N. Korea Seems to Have Failed in Suspected Ballistic Missile Launch: S. Korean Military,” Yonhap, March 16, 2022) The South Korean military presumes the North’s failed projectile launch on March 16 involved the Hwasong-17. Commenting on the North’s intentions behind the launch, the ministry said that the North needed to deliver a “message of success” after citizens in Pyongyang witnessed an earlier failure in firing the Hwasong-17. The North also appears to have sought to show progress in its ICBM capabilities, secure status as a military power and raise its leverage in future peace negotiations, the ministry said. The Hwasong-17 was fired from Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang and exploded in midair over the capital. An opposition lawmaker who attended the session said debris of the missile fell in Pyongyang and caused civilian damages. “(The missile) exploded several kilometers above Pyongyang, so it was visible to the naked eye, and debris fell like rain over Pyongyang. Human casualties have not been confirmed, but civilian damage occurred,” Ha Tae-keung of the main opposition People Power Party told reporters citing the ministry. The firing of the Hwasong-15 was aimed at assuaging public discontent following the incident, he added. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Seems to Have Fired Hwasong-15 ICBM Last Week, S. Korea Military Tells Lawmakers,” March 29, 2022)

Kim Jong-un views U.S. forces stationed in South Korea as a counterweight and “bulwark” against China’s “real threat” to his sovereignty, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said today. The former top U.S. diplomat underscored that a critical lesson he learned from nuclear talks with Pyongyang is Kim’s perception of the United States Forces Korea, although the Trump administration “didn’t get all the way to try to convince Chairman Kim that his nuclear weapons pose more of a threat to him than they did a security blanket.” Pompeo, who also previously served as the director of the CIA and visited Pyongyang multiple times, said Kim declined to give an explicit answer when asked about the implications of the withdrawal of U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula for his regime, recalling his in-person meetings with Kim. “Chairman Kim, I would say, tell me what it would look like if America pulled its troops from South Korea. … He would smile and say, ‘I’m not particularly interested in that,’ suggesting somehow that he didn’t want to tell me how important it really was,” Pompeo said in an annual B.C. Lee Lecture on US policy in the Indo-Pacific hosted by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation. But Pompeo said the North Korean leader’s stance on US forces came to the fore as the Trump administration proceeded with nuclear negotiations. “As we developed our relationship more fully, what became very clear is he (Kim Jong-un) views the United States of America on the Korean Peninsula as a bulwark against his real threat, which came from Xi Jinping,” Pompeo said. “He knew that having American troops … (was) the counterbalance not only for the South Koreans, not only for the Japanese, not only for the United States and our Western interests, but for him as well.” Pompeo went on to say that the summits between Kim and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, which were held in the run-up to three Trump-Kim meetings, do not necessarily evince their close coordination. “I think a more nuanced, better analysis is that Chairman Kim knows, just like the rest of us in the world now, that Xi Jinping threatens his sovereignty as well,” Pompeo told participants at the event. The former US secretary of state warned that China would be the one that could topple the Kim Jong-un regime. “If he is to lose power, it is most likely not to come from the United States, not likely to come from South Korea, but because Xi concludes that a little more territory, a little more real estate, and a little less freedom on the Chinese border is something that the Chinese Communist Party needs,” Pompeo said. “We need to look no further than Hong Kong or Tibet or Xinjiang to know that what Xi Jinping will demand of Chairman Kim is total and complete subservience.” But it is also crucial to note that there have been discrepancies between the North Korean leader’s stance on the USFK indirectly conveyed by South Korean and U.S. officials and the country’s position on the matter in public statements. After his visit to Pyongyang, then-national security adviser Chung Eui-yong in September 2018 said Kim viewed there was no correlation between an end-of-war declaration and the withdrawal of the U.S. forces. North Korea’s pronouncements have, on the other hand, shown different opinions on the matter. A North Korean government spokesperson’s statement, which was issued in July 2016, elucidated that pulling out US troops from South Korea was one of the five major preconditions for achieving “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The party regulations, which were revised in January 2021 at the Eighth Party Congress, still stipulate its goal to make “aggressive forces of US imperialism withdraw from South Korea and eventually terminate the US political and military domination over South Korea.” The most recent example is another press statement released last August under the Party Central Committee’s Vice Department Director Kim Yo-jong, with authorization from the North Korean leader. Kim Yo-jong explicitly said the “root cause that periodically aggravates the situation on the Korean Peninsula will never be eliminated as long as US forces are stationed in South Korea.” (Ji Da-gyum, “Kim Jong Un Views U.S. Military Presence as ‘Bulwark’ against China Threat: Pompeo,” Korea Herald, March 17, 2022)

Van Diepen: “As previously reported on 38 North, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on February 27 and March 5 launched unidentified ballistic missiles it said were used to loft components of a reconnaissance satellite up briefly for testing at operational altitudes; the range and altitude of the launches suggested that medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) were used. On March 10, however, the U.S. reported that the launches actually involved the new, large Hwasong-17 liquid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), first revealed at a military parade in October 2020. We still do not know if both stages of the new ICBM were tested or only the first, or what payload was flown. We also do not know why Pyongyang concealed the fact of the first Hwasong-17 test and the first ICBM test since 2017, although it may have been seeking to limit the political and potential sanctions blowback. The primary value of the new missile is its larger payload capacity, which could facilitate the deployment of multiple warheads, very-large-yield single warheads, or more and more capable missile defense penetration aids. This crossing of the ICBM testing Rubicon also opens up the possibility of resumed testing of the earlier Hwasong-14 and/or -15 ICBMs, one or both of which may already be operationally deployed. One key purpose of the U.S. statement at this time was likely to spoil the success of any North Korean attempt to portray a future Hwasong-17 or other ICBM test as just a space launch. Pyongyang probably wants to resume ICBM testing and develop a reconnaissance satellite capability, and conducting both activities under the guise of a space launch could help minimize the potential political and economic backlash to these actions. Going forward, there are four likely options (not mutually exclusive) for further Hwasong-17 testing to advance the North’s ICBM and space objectives:

  • Conduct another Hwasong-17 test in a highly lofted trajectory akin to those of the 2017 ICBM tests, with an ICBM payload, but claim it was related to space launch.
  • Conduct such a highly lofted test without a reentry vehicle (RV), claim it was related to space launch, and actually demonstrate satellite-related capabilities like those claimed for the February and March 2022 launches.
  • Use the Hwasong-17 to launch a prototype or operational reconnaissance satellite.
  • Pursue additional testing of the Hwasong-17 in an ICBM mode (either highly lofted or to full range) in parallel with the use of the Hwasong-17, the Unha booster used in prior satellite launches, or a new purpose-built booster to test satellite components and/or orbit a reconnaissance satellite.

Van Diepen: “It remains to be seen whether the apparent early in-flight failure of a liquid-propellant ballistic missile launched March 16 from the same general area as the two Hwasong-17 tests is related to that ICBM program. On March 10, the U.S. Department of Defense released a statement concluding that the two unidentified ballistic missile launches “involved a new [ICBM] system that the DPRK is developing, which was originally unveiled during the Korean Workers Party parade on October 10, 2020.” According to the statement, “The purpose of these tests, which did not demonstrate ICBM range, was likely to evaluate this new system before conducting a test at full range in the future, potentially disguised as a space launch.” It also noted: “While the DPRK chose not to publicize information on the systems involved in these launches, the United States is revealing this information publicly … because we believe that the international community must speak in a united voice to oppose the further development and proliferation of such weapons by the DPRK.” In an accompanying press backgrounder, a “senior administration official” added that: the new ICBM also was unveiled in the October 2021 Pyongyang Defense Exhibition; the launches did not demonstrate “ICBM range or capabilities”; they were likely intended to test “elements” of the new system; the North “tried to hide” the ICBM tests, “unlike its past tests;” the US exposed the ICBM tests “because we prioritized the reduction of strategic risk;” and this assessment was made “in close coordination” with South Korea and Japan. The senior official did not comment when asked whether the tests were for maneuvering reentry vehicles (MaRVs) or hypersonic missiles. Almost a day before the U.S. statement, North Korea reported that Kim Jong Un had “inspected” the National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA), North Korea’s space agency. He reportedly “heard reports on the major test results recently conducted by the NADA” and “expressed his great satisfaction at the fact that they confirmed the aerospace photographing method, the operating characteristics of high-resolution photographing equipment and the reliability of image transmission system.” He also was shown “the vertical and oblique high-resolution images on specific ground regions taken through the major tests.” Kim noted: “ … that the purpose of developing and operating the military reconnaissance satellite is to provide the armed forces of the DPRK with real-time information on military actions against it by the aggression troops of the U.S. imperialism and its vassal forces in south Korea, Japan and the Pacific,” and “fully supports … diversely putting a lot of military reconnaissance satellites into sun-synchronous polar orbit in the period of the five-year plan so as to possess the strong capability for gathering intelligence by satellites.” About the same time as the U.S. statement was released, the North issued a report of Kim giving “field guidance” to the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, the North’s primary space launch facility. He reportedly “gave concrete instructions on rebuilding” the facility “on a modern and expansion basis,” including “to launch the military reconnaissance satellite and other multi-purpose satellites by diverse carrier rockets in the future” and “launch large carrier rockets.” Analysis Based on the U.S. information, the North Korean ICBM system “involved” in the tests was the new large road-mobile liquid propellant system apparently designated by the North as “Hwasong-17.” This was the only ICBM “unveiled” at the October 2020 parade and October 2021 defense exhibition. (The Hwasong-15 ICBM was also seen on both occasions but had previously been “unveiled” during its first and only launch in November 2017.) These were the first flight tests involving the Hwasong-17. It is unclear from the U.S. information whether a full-up missile was flown—and if so, whether it only reached the 270-300-km range and 560-620-km altitudes reported for the two launches because it was not fully fueled, or because engine thrust was deliberately terminated prematurely (which is readily done on liquid systems). It also is possible that only the first stage of the missile was flown. We do not know why the North apparently decided to conduct an “evaluation” test of the Hwasong-17 prior to a full-capability test. The Hwasong-17 is believed to use two twin-chambered rocket engines in the first stage versus only one in the Hwasong-15. These evaluation tests may have been intended to ensure the two engines could work in unison, prove out the second stage (the attributes of which are largely unknown to outside analysts), and/or prove out payload-related components that have not been tested in an actual launch (see below). The U.S. did not describe the payloads used in these launches. It is possible that the launches lofted ballast or a dummy ICBM payload, or a payload of ICBM “elements,” imaging satellite components as reported by the North, or some combination. As some analysts have noted, the “attitude control devices” North Korea claimed had been tested on these launches for use in a future satellite could also be useful in the development of a post-boost vehicle (PBV, or “bus”) to dispense multiple, independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs). In January 2021, Kim reported that the North was researching “the guidance technology for multi-warhead rocket[s],”and a MIRV is one type of multiple-warhead system. (Interestingly, the two new North Korean statements did not mention “attitude control devices,” only imaging and data transmission.) Pyongyang’s motivations for concealing the use of ICBM boosters in the claimed “satellite component” tests are unclear, especially given the seemingly straightforward technical and operational North Korean reporting of the seven rounds of missile launch activity it conducted in January. It probably expected US intelligence would be able to detect the use of the Hwasong-17. If Pyongyang was conducting MIRV-related “attitude control device” tests, however, it might have thought it could get away with portraying them as satellite-related. Perhaps North Korea was seeking to limit the political and potential sanctions blowback from ICBM testing. This might also help explain why the missiles were flown in lofted trajectories characteristic of an MRBM rather than the longer and much higher trajectories it used in the lofted ICBM tests of 2017, which still did not overfly Japan. Implications If the North launched full-up Hwasong-17s, they would be the first ICBMs it has launched since November 2017. This would follow through on repeated threats to conduct such launches since its December 2019 renunciation of its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear weapons and long-range missile testing, declared in April 2018, including a pointed “reconsideration” of such launches on January 19, 2022. As noted in previous analyses, on 38 North the DPRK probably now sees refraining from ICBM testing as imposing greater costs and providing fewer benefits than it has in recent years. Based on the specs observed during the parade and exhibition, a successfully developed and deployed Hwasong-17 would be able to deliver a payload of about 1,700 kg to anywhere in the US. This is significantly greater than the smaller Hwasong-15, which is estimated to be able to deliver about 1,000 kg to the same range. North Korea might want to use the greater payload capability of the Hwasong-17 to loft: a MIRV payload, where the weight of the PBV as well as the RVs it dispenses must be carried; a multiple reentry vehicle (MRV) payload, where the RVs are dispensed shotgun-style without being independently targeted by a PBV; a very-large-yield single RV, as China and Russia still deploy; highly realistic (and therefore heavy) decoy reentry vehicles to help one or more standard RVs penetrate missile defenses; or more missile defense penetration aids of other types in conjunction with any of the above payloads. The larger payload capacity of the Hwasong-17 could be particularly important for North Korea’s use of MRVs or MIRVs if Pyongyang is technologically constrained to use a heavier PBV and/or if it intends to use more robust and blunt-shaped (and thus heavier) RVs to help ensure the warheads can survive reentry at ICBM ranges with limited or no full-range flight testing. The resumption of ICBM testing also opens up the possibility of additional tests of the Hwasong-14 and/or -15 ICBMs. This would be particularly attractive to North Korea if one or both of these systems have already been deployed, as Kim Jong Un essentially claimed in 2018 and the Foreign Ministry implied in February 2022 and as apparently assessed in October 2021 by the US Defense Intelligence Agency. After more than four years without flight testing, the credibility of any deployed ICBM force has objectively declined, although Pyongyang probably regarded the three tests of the two systems in 2017 as establishing a sufficiently credible and reliable ICBM threat to meet its objectives at the time without further flight testing. Resumed testing of these ICBMs would also be consistent with North Korea’s push in other missile tests since Fall 2021 to demonstrate that its missile force is technically capable and operationally credible. One key purpose of releasing the U.S. statement at this time was likely to spoil the success of any North Korean attempt to portray a future Hwasong-17 or other ICBM test as being a civilian space launch, just as it released intelligence to spoil impending Russian “false flag” operations against Ukraine. That said, Kim Jong Un has doubled down in the two new North Korean media reports on the recent launches being for satellite development and on his intention to “diversely [put] a lot of military reconnaissance satellites into sun-synchronous polar orbit” using “diverse” space launch vehicles (SLVs), including “large” ones. In all likelihood, Kim wants to both resume ICBM testing in order to reinforce nuclear deterrence and a range of political objectives and develop a reconnaissance satellite capability to improve intelligence-gathering and generate domestic and international prestige. Doing so under the guise of a space program would help minimize the potential political and economic backlash from these actions. With these two goals in mind, further Hwasong-17 testing is likely to take on at least one or more of the following four forms: First, North Korea may conduct another test of the Hwasong-17 in a highly lofted trajectory akin to those of the 2017 ICBM tests, with an ICBM payload, but claim it was related to space launch. This would advance the full-up testing of the ICBM booster and payload while avoiding overflying Japan and use the space launch claim to limit the international blowback. Nonetheless, the flight on an ICBM-relevant trajectory of a system previously acknowledged by North Korea to be an ICBM would be condemned by the international community, albeit mitigated by probable Chinese and Russian blockage of major action by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Second, it could conduct such a highly lofted test without an RV, claim it was related to space launch, and actually demonstrate satellite-related capabilities akin to those claimed to be on the February and March launches (we do not currently know if they actually were). This would advance the full-up testing of the ICBM booster, advance development of a PBV for MIRVed ICBMs if an “attitude control device” is tested, make progress on the reconnaissance satellite, and avoid overflying Japan. It would probably produce fewer consequences than the previous option given the lack of an RV and make it easier for China and Russia to deny there is a problem. Third, it may use the Hwasong-17 to launch a prototype or operational reconnaissance satellite. This would still advance development of the ICBM booster while making good on Kim’s satellite objective. It would not advance development of ICBM RVs and probably would be of less value for PBV development than the previous option unless the North launched or claimed to launch multiple satellites from a “bus”-like dispenser. As noted in the North Korean statement, an imagery satellite would almost certainly be put into a “sun-synchronous polar orbit,” meaning it would likely be launched to the South. If launched south from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, where satellite launches have been conducted since 2012, it would not overfly any other country. Although it would truly be a “space launch,” the use of a system previously acknowledged by North Korea to be an ICBM would lead to substantial international condemnation, potentially mitigated by Chinese and Russian opposition to major UNSC decisions. Because it apparently uses more capable rocket motors and more energetic liquid propellants (at least in its first stage), the Hwasong-17 should be able to place a heavier satellite in orbit than is possible with the Taepodong-2/Unha-3 used in previous North Korean satellite launches. The new ICBM may be able to loft a satellite about twice as heavy as the Unha can (the latter is believed to be able to boost 200 kg into an orbit of about 500 km). A heavier reconnaissance satellite presumably would be able to carry a larger camera, more maneuvering fuel, etc., than one able to be lofted by the Unha. The Hwasong-17 thus far has been launched from a road-mobile launcher, which would allow it to be launched more quickly and with less warning than the large, fixed-launch Unha. To help with the story that an SLV was being launched rather than an ICBM, the North could also launch the Hwasong-17 from the launch pad at Sohae. This probably would require some modest alterations to the launch pad and tower, and perhaps some compatibility testing, which the North could conduct openly or seek to conceal—in either case, the modifications would be consistent with Kim’s recent “guidance” to “rebuild” the launch facility. Finally, the North could pursue additional testing of the Hwasong-17 in an ICBM mode (either highly lofted or to full range) in parallel with the use of the Hwasong-17, the Unha or a new purpose-built SLV to test satellite components and/or orbit a reconnaissance satellite. This would offer the most direct path to meeting both objectives but would have the most international blowback. … ” (Vann H. Van Diepen, “Burying the Lead: North Korea Conceals That ‘Spy Satellite Tests’ Are First Launched of New Large ICBM,” 38North, March 16, 2022)


3/20/22:
North Korea today fired four suspected shots from its multiple rocket launchers into the Yellow Sea, South Korean military officials said, the latest show of force that could heighten tensions on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea’s National Security Council (NSC) held an emergency vice-ministerial meeting over the four shots that fell into the western waters during a span of an hour from 7:20 a.m. from an unspecified location in South Pyongan Province, according to officials. Park Kyung-mee, presidential office spokesperson, said the NSC meeting members stressed the need to maintain “a firm defense readiness posture” based on the South Korean military’s enhanced capability and the South Korea-U.S. alliance during a time of a government power transfer. “There were shots believed to be that of North Korea’s multiple rocket launchers this morning,” an official of the South Korean military said. “We are maintaining our defense readiness posture while closely following related developments,” the official added. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Fires 4 Shots from Multiple Rocket Launchers into Yellow Sea: Officials,” March 20, 2022)


3/21/22:
A U.N. investigator is calling for an end to North Korea’s international isolation, warning continued exclusion will prolong the country’s worsening human rights violations. U.N. investigator Tomas Ojea Quintana said in his report, submitted today to the U.N. human rights council, that North Korea locked itself away from the rest of the world at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. He said this complete isolation has coincided with a new cycle of missile tests and tensions on the Korean peninsula. Quintana believes the ongoing deterioration of the country’s human rights situation is linked to its ever-increasing isolation from the international community. He said a new cycle of escalation in tensions on the Korean Peninsula could rapidly and dangerously destabilize the region. “The current situation in Ukraine and other armed conflicts reminds us of the devastation brought about by war,” he said. “In my view, a diplomatic approach towards peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, which build upon previous negotiations and is combined with proactive engagement on the human rights situation, is the only way forward.” Quintana said the government’s oppressive control of the population has tightened under the country’s COVID-19 border shutdown and travel restrictions. He added that the government of President Kim Jong Un has instituted many draconian measures, such as a system of arbitrary detention without fair trial guarantees, to maintain effective control of the population. “There is widespread fear of arbitrary arrest and mistreatment in detention, especially for those forcibly repatriated, including detention in Kwanliso, the political prison camps,” Quintana said. “These political prison camps represent the worst excesses of a system of governance that systematically violates the human rights of its people.” Quintana said chronic food insecurity is widespread, affecting 41 percent of the country’s population, and malnutrition remains a leading cause of maternal and child mortality. If the current situation persists, he warned, vulnerable populations may face acute hunger and starvation. (Lisa Schlein, “UN Investigator Calls for End to North Korean Isolation,” VOA, March 21, 2022)


3/24/22:
KCNA: “The test-launch of a new type inter-continental ballistic missile Hwasongpho-17 of the DPRK strategic forces was conducted on March 24, Juche 111 (2022) under the direct guidance of Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and supreme commander of the armed forces of the DPRK. The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un gave a written order to conduct the test-launch of the new type ICBM of the DPRK strategic forces on Wednesday. He visited the launch ground on Thursday and personally guided the overall process of the test-launch of the new type ICBM Hwasongpho-17. With his deep insight into the ever-changing international political situation, the root cause of the daily-escalating military tension in and around the Korean peninsula and the long-term demand of our revolution that stems from the inevitability of the long-standing confrontation with the U.S. imperialists accompanied by the danger of a nuclear war, the General Secretary put forward the Juche-oriented defense development strategy and the policy of bolstering in a sustained way the nuclear war deterrence at the historic 8th Congress of the WPK. Organizing and directing the crucial endeavors for bolstering the national defense capabilities to implement the strategy and policy, he, with top priority given to the development of the new-type ICBM in particular, provided detailed guidance and directions almost every day and made sure that the Hwasongpho-17 type weapon system, a symbol of Juche power and fruition of self-reliance, was completed as a core strike means and a reliable nuclear war deterrence means of the DPRK strategic forces. Fully armed with his original idea on self-reliant defense strategy, officials, scientists and technicians in the field of national defense scientific research and the heroic workers in the munitions field, under his direct guidance, vigorously waged a research and development campaign with creative wisdom and unyielding mentality, thereby producing the new-type ICBM in a short time. Kim Jong Un learned in detail about the preparations for the test-launch of the weapon at first hand on the spot on Thursday afternoon and gave an order to advance to the launching position. He went to the launching position and gave detailed guidance until the last process of the launch, giving strength and courage to the defense scientists and missile maintenance crew involved in the launch to bring about a momentous time when the epochal development of the defense capabilities of the country would be demonstrated all over the world. It was ready for the test launch, and the moment of a historic event has come. The launching ground counting down to the test-launch of the huge strategic weapon was seething with the ardent anticipation of all the defense scientists and munitions workers to inform the whole world of the production of another powerful nuclear attack means by Juche Korea and to demonstrate with pride the reliable DPRK’s nuclear war deterrent force. After the General Secretary entered the general launch control center together with leading officials in the field of defense science research, a combat alarm for the launch was sounded at the launching site, test observation technical posts and relevant test research institutes. Then the launch order given by the General Secretary reached the firepower sub-unit and the commander of the Red Flag Company entrusted with the test-launch shouted the command “Fire!” That moment, brightening flame heated the earth along with a loud boom and the huge entity representing the invincible power of the DPRK soared into space. The test launch was carried out in a vertical launch mode in consideration of the security of neighboring countries. The missile, launched at Pyongyang International Airport, traveled up to a maximum altitude of 6 248.5 km and flew a distance of 1 090 km for 4 052s before accurately hitting the pre-set area in open waters of the East Sea of Korea. The test-launch clearly proved that all the parameters of the weapon system exactly met the design requirements and that its prompt operation can be guaranteed scientifically, technically and practically under wartime environment and conditions. The new type weapon system to be operated by the strategic forces of the DPRK under a plan for building up the state nuclear force will creditably perform its mission and duty as a powerful nuclear war deterrent of putting under strict control the nuclear war threats and challenges against the DPRK, taking the initiative to cope with any military crisis and defending the security of the country. Kim Jong Un remarked with pride that the emergence of the new strategic weapon of the DPRK would make the whole world clearly aware of the power of our strategic armed forces once again, adding that the event would be an occasion of convincing the world of the modern feature of our strategic forces and further consolidating the foundation of guarantee and confidence in security of the state based on it. He stressed that the successful development of the new type ICBM, a complex of ultra-modern defense science and technology, is a striking manifestation of the might of our independent defense industry that started and developed by our own strength. He said that this miraculous victory is a priceless victory won by the great Korean people who have unconditionally upheld our Party’s lines for building up the self-reliant defense and the nuclear force while pooling their efforts for the security of the country and the eternal well-being of the future generations despite all kinds of difficulties. Noting that steadfast is the strategic choice and determination of our Party and government to keep bolstering the powerful nuclear war deterrence qualitatively and quantitatively so as to ensure the security of the country and cope with all kinds of potential crises in the future, he remarked that to equip with incomparably superior military attack capabilities means possessing the most reliable defense capabilities exemplified by a war deterrent. The DPRK would as ever focus all state efforts on bolstering the defense capabilities on a top priority basis, he said, declaring that this is the resolution made by our Party for the national dignity, sovereignty and peace and for the eternal well-being of the country and the future generations and a noble choice made by our people themselves. He said that any forces should be made to be well aware of the fact that they will have to pay a very dear price before daring to attempt to infringe upon the security of our country. He stressed that our national defense forces would possess formidable military and technical capabilities unperturbed by any military threat and blackmail and keep themselves fully ready for long-standing confrontation with the U.S. imperialists. He affirmed that the strategic forces of the DPRK are fully ready to thoroughly curb and contain any dangerous military attempts of the U.S. imperialists. He had a photo taken with the combatants of the Red Flag Company and major defense science officials who contributed to demonstrating the high strategic position of the DPRK to the world. All the defense scientists, who came to enjoy the greatest love and trust under the care of the General Secretary at a significant moment of strikingly demonstrating the tremendous strength of the country to the world, pledged to develop more invincible nuclear attack means for the country, the Party and the respected General Secretary in the future, too. The absolute power, the invincible nuclear war deterrence for self-defense can be secured only by the great WPK and the great Korean people. This powerful nuclear force of justice possessed by the great WPK and the great Korean people will reliably defend the victorious advance of our revolution and the eternal well-being of the future generations by humbling the U.S imperialists and their vassal forces showing off their military edge. (KCNA, “Striking Demonstration of New Military Muscle of Juche Korea: Successful Launch of New-Type ICBM; Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Guides Test Launch of Hwasongpho-17,” March 25, 2022)

South Korea and the United States regard North Korea as having disguised its launch of an existing intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) last week as that of a new larger one, informed sources said today. The allies believe that the North again tested a Hwasong-15 ICBM on Thursday, the same type it fired in late 2017, according to the sources. The North has publicly claimed success in the launch of a Hwasong-17 missile. Their intelligence analysis suggested that like the Hwasong-15, the ICBM in question had two engine nozzles, whereas the Hwasong-17 has four nozzles. The engine combustion time of the first-stage rocket was also similar to that of the Hwasong-15. The analysis was based on data from the allies’ intelligence assets, including from a satellite equipped with infrared thermal sensors. The military authorities here downplayed the projectile fired last week as an apparent Hwasong-15 missile with a lighter warhead designed to appear to have flown like the longer-range Hwasong-17. Questions over the North’s claim about its latest ICBM launch emerged as the North’s photo of the latest launch showed the missile shot up in a clear blue sky in Pyongyang though it was cloudy in the North Korean capital at the time of the launch. Observers said the North might have used a photo of an earlier ICBM test in its state media report on the purported Hwasong-17 launch. (Yonhap, “Allies View N. Korea ICBM Launch as Involving Hwasong-15, Not New Missile,” March 27, 2022) North Korea’s ICBM launched last week is assessed to be the same type it test-fired in 2017, Seoul’s defense ministry told lawmakers March 28, formally dismissing Pyongyang’s claim that it was a brand-new one. In a briefing to the National Assembly, the ministry said the ICBM in question is more similar to the Hwasong-15 missile than the newest Hwasong-17. It cited an analysis of the missile’s flight characteristics and footage released by the North’s state media. The North has claimed success in launching the Hwasong-17 — an ICBM dubbed a “monster” for its size. The new missile is known to have a range of around 15,000 kilometers, about 2,000 km longer than the Hwasong-15. “Although the projectile fired on March 24 looks like the Hwasong-17 due to the increase in its top altitude and flight time, our assessment is that it is more similar to the Hwasong-15 than the Hwasong-17,” the ministry said. The ministry provided evidence suggesting the North disguised the latest launch as that of the newest missile. It said that directions of shadows seen in the North’s footage of Thursday’s launch indicated the footage was taken in the morning though the actual launch took place in the afternoon. The ministry also pointed out that the North’s photos showed the missile test was conducted under clear weather though it was mostly cloudy at the launch site in Pyongyang at the time of the test. In addition, the ministry said that it would have been difficult to carry out a successful new ICBM test following a botched test eight days earlier. The South Korean military presumes the North’s failed projectile launch on March 16 involved the Hwasong-17. Commenting on the North’s intentions behind the launch, the ministry said that the North needed to deliver a “message of success” after citizens in Pyongyang witnessed an earlier failure in firing the Hwasong-17. The North also appears to have sought to show progress in its ICBM capabilities, secure status as a military power and raise its leverage in future peace negotiations, the ministry said. The Hwasong-17 was fired from Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang and exploded in midair over the capital. An opposition lawmaker who attended the session said debris of the missile fell in Pyongyang and caused civilian damages. “(The missile) exploded several kilometers above Pyongyang, so it was visible to the naked eye, and debris fell like rain over Pyongyang. Human casualties have not been confirmed, but civilian damage occurred,” Ha Tae-keung of the main opposition People Power Party told reporters citing the ministry. The firing of the Hwasong-15 was aimed at assuaging public discontent following the incident, he added. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Seems to Have Fired Hwasong-15 ICBM Last Week, S. Korea Military Tells Lawmakers,” March 29, 2022) North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) toward the East Sea today, South Korea’s military said, a move sharply escalating tensions in the region. Pyongyang’s show of force, the 12th this year, means an end to its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and a long-range missile testing. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said that it detected the launch from the Sunan airfield in Pyongyang at 2:34 p.m. and the missile flew some 1,080 kilometers at a top altitude of over 6,200 km. The North appears to have launched the missile at a lofted angle, the JCS said. Another military official said it flew for at least 70 minutes. “For other specifics on the missile, the intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are conducting a detailed analysis,” the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters. In the demonstration of its own firepower and combat readiness, the South’s military soon conducted a joint live-fire exercise involving some of its key missiles — a Hyunmoo-2 ground-to-ground missile and one Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missile as well as a Haesung-II ship-to-ground missile and two JDAM air-to-surface missiles — according to the JCS. “It has been confirmed that in case of North Korea’s missile launch, (we) have the ability and posture to precisely strike the origin of the missile launch and command and support facilities at any time,” it stated. (Song Sang-ho and Kang Yoon-seung, “Seoul, Washington React Sternly to Provocative North Korean ICBM Launch,” Yonhap, March 24, 2022) North Korea today launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017, dramatically escalating tensions with the Biden administration at a moment when the world has been gripped by the devastation in Ukraine. The launch involved what appeared to be North Korea’s most powerful ICBM to date, and marked the end of a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests that the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, announced before embarking on diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump in 2018. While the new missile did not go far from the coast, its altitude of 3,852 miles — far higher than past tests — appeared to be meant to demonstrate to a weary world that North Korea could flatten the weapon’s trajectory and hit the continental United States with ease. The provocation today was a clear sign that the North did not intend to let the United States and its allies forget about stalled negotiations and international sanctions, even as President Biden arrived in Brussels for talks with NATO and Group of 7 leaders to discuss the war in Ukraine. In a statement, the White House called the launch “a brazen violation” of U.N. Security Council resolutions and underscored that it had recently released details warning that North Korea might test its new Hwasong-17 ICBM under the guise of a satellite launch. The Hwasong-17, North Korea’s largest known ICBM, was first unveiled during a military parade in October 2020, and components were tested in recent weeks, but the launch on Thursday appears to be the first test of the full missile. On March 25, Rodong Sinmun confirmed that the country successfully launched its Hwasong-17 ICBM from Pyongyang International Airport. Mr. Kim, who watched the test, vowed to continue to strengthen his country’s “nuclear war deterrence” and prepare for a “longstanding confrontation” with the United States, it said. With Russia now in the cross hairs of the United States and its allies, Kim may have sensed a rare opportunity to take advantage of worsening relations between the veto-wielding powers and escalate tension. “North Korea wanted to test its ICBM while the war is raging in Ukraine,” said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute outside Seoul. “The relations between the United States and Russia are the worst ever. There is no way Russia is going to cooperate at the U.N. Security Council when the United States wants to impose tough sanctions against North Korea.” Many questions remained unanswered about North Korea’s long-range missile program, such as whether the country can actually fly its missile on an intercontinental trajectory and whether it has mastered the technology for a “re-entry vehicle,” carrying a warhead, to detach from a missile at high altitude and survive the stresses of diving back into the atmosphere on its way to its target. The North’s resumption of ICBM tests also raised the specter of Kim returning to an earlier posture when he threatened to fire ballistic missiles in a “ring of fire” around Guam, home to major American military bases in the Western Pacific. The North Korean launch caught South Korea by surprise. The country is in the middle of a transition of power from President Moon Jae-in to the president-elect, Yoon Suk-yeol, who campaigned on a promise to strengthen ties between Seoul and Washington and has even suggested pre-emptive strikes against the North. After its last ICBM test in 2017, North Korea said it no longer needed nuclear or ICBM tests because its nuclear-tipped missiles could strike any part of the continental United States. Earlier that year, it detonated what it called a thermonuclear bomb — foreign analysts have expressed some doubt about that — in its sixth underground nuclear test. North Korea is the first United States adversary since the Cold War to test both an ICBM and a claimed hydrogen bomb, according to Vipin Narang, an expert on nuclear proliferation at M.I.T. Given the current global tensions, Russia and China are unlikely to help Washington introduce any new sanctions. “There is not much the United States or South Korea can do to punish North Korea,” said Park Won-gon, a North Korea expert at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “If the United States and South Korea scale up their joint military exercise scheduled for next month, North Korea will seize that as a hostile act and as a pretext to escalate tensions further.” The latest test showed that, despite crippling sanctions, Kim remained determined to use nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles as a deterrent, bargaining leverage or both. North Korea could also export its weapons technologies for badly needed cash, said Lee Byong-chul, an expert in nuclear proliferation at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul. Biden now faces a difficult choice: take a hard line and risk that North Korea will push the peninsula to the brink of war, or engage with Kim in what could turn into another round of fruitless negotiations. So far, Biden’s approach to North Korea has been closer to that of former President Barack Obama — keeping the door open for dialogue but refusing to offer incentives to bring the North to the table. The test today was a bid to demand the Biden administration’s attention, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “North Korea has been gradually raising tensions this year with a series of missile tests in order to force the United States to return to talks with a better offer but Washington has shown no interest,” said Prof. Yang. “By breaking the ICBM test moratorium, North Korea has put dialogue on the back burner and is reverting to a power-for-power confrontation with the United States.” He added: “We will see a vicious cycle of North Korea advancing its nuclear capabilities and raising tensions on the Korean Peninsula.” (Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Launches Powerful New ICBM,” New York Times, March 25, 2022, p. A-5) When North Korea conducted its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile test to date last week, it said it launched the Hwasong-17, its newest and biggest ICBM. In a propaganda blitz, the country’s state media released a Hollywood-style video of its leader, Kim Jong-un, personally guiding the test launch in a sleek leather jacket and sunglasses at Pyongyang International Airport. South Korea now says it may have been a ruse. In a report to the National Assembly on March 26, the South Korean Defense Ministry endorsed what some analysts had already suspected: North Korea actually fired its older Hwasong-15 ICBM — which was tested in 2017 — and exaggerated Mr. Kim’s weapons achievements by falsely claiming a successful Hwasong-17 launch. Kim badly needs to strengthen his diplomatic leverage with the United States and South Korea, and a successful new launch may have helped. But more important, South Korean officials said, Kim used the launch and a crude, fake presentation of video and photos to demonstrate his infallible leadership to the long-suffering people of North Korea. “We suspect the latest launch had more to do with domestic considerations,” the Defense Ministry said in its parliamentary report. Some analysts suspected that, unlike the Hwasong-15, which is built to carry a single warhead, the Hwasong-17 appeared to be designed to carry multiple nuclear warheads. North Korea began testing the Hwasong-17 this year. On February 27 and March 5, it tested the missile’s first-stage booster rocket and other components, but not at full range. In its third test, conducted on March 16, something went wrong, and the rocket exploded in the sky near Pyongyang, the capital, shortly after liftoff. “The explosion was visible to the naked eye, as its debris rained down through the sky over Pyongyang,” Ha Tae-keung, a South Korean lawmaker, told reporters this week. “Pyongyang citizens were shocked, and it could even have led to some instability.” South Korean officials said Mr. Kim likely used the successful test flight of the Hwasong-15 disguised as the Hwasong-17 on March 24 as damage control. “Now that Pyongyang citizens had witnessed the failure, they needed to send a message of success and do so quickly in order to prevent rumors from spreading and to ensure regime stability,” the Defense Ministry said in its parliamentary report. “So they launched a Hwasong-15 model whose reliability had been confirmed through a test in 2017.” The Hwasong-17 is bigger and longer than the Hwasong-15. Its first-stage booster rocket has four nozzles, while the Hwasong-15 has only two. But Kim’s propagandists edited and combined video footage and photos from the earlier Hwasong-17 tests with those from the Hwasong-15 last Thursday, creating the illusion of a successful Hwasong-17 launch, South Korean officials said. The engine burn time and trajectory data from the test also hinted at a Hwasong-15 rather than the Hwasong-17, South Korean officials said. And lastly, satellite and other data indicated that the missile had two nozzles, not four, officials said. Still, it is unusual for the South Korean military to dispute a North Korean claim so publicly and with so much detail. Some analysts say the South Korean military has a history of downplaying the power of its Northern rival. Hwasong-17 or not, the North’s latest missile launch still demonstrated significant technological advances. The missile soared 3,852 miles into space, compared with an altitude of 2,796 miles that the Hwasong-15 achieved in its last test in November 2017. The main question appears to be whether the weapon was an improved and more powerful version of the Hwasong-15 or the same Hwasong-15 equipped with more fuel and a lighter payload allowing it to fly higher. “We should not pay too much attention to whether this was a Hwasong-15 or 17,” said Kim Dong-yup, an expert on the North Korean military at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “I don’t think you can generate such flight data by just reducing the payload or using a little more fuel. This clearly marks a technological advance.” (Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korean ICBM Launch May Have Been Fake, South Korean Report Says,” New York Times, April 1, 2022, p. A-14)

Van Diepen: “While North Korean state media had reported that the March 24 launch of the Hwasong-17, Pyongyang’s newest and largest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) recently showcased in its military parade was successful, South Korea’s defense ministry assessed the test to be of the earlier model, the smaller Hwasong-15. There is a highly compelling case that the images North Korea released of the March 24 test were in fact of the March 16 test of the Hwasong-17 prior to its in-flight failure. That deception, however, does not indicate what type of missile was launched on March 24. To date, the issue remains unresolved, with Japan continuing to assess the March 24 launch as a “new type” of ICBM. The US is not on record either way, and unnamed US sources are ambiguous. An earlier 38 North article assessed the implications if the missile launched on March 24 was, in fact, a Hwasong-17. This article examines the possibility that it was a Hwasong-15 and North Korea perpetrated a deception. It concludes that: It is plausible that the North launched a Hwasong-15 or modified version and achieved the performance demonstrated in the March 24 test, although conducting another Hwasong-17 launch so soon after the March 16 failure would be well in character for Pyongyang. A successful Hwasong-15 launch would not increase the North Korean threat because that missile has probably been operationally deployed since 2017. It would, however, maintain or bolster North Korea’s confidence in the reliability of its deployed force and, therefore, of its nuclear deterrent threat against the US homeland. North Korea would almost certainly expect that the US would determine the true identity of the missile launched on March 24. Therefore, if it did try to portray a Hwasong-15 launch as a Hwasong-17, it presumably: 1) calculated that the positive effects of underscoring its ICBM capability to the outside world would outweigh the downsides of later being exposed; 2) focused on messaging to its domestic audience, or 3) both. While it is entirely credible that Kim Jong Un may have staged a “big lie” for domestic political purposes, this hypothesis raises a number of key questions that make it an unsatisfying explanation—even if it ends up being true. The US government almost certainly knows what was tested, while South Korea and Japan are unlikely to be able to determine this without US data. Hopefully, we will find out the truth at some point. In the meantime, further testing of either ICBM remains possible. The ICBM launched on March 24 demonstrated a maximum altitude of some 6,200 km over a distance of approximately 1,100 km on a flight of about 71 minutes, sufficient to achieve a range of over 15,000 km if flown on a traditional ballistic missile trajectory. In its first and only known prior flight in November 2017, the Hwasong-15 demonstrated a maximum altitude of 4,475 km over a distance of 950 km on a 53-minute flight, translating into the ability to deliver a 1,000 kg payload to a range of at least 12,000 km and upwards of 13,000 km (far enough to reach the entire continental US). It would be possible for the Hwasong-15 to achieve the greater range capability demonstrated on March 24. But to do so, the missile would have to have been launched with a substantially smaller payload (perhaps 800 kg less, according to one source); its booster would have to have been modified to deliver substantially greater performance or some combination of the two. The South Korean Ministry of National Defense reportedly assesses that the short period between the March 16 failed launch of the Hwasong-17 and the March 24 launch was insufficient for North Korea to have diagnosed the cause of the earlier failure. Therefore, instead of launching another Hwasong-17, Pyongyang launched a Hwasong-15, which the Ministry suggested provided the North with higher confidence of success than retesting the Hwasong-17, given its previous performance. This is certainly plausible. On the other hand, while most countries’ missile programs would wait to diagnose and fix the cause of an in-flight failure before conducting another launch of an important missile system, North Korea does not have a “normal” missile program. For example, it conducted its second test of the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) just 11 days after the failure of the first; a third test 13 days after the failure of the second; and a fourth (finally successful) test 15 days after the failure of the third. More so than in other countries, Pyongyang’s missile testing is almost certainly driven primarily by political over technical considerations—if Kim Jong Un wanted another test of the Hwasong-17 eight days after the failure, he would surely get one. By that same token, if he wanted a Hwasong-15 test to make it look like there was a successful test of the Hwasong-17 just eight days after the failure, it would be done as well. That said, the Hwasong-15 has only been tested once, and that was more than four years ago. Realistically, that performance would only provide slightly higher confidence in a successful flight than the newer Hwasong-17. If the North launched a substantially modified Hwasong-15 on March 24, that missile would be even less likely to succeed on its first try. The Hwasong-15 has probably been operationally deployed in North Korea since 2017. So, if that missile was launched on March 24, it would not represent any increase in Pyongyang’s threat. The launch would, however, maintain or bolster North Korea’s confidence in the performance and reliability of its deployed Hwasong-15s, associated production line and its nuclear deterrent threat against the US homeland. This is because of the apparent success of both booster stages and stage separation during the March 24 launch, the areas where the bulk of missile reliability problems tend to occur. But North Korea’s confidence would not extend to the payload portion of the system, given the likely need to have used a much smaller payload than in the deployed force to achieve the kind of performance the March 24 launch demonstrated. If that launch used an upgraded Hwasong-15 booster, its military significance would depend directly on the nature and extent of the modifications—about which we currently have no information. Since the original Hwasong-15 is already capable of reaching targets throughout the continental US, the most militarily significant improvement that a modified booster could demonstrate would be the capability to deliver more payload weight to the same range. If a modified Hwasong-15’s payload capability was substantially greater (say, by a few hundred kilograms), it could deliver a larger-yield single nuclear warhead than the original version or perhaps make it easier for the missile to carry multiple warheads. We do not know how much or what type of payload was carried on the March 24 launch. North Korea would almost certainly expect, based on over 30 years of experience, that US intelligence would be able to determine the true identity of the missile launched on March 24. Moreover, on March 10, the US had just exposed Pyongyang’s attempt to conceal the Hwasong-17 ICBM association of the February 27 and March 5 launches, which it claimed were for testing reconnaissance satellite components. Therefore, North Korea is highly unlikely to have expected a Hwasong-15/-17 ruse to have fooled or to have gone unexposed to the outside world. That would seem to provide a powerful reason for the March 24 launch to have in fact been of the Hwasong-17, with the North’s deception limited to portraying images of the March 16 Hwasong-17 launch (prior to its in-flight failure) as being of the later launch. Perhaps the angle or quality of coverage was better during the earlier test. If, however, Pyongyang did try to portray a March 24 Hwasong-15 launch as a Hwasong-17, it presumably: calculated that the positive effects of underscoring its ICBM capability to the outside world and raising concerns about a “big new missile” would outweigh the downsides of later being exposed; was messaging to a domestic audience, not worrying about being exposed in a lie to the outside world; or both. The North clearly received a huge foreign media boon from reporting on its March 25 announcement (with images) of the previous day’s test of a Hwasong-17. The groundwork had already been laid for this to be widely accepted, given previous reporting of the Hwasong-17’s use in the February 27 and March 5 launches and the foreign reporting of the March 24 test demonstrating greater flight time and boost capability than previous ICBMs. The sheer size of the Hwasong-17, and its suitability for carrying “scary” multiple warheads, added to the appeal of such media coverage. If this was a Hwasong-15 launch rather than a -17, Pyongyang may have calculated that the propaganda, prestige and deterrence effects of promoting it as a -17 were substantial enough to offset any negative publicity of the deception being revealed, particularly since the North had demonstrated an ICBM capable of striking the entire US either way. The South Korean Defense endorsed the idea that the ruse was domestically focused, especially since residents of Pyongyang reportedly witnessed the missile explosion on March 16. (It should be noted that Seoul might have its own domestic political reasons for being so insistent that the March 24 launch was a ruse.) There was clearly an important domestic dimension to North Korea’s claims about the March 24 launch and the associated video featuring Kim Jong Un. Kim certainly could have staged a “big lie” for domestic political purposes, but this hypothesis raises a number of key questions that make it an unsatisfying explanation, even if it ends up being true. These include: Was Kim so concerned for his domestic credibility and prestige that he felt the need to quickly kludge together a reduced-payload Hwasong-15 launch that has no other evident programmatic or operational purpose, or the first launch of modified Hwasong-15, along with an elaborate cover story? If so, why could Kim not regain the same amount of domestic prestige and credibility by accurately acknowledging the successful launch of a Hwasong-15 ICBM or new variant demonstrating greater range capability? Couldn’t he have instead just ignored the failure, which North Korea still has not acknowledged (while actively denying “loud sounds and flashes” over Pyongyang), as it apparently ignored the US exposure of the “satellite components test” fraud? Or, if this was truly for a domestic audience, why didn’t he simply stage a propaganda event claiming a successful Hwasong-17 launch on March 24, using the March 16 images, which the North Korean population would have no way to refute? North Korea is unlikely to admit to a Hwasong-15/-17 ruse if it perpetrated one; and if the March 24 launch really was a Hwasong-17, Pyongyang has already acknowledged that fact. In theory, we do not have to rely on North Korea’s claims. The US government almost certainly knows what was tested, while South Korea and Japan are unlikely to be able to determine this without US data. South Korean sources claim the US agrees that a Hwasong-15 was tested on March 24, and one US source quotes an unnamed US official to that effect. On the other hand, Japan has continued to maintain publicly that a “new type” of ICBM was launched (although, to be fair, it has not said “Hwasong-17”), and US officials were unwilling to privately provide another media outlet with information on what was tested. One US government source was even quoted saying, “Washington is unlikely to make its findings public due to the split views held by Seoul and Tokyo.” To date, the US Department of Defense Press Secretary John Kirby has only said: “I will just tell you that we assess that that launch was a probable ICBM. And we continue to analyze the test in close coordination with our allies and partners to include the South Koreans. I don’t have an update for you beyond that.” Hopefully, at some point, we will find out from the US, either officially or otherwise, what actually was launched on March 24. Indeed, if North Korea did perpetrate a ruse in this case, one would think the US would be as highly motivated to expose the fact and show up Pyongyang as it was in the “satellite testing” case. In the meantime, further testing of either the Hwasong 15 or 17 remains possible, although Hwasong-15 ICBMs are likely already operationally deployed.” (Vann H. Van Diepen, “Revisiting the Hwasong 17/15 Controversy: What If North Korea Had Launched a Hwasong-15?” 38North, April 27, 2022)

Rachel Minyoung Lee and Robert Carlin: “When we launched this research project last year, there were fundamental questions about the North Korean economy we felt needed to be examined: How does Pyongyang view its key economic and financial interests? How do those interests translate into policy decisions? How, once decisions are made, are new policies rolled out? And is there any pushback to those policies from within? It seemed that too often, discussions of North Korean economic policy are constrained by common wisdom about “regime survival.” We sought to break out of this straitjacket and examine internal regime consideration of broader questions concerning resource allocation and the balance between central control and autonomy for lower-level units. Though we understand why the North Korean economy is usually discussed in the context of details such as trade, market price and foreign exchange rate data, our view was that these issues would be better raised after a careful look at the larger frame in which the smaller data points make sense. Since Kim Jong Un’s assumption of power at the end of 2011, these larger, more fundamental policy concerns appear to have been a focus of intra-regime discussions. The central question—explicit and implicit—was how to boost the economy by increasing incentives for workers and farmers and by easing, though certainly not abolishing, higher-level state and party control. These tensions became evident when examining discourse in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)’s economic journals Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu and Hakpo—the Kim Il Sung University journal of economics. Articles in the journals provided guideposts for understanding Kim Jong Un’s commitment to implementing what in North Korean terms amounts to a form of economic reform. Tracking this evolution over time provided a window into the process of the North’s continuing experiments—moving ahead, tacking, falling back—with new economic ideas and practices. North Korean thinking about economic policy tells us more than just what reforms the regime is contemplating. While often overlooked, it should always be a central component in considering a range of issues that seem much higher on the list of concerns to the outside world—namely denuclearization, inter-Korean ties, and US-DPRK relations. To the extent positive movement on any of these is possible, they will inevitably have an economic component, and the effectiveness of that component will depend on how well it resonates with Pyongyang’s economic policy thinking. Simply projecting onto North Korea what we believe they should want will not work. Instead, greater consideration is needed of what already exists in terms of concepts, perspectives and goals in the regime. Methodology and Scope We began this project by reviewing 15 years of North Korea’s top two economic journals, Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu and Hakpo, in order to understand the types of ideas that the regime allowed for discussion and the range of policy choices it appears to have seriously examined over those years. Of particular interest to us were the timing and sequencing of initiatives introduced and rolled out under Kim Jong Un; the types of discussions about those initiatives that took place; and any signs of opposition the proposals encountered. In terms of sources, we knew it would be important to go beyond rounding up the usual suspects, in short, what was available in the normal central media sources such as Rodong Sinmum, Minju Joson, Pyongyang radio and TV, and Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Experts who follow Pyongyang’s economic policies agree that Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu was the single most important North Korean source of information on the economy. This is because the journal offered insights into the regime’s current policies and the direction in which it is headed with a level of detail not available in central media. In effect, Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu functioned as an economic “policy handbook” that discussed and, to some extent, reflected differing views on aspects of still unofficial party policies or guidelines not published in central media but issued by Kim Jong Un either directly in private talks with experts or circulated in the form of detailed internal party instructions. Unfortunately, Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu ceased publication in 2021. This means Kim Il Sung University’s Hakpo and the Academy of Social Sciences journal (Sahoegwahagwo’n Hakpo) have become more important for researchers of North Korean economic policy. Though Kim Jong Un assumed power in December 2011, the study reached back to 2007 in order to avoid the pitfall of assuming that all discussions appearing after his ascendance to power were new to his leadership. Rather than posit a sharp break between the Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un eras, it was important to test the hypothesis that the North’s economic policies in the last few years of Kim Jong Il’s reign—years when Kim Jong Un likely already was being groomed for succession—may have shaped the son’s economic policies. Key Takeaways There are three key lessons learned from our research. First, a close reading of the journals shows a pattern for rolling out new economic policies. Nothing is instantaneous or ad hoc. It starts with the journals introducing certain issues or topics, indicating Kim has issued some broad policy guidance that prompted interest in and research on them. After research had been conducted, new ideas were tested in some units, viable plans were identified and policies were issued, the journals would go beyond simply introducing concepts and start advocating the new policies, emphasizing the rationale and detailing how the new ideas could best be operationalized. Second, contrary to the commonly accepted notion that there can be no dissent or inconsistencies in North Korean publications, Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu served as a platform for voicing differing views. We saw this in two key areas examined, both with defense spending and issues associated with economic reform. It is inconceivable that dueling narratives on such sensitive topics could be conducted without the concurrence, and more likely the backing, of various elements within the leadership. Contending views are more likely when policy is under discussion within the leadership, but there are still times when these appear even after a decision has clearly been made. Third, the central, fundamental question of “economic management”—a code word for reformist economic policies—for Pyongyang seems to boil down to finding the right balance between state and/or party control and the independence of individual units. We continue to see dueling narratives on this issue, which indicates that the Kim regime is still trying to find the right answer in the midst of shifting circumstances. The general assessment among North Korea watchers since the Eighth Party Congress in January 2021 seems to be that Pyongyang is slowing down on or even backtracking on reform because of the emphasis on the state’s unified guidance and the party’s leadership, as well as the regime’s stated intent to continue to develop and test new weapons. North Korea has clearly shifted to stronger state and party control over the economy in the last one or two years, but for now, this seems aimed at continuing with its economic initiatives in a way that the regime can manage, rather than rolling back on reform. North Korea continues to promote the “socialist enterprise responsibility management system” (SERMS) and “plot responsibility system” at high levels—for example, at cabinet and parliamentary meetings and the premier’s field inspections. In fact, North Korea is still in the stages of researching, improving, and perfecting economic management methods, according to an expanded plenary meeting of the cabinet held on January 28, 2022. Reviewing Key Narratives Out of a range of topics addressed in the two economic journals, we keyed on two broad themes that appeared to best reflect the leadership’s thinking on reform-type measures and competing priorities: 1) civilian versus defense spending, and 2) North Korea’s initiatives in the farming, enterprise and banking sectors. Internal discussion on these fundamental concerns reveals tensions between the traditional views of socialist principles and the more flexible, nonorthodox (we are comfortable calling them “reformist”) interpretations; the challenges facing the regime as it pushes its reformist agenda; and both the extent to which the regime has been willing to go and its persistence in trying to implement new ideas. Civilian versus Defense Spending. There has long been a tug-of-war in the North Korean leadership over military versus civilian spending. In some ways, this was the biggest issue Kim Jong Un has had to tackle in fashioning new economic policies. The question of whether North Korea allocates more resources (not just money but also talent and technology) to defense rather than to the civilian economy goes beyond whether the country is planning to build and test more missiles or add to its nuclear arsenal. The basic issue, one that seems well understood in the regime, is that the more resources the regime allocates to national defense, the less room there is for reform-oriented economic policies to take root. It was noticeable that the number of articles dealing primarily with the defense industry decreased sharply, starting with the first volume of Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu in 2011—during Kim Jong Il’s last year in power, and after Kim Jong Un had made his debut as the successor-designate the previous fall. At the same time, there was an increase in articles on “economic management.” In the articles that argued for defense spending as a priority, the authors were forced to demonstrate how spending on the defense sector was not an unassailable good but was actually of benefit to the economy as a whole. In other words, defense of the nation was not enough to justify the privileged position for military spending, and proponents had to show that priority allocation of resources to defense supported nondefense sectors and stimulated economic growth overall. Those who opposed leaving military spending as a sacred cow argued that disproportionate money spent on defense was not productive. It did not support but undermined economic development by wasting resources. These opposing views showed up in two articles carried in the same issue of Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu in January 2018. Both articles were almost certainly written in anticipation of Kim Jong Un’s announcement a few months later, at an April 2018 party plenum, of a “new strategic line” of “concentrating all efforts” on the economy. In other words, as Kim was about to direct more resources to the civilian sector, opponents of that approach were still making their case that defense spending helped to stimulate the economy and, implicitly, should not be cut back. Farming and Enterprise Sectors. Even as the debate (yes, we call it a debate) over the priority of defense versus civilian resources was going on internally, Kim Jong Un moved ahead to define the broad principles of his reform-oriented economic initiatives. At a party plenary meeting in March 2013, barely a year after he assumed power, he referred to a policy of “economic management methods of our style,” clarifying those were intended to allow enterprises to carry out their activities “independently and creatively.” Kim added the usual qualifiers—that this be done under the state’s unified guidance and that workers fulfill their roles and responsibilities within the socialist economic system. However, there was no mistaking that he was opening the door for policies that made possible greater initiative by people and enterprises working at lower levels in the economy, freer from central bureaucratic control. In effect, Kim’s remarks at the plenum became the starting gun for a broader process rolling out reform by economic sectors—starting with agriculture, then enterprises and finally banking. In February 2014, 11 months after his remarks on “economic management” at the party plenum, Kim gave his first public endorsement of reform in the agricultural sector. In a letter to an unusual national meeting of “Sub-Workteam Leaders in the Agricultural Sector,” Kim endorsed the “plot responsibility system,” that is, smaller-scale, incentivized farming giving more responsibility and potentially more financial rewards to farmers. Not long after, in May, in a talk with senior party, state, and army officials, Kim established the three pillars of “economic management methods of our style.” They were: 1) the state’s unified guidance of the economy, 2) correct implementation of the “socialist enterprise responsibility management system” (SERMS) within the parameters of the socialist economy, and 3) the party’s leadership over economic work. Again, what was new and potentially far-reaching—SERMS—was carefully sandwiched between seemingly orthodox concepts. SERMS gave individual enterprises greater independence in planning, production, and management of resources and profits. It became the main part of what Kim meant when he spoke of “economic management methods.” Banking. North Korean journals had published articles introducing foreign banking practices in the first few years of Kim Jong Un’s rule, signaling that research was underway about internal financial and banking reform. But it was not until a December 2015 national meeting of financial and banking officials that Pyongyang formalized reform in that sector. In a letter to the meeting, Kim gave instructions on these key issues: the role of banks in support of enterprise independence and “creative” use of their resources; currency circulation and stability; and the “accounting system of financial institutions,” the equivalent of SERMS in the banking sector giving greater latitude to individual banks in their operation. In fact, the major purpose of the banking reforms appears to have been to support SERMS from all angles, making banks profitable so they could provide more loans and keep money in circulation as a means of supporting enterprises’ business. Whether the North was not ready to promote banking so quickly or whether it had to deal with sensitive policy details, there was a curious gap of nearly a year during which the journals did not pick up on the ideas contained in Kim’s December 2015 letter. When they finally did, they went beyond introducing the outside world’s banking policies and sought to adapt banking, and in particular, commercial banking, to North Korea’s needs. By contrast, North Korean journals started mentioning SERMS in the fall of 2014, just a few months after Kim introduced the concept in his talk with functionaries in May. Foreign Policy Implications North Korea’s stance on economic reform is significant, not just for its domestic repercussions, but also for how it might impact the country’s foreign policy. This is an area that needs closer study of particular cases. One good case could be Kim Jong Il’s July 2002 economic policy reforms and their connection to the North’s diplomatic initiatives starting in early 2000. Another would be a study of possible links between Kim Jong Un’s diplomatic initiatives in 2014 and 2015 with the introduction of his measures in agriculture, enterprise management and banking in that time period. The most obvious would be the connection between Kim’s pivot to diplomacy in January 2018 and Pyongyang’s declaration of the “new strategic line” of “everything for the economy” three months later, in April. One working hypothesis to test might be that Pyongyang tries to improve its external security environment—usually meaning improved relations with Washington—in order to provide better conditions for introducing new, reformist economic ideas. If it can’t move the foreign policy quickly enough, it moves ahead on the economic front anyway, anticipating it can get the diplomacy in line. Depending on the conclusions of such studies, they might support or contradict the commonly held idea that Pyongyang goes into diplomacy mainly for rewards or carrots from Washington. (Rachel Minyoung Lee and Robert Carlin, “Understanding Kim Jong Un’s Economic Policy-Making: A Review and Implications,” 38North, March 24, 2022)


3/27/22:
North Korea seems to be working on making a “shortcut” to a tunnel at its nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, apparently aimed at making speedy preparations for a seventh underground nuclear experiment, according to government sources in South Korea today. If carried out, it would be the secretive nation’s first known nuclear test in 4 1/2 years. South Korea’s military and intelligence authorities have detected signs of the country focusing on restoring Tunnel 3 in the mountainous northeastern area, they said. “(The North) abruptly stopped its initial construction work to restore the entrance to Tunnel 3, and it is digging up the side (of the tunnel),” a source said, requesting anonymity. “In this way, it seems like it will be possible to restore (the facilities) in a month.” There are reportedly four tunnels in the Punggye-ri zone, which was formally shut down in 2018, with demolition work carried out in front of a small group of invited foreign journalists. Some observers said it would be difficult to immediately restore Tunnels 1 and 2, where the North carried out its previous nuclear tests, while Tunnels 3 and 4 could be usable after restoration work. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Carrying out Construction at Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: Sources,” March 27, 2022)


3/28/22:
KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, had a photo session with the officials, scientists, technicians and workers in the field of the defense industry who contributed to the successful test-fire of new-type ICBM Hwasongpho-17. … We must be strong under whatever circumstances to defend peace, accelerate socialist construction and ensure the security of the rising generations, free from any threat, he said. He expressed once again our Party’s will for building the strong defense capabilities to defend the security and future of our country and people by more reliable and perfect and stronger, overwhelming strategic force. The defense capabilities in the true sense of word precisely mean the powerful striking capabilities, he said, adding that only when one is equipped with the formidable striking capabilities, overwhelming military power that cannot be stopped by anyone, is it possible for one to prevent a war, guarantee the security of the country and contain and put under control all threats and blackmails by the imperialists. He declared that we would continue to attain the defense up-building goal and develop much more powerful strike means to equip our army with them. The unyielding revolutionary spirit and exceptional patriotism displayed by the defense industry scientists and technicians and the munitions industry workers who are devotedly carrying into practice the Party’s unique idea on the self-reliant defense strategy are the inexhaustible strength of our Party, he said, expressing his expectation and conviction that they would as ever strive with redoubled courage for the development and security of our great state and the victorious advance of our revolutionary cause, and thus perfect the country’s nuclear war deterrent at an accelerating pace. … ” (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Has Photo Session with Those Who Contributed to Successful Test-Fire of Hwasongpho-17 Type,” March 28, 2022)


2/30/22:
South Korea “successfully” test-launched a homegrown solid-fuel space rocket for the first time, taking one significant step to further develop and launch microsatellites for military surveillance and reconnaissance. The state-run Agency for Defense Development said it conducted the test-firing to “verify the performance” of the solid-propellant carrier rocket developed with indigenous technologies today at its own testing site in Taean, South Chungcheong Province. Defense Minister Suh Wook and other senior military officials were present. The test aimed to “verify core technologies for space launch vehicles,” including large-scale rocket propellants, payload fairing and stage separation mechanisms, and upper stage attitude control system, according to the ADD. South Korea has intensively pushed forward with developing space launch vehicles using solid fuel since South Korea and the U.S. last May agreed to terminate missile guidelines that had put restrictions on the country’s missile development program since 1979. Today’s initial test launch came around eight months after the country carried out an “ignition test” for a solid-propellant rocket engine last July. In comparison to liquid-propellant rockets, solid-fuel carrier rockets have the advantages of a simple structure and convenient manufacturing. Solid rockets can be manufactured and developed with lower costs and “launched quickly.” South Korea in October conducted the first test launch of a homegrown liquid-propellant Nuri rocket, but it has failed to put its payload into the targeted orbit after liftoff. “A satellite mounted on a solid-propellant space launch vehicle will be launched after completing additional verification,” the state-run arms development agency said in a statement. “The launch is expected to lead to the development of space launch vehicles that can put microsatellites or ultra-micro satellites into a low Earth orbit.”

South Korea plans to launch a homegrown solid-propellant rocket at the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Jeolla Province after the ADD verifies and integrates major components. Today’s announcement is noteworthy given that the Moon Jae-in government has largely refrained from making public South Korea’s weapons tests and development. But this time, the ADD conspicuously highlighted the significance of the solid rocket test-firing which was conducted at a juncture when North Korea has pushed forward its plan to develop technologies for space and missile systems. The ADD today underscored that the test launch was conducted at a “very critical time when North Korea launched an ICBM contravening the moratorium of its own accord.” “Therefore, the successful test-firing of a solid-propellant space launch vehicle marks an important milestone in strengthening national defense capabilities,” especially in respect to the South Korean military’s “independent space-based surveillance and reconnaissance” capabilities. “Our military will expeditiously advance space power, including a solid-propellant rocket, based on cross-service cooperation with the recognition that space is the key domain that has a significant impact on our national security.” South Korea’s arms procurement agency today announced its plan to “accelerate the space-based surveillance and reconnaissance system” as the battlefield has been expanded to space. The Defense Acquisition Program Administration said it has established and confirmed its grand strategy and direction to “achieve superiority on the future battlefield” at a first meeting of the Advanced Defense Technology Programs Management Committee held on the same day. As a key outcome, Seoul has decided to focus on developing and putting low-earth orbit or LEO satellites into an orbit below the altitude of 500 kilometers, which can be operated with low maintenance costs. “Through the development, our military can acquire quasi-real-time surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities at a low cost and satellite communications capabilities with shorter delay and higher reliability compared to the existing satellites in high Earth orbit,” the DAPA said. The military also plans to develop technologies that can put micro-satellites into a low Earth orbit by 2024, employing the solid-propellant rocket technologies developed by the ADD. (Ji Da-gyum, “S. Korea Test-First First Indigenous Solid-Fueled Rocket, Pushes to Launch Spy Satellites,” Korea Herald, March 30, 2022)


4/1/22:
The U.S. has newly sanctioned North Korea’s Ministry of Rocket Industry and four related companies for supporting the country’s weapons development programs, the U.S. Treasury Department announced today. The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) cited Pyongyang’s “escalatory ballistic missile launches” in recent months for the new designations, stating that its tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICMBs) “demonstrate the DPRK’s clear determination to continue developing its unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs.” “Today’s action targets a DPRK weapons of mass destruction research and development organization that is directly linked to the development of the DPRK’s ICBMs, along with four of its revenue generating subsidiaries,” OFAC said in a press release. In a separate statement on today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized that the new sanctions are a response to “at least three recent” ICBM tests that “are a blatant violation of UNSC resolutions and pose a grave threat to regional stability and international peace and security.” He appeared to refer to two launches that Pyongyang claimed were reconnaissance satellite system tests and the March 24 test of what it called a Hwasong-17 ICBM. The latest U.S. sanctions designations come after the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) failed to jointly condemn the March 24 ICBM launch, and as Washington pursues new international sanctions against North Korea. OFAC said it designated the DPRK’s Ministry of Rocket Industry for its link to the country’s Munitions Industry Department, which the U.S. and UNSC had already sanctioned in 2010 and 2016, respectively. The ministry “worked with overseas representatives from other DPRK organizations in order to support [its] procurement goals,” according to the U.S. Treasury. Tpday’s announcement describes the four other sanctioned entities — Unchon Trading Corporation, Sungnisan Trading Corporation, Hapjanggang Trading Corporation and Korea Rounsan Trading Corporation — as subordinate companies that pursued activities “likely aimed at generating revenue” for the ministry. These activities include “establishing joint ventures in North Korea, pursuing large scale projects with Chinese firms, exporting North Korean labor, including IT workers, establishing a restaurant in a foreign location, coordinating with DPRK embassy personnel on international trade efforts, and importing large equipment manufactured by a European company to North Korea,” OFAC said. (Jeongmin Kim, “U.S. Sanctions North Korean Rocket Ministry in Response to ‘Escalatory’ ICBM Test,” NKNews, April 2, 2022)


4/3/22:
WPK Central Committee Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jong’s statement: ”The south Korean Defense Minister on April 1 revealed his confrontation hysteria with the DPRK, talking about “preemptive strike” on it. The senseless and scum-like guy dare mentioned the “preemptive strike” at a nuclear weapons state, in his senseless bluster which will never be beneficial to south Korea, either. He is a confrontation maniac engrossed in the mindset of confrontation with his fellow countrymen in the north. His reckless and intemperate rhetoric about the “preemptive strike” has further worsened the inter-Korean relations and the military tension on the Korean Peninsula. Now we cannot but take his confrontation hysteria seriously and reconsider a lot of things. South Korea may face a serious threat owing to the reckless remarks made by its Defense Minister. As long as the south Korean military revealed its intent to seek provocative incentive of serious level and escalate a showdown with the DPRK, I will give a serious warning upon authorization. We will reconsider a lot of things concerning south Korea. South Korea should discipline itself if it wants to stave off disaster. I hope I don’t hear him blustering again.” (KCNA, “Press Statement of Kim Yo Jong, Vice Department Director of C.C., WPK,” April 3, 2022)

WPK Central Committee Secretary Pak Jong Chon’s press statement: “I open to public this press statement because it is absolutely necessary for our people and army to get to know about the south Korean military’s hysteric pursuit for confrontation with the DPRK. South Korean Minister of Defense So Uk reeled off a string of rhetoric at a ceremony for the reorganization of the “ground missile strategic command” on April 1. There he bluffed that the south Korean army has lots of missiles with various missions whose firing range, accuracy and power have been dramatically improved. He, citing a sign of missile launch by the DPRK, said that the south Korean army has ability to make precision and preemptive strike at the origin of launch and command and support facilities and has adopted a posture for it. He vowed to keep developing long-range, ultra-precision, high-performance and diverse ballistic missiles capable of containing the enemy in the future, openly revealing his intent to stoke up the military stand-off with the DPRK, whom he called an enemy. He must be crazy or silly to speak of “preemptive attack” on the nuclear weapons state. He is steeped in the mindset of stand-off to the marrows of his bones. Now the Korean peninsula is technically at war. Any slight misjudgment and ill statement rattling the other party under the present situation where acute military tension persists may become a spark triggering off a dangerous conflict and a full-blown war. This is a fact known by all. The provocative rhetoric made by the Defense Minister of south Korea against the DPRK under the present situation clearly shows the anti-DPRK confrontational frenzy of the south Korean military. As he provoked us, touting a preemptive strike, I will make one short warning representing our army. If the south Korean army engages in a dangerous military action as a preemptive strike against the DPRK, being guided by misjudgment, our army will mercilessly direct all its military force into destroying major targets in Seoul and the south Korean army. The south Korean military must not ramp up the tension with its confrontational acts. We know well that they are shaking in fear and uneasiness but are bluffing and making confrontational rhetoric to relieve its people of worries. It had better not bluff any more.” .” (KCNA, “Press Statement of Secretary of C.C., WPK Pak Jong Chon,” April 3, 2022)


4/4/22:
WPK Central Committee Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jong’s press statement: “So Uk, defense minister of south Korea, on April 1 revealed extreme uneasiness, touting a “preemptive strike” on our army’s possible strike means against south Korea. His abrupt bluffing evidently showed that they are so frightened. It seems that he wanted to give impression to the public that the south Korean army is well prepared. But it was an irretrievable very big mistake that he, so-called representative of the south Korean army, talked about “preemptive strike”, terming us enemy. We have already clarified that south Korea is not our principal enemy. In other words, it means that unless the south Korean army takes any military action against our state, it will not be regarded as a target of our attack. We oppose war. If the armies of the two sides fight against each other, the entire Korean nation will suffer a disaster as it did half a century ago that might be more terrible, no matter which side will win or lose in a war or combat. We are definitely against such war. That’s why our Marshal clarified that our principal enemy is just war itself. However, the south Korean army, labeling us as enemy, talked about the possibility of mounting a preemptive strike on us with such a premise as in certain circumstances. Such nonsense itself is a very dangerous and nasty expression. If anyone does not provoke us, we will never strike it before anything else. But if south Korea, for any reason—whether or not it is blinded by misjudgment—opts for such military action as “preemptive strike” touted by So Uk, the situation will change. In that case, south Korea itself will become a target. Two days ago, we solemnly warned that the south Korean army will face an unimaginably terrible disaster, the worst-ever, if it violates even an inch of our territory. In case south Korea opts for military confrontation with us, our nuclear combat force will have to inevitably carry out its duty. It is the primary mission of the nuclear force to prevent such war before anything else, but in case of war, its mission will convert into the one of eliminating the enemy’s armed forces at a strike. One’s nuclear combat force is mobilized to take initiative at the outset of war, completely dampen the enemy’s war spirits, prevent protracted hostilities and preserve one’s own military muscle. If the situation reaches such phase, a dreadful attack will be launched and the south Korean army will have to face a miserable fate little short of total destruction and ruin. This is not just a threat. This is a detailed explanation of our reaction to possible reckless military action by south Korea and its consequences and, at the same time, a briefing on the reason why south Korea should not harbor such fancy as military provocation against a nuclear weapons state. But there is a way for averting such miserable end. It will be possible to avoid the above-said horrible disaster, if it refrains from making untimely provocation and dreaming a daydream and ponders over a way for protecting itself from a shower of fire, although it might not happen. “Preemptive strike” against a nuclear weapons state? … This is a fantastic daydream, and it is hysteria of a lunatic. We make it clear once again. We will not fire even a single bullet or shell toward south Korea. It is because we do not regard it as match for our armed forces. This opinion comes not from an obvious contrast with a nuclear weapons state in the light of military capabilities but from the fact that the north and the south of Korea are of the same nation who should not fight against each other. I pray that such morbid symptom as feeling threat for no ground would be cured as early as possible.” (KCNA, “Press Statement of Vice Department Director of C.C., WPK Kim Yo Jong,” April 5, 2022)


4/5/22:
South Korean delegates representing President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol discussed the possible deployment of U.S. strategic assets to South Korea in a meeting with U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan today, the chief delegate said. Rep. Park Jin of Yoon’s People Power Party also said the sides discussed a need to hold a bilateral summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Yoon at an early date. Park said the group, called the U.S.-South Korea policy consultation delegation, also delivered a personal letter for Biden from Yoon that was given to the White House national security advisor. The South Korean lawmaker said the letter highlights the need to further upgrade the South Korea-U.S. alliance in order to tackle the North Korean nuclear issue while also enhancing the level of cooperation between the countries on a range of regional and global issues including climate change and supply chain resiliency. “We also had consultations on ways to enhance the joint defense posture of South Korea and the U.S. and strengthen the U.S. extended deterrence,” Park said of his meeting with Sullivan. Park added their discussions also included the possible deployment of U.S. strategic assets to South Korea. “Deploying strategic assets is an important part of strengthening extended deterrence as I said just now. You may understand South Korea and the U.S. discussed the issue today in that sense,” said Park. Strategic assets generally refer to formidable military hardware such as nuclear-powered submarines, aircraft carriers and long-range bombers that are often used as a show of force to deter provocations or aggression by potential adversaries. South Korea’s defense ministry earlier said in a report to President-elect Yoon’s transition team that it plans to hold discussions with the U.S. on the deployment of U.S. strategic assets to South Korea amid growing tensions with North Korea. (Byun Duk-kun, “Yoon Delegation Discusses Deployment of U.S. Strategic Assets to S. Korea with NSA Sullivan,” Yonhap, April 6, 2022)

South Korea’s Unification Ministry views North Korea’s recent warning that it would strike South Korean conventional forces with nuclear weapons as an “existential threat,” while keeping close tabs on potential accidental conflicts between the two Koreas. “We should not overlook the fact that (North Korea) refers to the nuclear issue as an existential threat” in the statement, a high-ranking official at the Unification Ministry, who wished to remain anonymous, said in a closed-door briefing. The official with knowledge of the matter pointed out that Pyongyang had said the country would not use nuclear weapons against the Korean people, taking note of a change in North Korea’s declaratory policy concerning the use of nuclear weapons. North Korea specifically said its “nuclear combat force will inevitably have to carry out its duties if South Korea chooses a military confrontation,” clarifying its position that it would use nuclear weapons at the outset of a war with South Korea. The official said South Korea is “concerned” about the statement, as North Korea said it would launch a nuclear attack against South Korea under certain conditions. “We view it as an existential threat,” the high-ranking official said, sharing Seoul‘s assessment of the statement after its careful examination. The Unification Ministry’s assessment is noteworthy given that analysts largely forecast that North Korea could provoke South Korea in the near future, with the intent to abrogate the Sept. 19 inter-Korean comprehensive military agreement. The official viewed that there are higher chances that North Korea will launch another intercontinental ballistic missile rather than conduct a nuclear test. But the official did not rule out the possibility of the seventh nuclear test. The high-ranking official also repeatedly underscored that the incoming government in South Korea should strive to bring North Korea to the negotiating table at a critical juncture, suggesting specific ways to resuscitate inter-Korean relations. As the first step to jump-start dialogue, the next government must “make a declaration that it will provide humanitarian aid under any circumstance and separately from political and military situations,” the official said. Yoon has endorsed the idea of providing humanitarian aid that can substantially help the North Korean people, irrespective of the denuclearization progress or political situation. Another option could be to resume the inter-Korean tour program at Kumgangsan as it does not violate UN Security Council sanctions resolutions. South Korea’s unification minister on Wednesday also called for President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol to put forth “intensive efforts” from the beginning of his term to prevent the two Koreas from moving toward “long-term confrontation.” Unification Minister Lee In-young appealed to the incoming government to “implement North Korea and unification policies in a more consistent manner and with a long-term perspective” rather than taking a hardline stance on North Korea. “I propose (Yoon) to make a contractarian move by adopting a peace policy against the public expectations that the conservative government will take a confrontational stance (on North Korea),” Lee said during his last meeting with reporters held at the ministry’s inter-Korean dialogue office in central Seoul. Lee said Yoon will be able to “resolve escalating tensions and crisis” and “prevent (the two Koreas) moving toward long-term confrontation only if he makes intensive efforts from his early days in office and succeeds in shifting the situation on the Korean Peninsula toward peace.” The unification minister underlined that the incoming Yoon government must stop North Korea from resuming a nuclear test, which has been suspended since September 2017. To that end, Lee said Yoon should implement a “forward-looking and proactive peace policy” to “make a turnabout on the situation of the Korean Peninsula.” (Ji Da-gyum, “S. Korea Views N. Korea’s Warning to Use Nuclear Weapons as ‘Existential’ Threat,” Korea Herald, April 6, 2022)


4/6/22:
When Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in the 1990s, experts debated whether the decision would make the country safer or more vulnerable to an invasion from Moscow, its nuclear-armed neighbor. Now, as Russia pounds Ukrainian cities while being accused of committing atrocities against civilians, many in South Korea say there is no more room for debate. Since the conflict began, South Koreans have flooded online chat rooms with discussions about their country’s need to have nuclear weapons to prevent an invasion from North Korea, their own nuclear-armed neighbor. On Tuesday, North Korea warned that it would use its nuclear weapons “at the outset of war,” should one with the South ever start. Like Ukraine, South Korea once had nuclear weapons within its borders. And Seoul abandoned its own covert nuclear program in the 1970s in exchange for security guarantees from the United States. But as they watch Ukrainians battle Russian forces and plead for outside military assistance, many South Koreans fear that was a mistake. “There is no justice in this world, only national interests,” said one commentator on Twitter. “We must build our own defense, arming ourselves with nuclear weapons, unless we want to find ourselves in the sorry state Ukraine is in now.” South Koreans have demanded nuclear weapons for years as North Korea expanded its arsenal and provoked Washington with missile tests. In one recent survey of South Koreans, 71 percent of the respondents supported arming the country with nuclear weapons, according to a research paper published in February by the Carnegie Endowment and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. For South Koreans, the war has shown the extent to which a nuclear-armed power can get away with invading a non-nuclear neighbor when fears of nuclear war make intervention less likely. And for the North, it offered further proof of the advantages of a homegrown nuclear deterrent. Analysts say North Korea is now more determined than ever to keep its nuclear arsenal, as the South confronts its own vulnerability. “The war in Ukraine is a chilling reminder that when things get really dicey, there is a limit to how much your friends can do for you,” said Cho Kyong-hwan, a member of the Presidential Commission on Policy Planning in Seoul. “At the end of the day, you only have your own power to defend yourself.” Ukraine is not a NATO member and does not have a formal alliance with the United States, whereas Seoul and Washington are bound by a mutual defense treaty. When the defense chiefs of the United States and South Korea held their annual meeting in December, Washington renewed its commitment to “extended deterrence,” vowing to defend its South Korean ally with all its military capabilities, “including nuclear,” should war break out on the Korean Peninsula. About 28,500 American troops are stationed here. Still, many in the country cannot shake the fear that they might one day be abandoned by the United States. “We don’t see global American leadership anymore. Instead, we rather find it feckless and helpless,” Lee Sang-min, a senior lawmaker affiliated with the governing Democratic Party, told a parliamentary hearing in February. “We even get skeptical whether we should rely entirely on the United States on issues that relate directly to our survival and prosperity.” People in both Koreas view themselves as a small nation that has suffered numerous invasions and been occupied and divided by foreign forces. A once-common Korean saying advised: “Don’t trust the Americans and don’t be fooled by the Soviets, the Japanese will rise again and the Chinese will kill you — Koreans, be careful!” Last week, Ukrainian officials warned that Russia may try to divide their country as Korea was divided after World War II. Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, has called his nuclear arsenal a “treasured sword” that will safeguard his country once and for all from foreign invaders. “We must be strong,” Kim said after resuming intercontinental ballistic missile tests in March. Only “nuclear war deterrence” will protect North Korea from “all threats and blackmails by the imperialists.” Not long ago, similar ideas were popular in South Korea. In the 1990s, a novel titled “The Rose of Sharon Blooms Again” became a runaway best seller, with a plotline promoting nuclear nationalism. In the book, the C.I.A. is suspected of assassinating a Korean nuclear physicist to stop him from building nuclear weapons, but South and North Korea join forces to build them — and deter another Japanese invasion of Korea. “Who can guarantee that the Americans will remain our protector forever?” the protagonist, a newspaper reporter chasing the C.I.A. plot, says in the novel’s most famous line. Washington could not stop North Korea from building its own nuclear arsenal. That has left South Korea facing three nuclear states to the north and west: North Korea, Russia and China. “South Koreans wonder who would protect them if the United States bowed out,” said Lee Byong-chul, an expert in nuclear proliferation at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul. Calls for nuclear weapons have often bubbled up in South Korea over the decades, but they have never become a part of a mainstream political movement. President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who has promised to strengthen ties with the United States, has disavowed a nuclear-armed South Korea. Washington fears that if Seoul were to build nuclear weapons, it would trigger a regional arms race and eliminate any hope of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. Secretary of the Army Christine Elizabeth Wormuth said last month that she “would be hesitant to contemplate” bringing nuclear weapons back to the peninsula. Analysts like Mr. Cho, however, have argued it is time for Washington to boost South Korea’s confidence in extended deterrence. One possibility, they say, is to introduce a nuclear-sharing agreement with Seoul, similar to the one in which NATO aircraft would be allowed to carry American nuclear weapons in wartime. When considering such options, South Koreans have more than a belligerent North Korea in mind: In the Carnegie Endowment survey, 56 percent of the respondents said that China would be “the biggest threat” to South Korea in the next 10 years. If China were to invade Taiwan — the self-governing, democratic island that Beijing claims as its own — would North Korea, Beijing’s ally, see that as an opportunity to invade the South? And if Washington were facing conflicts in both Taiwan and South Korea, how would it respond? Uncomfortable questions such as these have led to “greater calls for South Korea to actually have its own nuclear deterrent,” said Jenny Town, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center in Washington, during an online forum last month. “This is an issue that we’re really going to have to grapple with in the near future.” (Choe Sang-Hun, “Ukraine Conflict Revives Nuclear Arms Question In a Wary South Korea,” New York Times, April 7, 2022, p. A-10)


4/13/22:
U.S. and Japanese warships, led by the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, are conducting their joint naval exercise in waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula for the first time in five years, in a show of their close military alliance amid growing speculation of North Korea’s missile or nuclear testing later this week. The U.S. 7th Fleet and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force said today they conducted a joint naval exercise at the Sea of Japan on Tuesday and Wednesday. It was the first time the U.S. aircraft carrier held the exercise in the area since 2017 and is seen as an apparent attempt to deter North Korea’s provocation. (Mari Yamaguchi, “U.S., Japan Hold Naval Drills off Koreas amid Nuke Test Worry,” Associated Press, April 13, 2022)

President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol nominated Rep. Park Jin, a veteran politician well versed in relations with the United States, as foreign minister today, as he announced eight Cabinet nominees, including a surprise pick of his closest prosecutor colleague Han Dong-hoon for justice minister. Yoon also nominated Rep. Kwon Young-se, a four-term lawmaker who served as ambassador to China from 2013-2015, as unification minister, while tapping Kim Dae-ki, an economic technocrat who previously served as a senior presidential secretary, for his chief of staff. Park, the foreign minister nominee, is a four-term lawmaker of Yoon’s People Power Party (PPP) who worked briefly for the foreign ministry after passing the foreign service exam in the 1970s. He is considered an expert on relations with the U.S. Though he was absent from the press conference after testing positive for COVID-19, he released a statement through the foreign ministry, saying he will serve humbly, starting with the parliamentary confirmation process, “with the attitude that in foreign relations, only national interest matters.” Kwon, the unification minister nominee, is also a four-term PPP lawmaker who served as ambassador to China during the Park Geun-hye administration and is known as one of Yoon’s closest associates. When asked how he will approach inter-Korean relations, he said he will make practical and rational decisions based on principles. “Efforts were made over the last five years but there wasn’t much progress in South-North relations,” he said at the press conference. “With the recent string of missile provocations and suspension of dialogue, the external environment is very unfavorable.” (Lee Haye-ah, “Yoon Picks U.S.-Friendly Lawmakers for Foreign Minister, Closest Prosecutor for Justice Minister,” Yonhap, April 13, 2022) Kwon, a prosecutor-turned-politician like Yoon, previously served as ambassador to China under President Park Geun-hye and a security expert who headed the National Assembly’s intelligence committee in 2010. He has criticized both progressive and conservative policies toward North Korea, likely an asset as Yoon looks to win support for his unification minister pick in the opposition-controlled legislature. Kwon is known for being cautious and diplomatic. Asked on Wednesday about his views on the 2018 inter-Korean military agreement, he declined to go into details, saying the administration and ministry should decide on a future direction “as a team” based on both “reasonable principles” and a “pragmatic” approach. “‘Principle’ and ‘pragmatism’ could be contradictory, but the unification ministry’s task right now is exactly that — solving such difficult contradictions in inter-Korean relations,” Kwon said. Yoon portrayed Kwon as someone who led internal reforms and mediated conflicts within the conservative PPP, while highlighting his experience as ambassador. “I think that he will play a big role in resolving the DPRK nuclear weapons issue in the future and manage the situation on the Korean Peninsula stably,” Yoon said today. A four-term lawmaker, Kwon played a leading role in crafting election strategies for Yoon as well as impeached former President Park Geun-hye back in 2012. Earlier this week, he accompanied Yoon for a visit to see Park at her home in Daegu. As head of the National Assembly’s intelligence committee when North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, he famously criticized both former President Roh Moo-hyun’s pro-engagement Sunshine Policy and Lee Myung-bak’s DPRK policy, saying it was a “comprehensive” failure. While Kwon unsuccessfully attempted to visit North Korea to discuss inter-Korean economic cooperation in 2008, he later came out against sending an envoy to Pyongyang or holding a summit without a clear goal, saying it plays into the DPRK’s strategy. But he has voiced support for providing humanitarian assistance, criticizing former president Lee for not doing more to address food insecurity in North Korea. Kwon was also one of the few conservative lawmakers to criticize the PPP leader’s proposal to shut down the unification ministry last year, arguing that tasking the foreign ministry with inter-Korean relations would cause problems since the South Korean constitution does not recognize the North as a separate country. “We ultimately aim at unification, but our unification ministry’s task today is not to achieve it right away but to handle inter-Korean exchange and cooperation, in the process of overcoming the division,” he said in July 2021. Kwon also opposed a controversial law aimed at restricting anti-DPRK leafleting activities, warning during debates on the law that it risked “limiting people’s freedom and human rights” by interpreting the scope of criminalized activities too widely. Kwon, 63, graduated from Seoul National University law school, where he was two years Yoon’s senior. The two have a more than 40-year friendship outside politics. (Jeongmin Kim, “Yoon Names Lawmaker Who Opposed Dismantling Unification Ministry to Head It,” NKNews, April 13, 2022)


4/16/22:
Rodong Sinmun: “Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and supreme commander of the armed forces of the DPRK, observed the test-fire of a new-type tactical guided weapon. Accompanying him was Kim Jong Sik, vice department director of the WPK Central Committee. Also watching the test-fire were leading personnel of the DPRK Ministry of National Defense and commanders of the large combined units of the Korean People’s Army. The new-type tactical guided weapon system developed under special attention of the Party Central Committee is of great significance in drastically improving the firepower of the frontline long-range artillery units and enhancing the efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes of the DPRK and diversification of their firepower missions. The test-fire was carried out successfully. The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un highly praised the national defense scientific research sector for registering continuous successes in attaining the core goals of securing the war deterrent set at the 8th Party Congress, and extended warm congratulations on behalf of the Party Central Committee. Clarifying the Party Central Committee’s long-term plan for bolstering up the defense capabilities of the country, the respected General Secretary gave important instructions on further building up the defense capabilities and nuclear combat forces of the country.” (Rodong Sinmun, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Observes Test-Fire of New Tactical Guided Weapon,” April 17, 2022)

North Korea has carried out its 12th missile test of the year, launching what appeared to be a pair of short-range projectiles off its east coast, South Korea’s military said on April 17. The two missiles were fired from Hamhung, a city on the North’s east coast, at 6 p.m. today, the military said. They flew 68 miles, it said. Earlier Sunday, the North Korean state media said that Kim Jong-un, the country’s leader, had supervised the launching of a “new-type tactical guided weapon,” giving no date or location for the test. It said the test would help the North improve its “efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes.” Though the missiles seemed to be considerably less powerful than others the North has recently tested, the launch came at a moment of relatively high tension. The launch came days after the American aircraft carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln had arrived in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. No specific reason was given for the deployment, but the carrier group was sent there amid concern that Kim might order a nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile test around yesterday — the 110th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founding leader, Kim Il-sung. Instead, the holiday, North Korea’s biggest, was celebrated with large rallies, fireworks and cultural performances, but without a weapon test or a military parade. Also, the United States and South Korea are set to begin annual joint military exercises on April 18. The drills consist largely of computer simulations and are said to be defensive in nature. But North Korea has condemned all of the two allies’ joint exercises as rehearsals for invasion and has often responded to them with weapon tests. It was not immediately clear what type of missile the North had tested on Saturday. In the past, it has used the “new-type guided tactical weapon” language to refer to the short-range ballistic missiles known as KN-23 or KN-24. Those are among a variety of missiles North Korea has been testing since 2019 to improve its ability to fire short-range conventional or nuclear warheads at South Korea, Japan and the American military bases in the region. In photos released by the North Korean state media on Sunday, the missile said to have been fired today resembled the KN-23. (Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Launches 2 Short-Range Missiles,” New York Times, April 16, 2022) The test involved the firing of two missiles from Majon beach on North Korea’s east coast, which was used in a previous KN23 short-range missile launch in Jan. 2022. According to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the two missiles covered a range of 110 kilometers and reached a maximum altitude of 25 kilometers. The missile’s maximum speed was reported as Mach 4. The trajectory roughly corresponds to a minimum energy trajectory, implying that these missiles did not conduct significant maneuvers during their flight. KCTV images showed at least one of the missiles striking Alsom Island, an uninhabited rock commonly used as a target in North Korean missile launches in recent years. The trajectory would place the total flight time of these missiles at under 60 seconds. Based on images released by North Korea, the missile bears a strong resemblance to the KN-23 and KN-24 family of short-range ballistic missiles. It appears to be quite a bit smaller — although precise analysis will be necessary to estimate this missile’s diameter and length. The exhibited flight trajectory, in the U.S. Department of Defense’s missile taxonomy, would actually make this new missile a so-called close-range ballistic missile (a designation used for missile systems that range less than 300 kilometers). The missile bears a strong external similarity to South Korea’s Hanhwa Korea Tactical Surface-to-Surface Missile (KTSSM), another close-range ballistic missile with a similar range. Like the KTSSM’s canisterized launch system, the North Korean launcher seen in today’s test makes use of a two-by-two canister arrangement. This similarity should not be interpreted to imply North Korean theft of South Korean missile technology. Pyongyang has made strides in short-range solid rocket motors in recent years and it stands to reason that such a missile would be well within North Korea’s indigenous technical capacity. Still, the external similarities between this new missile and the ROK KTSSM are striking. The integrated transporter-erector-launcher for the new missile appears to make use of a similar chassis as the KN25 short-range ballistic missile launcher. This is consistent with an apparently smaller, shorter-range missile than the KN23/KN24 SRBMs. Curiously, unlike other North Korean missile launches, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff did not report on the launch as it took place. Instead, the sole indicator that a missile event had occurred in North Korea came from an unusual source: The Offices of Guam Homeland Security released a statement on a North Korean missile launch event, noting that it posed no threat to the U.S. territory. The Japanese government, often one of the first to report on North Korean missile launches, did not release any statement concurrent to Saturday’s test either. The short range of this test could be one explanation for the lack of an immediate release; South Korean authorities will allow certain tests of rocket artillery systems to pass without comment. Alternatively, it may be the case that the low altitude could have resulted in a radar miss. South Korean authorities likely have oriented missile warning radars to observe airspace off North Korea’s eastern coast near Alsom Island, given the frequency of tests striking this target. It’s particularly notable that the inaugural test of this new missile comes as indicators grow of significant reconstitutive activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. Should North Korea proceed with a seventh nuclear test, it will likely do so with the intention of developing lighter and more compact nuclear warheads for use on this missile and potentially other systems. The missile was not previously revealed at the October 2021 “Self-Defense” Expo, suggesting it may be a particularly privileged program. Kim’s personal involvement in guiding this test further underscores the importance of this system. He last attended a short-range missile test personally in March 2020. (Ankit Panda, “North Korea’s Latest Missile Launch a Step toward Tactical Nuclear Weapons,” NKNews, April 18, 2022)

Van Diepen: “On April 16, North Korea tested a new, unnamed short-range ballistic missile (SRBM), claiming the test would improve the operation of its “tactical nukes.” The new missile would add incrementally to the substantial existing artillery and SRBM threat against South Korean and US forces within about 100 km of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). But it would not add meaningfully to North Korea’s tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) capability, given its longstanding deployment of large numbers of other nuclear-capable SRBMs, such as the Scud and the new KN-23. More significant is Pyongyang’s rhetorical emphasis on “tactical nukes,” clearly an effort to heighten South Korean and US concerns about the potential use of such weapons. Observers have rightly noted that the North’s claims, in conjunction with renewed activity at its nuclear test site, could mean Pyongyang plans to test a TNW in the near future. Although such a test would be logical (and probably required to field a small, low-yield TNW), it is still not clear what exactly the North means by “tactical nukes,” and there are logical reasons to test various other types of nuclear weapons as well. On April 17, Guam’s Office of Civil Defense reported “the recent launch of an unidentified projectile out of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).” Later that day, North Korea issued a brief statement reporting that Kim Jong Un “observed the test-fire of a new-type tactical guided weapon.” North Korean media reported that the successful test “is of great significance in drastically improving the firepower of the frontline long-range artillery units and enhancing the efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes of the DPRK and diversification of their firepower missions.” The accompanying photos showed a new type of solid-propellant SRBM fired from one of four rectangular launch canisters mounted on a small, wheeled, road-mobile launcher. In the wake of Pyongyang’s announcement, the Republic of Korea’s (South Korea) Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that the North had launched two projectiles on April 16 to an altitude of about 25 km, a range of about 110 km, and a top speed of Mach 4.0 or less. The unnamed new missile appears to draw on the earlier KN-23 solid-propellant SRBM. Based on the photos, launch vehicle and trajectory, however, it is a much smaller system with a much shorter range (some 110 km vs. 450 km for the full-payload KN-23). This range appears consistent with the North’s claims that this missile will improve “frontline long-range artillery units,” akin to the role of South Korea’s similar-appearing 180-km range Korea Tactical Surface-to-Surface Missile (KTSSM). The new missile has a similar range to Pyongyang’s earlier KN-02 Toksa SRBM (120-170 km), making it unclear whether it will fulfill a different role. If the new missile is derived from the KN-23, it has the potential to be more accurate than the older KN-02. It may also be guided throughout flight as the KN-23 is believed to be, enabling it to perform unexpected maneuvers that would complicate the task of US-ROK missile defenses. The most significant aspect of the North Korean statement about the recent test was its association of the new missile with “the operation of tactical nukes of the DPRK.” This is the first time Pyongyang has linked a specific delivery system with TNW. But that does not necessarily mean the new missile is North Korea’s first delivery system for such warheads or that TNW are only now being deployed. A few key points to keep in mind: Analysts have long assessed that North Korea’s earlier SRBMs are capable of carrying nuclear weapons. By noting that the new missile is “enhancing the efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes of the DPRK and diversification of their firepower missions,” the March 17 statement implies that such warheads have already been deployed with earlier delivery systems. Kim Jong Un’s January 2021 Eighth Party Congress report noted that Pyongyang had by that time already developed the technology “to miniaturize, lighten and standardize nuclear weapons and to make them tactical ones,” and that it had “proceeded to develop ultra-modern tactical nuclear weapons including new-type tactical rockets.” It also sought to “make nuclear weapons smaller and lighter for more tactical uses … to develop tactical nuclear weapons to be used as various means according to the purposes of operational duty and targets of strike in modern warfare.” If deployed, the new missile would add only incrementally to the substantial existing North Korean artillery and SRBM threat against South Korean and US forces within about 100 km of the DMZ. If fielded in substantial numbers, it could free up some longer-range SRBMs to strike targets deeper inside the ROK—although producing the new missile may come at the expense of additional KN-23 production if the two missiles use the same production infrastructure. If armed with conventional warheads, its probable greater accuracy than the Scud and KN-02 means fewer missiles would be needed per strike to be confident of destroying targets. If it has KN-23-like maneuverability, the new missile’s improved survivability against missile defenses also would allow using fewer missiles per target than earlier systems. It is unlikely the new missile will add meaningfully to North Korea’s TNW capability, given its longstanding deployment of large numbers of other nuclear-capable SRBMs. More significant than the new missile is Pyongyang’s choice of the April 16 tests to emphasize its “tactical nukes.” It clearly is using the opportunity to heighten South Korean and US concern about such weapons, as well as tout its technological progress and its successes in implementing the leadership’s military development plans. Observers have been quite right to note the coincidence of the North’s April 17 statement with renewed activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. If the North resumes nuclear testing, a TNW test would be logical—although we still do not know if, by “tactical nukes,” North Korea means: “regular” nukes on longer-range SRBMs used against battlefield and other tactical targets; shorter-range delivery systems equipped with “regular” nukes; and/or smaller, lower-yield nuclear weapons. The latter probably would require nuclear testing. Based on Kim’s January 2021 report and its weapons development trends, however, North Korea would also have reason to test a thermonuclear weapon, a boosted fission weapon, or a smaller strategic weapon better suited for multiple-warhead missiles, among others.” (Vann H. Van Diepen “North Korea’s N ew Short-Range Ballistic Missile,”38 North, April 25, 2022)


4/18/22:
South Korea and the U.S. today kicked off their annual combined military exercise, while North Korea has begun its preparation for a massive military parade likely to be held during the training period “in earnest,” South Korean military officials said. Seoul and Washington decided to conduct the nine-day, springtime Combined Command Post Training in light of the overall circumstances, including the COVID-19 pandemic and maintaining a combined defense posture. “The training aims to enhance the combined operational capabilities of South Korean and U.S. soldiers and will serve as an opportunity to further strengthen our combined defense posture,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a written statement. The JCS said the military drills are “defensive in nature” and based on a computer simulation without a field training exercise element. Large-scale, theater-level field training exercises have been suspended since the first US-North Korea Singapore Summit in June 2018. This is the last South Korea-US military exercise to be conducted under the Moon Jae-in government. But both sides reportedly will not conduct an assessment of the South Korean military’s Full Operational Capability required to transfer wartime operational control to South Korea. The South Korean and U.S. defense chiefs last December agreed to proceed with the long-postponed FOC assessment during this year’s Combined Command Post Training. But the Moon Jae-in government had hoped to advance the timing of the assessment, which is the second part of the three-phase system to evaluate the South Korean military’s capabilities to command the future combined defense system. The South Korea-U.S. combined military exercise comes days after the four-day crisis management staff training, or preliminary military exercises, between April 12 and 15. During the period, the U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft USS Abraham Lincoln operated in the international waters of the East Sea and conducted bilateral exercises with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. The operation of the USS Abraham Lincoln, which can accommodate around 80 aircraft, in the waters between South Korea and Japan came after more than a four-year hiatus. The last time any U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier operated near the east of the Korean Peninsula was in November 2017. North Korea’s external-oriented media outlets have recently ratcheted up their bellicose rhetoric specifically against South Korea, denouncing the beginning of South Korea-U.S. combined military exercise and the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln. Pyongyang has generally raised tensions in the run-up to the combined military exercise. Tongil Voice, a propaganda radio broadcast targeting the South Korean audience, today criticized that “such behaviors of the South Korean warmongers are reckless provocations that prepare for the war of aggression.” The media outlet reiterated that South Korea will not be a target of attack unless the South Korean military takes military action against them, echoing the recent statement issued by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s powerful sister Kim Yo-jong. Tongil Voice said the South Korean military should not choose military confrontation against the “nuclear-weapons state,” warning of “merciless punishment.” North Korea’s state-run website Uriminzokkiri yesterday repeated its rhetoric that the annual military drills are “war rehearsals and nuclear war exercises to further fully prepare to implement the operational plan aimed at launching a preemptive strike” against the country. Uriminzokkiri warned that a “minor accidental skirmish” could lead to “all-out war” at a time when the “situation on the Korean Peninsula has worsened due to the reckless words and actions” of the South Korean military. “The aggressors … who have been pushing the situation to the extreme pitch (of tension) by clinging to the dangerous saber-rattling will surely pay a dear price,” Uriminzokkiri said in a Korean-language column. “Those who enjoy fire will be bound to be burned to death.” (Ji Da-gyum, “S. Korea, U.S. Kick off Military Drills as N. Korea Gears up for Massive Military Parade,” Korea Herald, April 18, 2022)


4/21/22:
KCNA: “The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un exchanged personal letters with President of south Korea Moon Jae In. Upon receiving a personal letter from Moon Jae In on April 20, Kim Jong Un sent his reply letter [today]. The top leaders of the north and the south of Korea exchanged best regards in the letters. Referring to the efforts made by the top leaders of the north and the south for peace of the Korean Peninsula and the north-south cooperation in the difficult situation so far, Moon Jae In in his letter expressed the will to make the north-south joint declarations the foundation for the reunification even after his retirement. Recollecting that the top leaders of the north and the south made public the historic joint declarations giving hope for the future to the entire nation, Kim Jong Un appreciated the pains and effort taken by Moon Jae In for the great cause of the nation until the last days of his term of office. Sharing the same view that the inter-Korean relations would improve and develop as desired and anticipated by the nation if the north and the south make tireless efforts with hope, the top leaders mutually extended warm greetings to the compatriots in the north and the south. The exchange of the personal letters between the top leaders of the north and the south is an expression of their deep trust.” (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Exchanges Letters with S. Korean President,” April 22, 2022)


4/22/22:
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in a letter to President Moon Jae-in that inter-Korean relations can improve as much as one wants if both sides make sincere efforts, Cheong Wa Dae said today. Kim sent the letter yesterday in response to a farewell letter Moon sent the previous day as he prepared to leave office after a five-year term that included three summit meetings with Kim and two summits between Kim and then President Donald Trump. In the letter, Moon called on Kim to swiftly resume talks with the United States and make efforts for dialogue with South Korea’s incoming government of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, presidential spokesperson Park Kyung-mee told reporters. “Holding the hands of Chairman Kim, I took one clear step that would change the fate of the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said in the letter, according to Park. “The era of confrontation should be overcome with dialogue. (Kim Deok-hyun, “N.K. Leader Says Inter-Korean Ties Can Improve as Much as One Wants: Cheong Wa Dae,” April 22, 2022)


4/25/22:
KCNA: “The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un made a speech at the military parade held in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army (KPRA) on April 25, Juche 111 (2022). The following is the full text of the speech: … We should also strongly push ahead with building it up into an army strong in military technology with a view to radically improving its fighting efficiency. The global trend of military development and rapidly-changing style of warfare at present demand that we modernize our army at a faster rate in terms of military technology. Holding aloft the slogan of modernizing the army, we should strive to the utmost to develop our People’s Army into a powerful army equipped with highly advanced military technology. By pressing ahead with the modernization of the military talents training system, we should bring up a larger number of officers who are fully capable of commanding units of different arms and services at all levels. And we should make all the units and sub-units of the army fully ready to carry out any combat missions by modernizing their operation and combat training. The sectors of defense science and munitions industry should continue to develop and deploy for actual combat cutting-edge military hardware of new generations so as to ceaselessly increase the military power of the People’s Army. In particular, the nuclear forces, the symbol of our national strength and the core of our military power, should be strengthened in terms of both quality and scale, so that they can perform nuclear combat capabilities in any situations of warfare, according to purposes and missions of different operations and by various means. The prevailing situation demands that more proactive measures be taken to provide a firm and sustained guarantee for the modern character and military technological supremacy of our Republic’s armed forces. To cope with the rapidly-changing political and military situations and all the possible crises of the future, we will advance faster and more dynamically along the road of building up the self-defensive and modern armed forces, which we have followed unwaveringly, and, especially, will continue to take measures for further developing the nuclear forces of our state at the fastest possible speed. The fundamental mission of our nuclear forces is to deter a war, but our nukes can never be confined to the single mission of war deterrent even at a time when a situation we are not desirous of at all is created on this land. If any forces try to violate the fundamental interests of our state, our nuclear forces will have to decisively accomplish its unexpected second mission. The nuclear forces of our Republic should be fully prepared to fulfil their responsible mission and put their unique deterrent in motion at any time. … ” (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Makes Speech at Military Parade Held in Celebration of the 90th Anniversary of Founding of KPRA,” April 26, 2022)

North Korea rolled out what appeared to be a new type of solid fuel missile alongside the country’s largest-known intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at a military parade today, photos published by DPRK state media the next day showed. The new missile seemed to be a variation of North Korea’s Pukguksong solid-fueled missile series, analysts told NK News. “[The new missile] looks like one of the Pukguksong series, probably a Pukguksong-6,” said Ankit Panda, Stanton Senior Fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “We don’t have the name for it.” Panda said the new missile looked very similar in size to the Pukguksong-5 and Pukguksong-4, two types within the Pukguksong series that have yet to be test-fired by North Korea. “It’s a little curious why the North Koreans have these three large diameter solid fuel missiles that they have not yet flight-tested,” Panda added. Panda said Kim Jong Un wants solid fuel ICBMs as part of his Eighth Party Congress modernization agenda. Therefore, Panda told NK News it “makes sense that we would see a new large solid-fuel missile.” Yang Uk, a research fellow at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies, agreed that the missile at last night’s parade was a “new type” of Pukguksong. “The total length of the missile appears longer than the Pukguksong-5,” Yang told NK News, adding that the trailer shown beneath the missile was the same type used for the Pukguksong-5 during the January 2021 military parade. According to Yang, the fact that the new missile exceeds the length of its trailer indicated that the weapon on display last night was even longer than previously revealed missiles. The exact number of Hwasong-17s at the parade remained unclear on state newspaper. North Korea today also paraded the hypersonic gliding missiles, including the Hwasong-8 tests in September 2021, along with other weapons including new, unnamed maneuverable reentry vehicle-toting medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM), KN-24 and KN-23 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM). KCNA added that the parade included the “latest tactical missile units,” tanks, strategic missiles, as well as a column of “super-large MLRS” (multiple launch rocket system). (Chaewon Chung and Jeongmin Kim, “North Korea Shows off Apparent New Solid Fuel Missile,” NKNews, April 26, 2022)

As South Korea’s new conservative president prepares to take office, North Korea is outlining an expansive, ambiguous, and potentially destabilizing doctrine for using its nuclear weapons, analysts said. Kim’s speech “sent a message that North Korea might possibly use nukes preemptively depending on the situation, and more freely pose nuclear threats if necessary going forward,” said Cha Du-hyeogn, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. That caught the attention of incoming South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol, who takes office on May 10. In a written statement to Reuters, Yoon called the North’s nuclear policy “delusional.” “It is failing to realize that there is nothing it can get with nukes,” Yoon said. A spokeswoman for Yoon added that “it’s become clear now that North Korea’s claim thus far that its nuclear development was for defense purposes was a lie.” North Korea says that it opposes war, that its nuclear weapons are for self-defense, and that they are necessary to protect itself in the face of “hostile” policies from Washington, South Korea, and Japan. The U.S. military did not immediately comment on the specifics of Kim’s wording, but said the North’s nuclear and missile programs “constitute a serious threat to international peace and security.” Analysts said that Kim’s latest speech builds on previous statements and policies by North Korea, and appears to mirror language used by the United States’ latest Nuclear Posture Review, which says it will use nuclear weapons to defend its “vital interests” or those of its allies. Although Kim’s speech doesn’t necessarily mean North Korea is more likely to use its weapons, the vague threats are not unlike those of the United States and the Soviet Union in the Cuban Missile Crisis and can lead to dangerous misunderstandings, analysts said. “We call it ‘a threat that leaves something to chance,’” said Melissa Hanham, a researcher at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) in California. “The idea is to get your adversary to back off and be afraid of doing the unknown action that would trigger nuclear war, but it’s also a form of brinksmanship that can escalate to nuclear war due to accident or misunderstanding.” In 2013 North Korea promulgated a law on its position as a nuclear weapons state—the official document that comes closest to a nuclear doctrine. In that law, the North says only Kim Jong Un can order their use “to repel invasion or attack from a hostile nuclear weapons state and make retaliatory strikes.” It says North Korea will not use nuclear weapons, or threaten to use them, against non-nuclear states, unless they join a hostile nuclear state in attacking the North. But other North Korean statements have appeared to undercut those principles. In 2016, for example, North Korea’s military threatened to carry out a “pre-emptive nuclear strike of justice” against South Korea and the United States. In April, the powerful sister of Kim Jong Un, Kim Yo Jong, issued a statement warning that the North would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons if attacked by South Korea, which has no nuclear arsenal. Kim Jong Un’s latest wording on defending “fundamental interests” with nuclear weapons also did not appear in that law. “This means that North Korea declared that it could preemptively use nukes based on its arbitrary assessment, even not under military situations,” said Park Won-gon, a North Korea studies professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. North Korea’s talk of nuclear policy comes after it resumed testing of its long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for the first time since 2017, and may be preparing for a new round of nuclear tests. This month the North also tested its first missile explicitly said to have a tactical nuclear role, which typically involves using smaller warheads and missiles to strike enemy targets on a battlefield, rather than targeting cities or infrastructure. In her statement outlining the North’s response to any attack by the South, Kim Yo Jong laid out a detailed scenario in which the North mobilizes its nuclear forces at the outset of a war and uses them to “completely dampen the enemy’s war spirits, prevent protracted hostilities and preserve one’s own military muscle.” In response to Kim Jong Un’s speech and the parade, which included rows and rows of huge, nuclear-capable missiles, Yoon’s team said “building the capability to deter them is the most urgent task,” underscoring the spiraling arms race with both Koreas developing increasingly powerful weapons and missiles. “Kim is not satisfied with testing new technology, but is actually drilling with his units in the field to practice hitting targets in South Korea and Japan with nuclear weapons,” Hanham said. “This type of nuclear thinking creates an unstable dynamic prone to accidents or misunderstanding.” (Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin, “North Korea Signals Expansive Mission for Its Nuclear Weapons,” Reuters, April 27, 2022)


4/26/22:
The government of incoming President Yoon Suk-yeol will bolster capabilities to deter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, the transition team said Tuesday, after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un vowed in a military parade to further strengthen his nuclear arsenal. The parade only proved that North Korea has focused on developing the means to threaten peace not only on the Korean Peninsula but in Northeast Asia and the world, while outwardly calling for peace and dialogue for the past five years, the transition team said in a statement. “North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats have become a serious and realistic threat to us, so building the capability to deter them is the most urgent task,” the statement said. “The incoming Yoon Suk-yeol government will strengthen the South Korea-U.S. alliance and swiftly complete the South Korean three-axis system to respond to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, while simultaneously developing far-superior military technologies and weapons systems,” it added. The three-axis system is designed to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and consists of Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR), an operational plan to incapacitate the North Korean leadership in a major conflict; the Kill Chain pre-emptive strike platform; and the Korea Air and Missile Defense system (KAMD). The statement came only hours after North Korean state media said Kim attended the parade in Pyongyang yesterday and vowed to boost the country’s nuclear capabilities at “the fastest rate.” (Yonhap, “Transition Team Vows to Bolster Capabilities to Deter N.K. Nuclear, Missile Threats,” April 26, 2022)


4/28/22:
An activist group in South Korea said today that it had launched a million propaganda leaflets into North Korea by balloons this week, defying a law criminalizing such acts. Fighters for a Free North Korea, a defector-run group, said it released 20 balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border earlier this week, breaking the contentious ban that the group calls “an unjust law that violates freedom of expression.” The outgoing liberal government in South Korea passed the law in 2020, despite criticisms that it prioritized improving ties with the North over standing up for human rights. The law makes it a crime punishable by up to three years in prison to send promotional pamphlets and storage devices such as flash drives, money and other items of value to the North without the Seoul government’s permission. The group’s leader, Park Sang-hak, became the first person to be charged under the law for his past leafleting activities and is on trial. Park said he will challenge the law in the Constitutional Court. After a year-long pause amid police investigations and trials, Park resumed the leaflet campaign on Monday, saying that he will “happily accept prison terms” for his “righteous acts.” He escaped North Korea in 2000 to settle in the democratic South and has led leaflet campaigns since 2004. The leaflets released this week criticize North Korea’s nuclear and missile developments, which Pyongyang promoted in a high-profile military parade on Wednesday, as a “threat to humanity.” A photo of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol has been included in the leaflets to promote democracy and denounce North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s dynastic dictatorship, the group said. The crackdown on leaflets is likely to be contested in Yoon’s incoming conservative government. Kwon Young-se, nominated as Seoul’s unification minister to lead inter-Korean affairs, said it is “constitutionally problematic” to outlaw such leaflet campaigns in a democratic country. (Min Joo Kim, “Activist in South Korea Restarts Illegal Leafleting of the North,” Washington Post, April 28, 2022)


4/30/22:
KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), met the commanding officers of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), who successfully directed the military parade and other events commemorating the 90th founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army (KPRA), at the office building of the WPK Central Committee to encourage them. Present on the occasion were Pak Jong Chon, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK and secretary of the WPK Central Committee, and Minister Ri Yong Gil and other leading officials of the Ministry of National Defense and commanders of the services and the corps of the KPA. … He said that in the present world, where a force clashes with another fiercely and one can preserve one’s dignity, rights and interests only when one gets stronger, the tremendous offensive power, the overwhelming military muscle that no force in the world can provoke, is the lifeline guaranteeing the security of our country and people and the future of posterity. Expressing the Party Central Committee’s firm will to surely maintain the absolute superiority of our revolutionary armed forces and constantly develop it to preemptively and thoroughly contain and frustrate all dangerous attempts and threatening moves, including ever-escalating nuclear threats from hostile forces, if necessary, he stressed the need for the commanding officers to boldly open up a new stage of development of the revolutionary armed forces, steadfastly adhering to the army-building orientation and general line of the Party. … ” (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Meets Commanding Officers of KPA,” April 30, 2022)

South Korea’s incoming administration will strive to establish a system for the two Koreas and the United States to have dialogue anytime through a liaison office at the truce village of Panmunjom or Washington, D.C., the nominee to become Seoul’s top diplomat said today. In a written report to lawmakers ahead of his confirmation hearing, Park Jin pointed out that the three nations are “core parties concerned” with Korean Peninsula security issues. Setting up such a liaison office was one of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s campaign pledges, and Park reaffirmed a commitment to implementing it. “The new government will always leave the door open for unconditional dialogue involving North Korea and make efforts to resume denuclearization talks under close coordination with the U.S.,” Park said. He reaffirmed a vision for achieving lasting peace and security on the peninsula through the complete and verifiable denuclearization of North Korea. On whether the North is willing to denuclearize itself, Park said he thinks it currently has no intention to realize denuclearization on its own. “Regardless of whether or not North Korea has the willingness to denuclearize, the right policy direction is to create conditions in which the North cannot but denuclearize and to make them realize that their nuclear weapons go against their own interests,” he said. Park also pledged to address North Korea’s human rights issue in a serious manner, saying the incoming government takes the matter seriously. He said it would take the initiative on the annual United Nations resolutions condemning the North’s human rights abuse, unlike the outgoing liberal Moon Jae-in administration accused by conservative critics of having taken a tepid stance on the issue. (Yi Wonju, “FM Nominee Reaffirms Push for Hotline among Two Koreas, U.S. for Dialogue Anytime,” Yonhap, April 30, 2022)


5/1/22:
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol today picked Kim Sung-han, a former vice foreign minister and his longtime foreign policy mentor, as his national security adviser while also naming all five senior presidential secretaries and other members of the presidential office. “Nominee Kim Sung-han is equipped with not only the theory but the capability to draw up and execute policy,” Chang Je-won, Yoon’s chief of staff during the transition period, said during a press briefing. “He is the right person to serve as the control tower that will defend the security of the nation and the people by proactively responding to the security environment at home and abroad.” Kim currently heads the foreign affairs and security subcommittee of the transition team and is also a childhood friend of the president-elect. He has advocated a foreign policy centered on a robust South Korea-U.S. alliance. Today, he vowed to work to “normalize South-North relations in line with principles.” “Instead of a relationship where we are unconditionally following from behind, I will work to lead inter-Korean relations, as equal partners, under the principle of pursuing peace and prosperity through denuclearization,” he told reporters. Chang said Kim Tae-hyo, who served as presidential secretary on national security strategy between 2008 and 2012, was tapped for first deputy national security adviser, while Shin In-ho, former presidential crisis management officer, was named second deputy national security adviser. Kim Tae-hyo is a “strategist” with both the theoretical knowledge and practical experience in the national security field and is expected to help improve deadlocked inter-Korean relations and establish the framework for a “principled” North Korea policy, Chang said. Shin also possesses abundant practical experience and is anticipated to present a detailed policy that will help strengthen the country’s watertight security posture while demonstrating his crisis management capabilities, according to Chang. (Lee Haye-ah, “Yoon Picks Ex-FM Kim Sun-han for National Security Adviser,” Yonhap, May 1, 2022)


5/2/22:
South Korea’s foreign minister nominee stressed the need today for “in-depth” deliberations on whether to deploy additional U.S.-made THAAD missile defense systems here, in an apparent sign of cautiousness on the geopolitically charged issue. During his confirmation hearing, Park Jin responded to a lawmaker’s question about President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s campaign pledge to bring in more THAAD systems, which opponents say would undermine ties with China, South Korea’s top trade partner. The installation of a THAAD battery here in 2017 triggered apparent Chinese economic retaliation. “We need to have in-depth discussions on what kind of result we will arrive at following a deep review by the incoming government,” he said, noting the importance of insulating the economy from negative fallout from security matters. “(Additional THAAD deployment) was proposed to reinforce the air defense of the Seoul metropolitan area, as North Korea threatens us with various missiles,” he added. Despite his cautious stance, Park highlighted the “first task” of ensuring U.S. Forces Korea can normally operate its THAAD unit in the southeastern county of Seongju. Since the THAAD battery was installed here, it has been in the status of “temporary installation” pending South Korea’s environmental impact assessment. “I think that there needs to be an environment for the normal operation of the THAAD battery, as access to the unit has been restricted, while living conditions for troops there are also poor,” he said. The four-term lawmaker also stressed the importance of “strategic communication” between South Korea and China to minimize potential risks of friction that could flare up in the process of Seoul bolstering its alliance with the U.S. and expanding its role in promoting “rules-based” international order. “When we pursue a value-based diplomacy promoting liberal democracy, the rule of law and human rights, the fault line between South Korea and China at the end would be whether to preserve the rules-based order,” he noted. The nominee was negative about the idea of redeploying U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea. Instead, he vowed to reinforce the credibility of America’s extended deterrence to South Korea by reactivating the allies’ dialogue channel between the allies’ foreign affairs and defense officials. The Yoon administration will also remain committed to international cooperation for the implementation of sanctions on North Korea to make it realize “nothing can be achieved with its nuclear weapons,” he said, while reaffirming the door for dialogue will remain open. If Pyongyang moves toward “substantive progress” in denuclearization, the new government will consider providing humanitarian aid and economic cooperation, and discussing a possible peace treaty in coordination with the U.S., he said. Park vowed to expand partnerships with the U.S. in “new-frontier” fields, including economic security and technologies, to further upgrade the security alliance into a “comprehensive strategic alliance.” He said the new government will seek to play a greater role in the region with a “positive” view on the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and the issue of whether to join working groups of the Quad, a U.S.-led security partnership also involving Australia, Japan and India. “I understand the Quad is not a framework designed to pressure a certain nation,” he said. “I think we have to take advantage of the Quad to expand our role and contribution in the Indo-Pacific region.” (Yonhap, “FM Nominee Cautious on Additional THAAD Deployment,” May 2, 2022)


5/4/22:
North Korea launched a ballistic missile eastward from the capital city of Pyongyang this afternoon, in continuation of actions raising tension in the run-up to the inauguration of the Yoon Suk-yeol government and the South Korea-U.S. summit. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military “detected one ballistic missile being fired from the Sunan area in Pyongyang city toward the East Sea at around 12:03 p.m.” The missile traveled around 470 kilometers at an altitude of 780 km and at a maximum speed of Mach 11, the JCS said. The South Korean and the US intelligence authorities are analyzing the specifications of the missile. Soon after the latest launch, South Korea’s JCS Chairman Gen. Won In-choul and Gen. Paul LaCamera, the commander of the South Korea-US Combined Forces Command, held a video conference, shared information, and reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring the allies’ “ironclad defense posture,” the JCS here said. The South Korean military maintains a thorough readiness posture in preparation for additional launches while tracking and monitoring related movements by North Korea, the JCS said, calling for North Korea to halt its action. “Given that North Korea’s recent series of ballistic missile launches is a grave threat to the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the international community and clearly violates the UN Security Council resolutions, we strongly urge the country to immediately stop the action,” the statement read. The South Korean military is reportedly bracing for the possibility of North Korea firing intermediate and long-range ballistic missiles, including an Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile. The test launch could aim to put a reconnaissance satellite into a low earth orbit by using a ballistic-missile reentry vehicle. National security adviser Suh Hoon presided over the emergency meeting of the presidential National Security Council standing committee at 1:30 p.m., according to Cheong Wa Dae. Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, assessed that North Korea simultaneously sought to “lay the groundwork to gain the upper hand” over the incoming South Korean government and manifest its intent to continue to reinforce nuclear capabilities by firing the missile at this juncture. “North Korea intends to demonstrate that its pledge to strengthen nuclear capabilities is not an empty promise and to show off that the country is in the driver’s seat concerning Korean Peninsula issues in the run-up to the inauguration of the new government and the South Korea-US summit (in May),” he said. Yang also forecast that North Korea would continue to ratchet up the tension by firing intercontinental ballistic missiles and preparing for a seventh nuclear test to operate tactical nuclear weapons this month. Park Won-gon, professor of North Korea studies at Ewha Womans University, saw the missile launch as a “provocation forewarned” by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The North Korean leader on April 25 pledged to further reinforce and develop nuclear-armed forces “at the fastest possible speed” in a speech he delivered during the military parade commemorating the anniversary. Park pointed out that Kim’s remarks clarified North Korea’s intent to accelerate missile and nuclear tests in the form of its “speed campaign,” legitimizing its weapons development as the act of enhancing self-defense capabilities. North Korea, Park said, has pursued the goal of incapacitating the US and South Korean missile defenses and developing tactical nuclear weapons that can target the region. Against that backdrop, Pyongyang will continue to develop and variegate nuclear weapons and missiles irrespective of external circumstances. “However, there is a chance that North Korea may adjust the timing of provocations to maximize pressure on South Korea and the U.S., given that it is advancing its missiles and missile capabilities with the aim of being recognized as a nuclear weapon state.” The presidential transition committee on Wednesday said the Yoon government will “strongly respond to North Korea’s provocations in cooperation with the international community based on thorough coordination between South Korea and the U.S.” “We will come up with more fundamental measures to deter North Korean nuclear and missile threats,” the committee said, adding that it strongly condemns North Korea’s provocation. During his confirmation hearing, Defense Minister nominee Lee also pledged to “sternly respond to North Korean nuclear and missile threats” by “intensively reinforcing” the South Korean military’s capabilities to deter and deal with the threats. The nominee also emphasized the importance of enhancing the solidarity of the South Korea-U.S. military alliance and strengthening the US’ extended deterrence, evaluating that North Korea has “heightened military tension by carrying out 13 rounds of missile provocations just this year and holding a large-scale military parade.” (Ji Da-gyum, “N. Korea Fires Ballistic Missile Eastward from Pyongyang: JCS,” Korea Herald, May 4, 2022)


5/7/22:
North Korea fired a short-range, submarine-launched ballistic missile off its east coast today, hours after the United States warned that the country could carry out a nuclear test as soon as this month. The missile, the first of its kind tested since October, was launched from waters near the coastal city of Sinpo and flew 372 miles, the South Korean military said. It was the North’s 15th missile test this year, a rapid pace by recent standards, and its second this week, taking place three days before Yoon Suk-yeol, South Korea’s president-elect, is scheduled to take office. Analysts have warned that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, is likely to order more weapons tests in the coming weeks, to develop the North’s missile and nuclear technology and to gain potential diplomatic leverage against Yoon and President Biden, who plan to meet in Seoul later this month. Yesterday, Jalina Porter, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman, said that North Korea was making preparations at its underground nuclear test site and could be ready to conduct its seventh nuclear test “as early as this month.” (Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Tests a Submarine-Launched Missile,” New York Times, May 7, 2022) North Korea fired an apparent submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in waters off its east coast today, South Korea’s military said, in the recalcitrant regime’s latest saber-rattling that comes three days before President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s inauguration. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch in waters off the North’s eastern coastal city of Sinpo at 2:07 p.m. and that the missile flew some 600 kilometers at a top altitude of about 60 km. The latest launch marks the North’s 15th show of force this year. It came just three days after the reclusive regime test-fired what was thought to be an ICBM. During a military parade last month, the North showcased a set of SLBMs, including a “mini-SLBM” that it claimed to have successfully test-fired from a submarine in October last year. The SLBM is a bedrock asset for nuclear retaliation as a submarine carrying it can operate undetected, launch counterstrikes and thus allow a country to survive an enemy’s preemptive attack. At the parade, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un hinted his country could use nuclear arms in case of encroachment on its “fundamental rights,” raising speculation he is shifting to a more aggressive doctrine for nuclear use. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Fires Apparent SLBM Off East Coast: S Korean Military,” (May 7, 2022)


5/8/22:
North Korea is ramping up provocations in the run-up to the inauguration of Yoon Suk-yeol, who is more hawkish towards North Korea than the outgoing president. Yesterday, the North fired an apparent submarine-launched ballistic missile in the waters off its east coast, three days after launching an intercontinental ballistic missile. According to the South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the suspected SLBM was launched at 2:07 p.m. on Saturday into the waters off the North’s eastern coastal city of Sinpo. The missile traveled about 600 kilometers at a top altitude of about 60 km. Saturday’s missile launch is Pyongyang’s 15th show of force this year. The launch of an SLBM also comes for the first time in seven months, after its last test-firing last October. After the launch, the top nuclear envoys of South Korea Noh Kyu-duk and his U.S. counterpart Sung Kim held talks and condemned the North, saying that the SLBM launch is “a clear violation of the UN Security Council resolutions and poses a serious threat to the Korean Peninsula and the international community.” “They also urged the North to immediately stop additional actions that would worsen the situation, and quickly return to dialogue and a diplomatic path,” South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a press release yesterday.

While Pyongyang remained silent over its SLBM test fire, withholding from making the usual announcement of its success in launch, the regime made vitriolic attacks against President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who will officially take office in two days. Tongil Sinbo, the North’s propaganda weekly, said today that Yoon and his people are “cringing and behaving disgracefully to curry favor of its masters, the United States and Japan,” saying the South Korean leadership is “betraying the nation by colluding with the outer forces.” President-elect Yoon is widely seen as more hawkish towards North Korea than the outgoing President Moon Jae-in, and his office has announced plans to reinforce its missile defense system against North Korean threats, dubbed the “three-axis” system. The North also lambasted Yoon’s proposal to bolster defense, saying the attempt to build the three axis missile defense system is “absurd” and “ill-advised bravery,” in an article published on its propaganda website Meari today. In an interview with Voice of America published yesterday, President-elect Yoon listed maintaining UN sanctions as one of the key measures to handle the North Korea’s nuclear threats. “In that respect, discussions are taking place on whether the US should share its nuclear weapons and whether strategic nuclear assets should be redeployed in the case of South Korea,” Yoon said. “But I respect the nuclear nonproliferation regime and place more emphasis on strengthening extended deterrence, advancing South Korea’s missile defense system, and maintaining the UN Security Council’s sanctions on North Korea.” As the US is working to impose additional sanctions against Pyongyang for its continued missile provocations, Russia and China appear to be in its way, as the two states have already expressed opposition. On May 3, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield reiterated how the US would like further sanctions against Pyongyang. Last month, the US circulated an initial draft resolution to the 15-member council, which included banning tobacco and halving oil exports to the North. “It is our plan to move forward with that resolution during this month,” Thomas-Greenfield told reporters when asked if she would put the resolution to a vote. (Jo He-rim, “Pyongyang Ramps up Provocations in Run-Up to Yoon’s Inauguration,” Korea Herald, May 8, 2022)


5/10/22:
President Yoon Suk-yeol took the oath of office today, vowing to rebuild the nation on the foundation of a liberal democracy and market economy and offering to revive North Korea’s economy with an “audacious plan” should it take steps to denuclearize. In his inauguration address at the National Assembly Plaza, Yoon said, “It is our generation’s calling to build a nation that espouses liberal democracy and ensures a thriving market economy, a nation that fulfills its responsibility as a trusted member of the international community, and a nation that truly belongs to the people.” Yoon technically began his five-year term at midnight in the underground bunker of the new presidential office building in Yongsan where he was briefed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff on North Korea’s latest military movements and the South Korean military’s readiness posture, according to his office. “While North Korea’s nuclear weapon programs are a threat not only to our security and that of Northeast Asia, the door to dialogue will remain open so that we can peacefully resolve this threat,” Yoon said in his inaugural speech. “If North Korea genuinely embarks on a process to complete denuclearization, we are prepared to work with the international community to present an audacious plan that will vastly strengthen North Korea’s economy and improve the quality of life for its people,” he said. Yoon dedicated a large portion of his speech to underscoring the value of freedom — a word he used 35 times — and his commitment to working with other nations to overcome common challenges. (Lee Haye-ah, “Yoon Champions Freedom, Offers to Revive N.K. Economy with ‘Audacious Plan,’” Yonhap, May 10, 2022)


5/12/22:
North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea today, the South Korean military said, in its first major provocation since the launch of the Yoon Suk-yeol administration. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launches from the Sunan area of Pyongyang at 6:29 p.m. Other details were not immediately available. The launch, the North’s 16th show of force this year, came despite speculation that the North may slow down its weapons tests as it reported its first COVID-19 case earlier in the day with the enforcement of the “maximum emergency” virus control system. ” (Kang Yoon-seung and Song Sang-ho, “N. Korea Fires 3 Short-Range Missile toward East Sea: S. Korean Military,” Yonhap, May 12, 2022)

KCNA: “The 8th Political Bureau meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) was convened at the office building of the Party Central Committee on May 12. Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, was present at the meeting. Attending the meeting were members of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee, and members and alternate members of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee. Present there as observers were officials in the state emergency epidemic prevention sector and some commanding officers of the Ministry of National Defense. The respected General Secretary presided over the meeting. First, the Political Bureau discussed an issue of convening the plenary meeting of the Party Central Committee. Adopted at the meeting with unanimous approval was a decision of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee on convening the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the Party in the first third of June to make interim summing-up of the execution of the Party and state policies in 2022 and discuss and decide a series of important issues. Next, the Political Bureau discussed the issue of coping with the epidemic prevention crisis state prevailing in the country. It recognized as follows: A most serious emergency case of the state occurred: A break was made on our emergency epidemic prevention front where has firmly defended for two years and three months from February, 2020. The state emergency epidemic prevention command and relevant units made deliberation of the result of strict gene arrangement analysis on the specimen from persons with fever of an organization in the capital city on May 8, and concluded that it coincided with Omicron BA.2 variant which is recently spreading worldwide rapidly. Informed at the meeting was the spread state in the whole country. Urgent measures were presented and deliberated to take the strategic initiative in the epidemic prevention campaign for the future. The Political Bureau censured the epidemic prevention sectors for their carelessness, relaxation, irresponsibility and inefficiency as they did not sensitively cope with the public health state which infectors of all kinds of variants are increasing worldwide including surrounding regions of our country. The Political Bureau recognized that it is necessary to switch over from the state epidemic prevention system to the maximum emergency epidemic prevention system to cope with the present circumstance. All measures were taken for the Party, administrative and economic organs at all levels, sectors of public and state security and national defense and all organs and sectors of the country to establish the proper work system to make the state work be done smoothly in line with the maximum emergency epidemic prevention system coming into force. Adopted at the meeting was a resolution of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the WPK on switch over from the state emergency epidemic prevention work to the maximum emergency epidemic prevention system to cope with the prevailing epidemic prevention crisis. Concluding the meeting, Kim Jong Un raised principles to be maintained thoroughly in the emergency epidemic prevention work and tasks to do so. He outlined and analyzed the current epidemic prevention crisis of the country and noted that the maximum emergency epidemic prevention system is mainly aimed to stably contain and control the spread of COVID-19 that made inroads into the country and to quickly cure the infections in order to eradicate the source of the virus spread at an early date. Pointing out that more dangerous enemy of us than the malicious virus are unscientific fear, lack of faith and weak will, he affirmed that we will surely overcome the current sudden situation and win victory in the emergency epidemic prevention work as we have strong organizing ability with which the Party, government and people are united as one and there are high political awareness and self-consciousness of all the people that have been fostered and cemented during the prolonged emergency epidemic prevention campaign. He called on all the cities and counties of the whole country to thoroughly lock down their areas and organize work and production after closing each working unit, production unit and living unit from each other so as to flawlessly and perfectly block the spread vacuum of the malicious virus. Stressing the necessity of quickly organizing scientific and intensive examination and treatment campaign, he said that the Party and the government decided to take a measure to mobilize reserve medical supplies that have been stored up for the emergency until now. He underscored the need for the public health sector and the emergency epidemic prevention sectors to strictly conduct intensive examination of all the people, take proactive measures for medical observation and treatment, intensify disinfection of all areas ranging from workplaces to living space and thus block and terminate the source of the malicious epidemics spread. Though the epidemic prevention situation is harsh at present, it cannot block our advance toward the overall development of socialist construction, and there should be nothing missed in the planned economic work, the General Secretary said, stressing that the Cabinet and other state economic guidance organs and relevant units should conduct fuller organization, guidance and command over the economic work in conformity with switching over from state epidemic prevention system to the maximum emergency epidemic prevention system so as to speed up the immediate farming work and the production at major industrial sectors and industrial establishments to the maximum and flawlessly compete within the appointed date the cherished works of our Party for the people such as the construction of 10 000 flats in the Hwasong area and the Ryonpho Greenhouse Farm. The Party and power organs should minimize inconveniences and agonies the people would suffer under the strong blockade situation, stabilize their lives and take thoroughgoing measures so that slightest negative phenomena are not be revealed, he noted. Stressing the need to more firmly cement the outposts of the state defense and guarantee the victory of the great epidemic prevention campaign with arms, he specially emphasized that guard duty should be further strengthened on the fronts, borders, seas and air and the best measures be taken to make security vacuum not be revealed in the national defense. The people-first politics by our Party and state that have displayed the great vitality, overcoming all troubles of history, and the strength of our people who are united single-mindedly are the most powerful guarantee to win victory in the current great epidemic prevention campaign, he said, adding that all the Party organizations and power organs should prove in practice their loyalty to the Party and revolution, devotion to the people and responsibility for their duty at the present great epidemic prevention campaign to defend the lives and security of the people. He warmly appealed to all the people and officers and men of the People’s Army to triumphantly conclude the great epidemic prevention campaign with firm confidence and great redoubled efforts and thus defend to the end our precious lives and future with our faith, will and unity. The Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK examined and approved the written emergency instructions of the Central Military Commission of the Party and the Cabinet and made sure that they are issued. (KCNA, “8th Political Bureau meeting of 8th Central Committee of WPK Held,” May 12, 2022) KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, visited the state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters on May 12. He was accompanied by Jo Yong Won and Pak Jong Chon, members of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee. He was greeted by officials of the headquarters on the spot. Making rounds of the command rooms of the headquarters, he examined the epidemic prevention situation one day after the state epidemic prevention work was switched over to the maximum emergency epidemic prevention system to cope with the prevailing epidemic prevention crisis, and learned about the nationwide spread of COVID-19. A fever whose cause couldn’t be identified explosively spread nationwide from late April and more than 350 000 people got fever in a short span of time and at least 162 200 out of them were healed completely. On May 12 alone, some 18 000 persons with fever occurred nationwide and as of now up to 187 800 people are being isolated and treated. Six persons died (one of them tested positive for the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron.). The General Secretary criticized that the simultaneous spread of fever with the capital area as a center shows that there is a vulnerable point in the epidemic prevention system we have already established. … ” (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Visits State Emergency Epidemic Prevention Headquarters,” May 13, 2022)

Makowsky, Heinonen and Liu: “Recent commercial satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site indicates efforts to restore Tunnel No. 3 (formerly referred to as the South Portal area) continue. Spoil displaced while trying to create a new entrance to the two test tunnels has been spread over the nearby access roads. This is likely an effort to improve their durability, although it makes it more difficult to assess the amount of spoil being excavated and estimate progress made. Finally, vehicle activity continues to be seen around both the test tunnel area and Command Center, suggesting the site is being readied for future nuclear test(s). … The main access road is an unpaved dirt road that starts at Punggye-ri and winds along the riverbed leading to Mt. Mantap. As such, it requires periodic resurfacing to repair it from winter erosion and seasonal flooding. The roads are usually graded with sand, gravel or whatever is conveniently available. On imagery from both May 9 and 10, segments of the road going south from the portal are now covered with the grayish colored spoil from tunnel excavations. While this new practice is a clever use of the spoil, rather than just leaving it in a big pile, it does create a new analytical challenge for those monitoring progress made at the test site. In the past, monitoring and measuring the spoil pile over time would help analysts approximate the extent of tunneling activity. Estimates going forward regarding potential tunnel length and depth are likely to be less precise.” (Peter Makowsky, Olli Heinonen and Jack Liu, “North Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: A New Practice Creates a New Analytical Challenge,” 38North, May 12, 2022)


5/13/22:
President Yoon Suk-yeol today offered to send COVID-19 vaccines to North Korea, his spokesperson said, a day after Pyongyang acknowledged an outbreak for the first time since the pandemic began. “President Yoon Suk-yeol plans to provide the North Korean people with COVID-19 vaccines and other medical supplies,” presidential spokesperson Kang In-sun said in a statement. “Suspected cases are said to be rising explosively in North Korea recently due to a massive COVID-19 outbreak. We will hold discussions with the North Korean side about details.” Lee Haye-ah, “Yoon Offers to Send COVID-19 Vaccines to N. Korea,” Yonhap, May 13, 2022)

North Korea appears to have resumed construction at a long-dormant nuclear reactor in recent weeks that, if completed, would dramatically increase its capacity to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, according to new satellite images obtained by CNN and a source familiar with recent U.S. intelligence reporting on the matter. The satellite images, which were captured by Maxar during April and May of this year, show North Korea has restarted construction of the second reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear complex after years of inactivity, experts at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies who analyzed the photos said. The reactor is about 10 times larger than the existing nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, which has been operating since the late 1980s. US officials are also aware of and closely monitoring recent activity at Yongbyon, according to a source familiar with the situation, who noted North Korea is not trying to hide its efforts to restart construction on the reactor in question. Experts say it is difficult to estimate how quickly North Korea could complete construction of the reactor. But once operational, it could allow North Korea to increase its production of plutonium for nuclear weapons by a factor of 10, according to Jeffrey Lewis, a weapons expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute. Lt. Col. Martin Meiners, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment when asked if there is specific intelligence suggesting North Korea has taken new steps to complete construction of the reactor at Yongbyon. “However, we’ve been very clear on the threat posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) nuclear and missile programs, our commitment to the defense of the ROK, Japan, and the U.S. homeland, and our shared objective of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Meiners added. North Korea halted construction of the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon in 1994 under the framework of its agreement with the US. At that point the reactor was still years away from completion, Lewis said. Only very limited construction activities were observed at the site in subsequent years but Lewis told CNN that he and his fellow researches believe the recent satellite images provide “the first unambiguous indicator that North Korea is moving to complete the reactor.” Specifically, the images taken by Maxar show that North Korea is “connecting the secondary cooling loop of the 50 MW(e) reactor to a pumphouse on the river,” he said. “In the image dated April 20, construction equipment is visible, as are what appear to be pipe segments. By May 7, North Korea had buried the pipe,” Lewis added. “The connection of the cooling loop helps explain other activities seen at the 50MW(e) reactor in recent years,” Lewis told CNN, pointing to the observed demolition of a building last year that was believed to house a cooling pond for spent fuel. “Connecting the secondary cooling loop suggests, in hindsight, that the demolition of the apparent spent-fuel building was an early sign that North Korea intends to complete construction of the reactor,” told CNN. The source familiar with the matter also said that there is a lot of preparatory activity required before any country can start construction on a nuclear reactor. “Preparatory activities speak to intent, planning and long held goals,” the source added. (Zachary Cohen, “New Satellite Images Reveal North Korea Has Restarted Construction on Long-Dormant Nuclear Reactor,” CNN, May 13, 2022)


5/14/22:
KCNA: “The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) convened a consultative meeting at the office building of the Party Central Committee on May 14 to overhaul the maximum emergency epidemic prevention system under operation and take additional political and practical measures. Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, guided the consultative meeting. Present there were members of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee, and members and alternate members of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee. Present there as observers were officials in the state emergency epidemic prevention sector and a leading official of the Ministry of Public Health. The Political Bureau heard a report of the state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters on the spread of disease as of May 13. On May 13, over 174 440 persons had fever, at least 81 430 were fully recovered and 21 died in the country. The number of fevered persons totalized from late April to May 13 is over 524 440, among which more than 243 630 were fully recovered and at least 280 810 are under treatment with 27 dead in the country. The report referred to the data on the spread of disease in every region and unit and to the characteristics of the progress of disease, and notified that in most cases, the loss of life was caused by mistakes like overmuch taking of drugs, bereft of scientific medical treatment. The Political Bureau discussed political and practical measures to rapidly curb and control the nationwide spread of disease, so as to firmly take the strategic initiative. The consultative meeting focused on the issue of timely supplying reserve medicines, which would be urgently released as required by the maximum emergency epidemic prevention system. It confirmed again practical procedures to make sure that the reserve medicines are timely and exactly conveyed to patients by mobilizing all the state means and forces for transporting and supplying medicines needed. It discussed in depth ways for minimizing the losses in human lives by reasonably applying scientific curing tactics and methods to different patients including fevered persons with special constitutional conditions, and for timely coping with the disease spread while watching more minutely its progress. The respected General Secretary said that it can be said the spread of malignant disease comes to be a great upheaval in our country since the founding of the DPRK along with the worldwide spread of COVID-19 which gets very serious, adding that we can surely overcome the crisis if we do not sway in carrying out the epidemic prevention policy but keep the strong organizing ability and control based on the single-minded unity of the Party and the people and intensify the epidemic prevention campaign. Analyzing the nature and source of the crisis in a scientific way, he said that the current situation is not an uncontrollable spread among regions but the spread within locked areas and relevant units, and underscored the need to cherish the conviction for overcoming the malignant disease within the shortest span of time as we get to know from the smooth progress of most courses of disease. Stressing again the rationality and efficiency of the initiative and decisive regional-blocking and unitary-isolating steps taken by the Party and government, he called on the emergency epidemic prevention units at all levels to more scrupulously organize the operation for and command over the epidemic prevention work of their regions and units to surely reverse the spread of disease. In order to tide over the present public health crisis quickly, it is important to improve the scientific epidemic prevention awareness of all the people, he noted, calling upon the curative and preventive organs and other relevant organs to scrupulously organize the work for informing a broad section of masses of knowledge needed for prevention and treatment of epidemics and, at the same time, to produce diverse multi-media promoting the understating of the masses and widely disseminate them through mass media. Noting that the public health crisis facing us is also attributable to the incompetence, irresponsibility and least role of the party organizations in the epidemic prevention work, he said that officials of the Party organizations at all levels, who know well before anyone else about our Party’s public health and epidemic prevention policies, should go deep among the masses who are suffering difficulties, share joy and sorrow with them and always become the competent pioneers and kind explainers to firmly ensure the good chance of winning the epidemic prevention campaign. He also called upon the Party organizations at all levels to turn out resolutely in the campaign for defending the people with boundless devotion and invariable loyalty to them to always become the advancing group, shock brigade and bulletproof wall in the present acute anti-epidemic war. The virtues and feelings of helping and taking care of each other which prevails our society in any difficulties are the key to and guarantee for the great victory in the epidemic prevention campaign which is more powerful than any latest medical technologies, he said, calling upon all the Party organizations to scrupulously conduct the organizational and political work so that our best communist virtue and beautiful traits, which no one on earth can possess or imitate, are given fuller display in the present difficult and rigorous epidemic prevention campaign. Noting that it is high time for our Party Central Committee to prove its leading role once again before the difficulties of history, he said that it is urgent for us to more deeply realize for what we are needed and for whom we fight at the cost of our lives and that our Party will bravely discharge its important responsibility and duty and take full responsibility for the security and wellbeing of the country and people by displaying boundless loyalty and devotion, and repeatedly expressed his determination and will to win a great victory in the epidemic prevention campaign without fail. Saying that he was donating reserve medicines prepared by his family to the Party committee of the office building with his resolution to always share the destiny with the people and with an earnest prayer that peace and laugh would settle again in all families across the country at an early date, he suggested to the Party committee sending the medicines to a family in difficulty. It is very important for our epidemic prevention sector to study well the epidemic prevention policies of advanced countries, their successes in epidemic prevention and their experience, he said, adding it is good to actively learn from the advanced and rich anti-epidemic successes and experience already gained by the Chinese party and people in the struggle against malicious epidemic, in particular. The consultative meeting discussed such issues as taking practical measures to quickly strengthen the material and technological foundations of the public health sector and taking legal measures to strongly strike all negative deeds hindering the emergency epidemic prevention work. (KCNA, “Consultative Meeting of Political Bureau of C.C., WPK Held,” May 14, 2022)


5/21/22:
Biden-Yoon summit joint statement: “President Yoon Suk Yeol welcomes President Joseph R. Biden to the Republic of Korea (ROK), marking the earliest meeting in a ROK President’s term in office with the President of the United States (U.S.). Founded in our shared sacrifice and honed by our deep security ties, the Alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States continues to evolve and expand. The linchpin for peace and prosperity in the region, the Alliance has grown far beyond the Korean peninsula, reflecting the pivotal role of our countries as global leaders in democracy, economy, and technology. Faced with existential challenges like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, and growing threats to the rules-based international order, foremost among which is Russia’s further aggression against Ukraine, the Republic of Korea and the United States are unified in common determination to deepen and broaden our political, economic, security, and people-to-people ties. The two Presidents deeply appreciate the recent accomplishments of the Alliance and pledge to continue building off of its rock-solid foundation. President Yoon and President Biden reaffirm their mutual commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and the combined defense posture under the ROK-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty. President Biden affirms the U.S. extended deterrence commitment to the ROK using the full range of U.S. defense capabilities, including nuclear, conventional, and missile defense capabilities. The two Presidents also agree to reactivate the high-level Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group at the earliest date. Both leaders commit to further strengthen deterrence by reinforcing combined defense posture, and reiterate commitment to a conditions-based transition of wartime operational control. With this in mind, and considering the evolving threat posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), both leaders agree to initiate discussions to expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training on and around the Korean Peninsula. Both leaders also reaffirm the commitment of the U.S. to deploy strategic U.S. military assets in a timely and coordinated manner as necessary, as well as to enhance such measures and identify new or additional steps to reinforce deterrence in the face of DPRK destabilizing activities. In this vein, the United States and ROK will significantly expand cooperation to confront a range of cyber threats from the DPRK, including but not limited to, state-sponsored cyber-attacks. President Yoon and President Biden reiterate their common goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and agree to further strengthen the airtight coordination to this end. The two Presidents share the view that the DPRK’s nuclear program presents a grave threat not only to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula but also the rest of Asia and the world. Both leaders condemn the DPRK’s escalatory ballistic missile tests this year, including multiple launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles, as clear violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions and reaffirm their joint commitment to work with the international community to urge the DPRK to abandon its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs. Both leaders urge all UN Member States to fully implement all United Nations Security Council resolutions and also call on the DPRK to abide by its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions as well as its previous commitments and agreements. President Yoon and President Biden emphasize that the path to dialogue remains open toward peaceful and diplomatic resolution with the DPRK and call on DPRK to return to negotiations. President Yoon outlined his vision to normalize inter-Korean relationship through an audacious plan aimed at a denuclearized and prosperous Korean peninsula and President Biden expresses his support for inter-Korean cooperation. Both leaders underscore the importance of ROK-U.S.-Japan trilateral cooperation for responding to the DPRK’s challenges, protecting shared security and prosperity, upholding common values, and bolstering the rules-based international order. President Yoon and President Biden express grave concern over the human rights situation in the DPRK. The two Presidents also reaffirm their commitment to facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable North Koreans. Both leaders express concern over the recent COVID-19 outbreak in the DPRK. The ROK and the U.S. are willing to work with the international community to provide assistance to the DPRK to combat the virus. President Yoon and President Biden recognize that the future of the Alliance will be defined by common efforts to address 21st century challenges. In this vein, the two Presidents pledge to deepen and broaden cooperation on critical and emerging technologies, and cyber security. Both leaders also pledge to develop, use, and advance technologies in line with shared democratic principles and universal values. President Yoon and President Biden recognize the importance of deepening cooperation on economic and energy security, which are critical to safeguarding our prosperity, shared security, and collective interests. To support these initiatives, the two Presidents will direct respective National Security Councils to launch an economic security dialogue aimed to align the bureaucratic and policy approaches between the two governments. Fully recognizing that scientists, researchers, and engineers of the ROK and the U.S. are among the most innovative in the world, the two Presidents agree to leverage this comparative advantage to enhance public and private cooperation to protect and promote critical and emerging technologies, including leading-edge semiconductors, eco-friendly EV batteries, Artificial Intelligence, quantum technology, biotechnology, biomanufacturing, and autonomous robotics. Moreover, the two Presidents also reaffirm their active support for people-to-people exchanges between experts in these fields. To this end, the two Presidents agree to work together to enhance partnership on these critical and emerging technologies in both countries through the promotion of investment as well as research and development cooperation. Recognizing the growing potential for ROK-U.S. cooperation in the defense industry, the two leaders agree to strengthen partnerships in areas such as defense sector supply chain, joint development and manufacturing, including beginning discussions on a Reciprocal Defense Procurement agreement. Secure, sustainable, and resilient global supply chains are foundational to these efforts. Building upon international cooperation fostered by the U.S.-led Summit on Global Supply Chain Resilience, and by working closely together in the upcoming Ministerial-level summit, the two Presidents agree to continue working together to tackle immediate and long-term challenges in the supply chain ecosystem. Both leaders agree to strengthen the resiliency and diversity of these networks including by cooperating on early warning systems to detect and address potential supply chain disruptions and working together to address sourcing and processing of critical minerals. The two Presidents also agree to establish a regular ministerial-level Supply Chain and Commercial Dialogue to discuss promotion of resilient supply chains of key products, including semiconductors, batteries, and critical minerals. Both leaders also agree to enhance cooperation between our foreign investment screening and export control authorities related to critical technologies, which is necessary to prevent the use of advanced technologies to undermine our national and economic security. Recognizing the importance of energy security as well as commitment to address climate change given the rapid increase of volatility in the global energy market as a result of Russia’s further aggression against Ukraine, the two Presidents will work to strengthen joint collaboration in securing energy supply chains that include fossil fuels, and enriched uranium, acknowledging that true energy security means rapidly deploying clean energy technology and working to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. The two leaders recognize the importance of nuclear energy as a critical and reliable source of carbon-free electricity, an important element to grow our clean energy economy, and an integral part of enhancing global energy security. The two leaders commit to greater nuclear energy collaboration and accelerating the development and global deployment of advanced reactors and small modular reactors by jointly using export promotion and capacity building tools, and building a more resilient nuclear supply chain. The two Presidents reaffirm that both countries will engage in global civil-nuclear cooperation in accordance with the highest standards of nuclear nonproliferation, including the IAEA Additional Protocol as the standard for both international safeguards and for nuclear supply arrangements. Acknowledging the shared goals of deepening strategic ties, while respecting each country’s intellectual investments, both leaders commit to using tools such as the ROK-U.S. Memorandum of Understanding on Nuclear Technology Transfer and Export Cooperation to provide a solid foundation for strengthened cooperation in the U.S., ROK and overseas nuclear markets and the High-Level Bilateral Commission, to further cooperation for spent fuel management, nuclear export promotion, assured fuel supply and nuclear security. The U.S. welcomes the ROK’s decision to join the U.S.-led Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) program. President Yoon and President Biden commit to strengthening the ROK-U.S. alliance across all sectors of space cooperation. Building on the ROK’s previous commitment to participate in the Artemis program, the two Presidents agreed to foster joint research in space exploration and to support the ROK’s development of the Korean Positioning System (KPS). Both leaders agree to hold “the 3rd U.S.-ROK Civil Space Dialogue” by the end of the year, and to strengthen cooperation on the two countries space industries. They also commit to continue cooperation to ensure a safe, secure, and sustainable space environment including through the bilateral space policy dialogue and committed to strengthen defense space partnerships including through joint exercises. President Yoon and President Biden agree that the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS), which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, remains the foundation of our economic relationship. To promote sustainable growth and financial stability, including orderly and well-functioning foreign exchange markets, the two Presidents recognize the need to consult closely on foreign exchange market developments. The two Presidents share common values and an essential interest in fair, market-based competition and commit to work together to address market distorting practices. Faced with increasingly complex global challenges including the threats posed by climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, President Yoon laid out the ROK’s initiative for a global pivotal state that envisions a heightened role in advancing freedom, peace, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. The two Presidents reaffirm their commitments to a global comprehensive strategic alliance firmly rooted in the shared values of promoting democracy and the rules-based international order, fighting corruption, and advancing human rights. President Biden appreciated President Yoon’s initiative to embrace greater regional and global responsibilities, and enthusiastically welcome the ROK taking a leadership role in the Summit for Democracy process. Acknowledging the existential threat posed by climate change, President Yoon and President Biden reaffirm their commitments to their announced nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement including the 2030 greenhouse gas reduction targets and 2050 net zero emission goals with strong efforts to align policies across sectors. The two Presidents also agree to enhance cooperation to address methane emissions globally, recognizing the importance of the Global Methane Pledge and rapid global action needed to address methane. The two Presidents also decide to strengthen cooperation in clean energy fields such as hydrogen, clean shipping, accelerated deployment of zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) and aligning international financial flows with global net zero emissions by 2050 and deep reductions in the 2020s. President Yoon and President Biden pledge to support in strengthening multilateral efforts to prevent, prepare, and respond to infectious disease threats. President Yoon underscored President Biden’s leadership in convening the Global COVID-19 Summit in May 2022, and President Biden appreciated President Yoon’s active participation and ROK’s announced pledges, including funding for the Act-Accelerator to combat COVID-19 and support for the Financial Intermediary Fund for pandemic preparedness and global health security at the World Bank. President Biden welcomes the ROK’s decision to host a Global Health Security Agenda ministerial meeting this Fall and establish a GHS coordinating office for global and regional sustainable health security in Seoul. Our countries will also increase efforts bilaterally and in multilateral fora to promote biosafety and biosecurity norms. The U.S. and ROK will also strengthen health systems and build on successful health sector collaboration to accelerate cooperation and innovation in cancer research, cutting edge cancer treatments, mental health research, early detection, and treatment of mental health disorders. President Yoon and President Biden highlight their shared belief in the extraordinary benefits afforded by an open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, and secure Internet. To combat the rising threats posed by digital authoritarianism, they committed to defend human rights and foster an open “network of networks” that ensures the free flow of information globally. To achieve this, the ROK is ready to join the U.S. in endorsing the Declaration for the Future of the Internet. The two Presidents also reaffirm the need to ensure that the Internet continues to play a positive role in promoting equity, equality and safety for women and girls in both our societies. To this end, the U.S. and the ROK joined the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse as founding members. Recognizing the importance of telecommunications security and vendor diversity, the leaders also commit to work together to develop open, transparent, and secure 5G and 6G network devices and architectures using Open-RAN approaches, both at home and abroad. President Yoon and President Biden will continue to deepen ROK-U.S. cooperation on regional and international cyber policy, including cooperation on deterring cyber adversaries, cybersecurity of critical infrastructure, combatting cybercrime and associated money laundering, securing cryptocurrency and blockchain applications, capacity building, cyber exercises, information sharing, military-to-military cyber cooperation, and other international security issues in cyberspace. President Yoon and President Biden oppose all activities that undermine, destabilize, or threaten the rules-based international order and stand together with the international community in condemning Russia’s unprovoked further aggression against Ukraine. Both countries, alongside other international partners, have responded resolutely to this clear violation of international law, by imposing their own financial sanctions and export controls against Russia and Russian entities, along with the vital provision of humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Both leaders affirm that they will ensure the effective implementation of their country’s respective measures to deter further Russian aggression and maintain our commitment to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. The two Presidents recognize the importance of maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific that is prosperous and peaceful, and agree to strengthen mutual cooperation across the region. In this regard, President Biden shares his support for President Yoon’s initiative to formulate ROK’s own Indo-Pacific strategy framework. President Yoon also welcomed the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy. The two Presidents commit to cooperate closely through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), based on the principles of openness, transparency, and inclusiveness. Both leaders agree to work together to develop a comprehensive IPEF that will deepen economic engagement on priority issues, including the digital economy, resilient supply chains, clean energy, and other priorities geared toward promoting sustainable economic growth. President Yoon and President Biden also reaffirm their strong support for ASEAN centrality and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. The two Presidents commit to increase cooperation with Southeast Asia and the Pacific Island Countries to promote sustainable development, energy security, and high-quality, transparent investment, including in quality infrastructure. President Biden welcomes President Yoon’s interest in the Quad, and noted complementary ROK strengths including tackling the pandemic, fighting climate change and producing critical technologies. The two leaders also agree to cooperate on infrastructure financing, including digital infrastructure, in third countries. The two Presidents emphasize the importance of ROK-U.S.- Japan trilateral cooperation to effectively address common economic challenges. President Yoon and President Biden reaffirm their commitment to maintain peace and stability, lawful unimpeded commerce, and respect for international law including freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful use of the seas, including in the South China Sea and beyond. The two Presidents reiterate the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait as an essential element in security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. Sharing our mutual concerns regarding human rights situations in the Indo-Pacific region, both leaders commit to promote human rights and rule of law globally. The two Presidents resolutely condemn the coup in Myanmar and the military’s brutal attacks on civilians, and commit to press for the immediate cessation of violence, the release of those who are detained, unfettered countrywide humanitarian access, and a swift return to democracy. The two Presidents call on all nations to join us in providing safe haven to Burmese nationals and in prohibiting arms sales to Myanmar. President Yoon and President Biden share the view that the Alliance has matured into a deep and comprehensive strategic relationship. Through our close ties between the two dynamic populations, extensive economic and investment links, and commitment to democracy, human rights, and the rules-based international order, the ROK and the U.S. are charting a path toward a relationship that is capable of meeting any challenge and seizing all the opportunities presented before us. President Yoon and President Biden jointly recognize the importance of our shared commitments and pledge to work tirelessly to broaden and deepen our ties to position us to succeed in a rapidly changing world. President Biden expressed his gratitude for President Yoon’s warm hospitality and extended an invitation for President Yoon to visit Washington at a time of mutual convenience.” (White House, United States-Republic of Korea Leaders’ Joint Statement,” May 21, 2022)

The joint statement announced after the South Korea-US summit today showed a few clear differences from the previous one in Washington that was adopted exactly one year earlier on May 21, 2021. A notable example was the omission of any reference to the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration and Singapore Joint Statement, both of which were included in the 2021 statement. In their place was a visible emphasis on areas that Pyongyang has historically voiced strong objections to, including extended deterrence, a stronger combined defense posture, and the deployment of strategic assets. Analysts read this as a sign that the situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula is rapidly returning to its state prior to the dialogue that commenced in 2018. In the statement following their joint summit in May 2021, then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Joe Biden reaffirmed their “common belief that diplomacy and dialogue, based on previous inter-Korean and U.S.-DPRK commitments such as the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration and Singapore Joint Statement, are essential to achieve the complete denuclearization and establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.” This sent the message to Pyongyang that they intended to proceed with future talks on the basis of current agreements, which positioned denuclearization as an ultimate outcome of dialogue and negotiation rather than a prerequisite for them. But that content was absent from the latest joint statement by Biden and current President Yoon Suk-yeol, which instead made reference to a shared awareness of the threat posed by the North, condemning shows of military force and coordinating with the international community while urging Pyongyang to return to negotiations and comply with UN Security Council resolutions. The statement also laid out the specific components of the military response to the North Korean “threat.” These included “extended deterrence commitment to the ROK” using “nuclear, conventional, and missile defense capabilities,” as well as expanding the “scope and scale of combined military exercises and training” and “deploy[ing] strategic US military assets in a timely and coordinated manner.” While stressing that the “path to dialogue remains open,” the latest statement emphasized the sort of content that North Korea has consistently referred to as “hostile.” In effect, any rationale for Pyongyang to agree to dialogue has been removed. Biden made no secret of his frosty attitude toward North Korea. At his Seoul Hyatt accommodations on Sunday morning, Biden was asked by a reporter whether he had any message for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. “‘Hello.’” he replied. “Period.” His curt reply was seen as signaling his unwillingness to take more active steps to encourage Pyongyang to take part in dialogue. In a post-summit press conference the day before, Biden was also asked about his “preconditions” for meeting with North Korea. “[T]hat would be dependent on whether [Kim Jong-un] was sincere and whether it was serious,” he said, in a response that recalled the “strategic patience” approach to North Korea policy adopted by the Obama administration. “The Panmunjom Declaration and Singapore Joint Statement were respectively the achievements of the Moon Jae-in and Donald Trump administrations,” explained a foreign affairs and national security source involved in preparations for the South Korea-US summit last year. “With the Yoon Suk-yeol administration having just taken office and the Biden administration looking ahead to the midterm elections, there’s no political motivation for either of them to rate [those declarations] highly,” the source suggested. “With US-China and US-Russia relations souring, additional nuclear tests by North Korea could create a situation that’s even more dangerous than the one prior to 2018,” they commented. ( Jung In-hwan, “Are U.S.-NK Inter-Korean Relations Headed back to Pre-Panmunjom Declaration Days?” Hankyore, May 24, 2022)

The choice of destination to begin a five-day trip to South Korea and Japan underscored the challenges of Biden’s effort to rebuild American ties to a region where longtime allies have grown uncertain about Washington’s commitments amid anti-trade sentiment at home, while China has expanded its dominance in the economic arena. The president hopes to lure countries back into the American orbit despite his predecessor Donald J. Trump’s decision five years ago to abandon a far-reaching trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership — but not by rejoining the economic bloc, even though it was negotiated by the Obama administration that he served as vice president. Instead, under pressure from his liberal base at home, Biden plans to offer a far less sweeping multinational economic structure that has some in the region skeptical about what it will add up to. Biden will formally unveil the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework in Tokyo, bringing together many of the same countries from the trade partnership to coordinate policies on energy, supply chains and other issues, but without the market access or tariff reductions that powered the original partnership. Eager for American leadership to counter China, a number of countries in the region plan to sign up and hail the new alignment but privately have expressed concern that it may be an empty exercise. The framework is essentially “a new packaging of existing Biden administration priorities in this economic policy area,” said Scott A. Snyder, the director of U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “And whether or not it really takes off depends on whether partners believe that there’s enough there there to justify being engaged.” Snyder added that he thought South Korea, for one, was taking seriously the Biden administration’s commitment to invest in the region. “I think they’re believing,” he said. “And we’ll see whether they’re whistling past the graveyard.” But even Biden’s own ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, acknowledged the uncertainty in the region over the new economic framework. Countries want to know, “what is it we are signing up for?” he told reporters in Tokyo on Thursday. Is this an alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership? “Yes and no,” he said. The framework is not a traditional free trade agreement but instead an architecture for negotiation to address four major areas: supply chains, the digital economy, clean energy transformation and investments in infrastructure. Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, said it would be “a big deal” and a “significant milestone” for relations with the region. “When you hear some of the, ‘Well, we don’t quite know. We’re not sure because it doesn’t look like things have looked before,’ I say, ‘Just you wait,’” he told reporters on Air Force One as it made its way across the Pacific. “Because I think this is going to be the new model of economic arrangement that will set the terms and rules of the road for trade and technology and supply chains for the 21st century.” Sullivan said there will be “a significant roster of countries” joining the framework when Biden kicks it off in two days, but administration officials have not identified which countries. Japan, which has signaled that it would rather the United States rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will nonetheless embrace the new framework as the best it can get at the moment, as will South Korea. Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines have indicated interest in joining, while India and Indonesia have expressed some reservations. Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh of Vietnam said this month that it was still not clear what the new framework would mean in concrete terms. “We are ready to work alongside the U.S. to discuss, to further clarify what these pillars entail,” he said at a forum held by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The Financial Times reported that the administration had diluted the language of the organizing statement to entice more countries to join. Some countries are concerned that the United States will force labor and environmental standards on them without the trade-offs of better trading terms, which are off the table because of liberal opposition within Biden’s party. “There’s a reason that the original T.P.P. was derailed,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, said at a hearing last month. “It would have off-shored more jobs to countries that use child labor and prison labor and pay workers almost nothing. Let me be clear: The I.P.E.F. cannot be T.P.P. 2.0.” Emanuel said the administration would describe the new framework process as a “consultation to negotiation,” as he put it. “We have to have an approach that respects countries where they are,” he said. “Meaning where Japan is or where Australia is, is not necessarily where Vietnam or Thailand or the Philippines are.” Moreover, he said, the administration wanted a framework that could survive beyond Biden’s presidency, unlike the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “We have an interest in saying we are still a player in the Pacific, and China has an interest in saying the U.S. is on its way out,” Emanuel said. Biden’s visit to the Samsung semiconductor facility immediately after disembarking from Air Force One served as a reminder of how critical the region is to his immediate priority of unsnarling the supply chain problems that have hurt American consumers back home. Shortly after landing at Osan Air Base, Mr. Biden joined President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea at the plant, praising it as a model for the type of manufacturing that the United States desperately needs to head off soaring inflation and to compete with China’s growing economic dominance. “This is an auspicious start to my visit, because it’s emblematic of the future cooperation and innovation that our nations can and must build together,” Biden said, noting that Samsung will invest $17 billion to build a similar plant in Taylor, Texas. “Our two nations work together to make the best, most advanced technology in the world,” Biden added, surrounded by monitors showing Samsung employees listening to his remarks. “And this factory is proof of that, and that gives both the Republic of Korea and the United States a competitive edge in the global economy if we can keep our supply chains resilient, reliable and secure.” While demand for products containing semiconductors increased by 17 percent from 2019 to 2021, there has not been a comparable increase in supply, partly because of pandemic-related disruptions. As a result, automobile prices have skyrocketed and the need for more chips is likely to increase as 5G technology and electric vehicles become more widespread. The United States already faces an “alarming” shortage of the semiconductors, Gina Raimondo, Biden’s commerce secretary, warned this year, adding that the crisis had contributed to the highest level of inflation in roughly 40 years. The soaring consumer prices have helped to drive down approval ratings for Biden, who has seized on global supply-chain problems to urge Congress to pass proposed legislation that would provide $52 billion in grants and subsidies for semiconductor makers and $45 billion in grants and loans to support supply-chain resilience and American manufacturing. The Samsung stop was just one effort to encourage Asian allies to invest in the United States. Tomorrow, Biden will join the chairman of Hyundai to celebrate the South Korean company’s decision to invest in a new electric vehicle and battery manufacturing facility in Savannah, Ga. “Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Peter Baker, “With Trip to South Korea and Japan Biden Seeks to Repair Economic Ties,” New York Times, May 21, 2022, p. A-6)


5/24/22:
Multiple Russian and Chinese warplanes entered South Korea’s air defense identification zone (KADIZ) without notice today, prompting the Air Force to scramble fighters to the scene, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said. The JCS said that two Chinese and four Russian warplanes entered the KADIZ, but did not violate South Korea’s territorial air. “Prior to their entry into the KADIZ, our military deployed Air Force fighters to conduct tactical steps in preparation against potential accidental situations,” the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters. At 7:56 a.m., two Chinese H-6 bombers entered the KADIZ from an area 126 kilometers northwest of Ieodo, a submerged rock south of the southern island of Jeju, according to the JCS. They moved toward the East Sea and exited the zone at around 9:33 a.m. Later, the two Chinese warplanes joined four Russian warplanes, including two TU-95 bombers, and entered the KADIZ together at 9:58 a.m. They then left the zone at 10:15 a.m. At around 3:40 p.m., four Chinese and two Russian military aircraft were spotted flying in an area some 267 km southeast of Ieodo — outside the KADIZ — the JCS said. The planes’ entry into the KADIZ came as South Korea is pushing to strengthen and broaden its alliance with the United States while joining the international condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The entry also coincided with the last day of President Joe Biden’s five-day Asia swing that took him to South Korea and Japan. The air defense zone is not territorial airspace, but is delineated to call on foreign planes to identify themselves so as to prevent accidental clashes. (Yonhap, “Multiple Russian, Chinese Warplanes Enter KADIZ without Notice,” May 24, 2022) China and Russia today held their first joint military exercise since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, sending bombers over the seas in northeast Asia in an apparent show of force as President Biden was visiting the region, according to American, South Korean and Japanese officials. The bombers flew over the Sea of Japan early Tuesday and continued south toward the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea, a senior American official said in an interview soon after the start of the exercise, speaking on the condition of anonymity. South Korea issued a statement hours later confirming the exercise, saying that two Chinese military aircraft and four Russian warplanes had entered its air defense identification zone off the country’s east coast, without intruding into its airspace. Joint exercises involving strategic bombers are complex and are typically planned well in advance. The American official also said U.S. agencies had evidence that Chinese naval vessels most likely took part in the joint exercise. The South Korean military dispatched fighter jets before the Chinese and Russian bombers entered the zone and “and took tactical measures to guard against emergencies,” it said in a statement. The Japanese military said it also sent fighter jets to warn the bombers and conduct surveillance when the Chinese and Russian warplanes flew in the vicinity of Japan’s airspace. They did not intrude into Japan’s territory, it said. “We regard the military exercise conducted in the midst of the summit meeting between Japan, the United States, Australia and India as intending to show a demonstration of force against Japan, which hosted the meeting,” Kishi Nobuo, Japan’s defense minister, told reporters. “Also, the fact that this activity was held in the midst of the Quad summit meeting is deemed more provocative than other drills in the past.” “When the international community is responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China is acting together with the aggressor, Russia,” he added. “We cannot help but be concerned about this and cannot overlook it.” The Chinese defense ministry confirmed the exercise on an official social media account soon after South Korea and Japan released their statements. Beijing has sided with Moscow by giving it diplomatic and rhetorical support throughout the war. Senior U.S. officials and a European official later said in interviews that a Western intelligence report had indicated that senior Chinese officials asked their Russian counterparts in early February to hold off on invading Ukraine until after the Olympics ended. The day after the closing ceremony, Putin declared that Ukraine should not be a sovereign state and ordered more units of the Russian military to cross into the embattled Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The full-scale invasion began three days later. In mid-March, U.S. officials said Russia had asked China for military and economic aid after the invasion of Ukraine. China has also not stepped in to help Russia evade sanctions or blunt the impact of the penalties, U.S. officials say. China has been buying more advanced weapons from Russia, and the two nations have done a growing number of joint military exercises recently. Last October, the two countries held joint naval drills off the Russian Far East. This January, the two joined with Iran for the same type of exercises in the northern Indian Ocean.Yesterday, Biden said the United States would defend Taiwan militarily if China attacked the self-governing democratic island. U.S. officials said later that Biden was not changing a longstanding policy of “strategic ambiguity” on Taiwan and China in any way. That decades-old unwritten policy says the United States will remain silent on whether it would send military forces to defend Taiwan against China, even though the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 obligates the U.S. government to provide weapons of a defensive nature to Taiwan. The South Korean military said it first detected two Chinese H-6 bombers entering South Korea’s air defense identification zone off the southwestern coast of the Korean Peninsula at 7:56 a.m. Tuesday. They then joined four Russian planes, including two fighter jets and two Tu-95 bombers, off the east coast of the peninsula, it said. The six planes entered the South Korean zone there between 9:58 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. but did not enter South Korea’s territorial airspace, the officials said. The joint Chinese and Russian exercise continued into this afternoon, when the South Korean military spotted a group of four Chinese military aircraft and two Russian warplanes patrolling together between South Korea’s southern island of Jeju and Japan’s southern Kyushu island before they split up. (Edward Wong, “China and Russia Hold Exercise as Biden Visits,” New York Times, May 25, 2022, p. A-6)

Hecker interview: “Jenny Town: Dr. Hecker, thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. I thought I might begin by asking, what does North Korea mean when it refers to tactical nuclear weapons and is this a new direction for its program? Siegfried Hecker: One typically divides the nuclear weapons into strategic and tactical weapons. Strategic nuclear weapons are usually long-range, delivered on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and used largely to deter the adversary from aggression. Although there is no single definition of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs), they are generally shorter-range weapons of lower nuclear yield that are potentially used in warfighting. In the North Korean case, one could say it’s been working on TNWs all along, as its program was originally centered around the development of nuclear warheads that could be mated to its short-range Scud and medium-range Nodong missiles that can reach several hundred to a thousand miles to cover all of South Korea and most of Japan. JT: I think that’s a really important point. If North Korea has pursued tactical nuclear weapons since the outset of the program, what is different now? SH: What we’re seeing now is more discussion of what purpose the weapons serve. During a speech at the April 25 military parade, for instance, Kim Jong Un emphasized the role of TNWs in North Korea’s nuclear program and his strategy for using them. While this may have been his first time talking about them so clearly, they have been part of his nuclear strategy for several years. But let’s review what he said. Kim explained that the country’s nuclear weapons are primarily for deterrence, that is, the strategic nuclear weapons are meant to deter adversaries from attacking North Korea. But then he said that there was also a secondary purpose for nuclear weapons if other countries try to infringe on the DPRK’s fundamental interests. It was very interesting that he left the door wide open as to what the secondary purpose is. That could mean he reserves the right to use nuclear weapons when North Korea feels threatened. However, later in his speech, he essentially makes the connection that the secondary purpose would be tactical, rather than the strategic nuclear weapons meant to reach the United States and hold the US mainland at risk. JT: Is this the first time we’ve heard the North Koreans talk about its nuclear doctrine in this way? SH: In my reading of North Korea’s statements over the years, bits and pieces about what it would do with nuclear weapons have been there all along. In the past, it has threatened the use of nuclear weapons against the United States and threatened South Korea with total destruction. Now it seems to be pulling those pieces together. However, when it comes to North Korea’s strategic weapons capability, Pyongyang has demonstrated it knows how to build a high-yield nuclear weapon and build a sufficiently powerful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could reach the United States. But it has not yet demonstrated that such an ICBM could carry a nuclear warhead that would survive the launch, flight and reentry to hold the United States mainland at risk. The North Korean nuclear weapons we have worried about for the last 10 years or so, and we should continue to be concerned about, I would put in the category of tactical nuclear weapons—those they can put on short-range Scuds or medium-range Nodongs. JT: That’s great context. At the Eighth Party Congress in January 2021, Kim Jong Un laid out goals that did mention further developments of tactical nuclear weapons and miniaturization capabilities and “super-large” nuclear weapons. Given that, do you think North Korea’s trying to develop a new type of tactical nuclear weapon? SH: Probably not. More likely, the country is working to make sure that its TNWs will be small enough to fit into the various types of new delivery vehicles. For instance, making maneuverable warheads that are less susceptible to ballistic missile defenses to mate with a hypersonic glide vehicle. If you’re going to put a nuclear weapon on a hypersonic glide vehicle, that may be a bit more challenging than putting it on a Scud or Nodong, but it isn’t fundamentally different. JT: Does North Korea need to conduct more tests to advance its TNW capabilities? SH: If you look at the history of North Korea’s nuclear testing, it has demonstrated the ability to build a plutonium-fueled bomb by 2009 and highly enriched uranium (HEU)-fueled bombs at least by 2013. The yield of the February 2013 test was seven to 14 kilotons or roughly the size of the Hiroshima bomb. These would likely fit in North Korea’s Scuds and Nodongs. Skip forward to the September 2017 test that was a huge explosion, proving, in principle, the ability to make a hydrogen bomb with a yield of over 200 kilotons, or roughly 10 times that used on Nagasaki. However, can they fit a bomb of that high of yield on a missile in a form that could survive reentry? It’s likely going to take more missile tests and more nuclear tests to achieve that. Moreover, while North Korea may have confidence in building HEU-fueled bombs or warheads for Scuds and Nodongs, further testing is likely needed for some of the more advanced versions of TNWs, such as for hypersonic or submarine-launched ballistic missiles. In addition, the North may choose to develop battlefield tactical nuclear weapons as Pakistan has done. These weapons may be in the one to two-kiloton yield range shot from multiple rocket launchers or used as nuclear landmines. These are less safe and less secure than missile-launched nuclear weapons and would require some level of delegated authority. JT: Commercial satellite imagery has shown North Korea is working to restore the southern test tunnels at its Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site to operational status. How likely is it that Pyongyang will decide to conduct a test in the near future? What would you expect the North will test next? SH: Satellite imagery has shown definite signs of nuclear test preparations. Some analysts have said the timing will be politically driven. I think a test appears likely, but the timing will be largely determined by technical considerations. We don’t know what it will test next, but the North does need more nuclear tests to demonstrate it can miniaturize a warhead for ICBMs and that those warheads will survive the rigors of launch, flight and reentry. JT: Do you think there’s anything that can be done to prevent North Korea from resuming nuclear testing? SH: A return to serious diplomacy would have prevented, or at least postponed, another nuclear test. Remember that North Korea has offered several times to halt nuclear testing, but Washington declined. China strongly opposes more nuclear testing because of potential radioactive leakage across the nearby border. However, with no ongoing US-North Korea diplomatic engagement, Pyongyang may consider this to be a propitious time to conduct another test without suffering serious political consequences.” (38North, “North Korea’s Evolving Nuclear Doctrine: An Interview with Siegfried Hecker,” May 24, 2022)


5/25/22:
North Korea launched three ballistic missiles, including a possible intercontinental ballistic missile, toward the waters off its east coast today, South Korea’s military said. The launches came just after President Biden wrapped up a trip to the region, where he vowed to strengthen deterrence against the North’s growing nuclear threat. It was North Korea’s 17th missile test this year. The missiles were launched from Sunan, near Pyongyang, the North’s capital, at 6 a.m., 6:37 and 6:42, the South Korean military said. American and South Korean officials have been warning in recent weeks that the North was ready to conduct either a nuclear test or an intercontinental ballistic missile test. The first missile launched appeared to have been an ICBM, South Korean defense officials said. But it flew only 224 miles, the officials said, indicating that North Korea did not want to launch the missile on a full ICBM trajectory over the Pacific while Biden was in the air on his way back to Washington after a visit to Seoul and Tokyo. The missile appeared to have been the Hwasong-17, North Korea’s largest-known ICBM, which was first unveiled during a military parade in October 2020, Kim Tae-hyo, first deputy director of the National Security Office of President Yoon Suk-yeol of South Korea, said today. The second missile launched on Wednesday apparently failed because it “disintegrated” after reaching an altitude of 12 miles, the South Korean officials said. The third projectile was a short-range ballistic missile. Shortly after the North’s tests, the South Korean and United States militaries each launched a land-to-land missile off the east coast of South Korea to demonstrate what Seoul called the allies’ “swift striking capability to deter further provocations from North Korea,” as well as the South Korean military’s “overwhelming” ability to launch “precision strikes at the origin of North Korean provocation.” Separately, 30 South Korean F-15K fighter jets performed an “elephant walk” on the tarmac, ready to take off with a full load of weapons. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the launches did not pose an immediate threat to the United States or its allies, but highlighted the North Korean weapons program’s “destabilizing impact.” South Korea called the tests “a grave threat” to peace and called for the stronger enforcement of sanctions, warning that the North’s weapons tests would only “deepen its isolation.” The missile launches were a strong signal that North Korea was embarking on a new cycle of tensions in the Korean Peninsula despite the country’s first reported outbreak of the coronavirus. The country has also been conducting high-explosive tests in recent weeks, indicating that a nuclear test may be imminent, Kim, the South Korean presidential aide, said today. High explosives are used to help trigger fission in a nuclear device, and North Korea has conducted dozens of high-explosive tests over the years. The missile tests indicated that North Korea was not interested in nuclear disarmament talks anytime soon. In a speech delivered during a nighttime military parade in April, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, reiterated that his people should prepare for a standoff with the United States “for a long period of time.” He also vowed to expand his arsenal of nuclear warheads, intercontinental ballistic missiles and other delivery vehicles “at the fastest possible speed.” Kim has also appeared to adopt a more aggressive nuclear doctrine in recent weeks. In the same speech, he seemed to take a page from the playbook of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia when he warned that his nuclear arsenal was not just to deter foreign invasion, but also to be used “if any forces try to violate the fundamental interests of our state.” Last month, Mr. Kim’s sister and spokeswoman, Kim Yo-jong, said North Korea could use nuclear weapons “at the outset of war.” After a short-range missile test last month, Kim said he was improving the “efficiency” of battlefield or “tactical nukes.” North Korea declared a halt to all nuclear and ICBM tests to set the stage for the first summit meeting between Kim and Trump in 2018. But the efforts at diplomacy ended without an agreement on how to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program or when to lift sanctions. Kim has since vowed to find a “new way” to deal with Washington and started testing a variety of new missiles. Analysts viewed his moves as raising the stakes in his confrontation with Washington and its allies by rapidly amassing a fleet of nuclear-tipped missiles and altering his country’s nuclear doctrine. The new cycle of tensions highlights an uncomfortable truth both for the Yoon and Biden administration: Despite decades of negotiations and sanctions, North Korea’s nuclear capabilities have only become stronger and more dangerous. “North Korea continues to improve, expand and diversify its conventional and nuclear missile capabilities, posing an increasing risk to the U.S. homeland and U.S. forces, allies, and partners in the region,” John Plumb, the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for space policy, told the Senate Armed Services Committee this month. “Most of North Korea’s ballistic missiles have an assessed capability to carry nuclear payloads.” (Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Test-Fires 3 Missiles, Including Possible ICBM,” New York Times, May 26, 2022, p. A-6)

North Korea has been testing a nuclear triggering device apparently in preparation for what would be the country’s seventh nuclear test, a senior presidential official said today. The experiments have been taking place at a location away from Punggye-ri, the site of all six North Korean nuclear tests to date, said Kim Tae-hyo, first deputy director of the National Security Office, without naming the place. “Operation tests of a nuclear detonation device, which are to prepare for the seventh nuclear test at Punggye-ri, are being detected,” Kim told reporters. “The possibility of an imminent nuclear test in the next day or two is low, but after that, there is certainly a possibility.” (Lee Haye-ah, “N. Korea Tests Nuclear Detonation Device: Presidential Office,” Yonhap, May 25, 2022)

Japan and the United States conducted a joint exercise involving fighter jets over the Sea of Japan, the Defense Ministry said a day after North Korea test-fired three ballistic missiles. The flight of four F-15s from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s Chitose base in Hokkaido and four F-16s from the U.S. Air Force base in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, today was meant to confirm the two forces’ “readiness posture,” the ministry said. The U.S. military said in a news release the drill was intended to “showcase combined capabilities to deter and counter regional threats.” The joint flight exercise was held also after China and Russia flew six strategic bombers in total over the Sea of Japan, the East China Sea and the Pacific on Tuesday, when Tokyo was hosting a summit of the so-called Quad group with the United States, Australia and India. (Kyodo, “Japan Confirms Drill with U.S. Fighters after North Korea Missile Tests,” May 26, 2022)


5/26/22:
The U.N. Security Council (UNSC) failed to pass a resolution to impose additional sanctions on North Korea, today, for its recent missile tests due to opposition from China and Russia. (Yonhap, “UN Security Council Fails to Pass N.K. Resolution due to Opposition from China, Russia,” Korea Times, May 27, 2022)


6/2/22:
North Korea, which has been developing nuclear weapons in defiance of sanctions imposed by the United Nations, has taken the helm of the Conference on Disarmament. North Korea’s turn in the rotating presidency started today amid reports that the country is about to resume nuclear tests after a nearly five-year hiatus and amid its most active spate in years of test ballistic missile launches. The forum’s presidency rotates among its 65-member states according to the English alphabetical order at a four-week interval. A coalition of about 50 countries expressed concerns about North Korea chairing the world’s only permanent and multilateral forum for disarmament. Australian Ambassador Amanda Gorely, on behalf of the coalition, condemned the North’s “reckless actions which continue to seriously undermine the very value of the Conference on Disarmament,” according to the Associated Press. Gorely, the Australian ambassador, said the coalition decided against boycotting North Korea’s presidency as requested by a group of nongovernmental organizations. She added that the member states’ attendance does not give a “tacit consent” to the North’s aggressions that violate the U.N. sanctions. Some diplomatic missions lowered the level of their representation following North Korea’s accession. North Korea’s presidency raised questions in Washington about the efficacy of the Geneva-based forum. “It certainly does call that into question when you have a regime like the DPRK in a senior leadership post, a regime that has done as much as any other government around the world to erode the nonproliferation norm,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price, referring to North Korea by its official name. Pyongyang’s envoy to the forum, Han Tae-song, lashed out at what he called “threats” from the United States, saying that the two countries are “still at war.” Han told the forum’s meeting on Thursday that he “takes note” of the criticism from other member states and vowed to work toward “global peace and disarmament.” (Min Joo Kim, “North Korea Heads U.N.-Linked Disarmament Group amid Consternation,” Washington Post, June 3, 2022)


6/4/22:
A U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier staged military drills with South Korean warships to enhance the alliance’s combat readiness against North Korea’s mounting threats and demonstrate the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. The U.S. carrier strike group conducted the bilateral military exercises with the South Korean Navy’s fleet between June 1 and 4 in the international waters southeast of the island prefecture of Okinawa, Japan, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff announced today. The U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group took part in the drills along with MH-60R anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare helicopters and F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets. The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold, and the Henry J. Kaiser-class fleet replenishment oiler USNS Big Horn joined the drills. From South Korea, the 14,500-ton Marado amphibious assault ship, which is the South Korean Navy’s largest vessel, the 7,600-ton Sejong the Great-class Aegis destroyer equipped with SM-2 surface-to-air missiles, and the 4,400-ton Munmu the Great destroyer participated in the bilateral military exercises with Lynx multirole naval helicopters. South Korea’s JCS spoke of the implications of the three-day large-scale naval drills for the South Korea-US alliance and the combined defense posture as well as its message to North Korea. “South Korea and the US have solidified the determination to decisively respond to any kind of provocations by North Korea through the combined exercises with the carrier strike group,” the JCS said in a Korean-language statement. “(The drills) also demonstrate the South Korea-US combined defense capabilities and the US’ strong resolve to fulfill its commitment to provide extended deterrence.” The South Korean and US naval forces have “improved their capabilities to conduct combined operations in preparation for provocation by North Korea by carrying out various naval drills such as anti-air and anti-submarine warfare exercises, maritime logistics support training and maritime interception operations,” South Korea’s JCS added. South Korea’s Navy had originally planned to distribute a press release on the military exercise, but instead, the JCS issued the statement to effectively deliver the message to the Kim Jong-un regime, Korea Herald learned. The South Korea-US bilateral exercise involving the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was carried out for the first time since November 2017

The bilateral drills were staged as the three warships and Lynx helicopters are heading to Hawaii to take part in the US-led multinational maritime exercise. South Korea on Tuesday dispatched the largest-scale naval fleet and a brigadier general to the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise which is scheduled to be conducted in waters off Hawaii for 37 days from June 29 to August 4. (Ji Da-gyum, “U.S. Nuclear-Powered Supercarrier, S. Korean Naval Fleet Conduct Military Drills,” Korea Herald, June 4, 2022)


6/5/22:
North Korea fired eight short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) toward the East Sea today, a day after South Korea and the United States wrapped up their joint drills near the peninsula involving a U.S. aircraft carrier, according to the South’s military. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the launches were detected between 9:08 a.m. and 9:43 a.m. from areas around Sunan in Pyongyang; Kaechon, north of the capital city; the northwestern region of Tongchang-ri; and the eastern city of Hamhung. The missiles flew around 110-670 kilometers at altitudes of 25-90 km with speeds of Mach 3 to 6, it added. An informed source said two missiles were shot from each site “sporadically,” presumably from transporter erector launchers (TELs), the largest number of ballistic missiles the North has recently launched “on a single day and occasion.” It was the North’s 18th show of force this year and the third since President Yoon Suk-yeol took office May 10 with a pledge to get tough on the recalcitrant regime. The South’s presidential office convened an emergency National Security Council in response to the North’s latest missile testing. It strongly condemned the North in a statement issued after the session presided over by National Security Adviser Kim Sung-han. (Kang Yoon-seung, “N. Korea Fires 8 Short-Range Ballistic Missiles toward East Sea: S. Korean Military,” June 5, 2022, Yonhap)

Ankit Panda: “North Korea’s firing of eight short-range ballistic missiles (SBRMs) from four different launch sites across the country is an unprecedented development for the country’s weapons programs. It may mark a transition from initial developmental testing of these weapons to a period of more intense operational drills. In general, North Korean tests that involve multiple missiles — more than one for anything in the medium-range class and above and more than two for its newer solid-propellant SRBMs — indicate operational training and not a developmental test. These launches are not “tests” in the traditional sense but regular military exercises, designed to offer missile operators an opportunity to carry out launches under various conditions designed to simulate wartime use of these capabilities. The use of geographically dispersed launch sites during Sunday’s launches is also important, and reflects a major trend in North Korean missile testing under Kim Jong Un. The geographic range could hint at a secondary purpose behind these exercises: command and control. Though these launches were not a true simultaneous salvo launch, where multiple missiles are launched at the same time to overwhelm missile defenses or otherwise inflict massive damage on a target, North Korea could be building up to such a demonstration. To coordinate such launches, North Korea would need to ensure that the commanders of various Korean People’s Army SRBM units around the country are able to move and operate in coordination, a goal that requires establishing new organizational and technical linkages. Though speculative and lacking direct evidence, this type of objective could more broadly motivate the launch of diverse missile systems from a range of launch points. A second, more technical rationale could involve randomized inventory unit testing. As Kim Jong Un demonstrated earlier this year with a visit to a missile factory in an undisclosed location, North Korea is mass-producing solid-propellant SRBMs. To ensure that the missiles being manufactured meet requirements and fall within acceptable tolerances, the Academy of National Defense Science could have recommended that various units around the country test two missiles each from their delivered inventory of SRBMs. When North Korea first began testing the KN23 back in 2019, Kim traveled from coast-to-coast to observe launches by different units. Sunday’s missiles were likely KN23 and possibly KN24 SRBMs. According to South Korean authorities, the most-recent SRBM launches took place in a 35-minute period from four sites “near” Sunan (Pyongyang’s international airport), Kaechon, Tongchang-ri (Sohae) and Hamhung (near facilities associated with the manufacture of solid fuel missiles). While North Korean state media has not published any information on the tests, this geographic pattern reflects the use of bicoastal units along with inland launchers. This would fall closer to a developmental test and could have been motivated by the recent failure of an apparent SRBM launched from Sunan on May 25. If that SRBM was a KN23 type, it would be the first known in-flight failure of that missile type, which could have prompted a review of mass-production standards in the country. This rationale for such testing is also speculative, but other countries that mass-produce missiles do carry out the flight-testing of randomized delivered units to ensure quality. Importantly, both of the above possible operational and technical rationales could have motivated the test. Contrary to broader media speculation, the test is unlikely to have been a response to the recent agreement between the U.S. and South Korea to proceed with the revision of wartime operational plans, or to naval exercises between the two allies. If a political motivator was at play, North Korea would be more likely to publicize this test. Three broad, though admittedly non-exact, precedents help place North Korea’s intense, multi-missile launch in context: the DPRK’s July 4, 2006 missile launches, which ended the 1999 Berlin agreement moratorium on missile tests; a similar round of launches on July 2 and July 4, 2009; and the March 5, 2017 launch involving five Scud-ER medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) — the first and only known time North Korea has launched more than three medium-range ballistic missiles. In the case of the 2006 and 2009 launches, analysts have pointed to each as broadly coinciding with a nuclear test: The 2006 launches took place before North Korea’s first test and the 2009 launches took place after the second test. Each of these instances took place under Kim Jong Il. The March 2017 Scud-ER demonstration was an operational demonstration of a salvo MRBM launch. The range covered by the missiles in that test corresponded to the range required to strike U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan, where the U.S. bases F-35B stealth fighters. With the March 2017 demonstration, North Korea undertook a calibrated propaganda effort to make that point clear, revealing photographs of Kim observing a map with notional trajectories showing a strike on Iwakuni clearly. Given the widespread anticipation of nuclear testing, analysts who see this launch as indicative of such a development may find themselves vindicated. But the broader pace and tempo of missile testing under the Kim Jong Un era leaves open a simpler possibility: that North Korea is carrying out such testing to make progress in operational training and to validate its mass production standards for missiles.” (Ankit Panda, “North Korea’s 8-Missile Salvo Likely Test of Command and Control,” NKNews, June 7, 2022)


6/6/22:
South Korea and the United States fired eight ballistic missiles into the East Sea today in response to North Korea’s missile launches the previous day, according to the South’s military. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the allies launched the ground-to-ground Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles from an eastern coastal region in Gangwon Province starting at 4:45 a.m. for around 10 minutes. “The South Korea-U.S. combined firing of the ground-to-ground missiles demonstrated the capability and posture to launch immediate precision strikes on the origins of provocations and their command and support forces,” the JCS said in a press release. “Our military strongly condemns the North’s series of ballistic missile provocations and seriously urges it to immediately stop acts that raise military tensions on the peninsula and add to security concerns,” it added. . Yesterday, the North shot eight short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) from four different locations into the East Sea following a South Korea-U.S. naval exercise last week involving an American aircraft carrier. The North’s weekend salvo is presumed to have involved a variety of SRBMs, including the KN-23 missile modeled after Russia’s Iskander ballistic missile. The KN-23 is known for its “pull-up maneuver,” designed to avoid interception. Seoul officials have warned that Pyongyang’s military provocations will be met with “corresponding” reactions. Shortly after the North’s launch of three ballistic missiles, including an apparent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), on May 25, the South and the U.S. conducted combined missile launches in their first such joint move since 2017. (Song Sang-ho, “Allies Fire 8 Ballistic Missiles in Show of Firepower against N. Korea: JCS,” Yonhap, June 6, 2022)


6/7/22:
South Korea and the United States conducted a combined air power demonstration involving 20 warplanes, including F-35A stealth fighters, over the Yellow Sea today, Seoul officials said, in another display of their readiness following North Korea’s weekend missile launches. The air maneuvers came just a day after the allies fired eight ground-to-ground ballistic missiles into the East Sea in a tit-for-tat response to the North’s launch of eight short-range ballistic missiles on June 5. In the demonstration, the South mobilized 16 combat aircraft, including F-35As, F-15Ks and KF-16s, while the U.S. deployed four F-16 fighters, according to Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). “The South and the U.S. demonstrated their strong capabilities to rapidly and accurately strike in the event of any North Korean provocations, as well as their will to do so,” the JCS said in a press release. (Yonhap, “Allies Stage Air Power Demonstration after N.K. Missile Launches,” June 7, 2022)


6/10/22:
KCNA: “The Fifth Enlarged Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) was held at a conference hall of the office building of the Party Central Committee from June 8 to 10, Juche 111 (2022) amid the accelerated all-people grand advance for glorifying this historic year as a great watershed in developing the revolution while braving the unprecedented difficulties facing the nation with the faith, will and unity peculiar to Juche Korea under the guidance of the ever-victorious Party Central Committee. … The first agenda item, an organizational matter, was discussed. Members and alternate members of the WPK Central Committee were recalled and by-elected. Pak Ji Min, Pak Su Il and Choe Son Hui, alternate members of the Party Central Committee, were by-elected as members of the Party Central Committee. Jo Chun Ryong, Pak Hui Chol, Kim In Chol, Ri Chang Dae and Han Kwang Sang were directly by-elected as members of the Party Central Committee. Jang Chang Min, Kim Sun Chol, Sin Chang Nam, Ma Hyok Chol, Pak Hyong Ryol, Kwak Jong Jun, Ri Tu Il, Kim Tu Il, Kwak Yong Ho, Ryo Chol Ung, An Yong Hwan and Jon Sung Guk were by-elected as alternate members of the Party Central Committee. Members and alternate members of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee were recalled and by-elected. Jon Hyon Chol and Ri Thae Sop, alternate members of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee, were by-elected as members of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee. Pak Thae Song was directly elected as member of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee to fill a vacancy. Jo Chun Ryong, Pak Su Il, Ri Chang Dae, Choe Son Hui and Han Kwang Sang were by-elected as alternate members of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee. Secretaries of the Party Central Committee were dismissed and elected. Kim Jae Ryong, Jon Hyon Chol and Pak Thae Song were elected as secretaries of the Party Central Committee. Members of the Central Military Commission of the Party were recalled and by-elected. Ri Thae Sop, Jo Kyong Chol, Pak Su Il and Ri Chang Ho were by-elected as members of the Central Military Commission of the Party. Department directors of the Party Central Committee were dismissed and appointed. Jo Yong Won, Jo Chun Ryong, Jon Hyon Chol, Ri Chung Gil, Ri Son Gwon and Han Kwang Sang were appointed as department directors of the Party Central Committee. The chairman and a member of the Central Auditing Commission of the WPK were recalled and by-elected. Kim Jae Ryong was by-elected as chairman of the Central Auditing Commission of the Party and Kim In Chol as its member. Some cadres of government organs were dismissed or appointed. Jon Sung Guk was appointed vice-premier of the Cabinet, Choe Son Hui minister of Foreign Affairs, Pak Hyong Ryol minister of Food Industry, Kwak Jong Jun minister of Commerce, Ri Tu Il chairman of the State Commission of Science and Technology, Kim Tu Il director of the Political Bureau of the Cabinet and concurrently chief secretary of its Party Committee. The meeting examined and approved the proposal on a partial reshuffle of the armed forces organs put forward by the Central Military Commission of the WPK. Ri Thae Sop was appointed chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), Jong Kyong Thaek director of the KPA General Political Bureau, Pak Su Il minister of Public Security and Ri Chang Dae minister of State Security. … The General Secretary stressed the need to steadily direct great efforts to strengthening the national defense capability. The current security environment of the country is very serious and the surrounding situation carries a danger of being further aggravated. This urgently calls upon the DPRK to attain the goal of bolstering the national defense capability as soon as possible. The General Secretary said that the right to self-defense is an issue of defending sovereignty, clarifying once again the Party’s invariable fighting principle of power for power and head-on contest. And he set forth the militant tasks to be pushed forward by the armed forces of the Republic and the national defense research sector. … ” (KCNA, “Fifth Enlarged Plenary Meeting of Eighth WPK Central Committee Held,” June 11, 2022)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stressed the principle of “power for power” as the basis for the country’s self-defense today, delivering a closing speech at the end of a major three-day party meeting, according to state media. The party plenum focused on economic policy and the DPRK’s ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. A major leadership reshuffle at the meeting installed seasoned diplomat Choe Son Hui as foreign minister and put former foreign minister Ri Son Gwon in charge of inter-Korean affairs. “The right of self-defense is precisely the issue of defending the national rights,” Kim Jong Un said in his speech, emphasizing “power for power” and “head-on struggle to protect the country’s sovereignty. Kim’s speech reportedly covered “principles and strategic and tactical directions” in foreign policy and “struggle against the enemy,” without naming specific countries. The term “enemy,” if referring to South Korea, would contrast with the use of the phrase “South-North” relations in a similar sentence in a report on the previous plenum in late Dec. 2021. The newly inaugurated Yoon Suk-yeol administration has referred to North Korea as the South’s enemy on multiple occasions, including its list of 110 national policy tasks. At the plenum, the DPRK leader referred to the security environment surrounding North Korea as “grave” and the current international political situation as “dangerous,” according to state media, adding that the situation could escalate “to more extremes.” These circumstances make achieving the country’s defense goals more urgent, Kim said. Choe Son Hui, the country’s long-time vice foreign minister who was closely involved in negotiations during the U.S.-DPRK summits in 2018 and 2019, was newly promoted to foreign minister during the plenum. Ri Son Gwon, Choe’s predecessor, was named head of the party’s United Front Department (UFD) which oversees inter-Korean relations. UFD is considered similar to a counterpart to South Korea’s unification ministry. Ri was involved in multiple negotiations and talks with the South in 2018 and is famous for his confrontational style and harshly worded remarks. Multiple military-related promotions came out of the plenum as well, though in several cases these changes involved shuffling officials from one position to another. The party meeting reportedly reviewed and approved the “regulatory assignment plan” proposed by the party’s Central Military Commission (CMC) to reshuffle commanding officials of the armed forces organs, and named Army General Ri Thae Sop as chief of general staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA). Army General Jong Kyong Thaek was tapped as a director of the KPA General Political Bureau, while Pak Su Il was named minister of public security. Army Col. General Ri Chang Dae became the country’s new minister of state security. (Jeongmin Kim, “Kim Jong Un Stresses DPRK’s Right to Self-Defense Based on ‘Power for Power,’” NKNews, June 11, 2022)


6/11/22:
Defense chiefs from Japan, the United States and South Korea today highlighted the importance of “peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait at a time when China has raised regional tensions by putting military pressure on democratically governed Taiwan. Japanese Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong Sup also condemned North Korea’s ballistic missile launches and agreed to conduct joint drills to deal with them, according to a joint statement issued after their meeting in Singapore. It was the first time for the issue of Taiwan — the self-ruled island viewed by Beijing as its own territory to be reunited by force, if necessary — to be referred to in defense ministerial talks among the three nations, the Japanese Defense Ministry said. “At a time when the military balance over Taiwan is beginning to lose equilibrium, peace and stability of (the Taiwan Strait) is very important not only for the region but also for the international community, so we need to monitor it closely,” Kishi told reporters after the talks. The officials aired “strong opposition to any unilateral actions that seek to alter the status quo and increase tensions” in the Indo-Pacific, and shared concerns on activities “inconsistent with the international rules-based order,” the statement said, in a veiled criticism of Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the region. They “reaffirmed that all disputes should be resolved in a peaceful manner in accordance with the principles of international law,” it added. (Kyodo, “Japan, U.S. South Korea say Peace, Stability of Taiwan Strait Important,” June 11, 2022)

Japan, the United States and South Korea have agreed to resume joint military exercises last held in late 2017 in response to North Korea’s latest salvo of ballistic missile tests and concerns Pyongyang is gearing up for another nuclear test. Kishi Nobuo, Lloyd Austin and Lee Jong-sup met June 11 on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue to discuss the provocation from North Korea and other regional challenges. The in-person meeting of the three top officials was the first such gathering since November 2019. In a joint statement released afterward, the trio condemned North Korea’s weapons programs, which they said pose “a grave threat to international peace and stability.” In response, they concurred that a resumption of trilateral warning and ballistic missile search and tracking exercises was warranted. They also pledged to “identify further trilateral actions,” according to the statement. Although Kishi and Lee acknowledged that relations between the two neighbors are important, they did not hold talks separately. (Matsuyama Naoki, “Japan o Resume Joint Military Drills with U.S. and South Korea,” Asahi Shimbun, June 12, 2022)


6/12/22:
The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) belatedly disclosed this evening that North Korea fired artillery rounds earlier in the day, explaining its delay on the fact that such launches do not violate United Nations resolutions. The JCS said in a text message sent to reporters about 10 hours after they took place that the South Korean military detected several projectile “trajectories,” believed to be artillery rounds, between 8:07 a.m. and 11:03 a.m. In a later update, the JCS said North Korea fired five artillery rounds into the Yellow Sea from its western coast, with the mortars estimated to be between 122mm and 240mm in diameter. “A ballistic missile launch would constitute a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, so such an event is announced immediately, but those measures are not applicable to artillery rounds,” said a JCS official. The JCS has previously informed reporters of tests of other weapon types by the North, albeit with some delay as well. Late acknowledgements of North Korean weapons tests, such as the January cruise missile launch, have raised questions about the military’s readiness and detection capabilities. Earlier in the day, President Yoon Suk-yeol was spotted at a cinema with First Lady Kim Keon-hee to attend a screening of the Palme d’Or-nominated film “Broker,” leading a member of the rival Democratic Party (DP) to accuse him of “watching movies and eating popcorn” amid a building security crisis on the Korean Peninsula. “North Korea fired artillery rounds yesterday, but the JCS and the presidential office announced their occurrence almost 10 hours later, which leads me to believe the announcement was delayed to not interfere with the president’s film viewing,” wrote DP lawmaker Lee Won-wook in a post on his Facebook page the next day. On his way into the presidential office in Yongsan District, central Seoul on Monday, Yoon told reporters there was no need for concern over his whereabouts and activities the previous day. “If the artillery rounds fired were on the same level as a missile launch, we would have taken appropriate measures,” Yoon said. “Yesterday’s artillery barrage was not as serious as a missile test, so we responded accordingly. There is no need to have misgivings,” Yoon told reporters. (Michael Lee, “North’s Artillery Fire Wasn’t Reported for Hours,” Joongang Ilbo, June 13, 2022)

South Korea seeks to “normalize” security cooperation with Japan and strengthen trilateral collaboration involving the United States to address North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, Seoul’s defense minister said Sunday. Lee Jong-sup was speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in this city state, striving to drum up global support to tackle the security challenges that he said can affect the overall Indo-Pacific region. The minister said that South Korea intends to engage in a “serious” dialogue with Japan not just to normalize security cooperation between the two countries but also to beef up trilateral cooperation with the U.S. He pointed out “unresolved issues” between Seoul and Tokyo in an apparent allusion to historical and other rows largely stemming from Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula. But he expressed Seoul’s intention to “have the two sides put their wisdom together to reach reasonable solutions in a way that is in line with the two countries’ shared interests.” Lee also laid out the Yoon Suk-yeol administration’s goal to denuclearize the North in a “complete, verifiable” manner, stressing “our principle to establish a sustainable peace on the Korean Peninsula will remain firm and robust.” “To this end, we will set forth clear corresponding measures with the international community to pursue the denuclearization of North Korea,” he said. Lee highlighted Seoul’s pursuit of a “bold plan that can yield groundbreaking improvements for North Korea’s economy and its citizens’ quality of life.” But he stressed such a drive will proceed “from a position of strength” that will be undergirded by efforts to better implement America’s extended deterrence and “dramatically” increase South Korea’s own military capabilities. (Song Sang-ho, “S. Korea to ‘Normalize’ Security Cooperation with Japan to Address N.K. Threats,” Yonhap, June 12, 2022)


6/13/22:
The Biden administration is “prepared to make both short and longer-term adjustments to our military posture” to respond to provocations from North Korea, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said today alongside his South Korean counterpart at a news conference at the State Department. “We remain concerned about the prospects for what would be a seventh nuclear test over multiple administrations,” Blinken said. “We know that the North Koreans have done preparations for such a test. We are being extremely vigilant about that.” Blinken said the U.S. is “preparing for all contingencies” and in “very close touch” with partners like South Korea and Japan “to be able to respond quickly” if the North Koreans carry out such a test. The top US diplomat said the US is committed “to talking about how we expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises for defensive and preparedness purposes, training on and around the Korean missile.” “And of course, we want to make sure that we have in place all the defensive capacity to deal with any possible provocation or aggression coming from” North Korea, he added. Blinken did not provide specific details about the adjustments to U.S. military posture that are under consideration. Despite the continued provocations from Pyongyang, Blinken reiterated that the U.S. remains “committed to a diplomatic approach,” is prepared to engage with North Korea without preconditions and has “no hostile intent” toward the nation. By Jennifer Hansler, “Blinen Says U.S. Is Prepared to Make Adjustments to Military Posture in Response to North Korea,” CNN, June 13, 2022)

South Korea’s foreign minister is expressing hope for military intelligence sharing between Japan and his country to quickly return to normal, as North Korea continues launching ballistic missiles and nuclear testing. South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin made the comments, concerning a key military intelligence-sharing pact, when speaking at a joint news conference on June 13 in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The pact, known as the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), was nearly scrapped in recent years as bilateral relations plunged. “Along with improving South Korea-Japan ties, I want to normalize (GSOMIA intelligence sharing) as quickly as possible,” Park said. The administration of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol is concerned that inadequate intelligence sharing is hindering Seoul’s efforts to deal with the recent provocations by Pyongyang. In 2019, South Korea indicated it would not renew the GSOMIA agreement with Japan, only to change its mind at the last minute largely because of pressure from Washington. But intelligence sharing between Japan and South Korea has not been smooth even after Yoon took office in May. At his June 14 news conference in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno Hirokazu touted the pact as mutually beneficial. He said the GSOMIA with South Korea “strengthens cooperation in the national security sector between Japan and South Korea and contributes to the peace and stability of the East Asia region.” He said it is important that the pact gets implemented in a stable manner, given the more serious security environment in the region with the series of ballistic missile launches by North Korea. At his June 14 news conference, Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo expressed hope for greater communication to ensure smooth sharing of military intelligence. Kishi did not meet with his South Korean counterpart on the sidelines of the recently concluded Asia Security Summit, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore, in part due to the rocky bilateral relations. Because both Yoon and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will be in Spain later this month to attend a NATO summit, South Korean officials had expressed hope the two leaders would meet there. Park had wanted to prepare for such a meeting by conferring with Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa in Tokyo after returning from Washington, sources said. But conservative elements within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have urged caution about dialogue with South Korea and the Kishida administration will not likely take aggressive action, especially with an Upper House election expected early next month. (Suzuki Takuya and Nishimura Keishi, “South Korea Wants Sharing of Intel to Return to Normal,” Asahi Shimbun, June 14, 2022)


6/16/22:
North Korea appears to be expanding work at its nuclear test site to include a second tunnel, a U.S.-based think tank said today, as South Korean and U.S. officials say North Korea might conduct a nuclear test any day. Preparation work at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility’s Tunnel No. 3 was apparently complete and ready for a possible nuclear test, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report, citing commercial satellite imagery. North Korea conducted six underground nuclear tests at the site from 2006 to 2017. The research group said that for the first time, analysts had spotted new construction activity at the facility’s Tunnel No. 4, “strongly suggesting an effort to re-enable it for potential future testing.” Outside Tunnel No. 3, images showed a retaining wall and some minor landscaping with small trees or bushes, likely in anticipation of a visit by senior officials, it said. The two tunnels were never previously used for nuclear tests and their entrances were demolished in 2018, when North Korea declared a self-imposed moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). South Korean officials said this week that North Korea was poised to conduct a nuclear test “at any time” and that the timing would be decided by Kim. (Reuters, “North Korea Expands Work at Nuclear Test Site to Second Tunnel, Report Says,” CNN, June 16, 2022)


6/21/22:
South Korea today successfully launched its homegrown space rocket Nuri in the second attempt to put satellites into orbit, reaching a major milestone in the country’s space program. The 200-ton Nuri, also known as KSLV-II, blasted off from the Naro Space Center in the country’s southern coastal village of Goheung at 4 p.m. and successfully completed its flight sequence, according to the Ministry of Science and ICT. The rocket also deployed satellites at the target altitude of 700 kilometers as planned. Of those, a performance verification satellite successfully reached its orbit, according to officials. According to Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI), Nuri’s first stage rocket separated 123 seconds after launch at an altitude of 62 kilometers, followed by its firing and second stage rocket separations at altitudes of 202 kilometers and 273 kilometers, respectively. The performance verification satellite was deployed 875 seconds, or 14 minutes 35 seconds, after the launch. Lee Sang-ryool, head of KARI, said “all phases of the launch proceeded normally” and that the satellites were deployed “at exactly the intended altitude and speed.” KARI also confirmed that the satellite made its first communication with S. Korea’s King Sejong Station in Antarctica some 40 minutes after the launch. “We have arrived at a monumental moment not just in South Korea’s science technology history but for South Korea’s history as well,” Science Minister Lee Jong-ho said in a briefing at Naro Space Center. South Korea has become the seventh country in the world to develop a space launch vehicle that can carry a more than 1-ton satellite, after Russia, the United States, France, China, Japan and India. It also means South Korea has now secured the key independent technology for developing and launching space rockets carrying homegrown satellites, opening up a new era in the country’s space program. President Yoon Suk-yeol lauded the launch of Nuri, saying South Korea has opened “a path to space.” Today’s launch was Nuri’s second liftoff after its first attempt ended in failure. In October, Nuri successfully flew to its target altitude of 700 kilometers but failed to put a dummy satellite into orbit, as its third-stage engine burned out earlier than expected. KARI engineers reinforced an anchoring device of the helium tank inside Nuri’s third-stage oxidizer tank. This time, Nuri was loaded with the 162.5-kilogram performance verification satellite meant to test the rocket’s capabilities, and four cube satellites, developed by four South Korean universities for academic research purposes, along with a 1.3-ton dummy satellite. The cube satellites, which are currently joined to the performance verification satellite, are scheduled to be separated in turns from June 29 after the main satellite is stably positioned in its orbit. South Korea has invested nearly 2 trillion won (US$1.8 billion) in building Nuri since 2010. South Korea’s rocket launches ended in failures in 2009 and 2010. In 2013, South Korea successfully launched its first-ever Naro space rocket, though its first stage was built in Russia. The country aims to conduct four additional Nuri rocket launches by 2027. South Korea has also launched a preliminary feasibility study for the successor to the Nuri with the goal of sending a lunar landing module to the moon in 2031. (Yonhap, “S. Korea Successfully Launches Homegrown Space Rocket in Second Attempt,” June 21, 2022)

Unification Minister Kwon Young-se said today he is ready to meet North Korea’s new point man handling inter-Korean affairs at “any time in any format” to discuss pending issues on the Korean Peninsula. Kwon extended the overture during his first press conference since taking office last month, citing the recent appointment of Ri Son-gwon, the North’s former foreign minister, as the head of the United Front Department (UFD) in charge of cross-border relations. Choe Son-hui was promoted to the post of foreign minister, replacing Ri, in a reshuffle Pyongyang announced on June 11 following a key Workers’ Party meeting. “I will try harder to shift the currently chilled inter-Korean ties into a phase of dialogue,” Kwon said. “As unification minister, I am willing to meet with the head of UFD, Ri Son-gwon, any time in any format.” If realized, the two sides could discuss a broad range of issues from the nuclear issue to talks on cooperation on healthcare, a senior ministry official said later on condition of anonymity. “Some observers say that the appointment of Ri Son-gwon and Choe Son-hui, known for their hardline stance (on Seoul and Washington), could mean a further chill in relations. But as they have experience leading negotiations with the U.S. and South Korea, a completely different picture is also possible,” he said. The official, however, stressed that Kwon’s remarks do not necessarily suggest that he is making an “official” offer of dialogue to the North. “We’re not even saying whether it’s official or not,” he said. “We’re just saying that let’s meet first to discuss any issue related to the two Koreas.” (Yi Wonju, “Unification Minister Expresses Willingness to Hold Talks with New N. Korean Counterpart,” Yonhap, June 21, 2022)

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden said today it will limit the use of anti-personnel landmines to the Korean Peninsula, effectively reinstating an earlier policy that was loosened under the previous administration led by Donald Trump. “After conducting a comprehensive policy review, the United States is joining the vast majority of countries around the world in committing to limit the use of anti-personnel landmines,” the White House said. The U.S. government will also ban the development, production and acquisition of the explosive devices prohibited under the Ottawa Convention, also known as the anti-personnel mine ban treaty, and will make “diligent efforts” to pursue alternative weapons that would ultimately allow Washington to accede to the convention, the White House added. “These changes reflect the president’s belief that these weapons have disproportionate impact on civilians, including children, long after fighting has stopped,” it said. But the White House noted that the “unique circumstances” on the Korean Peninsula, where the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, preclude the United States from changing anti-personnel landmine policy in the area. “The security of our ally the Republic of Korea will continue to be a paramount concern,” the White House said, referring to South Korea’s official name. The United States has around 3 million landmines in its stockpile and plans to destroy those that are not required for the defense of South Korea, according to a State Department official. The United States does not maintain any minefields in South Korea or on the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas as a result of the war, the official said. In 2020, the Trump administration lifted a ban on the U.S. military using anti-personnel landmines outside the Korean Peninsula, in a reversal of a policy introduced by his predecessor Barack Obama, whom Biden served as vice president. At the time, the White House under Trump said in a statement that the restriction could put American forces “at a severe disadvantage” in conflict against adversaries. According to the website of the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs, many people have died or lost limbs from stepping on landmines. The incidents occur mostly in countries at peace, and the majority of victims are civilians. (Kyodo, “U.S. to Limit Use of Anti-Personnel Landmines to Korean Peninsula,” June 21, 2022)

North Korea appears to be using its ongoing battle against COVID-19 to tighten Kim Jong-un’s grip on power based on the ruling Workers’ Party, experts told an online seminar co-hosted by the Korea Institute for National Unification and the George Washington University’s Institute for Korean Studies today. “I think North Korea seems to be using the COVID outbreak to strengthen party control across the board,” Rachel Minyoung Lee, a senior analyst for the Vienna-based Open Nuclear Network, said. “During the many meetings Kim Jong-un presided over in the wake of the COVID outbreak, he repeatedly emphasized unconditionally obeying the party.” Following its admission of a COVID-19 outbreak last month, the North has convened a series of key party meetings that have stressed strengthening discipline within the party. Ken Gause, the research program director of the U.S.-based Center for Naval Analyses, noted that the secretive North has made public its own daily count of suspected coronavirus cases. “We’ve gotten used to a regime that reveals a little, that admits nothing, especially anything that can cast blame or vulnerability on the leadership,” he said. “That went out the window when it came to COVID.” He said Pyongyang seems to be seeking to tell its people that they are being protected from the virus by the Kim regime. (Yonhap, “North Korea Seems to Be Using Virus to Strengthen Party Control: Experts,” Korea Times, June 21, 2022)


6/21-23/22:
KCNA: “The Third Enlarged Meeting of the Eighth Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) was convened on June 21. Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the WPK and president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, attended the meeting. Present at the meeting are members of the Central Military Commission of the WPK. Officials of the relevant departments of the Party Central Committee, members of the executive committee of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) Committee of the WPK, commanding officers of the Ministry of National Defense and military and political commanding officers of the large combined units of the KPA are on hand as observers. Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the WPK and chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK, presided over the meeting. The meeting will analyze and review the work system, order and actual conditions of the WPK Central Military Commission and the provincial, city and county Party military commissions and discuss major tasks for further enhancing the function and role of the military commissions at all levels. It will also review the overall work for national defense in the first half of the year, and put on its agenda the issues of confirming the crucial and urgent tasks to build up national defense and thoroughly implementing the military line and key defense policies of the Party. The meeting will review the military and political activities of the Ministry of National Defense, the General Staff of the KPA, the KPA Committee of the WPK, commanding officers, staff sections and political departments of the KPA units at all levels, and the Party organizations of the armed forces organs, before deciding on the important strategic and tactical tasks to be fulfilled by the KPA. The Central Military Commission of the WPK started the discussion on the presented agenda items. (KCNA, “Third Enlarged Meeting of Eighth Central Military Commission of WPK Convened,” June 22, 2022)

KCNA: “The second-day sitting of the Third Enlarged Meeting of the Eighth Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) was held on June 22. Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the WPK and chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK, guided the meeting. The second-day sitting continued the discussion on the major agenda items presented to the enlarged meeting. It discussed the work of additionally confirming the operation duties of the frontline units of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) and modifying the operation plans, according to the Party’s military and strategic plan, and the issues related to reorganization of key military organizational formations. Guided by the vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission of the WPK, the General Staff of the KPA studied and discussed the relevant issues, compiled the results and drew up an important document. The KPA General Staff reported to the Central Military Commission of the WPK the results of the discussion on the key issues and preparation of the document. Expressing the strategic view and decision of the Party Central Committee adopting important military measures to enhance the operational capabilities of the frontline units, the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un stressed the importance of this work and clarified all the principles, tasks and ways for implementing it. The meeting reconfirmed the tasks to be fulfilled by different sectors to thoroughly implement the Party’s revolutionary army-building line and strategic policies. The Central Military Commission of the WPK continues its discussion on the presented agenda items.” (KCNA, “Second-day Sitting of Third Enlarged Meeting of Eighth Central Military Commission of WPK Held,” June 23, 2022)

KCNA: “Now all the Party members and the whole society of the DPRK are waging a gigantic struggle to bring about an epoch-making phase in the course of development of Korean-style socialism by boldly braving stern trials and challenges with faith in sure victory and iron will, true to the idea and decisions of the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 8th Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee. At this stirring time, the 3rd Enlarged Meeting of the 8th Central Military Commission of the WPK was held at the office building of the WPK Central Committee from June 21 to 23 to review the overall military and political activities of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), the revolutionary armed forces of the Party, and determine its important and heavy duty for the times and history. Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the WPK, chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK and president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, guided the meeting. Attending it were Vice-Chairman Pak Jong Chon and members of the WPK Central Military Commission. Present as observers were officials of relevant departments of the WPK Central Committee, members of the executive committee of the KPA Committee of the WPK, commanding officers of the Ministry of National Defense and military and political commanding officers of the KPA large combined units. The meeting decided to increase the number of vice-chairmanships of the WPK Central Military Commission after examining a proposal for it, and elected Ri Pyong Chol, secretary of the WPK Central Committee, as vice-chairman of the Party Central Military Commission. Placed on its agenda were the crucial issues arising in rapidly bolstering the national defense capabilities to put them on the level appropriate to a new stage of the developing revolution by thoroughly implementing the military line and key defense policies of the Party. The WPK Central Military Commission analyzed its work system and order and the performance of the military commissions of the provincial, city and county Party committees, discussed the important issues of enhancing the function and role of the military commissions at all levels as required by Party building and the principles specified in the Party rules, and adopted a relevant decision with unanimous approval. The meeting also reviewed the work of the Ministry of National Defense, the KPA General Staff, the KPA Committee of the WPK and the KPA General Political Bureau and the military and political activities of the commanding officers and staff of the KPA units at all levels and the Party political organizations of the armed forces organs in the first half of the year 2022. The WPK Central Military Commission confirmed the issue of further strengthening the Party’s guidance on the overall armed forces of the Republic in an all-round way and of bringing about a radical turn in training the army to be strong in ideology and faith by letting the entire army hold fast to the Party’s army-building orientation and general line. It also confirmed the strategic and tactical tasks for pushing ahead with the development of the KPA into the one strong in military technology and the immediate duties for building up national defense, and decided on the organizational and political measures to ensure the thorough execution of the defense policy of the WPK. Guided by the vice-chairmen of the Central Military Commission of the WPK, the meeting additionally confirmed the operation duties of the KPA frontline units, had an in-depth study and discussion on the military measures for enhancing the capabilities of carrying out operations, modified operation plans and reported their results to the WPK Central Military Commission. After hearing the results of study and discussion and the preparation of an important document, the WPK Central Military Commission decided to supplement the operation duties of KPA frontline units with an important military action plan. It also examined and approved an important issue of providing a military guarantee for further strengthening the country’s war deterrent, true to the strategic plan of the Party Central Committee, and ratified the plan for reorganization of military organizational formations. The meeting emphasized the tasks for different sectors to carry through the Party’s revolutionary army-building line and strategic policy and clarified all the principles to be adhered to in the overall work for national defense. Guiding the meeting, the respected General Secretary said that today’s struggle, in which the stern trials facing the revolution should be braved with a strong will and resolute decision, essentially calls for surely maintaining and constantly improving the absolute power and the military and technical edge of the KPA, the strong bulwark for defending the revolution and the country. He stressed the need for the entire army to go all out for implementing the army-building idea and military strategic plan of the Party Central Committee, occasioned by the enlarged meeting that set forth the clear-cut practical action guidelines for bolstering the military muscle, and consolidate in every way the powerful self-defense capabilities for overwhelming any hostile forces and thus reliably protect the dignity of the great country and the security of its great people. Then he made a conclusion on the important principles to be adhered to in all military and political activities of the KPA. The meeting, convened at a very important time in the advance of the Korean revolution, will be significantly recorded in the history of the WPK’s struggle as a historic discussion of great significance in further intensifying the Party’s guidance on the military affairs and drastically increasing the fighting efficiency of the revolutionary army, true to the outstanding army-building idea and strategic plan of the Party Central Committee.” (KCNA, “Report on Third Enlarged Meeting of Eighth Central Military Commission of WPK,” June 24, 2022)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and top military officials adopted a new “major military action plan” for “frontline” units along the border with South Korea, according to state media on Friday, a move experts said could refer to a change in nuclear weapons policy. The decision came during a three-day Central Military Commission (CMC) meeting that wrapped up after discussions about “enhancing” the ability of frontline units to execute orders and “revising the military organizational structure.” Rodong Sinmun reports on all three days of the meeting were mostly brief and did not specify what the “action plan” entails. The articles did not mention nuclear weapons, but Pyongyang has been repairing nuclear testing tunnels in recent months and South Korean authorities believe a test could happen any day. Referencing a “new stage” of revolution that demands “rapidly strengthening the national defense capacity,” the CMC this week reportedly vowed to give the North Korean military the “technical upper hand.” Though vague, the report echoed North Korea’s message about tactical nuclear weapons made after an April 2022 short-range missile test, according to weapons expert Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. Lewis said CMC decisions on “enhancing” frontline units could refer to the DPRK’s stated goal of “drastically improving the firepower of the frontline long-range artillery units and enhancing the efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes” through the April 16 missile launch. He told NK News that state media is presenting the CMC meeting as “a big deal” despite the lack of details, but that it is only a first step and North Korea will likely have to carry out construction projects to prepare for deployment. Kim will have to grapple with how to handle command and control of tactical nukes if eventually placed at the frontline, he added. Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told NK News he agrees with Lewis’s assessment and that “North Koreans will ultimately be much more explicit if/when they choose to deploy since it’d be a pretty important departure from their previous practices.” “I think we’ll get more indicators of what they’re thinking after they conduct a nuclear test,” Panda said, adding he believes Kim will want to promote a nuclear test to the domestic audience as a “major goal of his modernization agenda right now.” Kim Jong Un guided a test of a “tactical guided weapon” from his Majon mansion private beach in April to strengthen the country’s “tactical nuclear operation.” The presence of Korean People’s Army (KPA) combined unit commanders at the test may have signaled preparations for them to handle tactical nukes when deployed to forward units, according to Jeffrey Lewis. He also said that North Korea will likely “conduct a new nuclear test of probably a lighter, more compact, lower-yield nuclear weapon,” but that it will still need to manufacture warheads and missiles. Meanwhile, Friday’s Rodong Sinmun report confirmed that the CMC elected Korean People’s Army (KPA) marshal and Politburo Presidium member Ri Pyong Chol to the position of CMC vice chairman, a promotion implicitly revealed Thursday in a report on the second day of the meeting. (Colin Zwirko, “North Korea Adopts ‘Major Military Action Plan’ for Units Facing South Korea,” NKNews, June 24, 2022)


6/29/22:
Japan intends to upgrade its partnership with NATO significantly after Russia’s war against Ukraine as the security of Europe is inseparable from that of Asia, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday, hailing the Western alliance’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific region. Kishida attended a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Spain as the first Japanese leader to do so, highlighting the expanding reach of an alliance that faces challenges posed by Russia and China. The two-day summit through tomorrow will see NATO members commit to bolstering defenses in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It adopted a new Strategic Concept — the alliance’s guiding document for the next decade — that mentioned China for the first time. NATO has invited to the gathering the leaders of Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, which the Brussels-based organization views as its Asia-Pacific partner countries, also an unprecedented move. NATO plus the four nations will agree to create a road map for expanded cooperation, the U.S. government said in a document outlining the expected outcome of the summit. The road map will ensure “closer political consultation and joint work on issues of mutual interest,” including cyber threats, maritime security, counterterrorism and the impact of climate change on security, the government said. Kishida told the gathering that Japan is seeking to update its own partnership document with NATO to boost cooperation in such areas as cyber and maritime security. The Asian nation plans to bolster its defenses over the next five years and substantially increase defense spending to cope with growing security threats, including those caused by China and its opaque military buildup. Russia’s war on Ukraine has heightened concerns that the next potential military flash point could involve China in the Indo-Pacific. In a swipe at China Kishida said unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force continue in the East and South China seas, adding that he feels a “strong sense of crisis” regarding the likelihood of conflict similar to Ukraine’s breaking out in East Asia. “We must demonstrate unity so that such attempts will never succeed,” he said. The United States has welcomed the participation of the Asia-Pacific countries in the NATO summit as a sign of a deepening link between security in Europe and their region, as well as of the democratic world firming up against autocracies such as Russia and China. Chairing the meeting joined by the alliance members, Asia-Pacific partners and others, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, “China does not share our values and, like Russia, it seeks to undermine the international rules-based order.” “So we must continue to stand together and work with like-minded partners around the world to protect our values and our freedom. And to promote peace and prosperity,” he added. In terms of NATO’s relations with the Asia-Pacific nations, the organization said in its communique released after its summit in June last year it plans to enhance “political dialogue and practical cooperation” with Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. In April this year, the four countries participated in NATO’s foreign ministerial meeting and they agreed to continue supporting Ukraine and to step up cooperation given the “global implications” of Russia’s war on Ukraine. For the first time, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea held a four-way summit today ahead of the meeting of NATO leaders. Kishida, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol agreed to boost cooperation with NATO based on the perception that the security of the Indo-Pacific region and Europe is inseparable, according to the Japanese government. During the quadrilateral summit hosted by Kishida, which lasted about one hour, they also agreed that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine must be condemned, the government said. (Suzuki, Noriyuki “Japan PM Seeks Major Upgrade of NATO Partnership after Russia War,” Kyodo, June 29, 2022)


6/30/22:
North Korea’s economy has been ravaged by United Nations sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic. The government has warned of a severe food shortage. An unidentified intestinal disease began spreading among citizens in June. And yet the country has conducted more missile tests this year than in any previous year. The government is giving new luxury homes to party elites. Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, has promised to develop advanced technology for the nation’s growing weapons arsenal. A new nuclear test — the country’s seventh — is expected to happen any moment. Where has the money come from? In April, the United States identified a key part of the puzzle when it publicly accused North Korean hackers of stealing $620 million in cryptocurrency from the video game Axie Infinity. The theft, one of the largest of its kind, provided the strongest evidence that cryptocurrency heists have become a highly lucrative yet relatively risk-free way for North Korea to raise funds to buttress the regime during the pandemic and to finance its weapons development. Poor, isolated and heavily sanctioned, North Korea has long resorted to illicit activities to gin up badly needed cash. It has trafficked in weapons, illegal drugs and counterfeit American hundred-dollar bills. Its workers have dug tunnels for the Myanmar military and built statues and monuments for African dictators. It has unleashed hackers to disrupt foreign websites and steal from corporations and banks. More recently, with its borders shut because of the pandemic, and traditional banks strengthening their firewalls against hackers, cryptocurrency theft has become an increasingly vital source of foreign currency for the regime. Its hackers are accused of stealing $571 million from cryptocurrency exchanges between January 2017 and September 2018 and $316 million from 2019 to November 2020. North Korean hackers may have walked away with nearly $400 million in cryptocurrency last year, according to the crypto data firm Chainalysis. This year, North Korea’s haul is up to a little under $1 billion. To put those figures into context, the country earned only $89 million in official exports in 2020, according to South Korea’s government-run statistical agency. Cryptocurrencies are hardly a stable source of funding. Over the last two months, the market has crashed spectacularly, erasing hundreds of billions of dollars in investments and sending the price of Bitcoin below $20,000 for the first time since late 2020. North Korea had crypto holdings worth $170 million at the end of last year, according to Chainalysis — funds that the country had stolen but not converted into cash. That stash was worth only $65 million as of last week. But at a time when North Korea has locked itself down for fear of the pandemic, hacking crypto exchanges has allowed it to generate income in ways that are both Covid-safe and harder to trace in an industry subject to limited government oversight. As its hackers roam cyberspace launching devastating attacks, North Korea runs little risk of being targeted itself because most of the country is offline. “For North Korea, it’s a low-cost, low-risk but high-return criminal enterprise,” said Yoo Dong-ryul, a former chief antiterrorism analyst at the South Korean national police agency. North Korea barely has enough electricity to run elevators in the capital city, Pyongyang, and most people don’t have computers, much less access to the internet. Yet the country has long been home to many of the world’s savviest and most aggressive hackers. North Korean students have rivaled their peers from the world’s top universities in international computer programming competitions. By 2013, Kim called his hackers “an all-purpose sword” parallel to his nuclear weapons and missiles in their “ruthless targeting capabilities,” according to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. “They are unique in that they are trained and deployed and operate under a government program,” Yoo said. By one South Korean estimate, North Korea runs an army of about 6,800 cyber warriors — 1,700 hackers in seven different units and 5,100 technical support personnel. Talented students are carefully screened and groomed from an early age. The best of them join the hacker-training programs at the Moranbong University, run by the Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s main spy agency, or at the military-run Mirim College, according to South Korean officials. After graduation, most are assigned to the Reconnaissance General Bureau’s cyberwarfare arm, Department 121. In North Korea, only a small number of workers whose loyalty is vetted by the regime are allowed to work abroad. Hackers are among them, operating in China, Russia, Belarus and Southeastern Asian countries like Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia, often posing as freelance computer engineers. “You are mistaken if you think they will have moral compunction for attacking somebody else’s network,” Jang Se-iul, a graduate of Mirim College who served as an officer in the North Korean military before defecting to South Korea in 2008, said in an interview. “To them, cyberspace is a battlefield and they are fighting enemies out there hurting their country.” Jang said North Korea first began building its electronic warfare capability for defensive purposes, but soon realized that it could be an effective offensive weapon against its digital enemies. Around the time Jang arrived in Seoul, websites in South Korea and the United States were under a wave of cyberattacks. Going by names like Lazarus, Kimsuky and BeagleBoyz, North Korean hackers used increasingly sophisticated tools to infiltrate military, government, corporate and defense-industry networks around the world to conduct cyberespionage and steal sensitive data to aid its weapons development. “Make no mistake, DPRK hackers are really good,” said Eric Penton-Voak, a coordinator at the U.N. panel of experts, during a webinar in April, using the acronym of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “They look at really interesting and very gray, new areas of cryptocurrency because actually, A, no one really understands them, and B, they can exploit weakness.” Usually, North Korean hackers breach foreign crypto wallets through phishing attacks, luring victims with fake LinkedIn recruiting pages or other bait, according to Chainaysis. Then the hackers use a complex set of financial instruments to transfer the stolen funds, moving the loot through cryptocurrency “mixers” that combine multiple streams of digital assets, making it harder to track the movement of one particular batch of cryptocurrency. “They’re very methodical in how they launder them,” said Erin Plante, senior director of investigations for Chainalysis. “They’re very methodical in small amounts moving over long periods of time to ultimately try to evade investigators.” The final step is turning the crypto into cash. Generally, North Korea uses offshore exchanges, converting the stolen cryptocurrency into renminbi. “They’ve cashed out a large percentage of the funds they’ve stolen,” Ms. Plante said. “It’s a really powerful tool for them in evading sanctions.” Axie Infinity, the video game targeted in the cryptocurrency heist this spring, was created by Sky Mavis, a company founded in Vietnam in 2018. The game allows participants to accumulate cryptocurrency the more they play. By last year, it had more than 2.5 million daily users. The game’s popularity made the company a target: Employees at Sky Mavis were under constant advanced spear-phishing attacks on various social channels. The company was hacked after an employee downloaded a Word document, said Aleksander Leonard Larsen, a founder of Sky Mavis. The employee no longer works at the company, he said. “The entire industry is going to have to face the music here sooner or later,” Mr. Larsen said, adding that the attack on his company by North Korean hackers should serve as “a wake-up call” for the industry as it contends with mounting security threats. The U.S. government has tried to crack down on the theft and punish those who would seek to enable the hackers. In April, Virgil Griffith, an American cryptocurrency expert, was sentenced to 63 months in prison on charges of making an unauthorized trip to attend a conference in Pyongyang in 2019 and teach North Koreans about cryptocurrency and the technology behind it. The United States has also indicted three North Korean hackers on charges of participating in “a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy,” including the theft of more than $1.3 billion from banks and cryptocurrency companies. One of the hackers, Park Jin Hyok, did information technology work in China under Chosun Expo, which American officials have described as a front company affiliated with North Korea’s Lazarus Group. Last week, Harmony, a popular crypto platform, announced that it had lost $100 million in digital currency to a thief. Chainalysis tracked the flow of funds, which were channeled into a cryptocurrency mixer. The transfers followed a familiar playbook, Chainalysis said on Monday. The apparent culprit: North Korea. (Choe Sang-Hun and David Yaffe-Bellany, “How North Korea Used Crypto to Hack Its Way through Epidemic,” New York Times, June 30, 2022)


7/3/22:
DPRK FoMin spokesperson “gave the following answer to a question put by KCNA as regards the fact that the U.S. and its vassal forces openly revealed their hostility towards the DPRK during the recent NATO summit: During the recent NATO summit, the chief executives of the U.S., Japan and south Korea put their heads together for confrontation with the DPRK and discussed the dangerous joint military countermeasures against it including the launch of tripartite joint military exercises, taking issue with its legitimate exercise of the right to self-defense for no ground. The U.S. and its vassal forces inserted a hostile expression of finding fault with the DPRK’s measure for bolstering its military capability for self-defense in a new “strategic concept” adopted at the NATO summit. Such anti-DPRK row of the hostile forces synchronizes with the start of the RIMPAC joint military exercises, the U.S.-led multinational naval combined exercises, and south Korea’s military lunacy to destroy peace and stability in the Korean peninsula as well as the Asia-Pacific region through the largest-ever scale dispatch of its naval force. The recent NATO summit more clearly proves that the U.S. pursues a plan to contain Russia and China at the same time by realizing the “militarization” of Europe and forming a military alliance like NATO in the Asia-Pacific region and keeps the U.S.-Japan-south Korea tripartite military alliance as an important means for materializing the plan. Owing to the reckless military moves of the U.S. and its vassal forces, dangerous situation, in which a nuclear war might break out simultaneously in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, has been created and the world peace and security came to be placed in the most critical condition after the end of the Cold War. The reality clearly shows that the real purpose of the U.S. spreading the rumor about “threat from north Korea” is to provide an excuse for attaining military supremacy over the Asia-Pacific region including the Korean Peninsula, and furthermore, the rest of the world. The prevailing situation more urgently calls for building up the country’s defenses to actively cope with the rapid aggravation of the security environment of the Korean Peninsula and the rest of the world. The DPRK will reliably defend the sovereignty and interests of the country and its territory from all sorts of threats caused by the hostile acts of the U.S. and its vassal forces and fulfill its responsible duty to ensure peace and security ln the Korean Peninsula and the region.” (KCNA, “DPRK Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hits at Hostility of U.S. and Its Vassal Forces,” July 3, 2022)


7/4/22:
Unification Minister Kwon Young-se said Monday his government will push for a “new structure” of inter-Korean dialogue in a bid for direct discussions on the denuclearization issue that had been handled largely between Pyongyang and Washington. South Korea’s top point man on North Korea also reaffirmed Seoul’s commitment to a push for the development of inter-Korean relations on the basis of “all existing agreements” between the two sides, delivering a speech marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the historic July 4 South-North Joint Statement. “The Yoon Suk-yeol government will open a new path for the development of sustainable South-North relations, sticking to the basics of respecting all inter-Korean agreements of previous governments,” he said during a ceremony to commemorate the first official agreement signed by the governments of the two Koreas. He stressed that the North Korea nuclear issue should not be left out of inter-Korean talks. “We cannot just sit on our hands and leave nuclear negotiations to the international community,” Kwon said. “I believe the denuclearization of North Korea and the issue of building political and military trust should be placed on the negotiating table in case an inter-Korean summit is held.” To that effect, South Korea will “establish a new structure of talks that can effectively discuss denuclearization, political and military trust building, and economic cooperation,” he said, adding Seoul is ready to talk with Pyongyang about all pending issues anywhere. “If there is anything the North Korean authorities want, they can have dialogue and talk (about it),” he said. (Yonhap, “S. Korea to Seek ‘New Structure’ of Talks with N. Korea, Unification Minister Says,” July 4, 2022)


7/10/22:
North Korea fired two rounds from what is believed to be a multiple rocket launcher into the West Sea today, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff here. The JCS speculated that the rounds were not ballistic missiles but shells of less than 240-mm caliber. “The South Korean military detected trajectories of rounds from what was presumed to be a North Korean MRL from around 6:21 p.m. to around 6:37 p.m. Sunday,” the JCS told reporters hours after the firing. “The military is maintaining tight preparedness while enhancing vigilance and closely cooperating with the U.S.” They were fired from South Pyongan Province. The 240-mm MRL has a range of about 60 to 70 ㎞. “The JCS did not publicize the firing immediately because the projectiles were not ballistic missiles,” a military source said. It seems they were fired for training purposes. (Yu Yong-weon, “N. Korea Fires 2 Shells from Multiple Rocket Launcher,” Chosun Ilbo, July 11, 2022)

Japan’s ruling party scored a sweeping victory in today’s House of Councilors election, helping pro-constitutional amendment forces retain the two-thirds majority needed to push for revising the supreme law, an unaccomplished goal of former leader Shinzo Abe whose assassination days earlier shocked the nation. Prime Minister Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party grabbed 63 seats, or more than half of the 125 seats up for grabs, buoyed by strong voter support in a show of public confidence in his nine-month-old administration despite the country struggling with rising prices and security threats posed by Russia’s war in Ukraine. In all, the LDP and its coalition partner Komeito secured a total of 76 seats, comfortably retaining a majority in the 248-member upper chamber of parliament. The pro-constitutional amendment camp, comprising the LDP-Komeito coalition, two opposition parties and independents, secured 179 seats in the upper chamber. Combined with the 84 seats it holds that were not up for election this year, it crossed the 166-seat threshold needed to aim for a first-ever revision of the 1947 Constitution. But while the LDP had its best outcome since 2013, the major opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, won just 17 seats, losing six of the contested seats it had held before the election. The opposition Japan Innovation Party, which advocates constitutional reform, won 12 seats, adding six to its total in the chamber. At the LDP headquarters in Tokyo today, Kishida and senior party executives offered silent prayers for Abe, Japan’s longest-serving premier who died two days ago after being shot by a man when giving a speech in Nara, western Japan. “The election, which is the foundation of democracy, was challenged by violence and it carries a big meaning that the election was carried through. I will continue to work hard to protect democracy,” Kishida said, in reference to the shooting of Abe. Kishida also vowed to push ahead with plans for amending the Constitution, saying, “We will deepen parliamentary debate over the Constitution further so a concrete amendment proposal can be compiled.” The LDP’s constitutional reform proposals include amending the war-renouncing Article 9, a sensitive issue for South Korea and China, both of which suffered from Japan’s wartime militarism. The ruling party aims to end the debate over the constitutionality of the Self-Defense Forces by explicitly mentioning them in the supreme law. Kishida took office last October pledging all-out efforts to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. The fresh mandate will also enable him to proceed with his drive to create a “new capitalism” designed to redistribute wealth, with no national election expected until 2025 unless Kishida dissolves the House of Representatives, the more powerful lower chamber. The prime minister is expected to reshuffle his Cabinet and ruling party executives by September, according to LDP sources. The behavior of swing voters had been another focus of the election. Voter turnout was 52.05 percent, higher than 48.8 percent in the previous upper house election 2019. According to an analysis of the Kyodo exit polls, the LDP garnered the biggest share of unaffiliated voters in the proportional representation section at 21.9 percent, followed by 17.7 percent for the Japan Innovation Party. (Suzuki Noriyuki, “Japan Ruling Party Wins Big in Upper House Election after Ex-PM Abe’s Death,” Kyodo, July 10, 2022)


7/11/22:
North Korea fired an artillery shot into the Yellow Sea earlier this week, presumably from a multiple rocket launcher, a defense source here said July 13, as the U.S. has deployed six F-35A stealth fighters on the peninsula for combined drills. he South Korean military had detected a single trajectory believed to be an artillery shot on Monday morning, the source said without providing additional details including where it was fired. Yesterday, North Korea fired two suspected artillery shots from multiple rocket launchers. (Yonhap, “North Korea Fires Another Apparent Artillery Shot on Monday: Sources,” Korea Times, July 13, 2022)


7/12/22:
Makowsky, Heinonen, Liu and Town: “Commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center from July 5, 2022 indicates that despite heavy rains over the past several weeks, the 5 MWe Reactor continues to produce plutonium for the country’s nuclear weapons program. Moreover, smoke is observed emitting from the Thermal (Steam) Plant at the Radiochemical Laboratory, which may signal early preparations for a forthcoming reprocessing campaign or treatment of radioactive wastes. This may help explain recent activity at the spent fuel reception building and Building 500, as also recently reported by CSIS’ Beyond Parallel. Dismantlement activities continue at the 50 MWe Reactor after recently reported trenching activity at its nearby pump house. To date, no major flooding is apparent, although increased humidity and constant rain may cause problems in some process buildings. Continued rain could bring about flooding of critical facilities later this summer, which may hamper fissile material production. At the 5 MWe Reactor, cooling water discharge has been observed throughout May and June and continues in July, as indicated by cooling water discharge. The heavy rains over the past 40 days do not appear to have caused any complications to reactor operations as of yet, although water levels are rising, and work is underway throughout the center to help prevent severe flooding. Activities reported in May 2022 have continued at the spent fuel reception building. There are, however, notable new developments at the Thermal Plant and at the building suspected to be a radioactive waste storage facility (Building 500). On July 5, a faint smoke emission, more easily seen by the shadow it cast, is visible emanating from the stack of the Thermal Plant. Smoke was last seen from this stack in July 2021, which marked the end of what was believed to have been a spent-fuel reprocessing campaign, carried out between February and July of last year. No emission was visible on imagery from July 3, as noted in a report by CSIS’ Beyond Parallel. It is too early to conclude whether a new reprocessing campaign has commenced or if steam is being produced for the radioactive waste handling facilities. The steam could also be used to remove humidity from the process buildings caused by excessive rainfall. Additional monitoring for continued emissions or an increase in volume is necessary to follow the development of activities at the reprocessing site. There have been vehicles visiting the area of the spent fuel reception building, although they do not appear to be associated with the actual transfer of spent fuel. Piles of materials or equipment have also appeared in the area, which could indicate ongoing routine maintenance or small construction work. At Building 500, a suspected radioactive waste storage facility, new activity is apparent. While better viewed in the July 3 image featured in the CSIS report, this likely excavation activity could signal efforts to refurbish the facility, or possible early stages of building expansion or modification. There have been no signs yet of operations at the ELWR. However, construction continues at the small complex of buildings just outside of the reactor’s security wall. Construction of these buildings began in 2021, and exterior work on two of the buildings was largely complete by April 2022. Progress on the third building is ongoing. Since April, the addition of a second floor has started, suggesting it may be a two-story structure when complete. The function of these buildings is yet to be determined. Little activity is observed at the 50 MWe Reactor complex despite recent trenching activity near its associated pump house. However, since May, additional roof panels have been removed from the south wing of a building next to the reactor hall. The continued cannibalization of the reactor facilities suggests the need for these materials for other projects within the Yongbyon complex, where probable building materials shortages are likely. Alternatively, the North Koreans may be slowly dismantling these deteriorating buildings altogether. Until now, there has been no sign of dismantling activities at the reactor buildings, which requires more resources to complete. (Peter Makowsky, Olli Heinonen, Jack Liu and Jenny Town, “North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Center: Plutonium Production Continues Despite Heavy Rains,” 38North, July 12, 2022)

North Korea appears to have operated South Korean facilities at the Kaesong Industrial Complex without permission, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Tuesday. The Unification Ministry has found indications that the North Korean authorities have operated the factories built and owned by South Korean companies at the inter-Korean industrial park in North Korea, an official — who wished to remain anonymous — said during a closed-door briefing. “We have recently detected related signs, including the movement of North Korean vehicles and supplies piled up at the industrial complex, through various channels,” the official said, without further details. The Unification Ministry has observed unidentified vehicles moving around the Kaesong Industrial Complex several times since April when a fire was detected in the area. “Therefore, North Korea appears to have been operating some of our factories at the Kaesong Industrial Complex when we piece the situation together,” the official explained. The Unification Ministry also sees that North Korean workers have been manufacturing items at South Korean factories located in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, according to the official. (Ji Da-gyum, “N. Korea Using S. Korean, Facilities at Kaesong Complex without Permission,” Korea Herald, July 14, 2022)


7/13/22:
DPRK FoMin spokesman “gave the following answer to a question put by KCNA as regards the fact that the DPRK recognized the independence of the People’s Republic of Donetsk and the People’s Republic of Lugansk: As reported, on July 13 the DPRK decided to recognize the independence of the People’s Republic of Donetsk and the People’s Republic of Lugansk and expressed the will to develop the state-to-state relations with those countries in the idea of independence, peace and friendship. To develop the state-to-state relations of friendship on the basis of respect for the principle of people’s rights to equality and self-determination is the peculiar and legitimate right of a sovereign state specified in the purpose and principles of the UN Charter. Ukraine, which had committed acts quite contrary to impartiality and justice in the state-to-state relations while aligning itself with the U.S. unreasonable and illegal hostile policy toward the DPRK in the past, has no right and qualification to take issue with the DPRK over its legitimate exercise of sovereignty. The DPRK will as ever develop the bonds of friendship and cooperation with all other countries in the world that respect its sovereignty and are friendly to it, on the principles of sovereignty equality, non-interference and mutual respect.” (KCNA, “DPRK Foreign Ministry Spokesman on Independence of Donetsk and Lugansk,” July 15, 2022)


7/14/22:
14F-35 stealth fighters from the South Korean and the U.S. air forces teamed up for the first time for four days of combined aerial drills, as the allies move to enhance interoperability and combined defense posture against North Korea’s escalating threats. South Korea and the U.S. conducted combined military exercises involving fifth-generation F-35A fighter jets in South Korean airspace from July 11-14, South Korea’s Air Force announced today. Around 30 aircraft — which include South Korea’s F-35A, F-15K, KF-16 and FA-50 fighters and the U.S.’ F-16 Fighting Falcons and six F-35A stealth fighters — joined the aerial exercises. The occasion marks the first time that F-35A stealth fighter jets from the two countries participated together in combined drills since the delivery of 40 F-35As was completed in January. During the air combat training, the South Korean and U.S. air forces conducted major combined air operations and missions, including airborne alert interdiction and defensive counter-air while forming a virtual friendly force and enemy. The strike package comprising various South Korean and U.S. fighter jets also carried out offensive air operations in a realistic training environment. “South Korea and the United States plan the exercises to enhance our combined operational capability by conducting actual combat training and increase the interoperability of the fifth-generation F-35A fighter jets that the two countries have operated,” South Korea’s Air Force said in a press statement. The actual combat aerial training also aims to strengthen the alliance’s capability to integrate the fourth- and fifth-generation fighters of South Korea and the U.S. and “maintain firm South Korea-US combined defense posture.” “This is the crucial training that represents the ironclad South Korea-U.S. alliance and combined defense posture,” said Maj. Kwon Hae-bin, a F-35A pilot from South Korea’s 17 Fighter Wing at the 151 Fighter Squadron. “Through the training, Air Force pilots from the two countries were able to exchange tactics and operational knowhow concerning fifth-generation fighters.” A total of six F-35A stealth fighter jets flew from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska on July 5 for their scheduled 10-day training mission. The United States Air Force has dispatched its six F-35 stealth fighters to the Korean Peninsula for combined military exerices for the first time since December 2017. At that time, the allies staged a now-suspended large-scale Vigilant Ace air exercise while tensions heightened on the Korean Peninsula in the aftermath of North Korea’s sixth nuclear test in September 2017. South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Thursday that the deployment of the U.S. stealth fighters is the follow-up measure to an agreement forged by President Yoon Suk-yeol and President Joe Biden during their May 21 summit. The two leaders reaffirmed the U.S.’ commitment to deploying U.S. strategic assets “in a timely and coordinated manner as necessary” and agreed to step up combined military exercises in response to North Korea’s evolving threats. Biden also affirmed the U.S. extended deterrence commitment to South Korea “using the full range of U.S. defense capabilities, including nuclear, conventional and missile defense capabilities.” The F-35A multirole fighters — which have precision strike capabilities capable of evading radar detection — play a pivotal role in South Korea’s Kill Chain preemptive strike platform. North Korea has repeatedly leveled blistering criticism of South Korea’s purchase of the F-35, as its military does not have surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to detect radar-evading fighter jets. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry lambasted the U.S. for deploying F-35 fighters and reconnaissance aircraft to the Korean Peninsula in a statement issued Tuesday on its official website, claiming that the basic mission of the F-35s is to “destroy core targets of North Korea.” The ministry underscored that the U.S. move clearly shows the “U.S. ambition to stifle North Korea by force,” warning of the consequences of deploying the U.S. military assets. “The U.S.’ racket of reckless military provocations has created an extremely dangerous situation on the Korean Peninsula where war can break out at any time,” the statement said. (Ji Da-gyum, “S. Korean, U.S. F-35 Stealth Fighters Stage First Aerial Drills,” Korea Herald, July 14, 2022)


7/18/22:
South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin met with Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa for the first time since taking office today. The two agreed to speed up discussions to quickly resolve key pending issues between the two countries, including the issue of compensation for victims of forced labor during the Japanese colonial period. But as the two countries have yet to come closer to an agreement regarding their position on how to resolve the forced labor issue, considered a “conundrum of conundrums,” it’s unclear whether South Korea-Japan relations will see swift improvement. Park met with Hayashi for an hour this afternoon at the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Ikura Guest House in Tokyo, continuing his discussion with his Japanese counterpart for an additional hour and a half during dinner. Afterward, the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement, “Park mentioned that he will make efforts to come up with a desirable solution before the liquidation procedure related to the ruling regarding forced labor is carried out, and the two sides agreed that an early resolution is necessary for the issue.” The statement also added that the two ministers “agreed to speed up discussions including ministerial ones for the swift resolution of all pending issues between the two countries.” The last time the foreign minister of South Korea or Japan traveled to their counterpart’s country for a formal bilateral meeting was in April 2018. Park reportedly told Hayashi what was discussed during the two meetings of the public-private consultative body formed by the South Korean government to deal with the issue of liquidation of Japanese corporate assets following the Supreme Court of Korea’s ruling in October 2018 regarding compensation for victims of forced labor — the most pressing matter in South Korea-Japan relations currently. The meetings were each held on July 4 and 14. “We believe [Park’s] detailed explanation of what was discussed during the public-private consultative group’s meetings itself was extremely meaningful. In addition to [South Korean] public opinion and the victims, another party involved in the issue’s resolution is none other than Japan,” an official at the South Korean Foreign Ministry said. “We plan to seek a solution by sharing opinions with Japan moving forward.” The official continued, “Both South Korea and Japan are of the same, stern attitude. Director-generals of both countries will carry out discussions, while foreign ministers — head diplomats — will also pursue direct communication. It’s safe to say shuttle diplomacy between foreign ministers has commenced in earnest with the recent ministerial meeting.” In other words, South Korea and Japan seem to have confirmed each other’s resolution to find a solution through “proactive dialogue.” During meetings of the public-private consultative body earlier, the legal representatives of victims of forced labor as well as members of victims support groups repeatedly stressed that offending companies such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel should sincerely apologize to the aging victims and participate in the compensation process. However, the Japanese government has been reiterating its position that the issue of forced labor was completely resolved through the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations, while evading any mention of an apology, the key demand put forth by the victims. During today’s meeting, other pending issues that may lead to the expansion of cooperation between South Korea and Japan were also discussed. Specifically, it’s highly likely that opinions were exchanged regarding the normalization of the South Korea-Japan GSOMIA, a military intelligence sharing pact, which Park mentioned during last month’s South Korea-US foreign ministers’ meeting, and the scrapping of Japan’s export regulations against South Korea, which South Korea has consistently called for. The South Korean Foreign Ministry also stated that Park emphasized overhauling institutional foundations for “revitalizing exchange, including visa exemptions.” Park is scheduled to pay a visit to Japanese Prime Minister Kishida tomorrow. (Kim So-youn, “Top Diplomats of S. Korea, Japan Agree to Accelerate Talks on Forced Labor Issue,” Haakyore, July 19, 2022) Japan and South Korea made almost no progress on the pressing issue of wartime labor that sent bilateral relations into a tailspin. South Korea’s Supreme Court in 2018 issued a series of rulings that angered Japan ordering the companies to pay compensation. Legal proceedings since then have moved toward converting assets of the companies into cash for distribution to the former laborers. Japanese officials have said that would be the worst possible outcome, and South Korea has offered little in the way of specific measures to avoid that from happening. Hayashi attended Yoon’s inauguration ceremony in Seoul on May 10 as the special envoy of Prime Minister Kishida. He met with Park the previous day, before he was even formally approved as foreign minister. The two agreed to work quickly to improve bilateral ties. But the first formal meeting between Hayashi and Park came more than two months later due to concerns in Japan about a South Korean vessel conducting an oceanographic study in waters near the disputed Takeshima islets, which South Korean claims and calls Dokdo. That pushed back the first formal meeting between the two foreign ministers until after the July 10 Upper House election. The slaying of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while campaigning two days before election day threw up another hurdle in the mutual quest to put bilateral ties back on a strong neighborly footing. There were concerns that if the Kishida administration was seen as taking a much more conciliatory stance toward Seoul, conservative elements within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party could begin openly voicing opposition to such moves. Abe was able to control those elements because of his political stature, but his death leaves a vacuum that could be taken advantage of by those who hold strong views about historical issues related to Japan and South Korea. Some South Korean government officials also raised concerns about holding the foreign ministers meeting so soon after Abe’s death. But a high-ranking South Korean Foreign Ministry official said the decision was made to have Park visit Tokyo because Seoul did not want to disrupt the growing sense of rapprochement since Yoon took over as president. The Yoon administration is also striving to win points on the diplomatic front because of plummeting support ratings caused partly by disgruntlement over a recent surge in consumer prices triggered by Russia’s war against Ukraine. An official close to Yoon described the difficulty in dealing with the issue. “Resolution will be difficult without some sort of compromise toward Japan,” the official said. “Taking domestic circumstances into account, we cannot unilaterally offer concessions.” (Nobira Yuichi and Suzuki Takuya, “Japan, S. Korea Discuss Wartime Labor Issue, Make Little Progress,” Asahi Shimbun, July 19,2022)

The video footage and photos captured their final moments in South Korea: two North Korean fishermen taken against their will to the border. One of them was so resistant to being deported to North Korea that South Korean officials had to drag him. The other appeared resigned to his fate. The footage and 10 photos of the men, newly released by the South Korean government, were taken in 2019. At the time, the South Korean government called the men “murderers” who had killed 16 fellow North Korean fishermen. The men, though acknowledging the killings, said they wanted to defect. The case triggered outrage back then, because it was the first time South Korea rejected a North Korean request to defect and forced someone back across the border unwillingly. In releasing new material, the conservative government of President Yoon Suk-yeol has revived the issue, accusing his predecessor’s government of violating human rights. “The essence of the case is that the fishermen fleeing North Korea were returned there to their death, as the North wished, when they should have been accepted into South Korea and dealt with in accordance with our own law,” said Choi Young-bum, Yoon’s chief spokesman. Yoon’s office has called the case a potential “crime against humanity.” The accusations against the government of Moon Jae-in, Yoon’s predecessor, are part of a recurring pattern in South Korea, where previous leaders have often been ensnared by investigations after leaving office. Of the four former presidents who have governed the country in the past two decades, one — Roh Moo-hyun — killed himself while being investigated for possible corruption. Two — Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye — ended up in prison for corruption. A group of conservative lawyers are now asking prosecutors to investigate Moon for murder and abuse of power in the case of the two North Koreans. If the prosecutors act on the request, Moon will become the latest ex-president to face a criminal inquiry in South Korea. “It’s the beginning of ‘politics by other means,’” said Ahn Byong-jin, a political scientist at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. Moon’s opposition Democratic Party, in turn, has accused Yoon, who served as prosecutor general under Moon, of revisiting the case to distract from the president’s falling approval ratings and to cast doubt on Moon’s legacy. Many of Moon’s former top aides who were involved in the case of the two North Koreans are already under investigation by prosecutors. “Yoon’s views on politics remain in his prosecutor days,” said Ahn. “He considers politicians potential criminals.” Going after his predecessor could be a political gamble for Yoon, who won the election by a razor-thin margin and has recently seen his approval ratings dip to around 33 percent amid deepening anxiety over rising consumer prices and a host of scandals involving his cabinet appointees, his presidential staff and his wife, Kim Keon-hee. This month the president denied a political motive, saying that inquiries into past governments have been routine in South Korea. Since taking office, Yoon has forged ahead with reversing some of Moon’s key policies. He has ordered his government to start building nuclear power plants, throwing out Moon’s plan to phase out nuclear energy. He is working to reduce real-estate taxes Moon introduced to contain housing prices. His government has also moved to mend ties with Japan that had frayed under the previous administration. The aggressive effort to undo Moon’s policies could fuel domestic tensions at a time when South Korea desperately needs bipartisan support to manage a cooling economy and to help Washington contain North Korean threats. “A less divided South Korea could also be a more effective ally to the United States,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international relations at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “But paths to domestic unity are narrowing.” Along with that of the two North Korean men, Yoon is also drawing attention to a case from 2020, when a South Korean fisheries official disappeared from his ship and was later found in North Korean waters. South Korea accused the North of killing the official and burning his body at sea. It said at the time that the official, Lee Dae-joon, was trying to defect. Under Yoon, the South Korean Coast Guard reversed its conclusion last month, saying it found no evidence that the official was trying to defect. Yoon’s governing camp said the Moon government portrayed the official as a defector in order to mitigate the outcry over his killing and to rescue Moon’s flagging efforts for dialogue with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. In the 2019 episode, South Korean officials said then that the two North Koreans were on the run after “murdering” the captain and 15 other fishermen in a high-seas mutiny when their boat was captured by South Korean navy commandoes. Moon’s government considered them neither defectors nor refugees, but “heinous criminals” who should be returned to North Korea. Yoon’s aides say that the two North Korean men should have been accepted as defectors since, according to South Korea’s Constitution, all Koreans should be treated as equal citizens. They said the men should have been tried in a South Korean court or at the very least been granted a hearing and a chance to appeal the government’s decision to deport them to the North, where many experts believe they were executed. “The two men’s desperate resistance to being forced back that is so apparent in those photos shows that they understood they were fighting for their lives,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “Moon Jae-in and his officials knew that too, and yet still they sent them back in what was a disgusting and callous disregard for human rights.” Seoul’s Unification Ministry initially defended the government’s decision under Moon. It has reversed itself under Yoon, calling the decision “wrong” last week. Last week, prosecutors raided the office of the National Intelligence Service; the agency has accused two former directors who served under Mr. Moon of ordering a premature end to the 2019 investigation and of destroying intelligence on the killing of the South Korean fisheries official. Moon’s former top aides, as well as his Democratic Party, which holds a parliamentary majority, said that intelligence gathered from the intercepted communications of the North Korean military had made it clear in 2020 that the fisheries official was trying to defect to the North. In the other case, they called the two North Korean men “macabre murderers” who would have been a threat to South Koreans. Even if the two were tried in a South Korean court, prosecutors would have had no choice but to let them walk because all criminal evidence was in North Korea, said Youn Kun-young, a senior presidential aide under Moon who is now a lawmaker. Both men, he said, had confessed to the crime. The North Korean state propaganda website Uriminzokkiri last week said that Yoon’s conservative government was attacking the Moon administration to divert attention from its “ignorance and incompetence.” (Choe Sang-Hun, “New South Korean Leader Seeks Investigation of Past Government,” New York Times, July 23, 2022, p. A-7)


7/19/22:
South Korea’s first homegrown KF-21 fighter jet successfully completed its inaugural test flight this afternoon, the country’s arms procurement agency announced. A KF-21 Boramae fighter prototype took off for its maiden flight at 3:40 p.m. at the base of South Korea’s Air Force 3rd Training Wing in the city of Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration said. The jet flew for 33 minutes and landed at 4:13 p.m. Major Ahn Jun-hyun of South Korea’s Air Force piloted the KF-21 prototype No.1 featuring the national flags of South Korea and Indonesia. The maiden flight was aimed at examining KF-21’s basic flight performance such as takeoff and landing. It was also intended to examine the jet’s structural integrity before kicking off the thousands of test flights to follow. Ground tests including low, medium and high-speed taxi testing and engine ignition testing took place before the first flight.

The prototype of the KF-21 fighter jet was equipped with full-scale mock-ups of four Meteors, which are beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, and an infrared search and track system, the South Korean military confirmed to Korea Herald. The KF-21 flew at a speed of around 400 kilometers per hour. With the successful first test flight as momentum, South Korea’s Air Force and Korea Aerospace Industries will begin conducting around 2,200 test flights from this month until 2026 with six KF-21 fighter prototypes. “The project of developing South Korea’s indigenous fighter jets has now entered the stage of test flights and the flight area will be expanded throughout at around 2,000 test flights,” DAPA said on the implications of the first flight. “The system’s development will be completed in 2026 after verifying various performances and its suitability for air-to-air combat.” The final, full-scale assessment of the operational effectiveness and suitability of KF-21s will be carried out in 2026. But DAPA has set plans to pass an interim test of KF-21 fighter prototypes in 2023 to concurrently push forward the development and production of KF-21 fighter aircraft. The successful test flight came less than seven years after Korea Aerospace Industries started developing systems for KF-21 fighter jets in December 2015. But the achievement was made 21 years after the late President Kim Dae-jung first proposed the vision to independently develop warplanes in 2001. The development of 4.5-generation fighter jets costs 8.8 trillion won ($6.7 trillion), of which Indonesia will contribute 20 percent. The KF-X project consists of two stages over 13 years, from 2015 to 2028. The first stage focuses on developing aircraft and integrated logistics systems between 2015 and 2026. The second phase aims to develop aircraft capabilities to carry out air-to-surface missions between 2026 and 2028.

The KF-X project aims to replace F-4s and F-5s, obsolete fighter jets which have been operated by South Korea’s Air Force for more than 30 years and to independently develop next-generation fighter jets with capabilities required for the future battlefield environment. (Ji Da-gyum, “S. Korea’s First Homegrown KF-21 Fighter Takes First Flight,” Korea Herald, July 19, 2022)


7/22/22:
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it would strengthen special operations forces’ infiltration and strike capabilities and step up large-scale South Korea-U.S. field training exercises to deal with North Korea’s escalating threats. Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup directly briefed President Yoon Suk-yeol on the overall direction and priorities of defense policy and plans to implement major tasks this morning at the presidential office in Yongsan, central Seoul. The completion of a domestically developed three-axis missile defense system — consisting of the Kill Chain, the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) — was proposed as the major task. Seoul will seek to secure Kill Chain preemptive strike capabilities by hastening the deployment of military reconnaissance satellites and purchasing additional F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States. The military will enhance capabilities to detect missiles across the Korean Peninsula and build a multi-layered missile defense system, including the development of an L-SAM system that can intercept missiles at altitudes of 40-70 kilometers. South Korea has not yet independently developed a top-tier layered defense shield such as the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. The ministry added that it would reinforce its capabilities to carry out the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation strategy. The Defense Ministry plans to increase the number of “land, sea and air-based high-powered, ultra-precise missiles that can target the entire North Korean region and further strengthen the penetration and strike capabilities of special operations forces.” It also laid out a plan to counter threats posed by North Korea’s long-range artillery, which can reach the Seoul metropolitan area. Seoul will improve early detection of a possible artillery attacks, reinforce counter-fire forces and develop a long-range artillery interception system, the Defense Ministry said, but it did not provide the timeframe. During his campaign, Yoon pledged to precipitate the deployment of Low Altitude Missile Defense, which is analogous to Israel’s “Iron Dome” interceptor, in the capital and densely populated areas by 2026. Furthermore, the South Korean military will increase the number of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets and reinforce their operation to immediately respond in case of imminent attacks. The Defense Ministry also said South Korea aims to expeditiously core military capabilities and its ability to respond to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, which are required for the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON). The Defense Ministry said it will strengthen the South Korea-U.S. alliance’s comprehensive system to respond to North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats. For instance, South Korea and the U.S. will newly launch the Counter Missile Working Group (CMWG) under the Deterrence Strategy Committee and co-research on missile defenses.

The ministry also aims to develop the system to implement the alliance’s “tailored deterrence strategy” and establish procedures to deploy U.S. strategic assets. The reactivation of the vice- ministerial-level Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) is also proposed as the key task to enhance the viability of the US extended deterrence. Another major goal is to “greatly develop the South Korea-US alliance and deepen and expand defense cooperation” through various channels, including the resumption of large-scale combined military exercises that have been suspended in the aftermath of the first US-North Korea summit in June 2018. The Defense Ministry said it would “fundamentally reinforce the South Korea-U.S. combined defense posture by normalizing combined exercises and training that have been canceled, postponed, reduced or adjusted for a considerable period of time.” The South Korean military plans to resume regiment-level and larger-scale combined field training exercises (FTXs) such as military exercises with US aircraft carrier strike groups and amphibious landing drills. South Korea will “intensively conduct various types of combined field training exercises” in connection with annual bilateral drills that have been conducted twice a year. South Korea’s army, navy and air forces are scheduled to stage 11 FTXs with the U.S. and combined forces between August and September this year. The South Korean military will further expand combined field training exercises from the next year, the Defense Ministry said. The South Korean and U.S. Forces plan to conduct a total of 21 FTXs in the first half of next year. As part of those efforts, South Korea and the United States have changed the name of combined military exercises to Freedom Shield in a bid to “inherit the tradition of the South Korea-U.S. alliance and re-establish the system to conduct theater-level combined military exercises.” South Korea and the U.S. abandoned the title of the “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” — which had been used from 2008 to 2018 — in the aftermath of the first U.S.-North Korea Singapore Summit in June 2018. Large-scale, theater-level field training exercises such as the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian have been entirely suspended, in line with then-President Donald Trump’s commitment at the summit. (Ji Da-gyum, “South Korea to Bolster Special Forces, Step up Large-Scale Military Exercises,” Korea Herald, July 22, 2022) South Korea is pouring resources into its strategy of deterring any North Korean nuclear attack by preparing for preemptive strikes if necessary, a strategy some experts say may exacerbate their arms race and risks miscalculation during a conflict. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, has publicly given new emphasis to the so-called “Kill Chain” system to counter a North Korean nuclear attack. First developed a decade ago as North Korea ramped up its nuclear development, Kill Chain calls for preemptive strikes against the North’s missiles and possibly its senior leadership if an imminent attack is detected. The system is a logical but highly risky and potentially unreliable way to try to counter North Korea’s nuclear threat, some experts and former officials say. The implicit threat against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is particularly destabilizing, said Ankit Panda of the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “I can see why leadership decapitation is tempting for South Korea, but threatening to kill the leadership of a nuclear-armed state is uniquely dangerous,” he said. Jeffrey Lewis, a missile researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), called the plans “the most plausible route to a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula.” “This is the *military* plan that is most likely to succeed … ” he said in a post on Twitter. “But it is also the option most likely to create uncontrollable escalation dynamics and start a nuclear war.” Some experts say it is doubtful a preemptive strike could accomplish its goal. North Korea in recent months has tested hypersonic missiles and missiles it says could carry tactical nuclear weapons, narrowing the time Seoul would have to respond to a pending attack. “Kim has ample reason to believe that he can employ his nuclear weapons in a limited way and still survive,” Panda said. A focus on decapitation strikes, meanwhile, may encourage Kim to adopt more dangerous command and control practices in a crisis, such as delegating nuclear authority so North Korea’s weapons can be used even if he is killed, Panda added. At the root of South Korea’s strategy is a hedge against U.S. abandonment, European defense researchers Ian Bowers and Henrik Stalhane Hiim said in an academic report last year. “Its deterrent effect, no matter how uncertain, acts as a short-term stopgap if the United States abandons South Korea.” Those concerns were heightened when then-President Donald Trump demanded Seoul pay billions of dollars more to support U.S. troops on the peninsula, and raised the prospect he could withdraw them. The U.S. deploys around 28,500 troops on the peninsula and retains wartime operational control over the allied forces. An inconvenient fact for South Koreans wanting to display independent bravado to the North is that any preemptive strike would have to be done in consultation with the United States, a former senior U.S. official with knowledge of the situation said. “To conduct a preemptive strike would not be an act of self defense, and by definition this would fall under the category of an Alliance decision,” the former official said. Firing unprovoked on North Korea would be a “major violation” of the Armistice Agreement in force since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended without an official peace treaty, the official added. (Josh Smith, “South Korea Doubles down on Risky ‘Kill Chain’ Plans to Counter North Korea Nuclear Threat,” Reuters, July 26, 2022)

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it is mapping out an “audacious plan” to provide economic compensation and security guarantees in return for North Korea’s “substantial measures for denuclearization.” Unification Minister Kwon Young-se today briefed President Yoon Suk-yeol on the vision of North Korea and unification policy as well as three principles and five core tasks to implement the policy, the Unification Ministry said in a press statement. The vision of the policy is to “seek peaceful unification based on the liberal democratic order to establish a nuclear-free, peaceful and prosperous Korean Peninsula.” The three major principles are not to tolerate any kind of armed provocations, to develop mutually beneficial inter-Korean relations, and to establish the foundation for peaceful reunification. In a separate press statement, the Unification Ministry explained that it has been drawing up the plan — which was first proposed by Yoon in his inauguration speech on May 10 — in tandem with related ministries. The plan puts an emphasis on devising measures to implement economic cooperation with North Korea and provide security guarantees for the country. The compensations will be offered “in stages corresponding to North Korea’s substantial measures for denuclearization.” In a nutshell, the Yoon government will “provide corresponding measures in a phased and simultaneous manner,” the Unification Ministry said, elucidating that it is not pursuing a big deal or all-or-nothing approach. The South Korean government also is not seeking a denuclearization first, then compensation approach. “We are devising an audacious proposal to the extent that North Korea no longer sees the necessity to develop nuclear weapons,” Kwon said during the press briefing at the presidential office, without sharing further details. “The core is to resolve political and military confrontations and push forward a consultation on economic cooperation with North Korea through inter-Korean dialogue and trilateral talks among the two Koreas and the U.S. in keeping with substantial progress in North Korea’s denuclearization.” Kwon said the Yoon government aims to “flesh out the plan in the near future in close coordination and cooperation with the U.S. and propose it to North Korea.”

The Unification Ministry has weighed several options including measures for “military confidence building and arms control,” a high-ranking ministry official said during a closed-door briefing when asked about the issue. The official, who wished to remain anonymous, also suggested that measures to improve diplomatic ties between the US and North Korea have been under consideration, explaining that what North Korea has consistently pursued since the 1970s is the restoration of U.S.-North Korea relations. Kwon said he also underscored the Unification Ministry’s plan to consistently push forward humanitarian cooperation with North Korea regardless of the political and military situation during his briefing to Yoon. The ministry hopes that COVID-19 aid could be momentum for inter-Korean cooperation on health care. At the same time, the Unification Ministry seeks to substantially improve North Korean human rights to realize universal values of humankind. The expeditious launch of a North Korean human rights foundation — which has been postponed for more than six years — was proposed as one measure to fulfill the goal. In addition, the Unification Ministry also set out a goal of restoring ethnic homogeneity by actively seeking inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation regardless of the denuclearization progress. As part of its efforts, the Unification Ministry plans to gradually enable public access to North Korea’s state-run outlets and publications, most of which are off limits to South Koreans, with the intent to enhance better understanding of North Korea. It did not give further details. The Unification Ministry aims to come up with measures that South Korea can unilaterally take to restore ethnic homogeneity, the ministry source said during the briefing. Against that backdrop, the ministry has considered the option of opening North Korean state media outlets to the South Korean public while encouraging North Korea to take corresponding measures. (Ji Da-gyum, “S. Korea Maps out ‘Audacious Plan’ to Provide Security Guarantees for N. Korea,” Korea Herald, July 22, 2022)


7/23/22:
DPRK FoMin spokesperson “gave the following answer to a question put by KCNA on July 23, as regards the fact that the deputy national security advisor of the U.S. White House branded the DPRK as a “group of criminals”, talking about “cyber threat”: Her provocative remarks against our state on July 20 represent the stand of the present U.S. administration steeped in the hostility towards the DPRK. After all, the U.S. administration has revealed the true picture of its most vile hostile policy, once covered under the veil of “dialogue with no strings attached” and “diplomatic engagement.” In a similar fashion, the DPRK will face off the U.S., the world’s one and only group of criminals.” (KCNA, “DPRK FM Spokesperson Denounces U.S. for Reckless Remarks,” July 23, 2022)


7/26/22:
Carlin and Lee: “This article is not about booking a tour to North Korea.[That’s a topic for another day. Rather, this is a study of how articles on tourism in the primary Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) economic journals—Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu and Hakpo (the Journal of Kim Il Sung University (Economics))—reflected and possibly played a role in the regime’s thinking about economic policy between 2012 and 2020. A recent government daily editorial endorsing the cabinet’s leading role in the economy called for: “continuously researching, perfecting and applying optimized economic management methods” by “carrying out discussions broadly and in-depth between academia and functionaries on the ground.” This suggests that the ideas being put forward in North Korea’s economic journals carry policy significance and are intended to have a practical impact. Broadly speaking, these articles on tourism can be separated into two categories: the first, and by far the smaller, was concerned with tourism as an ideological issue; the second was purely practical explorations of how to make tourism successful and, most of all, profitable. Naturally, some articles were a little of both, with authors starting with a nod to ideological orthodoxy and then halfway through casting that off to concentrate on pragmatic approaches. Between 2012 and 2020, the two aforementioned journals published nearly 60 articles dedicated to tourism. The topics ranged from general discussions about the nature of “socialist tourism” to areas such as hotel service work, tourism advertising, the impact of tourism on the economy and international trends in tourism. This focus went well beyond the South Korean-financed Mt. Kumgang tourist area in Kangwon Province. Despite the oft-repeated description of North Korea as being isolated and closed to outsiders, tourism was not a new concept to the DPRK when Kim Jong Un assumed power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in December 2011. The elder Kim had devoted much attention to tourism, especially near the end of his rule, when North Korea signed several agreements with the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), easing visa requirements for Chinese tourists, whose numbers had increased to tens of thousands per year. Kim Jong Il himself made on-site inspections to tourist hotels and sites around the country to check on new construction and upgrades to existing facilities. Money was spent on infrastructure improvements, including rail lines to get tourists to various sites, especially in the northeast. What changed under Kim Jong Un was how tourism became part and parcel of the extensive push for new economic policies. The DPRK introduced its tourism initiative in the midst of researching and testing various economic reform ideas that spanned from incentivized farming and greater autonomy to enterprises to revitalized commercial banks. All of which suggested that tourism was part of Kim’s new economic policies. His first public endorsement of tourism and economic development districts came at the March 2013 party plenum, simultaneously with his broad guidelines on the “economic management methods of our style,” which was code for the aforementioned economic reform initiatives. In the months that followed, North Korea started to actively promote tourism, holding knowledge-sharing conferences and promulgating relevant laws. Eventually, tourism became seen as an “economic activity” in its own right. As such, it required consideration in the context of a full range of economic issues rather than simply as an ornament or ideological-propaganda tool to influence the thinking of foreigners. For that reason, discussions about tourism in the countrys economic journals should be seen as bearing increased policy significance. Taken as a whole, the articles on tourism implied ways to probe, and in some cases transform, the boundaries of economic thinking–boundaries that had to be crossed for new ideas and practical approaches to succeed. A few of the articles appeared to bump up against red lines beyond which thinking on tourism could not tread, although some authors seemed determined to tiptoe in that direction regardless. This pattern is consistent with their handling of the range of reforms Kim Jong Un has advocated for from the outset of his rule. For example, a Hakpo article in 2017, which wrestled with the problem of how to be (or seem) faithful to Marxist economic concepts when applied to tourism, sought to find a safe middle ground. The author went to great pains to explain why the “law of value,” a thorny topic due to it being equated with the market economy, still plays a role in a socialist economy, albeit limited. The author then warned: a “socialist state should correctly assess these characteristics of the law of value and should not show left and right deviations in its use.” This, of course, might well raise the question: If the law of value needed to be watered down in the tourist economy, why not in other sectors as well? While seemingly focused on the narrow question of tourism, several articles in these journals have implicitly raised wider policy issues—security, foreign policy and resource allocation. All of these were singled out as areas that had to be addressed in fashioning effective tourism policies. Some of this attention to tourism flowed from Kim Jong Un’s 2013 instructions to establish new economic and tourism zones around the country. This expansion of zones—some of which were already in existence—was directly connected with his efforts to slowly and carefully open the economy to foreign participation and, in the process, to hand localities more responsible for their own development through the cultivation and use of foreign resources. A 2017 article in Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu pressed the point that the tourist zones in particular needed to break free from the considerations driving the development of industrial zones. In effect, it argued that for tourist zones to succeed, they had to march to the beat of a different economic drummer. In industrial zones, according to the author, “the basic purpose of the use of foreign investment is to combine the advanced technologies of other countries with our advantageous potential to achieve world-class competitiveness in industrial products.” The same author pointed out that in a tourism zone, on the other hand, “under the condition that its purpose is tourism service, the use of foreign investment in infrastructure construction, service facility construction, and related industries … is investment in service and thus the result of its use is also service.” Once again, this became another excuse to push against the boundaries of economic thinking on a number of levels. The DPRK’s economic journals’ discussions on tourism appear to have followed the same pattern as those on new economic concepts in other areas, such as banking. The early articles begin with more limited descriptions of the concept of tourism, for example differentiating “capitalist” from “socialist” tourism. The capitalist form of the tourism industry was portrayed as reflecting greed, where businesses squeeze as much as possible out of tourists in order to feed themselves. Socialist tourism was described as being more interested in improving the lives of the tourists. Over time, this distinction was blurred and, in most cases, dropped entirely The next phase ushered in articles that began to tackle new ideas. It was not uncommon for these pieces to begin by praising the orthodox economic theory before moving beyond—in some cases, considerably beyond—the limits. Finally, in step with the tenor of the times, bolder articles appeared that advocated for ideas that only a few years before would have been impossible to publish. By 2017, by which time many of Kim’s economic reforms had found their footing, the discussions on tourism were more clearly exploring new concepts that pushed against the boundaries of economic thinking in step with the developments in other fields. Increasingly, journal articles portrayed tourism as part of a global industry, making the case that one had to keep up with and surpass overseas trends to capture a share of the market. There was no such thing as Juche tourism or “tourism in our style.” Some articles unabashedly admitted that the country would not attract large numbers of foreign tourists if it could not compete on an international scale in accordance with global standards. To do that, a variety of steps were presented as being necessary, ranging from the removal or easing of legal barriers, such as visa requirements and eliminating some forms of tourist taxes, to improving the quality of goods sold to tourists and significantly upgrading the tourism infrastructure such as transportation, guides, hotels and sewage. In short, tourism was being described in what previously would have been seen as capitalist terms, and there was no reticence about emphasizing that it had to operate by the golden rule of capitalism—supply and demand. Increasingly, articles revolved around the issue of how to estimate and increase demand and how to balance demand with an adequate supply that would give tourists value for their money. The bottom line was not about fulfilling a central plan—though the idea of sticking to the “plan” was given lip service—but how to make the tourists happy. It was argued that to achieve this, there had to be an understanding that tourists operated outside of planning; that not all tourists were the same, and that age, gender, physical condition and particular interests all played a part and could, implicitly, confound planning. For example, younger tourists might enjoy the beach more than older ones and could thus be charged more. None of these steps would be without opposition, though that was never explicitly noted. Visa-free entry would make the job of the security service more difficult. Dropping the tourist taxes would deprive the state of income. Accepting that the tourism economy would not function according to state plans but almost entirely to supply and demand conceivably set a bad example for other sectors of the economy. However, it is possible that letting tourism economics lead the way was part of the plan. For tourism, money had to be spent to make money. One author went so far as to suggest that profits from the tourist business should not go to the state but back into development of the tourism sector. It was understood this would not be a moneymaking venture, at least not at first. By 2018—when North Korea shifted from weapons tests to diplomatic engagement and from the byungjin policy of parallel economic and nuclear development to a policy of focusing on the economy—journal articles had already started portraying the tourism economy as a separate entity and implying that it had to grow and adjust to different factors in accordance with modified or altogether separate rules from other sectors. To some extent, this put tourism on the leading edge of new economic thinking. Supply and demand were paramount forces, price and advertising were key components and service to the consumer was the sine qua non. Interestingly, one article argued that the top socioeconomic factor affecting tourism was good relations with other countries, as bad relations were bad for tourism. The same article pointed out that increases in tourism were in part reliant on the availability of more leisure or vacation time and called for “research on international tourism markets in order to set reasonable tourism service fees.” But most of all, there was an underlying recognition that there was no plan that could dictate the number of tourists. It was necessary to recognize the existence of different economic classes so that tourist packages could be divided into “luxury,” “medium” and “ordinary.”Tourism packages that included hotel, meals and airfare could be sold as a way of lowering prices and making things more accessible for tourists. The concept of “price levers,” which had already begun to gain traction in North Korean economic discussions elsewhere, was stretched to include a form of surge pricing, though that term was never explicitly used. Instead, it was presented as charging different prices for the same hotel room, airplane seat or entry fee depending on when the booking was made and for whom. Tourism was not a new concept to the DPRK when Kim Jong Un assumed power at the end of 2011. However, under his rule, the shift in the treatment of tourism within economic policymaking is notable and evident in how the concept was discussed in the DPRK’s economic journals. At the same time that Kim defined the concept of “economic management methods of our style”—a reference to his various economic reform initiatives—he also encouraged tourism to blossom as part of his economic policy framework. This suggests tourism was part of his new economic policies. The journal discussions on tourism appear to have followed the same pattern as those introducing new policies in other economic areas. The early articles begin with more limited descriptions of the concept of tourism. The next phase introduced articles that began to present new ideas that pushed against the boundaries of economic thinking in step with developments in other fields. Finally, by 2018, when North Korea was making diplomatic overtures and shifted from byungjin to a policy of focusing on the economy, bolder articles advocating for ideas, such as allowing the principle of supply and demand to take its course in lieu of central planning, appeared, where only a few years before these would have been impossible to publish.” (Robert Carlin and Rachel Minyoung Lee, “Understanding Kim Jong Un’s Economic Policy-Making: Tourism as an Industry,” 38North, July 26, 2022)


7/27/22:
Rodong Sinmun: “The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un made a speech “The Veterans of the Fatherland Liberation War Are the Most Heroic Generation of Our Republic” at the celebration of the 69th anniversary of the great victory in the War on July 27. The following is the full text of his speech: … To further consolidate the nation’s defense capability on the strength of the heroic spirit displayed during the war is a fundamental guarantee for defending the national interests of the Republic and its independent development. Our revolution has been in sharp confrontation with the United States which has bluntly resorted to nuclear threat against us since the Fatherland Liberation War. This historical environment demanded that we, above all else, raise our state’s self-defense capability onto a due level, and we have realized this pressing historic task through an arduous struggle. Our Republic has firmly safeguarded socialism and built up formidable self-defensive strategic potentials in the fierce confrontation with the United States, which spanned nearly 70 years after the war. This is a victory which is no inferior to, even greater than, the victory in the Fatherland Liberation War. However, we cannot rest content with this. The United States which did our nation the gravest harm in its modern history still perseveres with dangerous hostile acts against our Republic. While instigating the south Korean authorities to suicidal anti-DPRK confrontation on the pretext of solidifying “alliance,” the United States, in pursuit of military confrontation with us, persists in spreading groundless rumors of “threat” from us. It is the US’s habitual method of executing its policy to fabricate such rumors and spread them so as to make them sound authentic before using them as a justification for bringing pressure to bear upon us. As they always did, the US imperialists have recently spread rumors against the DPRK in the international arena assiduously, describing our state as the “main culprit” in damaging the stability of the regional situation and as a “dangerous state.” The United States, while describing all the usual actions of our armed forces as “provocations” and “threats,” is openly waging large-scale joint war games, which gravely threaten the security of our state. Such a double-dealing behavior is just that of a gangster, and this is driving the DPRK-US relations to a limiting point, a point of fierce collision, which cannot be reversed any further. The US imperialists are obsessed with making a “devil” of our state by manipulating the international understanding and opinion of it. This is nothing but a stereotyped method of camouflaging their aggressive nature as a world peace breaker and justifying their illegal hostile policy. I have already made it clear that we should be ready both for talks and confrontation and more fully for confrontation in particular in order to reliably guarantee the security of our state. The arrogant nature of the US imperialists has remained unchanged as ever. We must confront the US imperialists to the end on the strength of ideology and arms. I reaffirm that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is thoroughly prepared to cope with any kind of military clashes with the United States. If the United States continuously attempts to impair the image of our state and make a serious infringement of our security and fundamental interests, it will only compel itself to put up with greater uneasiness and crises. The government of our Republic would like to take this opportunity to send a serious warning to the south Korean conservative regime and its hawks that run amuck, indulged in abnormal excessive covetousness and confidence in strength, and stand in the van of implementing the US’s hostile policy towards the DPRK. Even tonight, nay, at this moment, when the fireworks light up the nocturnal sky in celebration of the V-day, the hideous warmongers and rogues on the land south of the 250km-long front line, in a high fever of military craziness, are resorting to various military maneuverings, which are threatening our state. The south Korean conservative regime which took office this year is resorting to the extremely atrocious confrontation policies towards their fellow countrymen and acts of worshipping big countries and selling the country. These policies and acts surpass those of any of the previous conservative regimes and driving the situation on the Korean peninsula into the brink of war. The new south Korean regime has designated our government and army as their “archenemy” and, obsessed with useless fear that they must prepare themselves to confront their fellow countrymen, are raising the pitch of their malicious voices and resorting to all sorts of evil and inappropriate acts. They are brazen-faced enough to advocate “peace based on strength” and “security based on strength,” and have put up a bold front, claiming that they would not hesitate in launching a “preemptive strike” to neutralize the war deterrent of our state. At this very moment, south Korea is growing more frantic to develop weapons and strengthen its defense industry in a bid to recover, even a little, its military inferiority as compared with ours, and it is planning to bring in nuclear strategic weapons of the United States in large numbers and expanding war drills under various pretexts. However, we should see that the more frequent vainglorious remarks and various hues of shameful conducts recently made by the south Korean authorities with regard to their security come from their inevitable sense of uneasiness that they have to live under the very nose of a nuclear state. This and that vainglorious remark by the south Korean authorities may be understood as reliable and steel-strong security and advanced military strength to the relief of their people, but to me, they are seen only as being so frightened and at their wits’ end. Having established the concept of what they call the “three military systems of the south Korean style,” the south Korean authorities are making frantic efforts to promote their core fighting capacity. But south Korea cannot help but accept their military inferiority to us as their fate and it can never retrieve the inferiority at any time. It is unreasonable and very dangerous self-destructive action to talk about military actions against our state which possesses absolute weapons that they are actually most fearful of. If the south Korean regime and military ruffians think about confronting us militarily and that they can neutralize or destroy some parts of our military forces preemptively by resorting to some special military means and methods, they are grossly mistaken! Such a dangerous attempt will be punished at once by a powerful force and Yoon Suk Yeol regime and its army will be annihilated. The conservative regime of south Korea must admit before too late that it has already gone too far from its beginning, and that it should think seriously upon the actions that may invite danger to itself. We correctly remember what Yoon Suk Yeol said and did on several occasions before and after taking office. We have also listened to the recent imprudent remarks made by the military ruffians of south Korea, and are watching all the noteworthy military actions they conduct with the United States. We can no longer sit around seeing Yoon Suk Yeol and his military gangsters’ misdemeanors and blind bravery. If they continue to commit the acts of today like aggravating military tension by carrying on picking a quarrel with our exercising of the right to self-defense and threatening our security by invoking the robber’s logic, they will pay dearly for it. If they are to get rid of the stigmas as a president on a chopping board and a regime exposed to the gravest peril, they should be more prudent and use their brains more than their mouths. And they are well advised to refrain from finding fault with us now and then; or not to deal with us at all may be a better way for them. Comrades, Our armed forces are now fully prepared to cope with any sort of crisis, and our state’s nuclear war deterrent is also fully ready to demonstrate its absolute power accurately and promptly true to its mission. I affirm that the safety of this land and the system and sovereignty of this country you, war veterans, defended at the cost of your blood are thoroughly guaranteed by more powerful self-defense capabilities and stout spirit. We will grow stronger. The government of our Republic will safeguard our state, people and sovereignty by dint of ever-growing, out-and-out military capabilities and a resolute anti-imperialist and anti-US spirit and approach to the south and the enemy. The situation of our revolution, in which we should overpower and crush more thoroughly the enemy’s desperate man oeuvres for arms race and dangerous military attempts, demands a more rapid change in our military capabilities. In order to carry out this responsible historic task, our Party Central Committee has recently decided on the tasks related to the strategy for developing the national self-defense capabilities, and is leading the effort for their accurate implementation. … ” (Rodong Sinmun, “Respected Leader Kim Jong Il Makes Speech at Celebration of 69th Anniversary of Great Victory in War,” July 28, 2022)

North Korea’s economy failed to rebound last year as the impact of pandemic measures on trade continued to weigh, with the prospects for growth this year clouded by a surge in virus cases that was finally recognized publicly by Kim Jong Un’s regime. Gross domestic product in North Korea contracted 0.1% in the 12 months through December, according to South Korea’s central bank Wednesday. North Korea’s economy already shrank 4.5% in 2020 as the pandemic prompted the official closure of its border with China, triggering its worst slump in decades. “The economy may have contracted last year more than reported because border closures pummeled the trade that served as a lifeline for underground markets,” said Cho Han-bum, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification. “Unless it reopens borders at least partly, the situation will get worse.” North Korea’s trade fell 17.3% in 2021 to $710 million, the BOK said. Exports, almost all of which are destined for China, the country’s biggest ally, slid 8.2%. Still, the role that black markets play should not be underestimated in a country where business activities often go unreported and smuggling is common, said Lee Ji-sue, a North Korea analyst at Seoul’s Myongji University. The real economy in North Korea is an underground one,” he said. “Risks for businessmen have likely grown amid Covid disruptions, but their rewards may have grown bigger, too.” Below are further details from the BOK, which bases its calculations on data obtained from a range of South Korean agencies: Per capita income in North Korea was estimated at 1.42 million won ($1,083) in 2021, or about 3.5% that of South Korea, the BOK said. The agricultural and fisheries industry grew 6.2% last year. Mining — a key source of income until sanctions started to sap demand for its iron ore, minerals and other resources — contracted 11.7%. Manufacturing industry shrank 3.3%, while the services industry contracted 0.4%. Gas, water works and electricity industries grew 6%. (Sam Kim, “North Korea’s Economy Fails to Rebound after ‘Fever’ Surge,” Bloomberg, July 27, 2022)


7/29/22:
South Korea, the United States and Japan are set to jointly conduct a ballistic missile defense exercise to enhance military interoperability and readiness against escalating threats from North Korea. The Pacific Dragon ballistic missile defense drill led by the US Pacific Fleet will be held for two weeks August 1-14 off the coast of Hawaii, the South Korean military confirmed on Sunday. A total of five countries — South Korea, Australia, Canada, Japan, and the U.S. — will participate in the multilateral exercise. South Korea’s Navy plans to dispatch the 7,600-ton Sejong the Great-class Aegis destroyer equipped with SM-2 surface-to-air missiles. The Pacific Dragon exercise aims to improve interoperability and tactical and technical coordination among participants in detecting, tracking, reporting and assessing ballistic targets. During the drill, the five countries will practice detecting, tracking and sharing information on dummy ballistic projectiles which are fired by the US Navy, according to the South Korean military. The U.S. Navy will also intercept the dummy projectiles with guide missiles. Although the Pacific Dragon has been staged every two years on the occasion of the U.S.-led biennial Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, exercise, the drill was not open to the public in 2018 and 2020 in order to not provoke North Korea. But the South Korean military’s confirmation came after the South Korean, U.S. and Japanese defense chiefs met in June and agreed to regularize and publicize trilateral missile defense exercises to deter North Korea’s ballistic missile threats. Expanding trilateral security cooperation and military exercises was one of the key agenda topics for today’s meeting between South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Washington, a senior ministry official said. and they discussed ways to enhance trilateral security cooperation to jointly respond to North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats. Lee also briefed Austin on the Yoon Suk-yeol government’s stance on trilateral military drills during the meeting, the senior official said. In essence, Seoul sees the necessity of expanding trilateral military drills with Japan and the U.S. in light of North Korea’s mounting threats, but it will push forward the plan gradually with a cautious, case-by-case approach. Lee elucidated that the Yoon government seeks to “gradually expand trilateral exercises” while focusing on reinforcing existing trilateral exercises such as a simulation-based trilateral missile warning drill, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Sunday in a separate statement. The three countries agreed to conduct a trilateral missile warning exercise — that aims to track a virtual ballistic target and trade information — every three months in 2016. But the missile warning exercise has been staged just once this year and only three times last year. “We expressed our stance that we pursue expansion of trilateral exercises and training in a phased manner and with careful examination in light of public sentiment and other factors,” the unnamed senior official said. Widespread anti-Japanese public sentiment is a key consideration in conducting trilateral military exercises, although Seoul sees the growing importance of trilateral security cooperation. In a nutshell, Lee told Austin that Seoul needs to take a case-by-case, gradual approach to decide whether to join trilateral exercises in view of public opinion. But South Korea will actively participate in non-military training, including the Search and Rescue Exercise that has been suspended. The defense chiefs discussed ways to enhance the viability of the US extended deterrence as the key agenda, the senior official said. Austin and Lee agreed to reactivate the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) and hold a meeting this September. The last meeting of the EDSCG between South Korean and US vice ministers of foreign affairs and defense — which was launched in December 2016 in the aftermath of North Korea’s fifth nuclear test— was held in January 2018. The defense chiefs also committed to reinforcing tabletop exercises (TTXs) on the use of deterrence assets and deployment of US strategic military assets in line with the joint efforts to enhance the alliance’s deterrence. Seoul and Washington conducted TTXs only in 2019 and 2021. The TTXs allow South Korea and the US to practice joint military responses in simulated contingency scenarios, including North Korean nuclear threats and the use of nuclear weapons. South Korea and the US essentially seek to come up with policy measures at the EDSCG while enhancing military readiness by conducting TTXs. The two defense chiefs also agreed to conduct theater-level military drills in August and September by incorporating the South Korean government’s Ulchi civil contingency exercise and combined military exercise, the source said. The theater-level military exercises have been suspended in the aftermath of the first US-North Korea summit in June 2018. South Korea and the US plan to conduct large-scale “Ulchi Freedom Shield” military drills including field training exercises between Aug. 22 and Sept. 1. The UFS simulates an “all-out war” with North Korea, according to the senior official. Austin and Lee committed to resuming and expanding regiment-level and larger-scale field training exercises or FTXs. “The action aims to further solidify the combined defense posture by enhancing policy and strategic coordination as well as improving interoperability between tactical units,” the senior official told reporters. The official explained that FTXs will provide opportunities for South Korean and U.S. tactical units to share tactical doctrine. (Ji Da-gym, “South Korea, U.S., Japan to Start Pacific Dragon Ballistic Missile Defense Drill,” Korea Herald, July 31, 2022)


8/4/22:
After her high-profile trip to Taiwan, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was in South Korea today where her agenda included a visit to the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) — but not a meeting with the country’s president. Pelosi, who arrived in Seoul late yesterday, met top parliamentary officials in the capital before her scheduled trip to the border with the nuclear-armed North, where the two neighbors’ forces stand face to face, a South Korean official said. She will be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the Joint Security Area (JSA) and inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom since then president Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un there in 2019. Pelosi discussed the “grave situation” and growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs with her South Korean counterpart, National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo. And her trip to the DMZ is seen by President Yoon Suk-yeol as “a sign of strong deterrence between South Korea and the US against North Korea,” an official from his office said today. Yoon, who spoke to Pelosi by phone but did not meet her in person as he is officially on holiday this week, is facing growing domestic criticism over his perceived snub of the second in line to the U.S. Presidency. Local media and lawmakers from Yoon’s party have pointed to the fact that no official delegation was sent to greet Pelosi, even as Yoon was photographed attending a play in central Seoul the same night. “What should we make of the fact that [Yoon] is watching a play and have a gathering [with the actors] but not meeting the House Speaker?” a former lawmaker from Yoon’s People’s Power party, Yoo Seung-min, wrote on Facebook Thursday. “Speaker Pelosi is visiting the JSA today. It is undesirable to think that the leader of our ally’s parliament visits the forefront of our security but there won’t be any meetings between our president and her.” At a brief press conference in Seoul, during which she did not take any questions, Pelosi hailed the “special” relationship between South Korea and the United States — but made no mention of her visit to Taipei. “The US-Republic of Korea relationship is special to us,” she said, adding that the bond which was forged during the Korean war “from urgency and security … has become the warmest of friendships.” (Cat Barton, “Seoul Says Pelosi’s Visit to DMZ Sends Clear Message to North,” AFP, August 4, 2022)


8/5/22:
U.N. experts report that North Korea is testing “nuclear triggering devices” and that its preparations for another nuclear test were at a final stage in June, quoting information from unnamed countries. The panel of experts said in new excerpts from their latest report obtained today by the Associated Press that they have been “unable to identify the test locations and dates” for the tests of nuclear triggering devices reported by one U.N. member state. In excerpts obtained yesterday, the experts said North Korea is paving the way for additional nuclear tests with new preparations at its northeastern test site and continues to develop its capability to produce a key ingredient for nuclear weapons. In the new excerpt, the panel said: “As of early June, two member-states assessed that the preparation for nuclear tests was at a final stage.” On other issues, the panel said in yesterday’s excerpts that North Korea conducted two major hacks this year, resulting in the theft of cryptocurrency assets worth “hundreds of millions of dollars.” Pyongyang also continues illicitly importing oil and exporting coal in violation of U.N. sanctions, using the same companies, networks and vessels, it said South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials have said they detected North Korean efforts to prepare its northeastern Punggye-ri testing ground for another nuclear test. It would be the North’s seventh since 2006 and the first since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb to fit on its intercontinental ballistic missiles. The experts said they observed that the DPRK started re-excavation work in March at the entrance to Tunnel 3 at Punggye-ri “and reconstructed support buildings originally dismantled in May 2018.” “Satellite imagery showed increased numbers of vehicle tracks around this secondary entrance from mid-February 2022, followed by construction of a new building adjacent to the entrance at the beginning of March,” the panel said. “A pile of lumber, for possible use in the construction of the tunnel structure, was also detected around the same time.” It added that, “Piles of soil from the tunnel excavation around the entrance were observed during this period.” “Work at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site paves the way for additional nuclear tests for the development of nuclear weapons,” the experts said, adding that this is an objective stated at the Eighth Congress of the country’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea in January 2021. In another aspect of the DPRK’s nuclear program, analysts said satellite images last September showed that North Korea was expanding a uranium enrichment plant at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex, a sign that it wanted to boost production of the key bomb material. The U.N. experts said in the new report: “DPRK continued to develop its capability for the production of nuclear fissile materials at the Yongbyon site.” The panel of experts said the DPRK continued to accelerate its missile programs, launching 31 missiles “combining ballistic and guidance technologies,” including six ICBMs and two “explicitly described as ballistic weapons.” It said the DPRK also claimed to have advanced its development of “tactical nuclear weapons.” (Edith Lederer, “UN Experts Report North Korea Testing Nuclear Triggers,” Associated Press, August 5, 2022)

South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin has called for an unconditional dialogue between the two Koreas during his brief exchange with a North Korean envoy participating in the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phnom Penh, Seoul officials said. During a welcome dinner on Thursday, Park greeted An Kwang-il, the North’s ambassador to Indonesia and top delegate to the regional security forum. During their conversation, Park said that inter-Korean talks without conditions were needed and expressed hopes for denuclearization for peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, and An replied that conditions should be created, a foreign ministry official said. An, who doubles as the North’s point man on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, attended the conference instead of Pyongyang’s top diplomat Choe Son. (Yonhap, “FM Calls for Inter-Korean Dialogue during Brief Encounter with North Envoy at ASEAN Meetings,” August 6, 2022)


8/6/22:
DPRK FoMin, Department of Press and Information Director General Jo Yong Sam’s statement: “As reported, Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives of the U.S., who had come under a volley of due criticism from China for destroying regional peace and stability by visiting Taiwan, stirred up the atmosphere of confrontation with the DPRK during her visit to south Korea. She, with the south Korean authorities, talked about “strong and expanded deterrent” for coping with “threat from north Korea” and made her appearance even in the joint security area of Panmunjom, utterly betraying the vision of the hostile policy of the current U.S. administration towards the DPRK. Lurking behind it is the sinister scheme of the U.S. to further escalate the already-tense situation in the Korean peninsula and the region by pushing the current ruling south Korean conservative forces into confrontation with the fellow countrymen in the north, and to use it as an excuse for justifying its anachronistic hostile policy toward the DPRK and reckless arms buildup. The U.S. is just adding fuel to the fire. Pelosi, the worst destroyer of international peace and stability, had incited the atmosphere of confrontation with Russia during her visit to Ukraine in April, and incurred the wrath of the Chinese people for her recent junket to Taiwan. It would be a fatal mistake for her to think that she can go scot-free in the Korean peninsula. The U.S. will have to pay dearly for all the sources of trouble spawned by her wherever she went.” (KCNA, “Statement of Director General of Department of Press and Information of DPRK Foreign Ministry,” August 6, 2022)

Michael Roach: “In the 1960s, the U.S. military actively pursued a defensive strategy based on the deployment of tactical atomic bombs. Their main utility was to temporarily (two weeks or so) block armored columns of overwhelming Soviet forces or Chinese-North Koreans. Most of the targeted zones were in densely populated areas, so anticipated civilian casualties were high. But that was just a collateral cost necessary for strategic military victory. At the start of the Korean War in 1950, North Korean tanks poured down the “bowling alley,” the 50-mile valley running north to south from the North Korean border to the heart of Seoul. Two war plans existed for the defense of Seoul. In the “U.N. Plan,” a joint US-Korean version, a perimeter arc extending northward out 10-15 miles from the Capital was set as the primary line of defense. Three approaches (the coastal, the bowling alley and the northeastern mountain valleys) terminated at Seoul. When conventional forces could no longer hold out, tactical atomic bombs were to be detonated at strategic positions to create impassable defiles contaminated with radioactive debris. Our Atomic Demolition Munitions (ADM) unit’s mission was to create these atomic dead zones.

An ADM “device” looks like a huge. .45 caliber bullet measuring about two feet long and almost as wide. It weighed 59 pounds and with a parachute backpack it was just over 90 pounds. An ADM explosion was the equivalent of at least 10 kilotons of TNT. Our job was to hand deliver one of these bombs to very specific coordinates and “escape and evade.” Our targets included creating large defiles, destroying industrial scale bridges and breaking up airport runways. All of our targets were “defensive” in that the destruction caused by the ADM bomb was intended to prevent the enemy from using the targeted facilities for a long time if the facilities were captured. Our Platoon was stationed at Camp Stanley just outside of Uijeongbu, about 10 miles north of Seoul. This defensive plan was approved by the Korean political and military leadership, but it was of little real defensive deterrence. Following Stalin’s battlefield strategy of only advancing and never retreating (even for tactical reasons), the North Korean military commanders would have just sent their troops through the radiated zones without any regard for the safety of their soldiers. The top secret “American Plan” was stamped “No Foreign Eyes.” This plan was designed to blow up the large bridges spanning the Han River at Seoul. This plan abandoned the symbols South Korean authority on the north shore of the river and, therefore, imperiled the legitimacy of the regime. With the big bridges blown by tactical atomic bombs, the American military could use the wide river as a far more effective barrier to further advances by NK forces, especially tanks. North Korean troops invaded South Korea on June 25th 1950. South Korea was totally unprepared and their troops and civilians quickly retreated from the front. In Seoul, escapees jammed across the Han River Bridge, one of the only ways to cross the mile-wide river. On June 28th, South Korean authorities decided to blow up the bridge to stop the North Korean armored advance. Unfortunately, the unannounced demolition only destroyed two spans of the bridge and partially damaged one footing at the cost of killing and wounding hundreds of troops and civilians. After the war ended, American military planners decided to use ADM bombs to destroy the whole bridge and the all of the footers. In the 1960’s, our ADM mission was to destroy three major bridges crossing the Han River. Instead of killing only hundreds of people, the detonation of a tactical atomic bomb would have killed tens of thousands of people during a wartime panic evacuation. This destruction of a major bridge was one of our ADM missions. Part of my job in the ADM unit was to monitor target files and assist our teams in the correct placement of “devices” according to the war plan. In the post-detonation damage assessment sections, four sectors were reviewed: first, military assets and facilities; second, military personnel; third, civilian assets and facilities; and, finally, civilian casualties. If we had detonated even one bomb for a bridge, civilian casualties were estimated to be comparable to those of Hiroshima, on the order of 70-80,000 deaths just from initial blast and thermal radiation. In our ADM platoon, we were organized in small teams to be able to deliver multiple weapons simultaneously on command. We were the last link in a long chain of command from the President to Commander-in-Chief Pacific to Commander of I Corps Korea to the 36th Engineering Group to the 11th Engineering Battalion to our “B” Company and, finally, to our ADM platoon. We were the human beings who actually initiated a “device” and started a chain reaction resulting in an atomic explosion of at least 10 kilotons. At the time (1968-69), our platoon members recognized that we were, in fact, suicide bombers because we hand-delivered “devices” and could not abandon them, if they were set for 15 minutes or less, which they always were. When you are a 20-year-old Midwestern small town boy, your own life seemed easily disposable, especially for a heroic mission.”

(Michael Roach, “The Crossroads of Atomic Warfare in One Family,” Asia-Pacific Leadership Network, August 6, 2022)


8/10/22:
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared a “shining victory” over COVID-19 as his sister revealed he had fallen ill during the outbreak, which she blamed on Seoul, state media said August 11. Addressing a meeting of health workers and scientists, Kim announced a “victory … in the war against the malignant pandemic disease”, according to KCNA. Kim fell ill with a “high fever” but refused to rest while the country battled the virus, his powerful sister Kim Yo Jong told the meeting as officials in the audience wept, a KCTV broadcast showed. The isolated nation, which has maintained a rigid blockade since the start of the pandemic, confirmed an Omicron outbreak in the capital Pyongyang in May and activated a “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system”. North has recorded nearly 4.8 million “fever” infections and just 74 deaths for an official fatality rate of 0.002 percent, according to state media. It has reported no new cases since July 29. This handling of the pandemic “is a miracle unprecedented in the world’s public health history,” Kim said to thunderous applause, according to KCNA. “The victory gained by our people is a historic event.” KCTV had never before aired a speech by “first sister” Kim Yo Jong, who made an impassioned address, the broadcast showed. Kim Jong Un “was suffering from high fever during the days of this anti-epidemic war, but he could not lie down for a moment as he was thinking about the people he was responsible for”, his sister said. This is the first time North Korea has indicated its leader — whose health is the subject of extraordinarily close scrutiny by analysts — had been infected by the coronavirus. As Kim Yo Jong talked about her brother’s health, the camera cut to uniformed officials in the audience wiping away tears or openly weeping. She also claimed the country’s COVID outbreak was caused by South Korea, warning of “retaliation”. North Korea has previously said that “alien things” near the border with the South caused the isolated country’s outbreak, a claim Seoul has rejected. Despite a ban that took effect in 2021, South Korean activists have for years flown balloons containing propaganda leaflets and US dollars over the border, which Pyongyang has long protested against. Kim Yo Jong said such actions were a “crime against humanity” and that Pyongyang was considering “a strong retaliatory response.” Seoul’s Unification Ministry on August 11 said North Korea was repeating a “groundless claim” and expressed regret that Pyongyang was making “rude and threatening remarks.” Experts, including the World Health Organization, have long questioned Pyongyang’s statistics and claims to have brought the outbreak under control. The country has one of the world’s worst healthcare systems, with poorly equipped hospitals, few intensive care units and no treatment drugs, experts say. It is not believed to have vaccinated any of its 25 million population, although it may have received some vaccines from China, Seoul-based specialist site NK News has reported. South Korea — with its advanced healthcare and highly vaccinated population — has a coronavirus fatality rate of 0.12 percent, according to official data — significantly higher than that reported in the North. (Claire Lee, “North Korea Declares ‘Victory’ over COVID, Says Kim Has Fever,” AFP, August 10, 2022) North Korea has declared “victory” over Covid-19, three months after Kim Jong Un’s regime first admitted to an outbreak of the virus in the country. “The long-suffered quarantine war is finally over and today we are able solemnly to declare victory,” Kim told thousands of scientists and health officials in a speech put on state media yesterday. Kim described the official death toll of 74 as a “miracle” and praised the country’s “all-for-one and one-for-all collectivist spirit”. He thanked health officials for obeying the regime’s orders and “proving” its policies had been correct. Speaking at the same event, Kim Yo Jong, Kim’s sister who is a high-ranking regime official, blamed the outbreak on leaflets laced with Covid-19 flown by balloon from South Korea. Accusing Seoul of a “crime against humanity”, she said it was trying to “take advantage of the world health crisis and crush our country.” “If the enemies continue to do dangerous shit that could introduce the virus into our country, we’ll respond of course by not only eradicating the virus, but also exterminating the South Korean authority bastards,” she said. South Korea expressed “strong regret over North Korea’s insolent and threatening remarks based on repeated groundless claims.” Kim Yo Jong also said her brother had been “severely ill from high fever during the quarantine war but did not lie down even for a second while thinking only of his responsibility for the people.” It is the first time that the regime has suggested that Kim Jong Un, who disappeared from public view for several weeks in June and July, may have contracted the virus. The Kim regime presents its leader as having suffered alongside and on behalf of his people. In February a documentary on state television claimed Kim’s body had “completely withered away” as he “suffered” on behalf of his people during chronic food shortages. (Christian Davies, “North Korea Declares ‘Victory’ over Pandemic,” Financial Times, August 12, 2022, p. 4)

One day after a dialogue between the South Korean and Chinese foreign ministers, the Chinese government emerged with calls for a new approach to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) issue — one that would go a step farther from its previous “three noes” position by imposing additional restrictions. It also presented a list of five demands that it insisted Seoul would have to meet for the two sides to further develop their “strategic partnership.” The response suggests that the first meeting of the two sides’ foreign ministers failed in its intended purpose of helping South Korea and Japan establish their relationship on a new footing with the arrival of the Yoon Suk-yeol administration. Their relationship appears poised to sour further over differences on THAAD and other key issues. In a regular briefing today, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin was asked what the Chinese Foreign Minister had meant with his remarks about THAAD in the meeting the day before, when he stressed the need to “take seriously each other’s security concerns” and “properly handle the issue.” Emphasizing that the U.S.’ deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea “clearly undermines China’s strategic security interest,” Wang went on to say China had “made clear its concern to the ROK (South Korean) side on multiple occasions.” “Previously, the ROK government officially announced its policy of ‘three no’s and one restriction,’” he continued. “China attaches importance to this position of the ROK government. Based on the understanding between the two sides, China and the ROK were able to properly handle the THAAD issue,” he said. In his remarks, Wang argued that Seoul had made a political pledge to China to follow the “three no’s and one restriction” approach on the THAAD issue, and that it was obliged to honor that. While China has insisted in the past on South Korea upholding the “three noes” agreement on THAAD, it had not spoken publicly about restrictions on the use of the currently deployed system. The “three no’s” in this case refers to the pledge not to deploy additional THAAD batteries, not to take part in the US missile defense system, and not to form a military alliance with the US, and Japan, which the Moon Jae-in administration openly declared in late October 2017 in an effort to patch up its conflict with Beijing over the deployment of THAAD with US Forces Korea. The “one restriction” refers to restricting the operation of the THAAD system that has currently been deployed. It may explain why Moon avoided full-scale operation of THAAD, citing factors such as environmental impact assessment findings. Chinese state-run media have referred to it as a “pledge” between China and South Korea. The chill between the two sides over the THAAD issue was also evident in remarks from South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin. Meeting with the South Korean press in Qingdao today, Park said Seoul had “made it clear to China” that the “three noes” were “neither an agreement nor a pledge.” A South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official closely acquainted with the dialogue explained, “Basically, the two foreign ministers were clearly sounding out each other’s positions on THAAD in depth.” “At the same time, both sides clearly agreed that the issue should not be allowed to become a stumbling block for developing South Korea-China relations. That’s the key takeaway,” the official added. While the remarks did confirm a definite difference in the two sides’ views on the THAAD issue, they also indicated hope that it would not become a crucial variable causing relations to sour. In a press release posted to its website shortly after the talks, the MOFA said, “Our two sides exchanged views on the THAAD issue in depth and explained our respective positions, and we recognized [the need] to value each other’s security concerns, work toward their harmonious handling, and not allow them to become stumbling blocks that affect bilateral relations.” But the remarks by Wang repeatedly affirmed that China has no intention of compromising on the THAAD issue. Additionally, the Chinese Foreign Ministry also posted five demands on its website, which included adhering to an approach of independence and autonomy without external interference, maintaining neighborly relations and showing consideration for each other’s major areas of interest, and protecting supply chain stability through an approach of openness and cooperation. As the two sides mark the 30th anniversary of their diplomatic relationship, this amounted to China laying out a list of “guidelines” for South Korea to follow to avoid conflicting with China’s interests as the current conservative administration follows a diplomatic approach favoring the U.S. The demands appear likely to trigger an outcry from critics who view it as irregular and inappropriate for one country to issue such explicit demands to another. The controversy over the “three no’s” issue dates back to 2017. After the THAAD system was deployed with US Forces Korea that year, South Korea-China relations faced a rapid chill as China retaliated with what became known as its “Korean Wave ban.” To get past the situation, the two sides held talks on October 31 of that year between Nam Gwan-pyo, second deputy director of South Korea’s Office of National Security, and Kong Xuanyou, China’s deputy foreign minister. The result of that meeting was the list of “three no’s.” Since then, China has maintained that both sides agreed to uphold the “three noes,” while South Korea has insisted that it was a “position statement” rather than a pledge. The THAAD issue reemerged as a core factor disrupting South Korea-China relations during the election campaign, when then-candidate Yoon Suk-yeol made remarks in January pledging additional THAAD deployment. The Chinese government has been putting intense pressure on Seoul to carry on the “three no’s” approach, with spokesperson Zhao Lijian stressing on July 27 that “a commitment made should be a commitment kept despite change of government.” (Choi Hyun-june, “China Challenges S. Korea Position on THAAD, Saying Use Restrictions Were Pledged,” Hankyore, August 11, 2022)


8/15/22:
President Yoon Suk-yeol pledged today to swiftly improve relations with Japan based on a 1998 joint declaration between the two countries while offering to significantly rebuild North Korea’s economy if Pyongyang takes steps toward substantial denuclearization. Yoon made the remarks in a Liberation Day speech marking 77 years since Korea’s independence from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule. “In the past, we had to unshackle ourselves from the political control imposed upon us by imperial Japan so that we could regain and defend our freedom,” Yoon said during a ceremony on the lawn of the presidential office. “Today, Japan is our partner as we face common threats that challenge the freedom of global citizens.” Yoon took office in May on a pledge to improve relations with Japan deeply frayed under the previous liberal administration of Moon Jae-in. “When Korea-Japan relations move towards a common future and when the mission of our times aligns, based on our shared universal values, it will also help us solve the historical problems that exist between our two countries,” he said. “We must swiftly and properly improve Korea-Japan relations by upholding the spirit of the Kim Dae-jung-Obuchi Declaration which proposed a blueprint of a comprehensive future for Korea-Japan relations,” he added, referring to a 1998 joint declaration that called for overcoming the past and building new relations. Yoon also laid out the details of his “audacious plan” to improve North Korea’s economy in the event it takes steps to denuclearize, an offer he first made during his inauguration speech in May. He said North Korea’s denuclearization is “essential” for sustainable peace on the peninsula, in Northeast Asia and around the world. “The audacious initiative that I envision will significantly improve North Korea’s economy and its people’s livelihoods in stages if the North ceases the development of its nuclear program and embarks on a genuine and substantive process for denuclearization,” Yoon said. “We will implement a large-scale food program; provide assistance for power generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure; and carry out projects to modernize ports and airports for international trade.” Yoon also offered to help enhance North Korea’s agricultural productivity, modernize its hospitals and medical infrastructure, and implement international investment and financial support initiatives. (Lee Haye-ah, “Yoon Pledges to Improve Ties with Japan, Offers Economic Aid in Exchange for to N.K. Denuclearization,” Yonhap, August 15, 2022) President Yoon Suk-yeol expanded on his “audacious initiative” to help North Korea’s economy — provided Pyongyang takes steps toward denuclearization. In his first Liberation Day address Monday, Yoon said his plan could “significantly improve North Korea’s economy and its people’s livelihoods in stages if the North ceases the development of its nuclear program and embarks on a genuine and substantive process for denuclearization.” In his speech, Yoon said his government could implement a large-scale food program for North Korea; provide assistance for power generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure; and carry out projects to modernize North Korea’s ports and airports for international trade. He also offered to help enhance North Korea’s agricultural productivity, assist in modernizing hospitals and medical infrastructure and support international investment and financial initiatives. “Denuclearization of North Korea is essential for sustainable peace on the Korean Peninsula, in Northeast Asia and around the world,” said Yoon. Yoon was elaborating for the first time on a so-called audacious plan for Pyongyang he first proposed in his inaugural address on May 10. First Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Tae-hyo said in a briefing later today, “In addition to the economic sector, a roadmap for cooperation in the political and military sectors has also been prepared in line with the process of reaching a comprehensive agreement on denuclearization and the substantive denuclearization of North Korea.” Kim said, “If North Korea enters into denuclearization talks with sincerity, it is a bold proposal which will actively provide economic support measures from the initial negotiation process.” The Yoon government proposes a “resources-food exchange program” linking North Korea’s underground resources such as minerals, sand, and rare earth metals with food support, as well as improvement in people’s livelihoods through health care, drinking water, sanitation, and forestry. The idea is to link North Korea’s abundant mineral resources with the supply of food and daily necessities, inspired by the oil-for-food program, through which the international community supplied food in exchange for buying Iraq’s oil in the 1990s. Kim said that if a comprehensive denuclearization agreement is reached with the North, a joint economic development committee could be established to accelerate inter-Korean economic cooperation in tandem with phased denuclearization measures. He stressed, “The goal of the Yoon Suk-yeol administration’s North Korea and unification policy is to realize a denuclearized, peaceful and prosperous Korean Peninsula.” Such cooperation projects, however, could require exemptions to UN sanctions on North Korea, a subject that can be discussed in the future with the international community, said a senior presidential official Yoon also discussed ways to improve relations with Tokyo and called Japan a “partner” in the face of common threats. “In the past, we had to unshackle ourselves from the political control imposed upon us by imperial Japan so that we could regain and defend our freedom,” said Yoon. “Today, Japan is our partner as we face common threats that challenge the freedom of global citizens.” Yoon proposed to “swiftly and properly improve” bilateral ties by upholding the spirit of the 1998 joint declaration of Korean President Kim Dae-jung and Japanese Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo as a “blueprint of a comprehensive future for Korea-Japan relations.” On October 8, 1998, those two leaders held a summit and made a joint declaration, seen as a breakthrough in bilateral ties, in which Obuchi recognized that Japan in the past caused “tremendous damage and suffering” to the Korean people through its colonial rule and expressed his “deep remorse and heartfelt apology.” In turn, Kim called for the two countries to “overcome their unfortunate history and build a future-oriented relationship based on reconciliation as well as good-neighborly and friendly cooperation.” The two countries face ongoing historical spats stemming from Japan’s colonial rule over Korea, namely the compensation of forced laborers and wartime sexual slavery issues. Addressing the friction, Yoon said, “When Korea-Japan relations move toward a common future, and when the mission of our times align, based on our shared universal values, it will also help us solve the historical problems that exist between our two countries.” Yoon stressed that the two countries “must contribute to the peace and prosperity of the international community” through extensive cooperation in areas ranging from economic and security cooperation to social and cultural exchanges.” (Sarah Kim, “Yoon Suk-yeol Dangles Carrots at North Korea in Liberation Day Speech,” Joong-Ang Daily, August 15, 2022)


8/17/22:
North Korea test-fired two cruise missiles toward the Yellow Sea today, a South Korean military official said, as President Yoon Suk-yeol held a press conference to mark the 100th day since taking office. “(The military) has detected two cruise missiles launched by North Korea from Onchon, South Pyongan Province, into the Yellow Sea early this morning,” the official said on the customary condition of anonymity without providing further details, including the exact type of missiles and time of the firing. The North’s first known launch of a cruise missile since January also came a day after South Korean and American military troops kicked off preliminary drills just ahead of the start of their annual combined Ulchi Freedom Shield (UFS) exercise. While the North is banned from making launches using ballistic missile technologies under U.N. Security Council resolutions, such a firing of a cruise missile is not in violation of them. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Fires 2 Cruise Missile toward Yellow Sea: S. Korean Official,” Yonhap, August 17, 2022)

President Yoon Suk-yeol said that he doesn’t want regime change in North Korea but stopped short of offering security guarantees to the Kim Jong-un regime. In his first full-fledged press conference today, Yoon was asked if his administration could provide security guarantees for North Korea. “While we can’t guarantee the security of the regime,” he replied, “the South Korean government and I myself do not want any unreasonable or forced change to the status quo in North Korea.” The hour-long press conference at the Yongsan presidential office in central Seoul marked Yoon’s 100 days in office. “What is important is the establishment of a sustainable peace between the two Koreas,” he added, “and if North Korea changes naturally as a result of our economic and diplomatic support, we would welcome that change.” In a Liberation Day address on August 15, Yoon detailed his administration’s “audacious initiative,” a comprehensive roadmap to improve North Korea’s economy in stages if Pyongyang takes significant steps toward denuclearization. During Wednesday’s press conference, Yoon stressed that this proposal does not ask North Korea to fully denuclearize first, only to be rewarded afterwards. Instead, he said, if North Korea “shows a firm intention, we will do whatever we can to help” in a phased manner. Yoon said his plan is aimed at “providing diplomatic support for normalizing North-U.S. relations” and encourage discussions on disarmament of conventional weapons systems. It will also support food exchange programs, agricultural technology, medical care, infrastructure projects and international investment. While offering an olive branch to Pyongyang to resume negotiations, Yoon said he is not interested in a summit with North Korean leader Kim if it’s only a photo opportunity. “Since my election campaign process, I said that we needed dialogue with North Korea,” said Yoon. “However, a summit between the leaders of the two Koreas and working-level dialogue should not be a mere political show but be beneficial to securing some substantive peace on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.” Despite the North’s continued advances in weapons of mass destruction, Yoon said that South Korea is not considering developing its own nuclear weapons, stressing that the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is an “essential premise for lasting world peace.” “No matter what the circumstances, strengthening extended deterrence and making it more effective will be the priority,” said Yoon. “This extended deterrence will likely change its form slightly if the North Korean nuclear threat is advanced, but we will not give up on the NPT regime and protect it until the end.” (Sarah Kim, “Kim Suk-yeol Not Looking for Regime Change in North Korea,” JoongAng Ilbo, August 17, 2022)

A United Nations Security Council committee on North Korea sanctions has approved a sanctions exemption for a U.S.-based aid group to send spine-related rehabilitation equipment to the impoverished country, its website showed today. Under the decision, Ignis Community will be exempt from U.N. sanctions to send medical and rehabilitation equipment for the Pyongyang Spine and Rehabilitation Centre. The equipment, which includes decompression tables, treadmills and electric hospital beds, is worth a total of US$506,408. (Yonhap, “U.N. Panel OKs Sanctions Waver for U.S. Civic Group’s Aid to North Korea,” Yonhap, August 17, 2022)

Faced with the growing prospect of a fresh nuclear test by Pyongyang, Washington has said it will consider deploying to the Korean Peninsula strategic assets — which could mean anything from nuclear-powered submarines, strategic bombers or even tactical nuclear weapons — should that come to fruition. The U.S. warning, which is part of a joint deterrence strategy by Washington and Seoul, follows a two-day session held this week of the Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue (KIDD). “The two sides affirmed that, should the DPRK (North Korea) conduct a nuclear test, the ROK (South Korea) and the U.S. will engage in a strong and firm bilateral response, to include options to deploy U.S. strategic assets to the region,” said the Pentagon and South Korea’s Defense Ministry in a joint statement issued today, the same day Pyongyang launched two cruise missiles into the Yellow Sea. The statement is in line with remarks made a week earlier by South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup, who warned that the allies would unleash a “high-intensity” response in the event of a nuclear test to demonstrate that Pyongyng’s use of such weapons would be “futile.” “In case of a strategic provocation, we plan to mobilize not only South Korean military capabilities but also U.S. strategic assets,” the minister said at the time. No information was provided about the type of strategic assets Washington would consider deploying, but President Joe Biden and his South Korean counterpart Yoon Suk-yeol have previously mentioned “nuclear capabilities” as one of the means to respond to the North’s nuclear threats. This means the assets likely to be deployed could include nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers, as well as strategic bombers, and possibly also tactical nuclear weapons, if needed. During the KIDD meeting the two sides also committed to holding a meeting of the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) in September 2022. The recently reactivated coordination body, which had been suspended in 2018, allows senior officials from both countries to discuss “extended deterrence” measures against North Korea. During the KIDD meeting Seoul and Washington also acknowledged the progress made toward revising the U.S. South Korean Tailored Deterrence Strategy (TDS), saying that this strategy, which is aligned with related U.S. strategies, will enable “effective deterrence of the DPRK’s nuclear, other WMD (weapons of mass destruction) and nonnuclear capabilities with strategic effects amidst a dynamic security environment of the region.” In addition, the U.S.-South Korea session explored ways to further strengthen capabilities to both deter and counter North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile threats, with Seoul confirming plans to enhance its three-axis defense system. To achieve this, South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program administration announced in early August that it has been working on nearly 200 defense projects, including new surveillance satellites, tactical ground-to-ground guided weapons, ballistic missile early warning radar and long-range surface-to-air missile systems. Furthermore, the two sides pledged to deepen cooperation between their respective defense industries and research organizations as well as in various high-tech domains such as space, quantum computing, cyber defense, artificial intelligence, automation as well as cooperative measures in the area of 5G and next-generation mobile communications. Regarding ties with Japan, both Seoul and Washington affirmed the critical role that the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) between Tokyo and Seoul continues to play in enabling bilateral cooperation between the two countries, as well as trilateral security cooperation with the U.S. They also said this is critical for advancing shared security interests in the Indo-Pacific region, and committed to further strengthening cooperation. The Japanese and U.S. defense chiefs held their first talks yesterday since Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada took over the portfolio. They pledged to work together in responding to “any situation in the region” following China’s launch of ballistic missiles into waters near southwestern islands in Okinawa Prefecture earlier this month. (Gabriel Dominguez, “U.S. Warns It Will Deploy ‘Strategic Assets’ If Pyongyang Conducts Nuke Test,” Japan Times, August 18, 2022)


8/18/22:
WPK Central Committee Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jong’s press statement “Don’t have an absurd dream”: “It would have been more favorable for his image to shut his mouth, rather than talking nonsense as he had nothing better to say. I am talking about Yoon Suk Yeol’s “commemorative speech marking August 15”. In his situation where he is losing the public support, it would have been better if he had never presented himself on that occasion. I’m only saying this today because the south seems to be very eager to know of our reaction and not because I’m concerned of Yoon’s situation, as even a mere child would know. If he had really wanted to take the platform, I’m curious to know how much effort he had put in to his speech to be unable to say anything that would save his dignity. This time, Yoon focused on clamoring about “a course of building a free country by fighting against communist forces” and “defending the free world by facing against communist invasion” and inciting confrontation between systems. Although I’m sorry to say this, dogs will always bark, as a pup or an adult, and the same goes for the one with the title of “president.” The most repulsive point was when he recited absurd words impertinently of proposing us a “bold and broad-based plan” to radically improve the economy and public welfare if we would stop nuclear development and turn towards substantial denuclearization. With the person who had at one time pretended to be “driver,” questioning the public, gone, another who also lives in his own world has appeared to sit upon the throne. Although he seemed to have gone through a lot of troubles after pretending to have a plan on improving the north-south relations during his “inaugural address” in May and then explaining it to the U.S. and neighboring countries to explain himself and asking for understanding and support for it, the “plan” he had laid down this time is truly absurd. All the ridiculous remarks uttered by the so-called “president” really make the south look marvelous only. Is a certain Yoon the only person who could be elected as “president”? “Bold plan?” In a word, I can explain why it is absurd. His “bold plan” is the height of absurdity as it is an impracticable one to create mulberry fields in the dark blue ocean. He disregarded the other party’s attitude towards the plan and the comments which will be made on it by those grasping the situation of the inter-Korean ties. I could not but be stunned by his “bravery” and excessive ignorance. I’d love to give some advices. The “bold plan” is not a new one, but a replica of “denuclearization, opening and 3 000” raised by traitor Lee Myung Bak 10-odd years ago only to be forsaken as a product of the confrontation with fellow countrymen, far from attracting the attention of world people. The fact that he copied the policy towards the north, thrown into the dustbin of history, and called it “bold plan” shows that he is really foolish. I’m not sure that he knows his assumption “if the north took a measure for denuclearization” was a wrong prerequisite. All the predecessors in the south and even their master the U.S. failed to “make the north abandon nukes”, but he uttered pipedream-like remarks, which made him look so miserable as we wondered why he quickly read the text that must be wrongly written, not knowing what it means. All cannot be bartered. To think that the plan to barter “economic cooperation” for our honor, nukes, is the great dream, hope and plan of Yoon, we came to realize that he is really simple and still childish. He, who came to power, would take two or three years to know well the law of the world and the situation while working hard. No one barters its destiny for corn cake. Bitter contempt is what we will only show those spinning a pipedream to succeed in making us abandon our nukes if they pay more stakes. It would be advisable to mind their own business if they can find time to spare, not talking about the north-south issue. They would have no time to talk about someone’s “economy” and improvement of “people’s livelihood” since they may be ousted anytime for their spoiled economy and public welfare. Those villains seriously encroaching on our security circumstance by continuing to infiltrate dirty wastes into our territory talk about “food supply” and “medical assistance” to inhabitants in the north. Such deeds will only incite our people’s surging hatred and wrath. A knave who talks about “bold plan” today and stages anti-north war exercises tomorrow is none other than “mastermind” Yoon Suk Yeol. It is our earnest desire to live without awareness of each other. Before evaluating the south Korean authorities’ “policy toward the north,” we don’t like Yoon Suk Yeol himself. Though he may knock at the door with what large plan in the future as his “bold plan” does not work, we make it clear that we will not sit face to face with him.” It would be good for Yoon Suk Yeol to ponder over what serious threat the reckless confrontational remarks his hirelings have made irregularly and ignorantly will bring. Yoon should not forget our advice even a moment that it would be good never to stand face to face with us. In addition, we made it clear that the previous day’s weapon test was conducted on the “Kumsong Bridge” in Anju City of South Phyongan Province, not the Onchon area the south Korean authorities announced rashly and talkatively. I am curious to know why those always talking about the pursuit surveillance and full preparedness under the close cooperation between south Korea and U.S. could not indicate the launching time and place properly and why they do not open to the public data on the weapon system. If the data and flight trajectory are known, the south will be so bewildered and afraid. And it will be a thing worthy of seeing how they will explain about it before their people.” (KCNA, “Press Statement of Vice Department Director of C.C., WPK Kim Yo Jong,” August 19, 2022)


8/22/22:
The U.S. and South Korean militaries began their largest field exercises in five years today, a step that demonstrates the allies’ hardening line against North Korea but will probably trigger an angry reaction from Pyongyang and ramp up tensions on the peninsula. The summer drills, named Ulchi Freedom Shield, will involve potentially tens of thousands of troops from both countries and a range of weapons and hardware, including warplanes, warships and tanks. The maneuvers had been scaled back in recent years in the hope of spurring diplomatic engagement with North Korea and because of the coronavirus. There are signs that a new cycle of escalation is already taking shape, with North Korea rejecting overtures and possibly preparing for a seventh nuclear test amid a diplomatic deadlock with Washington and shifting security dynamics in the region. Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader’s influential sister, blasted South Korea last week over the military drills and rebuffed South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s offer of economic benefits in exchange for denuclearization by Pyongyang. After Yoon’s announcement, North Korea launched two cruise missiles off its west coast, breaking a two-month testing hiatus. “The U.S. and South Korea anticipate the exercises to draw an angry reaction from North Korea. But this is not a new concept. Kim has already laid the groundwork and justification for provocations,” said Soo Kim, policy analyst at the RAND Corporation in Washington. “In the face of an increasingly aggressive North Korea and little appetite for dialogue, the bandwidth to engage with the Kim regime seems very, very narrow at this point.” The return of full-scale exercises, which run through September 1, reflects the new conservative South Korean administration’s efforts to work more closely with the United States in responding to rising threats from North Korea, which carried out a volley of missile tests earlier this year. Yet some experts warn that the U.S.-South Korea drills risk contributing to an increasingly volatile security climate in the region, as U.S. strategic competition with China intensifies and Beijing steps up military threats against Taiwan. “While the allies’ exercises target North Korea threats, they have a multipurpose capability that can be leveraged in the wake of rising Asia tensions sparked by China risks,” said Hong Min, a senior fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. Preparations for the drills began last week with preliminary exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces. Earlier this month in Hawaii, the United States conducted missile defense exercises with South Korea and Japan for the first time since 2017, further demonstrating how the allies are seeking to work together under their respective new leaders. “It demonstrates acknowledgment among all three governments of how intertwined their national security interests are, and the real need to advance their ability to operate together militarily to overcome challenges related to the military modernization of their adversaries” and to improve their ability to coordinate missile defense efforts, said S. Paul Choi, principal at StratWays Group, a Seoul-based geopolitical risk advisory firm. Last week, three months into his term, Yoon pitched his offer: Seoul would help with food aid, health care, agriculture and infrastructure in return for the North demonstrating a “firm will” for disarmament. But his proposal did not address the North’s desire for relief from international sanctions, and nor did it include security guarantees — raising concerns among some North Korea analysts that Yoon’s proposal echoed past failed efforts. At the same time, Yoon has emphasized the need to be ready to counter any military threat, including by developing preemptive-strike capabilities in case of an imminent nuclear attack from the North. “No matter how audacious the initiative is, we cannot make a concession in certain areas, one of which is the South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises,” Kwon Young-se, the Yoon government’s top official on inter-Korean ties, said in a radio interview last week.Under the previous U.S. and South Korean administrations, the allies suspended or scaled back their drills as they worked to engage North Korea through diplomacy and denuclearization talks. “The decision to resume training in full scale reflects the shared position of the Yoon and Biden administrations that diplomacy should be based foremost on a strong defense posture, and that advancing the ability of the alliance to deter North Korea should be prioritized,” Choi said. “It demonstrates a shared understanding of North Korean intent and the need to bolster the alliance’s defense posture in response to advances in North Korean military capabilities, as well as shifting regional and global security dynamics.” In recent years, the two countries sometimes held computer simulation exercises, which experts say could not adequately replicate field exercises. Kim, of RAND, said full-scale drills are vital given rising threats of conflict throughout Northeast Asia and are a way of signaling to North Korea that the allies are no longer “tiptoeing around Kim lest we provoke him.” “This is a step towards normalizing alliance military coordination and training. We’re picking up where we left off after hitting the snooze button for several years,” she said. In previous years, North Korea has typically responded to U.S.-South Korea exercises by launching missiles or sending army units to the demilitarized zone, as well as verbal attacks. In an interview with Associated Press Television last month, Choe Jin, deputy director of a think tank run by the North Korean Foreign Ministry, warned of “unprecedented” security challenges in response to the drills. Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader’s sister who often serves as a public-facing critic on behalf of the regime, was quoted in state media on Friday slamming Yoon and his economic outreach. She called the South Korean president “a knave who talks about ‘bold plan’ today and stages anti-north war exercises tomorrow.” (Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Min Joo Kim, “South Korea, U.S. Start Military Drills Likely to Draw North’s Ire,” Washington Post, August 22, 2022) The exercises, which will include joint aircraft carrier strike drills and amphibious landing training, represent the first large-scale drills since 2018, when the exercises were scaled down ahead of a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-US president Donald Trump. South Korea also launched a four-day civil defense exercise yesterday involving 480,000 people from about 4,000 public institutions. “Only exercises that are identical to an actual battle can firmly defend the lives of our people and the security of our nation,” said Yoon Suk-yeol, South Korean president. “In order to maintain peace on the Korean peninsula, our watertight security posture must serve as the basis.” (Christian Davies, “South Korea and U.S. War Games Add to Tension,” Financial Times, August 23, 2022, p. 4)


9/3/22:
North Korea’s economy has contracted at an annual average rate of 2.4 percent for the past five years as the pandemic and its long-enforced antivirus border controls caused a decline in its already meager external trade, a report from the Bank of Korea showed today. The estimate is based on the BOK’s analysis of various reports on economic conditions in the reclusive country from 2017-2021, including the recent few years when its borders remained shut to stave off the inflow of the coronavirus. It had claimed to be coronavirus-free until May this year when it announced its first COVID-19 case. Pyongyang recently declared victory over the virus. “The North Korean real gross domestic product has contracted at an annual average rate of 2.4 percent during the (2017-2021) period, and in particular, its light industry and private-sector service businesses that have represented the North’s marketization drive have significantly weakened since 2020,” the report said. “The North’s external trade also fell to US$710 million in 2021, which marked the lowest level since 1955, demonstrating that the North Korean economy has become completely isolated from the international community,” it added. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Suffers Sharp Declines in Growth, Trade amid Pandemic, Border Controls: BOK Report,” September 5, 2022)


9/5/22:
Russia is buying millions of artillery shells and rockets from North Korea, according to newly declassified American intelligence, a sign that global sanctions have severely restricted its supply chains and forced Moscow to turn to pariah states for military supplies. The disclosure comes days after Russia received initial shipments of Iranian-made drones, some of which American officials said had mechanical problems. U.S. government officials said Russia’s decision to turn to Iran, and now North Korea, was a sign that sanctions and export controls imposed by the United States and Europe were hurting Moscow’s ability to obtain supplies for its army. The United States provided few details from the declassified intelligence about the exact weaponry, timing or size of the shipment, and there is no way yet to independently verify the sale. A U.S. official said that, beyond short-range rockets and artillery shells, Russia was expected to try to purchase additional North Korean equipment going forward. American officials said that, when it came to Russia’s ability to rebuild its military, the economic actions of Europe and the United States had been effective. American and European sanctions have blocked Russia’s ability to buy weaponry, or electronics to make that weaponry. Moscow had hoped that China would be willing to buck those export controls and continue to supply the Russian military. But in recent days, American officials have said that while China was willing to buy Russian oil at a discount, Beijing, at least so far, has respected the export controls aimed at Moscow’s military and not tried to sell either military equipment or components. Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, has repeatedly warned China that if Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation, China’s largest computer chip maker, or other companies violate sanctions against Russia, the United States will effectively shut down those businesses, cutting off their access to the American technology they need to make semiconductors. With most countries treading carefully in the face of American pressure, Russia has focused its deal making on Iran and North Korea. Both Iran and North Korea are largely cut off from international commerce thanks to American and international sanctions, meaning neither country has much to lose by cutting deals with Russia. Any deal to buy weaponry from North Korea would be a violation of United Nations resolutions aimed at curbing weapons proliferation from Pyongyang. It is unclear how much the purchasing from North Korea has to do with the export controls, however. There is nothing high-tech in a 152-millimeter artillery shell or a Katyusha-style rocket that North Korea produces, said Frederick W. Kagan, a military expert at the American Enterprise Institute. The disclosure that Russia is seeking more artillery ammunition is a sign that Moscow’s supply problems are likely deeper than just high-end components for cutting-edge tanks or precision missiles. If Russia is seeking more artillery shells from North Korea, it is facing a shortage or could see one in the future, and its industrial base is struggling to meet the military demands of the war. “This is very likely an indication of a massive failure of the Russian military industrial complex that likely has deep roots and very serious implications for the Russian armed forces,” Kagan said. There have also been signs that the effectiveness of some Russian artillery shells has been degraded because of storage problems or poor maintenance of its ammunition stocks. To be most effective at wounding opposing troops, artillery shells burst in the air, just before they hit the ground. But the crater pattern created by Russian artillery forces over the summer showed that many of their shells were exploding on the ground, reducing the damage to Ukrainian trenches. While the condition of North Korean artillery shells is not clear, the country has extensive stocks of the ammunition. (Julian E. Barnes, “ Russia Turns to North Korea for Shells,” New York Times, September 6, 2022, p.8)


9/7/22:
South Korea, the United States and Japan demonstrated a commitment Wednesday to their shared goal of the complete denuclearization of North Korea and a united front against its provocation, as their top envoys had consultations in Tokyo. Sung Kim, Washington’s special representative for Pyongyang, said, “A nuclear test would be a grave escalation, threaten regional and international peace and security, and undermine the global non-proliferation regime,” he said at the outset of the meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts — Kim Gunn and Funakoshi Takehiro. He said, “We are preparing for all contingencies in close coordination with our Japan and South Korea allies and we are prepared to make short and long-term adjustments to our military posture in responding to the DPRK provocation.” “Our bottom line has not changed. Our goal remains a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” he added, reaffirming that Washington is willing to resume dialogue with Pyongyang “without preconditions.” Kim Gunn said, “We will respond swiftly and decisively against any provocation by North Korea … We also have serious concerns over North Korea’s actions that are in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.” He stressed the importance of trilateral cooperation among the regional powers. Japan’s nuclear envoy said Tokyo “values and appreciates that our three countries share basic policy on North Korea including the goal towards the complete denuclearization of North Korea.” (Yonhap, “U.S. Ready for ‘All Contingencies’ of N. Korean Provocations, Envoys Says in Trilateral Meeting with S. Korea, Japan,” September 7, 2022) During the almost two-hour gathering, South Korea’s Kim talked about President Yoon Suk Yeol’s “audacious initiatives,” which include economic aid to the North if the country takes practical steps toward denuclearization, the official said. On the same day, Oka Masami, Japan’s senior deputy minister for defense, and Shin Beom Chul, South Korea’s vice defense minister, met in Seoul, confirming the importance of boosting their bilateral and trilateral cooperation involving Washington. The two also agreed to keep communicating with each other “to resolve the pending issues” between the two nations, the Japanese government said, as their relations deteriorated under the former administration of President Moon Jae In, known as anti-Japan politician. Shin told reporters that the two talked about an alleged lock-on of fire-control radar on a Japanese Self-Defense Forces patrol plane by a South Korean destroyer in December 2018, adding they will continue to discuss the issue. (Kyodo, “Japan, U.S., South Korea to Take Steps in Case of North Korea Nuclear Test,” September 7, 2022)


9/8/22:
South Korea’s unification minister publicly proposed talks with North Korea to discuss the issue of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, stressing the urgency of resolving it today. Kwon Young-se issued a statement offering inter-Korean dialogue on the eve of the Chuseok holiday, which is one of the biggest annual celebrations for both South and North Koreans. He pointed out that many of those with family members on the other side of the heavily fortified border are in their 80s or 90s. “(We) have to resolve the problem before the word itself of ‘separated family’ disappears,” he said. “(The two sides) should map out swift and fundamental measures, using all available methods.” He added on-and-off reunion events involving a small number of families are not enough and stressed that his government is ready to hold dialogue with the North anytime, anywhere and regardless of format. He said the South will “proactively” take the North’s hopes into account in terms of a date, venue, agenda and format of the talks, as it is attempting to deliver a formal notice of the dialogue offer through the inter-Korean liaison hotline to Ri Son-gwon, the head of the North’s ruling party’s United Front Department tasked with handling inter-Korean relations. Pyongyang, however, remained unresponsive to Seoul’s overtures as of this afternoon. The unification ministry said it attempted to send the message again during their liaison call at 5 p.m. but the North ended the call without clearly stating whether it was willing to accept the letter. As of end-August, there were 43,746 surviving South Koreans who had registered with the government to request it search for their separated family members in the North, with 37,264, or 85 percent of the total, aged 70 or older, according to the ministry’s data. Since their first-ever summit in 2000, the two Koreas have held 21 rounds of face-to-face family reunion events, with the last one taking place in August 2018. (Yonhap, “Unification Minister Proposes Talks with N. Korea on Separated Families,” September 8, 2022)

KCNA: “The law of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK on the state policy on the nuclear forces was promulgated on September 8. According to the law, the DPRK, as a responsible nuclear weapons state, opposes all forms of wars including nuclear war and aspires to build a peaceful world in which the international justice is realized. The nuclear forces of the DPRK are a powerful means for defending the sovereignty, territorial integrity and fundamental interests of the state, preventing a war on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia and ensuring the strategic stability of the world. The nuclear posture of the DPRK is guaranteed by the reliable, effective and matured nuclear deterrence, defensive and responsible nuclear forces policy and flexible and purposeful strategy for using nuclear weapons capable of actively coping with any existing and developing nuclear threats in future. The opening of the DPRK’s policy on the nuclear forces and legal stipulation of the use of nuclear weapons are aimed to reduce the danger of a nuclear war to the maximum by preventing misjudge among nuclear weapons states and misuse of nuclear weapons. The Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK decides as follows in order to make the nuclear forces, the backbone of the state defense capacity, and discharge their heavy mission in a responsible manner. 1. Mission of Nuclear Forces The nuclear forces of the DPRK shall be a main force of the state defense which safeguards the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and the lives and safety of the people from outside military threat, aggression and attack. 1) The nuclear forces of the DPRK shall regard it as their main mission to deter a war by making hostile forces have a clear understanding of the fact that the military confrontation with the DPRK brings about ruin and give up attempts at aggression and attack. 2) The nuclear forces of the DPRK shall carry out an operational mission for repulsing hostile forces’ aggression and attack and achieving decisive victory of war in case its deterrence fails. 2. Constitution of Nuclear Forces The nuclear forces of the DPRK shall be composed of different kinds of nuclear warheads, delivery means, command and control system and all the personnel, equipment and facilities for the system’s operating and updating. 3. Command and Control of Nuclear Forces The nuclear forces of the DPRK shall obey the monolithic command of the president of the State Affairs of the DPRK. The president of the State Affairs of the DPRK shall have all decisive powers concerning nuclear weapons. The state nuclear forces command organization composed of members appointed by the president of the State Affairs of the DPRK shall assist the president of the State Affairs of the DPRK in the whole course from decision concerning nuclear weapons to execution. In case the command and control system over the state nuclear forces is placed in danger owing to an attack by hostile forces, a nuclear strike shall be launched automatically and immediately to destroy the hostile forces including the starting point of provocation and the command according to the operation plan decided in advance. 4. Execution of Decision on Use of Nuclear Weapons The nuclear forces of the DPRK shall immediately execute an order of using nuclear weapons. 5. Principle of Using Nuclear Weapons The DPRK shall regard it as its main principle to use nuclear weapons as the last means in order to cope with outside aggression and attack seriously threatening the security of the country and the people. The DPRK shall neither threaten non-nuclear weapons states with its nuclear weapons nor use nuclear weapons against them unless they join aggression or attack against the DPRK in collusion with other nuclear weapons states. 6. Conditions of Using Nuclear Weapons The DPRK can use nuclear weapons in the following cases: In case an attack by nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction was launched or drew near is judged. In case a nuclear or non-nuclear attack by hostile forces on the state leadership and the command organization of the state’s nuclear forces was launched or drew near is judged. In case a fatal military attack against important strategic objects of the state was launched or drew near is judged. In case the need for operation for preventing the expansion and protraction of a war and taking the initiative in the war in contingency is inevitably raised. In other case an inevitable situation in which it is compelled to correspond with catastrophic crisis to the existence of the state and safety of the people by only nuclear weapons is created. 7. Regular readiness of nuclear forces The nuclear forces of the DPRK shall be regularly ready for action so that if an order to use nuclear weapons is issued, it can immediately execute it in any conditions and circumstances. 8. Safe maintenance, management and protection of nuclear weapons 1) The DPRK shall establish a thorough and safe system of storing and managing nuclear weapons to make sure that all the processes such as storage and management, the assessment of their lifespan and performance and their updating and dismantlement are conducted in conformity with administrative and technical regulations and legal procedures, and shall guarantee its implementation. 2) The DPRK shall take thorough protective steps for fear that nuclear weapons, technology and equipment concerned, nuclear substances, etc. will leak out. 9. Qualitative and quantitative increasing and upgrading of nuclear forces 1) The DPRK shall constantly assess outside nuclear threats and the change in the posture of international nuclear forces and correspondingly upgrade and beef up its nuclear forces in a qualitative and quantitative way in response to it. 2) The DPRK shall regularly update its strategy of using nuclear weapons according to different situations to enable its nuclear forces to reliably perform their mission. 10. Non-proliferation The DPRK, as a responsible nuclear weapons state, shall neither deploy nuclear weapons in the territory of other countries nor share them and not transfer nuclear weapons, technology and equipment concerned and weapon-grade nuclear substances. 11. Others 1) The Law of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK “On further consolidating the position of the self-defense nuclear weapons state” adopted on April 1, 2013 shall be invalid. 2) Relevant organs will take technical measures to execute the law. 3) None of the articles of the law shall be interpreted to restrain or limit the exercise of the DPRK’s just right to self-defense.” (KCNA, “Law on DPRK’s Policy on Nuclear Forces Promulgated,” September 9, 2022)

KCNA: The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un made a policy speech at the Seventh Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on September 8. Following is the full text of the policy speech: “Dear comrade Deputies, Esteemed Chairman of the Standing Committee and Deputy Speaker of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Dear observers, This Seventh Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly, convened in the lead-up to this anniversary of the founding of our glorious country, has provided legal weapons which are of great significance in implementing the major policies of the Party and the government. In particular, the adoption of a law related with the policy of the nation’s nuclear forces in accordance with the unanimous will of all the Korean people is a noteworthy event that proclaimed at home and abroad that we have come to possess by law a war deterrent as a means for defending the state. Thus achieved is another important historic cause of establishing a political and institutional mechanism for definitely guaranteeing the eternal security of our state and people as well as the distant future. Recognizing that the policy of the nuclear forces was instituted as a law in a historic period, very important in view of the current situation of our revolution, the trend of developments and the mission of the nuclear forces of our Republic, I feel grateful that all the Deputies adopted with unanimous approval the most important law at a most important moment. … Comrades, The higher the stage of socialist construction for achieving the independence of the masses reaches, the greater the challenge and resistance by the imperialists become. As long as imperialism, whose inherent nature and means of existence is aggression and plunder, exists, the source of war cannot be rooted out, and antagonism and struggle between socialism, which aspires after independence and peace, and imperialism is unavoidable in the development of history. Therefore, it is a crucial and vital requirement in achieving a steady development and prosperity of socialism that conditions and an environment that allow no aggressive threat be created; to this end, we should possess an absolute strength with which we can definitely overwhelm the enemy. Our Republic, as a citadel of the anti-imperialist struggle and a fortress of socialism, resolutely promoted the construction of a self-reliant national defense capability according to its own timetable in the face of intervention and pressures by the hostile forces of all hues. By doing so, it put an end to the era when the US imperialists unilaterally imposed nuclear threat. And today it has accomplished the historic cause of making a permanent legal confirmation of the law of the policy of the nuclear forces. This is a clearer demonstration of the independent determination of the government of the Republic and its will to defend the sovereignty and interests of the state. Our nuclear weapons are a means for containment and ultimate weapon that our Republic, which from the early days of its birth had been under the nuclear threat by the United States, the first country to use nuclear weapons and the largest nuclear power in the world, possessed by waging an arduous and bloody struggle for scores of years so as to reliably defend its dignity and security and completely remove the danger of a nuclear war. With an absurd sophistry that our nuclear weapons and our strengthening of the self-defense capability pose a serious threat to global peace and the security in the region, the United States is now obsessed with spreading a rumor in the international arena aimed at demonizing the government of our Republic; it is also tenaciously resorting to the harshest-ever sanctions and blockade and political and military offensive to bring us under its control psychologically and physically even by enlisting all its vassal forces. What the United States tries to achieve is not merely to remove our nuclear weapons; its final objective is to overthrow our government some day by inducing us to abandon the nuclear weapons and further give up our capability of exercising the right to self-defense or by making the capability inferior to its own. Through unheard-of sanctions and blockade, it is attempting to make us think about the cost of our option for the nuclear weapons and induce and incite complaint among our people about their Party and government by creating a harsh environment for us and by making us feel worn out and uncertain and threatened with regard to the environment for a stable development of our state; in this way they are trying to lead us but to give up the nuclear weapons of our own accord. But never. It is the enemy’s misjudgement and miscalculation. Let them impose sanctions for 100, nay 1 000 days or even ten or 100 years. It is not we that would give up the right to self-defense, on which the country’s right to existence and the security of the future of the state and the people depend, so as to escape or make a detour even a moment around the difficulties we are experiencing now; we can never give up the nuclear weapons however harsh the circumstances are in the political and military situations the United States has created on the Korean peninsula and moreover as we have to contain the United States, our nuclear enemy state, in a far-sighted way. Our people are well aware of the many historical events in the 20th century and 21st century, in which some countries saw and are seeing their last days and tragic ends as a result of wrong choices they made unable to bear the US imperialists’ stereotyped preaching and sophistry, sanctions and pressure, and military threat. Our generation will not pursue an immediately visible improved environment for the economic life at the cost of giving up the nuclear weapons, which guarantee the security of the government of our Republic and the coming generations, to find our own comfort and to escape today’s difficulties unable to bear the enemy’s deceitful preaching and tenacious pressure, nor will we change our choice even if it would mean experiencing great difficulties. In this way, we should remain as the greatest and iron-willed generation in the history of our Republic’s development. The United States can never and ever realize their ambition with regard to our state or make our people change their choice. Whose side on earth is the time on? It is the enemy who feel hard-pressed now; we do not feel hard-pressed, and we are fully able to live by our own efforts and in our own way even in these circumstances. In direct proportion to the increase of the period of suffering imposed on our people by the US’s brutal hostile policy against us, our absolute strength is continuing to be built up at exponential speed and the security threat they have to face is increasing in direct proportion. The nuclear forces of our Republic will responsibly perform their important mission to contain grave political and military provocations against our state by the United States and its vassal forces and to put their prospective threats under control, and today this was clarified in a law of the state. As our Republic values most its independence and self-respect and the destiny of its people, never forgives hostile acts that may do harm to them and means what it says, it could take such an audacious political decision as codifying the policy of the nation’s nuclear forces in a law. The world will clearly realize once again what is a truly independent powerful country and a state of justice in modern days, when pursuit of hegemony is more rampant, and how mighty is the unquenchable spirit of our Republic dealing squarely with the United States, the empire of evil. Comrades, Looking back the arduous and protracted journey that our revolution has made so far since it started out with two pistols, all the events of history condensed in it tug at my heartstrings. The successes achieved are really great, and they are felt weightier and more valuable as they are a fruition of the unstinted support and encouragement from all the people, their precious sweat and blood, and their indescribable painstaking efforts. To tell the truth, we had to build up the nuclear forces of our Republic and make its combat preparedness perfect while standing face-to-face with the allied imperialist forces single-handedly and coping with their most inhumane and outrageous moves of sanctions and suffocation. It was a do-or-die battle we had to fight in the face of untold sufferings and trials. It meant that our beloved children and all other people had to tighten their belts still further and suffer from greater hunger, and that all our dear families had to undergo appalling difficulties in life. Although it was an unavoidable choice we had to make to win a greater victory, it was an untrodden path on which we had to be prepared to suffer unbearable loss and the result of which we were little sure of. Nevertheless, our people rendered absolute support to our Party for the cause, which it started with the trust in them alone, making single-hearted and all-out efforts for it despite all manner of hardships. Obviously, our scientists and technicians made tangible contributions to the accomplishment of the historic cause of building the nation’s nuclear forces; yet, but for our people, who remained fully convinced of the victory without any yielding to such intolerable and uninterrupted sufferings, we could not have followed to the end the road of possessing nuclear weapons, nor could our Republic have greeted today when the policy of the nuclear forces was codified in a law. Our people, by overcoming all sorts of trials by dint of their unique, strenuous fortitude and patriotism, have finally raised the glory and dignity of our state up to such a height as no one would ever dispute it. On behalf of the Party and government, I extend my heartfelt thanks to our people throughout the country. Comrades, The legalization of the policy of the nuclear forces in accordance with the unanimous desire and iron will of all the people is of tremendous significance. With this, the position of our state as a nuclear nation has become irreversible. If our nuclear policy is to be changed now, the world has to be changed, and so should the political and military environment on the Korean peninsula. There will never be such a thing as our abandonment of the nuclear weapons or denuclearization first, nor will there be any negotiations to this end or bargaining chip in these processes. The nuclear weapons represent our nation’s dignity and honor; they mean the absolute might of our Republic and a source of the great pride of the Korean people. As long as there exist nuclear weapons and remains imperialism on the earth, and as long as the United States and its vassal forces refuse to stop their anti-DPRK maneuverings, our journey of building up the nuclear forces will not come to an end. Our Republic’s nuclear forces represent the destiny of the country and the people and their lasting prestige–this is our steadfast stand. We have drawn the line of no retreat regarding our nuclear weapons so that there will be no longer any bargaining over them. Herein lies the great importance of the legalization of the policy of the nuclear forces. The event has made the peace-loving stand of the government of our Republic and our policy of the nation’s nuclear forces more transparent and justifiable. It is a desire of humanity to live in a peaceful world free from aggression and war. Yet, peace does not come of its own accord simply because they are desirous of it; it is something that we can achieve and defend only when we are strong enough to contain the imperialist tyranny. Our Republic’s legalization of the policy of the nuclear forces constitutes a righteous blow to the imperialists who are violating and disrupting the right to independence and peace. Our Republic’s nuclear forces exist and will come into use to defend our territory, people and self-respect and global peace and security from the imperialist tyranny, and not to pursue intervention in the internal affairs of other nations or hegemony. Accordingly, they in no way pose any threat to those nations and peoples that are friendly to us and desirous of peace. For their inherent characteristics, the standards and principles of management, operation and other matters related with nuclear weapons should be clearly stipulated by law. Otherwise, they might fall into an uncontrollable state to be misused for other purpose, or employed in pursuance of any unjustifiable interests, driving humanity into a horrible nuclear holocaust at any moment. The current law on the policy of our Republic’s nuclear forces clearly stipulates detailed provisions, such as the mission and composition of the nuclear forces, control and command over them, principles and conditions for their use, and their safe maintenance and protection. Such being the case, the law fully accords with the desire of humanity for justice and peace, and there is no room for anyone to pick a quarrel with, or question, our nuclear forces in the future. The legal weapon, provided to reliably guarantee the historic advance towards the comprehensive development of our own style of socialism, constitutes, together with the proud victories and successes achieved this year, an epoch-making occasion in remarkably raising the fighting spirit of all the people. … ” (KCNA, “Respect Comrade Kim Jong Un Makes Policy Speech at Seventh Session of the 14th SPA of DPRK,” September 10, 2022)

KCNA: “The second-day sitting of the 7th Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) took place at the Mansudae Assembly Hall on September 8. Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and president of the State Affairs of the DPRK, attended the meeting to clarify an administrative policy of the government of the Republic. When the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un appeared at the venue of the session, all the participants broke into thunderous cheers of “Hurrah!” as a token of their deep reverence for him, symbol of all victories and glory of socialist Korea and representative of its great dignity, who is glorifying the era of our state-first principle, the most proud one in the history of development of the Republic, while braving all difficulties and adversities in the van of building a powerful country, mindful of the noble mission for the country, people and revolution. Kim Jong Un made a historic policy speech. Deputies to the SPA and observers respectfully listened to his policy speech indicating the immediate orientation for struggle and policy tasks of the government of the Republic for the prosperity of the state and promotion of the people’s wellbeing as required by the stage of the comprehensive development of socialist construction. When he finished his speech, all the participants expressed their full support and approval with their thunderous cheers and enthusiastic applauses, being overwhelmed by the great excitement of receiving the great action program and guidelines on the state development which help be optimistic about a rosy future of the Republic to make a long drive along the road of independence, justice and prosperity by dint of self-reliance. His important policy speech is a militant banner confidently leading the dynamic development and advance of socialist construction for achieving independence of the popular masses and an encyclopedic revolutionary document and an immortal great program to be taken hold on by our state and people advancing toward a far-reaching ideal and goal. Discussed at the session was the third agenda item “On the DPRK’s Policy on the Nuclear Forces.” Deputy Pak Jong Chon, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the WPK, vice-chairman of the Party Central Military Commission and secretary of the Central Committee of the WPK, made a report. The reporter said that it is a lawful demand of the current situation and development of the nuclear forces of the Republic to make the nuclear forces, mainstay of the state defense capability, fulfill their important mission in a responsible way by legalizing the state policy on the nuclear forces. He noted that our state which has been exposed to a ceaseless nuclear threat of U.S. imperialism should train the nuclear forces in response to it and steadily strengthen them, adding it is indeed the best policy and the supreme responsibility and duty our people assumed before the revolution and future. He stressed that the law on the state policy on the nuclear forces would serve as a powerful legal guarantee for further consolidating our Republic’s position as a nuclear weapons state and ensuring the transparent, consistent and standard character of the policy on the nuclear forces, and explained each article of the draft law which comprehensively stipulates the contents on the mission and operation of the nuclear forces of the Republic. The Standing Committee of the SPA submitted to the current session of the SPA the draft Law of the SPA “On the DPRK’s Policy on the Nuclear Forces” for deliberation according to Article 95 of the socialist constitution. Speeches were made on the third agenda item. Speeches were made by Deputy Ri Pyong Chol, secretary of the C.C. WPK, on behalf of the Party Central Committee, Deputy Kim Tok Hun, premier of the Cabinet, on behalf of the DPRK Cabinet, Deputy Jong Kyong Thaek, director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), on behalf of the KPA, and Deputy Mun Chol, chairman of the Central Committee of the Socialist Patriotic Youth League, on behalf of the youth and students. The speakers said that the Republic’s policy on the nuclear forces is the most just one firmly defending the destiny of the country and the nation and ensuring their eternal future from the hostile forces’ aggressive moves, and its legalization serves as a historic event solemnly declaring at home and abroad that we will further consolidate the position of our Republic as responsible nuclear power and that our nuclear forces will never allow those trying to harm the fundamental interests of the state. With their great emotion they referred to the immortal revolutionary exploits of Kim Jong Un who achieved the historic great cause of completing the state nuclear forces and guaranteed the prosperity and eternal happiness of all generations of the nation by making the long journey for patriotic devotion and the long journey of frontline accompanying sacrifice. Noting that the nuclear forces of the Republic are a fruition of the priceless sacrifice and all manner of hardships experienced by our people and a proud crystal of the principled and consistent self-defense line of the Republic government and the gains of our revolution as well as the most reliable and absolute guarantee for defending the human rights and the sovereign rights, they stressed in unison that it is the fair and indispensable legal rights of our state to operate the nuclear forces in conformity with the requirements and interests of our people and the revolution. Saying that it is our steadfast stand that the building of socialism, the happy life of the people and the bright future of the children are all guaranteed by powerful nuclear forces, they gave full support and approval of the enacting of the policy on the nuclear forces as a state law. Experiencing with great pride the historic moment when the people’s long-cherished desire for building a powerful socialist state and strengthening defense is achieved, the deputies approved unanimously the law on the policy on the nuclear forces that is of great significance for the existence and development of the Republic by reflecting the unanimous will of all the people of the country. The Law of the SPA of the DPRK “On the DPRK’s Policy on the Nuclear Forces” was adopted at the session with ardent applauses of all the participants. The adoption of the law is a clear manifestation of the DPRK government’s independent resolution and will for defending the sovereignty and national interests to make its position as a responsible nuclear weapons state and dignified independent power irreversible and to thoroughly safeguard the fundamental interests of the Korean revolution and the people’s safety, and an important political event which provided a reliable legal weapon contributing to peace and prosperity of the Korean peninsula, the region and the rest of the world. The session discussed the organizational matter as its fourth agenda item. It recalled and by-elected a member of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK. Deputy Kim Yong Chol was recalled from the membership of the Standing Committee of the SPA and Deputy Ri Son Gwon was by-elected as a member of the Standing Committee of the SPA. Members of committees of the SPA were recalled and by-elected. Deputy Pak Su Il was by-elected as chairman of the Legislation Committee of the SPA and Deputies Cha Myong Nam and O Su Yong were by-elected as its members. Deputy Jon Hyon Chol was by-elected as chairman of the Budget Committee of the SPA and Deputies Kim Yun Sil and Hwang Man Bok were by-elected as its members. Choe Ryong Hae, chairman of the SPA Standing Committee, made a closing address. The Seventh Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly discussed and decided important and significant issues in implementing the major policies of the Party and the state and thereby it will shine forever as a historic session which provided a political and institutional mechanism capable of firmly guaranteeing the eternal security of the country and the people and posterity’s prosperity and exceptionally beefed up the fighting spirit of the Korean people in their efforts to achieve the comprehensive development and prosperity of socialist construction. … Comrades, Our Republic, holding higher the banner of independence and justice, has assumed a heavy duty for the times and history, and this demands a more vigorous struggle and advance and a greater victory. It is without doubt that all the reactionary forces, shocked at our Republic’s political measure of legalizing the policy of the nuclear forces, will surely turn out to be ever more desperate and relentless. The challenges and obstacles lurking in our way ahead will never be removed unless the hostile forces get out of their deeply-ingrained and instinctive delusion that some day they might completely disarm us of the nuclear armaments and make our system collapse by employing such stereotyped tricks as threats and intimidation, sanctions and allurement. The world will watch with keen interest how our people’s choice of building a powerful socialist country will be kept, how the DPRK will carry out its determination and what other amazing miracles will be worked on this land. To grow stronger in the face of trials and to steadily develop and advance by building on the successes already gained is our Republic’s unique trait which has been proven in the course it has followed. As this immutable law dictates, we should continue to grow stronger in the future, too, and accomplish the struggle tasks we set out to do in an unconditional and perfect manner with no alteration on the road of our choice. Today the government of our Republic is faced with the task of thoroughly maintaining and implementing the Party’s lines and policies to achieve fresh innovations and development befitting the prestige of our state in every field. To enhance our ultimate strength into infinity and make our armed forces more invincible by giving top priority and importance to building up the national defense capability–this is the primary revolutionary task facing the government of our Republic. In view of the geopolitical features and strategic position of our country and the prevailing situation created before our revolution, the absolute military supremacy of our state over the aggressive forces of imperialism poses as an indispensable requirement. The United States, which felt a great fear it would face in the near future after witnessing the defense development in some sectors we have opened to the public in recent years, is now continuing to cling to the heinous moves of sanctions and blockade and, at the same time, committing a grave intimidation-oriented saber-rattling while hurling its nuclear strike weapons on a large scale around the Korean peninsula. The present south Korean regime, too, is trumpeting about the strengthening of the south Korea-US combined defense posture by improving the executive ability of the south Korea-US “extended deterrence” and the enhancing of “deterrence” and “reaction capability” by building what they call “Korean-style three-axis system,” asserting the brigandish logic of containing us to make up for its army’s military inferiority; it is stepping up dangerous military maneuverings and modernization of armaments which further aggravate the military tension in the region. Such serious circumstances show that the military situation around our state has assumed a protracted nature, going from bad to worse, and, accordingly, we should be thoroughly prepared for them. However, the situation aggravated by the enemy’s moves has provided excellent conditions and environment for us to develop our military forces more rapidly and, more importantly, justness for strengthening our self-defense capability and inevitable justification for building it up on a priority basis. The Ministry of National Defense and the defense industry of the Republic will take the prevailing situation as the most favorable opportunity to build up the military capability. Our defense industry should correctly adhere to the planned orientation of its development true to the idea of defense development strategy put forward by the Party Congress, and speed up full steam the development of military hardware of a new generation for modern warfare. Most importantly, it is imperative to steadily expand the space for the operation of tactical nukes and diversify their application means on a higher stage so as to enhance the combat reliability and efficiency of operational application of our nuclear forces, thus making the nuclear combat posture consolidated in every way. It is also necessary to steadily step up the deployment of cutting-edge strategic and tactical weapon systems for combat and direct all efforts to remarkably strengthening the war deterrent of the country. … Comrades, The present international situation shows that the contradictions between justice and injustice and between the progressive and the reactionary, especially the power structure surrounding the Korean peninsula, have become obvious and the change from a unipolar world advocated by the US into a multipolar world is being accelerated significantly. Our Republic will develop foreign relations proactively in line with the development trend of the current international situation and its position as a powerful independent country. The field of external affairs should invariably hold fast as the foremost mission of the diplomacy of the Republic to the defense of the dignity of our Party, the enhancement of national prestige and the championing of national interests and settle issues arising in international relations in the interests of our revolution. It should develop external relations in a many-sided way as it further expands and develops friendly and cooperative relations with neighboring countries and collaborates with all countries and nations opposing and rejecting the imperialists’ aggression and interference, domination and subordination and aspiring after independence and justice, regardless of differences in ideology and system. Along with this, it should try to find a way of making diplomatic efforts for developing multifaceted exchanges and cooperation with capitalist countries that respect our country and are friendly to it. In order to build on today’s proud victory to achieve a greater victory in socialist construction by carrying out the aforementioned tasks facing the government of the Republic, we should thoroughly establish the Party’s unified leadership system in state building and activities.” (KCNA, “Second Day Sitting of the 7th Session of 14th SPA of DPRK Held,” September 9, 2022)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un publicly expressed his determination not to give up the country’s nuclear weapons, accusing the United States of seeking the collapse of his regime, not just denuclearization. He made clear that Pyongyang has no intention of resuming negotiations for denuclearization, as the North’s rubber-stamp parliament approved a new nuclear force policy during a key session earlier this week, according to KCNA. “The aim of the United States is not just to eliminate our nuclear weapons themselves but also ultimately to bring down our regime anytime by forcing (North Korea) to put down nuclear weapons and give up or weaken the power to exercise self-defense,” Kim was quoted as saying in his speech at the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) meeting today. He took issue with the U.S. bid for the denuclearization of North Korea through the “biggest-ever sanctions and blockade.” He described it as a “misjudgment and miscalculation of adversaries.” Most importantly, Kim added, the North should incessantly expand the scope of its “tactical nuclear operation” in order to bolster its nuclear combat posture. His strong message came as the SPA adopted a new law that allows the regime to launch an “automatic nuclear strike” if it is attacked. Under the law, a nuclear strike can be automatically and immediately carried out to destroy the origin of a provocation if the command and control system of the nuclear forces is in danger of an attack by “hostile forces,” the KCNA said. The law gives leader Kim “monolithic command” and “all decisive powers concerning nuclear weapons,” it added. Kim then stressed that legalizing the nuclear weapons policy has “great significance in drawing an irretrievable line” so that it can no longer bargain with its nuclear power. He added that the “political and military conditions of the Korean Peninsula,” as well as the global political environment, must change for there to be any adjustment of the North’s nuclear policy. (Yi Wonju and Chae Yun-hwan, “North Korea Leader Vows to Keep Nukes; New Law Authorizes ‘Automatic Nuclear Strike,’” Yonhap, September 9, 2022) In the speech, Kim stressed Pyongyang’s resolve to not yield to economic sanctions imposed in response to its nuclear and missile programs, saying it is a “misjudgment” that the North Korean people would become dissatisfied with the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea and the government over the largest U.S. sanctions in history. “Let them sanction us for 100 days, 1,000 days, 10 years or 100 years,” he said. (Kyodo, “North Korea’s Kim Vows Never to Give up Nukes amid U.S. Threat,” September 9, 2022) Kim also dared the U.S. to keep up economic sanctions on his country for “a thousand years.” “There will never be any declaration of ‘giving up our nukes’ or ‘denuclearization,’ nor any kind of negotiations or bargaining to meet the other side’s conditions,” Kim said, according to the Rodong Sinmun. “As long as nuclear weapons exist on Earth and imperialism remains … our road towards strengthening nuclear power won’t stop,” he continued. The new North Korean law on nuclear weapons clarifies “conditions of usage,” marking a substantial departure from a similar law revealed nine years ago. Article 6 lists five conditions for Pyongyang to use nuclear weapons, such as when the DPRK judges that a nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) attack against Pyongyang has “already been conducted or is imminent.” It even states conditions such as “nuclear or non-nuclear” attack by “hostile forces” against North Korea’s leadership or nuclear command system has been done or appear imminent, as well as “lethal military attack against our country’s core strategic targets.” All of the above suggest North Korea now includes signs of “imminent attack” as conditions to use nuclear weapons, marking a significant break from the country’s 2013 law that only listed out situations of second-strike, not preemptive strikes — and now including “non-nuclear” attacks against North Korea as conditions that prompt Pyongyang to use the bomb. North Korea may also use nuclear weapons when it is “unavoidable” due to “tactical” reasons in wartime, as well as unspecified “situations” that threaten the survival of the regime and its people. The new law now also clarifies the “command and control” system in Article 3, which maintains that the nuclear arsenal is completely under Kim Jong Un’s leadership like the 2013 law stated but adds that military officials can use an “operation method” pre-determined to conduct a nuclear strike “immediately” and “automatically” at time of emergency where the core command leadership is under danger. This is to strike and obliterate “the source of provocation and [the enemy’s] leadership,” the law adds, using similar wording with South Korea’s Kill Chain preemptive strike conditions used by the Yoon Suk-yeol administration. The reason for revealing these “management” and “operation” postures in a new law in detail is to prevent nuclear “disaster” from other actors’ misjudgment, Kim explained in his speech. Kim Jong Un revealed for the first time in an earlier speech on July 27 that North Korea now has two missions for nuclear forces, with the second one being something aside from deterring and preventing war—which is the “primary” goal for North Korean nuclear weapons. The new law explained what the “second mission” is in more detail, referring to it as a situation where deterrence “failed” and North Korea has to “repel” invasion and attack, as well as to “win” a war, likely implying a tactical — not just strategic — use of nuclear weapons. Kim’s speech also briefly mentioned South Korea, slamming the Yoon administration’s defense and U.S.-ROK extended deterrence policies as “dangerous” and “concerning.” These situations, while concerning and showing North Korea should be “thoroughly ready” to respond, also gave Pyongyang an “outstanding condition and environment” to “ramp up the speed to innovate our military strength” providing “unavoidable justification” to boost and prioritize military development for self-defense, Kim said. The U.S. is using economic sanctions so that North Korea feels threatened and unsure about the “prices” Pyongyang has to pay for choosing nukes, Kim said. But whatever “extremely difficult” situation North Korea faces, Pyongyang cannot give up nuclear weapons looking at those who made “wrong decisions” after U.S. persuasion and pressure and ended up “tragically,” without mentioning particular countries. “The goal of the U.S. is to remove our nuclear [weapons] themselves, but ultimately U.S. aims at making us give up nuclear [weapons] and even give up our power to execute self-defense … in order to bring down our regime anytime,” Kim continued. (Colin Zwirko and Jeongmin Kim, “Kim Jong Un Says He Will ‘Never Give up’ Nuclear Weapons, Rejects Future Talks,” NKNews, September 9, 2022)


9/12/22:
North Korea has operated and expanded its key uranium enrichment facility at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, the head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency said today, reiterating North Korea’s readiness to conduct a nuclear test. Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the agency has observed multiple indications that suggest North Korea’s pursuit to produce the plutonium and uranium required to manufacture nuclear weapons and conduct a nuclear test, during a meeting of the Board of Governors in Vienna. The IAEA chief said that North Korea has expanded the centrifuge enrichment facility, which is a part of the uranium enrichment plant where North Korea produces weapons-grade uranium. “We have observed indications that the reported Centrifuge Enrichment Facility at Yongbyon continues to operate and is now externally complete, expanding the building’s available floor space by approximately one-third,” Grossi said in his opening remarks, without elaborating the purpose and impact of the new construction. The construction of an annex in an area adjoining the existing uranium enrichment plant commenced in September 2021. But experts had conflicting opinions on the purpose of the annex when the construction commenced began. At that time, the California-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies said the expansion could aim to increase the production of highly enriched uranium, explaining that the new area of around 1,000 square meters is sufficient to house 1,000 additional centrifuges. The think tank assessed that the expansion of the enrichment plant could be part of North Korea’s efforts to achieve North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s order to produce “super-sized nuclear warheads” at the eighth party congress in January 2021. Washington-based 38 North shared similar sentiments. But it also said the new building could be a “small pilot or demonstration plant to test more advanced centrifuges” which is analogous to the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant in Natanz, Iran. 38 North added that the new construction could be a “centrifuge assembly workshop, to facilitate the replacement of centrifuges as needed.” North Korea stated that the centrifuge enrichment facility contained approximately 2,000 centrifuges arranged in six cascades with an enrichment output of 8,000 separative work units, or SWU, per year when the US delegation led by Dr. Siegfried Hecker at Stanford University visited the facility in 2010. North Korea also claimed that the facility was operating and configured to produce low-enriched uranium. The IAEA chief also said that the construction of “several new buildings” near the light water reactor, or LWR, has been completed. The LWR, which is fueled by low-enriched uranium and estimated to have a capacity of 25-30 MWe, has been under construction since July 2010. The IAEA has detected ongoing indications that the main 5-megawatt nuclear reactor, which can produce weapons-grade plutonium, at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, Grossi said. Additionally, ongoing signs of activity have been detected at the Kangson complex, which is believed to be a centrifuge enrichment facility, as well as the Pyongsan Uranium Concentration Plant and its associated Pyongsan Mine. The Pyongsan Mine and Concentration Plant are believed to be the sole publicly acknowledged places where North Korea extracts uranium ore and turns it into yellowcake that can be used to produce enriched uranium. Grossi also said in his briefing that the IAEA has detected signs that Tunnel No. 3 at the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site has remained active and is prepared to support a nuclear test. “The reopening of the nuclear test site is deeply troubling. The conduct of a nuclear test would contravene UN Security Council resolutions and would be a cause for serious concern,” the IAEA chief said. But the agency has not observed extensive work around Tunnel No. 3 at the nuclear test site in Punggye-ri in Kilju County of North Hamgyong Province during the summer months. In addition, the IAEA has “very recently observed renewed work on the road leading” to Tunnel No. 4, which has not been used for a nuclear test. Grossi previously explained that the road construction “had resumed by late-August” after several weeks of suspension in his report “Application of Safeguards in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” submitted to the Board of Governors last week. The IAEA observed work to shore up portions of the washed-out road that led from the support area to Tunnel No. 4 and No. 2 during June before the temporary suspension. (Ji Da-gyum, “N. Korea Continues to Run, Expand Enrichment Facility at Yongbyon: IAEA,” Korea Herald, September 14, 2022)

North Korea fired two cruise missiles into the West Sea this morning. The launch was apparently aimed at testing new long-range cruise missiles to check their capability, but it also coincided with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s celebration of his 100th day in office and the start of joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises. “The North fired two cruise missiles into the West Sea from Onchon, South Pyongan Province in the early morning,” a military spokesman here said. It was the North’s first missile launch since June and the fourth missile since Yoon took office. Both South Korean and U.S. military authorities are analyzing specifics of the missiles, which are apparently new and have a range of over 1,500 km. The launch of cruise missiles does not violate UN Security Council resolutions, but they could be a serious threat to South Korea’s security because they are hard to detect or intercept as they normally fly at low altitude. The launch could be a protest against South Korea-U.S. military training. The two countries began preliminary drills Tuesday ahead of a massive combined exercise dubbed Ulchi Freedom Shield that kicks off next week for the first time in five years. (Roh Suk-jo, “N. Korea Fires 2 Cruise Missiles into West Sea,” Chosun Ilbo, August 18, 2022)


9/15/22:
DPRK Ambassador to Japan Song Il Ho’s press statement: “The historic DPRK-Japan Pyongyang Declaration published 20 years ago raised expectation and hope of the public inside and outside for the end of the inglorious past and a start with a clean slate. We had received the Pyongyang declaration with seriousness as a landmark for the improved bilateral ties and have so far exerted strenuous efforts for its implementation, holding various forms of contacts, dialogues and talks with the Japanese side. The basic spirit of the declaration is the establishment of effective political, economic and cultural ties between the two countries based on Japan’s sincere apology for its crimes against the Korean nation during the 40-odd-year armed occupation of Korea and its reparations and compensations for them. Japan, however, has used it for its dirty political purposes by denying the nature and essence of the bilateral ties and citing the “solution of abduction, nuclear and missile issues” as its purpose. The Japanese government has spared no means and methods to resurface the abduction issue that had already seen a solution, to cover up its crime-woven past and incite anti-DPRK atmosphere at home and abroad. It has dramatized the “story of threat” from the DPRK and escalated military muscles for aggression under that pretext, thereby seriously harassing regional peace and stability. It is the height of hypocrisy for Japan to stain itself as “a victim” without an iota of guilty conscience for its infliction of unprecedented misfortune and pain on the Korean nation after depriving it of its huge human, material and spiritual wealth, far from reflecting on the crimes. Two decades have passed since the publication of the declaration, but Japan has only rendered it null and void and pushed the bilateral ties to the lowest ebb of confrontation through a series of all sorts of sanctions measures with an aim to strip the DPRK of its rights to independence and development. The Japanese government can never shirk the responsibility for its perfidious acts about the declaration. We keep tabs on all the unwarranted and reckless anti-DPRK and anti-Chongryon (General Association of Korean Residents in Japan) moves committed by Japan and will certainly force it to pay for them. How the bilateral ties will turn out entirely depends on the attitude of the Japanese government.” (KCNA, “Japanese Government Responsible for Nullifying DPRK-Japan Pyongyang Declaration: Foreign Ministry,” September 16, 2022)


9/16/22:
Joint Statement on the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group: “In line with the decision by President Joseph R. Biden and President Yoon Suk Yeol in May, the foreign affairs and defense agencies of the United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK) held an Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) meeting at the Under Secretary/Vice Minister level on September 16, 2022 in Washington D.C. ROK First Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Cho Hyundong and ROK Vice Minister of National Defense Shin Beomchul led the ROK delegation. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Bonnie Jenkins and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl led the U.S. delegation. This is the third meeting of the high-level EDSCG, which provides a forum for comprehensive discussions on strategy and policy issues to strengthen Alliance deterrence on the Korean Peninsula and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. The September 16 dialogue highlighted the commitment by both partners to use all available levers — including diplomatic, informational, military, and economic tools — to strengthen and reinforce the U.S. security commitment to the ROK and strengthen deterrence against DPRK aggression, and more broadly counter the DPRK threat. The United States and the ROK expressed their serious concern over the DPRK’s escalatory and destabilizing messaging related to nuclear weapons use, including its adoption of the new nuclear policy law. The two sides committed to continue efforts to employ all elements of both countries’ national power to strengthen the Alliance deterrence posture. The United States reiterated its ironclad and unwavering commitment to draw on the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear, conventional, missile defense, and other advanced non-nuclear capabilities, to provide extended deterrence for the ROK. The United States and the ROK made clear that any DPRK nuclear attack would be met with an overwhelming and decisive response. Both sides also confirmed their will to continue and strengthen close Alliance consultation regarding U.S. nuclear and missile defense policy. The United States committed to strengthen coordination with the ROK to continue to deploy and exercise strategic assets in the region in a timely and effective manner to deter and respond to the DPRK and enhance regional security. They highlighted the combined training of fifth generation F-35A fighter jets in July and the upcoming deployment of the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group in the region as a clear demonstration of such U.S. commitment. The two sides will continue to explore avenues to enhance Alliance strategic readiness through improved information sharing, training, and exercises, as they relate to nuclear and non-nuclear threats, including better use of table-top exercises. Both sides also pledged to improve coordination and strengthen the Alliance’s missile response capabilities and posture, and continuing cooperation in the space and cyber arenas, to include through expanded multi-domain exercises. The United States reiterated its strong support for the aims of the ROK’s Audacious Initiative, and both sides committed to continue their coordinated efforts to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The two sides also agreed that they will enhance cooperation to address DPRK sanctions evasion and illicit cyber activities using diplomatic, economic, and military tools. Both countries emphasized that the DPRK’s continued pursuit and development of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction in defiance of multiple United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions undermines regional and global security and stability and the global nonproliferation regime. Both sides agreed on the importance of upholding and fully implementing all relevant UNSC resolutions. The United States and the ROK reaffirmed that a DPRK nuclear test would be met with a strong and resolute whole-of-government response. The two countries are closely coordinating in detail and stand ready for all possible scenarios. In the face of the DPRK’s evolving nuclear and missile threats, and increased threats in the region, both sides pledged to continue collaborating to ensure that ROK and U.S. strategies and postures promote peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, including through bilateral exercises and training as well as trilateral and multilateral cooperation with partners throughout the region. The two sides assessed that the third EDSCG, including a delegation tour of a B-52 strategic bomber, contributed substantively to strengthening Alliance deterrence, as well as enhanced shared understanding and effectiveness of U.S. extended deterrence. The two sides agreed to hold the high-level EDSCG annually. The next EDSCG engagement will be held during the first half of 2023 at the expert-level to advance efforts prior to the next EDSCG high-level meeting.”


9/19/22:
The government and ruling People Power Party (PPP) butted heads today with the Democratic Party over the meaning of the September 19 inter-Korean military agreement and whether South Korea will abide by it in the future. Today marked the fourth anniversary of the signing of the agreement which, among other points, stipulates measures to prevent accidental military clashes between the two Koreas. The September 19 agreement, which has served as a safety valve for peace on the Korean Peninsula, is now shaking like a lantern in the wind due to the Yoon Suk-yeol administration’s push to erase any traces of the previous government’s inter-Korean policies as well as advancements in North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced today that any violation of the agreement by Pyongyang would be met by Seoul based on the principle of reciprocity. “It is important to mutually implement the September 19 military agreement in line with the aim of easing military tensions between the two Koreas and building trust,” said Moon Hong-shik, deputy spokesperson for the MND, at a regular briefing today. “I would also like to add that, if North Korea violates the September 19 military agreement, we will respond firmly in accordance with the principle of reciprocity,” Moon added. In other words, the government is emphasizing the implementation of the September 19 agreement while also threatening to dump the agreement if North Korea violates it in the future. Officially titled the “Agreement on the Implementation of the Historic Panmunjom Declaration in the Military Domain,” the military agreement in question was announced alongside the Pyongyang Joint Declaration at an inter-Korean summit on September 19, 2018. Its terms included the cessation of hostile activities, the transformation of the DMZ into a peace zone, and steps to build military trust. Prior to the agreement, there had been around 270 major and minor cases of military tensions and clashes around the Military Demarcation Line separating South and North Korea. After the agreement, that number dropped to two. (Kwon Hyuk-chul, Sun Dam-eun, and Lim Jae-woo, “2018 Inter-Korean Agreement Turns 4 amid Uncertain Future,” Hankyore, September 20, 2022)

Makowsky, Liu and Heinonen: “Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates minor flooding has occurred around North Korea’s Magunpo Solid Rocket Engine Test Facility, the country’s largest solid-fuel engine testing complex, over the past several weeks. No signs of test-related activities were apparent, although several trucks and trailers were present around late July and early August. While there have been no enhancements made to the site in recent years and no new tests reported since 2017, North Korea’s ambitions to develop and deploy solid-fuel submarine-launched and intercontinental ballistic missiles will most certainly require extensive developmental testing of new solid-fueled rocket motors. The Magunpo facility is located on the coast of the East Korea Bay, immediately west of the Songchon River, which flows into the bay and separates Magunpo from the city of Hamhung. The test site was first identified in imagery in 2013 and confirmed by North Korean media in 2016 when Kim Jong Un was reported to have “guided” a test of a large solid-fuel rocket engine there. The last reported test conducted at this facility was in late 2017, although the site has been well maintained since then, and minor activity is occasionally observed. Unlike many of the other missile test centers in North Korea, which tend to be located at higher elevations, Magunpo is near sea level, and there have been recent tell-tale signs of flooding around the complex owing to the heavy monsoon rains. At the horizontal test stand (the East Test Stand), water was seen pooled at the east end of the flame trench in early July and did not completely drain from the trench until after mid-August. Imagery from July 22 showed the area around the east side of the horizontal test stand to be muddy and partially flooded with vehicle tracks passing through it, and the adjacent fields to the east were covered in standing water. By July 25, temporary walkways had been installed to bridge the long, rectangular flame trench, allowing access to the north side of the stand. By September 12, the water was gone from the trench, and only one walkway remained in place at the end closest to the stand. Near the horizontal test stand, just east of the flame trench, evidence of earth grading appeared around July 12. While unclear, this appears to have been an effort to build up the east side of the test site to repel rising storm waters that might threaten the test stand. This graded area covers approximately 270 square meters, and a slightly raised berm extends along its south edge. Imagery from early July showed tarps had been draped over the vertical engine test stand (the West Test Stand), presumably to protect the equipment within it. By July 27, the coverings had been removed, suggesting that the threat of rain damage had passed, although imagery from August 10 revealed that standing water was still present in the flame trench and adjacent fields. General activity at the test site has been light over the past several years; thus, the presence of several trucks—including tractor-trailers in mid-summer—is noteworthy. Whether this was related to flood prevention activities, general site maintenance, or a possible engine test is unknown.” (Peter Makowsky, Jack Liu and Olli Heinonen,”Magunpo Solid Fuel Engine Test Facility: Signs of Flooding,” 38North, September 19, 2022)

The world’s largest body of physicists admitted today that a report it had issued seven months ago contained errors that downplayed the effectiveness of a novel plan for shooting down missiles. The American Physical Society published the 54-page report in February. It assessed the overall feasibility of thwarting missile strikes and concluded that a proposal that the United States use drones to shoot down North Korean missiles faced “very difficult challenges.” The group sent the report to Congress and officials in the Biden administration as part of the society’s long history of providing guidance on cutting-edge weapons to defense policy decision makers. Three months later, in May, the group pulled the document from its website, saying in an online note that the report was under review by its authors and would be “re-posted when available.” The note gave no reason for the withdrawal. But the scientists who proposed the drone idea say the reason was errors in the society’s technical analysis of the concept, which the society acknowledged on its website Monday but has yet to detail or explain. “The whole thing is outrageous,” said Richard L. Garwin, the lead scientist behind the proposal. Dr. Garwin, 94, has advised the U.S. government on issues of national security for more than a half century. He also wields outsize influence in the scientific community because he’s credited with designing — at age 23 in 1951 — the world’s first hydrogen bomb. He and the other proponent of the drone idea say they want Washington officials to have an impartial assessment of the plan as they consider how to improve the nation’s defenses against enemy missiles. “It’s a potential system for the defense of the United States, and these people are trying to stop it,” said Theodore A. Postol, the other scientist and an emeritus professor of science and national security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A group of 13 physicists and engineers wrote the February report. Its chairman was Frederick K. Lamb of the University of Illinois. The co-chairs were James D. Wells of the University of Michigan and Laura Grego of M.I.T. and the Union of Concerned Scientists. The private group, based in Cambridge, Mass., has often faulted antimissile defense as futile and destabilizing. Garwin and Postol’s antimissile plan zeros in on destroying North Korean missiles fired at the United States. After Pyongyang achieved a run of successful flight tests in 2017, American intelligence agencies described its intercontinental ballistic missiles and their nuclear warheads as an emerging threat. According to the plan, American drones would loiter over the Sea of Japan. If North Korea began a nuclear attack, the drones would fire rocket interceptors that would track the fiery exhaust of the rising missiles and annihilate them. If feasible, the idea is seen as superior to the traditional missile defense method — shattering a missile’s incoming warheads as they race toward their targets. Experts agree that rising missiles are slower, easier to track and far more vulnerable to attack. By contrast, the drone interceptors would linger relatively close to enemy launchers. Garwin and Postol detailed their plan in 2017 and 2018 studies, prompting the Trump administration to examine the idea as a possible way to thwart the new generation of more threatening North Korean missiles. The main error uncovered by Garwin and Postol in the society’s report centers on the speed of their proposed interceptor rockets and thus how far they would have to fly. The report’s diagram shows the carrier drones as having to loiter over North Korea’s mainland or a narrow strip of its coastal waters in order to knock out missiles fired at Boston, New York or Washington. In such locations, the drones could be shot down. But the two scientists found that the study group had used the wrong interceptor speed — less than 2.5 miles per second instead of the faster pace of more than 3.1 miles per second. That error might seem small, but the military upshot was not. For an interceptor flight of 195 seconds, the baseline, the correct number was seen as moving the drones more than 100 miles farther out to sea. “It puts you deep inside the Sea of Japan, where you can loiter and take aim at your leisure,” Dr. Postol said. “Theirs puts you into an area where you can’t operate.” Soon after the report’s February release, Garwin and Postol began exchanging emails with the report’s authors, which The Times has reviewed. In them, the authors admit to mistakes and suggest corrections. (William J. Broad, “Physics Body Concedes Mistakes in Published Study of Missile Defense,” New York Times, September 20, 2022, A-21)


9/20/22:
The United States made yet another dialogue offer to North Korea this summer through a communication channel in New York, but the North has not responded, Washington’s top nuclear envoy said today. U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim said that the overture was made through the so-called New York channel in July, as he highlighted the Joe Biden administration’s continued commitment to reengage with Pyongyang. “I believe our last communication with the DPRK was during the summer. We sent the message reiterating our interest in re-engagement and also re-offering our assistance in COVID-related items,” Kim said in a meeting with reporters in Seoul, referring to the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “But I say ‘no interest’ (from the North) in the sense that they have not responded to any of our messages.” The ambassador pointed to a “strict” pandemic-induced lockdown in the North as well as the spread of the coronavirus as potential reasons why the North has remained unresponsive to the latest and previous overtures by the U.S. in recent years. “As they get the COVID situation under control, and as they open up, hopefully, they might show some interest,” he said. Kim stressed that both Seoul and Washington have “many creative ideas” for reengagement with the North, calling on Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table to work towards the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula and address “issues of concern to all sides.” But he did not elaborate. “The problem is that in order for us to try these ideas, we need a partner. But the one thing we want to avoid is just negotiating by ourselves,” he said. “We need a willing partner on the other side of the table, who will engage us in a serious discussion about all of these ideas that we have … many creative ideas, including ideas to address their concerns.” Asked if his team will reach out to the North in the near future again, the envoy said it has no plans at the moment. In a show of Washington’s desire for diplomacy with Pyongyang, Kim noted Biden has not foreclosed the possibility of “leadership engagement” with the recalcitrant regime. “We have not ruled out leadership engagement in diplomacy, but it would have to be done in a way that there’s adequate preparation, and that prospects for progress are real in order for our president to engage personally,” he said. Touching on lingering concerns about the possibility of the North carrying out what would be its seventh nuclear test, Kim warned that there will be a “stronger-than-before” response should it happen. “I think our response will be responsible and decisive, and it will send a very clear message to the DPRK that there are consequences to their irresponsible actions,” Kim said. He added, “I think it’s inevitable that our response will be stronger than before. We need to build on what we have been doing because it wouldn’t make sense for us to be remaining the same when North Koreans are continuing to escalate in terms of their provocation.” Asked to comment on the North’s recent codification of an assertive nuclear policy, Kim took it seriously, but cautioned against “overanalyzing” it. “I think the security risk is too real for us to just assume that anything’s a bluff,” he said. “I think rather than trying to overanalyze what it really means in reality, it is much more constructive for us to focus on what we can do, which is to make sure that we are prepared to deal with all contingencies.” Kim brushed aside speculation that North Korea might have been taken off the U.S.’ list of policy priorities as Washington is preoccupied with a raft of other challenges, like the war in Ukraine. “I can assure you that this is still an issue of great priority and concern to the U.S. government,” he said, cataloguing a series of concerns about the North’s weapons of mass destruction programs and human rights and humanitarian situations. Touching on Washington’s “practical, incremental” approach toward the North’s nuclear quandary, the envoy pointed out the technical reality: denuclearization cannot happen “overnight.” “So, they would have to be phased,” he said. “I think it’s reasonable to expect you sort of start with the (nuclear) freeze and you continue to build towards complete denuclearization.” On the possibility of arms reduction being an interim goal toward the end state of the North’s denuclearization, he said that “no one” is talking about arms reduction. “Our policy remains to pursue complete denuclearization through diplomacy,” he added. (Yonhap, “U.S. Made Dialogue Offer to N. Korea, No Response Yet: Envoy,” September 20, 2022)

South Korean soldiers conducted combined training with their American fellows at a key training center in California earlier this month, the U.S. military said today, amid the allies’ stepped-up move to sharpen deterrence against North Korean threats. The Army soldiers completed the training program at the National Training Center as part of efforts to improve “warfighting” capabilities and “interoperability” among the allied forces, according to the Eight Army. (Yonhap, “S. Korean Troops Joined Allied Drills in California for Interoperability: U.S. Military,” Korea Herald, September 20, 2022)

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Tuesday renewed his offer to meet North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim Jong Un, as tensions simmer over Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Kishida said that Japan still stood by diplomacy set out two decades ago by former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi on his historic visit to Pyongyang. “Japan is prepared to engage in dialogue on matters of mutual concern,” Kishida said. “I am determined to meet with Chairman Kim Jong Un without any conditions and will miss no opportunity to take actions with all my dedication,” he said. (AFP, “Japan PM Says Willing to Meet North Korean Leader,” September 21, 2022)


9/21/22:
Liu and Heinonen: “Commercial satellite imagery of the Sinpho South Shipyard from September 18 reveals six barges and vessels gathered around the construction hall quay, suggesting that the North Koreans are preparing to launch a new submarine. Construction of what is believed to be a new ballistic missile submarine (SSB) began in early 2016. In 2019, Kim Jong Un visited the shipyard; images from his guidance visit raised questions about what the North Koreans were actually building—a new SSB or a modified ROMEO-class (or both)—but suggested construction was nearing completion. The parts yard adjacent to the construction halls has been empty since late summer of 2020, but so far there have been no indications in North Korean media about when the new submarine might be launched. While barges and a dry dock have been occasionally observed around the submarine launch quay at the main construction hall, the presence of six vessels and barges in this area has not been observed before. There is also an apparent tow fixture on the launch quay rollout rails that could be used to ensure the barges tow the submarine out along the rails. Since the quay abruptly drops into the water, the floating drydock could be used to receive the submarine as it comes off the quay and then gently set it into the water. These barges were not present on imagery from September 12, reported by CSIS’ Beyond Parallel, indicating that the preparations are likely still at an early stage. This raises the question of where a new submarine would be berthed once it is launched. The secure boat basin is one possible choice, although only one submarine can fit under the covered area of the quay. Another potential area would be the probable submarine pen and L-shaped pier that have been under slow construction in recent years. The hatch, located in the sail of the submarine, is estimated to be 1.8 meters in diameter, which can readily accommodate at least a Pukguksong-1 or Pukguksong-3 submarine-launched ballistic missiles’ launch canisters. The Pukguksong-1 ( KN-11) has a reported diameter of 1.1 meters, and the Pukguksong-3, 1.4 meters. (Jack Liu and Olli Heinonen, “Sinpho South Shipyard: Possible Preparations for New Submarine Launch,” 38North, September 21, 2022)


9/22/22:
DPRK Ministry of Defense General Bureau of Equipment Vice Director General’s press statement: “Recently, the U.S. and other hostile forces talked about the “violation of a resolution” of the UNSC, spreading a “rumor of arms dealings” between the DPRK and Russia. Not only the development, production, possession of military equipment, but also their export and import are the lawful right peculiar to a sovereign state, and nobody is entitled to criticize it. We have never recognized the UNSC unlawful “sanctions resolution” against the DPRK, which was cooked up by the U.S. and its vassal forces. But we take this opportunity to make clear one thing. We have never exported weapons or ammunition to Russia before and we will not plan to export them. It is not sure from where the rumor originated which the U.S. is spreading, but it is aimed at tarnishing the DPRK’s image. We condemn the U.S. for thoughtlessly circulating the rumor against the DPRK to pursue its base political and military aim, and we warn the U.S. to stop making reckless remarks pulling up the DPRK and to keep its mouth shut.” (KCNA, “Vice Director General of General Bureau of Equipment of Ministry of National Defense of DPRK Issues Press Statement,” September 22, 2022)


9/23/22:
South Korea’s unification ministry urged local activist groups to refrain from sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border amid lingering concerns that such a campaign could lead to the escalation of tensions on the peninsula. The ministry also made clear Seoul will take a “strong and stern” measure in case Pyongyang carries out its threat of retaliatory action against those who seek to spread those leaflets, usually using large-scale balloons. “The government is concerned that the leafleting is continuing despite our repeated calls on the organizations to refrain from (sending leaflets), and we urge them again to refrain from sending the leaflets and other materials,” the ministry’s deputy spokesperson, Lee Hyo-jung, said during a regular press briefing. Last month, Kim Yo-jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, reiterated the claim that the leaflets sent by activist groups in the South were the source of the COVID-19 outbreak in the North and warned of “deadly retaliatory” countermeasures against Seoul. The ministry’s statement came amid speculation that activist groups could send leaflets on the occasion of North Korea Freedom Week, which runs from September 25 to October 1. Observers say the government also appears to be seeking to avoid unnecessarily provoking the North. (Yi Wonju, “S. Korean Gov’t Calls on Activists to Refrain from Sending Leaflets to N.K.” Yonhap, September 23, 2022)


9/25/22:
North Korea launched a short-range ballistic missile off its east coast today in its first ballistic missile test in nearly four months, the South Korean military said. The missile test came two days after the United States aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan arrived at Busan, a port on the southeast coast, to participate in a joint exercise with South Korean military. The North has traditionally conducted military exercises, including weapons tests, to counter joint drills by South Korea and the United States, which it has called rehearsals for invasion. The missile was fired from Taechon in North Korea’s northwest at 6:53 a.m., and flew 373 miles before falling off the country’s east coast, South Korean defense officials said. This was North Korea’s first ballistic missile test since June 5, when it launched a volley of eight short-range ballistic missiles. The country has conducted 17 weapons tests this year that involved ballistic missiles, as well as two that involved cruise missiles. In the last such test, on August 17, North Korea launched two cruise missiles. (Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Launches Ballistic Missile off Its East Coast,” New York Times, September. 25, 2022) The launch came as Vice President Kamala Harris plans to visit Seoul later this week and the allies are set to hold a joint maritime exercise in the East Sea, involving the USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group. Soon after the launch, JCS Chairman Gen. Kim Seung-kyum and Gen. Paul LaCamera, the commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, had discussions on security coordination. “They reaffirmed that through the planned South Korea-U.S. maritime exercise and other efforts, they would further solidify a combined defense posture against any North Korean threats and provocations,” the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters. It strongly urged the North to immediately stop all ballistic missile tests, saying such a launch is an act of “significant provocation that undermines peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula as well as in the international community,” and a “clear” breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions. “While monitoring and tracking North Korean movements to prepare against any additional provocation in close cooperation with the U.S., our military will maintain a firm readiness posture based on the capability to respond overwhelmingly to any North Korean provocation,” the JCS said. The military is looking into the possibility that the projectile fired was the KN-23 missile, which is similar to the Russian Iskander, a source said. (Song Sang-ho, “N. Korea Fires One Short-Range Missile into East Sea: S. Korean Military,” Yonhap, September 25, 2022)


9/28/22:
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) into the East Sea today, ratcheting up tensions amid an ongoing South Korea-U.S. naval exercise involving an American aircraft carrier. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launches from the Sunan area in Pyongyang between 6:10 p.m. and 6:20 p.m., and that the missiles flew some 360 kilometers at apogees of around 30 km at top speeds of about Mach 6. It did not provide other details, saying the intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are conducting a detailed analysis to verify the specifics of the missiles. Informed sources said that the two SRBMs appeared to have been fired from road-mobile launchers. (Song Sang-ho, “North Korea Fires 2 Short-Range Ballistic Missiles into East Sea: JCS,” Yonhap, September 28, 2022)


9/29/22:
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles from a western inland town toward the East Sea this evening, marking its third missile launch in less than a week. North Korea’s latest missile launches came hours after U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris denounced North Korea’s “brutal dictatorship” while reaffirming the U.S.’ ironclad defense commitment to South Korea during her visit to South Korea. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said two short-range ballistic missiles were fired from Sunchon in South Pyongan Province toward the East Sea from 8:48 p.m. to 8:57 p.m. The short-range ballistic missiles traveled about 350 kilometers at a speed of Mach 5 and an altitude of around 50 km, the JCS said in a statement, adding that South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are analyzing the specifications. The missiles were reportedly fired from a transporter erector launcher and targeted a specific region in the East Sea. The target is believed to be Alsom, a small uninhabited island off the North’s east coast. North Korea has launched 36 ballistic missiles so far this year. North Korea fired a total of five short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea in three discrete launches on Sunday, Wednesday and today. North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles from the capital city of Pyongyang toward the East Sea on Wednesday. North Korea also launched a short-range ballistic missile from Taechon County in North Pyongan Province toward the East Sea on Sunday morning. The spate of missile launches seems to be a tit-for-tat action against the US and South Korean alliance’s move to reinforce and demonstrate their deterrence and readiness against North Korean threats through various channels. (Ji Da-gyum, “N. Korea Conducts Third Ballistic Missile Launch in Less Than a Week,” Korea Herald, September 30, 2022)


9/30/22:
South Korea, the United States and Japan will conduct an anti-submarine warfare exercise near the Korean Peninsula for the first time in five years to enhance combined capabilities and interoperability against escalating threats from North Korea. The South Korean and U.S. navies and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force are set to stage trilateral drills today in international waters of the East Sea, South Korea and the U.S. announced yesterday. “The exercise is designed to strengthen capabilities to counter North Korea’s mounting submarine threats, including the advancement of submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) capabilities,” South Korea’s Navy said in a Korean-language statement. The US Navy’s USS Ronald Reagan, a 100,000-ton nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, will notably participate in the forthcoming anti-submarine warfare exercise along with its carrier strike group. Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS Barry and Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold will be mobilized for the exercise. The US nuclear-powered fast attack submarine USS Annapolis will also join the naval drills, The Korea Herald has learned. South Korea’s Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force will respectively dispatch the 4,400-ton Munmu the Great destroyer and the Asahi-class destroyer. The three navy forces will search, detect and track submarines and exchange information during the anti-submarine warfare exercise in a bid to promote interoperability, tactical and technical coordination and efficient communications in anti-submarine warfare, according to the South Korean and US navies. Rear Adm. Michael Donnelly, commander of the carrier strike group, will lead the exercise. Capt. Cho Choong-ho, commander of the Battle Squadron 11 at the South Korean Navy, said, “We will continue such realistic high-intensity exercises so that we can react decisively and overwhelmingly against any form of provocations.” (Ji Da-gyum, “S. Korea, U.S., Japan Set to Stage Anti-Submarine Drill to Counter N. Korea,” Korea Herald, September 29, 2022)


10/1/22:
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles from the capital city of Pyongyang toward the east coast this morning, marking its fourth missile launch in a week. The missile launches came hours before South Korea was set to stage a large-scale military parade to mark the October 1 Armed Forces Day with the participation of President Yoon Suk-yeol, Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup and top military commanders. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said “two short-range ballistic missiles were fired from the Sunan area in Pyongyang city toward the East Sea from around 06:45 a.m. to 07:03 a.m. on Saturday.” The short-range ballistic missiles traveled about 350 kilometers at a speed of around Mach 6 and an altitude of 30 km, the JCS said in a statement, adding that South Korean and US intelligence authorities are analyzing the specifications. The travel distance is approximately equidistant from the launch site to the South Korean Army, Navy and Air Force Headquarters in the city of Gyeryong, South Chungcheong Province, where the national event was held to mark the 74th Armed Forces Day. The missiles were reportedly fired from a transporter erector launcher and targeted a specific region in the East Sea. The target is believed to be Alsom, a small uninhabited island off North Korea’s east coast. The JCS said its chief, Gen. Kim Seung-kyum, and Gen. Paul LaCamera, chief of the United Nations Command and United States Forces Korea, held a virtual meeting and closely shared their assessment of the situation. “Our military will maintain a firm readiness posture while tracking and monitoring related moves in preparation for further provocations by North Korea in close coordination with the US,” the JCS said. The US Indo-Pacific Command also issued a statement to reaffirm the US “ironclad” defense commitments to South Korea and Japan, explaining that the US is consulting closely with its allies and partners on the two ballistic missile launches. National Security Adviser Kim Sung-han convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council standing committee to discuss countermeasures to North Korea’s missile launches, the South Korean presidential office said. President Yoon Suk-yeol was immediately briefed on the launches. The NSC standing committee “strongly condemned North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile launches in violation of UN Security Council resolutions,” noting that North Korea has shortened the interval between launches and fired ballistic missiles from various places. The presidential committee also “deplored North Korea’s behavior of focusing on conducting provocations when its people’s livelihoods are in a critical situation due to economic difficulties and the antivirus crisis.” North Korea unprecedently launched two ballistic missiles around four hours before South Korea was set to celebrate its Armed Forces Day at the Gyeryongdae military headquarters on Saturday morning. The ceremony was held under the theme of “strong defense, powerful military based on science and technology” and aimed to “demonstrate strong response capabilities and resolution to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats,” according to South Korea’s Ministry. President Yoon sent a message of warning to the Kim Jong-un regime, urging North Korea to relinquish its nuclear weapons in his speech marking the Armed Forces Day. “Our military will maintain a firm readiness and protect the lives and property of our people against any kind of North Korean provocations and threats,” Yoon said. “If North Korea attempts to use nuclear weapons, it will face a decisive and overwhelming response from the South Korea-US alliance and our military.” Yoon underscored his plan to significantly reinforce the military’s reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities and strike capabilities against North Korea by expeditiously completing the establishment of an indigenous three-axis defense system. The three-pronged defense system consists of the Kill Chain preemptive strike mechanism, Korea Air and Missile Defense, which aims to build complex and multi-layered missile defense shields, and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation. The South Korean military also displayed weapons systems which are the key elements of its three-axis defense system. 230-mm Chunmoo multiple rocket launchers, ground-to-ground Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) ballistic missiles, Hyunmoo-II ballistic missiles and Hyunmoo-III cruise missiles were mobilized to show South Korea’s strike capabilities. The South Korean Air Force’s Patriot Advanced Capability 2 (PAC-2) and PAC-3 interceptor missiles and homegrown Cheongung II (M-SAM) mid-range surface-to-air missiles were put on display. North Korea has launched 38 ballistic missiles so far this year. But among them, a total of seven short-range ballistic missiles were fired this week in four discrete launches on September 25, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. The three previous launches were conducted at different places and times. The spate of missile launches in short intervals seems to be an apparent tit-for-tat action against the alliance’s move to reinforce their deterrence and readiness and crank up trilateral security cooperation with Japan against mounting threats from North Korea. (Ji Da-gyum,”N. Korea Conducts Fourth Ballistic Missile Launch in a Week,” Korea Herald, October 1, 2022) Military authorities have been looking into possibilities that the North’s recent launches might have involved its KN-23, KN-24, the KN-25 super-large multiple rocket launcher or other short-range platforms. The KN-23 and KN-24 are modeled after Russia’s Iskander ballistic missile and the U.S.’ Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), respectively. Both KN-23 and KN-24 missiles are known for “pull-up” maneuvers to avoid interception. (Song Sang-ho, “N. Korea Fires 2 Ballistic Missiles into East Sea: S. Korean Military,” Yonhap, October 1, 2022)


10/4/22:
North Korea today fired a ballistic missile over the Japanese archipelago for the first time in five years, with the projectile reaching the longest distance ever for a missile launched by Pyongyang, the Japanese government said. Japan’s Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu told reporters that North Korea’s missile flew 4,600 kilometers — putting it within reach of the U.S. territory of Guam, where key military bases are located — at an altitude of 1,000 km. White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement that according to a U.S. assessment, North Korea launched a “long-range” missile. Tokyo estimates it to be of intermediate-range or greater. Hamada said the missile flew over Japan for around one minute and landed outside the country’s exclusive economic zone some 3,200 km east of the nation in the Pacific Ocean, adding there were no reports of damage to aircraft or ships. The missile could have been a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile, which Pyongyang has fired four times in the past, Hamada said. It is the seventh time North Korea has launched a missile over Japan. The last occasion was in September 2017. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno Hirokazu said. Tokyo lodged a protest with Pyongyang over the missile launch through the embassy in Beijing, but that Japan did not try to destroy the projectile as damage to the country was not expected. Earlier today, the Japanese government issued an alert urging residents of the northernmost main island of Hokkaido and the northeastern prefecture of Aomori to remain inside buildings. Matsuno told a press conference in the morning that the missile was fired at 7:22 a.m. and is believed to have splashed down in the Pacific Ocean outside Japan’s EEZ around 7:44 a.m. The missile’s presence in Japanese airspace caused disruptions at airports, with All Nippon Airways Co. and Japan Airlines Co. reporting that in response to a government J-Alert, staff working on the tarmac at some airports in Hokkaido and Tohoku temporarily evacuated indoors. The takeoff of a plane departing from Aomori airport for Narita airport near Tokyo was delayed, while shinkansen bullet train services in Tohoku and Hokkaido were briefly suspended. Senior Japanese, U.S. and South Korean officials talked over the phone and lambasted North Korea’s missile launch as a “clear and serious challenge” to the international community. Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said he agreed with his U.S. counterpart Antony Blinken during a phone call to “closely cooperate toward the complete denuclearization of North Korea.” Later in the day, Hayashi also held phone talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin, promising to maintain close bilateral and trilateral collaboration involving the United States, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said. In Tokyo, Hamada met with visiting U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. John Aquilino. They strongly condemned North Korea’s missile launch while reaffirming the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance. The South Korean military said North Korea fired a medium-range ballistic missile eastward from Mupyong-ri in the northern province of Jagang. The Chinese Foreign Ministry refrained from criticizing the missile launch, saying in a statement that issues surrounding the Korean Peninsula should be resolved through dialogue. Today’s missile launch was North Korea’s fifth in 10 days. It previously fired missiles on Saturday in an apparent protest against joint naval drills held last week involving the United States and South Korea. (Kyodo, “North Korea Fires Longest-Range Missile Yet, 1st to Fly over Japan in 5 Years,” October 4, 2022)

A South Korean F-15K fighter fired two JADAM precision bombs at a firing range on a Yellow Sea island today, in response to North Korea’s intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) launch earlier in the day, the military said. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said that the F-15K dropped the Joint Direct Attack Munition bombs at a target in the range on the uninhabited island of Jikdo following air drills with U.S. warplanes in a combined strike package. The strike package consisted of four F-15Ks and four U.S. F-16 fighters. “Through the combined flight of the air strike package and precision strike drills, South Korea and the United States demonstrated their will to respond sternly to any Northern threats as well as their capabilities to conduct a precision strike at the origin of provocations based on the alliance’s overwhelming forces,” the JCS said in a press release. (Yonhap, “S. Korean F-15K Fighter Fires 2 JDAM Precision Bombs in Response to N.K. Missile Launch,” October 4, 2022)


10/5/22:
South Korea and the United States fired four ground-to-ground missiles into the East Sea today in joint drills, a day after North Korea’s intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) launch, according to the South’s military. The two sides each launched two Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles, which precisely hit mock targets and demonstrated the allies’ deterrence capability, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said. Yesterday, the North fired an IRBM from Mupyong-ri in its northern province of Jagang in its first launch of an IRBM in eight months. It flew around 4,600 kilometers over Japan and landed in the Pacific. The allies are maintaining a full readiness amid the possibility of additional provocations by the North, the JCS said in a press release without specifying the exact location and time of the drills. Residents in and around the eastern coastal city of Gangneung said they saw a bright flash and heard a strong roar apparently from the training at around 1:00 a.m. The South’s military, meanwhile, fired one Hyunmoo-2C ballistic missile, but it fell inside the base after an abnormal flight. Its warhead was found around 1 kilometer backward from the launch point and just 700 meters away from the nearest civilian home, a JCS official said on the customary condition of anonymity. There have been no casualties reported as the military is looking into the exact cause of the incident. The propellant was burned, while the warhead itself did not explode, it added. Relevant authorities plan to examine all Hyunmoo-2C missiles in operation to ensure they have no defects. It is “very regrettable” that local residents were surprised by that, the official added. Later Wednesday, the top military officers of South Korea and the U.S. held phone consultations on ways to respond to evolving nuclear and missile threats from the North. JCS Chairman Gen. Kim Seung-kyum and his U.S. counterpart, Gen. Mark A. Milley, condemned the North’s IRBM launch and warned that the North would face a stronger combat posture from the allies if it continued its provocations, Kim’s office said. Chae Yun-hwan, “Allies Fire 4 Missiles into East Sea in Response to N. Korea’s Provocation: Military,” Yonhap, October 5, 2022) The USS Ronald Reagan is turning around and coming back to the East Sea to respond to North Korea’s launch of an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) over Japan yesterday, according to the South Korean military today. The aircraft carrier’s U-turn, which Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) described as “highly unusual,” is meant to “strengthen the joint South Korean-U.S. readiness” and “showcase the steadfast determination of the South Korea-U.S. alliance to respond sternly to North Korea’s continuous provocations and threats,” according to the JCS. The USS Ronald Reagan was heading away after finishing four-day joint naval exercises with the South Korean Navy in the East Sea on Sept. 29. The Ronald Reagan carrier strike group arrived in Busan on September 23. (Michael Lee, “USS Ronald Reagan Does U-Turn after North Korean Missile,” JoongAng Ilbo, October 5, 2022)

South Korea is facing growing calls to acquire nuclear weapons irrespective of ideological dogma. Such calls are being fueled by North Korea’s growing nuclear menace and misgivings about the U.S.’ extended deterrence if Pyongyang decides to attack its southern neighbor. “There has been a nuclear taboo ― a normative inhibition against the first use of nuclear weapons ― but Russia is about to break it in its war against Ukraine, thereby stoking concerns among countries, (including South Korea) that do not have their own nuclear weapons,” said Go Myong-hyun, a senior fellow of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Go added that, despite Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine, the United States and NATO were poised to respond to it with conventional weapons, with many South Koreans fearful of Washington’s possible half-hearted response to North Korea’s potential nuclear attack against the South. Cheong Seong-chang, the director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute, also said that the growing interest in the development of a domestic nuclear weapons program comes as the U.S.’ steadfast nuclear retaliation, in the case of North Korea using nuclear weapons against South Korea, appears uncertain. “Even though the allies held an Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) meeting in September, for the first time in nearly five years, they failed to reach an agreement on the U.S.’ immediate and automatic retaliation in response to a North Korean nuclear attack against the South,” Cheong said. “North Korea has made significant progress in the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, so it seems that our trust in the U.S. nuclear umbrella, aimed at ensuring deterrence against nuclear threats, has been eroded,” Cheong said. According to a recent poll by the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University, more than half of South Koreans, or 55.5 percent, supported the development of a domestic nuclear weapons program, with 92.5 percent of 1,200 respondents believing that North Korea will not abandon its nuclear program. In that respect, calls for an independent nuclear arsenal have been reignited amid an accelerated buildup of North Korea’s nuclear weapons. “Ukraine was the world’s third-largest nuclear power, but it disarmed its nuclear weapons following security assurances from the U.S., Britain and Russia and as a result, Ukraine is now facing Russia’s nuclear attack,” Daegu Mayor Hong Joon-pyo said on Facebook, Wednesday, In 2017, Hong, who was the leader of the Liberty Korea Party, the predecessor of the current ruling People Power Party, claimed that South Korea should acquire nuclear weapons if it is to negotiate with North Korea on an equal footing. “Amid the U.S. and British struggle to effectively deal with Russia’s nuclear aggression, if North Korea uses nuclear weapons against us, while declaring its attacks against the U.S. and Japan, could they retaliate against the North with nuclear arsenals?” Hong added. He added, “It is time for a full review of our nuclear strategy against North Korea’s nuclear weapons.” Former Korea Foundation President Lee Geun, a professor at Seoul National University’s Graduate School of International Studies, recently presented a similar view. “Now, we need to acknowledge the irreversibility of North Korea’s nuclear weapons policy and think about our nuclear power strategy in preparation for this,” he said on Facebook. Referring to President Yoon Suk-yeol’s remarks in his speech marking Armed Forces Day, Saturday, that North Korea’s nuclear weapons development defies the international nonproliferation treaty, Lee also said, “Such a political statement sounds unrealistic and is just empty rhetoric.” Until now, any mention of acquiring nuclear weapons has been considered taboo within the South Korean government, given that it would result in significant costs while bringing about limited benefits for the country. Go said developing a South Korean nuclear weapons program would result in an “invisible” high opportunity cost beyond punitive measures meted out by the international community. “Many believe that South Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons could lead to the international community placing sanctions on the nation, but as we witnessed in India’s case, it would barely impose any punitive measures on us in consideration of the country’s role and status in the international community,” he said. “Rather, the move would undermine South Korea’s alliance with the U.S., because the alliance is based on Washington’s provision of its nuclear umbrella in a way, but South Korea’s development of independent nuclear weapons could break up the alliance and that is why we have yet to be enthusiastic about acquiring nuclear weapons.” (Kang Seung-woo, “South Korea Faces Growing Calls to Acquire Nuclear Weapons,” Korea Times, October 5, 2022)


10/6/22:
DPRK Foreign Ministry’ press statement: “The DPRK Foreign Ministry strongly condemns the U.S. and its some satellites for unwarrantedly referring to the UNSC the just counteraction taken by the Korean People’s Army against south Korea-U.S. joint drills escalating the military tensions on the Korean peninsula. We are watching the development in which the U.S. poses a serious threat to the stability of the situation on the Korean peninsula and its vicinity by dispatching again the carrier task force to the waters off the peninsula.” (KCNA, “DPRK Foreign Ministry Issues Press Statement,” October 6, 2022)

Twelve North Korean military aircraft flew in formation and presumably conducted a firing exercise today, Seoul officials said, in apparent protest over recent military drills between South Korea and the United States. The group of eight fighter jets and four bombers staged the formation flight north of the inter-Korean air boundary at around 2 p.m., and they were thought to have conducted air-to-surface firing drills, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Some 30 South Korean fighter jets were immediately deployed to the area in an “overwhelming” response to the flight, which is a move unseen over the past year, the JCS said. The South’s Air Force scrambled the jets as the North’s warplanes moved south of the Special Reconnaissance Line, which Seoul has drawn just north of the inter-Korean boundary for security purposes. (Yonhap, “12 N.K. Warplanes Fly in Formation Apparently Staging Firing Drills: S. Korean Military,” October 6, 2022)

North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles that landed today outside Japan’s economic exclusion zone, according to Japan’s Defense Ministry. They were launched from near Pyongyang toward the waters off the east coast, according to the South Korean military. In a news briefing, Yasukazu Hamada, Japan’s defense minister, said the first missile was launched at 6 a.m. and traveled about 217 miles and reached a maximum altitude of about 62 miles. The second missile, launched at 6:15 a.m., flew close to 500 miles and as high as 31 miles. Hamada said the second missile followed what appeared to be an “irregular trajectory.” Some of the short-range ballistic missiles that North Korea has tested in recent years were able to change course during flight, making them more difficult to intercept. In brief remarks to reporters, The launches mark the 24th time this year that North Korea has conducted missile tests. The launches came a day after the United States and South Korean militaries fired four surface-to-surface missiles off the east coast of South Korea in a combined drill. Another South Korean ballistic missile fell immediately after takeoff during the exercise, but caused no casualties, South Korean defense officials said. Analysts have said that North Korea appears to be intensifying its missile-testing program in advance of midterm elections in the United States, and in response to an American aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, sailing in the waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula for the first time in five years for joint military exercises last month. North Korea has traditionally conducted its own military drills, including weapons tests, when the United States and its allies carry out joint military exercises in the region. The North calls those exercises rehearsals for invasion, while Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have said the drills help safeguard against the North’s growing nuclear threat. (Motoko Rich and Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Defiant, Firing More Missiles,” New York Times, October 6, 2022, p. A-13)

Van Diepen “North Korea’s latest missile launches, including the launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) over Japan on October 4 and two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) on October 6, provide a stark reminder of the numerous missile programs it is pursuing. This year alone, despite a short summer respite, Pyongyang has launched 43 missiles through October 6, including two unspecified cruise missiles and 41 ballistic missiles from short range up to intercontinental range. Although a great deal about North Korea’s missile program remains unknown—particularly the numbers of new missiles to be deployed and their accuracy—there are two key security implications for the United States, the Republic of Korea (South Korea or ROK) and Japan: The resumption of IRBM and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) testing underscores how the North’s nuclear threat against the US homeland bolsters its ability to deter a US-initiated attack and dissuade US escalation in a provocation or conflict initiated by North Korea; and This year’s tests provide further evidence that North Korea’s new, solid-propellant short-range missiles have the potential to substantially improve Pyongyang’s conventional warfighting capabilities if deployed in sufficient numbers. However, despite these improvements, the fundamental military and strategic situation remain: the US-ROK alliance retains clear conventional military superiority on the peninsula, the US retains overwhelming nuclear superiority over North Korea, and both of these things will almost certainly remain the case. Maintaining this situation, however, will require continued efforts to uphold US military and political credibility, alliance solidarity and South Korean and Japanese conventional military capability. It also will require ongoing efforts to blunt the effectiveness of North Korean missile attacks through active and passive defense measures. Thus far in 2022, we have seen 22 North Korean ballistic missile launch events involving the launch of 41 ballistic missiles—the most ballistic missile launch events and launches detected in any year to date, and it’s only early October. These include: Thirty-one launches of solid-propellant short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), probably including the previously-tested KN-23, KN-24 and KN-25, as well as a new-type, smaller missile linked by the North Koreans to “tactical nukes.” Two launches of a new maneuvering reentry vehicle (MaRV) on a liquid-propellant medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) booster first tested in 2021; the North touted this as a second type of “hypersonic missile” that it claims has completed development. Two tests (one probable) of the Hwasong-12 liquid-propellant IRBM, the first since 2017, with the North now claiming that series production and deployment of the system is either imminent or underway and a probable full-range (4,600 km) test in October. Most significantly, the resumption of ICBM testing after more than four years, with two apparent full-up tests (one successful), and up to four apparent scaled-down component tests (three successful), for the new, very large Hwasong-17 liquid-propellant missile. In addition, North Korea showcased a new, solid-propellant submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) even larger than the Pukguksong-5 missile in its 2021 military parades, which also has not yet been flight tested. Assessing the cumulative impact of this series of activities is complicated by the fact that a great deal about North Korea’s missile program remains unknown. Moreover, most of what we think we know from open sources about North Korean missiles—especially the newer systems—comes from what the North Koreans themselves say and the photos and videos they release. (Interestingly, the North has not provided any information on the ten launch events, involving 24 missiles, since April 16. On October 6, it did characterize recent launches as “the just counteraction taken by the Korean People’s Army against south Korea-U.S. joint drills escalating the military tensions on the Korean peninsula.”) Among the key unknowns are: The number of launchers and missiles that have been and will be produced/deployed for each type of missile system; System accuracy; Warhead weights and types; The role North Korea intends for each type of missile system in its military strategy; and The extent to which the North chooses to retire, retain, or improve its large existing force of legacy systems as new systems come online. The overall dimensions of the threat posed by North Korea’s missile force are difficult to judge in the absence of this information, especially how many targets can be engaged (especially in the US homeland) and the full conventional warfighting effectiveness of Pyongyang’s theater missile force. Considering the available information and North Korea’s large, longstanding legacy missile force, this year’s missile activity demonstrates two major strategic-level issues for the United States, South Korea and Japan. Underscores a growing nuclear threat to US territory. The resumption of IRBM and ICBM testing underscores the importance of North Korea’s relatively recent capability to deliver nuclear warheads against Guam, Hawaii and North America. In conjunction with its 25-year-long ability to threaten South Korea and Japan with nuclear weapons, this bolsters North Korea’s ability to: Preserve the existence of the regime; Deter any US-initiated attack; and Dissuade US conventional or nuclear escalation in a provocation or conflict initiated by Pyongyang. The testing seen this year also reminds us, however, that while the North probably regards its ICBMs as sufficiently reliable for the above purposes, they are not highly reliable. This is due to: The lack of flight testing since November 2017 of the apparently already-deployed Hwasong-15 ICBM (assuming the missile tested successfully on March 24 was a Hwasong-17); The two failures out of this year’s six apparently ICBM-related tests; and The lack of any full-range ICBM flight testing to successful reentry. As the threat to the US homeland increases, the risk increases that (a) the North could perceive it has increased freedom of action; and (b) Japan or South Korea can perceive the US nuclear umbrella is no longer sufficiently credible and decide they need an independent nuclear force. An improving conventional warfighting capability. This year’s tests provide further evidence of three attributes of North Korea’s new, solid-propellant SRBMs that collectively have the potential to substantially improve Pyongyang’s conventional warfighting capabilities. If deployed in large numbers, the four types of new missiles together will allow more intense conventional missile attacks, and the ability to tailor particular types of attacks to particular missile types. First, this year’s tests underscore that these missiles are reliable and making progress toward deployment. For instance: Only one of the 31 SRBM launches detected this year seems to have failed—the first known failure of the KN-23 out of at least 19 probable launches since 2019; and This year the North claimed that the rail-mobile version of the KN-23 was operational, and that the ATACMS-like KN-24 SRBM is in the process of deployment. Second, the tests continue to imply that these systems have improved accuracy compared to the earlier Scud-class and KN-02 SRBMs, thus allowing more effective strikes against US and ROK targets on the peninsula with fewer missiles per target, and allowing more targets to be attacked for a given force size. Third, the testing also emphasizes that the new SRBMs use flight profiles that provide more options to evade and attack US and ROK missile defenses, and allow the North to do so with fewer missiles (thus making more missiles available for other targets). Recent improvements in North Korea’s missile force capabilities, however, are not enough to change the fundamental military and strategic situation regarding the peninsula. This is for several reasons, including: North Korea has had such a large SRBM and MRBM force for so long, as well as an overwhelming artillery capability against Seoul and other targets within range of the DMZ, that its new solid-propellant SRBMs will add only incrementally to its theater threat. North Korea has long had many avenues to evade and penetrate theater missile defenses—including defense saturation, defense suppression, early-release submunitions and penetration aids. The new low-trajectory SRBMs and even “hypersonic missiles,” therefore, will provide additional options rather than “change the game.” Although the North Korean ICBM threat to the US homeland is recent and important, the alliance retains clear conventional military superiority on the peninsula, the US retains overwhelming nuclear superiority over North Korea, and both of these things will almost certainly remain the case. Thus, despite North Korea’s missile threat to the US homeland and improving conventional SRBM capabilities, the US-ROK alliance is still able to deter North Korea—just as the US and its allies successfully deterred the Soviet Union under conditions of US conventional inferiority and nuclear parity. Maintaining this deterrence, however, will require continued efforts to uphold US military and political credibility, alliance solidarity and South Korean and Japanese conventional military capability. It also will require ongoing efforts to blunt the effectiveness of North Korean missile attacks through active theater and homeland missile defenses, as well as passive defense measures such as hardening, dispersal, mobility, decoys and camouflage. (Vann H. Van Diepen, “North Korea’s 2022 Missile Activity: Implications for Allied Security,” 38North, October 6, 2022)

Mansourov: “Some Western analysts speculate that Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) may have learned the following three lessons from Russia’s war in Ukraine: 1. If Ukraine hadn’t given up its nuclear weapons in 1994, it wouldn’t have been attacked in 2022—just like Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011. Hence, Pyongyang should not negotiate away its nuclear arsenal and strive to preserve its nuclear deterrence capability if it can. 2. Looking at the reluctance of Western powers to directly intervene in the war in defense of Ukraine, and at the reluctance of China to provide Russia with all-out military support, Pyongyang may conclude that Beijing is unlikely to come to the defense of the DPRK in the event of a United States-Republic of Korea (US-ROK) attack. Hence, the DPRK must rely only on its nuclear weapons arsenal to counter any Western aggression. 3. Russia’s threat to use tactical and strategic nuclear weapons to deter Western powers from direct military intervention in Ukraine may have convinced the DPRK of the utility of nuclear threats for preventing the internationalization of the Korean conflict and for undermining the credibility of US-ROK extended nuclear deterrence. We assess with a high degree of confidence that the DPRK doesn’t need any additional justifications (such as “See what happened with Ukraine?”; or “See how unreliable international security guarantees are?”; or “Guess what? Nuclear threats actually work!”, and so on) for preserving its nuclear deterrent. The North Korean leadership made up its mind on the strategic, military, political, and diplomatic value of the nuclear deterrent a long time ago, has no intention to give up its nuclear weapons, and needs no additional rationale to continue to strengthen its nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, it may be in the interests of the DPRK’s enemies to convince the Kim regime as part of their strategic communications campaign that Pyongyang shouldn’t trust its allies—China and Russia—in order to drive wedges, respectively, in the DPRK-PRC alliance and in DPRK-Russian strategic partnership. This doesn’t mean, however, that Pyongyang actually believes in the enemy’s message, and indeed derives its lessons from what it observes happening on the ground in Ukraine. We judge with a moderate degree of confidence that Kim Jong Un, his key national security advisers, diplomats, and KPA (Korean Peoples’ Army) military planners probably learned a very different set of lessons concerning the nuclear threat from the Russian war in Ukraine. First, even a much weaker David armed only with conventional weapons can successfully resist a nuclear armed Goliath, if the “David” is backed by the right international coalition dedicated to all-out support in war and on the battlefield. In that sense, the strategic advantage that nuclear weapons capability accrues to Pyongyang may be neutralized by strong political will in Seoul and the US-led international coalition determined to back up the ROK government without reservations. The obvious lesson for the DPRK political leadership is that nuclear weapons capability doesn’t equate with a war victory. Hence, the fact that the DPRK possesses nuclear weapons shouldn’t make the Kim regime more likely to use them in the inter-Korean military conflict if it aims for victory, not defeat. Second, in several public statements, senior Russian officials, including President Putin and former President Medvedev, reiterated conditions under which Russia may use nuclear weapons in the ongoing war against Ukraine, including the threat to the very existence of the Russian state, a nuclear attack against Russia and its allies, and a high-precision conventional strike against Russian nuclear command and control infrastructure. They also stated that they didn’t see such threats at present. Since the North Korean nuclear doctrine is still evolving, one can assume that Pyongyang took notice of these high-profile official statements while deliberating on the draft of the new Nuclear Forces Law adopted by the Supreme People’s Assembly on 8 September 2022, which incorporated similar rational predispositions into the DPRK’s nuclear doctrine. If this assumption is correct, even with some caveats, then the lesson of Russia’s nuclear posturing during the war in Ukraine should make the DPRK leadership less likely to resort to nuclear weapons as long as the inter-Korean military conflict is guided by limited political and strategic aims and restricted to conventional warfare. In other words, we judge with high confidence that if the United States doesn’t attack the DPRK with a preemptive nuclear strike, if Washington and Seoul don’t threaten to decapitate the Kim regime and dismantle the North Korean state, and if the US-ROK alliance doesn’t target the KPA’s nuclear command and control center, then Pyongyang will not escalate from conventional warfare to nuclear warfighting. Third, the war in Ukraine may also have taught the North Korean strategists an important lesson concerning the prospects for nuclear sharing. Here “nuclear sharing” denotes the possibility that Russia and/or China might, under certain conditions, extend what in ROK-US/Japan-US parlance would be thought of as a “nuclear umbrella” over the DPRK, meaning that Russia and/or China would be prepared to use nuclear weapons on an adversary that attacked the DPRK, that Russian or Chinese nuclear weapons could be deployed to DPRK territory, and/or that nuclear-capable technologies from Russia or China could be deployed to or sold to the DRPK. We judge with a moderate degree of confidence that escalating US-Russian total hybrid warfare and aggravating US-China confrontation makes the prospects of previously unthinkable nuclear sharing between Moscow and Pyongyang or between Beijing and Pyongyang not only possible but also probable in the era of intensifying great power rivalries. The fact that Moscow appears to be willing to upgrade the military capabilities of its close ally, Minsk, to enable the Belorussian military to counter the growing nuclear threat from NATO may lead Pyongyang to reach out to its ally China or strategic partner Russia to probe whether they might be willing to aid the DPRK in a similar fashion in response to the rising risk of nuclear sharing within the US-ROK alliance, let alone the military threat that the United States might use theatre nuclear weapons (TNWs) on the Korean theater of operations in any future conflict. The DPRK may have thus taken lessons from news such as: Belorussian President Lukashenko has widely publicized the facts that since the outbreak of war Russia has modernized Belorussian Sukhoi SU-24 attack aircraft[1] to carry tactical nuclear weapons, and has agreed to transfer the nuclear-capable Iskander SRBMs to Minsk in order to counter the increased risk of the US nuclear sharing with the NATO allies, especially Germany and Poland; According to open sources, the United States and ROK governments are determined to intensify their consultations aimed at strengthening extended nuclear deterrence, including the possibility of nuclear sharing within the US-ROK alliance. Fourth, the purported Russian threat to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine is made more credible by the fact that no Russian-American strategic arms control agreements, including the START-III agreement, which is still in effect, covered or cover tactical nuclear weapons, which means that Russia is allowed to deploy TNWs anywhere within its territory without violating its international obligations. The evident lesson for the North Korean negotiators in talks with the United States and others is that the DPRK needs to insist on the exclusion of TNWs from any strategic arms control deal with the United States so that the Kim regime can deploy such weapons anywhere in DPRK territory as it deems necessary, especially if the threat of war were to rise on the peninsula, thereby strengthening the credibility of its nuclear war-fighting posture. As such, it may be taking a page from the Russian nuclear playbook: In peacetime, all Russian TNWs are usually stored in centralized warehouses, but as the danger of war began to rise, some TNWs may have been moved to the specialized nuclear-technical warehouses located in forward areas closer to Russia’s Western border. Fifth, the Ukrainian attacks by drones, heavy artillery, and MLRS against the Zaporozhiye Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) controlled by Russia in the newly-occupied territory, which have targeted adjacent electricity transmission lines, administrative support buildings, a nuclear waste site, a nuclear fuel storage facility, and nearby residential buildings, has likely caught the attention of the KPA military planners as well, for two reasons: the possible wartime utility of civilian nuclear infrastructure—the Yongbyon nuclear complex in the DPRK and the nuclear power plants in the ROK. Pyongyang may have learned the following lessons from the ZNPP situation: On one hand, one lesson from the Ukrainian actions involving the ZNPP concerns the possible fate of Yongbyon: even if Pyongyang is forced to surrender it as a result of a Western military intervention, the KPA should continue to harass the occupying force from a distance while blaming its artillery strikes and drone attacks on the allied forces (just as Kiev groundlessly blames artillery and drone strikes on the Russian forces that actually occupy the ZNPP). The KPA should also call for the introduction of the IAEA inspections to monitor the situation on the ground and for the establishment of the demilitarized zone around Yongbyon to create a diplomatic distraction for the Western allies, restrict their freedom of movement around Yongbyon, and possibly allow DPRK government forces to return to Yongbyon to run it under the IAEA monitoring. On the other hand, one lesson from the Russian actions involving the ZNPP concerns the possible wartime utility of the nuclear power plants in the ROK: instead of targeting them in the counter-value missile strikes aimed at demolishing the ROK’s critical infrastructure, the KPA should consider seizing and holding them with special operations forces that could either shut them down temporarily or disconnect them from the ROK’s energy grid, thereby depriving the ROK’s defense production facilities of electricity supply. Alternatively, the KPA control over the ROK’s nuclear power plants (even one) could make these facilities primary targets for enemy fire and counterattacks, which could significantly raise the risk of a man-made nuclear disaster on ROK territory. On the diplomatic front, Pyongyang could take advantage of the KPA’s operational control over the ROK’s nuclear power plants (even one) and appeal to the IAEA and international community to restrain and dissuade the attacker from carrying out counter-offensive operations around the ROK’s nuclear sites in order to spare civilian populations and avoid nuclear disasters. (Alexanre Mansourov, “Birds of a Feather: Thoughts on Pyongyang’s Lessons from the War in Ukraine,” Nautilus Policy Forum, October 6, 2022)


10/7/22:
The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on two people and three entities for violating U.N. Security Council (UNSC) sanctions on North Korea. The Department of Treasury said the two individuals and three entities were involved in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum with North Korean vessels designed to evade UNSC sanctions. “Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated two individuals and three entities for activities related to the exportation of petroleum to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which directly supports the development of DPRK weapons programs and its military,” the department said in a press release, referring to North Korea by its official name. The move comes after a series of North Korean missile tests that included the launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile flying over Japan. “This action highlights the U.S. government’s commitment to implement existing United Nations Security Council resolutions, including holding the DPRK accountable for its use of illicit ship-to-ship (STS) transfers to circumvent U.N. sanctions that restrict the import of petroleum products and support the development of its weapons programs and military,” the press release said. The department said the designation targets Singapore-based Kwek Kee Seng, Taiwan-based Chen Shih Huan and Marshall Islands-registered company New Eastern Shipping Co Ltd, “which were involved in the ownership or management of the Courageous, a vessel that has participated in several deliveries of refined petroleum to the DPRK.” The department said it is also designating Singapore-registered Anfasar Trading (S) Pte. Ltd. and Singapore-registered Swanseas Port Services Pte. Ltd., both of which are owned or controlled by Kwek, who, together with Shen, “closely coordinated STS transfers from the Courageous to the DPRK vessels.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored the need to strictly implement UNSC sanctions against North Korea in a released statement, noting the country has launched 41 ballistic missiles, including six intercontinental ballistic missiles “this year alone.” “By designating these entities and individuals, the United States is sending a clear message that we will continue to take actions against those who support the development and sustainment of the DPRK’s military and weapons arsenal,” the released statement said. (Byun Duk-kun, “U.S. Imposes Sanctions on 5 People, Firms for Evading UN Sanctions on North Korea,” Yonhap, October 7, 2022)


10/8/22:
DPRK Ministry of Defense spokesman’s answer to a question raised by KCNA: “At the moment the U.S. nuclear-powered carrier Ronald Reagan task force is being involved in the naval joint mobile drill against the DPRK in the open sea close to the East Sea of Korea, together with the naval warships of the puppet forces of south Korea. The U.S. sent the nuclear-powered carrier task force to the waters off the Korean peninsula again in just a few days, an event of considerably huge negative splash to the regional situation. This is a sort of military bluffing meant to issue the so-called warning to the righteous reaction shown by the Korean People’s Army to the extremely provocative and threatening joint military drills of the U.S. and south Korea. The armed forces of the DPRK are seriously approaching the extremely worrisome development of the present situation.” (KCNA, “Answer by Spokesman for DPRK Ministry of Defense,” October 8, 2022)


10/9/22:
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) toward the East Sea today, the South Korean military said, after Seoul and Washington wrapped up a naval exercise, involving a U.S. aircraft carrier, the previous day. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launches from the Munchon area in Gangwon Province between 1:48 a.m. and 1:58 a.m., and that the missiles flew some 350 kilometers at apogees of around 90 km at top speeds of Mach 5. Given the distance and altitude, the projectiles are presumed to be “super-large caliber” missiles, fired from a multiple rocket launch system, known as the KN-25, according to observers in Seoul. The launch, the North’s seventh missile provocation in two weeks, followed the conclusion of the South Korea-U.S. exercise, involving the USS Ronald Reagan carrier, yesterday and of the allies’ trilateral drills with Japan on October 6. It also came on the eve of the 77th anniversary of the founding of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party. (Song Sang-ho, “N.Korea Fires 2 Short-Range Ballistic Missiles toward East Sea: S. Korean Military,” Yonhap, October 9, 2022

The U.S. should admit defeat in its campaign to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons and focus on risk reduction and arms control measures instead, experts have urged. On Tuesday, North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan for the first time since 2017, sparking renewed condemnation from Washington and its allies. The US and South Korea responded by conducting joint military drills and firing missiles into the Sea of Japan, while the USS Ronald Reagan, an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, conducted a rare U-turn to return to waters east of the Korean peninsula after a recent visit. But analysts said the military gestures and combative words emanating from Washington, Seoul and Tokyo belied the reality that they have run out of ideas and options for containing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Experts argued that the U.S. and its allies should focus on agreeing with Pyongyang steps to reduce the risk of a conflict on the Korean peninsula, even if doing so amounted to a tacit acceptance that North Korea would continue to possess nuclear weapons. “Insistence on denuclearization is not just a failure, it has turned into a farce,” said Ankit Panda, a nuclear weapons expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “They test, we respond, we move on with our lives,” Panda added. “North Korea has already won. It’s a bitter pill, but at some point we’re going to have to swallow it. U.S. and Korean officials insisted that even a tacit acceptance of North Korea’s status as a nuclear-armed state would have dangerous consequences for global non-proliferation efforts. Last month, Kim Jong Un amended North Korea’s nuclear doctrine to allow for pre-emptive strikes. The previous policy only permitted the use of nuclear weapons in a second-strike scenario. “There will never be any declaration of ‘giving up our nukes’ or ‘denuclearization’, nor any kind of negotiations or bargaining to meet the other side’s conditions,” Kim declared. “As long as nuclear weapons exist on earth and imperialism remains . . . our road towards strengthening nuclear power won’t stop.” Jenny Town, director of the 38 North program at the Stimson Center in Washington, said “the window for a denuclearization-led process has closed”. Town pointed to the intensifying arms race in east Asia and increasing tensions between the U.S. and China. “It’s unrealistic to think in the middle of all this, North Korea will contemplate denuclearization when everyone else, including South Korea, is arming up,” she said. “Once the relationship is better and the geopolitical trends shift in a more positive direction, maybe we can talk about the nuclear program again. But that seems way far down the line.” Andrei Lankov, professor of history at Kookmin University in Seoul and a pre-eminent North Korea expert, said “Kim’s message is as follows: ‘We have nukes, we will have them forever and we will use them as we see fit.” Lankov argued that Pyongyang would not countenance talks as long as Washington maintains North Korea’s denuclearization even as a distant policy goal, while Congress and the US public will not accept anything less than a North Korean capitulation on the issue. “The US public wants its government to pursue an unobtainable and dangerous dream, but the North Koreans have made clear they are not going to play this game,” said Lankov. “The only way to persuade them to consider restrictions on their nuclear weapons will be to pay them obscenely well for it.” North Korea has eschewed diplomacy since 2019, when the last of a series of summits between Kim and then-U.S. president Donald Trump collapsed in Hanoi. In January 2021, Kim outlined the capabilities he intended to obtain within five years, including tactical nuclear weapons, maneuverable missiles, solid fuel ICBMs and nuclear submarines. Weapons experts said the North Korean regime has made considerable progress on multiple fronts, despite tough international sanctions and Kim sealing the country’s borders in 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Co-operation between the permanent members of the UN Security Council on North Korea has also broken down in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, further alleviating pressure on Pyongyang. North Korea has also seized on Russia’s international isolation to foster closer ties with Moscow. On Ocotber 5, the Security Council failed to condemn Pyongyang’s missile launch after Russia and China blamed Washington for ignoring North Korean security concerns. “Most senior U.S. officials working on North Korea policy now privately recognize that denuclearization isn’t going to happen, but can’t or won’t say it publicly,” said Chad O’Carroll, founder of the Korea Risk Group consultancy. ‘Kim doesn’t just want more missiles, he wants better ones’ Panda noted that policymakers should be especially worried by North Korea’s development of low-yield tactical nuclear weapons that could be deployed against South Korea. “A nuclear war might end with an ICBM, but it is more likely to begin with a tactical nuke — they are incredibly dangerous and concerning,” said Panda. “This could be the capability that Kim is waiting for before turning to nuclear coercion or territorial revisionism against the South.” He said the longer Washington waited before acknowledging the reality that North Korean nuclear weapons were here to stay, the larger and more sophisticated Pyongyang’s arsenal would become, and the higher the cost that Kim would be able to extract in an inevitable future negotiation. “It is not in the US national interest to let this fester,” Panda said. (Christian Davies, “’North Korea Has Already Won’: U.S. Urged to Abandon Denuclearization ‘Farce,’” Financial Times, October 10, 2022, p. 4)


10/10/22:
KCNA: “The units of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) for the operation of tactical nukes staged military drills from September 25 to October 9 in order to check and assess the war deterrent and nuclear counterattack capability of the country, which comes to be a severe warning to the enemies. The military drills were carried out amid the ongoing dangerous military drills staged by large-scale combined naval forces, including U.S. carrier, Aegis destroyer and nuclear-powered submarine in the waters off the Korean Peninsula. The U.S., based on an agreement to provide more intensive extended deterrence to south Korea against the DPRK’s adoption of the law on the policy of state nuclear forces, brought the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan task force into the waters off the Korean Peninsula as the first demonstration on September 23 to stage joint naval drills with south Korea in the East Sea of Korea from September 26 to 29 and joint anti-submarine drills together with Japan and south Korea on September 30. The U.S. dispatched again the nuclear carrier task force in the waters off the East Sea of Korea to stage combined missile defense exercise on October 6 and naval combined mobile exercise on October 7 and 8, taking a regretful attitude further escalating the tension in the region while openly posing a military threat to the DPRK. In this period, the so-called south Korean military chief let loose such unreasonable and provocative remarks as the “existence” of our power, baldly revealing his will for confrontation. Under such inevitable circumstances, the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), after discussing the politico-military situation prevailing on the Korean Peninsula and its future in the latter half of September, decided to organize military drills under the simulation of an actual war at different levels in order to check and improve the reliability and combat power of our state war deterrence and send a strong military reaction warning to the enemies. Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and chairman of its Central Military Commission, guided the military drills on the spot. Members of the Party Central Military Commission observed the drills. There took place a ballistic missile launching drill under the simulation of loading tactical nuclear warheads at a silo under a reservoir in the northwestern part of the DPRK at dawn of September 25. The drill was aimed at confirming the order of taking tactical nuclear warheads out and transporting them and of managing them in a rapid and safe way at the time of operation, checking the reliability of the overall management system, making the units acquire launching capabilities of the ballistic missile at the underwater silos and inspecting their rapid response posture. The tactical ballistic missile flied in the air above the set target of the East Sea of Korea along the appointed orbit, and the reliability of warhead exploding was clearly proved at the set altitude. Through the drill, the orientation of building a planned silo beneath the reservoir was confirmed. At the ballistic missile launching drill simulating the loading of tactical nuclear warheads which was staged on September 28 for the purpose of neutralizing the airports in the operation zones of south Korea, the stability of overall system related with the operation of warheads was proved. Various types of tactical ballistic missiles that were launched on September 29 and October 1 hit the set targets with the combination of air explosion and direct precision and dispersion strike, proving the accuracy and might of our weapon systems. In order to cope with the unstable situation of the Korean Peninsula, the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea adopted a decision to send more powerful and clear warning to the enemies on October 4 and took a measure to hit the set water area in the Pacific 4 500 kilometers across the Japanese Islands with new-type ground-to-ground intermediate-range ballistic missile. At dawn of October 6, the striking drills of super-large multiple rocket launchers and tactical ballistic missiles for verifying the might of functional warheads were conducted in simulation of striking the enemies’ main military command facilities, and the firing drill of the super-large multiple rocket launchers was waged in simulating the strike of the enemies’ main ports at dawn of October 9. Through seven times of launching drills of the tactical nuclear operation units, the actuality of the nuclear combat forces of our state and their militant effectiveness and actual war capabilities, which are fully ready to hit and wipe out the set objects at the intended places in the set time, were displayed to the full. The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un highly appreciated that our nuclear combat forces holding an important mission of war deterrent maintain high alert of rapid and correct operation reaction capabilities and nuclear response posture in unexpected situation at any time. He said that he was more firmly convinced that he can entrust the paramount military duty of deterring war and holding the initiative in the war to any tactical nuclear operation units through the drills for an actual war. This is the verification of the operation posture of our war deterrent and, at the same time, an occasion that proved the reliability of the thorough preparedness of the state nuclear defense posture, and an obvious warning and clear demonstration of informing the enemies of our nuclear response posture and nuclear attack capabilities, he added. He said that the busy military moves of the enemies are being focused at this time, too, and such the U.S. and the south Korean regime’s steady, intentional and irresponsible acts of escalating the tension will only invite our greater reaction, and we are always and strictly watching the situation crisis. Saying that the enemies have still talked about dialogue and negotiation while posing military threats to us, but we have no content for dialogue with the enemies and felt no necessity to do so, he stated that, above all, we should send, with more powerful and resolute will and action, a clearer signal to the enemies escalating the regional situation by involving the huge armed forces at any time. He added that we would sharply watch the instable security circumstance on the Korean Peninsula and all military moves of the enemies which cannot be overlooked and strongly take all military countermeasures if necessary. He expressed belief and conviction that the nuclear combat forces of the DPRK would maintain their strongest nuclear response posture and further strengthen it in every way, well aware of the important duty of defending the dignity, sovereignty and right to existence of our state. (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Guides Military Drills of KPA Units for Operation of Tactical Nukes,” October 10, 2022)

Van Diepen: “North Korea on October 10 published the first direct commentary on its ballistic missile activities in over six months, focusing on the period between September 25 and October 9 and including a score of photographs. The statement had four main points: Foot-stomping “tactical nukes.” The bulk of the statement makes the case that Pyongyang has an operationally deployed, reliable, and varied delivery capability for “tactical” nuclear weapons—now including the KN-23 and KN-25 short-range ballistic missile (SRBMs). We still do not know the size, yield, or number of the “tactical nukes” being touted, but the North clearly sees substantial propaganda and deterrent value in brandishing them. Deterring preemption by threatening a new basing mode. The most unexpected reveal in the statement was that the SRBM launched on September 25 was a KN-23 fired from an “underwater silo” located “under” an inland reservoir. Most likely, the launch came from a submersible barge/platform containing the “silo” that was submerged beneath the waters of the reservoir. It remains to be seen whether such a capability actually is deployed as it makes little sense for SRBMs. While technically it may show more promise for longer-range missiles or as an alternative to submarines, it is more important in the near-term as another demonstration that North Korean missiles can survive against revived South Korean threats of “decapitation” and “preemption.” Revealing a “new-type” Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM). The statement and photos also revealed that the missile launched over Japan on October 4 was a “new-type” IRBM. It currently is unclear whether the missile is a modified version of the previously-tested Hwasong-12 or entirely new, but the launch underscored North Korea’s ability to target Japan and Guam. Making a “strong military reaction warning” to the Alliance. The statement puts the recent missile activities squarely in the political and deterrent context of purportedly reacting to a series of recent and ongoing US-ROK combined military drills. The North is making clear that it is not intimidated by, and wants to show it has a credible deterrent against, the alliance’s military moves and capabilities. Unlike North Korean statements on missile activities earlier in the year, which focused largely on technical issues rather than policy/political ones, the October 10 statement had substantial political and deterrent content and its technical details were intended to convey such messages. As the statement itself notes, North Korea clearly is not interested in negotiations on its nuclear or missile programs anytime soon. The bulk of the North Korean statement is devoted to making the case that Pyongyang has an operationally deployed, reliable, and varied delivery capability for “tactical” nuclear weapons. It pointedly described the missile launches from September 25 to October 9 as “military drills” of “units for the operation of tactical nukes … under the simulation of an actual war at different levels.” The North previously had only associated the new, small SRBM first tested in April 2022 with “tactical nukes. The October 10 statement and accompanying images now also so associate the KN-23, the larger KN-23 variant, and KN-25 SRBMs, all of which Western analysts previously assessed were nuclear-capable. (Interestingly, the North did not acknowledge any further launches of the new, small SRBM as part of the drills, or any of the nuclear-capable KN-24 SRBM last known to be tested in January.) We still do not know if the “tactical nukes” Pyongyang is touting are similar in size and yield to those intended for its longer-range systems, just deployed on shorter-range systems, or if it seeks or possesses much smaller-yield warheads akin to US and Soviet/Russian “tactical nuclear weapons.” (The latter probably would require additional nuclear explosive testing.) Nor do we know how many nuclear weapons are or will be allocated to “units for the operation of tactical nukes.” What is clear is that North Korea’s SRBMs will continue to have important conventional warfighting missions, which will require arsenals of several hundreds of missiles to be effective. North Korea clearly sees substantial propaganda and deterrent value in brandishing “tactical nukes,” whatever their actual number and capabilities. This is further underscored by the North linking the test of two long-range land-attack cruise missiles on October 12 to “the units of the Korean People’s Army for the operation of tactical nukes.” Such weapons uniquely threaten South Korea. At the same time, Pyongyang probably relishes the common perception that “tactical” nukes imply more technical sophistication. The North probably also hopes that touting a substantial tactical nuclear capability, in concert with its capability to threaten the US homeland with strategic nuclear weapons, will help dissuade US escalation in a crisis or provocation and erode Seoul’s confidence in the credibility of US extended deterrence. The most unexpected aspect of the October 10 statement was its revelation that the SRBM launched on September 25 came from an “underwater silo” located “under” an inland reservoir. The accompanying photographs showed a KN-23 SRBM launching out of an inland body of water, akin to the previous launch of this system from the submerged Gorae-class submarine off North Korea’s east coast in October 2021. The new “missile launching drill” was said to have confirmed “the orientation of building a planned silo beneath the reservoir.” The statement could be interpreted as claiming the North had, or will, dig a missile launch silo into the lakebed of the reservoir. Much more likely, however, is that the September 25 launch came from a submersible barge/platform containing one or more missile launch tubes (the “silos” referred to in the statement) that was emplaced on the surface of the reservoir, submerged beneath the waters of the reservoir (rather than beneath the reservoir itself), conducted the launch, and then surfaced for reuse or removal. North Korea and other countries use such barges as part of their submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test programs to develop the ejection and launching of SLBMs to the point where testing from an actual submarine is deemed safe. It remains to be seen whether North Korea continues to develop and deploy a submerged inland-water launch capability. It has long deployed SRBMs much more cost-effectively, with high survivability, on road-mobile launchers. As with the earlier effort to deploy the KN-23 from a rail-mobile launcher, the submerged inland-water launch capability may have more promise for IRBMs and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that are larger and harder to move around on land-mobile launchers. Even rail-mobility would be more cost-effective for such systems while still being survivable. A submerged inland-water launch capability would, however, be more cost effective than building ballistic missile submarines—which the North has seemingly been working on for a few years now without producing any—much less lake-bed silos, and immune from anti-submarine warfare attacks. It would, however, still potentially be vulnerable to detection and attack when surfaced or by spotting any associated land-based infrastructure/activity. In the near term, the revelation of this new SRBM launch mode is more important politically and in deterrence terms than technically or operationally as it reflects how the North Koreans are trying to demonstrate that their missiles are survivable and signal to the South Koreans that strategies to “decapitate” or “preempt” North Korean forces in a crisis or conflict are doomed to fail. It reinforced messaging in the North’s new law “on the state policy on the nuclear forces” announced on September 8 that contained repeated references to the will to use nuclear weapons if an attack “on the state leadership and the command organization of the state’s nuclear forces was launched or drew near.” The October 10 statement likewise emphasized “that our nuclear combat forces holding an important mission of war deterrent maintain high alert of rapid and correct operation reaction capabilities and nuclear response posture in unexpected situation at any time.” The North Korean statement also revealed that the missile launched over Japan on October 4 to a range of about 4,600 km was a “new-type” IRBM. The associated photographs showed a missile with: 1) a different engine configuration and thrust-vector control (steering) system than the previously-tested Hwasong-12 IRBM, 2) a differently-shaped and possibly shorter nosecone or reentry vehicle, and 3) possibly a slightly longer second stage. That said, it currently is unclear whether the missile or its propulsion system are a modification of the Hwasong-12 or entirely new. Although the new-type missile flew farther than the previously longest-range Hwasong-12 flight of 3,700 km (already sufficient to hit US bases in Guam), the Hwasong-12 was assessed to be capable of 4,500 km, which does not add much in the way of new targets. In addition to proving out a new or modified missile type, the launch served to underscore North Korea’s ability to target Guam—significant both as US territory and as a key hub for projecting US military power against the Peninsula, especially during a conventional conflict. Overflying Japan also was significant as an act of political defiance and as emphasizing the ability to strike Japanese and US forces there as well. Interestingly, the October 10 statement also included the IRBM launch as one of the “seven times of launching drills of the tactical nuclear operation units” conducted from September 25 to October 9. It is unclear whether the North Koreans regard IRBMs as “tactical” or if they inadvertently swept the new-type missile up into their ballyhooing of “tactical nukes.” The October 10 statement puts “tactical nukes” and all of the recent missile activities squarely in the political and deterrent context of purportedly reacting to the “ongoing dangerous military drills” of the US and South Korea and their “steady, intentional and irresponsible acts of escalating the tension.” Pyongyang’s steps are “an obvious warning and clear demonstration of informing the enemies of our nuclear response posture and nuclear attack capabilities.” The North is making clear that it is not intimidated by, and wants to show it has a credible deterrent against, US-ROK alliance military moves and capabilities. Although statements from US and ROK officials and Western press coverage have portrayed the North’s recent flurry of activities as intending to “raise the stakes in future negotiations,” the October 10 statement reiterated the notion that Pyongyang has no inclination to do so.” (Vann H. Van Diepen, “’A Strong Military Warning’: Four Implications of North Korea’s October 10 Missile Statement,” 38 North, October 14, 2022)


10/11/22:
North Korea’s recent missile launches are widely viewed as a prelude to a seventh nuclear test and South Korea is exploring various response measures to deal with additional provocations. One of the measures being mentioned is scrapping the 2018 inter-Korean comprehensive military agreement which calls on the two Koreas to cease “hostile activities” against each other, including military exercises near the inter-Korean border. Conservatives are urging Seoul to consider pulling out of the agreement, which they claim restrains South Korea’s defense capabilities by limiting military exercises and reconnaissance activities. “We should declare the scrapping of the military agreement if North Korea carries out a seventh nuclear weapon test,” Ruling People Power Party (PPP) interim leader Rep. Chung Jin-suk wrote on Facebook on Friday, a day after the North deployed 12 military aircraft for an air strike drill. “If we destroy the pact, our military’s flight boundaries and firing exercise zones in the East and West seas will expand, bolstering our capabilities in surveilling North Korea and deterrence firepower,” Chung added. The South Korean government has been maintaining a prudent stance so far towards the pact, but did not rule out the possibility of abolishing it. President Yoon Suk-yeol told reporters on October 7 that “it is difficult to comment (anything about whether the military agreement will be discarded) preemptively,” and added that “the three countries (referring to South Korea, the U.S. and Japan) are preparing responses through various channels.” Unification Minister Kwon Young-se also said during a National Assembly audit on October 7, “There is a need to review various options” in the worst-case scenario. However, he added that it is a blanket statement, and the government is not preparing to abolish the agreement now. Kwon also said that Yoon has mentioned the need to “review it (scrapping the agreement) if the North stages a tremendous provocation or if we cannot maintain the agreement.” Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup was even more hawkish about the agreement. During a National Assembly audit on the ministry, Tuesday, Lee said, “If the North does not comply with the agreement, it is inappropriate for us to keep it.” He added, “The ministry will review the effectiveness of the agreement reflecting the level of North Korea’s provocations.” The agreement, signed during the previous liberal Moon Jae-in administration, is aimed at setting aerial and naval buffer zones in addition to the existing Demilitarized Zone in the inter-Korean border area. In the zones, the two Koreas agreed not to conduct large-scale field exercises or artillery firing drills. Although the conservative Yoon administration is taking a hawkish stance on North Korea, it has not disavowed the effectiveness of the agreement in preventing accidental skirmishes involving conventional weapons. So far, the South Korean military views that North Korea violated the agreement in 2019 and 2020, despite the fact that some conservatives claim that several other inter-Korean incidents could be seen as violations. However, the North’s recent missile launches have cast doubt on the effectiveness of the agreement. Amid these escalating threats, experts said that the destruction of the agreement could add pressure to Pyongyang, which is lagging in terms of conventional forces. However, such pressure will ultimately do no good for Seoul, as it does not seek any sort of military confrontation. “With North Korea proclaiming its nuclear armament and missile launches, the very foundation of the military agreement has been impaired,” said PPP Rep. Tae Yong-ho, who is a former North Korean diplomat. “The North is not abiding by the agreement, but it is not admitting this. If the Yoon government preemptively announces the destruction of the pact, North Korea will use it as a propaganda tool,” he said, adding that “Seoul should also consider a similar tactic, such as announcing that we may resume loudspeaker broadcasts in the border area, which North Korea detests.” Some politicians and scholars are saying that South Korea should consider deploying nuclear weapons to counter North Korea’s growing threats. “As long as South Korea gives up its nuclear options, the North will have confidence over the South and keep increasing the level of threats,” said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute. “The South Korean government should explain the inevitable necessity of deploying nuclear weapons on its soil to the U.S. through summits or high-level talks, and persuade the U.S. that Seoul’s nuclear armament also serves Washington’s interests.” Daegu Mayor Hong Joon-pyo of the PPP wrote on Facebook on October 5 that “it is time for the government to thoroughly review the nuclear strategy toward the North” and that national security should be achieved through a “military balance.” Former Rep. Yoo Seong-min, also of the PPP, said that South Korea should begin negotiations on sharing nuclear weapons or deploying tactical nuclear weapons with the Joe Biden administration. However, chances are slim that these calls will gain momentum. (Nam Hyun-woo, “Seoul Mulls Various Options Following NK Nuke Test,” Korea Times, October 11, 2022)


10/12/22:
KCNA: “A test-fire of long-range strategic cruise missiles was successfully conducted on October 12 amid powerful practical measures being taken to signally bolster up the national war deterrent as required by the prevailing situation and revolution. Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK, guided the test-fire of the long-range strategic cruise missiles on the spot. Members of the Party Central Military Commission watched the test-fire. The test-fire was aimed at further enhancing the combat efficiency and might of the long-range strategic cruise missiles deployed at the units of the Korean People’s Army for the operation of tactical nukes and reconfirming the reliability and technical safety of the overall operational application system. Two long-range strategic cruise missiles flew for 10 234 seconds along an oval and pattern-8 flight orbits in the sky above the West Sea of Korea and clearly hit the target 2 000 km away. The successful test-fire clearly proved the correctness, technical advantages and actual war efficiency of the overall weapon system. Expressing great satisfaction over the result of the test-fire, the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un highly appreciated the high reaction capabilities of our nuclear combat forces which proved again their full preparedness for actual war to bring the enemies under their control at a blow through the unconditional, mobile, precise and powerful counterstrike by any weapon system. Stressing again that the test-fire is our another clear warning to the enemies and the practical verification and clear demonstration of the absolute reliability and combat capacity of our state’s war deterrent, Kim Jong Un added that we should continue to expand the operational sphere of the nuclear strategic armed forces to resolutely deter any crucial military crisis and war crisis at any time and completely take the initiative in it. Saying that to steadily bolster up the national defense capabilities is our consistent and invariable revolutionary policy and keynote of struggle which can never be delayed and should neither be postponed in order to defend the dignity and sovereignty of the country and its right to existence, Kim Jong Un stressed that we should focus all efforts on the endless and accelerating development of the national nuclear combat armed forces. Expressing expectation and conviction that the nuclear combat armed forces of the Republic would perfect the military preparedness more correctly and confidently, Kim Jong Un had a significant photo session with the members who contributed to the successful test-fire. (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Guides Test-Fire of Long-Range Strategic Cruise Missile,” October 13, 2022) South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff belatedly confirmed the next day that North Korea fired two cruise missiles off the western coast from areas in the city of Kaechon, South Pyongan Province, about 80 kilometers north of the capital city of Pyongyang. The missile launches were conducted from around 2:00 a.m. local time. “Our military was aware of the situation in real time,” Kim Jun-rak, Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesperson, said during a televised press briefing. “We’ve maintained readiness posture in close coordination with the US while strengthening monitoring and surveillance.” (Ji Da-gyum, “N. Korea Test-Fires Nuclear Cruise Missiles in ‘Warning to Enemies,” Korea Herald, October 13, 2022)

The government has asked the U.S. to share tactical nuclear weapons in order to boost its defenses against North Korea. A high-ranking government official said today, “If North Korea pushes ahead with a seventh nuclear test, we will face a whole new level of threat. We are discussing with the U.S. ways to radically strengthen the U.S.’ extended deterrence to fit the changed security situation on the Korean Peninsula.” The government has in mind the rotational deployment of strategic U.S. military assets near the Korean Peninsula such as an aircraft carrier group equipped with nuclear weapons or nuclear-powered submarines. One security official here said, “What’s being discussed is a [South] Korean-style nuclear sharing scheme that could avoid triggering protests from neighboring countries and a regional nuclear arms buildup.” But the White House and U.S. State Department have not commented on the issue and referred reporters to the South Korean government for comments. (Choi Kyung-woon, “S. Korea Nudges U.S. to Share Tactical Nukes,” Chosun Ilbo, October 13, 2022)


10/13/22:
KPA General Staff spokesman’s statement: “According to a report on enemy movements in the front, the south Korean army conducted an artillery fire for about 10 hours near the forward defense area of the KPA Fifth Corps on October 13. Taking a serious note of this provocative action by the south Korean military in the frontline area, we took strong military countermeasures. The KPA sends a stern warning to the south Korean military inciting military tension in the frontline area with reckless action.” (KCNA, “Spokesman for KPA General Staff Issues Statement,” October 14, 2022)

President Yoon Suk-yeol said today he is looking carefully at “various possibilities” on how to further strengthen U.S. extended deterrence against North Korea’s growing nuclear threat. The remark came after a Chosun Ilbo report that South Korea has asked the United States to have strategic assets, such as nuclear aircraft carriers or nuclear submarines, deployed to waters around the Korean Peninsula on a rotational basis around the clock in the event of a nuclear test by the North. “As I said the other day, there are diverse opinions across our nation and in the United States regarding extended deterrence, so I am listening to them carefully and looking carefully at various possibilities,” Yoon told reporters when asked to comment on the report. “I’d like you to understand that it’s difficult for a president to openly confirm or give a clear answer on such security issues,” he added. Calls have grown for the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea or the country’s own nuclear armament as the North has sharply escalated threats with a series of missile launches that Pyongyang said simulated nuclear missile strikes on the South. Concerns have also grown that the North could carry out its seventh nuclear test at any time. A presidential official later told reporters he had little to add to the president’s remarks. “What I can say for now is that we are consulting, discussing and devising all the means and all the measures to dramatically strengthen the extended deterrence against all possibilities,” the official said. (Yonhap, “Yoon Says He Is Looking Carefully at Extended Deterrence Options,” October 13, 2022)


10/14/22:
North Korea fired additional artillery shells into waters off its east and west coasts today, the South Korean military said, following its firing of a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) and artillery rounds earlier in the day. The North fired some 80 artillery shells into the East Sea from Jangjon in Kangwon Province, starting at 5 p.m., while the sound of artillery fire was heard around 200 times in areas spanning Haeju Bay and Jangsan Cape in the Yellow Sea, starting from 5:20 p.m., according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). he shells fell into eastern and western buffer zones north of the Northern Limit Line, the de facto inter-Korean maritime border, which were delineated under a 2018 inter-Korean agreement on reducing military tensions. But no shells landed in South Korean waters, the JCS said. The South Korean military communicated a warning message multiple times, through which it pointed out the North’s violation of the 2018 agreement and called on the North to stop provocations, according to the JCS. Early in the morning, the North flew some 10 warplanes close to the inter-Korean border, and fired an SRBM and some 170 artillery shots. The South Korean military decried the SRBM launch and the artillery firing as a breach of U.N. Security Council sanctions and the inter-Korean military accord, respectively. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Lobs Artillery Shells into Yellow, East Seas: S. Korean Military,” October 14, 2022) Between 10:30 p.m. yesterday and 12:20 a.m. today, about 10 North Korean military planes flew to 15 to 29 miles north of the border with South Korea, the South’s military said. The planes did not violate the no-fly zone both Koreas adopted around their border during the 2018 inter-Korean summit. But the flights prompted South Korea to send up F-35A jets and put its air defenses on heightened alert. (Choe Sang-Hun< “North Korea Fires Missiles And Flies Jets Near Border,” New York Times, October 14, 2022, p. A-7)

South Korea said today it has put 15 North Korean individuals and 16 institutions on its blacklist in its first unilateral sanctions against Pyongyang in nearly five years in response to its evolving nuclear and missile threats highlighted by unrelenting missile launches and the stated drills by tactical nuclear operation units. The people on the new list include officials at shipping firms and organizations related to the North’s missile program, as well as those involved in the procurement of supplies for weapons of mass destruction. “We strongly condemn North Korea for staging a series of missile provocations with unprecedented frequency recently and suggesting the use of tactical nukes against us,” the foreign ministry said. The ministry said it would consider slapping additional sanctions on Pyongyang in case it stages further provocations. “The latest unilateral sanctions hold importance in that (such a measure) was taken for the first time in five years and this is not the end,” a ministry official told reporters on condition of anonymity. “We plan to impose additional unilateral sanctions against North Korea’s provocations and to discuss ways to improve the effectiveness of sanctions in close coordination with the United States, Japan, Australia, the EU and other friendly countries.” The listed individuals include those from Korea Ryonbong General Corp., known as a defense conglomerate specializing in acquisition for North Korea’s defense industries, and Second Academy of Natural Sciences, now known as Academy of the National Defense Science, which is responsible for the development of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. The institutions, mostly shipping companies, include the Ministry of Rocket Industry, Hapjanggang Trading Corp., Korea Rounsan Trading Corp. as well as the North’s Maritime Administration and Ministry of Crude Oil Industry. The latest sanctions by Seoul are widely viewed as largely symbolic, as all transactions between the two Koreas have been virtually banned for years. The individuals and entities are already on the blacklist announced by the U.S. government from December 2016 to May 2022, according to the ministry. (Yi Wonju, “S. Korea Slaps Its First Unilateral Sanctions on N. Korea in 5 Years over Nuke, Missile Tests,” Yonhap, October 14, 2022)

KPA General Staff spokesman’s statement: “The enemy’s artillery fire was acquired in the area of Cholwon County of south Kangwon Province, the forward area of the 5th Corps of our forces, at around 9:45 on October 14 following October 13. To cope with the acquired movement of the enemy, the KPA General Staff made units of the eastern and western sectors of the front conduct warning fires of multiple rocket launchers into the East Sea and West Sea of Korea in the depth areas of our forces corresponding to the spot where the movement of the enemy was acquired between 17:00 and 20:00 on October 14 as part of countermeasures. The counter-demonstration fire conducted by the frontline units of our forces in the afternoon of October 14 is aimed at sending another clear warning to the deliberate repeated provocation by the enemies in the front areas. In the future, too, our army will never allow any provocation by the enemies escalating the military tension on the Korean Peninsula but take thorough and overwhelming military countermeasures. The south Korean army would be well advised to stop at once its reckless provocation inciting the military tension in the front areas.” (KCNA, “Spokesman for KPA General Staff Issues Statement,” October 15, 2022)


10/17/22:
The Hoguk defense exercise began its two-week run, today, amid growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. “Starting today, we will conduct the Hoguk exercise until Oct. 28. The annual outdoor maneuvers are aimed at enhancing military readiness and boosting joint operations capabilities,” Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) spokesman Col. Kim Jun-rak said during a press briefing at the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul. All three branches of the nation’s armed forces ― the Army, Navy and Air Force ― as well as the Marine Corps will take part in the exercise, according to the military. Some U.S. troops will also participate to enhance interoperability between the allies. In particular, this year’s edition will be carried in both day and night scenarios, while assuming North Korea’s various threats, including nuclear weapons and missiles, a decision made based on the current situation on the peninsula. The Kim Jong-un regime has fired eight ballistic missiles over the last three weeks, while its military fired some 200 artillery shells into a buffer zone along the inter-Korean border, three days ago, in violation of an inter-Korean military agreement signed on the sidelines of the South-North Korea summit in September 2018. The agreement calls for halting all hostile acts against each other to reduce tensions along the inter-Korean border. In response to North Korea’s consecutive provocations, there are growing calls among conservative politicians to nullify the pact ― although the presidential office remains cautious about the issue. Given that Pyongyang’s missile launches and artillery barrages were, it claimed, tit-for-tat moves against recent South Korean and U.S. military drills, additional provocative actions are high likely, according to experts. Ellen Kim, deputy director and senior fellow of the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and Andy Lim, an associate fellow with the Korea Chair at CSIS, said North Korea’s provocations could resume after the congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to be handed a historic third term in control of China during the congress that will end, October 22. “After the party congress, there are two upcoming events that can be more windows of opportunities for provocations,” they said. “The first is the annual South Korean Hoguk military exercise, which is set to begin on Monday and last until Oct. 28. The latter half of this exercise falls in the post-party congress period. The second is the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 8, and North Korea has showed in the past a proclivity to cause trouble around U.S. election time.” (Kang Seung-woo, “Annual South Korean Military Exercises Begins amid North Korea’s Threats,” Korea Times, October 17, 2022)


10/18/22:
KPA General Staff spokesman’s statement: “Following on October 13 and 14, the enemies committed another military provocation inciting the DPRK in the area along the Military Demarcation Line on October 18. They fired dozens of shells of multiple rocket launchers in the forefront area of Cholwon County, South Kangwon Province from 9:55 to 17:22 on Oct. 18. The situation on the Korean peninsula is getting worse due to the enemies’ repeated military provocations in the forefront area. The KPA General Staff took a specially serious note of the provocative moves committed at a time when “Hoguk 22”, the enemy’s war drill against the north, is going on in a frantic manner. In order to send a serious warning once again, it made sure that KPA units on the east and west fronts conducted a threatening, warning fire toward the east and west seas in the night of October 18, as a powerful military countermeasure. The enemies should immediately stop the reckless and inciting provocations escalating the military tension in the forefront area.” (KCNA, “Spokesman for KPA General Staff Issues Statement,” October 19, 2022)


10/19/22:
North Korea fired around 100 additional artillery shells into waters off its west coast today, South Korea’s military said, following its overnight launch of artillery rounds. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the shells lobbed into the Yellow Sea from Yonan County, South Hwanghae Province, starting at 12:30 p.m. The shells landed in the western buffer zone set under an inter-Korean military agreement signed on September 19, 2018, to reduce border tensions, according to the JCS. None of them fell into South Korean waters. “Our military communicated a warning multiple times, regarding (the North’s) breach of the September 19 military accord and the immediate cessation of provocations,” the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters. It added it is strengthening a readiness posture to prepare for possible contingencies while tracking the North’s military movements in close cooperation with the United States. The JCS’ announcement came after the General Staff of the North’s Korean People’s Army said “enemies” shot more than 10 shells of multiple rocket launchers this morning, while ordering a “threatening, warning” fire in response. The South’s military has been conducting live-fire drills, involving multiple rocket launchers, in Cheorwon, 71 kilometers northeast of Seoul. The drills that kicked off two days ago are set to end in two days. Earlier today, the North’s military confirmed it had fired artillery shots overnight in a “powerful military countermeasure” against the South’s ongoing Hoguk defense exercise set to run through October 28. Starting at around 10 p.m. yesterday, the North fired some 250 artillery shots into waters off its west and east coasts, according to the JCS. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Fires Another Round of Artillery Shells into Western ‘Buffer Zone’” S. Korean Military,” October 19, 2022)

KPA General Staff spokesman’s statement: “Enemies shot over 10 shells of multiple rocket launchers in the frontline zone off the foremost line occupied by the 5th Army Corps of the KPA between around 8:27 to 9:40 [this] morning in another military provocation. The enemies’ successive military provocations in frontline areas must be stopped right now. The KPA General Staff ordered eastern and western frontline units of the KPA to open a threatening, warning fire once again into the East and West Seas in response to the enemies’ movement observed in the morning. Our Army strongly warns the enemy forces to immediately stop the highly irritating provocative act in the frontline areas.” (KCNA, “Spokesman for KPA General Staff Issues Statement,” October 19, 2022)


10/24/22:
South Korea’s military said today it has fired warning shots at a North Korean ship that crossed the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow Sea, the de facto maritime border. The North also opened “warning fire” against the South in response. A North Korean merchant vessel violated the NLL in waters near the front-line island of Baengnyeong at 3:42 a.m. and it retreated northwards after the South’s Navy issued warning messages and fired some 20 rounds of warning shots, according to the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Shortly after the announcement, the North Korean military claimed a South Korean warship violated the western sea boundary and it fired 10 artillery shells into the western sea from multiple rocket launchers in its “threatening and warning fires.” The South Korean escort ship “invaded” the Military Demarcation Line controlled by the North’s military by 2.5-5 kilometers at 3:50 a.m. on the excuse of cracking down on an unidentified vessel, an unnamed spokesman for the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) said in a statement. The South’s JCS said it detected the North’s launch of 10 artillery shells, which started at around 5:14 a.m., in violation of a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement aimed at reducing border tensions. It also added multiple South Korean naval vessels, including a frigate, were deployed near the area, but they did not cross the NLL. On North Korea’s assertion regarding loudspeaker campaigns, the South Korean military said it is no longer operating such propaganda broadcasts along the border. Recently, the South’s military has used a similar broadcasting device installed at guard posts for the notification of choppers being mobilized for operations to put out wildfires or transport emergency patients, a defense official here said. In 2018, the two Koreas dismantled around 40 loudspeakers each from their border regions, as they agreed to halt all hostile acts against each other under an agreement of the inter-Korean summit in April that year between then President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (Kim Soo-yeon and Chae Yun-hwan, “Two Koreas Exchange Warning Shots along Western Border,” Yonhap, October 24, 2022)

KPA General Staff spokesman’s statement: “An escort ship of the 2nd Fleet of the puppet south Korean navy invaded the Military Demarcation Line under the control of the Korean People’s Army on the sea 2.5 to 5 km in the waters 20 km northwest of Paekryong Island at around 3:50 on Monday to open “warning fire” on the excuse of controlling an unidentified ship. The KPA General Staff ordered the coastal defense units on the western front to keep strict monitoring and counteraction readiness and made sure they took an initial countermeasure to powerfully expel the enemy warship by firing 10 shells of multiple rocket launchers toward the territorial waters, where naval enemy movement was detected, at 5:15. The KPA opened 10 threatening and warning fires in the direction of 270 degrees of firing azimuth from the area of Ryongyon County at 5:15 on October 24. The KPA General Staff once again sends a grave warning to the enemies who made even naval intrusion in the wake of such provocations as the recent artillery firing and loudspeaker broadcasting on the ground front. ” (KCNA, “Spokesman for KPA General Staff Issues Statement,” October 24, 2022)


10/25/22:
The main mission of U.S. ground forces in South Korea in case a war breaks out with the North will be to eliminate weapons of mass destruction in North Korea. South Korean government sources exclusively told JoongAng Ilbo today that Washington relayed its shift in priority to Seoul earlier this year. In the past, the core mission of U.S. ground forces stationed in the South was to repel North Korean aggression alongside South Korean troops. According to multiple government sources who spoke with the paper on the condition of anonymity, Washington broke the news to Seoul before the end of June as it was explaining the major tasks of the Stryker brigade combat team (SBCT) ahead of the team’s arrival in Korea. Washington was said to have told Seoul that in csse of war, the SBCT would be directed to infiltrate North Korea to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear weapons; help evacuate over 200,000 American citizens from the Korean peninsula; and reception, staging, onward movement and integration, also known as RSOI, which refers to the process of transforming personnel and equipment into mission-capable forces.

After that explanation, the U.S. Department of Defense announced on June 30 that beginning in the fall, the Korea Rotational Force will transition from an armored brigade combat team (ABCT) to an SBCT, adding that the transition was meant to “enable the U.S. to maintain capabilities on the Korean peninsula to rapidly respond to any acts of aggression.” “The SBCT is an infantry-centric unit with over 4,400 Soldiers who offer speed, efficiency, increased mobility and strategic flexibility to senior commanders,” the Defense Department statement read. “The existing ABCT equipment, which includes M-1 Abrams tanks and M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, will be maintained on the Korean peninsula in a ready state to further ensure a robust defense capability.” The SBCT started arriving in Korea from October7 and is scheduled to officially assume responsibility as the 12th rotational brigade to Korea during a transfer of authority ceremony on November 9. (Lee Chul-jae and Lee Sung-eun, “U.S. Ground Forces Change Main Wartime Aim in Korea,” JoongAng Ilbo, October 25, 2022)


10/27/22:
A nuclear attack by North Korea against the U.S. or its allies will result in the end of the country’s regime, the U.S. Department of Defense said today. In its National Defense Strategy (NDS), the department said the U.S. will also hold North Korea responsible for any transfer of nuclear weapons or related materials and technology to other actors. “Any nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies and partners is unacceptable and will result in the end of that regime,” said the NDS. “There is no scenario in which the Kim regime could employ nuclear weapons and survive,” it added, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the NDS is “clear eyed” about threats posed by North Korea and its evolving nuclear, missile capabilities. “The NDS is also clear eyed about other serious threats and that includes North Korea’s expanding nuclear and missile capabilities,” he told a press briefing. “The NDS charges us to defend the U.S. homeland to deter strategic attacks against the United States and our allies and partners, to prepare to prevail in conflict when necessary,” said Austin. The NDS also highlights proliferation risks posed by North Korea. “We will hold the (North Korean) regime responsible for any transfer it makes of nuclear weapons technology, material or expertise to any state or non-state actor,” it said. (Byun Duk-kun, “Nuclear Attack by N. Korea Will Result in End of Pyongyang Regime: U.S.” Yonhap, October 28, 2022)


10/28/22:
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) toward the East Sea today, the South Korean military said, as Seoul’s major military exercise drew to a close. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launches from the Tongchon area in Kangwon Province between 11:59 a.m. and 12:18 p.m., and that the missiles flew some 230 kilometers at apogees of around 24 km at top speeds of around Mach 5. The latest launches came as the South is set to conclude its Hoguk exercise later in the day. Seoul and Washington are also preparing to stage major combined air drills, called Vigilant Storm, next week. The launches took place north of a “buffer zone” set under a 2018 inter-Korean military accord aimed at reducing cross-border tensions, a JCS official said, indicating they did not violate the accord. The North last fired an SRBM on October 14. (Yonhap, N. Korea Fires 2 Short-Range Ballistic Missiles toward East Sea: S. Korean Military,” October 28, 2022)


10/31/22:
South Korea and the United States will hold major combined air drills, involving some 240 military aircraft, to verify the allies’ wartime operational capabilities, the Air Force here said Friday, amid growing North Korean security threats. The five-day Vigilant Storm exercise is set to begin today, as Seoul and Washington are striving to sharpen deterrence amid concerns that Pyongyang could ratchet up tensions by conducting a nuclear test or other provocative acts.

For the drills, the South plans to mobilize some 140 aircraft, including F-35A stealth jets and F-15K and KF-16 fighters, as well as KC-330 tankers, while the U.S. will deploy some 100 assets, including F-35B jets, EA-18 electronic warfare aircraft and KC-135 tankers. It would mark the U.S. military’s first dispatch of F-35B jets here, Seoul officials said, in an apparent move by the allies to highlight their combined air power in the wake of Pyongyang’s continued saber-rattling.

Australia’s Air Force will also join the exercise with the deployment of a KC-30A tanker transport.

“During the exercise, the Air Forces of South Korea and the U.S. plan to hone wartime operational procedures and enhance sustained operational capabilities by conducting around the clock key air operations, such as a strike package flight, the provision of air defense and emergency air interdiction,” the South’s Air Force said in a press release. During the exercise, the Korea Air and Space Operations Center, tasked with spearheading wartime air operations, will check its operational capabilities by commanding allied air assets that are set to carry out a combined 1,600 sorties. Such a combined air exercise was first held in 2015 under the name of Vigilant ACE, which was suspended in 2018 amid the then Moon Jae-in administration’s drive for inter-Korean reconciliation. (Yonhap, “South Korea, U.S. to Conduct Vigilant Storm Air Drills Next Week amid N.K. Threats,” October 31, 2022)

DPRK FoMin spokesman’s statement: “The situation in the Korean Peninsula and its vicinity has entered the serious confrontation phase of power for power again due to the ceaseless and reckless military moves of the U.S. and south Korea. The large-scale field mobile exercise, Hoguk, was staged across south Korea from October 17 to 28, and a few days later, the largest-ever U.S.-south Korea joint air drill, Vigilant Storm, was started. This drill involving more than hundreds of fighters of different missions such as F-35Bs based in Japan is a war drill for aggression mainly aimed at striking the strategic targets of the DPRK in case of contingency in the Korean Peninsula. Owing to the large-scale war exercises staged by the U.S. and its vassal forces almost every day this year, the Korean Peninsula remains the hotspot with the most serious military tensions in the world and the security circumstances in the region have become grimmer. The joint military exercises of the U.S. and its vassal forces have the more clear aggressive nature than any other ones everywhere else of the world in terms of the period, scale, contents and density. The U.S.-south Korea joint military exercises, staged in April on a full scale through the “combined command exercises”, were turned into a large-scale field mobile drill “Ulji Freedom Shield” in August and then into large-scale joint naval exercises and the largest-ever joint air drill involving a nuclear carrier task force in September and October. All the facts clearly show that the U.S. nuclear war scenario against the DPRK has entered the final stage. For the U.S. to describe the DPRK’s self-defensive military counteraction as an act of escalating the tensions is very absurd and this is just like a guilty party filing the suit first. It is because the U.S. is staging such war exercises for aggression as the large-scale landing drill and “decapitation” of the leadership aimed at occupying the territory and depth of the opposite party. The DPRK reminds once again of the fact that the recent military drills by units of the Korean People’s Army were carried out under the unstable security circumstances created by the U.S. and south Korea. The U.S. is trying to shift the responsibility for the escalated tensions onto the DPRK after making it take a countermeasure by getting on its nerves militarily under the signboard of “annual” and “defensive” exercises. But such scheme can no longer work to conceal its true colors as the chief culprit in destroying peace and security. The U.S., the one and only country in the world which sets it as a main target of nuclear strategy to “topple the government” of a sovereign state, must be prepared for paying an equal price for its attempt to use military force against the DPRK. The DPRK is ready to take all necessary measures for defending its sovereignty, people’s security and territorial integrity from outside military threats. If the U.S. continuously persists in the grave military provocations, the DPRK will take into account more powerful follow-up measures. If the U.S. does not want any serious developments not suited to its security interests, it should stop the useless and ineffective war exercises at once. If not, it will have to totally take the blame for all the consequences. (KCNA, “Statement of Spokesman of DPRK Foreign Minister,” October 31, 2022)


11/1/22:
WPK Central Committee secretary [Vice Chairman of Central Military Commission] Pak Jong Chon’s press statement: “The hostile forces’ inordinate moves for military confrontation have created a grave situation on the Korean peninsula. Given the number of fighters involved in the combined air drill Vigilant Storm staged by the U.S. and south Korea and the size of the drill, I consider it an aggressive and provocative military drill targeting the DPRK to the letter, in view of the fact that it imitated the name of the operation code Desert Storm used in invading Iraq in the early 1990s. It is a very unfavorable sign. The U.S. Department of Defense adopted the “end” of the DPRK’s regime as a major target of its nuclear strategy, and the south Korean military warmongers including the puppet defense minister and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spouted such rubbish that if the DPRK uses nuke, its regime should be totally destroyed. What is clear is that the current U.S.-south Korea combined air drill revived in five years is an extension of such provocation. The U.S. is mistaken. If the U.S. thinks of playing on the Korean peninsula the way it had bombed weak countries at any time and made a mockery of the destiny of sovereign states at the end of the last century, it will be a daydream and a fatal strategic mistake. The Korean peninsula is not such a place where the U.S. military bluff can work as it does in other regions. The DPRK closely follows the present instability on the Korean peninsula created by the reckless military moves of the U.S. and south Korea. If the U.S. and south Korea attempt to use armed forces against the DPRK without any fear, the special means of the DPRK’s armed forces will carry out their strategic mission without delay and the U.S. and south Korea will have to face a terrible case and pay the most horrible price in history. It should be noted that in the present situation, it is a big mistake to accept this as a threat warning only. Such military rashness and provocation can be no longer tolerated. The U.S. and south Korea should stop their frantic “military games” and provocative remarks. Those responsible of the U.S. and south Korea who are so fond of bluffing should make a proper choice as to whether their face management is important or their security is more important. “ (KCNA, “Press Statement of Secretary of WPK Central Committee Pak Jong Chon,” November 1, 2022)

The U.S. and North Korea have been mostly hostile toward one another since the Korean War, with DPRK leader Kim Jong Un regularly threatening to annihilate the American mainland with long-range nuclear missiles over the years. But there was a brief moment 15 years ago when the two sides came together to fight a common enemy — pirates — in an incident that both countries appeared to use as an opportunity to create goodwill. Somali pirates attacked the Dai Hong Dan, a North Korean cargo ship, on October 29, 2007 and refused to let it go unless they received a $15,000 ransom. The North Koreans sent a call for help, and it just so happened that a U.S. Navy destroyer conducting anti-piracy operations off the coast of the East African nation picked up the message. The USS James E. Williams dispatched a SH-60B helicopter to check out the situation and demanded over the radio that the Somalis surrender. As luck would have it, there was a Korean speaker on board the U.S. ship. Roy Park, a second-generation Korean American, was able to facilitate communication between the Dai Hong Dan and the Americans. After the pirates threw their weapons overboard, Park boarded the ship with a medical team, and three severely wounded North Koreans were taken to the USS James E. Williams for further treatment. One Somali had been killed during the fighting with the North Korean crew earlier. The incident appears to have had a big impact on Park personally. Despite the badges of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on their chests and the portraits of the North Korean leaders hung up on the walls, Park told Voice of America that he realized that they weren’t that different from him at all. He said the way they looked and talked even reminded him of his Korean relatives. Park added that the North Koreans expressed extreme gratitude toward the U.S. sailors and medical personnel. The USS James E. Williams returned the injured North Koreans to the Dai Hong Dan before sending it on its way. The North Korean ship would spend the next few days in Yemen, and it was at a Yemeni hospital that three North Korean crewmen — presumably the same that received treatment on the U.S. destroyer — gave an interview to journalists, adding more color to the story. According to the North Koreans, the Dai Hong Dan was on its way out of the Port of Mogadishu when it received a request from what they thought were Somali security personnel requesting permission to come aboard before the ship entered pirate-infested waters. However, it turned out that the Somali “security personnel” were in fact pirates themselves. After sailing for around 10 miles (16 km), the pirates pulled out M16s and ordered the crew to head to their base in Harardhere, some 12 hours up the coast from Mogadishu. Just six months before the North Koreans were taken captive, pirates had taken hostage two ships carrying 24 crew members, including four South Koreans, in the city. But while still at sea, two North Koreans on the Dai Hong Dan were able to kill the engine, stopping the boat. When a couple of pirates went down to investigate, the North Koreans claimed that the engine had broken. Then, after lowering their guard, the North Koreans pounced on the pirates, overpowering them and taking some of their guns. The three crewmen stressed this point in their interview, since earlier reports stated that the North Koreans actually made use of their own guns that they had hidden on the ship. For the next three-and-a-half hours, the North Koreans engaged in a shootout with the Somalis. By the time the Americans showed up on the scene, the three crewmen said, the North Koreans had mostly taken care of the situation themselves. Commandeering a ship from a country that has 10-year mandatory military service turned out to be easier said than done. DPRK state media even issued a rare statement thanking the hated American imperialists for assisting its crewmen on Nov. 8, giving the U.S. a little more credit than the three North Koreans. While the crewmen said “the U.S. military gave help after the end of the situation,” the Korean Central News Agency said the pirates dropped their guns and surrendered after the U.S. helicopters showed up and issued warnings over the radio. State media also described the case as “a symbol of the DPRK-U.S. cooperation in the struggle against terrorism,” adding that it would continue to fight against terrorism in the future. The DPRK’s framing and reaction of the incident appears to have been an attempt to come across as a responsible actor and get itself off the U.S. state sponsor of terrorism list. Washington designated the DPRK in 1988, less than two months after North Korea bombed a Korean Air flight in an attempt to derail the upcoming Seoul Olympics. The U.S. was considering removing the DPRK from the list at the time amid a relatively good spell in denuclearization negotiations. And almost a year later in Oct. 2008, Washington did remove the country after it agreed to resume efforts to dismantle its nuclear program. (However, the U.S. added the DPRK back on the list in Nov. 2017, following the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport). Another interesting aspect of the incident is that, following the USS James E. Williams’s intervention, the Kenya-based Seafarers Assistance Program asked the Americans to apprehend the North Koreans and send them to Mombasa. Apparently, the ship was complicit in “suspicious activities.” It’s not clear if the seafarers program had a legitimate claim, or whether the U.S. perhaps chose not to return the North Koreans in order to create space for denuclearization talks. In any event, any goodwill that came out of the Dai Hong Dan incident had little to no impact on the status quo between the U.S. and DPRK, nor did it get the world any closer to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. But it does show that, on those exceptionally rare occasions, even the most bitter of enemies can work together. (James Fretwell, “How the U.S. and North Korea Teamed up to Fight a Common Enemy –Pirates,” NKNews, November 1, 2022)


11/2/22:
North Korea launched a barrage of missiles today, including one that flew across its de facto maritime border with South Korea for the first time since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, according to the South’s military. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the North’s firing of three short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) from a site in or around the North’s eastern coastal city of Wonsan at around 8:51 a.m. One of them landed near South Korea’s territorial waters. Its latest provocation came in apparent protest of the five-day large-scale combined air drills of South Korea and the United States that kicked off two days ago. In response, South Korea’s F-15K and KF-16 warplanes fired three precision strike air-to-surface SLAM-ER missiles into high seas north of the NLL from 11:10 a.m. landing in a location north of the NLL at a distance almost equivalent to that of the North’s missile that dropped south of the de facto border, the JCS said. One of the North’s three SRBMs fell into high seas 26 kilometers south of the NLL, an area 57 km east of the South’s eastern city of Sokcho and 167km northwest of Ulleung Island near Dokdo. It headed toward the island before falling into the international sea, prompting local authorities to issue an air raid alert. Two other SRBMs traveled into the East Sea. They were among the more than 20 missiles that the North fired over a span of more than 10 hours, according to the South’s military. The North first fired four SRBMs into the Yellow Sea at 6:51 a.m., then fired the three SRBMs into the East Sea two hours later. Starting at 9:12 a.m., Pyongyang launched more than 10 missiles, including those presumed to be SRBMs and surface-to-air missiles, off its east and west coasts. From 4:30 p.m. to 5:10 p.m., it fired six more missiles, including suspected surface-to-air ones, into the East and Yellow Seas. The South Korean military also spotted more than 100 artillery shells lobbed from the North’s Kosong County, Kangwon Province, into the eastern maritime buffer zone at around 1:27 p.m. The buffer zone was set under the 2018 inter-Korean military agreement. President Yoon Suk-yeol convened an emergency National Security Council session, condemned North Korea’s latest barrage of missile launches as a de facto violation of the South’s territory and ordered “swift” action to make the North pay for the provocations. The North’s weapon tests came as Seoul and Washington are staging the Vigilant Storm exercise involving more than 240 aircraft, including their advanced stealth jets. USS Key West, a U.S. nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine, also arrived in South Korea two days ago for a “scheduled visit” as part of its deployment to the Indo-Pacific region. (Kim Soo-yeon and Chae Yun-hwan, “N. Korea’s Missile Flies across NLL for First Time; S. Korea Sends Missile Northward in Its Show of Force,” Yonhap, November 2, 2022) One short-range ballistic missile was fired toward the South Korean island of Ulleungdo in the East Sea on Wednesday morning, which prompted the South Korean government to immediately issue an air raid alert at 8:54 a.m. for residents to take shelter. It was the first air raid warning issued since another launch in February 2016. The “all clear” was sounded at 2 p.m. The missile landed in international waters 57 kilometers east of Sokcho, Gangwon Province, and 26 kilometers south of the Northern Limit Line, which is the de facto but disputed inter-Korean boundary, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. In response, the South Korean military fired three missiles from fighter jets toward the north of the inter-Korean maritime boundary to demonstrate its precision-strike capabilities, denouncing the missile launch as a “direct and very serious provocation.” North Korea unprecedentedly fired at least 17 missiles, including short-range ballistic missiles and surface-to-air missiles, from the eastern and western areas on Wednesday morning, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But military sources said that 19 missiles were fired from nine different places in the morning. North Korea fired four short-range ballistic missiles toward the West Sea from the city of Chongju and Pihyon County in North Pyongan Province at 6:51 a.m. North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles from the eastern coastal city of Wonsan in Kangwon Province toward the East Sea at 8:51 a.m. Among them, only one ballistic missile was fired toward South Korean territory. North Korea fired an additional 10 projectiles, presumed to have been ballistic and surface-to-air missiles, from 9:12 a.m. The missiles were fired from the city of Sinpo, Ragwon County, Jongpyong-eup in South Hamgyong Province toward the East Sea and from Onchon County and Hwajin-ri in South Pyongan Province as well as Kwail County in South Hwanghae Province toward the West Sea. North Korea has fired six additional missiles late Wednesday afternoon. According to the JCS, six projectiles including surface-to-air missiles were fired from four locations into the East and the West seas between 4:30 p.m. and 5:10 p.m. The latest missiles were launched from Sinpo, South Hamgyong Province on North Korea’s west coast, and Onchon, South Pyongan Province on the east coast. In addition, North Korea fired around 100 artillery shells from Kosong County, Kangwon Province, at 1:27 p.m. toward the East Sea. The artillery shots fell inside inter-Korean maritime buffer zones, but north of the Northern Limit Line. The two Koreas agreed to cease all live-fire and maritime maneuver exercises in the buffer zones in a military tension reduction deal signed during the inter-Korean summit on Sept. 19, 2018. South Korea’s JCS said the firing of artillery into the maritime buffer zones was a “flagrant violation of the Sept. 19 military agreement.” (Ja Da-gyum, “North Tests Grieving South with Barrage of Artillery, Missiles, One over NLL,” Korea Herald, November 2, 2022)

The United States today accused North Korea of covertly shipping a “significant number” of artillery shells to Russia to aid its war effort in Ukraine, a sign that Moscow is increasingly turning to pariah states for military supplies as the grinding conflict persists. The White House’s national security spokesman, John Kirby, said that it was unclear if the artillery munitions, which are being transferred through the Middle East and North Africa, had reached Russia. The United States does not believe that the additional weapons will alter the trajectory of the war. “Our indications are the DPRK is covertly supplying and we’re going to monitor to see whether shipments are received,” Kirby told reporters. “Our information indicates that they’re trying to obscure the method of supply by funneling them through other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.” North Korea said in September it had never supplied weapons or ammunition to Russia and has no plans to do so. The Biden administration said in September that Russia was seeking to purchase artillery shells and rockets from North Korea. The United States is also concerned that Iran may be shipping drones and surface-to-surface missiles. Kirby said that Russia had now gone beyond shopping for such artillery and had made purchases. He would not elaborate on how the weapons were being transported or whether the United States intends to try to intercept them. The United States believes that Ukraine will continue to have the ability to defend itself if the North Korean munitions do reach Russia. “We don’t we don’t believe that this will change the course of the war,” Kirby said. (Alan Rappeport, “North Korea Secretly Shipped Munitions to Russia through the Middle East and North Africa, the U.S. Says,” New York Times, November 3, 2022)

Rachel Minyoung Lee: “As expected, much of the media commentary on North Korea’s new nuclear law and a barrage of missile launches and artillery firing in recent weeks, including its latest firing across the inter-Korean maritime border, has ultimately boiled down to one single question: What does Kim Jong Un want? While there is a long list of possible domestic and external factors driving North Korea’s ongoing moves, these activities need to be viewed in tandem with what appears to be Pyongyang’s shifting foreign policy. Only then can we understand the North’s current calculus and the broader policy implications. By now, North Korea’s gravitation toward China and Russia and Kim Jong Un’s “no negotiation” speech has been chronicled extensively. The real significance of these developments goes beyond North Korea simply joining the anti-West bloc led by China and Russia in what some have termed “Cold War 2.0”: It signals a fundamental shift away from the North’s 30+ year policy of nonalignment with China or Russia and efforts to normalize relations with the United States. North Korea’s view of the global political order and how the United States fits into its foreign policy will have implications for the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and the region, including the prospects for nuclear talks. No country’s actions occur in a vacuum, and the same goes for North Korea. For that reason, rather than reacting to or parsing Pyongyang’s actions piecemeal, it is important to examine the context of these actions—the backdrop against which its perceptions are formed and decisions are made and implemented. Signs of Pyongyang’s pivot to China have been building up steadily and consistently in recent years, as evidenced by the North’s official support for the thorny issues of Hong Kong and Taiwan as early as August 2019 and June 2020, respectively. The February 4 China-Russia joint statement, where the two countries laid down their vision of a new global order and promised “no limits” in friendship, appears to have been an inflection point for the North Korean leadership that would change its worldview and fundamentally transform its foreign policy of more than 30 years. In this document, Kim Jong Un likely saw an increasingly fragmented world where US power and leadership are waning on the world stage. His thinking was reflected in his speech to the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) in September, where he declared, “the change from a unipolar world advocated by the US into a multipolar world is being accelerated significantly.” This appears to have emboldened North Korea to fundamentally recalibrate its policy of nonalignment with either China or Russia and the use of the US as a buffer against these two giant neighbors. Within a month of adopting this joint statement, North Korea moved rapidly to align itself with Russia, issuing a Foreign Ministry statement blaming the US for the Ukrainian situation. The following month, Kim Jong Un’s inspections of the National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) and the Sohae Satellite Launching Station