North Korea’s Missile Program Progressing Faster Than Expected – Southfront


The North Korea missile program is progressing faster than expected, South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo said on Tuesday.

He told the parliament that the Sunday missile test was successfull and pointed out that North Korea’s missile program was developing faster than the South had expected.

“It is considered an IRBM (intermediate range ballistic missile) of enhanced caliber compared to Musudan missiles that have continually failed,” the minister said.

Earlier, the UN Security Council warned it may hit North Korea with a new round of sanctions in response to its missile tests and blaimed blamed the country for stirring up regional tension. The council also urged Pyongyang to stop its nuclear and ballistic missile activity.

“The members of the Security Council agreed that the Security Council would continue to closely monitor the situation and take further significant measures including sanctions, in line with the Council’s previously expressed determination,” the UN Security Council statement read.  Southfront



I don't know much about the Koreas.  So far as I can remember I have never been in South Korea, but it seems to me that the threat of a war that the US cannot avoid there is so severe that a thread on the linked subjects of the NoKo nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs is a necessity.

The NoKo government has made it explicit that the territory, and fleet of the US are desired targets as well as US allies South Korea and Japan. 

Let's talk about it.  pl  

This entry was posted in Korea, weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

63 Responses to North Korea’s Missile Program Progressing Faster Than Expected – Southfront

  1. b says:

    When NoKo recently launched that new missile the news did not even make it into the top ten on South Korean social networks. From people there (civ expats) I talked to the South Koreans do not think a war will happen – unless the U.S. does something crazy and starts one.
    The U.S. does not want a re-unification (said Hillary in her Goldman Sachs speech). It does not want to lose that foothold in that part of Asia. It tries to bring Japan and Korea together but that is hopeless. The Koreans hate the Japanese and hardline Japanese imperialists think Koreans are just apes.
    NoKo (the DPRK) has made a clear offer to the U.S. – “stop the yearly maneuvers that are threatening us and we will stop (verifiable) our development of missiles and nukes.” It has made that offer three years in a row now. Would the U.S. have agreed to the first offer, NoKo would never have had an IRBM or sub-launched S-MRBMs. As long as the U.S. blocks any such talks NoKo will continue to work on and test intercontinental missiles. In five years (latest) it will have crossed the point.
    What will the U.S. do then? How will it respond when NoKo uses the next U.S.-SoKo maneuver to rattle the cage (by sinking some ship)? Retaliate against a state it does not understand and that can nuke U.S. cities? Or will it (have to) stop the maneuvers?
    It will be checkmate then. Lets hope that the recent “unofficial” talks in Oslo reach some better solution.

  2. John Minnerath says:

    I have no direct experience with Korea either. A close friend was with the permanent SF team in South Korea for some time.
    The PRNK has been allowed to develop a massive military presence on the peninsula for far too long.
    It should really be no surprise that their missile program has advanced to where it is now.
    Besides the nuclear and missile capability they also have large batteries of emplaced conventional along the DMZ, especially covering Seoul and surrounding areas.
    A powder keg with a very short fuse under the control of some seriously out of touch individuals.
    It’ll be interesting to read the comments that should come here.

  3. Willy B says:

    I only know what I’ve read in the statements from the principles involved and what’s in the news. There’s an interesting analysis in the South China Morning Post that purports to explain what Kim Jong-un wants which seems to boil down to regime survival.
    “Launching missiles is akin to stirring the proverbial pot. It is not aimed at creating a diplomatic stink that would hurt North Korea economically and politically. It is to get all stakeholders – especially the 29 leaders who gathered in Beijing for the Belt and Road summit – to see that their fate, too, hangs in the balance, if North Korea isn’t given some slack.”

  4. turcopolier says:

    The US will not allow its forces and territory to be held at risk by North Korea. This is not like establishing MAD with the USSR. North Korea may or may not be deterrable. How much risk do you think we imperialist Americans should accept? Personally I think the US should withdraw its forces from South Korea. The South Koreans could and probably would then develop their own nuclear weapons. The same thing would be true for Japan. Of course that would destroy the non-proliferation treaty, but at least the US and its allies would be disadvantaged, right? pl

  5. FourthAndLong says:

    The London Review of Books agrees with you Colonel. This excerpt is from their latest edition, available for free online, authored by Bruce Cummings:

    But if American commentators and politicians are ignorant of Korea’s history, they ought at least to be aware of their own. US involvement in Korea began towards the end of the Second World War, when State Department planners feared that Soviet soldiers, who were entering the northern part of the peninsula, would bring with them as many as thirty thousand Korean guerrillas who had been fighting the Japanese in north-east China. They began to consider a full military occupation that would assure America had the strongest voice in postwar Korean affairs. It might be a short occupation or, as a briefing paper put it, it might be one of ‘considerable duration’; the main point was that no other power should have a role in Korea such that ‘the proportionate strength of the US’ would be reduced to ‘a point where its effectiveness would be weakened’. Congress and the American people knew nothing about this. Several of the planners were Japanophiles who had never challenged Japan’s colonial claims in Korea and now hoped to reconstruct a peaceable and amenable postwar Japan. They worried that a Soviet occupation of Korea would thwart that goal and harm the postwar security of the Pacific. Following this logic, on the day after Nagasaki was obliterated, John J. McCloy of the War Department asked Dean Rusk and a colleague to go into a spare office and think about how to divide Korea. They chose the 38th parallel, and three weeks later 25,000 American combat troops entered southern Korea to establish a military government.
    It lasted three years. To shore up their occupation, the Americans employed every last hireling of the Japanese they could find, including former officers in the Japanese military like Park Chung Hee and Kim Chae-gyu, both of whom graduated from the American military academy in Seoul in 1946. (After a military takeover in 1961 Park became president of South Korea, lasting a decade and a half until his ex-classmate Kim, by then head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, shot him dead over dinner one night.) After the Americans left in 1948 the border area around the 38th parallel was under the command of Kim Sok-won, another ex-officer of the Imperial Army, and it was no surprise that after a series of South Korean incursions into the North, full-scale civil war broke out on 25 June 1950. Inside the South itself – whose leaders felt insecure and conscious of the threat from what they called ‘the north wind’ – there was an orgy of state violence against anyone who might somehow be associated with the left or with communism. The historian Hun Joon Kim found that at least 300,000 people were detained and executed or simply disappeared by the South Korean government in the first few months after conventional war began. My own work and that of John Merrill indicates that somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people died as a result of political violence before June 1950, at the hands either of the South Korean government or the US occupation forces. In her recent book Korea’s Grievous War, which combines archival research, records of mass graves and interviews with relatives of the dead and escapees who fled to Osaka, Su-kyoung Hwang documents the mass killings in villages around the southern coast. * In short, the Republic of Korea was one of the bloodiest dictatorships of the early Cold War period; many of the perpetrators of the massacres had served the Japanese in their dirty work – and were then put back into power by the Americans.

  6. ambrit says:

    Of interest is China’s stake in the North Korea, South Korea division. Roughly speaking, North Korea seems to be China’s “Israel,” a legacy of an earlier period of conflict, and now acting like the tail that wags the dog.
    How would the “West” react to a Chinese backed “regime change” in Pyongyang?
    America might be an Imperialist power now, but the Chinese have been playing this game a lot longer.

  7. YT says:
    Bill Lind (receiving Sage Advice via telephone cca. Operation Iraqi Liberation from Kaiser Wilhelm II – who now resides in Hellenic Valhalla with other notorious fellows from Occident past) ponders about what chances the Norks might have an ace up their sleeve…
    P’raps the equivalent of a von Manstein in their echelons?

  8. TV says:

    Clinton handled the Norks like everyone else – he bent over.
    Bush kicked the can to Obama who was too busy kissing Iran on the lips – and giving them money – to worry about the Norks.
    Now, we get Trump.
    Uh oh….

  9. Babak Makkinejad says:

    NPT is already dead.

  10. iowa steve says:

    I don’t know how reliable it was but I recall recently reading an article focusing on how Kim Jong Un has been purging the North Korean elite of those thought to be too friendly to China, and that the assassination of his brother was part of this.

  11. Norbert M Salamon says:

    With great respect Colonel:
    The US does allow that her forces and territory be at risk by both the Russian Federation and by China, for the USA is doing everything around the Eurasian land mass (and in it) to get both Russian Federation and China to fear being attacked. Without doubt the only thing (for now) holding the neocons and 2R2-s in check is the certainty that the US is in danger of retaliation; though some idiots in these two groups hold the opinion that a nuclear war is winnable. One must hope that these idiots never gain ascendency.

  12. JJackson says:

    Isn’t the NPT defunct anyway? I thought we had killed it long ago. You can have punitive sanctions against Iraq & Iran on accusation absent proof and post IAEA inspection. While Israel refuses to sign the NPT (claiming they do not have a weapons program is akin to Holocaust denial, in terms of probability of being true) and gets advanced weapons technology. India develops nuclear weapons, despite being a signatory, and suffers what?
    Why should one worry more about NPRK nukes than Israeli? In the event of hostile forces making serious inroads into the territory of either country is there any difference in the likelihood of either going nuclear if they felt the threat existential. The difference I see is from the perspective of the potential hostile force. For us NPRK looks worse for the Muslim world Israel.

  13. confusedponderer says:

    “under the control of some seriously out of touch individuals.”
    Amen. I still recall the articles about Kim Jong Un having his half brother Kim Jong Nam brutally murdered with XV in Kuala Lumpur. Beyond the simply ruthless brutality of Kim Jong Un, it shows clear indications of a psychologically unstable mind in his rotten head.
    Reading that reminded me of all the nasty details on the stuff that I learned in the army twenty years ago. I had emergency readiness on the day the US did operation Steel Box and withdrew their chem cocktails to ships and removed them from Germany. That stuff was nasty and I am thankful that nothing happened.

  14. ToivoS says:

    It sounds like the new S. Korean president Moon is interested in talking with Pyongyang. Also there have signs that North Korea are interested in such an engagement and have given indications that they are willing to negotiate over their possession of nuclear weapons. But they are not willing to give them up without something in exchange. From my reading over the past 20 years what the North wants is a treaty formally ending the Korean War. Plus there is some indications they are looking for secure sources of energy (guaranteed oil deliveries or possibly the right to build nuclear reactors). During the Clinton administration Jimmy Carter initiated some contacts with the North that led to talks. At the time it looked like some kind of deal had been worked out but for reasons that have never been clear to me, that fell through. Since then both Presidents Bush and Obama had policies of not even talking with the North.
    If this were a rational world it seems that there are many pieces in place right now where some serious negotiations could begin. Obviously, it is in the interests of China, Russia, the US and especially the Koreans to avoid war. China and Russia would be very cooperative if the US was willing to put that THAAD system on the table. It would cost some some serious money that would have to come from the US, China and South Korea but considering the war alternative it would be a good bargain for all.
    Of course, the Borg would throw a hissy fit and is likely powerful enough to prevent any such deal. As I said above – if this were a rational world.

  15. Old Microbiologist says:

    I agree with you entirely and given the recent change in government in S. Korea may become a reality. North Korea has now three separate times offered to disarm their nuclear program completely if the US and South Korea would stop their offensive practice invasions and more recently practicing targeted assassinations. They have been refused every time which is strangely opposite the US claims. It is not exactly similar as it is in Iran who actually do not have nor are likely to develop their own nuclear weapons. North Korea or Pakistan might sell them some though and there was some evidence Iran actually had three nuclear devices obtained from Ukraine which they removed several years ago back to Ukraine. But Iran is another story as is Pakistan.
    North Korea is a serious threat and given the offensive actions the US had done over the past 17 years against other countries (and I am also referring to the strange deaths of anti-US presidents) I think their paranoia is justified. They do have a very large but outdated diesel electric submarine fleet several of which are undergoing (possibly completed) refit to launch a single nuclear missile. It would be relatively easy to launch a suicide mission against the US from the coastal waters of the US. If they have successfully completed a SLBM capability then yes, they are a real threat which will grow. It is insane for the US to think they can change anything in the Korean peninsula. We are still officially at war and North Korea is considered a protected state by China. Russia is also nearby and shares a border with North Korea so has skin in the game as well and has assisted North Korea with older Russian weapons systems in the past.Technically, we are still at war there as it was only an armistice and not a peace treaty. Worse, North Korea has a substantial amount of artillery zeroed in on Seoul which no missile system can prevent. Both China and Russia might (as they are both being actively assaulted by the US) provide more sophisticated weapons systems. So, things might get very interesting if the US keeps escalating the tensions with North Korea. IMHO we have 2 mad men facing off against each other. Maybe China or Russia (or both together) can cool it down? The only logical ways for this to end relatively peacefully is if the US and South Korea back down substantially or the very remote possibility that China goes all in and replaces Kim.

  16. Haralambos says:

    This is of tangential relevance perhaps: It refers to the possible North Korean involvement in the ransomware attack that hit many servers last week.
    Several of the banks that we use here in Greece were hit, but, fortunately, we managed to avoid it by recognizing the phishing expeditions unleashed.

  17. b says:

    I agree – the U.S. should withdraw its soldiers.
    But there is no way now the U.S. can hinder North Korea from holding it at risk (at least in Japan and Guam). Siegfried S. Hecker, who knows the most in the west about NoKo nukes, says it is now impossible for the U.S. to get all NoKo warheads and missiles with a first strike. NoKo has crossed that threshold.
    Nonproliferation expert Josh Pollack says, like me, that the U.S. should negotiate NOW about stopping its maneuvers and other threatening moves to at least limit (if possible) the North Korean missile capability.
    In my view the U.S. created so much damage during the Korea war that it will never be trusted in that country. It failed to hold to the agreements Clinton signed. It killed Ghaddafi after he gave up nuclear ambitions. For all these reasons any chance to completely de-nuclearizing North Korea by negotiations is gone. Doing it by force means a nuclear war.
    Even if the U.S. military just leaves South Korea that does not mean (in my opinion) that SoKo will want to have nukes. Only a certain conservative circle of the SoKo politicians (Park followers) will want those. At least as long as only NoKo has nukes.
    Japan may be different case because:
    – the U.S. very effectively promotes Japan’s neo-imperialists like the current PM who wants to re-militarize the country;
    – the Japanese neo-imperalists are seen as dangerous in and to Korea;
    – Japan has tons of Plutonium stored for nuke purpose and is has missile technology. It could be, practically over night, become a nuclear capable country.
    If Japan gets nukes then, and only then, will SoKo follow up (or arrange itself with the north and thereby have nukes). It will be up to the U.S. to prevent that.

  18. Joe100 says:

    Two websites with relevant information about North Korea are:
    and for nuclear/missile issues:
    One example from ACW to show the detail/expertise available is:
    That describes early US nuclear deployments in Korea and Carter’s (unsuccessful) attempts (due to inside leaks intended to stop/slow his attempts – sound familiar?) to fully withdraw US nuclear weapons form Korea.
    There are typically very well informed commenters on this site.

  19. Alaric says:

    There will never be a solution to the North Korean issue so long as the US remains there because the US goal is to maintain forces in S Korea to encircle China. The premise that North Korea is a threat and menace is an absurdity when the complaint comes from the US and its allies. North has invaded no one and dropped nukes on no one. The US has and does. The only country that has used nukes has a very developed missile and nuke program. Why can’t North Korea? There is a valid complaint regarding the way NK tests missiles but they have the right to defend themselves.
    Really the issue is America’s wish to maintain its might makes right foreign policy. NK’s missiles and nukes challenge that.
    The premise that America must remain in Korea and everywhere to stop nuclear proliferation is equally absurd. The precise opposite has occurred. Furthermore, South Korea does not need nukes to protect herself from the north as S Korea had substantial conventional military resources and any nuke in the south could contaminate the north.

  20. scott s. says:

    Of course historically China has treated Korea as a vassal state, particularly since the Mongol invasion of Goryeo and subsequent dominance of Korea by Yuan, then the alliance of Yi Seong-gye with Ming leading to his establishment of Joseon under Ming. In popular culture China seems to be often portrayed as harsh dictators, or alternatively Koreans were important figures at court but not recognized. (OTOH, Japan is routinely portrayed as the source of ruthless raids against Goryeo or later Joseon with no redeeming qualities. Japan does serve, though, as the foil for Admiral (or General more correctly) Yi Sun-shin and his “turtle” ships.)
    Japan invaded Korea on the pretext of protecting Korea from Qing, meanwhile orchestrating the assassination of the Queen (Empress) who seems to have been interested in soliciting American support in modernizing Joseon as a counter to Japan.
    There is a belief, at least among some Koreans, that the US sold out Korea to Japan via the agency of Teddy Roosevelt and subsequent Taft – Kitsura Agreement which is said to have traded Korea to Japan in return for Japan not interfering in the Philippines.
    Note that US involvement in Korea dates back to the Grant administration and RADM John Rodgers’ expedition resulting in the Battle of Gangwha (for which 15 pre-WWI reform Medals of Honor were awarded). The Korean Commanding General’s flag captured there was on display at the US Naval Academy for many years, until only recently in 2007 returned.

  21. Dave Schuler says:

    We should withdraw from South Korea. In addition to getting our troops out of the line of fire it would free the hands of the Chinese. Presently, they’re being forced to choose which they like least: a nuclear-armed wild card North Korea, a North Korea in a state of collapse with refugees streaming across their borders, or a unified Korea allied with the United States complete with U. S. troops.

  22. Bill Herschel says:

    South Korea is the Asian Israel and North Korea is the Asian Iran. Unfortunately, North Korea toward having a nuclear arsenal that if it is not capable of hitting the U.S. is certainly capable of hitting the South.
    What is more the “Korean War” ended in a armistice unsigned by any government, just some generals. So the U.S. is technically at war with North Korea and China, the other two armies who signed the armistice.
    Somebody better make nice with North Korea right now. We made nice with Germany after WW II. It’s time to make nice with North Korea. Talks, talks, talks. Get the barriers down. There is no other way.
    Please note that there is now a very serious attempt to impeach Trump, led by Israeli intelligence. He doesn’t have much time left to make nice with NK. He’d better hurry.

  23. Bill Herschel says:

    So we should get tough with North Korea? Tell me how that works. Conquer their country? Please tell me how to get tough with them. Tell me how to coerce them into doing what we want them to do. I’m serious.

  24. turcopolier says:

    NoKo has not yet demonstrated an ability to hit anything but the South China Sea. “First strike?” the Air Tasking order for Desert Storm had 2,000 sorties listed in chronological sequence. pl

  25. turcopolier says:

    Russia and China appear to be rational actors. NoKo does not. Also, there is a question of scale. We would not want to “ride out” a Russian or Chinese retaliatory strike. NoKo is a presidential decision away from extinction. Of course South Korea would take a major hit but … pl

  26. Kooshy says:

    Iran is not North Korea, Iran doesn’t have and not need to have nuclear weapons at her current geopolitical instance. IMO, Iran is not in the same shity position that Israel is and has been, the difference is that Iran may have forign enemies, but none of her forign enemies and neighbors view her as illegitimate or a forced occupier of others land. Iran doesn’t need to kill her nighbours on daily bases to secure the land she exist on. Those are a lot of differences that makes Iran at curent security level not needing nukes.

  27. TV says:

    North Korea is like a den of rabid foxes.
    So in your world, we lay back and wait for them to hit…I don’t know…Pearl Harbor?
    There are worse things than “getting tough” – like dying.
    The FIRST job of a government is protection of the populace.
    Why do we have the most expensive military in world history?
    To NOT protect us?
    This large and expensive military, no doubt, has non-nuclear capabilities to solve this problem.
    If we need to lay waste to that place, so be it.
    Better than a missile hitting US territory.

  28. ToivoS says:

    There is a belief, at least among some Koreans, that the US sold out Korea to Japan via the agency of Teddy Roosevelt
    Actually it is belief shared by many Koreans as well as most Western historians that have studied that period. T. Roosevelt’s Nobel Peace prize was one for his efforts to end the Russo-Japan war in 1905. Part of the deal old Teddy reached was that Japan could have Korea.

  29. Barbara Ann says:

    38north posted a right up to date, somewhat cautiously optimistic, analysis today:

  30. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Anna Fifield, WaPo bureau chief in Tokyo, writes (emphasis added):

    Over the last couple of years,
    North Korea has said it would hold talks with the United States –
    as long as denuclearization was not on the agenda,
    a deal-breaker for Washington.
    (This article seems to have been removed from the WaPo web site,
    but I read it in the print edition.)
    How is that consistent with your [b’s] statement that:

    NoKo (the DPRK) has made a clear offer to the U.S. –
    “stop the yearly maneuvers that are threatening us
    and we will stop (verifiable) our development of missiles and nukes.”
    It has made that offer three years in a row now.

    Which is right? (I certainly don’t know.)

  31. Tim B. says:

    Great comment. It seems our goal is to keep Korea split between North and South, and bully NK. No wonder the want a nuke IBM system to protect themselves from us.

  32. Tim B. says:

    NK seems pretty rational to me, if one takes an honest look at everything the USA has done.

  33. Imagine says:

    B.Fuller: Weaponry vs. Livingry. Christ: Forgive us OUR trespasses as we forgive others [before blowing this off, ask yourself: Are you smarter than Jesus?]. B.Oshry’s “Seeing Systems”: The Terrible Dances of Power. We know how this one ends up if we keep going this way.
    A genius president would (a) recognize N.K.’s right to peaceful & quiet enjoyment, and cease existential invasion/attack threats; (b) hold a Truth & Reconciliation meeting, perhaps in Switzerland or South Africa; allow N.K. to air mortal grievances; and truly apologize for them; (c) in restitution, offer to build each of 10M NK households (25M pop) a $75,000 American-made home, with electricity and running water, total cost of $750B paid for by the Treasury printing money. The resulting $750B pop to the American construction/materials economy would pull America out of its recession and give employment to millions of hard-working Americans for the next ten years, while keeping the money in America.
    This should be the baseline scenario against which all other scenarios are compared. In contrast, the non-nuclear battle with Iraq burned up $1T in direct, and est. $1T-$7T in delayed/indirect costs. Any hot war with nuclear N.K. will cost America much more (and could wipe out S.K. or Japan, both world-economy powerhouses). Cooperation is exponentially more profitable than competition.

  34. Thirdeye says:

    You touched upon a very important point about the unnatural aspect of an alliance involving South Korea and Japan. The Koreas have a more historically-rooted alignment with China. It would be very possible for it to re-emerge if South Korea plays the right cards with China, starting with getting the US force out. US forces out of South Korea would remove two major reasons China props up the North, first as a buffer against the US and its allies and second as a bargaining chip. The third reason China has propped up the north is to curtail economic competition from a unified Korea. That reason seems obsolete with the intergrowth of China and ROK in business relations and the extremely rapid growth of the Chinese economy. Korea simply doesn’t figure to threaten China’s economic position anymore. And DPRK is a burden for China, with refugees and the economic aid it requires. China and ROK could make mutually beneficial arrangements to change that situation if ROK adopts a more neutral stance, and ROK has major rational and emotional incentives to do so.

  35. Andy says:

    In my view North Korea is acting rationally from its point of view.
    The strategic balance has changed considerably since the end of the Cold War. For a long time the North was in much better strategic situation – it had a huge advantage in conventional forces and a high readiness rate that would allow it to credibly attempt to retake the South with little warning. It was this threat that drove the US and ROK to agree to stage US tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea (they were withdrawn in 1992). Back then, they were secure thanks to their conventional forces and the support of other Communist allies.
    Today the strategic situation is much different: The conventional balance of power turned decisively against the North beginning in the early-mid 1990’s. Their Soviet and Chinese patrons are gone and no longer provide military assistance. The North’s conventional equipment hasn’t been updated since the late 1980’s. Their personnel spend more time farming than training. Although the North still retains significant combat power that could do a lot damage, particularly to South Korea, they would lose any conventional war and they know it. And then there is the domestic situation which is terrible.
    Against this backdrop the priority for the North Korean leadership is regime survival. The are vulnerable in three ways:
    – The conventional balance of power, as already discussed. This is getting worse for them and they have no means to improve it.
    – They have no allies of consequence and it’s questionable that China would come to their aid again in another war. They have no one providing them a nuclear umbrella or strategic protection that would deter hostile powers.
    – Domestically, even though they are a brutal dictatorship, they still need to keep some legitimacy with the people they rule. They have few means to build legitimacy except through the perception of strength.
    For them, nuclear weapons are the answer to these vulnerabilities. The North believes it needs a credible nuclear deterrent to guarantee the security of the regime because it has no friends and it would lose any war with its enemies. Nukes counterbalance their conventional weakness and thus are the only thing they have to protect the regime from external threats. Domestically, nukes provide a useful tool to buttress the legitimacy and credibility of the regime, and justify the hardships the people must endure.
    So, they aren’t pursuing deliverable nuclear weapons in order to trade them away. They won’t give them up to stop the US from conducting exercises in South Korea or to get the US to withdraw its forces because those two actions by the US will not materially lessen North Korea’s strategic vulnerabilities. Withdrawal of troops from South Korea is probably a good idea just on the basis of US interests. Ending exercises which the North perceives as preparations for an invasion might decrease the North’s paranoia a bit. However, we shouldn’t expect much in return as long as the North’s strategic situation remains as it is.

  36. ked says:

    NK is offensively hopeless. Their peak use is palace demonstrations. There’s no there there … C’mon, they’re still a decade away from a deployable & reliable missile system for nukes. Let’s not spoke Trump… he’s non-linear WTF at any moment. Leave him to the kids… that’s some real Shakespeare there.

  37. Imagine says:

    Any serious discussion should begin with a desirable end stable-state in mind, and then plan how to work towards & achieve that. The most stable state is US and NK are friends, mutually beneficial trading partners, and have no reasons/motivations left to hurt each other. The second most stable state is MAD. This is not desirable. Overthrowing the NK gov’t, in the hopes that a power vacuum will result in a better situation, is not a viable stable end state, as evidenced by Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, Bin Laden, etc. ad nauseam. Start with the end in mind, then how to achieve?
    Strategic planning requires a good theory of mind, including a good respect for human needs, instead of treating the enemy like cockroaches/cardboard villains. The world is a very small house to live in. Recast conflict as divorce proceedings–yes, we hate each other viscerally, but how about the kids? Each side has a point. American divorce counselors have superb technology recently for fair negotiations and theory of mind; advise hiring top divorce researchers to counsel strategy. Whoever has the best ideas, wins.
    Or, we could just nuke them. And lose Seoul and Tokyo, and eat strontium-90 in our wheat. That would be stable, too.
    Change your thinking, and change your life. Why not take the log out of our own eyes first? It’s the one thing that we can control.

  38. I think the best outcome for the Korean peninsula is some kind of variation of the Deutsche Wiedervereinigung. It may end up as a united Korea or just a normalized North and South Korea. Our part in this is to STFU and let it happen. That may be the best policy for China, Russia and Japan as well. I lived through the German version. It certainly wasn’t smooth or cheap. I imagine the Korean version would be far rougher, more expensive and take a hell of a lot longer. It still beats us staring each other down like morons shaking our missiles at each other.

  39. b says:

    So the U.S. can launch a lot of planes. The U.S. is always impressed by its own capabilities. But it regularly fails to see the limits of such resources. How is war in Afghanistan going?
    Does the U.S. know the targets in NoKo – those besides bridges and dams? Does it know where the missiles are? All of them? Does it know where the nukes are? Did it find Saddam’s Scuds? The U.S. likely does not even know how many missiles and nukes are there.
    Seoul is in reach of North Korean weapons. It will be destroyed before North Korea is destroyed.
    You are correct to say that North Korea has not directly demonstrated that it can put a nuke on Guam. But it has demonstrated that it has working nukes. It has demonstrated that it has nuclear capable missiles that can reach Guam and beyond. It has smart and very knowledgeable missile and nukes people. Israel never demonstrated that it can put a nuke on a missile and hit Riyadh or Cairo with them. Would you doubt such capability?
    Guam is a fixed target crowded with U.S. military stuff. One does not need 5 meter CEPT to hit something relevant. More so even for bases in Okinawa and other areas in Japan.
    From the recent S. Hecker interview:
    BAS: Is it plausible that a US pre-emptive strike could destroy all North Korean nuclear weapons, fissile material, and nuclear production facilities? Why or why not?
    SH: There is no conceivable way the United States could destroy all North Korean nuclear weapons. It is not possible to know where they all are. Even if a few could be located, it would be difficult to destroy them without causing them to detonate and create a mushroom cloud over the Korean peninsula.
    It is even less likely that the United States could locate and demolish all of the North’s nuclear materials. Missile launch sites could be destroyed, nuclear test tunnels could be bombed, production sites could be destroyed, and North Korean missiles could possibly be intercepted after launch. But North Korea is developing road-mobile and submarine-launched missiles, which cannot be located reliably. New test tunnels can be dug. And while we know North Korea has covert production facilities, we don’t know where they are. The US military may not be able to intercept missiles after launch. The bottom line is, military strikes could be used to set back the North Korean nuclear program but not to eliminate it.
    Moreover, I believe the US and South Korean governments consider the consequences of any military intervention unacceptably high—in spite of the proclamation that “all options are on the table.” I believe the military option will only really be on the table if North Korea initiates military actions.

  40. Bandit says:

    “A powder keg with a very short fuse under the control of some seriously out of touch individuals”
    I assume you are referring to the US war machine. So, far it looks like the DPRK is the only one making reasonable requests that the US get out of its face and stop provoking instability in the region. It is making everyone nervous because the US has been promoting the idea that their first strike capability would cripple a serious response, not only with North Korea but with China and Russia as well.
    Why else would the US be surrounding China and Russia with heavily armed installations and bases? What country would not see this as provocation? Every time the Russian do flybys on the borders of US and NATO countries, they flip out. I always find that amusing for some reason.

  41. Bandit says:

    “Amen. I still recall the articles about Kim Jong Un having his half brother Kim Jong Nam brutally murdered with XV in Kuala Lumpur. Beyond the simply ruthless brutality of Kim Jong Un, it shows clear indications of a psychologically unstable mind in his rotten head.”
    If that is deranged, then what do you call the US “brutal” assassinations of numerous world leaders and various nationalists advocates of freedom for their respective countries? I think the US is one of the world leaders in trans national assassinations, and perhaps domestic assassinations as well. I do not doubt that Russia, the UK and many other countries are pretty much neck in neck for the title. So, why o why does the murder of Jong Nam make it any more “brutal” when other countries might call their assassinations strategically necessary for national security. Get real!

  42. Fellow Traveler says:

    There must be a 100K American civilians not related to our military presence living and working in SK. Might as well give up a standing army if they’re to be left to a game of nuclear Gonggi.
    More importantly, there a several Trump properties in Seoul.
    OT, Erdogan’s boys show protestors in DC how it’s done:

  43. Phil says:

    Thanks, good find – I know a little of Cumings’s work and have found him excellent. He’s also married to a Korean scholar and I think has spent a lot of time in the country. This kind of stuff I think is known by a few people but should definitely be known by more, and I’ve tried to spread it over the years.
    More recently, as much as I dislike the Clintons the rapprochement under Bill in the 1990s seemed to be going fairly well IIRC – I think NK even demolished its reactor tower once the fuel started coming as per the deal.
    Of course, that was all ruined when the Republicans came in. Since then we’ve had the supernote stupidity to cut NK out of the global trade & finance system as well as freeze what little assets it had outside its borders, and now ever-increasing sanctions on its exports.
    And what does this produce? It is absolutely the antithesis of a rational approach because it gives them nothing to lose. Why would you put them in that position? It only leads to one thing. That must be known, and yet here we are again because as usual politics trumps reason.

  44. Old Microbiologist says:

    That all assumes that China, Russia, or both don’t retaliate. The US administration appears to believe that China is stepping back but I am not reading it the same way. With China it is always a question as to the very long term goals. I believe China is firmly set on the slow path towards global hegemony but with China in charge. To do that successfully means eliminating the US as a potential threat. I think they have been looking at the long view of an imminent collapse of the US for economic reasons but now there is an opening to accelerate the process with little risk to themselves. They are still, despite all the enormous capitalist machinations, a communist country and will defend their foster child and North Korea makes a good proxy. How far they are willing to go is anyone’s guess but I wouldn’t want to bet the farm on it. China and Russia together could make the US a vast wasteland should the US once again nuke another country. We are still the only country to have attacked another with nuclear weapons. From the North Korean perspective the US is an existential threat and we continuously make that very clear. Killing Gaddafi a few months after making a deal for assistance in anti-terrorist operations and bombing the crap out of Libya under cover of the no fly zone was a very clear indication the US does not abide by agreements or even international law.

  45. Procopius says:

    It’s very interesting to google “timeline of north korea nuclear program.” The Wikipedia article is my preferred version. The CNN timeline says that in October 2002 President Bush “revealed” that North Korea was violating the agreement. Most people think Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld told him that. There are other claims that it is not true. Anyway, Bush then abrogated the agreement and the North Koreans reopened their Yongbyon plant and here we are.
    I tend to agree with the commentators who say that Kim Jong Un’s actions are perfectly understandable in light of the annual joint American/Korean military exercises which can easily be seen as a preparation for invasion. This forces NPRK to keep many soldiers on alert, when they would prefer to have them help with the harvest. The Americans have been very threatening since 2002, when George W. Bush included NPRK as part of the “axis of evil.” I can understand that Kim Jong Un does not want to end up like Saddam Hussein or, worse, Muammar Qaddafi.
    I’m don’t comment here often so please forgive me if I’m unaware of actual evidence that people have that shows the detailed narrative in the Wikipedia section on 2002 is blatantly wrong.

  46. turcopolier says:

    As you must know I am not a believer in the ability of strategic bombing to determine the outcome of wars through intimidation of civilians, but in this case the objective would be to destroy a specific group of targets connected to the NoKo nuclear weapons and missile programs. That is quite different and, yes, IMO the US has the targeting data for the vast majority of these targets. DIA in particular will have been constructing target packages on related targets for a very long time and we have the means to do a good job on that. Wht would be left after a couple of thousand sorties might still have some residual value but, IMO, not much. As I wrote a day or so ago, the NoNos have not yet demonstrated the ability to hit anything with a missile other than the Sea of Japan. If they had a primitive nuc weapon post the US onslaught I suppose they could load it onto a cargo aircraft or a commercial ship and go somewhere with it. south Korea is more likely to take a frightful beating from conventional forces. pl

  47. AEL says:

    Note that the annual American maneuvers are economically very disruptive to North Korea. They have to mobilize much of their reserve army in case the exercise is a coverup to an actual invasion.
    This is a major reason they were willing to trade their missile program from a stop to the exercises.

  48. kao_hsien_chih says:

    My sense is that, even if, or perhaps especially if, NoKo has developed long range nuclear capability, it is basically a trap that United States should best find avoid getting dragged into.
    I’ve found the Koreans, of all factions, to be somewhat like the “stereotypical” Lebanese (at least the stereotype that I’m aware of–I acknowledge that I could completely off the base on the Lebanese.) The Koreans are a deeply divided people aligned along “tribal” lines who don’t trust each other and play continual games of one-up-manship. In order to beat down their rival factions, they happily draw in powerful outsiders. Some are drawn in willingly, in pursuit of their own agendas (the Chinese and Japanese, century after century). Others are drawn in via hubris (Russians in 1904, perhaps us at different times). Playing along with the Koreans and their games is rarely straightforward and an unwary outsider is likely to be trapped. Of course, (again like the Lebanese), Koreans of all stripes will insist that they are victims of unjustified foreign aggression if things go awry (or if they go right, for their rival factions).
    All in all, a giant snakepit, where outsiders wind up being used as much as, or perhaps more than, Koreans become victims. BM likes to bring up how medieval Korea was the “son-in-law” country to the Mongols, and this is a perfect illustration of the sharp Korean gamesmanship. On the one hand, Mongol invasions lasted for decades and utterly devastated the country. But, once all was over and done with, various factions in country formed good relationship with the Mongols and benefited greatly. Korean kings married into the Great Khan’s family and literally became sons in laws of the Mongol royalty. Many aristocratic families did well serving Mongol interests in both Korea and elsewhere, with several rising high in the Mongol aristocracy–there were several Korean-born empresses of the Mongol Empire. I’m told that Korean troops were part of Mongol armies in many parts of their empire–although only one example, as part of the unsuccessful invasion of Japan, is remembered much if at all. Koreans of different factions did pretty well using the Mongols to advance their own interests. Some victim.
    Best to let the Koreans sort themselves out while the outsiders stay out if at all possible.

  49. kao_hsien_chih says:

    The point from the previous post was really that whatever North Korean agenda “really” is, I suspect that it is part of the grander scheme to force involvement of various outsiders in a manner they prefer–a blackmail. Not necessarily just to force US out, but to force US and Japan to their bidding in a twisted sort of fashion.
    I will agree with PA that internal South Korean politics is a mess that needs to be given attention to, but without sharing his naive notion that South Koreans care one bit about so-called Sunshine policy or the North Koreans much, except as a potential rival/ally, depending on which faction they belong to (and what the circumstances are.) There are two large and influential factions–misleading called “pro-reform” and “conservative” factions, but I think they are really just tribal factions like the Lebanese ones, even if not organized around “religion.” No more than a Hizbullah triumph would “stabilize” Lebanon, the current state of affairs would settle things down in South Korea. If anything, the defeated faction, who were, in their own way, cheated out of their “rightful place,” will seek revenge and they have plenty of supporters to pull off their own version of the “Cedar Revolution.” (Pine Revolution?) I don’t mean to morally approve one side or the other–they are all equally “democratic” and “anti-democratic” in that they enjoy large support among the population (the former) but are deeply hated by equally many (the latter). Not something that outsiders should take “seriously,” I think, beyond being rightfuly suspicious.

  50. LeaNder says:

    Interesting debate.

  51. Red Cloud says:

    It’s easy to say the North Koreans are acting irrationally while I sit on the other side of the world sipping tea. If I were them I would be building as many functional nuclear weapons as possible.

  52. kao_hsien_chih says:

    In the most stable state of the world, US and NoKo should have nothing to do with each other, as neither a friend nor an enemy, but complete strangers who have nothing with each other that can be turned into leverage for one side or the other. NoKo is not innocent: they have the attitude of a pirate or a bandit, turning any leverage they have to a source of blackmail. Giving in to their threats is pointless, for they will keep trying to extract more concessions. Beating them up will not change their habits. Destroying them runs the risk of escalation to a global nuclear war. We should just disengage from East Asia and leave it to the locals to sort things out.

  53. Bill Herschel says:

    The United States is signatory to the armistice that governs relations between the two Koreas. If we attack North Korea we break the armistice and the North will immediately attack the South. In other words, any military action at all by the United States against North Korea will be trigger the renewal of the Korean war. The air campaign that you envision will not be sufficient to prevent that, and, what is more, North Korea is fully prepared to respond to such an attack with an attack on the South.
    The only thing that such an attack might succeed in accomplishing would be the preservation of the Trump Presidency: Wartime President. The Bush technique. Unfortunately, the number of American troops needed to fight that war would be considerable and victory would not be guaranteed, much less the cooperation of the other signatory to the armistice: China.
    Such an attack would be foolhardy in the extreme.

  54. LeaNder says:

    One of the most fascinating since focused debates. I wondered if you showed up, especially about your response to PA.
    There are two large and influential factions–misleading called “pro-reform” and “conservative” factions, but I think they are really just tribal factions like the Lebanese ones, even if not organized around “religion.”
    Could you explain, what’s on your mind. Organized around politics?
    What specific time in space and related history you have in mind here: “The Koreans are a deeply divided people aligned along ‘tribal’ lines”.
    Korea’s post WWII history?

  55. confusedponderer says:

    ah yes, perhaps you’re right and people, from intelligence services included, all the time murder other people a lot. In writing that you’re utterly missing the point I made.
    The HOW and WHY is an interesting, essential point there. You choose to ignore that. So what about the HOW and WHY here? Well, let’s get real for you:
    If Un just had wanted his half brother Nam to die then he could just have sent some minions to kill, bomb, strangle or beat him to death. Arguably, in such ways Nam would end up just as dead as when poisoned with VX. But Un didn’t order that.
    Apparently, Nam’s mere death was not seen as sufficient, and ‘ordinary killing’ would have had chances of failure: They could have missed him, miss him, mis-shoot, misplace a bomb or Nam could have survived or escaped.
    So, instead of just having the man killed with simple and ordinary murder the NoKo’s chose to rather train two murderesses to use a ‘reliable approach’:
    Using two substance (binary?) VX (that would react on the victim’s skin to the poison VX?). That created at least one certainty: Once poisoned there was very little that could have been done for Nam.
    There’s a lot of effort needed for that approach, much more training for the killers to survive their murder, and the poison. It certainly is much more training than what’s needed for just shooting Nam or something like that.
    Also, VX is a truly nasty stuff and the death you get from it is a truly nasty one. Just one drop can get you die, brutally (with strong cramps and pain), within few minutes. The murdering apparently achieved that. I read the last words of Nam was something like ‘… oh the pain’.
    So, why all that effort? What was the purpose? IMO it went beyond just killing. IMO that final suffering was the part of the PURPOSE.
    Nam shouldn’t just die, he should die suffering, to make some point.
    That is the point I made. It wasn’t for Un it just about getting his half brother Nam killed. Killing was not the only point. No, Nam should die in a particularly reliable and brutal way, as I said, to make some point.
    Perhaps, and here I am speculating, the idea was that Nam should serve as an example warning to NoKos and SoKos, or whoever else?
    In any way the way chosen is peculiar, and the murder the way it was done, and why it was done, was the result of sick thinking at work. That is why I called it ‘clear indications of a psychologically unstable mind in Un’s rotten head’.

  56. turcopolier says:

    “people, from intelligence services included, all the time murder other people a lot” Do you have any evidence of that with regard to the US IC or have you just seen a lot of movies? pl

  57. kao_hsien_chih says:

    Hi LeaNder,
    Tribalism in Korea is predominantly regional historically, with a transition towards somewhat of cultism around “personalities” that builds off of regional ties–in part because of population mobility in recent decades. In terms of the substantive “policy” they propose, the difference between the alleged right and left is fairly small. Most of the “big” differences are symbolic (i.e. how controversial past events are depicted in history textbooks) and they are often tied with roles played by controversial past leaders to whom many in the present are linked with.
    The history of this goes back pretty far back: some claim that its roots can be found among tribal confederations of the era centuries before the common era. But the historical tribal confederations occupied the same river valleys that are separated by rugged mountain ranges that impede population movement–somewhat the same situation as I imagine places like Lebanon or parts of the Balkans. Add on to top of this fairly weak central government, and you have a recipe where most of the “real” politics revolve at the regional level, centered around localized power centers.
    One difference is that local “warlords” and chieftains did not emerge in Korea the way they did in the Balkans or parts of the Middle East. Or, rather, they did, but were squished flat by an accident of history that temporarily gave the central government unusually powerful for a short period of time. During the Mongol era, being the “son-in-law country” meant that Korean kings could use Mongol troops to break the back of the feudal aristocracy–which took place in the 13th century. But, once the Mongol Empire collapsed, the regional tribalism reasserted itself, even if with a more diffuse distribution of power. And this, in a broad sense, continues even today. Supporters of one faction or another in Korea are no more or no less “democratic,” as I see it, than supporters of Hizbullah or the Hariris in Lebanon, except the object of their loyalty, without the obvious warlords and chieftains, who the Korean Nasrallahs and Hariris may not be obvious–except in the North, where one warlord family has firmly become that focal point.

  58. LeaNder says:

    I don’t think that is what cp wanted to suggest. Bandit maybe?
    The scenario definitively was ‘colorful’, to say the least. Vaguely reminiscent of the London case David Habbakuk struggled with.
    Bandid on the other case seems to assume that North Koreans cannot act outside their country. But can we be sure?

  59. LeaNder says:

    Thanks, I had two girlfriends one with a Korean background. On the surface their stories looked pretty similar, only the details were different. Both were meant to be married by their families and fled their countries.

  60. Keith Harbaugh says:

    Two comments:
    First, WaPo has a recent survey of the NoKo/US relationship:
    “Why does North Korea hate the United States?
    Let’s go back to the Korean War.”

    By Anna Fifield, 2017-05-17
    Anybody care to comment on that?
    Second, some thoughts of my own:
    Are proposals for a “military solution”,
    involving some sort of U.S. strike against NoKo targets that could threaten the U.S.,
    not failing to adequately address the next, political, consequences?
    Suppose we do take out their nuclear capability and their missiles.
    Does this not just lead to an enraged North Korean population
    which will, for all time,
    lust for vengeance against the power which so damaged them?
    Is it not just sowing the seeds for permanent hostilities between those who identify with the current NoKo regime and the U.S.?
    I think the answer to each of those questions is “Yes”.
    I think the correct solution is to leave the Korean people
    to settle their differences on their own.
    The U.S. has no need, IMO, for a military presence on the Asian continent.
    If Korea should turn out to be another Vietnam, going totally communist,
    well, so what?
    It’s not up to us to determine their political and economic system.
    For a similar proposal, see
    “Why Is Kim Jong Un Our Problem?”
    by Patrick Buchanan, 2017-04-03

  61. confusedponderer says:

    I was being sarcastic. The reference to murdering happening all the time may be wrong (which would be ambarassing), or true (which would be saddening). I don’t know.
    To me it was about this: So Bandit told me that in the real world murder happens all the time, ever day, that Kim Jong Il is just one of many dudes in world at work, that life is like that and that I ‘should get real’ etc. pp.? Well, that’s unconvinving to me.
    Sadly, Bandit missed the WHY and HOW question totally, and was happy about it. Well, sadly the WHY and HOW question are the key, and are quite relevant to understand what happened.
    I think that Bandit’s reference to ‘murder happens all the time’ hardly can explain or to allow to understand what Kim Jong Il did to his half brother, HOW he had it done and WHY he had it done.
    The murdering of Nam’s wasn’t ‘just another murder’. The deed deserves a clear view at it, and that view to me suggests that it was something ‘special’.
    So, rather obviously, Kim Jong Il wanted Kim Jong Nam dead and had Kim Jong Nam getting murdered, in that peculiar way. Well, if he had just want him dead, he could have had it done in the ‘old fashioned ways of murderous brutality’. But he didnt.
    Instead he made a choice: It needed to be ‘special’. But WHY? It was done for some reason in the chosen particular way. So, why VX and not just a shot, stab or bomb? Why the effort? Why so special? I write that because to me the HOW, and the likely reason, the WHY, are the point and key. It’s what I tried to get at.
    So Kim Jong Il must have had some reason. He didn’t order the murder of of boredom or by accident. The relevant question is what WHY it was, and that would explain the odd choice made for the HOW.
    My hunch tells me that Nam’s death, beyond just killing Nam, was intended to serve as an example case and as a threat for Kim Jong Il opponents and/or neighbours.
    This wasn’t just ‘yet another murder’. It was Kim Jong Il showing off with brutality, and showing off NoKo’s long arm. As I wrote, that are to me ‘clear indications of a psychologically unstable mind in Il’s rotten head’.
    For that, it is utterly irrelevant whether or if murder is common, or not, in todays bad world. But leaving it at ‘this happens all the time’ is self blinding. It means not seeing Kim Jong Il as what he is.

  62. turcopolier says:

    “The reference to murdering happening all the time may be wrong (which would be embarrassing), or true (which would be saddening). I don’t know” If you don’t know shut your mouth rather than accuse people of murder from the point of view of someone who knows nothing about this. pl

  63. LeaNder says:

    cp, to be honest: When I read your reference to the murder of his brother above, it triggered a vague whodunnit line of thought too.
    But then I realized: Am I really interested in the Kim Jong’s family matters, or the bios of either brother. Thus maybe your emphasis on this specific event led to Bandit’s response somewhat.
    In any case Kim Jung-un seems to suggest it was either the CIA or South Korea:
    This is interesting:
    In late September 2010, his younger half-brother Kim Jong-un was made heir-apparent.[28][29] Kim Jong-un was declared Supreme Leader of North Korea on 24 December 2011 after the death of Kim Jong-il. The two half-brothers never met, because of the ancient practice of raising potential successors separately.[30][31]

Comments are closed.