BBC News reports: In August last year, Thae Yong-ho became one of the highest-ranking officials ever to defect from North Korea. In a wide-ranging interview in Seoul, he tells the BBC’s Stephen Evans he believes leader Kim Jong-un would be prepared to attack the US with nuclear weapons, but that the regime will one day fall.
There are moments when the usually fluent English of the North Korean defector halts. His voice quivers and he pauses. His eyes grow moist.
These moments of silent emotion come when Thae Yong-ho thinks about his brother back in North Korea.
He told the BBC that he was sure that his family have been punished for his defection. This realisation both grieves him and steels him against the regime.
“I’m sure that my relatives and my brothers and sisters are either sent to remote, closed areas or to prison camps, and that really breaks my heart,” he said.
If he could imagine his brother shouting to him in anguish from prison in North Korea, what would he reply?
“That is really a question I don’t like to even think about. That is why I am very determined to do everything possible to pull down the regime to save not only my family members but also the whole North Korean people from slavery.” [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: North Korea is capable of fulfilling its New Year’s threat to start testing an intercontinental ballistic missile in 2017, bringing a long-brewing standoff with the US to the boil in the first year of a Trump administration, weapons experts have warned.
Those experts said the regime in Pyongyang was likely to encounter multiple test failures in developing a two- or three-stage missile capable of reaching the continental United States or Europe, and that it would probably take a few years for such a weapon to become operational. But the first test would trigger a foreign policy crisis in Washington and western capitals.
The looming crisis has sharpened into a battle of personal wills even before Donald Trump takes office on 20 January. On New Year’s Day, the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, declared the country had “entered the final stage of preparation for the test launch of intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM]”.
He further warned that his country would continue to build up its “capability for preemptive strike” as long as the US and its regional allies kept up their own nuclear threat and “stop their war games they stage at our doorstep”. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: In three words of a tweet this week, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump vowed North Korea would never test an intercontinental ballistic missile.
“It won’t happen!” Trump wrote after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Sunday his nuclear-capable country was close to testing an ICBM of a kind that could someday hit the United States.
Preventing such a test is far easier said than done, and Trump gave no indication of how he might roll back North Korea’s weapons programs after he takes office on Jan. 20, something successive U.S. administrations, both Democratic and Republican, have failed to do.
Former U.S. officials and other experts said the United States essentially had two options when it came to trying to curb North Korea’s fast-expanding nuclear and missile programs – negotiate or take military action.
Neither path offers certain success and the military option is fraught with huge dangers, especially for Japan and South Korea, U.S. allies in close proximity to North Korea. [Continue reading…]
Has our next commander-in-chief issued, 18 days before his Inaugration, a pledge that the U.S. will wage preemptive war against the DPRK? https://t.co/XU89ZIkyQb
— Strobe Talbott (@strobetalbott) January 3, 2017
The Washington Post reports: President-elect Donald Trump contended Monday night that North Korea would not be able to develop a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the United States, despite its claims to the contrary, and berated China for not doing enough to help stop the rogue state’s weapons program.
Trump’s declarations on Twitter came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a New Year’s address that the country had reached the “final stages” of testing its first intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States.
“It won’t happen!” Trump tweeted.
North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2017
The president-elect — who spent Monday with advisers at Trump Tower in New York following his holiday respite in Florida — did not specify what, if anything, the United States might do under his command to stop North Korea from developing the missile. [Continue reading…]
Trump will ‘take action’ against North Korea, but most Americans lack confidence in his crisis management skills
Gallup reports: As Donald Trump prepares to take the presidential oath on Jan. 20, less than half of Americans are confident in his ability to handle an international crisis (46%), to use military force wisely (47%) or to prevent major scandals in his administration (44%). At least seven in 10 Americans were confident in Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in these areas before they took office. [Continue reading…]
Evans J.R. Revere writes: North Korea’s leaders long ago concluded that the United States would not attack a country that has nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. North Korean interlocutors have said as much in unofficial dialogues with American experts, and also declared that the DPRK was determined “not to become another Libya or Iraq.” The belief that the only way to defend against American military power is to possess nuclear weapons was a central theme of DPRK Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly on September 23, 2016.
Meanwhile, a second motivation for North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is now clear. DPRK representatives have said privately to American interlocutors that they have the United States “deterred.” They believe they have neutralized the U.S. ability to bring its conventional and strategic capabilities to bear against the North. They assert that the United States and the international community must now live with, if not formally accept, a permanently nuclear-armed North Korea. They have declared that the DPRK’s possession of a deterrent means the United States should now accept Pyongyang’s longstanding demand to negotiate a peace treaty to replace the Korean War armistice agreement.
North Korean officials have also reaffirmed privately what the DPRK has declared publicly: North Korea will not, under any circumstances, give up its nuclear weapons. They have made clear that the DPRK is prepared to use its nuclear assets to strike regional targets and the United States, preemptively if necessary. And they have emphasized the DPRK’s intention to further strengthen its nuclear and missile arsenals, a point Foreign Minister Ri also made in his address to the U.N. General Assembly.
North Korean representatives have said the United States and the DPRK should now engage in “arms control” talks. One goal of such talks would be removing the U.S. “threat,” which the North Koreans, when asked, define as the end of the U.S.-ROK alliance, the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea, and the removal of the U.S. “nuclear umbrella”—the centerpiece of the extended deterrent that helps defend South Korea and Japan.
DPRK representatives clearly do not understand that none of their beliefs or assertions are true or possible. Nor does it seem that Pyongyang comprehends the unacceptability of its demands of the United States.
Pyongyang appears to believe its nuclear and missile forces have fundamentally changed the dynamics of U.S.-DPRK relations. Significantly, North Korea may also think it can compel the United States to enter a dialogue that would achieve its long-sought goals of ending the U.S.-ROK alliance and removing the U.S. extended deterrent. If Pyongyang were to succeed in doing this, it would open the way for the DPRK to achieve its ultimate goal: the reunification of the Korean Peninsula on its terms.
The DPRK may also believe that the mere existence of its nuclear capabilities will complicate U.S.-ROK alliance crisis management decisionmaking, and give the United States and its allies pause before responding to a conventional provocation.
By threatening the actual use of nuclear weapons, Pyongyang is signaling its preparedness to risk more in trying to achieve its goals than the United States and the ROK are willing to in defending their interests. Put another way, Pyongyang’s message to the United States is: “We are willing to risk nuclear war to achieve our goals, are you?”
This thinking represents a unique challenge to the U.S.-ROK alliance and to the credibility of the U.S. commitment to deter North Korea and defend South Korea. The belief that it has changed the balance of power on the Korean Peninsula makes the danger posed by North Korea all the more destabilizing. It requires the United States, its allies, and partners to find a better way to deal with the North Korean threat.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s actions and rhetoric are also designed to make the United States’ choices as stark and difficult as possible. By closing off options that the United States might prefer, Pyongyang hopes to leave the United States with no alterative but to deal with a nuclear-armed North Korea on its terms.
The DPRK has declared denuclearization dead, and with it, any possibility of a dialogue on the subject. To reinforce this point, both the DPRK’s foreign minister at the U.N. General Assembly and individual North Korean representatives in informal dialogues have stressed not only North Korea’s intention to retain nuclear weapons, but also its plan to expand its nuclear arsenal and refine the capabilities of its ballistic missile delivery systems.
By making clear what North Korea is prepared to risk, the DPRK seeks to force the United States to choose between accepting a nuclear-armed North or risking war to prevent Pyongyang from realizing its nuclear ambitions.
As the next American president mulls options, he or she will need to take into account the evolution of China’s position on North Korea.
There are signs that the United States may have reached the limits of Beijing’s willingness to do more to isolate and pressure the DPRK. Beijing’s distaste for sanctions, its opposition to unilateral measures, and its concern that excessive pressure could lead to the collapse of the regime are well-known. These Chinese concerns have not abated as Beijing sees growing U.S., ROK, and Japanese interest in taking sanctions and pressure to a new level.
Even after the latest nuclear test, China has resisted demands that it do more against Pyongyang. On September 14, the Communist Party-controlled People’s Daily rejected U.S. suggestions that China take further steps, saying that the United States bears primary responsibility for the current situation. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson had already weighed in along similar lines on September 12, saying that the North Korea issue was a “dispute between the DPRK and the United States” and expressing opposition to the role of sanctions in dealing with North Korea.
China’s Premier Li Keqiang managed to avoid mentioning sanctions at all in his September 21 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reportedly used a September 14 telephone call with his Japanese counterpart to convey opposition to unilateral sanctions on North Korea.
China is trying to have it both ways on North Korea. Beijing’s leadership continues to stress the importance of friendly China-DPRK ties, while China avoids directly challenging North Korea’s assertions about its nuclear ambitions. Constant attentiveness to North Korean sensitivities characterizes China’s approach to dealing with its troublesome neighbor and ally, even as Pyongyang’s actions threaten regional stability.
China is more direct and often critical when it has something to say about the U.S. position on North Korea. This reflects longstanding Chinese misgivings about Washington’s preference for sanctions and pressure. But Beijing’s opposition to tougher steps on North Korea is increasingly being driven by broader, geopolitical concerns, especially China’s strategic rivalry with the United States in East Asia. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country is in the “last stage” of preparations to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile, refusing to slow his nuclear-arms development as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office in Washington.
Kim made his remarks in a New Year’s televised address as he outlined his country’s military achievements for the past year, the country’s official Korean Central News Agency said Sunday. North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests under Kim and launched long-range rockets.
North Korea “will continue to strengthen its ability based on nuclear might to mount a preemptive attack,” Kim said during a half-hour speech that touched on a variety of issues, including economic policy and relations with South Korea.
Since taking power in late 2011, the North Korean leader has concentrated on developing nuclear-armed missiles that could reach the United States. The country has refused to accept U.S. demands to freeze its arms development before the two sides can resume international disarmament talks.
Trump, who takes office Jan. 20, likened Kim to a “maniac” during his campaign while suggesting that he could meet with the North Korea leader for nuclear talks. While Kim made no mention of Trump in his speech, his comments released Sunday signal that North Korea might seek to test-fire a long-range missile around the time of the U.S. presidential inauguration to raise stakes ahead of potential talks with the Trump administration. [Continue reading…]
Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice as national security adviser, imagines China and North Korea have ties to jihadists
The New York Times reports: What if someone were to tell you that China and North Korea are allied with militant Islamists bent on imposing their religious ideology worldwide?
You might not agree. After all, China and North Korea are officially secular Communist states, and China has blamed religious extremists for violence in Muslim areas of its Xinjiang region.
But such an alliance is the framework through which retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the pick of President-elect Donald J. Trump for national security adviser, views the two East Asian countries. To the list of pro-jihadist anti-Western conspirators, General Flynn adds Russia, Cuba and Venezuela, among others. (Never mind that he has recently had close financial and lobbying relationships with conservative Russian and Turkish interests.)
By appointing General Flynn, Mr. Trump has signaled that he intends to prioritize policy on the Middle East and jihadist groups, though the Obama administration seems to have stressed to Mr. Trump the urgency of dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program. General Flynn is an outspoken critic of political Islam and has advocated a global campaign led by the United States against “radical Islam.” He once posted on Twitter that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.”
General Flynn is about to take on what many consider the most important foreign policy job in the United States government. He is expected to coordinate policy-making agencies, manage competing voices and act as Mr. Trump’s main adviser, and perhaps arbiter, on foreign policy. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: North Korea will have enough material for about 20 nuclear bombs by the end of this year, with ramped-up uranium enrichment facilities and an existing stockpile of plutonium, according to new assessments by weapons experts.
The North has evaded a decade of U.N. sanctions to develop the uranium enrichment process, enabling it to run an effectively self-sufficient nuclear program that is capable of producing around six nuclear bombs a year, they said.
The true nuclear capability of the isolated and secretive state is impossible to verify. But after Pyongyang conducted its fifth and most powerful nuclear test last week and, according to South Korea, was preparing for another, it appears to have no shortage of material to test with.
North Korea has an abundance of uranium reserves and has been working covertly for well over a decade on a project to enrich the material to weapons-grade level, the experts say. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: North Korea’s fifth nuclear test is ominous not only because the country is slowly mastering atomic weaponry, but because it is making headway in developing missiles that could hurl nuclear warheads halfway around the globe, threatening Washington and New York City.
The reclusive, hostile nation has been rushing to perfect missiles that are small, fast, light and surprisingly advanced, according to analysts and military officials. This spring and summer, Pyongyang successfully tested some of these missiles, while earlier efforts had fizzled or failed.
“They’ve greatly increased the tempo of their testing — in a way, showing off their capabilities, showing us images of ground tests they could have kept hidden,” John Schilling, an aerospace engineer and expert on North Korea’s missile program, said in an interview on Friday. “This isn’t something that can be ignored anymore. It’s going to be a high priority for the next president.”
Military experts say that by 2020, Pyongyang will most likely have the skills to make a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile topped by a nuclear warhead. They also expect that by then North Korea may have accumulated enough nuclear material to build up to 100 warheads. [Continue reading…]
Gordon G Change writes: North Korea is hailing a “successful” fifth nuclear test, which it carried out Friday morning local time.
The device tested, which created a 5.3-magnitude tremor at its Punggye-ri test site, was reportedly in the 20- to 30-kiloton range, much more powerful than the North’s previous detonations. The last test, in January, yielded only about seven to nine kilotons.
The North Koreans have been ready to test this device since May. So why did they wait until now? Some are suggesting the detonation celebrated North Korea’s Foundation Day, marking the 68th anniversary of the establishment of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. But from all indications, the Kim regime tested at this time because it realized China would not impose costs for the detonation.
The test took place three days after Pyongyang’s nuclear envoy traveled to Beijing. Choe Son Hui, deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry’s U.S. affairs bureau, arrived in the Chinese capital on Tuesday.
We don’t know what Choe — who was deputy chief envoy to the six-party denuclearization talks, which have been dormant since 2008 — and her interlocutors said this week. Nonetheless, it was evident that the North Koreans were confident of the Chinese reaction.
At the moment, Beijing is far more upset with Seoul than Pyongyang.
In July, South Korea and the United States announced they would deploy the American-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system on South Korean soil. Beijing is worried that THAAD’s high-powered radars will reach into China and could help the U.S. shoot down Chinese missiles. Washington denies that is the case and has been willing to share technical information, but Beijing has not been mollified. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Russia has warned North Korea that threats to deliver “preventive nuclear strikes” could create a legal basis for the use of military force against the country, suggesting that even Pyongyang’s few remaining friends are growing concerned about its increasingly confrontational stance.
The Russian foreign ministry statement, which follows a North Korean threat to “annihilate” the US and South Korea, also criticises Washington and Seoul for launching the largest joint military drills yet to be held on the peninsula.
“We consider it to be absolutely impermissible to make public statements containing threats to deliver some ‘preventive nuclear strikes’ against opponents,” the Russian foreign ministry said in response to North Korea’s threats.
“Pyongyang should be aware of the fact that in this way the DPRK will become fully opposed to the international community and will create international legal grounds for using military force against itself in accordance with the right of a state to self-defense enshrined in the United Nations Charter,” continued the statement, translated by Itar Tass news agency. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: The new U.N. sanctions on North Korea are out and they are going to pinch Pyongyang hard. But they also beg a big question — since sanctions thus far have failed to persuade North Korea to roll over and give up its nukes, are more, but tougher, ones really the most effective way to bring the North out of its hardened Cold War bunker?
Is it time to flip the script?
China, a key broker in the North Korea denuclearization puzzle, thinks so. It wants the U.S. and North Korea to sit down for peace talks to formally end the Korean War. That idea has always been a non-starter in Washington, which insists the North must give up its nuclear ambitions first, but some U.S. experts also think it might be a viable path forward.
For sure, advocates of sitting down with a nuclear-armed North Korea are the minority camp in the United States. And even those who do support the idea generally agree sanctions can be a useful tool in pushing negotiations forward, if there is a coherent and internationally coordinated follow-up plan on where those negotiations should go.
But sanctions can also backfire, pushing an insecure and threatened regime into a more defiant, and potentially more dangerous, direction.
Pyongyang gave a hint at that possibility Friday in its first official response to the sanctions, saying the measures were an “outrageous provocation” that it “categorically rejects.” North Korea threatened to carry out countermeasures against the U.S. and other countries that supported the sanctions.
While such threats usually amount to nothing, the U.N.’s efforts to change the North’s behavior through sanctions haven’t amounted to much, either. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has urged his military to have its nuclear warheads deployed and ready to be fired at any moment, the country’s state-run news agency reported Friday.
Mr. Kim’s comments were reported a day after the United Nations Security Council approved tougher sanctions aimed at curtailing his country’s ability to secure funds and technology for its nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile programs.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency called the resolution unanimously adopted by the Council “unprecedented and gangster-like,” and it quoted Mr. Kim as repeating his exhortation to his military to further advance its nuclear and missile capabilities.
“The only way for defending the sovereignty of our nation and its right to existence under the present extreme situation is to bolster up nuclear force, both in quality and quantity, and keep balance of forces,” Mr. Kim was quoted as saying.
He then stressed “the need to get the nuclear warheads deployed for national defense always on standby so as to be fired any moment,” the agency said. [Continue reading…]
Patrick Tucker writes: Shortly after North Korea claimed it had tested a hydrogen bomb—a weapon potentially hundreds of times more powerful than the fission bombs the country had already set off—seismologists at the United States Geological Survey, or USGS, went to work trying to understand the event. Their early findings suggest that a nuclear-bomb test did occur but that it wasn’t a hydrogen bomb. So how do you tell the difference?
First, you try to rule out the possibility that North Korea was just trying to claim credit for an earthquake. Geologists and seismologists look at several factors to determine whether a seismic event is natural or manmade. One is the location: Is it on a known fault line, a place where there’s a lot of mining activity, etc.? Another factor is the seismological waveform itself—the waving lines that appear on the seismograph. An explosion forms wiggles that are different from the ones generated by an earthquake, according to USGS seismologist Paul Earle.
Lay a Slinky on the floor, grab one end, and move it back and forth to create a wave that propagates down its length. This is called shear wave propagation, the kind created by tectonic plates slipping beneath the surface of the earth. “That side-to-side motion, you’ll get less of it in an explosion,” said Earle. [Continue reading…]