DPRK (North Korea) Chronology for 2023 | Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability (2024)

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DPRK (NORTH KOREA) CHRONOLOGY FOR 2023
Compiled by
Leon V. Sigal
Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project
Contact:
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1/1/23:
KCNA: “The vigorous development of the sacred Korean revolution pioneered and advancing with the most just mission and far-reaching ideal is firmly guaranteed by the wise guidance of the Workers’ Party of Korea which sets forth scientific path and clear practical strategy at each period and at every stage and leads to thorough and perfect implementation. Our Party members, working people and service personnel have honorably defended the year 2022 full of all the unprecedented challenges and threats with the indomitable spirit and perseverance peculiar to the great Korean people under the militant banner of the ever-victorious WPK. They are recollecting with great pride and self-confidence the days when they have overcome the most difficult hardships with stubborn wisdom in the gigantic course for a comprehensive development of socialist construction. In 2022 filled with manifold trials, our Party members, working people and officers and men of the People’s Army have waged a heroic struggle to defend the validity of their cause and their dignity and honor, thus powerfully demonstrating the potentiality of the DPRK, its spirit and the staunch character of the Korean revolution. And through the process of making remarkable and meaningful progress, they came to believe their own strength more firmly, find out the main links of changes more clearly and map out the road of overall development more vividly. Under the present situation of aspiring after a new advance after successfully overcoming the dangerous and urgent difficulties decisive of the existence of the state, the Korean revolution has persistently faced unavoidable obstacles which can be overcome only by the correct and seasoned leadership of the WPK and the united, powerful and courageous struggle of the Korean people. The Sixth Enlarged Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee of the WPK was held at the office building of the Party Central Committee, the supreme headquarters of the revolution, from December 26 to 31, Juche 111 (2022) to clarify the positive and scientific policy orientation for dynamically leading the Korean-style socialism to a fresh change and development by thoroughly applying the idea of independence, self-sustenance and self-reliance, the invariable guidelines of the Korean revolution. Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the WPK, was present at the plenary meeting. When Kim Jong Un appeared at the platform, stormy cheers of “Hurrah!” broke out in the meeting hall. All the participants extended the highest glory to the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un, the great leader of our Party and revolution and the banner of all glories and victories of our state and people, who has confidently led the socialist cause to radical overall development while ushering in a heyday of strengthening the whole Party with his transparent idea of independence and distinguished leadership activities, holding fast to the helm of the Juche revolution. Present there were members of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee, members and alternate members of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee and members and alternate members of the WPK Central Committee. Officials of the departments of the Party Central Committee and leading officials of ministries, national institutions, provincial level leadership bodies and cities and counties and major industrial establishments were present as observers. The presidium of the meeting was elected with members of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee. The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the WPK authorized Kim Jong Un to preside over the meeting. Kim Jong Un appreciated that the WPK has pushed ahead with socialist construction more dynamically and extensively by further increasing the enthusiasm of the whole Party and all the people for struggle, while overcoming the difficulties and hardship equivalent to the ten-year struggle since the 8th Congress of the WPK. He said it is the most precious experience that the WPK correctly grasped the peculiarities of the internal and external environment of the Korean revolution during this course and confirmed our revolutionary principle, methodology and orientation of advance. He said that the plenary meeting should serve as an occasion for opening a wide avenue for the development of the state and giving the people greater confidence and optimism by clarifying the path of new leap forward and mapping out the most correct and effective strategy on the basis of the experience, lessons and substantial advance accumulated through the stubborn struggle in 2022. Stressing the need for the members of the leadership body of the Party Central Committee to display a high sense of responsibility and activeness to this end, he declared the 6th Plenary Meeting of the 8th Party Central Committee open. The plenary meeting put the following matters on its agenda items: 1. On review of the implementation of major Party and state policies in 2022 and the work plan for 2023 2. Organizational matter 3. On the fulfillment of the state budget for 2022 and the draft state budget for 2023 4. On strengthening the Party guidance over the revolutionary schools 5. On the five-point line of party building in the new era The plenary meeting unanimously approved the agenda items. The plenary meeting discussed the first agenda item “On review of the implementation of major Party and state policies in 2022 and the work plan for 2023”. Kim Jong Un made a report on the first agenda item. In his report he appreciated the successes made in 2022 in which our Party and people have made steady and powerful progress while waging an arduous struggle in firm unity. The remarkable successes and progress have been made in the activities of our Party and its self-strengthening. The Party Central Committee directed the general orientation of the Party activities to the thorough implementation of the decisions of the Fourth and Fifth plenary meetings of the Eighth Party Central Committee, and powerfully led the whole Party and all the people to continuous advance and development with its leading and superb leadership practice in the face of the sudden and severe changes in internal and external situation. It also further refined its leadership ability by thoroughly maintaining its leadership traits of responding courageously and promptly, and developed the united might of the revolutionary ranks onto a remarkably high level. Substantial measures were taken to reinforce the key links in strengthening the Party work throughout the Party and a theory of party building in the new era guaranteeing the eternal future of the Party was established, providing a powerful weapon for the rosy development of the Party. The settlement of the historic task of making the world clearly recognize the strategic position of the DPRK to provide an eternal security through the official legalization of the DPRK’s policy on its nuclear force at the most appropriate and crucial time — this is a demonstration of the transparent stand of independence and the idea of self-defense of the WPK, which has greater significance than any political event in the view of steering the change of the world political structure and in the view of putting the track of the development of the state on a new high level. The report analyzed and evaluated the dramatic changes made in developing the defense capabilities and in the struggle against the enemy. It is the great pride of the Party, the DPRK government and the people to make the DPRK’s great power more certain and build up powerful and matchless military muscle by making a strenuous struggle for bolstering up the defense capabilities. The basic principle of defending the national interests and raising the national prestige of the WPK was successfully implemented despite the trend of the eventful and changeful international political situation, thus dealing a severe blow at the U.S. imperialists’ high-handed and arbitrary practices and policy toward the DPRK in line with the Party’s strategic plan and resolution. The report referred to the remarkable progress made in the economic construction and cultural construction in the year 2022. Splendid successes symbolizing the struggle of the year 2022 have been made in the construction of the Hwasong and Ryonpho areas, which were the most important tasks in the field of construction, and projects of great significance in economic growth and improvement of the people’s living standard were inaugurated. The drive for implementing the new program for rural revolution started dynamically, model houses representing the new era of rural development were built in cities and counties across the country and a positive drive was launched to improve economic management and raise the country’s ability to cope with crisis and the country’s level of civilization. 2022 was a time which was by no means meaningless and we have made clear advance, the General Secretary said, adding that certain successes made in all the work of the Party and state are a praiseworthy victory won only by our great people who have displayed the spirit of self-reliance and fortitude and the creativity while stoutly enduring the grave national crises, and the immortal feats to shine long in the history of the country forever. He extended warm thanks to all the Party members and other people across the country on behalf of the Party Central Committee for having firmly defended and implemented the Party policies with the most powerful and courageous struggle unprecedented in history, thus demonstrating the honor, dignity and prestige of the state before the whole world and glorifying the year 2022 as a year of an important milestone in opening a new surging phase of our revolution. Saying that 2023, which is to carry out the tasks of the third year of key significance in implementing the five-year plan set forth at the Eighth Congress of the Party and mark the 70th anniversary of the victory in the Fatherland Liberation War and the 75th founding anniversary of the Republic, is an important year in the course of our socialist development and the history of the DPRK, he set it as the general direction of new year’s work to further expand and develop the all-people struggle to open a new phase in socialist construction so as to lay a decisive guarantee for the fulfillment of the five-year plan. He stressed the need to turn the year 2023 into a year of great turn and change to be remarkably recorded in the course of development of the DPRK by redoubling the fighting spirit displayed in 2022 and making all efforts to attain this year’s goal and fulfill the new long-term tasks. The General Secretary indicated all the tasks for ensuring stable development of the national economy and bringing about a substantial change in the improvement of the people’s living standard. The report defined the year 2023, which faces the higher goals and huge tasks for accomplishing the five-year plan for national economic development, as a year of making a big stride in the development of the national economy, a year of attaining key goals in increasing production, carrying out the strategy of readjustment and reinforcement and improving the people’s living standard, and set it as the main task of economic work to mainly complete the plan for readjustment and reinforcement decided by the Party Congress while pepping up production in all sectors and units. The General Secretary said that the WPK has made strenuous efforts to thoroughly embody the idea of self-sustenance laid down by President Kim Il Sung and eliminate defeatism and mysticism in technology in the whole course of socialist construction since the foundation of the state. He reprimanded that however, the tendency of such old idea still remains among some economic officials as incurable and indigenous diseases with clever disguise. The plenary meeting dealt a resolute and heavy blow to the outdated idea of trying to bargain the principle of self-reliance, not abandoning dependence on the technology of others, and recognized that it is necessary to continue the struggle to wipe out all the remnants of wrong ideas which are obstructing our work under the pretense of objective circ*mstances. The General Secretary ardently and militantly called upon the workers, scientists and technicians of core sectors for the successful development of the national economy to overcome the difficulties of the revolution by their own efforts, holding high the fighting spirit and banner of the 1960s and 70s once again. The report set as the main targets the economic indices and 12 major goals to be attained by all sectors of the national economy in the new year and specified the ways for attaining them. It stressed the need to focus the operation and guidance on making the implementation of this year’s plan lead to the implementation of the medium- and long-term strategy for economic development. Setting it as the first major policy task to build more dwelling houses, a revolution that brings about epochal changes and a project greatly favored by the people, the report stressed the need to build a new street composing of 3 700 flats along with the construction of 10 000 flats of the second stage in the Hwasong area by building up the capital city in a bolder way in the third year of the construction of 50 000 flats in Pyongyang City. It also stressed the need to direct greater efforts to the construction of rural dwelling houses on the basis of the experience accumulated in the year 2022. The report raised it as a policy task to bring about a substantial change in the people’s living which the Party attaches most importance to and is pushing forward with much effort, and detailed the important tasks and ways to which the agricultural sector should give priority. It called for finding a realistic and rational work system and method and unconditionally carrying them out in light industry, regional industry, public service, fishery, urban management and other sectors directly related to the people’s living so that the policies of the Party and state can reach the people correctly. The report stressed the need to thoroughly adhere to the Party’s principle of attaching importance to and prioritizing science and technology, clearly understanding the importance of science and technology playing a locomotive role in developing the national economy and improving the people’s living standard, and set forth the orientation of innovation to raise the country’s scientific and technological level to a new higher level. It dealt with the principles and ways to amplify the successes and experience gained in education, public health and all other fields for developing socialist culture in the course of the struggle of the year 2022 and to overcome deviations. The General Secretary stressed the need to actively organize and properly lead the socialist patriotic movement and the revolutionary mass movement, the powerful driving force for the prosperity and development of the state. Noting that priority should be paid to firmly adhering to and inheriting the tradition of loyalty peculiar to the Korean revolution and the tradition of patriotism peculiar to our state, and the revolution should be advanced by dint of loyalty and patriotism, he clarified the principled issues arising in actively organizing and conducting various popular patriotic movements to be conducted by the Party and working people’s organizations. The report clarified the crucial policy resolution on giving spurs to strengthening the self-defensive capabilities on the basis of the analysis of the present situation of the inter-Korean relations and the external challenges seriously threatening regional peace and security. The U.S. and other hostile forces have recently been hit hard by the rapid development of the military muscle of the DPRK and the promulgation of the peerless nuclear law in the world. hough seized with fear and uneasiness due to the DPRK’s toughest counteraction, they are now keen on isolating and stifling the DPRK, unprecedented in human history. In 2022 the U.S. frequently deployed various nuclear strike means in south Korea at the level of constant deployment, increasing the level of military pressure on the DPRK to the maximum. And, at the same time, it is pushing forward the realization of triangular cooperation with Japan and south Korea on a full scale while working hard to establish a new military bloc like Asian version of NATO under the signboard of “tightening alliance.” Under the pretext of coping with any “threat,” south Korea is hell-bent on imprudent and dangerous arms buildup while busying itself with hostile military moves to pose a confrontational challenge. The prevailing situation calls for making redoubled efforts to overwhelmingly beef up the military muscle to thoroughly guarantee the sovereignty, security and fundamental interests of the Republic in response to the worrying military moves by the U.S. and other hostile forces precisely targeting the DPRK. Stressing the importance of bolstering the nuclear force, the report made clear that our nuclear force considers it as the first mission to deter war and safeguard peace and stability and, however, if it fails to deter, it will carry out the second mission, which will not be for defense. According to the strategy and plan for bolstering up nuclear force of the Party and the DPRK government to firmly safeguard the Republic’s absolute dignity, sovereignty and right to existence, a task was raised to develop another ICBM system whose main mission is quick nuclear counterstrike. Now that the south Korean puppet forces who designated the DPRK as their “principal enemy” and openly trumpet about “preparations for war” have assumed our undoubted enemy, it highlights the importance and necessity of a mass-producing of tactical nuclear weapons and calls for an exponential increase of the country’s nuclear arsenal, the report said, clarifying the epochal strategy of the development of nuclear force and national defense for 2023 with this as a main orientation. The National Aerospace Development Administration will launch the first military satellite of the DPRK at the earliest date possible by pushing ahead with the full preparation for a reconnaissance satellite and its vehicle in progress at the final stage, the report pointed out. The report raised it as a major task to boost the political and ideological and military and technical strength of the People’s Army, the main force of the national defense capabilities. In accordance with the army-building orientations put forward at the 8th Party Congress and major Party meetings, it is necessary to make the year 2023 marking the 70th anniversary of the victory in the great Fatherland Liberation War and the 60th anniversary of advancement of the slogan “A-match-for-a-hundred” as a year of strengthening the political and ideological might of the armed forces of the Republic in every way and a year of bringing about a change in making preparations to mobilize for war and enhancing the actual war capacity. The report highly appreciated the devoted efforts and feats by the workers, scientists and officials in the munitions industrial sector who creditably carried out the major national defense policy-oriented tasks set forth by the Party through the whole year’s super-intense drive for production and scientific research, and laid down next year’s goals of developing and producing weapons and equipment. The report made clear the main tasks faced by the sectors in charge of affairs with the south and foreign affairs on the basis of the analysis of the external circ*mstances of the Korean revolution. As the structure of international relations has been apparently shifted to the “new Cold War” system and a push for multipolarization is further expedited, the report stressed the principles of external work to be thoroughly adhered to by the Party and the DPRK government to raise national prestige, defend national rights and safeguard national interest and to protect regional peace and security. Notably, the report put forward the detailed orientations of responding to the U.S. and other enemy on shifting to the actual action of more reliably and surely cementing our physical force on the principle of struggle against the enemy – might for might, frontal match – and it sounded a note of warning against those countries which started joining the U.S. with its partnership strategy to deprive the DPRK of its sacred dignity and sovereignty. The General Secretary in his report raised the important issues arising in solidifying and developing our state and social system and giving play to its advantages and might. When the socialist legal system has been further improved and strengthened, the original features of our system as the genuine people’s country that the law defends the people and the people observe the law can be preserved, Party policies and state policies can be properly implemented and the purity of the revolutionary ranks and the consolidation of the Korean-style socialism can be defended and maintained. Raised in the report were the principled issues arising in readjusting the state management structure system in a practical way and in improving the work attitude and style of officials as required by the changing and developing circ*mstances and the intensified struggle for socialist construction. The General Secretary indicated important items, orientations of improvement and principled issues for preserving and solidifying the political climate peculiar to the Party and substantially guaranteeing the prospective development of the Party by boosting the combat efficiency of Party organizations at all levels and improving Party work and personnel management in a fundamental manner. A change should be made in the work of all the Party organizations and officials and, in particular, the provincial Party committees, the political staff of relevant regions and their chief secretaries. The General Secretary concluded his three-day report, warmly appealing to the leading officials, who are fully responsible for the work of all fields of the revolution and the destiny of Party policies, to make decisive progress in carrying out their duties to live up to the trust and expectations of the Party and the people with their high sense of loyalty and devoted service at the most critical and responsible time in the history of the development of the Republic and thus powerfully demonstrate to the world how the WPK shouldering the destiny of the country and the people overcomes trials and advance towards a greater victory through new year’s struggle. All the participants expressed full support and approval with a big clap to the report which proudly reviewed the all-people struggle of 2022 that made brilliant achievements in the spirit of fortitude and clearly indicated our advance orientations and keys to making a leap forward under the changing revolutionary situation. The General Secretary’s passionate report full of confidence in victory that calls for shaping the future of socialist construction in our own way and by our own efforts from A to Z serves as an undying militant banner that makes it possible to further boost the great and inexhaustible strength of single-minded unity between the Party and the people, thus using the absolute power and admirably steering the struggle, dynamically achieve substantial change of development for national prosperity. The propositions put by Premier of the Cabinet Kim Tok Hun to the measures taken for improving and cementing the overall state affairs including the economic field were heard and leading officials of various fields made speeches and written speeches at the meeting. Based on the idea and spirit of the important report by the General Secretary, two-day sectional workshops and consultative meetings took place to establishing, in a scientific and detailed way, a thoroughgoing and correct implementation plan for next year’s colossal fighting tasks. The cadres of the Party and the government guided the sectional workshops and consultative meetings. The Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee finally deliberated the opinions on the draft decision, examined the deliberation of the draft state budget for the new year and discussed the issue of taking important measures for the development of major sectors of the national economy. The plenary meeting unanimously adopted the resolution on the first agenda item. The plenary meeting discussed the organizational matter as the second agenda item. Members and alternate members of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee were recalled and by-elected. Jon Sung Guk, Kim Tu Il, Song Yong Gon and Pak Song Chol were by-elected as members of the C.C., WPK from alternate members and Pang Tu Sop, Choe Chol Ung, Pak Myong Son, Ri Yong Sik, Paek Song Guk, Kim Yong Su, Kim Yong Hwan, Ri Ho Rim, Ho Chol Yong, Yu Jin, Sin Ki Chol, Kim Sang Gon and Ri Hye Jong as members of the C.C., WPK. By-elected as alternate members of the C.C., WPK were Kim Yong Sik, Thae Hyong Chol, Kim Chang Sok, Jo Sok Chol, Jong Yong Nam, Ri Song Bom, Kim Phyong Hyon, Won Kyong Mo, Sin Song Guk, An Sung Hak, Ho Chol Ho, Song Myong Hun, Pae Song Guk, Kim Kum Chol, O Chol Su, Choe Son Il, Kim Son Guk, Jang Se Il, Ri Kyong Il, Jon In Chol, Kim Tu Hong, Pak In Gi, Yu Chol U, Kim Song Chol, Choe Tu Yong and Ryang Kil Song. Recalled and by-elected were members and alternate members of the Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK. Pak Su Il was by-elected as member of the Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK and Ju Chang Il, Ri Hi Yong, Kim Su Gil, Kim Sang Gon and Kang Sun Nam as alternate members of the Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK. Dismissed and elected were secretaries of the C.C., WPK. Pak Jong Chon was dismissed and Ri Yong Gil was elected as secretary of the C.C., WPK. Recalled and by-elected were vice-chairmen of the WPK Central Military Commission. Pak Jong Chon was recalled and Ri Yong Gil was by-elected as vice-chairman of the WPK Central Military Commission. Recalled and by-elected were vice-chairmen of the WPK Central Inspection Commission. Kim Sang Gon was by-elected as vice-chairman of the WPK Central Inspection Commission. Dismissed and appointed were department directors and first vice department director of the C.C., WPK. O Il Jong, Kim Sang Gon, Kim Yong Su and Ri Hye Jong were appointed as department directors of the C.C., WPK, and Kim Yong Sik as first vice department director of the C.C., WPK. Dismissed and appointed were chief secretaries of provincial Party committees. Kim Su Gil was appointed as chief secretary of the Pyongyang City Committee of the WPK, Pak Thae Dok as chief secretary of the South Hwanghae Provincial Committee of the WPK and Paek Song Guk as chief secretary of the Kangwon Provincial Committee of the WPK. Dismissed and appointed were cadres of the government organs. Kim Chol Ha was appointed as minister of Chemical Industry, Kim Chang Sok as minister of Light Industry, Jo Sok Chol as chairman of the Quality Control Commission and Ri Yong Sik as director of the Political Bureau of the Cabinet and concurrently chief secretary of its Party committee. Dismissed and appointed were some commanding officers of the armed forces organs. Pak Su Il was appointed as the chief of the Korean People’s Army General Staff, Kang Sun Nam as minister of National Defense of the DPRK and Ri Thae Sop as minister of Public Security. In the debate on the third agenda item, the plenary meeting finally deliberated the fulfillment of the state budget for 2022 and the draft state budget for 2023, examined and submitted by the state budget assessment group, and approved to bring them to the 8th Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly. The plenary meeting discussed the fourth agenda item “On strengthening the Party guidance over the revolutionary schools” and unanimously approved a relevant resolution. The plenary meeting discussed the fifth agenda item “On the five-point line of party building in the new era.” Kim Jong Un made a report on the fifth agenda item. It is an important issue for our Party, which has covered a long ruling course of nearly 80 years with its important mission to be responsible for the destiny and future of the Korean people, to provide powerful guidelines for firmly preserving its revolutionary character and nature and remarkably enhancing its leading and vanguard role on the basis of directly facing up to the changes of the times and examining the Party’s reality. The idea and theory of Party building in the new era, originally advanced by the General Secretary, included the revolutionary essence, content and valuable experience of the building of organization, ideology and leadership art which has been accumulated historically, suggested all urgent problems arising in the practice of Party work and solved them scientifically. So, they won full support and approval of the Party officials and members in a few months after their announcement. The work was executed to newly frame the theoretical system on the Party building with political, organizational, ideological, disciplinary and work-style building and enrich and regularize their contents. In particular, the struggle to open up a new era of strengthening the whole Party provided a solid springboard for steadily and stably developing the Party building, including the overall and detailed refinement of the fighting capabilities of the Party organizations at all levels and the intensification of the political awareness and role of the party officials and members. It is a reliable force and a solid foundation for strengthening the party that the Party has its organizations and millions of its members, who are working hard to establish a sound and clear political climate, rallied close around its Central Committee organizationally and ideologically and in moral obligation, and tens of millions of people have absolutely trusted the Party as the ever-victorious guide and the great mother, following it in one mind. It is raised as an appropriate and matured issue to define the five-point orientation for party building in the new era as the Party’s line, in accordance with the new requirements of the developing revolution, the continuity of the trend confirmed in the historical course and the scientific and objective confirmation of its feasibility. Expressing the belief that the WPK would be able to constantly maintain and strengthen its character and nature and discharge its sacred mission and responsibility for the people forever if the five-point orientation based on the theory of Party building in the new era is confirmed as the line of the party building of the WPK, the General Secretary courteously proposed to the plenary meeting to formally define the Party building orientation in the new era in which the will of the whole Party is integrated as the Party’s line. A resolution on defining the five-point orientation based on the General Secretary’s unique idea and theory of party building as the WPK’s line of party building in the new era was adopted with unanimous applause. Kim Jong Un made a concluding speech. Our struggle is an unprecedented great cause of not only enduring the difficulties facing it and maintaining itself but advancing toward new changes and development and the overall development of socialist construction. In the new year, too, our struggle will face trials and difficulties which are not easy to overcome, but we should vigorously advance towards a new horizon of development of the state with firm confidence in our cause and faith in our own strength. We will resolutely tide over the challenges and difficulties facing us by our own efforts and accelerate the advance into a new era as planned, decided and scheduled by us, not by any fortunes or help from outside. The General Secretary declared the plenary meeting closed, expressing firm belief that its decisions would lead to steady implementation and substantial changes and a new heyday of the development of the Party and the revolution would be ushered in forever thanks to the high Party spirit, revolutionary spirit and devotion of all the participants. All the participants broke into stormy cheers, looking up to the august General Secretary of the WPK who opened up a broad avenue for strengthening the whole Party and achieving national prosperity and has vigorously guided the work with his rare ideological and theoretical wisdom, seasoned art of leadership and tireless devotion, and solemnly took a pledge of invariable loyalty to the revolutionary cause following the Party Central Committee while setting up their minds full of new confidence and will before the ordeals to be faced again for the great state and people. The Sixth Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee of the WPK, which fully demonstrated the mature leadership ability of our Party confidently leading the socialist cause of Korean style and added fresh courage and vigour to the dynamic advance of our state along the road chosen by itself and to the indomitable fighting spirit of our people, will shine long in the sacred history of the Juche revolution as a significant occasion that made an important turning point peculiar to the victorious path of our revolution.” (KCNA, “Report on 6th Enlarged Plenary Meeting of 8th WPK Central Committee,” January 1, 2023)

KCNA: “The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un made a reply speech at the ceremony of donating 600mm super-large multiple launch rocket system on December 31, Juche 111 (2022). The full text of the reply speech is as follows: “Comrades attending this event as representatives of the working class in the munitions industry, Other dear comrades, We have reviewed our struggle in the arduous year of 2022 and risen up for a fresh struggle in the coming new year. At this moment standing in fine array in the yard of the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea for the first time after the founding of this state and our Party are the core means of strike, which our working class in the munitions industry have built through a struggle for increased production of loyalty and which would form the backbone of our armed forces. They are, indeed, a precious and encouraging donation. They are powerful in that they will give a fresh strength and courage to the whole country as it greets a new year, will further amplify the historic significance of the plenary meeting of our Party, and will strike another terror and shock into the enemy. All the working class in the munitions industry and their representatives, The working class, scientists and officials in the defense industry, with indefatigable and limitless energy and sense of mission, fully displayed the infinite revolutionary zeal and mettle and the thoroughgoing and perfect pattern of creation, which are the original features and a symbol of the working class in the munitions industry. They thus have made an outstanding contribution to the advance and development of our revolution till the last day of the arduous year of 2022. On behalf of the Central Committee of the Party and the government of the Republic and along with the hearts of all the Party members and other people and soldiers of the People’s Army across the country, I extend warm thanks to them. Indeed, I always cannot but feel solemn and respectful to think about the unparalleled patriotism, faithfulness and creativity of our working class in the munitions industry and their heroic struggle for increased production, and extend warm thanks and thanks and make a deep bow to them. Comrades, have a look at them. I really feel invigorated. I feel unwittingly invigorated to see them. I think this is not merely because I am aware of their value and might but because they are permeated with the patriotism and loyalty of our working class who devote their all to our revolution in the severe struggle and in the face of trials and because I am proud that we have made the unique Juche-type weapons by our own wisdom and efforts. Having accepted as the demand of the revolution and people, and of their lives, the determination and plan of the Party Central Committee to raise the supremacy of our armed forces on to the highest level without any hesitation and without any letup, the working class in the munitions industry rose up as one with a resolve to build a larger number of 600mm multiple launch rocket system units to be supplied to the People’s Army, and launched a campaign of loyalty in late October. As was the same case when this kind of weapon, which the world had never imagined, was born three years ago, our working class in the munitions industry, this time, too, performed miraculous feats day after day by displaying a super-powerful spirit. I have heard that the relevant complex, while stepping up the production for attaining the crucial targets in bringing about a revolution in the defense industry which had been set forth at the Eighth Party Congress, assembled one, even two, gigantic units in addition every two days, in the course of which it created a surprising production record. As it had done in the past, this factory, in the recent struggle for increased production, too, fully demonstrated its tradition and trait of always supporting the Party and promoting the country’s prosperity with loyalty and practice, thereby giving birth to these proud crystallizations of patriotism and loyalty. This year the working class in the munitions industry have worked admirably, indeed. Unlike any of the earlier years, this year was the most arduous period, and our state was faced with the worst-ever challenges in its history. But the defense industry rose up and supplied as many as 5 000 farm machines to our cooperative farms, which was a strong support to the agricultural front. This is quite inspiring, and that is not all. Many munitions factories and enterprises have waged a tenacious struggle, making undaunted efforts in high spirits with a firm determination to defend the Party and revolution by means of unmatched military capabilities, and thus made a tangible contribution to increasing our state’s defense capabilities incomparably in 2022, a year full of adversities. I have been immensely grateful to and deeply admiring our working class in the munitions industry for their ardent patriotism and loyalty with which they have worked for the Party and revolution throughout the year. And as we see now, the complex, by working with loyalty and pure conscience up to the last day of the year, has donated to our Party, along with the hearts of all the working class in the munitions industry, 30 units of 600mm super-large multiple launch rocket system, the main weapon of strike that our Party was most desirous of and our army waited for most anxiously. This represents an eye-opening success that has demonstrated to the whole world the unusual patriotism and loyalty, inexhaustible potentialities and revolutionary fighting mettle of our working class in the munitions industry, who have shouldered full responsibility for the development of the military technology of the armed forces of our Republic. We should never forget their historic services and painstaking efforts. Comrades, Our working class in the munitions industry regard the valuable title, revolutionary industry of the Workers’ Party of Korea, which cannot be bartered for anything, as a source of their exceptional honor and pride. As we see, they are always honorable and faithful to the cause of the Party and revolution. That we have such a self-supporting defense industry which displays such heroism and possesses characteristic features and absolute strength is something no other country in the world can have or build even though it wants to, and this is a source of pride of prides of our Party. All of our working class in the munitions industry always accept it as their main duty to relieve our Party of its anxiety and worry, prioritize before anybody else the problems of its concern, even though they number thousands or tens of thousands, support it without any conditions attached and carry them out without yielding. They are true revolutionaries and patriots and model heroes. Comrades, That military hardware, which the working class in the munitions industry have donated to the Party and revolution today, has a high capability of overcoming complicated terrain conditions, great maneuverability and an ability to conduct a surprise and precision launch of multiple rockets in terms of military technology; and as it has south Korea as a whole within the range of strike and is capable of carrying tactical nuclear warhead, it will discharge in future the combat mission of overpowering the enemy as a core, offensive weapon of our armed forces. As we can hand additional 30 units of offensive military hardware of great importance over to the People’s Army units at a time thanks to the devoted struggle of the working class in the munitions industry for increased production, I cannot suppress surging excitement and emotion. Extending warm thanks again to our working class in the munitions industry, I would like to conclude by making an ardent appeal to them. Our Party and the government of our Republic have declared their resolute will to respond with nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation for an all-out confrontation in order to deal with the enemy’s rash acts and reckless moves. Our working class in the munitions industry should surely guarantee this declaration of ours, this staunch will to deal with the enemy, with matchless sword, spear and shield. All the revolutionary fighters in the munitions industry should harden their indomitable faith and militant spirit with which to carry out unto death the grand strategy of defense development set out by the Party Central Committee, and turn out as one and strive in the efforts to produce powerful Juche-type weapons which will absolutely overwhelm the US imperialist aggressive forces and their puppet army. Our revolution and the prevailing situation demand that we, by concentrating our efforts on ensuring continuous development of our defense industry, increase the state’s defense capabilities without interruption so as to fully guarantee a reliable and solid security environment for the development of socialism. As long as we have our laudable and trustworthy working class in the munitions industry, who challenge difficulties and impossibilities on the strength of Juche to bring about transformations and leaps, and the great people, who are rallied around the Party with one mind and one will, our Party’s cause of building a powerful army is sure to succeed. Full of courageous mettle and due self-assurance, let us all fight with redoubled courage and great confidence to bring earlier even greater victory and glory by launching a more gigantic struggle and working new miracles. The year of 2022 is drawing to a close, an unforgettable year when we have struggled and advanced undauntedly for our revolution, socialism, braving all sorts of trials. At this moment, I extend warm greetings of the new year of 2023 to all of our working class in the munitions industry, defense scientists, officials and their dear families who have provided a distinctive and significant finale to this year through this meaningful donating ceremony. Thank you. (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Makes Reply Speech at Ceremony of Donating 600mm Super-large Multiple Launch Rocket System,” January 1, 2023)

North Korea has fired Pak Jong Chon, the second most powerful military official after leader Kim Jong Un, state media reported. Pak, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party and a secretary of the party’s Central Committee, was replaced by Ri Yong Gil at the committee’s annual meeting last week, the official KCNA news agency said on Sunday. No reason for the change was given. Pyongyang regularly revamps its leadership, and the year-end party gathering has often been used to announce personnel reshuffles and major policy decisions. State television showed Pak sitting in the front row of the podium with his head down during the meeting while other members raised their hands to vote on personnel issues. His seat was later shown unoccupied. (Reuters, “North Korea Fires Kim’s No. 2 Military Official,” January 2, 2023)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stressed the need to “exponentially” increase the number of the country’s nuclear arsenal and develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in the new year, Pyongyang’s state media reported today. He delivered the message during a plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) that ended the previous day. It was held to set Pyongyang’s major policy directions for the new year. In a situation where South Korea has become “our undoubted enemy, it highlights the importance and necessity of a mass-producing of tactical nuclear weapons and calls for an exponential increase of the country’s nuclear arsenal,” Kim was quoted as saying by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in an English dispatch. (Kim Soo-yeon, “N. Korean Leader Calls for ‘Exponential’ Increase in Nuclear Arsenal,” Yonhap, January 1, 2023)

North Korea fired one short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) into the East Sea on Sunday, South Korea’s military said. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch from the Ryongsong area in Pyongyang at 2:50 a.m., adding the missile flew some 400 kilometers before splashing into the sea. It appears to be another response to Seoul’s test launch of a homegrown solid-propellant space rocket on Friday, according to North Korea observers. Yesterday morning, the North shot three SRBMs from Chunghwa County, just south of Pyongyang, into the East Sea. In its own announcement, meanwhile, the North said it fired “super-large” caliber artillery shells on Saturday and Sunday in sample tests. The multiple rocket launcher system has been presented to the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea during its key plenary session, the KCNA reported. The North’s leader Kim Jong-un said the 600-mm super-large shells can be loaded with tactical nuclear warheads with the entire South in range, the KCNA added. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Fires One SRBM into East Sea: S. Korean Military,” January 1, 2023) Japanese Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu said the projectile flew some 350 km at a maximum altitude of around 100 km and appears to have fallen outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. No damage to aircraft or ships has been reported, a Japanese government official said. (Kyodo, “North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile toward Sea of Japan,” January 1, 2023)

1/4/23:
President Yoon Suk Yeol ordered aides to consider suspending a 2018 inter-Korean military tension reduction agreement if North Korea violates the South’s territory again, an official said today. Yoon’s remark came after five North Korean drones infiltrated South Korean airspace last week, raising serious questions about South Korea’s readiness posture. Today, Yoon was briefed by the presidential National Security Office, the defense ministry, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Agency for Defense Development on the country’s anti-drone preparations. “President Yoon Suk Yeol instructed the National Security Office to consider suspending the September 19 military agreement in the event North Korea carries out another provocation violating our territory,” senior presidential secretary for press affairs Kim Eun-hye told reporters. Yoon also instructed Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup to establish a joint drone unit tasked with carrying out multiple missions, including surveillance and reconnaissance operations, build a system enabling the mass production of small, hard-to-detect drones within the year and push to develop stealth drones before the end of the year, Kim said. Yoon’s instructions were a call for the South Korean armed forces to build an “overwhelming response capability that goes beyond a proportionate response to North Korea’s provocations,” Kim explained. (Yonhap, “Yoon Says S. Korea Should Consider Suspending 2018 Tension Reducing Deal,” January 4, 2023)

1/5/23:
A North Korean drone briefly entered a 3.7-kilometer-radius no-fly zone around the office of President Yoon Suk Yeol in Seoul last month, a military official belatedly confirmed today, reversing the defense authorities’ announcement that there was no such incident. The drone was among the five unmanned aerial vehicles that the North sent across the Military Demarcation Line separating the two Koreas on December 26. The South Korean military failed to shoot them down, raising questions over its air defense posture. “It briefly flew into the northern edge of the zone, but it did not come close to key security facilities,” the official told Yonhap, referring to the security area called “P-73.” In a background briefing for reporters later in the day, another military official also said an object, presumed to be an enemy drone, appears to have flown through a part of the “northern tip” of the P-73 zone. “But I would like to clarify that there was no problem regarding the security of the presidential office in Yongsan,” the official stressed. The official brushed aside speculation that the drone in question might have taken photos of the presidential office and other nearby security facilities, like the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) headquarters. “Given the distance, altitude and the enemy’s capabilities, we believe it was not able to take photos at that time,” he said. Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup reported the drone’s entry into a part of the zone to Yoon during yesterday’s briefing on counter-drone measures, such as plans to secure radar-evading drones and “drone-killer” systems. Earlier, the JCS rejected media reports raising speculation that the drone penetrated the zone. Its spokesperson, Col. Lee Sung-jun, even expressed “strong regrets” in a statement, dismissing the reports as “untrue and groundless.” The shift in its formal position on the sensitive matter came apparently as relevant authorities gained more information during an ongoing JCS inspection over the botched operation against the North’s drones. The JCS spokesperson expressed regret over the reversal. “We think it is regrettable that the discrepancy has caused confusion to the press,” Lee told reporters. Meanwhile, President Yoon ordered his office to promptly disclose the final route of the unmanned aerial vehicles to the public, according to an official of his office. The ranking official said Yoon was briefed about the drone having briefly entered the zone on Wednesday, and ordered the defense ministry to publicly disclose such facts. Meanwhile, the military conducted more air defense drills, including live-fire ones, under a scenario of small enemy drone infiltrations, this afternoon, according to officials. The drills involved some 50 aircraft, including KA-1 light attack planes and 500MD choppers with troops armed with drone jammer guns. The military previously staged counter-drone drills without a live-fire segment on December 29, days after the North’s drone infiltrations. . (Yonhap, “Yoon Ordered Sending of Two to Three Drones across Border If N.K. Sends One: Official,” December 28, 2022)

1/8/23:
South Korea’s Defense Ministry on Monday said that the military’s response to the cross-border infiltration by North Korean drones did not breach the armistice agreement, stressing that the countermeasure was essential to its right of self-defense enshrined in the UN Charter. The ministry’s argument counters that of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea, which said that the South Korean military violated the Korean Armistice Agreement by flying its reconnaissance drones north of the military demarcation line separating the two Koreas on December 26. The armistice agreement stipulates that air forces “shall respect the air space over the Demilitarized Zone and over the area of Korea under the military control of the opposing side.” Underscoring the “legitimacy” of its tit-for-tat action, Jeon Ha-gyu, the Defense Ministry’s spokesperson, said the South Korean military “took corresponding measures against North Korea’s flagrant military provocation that clearly violates the armistice agreement, Inter-Korean Basic Agreement, and September 19 military agreement.” “We took the corresponding measure in light of our right of self-defense,” Jeon said, adding that the ministry went through an internal legal review. “Article 51 of the UN Charter guarantees tit-for-tat action for the right of self-defense. As the armistice agreement is subordinate to the UN Charter, the armistice agreement cannot restrict (our right enshrined) in the UN Charter.” Article 51 stipulates that the charter does not proscribe the “inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.” The UN Command — which is mainly responsible for reinforcing the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement that brought the cessation of the Korean War — has been investigating whether the two Koreas breached the armistice agreement on December 26. But the Defense Ministry publicly elucidated its stance on the issue, given that the UNC has taken a case-by-case evaluation of whether the South Korean military’s countermeasures against previous North Korea’s cross-border offensives violated the Korean Armistice Agreement was legitimate. In a previous case, the UNC acknowledged the legitimacy of the firing back by South Korea’s Marine Corps in response to the North Korean bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010. At that time, the UNC said the South Korean military action was an exercise of the right of self-defense and did not breach the Korean Armistice Agreement and the UN Charter. In contrast, the UNC concluded that the South Korean military violated the armistice agreement in May 2020 by returning fire after North Korea fired small arms directed at a guard post located south of the military demarcation line. Meanwhile, the South Korean military has sought to come up with ways to take corresponding measures to prevent any future breaches by unmanned North Korean aerial vehicles or UAVs. The military has been reviewing the revival of a long-postponed defense project to develop low-cost miniature UAVs equipped with cameras and storage devices that are designed for long-range reconnaissance missions, a military official with knowledge of the matter confirmed to Korea Herald today. The main mission is to infiltrate the enemy’s rear areas and take photos of key facilities in the rear areas, including the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in Tongchang-ri, North Pyongan Province. The Moon Jae-in government had tentatively decided to push for the envisioned defense project in the long term, which generally takes six to 17 years before the launch of the project. It declined the military’s requested to elevate the priority of the project, which was required to kick off the project within five years. The then liberal-leaning government rejected the military’s plans to set up a unit committed to operating long-range reconnaissance drones in 2019, JoongAng Ilbo t — which first reported on the project — said today. The Moon government reasoned that the drones being considered would not be effective in emergencies because they are unable to transmit photos of enemy facilities in real time via a data link. The military has suggested that the Moon government postponed the project to facilitate inter-Korean reconciliation. The military has been currently reviewing ways to redeem potential defects and enhance the military effectiveness of drones for long-distance reconnaissance, according to the unnamed official. (Ji Da-gyum “Tit-for-Tat Action Not Restricted by Armistice Agreement, Ministry Claims,” January 8, 2023)

1/9/23:
In his last known letter to a U.S. president, an emotional Kim Jong Un rebuked Donald Trump for carrying out scheduled joint military exercises with South Korea. “I am clearly offended, and I do not want to hide this feeling from you,” Kim wrote in August 2019. “If you do not think of our relationship as a stepping stone that only benefits you, then you would not make me look like an idiot that will only give without getting anything in return.” The letter marked the end of a turbulent period in US-North Korean relations that included Trump’s threat to inflict “fire and fury like the world has never seen” upon the east Asian dictatorship and culminated in a series of historic meetings between the two men. Having failed to secure the sanctions relief and security guarantees he was seeking, however, Kim has eschewed diplomacy ever since — focusing instead on upgrading his nuclear weapons program. Kim is showing no signs of slowing down. In his New Year’s address, he declared he would “exponentially increase” nuclear weapons production in 2023 and stressed his willingness to use his nuclear arsenal for offensive as well as defensive purposes. Pyongyang’s advances in weapons development, and its adoption of a more aggressive nuclear doctrine, have prompted Seoul and Tokyo to seek greater reassurance from its US allies, who responded with increased patrols of nuclear-capable military assets on and around the Korean peninsula. The Biden administration has also vowed to “end” the Kim regime if it ever used nuclear weapons. But some analysts worry that a strategy to meet strength with strength risks making conflict even more likely. “Every time the Americans do something to reassure the South Koreans that they are prepared to defend them, they weaken their assurances to the North Koreans that they are not preparing to attack them,” says Sheen Seong-ho, a professor of international security at Seoul National University. “The North Koreans are sending the message that they are not prepared to go down without a fight.” Cigarette in hand, a beaming Kim last month oversaw North Korea’s first known test of a large-diameter solid rocket motor at a test site in the country’s western North Pyongan province. The test brought his regime a step closer to acquiring a solid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile that, unlike liquid fuel missiles, can be fueled in secret before they are deployed, giving adversaries far less time to conduct a preventive strike. It is one of many recent examples of Pyongyang approaching or crossing key technical thresholds that are making its nuclear arsenal increasingly versatile and difficult to destroy or defend against. North Korea has tested the Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile which has an estimated range of 15,000km — within striking distance of the US mainland. It has also tested a rocket fitted with a conical “maneuvering re-entry vehicle”, or MaRV, which is potentially harder to intercept and destroy than a standard ballistic warhead. But the development that most worries policymakers in Seoul, Tokyo and Washington is North Korea’s new generation of lower yield tactical and battlefield nuclear weapons. These “can be used more precisely to target specific enemy assets such as ports, airfields, ships, or concentrations of troops,” says Ankit Panda, a nuclear weapons expert at the Carnegie Endowment think-tank in Washington. Not only is their threshold for use much lower than for ICBMs, he adds, the decision to use them is more likely to be delegated to field commanders, “increasing the risk of an accident, miscommunication or miscalculation resulting in nuclear use.” In a 20-day period between late September and early October, North Korea launched 15 newly developed missiles capable of delivering tactical nuclear warheads as part of a simulated nuclear attack on South Korean and U.S. assets. The launches, attended by Kim himself, included short-range ballistic missiles fired from mobile road and rail platforms and another fired over Japan. “It is no longer strictly accurate to describe these launches simply as ‘tests’,” says Jeongmin Kim, an analyst with Seoul-based information service NK Pro. “North Korea is demonstrating to its adversaries that its nuclear forces are operational and ready to use.” In September, Kim adopted a more aggressive nuclear policy that outlines an unusually low threshold for use, such as pre-emptive strikes in a range of vaguely defined scenarios. The policy enshrines comments made by Kim in April and reiterated at this month’s party congress that beyond the “primary mission” of preventing war, his nuclear weapons had a “secondary mission” if his country’s “fundamental interests” were threatened. Some critics believe the Biden administration has not paid enough attention to North Korea because of its increased focus on Ukraine and China. A senior U.S. official said the administration had made multiple efforts to engage with North Korea, but the response from Pyongyang had been “pretty much radio silence.” That has left the U.S. with few options other than to focus on reassuring their allies. The U.S. has since deployed fighter jets and B52 bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons as part of a pledge made by U.S. defense secretary Lloyd Austin in November last year to send nuclear-capable assets to the peninsula on a “constant” and “routine” basis. These shows of force are designed to reassure policymakers in Seoul of Washington’s “ironclad commitment” to South Korean security. But Seukhoon Paul Choi, a South Korean former strategist at the US-South Korea joint warfighting headquarters, says the U.S. is prioritizing symbolic gestures over substantive changes to the way the alliance operates. “The U.S. still seems to see deterrence and reassurance as a question of psychology and credibility, rather than a practical issue of planning,” says Choi, now a nuclear security fellow at the Rand Corporation think-tank in Washington. Panda, of the Carnegie Endowment, says there will always be a limit to the reassurance that U.S. policymakers can offer their east Asian counterparts regarding America’s use of its nuclear weapons as the ultimate decision resides solely with the president. A senior U.S. official disputes the notion that Washington is not communicating sufficiently with its allies on nuclear use, calling the level of co-ordination “truly extraordinary”. The U.S. has also updated its national defense strategy to warn Pyongyang that “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.” But Panda dismisses the U.S. commitment as “braggadocio”, recommending that Washington adopt greater ambiguity about the severe consequences that would follow nuclear use by Pyongyang. “We don’t make these types of threats against our other nuclear adversaries, including Russia and China,” he says. Choi agrees. “It is pure hubris for the U.S. always to talk about deterring North Korea without acknowledging that North Korea has itself acquired the capabilities to deter the U.S.” When asked if the U.S. would follow through with its commitment, South Korean nuclear envoy Kim Gunn says: “That’s what they said. So when it is said, don’t try to test it.” As well as a “kill chain” policy of pre-emptive strikes in the event of an imminent attack, South Korea is also publicly committed to an escalatory response as part of its “massive punishment and retaliation” doctrine. The policy of responding with up to three times the force of the initial attack was developed after a North Korean artillery bombardment in 2010 of South Korean troops stationed on Yeonpyeong island near a disputed maritime border. Choi argues that South Korea’s hardline stance is vindicated by the fact that North Korea has not attempted an attack of comparable severity since. “Ambiguity is often overrated,” he adds. But Choi acknowledges that there is an “irreconcilable tension” between the U.S. and its east Asian allies that could yet emerge if a similar incident were to occur in 2023. “South Korea is scared of being abandoned by the U.S. in the event of a conflict, while the US is scared of being dragged into a conflict by South Korea,” says Choi. “Washington needs to reassure South Korea but in moments of crisis also feels the need to restrain it. The tension is manageable, but will always be there.” Neither South Korea nor Japan are backing down in the face of North Korean provocations. In November, South Korea conducted a test of its new long-range surface-to-air missile interceptor system, while Japan also successfully tested its new Standard Missile-3 ballistic missile interceptor system. The tests, conducted within a few days of one another, followed a trilateral summit in Cambodia between South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol, Japanese prime minister Kishida Fumio and U.S. president Joe Biden, at which they pledged to intensify real-time information sharing and co-operation in response to the growing North Korean missile threat. .The senior U.S. official says North Korea’s aggressive actions had deepened engagement with its allies, describing it as a “striking” change. But the two countries are also seeking to bolster their own independent defense capabilities, amid fears that American voters could elect a future leader who does not share Biden’s commitment. Japan’s new national security strategy, backed up by a ¥43tn ($322bn) defense budget, envisages the development of a new “counter-strike” capability that could allow it to attempt to destroy enemy missiles before they launch. Japanese government officials say this capability would justify Tokyo’s deeper involvement in discussions with US and South Korea regarding North Korea. But Seoul has privately expressed concerns that Tokyo would acquire the ability to trigger a conflict in the region. For U.S. policymakers, a more pressing concern is whether failure to sufficiently reassure South Korea of its reliability as an ally will lead to Seoul deciding to acquire an independent nuclear weapons capability of its own, potentially forcing Japan to follow suit. In Ankit Panda’s view, however, the fundamental problem is that the U.S. and its allies are using the threat of punishment to deter North Korea from using its nuclear weapons, while simultaneously attempting to compel Pyongyang to give them up altogether — a lack of coherence that he says amounts to “strategic malpractice.” That raises the uncomfortable question of whether the three allies can ever seriously engage with North Korea on reducing the risks of a conflict if they continue to insist that their ultimate goal is North Korea’s denuclearization. Gunn insists that Kim Jong Un will eventually return to the negotiating table: “They are more isolated diplomatically, and at the same time their economic situation is worse and worse. As time goes by, what [other] option does North Korea have?” But Jeongmin Kim of NK Pro is skeptical, pointing to Kim’s proven willingness to allow his people to suffer while pressing on with his nuclear weapons program. “The classic cycle is that North Korea builds capabilities so as to give itself leverage for future negotiations,” she says. “This time, however, Kim Jong Un appears determined to force the world to recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapons state at all costs — and he has his own schedule.” ‘North Korea is demonstrating … that its nuclear forces are operational and ready to use (Christian Davies, Kana Inagaki and Demetri Sevastopulo, “North Korea’s Nuclear Threat,” Financial Times, December 9, 2023, p. 13)

Three South Koreans affiliated with the minor Progressive Party and a farmers’ group in Jeju are under investigation for allegedly establishing an underground network that collaborated with North Korean agents for over five years. Police confirmed today that it conducted a raid on the homes and offices of a former senior official of the small leftist Progressive Party branch in Jeju, a current senior official of the party and the secretary-general of the Korean Peasants League’s Jeju branch last November and December for alleged violation of the National Security Act. The raid was conducted in coordination with the National Intelligence Service (NIS). The Jeju Provincial Police Agency said it is in the process of conducting digital forensic analysis on the items seized, including mobile phones and computers. In July 2017, the former Progressive Party official is suspected of having met with a North Korean agent from its ruling Workers’ Party’s Cultural Exchange Bureau — a North Korean espionage department that recruits South Korean sympathetic to Pyongyang — in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The Cultural Exchange Bureau was formerly known as the 225th Bureau, responsible for training agents to infiltrate South Korea and establish underground political organizations aimed at spreading unrest. This individual reportedly received several days of training by the North Korean agent on establishing an underground organization, its operation plan and communications methods. He allegedly recruited two others to form an underground organization that allegedly carried out orders from North Korea for the past several years through last November to promote antigovernment activities. Police claim that other directives included a push for the suspension of joint exercises between Seoul and Washington and opposition to advanced weapons systems from the United States, based on their digital forensic analysis of the seized items. The individuals are also accused of praising the North Korean regime at a movie screening in February 2019. On November. 9, the NIS requested cooperation from the Jeju police to search the former party official’s home and the raid expanded to the two other individual’s homes and office on December 19. They are accused of violating Article 7 of the National Security Act, which stipulates that a person who praises, incites or propagates the activities of an antigovernment organization can be punished by imprisonment for up to seven years. They are also accused of having violated Article 8 of the Security Act, which punishes by imprisonment for up to ten years individuals who make contact, including meetings or correspondence, with a member of an antigovernment organization or a person who has received an order from it. The three individuals have denied the allegations and refused to answer NIS summons for questioning. “Meeting a North Korean agent in Cambodia in itself is a violation of the National Security Act,” said a police official today. Depending on the results of the NIS analysis of the confiscated items, the scope of the investigation may be expanded. The code name of their underground organization is reportedly written on the documents obtained by the police and the NIS. Separately, the NIS and prosecutors also conducted multiple raids on individuals in Jeju, Seoul, South Gyeongsang and North Jeolla suspected to have formed a pro-North, antigovernment group. (Sarah Kim, “Three Individuals Accused of Working with North Korea,” JoongAng Ilbo, January 9, 2023)

1/11/23:
President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea said for the first time today that if North Korea’s nuclear threat grows, South Korea would consider building nuclear weapons of its own or ask the United States to redeploy them on the Korean Peninsula. “It’s possible that the problem gets worse and our country will introduce tactical nuclear weapons or build them on our own,” said Yoon, according to a transcript of his comments released by his office. “If that’s the case, we can have our own nuclear weapons pretty quickly, given our scientific and technological capabilities.” Speaking during a joint policy briefing by his defense and foreign ministries, Yoon was quick to add that building nuclear weapons was not yet an official policy. He stressed that South Korea would for now deal with North Korea’s nuclear threat by strengthening its alliance with the United States. Such a policy includes finding ways to increase the reliability of Washington’s commitment to protect its ally with all of its defense capabilities, including nuclear weapons. Yoon’s comments marked the first time since the United States withdrew all of its nuclear weapons from the South in 1991 that a South Korean president officially mentioned arming the country with nuclear weapons. Washington removed its nuclear weapons from South Korea as part of its global nuclear arms reduction efforts. South Korea is a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT, which bans the country from seeking nuclear weapons. It also signed a joint declaration with North Korea in 1991 in which both Koreas agreed not to “test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons.” But North Korea has reneged on the agreement by conducting six nuclear tests since 2006. Years of negotiations have failed to remove a single nuclear warhead in the North. (American and South Korean officials say that North Korea could conduct another nuclear test, its seventh, at any moment.) As North Korea vowed to expand its nuclear arsenal and threatened to use it against the South in recent months, voices have grown in South Korea — among analysts and within Yoon’s conservative ruling People Power Party — calling for Seoul to reconsider a nuclear option. Yoon’s comments this week were likely to fuel such discussions. Opinion surveys in recent years have shown that a majority of South Koreans supported the United States redeploying nuclear weapons to the South or the country’s building an arsenal of its own. Policymakers in Seoul have disavowed the option for decades, arguing that the so-called nuclear-umbrella protection from the United States would keep the country safe from North Korea. “President Yoon’s comment could turn out to be a watershed moment in the history of South Korea’s national security,” said Cheon Seong-whun, a former head of the Korea Institute for National Unification, a government-funded research think tank in Seoul. ”It could shift its paradigm in how to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat.” Calls for nuclear weapons have bubbled up in South Korea over the decades, but they have never gained traction beyond the occasional analysts and right-wing politicians. Under its former military dictator Park Chung-hee, South Korea embarked on a covert nuclear weapons program in the 1970s, when the United States began reducing its military presence in the South, making its people feel vulnerable to North Korean attacks. Washington forced him to abandon the program, promising to keep the ally under its nuclear umbrella. Washington still keeps 28,500 American troops in South Korea as the symbol of the alliance. But in recent months, North Korea has continued testing missiles, some of which were designed to deliver nuclear warheads to the South. Many South Koreans have questioned whether the United States would stop North Korea from attacking their country, especially at the risk of leaving American cities and military bases in the Asia-Pacific region more vulnerable to a nuclear attack. Washington’s repeated promise to protect its ally — with its own nuclear weapons, if necessary — has not dissipated such fear. In its 2022 Nuclear Posture Review, a document that outlines Washington’s nuclear policy for the next five to 10 years, the Pentagon itself noted the “deterrence dilemmas” that the North posed to the United States. “A crisis or conflict on the Korean Peninsula could involve a number of nuclear-armed actors, raising the risk of broader conflict,” it said. “If South Korea possesses nuclear weapons, the United States will not need to ask whether it should use its own nuclear weapons to defend its ally, and the alliance will never be put to a test,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea. “If South Korea owns nuclear weapons, the U.S. will actually become safer.” By declaring an intention to arm itself with nuclear weapons, South Korea could force North Korea to rethink its own nuclear weapons program and possibly prompt China to put pressure on Pyongyang to roll back its program, Cheong said. China has long feared a regional nuclear arms race in East Asia. South Korea would need to quit the NPT to build its own arsenal. Analysts said that quitting the NPT would be too risky for the South because it could trigger international sanctions. Some lawmakers affiliated with Yoon’s party and analysts like Cheon want the United States to reintroduce American nuclear weapons to the South and forge a nuclear-sharing agreement with Seoul, similar to the one in which NATO aircraft would be allowed to carry American nuclear weapons in wartime. The American Embassy had no immediate comment on Yoon’s statement. Washington’s official policy is to make the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons, fearing that if Seoul were to build nuclear weapons, it could trigger a regional arms race and eliminate any hope of ridding North Korea of its nuclear weapons. Yoon himself reiterated on Thursday that his country remained committed to the NPT, at least for now. He said — and his Defense Ministry reiterated the next day — that the more “realistic means” of countering the North Korean threat would be through joint deterrence with the United States. His government said the allies will introduce tabletop exercises from next month to test their combined capabilities to deal with a North Korean nuclear attack and to help reassure Washington’s commitment to its ally. Yoon also said his military will boost its own “massive punishment and retaliation” program, arming itself with more powerful missiles and other conventional weapons to threaten the North’s leadership. Tensions have been on the rise in Korea in recent weeks, as Yoon’s government responded to the North’s provocations with its own escalatory steps, like dispatching fighter jets in response to drones from the North. “We must squash the North’s desire to provoke,” he said today. (Choe Sang-Hun, “In a First, South Korea Declares Nuclear Weapons a Policy Option,” New York Times, January 12, 2023, p.4)

North Korea’s spike in missile tests, growing nuclear ambitions and other provocative acts pose a “serious threat” that could lead to a dangerous miscalculation and spark a wider conflict, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said today. Speaking with The Associated Press at the presidential office in Seoul, the conservative leader reiterated his call for closer security cooperation with the United States and Japan to counter the “dangerous situation” being created by North Korea as he played down the prospect for direct negotiations like those pursued by his liberal predecessor. “We’ve seen a miscalculation leading to serious wars many times in history,” Yoon said, adding that the North’s advancing nuclear arsenal poses a direct threat to the U.S. mainland as well as South Korea and nearby Japan. In a recent newspaper interview, Yoon cited discussions with the U.S. about joint planning potentially involving U.S. nuclear assets. Asked for further clarity today, he said the proposed plans include “tabletop exercises, computer simulations and drills … on delivery means for nuclear weapons.” “The discussions are under way over the so-called joint planning and joint execution, and I think it’s right for South Korea and the United States to cooperate because both of us are exposed to the North Korean nuclear threat,” Yoon said. While Yoon didn’t reveal further details, some observers have said he likely wants to stress efforts to boost the viability of the U.S. security commitment to protect its Asian ally from North Korea. In a policy report to Yoon today, Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup said the South Korean and U.S. militaries plan to hold a tabletop exercise next month to sharpen their response to scenarios where North Korea uses a nuclear weapon. Lee said that South Korea will push for the U.S. to deploy strategic assets near the Korean Peninsula more frequently, according to Lee’s office. (Adam Schreck and Hyung-jin Kim, “Korean Leader Cites North Korean Threats,” Associated Press, January 11, 2023)

The U.S. said the next day it is still committed to a completely denuclearized Korean Peninsula and that South Korea has made it clear it is not seeking nuclear weapons, a day after President Yoon Suk Yeol openly backed a nuclear buildup if North Korea poses a bigger threat than now. “What we are going to seek, jointly together with them, are improvements in extended deterrence capabilities,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at a press briefing. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, struck a similar chord that same day, saying the US seeks denuclearization in the region and that South Korea “falls under that extended deterrence umbrella.” Such US deterrence “has worked very well to date,” Ryder noted without elaborating. Yoon’s office responded by saying Yoon had meant “bolstering extended deterrence,” referring to U.S. support involving its nuclear umbrella and strategic assets like bombers and fighters — all meant to prevent outside aggression, including North Korea, South Korea’s biggest security threat. (Choi Si-young, “U.S. Quickly Plays down ‘Nuclear Prospect,’” Korea Herald, January 12, 2023)

Joint Statement of U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee: “Secretary of State Blinken, Secretary of Defense Austin, Minister for Foreign Affairs Hayashi, and Minister of Defense Hamada (referred to collectively as “the Ministers”) convened the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee (SCC) in Washington, D.C., on January 11, 2023. Recognizing the convergence of their nations’ new national security and defense strategies toward bolstering deterrence in an integrated manner, the Ministers provided a vision of a modernized Alliance postured to prevail in a new era of strategic competition. The Ministers firmly reiterated their commitment to champion a free and open Indo-Pacific region, heralding the U.S.-Japan Alliance as the cornerstone of regional peace, security, and prosperity. They resolved to advance bilateral modernization initiatives to build a more capable, integrated, and agile Alliance that bolsters deterrence and addresses evolving regional and global security challenges. The Ministers affirmed that the Alliance is stalwart in the face of these challenges and steadfast in support of shared values and norms that underpin the international rules-based order. They renewed their commitment to oppose any unilateral change to the status quo by force regardless of the location in the world. The Ministers welcomed the release of their respective National Security Strategies and National Defense Strategies, and confirmed unprecedented alignment of their vision, priorities, and goals. This forms a solid foundation for their efforts to constantly modernize the Alliance in order to address the increasingly severe security environment. Japan reiterated its resolve, under its new strategies, to fundamentally reinforce its defense capabilities, including counterstrike, through a substantial increase of its defense budget. Japan also reaffirmed its determination to lead in its own defense and to expand its roles, in cooperation with the United States and other partners, to actively engage in maintaining regional peace and stability. The United States expressed its strong support for Japan’s updated national security policies as a significant evolution that bolsters Alliance deterrence. The United States expressed its determination to optimize its force posture in the Indo-Pacific, including in Japan, by forward-deploying more versatile, resilient, and mobile capabilities. Japan supported the U.S. plan to optimize its force posture and welcomed its strong commitment to maintain a robust presence in the region. The United States restated its unwavering commitment to the defense of Japan under Article V of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, using its full range of capabilities, including nuclear. The Ministers held an in-depth discussion on U.S. extended deterrence for Japan, as well as on the recently released U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, and reaffirmed the critical importance of ensuring U.S. extended deterrence remains credible and resilient, bolstered by Japan’s capabilities. They reiterated both countries intend to deepen the substantive discussions at the Extended Deterrence Dialogue as well as through various senior-level meetings. In accordance with their new strategies, the Ministers decided to accelerate work on evolving Alliance roles and missions and to employ interoperable and advanced capabilities, to address current and future security challenges. The Ministers also resolved to jointly strengthen Alliance activities with allies and partners within and beyond the region. A New Era of Strategic Competition The Ministers concurred that China’s foreign policy seeks to reshape the international order to its benefit and to employ China’s growing political, economic, military, and technological power to that end. This behavior is of serious concern to the Alliance and the entire international community, and represents the greatest strategic challenge in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. The Ministers reiterated their strong opposition to China’s intensified attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force in the East China Sea, including through actions that seek to undermine Japan’s longstanding administration of the Senkaku Islands. The United States reaffirmed that Article V of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands. The Ministers condemned China’s dangerous and provocative military activities around Japan, including China’s ballistic missile launches in August 2022, during which some missiles landed in waters near Japan’s Sakishima Islands. They shared their continuing concerns regarding China’s ongoing and accelerating expansion of its nuclear arsenal, which is also characterized by its lack of transparency. They also reiterated their strong objections to China’s unlawful maritime claims, militarization of reclaimed features, and threatening and provocative activities in the South China Sea. The Ministers reaffirmed their support for unimpeded lawful commerce and full respect for international law, including freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea. In this context, they recalled with emphasis that the July 12, 2016, Award in the South China Sea Arbitration (The Republic of Philippines v. The People’s Republic of China), constituted under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS), is final and legally binding on the parties to that proceeding. They confirmed, also in this context, that they will work together closely to address non-market policies and practices as well as economic coercion. The Ministers stated that their basic positions on Taiwan remain unchanged, and reiterated the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait as an indispensable element of security and prosperity in the international community. They encouraged the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues. They expressed serious concerns about the state of Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms as well as human rights issues, including in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Ministers strongly condemned North Korea’s unprecedented number of unlawful and reckless ballistic missile launches over the past year, including of multiple intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)-class missiles, and of the ballistic missile that overflew Japan. They expressed strong concern over North Korea’s stated policy to enhance its nuclear arsenal at maximum speed, both in quality and quantity, and reaffirmed their commitment to the complete denuclearization of North Korea. The Ministers urged North Korea to abide by its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions and confirmed the need for an immediate resolution of the abductions issue. The Ministers also committed to deepen cooperation between and among the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, which is critical to addressing the grave threat North Korea presents and to promoting security, peace, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. The Ministers strongly condemned Russia’s brutal, unprovoked, and unjustifiable war against Ukraine. They recognized that Russia’s violation of the UN Charter and its attempts to unilaterally change borders by force, including through its ongoing aggression against Ukraine, present a serious security threat for the European region and shake the foundation of the international order. The Ministers condemned Russia’s reckless nuclear rhetoric and its attacks against civilian infrastructure, and they reiterated the need for Russia to be held accountable for its atrocities in Ukraine. The Ministers also highlighted with concern Russia’s growing and provocative strategic military cooperation with China, including through joint operations and drills in the vicinity of Japan. Modernizing the Alliance In light of evolving Alliance roles and missions, and enhancing interoperable capabilities to meet the aforementioned security challenges, the Ministers decided to accelerate their consultations, including on the following areas: 1. Alliance Coordination The Ministers reemphasized the necessity to further enhance bilateral coordination through the Alliance Coordination Mechanism in order to cope with the full spectrum of possible situations in a timely and integrated manner. In this context, the United States welcomed Japan’s decision to establish a permanent joint headquarters. They committed to exploring more effective Alliance command and control relationships to enhance interoperability and responsiveness. The Ministers also shared the need to improve effective coordination with partner countries for more robust policy and operational cooperation. 2. Allied Efforts in Peacetime The Ministers underscored the critical importance of joint efforts in peacetime to deter an armed attack against Japan and destabilizing activities in the region. They decided to deepen bilateral coordination, including on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and flexible deterrent options. They welcomed the U.S. deployment of MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicles to Kanoya Air Base and the launch of the Bilateral Information Analysis Cell to increase intelligence sharing. In order to maximize the effects of these efforts, they decided to further expand their cooperation in the field of asset protection missions, broader engagement of partners, and strategic messaging. They welcomed the joint/shared use of additional facilities on Kadena Ammunition Storage Area by JSDF. They also committed to expand joint/shared use of U.S. and Japanese facilities and to increase bilateral exercises and training in areas including Japan’s Southwest Islands. The Ministers stressed the importance of flexible use of air and seaports to ensure the resiliency of defense assets and their operational effectiveness in a contingency. Accordingly, they decided to work together through exercises and planning to enable such use. 3. Allied Capability to Deter and Respond The Ministers concurred that Alliance efforts, consistent with new strategy documents, should focus on mission areas such as integrated air and missile defense, anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, mine warfare, amphibious and airborne operations, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting (ISRT), logistics, and mobility. They decided to deepen bilateral cooperation toward the effective employment of Japan’s counterstrike capabilities in close coordination with the United States. The Ministers welcomed the steady progress on bilateral planning for contingencies as well as on realistic training and exercises such as Keen Sword 23, Resolute Dragon 22, Orient Shield 22, and MV-22 low altitude training. The Ministers underscored the critical importance of strengthened cross-domain capabilities, particularly integrating the land, maritime, air, space, cyber, electromagnetic spectrum, and other domains. 4. Space, Cyber, and Information Security Recognizing the growing importance of outer space to the peace, security and prosperity of the Alliance, the Ministers renewed their commitment to deepening cooperation on space capabilities to strengthen mission assurance, interoperability, and operational cooperation, including through enhanced collaboration in space domain awareness after the operationalization of Japan’s Space Situational Awareness system scheduled in 2023. The Ministers consider that attacks to, from, or within space present a clear challenge to the security of the Alliance, and affirmed such attacks, in certain circ*mstances, could lead to the invocation of Article V of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. The Ministers also affirmed that a decision as to when such an attack would lead to an invocation of Article V would be made on a case-by-case basis, and through close consultations between Japan and the United States, as would be the case for any other threat. The Ministers emphasized the foundational importance of cybersecurity and information security for the Alliance. They welcomed the establishment of JSDF Cyber Defense Command in March 2022, and concurred to intensify collaboration to counter increasingly sophisticated and persistent cyber threats. The United States welcomed Japan’s initiatives to bolster its national cybersecurity posture such as the creation of a new organization to coordinate whole-of-government cybersecurity policies, and the introduction of a risk management framework, which would provide a foundation for a wider range of U.S.-Japan cooperation. The Ministers welcomed progress in strengthening industrial cybersecurity, including Japan’s efforts to establish the Standards on Cybersecurity Measures for Defense Industry. Lastly, the Ministers highlighted important progress made so far under the bilateral information security consultations. 5. Maintaining the Technological Edge Emphasizing the importance of integrating technological developments into Alliance capabilities, the Ministers committed to bolster technology cooperation and joint investments in emerging technologies to further sharpen the competitive edge of the Alliance. The Ministers also emphasized that resilient, diverse, and secure supply chains of defense equipment are essential to ensure national security. In this regard, the Ministers welcomed the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding for Research, Development, Test and Evaluation Projects and the Security of Supply Arrangement as well as the substantial progress on the Reciprocal Government Quality Assurance. With these achievements as well as steady progress on defense science and technology cooperation, including discussions on joint research projects on high-power microwaves and autonomous systems, the Ministers concurred to further promote their efforts toward joint research and development of defense equipment. Based on the progress of joint analysis on counter-hypersonic technology, the Ministers concurred to begin joint research on important elements including advanced materials and hypersonic testbeds. The Ministers also concurred to begin discussion on potential joint development of a future interceptor. The Ministers also shared the importance of deepening technological cooperation with like-minded allies and partners, which complements bilateral efforts. Expanding Alliance Partnerships The Ministers renewed their commitment to further advance their partnership with Australia by building on outcomes from the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue in August 2022 and Trilateral Defense Ministers Meeting in June and October 2022 and by taking advantage of the expanding activities under the Japan-Australia Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation signed in October 2022. In this context, they highlighted the successful completion of the first coordinated asset protection mission among the three countries in November 2022. They also expressed their determination to increase trilateral training and exercises to enhance interoperability, including on ISR, as well as to explore opportunities for technological cooperation. In this context, they reaffirmed the importance of increasing trilateral training opportunities including in northern Australia, based on the Joint Statement on Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations issued in December 2022. The Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to supporting quality, transparent infrastructure development that addresses the needs of Indo-Pacific partners and welcomed the renewal of the Trilateral Infrastructure Partnership MOU with Australia. The Ministers also emphasized the importance of further deepening their cooperation with the Republic of Korea and exploring opportunities for multilateral and trilateral exercises and other activities, including in areas such as ballistic missile defense, anti-submarine warfare, maritime security, search and rescue, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief. The Ministers reaffirmed their strong support for ASEAN’s unity and centrality and the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. They acknowledged the importance of further promoting economic and security cooperation with partners in Southeast Asia and Pacific Island countries through such activities as joint training, capacity building, and potential transfers of defense equipment. The Ministers welcomed further cooperation under the Partners in the Blue Pacific Initiative, which will support the Pacific Islands Forum’s 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent. The Ministers reconfirmed the importance of the Quad, which has made positive contributions to the region through promoting practical cooperation in various fields. Noting that likeminded nations are facing similar, and mutually-reinforcing threats to the global rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific and Euro-Atlantic regions, the Ministers welcomed greater engagement in the Indo-Pacific by Euro-Atlantic partners — both bilaterally and through multilateral entities such as NATO and the EU. They expressed support for expanded exercises and deployments, facilitated by Japan’s new bilateral agreements including forthcoming Reciprocal Access Agreements with Australia and the United Kingdom. The United States endorsed Japan’s efforts to finalize its NATO Individually Tailored Partnership Program, and welcomed Japan’s enhanced emphasis on European security through its provision of assistance to Ukraine. The United States likewise hailed Japan’s increased cooperation with NATO, and Japan’s leadership role in NATO’s Asia Pacific partners’ group. From this perspective, the United States welcomed Prime Minister Kishida’s attendance at the NATO Summit in Madrid in June 2022 — the first time a Japanese Prime Minister has participated in a NATO Summit. Optimizing Alliance Posture The Ministers affirmed the need to optimize Alliance force posture based on improved operational concepts and enhanced capabilities to address increasing security challenges in the region, including for the defense of the Southwestern Islands of Japan. Facing a severely contested environment, they confirmed that the forward posture of U.S. forces in Japan should be upgraded to strengthen Alliance deterrence and response capabilities by positioning more versatile, resilient, and mobile forces with increased intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, anti-ship, and transportation capabilities. In line with such policy, the Japan-U.S. Roadmap for Realignment Implementation, as adjusted by the SCC on April 27, 2012, will be readjusted so that the 3rd Marine Division Headquarters and the 12th Marine Regiment will remain in Okinawa. The 12th Marine Regiment will be reorganized into the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment by 2025. The Ministers reiterated their commitment to the basic tenets of the 2012 Realignment Plan, and confirmed that these readjustments do not affect the lands scheduled to be returned in the Okinawa Consolidation Plan, nor continued progress for the Futenma Replacement Facility at Camp Schwab. The Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to achieve an end-state for the U.S. Marine Corps presence in Okinawa consistent with the levels envisioned in the Realignment Roadmap as revised in 2012. The Ministers also confirmed that these readjustments do not require any changes to Japan’s cash contribution and construction projects based upon the amended Guam International Agreement. To further strengthen Alliance maritime mobility in Japan, the Ministers welcomed the establishment of the Composite Watercraft Company at Yokohama North Dock scheduled in 2023. The Ministers affirmed that these initiatives demonstrate the steadfast commitment of the United States to the defense of Japan and share the same direction with Japan’s fundamental reinforcement of its defense capabilities. They confirmed that the optimized posture of the U.S. forces in Japan, with enhanced JSDF capabilities and posture in areas including the Southwestern Islands, would substantially strengthen Alliance deterrence and response capabilities. The Ministers decided to continue close consultation on these initiatives and ways to further optimize U.S. force posture in Japan. The Ministers also reconfirmed the steady implementation of ongoing projects supporting realignment of facilities and areas of U.S. Forces in Japan and the importance of relationships with local communities. The Ministers underlined their commitment to continue construction of the Futenma Replacement Facility at the Camp Schwab/Henokosaki area and in adjacent waters as the only solution that avoids the continued use of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. The Ministers welcomed the progress and future prospects for the development of the SDF facility on Mageshima, which will be used for purposes including Field Carrier Landing Practice. They confirmed the importance of accelerating bilateral work on U.S. force realignment efforts, including construction of relocation facilities and land returns in Okinawa, and the relocation of Marine Corps personnel from Okinawa to Guam beginning in 2024. The Ministers affirmed the importance of continued bilateral coordination for sharing timely information on incidents and accidents, enhancing environmental cooperation, as well as mitigating impacts on, and supporting strong relationships with, local communities while communicating with them about the importance of Alliance activities.”
(Joint Statement of the 2023 U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee (2+2), January 11, 2023)

1/12/23:
Behind closed doors in 2017, President Donald Trump discussed the idea of using a nuclear weapon against North Korea and suggested he could blame a U.S. strike against the communist regime on another country, according to a new section of a book that details key events of his administration. Trump’s alleged comments, reported for the first time in a new afterword to a book by New York Times Washington correspondent Michael Schmidt, came as tensions between the U.S. and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un escalated, alarming then-White House chief of staff John Kelly. The new section of “Donald Trump v. the United States,” obtained by NBC News ahead of its publication in paperback, offers an extensive examination of Kelly’s life and tenure as Trump’s chief of staff from July 2017 to January 2019. Kelly previously was Trump’s secretary of homeland security. For the account, Schmidt cites in part dozens of interviews on background with former Trump administration officials and others who worked with Kelly. Eight days after Kelly arrived at the White House as chief of staff, Trump warned that North Korea would be “met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.” When Trump delivered his first speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September 2017, he threatened to “totally destroy North Korea” if Kim, whom he referred to as “Rocket Man,” continued his military threats. Later that month, Trump continued to goad North Korea through his tweets. But Kelly was more concerned about what Trump was saying privately, Schmidt reports. “What scared Kelly even more than the tweets was the fact that behind closed doors in the Oval Office, Trump continued to talk as if he wanted to go to war. He cavalierly discussed the idea of using a nuclear weapon against North Korea, saying that if he took such an action, the administration could blame someone else for it to absolve itself of responsibility,” according to the new section of the book. Kelly tried to use reason to explain to Trump why that would not work, Schmidt continues. “It’d be tough to not have the finger pointed at us,” Kelly told the president, according to the afterword. Kelly brought the military’s top leaders to the White House to brief Trump about how war between the U.S. and North Korea could easily break out, as well as the enormous consequences of such a conflict. But the argument about how many people could be killed had “no impact on Trump,” Schmidt writes. Kelly then tried to point out that there would be economic repercussions, but the argument held Trump’s attention for only so long, according to the afterword. Then, Trump “would turn back to the possibility of war, including at one point raising to Kelly the possibility of launching a preemptive military attack against North Korea,” Schmidt said. Kelly warned that Trump would need congressional approval for a pre-emptive strike, which “baffled and annoyed” Trump, according to the afterword. Trump tweeted in early January 2018: “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” Schmidt also writes that it was well-known among senior U.S. officials for several decades that North Korea sought to spy on U.S. decision-makers. So White House aides were alarmed “that Trump would repeatedly talk on unclassified phones, with friends and confidants outside the government, about how he wanted to use military force against North Korea.” Schmidt writes that there is no indication North Korea had a source in the White House, but he said it “was well within the realm of American intelligence assessment” that it could have been listening to Trump’s calls. “Kelly would have to remind Trump that he could not share classified information with his friends,” Schmidt writes. According to the new section, Kelly came up with a plan he believes ultimately prompted Trump to dial back the rhetoric in spring 2018: appealing directly to Trump’s “narcissism.” Kelly convinced the president he could prove he was the “greatest salesman in the world” by trying to strike a diplomatic relationship, Schmidt writes, thereby preventing a nuclear conflict that Kelly and other top military leaders saw as a more immediate threat than most realized at the time. (Rebecca Shabad, “Trump Discussed Using a Nuclear Weapon on North Korea in 2017 and Blaming It on Someone Else, Book Says” NBC News, January 12, 2023)

1/13/23:
KCNA: “Kim Tong Myong, a researcher of the Society for International Politics Study in the DPRK, released an article titled “What will Japan-France summit bring to the Asia-Pacific region” on Jan.12, which said: Japanese Prime Minister Kishida on January 9 arrived in France as the first schedule of his visit to the G7 member states and held a summit with President Macron. At the summit, Kishida explained the purport and purpose of the new national security strategy set forth in December last year under the pretext of “threats” from neighboring countries, reckoning France as an “important partner necessary for building the free and open Indo-Pacific.” He asserted that the security of Europe and the Indo-Pacific region is in “inseparable relationship” and, therefore, substantial cooperation with France, including joint military exercises, should be continuously promoted. This clearly proved the aim of Kishida’s visit which is to win support from the member states for Japan’s new national security strategy with preemptive attack and arms buildup as its gist. The new national security strategy Japan peddles in the member states of G7 is a confrontational scenario as it turned the previous policy of “exclusive defense” into a policy of preemptive attack and war in its contents and character. It is the international community’s comment that Japan has completely cast away its veil of a “pacifist state” by deciding to possess the “capability of counterattacking enemy’s base.” As the concern and repugnancy of neighboring countries over its new national security strategy have grown day by day, Japan set out on a solicitation trip to secure the support of countries sharing “common values.” What matters is that some Western countries are actively joining Japan in its moves to become a military giant, bringing the dark clouds of instability to the Asia-Pacific region. There is a greater danger in the fact that all countries visited by Kishida are NATO member states. In June last year, the U.S., Britain, France and other major NATO member states at a summit gave a warning to “China’s systematic challenge to the region linked with the security of the alliance” and adopted a new “strategic concept” whose main point is to contain China. It is well known to the world that NATO has made public its plan to deploy more warships in the Asia-Pacific region and take more active part in the joint military drills with its allies, escalating the regional tension. In case of France alone, it dispatched a French air detachment to the Pacific region, under the pretext of demonstrating air force capability ranging from its mainland to the South Pacific, to join the U.S.-led joint air drill in September last year. It is the sinister intention of NATO stretching its tentacles to the Asia-Pacific region to put pressure on China in an all-round way by justifying its advance into the Asia-Pacific region under various pretexts and steadily expanding its influence over the region. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that the Japan-France summit called for “unilateral change of status quo” in the East and South seas of China, talking about the Taiwan issue that belongs to China’s internal affairs. Japan plays the role of a guide introducing NATO, a legacy of the Cold War, into the Asia-Pacific region, while NATO tries to set its foot in the region. Such behaviors are sowing the seeds of discord deep in the Asia-Pacific region where the interests are complicatedly intertwined over the historical and territorial issues and so on. They must be making a wrong choice. Asia-Pacific is not what was in the past, and regional countries are strictly watching the recent worrying moves of Japan and outside forces. Kishida’s foreign tour will only bring security instability to the Asia-Pacific region.” (KCNA, “What Will Japan-France Summit Bring to Asia-Pacific Region<” January 13, 2023)

1/18/23:
North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament has passed a budget that sustains a high level of defense spending, despite the country’s economic troubles as leader Kim Jong Un pushes for an aggressive expansion of his nuclear arsenal. State media reports indicated Kim didn’t attend the Supreme People’s Assembly’s two-day session that ended today. KCNA said the assembly’s members projected overall state spending would increase by 1.7% this year but made no mention of the actual size of the budget. The assembly’s members devoted 15.9% of this year’s national budget to defense spending, the same proportion as last year, to support efforts on “further bolstering up the war deterrence both in quality and quantity” and “defending the dignity and security of the country and the people,” KCNA said. It’s difficult to gauge how much money North Korea would be spending on its military capabilities, considering the poor quality of the limited statistics it discloses. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2021 “World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers” report, North Korea possibly spent around $4 billion on defense in 2019, which would have amounted to 26% of its estimated gross domestic product, the highest proportion among 170 countries it reviewed. (Kim Tong-Hyung, “North Korea Passes New Defense Budget,” Associated Press, January 19, 2023)

The United States should consider possible deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea in the future, a U.S. think tank said today, in what it called “pre-decisional” efforts to lay groundwork for the possible deployment in the future. The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) also recommended the U.S. and South Korea begin holding tabletop exercises to that end. “The allies should consider tabletop planning exercises for the possible redeployment of U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea,” the CSIS’ North Korea Commission said in a report on North Korea policy and extended deterrence. “This planning should be explicitly pre-decisional. The timeline and scope of weapons … should be left deliberately ambiguous,” it added. Victor Cha, CSIS senior vice president for Asia and Korea Chair, explained such “pre-decisional” or preliminary work can help the actual or final decision to move in either direction. “The purpose of that is that once you get that planning process started, you can make a decision to accelerate it or to decelerate it, depending on changes to the external environment,” he said while meeting with reporters for a preview of the report that is set to be released early tomorrow. The report proposes six policy recommendations each for North Korea policy and U.S. extended deterrence. On U.S. extended deterrence, the report says Washington must demonstrate its nuclear capabilities, as well as its political will to use them if necessary. To this end, the report suggests the U.S. must underscore its commitment to the defense of South Korea partly by emphasizing that Washington and Seoul share the same fate. “When referencing the “full range of U.S. defense capabilities,” the United States should emphasize that the U.S.-ROK “community of fate” — anchored in the presence of 28,500 U.S. troops on the peninsula — forms the core of extended deterrence,” it said. ROK stands for the Republic of Korea, South Korea’s official name. On the same note, the report recommends the U.S. consider changing its strategic and nuclear posture to allow or increase “continuous presence of U.S. strategic assets around the Korean Peninsula.” The CSIS commission clearly expressed its opposition to South Korea’s nuclear armament. “Do not, under current circ*mstances, deploy U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula nor condone the acquisition of nuclear weapons by South Korea,” says the report. The report suggests the U.S. should instead support the improvement of South Korea’s conventional defense capabilities, including by deploying additional THAAD missile defense units to South Korea if needed. “The ultimate policy objective is to achieve complete and irreversible denuclearization. While there may be interim steps along the way, the two allies should work toward this final goal,” it said. To this end, the report recommends the U.S. and its allies prepare for North Korea’s eventual return to negotiations. “The United States and South Korea should continue to express a willingness to engage with North Korea. This could involve sending joint communications from senior envoys indicating a readiness to talk without preconditions,” it said. The commission also insists the U.S. should consider appointing “a full-time special representative for North Korea,” saying, “Even in the absence of negotiations, the envoy could work to coordinate potential road maps for North Korea’s denuclearization among key stakeholders in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo.” Currently, U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Kim is also serving as U.S. special representative for North Korea. (Byun Duk-kun, “U.S. Should Prepare for Possible Deployment of Nuclear Assets to S. Korea: U.S. Think Tank,” Yonhap, January 19, 2023)

1/20/23:
North Korea continues to provide ammunition to Russia in support of Moscow’s unprovoked war against Ukraine, a White House official said today, calling it a clear violation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions on Pyongyang. John Kirby, strategic communications coordinator for the National Security Council, said the U.S. has shared its intelligence on the delivery of North Korean ammunition to Russia with the UNSC Panel of Experts on North Korea sanctions. The NSC official earlier said the North has delivered ammunition to a private Russian military company, the Wagner Group, for use in Ukraine. “We obviously condemn North Korea’s actions and we urge North Korea to cease these deliveries to Wagner immediately,” Kirby said at the top of a daily press briefing at the White House. “As we have stated previously, the arms transfers from the DPRK are in direct violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. So today, (we are) sharing information on these violations with the Security Council’s DPRK Sanctions Committee panel of experts,” he added. In a rare move, the NSC also released satellite imagery of Russian railcars traveling between Russia and North Korea on Nov. 18 and Nov. 19 for what Kirby called the initial delivery of North Korean weapons to the Russian company, which has been designated by the U.S. “Now while we assess that the amount of material delivered to Wagner has not changed battlefield dynamics in Ukraine, we do expect that it will continue to receive North Korean weapons systems,” said Kirby. The NSC official said the U.S. currently has no plan to pursue additional sanctions against North Korea when asked, but noted it was still an option. “We are certainly not going to rule out the possibility for additional sanctions if that seemed fit inside the U.N., Kirby told the press briefing. North Korea also continues to evade sanctions, Kirby noted, with the help of Russia and China. “Not every country that should observes the sanctions regime. So they are still able to trade with countries like Russia and with China. And, obviously, that’s a whole different set of problems, but they are able to skirt sanctions to continue to funnel money into their economy,” said Kirby. “But let’s keep it in perspective. This is not a burgeoning economy. This is not a country that is wealthy by any stretch or is necessarily viable and flexible in the in the global economy,” he added. (Byun Duk-kun, “N. Korea Continues to Supply Ammunition to Russia in Violation of UNSC Sanctions: White House,” Yonhap, January 20, 2023)

1/23/23:
Two hacker groups associated with North Korea, the Lazarus Group and APT38, were responsible for the theft last June of $100 million from U.S. crypto firm Harmony’s Horizon bridge, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said today. On January 13, the groups used a privacy protocol called Railgun to launder over $60 million worth of ethereum stolen during the theft in June, the FBI said in a statement. A portion of the stolen ethereum was subsequently sent to several virtual asset providers and converted to bitcoin, the FBI said. The FBI said North Korea’s theft and laundering of virtual currency is used to support its ballistic missile and Weapons of Mass Destruction programs. In June last year, California-based Harmony said that a heist had hit its Horizon bridge, which was the underlying software used by digital tokens such as bitcoin and ether for transferring crypto between different blockchains. Reuters in June reported that North Korean hackers were most likely behind the attack on Harmony, citing three digital investigative firms. Harmony develops blockchains for decentralized finance – peer-to-peer sites that offer loans and other services without traditional gatekeepers such as banks – and non-fungible tokens. (Reuters, “FBI Says North Korea-Related Hacker Groups behind U.S. Crypto Firm Heist,” January 23, 2023)

1/25/23:
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote in his new memoir that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told him in 2018 that he needed U.S. forces in South Korea to protect himself from China. Kim “said that he needed the Americans in South Korea to protect him from the CCP, and that the CCP needs the Americans out so they can treat the peninsula like Tibet and Xinjiang,” Pompeo wrote, referring to the Chinese Communist Party, in his book “Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America I love.” When he told the North Korean ruler that China believes North Korea wants U.S. forces out of South Korea, “Kim laughed and pounded on the table in sheer joy, exclaiming that the Chinese were liars.” Based on the conversation, Pompeo came to believe that Kim would not care if the US strengthened its missile and ground troops’ capacity on the peninsula, the book revealed. The book revealed the first interaction between Kim Yong-chol and Pompeo, in which the North Korean said via a translator and with shaking hands, “We have eaten grass for the last 50 years. We can eat grass for the next 50 years.” Pompeo wrote that he replied, “Nice to see you too. I can’t wait for lunch. And I prefer my grass steamed.” (Kim So-hyu, “Kim Jong Un Said He Needed USFK to Protect Him from China: Pompeo,” Korea Herald, January 25, 2023)

The U.S.-led U.N. Command (UNC) announced today both South and North Korea violated the armistice by sending drones into each other’s territory last month. The UNC released the outcome of a probe by its special investigation team (SIT) into the North’s December 26 drone infiltrations, which led the South to send its drones north of the inter-Korean border in a “corresponding” counteraction. “The SIT was able to determine that the Korean People’s Army side committed a violation of the armistice when multiple North-side unmanned aerial systems (UAS) entered ROK-controlled airspace,” the UNC said in a press release. It referred to the North Korean military by its official name. ROK stands for the South’s official name, the Republic of Korea. The command also said the employment of the South Korean military’s UAS across the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas and into the North Korea-controlled airspace constituted an armistice breach. The South’s defense ministry defended its sending of the drones into the North’s territory as the exercise of its right to “self-defense,” stressing the right is not restricted by the armistice. “The South Korean military’s operation of drones north of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) is a self-defense measure against North Korea’s drone breach and is not restricted by the armistice,” the ministry said in a statement. The UNC is an enforcer of the armistice that effectively ended the Korean War in 1953. (Yonhap, “UNC Says Both Koreas Breached Armistice by Flying Drones into Each Other’s Territory,” January 26, 2023)

1/27/23:
South Korea will push to “normalize” inter-Korean relations this year by seeking to make both “direct and indirect” contact with North Korea, including supporting civilian exchanges, Seoul’s unification ministry said today. In its report to President Yoon Suk Yeol on major tasks for 2023, the ministry handling inter-Korean affairs laid out seven key policy objectives focused on improving frosty ties with the North and laying the groundwork for reunification. While the South will sternly counter North Korea’s provocations through cooperation based on the strong Seoul-Washington alliance, the government will also make efforts to restart inter-Korean dialogue this year. The government plans to “seek direct and indirect contact with North Korea through civic groups and international organizations in a bid to open up chances to improve strained inter-Korean ties,” the ministry said. If inter-Korean dialogues restart, the ministry plans to put its priority on addressing issues stemming from the Koreas’ division, such as families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War and South Koreans detained in the North.Unification Minister Kwon Young-se said his ministry is not considering making a new offer of talks to Pyongyang, although it remains willing to resume dialogue at any time. “It is important for North Korea to come back to dialogue with sincerity,” he said at a press briefing following the report to the president. The ministry also said it plans to draw up a new mid-and long-term blueprint on inter-Korean unification, tentatively named the “New Future Initiative on Unification.” The vision is aimed at paving the groundwork for a peaceful unification based on freedom and the democratic value espoused by the Yoon administration. The government aims to announce the new vision within this year after fleshing it out based on opinions from experts and the general public. In regard to North Korea’s human rights issues, the ministry said it plans to carry out the work of an envisioned foundation on the North’s rights situations until it sets sail. The creation of the North Korean Human Rights Foundation has been delayed for years, as the main opposition party, which holds a majority of seats at the National Assembly, has not recommended its share of five candidates for a 12-member board committee. The ministry will also make public its annual report on the North’s human rights records for the first time in March. The report will be issued in both Korean and English-language versions. On the issue of opening the door to North Korean broadcasts and media outlets, the government is considering allowing people to read the Rodong Sinmun at designated facilities. Online access to the paper will not be allowed. The ministry earlier said it will push for the lifting of a ban on public access to North Korean broadcasts, media and publications in an effort to restore “national hom*ogeneity” between the Koreas. (Kim Soo-yeon, “S. Korea to Seek Normlaization of Relations with N. Korea This Year: Unification Ministry,” Yonhap, January 27, 2023)

WPK Central Committee Vice-Department Director Kim Yo Jong’s press statement: “The U.S., which has exposed the whole continent of Europe to the grave danger of war and caused big and small concerns, is now further crossing the red line. It has made a “special contribution” to instigating the unstable world crisis to be continued by providing Ukraine with a large amount of military hardware. It recently made public that it would supply its MBT to Ukraine, only to make clearer its confrontation stand against Russia. Lurking behind this is the U.S. sinister intention to realize its hegemonic aim by further expanding the proxy war for destroying Russia. The world would be brighter, safer and calmer now, if it were not for the U.S. The U.S. is the arch criminal which poses serious threat and challenge to the strategic security of Russia and pushes the regional situation to the present grave phase. I express serious concern over the U.S. escalating the war situation by providing Ukraine with military hardware for ground offensive, and strongly denounce it. The U.S. and other Western countries are wrecking the global peace and the regional security while handing military hardware running into astronomical sum of money over to Ukraine in total disregard of Russia’s concern about security. Therefore, they have neither right nor justification to slander sovereign states’ exercise of the right to self-defense. The U.S. is mulling mobilizing the military potentials of its top-class stooges on the anti-Russian front, to say nothing of those of the Western countries. The Ukrainian battlefield is by no means a desert in the Middle East where the U.S. MBTs went on the rampage 20 years ago. I do not doubt that any military hardware the U.S. and the West boast of will be burnt into pieces in the face of the indomitable fighting spirit and might of the heroic Russian army and people. No matter how desperately the imperialist allied forces may try, they will never weaken the heroic stamina of the Russian army and people with high patriotism, stubbornness and strong mental power. We will always stand in the same trench with the service personnel and people of Russia who have turned out in the struggle to defend the dignity and honor of the state and the sovereignty and security of the country.” (KCNA, “Press Statement of Kim Yo Jong, Vice-Department Director of CC, WPK,” January 27, 2023)

1/28/23:
The South Korean military said four live rounds were fired from the machine gun during a training session by an Army unit along the inter-Korean border in the eastern province of Gangwon at 6:27 p.m. today. All of the bullets landed in the southern side of the Military Demarcation Line and no damage was reported. No firings were planned for the training. The military unit immediately informed North Korea via broadcasting on several occasions that the firings were not intentional and stepped up emergency readiness posture, the officials said. “No particular signs have been seen from the North Korean side, and an investigation is under way over the exact circ*mstances of the incident,” an official of the unit said. In May 2020, at least four bullets from North Korea hit South Korea’s guard post at the central part of the Demilitarized Zone, prompting the South Korean troops to fire back. (Yonhap, “S. Korea Mistakenly Fires Gun Near Border with N. Korea,” Korea Herald, January 29, 2023)

1/29/23:
DPRK FoMin Department of U.S. Affairs ,Director General Kwon Jong Gun’s press statement: “As regards the press statement of Kim Yo Jong, vice-department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea which denounced the U.S. decision on supplying MBTs to Ukraine, a spokesperson for the National Security Council of the White House on Jan. 27 said that the U.S. would continue to provide Ukraine with that it needs to defend itself from Russia’s “brutal war of choice” against Ukraine. It is an absurd and sheer sophism as it is an extension of the illogical, deformed and gangster-like way of thinking of the U.S., which frequently introduces nuclear strike means into the Korean peninsula under the pretext of providing “extended deterrence” against “provocation” of someone. Had the U.S. not infringed upon the just security interests of Russia and accelerated the eastward advance of NATO step by step, the present situation of Ukraine would not have been created. The U.S. is working hard to supply such offensive weapons as MBTs to Ukraine at any cost in disregard of the just concern and criticism of the international community. This is an unethical crime aimed at keeping the international situation unstable. The U.S. again talked about the groundless rumor of “arms dealing between the DPRK and Russia,” in a foolish attempt to justify its offer of weapons to Ukraine. It is an illegal act to call into question the legitimate right to national defense of a sovereign state. Moreover, trying to tarnish the image of the DPRK by fabricating a non-existent thing is a grave provocation that can never be allowed and that cannot but trigger its reaction. We clearly warn the U.S. once again on this occasion. The U.S. should be mindful that it will face a really undesirable result if it persists in spreading the self-made rumor against the DPRK.” (KCNA, “Press Statement by Director General of Department of U.S. Affairs of DPRK Foreign Ministry,” January 29, 2023)

KCNA: Kim Tong Myong, a researcher of the Society for International Politics Study in the DPRK, released an article titled “Is the trip of the secretary general of NATO aimed to instigate the creation of the Asian version of NATO?” on January 29, which said: “It was reported that the secretary general of NATO embarked upon his trip to south Korea and Japan. The high-ranking chief of the military organization which turned Ukraine into a theatre of proxy war is flying into the Asia-Pacific region of the eastern hemisphere across the sea and land, which is not even part of its operational sphere. This fact itself gives rise to concern. It is well known that NATO has long made persistent attempts to expand its sphere of influence limited to European defense to the Asia-Pacific region, which rose to be the strategic center of the world. NATO stages bilateral and multilateral joint military exercises under various titles by introducing armed forces of its member states including aircraft carriers and fighters under the pretext of opposing the so-called “change of status quo by force”. It is also mulling extending its influence to the Asia-Pacific region in the way of expanding and strengthening cooperation with such exclusive security allies as AUKUS, Quad and Five Eyes. In particular, NATO has put unprecedented spurs to the strengthening of bilateral relations with south Korea and Japan in recent years, regarding them as a key link in realizing its ambition for hegemony. This is proved by the fact that the chairman of the military committee of NATO visited south Korea and Japan respectively in April and June last year to discuss closer partnership and military cooperation and, at the end of June, south Korea and Japan participated in the NATO summit in Madrid of Spain for the first time ever. Meanwhile, in May last year the Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence under NATO registered south Korea as its full member and in October a delegation of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly was dispatched to south Korea to discuss the strengthening of bilateral cooperation. South Korea signed a huge sales contract for arms including heavy tanks, self-propelled guns and fighters valued at tens of billions of U.S. dollars with Poland, a member state of NATO, and Japan agreed to jointly develop the next generation fighters with Britain and Italy. This clearly proves to what extent the NATO’s sinister intention to use south Korea and Japan for expanding its influence has reached. NATO, which specified Russia as the “greatest and direct threat” and China as a “systematic challenge” in its new “strategic concept” last year, is now openly stretching its long arm to south Korea and Japan. Its aim is quite clear. It is the general orientation sought by the U.S.-led NATO to cook up Asian version NATO serving the maintenance of its hegemonic position and order in collusion with its vassal forces. It is quite natural that over the recent worrying moves of NATO, countries in the region have warned that NATO seeks to apply the method of collective confrontation in Asia-Pacific, which had already been used in Europe, and south Korea and Japan should not introduce NATO forces into the Asia-Pacific region. It is as clear as noonday that the secretary general of NATO flying to south Korea and Japan, at the time when the Ukrainian crisis has entered a new critical stage with the U.S. and Western decision on supplying tanks, will shore up the “theory of threat from China” to emphasize again the need to build Asian version of NATO and put pressure on them for their passive military support to Ukraine. It is a matter of time that the military hardware of south Korea and Japan flowing into NATO are seen in the Ukrainian battlefield. South Korea and Japan trying to attend to their own business by inviting unbidden guests to the region should be well aware that they are getting closer to the extreme security crisis, far from defusing security uneasiness. It will be nothing good if NATO, a synonym for war and confrontation, puts its military boots on the region. The trip of the NATO secretary general to south Korea and Japan is a prelude to confrontation and war as it brings the dark clouds of a “new Cold War” to the Asia-Pacific region. Regional countries and the international community should remain highly vigilant against the frequent footsteps of NATO toward Asia-Pacific.” (KCNA, “NATO Secretary General’s Trip Instigates Creation of Asian Version of NATO,” January 30, 2023)

1/30/23:
Seven out of 10 South Koreans see the need for Seoul to independently pursue its own nuclear weapons development program, a survey showed Monday, amid concerns over escalating military threats from Pyongyang and a lack of trust in denuclearization negotiations with North Korea. According to the Gallup Korea poll of 1,000 adults, commissioned by the Chey Institute for Advanced Studies, 76.6 percent replied that the South needs to develop nuclear weapons independently to counter Pyongyang’s intensifying nuclear threats and deter its provocations. The survey showed 77.6 percent of the respondents considered denuclearization of North Korea to be “impossible,” while 78.6 percent said Pyongyang was likely to conduct its seventh nuclear test. Of those polled, 72.4 percent also made positive assessments on South Korea’s capability in developing its own nuclear weapons. Among those surveyed, 51.3 percent said they believed the United States will actually demonstrate extended deterrence to defend Seoul in case of contingencies on the Korean Peninsula. The survey was conducted from Nov. 28 to Dec. 16 last year through one-on-one in-person home interviews. (Yonhap, “7 of 10 S. Koreans Support Independent Development of Nuclear Weapons: Poll,” January 30, 2023)

1/31/23:
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin today said the United States will increase its deployment of advanced weapons such as fighter jets and bombers to the Korean Peninsula as it strengthens joint training and operational planning with South Korea in response to a growing North Korean nuclear threat. Austin made the comments in Seoul after he and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup agreed to further expand their combined military exercises, including a resumption of live-fire demonstrations, and continue a “timely and coordinated” deployment of U.S. strategic assets to the region, according to their offices. Austin and Lee also discussed preparations for a simulated exercise between the allies in February aimed at sharpening their response if North Korea uses nuclear weapons. In a joint news conference following their meeting, Austin and Lee said they agreed that their countries’ resumption of large-scale military drills last year, including an aerial exercise involving U.S. strategic bombers in November, effectively demonstrated their combined capabilities to deter North Korean aggression. The allies had downsized their training in recent years to create room for diplomacy with North Korea during the Trump administration and because of the Covid-19 pandemic. “We deployed fifth-generation aircraft, F-22s and F-35s, we deployed a carrier strike group to visit the peninsula, you can look for more of that kind of activity going forward,” Austin said. He said the U.S. commitment to protecting its allies with its full range of military capabilities, including nuclear ones, remains “ironclad.” (Associated Press, “U.S. to Increase Weapons Deployment to Counter North Korea,” January 31, 2023)

2/1/23:
South Korea and the U.S. conducted a joint air drill off the western coast of Korea today that involved the participation of U.S. advanced fighter jets and strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons. This was the first U.S. strategic weapon deployment held on the Korean Peninsula in 2023. This drill followed a vow made by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin yesterday, in which he promised to deploy more strategic weapons to the Korean Peninsula. The Ministry of National Defense stated the next day that “a drill focused on enhancing the ability and interoperability of South Korea-US Air Force on North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats was conducted over the West Sea with our F-35A fighter jets, US B-1B strategic bombers, F-22 and F-35 fighter jets on Wednesday.” This exercise was conducted in a way that the US strategic bomber operation was supported by its ally, South Korean fighter jets. The B-1B strategic bomber is thought to be able to play a key role in a South Korean counterattack against North Korea in the event of an emergency in the Korean Peninsula. Jeon Ha-kyu, the spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, stated in a press conference with both domestic and international journalists that “this shows the U.S.’s steadfast will to act on extended deterrence in South Korea and shows the ability of the South Korea-U.S. alliance.” The exercise took place the day after the Minister of Defense Lee Jong-sup and his U.S. counterpart met in Seoul. At the joint press conference that took place after the meeting between the two defense chiefs, Austin stated, “You heard me talk about some of the things that we’ve done in the past. We deployed fifth-generation aircraft, F-22s, F-35s, and also deployed a carrier strike group to visit the peninsula. You can look for more of that kind of activity going forward.” This exercise also seems to have taken place in order to quell public discourse surrounding South Korea’s independent nuclear armament, which was instigated by President Yoon Suk-yeol’s claim that, if the situation surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons becomes even more serious, South Korea could also start to possess its own nuclear weapons. Today’s drill marked the first time in 43 days that US strategic weapons have been deployed on the Korean Peninsula since the US F-22 and South Korean F-35A fighter jets participated in the deployment of US B-52H strategic bombers near the Korean Peninsula on Dec. 20, 2022. ( Lee Je-hun and Kwon Hyuk-chul, “N. Korea Reacts to First SK-US Joint Drill of 2023 with Threat of ‘Nuke-for-Nuke,’” Hankyore, February 3, 2023)

2/2/23:
DPRK FoMin spokesman’s press statement: “The military and political situation in the Korean peninsula and the region has reached an extreme red-line due to the reckless military confrontational maneuvers and hostile acts of the U.S. and its vassal forces. The U.S. is now working hard to “demonize” the DPRK, spreading again all sorts of rumors. Meanwhile, it, together with its vassal forces, is intensifying the full-scale offensive for putting pressure on the DPRK in all aspects including “human rights”, sanctions and military affairs. In particular, the U.S. is going to ignite an all-out showdown with the DPRK through continued combined drills whose scale and scope are largely extended, including a “drill for operating extended deterrence means” and the largest-ever field mobile live shell firing drill simulating the use of nuclear weapons, together with south Korea from February. During his visit to south Korea on January 31, the U.S. secretary of Defense openly declared that the U.S. would deploy more strategic assets such as the fifth-generation stealth fighters and nuclear carriers, unhesitatingly talking about the use of nuclear weapons against the DPRK. This is a vivid expression of the U.S. dangerous scenario which will result in turning the Korean peninsula into a huge war magazine and a more critical war zone. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK makes clear once again our principled stand on the U.S. in order to cope with its evermore pronounced, heinous anti-DPRK policy and dangerous military move. First, the DPRK will take the toughest reaction to any military attempt of the U.S., on the principle of “nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation for an all-out confrontation!” We do not react to every ill-boding movement shown by the U.S. under the signboard of “offer of extended deterrence” and “strengthened alliance”, but this is by no means that we ignore or take no note of. We are seeing through the true intention of the U.S. The DPRK has a clear counteraction strategy capable of coping with any short- and long-term scenarios attempted by the U.S. and its vassal forces, and will strongly control the present and future potential challenges with the most overwhelming nuclear force. If the U.S. continues to introduce strategic assets into the Korean peninsula and its surrounding area, the DPRK will make clearer its relevant deterring activities without fail according to their nature. Second, the DPRK is not interested in any contact or dialogue with the U.S. as long as the latter persists in its hostile policy and confrontational line. The U.S. goes so shameless as to seek to gain time by touting dialogue with the DPRK under a deceptive signboard that it has no intent to be hostile toward the DPRK, while pursuing the most heinous hostile policy towards the DPRK. The escalating tension in the Korean peninsula and the region is entirely attributable to the hostile policy of the U.S. forcing the DPRK to disarm itself unilaterally through sanctions and military pressure and pursuing the military expansion of its allies. The decades-long history of DPRK-U.S. confrontation shows that the DPRK should deal with the U.S. imperialists by force only as they are dreaming of disarming it and bringing down its social system with the “end” of the DPRK set as a goal of their state administration. The more dangerous the U.S. threat to the DPRK gets, the stronger backfire the U.S. will face in direct proportion to it. The DPRK will defend peace and security of the Korean peninsula and the region in a responsible manner with powerful deterrent until the U.S. and its vassal forces’ hostile policy and military threat have been definitely rooted out.” (KCNA, “Press Statement of Spokesperson for DPRK Foreign Ministry Issued,” February 2, 2023)

On February 2, the North Korean Foreign Ministry released a statement criticizing recent statements made by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin during his visit to Seoul, where he outlined measures to bolster extended deterrence for the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea). In standard terms, North Korea condemned the visit and the news of US-ROK plans for additional exercises later this year.There were two key points in the statement. First, it mentioned it would not react to “every ill-boding movement shown by the US” in the name of extended deterrence. Second, it rejected any interest in “any contact or dialogue with the US as long as” these kinds of measures continue. When reading this statement, it is important to note that the level of the statement (a Foreign Ministry spokesman press statement) is relatively low, which suggests it was not meant to break ground but to check the box after Secretary Austin’s visit. When statements are structured in this format — i.e., here is our principled stand: point one, point two — it is because they are aiming to convey the seriousness (and, to some extent, clarity) of the message. Key messages within the statement suggest that the North Koreans have decided not to replay what they did last fall — the sort of action-for-action in the military sphere. It seems they felt the need to make clear in advance that when/if they don’t respond to every US-ROK exercise, it isn’t because they are scared or cowed or not paying attention. It could also mean they simply don’t want to expend limited defense supplies unnecessarily, especially given how many drills the US and ROK have been conducting. Second, the North Korean’s conditional language in reference to dialogue: “not interested as long as…” In some instances in the past, the conditional was important because it suggested the negative was not absolute and that they were leaving room for maneuver. However, that is not always the case, and it’s hard to see how, in the middle of the current situation, they are sending a positive signal. Still, the question has to be asked, who asked them? Why is the Foreign Ministry bringing up dialogue at all in this way, almost out of the blue? Kim Jong Un said something similar in remarks in October, but that was almost four months ago. For the Biden administration, it may be worth probing to see if this is a door or just the painting of a door on a sheer rock face. (38 North, “North Korea’s Recent Foreign Ministry Statement: Cutting through the Noise,” February 3, 2023)

2/3/23:
South Korea and the U.S. today staged another military air exercise over the west coast of South Korea by mobilizing their stealth fighters, just two days after US strategic bombers flew to the Korean Peninsula for combined aerial drills. The air combat exercise involved F-22 and F-35B advanced stealth fighters and F-16CM fighting aircraft of the US Air Force and South Korean Air Force’s F-35A stealth fighter jets, according to South Korea’s Air Force. “The combined exercise aimed to enhance the capabilities of the South Korean and U.S. air forces to carry out combined operations and interoperability as well as demonstrated the U.S. capabilities and its unwavering resolve to carry out its commitment of defense to South Korea,” the Air Force said in a statement. South Korea’s Air Force said it would continue to bolster combined training exercises with the US Air Force to “reinforce their readiness posture and capabilities to counter North Korean nuclear and missile threats while maintaining ironclad combined defense posture.” (Ji Da-gyum, “S. Korea, U.S. Stage Aerial Drills with Stealth Fighters,” Korea Herald, February 3, 2023)

2/6/23:
KCNA: “The Fourth Enlarged Meeting of the Eighth Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) took place at the office building of the Central Committee of the WPK on February 6 amid the soaring militant spirit and fighting enthusiasm of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) to firmly guarantee the dynamic advance of the Korean-style socialist cause with matchless military muscle. 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, guided the enlarged meeting. Present there were vice-chairmen Ri Pyong Chol and Ri Yong Gil and members of the Central Military Commission of the WPK. Attending it as observers were commanders of the KPA services, commanding officers of its corps and major units, commanding officers of the Ministry of National Defense and other armed forces organs, leading officials in the field of national defense scientific research and cadres of the Department of the Munitions Industry and other relevant departments of the WPK Central Committee. The enlarged meeting discussed in depth the major military and political tasks for 2023 and the long-term issues concerning the orientation for army building. Studied and discussed there were a series of practical tasks for bringing about a great change in the military and political work, including the issue of taking a step for the machinery to fundamentally improve and strengthen the military affairs, the issue of constantly expanding and intensifying the operation and combat drills of the KPA to cope with the prevailing situation and more strictly perfecting the preparedness for war, and the issue of newly modifying some articles of the internal regulations of the army as required by the developing reality. Then, relevant decisions were adopted. The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un expressed expectation and belief that the whole armed forces of the DPRK would perform ever-victorious feats in strenuously upholding and vigorously carrying out with the matchless military strength the Party’s enormous tasks for further consolidating the historic victories won by the Korean people in the grand course of accomplishing the socialist cause and for opening up a new chapter of development in the history of socialist construction of Juche, deeply mindful of the sacred mission and important duty they have assumed before the Party and the revolution, the country and the people. The KPA officers and all the participants hardened their will to fulfill their obligations in implementing the Party’s military policy, looking up to Kim Jong Un who convened the enlarged meeting on the historic day marking the 60th anniversary of the slogan “A-match-for-a-hundred” set forth by President Kim Il Sung to provide an important milestone for building the powerful army and clarified the orientation of the revolutionary military and political activities of the DPRK armed forces.” (KCNA, “Enlarged Meeting of WPK Central Military Commission; Respected Leader Kim Jong Un Guides Meeting,” February 7, 2023)

2/7/23:
North Korea belatedly disclosed the establishment of the general bureau dedicated to missile development ahead of a widely expected military parade marking the founding anniversary of its armed forces. The choreographed move, Seoul-based experts said, shows the country’s intent to openly reaffirm its goal of perpetuating missile buildup based on institutionalized processes run by the bureau. North Korean state media today released photos and a video of the flag of the “Missile General Bureau” featuring the Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile flying over Earth against the background of the symbol of an atomic nucleus. The flag was one of more than 20 flags that encircled the venue of the enlarged meeting of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea held yesterday at the headquarters of the Party Central Committee in Pyongyang. The upper part of the flag shows the number “016.” The number suggests the possibility that the Missile General Bureau could have been founded in 2016 when North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and launched the Kwangmyongsong-4 long-range rocket. South Korea’s Unification Ministry today confirmed that the state media reports mark the first time that North Korea has officialized the establishment of the Missile General Bureau, albeit in a somewhat surreptitious manner. In a nutshell, Seoul-based experts shared the view that the Missile General Bureau handles missile development, planning and production, defense procurement and other miscellaneous administration as well as provides logistics support. “Pyongyang also intends to reveal that the country has a working-level, administrative organ committed to developing and producing missiles capable of carrying strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, given that the icon of the missile was seen lying above the atomic nucleus symbol in the flag,” Hong Min, director of the North Korean Research Division at the government-funded Korea Institute for National Unification, told Korea Herald. “North Korea also seeks to show off that the country has formally institutionalized missile program by intentionally disclosing the flag.” Echoing the view, Park Won-gon, a professor in the department of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University, also took note that the establishment of the Missile General Bureau shows North Korea’s intent to perpetuate the development of nuclear-capable missiles. “The presence of the missile general bureau suggests that North Korea has institutionalized multistage procedures for missile development, including development planning and defense procurement. The institutionalization means North Korea will carry on,” Park told Korea Herald. “Therefore, the belated officialization of the bureau shows North Korea’s clear intention to reaffirm its resolve to continue to develop and advance missile and nuclear capabilities and South Korea and the international community.” Hong said the bureau will be part of the “three-axis missile system” with the ruling party and the North Korean military. The Munitions Industry Department under the auspices of the ruling party or the party leadership would supervise missile development and production. The military would be responsible for launching, deploying and operating missiles. Hong explained that the predecessor of the bureau is likely to be the U.S.-sanctioned Ministry of Rocket Industry, also dubbed by the U.S. government as the Rocket Industry Department, which is subordinate to North Korea’s Munitions Industry Department. Hong raised the possibility of the Ministry of Rocket Industry changing its name to the Missile General Bureau, given that North Korea established the ministry in 2016 by expanding and reshuffling a general bureau that had handled missile development programs under the Second Economic Committee. Yang Uk, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies think tank, pointed out that North Korea followed the case of the Russian Armed Forces, which operates the Main Missile and Artillery Directorate, or GRAU, responsible for defense procurement, weapons development, production, storage and maintenance. The Soviet Union also ran the Main Artillery Directorate for the same purposes. “The concept of the missile general bureau stems from the Russian Armed Forces and the Soviet Armed Forces. The communist army has been continuing state-led weapons development, production, and maintenance through a general bureau,” Yang told Korea Herald. “Therefore, North Korea’s establishment of the Missile General Bureau is not an unusual step, given that missile development has been state-led.” (Ji Da-gyum, “Pyongyang Belatedly Reveals ‘Missile General Bureau,’” Korea Herald, February 7, 2023)

2/8/23:
North Korea stole more cryptocurrency assets in 2022 than in any other year and targeted the networks of foreign aerospace and defense companies, according to a currently confidential United Nations report seen by Reuters. “[North Korea] used increasingly sophisticated cyber techniques both to gain access to digital networks involved in cyber finance, and to steal information of potential value, including to its weapons programs,” independent sanctions monitors reported to a UN Security Council committee. The monitors have previously accused North Korea of using cyberattacks to help fund its nuclear and missile programs. “A higher value of cryptocurrency assets was stolen by DPRK [North Korea] actors in 2022 than in any previous year,” the monitors wrote in their report — submitted to the 15-member council’s North Korea sanctions committee on February 3 — citing information from UN member states and cybersecurity firms. North Korea has previously denied allegations of hacking or other cyberattacks. The sanctions monitors said South Korea estimated that North Korean-linked hackers stole virtual assets worth $630m in 2022, while a cybersecurity firm assessed that North Korean cybercrime yielded cryptocurrencies worth more than $1bn. “The variation in USD value of cryptocurrency in recent months is likely to have affected these estimates, but both show that 2022 was a record-breaking year for DPRK virtual asset theft,” the UN report said. A US-based blockchain analytics firm last week reached the same conclusion. The UN report noted: “The techniques used by cyberthreat actors have become more sophisticated, thus making tracking stolen funds more difficult.” The monitors said most cyberattacks were carried out by groups controlled by North Korea’s primary intelligence bureau — the Reconnaissance General Bureau. It said those groups included hacking teams tracked by the cybersecurity industry under the names Kimsuky, Lazarus Group and Andariel. “These actors continued illicitly to target victims to generate revenue and solicit information of value to the DPRK including its weapons programs,” the UN report said. The sanctions monitors said the groups deployed malware through various methods, including phishing. One such campaign targeted employees in organizations across various countries. “Initial contacts with individuals were made via LinkedIn, and once a level of trust with the targets was established, malicious payloads were delivered through continued communications over WhatsApp,” the UN report said. It also said that according to a cybersecurity firm, a North Korean-linked group known as HOlyGhOst had “extorted ransoms from small- and medium-sized companies in several countries by distributing ransomware in a widespread, financially motivated campaign.” In their latest annual report, the monitors also said Pyongyang continued producing nuclear fissile materials at its facilities and launched at least 73 ballistic missiles, including eight intercontinental ballistic missiles, last year. (Reuters, “2022 Was Record Year for North Korean Crypto Theft,” February 8, 2023)

2/8/23:
North Korea has staged a massive military parade in Pyongyang to mark the 75th founding anniversary of its armed forces, its state media confirmed, describing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) on display as representing the country’s “maximum nuclear attack capabilities.” Its leader Kim Jong-un attended the nighttime event, held today, along with his wife, Ri Sol-ju, and apparent second child, Ju-ae, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). There has been no report on whether he delivered a public speech. In particular, the KCNA reported a column of ICBMs rolled through the square, demonstrating the regime’s “revolutionary” development of military power and its “maximum” nuclear attack capability. Also appearing at the parade were columns of “tactical” missiles and long-range cruise missiles, it added. The North, moreover, presented “tactical nuclear units” in a demonstration of its “war deterrence and counterstrike capabilities.” Photos of the parade showed Hwasong-17 ICBMs, as well as what is presumed to be a new ICBM mounted on a transporter erector launcher (TEL) with 18 wheels. The specifics of the new missile remain unknown, but its presence raised speculation that it could be a solid-propellant missile that the North has been striving to secure. than a liquid-fuel one, which requires time-consuming pre-launch procedures like the injection of fuel. The parade also featured a range of missiles and artillery pieces that can target South Korea. They included “super-large” multiple rocket launchers and 152 mm-caliber self-propelled howitzers, as well as the KN-23 missile modeled after Russia’s Iskander ballistic missile. (Kim Soo-yeon and Song Sang-ho, “N. Korean Leader Attends Military Parade; ICBMs on Display,” Yonhap, February 9, 2023) Imagery released by state media outlet KCNA showed as many as 11 Hwasong-17s, North Korea’s largest ICBM, which are suspected to be able to strike nearly anywhere in the world with a nuclear warhead. Eleven missiles could be enough to overwhelm current U.S. missile defenses, Ankit Panda of the United States–based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said on Twitter. “This is cumulatively more ICBM launchers than we’ve ever seen before at a North Korean parade,” he said in a tweet. The Hwasong-17 was first tested last year. Alongside them at the parade were what some analysts said could be a prototype or mockup of a new solid-fuel ICBM in canister launchers. In December North Korea conducted the first static ground test of a large solid-propellant rocket motor at its Sohae Satellite Launching Station, but at the time it was unclear whether it was solely for the country’s submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) program, said Dave Schmerler, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS). (Josh Smith and Soo-Hyang Choi, “North Korea Shows off Largest-Ever Numbers of Nuclear Missiles at Nighttime Parade,” Reuters, February 9, 2023)

Van Diepen: “North Korea conducted a military parade on the evening of February 8 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army. Television and press coverage showed four road-mobile launchers for a probable new solid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), an unprecedented 12 mobile launchers for the large liquid-propellant Hwasong (HS)-17 ICBM, and 24 launchers for short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs) in what the North termed “tactical nuclear weapons operation units.” On the ICBM front, there were a couple key takeaways: North Korea’s pursuit of solid propellent for ICBMs comes as no surprise, as this goal has been indicated on several occasions. Solid-propellant ICBMs provide several operational benefits over liquid propellant ICBMs. They are “safer to handle in the field” and “have a much smaller logistical footprint,” making “units easier to conceal.” Although the parade might indicate that its first flight test could occur soon, the actual status of the ICBM’s development is unknown. Displaying so many HS-17 launchers may be a sign that North Korea considers the system as operationally deployed. It may also mean that North Korean mobile ICBM deployments are no longer constrained by a shortage of large truck chassis, although we still do not know how many chassis Pyongyang can import from China and/or produce indigenously. It has been suggested that the advent of 12 HS-17 launchers means the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) can now overwhelm existing US missile defenses and ensure US vulnerability. While a U.S. planner would reasonably need to proceed on this basis, a North Korean planner would likely expect some ICBMs to be destroyed before launch and to experience technical failures, and for U.S. defenses to be more efficient and effective. …Even if able to be overwhelmed, U.S. defenses will still have value against limited attacks, in complicating North Korean attack planning and limiting damage. Moreover, the U.S. possesses an overwhelming nuclear retaliatory force that has to be factored into North Korean calculations as well. Showing off a new solid ICBM and multiple ICBM launchers clearly signals North Korea’s ability to threaten the U.S. homeland, its advancing technology and missile production capability and its intention to retain missiles; while parading “tactical nukes” highlights the nuclear threat it poses to South Korea. In underscoring both missile types, Pyongyang is sending a strong deterrence message while probably seeking to dissuade escalation from Washington in a crisis and erode Seoul’s confidence in U.S. extended deterrence. North Korea paraded four nine-axle mobile launchers in the event’s finale, each carrying what appeared to be a transport launch canister for an ICBM. Interestingly, the North Koreans did not characterize the system beyond TV coverage, noting it is a “‘Hwasong’-class missile.” But outside analysts’ assessment that the canister represents a solid-propellant ICBM system is almost certainly correct. The canister resembles ones used for the Chinese DF-41 and Russian SS-27 solid ICBMs, and North Korea paraded a similar canister on a similar mobile launcher in 2017. The canister appears to have a gas-generating launch assist device on the aft end for “cold-launching” the missile by creating gasses to pop the missile out before first-stage ignition to protect the launcher from damage by the exhaust plume. Kim Jong Un noted the existence of a solid ICBM development program in January 2021 and most recently mentioned “a task…to develop another ICBM system whose main mission is quick nuclear counterstrike” in his report to the December 26-31, 2022 meeting of the Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee. Although some analysts regard the parade as an indicator that a flight test could occur soon or within the year, the actual status of the solid ICBM development program is unknown — as are the contents of the paraded canisters. Pyongyang has yet to flight test a solid ICBM. It announced last December a static (ground) test of a solid-propellant rocket motor large enough to serve as an ICBM first stage, although it did not attribute the motor to a given type of missile system, and commercial imagery analysts assess a similar test may have occurred in late January 2023. A new solid ICBM probably would have three booster stages, however, and ground tests of second- and third-stage motors (one or both of which may be smaller in diameter) have not been reported in open sources. Beyond demonstrating North Korea’s technological prowess, solid-propellant ICBMs offer operational advantages over liquid ICBMs like the earlier HS-15 and HS-17. As noted in a previous 38 North piece, solid propellants “are safer to handle in the field than liquids (especially if deployed on mobile launchers) and have a much smaller logistical footprint that makes field-deployed mobile missile units easier to conceal.” The four probable solid ICBM launchers were preceded in the parade by eleven 11-axle road-mobile launchers carrying HS-17 liquid-propellant ICBMs (with a 12th launcher nearby in case needed to fill in for a breakdown). Only four HS-17 launchers had been seen at one time previously. Moreover, the HS-17 and solid ICBM launchers (like that for the already-deployed HS-15 ICBM) are based on the Chinese WS51200 truck chassis, of which North Korea previously was known to have only eight and China was only reported to have supplied six. This indicates that China has been supplying additional such chassis and/or that North Korea has developed the capability to produce such chassis itself. Either way, it may be that obtaining additional large chassis is no longer a significant constraint on North Korean mobile ICBM deployments, although we still do not know how many chassis the DPRK can import from China and/or produce indigenously. Displaying so many HS-17 launchers may also be a sign that North Korea considers the ICBM to be operationally deployed, although it has only gone as far publically to characterize the most recent flight test in November 2022 as the final developmental test. (By North Korean standards, it is plausible the HS-17 would be deployed based only on its one or two successful launches to date.) Interestingly, an apparent missile unit flag with an illustration of an HS-17 and the partially legible date “2022.11” was seen at the parade and in photos of a February 6 meeting of the Central Military Commission attended by Kim Jong Un, suggesting that an HS-17 unit was established in November 2022. Unit creation does not necessarily mean operational deployment; for example, on these same occasions, there was also an apparent unit flag for the untested solid-propellant ICBM and an unidentified third type of missile. It has been suggested that, by revealing 12 HS-17 launchers, North Korea has now shown that it can overwhelm existing U.S. homeland missile defenses and ensure US vulnerability to missile attacks. This contention is based on the US using four of its current 44 long-range missile interceptors against each of the first 11 incoming single-warhead HS-17s to have the greatest probability of warhead destruction. (The possibility of the HS-17 carrying multiple warheads has also been noted. However, while Kim Jong Un claimed in January 2021 that the North was in the final stage of “perfecting the guidance technology for multi-warhead rocket,” there is still no direct evidence it is developing or testing them.) A conservative U.S. planner would reasonably need to proceed on the basis that a 4-on-1 missile defense engagement would exhaust the current supply of interceptors, especially since a number of HS-15 ICBMs have probably been deployed since 2017 as well. A conservative North Korean planner, on the other hand, would likely expect that some proportion of the ICBM force would have been destroyed in the conventional phase of a war prior to nuclear use, that some of the surviving ICBMs would fail to launch or reach reentry due to technical problems (perhaps a substantial number, given flight test results to date), that the U.S. might use fewer than four interceptors per incoming warhead (particularly if the first, second or third interceptor had been seen destroying a given warhead), and that U.S. defenses are more effective than many Western academics conclude. Thus, it is far from clear that some magic threshold has now been reached regarding North Korea’s ability to overwhelm US missile defenses. On the other hand, it is reasonable to presume that North Korea seeks to deploy, and eventually will deploy, enough ICBMs and warheads to overmatch current and programmed US national missile defenses. But even then, such defenses will still have value against accidental/unauthorized launches and limited attacks, in complicating North Korean attack planning and limiting damage to the US. Moreover, even if US missile defenses are overmatched, the US has and will retain an overwhelming nuclear retaliatory capability that it makes clear will “end” the North Korean regime — and thus a powerful deterrent to North Korean nuclear attack. Parading before the HS-17s were six 4-tube KN-25 and six dual-missile KN-23 SRBM launchers, six 4-tube launchers for the small SRBM flight tested in April 2022, and six 5-tube LACM launchers. The North Korean press collectively referred to these as “tactical nuclear weapons operation units.” Pyongyang has previously indicated that the KN-23, KN-25 and LACM were operationally deployed; the new small SRBM is only known to have been tested on one occasion (two missiles), and it is unclear if parading some four launchers signifies its deployment. This highlighting of “tactical nukes” is consistent with North Korean efforts since Kim first mentioned such weapons in January 2021, especially with the regime’s emphasis on them in October 2022. North Korea clearly sees substantial propaganda and deterrent value in brandishing “tactical nukes,” which uniquely threaten South Korea. It probably also relishes the common perception that “tactical” nukes imply more technical sophistication. The lack of detailed public statements about missiles in conjunction with the parade is notable and consistent with the spare treatment of missiles in Kim’s late-December report to the Central Committee. Nonetheless, by parading an unprecedented number of ICBM launchers, including components of a new solid missile system, North Korea was clearly signaling its ability to threaten the US homeland, its advancing technology and substantial missile production capability, and its intention to retain its missile programs despite international sanctions and hopes Pyongyang can be induced to trade them away. Parading “tactical nuclear weapons operation units” highlights the nuclear threat to Seoul and US forces on the peninsula in addition to furthering the other objectives noted above, and probably also seeks to foment tensions in the Alliance. In underscoring both ICBMs and “tactical nukes” together, Pyongyang is sending a strong deterrence message while probably seeking to dissuade American escalation in a crisis or provocation and erode Seoul’s confidence in the credibility of US extended deterrence. (Vann H. Van Diepen, “North Korea’s Feb. 8 Campaign Highlights ICBMs and Tactical Nukes,” 38North, February 15, 2023)

2/9/23:
A team of Air Force Global Strike Command Airmen launched an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a test reentry vehicle at 11:01 p.m. Pacific Time today from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. This test launch is part of routine and periodic activities intended to demonstrate that the United States’ nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable and effective to deter twenty-first century threats and reassure our allies. Such tests have occurred over 300 times before, and this test is not the result of current world events. “A test launch displays the heart of our deterrence mission on the world’s stage, assuring our nation and its allies that our weapons are capable and our Airmen are ready and willing to defend peace across the globe at a moment’s notice,” said Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere, Air Force Global Strike Command commander. The ICBM’s reentry vehicle traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. These test launches verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system, providing valuable data to ensure a continued safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. “This launch showcases the redundancy and reliability of our strategic deterrence systems while sending a visible message of assurance to allies,” said Col. Christopher Cruise, 377th Test and Evaluation Group commander. “This multilateral team reflects the precision and professionalism of our command, and our joint partners.” Airmen from the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, were selected for the task force to support the test launch. (Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs, “Minuteman III’s Test-Launch Showcases Readiness of U.S. Nuclear Force’s Safe, Effective Deterrent,” February 10, 2023

2/10/23:
South Korea has imposed sanctions on North Korean individuals and groups for stealing cryptocurrency assets and coordinating cyberattacks, the first independent steps to curb cybercrimes that Seoul says are linked to bankrolling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs. Four North Korean computer programmers and seven entities associated with North Korea’s top military intelligence agency — the Reconnaissance General Bureau — face the ban, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said today, stressing growing threats from Pyongyang, which is still as belligerent as a year before when it fired off a record number of missiles. The ban covers big names like Park Jin-hyok and the Lazarus Group but they are “not the only targets” under scrutiny, a senior Foreign Ministry official said, declining to elaborate, citing protocol. Park is a member of the Lazarus Group, which the U.S. says is responsible for the WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017 and the March attack last year on Ronin, a blockchain network that powers online game Axe Infinity. Ronin claims digital cash worth $615 million was stolen. And the kind of crypto theft plays a crucial role in advancing North Korea’s “missile and other malicious programs,” according to Anne Neuberger, U.S. deputy national security adviser for cybersecurity. In November last year, she said state-backed cyberattacks pay for roughly 30 percent of the isolated country’s funds needed for weapons. (Choi Si-young, “S. Korea Sanctions N. Korea over Cybertheft for First Time,” Korea Herald, February 10, 2023)

2/15/23:
North Korea has reportedly reduced its daily food rations per soldier recently from the previous 620 grams to 580 grams. A South Korean high-ranking government official said in a phone interview with Dong-A Ilbo yesterday that it is the first time since 2000 that North Korea lowered its food rationing to the military and that curtailing food rations even to its soldiers, which is the regime’s priority group, suggests that the food shortage situation there may be even more severe than many expect. In some key cities, residents are reportedly pressured to donate so-called “patriotic rice” every two or three days for military provisions reserves. According to Dong-A Ilbo’s study, the South Korean government analyzed a large amount of intelligence from the North and figured out such food rationing reduction took place. Generally, North Korea has provided ordinary residents with a daily grain rationing of approximately 550 grams and 590 grams on average. However, if soldiers are getting 580 grams of food daily, that means the level of food rationing to the military has decreased to that of a regular citizen. The food rationing system in North Korea is based on a hierarchical class structure ranging from one to nine, with those in Class with a larger number receiving more ration. Soldiers are known to fall mostly under Class 3 at least. GS&J economist Kwon Tae-jin specializing in North Korean agriculture noted that even the military provisions reserved for wars, which the regime usually keeps at the level of at least one million tons, may be running out. Other sources inside the South Korean government said that the number of military drills conducted by the North in 2022 has declined by 10 to 20% compared to 2021. Reportedly, North Korean air forces rarely conduct nighttime training due to various reasons, including energy shortage. (Jin-Woo Shin and Hyo-Ju Son, “N. Korea Reduces Food Rations to Soldiers for First Time since 2000,” Dong-A Ilbo, February 15, 2023) North Korea’s food shortages appear to be worsening, South Korea’s unification ministry said today. The North has acknowledged the seriousness of its food shortages as it has called agricultural development a “very urgent” task for this year, according to the ministry handling inter-Korean affairs.. Speaking at a parliamentary committee session, Unification Minister Kwon Young-se said the North is said to have asked the World Food Program to offer food assistance, as its food crisis has been apparently deteriorating. “But the North’s situation does not seem to have reached a point where people are dying of starvation, something like what was seen during the Arduous March (in the 1990s),” Kwon said. (Yonhap, “S. Korean Ministry Says N. Korean Food Shortages Apparently Worsening,” February 15, 2023)

2/16/23:
South Korea’s defense ministry has referred to the North Korean regime and military as an “enemy” in its new white paper, for the first time in six years, according to officials Thursday, apparently in consideration of the North’s evolving nuclear and missile threats. “As the North defined us as an ‘undoubted enemy’ at the plenary meeting of the ruling party’s Central Committee in December 2022, and continues to pose a military threat without renouncing its nuclear program, the North Korean regime and military — the executor of that (threat) — are our enemy,” it reads. The South called the North’s military an “enemy” in the white paper in 1995 after a Pyongyang official threatened to turn Seoul into a “sea of flames.” In the 2004 version, the expression was replaced by a “direct military threat” amid a conciliatory mood. The labeling was reinstated in 2010 as the North torpedoed a South Korean corvette in March of that year, killing 46 sailors, and launched an artillery attack on a border island in November, killing two soldiers and two civilians. The expression stayed until the 2016 edition. But the description disappeared in the 2018 and 2020 editions issued under the then liberal Moon Jae-in administration that tried notably to promote inter-Korean reconciliation. In its reference to Japan, the 2022 document used the expression “close neighbor” for the first time since the 2018 edition. “ROK and Japan share values, and Japan is a close neighboring country that (ROK should cooperate with to) build future cooperative relations that serve common interests,” it reads. ROK stands for South Korea’s official name, the Republic of Korea. In the previous version, Japan was described as a “neighboring country that the ROK should cooperate not only for bilateral relations but also for peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia and the world.” The 2018 edition referred to the two countries as “geographically and culturally close neighbors as well as partners cooperating for global peace and prosperity.” Touching on the North’s nuclear activities, the 2022 document assessed the North possesses some 70 kilograms of plutonium, up from 50 kg estimated in the previous document. Around 6 kg of plutonium is required to build a single nuclear bomb. The white paper also described the amount of the North’s highly enriched uranium (HEU) as “considerable.” The production of one nuclear bomb requires 15 kg to 20 kg of HEU. The white paper highlighted the North’s consistent push to develop solid-propellant ballistic missiles with greater accuracy and improved capabilities to avoid interception. “North Korea has continued the test-firing of solid-propellant ballistic missiles, which are more advantageous than liquid-fuel ballistic missiles in terms of their operational employment,” the document said. On the North’s ICBM atmospheric reentry technology, the white paper stressed the need for further analysis, noting the country’s past ICBM launches were conducted on a lofted trajectory rather than on a standard one. The new document also compared the troop strengths of the two Koreas. It put the number of South Korean active-duty personnel at around 500,000, down from 555,000 tallied two years ago. The figure for the North stood at 1.28 million, the same figure recorded in the 2018 and 2020 white papers. The document also said the South has about 2,200 tanks, 90 surface combatant ships and 10 submarines, while figures for the North were around 4,300, 420 and 70, respectively. The document stressed the numerical data was based only on “quantitative” comparisons, and that a more detailed analysis of assets’ capabilities, their deterioration, the level of training and operational concepts would make a “difference” in the military strength assessment. (Song Sang-ho and Chae Yun-hwan, “N. Korea Named ‘Enemy’ Again in S. Korea’s Defense White Paper,” Yonhap, February 16, 2023)

North Korea conducted a sweeping reshuffle of party, military and government officials over the past year in a bid to help its leader Kim Jong-un tighten his grip across key institutions, according to Seoul’s unification ministry today. As of February 3, the North had replaced more than 40 percent of politburo officials at the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and more than 60 percent of party secretariat officials when compared with a year earlier, according to the latest organizational chart of the North’s leadership released by the ministry. The ministry said the North appears to have elevated the status of party departments in charge of social control and propaganda projects, such as the Propaganda & Agitation Department and the Organization & Guidance Department. “The North seems to pursue ideology control in earnest to secure the stability of Kim Jong-un’s long-term rule by elevating the status of senior officials at such departments,” the ministry said. North Korea has also increased the number of vice chairman posts of the WPK’s Central Military Commission to two from one. Currently, Ri Pyong-chol and Ri Yong-gil are assuming the posts. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Carried out Sweeping Party, Military Reshuffle over Past Year: Seoul Ministry,” February 16, 2023)

Carlin and Lee: “Throughout this project, we have noted that some authors in North Korea’s two premier economic journals — Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu and the Journal of Kim Il Sung University, also known as Hakpo — often use a form of intellectual sleight of hand in order to be seen as staying within orthodox boundaries while actually advocating positions beyond those limits. Kim Jong Un’s economic reform agenda introduced new ideas and initiatives for a wide variety of issues — enterprise management, agriculture, banking and special economic zones, to name a few. As such, the pulling and hauling over how far the new policies could or should go was almost inevitable. The call to expand foreign trade presented special tests because it potentially presented direct challenges to the regime’s bedrock concept of Juche. How could a country supposedly dedicated to an extreme concept of independence and self-reliance justify expanding trade with the outside world, particularly with capitalist countries? In some cases, articles on trade in the journals raised Juche in a cautionary manner, to warn against compromise of basic principles even while cautiously expanding trade. In others, however, Juche was used not as an excuse to limit foreign trade, but as grounds for actually enlarging it. In this article, we examine how the North Korean economic journals used the topic of Juche to build the case for broadening, rather than limiting, foreign trade since the early years of Kim Jong Un’s reign. We then review how these journals, which were generally more forward-leaning in their thinking on foreign trade, took on a more conservative tone by 2020, seemingly a reflection of Pyongyang’s hardening foreign policy after the collapse of the Hanoi Summit and the lack of any further diplomatic progress with Washington by the end of 2019. This shift to a more conservative tone on trade was significant in that it was one of the early signals of Pyongyang heading toward virtual repudiation of foreign elements and imports. An article in Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu fairly early in Kim Jong Un’s reign was heavy on warnings about trading with capitalist countries and stressed that the dangers of the infiltration of capitalist practices far outweighed whatever economic benefit might accrue. In 2014, the same journal carried what read like a forward-leaning reply to orthodox circles’ conservative position on trade. This article threw up a defensive screen by warning against accepting “capitalist elements,” and argued that “we should maintain the Juche-oriented standpoint” in conducting foreign trade, which by itself might have been an argument for limiting trade. Instead, the author argued, Juche was not so confining. In fact, the article argued, Juche did not mean “unilaterally pursuing just the interests of one’s own country in external economic transactions,” but “opposing all kinds of unequal and unfair international economic relations and enabling all countries to benefit from one another on an equal footing and with equal rights, thereby carrying key significance in broadening economic relations between countries.” Crucially, the article implied there was no fixed standard for judging how much or where Juche principles should be applied: “Firmly maintaining the Juche-oriented position, therefore, is a very important issue for resolving all issues arising in economic transactions with other countries in accordance with the actual circ*mstances of one’s own country.” (Emphasis added.) Indeed, this article suggested, Juche actually mandated trade. In addition, since it could be said that Juche was in pursuit of developing a “self-supporting national economy,” it followed that trade was perfectly in line with achieving that goal: “By maintaining the Juche-oriented position and developing foreign economic relations on the basis of self-supporting national economic construction, it is possible to produce and sell various products in demand in other countries, and, in return, buy goods necessary for the country’s economic construction and the improvement of the people’s living standards…” One could almost hear this muttering in the background: “But look what happened to the East European countries that opened themselves to dealing with capitalist countries!” In what looks to be a preemptive effort to head off such criticism, the article went into a lengthy recounting of the fate of those countries in the 1980s: “The experience of many countries shows that, when one does not maintain the Juche-oriented position and develop foreign economic relations on the basis of self-supporting national economic construction, it will cause serious consequences for the revolution and construction. Former Eastern European socialist countries just listened to others without Juche, producing and selling only those that had tradition in and advantages for production and importing machinery, equipment, and people’s consumer goods from other countries. As a result, they failed to achieve the country’s economic self-sustenance and later even had the socialist system collapse. In addition, even some developing countries have yet to completely put an end to the deformities and backwardness of the economy they inherited from colonial rule and, shackled to an outdated international economic order, have not been able to escape from the imperialists’ domination and plunder even though it has been a long time since they became independent. That is because they were unable to establish their Juche and build foreign economic relations on the basis of self-supporting economic construction.” The proposed solution to that dilemma was not to limit foreign economic relations, but rather to adhere to Juche: “Like this, firmly maintaining the Juche-oriented position is the main guarantee for simultaneously pushing ahead with the country’s economic development and expansion of economic exchanges with other countries by advancing foreign economic relations on the basis of self-supporting national economic construction.” Moreover, the article pointed out, there was no choice but to deal with non-socialist countries. And if that was a problem, here again, Juche was the solution: “Furthermore, firmly maintaining the Juche-oriented position in foreign economic relations is an important issue because it arises as an even more important demand in today’s changed external economic environment where socialist markets have collapsed. Under the condition where socialism was frustrated in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, we cannot but expand foreign economic relations with capitalist countries.” Perhaps concerned that even the above argument might not be a sufficient justification to blunt orthodox counterarguments, the author again used history to justify more, not less, trade. Openly admitting the dangers — always a good tactic to blunt criticism — the article then invoked Juche as the means to provide the all-encompassing shield of protection. “We should maintain the Juche position in foreign economic relations with socialist countries as well, but we must maintain it more firmly in foreign economic relations with capitalist countries. The imperialists use economic relations with other countries as a means of overseas invasion and plunder, saying this and that about “cooperation” and “aid.” Moreover, under today’s condition, where the anti-Republic maneuvers of the imperialists, including the US imperialists, are severe, we can prevent all kinds of capitalist elements from invading our inside only when we firmly maintain the Juche-oriented position in foreign economic relations. One of the main reasons for the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe was the failure to maintain a Juche-oriented position in foreign economic relations. Countries in this region opened up and liberalized their countries’ economies, talking about developing the economy. In doing so, they were unable to defend their socialist planned economies and let the capitalist market economy run rampant.” Finally, the author arrived at the bottom line, putting the case most directly: “Maintaining the Juche-oriented position in foreign economic relations is by no means a closed-door principle and does not preclude the development of economic relations with other countries. Juche-based foreign economic relations simply oppose the attempt to blindly rely on trade transactions, technology transactions, equity joint ventures, and contractual joint ventures with other countries and demand that we tackle what our country does not have or lacks through foreign economic relations. Though they may belong to capitalist countries, we should accept things like advanced technologies, rational production organization, and construction methods if they are necessary and beneficial to us.” Nine months later, in January 2015, another article in Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu picked up the essence of the argument that foreign trade might not be contrary to Juche, though at the same time injecting the cautionary note that following the party’s line was of primary importance. The economic construction line and policies presented by the party intensively reflect the interests of the masses of working people and society, as well as the fundamental interests of the revolution. They also explain on a full scale the external economic sector’s direction of development, tasks, and methods of their implementation. Only when the calculation of economic effectiveness is based on the line and policies presented by the party can external economic exchanges give practical benefits to society and the people and directly contribute to economic development and the improvement of the people’s living standards. A more direct call for trade appeared the next year, prominently linking Kim Jong Il with the idea that foreign trade was consonant with a “self-supporting national economy”: “Taking a brilliant place among the immortal ideological and theoretical achievements accumulated by the great leader Comrade Kim Jong Il in laying a solid foundation for the construction of an economically powerful state are the ideas and theories on the correlation between a self-supporting national economy and foreign trade.” Building on that idea, the article went on: “Based on scientific analysis of the essence of the construction of a self-supporting national economy and the lawfulness of the development of international trade relations, the great leader Comrade Kim Jong Il presented original ideas and theories on the correlation between a self-supporting national economy and foreign trade, such as the inevitability of foreign trade in the construction of a self-supporting national economy, the development of foreign trade based on the construction of a self-supporting national economy, and foreign trade that serves the construction of a self-supporting national economy.” To make sure there was no doubt about the question, the article quoted the late leader directly: “The great leader Comrade Kim Jong Il instructed as follows: “A self-supporting national economy is by no means a closed economy and does not exclude foreign trade. Even if we build a self-supporting national economy, we cannot produce tens of thousands of types of things all by ourselves, nor do we need to.” (The Complete Works of Kim Jong Il, Volume 4, p. 199). Notice that the key point in the argument here is to give a nod to the concept of a “self-supporting national economy,” which the author summarizes as “an economy that is not subjugated to others and walks on its own, an economy that serves its own people and develops by relying on its people’s strength” — but then quickly moves on to the crucial qualification: “Just because a self-supporting national economy is an economy that walks by itself does not mean it is an economy that excludes or shuts its door to trade relations with other countries and produces and supplies everything necessary for the country’s economic construction and the people’s livelihood. A self-supporting national economy inevitably calls for foreign trade as an objective condition for economic construction in every country. No country, no matter how rich in natural resources, has all kinds of resources necessary for its own industrial development in sufficient amounts. Nor is there a country, no matter how favorable it is to agricultural development, that has the natural and geographical conditions to sufficiently produce and supply all kinds of agricultural products.” The importance of trade helping to fulfill one of Kim Jong Un’s goals — developing the science and technology sector to expand the economy — appeared in a 2017 Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu article: “The scientific and technological achievements and experiences of each country are not the same due to the differences in and limitations of scientific and technological development in each country, as well as natural and economic conditions and the degree of productivity development. For that reason, it is not possible to solve all the scientific and technological problems arising in economic construction on one’s own. Especially today, in the era of the information industry, as science and technology develop faster than ever before and economic construction intensifies; as a result, it is impossible for one country to solve all the necessary scientific and technological problems.” As with earlier articles, Juche was also cited as part of the solution. Simply stated, if the problem was that no one country (namely North Korea) could resolve every issue in the science and technology sector, then Juche becomes key to facilitating the required foreign trade: “This calls for advancing the country’s science and technology quickly in the shortest period of time possible by solving scientific and technological problems arising in economic construction from a Juche-oriented position, thoroughly based on the scientific and technological capabilities of one’s country and one’s own resources, while resolving, by means of acceptance from other countries, the scientific and technological issues that cannot be resolved right away on one’s own or are urgently needed.” By 2020, warning flags were flying in Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu about the dangers foreign trade presented. This was, in part, a reflection of the retrenchment of policies across the board that was underway after the failed Hanoi Summit and as the country entered a period of self-isolation to prevent a COVID outbreak. Juche was no longer an open door. Instead, it had regained some of its old orthodox colors. According to one article in Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu, there could still be: “…foreign economic cooperation, technological exchanges, and trade activities in a multilateral, proactive, and strategic manner in the direction of supplementing the parts and aspects that are desperately needed to strengthen the country’s economic foundation.” Nevertheless: “Embodying the principle of independence from a Juche-oriented position means establishing an independent line in economic relations between countries and taking the lead in developing foreign economic relations in accordance with the actual conditions and interests of one’s own country by relying on one’s own strength.” The suppleness of previous interpretations of Juche as a boon to foreign trade began to fade, and it became part of the defensive barrier of preserving independence by hewing to the “revolutionary stand” without compromise: “If [we] are to properly establish a foreign economic development strategy and correctly formulate the methods and measures for its implementation without the slightest bias, [we] should clearly see through our party policy on thoroughly defending the principle of independence from a Juche-oriented position and should not in the slightest compromise the principle of independence in formulating and implementing a foreign economic development strategy… First, [we] should firmly maintain socialist principles in formulating and implementing foreign economic development strategies. If we abandon the revolutionary stand and give up socialist principles under today’s condition, where the hostile forces are tenaciously clinging to sanctions and blockade maneuvers to isolate and crush us, [we] will ruin the revolution and [socialist] construction and lose everything.” The above-cited 2020 Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu article was only one of the many signals pointing to North Korea’s shift to conservative policies across all realms, including foreign policy and trade, since the collapse of the Hanoi Summit. North Korea took a yet more conservative turn at the latest party plenary meeting, held in December 2022. The party plenum “dealt a resolute and serious blow to the outdated idea that still attempts to bargain on the principle of self-reliance, without shaking off dependence on the technology of others. It also acknowledged the need to continue to wage a struggle to completely liquidate the remnants of all kinds of wrong ideas hindering our work….” By referring to the acceptance of foreign technology as an “outdated idea” and one of the “wrong ideas hindering our work,” the meeting in effect contradicted what was previously seen as acceptable or even advocated. A review of Kim Jong Un’s public remarks and North Korean media’s treatment of political, economic, social and foreign policy issues suggests that the North’s policies, including those on the economy and trade, will remain conservative for the foreseeable future. (Robert Carlin and Rachel Minyoung Lee, “Undeerstanding Kim Jong Un’s Economic Policy-Making: Juche and Foreign Trade,” 38North, February 16, 2023)

2/17/23:
DPRK FoMin spokesperson’s press statement: “In January the United States failed to hold an open meeting at the UN Security Council aimed to take issue with the DPRK’s exercise of the right to self-defense. However, it coercively convoked a UNSC meeting again in disregard of the opposition from not a few member states. This shows that the U.S. moves to turn the UNSC with heavy responsibility for the international peace and security into a tool for the U.S. illegal hostile policy toward the DPRK have gone to the extremes that cannot be allowed any longer. This year the DPRK has concentrated all its efforts on implementing its own development plans and keeping peace and stability in the Korean peninsula and the region. It refrains itself from any special military action, except the regular schedule for bolstering up the defense capabilities due to be taken by a sovereign state. But, the U.S. and south Korea have resorted to the worrying military demonstration from the outset of the year to seriously encroach upon the security interests of the DPRK. In January the U.S. secretary of Defense visited south Korea to call for the use of nuclear weapons against the DPRK and the deployment of more strategic assets in the Korean peninsula. After that, the U.S. and south Korea staged three rounds of combined air drills in the sky above the West Sea of Korea, with involvement of Stealth fighters and strategic bombers. Recently, the U.S., Japan and south Korea agreed to further strengthen their triangular military cooperation against the DPRK. The U.S. and south Korea plan to stage more than 20 rounds of various joint military drills within this year and put their scale and scope on the level of the largest-ever field mobile tactical exercises. This predicts that the situation in the Korean peninsula and the region will be again plunged into the grave vortex of escalating tension. The reality goes to clearly prove that the U.S. and south Korea are the arch criminals deliberately disrupting the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and the region. This being a hard fact, the UNSC is groundlessly pulling up the DPRK, which has maintained patience and self-control to defuse the tension in the Korean peninsula, and is showing no expression of concern, far from deterring the U.S. seeking to turn the Korean peninsula into a theatre of war exercises and a military base. It is very regretful that the international community has not made any due voice against the unfair behavior of the U.S. wantonly violating the purpose and principle of the UN Charter which stipulates sovereignty equality, respect for sovereignty and non-interference. The UNSC member nations should look back with cool mind on the worrisome high-handed and arbitrary practices of the U.S., which works hard to reduce the UN into a tool serving for its foreign policy, pulling up the DPRK over the right to self-defense, in connection with the guarantee of genuine global peace and security and the security interests of their countries and regions. We give a serious warning and strongly denounce the fact that the UNSC put the just right to self-defense of a sovereign state only on the table of its discussion in favor of the U.S., oblivious of its main principle for justice and impartiality. The UNSC, regarding the immoderate moves of the U.S. and south Korea aggravating the regional situation as a fait accompli without discerning between right and wrong, has taken issue with the DPRK’s exercise of its just and legitimate right to self-defense to deter such moves. This is an open expression of ignorance and infringement upon the sovereignty of the DPRK, and a hostile act that the DPRK is bound to take due counteraction. The DPRK should have to make reactions since the U.S. and south Korea openly revealed their dangerous attempt to gain a long-term military edge in the Korean peninsula and the region. If the UNSC continues to be inveigled by the U.S. as the latter wishes, the DPRK will be compelled to reconsider measures for additional actions, to say nothing of the category of normal military activities, in protest against the UNSC which is being reduced into a tool for the U.S. unilateral pressure on the DPRK. If it is the U.S. option to show its muscle and counter everything with muscle, the same is true of the DPRK’s option. In case the U.S. and south Korea carry into practice their already-announced plan for military drills which the DPRK, with just apprehension and reason, regards as preparations for an aggression war, they will face unprecedentedly persistent and strong counteractions.” (KCNA. “Press Statement of DPRK Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Issued,” February 17, 2023)

The first H3 rocket was moments away from its scheduled liftoff today when an abnormality was detected, aborting the launch. It was a painful setback for Japan’s space industry, as the country’s new flagship rocket is being touted for the reliability achieved in its predecessor, the current H2A, without the heavy costs, and targeted as a means to expand orders for launching commercial satellites. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is hurrying to find the cause and put the launch back on schedule. “An abnormality of some sort was detected and the ignition signal [to the solid-rocket boosters] was not sent,” said a visibly distressed Masashi Okada, JAXA’s H3 rocket project manager, at a press conference following the aborted launch. “As of now, we know nothing more than that.” The countdown for the maiden H3 at the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture was going smoothly, and the main engine ignited 6.3 seconds before the scheduled liftoff at 10:37:55 a.m. Liquid fuel began to burn on schedule, releasing plumes of white smoke. That is when the abnormality occurred. The booster rockets filled with solid fuel were scheduled to ignite 0.4 seconds before the launch. However, the first-stage control unit detected an unidentified anomaly, and the ignition signal did not reach the booster rockets. As a result, the main engine automatically shut down. (Watanabe Yosuke and Sasamoto Takako, “Halt of H3 Rocket Launch Deals Blow to Japan’s Space Business,” Yomiuri Shimbun, February 18, 2023)

2/18/23:
North Korea fired a suspected long-range ballistic missile toward the East Sea today, the South Korean military said, its second missile provocation this year. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch from the Sunan area in Pyongyang at 5:22 p.m. It did not provide other details immediately. The North previously fired a short-range ballistic missile on January 1. The latest launch came two days after the South’s defense ministry published its new white paper that reinstated a reference to the North’s regime and military as an “enemy.” Some observers raised the possibility that the launch could be staged in protest over a series of plans by the South and the U.S. to hold high-profile military exercises. The allies plan to conduct a table-top exercise at the Pentagon next week under the scenario of nuclear use by the North. They are also scheduled to hold the regular springtime Freedom Shield exercise next month. Yesterday, Pyongyang’s foreign ministry warned the South and the U.S. will face “unprecedentedly persistent and strong” counteractions should they press ahead with their planned combined military drills.” (Yonhap, “N/ Korea Fires 1 Apparent Long-Range Missile into East Sea: S. Korean Military,” February 18, 2023) The Japanese Defense Ministry said the intercontinental ballistic missile was fired at around 5:21 p.m. from the outskirts of Pyongyang and fell into the Sea of Japan over 200 kilometers west of Hokkaido in the north of the country. The missile flew traveled a distance of roughly 900 km on a lofted trajectory, reaching an altitude of up to 5,700 km. There were no reports of damage to aircraft or ships, the ministry said. Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said that such a missile could potentially travel over 14,000 km and could reach anywhere on the U.S. mainland if launched on a normal trajectory. The projectile landed some 200 kilometers west of Oshima-Oshima, a tiny island 50 km west off the coast of Hokkaido. The Japanese government did not issue an order to destroy the missile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a hastily convened press conference. (Kyodo, “North Korea Fires ICBM-Class Missile into Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone,” February 18, 2023)

KCNA: “An ICBM launching drill was conducted on the afternoon of February 18. The Missile General Bureau guided the drill, and involved in it was the First Red Flag Hero Company which has rich launching experience among the units operating ICBMs. The company is a firepower sub-unit with the most excellent combat capability among those sub-units wholly responsible for the strategic mission. It performed a proud feat by launching a new-type ICBM Hwasongpho-17 on November 18, 2022. The drill was suddenly organized without previous notice under an emergency firepower combat standby order given at dawn of February 18 and a written order by the Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) at 8:00 a.m. of the day. Specified in the written order on launching drill carrying a personal signature of the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un were the contents that the First Red Flag Hero Company of the Missile General Bureau should be mobilized in a drill using ICBM Hwasongpho-15 and, through a sudden launching drill, the reliability of the weapon system should be re-confirmed and verified while getting the combat preparedness of the DPRK nuclear force recognized and proving confidence and guarantee for correct operation, reactivity, reliability, effectiveness and combat capability of the components of the state nuclear deterrence. On the honorable combat orders, the First Red Flag Hero Company made a high-angle launch of Hwasongpho-15 through the maximum range system at Pyongyang International Airport on Saturday afternoon. The missile traveled up to a maximum altitude of 5 768.5 km and flew 989 km for 4 015 seconds before accurately hitting the pre-set area in open waters of the East Sea of Korea. The company got an “excellent mark” at the assessment. The WPK Central Military Commission highly appreciated the actual war capacity of the ICBM units which are ready for mobile and mighty counterattack. It gave all the missile units, assigned to a strategic task for coping with the military circ*mstances prevailing in the Korean Peninsula, an order to thoroughly maintain their strengthened combat readiness. The surprise ICBM launching drill, conducted in the present situation under which the military threats of the U.S. and south Korea are getting serious to the extent that cannot be overlooked, is an actual proof of the DPRK strategic nuclear force’s consistent efforts to turn its capacity of fatal nuclear counterattack on the hostile forces into the irresistible one as well as a guarantee for and a clear proof of the sure reliability of our powerful physical nuclear deterrent.” (KCNA, “ICBM Launching Drill Staged in DPRK,” February 19, 2023)

2/19/23:
KWP Central Committee vice-department director Kim Yo Jong’s statement: ”If all the countries truly worry about the situation on the Korean peninsula and wish for peace and stability, they should never tolerate the high-handed and arbitrary practices of the U.S. to turn the UNSC with heavy responsibility for the international peace and security into a tool for its heinous hostile policy toward the DPRK. And they should not connive at the sinister attempts of the U.S. and its followers to make a sovereign state give up its legitimate rights to self-defense, but let them know that such acts are in vain. This time, too, the opponents to the DPRK committed an undisguised infringement upon its sovereignty for no ground. The U.S. and south Korea are openly showing their dangerous greed and attempt to gain the military upper hand and predominant position in the Korean Peninsula, crying out for extended deterrence and combined defence posture on the trite pretext for coping with any threat. This further endangers the situation every moment, destroying the stability of the region. The U.S. would be well-advised to stop saying that it is not hostile toward the DPRK and the door to dialogue is open, hoodwinking the world, and to give up its foolish trick for earning the time through dialogue. And it should stop all the actions posing threats to the security of our state and refuse to tarnish the DPRK’s dignity, always thinking twice for its own future security. South Korea, too, had better think of the consequences to be entailed by its reckless acts. We tell its fools that our ICBM will not be aimed at Seoul. We still have no intention to stand face to face with them. Upon authorization, I warn that we will watch every movement of the enemy and take corresponding and very powerful and overwhelming counteraction against its every move hostile to us.” (KCNA, “Statement of Kim Yo Jong, Vice-Department Director of C.C., WPK,” February 19, 2023)

South Korea and the United States staged combined air drills involving at least one U.S. B-1B strategic bomber toay, Seoul’s military said, as North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile the previous day. During the drills, F-35A stealth fighters and F-15K jets from the South flew together with U.S. F-16 fighters to escort the B-1B aircraft entering the South’s air defense identification zone, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). It did not clarify the number of B-1B aircraft deployed here. “The training this time demonstrated the South Korea-U.S. combined defense capabilities and posture featuring the alliance’s overwhelming forces, through the timely and immediate deployment of the U.S.’ extended deterrence assets to the Korean Peninsula,” the JCS said in a press release. In the combined drills, the two sides are said to have mobilized some 10 aircraft in total. They flew in a formation over the Yellow Sea, East Sea and then a southern region in the South. (Yonhap, “S. Korea, U.S. Hold Joint Air Drills after N. Korea’s ICBM Launch,” February 19, 2023)

2/20/23:
North Korea today fired two ballistic missiles, which the country claimed is capable of destroying an “enemy operational airfield,” a day after South Korea and the US staged combined aerial drills in a show of the alliance’s readiness to respond to Pyongyang’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. The two missiles were fired toward the East Sea from the area of Sukchon County, South Pyongan Province, between 7 a.m. and 7:11 a.m. The two traveled around 390 kilometers and 340 km respectively, before splashing down off the east coast of the peninsula, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, without further details. North Korean state media promptly reported that the missile launches were in response to the combined aerial drills between South Korea and the US that were conducted in South Korean airspace yesterday. The air exercise — which involved the US’ B-1B strategic bombers, the South Korean Air Force’s F-35A stealth fighters and other fighter jets — was staged, one day after North Korea fired what the country claimed to be a Hwasong-15 ICBM. State media said the long-range artillery unit of the Korean People’s Army on the western front fired two projectiles using the 600 mm multiple-launch rocket system, MLRS, which struck virtual targets set 337 km and 395 km away from the launch site. North Korea seems to be simulating targeting air bases in South Korean territory within the strike range, including the South Korean air base in the city of Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, which is home to F-35A stealth fighter jets, as well as the US Air Force’s Osan Air Base in the city of Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, and Kunsan Air Base on the west coast in North Jeolla Province. Kim Yo-jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister and a vice department director of the Party Central Committee, also reinstated Pyongyang’s principle of taking “corresponding counteraction” to the deployment of US strategic assets “if it is judged to be a direct or indirect threat” to the country. “The frequency of using the Pacific as our firing range depends upon the US forces’ actions,” Kim said in an English language statement. “We affirm once again that there is no change in our will to make the maniacs escalating the tensions pay the price for their action.” Kim also notably refuted the assessment of South Korean experts who cast doubts over North Korea’s ICBM technologies. Kim specifically denounced experts for raising questions about whether North Korea has the capabilities to swiftly launch liquid-propellant ballistic missiles using the method of “ampulization” and master ICBM reentry vehicle technologies to protect a warhead. Hong Min, director of the North Korean Research Division at the government-funded Korea Institute for National Unification, said North Korea appears to have achieved the two major goals by issuing two separate statements and elaborating its goal of firing projectiles from the 600 mm-caliber MLRS prior to the allies’ annual military exercises scheduled for March. “In a nutshell, North Korea seeks to enhance the reliability of strategic nuclear weapons developed to target the US mainland and to show its confidence in operating tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield in the run-up to combined South Korea-US military exercises,” Hong told The Korea Herald. “Given that the Hwasong-15 is North Korea’s so-called strategic weapon that can strike the US mainland, it is a very crucial weapon system that can show North Korea’s capabilities to deter the US. In this sense, North Korea showed a hypersensitive response on the credibility of the Hwasong-15,” Hong added. Echoing the view, Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korean Studies at Ewha Womans University, Kim Yo-jong “made rebuttals for fear of failing to achieve North Korea’s political goal of the Hwasong-15 launch” as ICBM capabilities were publicly challenged and questioned. The launch aimed to prove the reliability of its capabilities to hit the US mainland. “North Korea has been waging a struggle for recognition with Kim Yo-jong coming to the front and personally making reference to technological issues,” Jung Dae-jin, a professor at Halla University in Wonju, Gangwon Province, told Korea Herald. Hong also took note of the significance of North Korea’s exceptional and specific disclosure of how to operate the 600 mm MLRS to strike key targets such as air bases in South Korean territory in case of contingency on the Korean Peninsula. “North Korea publicized its operational concept of attacking air bases with tactical nuclear weapons to counter the overwhelming air superiority of South Korea and the US,” Hong said. “North Korea also forewarned that it will stage live-fire exercises to respond to South Korea-US military exercises and overpower them.” But the South Korean military today said that North Korea has not acquired miniaturized, tactical nuclear weapons that can be mounted on the 600 mm MLRS. Overall, Jung said the North Korean missile launches were expected in light of its “principle of strength-for-strength” repeatedly affirmed by the North Korean leader. “North Korea will go all out to respond to the South Korea-US combined exercises by ramping up its aggressive rhetoric and taking tit-for-tat military action.” Park also pointed out that today’s missile launch came after Kim Yo-jong yesterday warned that North Korea will “take corresponding and very powerful and overwhelming counteraction” against every hostile move to North Korea, delegated by the North Korean leader. “As Kim Jong-un’s instruction must be fulfilled, North Korea has taken corresponding and overwhelming tit-for-tat action against everything.” (Ji Da-gyum, “N. Korea Fires Ballistic Missiles in Tit-for-Tat after Alliance Air Exercises,” Korea Herald, February 20, 2023)

KCNA: “Relevant multiple launch rocket sub-units under the Korean People’s Army long-range artillery unit on the western front conducted a multiple-rocket launching drill at 7:00 a.m. [today]. The U.S. and the south Korean puppet forces staged another combined air drill with ten-odd war planes including B-1B strategic bomber and F-35 stealth fighter on February 19. The enemies are persistently resorting to such military demonstrations, not concealing that the air drill was done in response to the ICBM launching drill by the DPRK on February 18. The U.S. and the south Korean puppet forces have already staged such combined air drills several times this year alone, escalating the military tension. The enemies are estimating themselves that they demonstrated the combined defense capability and posture through the prompt introduction of combat force for extended deterrence, while stating that they would continue to increase the frequency and intensity of deploying U.S. strategic assets in south Korea in the future, too. On the order to conduct power demonstration firing, relevant multiple launch rocket firepower sub-units of the KPA long-range artillery unit on the western front set virtual targets 395 km and 337 km away from the launching points respectively and fired two shells of 600 mm multiple rocket launchers towards the East Sea on the morning of February 20. At the same time, other sub-units conducted firepower training at the tunnel positions without live firing. The 600 mm multiple rocket launcher, involved in the firing, is the latest type of multiple launch precision attack weapon system of the KPA. It is a tactical nuclear attack means boasting of the great might powerful enough to assign only one multiple rocket launcher with four shells so as to destroy an enemy operational airfield. At the donation ceremony held at the end of December last year, the Academy of Defense Science and the Nuclear Weapons Institute expressed their firm view that the power of four multiple rocket launcher shells can reduce to ashes the enemy’s operational airfield to paralyze its function. Through today’s firing drill with the involvement of super-large multiple rocket launchers, the tactical nuclear attack means, the KPA fully demonstrated its full readiness to deter and will to counter the U.S. and south Korean combined air force bragging about their air superiority.” (KCNA, “Multiple Rocket Launching Drill by KPA,” February 20, 2023)

KWP Central Committee vice-department director Kim Yo Jong’s statement “As expected, the way the fools think and play in every occasion is incurring laughter of the world. In fact, we are now watching the south Korean idiots making a show of themselves as a spectacle rather than a response. And again, I feel an impulse to scoff at them. As I watched yesterday alone, their speculation, guess, freewheeling assessment and so on were very disgusting. I would like to make some cutting remarks about it. A so-called senior researcher of a south Korean military institute appeared before the press to let loose rubbish that it took 9 hours and 22 minutes for us to conduct the missile launch after the written order on it, calculating only the time as if he had nothing to do, in a bid to undervalue the preparedness of the DPRK missile forces. They present a variety of unusual analysis as if they are really stupid or persons of small caliber who make too much analysis. I don’t know if they would take some comfort from such farfetched defamation and assessment. We did not make public the full text of the written order issued by our supreme leadership. To make public one thing on this occasion, the written order on the missile launch issued on the day includes the contents that the surprise launch should be conducted at a favorable and appropriate moment in the afternoon after completely closing the area around the launching site and taking such safety steps as evacuation of personnel and other equipment in the morning. Accordingly, our servicepersons took important military action at the most appropriate time, specified in the order — the time between 15:30 and 19:45 in consideration of visible distance under weather conditions and when seven scout planes of the enemy involved in air reconnaissance landed. I think that the south Korean military would evidently explain, today or tomorrow and as they always used to, that they detected the sign of the north’s missile launch in advance and were conducting intensive monitoring with intelligence assets. And they will defend the fact that their scout planes didn’t fly at the time by saying that they were monitoring with so-called special means and methods under “close cooperation between intelligence authorities of south Korea and the U.S.” and that it is difficult to give detailed explanation for fear of possible exposure of military intelligence assets and for other reasons. The concept of a surprise launch doesn’t mean the time that it takes between the issuing of a launch order and the launching. I cannot but mention the system of fuel ampoule. Those, who have never made it themselves, went so absurd and stupid as to comment on other’s technology at will after seeing some sci-tech data. A so-called honorary researcher at a sci-tech policy institute made oft-repeated remarks again that the warhead’s reentry appeared to be a failure judging from a photo posted by Japan. Those absurd guys fail to distinguish a warhead from a detached second-stage projectile in the photo and seem ignorant about the reason why the distance between the two in the case of vertical launch naturally gets close. As I explained the other day, if the warhead’s reentry fails, we can’t receive signals from the warhead till it has landed. Such argument, made by those rookies who are lack of the said common sense and pretend to be experts, will not change in fact the crisis facing the U.S. and south Korea as they want and will cause confusion in getting a correct understanding of the dangerous situation, though it may bring some consolation to them. We have possessed satisfactory technology and capability and, now will focus on increasing the quantity of their force. They had better rack their brains to take measures to defend themselves, instead of doubting or worrying about other’s technology. We are well aware of the movement of U.S. forces’ strategic strike means recently getting brisk around the Korean Peninsula. We are carefully examining the influence it would exert on the security of our state, and we are going to make it an established fact, once again on this occasion, that we will take corresponding counteraction if it is judged to be any direct or indirect threat. The frequency of using the Pacific as our firing range depends upon the U.S. forces’ action character. We affirm once again that there is no change in our will to make the worst maniacs escalating the tensions pay the price for their action.” .” (KCNA, “Statement of Kim Yo Jong, Vice-Department Director of C.C., WPK,” February 19, 2023)

South Korea said today it has decided to impose additional independent sanctions on North Korea in response to its latest long-range ballistic missile launch and the firing of two short-range ballistic missiles. The government is imposing the sanctions on four individuals and five institutions involved in the secretive regime’s nuclear and missile development programs or helping Pyongyang evade sanctions, according to the foreign ministry. Those blacklisted include Ri Song-un, former economic and commercial counselor at the North Korean Embassy in Mongolia, and Vladlen Amtchentsev, a Russian-born South African national who has helped North Korea buy oil illegally, it said. Ri is known to have negotiated trade deals involving weapons and luxury goods, Among the organizations facing Seoul’s measure are Songwon Shipping & Management, Korea Daizin Trading Corp. and Transatlantic Partners Pte. Ltd., all of which have already been sanctioned by Washington (Yonhap, “S. Korea Slaps More Sanctions on N. Korea in Response to Missile Provocations,” February 20, 2023)

2/21/23:
North Korea has long maintained that all six of its nuclear weapons tests were conducted safely. But today, a Seoul-based human rights group warned that radioactive contamination may have spread through groundwater from the North’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site, potentially jeopardizing the health of people in North Korea and neighboring countries. The Transitional Justice Working Group said in its report that radioactive materials could have affected tens of thousands of North Koreans living near Punggye-ri and spread to China, South Korea and Japan through mushrooms and other agricultural products smuggled out of the country. North Korea has conducted six underground nuclear tests at Punggye-ri between 2006 and 2017. The country claims no harmful materials were released after the tests. But outside experts have raised fears of the possible escape of radioactive material into the environment. In 2015, South Korea’s food safety agency detected nine times the standard level of radioactive cesium isotopes in mushrooms that had been smuggled from North Korea and sold in South Korea disguised as Chinese produce. Following the North’s last nuclear detonation in 2017, a series of small earthquakes was reported from near the testing site, raising fears of underground cave-ins and a possible contamination of groundwater. North Korean defectors living in South Korea who once lived near the testing site have also reported observing strange illnesses in their North Korean neighborhoods. Such reports prompted South Korea to test 40 North Korean defectors who had been near the testing site in 2017 and 2018. Nine of the defectors had symptoms that could be attributed to radiation exposure. But South Korean scientists said they could not establish a link between those symptoms and the nuclear test site because of a lack of data. Today, the Transitional Justice Working Group urged South Korea to test all 160 North Koreans in the South who came from Kilju, a county that includes Punggye-ri, or all 881 escapees who lived in nine cities and counties near the testing site before fleeing to the South. “North Korea’s nuclear tests threaten the right to life and the right to health of not only the North Korean people, but also of those in South Korea and other neighboring countries,” said Lee Younghwan, the group’s executive director. The South’s Unification Ministry said on Tuesday that it was willing to consider reopening an investigation if North Korean defectors report symptoms of possible radioactive exposure and ask for medical assistance. During the pandemic, the number of defectors from North Korea arriving in the South plummeted from 1,047 in 2019 to 67 last year. (Choe Sang-Hun, “Groups Fear Nuclear Tests Held by Kim Taint Regime,” New York Times, February 22, 2023, p. A-10)

The United States is right in pursuing a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula but needs to consider changing methods to achieve its objective, U.S. experts said today. They argued the U.S. could, or should, consider removing sanctions on the impoverished North to induce dialogue. “Let me start with U.S. policy objective. I’ve given that an A minus,” Robert Gallucci said in a webinar, titled “A Mid-Term Report Card for Biden’s North Korea Policy.” Gallucci, a former U.S. negotiator in denuclearization talks with North Korea, said there existed an ongoing debate in Washington over whether it would be wise for the U.S. to give up its objective of completely denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. “I think the debate is appropriate and I am glad it’s happening, but I think the correct answer is the one the administration came to,” he told the webinar hosted by the Stimson Center, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington. “Complete denuclearization is still the right goal,” he added. U.S. policy or tactics for achieving its objective, however, has not worked, insisted Gallucci, currently a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. “If the strategy is pressure plus sanctions … one of the things that comes out of this is that it doesn’t work and it hasn’t worked. That if the idea of pressure and sanctions together is to drive the North Koreans into negotiations and ultimately a bargain with the United States, it just hasn’t been working,” he said. Robert Carlin, a research fellow at 38 North, argued the U.S. needs to do more to restart dialogue with the North than repeating that it has no hostile intent toward Pyongyang. “There was a period in the first three months of 2022 when the Russians and the Chinese made a concerted effort, I think, to signal to the Americans that what was necessary was not this repetition of jingles, and jingles is the Chinese term they used to describe what we were doing, but we needed to take practical steps,” said Carlin. “Interestingly, the North Koreans picked that up and began to replay that, which to me meant they were saying, “Yes, let’s see some meat on the table first,” he added. Carlin is said to have visited North Korea more than 30 times as a policy adviser at the now-defunct Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization. Gallucci agreed that the U.S. needs to make the first move. “They (North Koreans) think we are the stronger part of the two when they are speaking honestly, and they don’t understand why we don’t do what the stronger party is supposed to do, which is make the first concession,” said Gallucci. To this end, Gallucci said the U.S. may consider two things — easing sanctions on North Korea and reducing joint military exercises with South Korea. “There’s a reason to have sanctions in place other than to motivate the North, and it’s a demonstration of that serious concern about activity which we regard as illegitimate, even if we don’t think the sanctions are going to have that kind of enormous impact, and it’s going to change policy in the North,” he said. “So we can dial back some sanctions, I think, without catastrophic consequences and that would be substantive,” he added. Susan Thornton, former U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, noted lifting sanctions might be worth a try. “I am very pessimistic, but I am all for changing up the equation,” she told the webinar. “It has certainly been, I think, more than proven that the sanctions are not going to make any difference, especially since the North Koreans sealed off their own border and shut themselves off from the world,” added Thornton. “So, trying to lift the sanction just to shock the world and show that sanctions can be lifted at some points would maybe, you know, be something to try.” (Byun Duk-kun, “U.S. Deserves an A for Effort to Denuclearize N. Korea But Needs to Make First Concession: U.S. Experts,” Yonhap, February 22, 2023)

2/22/23:
Japan carried out joint maritime drills with the United States and South Korea today following North Korea’s latest launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile late last week, the Defense Ministry said. The exercises involving the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Atago, a destroyer equipped with the Aegis missile interceptor system, as well as U.S. and South Korean Aegis ships, were conducted in the Sea of Japan, the ministry said. The destroyers were engaged in information sharing on the assumption of ballistic missile launches and other military activities by other nations, such as North Korea, the ministry said. (Kyodo, “Japan, U.S., South Korea Hold Maritime Drills after North Korea ICBM Firing,” February 22, 2023)

Rodong Sinmun: “There is no country and nation which does not aspire to build an independent state. Without the economic self-sufficiency, neither the independent politics can be realized nor the right to existence and development of the country and nation be defended. This is the truth proved in the course of the development of history. The economic self-sufficiency is a material guarantee which enables a state to firmly maintain the political independence. Economic subordination inevitably results in political subordination. The history and reality show that the economic self-sufficiency precisely means defense of the country’s sovereignty and dignity. In order for a country to hold fast to the independent position and defend the dignity of the country and nation in the world where despotism of imperialists prevails, it should thoroughly build the self-sufficient economy. This is the truth proved by the history of development of our state. The course of socialist construction in our country is the proud one in which we have developed the economy in our style and on our own force. The reality of our Republic, which grandly exercises sovereignty while demonstrating the dignity and honor of the country to the world, vividly proves that the economic self-sufficiency firmly guarantees the political independence. The self-supporting economy is the cornerstone for developing the state consistently and safely irrespective of any external factors. The imperialists, under the cloak of the so-called “collaboration”and “aid,” are clamoring as if some countries in economic difficulties could not tide over crises without their support. But these are manifestation of their worldly thoughts to make the countries their sources of raw materials and market after completely demolishing the barrier of their national economy. The economic development dependent on others’ help can only bring about temporary growth or gorgeous transformation but not consistent and planned development. The self-sufficient economy is the future-oriented one, but the dependent economy is the hand-to-mouth one. Only when a country’s own economic foundation is solid, it can map out the plan for the future and carry it out in a foresighted manner. Only when a country relies on its own forces, technology and resources, it can develop its economy constantly in a planned way in line with the aspiration and demand of the people and actual condition. Just as the Juche idea is our life, so the self-sufficient national economy is our eternal life. Nothing can either check us advancing forward under the uplifted banner of self-reliance or choke off our economy. Our people’s ideal and ambition will certainly be realized as we have solid foundation for self-supporting national economy and heroic fighting spirit of the people.” (Rodong Sinmun, “Economic Self-sufficiency Is a Material Guarantee for Building an Independent State,” February 22, 2023)

2/23/23:
North Korea said it launched four long-range cruise missiles off its eastern coast as part of “deadly nuclear counterattack” drills, a day after the US and South Korea held tabletop exercises. Four Hwasal-2 strategic cruise missiles flew for three hours, flying a distance of 2000km each and drew oval and figure-eight patterns above the sea on Thursday, North Korean state media said. The launches came as the US and South Korea staged a tabletop or simulated exercise to sharpen their joint response to potential nuclear weapon use by North Korea. The one-day computer simulation exercises were held yesterday as the two countries pledged to boost their 70-year alliance in the face of North Korea’s increasingly aggressive nuclear doctrine. It was the first time North Korea mentioned the missile called “Hwasal-2” with images published in Rodong Sinmun showing a white missile, matching the appearance of a long-range cruise missile fired in January 2022. South Korea’s Defense Ministry said the launch was monitored but there were “differences” between what it and the US detected and even the North’s statement, without elaborating. (Shweta Sharma, “North Korea Fires Four Cruise Missiles as US and South Korea Stage ‘Tabletop’ Nuclear Drills,” The Independent, February 24, 2023) South Korea and the United States have conducted a tabletop exercise on responding to possible North Korean nuclear attacks and reaffirmed pledges to do so every year as part of their joint efforts to reinforce deterrence capabilities, the allies said in a statement, February 24. In addition, Washington is also considering sending a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, among other strategic assets, to South Korea for Freedom Shield, a large-scale combined exercise planned for next month, military sources said. “Both sides affirmed that the alliance stands ready to respond to the DPRK’s (North Korea) nuclear threats,” the South Korean and U.S. delegations said in the statement after the drill, known as DSC TTX, at the Pentagon. “The U.S. side highlighted that its 2022 Nuclear Posture Review states, “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.” During that exercise, the allies discussed ways to maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula, including “potential options” in the case of North Korea’s nuclear weapons use. “The United States will continue to field flexible nuclear forces suited to deterring regional nuclear conflict, including the capability to forward deploy strategic bombers, dual-capable fighter aircraft, and nuclear weapons to the region,” the U.S. delegation said in the statement. “The United States will continue to work with the ROK (South Korea) to ensure an effective mix of capabilities, concepts, deployments, exercises, and tailored options to deter and, if necessary, respond to coercion and aggression by the DPRK.” After the DSC TTX, the delegations visited nuclear submarine training facilities in Georgia, where they were briefed on the mission of Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarines, which act as virtually undetectable undersea launch platforms for intercontinental ballistic missiles. The very same day, North Korea announced that it test-fired four long-range cruise missiles in waters off its eastern coast in its latest provocation. (Jung Min-ho, “Seoul, Washington Step up Deterrence against North Korea,” Korea Times, February 24, 2023)

KCNA: “A strategic cruise missile launching drill was staged at dawn of February 23. Involved in the drill was a relevant sub-unit of a strategic cruise missile unit of the Korean People’s Army in the eastern region, and other sub-units conducted firepower training at hardened sites without live firing. The sub-unit, involved in the launching drill, fired four “Hwasal-2” strategic cruise missiles in the area of Kim Chaek City, North Hamgyong Province, towards the East Sea of Korea. The drill reconfirmed the reliability of the weapon system and examined the rapid response posture of strategic cruise missile units that constitute one of major forces of the DPRK nuclear deterrent. The launching drill successfully achieved its object. The four strategic cruise missiles precisely hit the preset target on the East Sea of Korea after traveling the 2 000km-long elliptical and eight-shaped flight orbits for 10 208s to 10 224s. The Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea expressed great satisfaction over the results of the launching drill. The drill clearly demonstrated once again the war posture of the DPRK nuclear combat force bolstering up in every way its deadly nuclear counterattack capability against the hostile forces.” (KCNA, “Strategic Cruise Missile Launching Drill Conducted,” February 24, 2023)

Van Diepen: “On February 24, North Korean press reported on a “strategic cruise missile launching drill” the previous day involving “four ‘Hwasal-2’ strategic cruise missiles.” This is the first time North Korea has provided a name for the land-attack cruise missile (LACM) system. North Korea has now reported a total of 12 LACM launches: four of the presumed Hwasal-1 and eight of the Hwasal-2, which apparently has an updated propulsion system and longer range. The statement’s reference to a “strategic cruise missile unit” adds to previous suggestions that the missile is already operationally deployed. Although the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) regularly refers to the LACM as a “strategic missile,” it often associates the system with “tactical nuclear weapons” and has also suggested that some will carry conventional warheads. This LACM drill is just the latest of Pyongyang’s efforts to demonstrate a strong and credible deterrent, especially amid ongoing US-ROK joint military exercises. It also highlights the LACM’s “rapid response posture,” underscoring a key theme in recent missile launches. LACMs will almost certainly augment rather than supplant North Korea’s longstanding and extensive ballistic missile force, offering further diversity, flexibility and numbers — all important improvements to the country’s conventional warfighting capabilities as well. The drill, reportedly conducted by “a relevant sub-unit of a strategic cruise missile unit of the Korean People’s Army in the eastern region,” was intended to show “the reliability of the weapon system” and test “the rapid response posture of strategic cruise missile units that constitute one of major forces of the DPRK nuclear deterrent.” According to the statement, the four missiles “precisely hit the preset target on the East Sea of Korea after traveling the 2,000-km-long elliptical and eight-shaped flight orbits for 10,208s to 10,224s [170 minutes].” The statement concluded by claiming “the drill clearly demonstrated once again the war posture of the DPRK nuclear combat force bolstering up in every way its deadly nuclear counterattack capability against the hostile forces.” An associated photo showed a LACM boosted from a five-tube road-mobile launcher. South Korea and Japan apparently did not detect the missiles. This is not surprising given the LACMs’ small size, low altitude and flight location. It also demonstrates the challenges cruise missiles pose for allied air defenses. The LACM seen in the photo appears to be the modified missile first displayed in October 2021 and flight tested in January 2022. This is the first time North Korea has provided a name for the LACM system, and the use of “Hwasal-2” suggests that the original version of the LACM revealed in September 2021 is the “Hwasal-1.” North Korea has now reported a total of 12 LACM launches: four of the presumed Hwasal-1 (two single launches in September 2021 and two launches, apparently of that version, in November 2022) and eight Hwasal-2s (dual launches in January and October 2022, and the quad launch in February 2023). The reported 2,000-km range of the October 2022 and February 2023 launches is 200 km more than in January 2022, further suggesting that the modified version has an updated propulsion system and longer range than the 1,500-km Hwasal-1. The reference in this month’s statement to a “strategic cruise missile unit” adds to previous North Korean suggestions that the LACM is operationally deployed, including the display during the February 8, 2023 military parade of six of the same type of launcher seen in the latest photo. Although the North regularly refers to the LACM as a “strategic missile,” it often also associates the system with “tactical nuclear weapons” — including at the recent parade. In October 2022, it even referred to “the long-range strategic cruise missiles deployed at the units of the Korean People’s Army for the operation of tactical nukes.” Pyongyang also has suggested that some LACMs will carry conventional warheads. The latest LACM drill is another example of North Korea trying to demonstrate a strong and credible deterrent (a “deadly nuclear counterattack capability”), especially amid ongoing US-ROK joint military exercises meant to show the strength of US extended deterrence. While doing so, Pyongyang also is highlighting the LACM’s “rapid response posture,” underscoring a key theme in recent launches of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and two KN-25 short-range ballistic missiles (aka, “super-heavy” or 600-mm multiple launch rockets). Having apparently completed the development of these weapons systems, North Korean missile launches are increasingly focused on ensuring their operational capabilities and crew proficiency. That said, we still do not know how many LACMs will be deployed or with what mix of warhead types, and thus whether these new cruise missiles truly are “one of major forces of the DPRK nuclear deterrent,” as North Korea currently claims. We also do not know how accurate the missile is, which is critically important for conventional combat. LACMs will almost certainly augment rather than supplant Pyongyang’s longstanding and extensive ballistic missile force, which can accomplish just about any mission LACMs can. But LACMs can further diversify and increase the flexibility of the North’s missile force. Low-flying, maneuverable LACMs will further complicate Allied regional air and missile defense efforts and probably prompt additional deployments of US/ROK radars and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Adding LACMs also boosts the overall size of North Korea’s missile force — this can be especially useful for conventional warfighting (nuclear force size probably would be limited by warhead availability) and in saturating Allied air and missile defenses.” (Vann H. Van Diepen, “North Korea Launches Four ‘Hwasal-2’ LACMs to ShowStrong Deterrence and Rapid Response, 38North, March 1, 2023)

Carlin and Lee: “…To wrap up this project, we are providing a summary below of five key findings from our research. First, judging by articles in the journals, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) follows a particular pattern in rolling out new economic policies. New ideas do not simply appear out of the blue. The journals start by introducing the topics, signaling that Kim has issued some broad policy guidance that necessitated research on them. After studies have been conducted, new ideas have been tested in some units, viable plans have been identified and policy guidelines have been issued, the journals then go beyond general discussions and start explaining the new initiatives in more detail and advocating them with a range of arguments — some of which are highly abstruse, others more detailed and plainly stated — and, most importantly, how the new ideas can or should be operationalized. Second, contrary to the widely accepted notion that all North Korean publications speak with one voice and toe the party line, the country’s two economic journals, particularly Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu, have served as a platform for internal discussions and often for differing views on new ideas and initiatives. It is inconceivable that dueling narratives on sensitive topics, such as economic reform, could be conducted without the concurrence, and more likely the backing, of various elements within the country’s leadership. Contending views may be more likely when a policy is still under discussion within the leadership, but there are times when these appear even after a top-level decision has clearly been made. Third, the fundamental question of “economic management,” which is used in DPRK media as code for “reformist economic policies,” seems to boil down to finding the right balance between centralization (state and/or party control) and decentralization (greater decision-making for individual units). We continued to see contending narratives on this issue through the end of 2020, after which Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu was discontinued, thereby indicating that the Kim regime was still struggling at that time to find the right answer. Hakpo, since 2019, has published formal scholarly articles, a departure from the shorter essay-style writings it published through the end of 2018 that made this journal one of the two major platforms of economic policy discussions. Unless North Korea resumes the publication of Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu or changes the focus and format of Hakpo articles, it will be difficult to decipher the country’s intentions regarding the various economic policy issues. We will continue to have access to the North Korean party’s official economic policy through the dailies, but the dailies do not provide the behind-the-scenes discussions that inform decision-making or otherwise reflect Pyongyang’s dilemmas and challenges. Fourth, North Korea’s push for tourism, EDZs, and foreign trade was not new when Kim Jong Un took power. What was different was how they became integrated into Kim’s broader push for new economic policies. It is hardly a coincidence that Kim called for promoting tourism and EDZs in the same speech where he formalized the concept of “economic management methods of our style.” In many ways, the North’s external economic measures were shaped by and built on the North’s domestic reform initiatives that explored new boundaries, even to the extent of supporting ideas that traditionally were thought “risky” or “too capitalist.” For example, some journal articles on tourism and EDZs presented a variety of steps to rejuvenate the North Korean tourism industry and attract foreign investors, ranging from removing or easing legal barriers to allowing the principle of supply and demand to take its course in lieu of central planning. In addition, multiple academic journals supported the diversification of trade, even with capitalist countries. Fifth, there is no indication that Pyongyang is completely retreating on Kim’s earlier push for reform. North Korean media continue to mention “improv[ing] economic management” and “steadily perfect[ing] the optimized methods of economic management” at the highest levels. Nevertheless, there has clearly been a shift toward greater centralization in the past few years, and this shift has taken a toll on the North’s external economic policies as well. This was exemplified most recently by Kim Jong Un’s report to a party plenary meeting in December 2022, which essentially repudiated the import of foreign technology, something that in the past was accepted and even endorsed. Whether the renewed emphasis on economic centralization is temporary or represents a strategic decision with long-range consequences, only time will tell.” (Robert Carlin and Rachel Minyoung Lee, “Understanding Kim Jong Un’s Economic Policy-Making,” 38North, February 23, 2023)

2/24/23:
DPRK FoMin Department of U.S. Affairs Director General Kwon Jong Gun’s press statement: “The U.S. and its followers held an open meeting of the UN Security Council on February 20, at which they again took issue with the DPRK over its exercise of the right to self-defense. We are very displeased with the fact that they put a sovereign state’s legitimate right to self-defense on the agenda of the UNSC, and strongly protest and denounce them. If the UNSC has a true intention to contribute to peace and security in the Korean peninsula, it will have to bitterly condemn the U.S. and south Korea for their moves of escalating military tension such as frequent deployment of strategic assets and large-scale joint military drills against the DPRK. The U.S. and south Korea are planning a visit to a U.S. nuclear submarine base in the wake of staging a “drill for operating extended deterrence means,” a nuclear war demonstration against the DPRK, at Pentagon. This clearly proves to what extent their scheme to confront with the DPRK has reached. If the UNSC, the duty of which is to ensure global peace and security, is turned into a theatre of rowdyism where injustice and illegality judge justice and legitimacy as now at the beck and call of the U.S. and its vassal forces, it will only result in further escalated military tension in the Korean peninsula. Against this backdrop, the U.S. representative at the UN contended that they would again push forward the adoption of a “presidential statement” critical of the DPRK’s ICBM launching drill at the UN Security Council. It is a clear encroachment on the DPRK’s right to self-defense. This clearly proves that the UNSC has been reduced to a tool of the U.S. for putting pressure on the DPRK. The U.S., posing a constant threat to the security environment in the Korean peninsula and the region, has unilaterally denied the DPRK’s right to self-defense while working hard to strengthen the alliance with its followers. This is an open disregard and unpardonable challenge to the DPRK. The right to self-defense precisely means sovereignty. Since the U.S. persistently seeks to deprive the DPRK of the right to self-defense by putting the UNSC into limelight, the DPRK will never remain a passive onlooker to such attempt. The only way for preventing the vicious cycle of military tension in the Korean peninsula and its surroundings is for the U.S. to show a clear and practical stand such as the abandonment of its commitment to deploying strategic assets in south Korea and the halt to various kinds of combined drills against the DPRK. The U.S. should be mindful that if it persists in its hostile and provocative practices against the DPRK, despite the latter’s repeated protest and warning, it can be regarded as a declaration of war against the DPRK. The U.S. should perceive intuitively and accept the consequences to be entailed by it, as a matter of course. Availing ourselves of this opportunity, we remind the UNSC once again of our stand that if it puts the DPRK’s right to self-defense on the table again, being led by the U.S., the corresponding strong countermeasure will be taken.” (KCNA, “Press Statement of Director General of Department of U.S. Affairs of DPRK Foreign Ministry,” February 24, 2023)

3/3/23:
The South Korean and U.S. militaries announced today they will hold their biggest joint field exercises in five years later this month, as the U.S. flew a long-range B-1B bomber to the Korean Peninsula in a show of force against North Korea. Today’s deployment of a U.S. B-1B was the aircraft’s first such flyover in joint aerial training with South Korean warplanes since Feb. 19. North Korea is highly sensitive to the deployment of B-1Bs, which are capable of carrying a large conventional weapons payload. It responded to the previous flights of multiple B-1Bs by test-launching two short-range missiles the next day. South Korea’s Defense Ministry said the use of a B-1B demonstrated the U.S. determination and ability to use the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear, to defend its allies. In a joint news conference, the South Korean and U.S. militaries said they will conduct the Freedom Shield exercise, a computer-simulated command post training, from March 13 to 23 to strengthen their defense and response capabilities, and separate large-scale joint field training exercises called Warrior Shield FTXCol. Isaac L. Taylor, a spokesperson for the U.S. military, said the field training will include a combined amphibious drill and that their size would return to the scale of the allies’ earlier biggest springtime field exercises called Foal Eagle. The two countries last conducted Foal Eagle in 2018. They then canceled or downsized some combined drills to support now-stalled diplomacy with North Korea and guard against the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, however, the two countries have been expanding their joint military exercises in the face of an evolving North Korean nuclear threat. (Hyung-jin Kim, “U.S., South Korea Announce Largest Field Exercises in Five Years,” Associated Press, March 3, 2023) South Korea and the United States have confirmed that they will skip the “repel and defend” phase of the Freedom Shield joint military exercises. The exercises, which are scheduled to take place from March 13 to 23, will start with the ROK-U.S. alliance’s “counterattack and stabilization operations in North Korea.” This 11-day drill will be the longest one ever held. The exercises will focus on the ROK-U.S. alliance’s operations after the counterattack, which include stabilizing and managing areas that have been reclaimed in North Korea and providing humanitarian assistance to North Korean residents. The source explained that stabilization operations in North Korea involve restoring administrative power, maintaining security, and supporting the residents of areas that the ROK-U.S. alliance has recaptured after successfully countering North Korean provocations at the start of the war. The ultimate aim of the exercises is to remove the North Korean leadership responsible for the full-scale provocations against South Korea. The upcoming military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. clearly demonstrate their commitment to proactively confront North Korea’s provocative behavior, while also signaling that their focus is on the North Korean leadership and regime responsible for nuclear and missile threats. In addition, the joint military exercise named “Teak Knife” has also been announced, which involves a decapitation operation against North Korea. It includes deploying the newest special warfare aircraft of the U.S. Air Force, the AC-130J (also known as Ghostrider) GunShip, to the Korean Peninsula. (Sang-Ho Yun, “S. Korea, U.S. to Hold Drills for N. Korea Removal and Public Support,” Dong-A Ilbo, March 4, 2023)

3/4/23:
DPRK Vice Foreign Minister for International Organizations Kim Son Gyong’s press statement: “Recently, the U.S. and south Korea have put the situation in the Korean peninsula on a extremely dangerous level through threatening rhetoric and military demonstration against the DPRK. They reportedly staged the fourth joint air drill of this year in the sky above the West Sea of Korea on Friday, with the mobilization of such various strategic hardware as B-1B strategic bombers and MQ-9 Reaper combat drone evaluated by themselves as superior. Earlier, the U.S. and the south Korean military staged a “drill for operating extended deterrence means” under the simulated conditions of using nuclear weapons against the DPRK and issued a press release calling for the “end” of the DPRK’s regime. Even at this moment, the U.S. does not conceal the fact that it is conducting special operation drills aimed at a sudden strike at the major strategic bases of the DPRK in league with south Korea. The situation in the Korean peninsula and the region is developing towards a very worried orientation, no one wants, owing to such irresponsible acts of the U.S. and south Korea for escalating tension. What is regrettable is that the UN, which had expressed deep care and concern over the danger of any slight dispute and conflict on the earth, has consistently kept mum about the obvious infringement upon sovereignty and military demonstrations by the U.S. and south Korea talking about even “end” of a sovereign state. Shortly ago, I expressed deep regret at the fact that the UN secretary general kept mum about the U.S. and south Korea’s dreadful military provocation, but took an extremely unfair and imbalanced attitude of insulting the DPRK’s self-defensive reaction as “provocation and threat.” The viewpoint and attitude towards the U.S.-south Korea joint drills with clear aggressive nature serve as a touchstone for judging whether he is truly interested in the détente in the Korean peninsula or maintains impartiality, objectivity and equity in the settlement of the issue. Frequent joint drills of the U.S. and south Korea, which set such unrealistic and extremely dangerous purpose as “regime end” of a sovereign state and are aggravating the regional situation even with all sorts of threatening rhetoric are, indeed, vivid evidence that helps have a clear understanding of why the vicious cycle of tension has lasted in the Korean peninsula. If they resort, regardless of the time, to threatening rhetoric and military demonstration in the region such as the Korean peninsula where the military confrontation is acute, the regional military and political situation will be only led closer to a very critical and uncontrollable phase. If necessary, anyone can give a counter-demonstration in the same way, and then the result will be quite clear. If the UN secretary general is truly interested in ensuring peace and security in the Korean peninsula, Northeast Asia and the rest of the world, he should no longer tolerate the anti-peace deeds of the U.S. and south Korea inciting the reckless stand-off of force and hostile conflict. The UN and the international community will have to strongly urge the U.S. and south Korea to immediately halt their provocative remarks and joint military exercises that are extremely heating the situation of the Korean peninsula and irresponsibly raising the level of confrontation. This will be the first step for promoting the sustainable détente in the Korean peninsula and the region, strongly desired by the international community.” (KCNA, “Press Statement of DPRK Vice Foreign Minister,” March 5, 2023)

5/5/23:
National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) Vice-Director Pak Kyong Su In interview with KCNA on the 14th anniversary of the DPRK’s accession to the international outer space treaty said: “On March 5 and 10, Juche 98 (2009), the DPRK acceded to the Outer Space Treaty (Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies) and the Registration Convention (Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space). Accordingly, the DPRK, as a signatory to the Outer Space Treaty and the Registration Convention, was able to exercise the rights of a sovereign state in the exploration and use of outer space and its outer space activities came to be guaranteed by international law. The Outer Space Treaty standardizes the basic principles of the international law on outer space, including the principle of making equal use of outer space including the moon and other celestial bodies, the principle of studying and using outer space for peaceful purposes and the principle of strengthening international cooperation in the development and use of outer space. The Registration Convention, an international treaty in the field of outer space activities, stipulates the issues related to the registration of objects launched into outer space. The need for the development and use of outer space is growing with each passing day, and the international movement to achieve the sustained economic development and promote the well-being of people by using outer space is becoming more active. In the DPRK, a satellite manufacturer and launcher, the development of outer space has been dynamically pushed ahead with under the unified guidance of the state and eye-opening successes are witnessed one after another. The DPRK has made steady progress in the work to put the satellite on a multi-functional and high-performance basis and improve its reliability. It succeeded in developing high-thrust engine for carrier rocket and thus provided a sure guarantee for launching various kinds of satellites into relevant orbits. The work to introduce the space sci-tech achievements into various fields including agriculture, fishery, meteorological observation, communication, natural resources exploration, land management and disaster prevention is getting brisk to give a strong impetus to the comprehensive development of socialist construction. All these successes foretell the bright future of the DPRK’s space development.” (KCNA, “Development of Satellites Propelled in DPRK,” March 6, 2023)

South Korea and Japan have reached a compromise settling a decades-old dispute over apologizing to and compensating Korean laborers forced to work for Japanese companies during World War II, sources said Sunday. Under the arrangement Seoul will cover the cost of compensating workers while Tokyo pays into a proposed fund aimed at expanding bilateral exchanges. The settlement, which comes 4 1/2 years after Japan refused to uphold Korea’s 2018 Supreme Court decision holding the Japanese liable for damages, will be made public tomorrow, according to the sources. Japan has dismissed the Korean court ruling, citing a 1965 agreement that normalized ties following its 1910-45 rule of the Korean Peninsula. Negotiations gained momentum in May last year, when President Yoon Suk Yeol took power. The conservative leader wants a quick resolution so that South Korea can align itself with the U.S., its biggest ally, to put a check on North Korea and take part in greater international endeavors. Japan’s support would facilitate such outreach. “This week’s trip to Washington isn’t just about bolstering three-way security cooperation among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo. It’s about what the U.S. and our alliance with it could do better to more broadly improve three-way ties,” Kim Sung-han, Yoon’s national security adviser, said today at Incheon International Airport. The five-day trip is meant to lay groundwork for Yoon’s state visit in April. Yoon is also set to meet with his Japanese counterpart at a G-7 meeting in May. An official announcement will follow once talks fine-tuning last minute details involving forced labor are finished, Kim added, without elaborating on the exact date. The top security official instead highlighted the “next generation of young Koreans and Japanese” as key to opening a new era for the two Asian neighbors. “As far as I know, efforts are underway for those young people to tap into their potential so they can usher in the kind of beginning we’re eyeing,” Kim said, referring to Korean and Japanese businesses as those leading the initiative. Yomiuri Shimbun said Japanese businesses were considering paying into a fund offering scholarships to Korean exchange students. But the newspaper said that these proposals were not made in acknowledgement of either wrongdoing or the 2018 court ruling mandating Japanese compensation. The newspaper added that Prime Minister Kishida Fumio could reaffirm past apologies publicly made by his predecessors, the latest of which took place in 1998. Former Japanese Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo and Korean President Kim Dae-jung set the terms for a new Korea-Japan partnership. The declaration, which discusses Japan’s “genuine reflection on its wartime past and sincere apology for it,” has since worked as parameters guiding ties. But these moves would do little to address the demands of the victims for a formal apology and direct compensation, according to an attorney who represented the victims in the 2018 case. Lim Jae-sung, the lawyer, said creating a scholarship fund and upholding past apologies could not replace what the victims have long wanted. Fourteen victims have so far received such Supreme Court decisions, with many more still fighting similar court battles . Lim said reiterating the 1998 declaration offers nothing substantial to the victims waiting for closure. “Japan has never said the declaration is an apology for this case. So telling our victims otherwise would be a lie. And since 2018, Japan has officially called the Korean forced laborers just workers who had offered labor, leaving out the part where they were ‘forced into it.’ So would the Japanese really reverse that after revisiting the past apologies?” Lim said. He called the fund for bilateral exchanges a total non sequitur. “It unduly releases Japan from any and all burdens” of blame, he said. “The Japanese haven’t paid a penny for what they did. … This simply is just a diplomatic failure on our part and Korea is trying to downplay that by floating a hardly relevant idea.” Still, experts following the issue said the deal on the table “amounts to the second best” Seoul could hope for. Park Cheol-hee, a professor of international studies at Seoul National University, said South Korea has pulled out all the stops and is now “taking the initiative” by saying it would be up to Japan whether it faces up to its history and leave behind a sincere, heartfelt apology for its wartime wrongs. “The Yoon administration is not wasting a second second-guessing the moves his predecessors made. It is looking forward to a future where Korea will have to work with Japan eventually for global imprint it seeks. That said, a fund aimed at nurturing the next generation for future ties isn’t so out of place,” Park said. (Choi Si-young, “Deal Reached on Forced Labor: Sources,” Korea Herald, March 5, 2023)

A year after Russia invaded Ukraine, the war has spurred a global effort to produce more missiles, tanks, artillery shells and other munitions. And few countries have moved as quickly as South Korea to increase output. Last year, South Korea’s arms exports rose 140 percent to a record $17.3 billion, including deals worth $12.4 billion to sell tanks, howitzers, fighter jets and multiple rocket launchers to Poland, one of Ukraine’s closest allies. But as South Korea expands weapons sales globally, it has refused to send lethal assistance to Ukraine itself. Instead, it has focused on filling the world’s rearmament gap while resisting any direct role in arming Ukraine, imposing strict export control rules on all its sales. South Korea’s wariness stems in part from its reluctance to openly antagonize Moscow, from which it hopes for cooperation in imposing new sanctions against an increasingly belligerent North Korea. Countries throughout Latin America, Israel and others have also declined to send weapons directly to Ukraine. Yet few nations’ defense industries have boomed as a result of the Russian invasion as much as South Korea’s has. And despite appeals from Kyiv and NATO to send weapons into Ukraine, Seoul has continued to walk a tightrope, balancing between its steadfast alliance with Washington and its own national and economic interests. Unlike American allies in Europe that scaled down their militaries and arms production capacities at the end of the Cold War, South Korea has kept a robust domestic defense supply chain to meet demand from its own armed forces and to guard against North Korea. Since the Russian invasion, arms suppliers like the United States have faced major production shortages for rocket launchers and other arms. Germany and other nations have also struggled to secure enough tanks to send to Ukraine. Buyers began looking elsewhere. As countries in Eastern Europe raced to re-equip and upgrade their militaries after sending their Soviet-era weapons to Ukraine, South Korea became an enticing option. The contracts for Poland’s tanks and howitzers were signed in late August with South Korea’s top defense contractors. It took little more than three months for the first shipment to arrive. Warsaw appreciated the speed. “When a shipment is received, it is said that we have been waiting for this day for a long time,” President Andrzej Duda of Poland said, welcoming the shipment’s arrival at the seaport. “With great satisfaction, I want to emphasize that we did not wait long for this day.” The orders from Poland were a boon to the government of President Yoon Suk Yeol, who has vowed to make his country the fourth-largest weapons exporter by 2027, after the United States, Russia and France. From 2017 to 2021, South Korea was the fastest-growing among the world’s top 25 arms exporters, ranking No. 8 with a 2.8 percent share of the global market, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. That was before it landed contracts with Poland, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates last year. Hanwha Aerospace, South Korea’s largest defense contractor, is busier than ever, planning to scale up its production capacity three times by next year. On a recent afternoon in Changwon, an industrial town on South Korea’s south coast, the country’s best-selling weapon, the K9 self-propelled howitzer, was taking shape amid white-hot sparks and robotic drilling inside a Hanwha plant the size of six football fields. “We need to add two more assembly lines to meet a growing demand,” said Hanwha engineer Park Sangkyu, referring to orders of K9s from Poland and other nations, as he pointed to empty corners where the new facilities will go. The layout of the giant factory is being adjusted to accommodate them. Seoul denounced the invasion of Ukraine, and. Yoon has vowed to protect values like “freedom” and the “rules-based” international order. But South Korea’s eagerness to increase arms exports amid the war has also highlighted its difficulties with that balancing act. When Seoul agreed to sell artillery shells to help the United States replenish its stockpiles, it insisted on an explicit export-control condition that the “end user” would be the United States, a rule that it has had in place for all its global arms deals — including its contracts with Poland — for decades. Nonetheless, some South Korean weapons technology has already made its way to Ukraine: The Polish Krab howitzers that were sent to Ukraine use the chassis from South Korean K9s. (South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration refused to comment on whether the transfer violated export controls.) “It’s possible for South Korean weapons to end up in Ukraine through other countries,” said Yang Uk, a weapons expert at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. “There is doubt how vigorously South Korea would enforce its export controls in such cases.” When Yoon and President Biden met in Seoul in May, they agreed to cooperate on the defense industry supply chain. And although South Korea does not make the Soviet-era weapons Ukraine needs most, many of its arms systems are compatible with the NATO weaponry heading to Ukraine. Hanwha hopes to share its technologies in artillery and armored vehicles with the United States and help arm NATO with weapons the Americans no longer make or are unable to supply fast enough. “The United States cannot make every weapon,” said Son Jae Il, president of Hanwha Aerospace. “Geopolitics has made it our destiny to nurture a defense industry,” Son said recently in Hanwha’s Seoul office. While the United States made high-end weaponry like aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and state-of-the-art aircraft in the rivalry with Russia and China, South Korea has focused on “midlevel weapons like artillery, armored vehicles and tanks, and accumulated competitive technologies there,” he added. Hanwha has supplied the South Korean military with almost 1,200 K9 howitzers since the late 1990s, as well as hundreds more for India, Turkey, Estonia, Finland and Norway. Hanwha’s K9s accounted for 55 percent of the world’s self-propelled howitzer export market from 2000 to 2021, according to South Korean analysts. Poland’s huge order will increase that economy of scale. Romania is another NATO nation negotiating to buy South Korean K9s. South Korea sweetens its arms export deals by offering to transfer technology and facilitate local production, enhancing the domestic defense industries of its buyers. Turkey built its main battle tank, Altay, and its T-155 howitzers based on South Korean models. Hanwha is building a factory in Australia to assemble K9s with local suppliers. Most of the South Korean howitzers Poland is buying will be produced in Poland with local partners. South Korea knows firsthand how powerful such incentives can be. For decades, the country struggled to make its own weapons by reverse-engineering American military hardware. Hanwha, formerly known as Korea Explosives, was making dynamite when the government designated it as a defense contractor in the 1970s to make grenades, land mines and signal flares. It now makes radar systems, aircraft engines, bomb-disposal robots, unmanned combat vehicles and antiaircraft guns. It also partners with South Korea’s space program. As the war in Ukraine grinds on, Hanwha has set its sights firmly on the global market, with the full support of the South Korean government and military. Mr. Yoon met his Polish counterpart in June to help seal the weapons deals last year. In January, his office announced it had opened a new task force to promote arms exports. (Choe Sang-Hun, “With Caution, South Korea Arms Globe, New York Times, March 6, 2023, p. A-1)

3/6/23:
South Korea and the United States staged combined air drills today, involving at least one U.S. nuclear-capable B-52H strategic bomber, Seoul’s defense ministry said, in the latest show of America’s military might against North Korea’s evolving military threats. The exercise took place over the Yellow Sea, mobilizing the bomber as well as the South’s F-15K and KF-16 fighter jets. The deployment of high-profile U.S. military assets came amid concerns that Pyongyang could launch provocations in response to the allies’ Freedom Shield (FS) exercise set to take place from March 13-23. “The U.S.’ deployment of the B-52H strategic bomber to the Korean Peninsula demonstrates the alliance’s decisive and overwhelming capability and posture to deter, and respond against advancing nuclear and missile threats from North Korea,” the ministry said in a release. The U.S. previously deployed a B-52H bomber here in December last year. (Yonhap, “S. Korea, U.S. Hold Joint Air Drills Involving U.S. B-52H Bomber,” March 6, 2023)

DPRK Fomin Department of Press and Information Foreign News Section chief’s press statement: “Despite our repeated warnings, the U.S. intentionally continues to aggravate the situation in the Korean peninsula and the region. Today, the U.S. nuclear strategic bomber B-52 flew into the Korean peninsula again in three months and staged the fifth round of joint air drill this year. This is a reckless military provocation pushing the situation in the Korean peninsula deeper into the bottomless quagmire. The recent joint air drill, staged in the wake of the “drill for operating extended deterrence means” held in February, clearly shows that the U.S. scheme to use nuclear weapons against the DPRK is being carried forward at the level of an actual war. The danger of a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula is turning from an imaginary stage to a realistic one due to the irresponsible deeds of the U.S. and south Korea keen on the bellicose armed demonstrations contrary to the aspiration of the international community for detente and stability. The unbroken chain of provocative military actions of the U.S. against the DPRK are foretelling the aggressive nature of large-scale U.S.-south Korea joint military exercises, which are to be launched in a few days, and the gravity of the catastrophic tension that will be entailed by them. We express deep regret over the irresponsible and worrying muscle-flexing of the U.S. and south Korea, which are constantly pushing the situation in the Korean peninsula to an unpredictable state, and strongly demand an immediate stop to the military hostile acts of disturbing peace and stability in the Korean peninsula. If the dangerous military provocations of the U.S. and south Korea continue to remain undisturbed, there is no guarantee that there will be no violent physical conflict in the Korean peninsula where huge armed forces of both sides are in acute confrontation. The international community should join the DPRK in its peace.” (KCNA, “Press Statement by Chief of Foreign News Section of Department of Press and Information of DPRK Foreign Ministry,” March 7, 2023)

The government today announced an agreement with Japan to compensate victims of forced labor during World War II through a fund created by Korean companies, without the direct involvement of responsible Japanese firms. But the resolution immediately provoked a fierce backlash from wartime victims and their families, who described the proposal as Seoul’s “total defeat” to Tokyo following a diplomatic fracas between the two sides that dragged on for nearly five years. The Japanese government, on the other hand, welcomed the announcement, hoping that the deal will help restore healthy bilateral relations. During a briefing, Foreign Minister Park Jin unveiled the resolution on compensating 15 Korean victims of forced labor who won three separate lawsuits against two Japanese firms ― Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel ― in 2018. The Supreme Court here ordered the firms to compensate the plaintiffs who were forced to labor for Imperial Japan during its 1910-45 colonial occupation of Korea. But both firms refused to comply with the ruling, leading to a diplomatic feud between the two nations which further impeded trade and military cooperation. Under the resolution, the Korean government will compensate the victims through a public foundation created in 2014 under the Ministry of the Interior and Safety. Other plaintiffs, whose cases are pending in court, will also be eligible for the compensation once they win. The necessary funds will be raised by local companies including POSCO that benefitted from a 1965 Korea-Japan treaty, under which Tokyo offered a package of $300 million (388 billion won) in economic aid and $500 million in loans in compensation for the colonial occupation. The authorities explained that the settlement was based on in-depth discussions with 13 out of 15 victims, or their families, who were affected by the 2018 ruling. In response to criticism that the ministry’s plan ― without the participation of responsible Japanese firms ― is a half-baked resolution, Park said, “I do not agree with such views.” “Comparing it to a glass of water, I believe the glass is more than half full. And now we expect it to be filled further based on Japan’s sincere response,” he said, expressing hopes for Japanese companies to make voluntary contributions to the fund. But the participation of Japanese firms remains elusive. In January this year, the ministry initially proposed to launch a private foundation where Japanese firms can make voluntary donations to compensate the victims. But Japan refused to do so, as the move may be perceived as complying with the Korean court ruling. Instead of making direct payments for wartime victims, the Japan Business Foundation, the country’s business lobby group, plans to take part in a so-called “Future Youth Fund,” co-funded by its Korean counterpart, the Federation of Korean Industries. Although details have yet to be announced, the money raised by the fund may be used for scholarships to Korean students. Stressing that the resolution highlights Korea’s willingness to advance bilateral relations in a future-oriented manner, Park called for a “sincere response” from Japan upholding the spirit of a 1998 joint declaration issued by then President Kim Dae-jung and then Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo. President Yoon Suk Yeol, who has been pushing to mend ties with Japan since taking office in May 2022, said the resolution underscores his administration’s determination to build a future-oriented relationship with the neighboring country.

“In order for Korea-Japan relations to enter a new era, both governments should make efforts for the future generation to play a pivotal role,” he was quoted as saying by presidential spokesperson Lee Do-woon. While the settlement is expected to generate huge momentum in mending frozen diplomatic relations between the two countries, it has failed to gain the support of the victims and their supporters. “It’s a total defeat for Korea,” commented Attorney Lim Jae-seong, the legal representative of several victims. “In terms of diplomacy, it’s a total win for the Japanese side, since its government has managed to free their firms from legal liability or responsibility,” he said during an interview with CBS radio. He also pointed out that the tentative creation of a youth-related fund is totally irrelevant to compensating wartime victims. Yang Geum-deok, 94, a surviving forced labor victim, refused to receive compensation in the way proposed by the government. “This cannot be seen as an apology. A sincere apology should be made before anything else,” she told reporters in Gwangju after watching the ministry’s briefing. The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) also lashed out at the government’s resolution and called it “the biggest humiliation in Korea’s diplomatic history. “The Yoon Suk Yeol administration seems to have ultimately chosen the path of betraying historical justice,” said DPK Chairman Rep. Lee Jae-myung. “The humiliating resolution will never be accepted by the public.” Meanwhile, the Japanese government welcomed the settlement, expressing hopes to “restore healthy ties.” “The Japanese government values the measures announced by the Korean government and hopes that they will serve as a momentum to strengthen ties in the political, trade and cultural sectors,” Japan’s Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa said during a press briefing. He also told reporters that the incumbent Japanese government inherits the historical perceptions of previous administrations, including the 1998 joint declaration. In the declaration, Obuchi expressed his deep remorse and apology for the “tremendous damage and suffering” to the Korea people during the colonial occupation. But Hayashi did not give a direct response to a query on whether his government will allow Japanese firms to take part in fund and make donations to the Korean victims. President Joe Biden also welcomed the arrangement, calling it a “groundbreaking new chapter of cooperation and partnership between two of the United States’ closest allies.” Similar reactions also came from U.S. envoy to Korea Philip Goldberg, who said “the agreement to deal with a painful period in history advances trust and reconciliation between the two nations.” (Lee Hyo-jin, “Korea’s Solution to Forced Labor Issue Draws Backlash from Victims,” Korea Times, March 6, 2023) When it comes to South Korea and Japan, historical disputes have long clouded the relationship. The two countries have not had a state visit since 2011 because they couldn’t resolve territorial claims over a set of islets. They’ve argued vehemently over the Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery for Japan’s wartime military. But South Korea appears ready to make nice. In one of the most significant moves to improve ties between the two countries, the government of South Korea’s president, Yoon Suk Yeol, announced today that South Korea would no longer demand that Japanese companies compensate their Korean victims of forced labor during World War II. Instead, Seoul will create a government-run fund that it will use to pay the victims directly. The move was seen as a clear indication that improving relations had become a greater priority between Seoul and Tokyo as Washington urged its two most steadfast allies in Asia to work closer together to help it face off with an increasingly assertive China and North Korea. President Biden called the deal “a groundbreaking new chapter of cooperation and partnership between two of the United States’ closest allies.” Victims and their supporters in South Korea described the announcement as a “humiliating” concession made by Mr. Yoon in his overzealous drive to please Washington and improve ties with Japan, which colonized Korea from 1910 to 1945. Their main concern is that the money would not come directly from Japanese companies such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel, as stipulated by a 2018 South Korean Supreme Court decision. Both companies were among the Japanese businesses that relied on Korean forced labor during the war and were named in the lawsuit brought before the Supreme Court. South Korea hoped that Japanese companies would contribute to its fund, adding that Tokyo would not oppose if they made voluntary donations. “I am not going to accept money even if I have to starve,” Yang Geum-deok, 94, one of the victims, told reporters on Monday, saying that she rejected the government’s solution because it was not compensation from Japan. The compensation deal was the most notable action taken by either side to try and resolve the festering historical dispute. Japan has insisted that such matters were settled long ago, under a 1965 treaty that established postwar diplomatic ties. The disagreement over the issue has sent relations between the two countries to one of the lowest points in decades. They have retaliated against each other by imposing trade restrictions and boycotts. There was some indication that Japan would deliver its own concessions to Seoul after Monday’s announcement. Both nations’ trade ministries said that they would begin discussions on lifting export controls Japan imposed in 2019 that limited South Korea’s access to Japanese chemicals that are essential to its semiconductor industry. Daniel Sneider, a lecturer in international policy at Stanford University, described the agreement as “a compromise in which the Koreans have given far more than the Japanese” and added that Japan had done “the bare minimum.” By not giving directly to the South Korean victims, Mr. Sneider said, the Japanese government was not doing what was necessary to heal the rift between the two countries. Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, “has been dragged reluctantly to an agreement that he should have been able to reach easily, and he has yet to show the kind of moral leadership that’s really necessary to bring about real reconciliation between Korea and Japan,” he said. So far, South Korea’s Supreme Court has awarded 15 victims a total of $3 million in compensation, though Japanese companies have refused to pay it. Of the 15 victims, only four have expressed support for the government’s new solution, their lawyers told reporters on Monday. Hundreds of other victims are still suing to be compensated. Lawyers said that the victims who reject the government’s solution will continue their legal battle and attempt to confiscate assets that the Japanese companies hold in South Korea. Representatives of the political opposition in South Korea called the deal a “capitulation.” “Today will go down as one of the worst diplomatic disasters in the history of South Korea-Japan relations,” said a joint statement from 53 opposition lawmakers. “This is the day when South Korea, a victim country, knelt in surrender to Japan, the perpetrating country.” (Choe Sang-Hun, “South Korea Concedes on Bitter War Dispute, Prioritizing Relations With Japan,” New York Times, March 7, 2023, p. A- 9) : Nearly 60 percent of South Koreans said they are against a move to resolve a wartime labor row between the country and Japan that would see Seoul compensate former Korean laborers, a public opinion poll found March 10. The result by Gallup Korea reflects public antagonism toward the resolution, which would not require direct payments from Japanese companies, regarding alleged forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. The survey found 59 percent of respondents are opposed to the plan as they believe it provides no apology or reparations from Japan, while 35 percent said the solution will help bilateral relations and national interest. Gallup Korea found that 85 percent believe the current Japanese government is not remorseful about its colonial rule or historical issues. (Kyodo, “60 Percent of South Koreans Oppose Japan Wartime Labor Resolution,” March 10, 2023)

3/7/23:
KPA General Staff spokesman’s statement: “In the morning of March 7, the enemy fired more than 30 artillery shells at the Cho-ri shooting range in Jindong-myon, Phaju City of Kyonggi Province, situated in the forward area of the western front. This is a very grave military provocation further aggravating the prevailed situation. Promptly after the case occurred, the KPA General Staff ordered the artillery units under the Second Army Corps at 09:00 to get on the firepower alert posture for attack. And it kept the enemy movement under observation and took a step to intensify the overall front guard and the anti-aircraft combat duty. The KPA General Staff solemnly warns the enemy side to stop at once the provocative military actions in the area of the Military Demarcation Line.” (KCNA, “Spokesman for KPA General Staff Issues Statement,” March 7, 2023)

The South Korean military today denied as “groundless” North Korea’s claims that it fired more than 30 artillery shells at a shooting range near the inter-Korean border. “There was no artillery firing by our military in the region where the North claims (the firing occurred),” Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. “The announcement by the North Korean military’s General Staff is not true and a groundless claim.” (Yonhap, “S. Korea Rejects N. Korea’s Claim of Artillery Firing Near Inter-Korean Border,” Korea Times, March 8, 2023)

WPK Central Committee Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jong’s press statement: “One of south Korean puppet media on March 6 carried an unspecific report that the commander of the U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific said something on February 24 to the effect that if we fired ICBMs into the Pacific, they would immediately shoot them down. I don’t know if he really made such improper words to speak for the stand of the U.S. military or if it was nothing but the puppet media’s trite wordplay, but I clearly warn in advance irrespective of any reason whether it is true or not. The Pacific Ocean does not belong to the dominium of the U.S. or Japan. It is very interesting to see how the U.S., whose forces frequently conduct the test-launches of strategic weapons in the Pacific every year as if the ocean were its yard, will respond if a third country attempts to intercept them under the reason for counteraction. Had he been mindful that a specific approach must be taken to cope with such a terrible situation, he could have realized how unmanageable, excessive and crazy remarks he made. The commander of the U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific reportedly described the “south Korea-U.S. map exercise for operating extended deterrence means” as effective and “very meaningful” as it gave a message to the DPRK and another country. We, too, have a message to send to the U.S. It will be regarded as a clear declaration of war against the DPRK, in case such military response as interception takes place against our tests of strategic weapons that are conducted without being detrimental to the security of neighboring countries in the open waters and air which do not belong to the U.S. jurisdiction. We also remind them that our military code of conduct in such a situation has been set. The demonstrative military moves and all sorts of rhetoric by the U.S. and south Korea, which go so extremely frantic as not to be overlooked, undoubtedly provide the DPRK with conditions for being forced to do something to cope with them. As already clarified, we keep our eye on the restless military moves by the U.S. forces and the south Korean puppet military and are always on standby to take appropriate, quick and overwhelming action at any time according to our judgment. The U.S. and south Korea had better refrain from making remarks and behavior any longer that aggravate the situation.” (KCNA, “Press Statement by Kim Yo Jong, Vice Department Director of C.C., WPK,” March 7, 2023)

The chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said today “deeply troubling” signs of activity are continuously being detected at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear testing site. Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), made the remarks amid speculation that the North appears to be preparing for what would be its first nuclear test since 2017. “The Nuclear Test Site at Punggye-ri remains prepared to support a nuclear test, and we continue to see indications of activity near Adit 3 of the Test Site,” he said in a statement to the board of governors. “The reopening of the nuclear test site is deeply troubling.” He noted that the road to the former Adit 4 entrance has been rebuilt, though the agency has not observed any indications of excavation. The secretive North also appears to be operating the 5-megawatt reactor and the reported centrifuge enrichment facility at the Yongbyon nuclear site, Grossi said. “There were indications of possible tests of the light water reactor (LWR) cooling system in late September and early October, and changes to the LWR’s cooling water outlet channel in October,” he added. (Yonhap, “’Troubling’ Signs of Activity at N. Korea’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Testing Site: IAEA Chief,” March 7, 2023)

Japan’s new flagship H3 rocket lifted off today for the first time but was ordered to self-destruct minutes later after its second-stage engine failed to ignite, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said, with the failure marking another blow to the country’s aspirations in the space industry. The failure followed a string of delays to the development of the successor to the reliable H2A rocket, including a previous launch attempt on Feb. 17 that was aborted moments before blastoff at the Tanegashima Space Center on Tanegashima Island in the southwestern prefecture of Kagoshima due to malfunctioning electrical equipment. The second launch attempt was initiated at around 10:37 a.m. Tuesday as scheduled. However, JAXA sent a self-destruct command to the newly developed rocket around 15 minutes later after the launch vehicle was deemed unable to complete its intended mission. According to the space agency, the remains of the rocket crashed into waters off the eastern coast of the Philippines. There have been no reports of damage or injury from falling debris, it said. The result is the latest setback to JAXA, whose smaller Epsilon-6 rocket was ordered to self-destruct just minutes after liftoff in October last year after it deviated from its intended trajectory. It may also lead to calls for an overhaul of Japan’s space strategy under which the H3, the first revamp of its main launch vehicle in around 20 years, was expected to give the country a foothold in the increasingly competitive satellite launching business. The failed mission, dubbed Test Flight No. 1, was supposed to put into orbit the Advanced Land Observing Satellite-3, which was expected to become a key tool for the government when managing disasters. The satellite also carried a sensor from the Defense Ministry’s acquisition agency capable of detecting two types of infrared rays that was to be tested to see if it could detect ballistic missile launches. The H3 was originally scheduled for launch by JAXA and its prime contractor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. by the end of March 2021. But the plan was pushed back by around two years over issues with the newly developed LE-9 engine and to replace parts after the Epsilon-6 rocket was ordered to self-destruct. The failure of the smaller rocket meant that last year marked the first time in 18 years that there was not a single successful launch of a domestically developed rocket in Japan. The H3 rocket is intended to be used not only to launch satellites and probes but also to carry a new unmanned cargo transporter that will deliver supplies and materials to the International Space Station and Gateway, a lunar-orbiting outpost planned under the U.S.-led Artemis space program. At 5 billion yen ($37 million), the H3 rocket is around half the cost of its predecessor but has 1.3 times the satellite launch capacity. Japan hopes to increase orders for satellite launches from domestic and international clients by promoting the 97.8 percent success rate of the H2A rocket, which only failed once in 46 launches since its introduction in 2001. (Kyodo, “Japan’s New Flagship H3 Rocket Launch Fails, Ordered to Self-Destruct,” March 7, 2023)

3/8/23:
North Korea is expected to conduct a nuclear test as it continues to develop its missile capabilities in an attempt to drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea, a US intelligence report said today. The 2023 Annual Threat Assessment also noted that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may have no intention to give up his nuclear weapons. “Kim almost certainly views nuclear weapons and ICBMs as the ultimate guarantor of his autocratic rule and has no intention of abandoning those programs, believing that over time he will gain international acceptance as a nuclear power,” said the report, released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “North Korea is using its nuclear-capable missile program to try to establish strategic dominance over South Korea and US forces in the region by pursuing missiles probably aimed at defeating missile defenses on the peninsula and the region and issuing threats to militarily respond to any perceived attacks against its sovereignty,” the report added. The report noted that since September 2022, the North has timed its missile launches and military demonstrations to counter joint military exercises of the US and South Korea “probably to attempt to coerce the United States and South Korea to change their behavior.” “Pyongyang probably wants the alliance to decrease the pace and scale of the exercises with the ultimate goal of undermining the strength of the alliance,” it said. “Kim probably will continue to order missile tests … to validate technical objectives, reinforce deterrence, and normalize Pyongyang’s missile testing.” The report also highlights the possibility of a nuclear test, saying the North Korean leader remains “strongly committed to expanding the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal and maintaining nuclear weapons as a centerpiece of his national security structure.” “North Korea probably is preparing to test a nuclear device to further its stated military modernization goals to facilitate “tactical nuclear operations,”” it said. The annual intelligence report also warned that the North will continue to engage in illicit cyber activities to fund its illegal nuclear and missile development programs. “North Korea’s cyber program continues to adapt to global trends in cybercrime by conducting cryptocurrency heists, diversifying its range of financially motivated cyber operations, and continuing to leverage advanced social engineering techniques,” it said. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Likely to Conduct Nuclear Test amid Continued Missile Testing: U.S. Report,” Korea Herald, March 9, 2023)

3/9/23:
North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile toward the Yellow Sea today, Seoul’s military said, in the latest show of force ahead of a major South Korea-U.S. military exercise set to begin next week. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch from the North’s western port city of Nampo at 6:20 p.m. It did not elaborate further. The latest launch came as the allies are preparing to kick off the Freedom Shield exercise set to take place from Monday through March 23. The exercise is to proceed concurrently with the large-scale field training exercise, called the Warrior Shield. In apparent shows of force against possible provocations by North Korea, the U.S. has recently deployed high-profile military assets to the Korean Peninsula, including B-1B and B-52H strategic bombers as well as a nuclear-powered submarine. The allies are also in talks for the U.S. to send a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to South Korea later this month, according to an informed source. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Fires Short-Range Missile toward Yellow Sea: S. Korean Military,” March 9, 2023) Photos unveiled by its state media suggested the possibility of the secretive North having test-fired at least six tactical guided weapons simultaneously from a reservoir area. Hours later, an official at South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff also said the North apparently launched six missiles presumed to be short-range ballistic ones. “It makes no sense tactically to launch (missiles) with the weapons system in such close formation. So, we believe it is intended as a show of force in connection with the Freedom Shield (FS) exercise of South Korea and the U.S.,” the official said. The allies are scheduled to start the major combined practice next Monday for an 11-day run, coupled with a large-scale field maneuver, called the Warrior Shield. (Yi Wonju, “N. Korean Leader Inspects ‘Actual War’ Readiness of Artillery Unit Targeting Enemy’sAirfield: KCNA,” March 10, 2023)

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, gave field guidance to the Hwasong artillery unit charged with important operational task of the Korean People’s Army on the western front on March 9 and watched a fire assault drill. The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un was greeted by commanding officers of the unit on the spot. He acquainted himself with the combat and political training of the service personnel and the order of action of the unit for the important operational task and its capability to operate weapons systems. He highly appreciated that all the service personnel are intensifying their combat and political training in a stand-by posture with high class consciousness, transparent will to deal with the enemy and resolute viewpoint on struggle and steadily perfecting their operational capability to successfully carry out their important military task. Going round important elements of the unit and various places of the sub-unit, he learned in detail about the war preparations and military service of the service personnel. That day Kim Jong Un examined the actual war response posture of the 8th fire assault company under the unit charged with striking the enemy’s operation airport in the direction of the western front. Leading officials of the Central Committee of the WPK and commanding officers of the large combined unit of the Korean People’s Army watched the drill. The fire assault company, which has trained its capability to carrying out strike missions in the definite and minute war posture of containing any military moves of the enemy at a time, fired a powerful volley at the targeted waters in the West Sea of Korea set under the simulated conditions of the major elements of the enemy operation airport, thus confidently demonstrating its capability to counter an actual war. Expressing great satisfaction over the results of the drill, Kim Jong Un highly appreciated that the Hwasong artillerymen were powerfully and strictly ready to respond to actual war. He said that the results of the censorship training clearly showed the important sense of mission that the army should be ready to fight any time and be responsible for an actual action rather than words and our clear, practical and unshakable will to take military action. He stressed the need to always stay alert for all sorts of more frantic war preparation moves being committed by the enemy recently and maintain and steadily train the powerful capability to overwhelmingly respond to and contain them all the time so as to thoroughly deter the danger of a military clash on the Korean Peninsula. Referring to the importance of the operational task of the unit once again, he stressed that the fire assault sub-units should be strictly prepared for the greatest perfection in carrying out the two strategic missions, that is, first to deter war and second to take the initiative in war, by steadily intensifying various simulated drills for real war in a diverse way in different situations. All the combatants of the unit are full of their will to carry out their weighty mission at the very time when the enemy’s moves for violating the sovereignty of our state and threatening its security cross the red-line set by the DPRK, by further accelerating the building of powerful war readiness.” (KCNA, “ Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Watches Fire Assault Drill,” March 10, 2023)

3/11/23:
KCNA: “The 5th enlarged meeting of the 8th Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) took place at a time when the whole country has turned out in the efforts to implement the resolutions of the 8th Congress of the WPK and plenary meetings of its Central Committee in singled-hearted unity. Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, chairman of the WPK Central Military Commission and president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, guided the meeting. Present there were members of the WPK Central Military Commission, commanding officers of the Ministry of National Defense, commanding officers of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) services and army corps. Attending there as observers were cadres of relevant departments of the WPK Central Committee. The 5th enlarged meeting of the 8th WPK Central Military Commission discussed the orientations of major political and military activities facing the KPA including the issue of powerfully organizing the nationwide struggle by dispatching the KPA to the major theaters for rapid development in socialist construction, and measures for it. The WPK Central Military Commission reaffirmed the importance of solving the rural question, set forth by the WPK as a prerequisite and strategic foremost affair in accomplishing the cause of socialism, and the present rural construction. And since the medium- and long-term development orientation and goal for the socialist rural construction were set clearly, it raised as a key point for discussion the issue of implementing them unconditionally. The enlarged meeting confirmed the KPA’s action orientation and detailed duties for accelerating rural development, regional construction and grand socialist construction which the Party has planned on a long-term basis and is leading as a purposeful struggle, discussed the organizational and structural measures for implementing them and ways for using forces, and unanimously approved the relevant resolutions. The meeting discussed and adopted the important practical steps for making more effective, powerful and offensive use of the war deterrent of the country in coping with the present situation in which the war provocations of the U.S. and south Korea are reaching the red-line. At the meeting Kim Jong Un, reviewing and analyzing the subjective and objective situation of our revolution, said that the present grand drive for creation for accomplishing the gigantic cause of overall national prosperity, resolutely overcoming all the challenges and difficulties, calls upon the KPA, that has always played a vanguard role in the struggle for implementing the grand practical program of the Party, to lead the whole society with more advancing and vigorous struggle. The KPA should become a driving force and model in the sacred struggle for the socialist rural construction and economic development to turn the ideal of the people into reality, unconditionally implement the stepwise goals and thus bring about the entities of prosperity welcomed by the whole country year after year, he said. Encouraged by the deep trust of the General Secretary who has put forward the KPA again in the van of building a prospering country to provide the people with a high civilized and happy life, all the participants made a firm pledge to certainly attain the goals of grand changes for national prosperity by fulfilling their important responsibilities and duties in carrying out the militant tasks set forth by the Party Central Military Commission. The 5th enlarged meeting of the 8th Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea will be recorded in the history of the country as a significant meeting which further clarified the revolutionary character and nature of the KPA, the army of the Party and the people, and provided a decisive guarantee for the implementation of the program for rural revolution in the new era and the overall development of socialist construction and made a big stride of practice for the promotion of the people’s wellbeing.” (KCNA, “5th Enlarged Meeting of 8th WPK Central Military Commission Held,” March 12, 2023)

3/12/23:
KCNA: “An underwater launching drill of strategic cruise missiles was staged at dawn of March 12. The submarine “8.24 Yongung” launched two strategic cruise missiles in the water off Kyongpho Bay on the East Sea of Korea. The drill confirmed the reliability of the weapon system and examined the underwater-to-surface offensive operation posture of the submarine units that constitute one of the major components of the DPRK nuclear deterrent. The drill successfully achieved its object. The two strategic cruise missiles precisely hit the preset target on the East Sea of Korea after traveling 1 500km-long eight-shaped flight orbits for 7 563s to 7 575s. The Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea expressed satisfaction over the results of the launching drill. The drill clearly showed the invariable stand of the Korean People’s Army to control with its overwhelming powerful force all the time the present situation in which the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet traitors are getting evermore undisguised in their anti-DPRK military maneuvers, and verified the regular operation posture of the nuclear war deterrence means in different spaces.” (KCNA, “Underwater Launching Drill of Strategic Cruise Missiles Conducted,” March 13, 2023)

North Korea fired two strategic cruise missiles from a submarine, its first such missile test, as South Korea and the United States were about to begin a major joint military exercise. The missiles were launched at dawn today and flew for more than two hours, covering a distance of 932 miles, according to the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency. The report said they were fired from the 8.24 Yongung, the only submarine capable of launching missiles that North Korea is known to possess. South Korea’s military confirmed that the test had taken place. The North Korean report indicated that the missiles were capable of carrying nuclear warheads, calling the launch part of a test of the North’s “nuclear deterrent.” North Korea has said that it is developing nuclear-capable missiles of various ranges and types, but some outside analysts are skeptical that it has warheads light enough to be mounted on cruise or small ballistic missiles. The launch, North Korea’s sixth missile test this year, marked the first time the North had tested cruise missiles from a submarine. The country last launched a short-range ballistic missile from a submarine on May 7 off its east coast. The North announced the launch as South Korea and the United States were beginning an 11-day joint military exercise on Monday. Code-named Freedom Shield, the drill, one of the biggest the two allies have planned for this year, will involve large numbers of troops, including a simulated storming of a beach. The North’s submarine-launched missile program, by potentially extending the range of the country’s nuclear arsenal, is believed to pose a particularly acute threat to the United States and its allies. The deployment of submarine-launched missiles is also harder to detect in advance. North Korea has been launching ballistic missiles since 2016 from the 8.24 Yongung. That submarine has a single launch tube, but the North has been developing a new missile-capable submarine with greater capabilities, according to the South Korean military. (Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Launches Two Cruise Missiles from Submarine,” New York Times, March 13, 2023)

DPRK FoMin statement: “The Foreign Ministry of the DPRK states as follows over the fact that the U.S. heinous hostile acts against our state have reached a grave phase which cannot be overlooked: Timed to coincide with the large-scale U.S.-south Korea war exercises to be launched on March 13, the U.S., together with its followers, is scheming to coercively call an informal UN Security Council meeting to discuss the non-existent “human rights issue” of the DPRK. The DPRK bitterly denounces the U.S. vicious “human rights” racket as the most intensive expression of its hostile policy toward the DPRK and categorically rejects it. We clearly see through the sinister intention of the U.S. again raising a “human rights card” which is little different from a good-for-nothing at present. It is the inveterate evil practice of the U.S. that whenever it is driven into a tight corner as it can no longer contain the DPRK with the nuclear issue, it would resort to the moves for putting pressure on the latter over “human rights issue” with mobilization of its followers like rabbles. We have already got used to it. The futile anti-DPRK “human rights” racket of the U.S. only shows that it has been driven to the last moment in the confrontation of strength with the DPRK. It is a well-known fact that the U.S. has long abused the “human rights issue” as dirty means for interfering in internal affairs of independent sovereign states to bring down their social systems and change their regimes. The anti-DPRK “human rights” racket by the U.S. and its followers has nothing to do with ensuring genuine human rights, and it is no more than the most politically-motivated hostile means for tarnishing the image of the DPRK and stamping out the genuine rights and interests of the Korean people. The present reality once again teaches the immutable truth that the DPRK-U.S. showdown is not just the confrontation of power but the one of ideology and social system and the DPRK should settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists to the last only with idea and arms. It is the invariable stand of the Korean people toward the U.S. and other enemies that they have to mercilessly punish the U.S. imperialists totally denying the sovereignty of our state and its socialist system and thus make them pay dearly without fail. Human rights precisely mean sovereignty, and it is the legitimate right of a sovereign state to use every possible means to defend its sovereignty. The DPRK solemnly declares once again that it will take the toughest counteraction against the most vicious hostile plots of the U.S. and its followers to thoroughly defend the national sovereignty and rights and interests.” (KCNA, “Statement of DPRK Foreign Ministry,” March 13, 2023)

South Korea and the United States kicked off a regular combined military exercise today amid heightened tensions caused by North Korea’s missile tests and hardening rhetoric against the allies. The computer simulation-based Freedom Shield (FS) exercise began its 11-day run under “realistic” scenarios reflective of the North’s evolving nuclear and missile threats, Seoul officials said. It is to proceed with the concurrent field training exercise, called the Warrior Shield. The springtime exercise got under way at midnight. The FS is to continue without a weekend break, marking the allies’ lengthiest command post exercise. It is known to involve wartime procedures to repel potential North Korean attacks and conduct a stabilization campaign in the North. Alongside the FS, the allies plan to conduct some 20 field drills, including the Ssangyong (double dragon) amphibious exercise, under the collective name of the Warrior Shield. They represented a return to the scale of the Foal Eagle field exercise suspended in 2019 under the preceding Moon Jae-in administration keen on inter-Korean rapprochement. On the first day of the allied exercise, a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft, called BD-700 N799JR, known as the Airborne Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare System, flew over South Korea, according to a tweet by the aviation tracker Aircraft Spots. The sortie is viewed as a move to keep close tabs on North Korean military movements. The U.S. military is expected to send the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz aircraft carrier late this month for combined maritime drills with the South Korean Navy in connection with the FS, officials said. Meanwhile, the South Korean Air Force kicked off its own field training exercise, which includes daytime and nighttime sorties, and contingency procedures on the timely supply of ammunition, the emergency restoration of damaged airstrips and responses to terrorist attacks using chemical, biological and radioactive weapons, according to the armed service. The South and the U.S. conduct two major combined command post exercises each year to practice crisis management and war execution procedures — one in the spring and the other in the summer. The summertime exercise, called the Ulchi Freedom Shield, includes the South Korean government’s Ulchi civil defense drills. Pyongyang has long decried these exercises as a rehearsal for a war of invasion against it. (Yonhap, “Key S. Korea-U.S. Military Exercise Begins; N Korea Likely to Respond with More Provocations,” March 13, 2023)

3/14/23:
KCNA: “A missile unit of the Korean People’s Army in charge of an important operational task on the western front of the DPRK conducted a demonstration missile-launching drill to teach its sub-units on March 14. Watching the drill were commanding officers and combatants of each sub-unit under the unit. The 11th firepower assault company of the unit participated in the drill and launched two ground-to-ground tactical ballistic missiles in a medium-range system for demonstration teaching. The missiles, fired in an area around Jangyon County of South Hwanghae Province, precisely hit the target, Phi Islet, in the waters off Pangjin-dong, Chongam District, Chongjin City of North Hamgyong Province, located 611.4kms away from the fired spot. Saying that they will surely annihilate the enemy if they fight it, the commander of the unit resolved to thoroughly have the ability to fully carry out its duty of fire assault any time by further intensifying the training of every firepower assault company, true to the Party’s policy on effecting a revolution in the training.” (KCNA, “Missile Launching Drill Conducted in DPRK,” March 15, 2023)

South Korea’s military said today the North fired two short-range ballistic missiles from the Jangyon area toward the East Sea, a day after Seoul and Washington kicked off a regular joint military exercise. Photos carried by the North’s state media showed the North firing what appears to be KN-23 missiles, its version of the Russian Iskander, from a transporter erector launcher (TEL). (Yonhap, “North Korea Confirms Launch of 2 Ground-to-Ground Ballistic Missiles Tuesday,” March 15, 2023)

South Korea’s Navy is participating in a US-led multinational anti-submarine warfare exercise in waters off Guam, officials said today. The Navy sent two P-3 maritime surveillance aircraft and 40 sailors to Sea Dragon 23, which began Wednesday and will last through the end of this month. The annual exercise launched in 2014 is aimed at enhancing joint anti-submarine warfare capabilities. Five countries, including India, Canada and Japan, are participating this year. (Yonhap, Korea Herald, March 15, 2023)

3/14/23:
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) toward the East Sea today, Seoul’s military said, a day after South Korea and the United States kicked off a regular military exercise. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch from the Jangyon area in South Hwanghae Province between 7:41 a.m. and 7:51 a.m., and they flew some 620 kilometers. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Fires 2 Short-Range Ballistic Missiles toward East Sea: S. Korean Military,” March 14, 2023)

3/16/23:
North Korea fired a long-range ballistic missile toward the East Sea today, Seoul’s military said, hours before summit talks between the leaders of South Korea and Japan on pending bilateral issues and regional security. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch from the Sunan area in Pyongyang at 7:10 a.m., and the missile, fired at a lofted angle, flew some 1,000 kilometers before splashing into the sea. It appears to be a “projectile” akin to the North’s newest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-17, with chances slim that the North shot a solid-fuel ICBM, according to a Seoul official. The recalcitrant regime previously fired a Hwasong-17 ICBM last November. The ICBM is known to have a range of over 13,000 km, long enough to target the continental United States. Last month, the North fired a Hwasong-15 ICBM, which Seoul believes has a range of longer than 10,000 km. (Song Sang-ho and Chae Yun-hwan, “North Korea Firs One ICBM ahead of S. Korea Japan Summit: Military,” Yonhap< March 16, 2023)KCNA: “Under the grave situation in which the most unstable security environment is being created in the Korean peninsula due to the frantic, provocative and aggressive large-scale war drills conducted by the U.S. and the south Korean puppet traitors against the DPRK, the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) saw to it that a launching drill of the ICBM Hwasongpho-17 was conducted on March 16. The launching drill of the strategic weapon serves as an occasion to give a stronger warning to the enemies intentionally escalating the tension in the Korean peninsula while persistently resorting to irresponsible and reckless military threats in defiance of the DPRK's severe warning, and give an understanding of the concern about armed conflict which has come to a threatening reality, and to more clearly show the practical will of the Party and government of the DPRK to counterattack with overwhelming offensive measures anytime. 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, guided the launching drill of an ICBM unit on the spot. Leading officials of the WPK Central Committee and commanding officers of the Missile General Bureau watched the launching drill in the presence of the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un. The drill was aimed at confirming the mobile and normal operation and reliability of the DPRK's nuclear war deterrent. The ICBM Hwasongpho-17, launched at the Pyongyang International Airport, traveled up to a maximum altitude of 6 045km and flew a distance of 1 000.2 km for 4 151s before accurately landing on the preset area in the open waters off the East Sea of Korea. The launching drill had no negative impact on the security of neighboring countries. The drill confirmed the war readiness of the ICBM unit and the exceptional militancy of the DPRK's strategic forces and strictly verified their reliability. Expressing great satisfaction over the drill, Kim Jong Un said that the drill clearly proved once again the conviction and guarantee of the operating systems of the nuclear strategic forces undergoing rapid development. Noting that our action orientation and line to cope with the long-term security environment of the state and the enemies' threat remain unchangeable, he stressed the need to strike fear into the enemies, really deter war and reliably guarantee the peaceful life of our people and their struggle for socialist construction by irreversibly bolstering up the nuclear war deterrent. Saying that we will continue to make the U.S. and south Korea, which show open hostility towards the DPRK and frequently stage large-scale military drills in and around the Korean peninsula, find themselves being reckless, he mentioned our policy for counteraction against the enemies that is to make them realize themselves that their persistent expanded anti-DPRK military moves will bring an irreversible, grave threat to them. Reiterating the solemn declaration of the WPK and the DPRK government that they would react to nuclear weapons with nukes and frontal confrontation in kind, he called for strictly maintaining the rapid response posture of the strategic forces to cope with any armed conflict and war. The nuclear strategic forces of the DPRK will make perfect preparations for carrying out their important mission anytime.” (KCNA, “Demonstration of Toughest Response Posture of DPRK's Strategic Forces ICBM Hwasongpho-17 Launched,” March 17, 2023)President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio agreed to open up a new era of Korea-Japan ties during their summit in Tokyo today, stressing the need to bolster security and economic cooperation for future generations and to deter evolving threats from North Korea. Yoon said the summit, the first in 12 years, signified a fresh start of bilateral ties, calling Japan a partner with common values and goals. The two leaders also agreed to resume “shuttle diplomacy” that is “free from any format,” and to normalize a suspended military intelligence sharing pact and restore consultations between the two governments on diplomatic, economic and cultural relations. At the press conference held after the summit, Kishida said, without an apology, that Japan would inherit historic awareness of previous Japanese cabinets, including the Japan-South Korea joint declaration of 1998. The two also said they have no plans to seek reimbursem*nt from Japan in terms of compensation for forced labor victims. The two leaders met just 10 days after Seoul announced its plan to compensate Korean victims who were forced to work during the Japanese colonial period of World War II. Relations between South Korea and Japan began to deteriorate after former President Lee Myung-bak visited Dokdo in 2012. The relationship soured even further when South Korea’s top court ruled that Japanese companies should compensate victims forced to work during Japan’s colonial period in World War II and Japan retaliated by imposing export regulations on Korean chip materials. “This year marks the 25th anniversary of the ‘Kim Dae-jung-Obuchi joint declaration’ announced in 1998 to face the past and develop a relationship based on mutual understanding and trust,” said President Yoon in his opening speech at a joint press briefing. “It was the first step toward overcoming the unfortunate history between the two countries and opening a new era of cooperation between Korea and Japan by inheriting a progressive spirit,” Yoon said. “In the future, the two leaders will continue to actively communicate and cooperate through shuttle diplomacy by meeting whenever necessary, regardless of formalities,” he added. The two leaders agreed to strengthen their military ties against North Korea’s ongoing threats. President Yoon said, “In that sense, at the summit a little while ago, GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement) has been declared completely normalized.” This was the first military pact agreed upon by South Korea and Japan in November 2016. Under the pact, both nations shared military secrets, including information related to North Korea’s social trends, military activities and nuclear missiles. Although military information has been shared between the two countries through the pact, its legal status has remained unstable over the past few years. In 2019 under the Moon Jae-in administration, it was extended under the condition that it could be canceled at any time. Kishida said they would resume security talks between South Korea and Japan that had been suspended for a long time and launch a new economic security consultative body. On the day of the summit, the Federation of Korean Industries in South Korea and the Federation of Economic Organizations in Japan announced the creation of a future partnership fund, with each side contributing 100 million yen ($751,850). On the occasion of Yoon’s visit, Japan decided to lift export restrictions on three key semiconductor materials to Korea. At the same time, the South Korean government also decided to withdraw its complaint to the World Trade Organization against Japan’s measures on three items. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy announced on the same day that Japan has decided to lift export restrictions imposed on South Korea for three semiconductor materials: hydrogen fluoride, fluorinated polyimide and photoresist. The two governments agreed to engage in close discussions regarding the whitelist, which is a list of countries that receive benefits in simplifying export procedures. Restoring the whitelist is expected to take some time. (Shin Ji-hye, “Yoon, Kishida Vow New Era of Ties,” Korea Herald, March 16, 2023)

3/17/23:
Rodong Sinmun: “The situation in the Korean peninsula is inching closer to an uncontrollable and dangerous state. The world is closely observing the tense confrontation among the nuclear powers on the brink of an outbreak of war with deep concern. This grave situation is entirely attributable to the reckless and tyrannical moves of the U.S. and its followers to stifle the DPRK. As well-known to the world, the DPRK has concentrated all its efforts on easing military tension and maintaining peace and stability in the Korean peninsula and the region from the outset of this year, out of its single desire to achieve fresh development and progress in its economic construction and improvement of its people’s living standards. But the U.S.-led hostile forces are persistently resorting to dangerous hostile acts of violently encroaching upon the sovereignty and security interests of the DPRK this year, too, in the wake of last year, and their gravity and danger have reached an intolerable phase. The U.S. secretary of Defense said on his junket to the puppet region in January that the U.S. would deploy more strategic assets such as fifth-generation stealth fighters and aircraft carriers, unhesitatingly revealing its intention to use nuclear weapons against the DPRK. Meanwhile, puppet traitor Yoon Suk Yeol, obsessed with confrontation with fellow countrymen, talked about the “establishment of a posture of readiness” and “punishment” at an underground air-raid shelter. The warmongers, engrossed in bravado and blind bravery, announced that they would stage more than 20 rounds of joint military exercises in the first half of this year beyond the level of the past “Foal Eagle” joint military drills, and have staged madcap war exercises against the DPRK, including drills aiming at infiltration and joint striking at its strategic facilities and major core targets. As talked about the permanent presence of extended deterrence, the U.S. introduced core air strategic weapons including B-1B nuclear strategic bombers, F-22, F-35B and other stealth fighters into the area of south Korean puppets in February to stage several combined air drills targeting the DPRK together with them in the sky above the West Sea of Korea. In particular, the U.S. imperialists conducted a “drill for operating extended deterrence means”, which made it a fait accompli to mount a preemptive nuclear attack on the DPRK, together with the puppets in their mainland in late February, claiming that they would constantly deploy nuclear strategic assets in the Korean peninsula in the future, too. Such reckless military confrontation and hostile acts drove the situation in the Korean peninsula to the brink of explosion in March. The U.S. continuously dispatched nuclear submarines, one of the major strategic assets of the U.S. navy, and Aegis destroyers, to the puppet region with the black-hearted intention to escalate military pressure on the DPRK. On March 1, the U.S. and the puppet warmongers brought the latest missile pursuit craft of the U.S. navy, Howard Lorenzen, to the East Sea of Korea to conduct espionage activities with RC-135S and other reconnaissance assets. On March 3, they conducted a combined air drill in the sky over the West Sea of Korea for the fourth time this year with B-1B strategic bomber and the MQ-9 Reaper, an air combat drone ill-famed as an “assassin in the sky”, and other strategic hardware. Meanwhile, the puppet chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, together with his master, toured the special operation drill ground where the “beheading operation” of striking a surprise attack on the strategic bases of the DPRK was underway and inspected several military units of the puppets in the areas near the front to incite them to extreme confrontation hysteria, saying that “the enemy’s provocation has already begun” and they will “mete out a punishment.” Despite the worsened military and political situation of the Korean peninsula and the region, the U.S. staged the fifth round of combined air drill by dispatching nuclear strategic bomber B-52 on March 6 and started the large-scale U.S.-south Korea joint military exercises Freedom Shield on March 13. The reality clearly shows that the danger of a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula is shifting from a virtual phase to a practical one. All the military drills staged by the U.S. in alliance with the puppets are a provocative north-targeted rehearsal and preliminary nuclear war to simulate a sweeping war against the DPRK, and herein lies their gravity. As for the “Ssangryong” combined landing drill aimed at “occupation of Pyongyang” alone, they rehabilitated it five years after it was halted and openly trumpet that it will reach an all-time high in terms of its scale and scope. The U.S. imperialists describe their war drills as “defensive” but that is a sophism making profound confusing of right and wrong. The U.S. itself will not deny the fact that the nuclear strategic bomber B-52H, supersonic strategic bomber B-1B, nuclear carriers, nuclear attack submarines and F-35 stealth fighters, which it brings to the Korean peninsula and its surrounding areas anytime this year as well as last year, are not for defense but the most offensive military hardware specializing in strategic strike missions. No one will believe that the constant deployment of the U.S. nuclear strategic assets in the Korean peninsula and such things as landing and infiltration drill, surprise landing and assault drill staged by special units under war scenarios aimed at “end of regime”, “decapitation” and “occupation of Pyongyang” are for “defense.” Now the hostile forces are viciously scheming to isolate and suffocate the DPRK through unethical and illegal sanctions, while pulling it up over the non-existent “human rights issue” and resorting to their dangerous military adventures. The U.S. and its vassal forces are faking up and spreading all rumors of “threat” to “demonize” the DPRK in the UN and other international arenas and contemptibly moving to prevent even one of things urgently needed for the daily life of our people from being entered our country by labeling them as “luxurious articles” groundlessly. Being unable to isolate the DPRK anymore internationally with the nuclear issue, the U.S. is mobilizing vassal forces that are no more than rabble, for the smear campaign against the DPRK in the international arena. The negative impact caused by the anti-DPRK moves of the U.S. and other hostile forces is not confined to the Korean Peninsula only. Now the U.S. is working hard to turn the military balance in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia in favor of the U.S.-led alliance system while zealously egging the puppets and Japan on to dangerous arms buildup under the signboard of implementing the “Indo-Pacific strategy” aimed at maintaining the regional military strategic hegemony. Getting absorbed in establishing a new military bloc such as the “Asian version of NATO” in the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. seeks to build “integrated deterrent force” comprising of military forces of AUKUS and other vassal states and thus realize its hegemonic purpose by forming an encircling net against regional big powers and steadily isolating and weakening them. The puppets’ development and introduction of “high-power ballistic missile,” launching of military spy satellites and attempt to possess nuclear submarine and Japan’s moves to introduce Tomahawk cruise missile for securing the “capability for attacking the enemy’s base” and develop hypersonic missile show that the arms buildup of the U.S. and its vassal forces is going beyond the intolerable red line. Today the Korean Peninsula is turning into the world’s largest magazine and war drill theatre due to the frantic military expansion moves of the U.S. and its vassal forces. It is a well-known fact that the regional security has been endangered and the foundation of international peace and security shaken due to the scheme for hegemony of the U.S. inciting division and confrontation and hampering stability and development. All things have a wherefore. As the international community estimates correctly, the situation in the Korean Peninsula has reached the present situation due to the U.S., which has steadily escalated its pressure and military threat to the DPRK, refusing to respond to the positive steps taken by our state. This year alone, we made clear several times that the cause of sustained vicious cycle of tension in the Korean Peninsula is the frequent combined drills of the U.S. and the puppets, who have aggravated the regional situation with all sorts of threatening rhetoric expressions after repeatedly setting the unrealistic and very dangerous target such as “end of regime” of a sovereign state. And we strongly demanded a immediate stop to the military hostile acts of hurting the peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and the region. Nevertheless, the U.S. has driven the situation of the Korean peninsula and the region to an intolerable red line, repeatedly ignoring the just demand of the DPRK and the international community. In order to cope with the grave developments in which threat to the sovereignty and security of the state has reached an intolerable phase, our Party and government cannot but take decisive and resolute steps to thoroughly contain the military threats from the hostile forces and defend peace and security of the Korean Peninsula and the region. Our nuclear forces are not for advertisem*nt. They can be used anytime, if necessary, to discharge the sacred mission of defending the country, and they should be preemptively used anytime according to the strategic plan, if a conflict with possibility of dangerous escalation occurs. The recent ICBM Hwasongpho-17 launching drill is clear evidence of it. We will continue to contain with the overwhelming force the reckless military provocations of the U.S. and its vassal forces. Clearly stipulated in the law of the DPRK on the policy of nuclear armed forces are the principles and conditions of using nuclear weapons under various circ*mstances to cope with any military threat and attack from outside to our state. If anyone tries to encroach upon the sovereignty and security of the DPRK, its nuclear armed forces will discharge its crucial mission. There is no vouch that if the dangerous military provocations of the U.S. and south Korea are continuously overlooked as now, a fierce physical conflict will not occur in the Korean Peninsula where huge forces of both sides stand in acute confrontation with each other. In case such conflict occurs in reality, the U.S. security, to say nothing of the regional stability, will face an uncontrollable, catastrophic phase. The U.S. should stop at once the reckless military provocations and war drills against the DPRK” (Rodong Sinmun, “On Root of the Situation in the Korean Peninsula on the Brink of Burst,” March 17, 2023)

3/18/23:
KCNA: “The move to provoke a nuclear war by the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet traitors, which is the worst-ever in their aggressive nature and scale and a flagrant violation of the DPRK’s sovereignty, security and interests, is now inching close to the unpardonable red-line. To cope with the prevailing grave situation, our Party demonstrated, with the solemn launching of ICBM Hwasongpho-17, the practical will of action to use powerful physical force to exercise strict control over the enemies who are driving the tension and confrontation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of explosion, resorting to their reckless military threats. The young vanguard, fully armed with the indomitable will of the Party to deal with the enemies and to settle accounts with the U.S., have turned out at once in the struggle to defend the country and annihilate the enemy. According to a tally, more than 800 000 youth league officials and students across the country volunteered to join and rejoin the Korean People’s Army (KPA) on March 17 alone. The soaring enthusiasm of young people to join the army is a demonstration of the unshakable will of the younger generation to mercilessly wipe out the war maniacs making last-ditch efforts to eliminate our precious socialist country, and achieve the great cause of national reunification without fail and a clear manifestation of their ardent patriotism. Youths and students in Pyongyang and other parts of the country held meetings to volunteer for military service, where they decided to join and rejoin the army with a will to annihilate the war maniacs to the last. The commanding officers and members of the Paektusan Hero Youth Shock Brigade and many other working youths made a request for allowing them to take the lead in a great war for national reunification with the spirit of beating down at a single blow the warmongers who are running amuck. Many students from Kim Il Sung University, Kim Chaek University of Technology, Hamhung University of Chemical Engineering and all other universities vowed to reliably defend our idea, system and beloved country. The number of young people volunteering to join and rejoin the KPA is on a steady increase across the country.“ (KCNA, “Many Youths of DPRK Volunteer for Military Service,” March 18, 2023)

3/19/23:
North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile towards the sea off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula today, South Korea and Japan said, in the latest of a series of tests carried out by the nuclear-armed state since the start of this year. The missile, launched from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Dongchang-ri on the west coast around 11:05 a.m. (0205 GMT), flew some 800 km (500 miles) before hitting a target, a South Korean military statement said. Japan’s Defense Ministry said the missile flew as high as 50 km (30 miles). Soon after the launch today, South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense said the U.S. deployed a B-1B strategic bomber to a joint air drill, which Seoul and Washington say they are holding to strengthen deterrence. The deployment of the bomber was planned in advance and unrelated to the latest North Korean launch, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported, citing the military. Japan and the U.S. also conducted joint air and sea military exercises over the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan for a third straight day on Sunday, Japan’s local media reported. (Hyunsu Yim, “North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile as U.S.-South Korean Drill Goes on,” Reuters March 19, 2023)

KCNA: “There took place on March 18 and 19 a combined tactical drill to substantially bolster the country’s war deterrence and nuclear counterattack capability and let relevant units get familiar with the procedures and processes for implementing their tactical nuclear attack missions. The combined tactical drill simulating a nuclear counterattack by the units for the operation of tactical nukes was carried out under the tense situation in which a large-scale war drill is being frantically scaled up by the U.S.-south Korean allied forces to invade the DPRK and U.S. nuclear strategic assets are massively brought to south Korea. The drill also aimed to demonstrate our tougher will to make an actual war response and send a stronger warning to the enemy who expand their war drills for aggression and take a series of military actions strong in their offensive nature, getting undisguised in their explicit attempt to unleash a war against the DPRK in disregard of its repeated warnings. 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, guided the combined tactical drill for nuclear counterattack. The two-day combined tactical drill for nuclear counterattack was held, divided into an exercise for managing the nuclear strike control system, an actual training for switching to taking nuclear counterattack posture, and a drill for launching tactical ballistic missile tipped with a mock nuclear warhead. On March 18, a drill was repeatedly held several times to reexamine the reliability of the operation system for the command and management over the tactical nuclear force in a multi-faceted way and to get familiar with the order of action and combat methods for promptly switching to a nuclear attack, while strictly examining in the light of security the accuracy of the procedures of issuing and receiving an order of nuclear attack under various simulated emergency circ*mstances, the order of handling nuclear weapons and the operation procedures for implementing different nuclear attack plans. It was proved through the first-day drill that the whole process of preparing for a nuclear counterattack is working in a fast, strict, highly reliable and safe system. A ballistic missile launching drill simulating a tactical nuclear attack was staged on Sunday [this] morning. The firing drill was observed by Minister of National Defense Kang Sun Nam and the combined unit chief in charge of commanding all the tactical nuclear operation units and commanding officers of missile units and sub-units under his command on the east and west fronts. It was also watched by relevant officials of the Party Central Committee, commanding officers of the Missile General Bureau and relevant personnel of the Nuclear Weapons Institute. Prior to the launching drill, there was an inspection of the normality of operation and stability of technical and mechanical devices, including the procedures for the final nuclear attack order authentication and the launch approval system, which was followed by a repeated training for getting familiar with relevant action procedures. Then, a firing drill simulating a nuclear strike at a major enemy target was staged. The missile was tipped with a test warhead simulating a nuclear warhead. The tactical ballistic missile launched in Cholsan County, North Phyongan Province accurately exploded at 800 meters above the target waters in the East Sea of Korea set in its 800 km strike range, thus proving once again the reliability of the operation of nuclear explosion control devices and detonators fitted in the nuclear warhead. The firing drill had no adverse effect on the security of the neighboring countries. Expressing satisfaction at the drill, the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un said that the combined tactical drill greatly improved the actual war capability of the units and sub-units in charge of important fire assault duty and filled all sub-units with great confidence. The drill marked an important occasion in preparing our nuclear combat force to rapidly and accurately perform its crucial mission of war deterrence and securing war initiative any moment and under any unexpected circ*mstances, he added. Saying that it is very important to continuously organize and conduct such drills under the simulated conditions of an actual war, he stressed the need to let service personnel get familiar with any unexpected circ*mstances and make them more perfectly prepared in their active posture of making an immediate and overwhelming nuclear counterattack anytime. Noting that the DPRK cannot actually deter a war with the mere fact that it is a nuclear weapons state, he said that it is possible to fulfill the important strategic mission of war deterrence and reliably defend the sovereignty of the country, the peaceful life and future of its people and the cause of socialist construction only when the nuclear force is perfected as a means actually capable of mounting an attack on the enemy and its nuclear attack posture for prompt and accurate activation is rounded off to always strike fear into the enemy. Saying that the present situation, in which the enemies are getting ever more pronounced in their moves for aggression against the DPRK, urgently requires the DPRK to bolster up its nuclear war deterrence exponentially, he set forth the important nuclear force-building orientation and the strategic tasks to be fulfilled in preparing the nuclear force for a war. The nuclear force of the DPRK will strongly deter, control and manage the enemy’s reckless moves and provocations with its high war readiness, and carry out its important mission without hesitation in case of any unwanted situation.” (KCNA, “Nuclear Counterattack Simulation Drill Conducted in DPRK ,” March 20, 2023)

Van Diepen: “North Korean media reported that the country recently conducted a “combined tactical drill simulating a nuclear counterattack by the units for the operation of tactical nukes” on March 18-19. Coverage of the drill included new details about the North’s nuclear command and control system, which sound similar to those used in the US and USSR/Russia. While none of these details can be verified from open sources, they seem within North Korea’s capacity, given its 40+ years of experience with missiles and its apparent access to substantial Russian and Chinese missile technology. As part of the drill, the North launched a KN-23 solid-propellant short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). Associated photos suggested the missile was launched from a silo rather than a road-mobile launcher, which would be the first time North Korea demonstrated silo basing. Subsequent imagery analysis in 38 North calls into question whether there is an actual silo at the launch location and judges the missile more likely used a road-mobile launcher. Regardless, this launch highlighted the possibility of silo basing in the future. Adding silo-deployed missiles to the North’s longstanding road-mobile missile force may have some economic advantages, but the vulnerability and operational downsides of the former are highly likely to limit their proportion of Pyongyang’s overall missile deployments. This, in turn, limits the downsides to the alliance of any silo-based North Korean missiles. In announcing the drill, North Korea was clearly trying to send a strong deterrent message to the US and South Korea. It also wanted to emphasize that it has a “fast, strict, highly reliable and safe system” of nuclear command and control and to underscore the capability and credibility of its “tactical nuke” threat to South Korea. On March 20, North Korean press announced that a “combined tactical drill simulating a nuclear counterattack by the units for the operation of tactical nukes” took place over the previous two days, culminating in a launch on March 19 of a “tactical ballistic missile” that was “tipped with a test warhead simulating a nuclear warhead.” The missile reportedly flew to a range of 800 kilometers (km) (consistent with Japanese and South Korean reports) and “accurately exploded at 800 meters above the target waters.” Accompanying photographs and still photos on North Korean TV depicted the launch and early boost phase of a KN-23 solid-propellant SRBM, which had previously flown 800 km in October 2022. (The photographs also suggested the missile may have been launched from a silo, which will be discussed in the next section.) The press announcement referred to various elements of a nuclear command-and-control system sounding similar to systems used in the US and USSR/Russia. These included: a “combined unit chief in charge of commanding all the tactical nuclear operation units” with “missile units and sub-units under his command on the east and west fronts;” a “nuclear strike control system;” an “operation system for the command and management over the tactical nuclear force,” apparently including “operation procedures for implementing different nuclear attack plans,” an “order of handling nuclear weapons” (possibly related to mating a nuclear warhead to a missile), and “relevant action procedures;” a “launch approval system,” apparently including “procedures of issuing and receiving an order of nuclear attack” and “final nuclear attack order authentication;” and “technical and mechanical devices” apparently governing nuclear weapons control (possibly including Permissive Action Links [PALs] or some other means of preventing unauthorized arming or launch), including “nuclear explosion control devices and detonators fitted in the [mock] nuclear warhead.” This is the most detail revealed by North Korea related to nuclear command and control. Its claims of using a mock nuclear warhead, detonating that warhead at an 800-meter burst height, and having a command-and-control system with these specific attributes cannot be verified from open sources. However, all of them are reasonable for the North to possess and plausible in light of Pyongyang’s 40+ years of experience with missiles and its apparent access to substantial Russian and Chinese missile technologies. The ability to detonate a nuclear warhead at a given altitude allows the attacker to optimize the desired effects on ground targets for a given nuclear yield. Altitude control also is desirable for some types of conventional and chemical/biological warheads, such as those using submunitions. More important than the technical aspects of the March 20 statement are the political ones. North Korea clearly is trying to demonstrate what the statement calls its “tougher will to make an actual war response and send a stronger warning to the enemy” and that it has a “fast, strict, highly reliable and safe system” of nuclear command and control as befits the “fact that it is a nuclear weapons state.” The North also is continuing to underscore the capability and credibility of its “tactical nuke” threat to South Korea, building on the messaging from its February 8 military parade and its October 2022 commentary on last year’s missile activities. The photos associated with the March 19 launch show the missile beginning to rise above a hilltop and its exhaust flame rising on either side of the missile in a V-shape rather than in a single plume extending below the missile. This exhaust pattern is typical of a launch from an underground silo rather than from the road-mobile transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) used in most KN-23 land launches. However, North Korea has not previously launched any of its ballistic missiles from a silo. (It also is not known to have launched KN-23s from a stationary launch stand equipped with a diverter/flame-splitter, which could also account for the V-shaped plume.) Commercial satellite imagery of the launch area described in the North Korean statement and seen in the photos revealed a circular excavation resembling a silo opening on a hilltop, surrounded by a rectangular clearing served by a recently built road. Initial assessments regarded this as “a rudimentary engineering prototype missile silo” rather than the more substantial, hardened type of silo used by the US, USSR/Russia and China. Subsequent analysis in 38 North, however, questions whether the circular excavation is a silo and judges the launch more likely occurred from a TEL in the rectangular clearing surrounding the silo. This analysis makes a compelling case that the “silo” may only be one meter deep (the KN-23 is some 7.5 meters long). The alternative possibility considered in the analysis — that the apparent “bottom” of the silo actually is the “top” of a missile canister within a deeper silo — seems unlikely given the short amount of time available to have excavated a deep enough shaft in the rock base of the hilltop (about 18 days between the observed beginning of the circular excavation and the launch). Moreover, the KN-23 apparently has not used a launch canister before, and there has been no previous open-source evidence, such as canister handling equipment or ejection testing, linking this launch mode to the KN-23. The pattern of debris at the site in post-launch imagery is consistent with either a launch either from the silo or a nearby TEL. Interestingly, the North Koreans did not announce the launch mode (atypical if a new silo mode had been used), did not show it in any of the released photos, did not release video footage of the launch, and covered the “silo” after launch with a square cover previously located to the side of the excavation. It is unclear whether the photos showing a V-shaped launch plume that fed the silo assessment were the result of a silo or launch-stand launch, if they resulted from some sort of unknown obstruction in the exhaust of a standard TEL launch, or if the photos had been altered by the North Koreans. The initial assessment of a silo having been used led to the consideration of a wide range of potential implications. Even if this KN-23 launch did not come from a silo, North Korea could decide to use silo basing at any point in the future. Therefore, these potential implications remain worth keeping in mind. Launching the KN-23 from a silo would be in character with the North’s use of this missile in a variety of basing modes, including TEL, railcar, submarine and a probable submersible platform lowered onto a lakebed. Pyongyang has gone out of its way to signal that it has a diverse missile force with multiple basing modes that can survive any attempts at “decapitation” or “preemption.” It likewise probably relishes the implication that many more missiles might be hidden around than its adversaries are aware of. Indeed, that might account for it releasing a photo suggesting a silo launch while not yet providing any further substantiation. As in the case of most of these other basing modes, however, silo basing makes less sense for SRBMs like the KN-23, which are relatively easy to move via TELs based on widely available truck chassis, than for larger, heavier missiles that are harder to move on wheeled vehicles using more exotic truck chassis. Silos are highly vulnerable to detection and attack regardless of the missile type and, thus, are unlikely to be seen by North Korea as a preferable basing mode. Silos do have the advantage of being cost-effective to operate and maintain once built, and even construction could be relatively inexpensive if the North decided to deploy missiles in “rudimentary” silos without the hardening and other infrastructure used by other countries. (It is not clear how long noncanisterized missiles could remain viable in such silos or what the maintenance costs of such deployments would be.) Using silos also makes credible the addition of decoy silos to confuse opponents about force size and location and cause them to waste weapons on worthless targets. The potential use of silos also highlights the possibility of yet further basing modes in the future for the KN-23 or other missiles, as was subsequently demonstrated when the North unveiled a “nuclear underwater attack drone” on March 24 (which will be the subject of a future article in 38 North). Prior to that unveiling, analysts were placing their bets on the next basing mode being an air-launched KN-23 akin to Russia’s use of the similar Iskander SRBM with a MiG-31 fighter in the Kinzhal system. The most disturbing possible implication identified by analysts keys off of the fact that missiles deployed in silos are easier to keep ready for launch at all times and provide no visual clues of an impending launch. If North Korea deployed large numbers of SRBMs like the KN-23 in silos, these analysts posit, it would be easier for Pyongyang to launch a surprise or “preemptive” attack on South Korea — and the allies would be under pressure to preempt (or pre-preempt) these missiles before they could be silo-launched, in turn further increasing the pressure on North Korea to “use them or lose them.” However, this scenario is highly unrealistic, as it depends on North Korea deciding to deploy a large proportion of its SRBMs or other missiles in silos. But Pyongyang has already been deploying scores of road-mobile SRBM launchers and hundreds of associated missiles for many years and continues such deployments with both SRBMs and longer-range systems. Any silo deployments would almost certainly augment rather than supplant this large extant mobile missile force — particularly because the North clearly has long recognized the vulnerability and other wartime operational downsides of fixed-based missiles compared to mobile ones. This would be especially true for nuclear-armed missiles, which North Korea would want to preserve from attack during a period of conventional conflict that is highly likely to precede any nuclear use. If TEL chassis are hard to come by, rail-mobile deployment provides a cost-effective alternative to silos with greater survivability. We do not know if the March 19 KN-23 launch came from a silo, but that appears unlikely. Although adding silo-deployed missiles to the North’s longstanding road-mobile missile force may have some economic advantages, the vulnerability and operational downsides of silo-based missiles are highly likely to limit their proportion of Pyongyang’s overall missile deployments. This, in turn, is likely to limit the downsides to the alliance of any silo-based North Korean missiles.” (Vann H. Van Diepen, “North Korea ‘Tactical Nuke’ Drill: Claims on Command/Control and Hints of a First-Ever Silo Launch,” 38North, March 29, 2023)

DPRK FoMin Department of International Organizations Director General Jo Chol Su ‘s press statement: “The U.S. representative to the UN dared find fault with the DPRK at the meeting of the UN Security Council held illegally on March 17. This time Thomas Greenfield, unaware of genuine human rights and elementary human ethics, revealed her shameful nature utterly devoid of logic and sound thinking. The U.S. has brought the non-existent “human rights issue” of the DPRK for the discussion of the UN Security Council despite the opposition and concern of the righteous international community. This is a defamation of the UN Charter and a mockery of genuine human rights. If the U.S. is so worried about the “human rights situation” in the DPRK, it should explain why it is so obsessed with the implementation of the most unethical sanctions against the DPRK in the world. As for human rights, the U.S. should [be] strictly judged by the international community for its human rights abuses as it leaves tens of millions of the colored people under the police suppression. It is the customary act of the U.S. to move to the “human rights” arena and try to shake the socialist system chosen by the Korean people once there is nothing to do. The U.S. held a vile anti-DPRK human rights confab despite the repeated warnings of the DPRK, selecting high-handed practices instead of human rights, and war instead of peace. The U.S. moves to shake the DPRK by means of “human rights” will only boost the resentment of the Korean people, and the U.S. will only get irreversible security instability from it. Though it is not sure when this boring action will end, the U.S. is surly making a wrong attempt. Thomas Greenfield will deplore her position as a stooge and servant of the U.S. which is engrossed in interference in the internal affairs of independent sovereign state under the veil of ‘defense of human rights.’” (KCNA, “Press Statement of Director General for Int’l Organizations of DPRK Foreign Ministry Issued,” March 19, 2023)

Hundreds of thousands of North Korean troops are mobilizing to help plant and harvest crops. The country’s military is rejiggering some of its munitions factories to produce tractors and threshing machines, while also converting some airfields into greenhouses. Soldiers are reportedly being asked to extend their service by three years and spend them on farms. The directives have come straight from North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, who has called for his military to become “a driving force” in increasing food production. It is both an economic imperative and a geopolitical calculation for an isolated nation facing food shortages. Sanctions imposed since 2016 over the North’s nuclear program have devastated its exports and ability to earn hard currency. Then the pandemic and the resulting border closures squeezed what little trade remained with China. There is little potential relief, unless China concludes that its fellow Communist neighbor cannot handle its food problem on its own, and decides to send large aid shipments. North Korea now appears to be hunkering down for a prolonged confrontation with the United States, as the Biden administration, focused on the war in Ukraine, shows no urgency to negotiate. “The situation is the worst since Kim took power,” said Kwon Tae-jin, an expert on the North Korean food situation at the Seoul-based GS&J Institute. “If I were him, I wouldn’t know where to begin to fix the problem.” The shortages in the North loom large in the political backdrop. When Kim convened his Workers’ Party last month, its predominant agenda was the food problem. When he presided over his Central Military Commission last weekend, the state media only briefly mentioned the threat posed by the joint military drills between South Korea and the United States, focusing instead on Kim’s campaign around food. South Korea is trying to use the issue as leverage to coax Kim back to dialogue. When Kim’s regime launched an intercontinental ballistic missile last month, South Korea blamed the North for hosting large military parades and developing nuclear missiles while its people were “dying of starvation one after another amid a serious food crisis.” Seoul tends to emphasize the North’s food shortages as a criticism of Pyongyang for devoting resources to its nuclear program. South Korean officials later said they did not expect the shortages to lead to mass starvation or to endanger Kim’s grip on power. During background briefings in recent days, they said they didn’t have enough data to estimate how many North Koreans have starved. But they insisted they had reports of people starving to death in smaller towns, but not in Pyongyang, home to the well-fed elites. Hit by droughts and floods, hamstrung by socialist mismanagement and hurt by international sanctions, North Koreans have long suffered from food shortages. Millions died during a famine in the 1990s. Even in the best of years, many North Koreans go hungry. But the pandemic made it worse. For three years, North Korea was forced to close its border with China, its only major trading partner. Only a bare minimum of trade was allowed. The closures also made it harder for smugglers to supply goods to the North’s unofficial markets, where ordinary people get extra food when its moribund rations system can no longer provide. Hardly a day goes by without the North’s state news media exhorting its people to help produce more grains. It’s impossible to get a comprehensive picture of the food situation in the isolated nation. Some analysts say Kim is not as much concerned about a potential famine as about the prolonged confrontation with Washington over his nuclear program. With no sanctions relief in sight, Kim knows the shortages are a major vulnerability. “Food is the key to how long he can hold out,” said Choi Eunju, an analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea. “Kim Jong-un must strengthen his country’s survivability as it faces the extended challenges from sanctions and the pandemic.” Kim is waging a campaign for more food while vowing to take “persistent and strong” countermeasures, meaning more weapons tests. “North Korea is the kind of country that needs to show military strength through provocations when it faces domestic problems like a food crisis,” said Yi Jisun, an analyst at the Institute for National Security Strategy, a research institute affiliated with the South’s National Intelligence Service. “It raises military tension to consolidate domestic unity.” When the pandemic hit, so did the bad weather, devastating crops. By June 2021, Mr. Kim warned about a “tense” food situation during a Workers’ Party meeting. During the meeting, he issued a “special order” to his military to release some of its rice stocks reserved for war to help ease the food shortage, a rare move in the country, where the military has always been given a priority in resources, according to South Korean officials. It was not enough. “North Korea could not provide its farmers with enough farming equipment or fertilizers because of the pandemic and the border closure,” said Kim Dawool, an analyst at the South’s Korea Institute for International Economic Policy. The North’s fertilizer imports from China plunged to $5.4 million last year, from $85 million in 2018, according to the South’s Korea International Trade Association. In 2021, Kim ordered his farmers to plant twice as much wheat, which doesn’t need as much fertilizer as corn. North Korea’s grain production plummeted to 3.4 million tons in 2020, from the previous year’s 4.6 million tons. While production recovered in the past two years, the country still fell short of what it needed by one million tons, according to the estimates of the South’s Rural Development Administration. Kim’s own policy hasn’t helped. The money North Korea spent on its missile tests last year was more than enough to import one million tons of grain, South Korean officials said. Adding to the shortages, North Korea rejected foreign aid and scared off food smugglers by adding more fences and issuing a shoot-to-kill order along its border with China. It also tightened control on people’s movement between towns, making it more difficult for traders to ship goods. Kim reasserted socialist control as well, ordering state-run stores to buy grains from collective farms and sell them at below-market prices while cracking down on grains trade in the unofficial markets, according to Asia Press International, a website in Japan that monitors the North Korean economy through clandestine correspondents there. But the stores could not meet the food needs. The hardest hit were the poor. In lean years, they consume more corn, while the elites prefer rice. In a sign of deepening distress for the more vulnerable, the price of corn has risen more sharply than that of rice, according to indexes compiled by Asia Press International. But in the state media, Kim was not blamed. This month, Rodong Sinmun interviewed an agricultural research center chief named Jang Hyon-chol. “I can’t raise my head because of a guilty feeling,” Jang said, because he could not match Mr. Kim’s devotion to improving food supplies. (Choe Sang-Hun, “Short on Food, North Korea Has Troops Planting Crops, New York Times, March 20, 2023, p. A-7)

3/21/23:
South Korea today revealed fresh sanctions banning items linked to North Korea’s satellite development, pushing for tighter curbs on its nuclear and missile programs amid the isolated country’s search for better “nuclear counterattack capabilities.” The Foreign Ministry in Seoul announced a watchlist of 77 items — including antennas, optical devices, solar panels and camera power supplies — to prevent Pyongyang from importing such materials either directly or indirectly via a third country to build missiles. The North simulated a nuclear attack on the South and the US over the weekend. “Export curbs have taken place at the international level. … But we are the first to specifically target North Korea’s satellite programs,” said Lee Joon-il, director general for North Korean affairs at the ministry. Many suspect that the reclusive regime is defying international sanctions banning ballistic missile launches, and uses satellite plans as a cover for advancing its missile technology. A senior ministry official said the list widens blacklisted items by banning even low-grade materials — non-high-tech equipment often used by military — that ordinary people might not be aware have the potential to be used for missiles. “North Korea is believed to be relying on such items because it is much harder to access military-grade equipment, which is usually banned already,” the official added, noting the Tuesday announcement would help raise the international community’s awareness of what it could do more to put checks on the North. The announcement also added sanctions on four individuals and six groups believed to have ties to the North’s weapons programs. They all are already under U.S. sanctions.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council still remains divided over how to deal with North Korea’s increasing aggression. Yesterday, a UNSC meeting fell apart over calling out North Korea, as China and Russia — Pyongyang’s biggest supporters — refused to blame the North for higher inter-Korean tension. Washington wants action on North Korea, but Beijing and Moscow contend the U.S. and South Korea should suspend again their annual full-scale military drills, which the two allies resumed this month after a five-year hiatus meant to give room for diplomacy. (Choi Si-young, “Sanctions Target N. Korean Satellites,” Korea Herald, March 21, 2023)

3/22/23:
North Korea fired multiple cruise missiles toward the East Sea today, the South Korean military said. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch from the Hamhung area on the North’s east coast from 10:15 a.m. It did not immediately provide other details. Observers raised the possibility that the launch might have involved a long-range strategic cruise missile known as the North Korean version of the U.S.’ Tomahawk missile. The launch came as South Korea and the United States are conducting the combined Freedom Shield (FS) command post exercise as well as the concurrent field training exercise, called the Warrior Shield. The 11-day FS is set to end tomorrow. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Fires Multiple Cruise Missiles toward East Sea: S. Korean Military,” March 22, 2023) South Korea’s Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said on March 23 that North Korea fired four cruise missiles the previous day, though a detailed analysis is still under way to confirm their specifics. Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff has said it detected “multiple” missile launches from the North’s eastern city of Hamhung on Wednesday morning. “We believe four (missiles were fired),” the minister said during a session of the National Assembly’s committee on national defense. “We have conducted the initial analysis, and the South and the United States are examining it in a more detailed way.” Commenting on whether the North has secured technologies to miniaturize a nuclear warhead and mount it on tactical weapons, the minister said the country is seen as having achieved “considerable” progress. During the session, Lee said there is a possibility the North would launch its first military spy satellite next month, as it has announced a plan to finish preparations for the launch by April. “That is because the North has been accumulating technologies needed for a satellite launch through intercontinental ballistic missile launches,” he said. Lee dismissed the possibility that the South, the U.S. and Japan would pursue a trilateral military alliance on the back of a recent thaw in relations between Seoul and Tokyo. “The expression, ‘(trilateral) military alliance,’ is not proper, and there is no such possibility at all,” he said. Lee also rejected the speculation that Seoul’s push for the “complete normalization” of its military information-sharing pact with Tokyo could lead to the signing of a bilateral logistics support agreement and the South’s integration into the U.S.’ broad missile defense system. “I can clearly say that it’s not,” he said. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Fired 4 Cruise Missiles Wednesday: Defense Minister,” March 23, 2023)

3/24/23:
KCNA: “The intentional, persistent and provocative war drills and confrontational stance of the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet regime of traitors have driven the military and political situation of the Korean peninsula to an irreversibly dangerous point. The reckless and dangerous nature of the confrontational hysteria recently betrayed by the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet regime of traitors is unprecedented in history. The U.S. imperialists and their stooges kicked off a large-scale dangerous drill, an actual drill for “occupying” the DPRK in the light of its form and contents, in defiance of the repeated stern warnings by the DPRK government, army and people. It is expected that the U.S. imperialists and their stooges will get more frantic in their persistent military provocations to aggravate the situation as ever with a more aggressive stand of confrontation. This grave challenging situation against the state security of the DPRK requires it to have stronger war deterrents for firmly supporting the peaceful socialist state building activities – the more developed, multi-faceted and offensive nuclear attack capability – and increase its capability in every way in order to deter war and firmly preserve peace and prosperity with its tremendous might. The hostile forces’ anti-DPRK war scenario based on the deployment of huge nuclear strategic assets, the amount of forces involved in carrying it out and the ensuing peculiar mode of war urgently require the DPRK to make its entire armed forces gird themselves for an all-out war and bolster up its nuclear force both in quality and quantity on a priority basis. The Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) is energetically guiding the continuous military activities to bolster up its nuclear war deterrence for self-defense in order to strengthen the country’s defense posture in every way and promptly counter and thoroughly control and manage any nuclear war threats and challenges by the enemy. After organizing and guiding a combined tactical drill simulating a nuclear counterattack, the WPK Central Military Commission commanded drills from March 21 to 23, which served as a demonstration of another military attack capability, in order to alert the enemy to an actual nuclear crisis and verify the reliability of the nuclear force for self-defense. The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un guided the important military activities. A new underwater attack weapon system test was conducted from March 21 to 23. Since 2012, the DPRK’s defense scientific research institute has conducted the development of the underwater nuclear strategic attack weapon system based on a new operational concept, studying warfare in the new era and defining the orientation of the development of the self-defense capabilities to outpace the military and technical superiority of the imperialist aggressor forces. The Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee was informally reported about the underwater strategic nuclear weapon system at the Defense Development Exhibition Self-Defense-2021 held in October 2021. This secret weapon was named “Unmanned Underwater Nuclear Attack Craft ‘Haeil'” at the 8th Congress of the WPK. It has undergone more than 50 shakedowns for the past two years since the Congress. Kim Jong Un personally guided 29 weapon tests and its operational deployment was decided at the 6th Plenary Meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the WPK. The mission of the underwater nuclear strategic weapon is to stealthily infiltrate into operational waters and make a super-scale radioactive tsunami through underwater explosion to destroy naval striker groups and major operational ports of the enemy. This nuclear underwater attack drone can be deployed at any coast and port or towed by a surface ship for operation. The underwater nuclear attack drone, which was deployed for a drill off the coast of Riwon County of South Hamgyong Province on Tuesday, reached the target point in the waters off Hongwon Bay set as a mock enemy port with its test warhead detonating underwater on Thursday afternoon after cruising along an oval and pattern-8 course at an underwater depth of 80 to 150 meters in the East Sea of Korea for 59 hours and 12 minutes. The test correctly estimated all the tactical and technical specifications and navigational and technical indices of the underwater nuclear attack drone, verified its reliability and safety and fully confirmed its lethal strike capability. On March 22 there took place a launching drill to let strategic cruise missile units get familiar with the procedures and processes for carrying out the tactical nuclear attack missions. Prior to the drill, there was training to reexamine the operational normality and the systematic safety of technical and mechanical devices, including the procedures for authenticating the nuclear attack order and the launch approval system, and to let the strategic cruise missile sub-units get familiar with action methods and handling of equipment through repeated practice. The strategic cruise missile was tipped with a test warhead simulating a nuclear warhead. Two “Hwasal-1”-type strategic cruise missiles and two “Hwasal-2”-type strategic cruise missiles, launched in Jakdo-dong, Hungnam District, Hamhung City, South Hamgyong Province, accurately hit the target set in the East Sea of Korea after flying on their programmed 1 500km- and 1 800km-long oval and pattern-8 orbits for 7 557 to 7 567 seconds and 9 118 to 9 129 seconds respectively. The drill also involved the cruise missiles’ minimum-altitude flight test and the test for estimating their capability for ever-changing-altitude control and evasion flight. The drill also verified once again the operational reliability of nuclear explosion control devices and detonators by applying the mid-air-explosion (600 meters above the target) strike mode to two different missiles. The major weapon test and launching drills had no negative impact on the security of the neighboring countries. The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un was greatly satisfied with the results of the major weapon test and the launching drill for a strategic purpose. Underlining the need to neutralize every attempt of the enemy to invade the DPRK and creditably defend our people’s peaceful life and future and the cause of socialist construction by more overwhelmingly and offensively countering to the end the reckless military provocations being escalated by the U.S. and the south Korean authorities in disregard of our patience and warning, he set forth the immediate militant tasks and permanent policies for doing so. Bitterly criticizing the U.S. imperialists for desperately resorting to military moves imperiling the regional situation under the pretense of fulfilling their commitment to defending allies and under various pretexts of tightening alliance, encouraging the misguided imprudence and “bravery” of the south Korean puppet regime of traitors and inciting them to impudent actions, he referred to the need to take offensive actions to make the enemy inviting the danger with thoughtless and reckless acts realize the DPRK’s unlimited nuclear war deterrence capability being bolstered up at a greater speed. He expressed his will to make the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet regime plunge into despair for their choice through the high-profile demonstration of the powerful war deterrence and make them understand by themselves that they are bound to lose more than they get and face a greater threat due to the strengthening of the military alliance and the expansion of war drills in the region. He, on behalf of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the DPRK government, seriously warned once again the enemies that they should stop the reckless anti-DPRK war drills. The nuclear force of the DPRK will further enhance its responsible militant function and mission with its more destructive might to thoroughly shatter the war maniacs’ confrontational wild dream and bolster up its overwhelming nuclear counteraction posture in every way, true to the expectations and desire of the Party, government and people of the DPRK for deterring war and preserving peace and stability.” (KCNA, “Important Weapon Test and Firing Drill Conducted in DPRK,” March 24, 2023)

Van Diepen: “On March 24, North Korea unveiled the “Haeil,” its first-ever nuclear-armed unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV). The data released by the North are insufficient to substantiate the Haeil’s existence, its claimed development timeline and test activities, or its claimed performance. But development of a nuclear-armed UUV is within North Korea’s technical capabilities. Based on what has been gleaned so far about the Haeil, it would still be substantially inferior to North Korea’s nuclear-armed ballistic and cruise missiles in terms of time-to-target, accuracy and lethality. Its range limits it to coastal targets in South Korea and southeast Japan. Although this means it would not be subject to allied air and missile defenses, it would still be vulnerable to engagement by anti-submarine warfare (ASW) assets. North Korea claimed this weapon could attack “naval striker groups,” but it is too slow to pose a viable threat to ships that are underway and thus probably limited to attacking ports and known anchorages. Its slow speed, forcing it to face many hours of potential ASW detection risk before reaching target, makes it an unlikely first-strike weapon, although it would be suitable as a retaliatory weapon. Even then, most of the damage from a North Korean retaliatory strike would already have been done by missiles long before any Haeils arrived. Pyongyang might also see the Haeil as a “dead hand” option to ensure some sort of nuclear retaliation after an allied disarming strike or a lost war, but success would be far from assured, given allied ASW capabilities. As is often the case with North Korea, the UUV would appear to have much more political than military utility. Unveiling the Haeil is consistent with the past several years of North Korean force development and related public diplomacy, messaging that:North Korea has large and diverse nuclear delivery capabilities; allied attempts at preemption, decapitation and missile defense will, therefore, be unsuccessful, and North Korean nuclear retaliation cannot be avoided, especially against South Korea; and North Korea is highly technologically capable and can build the same kinds of weapons the major powers can. All in all, the Haeil UUV brings little to the table in terms of military capabilities. Even its political value may have already been exhausted in its unveiling. Given these realities, it remains to be seen how much Pyongyang will really invest in deploying this weapons system. Information to Date On March 24, North Korea announced the existence of a new “underwater nuclear strategic attack weapon system,” the “Unmanned Underwater Nuclear Attack Craft ‘Haeil’.” Its mission reportedly is to “stealthily infiltrate into operational waters and make a super-scale radioactive tsunami through underwater explosion to destroy naval striker groups and major operational ports of the enemy,” and it “can be deployed at any coast and port or towed by a surface ship for operation.” According to North Korean state media reporting, the Haeil (Korean for volcano) has been under development since 2012; has “undergone more than 50 shakedowns for the past two years,” including 29 “weapon tests” that were “personally guided” by Kim Jong Un; and “its operational deployment was decided at the 6th Plenary Meeting of the 8th Central Committee” of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in January 2023. Coverage of the launch also reported a drill in which the Haeil was “deployed” on March 21 and “reached the target point…set as a mock enemy port with its test warhead detonating underwater” on March 23, “after cruising along an oval and pattern-8 course at an underwater depth of 80 to 150 meters in the East Sea of Korea for 59 hours and 12 minutes.” That drill reportedly “verified its reliability and safety and fully confirmed its lethal strike capability.” Associated photographs showed Kim Jong Un sitting near the nose of a torpedo-like object, a surface photo of a cylinder-like object vaguely visible underwater and apparently in motion, and the plume from an underwater explosion. On March 28, the North reported that another test of what it called the “Haeil-1” had occurred between March 25 and 27. “After cruising along a jagged and oval course simulating the distance of the 600 kilometers in the East Sea of Korea for 41 hours and 27 minutes,” the Haeil “correctly set off the test warhead underwater.” Two more photos were released with a surface image with a portion of a partially submerged torpedo-like object in motion and the plume from an underwater explosion. Finally, on the same day, Pyongyang reported a March 27 meeting in which Kim Jong Un “guided the work for mounting nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles.” The report referred to “new tactical nuclear weapons” and their “interchangeability with different weapons systems.” Most importantly, the associated photos depicted what apparently were at least 10 units of an integrated “tactical” nuclear weapon. They also showed a graphic hanging on a wall of the inspection area with cutaway drawings of the front sections of eight different delivery systems, including the Haeil, each apparently showing the same type of warhead mounted inside. Is It Real? These reports and photographs are the first open-source indication of a nuclear UUV but are insufficient to substantiate the Haeil’s existence, its claimed development timeline and test activities, or its claimed performance. Kim Jong Un’s January 2021 report to the Eighth Party Congress noted a task to possess “an underwater-launch nuclear strategic weapon which will be of great importance in raising the long-range nuclear striking capability,” but the report did not specifically reference a UUV and that task was mentioned in the context of “solid-fuel engine-propelled inter-continental underwater and ground ballistic rockets” and a “nuclear-powered submarine.” The March 24, 2023 announcement noted that the Haeil was “informally reported” to the Central Committee Political Bureau at the “Defence Development Exhibition Self-Defence-2021” held in October 2021, but such a UUV was not seen in the extensive images released by North Korea at the time. The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) released a statement on March 27 saying that “there have been signs that North Korea has been developing unmanned submarines, but we assess that they are still at an elementary level.” And as one analyst noted, it is indeed correct that we “can’t rule out the possibility that this is an attempt at deception.” But development of a nuclear-armed UUV is within North Korea’s technical capabilities. For example, the US and USSR developed nuclear-armed torpedoes in the 1950s. And acquiring another type of nuclear delivery system (“based on a new operational concept,” in the words of the North’s March 24 announcement) would be consistent with North Korea’s emphasis over the past few years on a diverse nuclear force resistant to preemption and decapitation, and on demonstrating its technological prowess. Potential Capabilities The Haeil’s configuration is uncertain. Open-source analysts thus far have assessed a diameter of some 500-800 mm (a standard 21-inch torpedo is 533 mm in diameter), and the full length of the UUV has not been displayed. The March 24 announcement’s reference to the Haeil being “deployed at any coast and port or towed by a surface ship” may suggest that it is too long and/or too large in diameter for a standard torpedo tube. (North Korea’s CHT-02D 533-mm torpedo is 7.35 meters long.) Range and speed. Pyongyang has not described the Haeil’s propulsion type, but it almost certainly relies on batteries. The North claimed a 600-km range and 41.5-hour endurance (thus, a 7.8-knot average cruising speed) for the March 25-27 Haeil test. The 59-hour endurance claimed for the March 21-23 test may reflect a lower average cruising speed, given the likely tradeoff between speed and endurance in a battery-powered UUV, but may suggest the vehicle is capable of a somewhat longer range. These performance claims appear credible given the 500-km range (without payload), 110-hour endurance, and 2.5-knot cruising speed of the US battery-powered REMUS 620 UUV, which can sprint for brief periods at eight knots. The US system, at 324 mm in diameter and 4.8 m long, is probably much smaller than the Haeil but presumably is more technologically advanced. A 600-km range would permit strikes against South Korea’s coastlines from a wide variety of North Korean coastal locations. The UUV would need to be launched from the southern part of North Korea’s east coast to strike targets in Japan (the southeast part of the Home Islands). Additional targeting flexibility could be gained from launching the Haeil at sea, but any towing or launch platform would be severely vulnerable even just a few hundred kilometers off North Korea’s coasts. Thus, the UUV is almost certainly a theater weapon constrained to coastal targets. Accuracy. We do not know how the Haeil is guided or how accurate it is. To minimize its vulnerability to detection and jamming while submerged, it probably uses an inertial guidance system. The accuracy of naval inertial systems degrades over time, as much as some 1.85 km per 24 hours. Ideally, the inertial system would be updated by exposing an antenna periodically (or at least once, a few hours before reaching target) to receive shore-based or satellite navigational signals, but this may increase the UUV’s vulnerability to detection while doing so, and such signals are subject to jamming and the destruction of their land-based facilities. Lethality. The North Korean schematic showing the newly-unveiled “tactical” nuclear warhead incorporated inside the Haeil is consistent with the size of the warhead shown in the March 28 photos and the assessed diameter of the UUV. The Institute for Science and International Security has assessed that warhead as “feasible for North Korea’s experience and number of underground tests” and its yield “is likely in the range of 10 kilotons” (kt). Contrary to Pyongyang’s claims, a warhead of this yield detonated underwater (or even a very much larger one) would not produce a “tsunami.” Instead, a 10-kt warhead would throw up and irradiate a column of as much as one million ons of water that would fall out over an area of several miles — severely contaminating ships and land areas within that zone. But a 10-kt airburst from a missile would be more destructive (akin to the 15-kt “Little Boy” bomb used on Hiroshima) because so much of the energy of a UUV-based nuclear explosion is contained under water. Deployment and basing. Assuming Pyongyang actually deploys the Haeil, we do not know how many might be fielded or how it might be based. The UUV would quite likely be deployed in hardened shore installations akin to coastal defense torpedo-launching sites that would be heavily camouflaged and/or disguised as civilian or other benign installations. Because the Haeil could be hidden in such facilities before launch, it could be fairly secure from pre-launch attack, barring a fortuitous allied intelligence coup. It also is possible that Haeils could be towed out to sea by North Korean ships, as noted in the March 24 statement, during a prewar crisis or prior to an attack decision. The ship (perhaps a commandeered civilian vessel) could either drop the UUV off at sea or stay tethered to the UUV for subsequent launch. This approach would increase allied opportunities to detect the UUV in transit or at its sea holding area, however, compared to land basing. It also would be harder to ensure launch commands were received, especially in wartime, unless the UUV was still tethered to a ship and the ship had not previously been attacked. Limited Threat Potential The Haeil would be inferior to North Korea’s nuclear-armed ballistic and cruise missiles in terms of speed (and thus time-to-target), accuracy, and lethality; furthermore, it is limited to in-theater coastal targets. Although it would not be subject to allied air and missile defenses, it would be at risk of detection and engagement by ASW assets. A slow, battery-powered UUV would probably be quieter, and thus less vulnerable to acoustic detection, than North Korea’s conventional submarines, but we do not know how quiet the Haeil is relative to allied detection thresholds. Not much anti-ship capability. The March 24 statement referred to attacking “naval striker groups.” The Haeil appears to be too slow to pose a viable threat to ships that are underway. It would also need to have an on-board capability to detect such groups itself and/or a way to receive and act upon external targeting information — data that would be challenging for North Korea to obtain, especially in wartime. And both capabilities could increase the UUV’s vulnerability if used. Therefore, Haeil’s threat to shipping probably is limited to ports and known anchorages. Unlikely first-strike weapon. The UUV’s extremely slow speed, forcing it to face many hours of potential ASW detection risk before reaching target, makes it unlikely that North Korea would consider using the Haeil alone to conduct a surprise nuclear attack or as an attack precursor, or timing the Haeil’s arrival to coincide with that of an initial nuclear missile strike. Moreover, it is not clear whether North Korea can communicate (or communicate reliably) with the UUV once underway to cancel an impending attack if circ*mstances change during its many hours of transit. Once even conventional hostilities begin, North Korea’s land-based means to communicate with a submerged UUV are likely to be taken out. Suitable for delayed retaliation. More likely, the Haeil would be launched at the same time as a nuclear missile strike — particularly if the North was a) initiating nuclear use; b) preempting what it strongly believed was an imminent allied nuclear attack or an attempt at a disarming strike against its missile force; or c) retaliating against such attacks, either while the attacks were ongoing or after the fact. The damage caused to allied ASW and command-and-control by the earlier arrival of North Korean missiles probably would increase the Haeil’s ability to avoid interception if successfully launched. But most of the damage from a North Korean retaliatory strike would already have been done by missiles long before any Haeils arrived. A limited “dead hand.” Pyongyang might also see the Haeil as a “dead hand” option, ensuring some sort of nuclear retaliation in the event that a) an allied disarming strike against its missile force was somehow successful, or b) North Korea had lost, or was doomed to lose, a conventional war or had suffered nuclear devastation. A successful last UUV strike would be far from assured, however, given allied ASW capabilities. And the limited, albeit terrible, impact of 10-kt coastal strikes against a country with so much of its population and industry inland may not offer North Korea what it regards as sufficient comfort or satisfaction. More Political Than Military Value Based on what we can divine from open sources on the Haeil’s capabilities and military potential, the South Korean JCS’s March 27 assessment that “it is highly likely that these claims are exaggerated and manipulated” appears to be correct. As is often the case with North Korea, the UUV seems to have much more political than military utility. Future, more capable follow-ons to the Haeil cannot be ruled out — and perhaps the North was hinting at this by dopting the “Haeil-1” nomenclature on March 28 — but battery-powered UUVs are unlikely to offer any military advantage in nuclear delivery over North Korea’s ballistic and cruise missile forces. Politically, however, the unveiling of the Haeil is consistent with the past several years of Pyongyang’s force development and related public diplomacy, which it has used to message that: North Korea has large and diverse nuclear delivery capabilities (referred to on March 24 as “the more developed, multi-faceted and offensive nuclear attack capability,” and on March 28 in “the strategic plan…on combining and operating nuclear weapons by different means in the diversified operation spaces”); allied attempts at preemption, decapitation and missile defense will, therefore, be unsuccessful, and North Korean nuclear retaliation cannot be avoided, especially against South Korea; and North Korea is highly technologically capable and can build the same kinds of weapons the major powers can. All of these themes come together in North Korea’s clear effort to introduce the Haeil in a way that evokes Russia’s Poseidon UUV — down to the claim of being able to generate “a super-scale radioactive tsunami.” Unlike the Haeil, however, the Poseidon is very large (at least 1,500-mm diameter), nuclear-powered, has very deep diving, high speed (over 50 knots), intercontinental range nuclear warhead, and is armed with at least two megatons (with claims of 100 megatons, although even that could not generate a “tsunami”). The Bottom Line: A Political Statement Posing a Limited Threat As other analysts have concluded, North Korea is unlikely to deploy very many Haeil UUVs and will continue to rely on ballistic missiles for the bulk of its nuclear strike capability. As a nuclear delivery system, this UUV brings little to the table due to its slow speed, potential in-transit vulnerability to ASW, and limited attack capability. The Haeil is much more valuable to North Korea as a political messaging tool, although even a good part of that value may already have been gained simply through unveiling it. It remains to be seen how much more Pyongyang invests in this venture.” (Vann H. Van Diepen, “North Korea’s New ‘Unmanned Underwater Nuclear Attack Craft’: Red October or White Elephant?” 38North, April 6, 2023)

The South Korean military said March 27 it believes the North’s claims to have developed the new unmanned underwater nuclear attack system are “exaggerated.” (Kyodo, “North Korea’s Kim Orders Expansion of Weapons-Grade Nuke Material Output,” March 28, 2023)

2/27/23:
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) toward the East Sea today, hours before a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier staged joint drills in waters south of Jeju Island, according to South Korea’s military. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launches from the Chunghwa County area in North Hwanghae Province between 7:47 a.m. and 8 a.m. The missiles flew some 370 kilometers before splashing into the sea, it added. Pyongyang’s latest provocation came as South Korea and the United States kicked off the Ssangyong (double dragon) amphibious landing exercise last week. It is scheduled to end next Monday. The USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group also trained together with the South’s major warships in waters south of the peninsula March 27, according to the Navy here. The Sejong the Great destroyer, equipped with the Aegis combat system, the Choe Yeong destroyer and the Hwacheon logistics support ship were mobilized for the practice staged in international waters south of the southern island of Jeju. In a press meeting aboard the carrier carrying some 70 aircraft, Rear Admiral Christopher Sweeney, the commander of Carrier Strike Group 11, highlighted the allies’ readiness to deal with North Korean threats. “I’m not threatened or worried about North Korea. We have a lot of capabilities that I talked about — a lot of information sharing with the Republic of Korea and our joint force,” he said. He added, “The U.S. has deployable strategic assets at the ready on every day … We really want to underpin the International Security and the global commons. Tomorrow, the carrier will make a port call in Busan, 325 kilometers southeast of the capital, according to Seoul’s defense ministry. In September last year, the U.S. deployed the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier to South Korea, with the allies seeking to bolster the “extended deterrence” against the North’s growing military threats. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Fires 2 SRBMs toward East Sea; U.S. Aircraft Carrier due in S. Korea for Joint Training,” March 27, 2023)

KCNA: “A missile unit in charge of an important firing task in the central front conducted a demonstration education firing drill aimed at letting its sub-units get familiar with procedures and processes for carrying out an important firing task on March 27. The drill was guided by the Missile General Bureau and watched by the commanding officers and combatants of all sub-units under the unit. The education company under the unit was involved in the drill, and conducted an education demonstration firing with a nuclear air explosion striking mode by two ground-to-ground tactical ballistic missiles. In the drill for firing preparations, there was an examination of the normal operation of the procedures for authenticating the nuclear attack order and the launch approval system and a demonstration education for standard combat action process and handling of equipment for making nuclear assault to the pointed target according to the set procedures and regulations of receiving an order for nuclear attack. The tactical ballistic missiles were loaded with warheads for trial simulating nuclear warheads. The education company launched a virtual nuclear attack from Ryokpho District, Pyongyang City, aiming at the target islet in front of Kim Chaek City, North Hamgyong Province, and blasted the warheads 500 meters above the target. The commander of the unit said that its mission is clear and we know well about what we should do in contingency, affirming that if we fight, we will surely annihilate the enemy. All the officers and men of the unit made a firm pledge to uphold the military and strategic plan of the Party Central Committee with the fighting efficiency of a-match-for-a-hundred by increasing the capability of a real war in every way in the more fierce and intensive training.” (KCNA, “Army Unit in Charge of Important Operation Task in Central Front Conducts Missile Firing Drill,” March 28, 2023)

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), guided the work for mounting nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles on March 27. Present there were Hong Sung Mu, first vice department director of the Central Committee of the WPK, and other officials of the Department of the Munitions Industry of the Party Central Committee and officials of the Nuclear Weapons Institute and the Missile General Bureau. The DPRK Nuclear Weapons Institute reported to Kim Jong Un on recent years’ work and production for bolstering up the nuclear force of the DPRK both in quality and quantity in accordance with the orientation of developing nuclear weapons and strategic policy set forth at the 8th Congress of the WPK and the 6th Plenary Meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the WPK. He acquainted in detail himself with the means for applying nuclear weapons, technological specifications and features of structural operation of new tactical nuclear weapons according to the purpose of the operation and targets, interchangeability with different weapons systems, etc. He also learned about the work of putting into an IT basis the state nuclear weapon combined management system “Haekbangashoe” whose scientific accuracy, reliability and security have been strictly verified in the recent combined tactical drill simulating a nuclear counterattack. And he examined the plan and written orders for nuclear counterattack operation. He highly appreciated the institute for making its ceaseless efforts in the work to strengthen our nuclear force into the reliable force capable of coping with any nuclear emergency in keeping with the strategic plan and attempt of the Party Central Committee on combining and operating nuclear weapons by different means in the diversified operation spaces, and for making its great achievements. Saying with deep emotion that we have dauntlessly taken a rigorous and long road for possessing nuclear weapons, he clarified again that the enemy our nuclear force with powerful deterrence matches are not any state and specific group but war and nuclear disaster themselves, and the line of our Party on increasing nuclear force is aimed to defend the eternal security of the state and the regional peace and stability from A to Z. Pointing out that we should never be satisfied with the work to consolidate the thoroughgoing response posture of our nuclear force and should continuously strive to strengthen nuclear force steadily, he said that when we are flawlessly prepared to use nuclear weapons anytime and anywhere, nuclear weapons would not be used forever, and if the powerful and superior nuclear force going beyond imagination is ready for offensive posture, the enemy would fear us and not dare provoke our state sovereignty, system and people. Noting that the institute and the field of atomic energy should expand on a far-sighted way the production of weapon-grade nuclear materials for thoroughly implementing the plan of the Party Central Committee on increasing nuclear arsenals exponentially and put spurs to continuing to produce powerful nuclear weapons, he set forth important tasks facing the institute and the field of atomic energy. The scientists and officials of the institute, who were directly guided by Kim Jong Un once again, made a resolution of burning loyalty to always remain loyal to the important mission assigned by the Party and revolution, the country and its people, produce powerful nuclear weapons as befitting the reliable “nuclear combatants” of our Party and thus stoutly defend the sacred cause of the Juche revolution.” (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Guides Work for Mounting Nuclear Warheads on Ballistic Missiles,” March 28, 2023)

3/28/23:
North Korea is preparing to resume foreign diplomatic activity as Kim Jong Un gradually reopens the isolated country that was sealed off for three years during the coronavirus pandemic. Pyongyang is expected to rotate its foreign envoys in the coming months following a suspension of almost all diplomatic travel imposed at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, according to two people familiar with the matter. Diplomats and analysts said the renewed presence of North Korean officials abroad would increase engagement with Pyongyang and allow greater insight into the isolated regime, which has had limited contact with the outside world during the pandemic and seen talks with the U.S. on winding down its nuclear program stalled. North Korean officials recently resumed travelling to neighboring Vladivostok, in Russia’s Far East, and Beijing, laying the groundwork for greater engagement with the regime’s cornerstone allies, the people said. Wang Yajun, China’s new ambassador to North Korea, arrived in Pyongyang this week. His predecessor, Li Jinjun, left the North Korean capital in late 2021. Diplomats and analysts in Asia said the reopening would pave the way for greater communication with Kim’s officials at a time of heightened fears over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program after a series of missile tests in recent months. “There is a myth that North Korea doesn’t want to talk,” said Glyn Ford, a former member of the European parliament with close connections to high-ranking North Korean officials, adding that any reopening was likely to be “slow.” Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a North Korea expert at King’s College London, said the potential for a resumption of diplomatic travel to and from Pyongyang was “very positive” but cautioned that Kim’s support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would add another point of friction to already complicated talks. North Korea has embassies in more than 45 countries, while before the outbreak of Covid-19, more than 20 countries had diplomats stationed in Pyongyang, including the UK, Germany and Sweden. Most fled in the early months of 2020, however, as the country sealed its borders in an attempt to prevent the virus from entering. Recommended North Korea Fuel transfer from South to North Korea sheds light on sanctions evasion Commodities trade between North Korea and China, its biggest trading partner, increased last year, providing a lifeline to one of the world’s poorest and most isolated nations. North Korea suffered food shortages after the loss of commercial activity due to border closures, which were compounded by a poor harvest and natural disasters. Kim’s tentative steps towards reopening suggest most of North Korea’s 26mn people will eventually be exposed to Covid-19 without being vaccinated. Despite offers of vaccine deliveries from the international community, there has been no evidence of a mass vaccination campaign in the country, which acknowledged an outbreak of the Omicron variant last year. Kim previously declared victory over the virus and hailed North Korea’s official Covid death toll of just 74 people from 4.8mn cases, figures that have drawn skepticism abroad. (Edward White, “North Korea to Restart Diplomatic Activity,” Financial Times, March 29, 2023, p. 4)

Masquerading as media, elite universities and diplomatic and defense figures, North Korean actors have targeted governments, think tanks and businesses in the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Europe as part of an evolving, long-term cyberespionage strategy. A raft of digital weapons ultimately aimed at supporting Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions are being waged by APT43, the Google-owned threat intelligence firm Mandiant said in a report released today. APT43 is an umbrella term for activities sometimes attributed to groups “Kimsuky” or “Thallium.” The report provides a window into Pyongyang’s tactical shifts and evolving strategy since 2018, detailing a focus prior to October 2020 on South Korean and U.S. government offices, diplomatic organizations and think tanks with the aim of gathering information on foreign policy and security issues affecting the Korean Peninsula. From October 2020 through October 2021, APT43 largely targeted health-related areas and pharmaceutical companies, in what researchers suggest was a bid to support the country’s COVID-19 response. In early 2022, a campaign emerged to capture the credentials of academics, journalists, politicians and bloggers primarily residing in South Korea, while by the middle of the year the strategy had pivoted again — this time toward credential theft of South Korean social media users and bloggers with links to human rights, academia, religion and cryptocurrency. In order to achieve its aims, APT43 created “numerous spoofed and fraudulent (but convincing) personas for use in social engineering,” the report said. The broader strategy appears to be focused on collecting strategic intelligence related to key areas including sanctions policy and diplomatic relations, with the ultimate aim of determining how these may impact North Korea’s nuclear aims. Siphoning and then laundering cryptocurrency was identified as another component of the strategy. According to the report, APT43 uses mining to launder finances gained via crypto hacks. Researchers have long tracked North Korea’s circumvention of sanctions in order to funnel money to its closed-off economy, with crypto theft emerging as a favored approach. In 2022, hackers from the country stole an estimated $1.7 billion worth of cryptocurrency across multiple hacks, according to blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis. (Elizabeth Beattie, “As Missile Tests Escalate, North Korea Plays Cyberespionage Long Game,” Japan Times, March 29, 2023)

3/29/23:
United States and South Korean forces have been showing their firepower through an increasing number of exercises, all of which the two allies say are defensive in nature. But this morning, they used thousands of troops and high-end weaponry to practice an amphibious assault, a maneuver offensive in its nature and designed to take territory, not defend it. The commander of the 2,200 US Marines involved in Exercise Ssang Yong in Pohang on the southern coast of South Korea defends what’s taking place as not provocative. “I don’t think we’re doing anything different or odd,” said Col. Samuel Meyer, commander of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The exercise put the integrated firepower of US and South Korean forces on full display. Seoul’s Marines came ashore first in waves of 23-ton amphibious assault vehicles, their tracks leaving foot-deep gashes in the Pohang sands. As the South Korean Marines moved to a tree line behind the beach, huge US Navy hovercraft, known as LCACs, followed, disgorging eight-wheeled amphibious vehicles with nicknames like “Rooster”, “Cerberus” and “Ghost” stenciled on their sides. In the skies above were attack helicopters, Osprey transports and F-35B stealth fighters, 10 of which were embarked aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island, lurking 30 miles off shore. “This is the 70th anniversary of this exercise. It’s not new,” Meyer said, dismissing claims by Pyongyang that Washington and Seoul are being provocative and forcing North Korea to build up its nuclear program as deterrence. “This is routine. We’re just getting back to the routine, based on what we saw and experienced,” the U.S. Marine colonel said. But little seems routine on the Korean Peninsula or in wider East Asia in 2023. As Meyer spoke with reporters aboard the 45,000-ton USS Makin Island, essentially a baby aircraft carrier, yesterday, an actual 98,000-ton US Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz, was conducting operations of its own off the peninsula. Closer to the Pohang beach, at least six South Korean naval vessels could be seen in support, sending troops ashore for Exercise Ssang Yong. Meanwhile, North Korean state media was releasing pictures of leader Kim Jong Un inspecting what it claimed were nuclear weapons, and calling on his forces to be able to use them “anytime and anywhere.” To the north, Russia, a North Korean ally, was launching cruise missiles at a target in the waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula. And a Russian intelligence ship was keeping an eye on the Makin Island and the rehearsal for Wednesday’s exercise, sitting just 15 miles from the Makin Island, said the ship’s commander, Navy Capt. Tony Chavez. The Russian ship was doing exactly what Chinese naval vessels did when the Makin Island and the ships deployed with it — the amphibious landing docks USS Anchorage and USS John P. Murtha — did when the US warships were in the South China Sea before coming to Korea, keeping an eye on their every move from 12 to 15 miles away, Chavez said. Exercise Ssang Yong hadn’t been done in five years, initially due to a break for diplomacy and then for the Covid pandemic. But in the past year Pyongyang has been testing ballistic missiles at a record rate with Kim Jong Un ordering practice nuclear strikes on targets in the South. With Kim’s belligerence, the US have South Korea have been stepping up their preparedness to respond to any North Korean aggression. (Brad Lendon, Paula Hanco*cks and Yoonjung Seo, “U.S. and South Korea Send Thousands of Troops and 23-Ton Vehicles to Practice Beach Assault,” CNN, March 29, 2023)

3/30/23:
Seoul prosecutors believe onetime presidential hopeful and Democratic Party of Korea head Rep. Lee Jae-myung planned a solo trip to North Korea while he was still the governor of Gyeonggi Province, which neighbors Seoul. According to the indictment the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office submitted to the National Assembly today, after then-Gyeonggi Gov. Lee was excluded from the 2018 inter-Korea summit, the provincial office planned for him to travel to North Korea separately. The prosecutors found that Lee’s chief aide at the time, who was in charge of the province’s “peace initiatives,” paid a broker some 300 million won ($231,000) in subsidies from the Gyeonggi provincial office and 200 million won more in the form of donation. Lee’s ex-chief aide also offered North Korean authorities at least $500 million in exchange for pursuing exchange projects with Gyeonggi. One of the proposed projects included the province providing farming technologies to North Korea. But as a result of the United Nations-imposed sanctions, Gyeonggi was unable to offer the money, and the chief aide sought to deliver the promised money through illicit routes between November-December 2018. From 2019 to 2020, the ex-chief met with high-level North Korean officials including Kim Sung Hye, a senior official at the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, in China and the Philippines and paid them a total of $800 million. Prosecutors saw that this would amount to a violation of the laws on foreign exchange sanctions and the Finance Ministry provisions, which dictate that any South Korean money provided to North Korean authorities must obtain prior authorization of the Bank of Korea. Commenting on Lee’s suspected interaction with North Korea at the National Assembly last month, Minister of Justice Han Dong-hoon had said “any unauthorized contact with North Korea is a clear violation of the law.” Separately, the Democratic Party head is currently facing trials for violating election laws in the 2022 presidential election race and for other corruption charges dating back to his time as the mayor of Seongnam, a city in Gyeonggi Province. (Kim Arin, “Opposition Leader Planner Solo Visit to North Korea: Prosecutors,” Korea Herald, March 31, 2023)

At 10.39am local time on Septem¬ber 25, 2022, an oil tanker called the Unica sat along¬side a ves¬sel in waters just west of the North Korean port of Nampo. Tied together by cables, the two ships sat side-by-side for just under three hours, con¬duct¬ing what appears to be a ship-to-ship trans¬fer of oil in viol¬a¬tion of UN sanc¬tions on North Korea. The Unica is one of just three for¬eign ves¬sels that still sails straight to North Korea. It has made at least 23 jour¬neys to the coun¬try or its exclus¬ive eco¬nomic zone since 2019. Illegal ship¬ments to Pyongy¬ang have been well doc¬u¬mented. Less well known, however, are the indi¬vidu¬als behind the shad¬owy net¬works that have enabled the regime of Kim Jong Un to fin¬ance a new gen¬er¬a¬tion of bal¬listic mis¬siles and nuc¬lear war¬heads. Now, a joint invest¬ig¬a¬tion by the Fin¬an¬cial Times and the Royal United Ser¬vices Insti¬tute think-tank shows how busi¬ness fig¬ures in east Asia linked to organized crime have helped facil¬it¬ate illi¬cit deliv¬er¬ies of hun¬dreds of thou¬sands of bar¬rels of oil. Doc¬u¬ments show that the Unica con¬duc¬ted deliv¬er¬ies to North Korea while co-owned by Gary To, a Hong Kong oil trader with links to the tri¬ads, a syn¬dic-ate of organized crime groups with roots in south¬ern China. To is a former busi¬ness part¬ner of Alvin Chau, one of Asia’s lead¬ing gambling tycoons, who was recently jailed for organized crim-inal activ¬it¬ies. While the oil and pet¬ro¬leum products delivered by the Unica and other ves¬sels offer a crit¬ical life¬line to North Korea, the regime also needs middle¬men to source and pay for the cargo. Tens of mil¬lions of dol¬lars’ worth of oil was bought by com¬pan¬ies oper¬ated by a Macau-based busi¬ness¬man named Sun Tit Fan, accord¬ing to doc¬u¬ments seen by the FT. The pur¬chases were made through the sub¬si¬di¬ary of a North Korean bank placed under sanc¬tions by the US for assist-ing Pyongy¬ang’s nuc¬lear weapons pro¬gram. Like Gary To, Sun is a former busi¬ness part¬ner of Chau. The invest¬ig¬a¬tion is a com¬plex tale traced through shell com¬pan¬ies, triad net¬works, under-ground fin¬an¬cing chan¬nels and sprawl¬ing fam¬ily con¬nec¬tions. But it sheds new light on how the shattered eco¬nomy over¬seen by North Korean dic¬tator Kim Jong Un has been propped up by murky intel¬li¬gence and fin¬an¬cing oper¬a¬tions in the Chinese spe¬cial admin¬is¬trat¬ive regions of Hong Kong and Macau. It also helps explain how Kim’s regime can con¬tinue to build increas¬ingly soph-ist¬ic¬ated nuc¬lear weapons in defi¬ance of tough inter¬na¬tional sanc¬tions. Last week, Kim atten¬ded a mis¬sile test that sim¬u¬lated a nuc¬lear attack on the U.S. and South Korea. “This is the most detailed evid¬ence ever put into the pub¬lic domain to show how North Korea uses people with high-¬level con¬nec¬tions to crim¬inal net¬works like the tri¬ads to evade sanc¬tions and fin¬ance their weapons pro-grams,” says James Byrne, dir¬ector of the open¬source intel¬li¬gence and ana¬lysis research group at Rusi. “These net¬works are cent¬ral to North Korea’s abil¬ity to con¬tinue to func¬tion and threaten the world with nuc¬lear war. Sanc¬tions experts describe the Unica’s deliv¬er¬ies of oil and pet¬ro¬leum products to North Korea as a flag¬rant viol¬a¬tion of UN Secur¬ity Coun¬cil res¬ol¬u¬tion 2397, passed in Decem¬ber 2017 after Pyongy¬ang’s most recent nuc¬lear test. The res¬ol¬u¬tion imposed a cap on per-mit¬ted oil trans¬fers to North Korea of 500,000 bar¬rels a year, far below its energy needs. All trans-fers are sup¬posed to be repor¬ted to the UN, but only a frac¬tion ever are. An unre¬por¬ted trans¬fer con¬sti¬tutes a viol¬a¬tion of the sanc¬tions. Hugh Grif¬fiths, a former coordin¬ator of the UN panel of experts mon¬it¬or¬ing viol¬a¬tions of sanc¬tions on North Korea, says that even before the sanc¬tions were imposed, Pyongy¬ang relied on ship¬ments from a net¬work of Asian oil traders whose prin-cipal busi¬ness was smug¬gling untaxed pet¬ro¬leum products into main¬land China. But after the sanc-tions were intro¬duced, less hardened offend¬ers fell away as rogue com¬pan¬ies and ships were iden-ti¬fied and brokers arres¬ted. “What you’re left with after all this pres¬sure are net¬works that are habitu¬ally accus¬tomed to break¬ing the law,” says Grif¬fiths. “People who can secure the acqui¬es-cence of the crew with the threat of phys¬ical viol¬ence, who can be sure that any¬one who is arres¬ted is not going to talk, and cru¬cially, who have the means to laun¬der the pro¬ceeds.” The oil deliv¬er¬ies expose the dif¬fi¬culty of pre¬vent¬ing viol¬a¬tions even after indi¬vidual entit¬ies have been iden¬ti¬fied. The Unica has con¬tin¬ued to deliver to North Korea even after the ves¬sel was placed under sanc¬tions by the EU in Decem¬ber. That so many deliv¬er¬ies are facil¬it¬ated through Hong Kong and Macau also raises ques¬tions about China’s com¬mit¬ment to enfor¬cing UN sanc¬tions on North Korea. “We would often notify China of poten¬tial breaches of the sanc¬tions regime,” says Aaron Arnold, a Rusi counter-pro¬lif¬er¬a¬tion expert who also served on the UN panel. “It was com¬mon not to receive a response.” In a state¬ment, the Chinese gov¬ern¬ment said it imple¬men¬ted UN res¬ol¬u¬tions and ful-filled its inter¬na¬tional oblig¬a¬tions, but added: “Polit¬ical set¬tle¬ment and dip¬lo¬matic chan¬nels-are the only viable way to resolve the [Korean] pen¬in¬sula issue, not sanc¬tions.” The Hong Kong gov¬ern-ment said it “attaches great import¬ance” to imple¬ment¬ing UN sanc¬tions, adding that its law enforce-ment agen¬cies tracked sus¬pec¬ted viol¬a¬tions “vig¬or¬ously.” The gov¬ern¬ments of Macau and North Korea did not respond to requests for com¬ment. A single ship can make a dif¬fer¬ence. Research¬ers from Rusi have cal¬cu¬lated that if it was fully laden dur¬ing each of its 14 sus¬pec¬ted trans¬fers to North Korea between August 2021 and Septem¬ber 2022, the Unica could have delivered approx-im¬ately 489,166 bar¬rels of oil — equi¬val¬ent to 98 per cent of North Korea’s entire per¬mit¬ted annual quota — all by itself. Prop¬ping up this illi¬cit shadow eco¬nomy are for¬eign organized crim¬inal groups such as the tri¬ads, who assist in the regime’s over¬seas fin¬an¬cing and pro¬cure¬ment activ¬it¬ies. Hardened crim¬in¬als offer the North Koreans access to global smug¬gling, dis¬tri¬bu¬tion and money laun¬der¬ing net¬works. “Ima¬gine your mis¬sile engin¬eers need some equip¬ment for their bal¬listic mis-sile nav¬ig¬a¬tion sys¬tems,” says Andrei Lankov, pro¬fessor of his¬tory at Kook¬min Uni¬versity in Seoul and a lead¬ing author¬ity on North Korea. “You can’t just visit the fact¬ory that makes it — you need to rely on people who, for a good com¬mis¬sion, are ready to do pretty much everything.” A key fig¬ure con¬nec¬ted to busi¬nesses and indi¬vidu¬als doing busi¬ness with North Korea across east Asia is dis¬graced gambling tycoon Alvin Chau, the former chair of Hong Kong’s Sun¬city Group. Chau’s con¬vic¬tion and impris¬on¬ment in Janu¬ary on charges includ¬ing involve¬ment in a crim¬inal organization has shone a spot¬light on the illi¬cit activ¬it¬ies centered around Sun¬city. One expert says the Hong Kong-based con¬glom¬er¬ate became an “under¬ground bank”, and court doc¬u¬ments show how its influ¬ence stretched from main¬land China across Asia. Sun¬city began in 2007 as a “jun¬ket”, or gambling pro¬moter respons¬ible for ship¬ping high rollers from main¬land China, where gambling is illegal, into Macau where it is legal. But the com¬pany has since diver¬si¬fied into a vari¬ety of other busi¬nesses, gen¬er¬at¬ing hun¬dreds of bil¬lions of US dol¬lars in rev¬enue. Accord¬ing to the judg¬ment issued in Chau’s con¬vic¬tion, Sun¬city used legit¬im¬ate busi¬nesses to con¬ceal a host of illegal activ¬it-ies, accu¬mu¬lat¬ing assets and equity in devel¬op¬ment projects from gam¬blers who became indebted to the group back in the main¬land. The Macau court author¬it¬ies estim¬ate Sun¬city’s illegal gambling turnover was HK$823.7bn (US$105bn) between March 2013 and March 2021. “Sun¬city became an under¬ground bank of a huge scale,” says Steve Vick¬ers, a former Hong Kong police¬man. A regional law enforce¬ment offi¬cial and former casino exec¬ut¬ives told the FT that Sun¬city was involved in money laun¬der¬ing across Asia, as well as assist¬ing wealthy cit¬izens from the main¬land to move money out of China. Sun¬city group’s lis¬ted entity has since been renamed LET Group. The group dis¬tanced itself from its pre¬vi¬ous chair, Chau, and said the gambling pro¬mo¬tion busi¬ness that was the sub¬ject of the Macau court pro¬ceed¬ings was con¬tained in a private com¬pany run by Chau. The alleg¬a¬tions were “not rel¬ev¬ant to our organization”, LET Group said. Chau did not respond to a request for com¬ment. A 2022 report by the gov¬ern¬ment of the Aus¬tralian state of New South Wales also sug¬ges¬ted Chau was a triad asso¬ciate, ref¬er¬en¬cing due dili¬gence doc¬u¬ments cit¬ing “ongo¬ing con¬nec¬tions with tri¬ads and the facil¬it¬a¬tion of organized crime by Sun¬city.” Chau pre¬vi-ously served as an exec¬ut¬ive at a gold-trad¬ing affil¬i¬ate of the Sun¬city Group run by Gary To, the co-owner of the Unica. To also had a con¬nec¬tion to the 14K triad, an organized crime syn¬dic¬ate pre¬val¬ent in Hong Kong and Macau, through a one¬time exec¬ut¬ive of his gold com¬pany iden¬ti¬fied as a 14K mem¬ber by the Aus¬tralian author¬it¬ies. To denied any con¬nec¬tions to triad groups. He told the FT in a state¬ment that he had acquired the gold-trad¬ing affil¬i¬ate from Sun¬city to deal in pre¬cious metals, and had only met Chau “once or twice.” “[I] hope that my name and my com¬pany will not relate to Sun¬city or Mr Chau again,” he says. “I have never been involved in any triad-linked oper-a¬tions to ship oil to North Korea.” He said that he had sold out of Prospera Pacific Inter¬na¬tional, the com¬pany that owns the Unica, in Octo¬ber 2018 — the same month the com¬pany was estab-lished. But an offi¬cial doc¬u¬ment seen by the FT shows that To was one of two ulti¬mate bene¬fi¬ciary own¬ers of the com¬pany as recently as early 2020, by which time the PPI-owned Unica had already vis¬ited the North Korean port of Nampo in defi¬ance of UN sanc¬tions on at least five occa¬sions. When asked for evid¬ence that he had sold his stake in PPI, and to whom, To did not respond. It’s not known who paid for the oil on the Unica. But North Korea has relied on cov¬ert net¬works over-seas to act as middle¬men for gen¬er¬a¬tions. An exam¬in¬a¬tion of the busi¬ness activ¬it¬ies of Macau-based busi¬ness¬man and racing car driver Sun offers an insight into how the regime may have facil¬it¬ated such pur¬chases. Like Gary To, Sun has con¬nec¬tions to Alvin Chau. They appear together in the com¬pany records of a lux¬ury car show¬room in Macau registered in 2014. Sun also appears to have triad con¬nec¬tions. He is named in the records of a Macau-registered com¬pany, San Sing Sai Invest-ment, along¬side two former busi¬ness part¬ners of the leader of the Shui Fong triad. But it is Sun’s con¬nec¬tion to a sus¬pec¬ted North Korean oper¬at¬ive called Suen Chuen Pun — and an appar¬ent dyn-asty sus¬pec¬ted of car¬ry¬ing out North Korean fin¬an¬cing oper¬a¬tions over sev¬eral dec¬ades — that raises press¬ing ques¬tions about his busi¬ness activ¬it¬ies. Defector testi¬mon¬ies and com¬pany and prop¬erty records sug¬gest that Suen, who died in 2008 at the age of 89, was an “over¬seas agent” dis¬patched from North Korea to Macau in the 1950s, charged with invest¬ing money in the ter¬rit-ory’s casino industry on behalf of the Pyongy¬ang elite. Macau, a Por¬tuguese ter¬rit¬ory until its han-dover to China in 1999, has long proved fer¬tile soil for North Korean oper¬a¬tions. “As early as the 1950s, Macau was a place where North Korean oper¬at¬ives, whether spies or busi¬ness people rais-ing money for the regime, could go about their busi¬ness more or less unnoticed,” says Lankov of Kook¬min Uni¬versity. Begin¬ning in the 1960s, Suen and his des¬cend¬ants acquired mul¬tiple prop¬er-ties and estab¬lished dozens of com¬pan¬ies in both Macau and Hong Kong, many of which are known or sus¬pec¬ted to have been involved in busi¬ness with or on behalf of North Korea. Accord-ing to a mem¬ber of his fam¬ily who spoke to the FT, Sun Tit Fan is Suen Chuen Pun’s grand¬son. The two were lis¬ted as co-own¬ers in two devel¬op¬ment com¬pan¬ies based in Hong Kong through which illi¬cit pay¬ments to North Korea appear to have been made. Between 2007 and 2014, the two com¬pan¬ies paid close to $34mn in 90 trans¬ac¬tions for oil pur¬chases through DCB Fin¬ance, a sub¬si-di¬ary of North Korea’s Dae¬dong Credit Bank. The trans¬ac¬tions con¬tin¬ued even after Dae¬dong Credit Bank and DCB Fin¬ance were sanc¬tioned by the US in 2013. Com¬pany and prop¬erty records also con¬nect Sun and Suen to a North Korean national called Son Kon Hwa, who was involved in the illi¬cit over¬seas drugs trade on behalf of the regime. Ri Jong Ho, a former senior North Korean offi¬cial who defec¬ted in 2014, says that Son Kon Hwa was dis¬patched to Macau by North Korean for¬eign intel¬li¬gence in the 1990s. Defector testi¬mon¬ies and offi¬cial records sug¬gest that Son could be the son of Suen — and the father, or uncle, of Sun. “The records indic¬ate they are a closely inter¬linked fam¬ily net¬work that have been engaged in busi¬ness with North Korea for a long time,” says Rusi’s Byrne. Accord¬ing to Lankov, it is com¬mon for North Korea’s over¬seas trade and fin-an¬cing net¬works to be passed down over gen¬er¬a¬tions. “In North Korea, it is not only the lead¬er¬ship that is hered¬it¬ary,” says Lankov. “From an effi¬ciency point of view, it is good for the new boss to grow up in the envir¬on¬ment they will be oper¬at¬ing in.” Sun Tit Fan could not be reached for com-ment. His wife, Si San San, con¬firmed to the FT that she and her hus¬band had done busi¬ness with North Korea, but she denied they had viol¬ated any sanc¬tions. She denied that Suen Chuen Pun was Sun’s grand¬father, call¬ing him a “father fig¬ure” to her hus¬band. Si says that “all of Macau has accused my hus¬band of being part of the 14K [triad] and said he’s linked to the Shui Fong [triad]” but it is “non¬sense”. She says the con¬nec¬tions iden¬ti¬fied by the FT and Rusi did not con¬sti¬tute a fam¬ily net¬work. Asked why so many of the people co-own¬ing mul¬tiple com¬pan¬ies and prop¬er¬ties over dec¬ades had vari¬ations of the same sur¬name, she said it was a coin¬cid¬ence. The abil¬ity of North Korea’s crim¬inal-linked net¬works con¬stantly to adapt and recon¬sti¬t¬ute them¬selves has led some experts to argue that identi¬fy¬ing and impos¬ing sanc¬tions on indi¬vidual com¬pan¬ies makes little sense. But Arnold, the former mem¬ber of the UN panel on North Korea sanc¬tions, argues that the con¬cerns raised by this invest¬ig¬a¬tion go far bey¬ond the issue of North Korea itself. “The same loop¬holes and vul¬ner¬ab¬il¬it¬ies that North Korea exploits to hide a lot of its sanc¬tions eva¬sion activ¬it-ies are used by all kinds of other types of crim¬inal act¬ors — hack¬ers, klepto¬crats, tax avoiders, narcotraf¬fick¬ers and human traf¬fick¬ers,” says Arnold. “It’s all part of the same sys¬tem.” (Chris¬tian Dav¬ies, Prim¬rose Riordan and Chan Ho-him, “Inside North Korea’s Oil Smuggling,” Financial Times, March 30, 2023, p. 15)

3/31/23:
When the United Nations in 2017 placed a port ban on a Chinese-owned ship that had been ferrying North Korean coal to China, that should have been a death sentence, dooming the vessel to the scrapheap or to the limbo of a “flying Dutchman” — sailing the seas forever without docking. The dark blue cargo ship, a little longer than a football field, sat paralyzed in frigid Chinese waters for months, its small crew abandoned in unsanitary living quarters and running short of supplies. As sheets of ice slowly enveloped the vessel in late 2018, its fate seemed sealed. But the Petrel 8 would get a reprieve. With the help of Chinese courts, the Petrel 8 would not only survive its near-shipwreck, but be resold, repaired and returned to open waters in breach of sanctions. United Nations reports show that China has increasingly turned a blind eye to illicit North Korean activity, but the Petrel 8 is a rare, detailed example of exactly how that happens. Ships like these provide a vital lifeline for Pyongyang’s isolated regime, illicitly ferrying coal to foreign ports and often returning with goods and supplies the regime seeks. Official court documents reviewed by The Washington Post and information from independent researchers show that not only did Chinese authorities know the Petrel 8 was under sanction, but allowed it to be auctioned off and dock illicitly in multiple ports — at times using fraudulent identities. China was among the 15 U.N. Security Council members that voted unanimously in 2016 and 2017 to impose a comprehensive set of sanctions aimed at curtailing North Korea’s nuclear program. The resolutions included a global port ban on ships that have been caught transporting North Korean coal, a major source of revenue for Pyongyang’s nuclear activities. Once a ship is sanctioned, the only way to get it off the banned list is by consensus of the U.N. 1718 Committee, which oversees North Korean sanctions. For a brief period during President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure campaign on Pyongyang, China and Russia were willing to enforce the sanctions. But that cooperation ended by 2018. Today, both countries, but particularly China — which is by far North Korea’s largest trading partner and has enormous influence over its neighbor — are ignoring the sanctions, experts say. “When you don’t have any pressure, there is zero reason for North Korea to stop what they are doing,” said Sue Mi Terry, director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center. “China has provided multiple points of relief for North Korea to escape the pressure of sanctions,” said Andrew Boling, an analyst with C4ADS, a nonprofit research group focused on transnational criminal activity that has tracked the Petrel 8 and provided location data to The Post. “The sanctions regime can’t work until China fully enforces the rules it agreed to.” A United Nations Panel of Experts is probing the case. “The panel is well aware of the Petrel 8, and our investigations into its activity and the changing ownership networks behind it continue,” the panel’s coordinator, Eric Penton-Voak, said in a statement. The investigation is confidential until its findings are published in the panel’s next report, due out in April. Queries to the Chinese courts, maritime authority and mission to the United Nations went unanswered. For the first few years of its life, the Petrel 8 appeared to operate as a normal cargo vessel. Then, in January 2017, its Indian owners sold it to Li Quan Shipping Co., a Hong Kong-based firm that according to the United Nations has been involved in other illicit activity in violation of North Korea sanctions. The ship was registered under a new flag by the small Indian Ocean state of Comoros, which is so lax in its standards for shipping safety it has been blacklisted by the port authorities of the European Union. That year, the ship made three illicit coal runs to North Korea, according to researchers. In July, on its third run, a U.N. member state tipped the Panel of Experts that the vessel had been spotted loading coal at Taean, North Korea, some 160 miles south of Pyongyang. The panel’s then-maritime expert, Neil Watts, began gathering evidence, reconstructing all three voyages, using specialized databases that tracked ship movements and using satellite imagery. All three followed the same general pattern, he said. The ship would sail from China to North Korea, make a stop in Russia, and return to China. The Russia port call was to make it appear the coal was loaded there. Along the way, the Petrel 8 made moves typical of sanction-skirting ships. As it entered North Korean waters, it would go “dark,” turning off its automated identification system or AIS, a box that transmits signals indicating the ship’s position, identification number and other information. It would turn it on again when it was in the Yellow Sea on its way to Russia, said Watts. AIS signals, which are mandated by the International Maritime Organization for ships larger than 300 tons, are used by vessels to avoid collisions and by ports to manage maritime traffic. They are also useful for tracking changes in the ship’s weight. On one voyage in late May 2017, after the ship’s signals went dark and then reappeared in the Yellow Sea near the Korean Peninsula, something curious happened. The ship transmitted an increase in the “draft” — the distance between the keel and the water line — of 2.5 meters, or just over eight feet, indicating it was sitting lower in the water. “I immediately knew that they’d taken on a cargo,” recalled Watts. A few days later it entered Nakhodka harbor in Russia. There it sat for a day, on a “decoy port visit,” as Watts put it. Then it sailed back to China, entering Tangshan port on June 14. A day later it left again, reporting a draft decrease of 2.7 meters or almost nine feet. The ship had discharged its cargo in China. Watts, a former South African Navy captain, wrote up his findings on the Petrel 8 in a larger 2018 U.N. report on North Korean sanctions violations. Satellite images confirmed the cargo: It was “all black,” he said. “It was coal.” On Oct. 3, 2017, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to sanction the Petrel 8, barring it from entering any port. That month, Comoros deflagged the ship, according to the IMO, which registers all ships in the world, assigning each a unique number, and keeps a public database of the registry. “It’s like being without a passport,” Watts said, adding that no state may reflag the ship without violating the sanctions regime. Shortly after the ban was imposed, the Petrel 8 sailed out of northeastern China, now unable to legally make port again. It headed south on a brief trip through the Chinese portion of the Yellow Sea, before settling in open waters near Yingkou Port, not far from where it had set sail. According to satellite imagery, it sat idle in the bay as winter drew near and the waters around it froze into vast ice floes. The crew were stranded on the ship for almost three months, its owners having abandoned the vessel, according to Chinese court records. Chinese authorities ashore grew concerned that the ship would capsize or collide with other ships. In dire need of fuel and food, the crew finally sent up a distress signal. “The crew’s safety was in danger,” said a report from the Maritime Affairs Court of Dalian, one of Liaoning province’s largest cities, which has jurisdiction over maritime civil and criminal disputes in the region. On Jan. 13, 2018, a search and rescue team retrieved the crew. Nine days later, it sent out an icebreaker to cut through the blocks of ice and tow the ship back to Yingkou port. The U.N. allows an exception to the port entry ban for ships in distress. But the U.N. has no record of such a waiver being requested. As such the ship should have been seized at the port, said a U.N. official. Instead, the Petrel 8 sat in Yingkou port under court custody for more than two years, according to China’s maritime court records. Then in mid-2021, the Petrel 8 was listed for auction on a Chinese court auction website, advertised under a Chinese translation of its name, Haiyan 8. The government listing acknowledged the ship’s sanctioned status, even including a warning to prospective bidders. “The Haiyan 8 is included in the list of vessels prohibited from entering the port designated by the United Nations Security Council,” said the court notice. “The buyer should fully understand the consequences of Haiyan 8 being sanctioned by the United Nations. Participating in the auction is deemed to accept the Haiyan 8 being sanctioned. The relevant adverse consequences arising from the sanction of the ship shall be borne by the buyer.” During the June 25, 2021, court auction, just one buyer bid on Petrel 8, taking the vessel for a mere $950,000 — a bargain basem*nt price which reflected that the ship’s sanctioned status and expired safety certificates made it essentially uninsurable. The auction site listed the buyer only as an individual with a Chinese name, Ge Baohong. In December that year, according to satellite imagery, the ship left Yingkou and put in at Caofeidian port some 230 miles south. That entry violated the U.N. ban. “The People’s Republic of China allowed the ship to violate the ban,” said Hugh Griffiths, a former coordinator of the U.N. Panel of Experts, who also worked on the Petrel 8 designation. “They are failing to uphold resolutions that they themselves co-authored.” Three months later, in March 2022, the Petrel 8 sailed again, this time 1,000 miles down the coastline to Fuan Matou shipyard in China’s southeastern Fujian Province. That entry, too, breached the ban. Satellite imagery shows the Petrel 8 was moved onto a dry dock where it likely underwent repairs. According to 2022 and 2021 reports from the U.N. panel, shipyards in the Baima River where the Petrel 8 entered have a documented history of servicing suspect vessels linked to North Korean trade. Just a few months ago, a large bulk carrier sold to North Korea was retrofitted at Fuan Matou, and has since started moving sanctioned coal, according to the Royal United Services Institute, a defense-focused think tank. Next door to Fuan Matou is another shipyard, Fujian Yihe, which is notorious for housing ships known to violate U.N. sanctions, said James Byrne, RUSI’s director of open source intelligence and analysis. “Shipyards such as these appear to play a key role in servicing vessels engaged in U.N. sanctions busting and appear to do so with little concern about the possible consequences of violating sanctions,” he said. In May 2022, a Japanese ship broker named Hiroyuki Takahashi, working on behalf of Ge Baohong, and operating as president of Uyo Co. Ltd., sold the Petrel 8 for some $3.8 million, netting Ge more than $2.8 million, according to a western diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity. The buyer, an Indonesian freight shipping firm named P.T. Lintas Bahari Nusantara, did not know the ship was under sanction, according to claims it later made to western diplomats. Takahashi is also president of Toei Shipping, according to corporate records. Its address, in an industrial zone of Tokyo, is the same as that of Uyo, according to information provided by an Indonesian port authority. A Washington Post reporter visited the address listed on the bill of sale, and did not find the company there. Business registry records for the ward found no company by that name listed. Takahashi did not respond to a request for comment. Three years earlier, in January 2019, Toei purchased a ship — the Rui Hong 916 — that was refurbished in Fujian Yihe and then went on to conduct a ship-to-ship transfer of North Korean petroleum. The Panel of Experts recommended the Rui Hong 916 be sanctioned, but the proposal was blocked by China. After P.T. Lintas bought the Petrel 8, it reflagged it with the small South Pacific island country of Niue — like Comoros, a state known for lax flagging standards. This, too, was a violation of sanctions. And soon enough, AIS signals showed the ship was once again on the move. Last June, the Petrel 8 slipped out of Fujian province and sailed through the South China Sea. Along the way it transmitted signals under a false ship name — Dong Hong Hang 1 — alternated flag countries of origin and made a strange loop-de-loop, where it switched up its identification number, eventually docking in a shipyard in western Java on July 3. On July 8, the port authority conducted an inspection and found that the ship had again changed its name — from Dong Hong Hang 1 to LBN 10, according to Doni Rinaldi, a spokesman for the Banten Port Authority. It was now registered under the flag of Mongolia, he said. “To me that looks like ship laundering,” said Watts, now a consultant on international sanctions compliance. According to a State Department official, the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta learned that the ship entered Indonesia in July 2022 and informed the government that the ship was on the U.N. sanctions list. The official said that shortly thereafter the ship was “impounded.” A diplomat familiar with the matter said the Indonesian government has asked the U.N. 1718 Committee to remove the ship from the sanctions list, though no action has yet been taken. The Indonesian Mission to the United Nations would say only that the mission has been in touch with the committee. The ship is currently at the shipyard in western Java, “under close supervision of the government,” the mission said in a statement. “Rest assured of Indonesia’s continued support to assist the work of the Security Council in this regard.” The Petrel 8 is one of about 60 vessels designated between 2016 and 2018 for violating the North Korean sanctions regime that barred the transport or transfer to another ship of coal, petroleum or weapons. The last vessels were designated in March 2018, after which China and Russia, both permanent members of the Security Council, stopped agreeing to new designations, effectively blocking every attempt to ban ships doing illicit business on behalf of North Korea. Instead the two countries began to work purposefully to lift the sanctions regime. In 2019 and in 2021, Russia and China proposed lifting of sanctions on North Korea related to, for instance, export of seafood and textiles. Facing opposition, they withdrew the proposals. Last May, following a spate of North Korean missile launches, 13 of the 15 members of the Security Council voted to impose additional sanctions. Russia and China vetoed the resolution, arguing that additional sanctions were not justified and would prevent a resolution of Korean Peninsula issues. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has allowed illicit shipping networks to flourish. Annual reports from the U.N. Panel of Experts describe a thriving network of vessels engaging in illicit ship-to-ship transfers of sanctioned North Korea commodities in Chinese waters. One popular zone for such trade is the Ningbo-Zhoushan area off China’s east coast. A report released in March last year provided evidence that at least 16 vessels conducted trades in the area in 2021, including a vessel called Northern Luck, which is linked to the same shipping network that oversaw Petrel 8’s illicit trades in 2017. Li Quan, the company that owned Petrel 8, and Dalian Longgang Shipping Co., which managed the vessel’s operation while it was illicitly transporting North Korean coal, also owned and managed the Northern Luck between 2013 and 2016, according to IHS Markit, a shipping data firm. In that period, the ship made some 30 trips to North Korea, according to C4ADS. The two companies, which have a history of trade with North Korea and links to Pyongyang-based shipping firms, transferred ownership of Northern Luck to a North Korean company in 2016 after the U.N. Security Council limited export of North Korean coal — a sanction expanded the following year to a full ban. The ship then continued the trades illicitly, as shown in the 2022 U.N. report. “This is a good example of how North Korea is able to outwit the sanctions regime using overseas facilitators,” said Boling. “Ultimately, how vulnerable Chinese companies are to U.N. sanctions comes down to the Chinese government’s willingness to enforce them.” China and Russia’s obstruction of sanctions enforcement has made it difficult to say whether the measures would have had impact, The Wilson Center’s Sue Mi Terry said. “t can only possibly work if they’re implemented,” she said. The Biden administration has said it’s willing to engage in talks with North Korea, but its leader, Kim Jong Un, has shown no inclination to do so. Any hopes that Beijing might nudge Kim in that direction have faded as relations between Washington and Beijing remain frosty. As for the Chinese, “they increasingly see North Korea as an ally,” said one administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity. “They’re less interested in trying to get them to disarm than in thinking about North Korea as part of an alliance of the aggrieved: Russia, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan.” (Ellen Nakashima, Cate Cadell and Dera Menra Sijabat, “How China Let a Ship Banned for Ferrying Coal Go Rogue,” Washington Post, March 31, 2023)

7/1/23:
Makovsky and Liu: “Recent commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center indicates a high level of activity around the complex. The 5 MWe Reactor continues to operate, and construction has started on an additional support building around the Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR). Furthermore, water discharges have been detected that could be associated with testing of the ELWR’s cooling system. This is not the first time water discharges have been observed coming from the ELWR over the past few years but may indicate the reactor is nearing completion. Additionally, new construction has started around the Uranium Enrichment Plant (UEP) area, likely intended to expand the uranium conversion capabilities. Together, these developments seem to reflect Kim Jong Un’s recent directive to increase the country’s fissile material production to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal. Satellite imagery from March 17 revealed the foundation of a new building measuring approximately 42 meters by 15 meters. The foundation appears to have approximately 20 rooms on the base floor. Given its location, this building will likely serve an administrative function, such as accommodating additional staff required to operate the reactor or providing research and engineering spaces. The building construction started in February in a space previously used as a construction material staging area and is the second new administration building that has been built near the engineering building — the first was completed in December 2022. On imagery from March 3, water discharge is observed coming from a pipe that empties into the Kuryong River approximately 75 meters south of the ELWR’s pump house. This is not the first time water discharge has been detected around the ELWR, but does suggest some activities are taking place within the reactor itself. Imagery of trench work done in 2012 showed two substantial pipes running from the ELWR’s turbine building to the pump house. While only an onsite inspection can confirm the function of the actual cooling arrangements, the lines could be carrying the spent steam from the turbine to a river water cooled condenser in the pump house and condensed feedwater back to the ELWR steam generators. Alternatively, the condenser may be in the turbine building, and cooling river water is pumped in and out over those lines. The discharge being observed now is not from the main discharge line, but from what has been termed the secondary discharge pathway. It could consist of river water-cooling discharge from other ELWR service/support systems. These support systems include normal radioactive decay heat removal (RHR) that must be performed when the reactor is shut down for refueling, maintenance or safety-related cooling for various emergency hot shutdown situations. The emergency cooling systems are, by design, usually located entirely within the reactor building to prevent radioactivity release in the case of an accident. The RHR must be available for continuous operation when the reactor is on a scheduled hot shutdown to prevent damaging overheating from radioactive decay.[1] The amount of heat energy that must be carried away is considerably less than when the reactor is operating at full power, which may explain the small among of discharge seen from the secondary discharge pathway. RHR testing is part of readiness testing, as it needs to work reliably before the ELWR can be started. Together, the new construction and this recent water discharge seem to suggest that the ELWR is nearing a transition to operational status. The 5 MWe Reactor has been operating since July 2021. Based on the irradiation campaigns in 2003-2007 and 2013-2018, it is probably approaching the point of discharging spent fuel and refueling. However, there appears to be new construction work ongoing at the reactor’s Spent Fuel Storage Building, which may prevent a near-term fuel discharge. For the past year, construction and refurbishment activity has been ongoing within the complex south of the Uranium Enrichment Plant. The majority of work has been done at the UO2-UF4 Conversion Building.[2] The removal of a large section of its roof, observed in July 2022, suggested at first that the building was possibly being dismantled. However, by December, a new roof was added, confirming the structure was being renovated. Work on the western sections of the building continues, and whether those portions will be razed or also renovated is unknown. On imagery from March 3, 2023, roofing was being applied to a newly constructed, single-story support building located next to the Metal Alloy Workshop, which in the past, was used to produce cladding material for the 5 MWe Reactor fuel. By March 17, the roofing appears to have been completed. The building’s future function is yet to be determined. Three additional buildings are under construction in an area south of the UO2-UF4 buildings. These measure 42 by 15 meters, 55 by 12 meters, and 30 by 14 meters. Construction began between February 13 and March 3, when the foundations were being prepared. By March 17, their interior walls were being added. The size of the interior rooms suggests they will likely be offices for administrative or technical purposes. On March 3, three specialized railcars were present, albeit one of the cars, as in past practice, had been separated from the unit and left on the spur.[3] A white tank car, which has been seen previously, was also present. On March 17, all but one of the specialized railcars had departed, and none were present in the city railyard, where they have occasionally appeared before departing the Yongbyon area. One car being left behind is unusual, and its continued presence on March 21 raises questions about its purpose.” (Peter Makowsky and Jack Liu, “Growing Activity at North Korea’s Experimental Light-Water Reactor,” 38North, April 1, 2023)

4/3/23:
South Korea, the United States and Japan kicked off their two-day large-scale combined maritime exercises, mobilizing the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz, and its strike group to enhance combat readiness and interoperability against North Korea’s continued threats, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said today. The South Korean and U.S. navies along with Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force started conducting anti-submarine warfare exercises and search and rescue exercises in international waters south of Jeju island on Monday morning. “The anti-submarine warfare exercises have been designed to enhance the combined response capabilities of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan to North Korea’s underwater threats, including advancements in submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) capabilities,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. The drills use expendable mobile anti-submarine warfare training targets, or EMATT, which are capable of simulating the sounds and movements of a submarine, to “enhance the three countries’ capabilities to detect, track, share information and destroy North Korean underwater threats.” The three naval forces specifically aim to master detecting the sounds of a virtual underwater target, sharing information and striking the target with torpedoes. “The exercises that utilize EMATT, which is only a few meters in size, are significant in demonstrating the Navy’s ability to counter North Korea’s moves in developing the capabilities of Unmanned Underwater Vehicles, including the underwater attack drone named ‘Haeil’ that North Korea recently disclosed through its state media,” a South Korean military official said on condition of anonymity. The trilateral anti-submarine warfare drills were staged for the first time in six months, marking the first such drills since September last year, as North Korea ratcheted up its underwater threats by disclosing newly developed weapons this month. North Korea claimed it tested a nuclear-capable underwater attack drone — which was developed to submerge stealthily into enemy operational areas and destroy enemy warships and key naval bases by generating a radioactive tsunami — twice in March. North Korea fired two submarine-launched cruise missiles, or SLCMs, for the first time in mid-March. The U.S. Navy’s 100,000-ton nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz (CVN-68), and her strike group consisting of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, the USS Wayne E. Meyer and USS Decatur, have been mobilized for the trilateral naval drills. These trilateral drills are coming shortly after the US strike carrier group left a naval base in the southeastern port city of Busan after staying for almost a week from March 28 to April 2 to show the US’ unwavering commitment to the defense of South Korea. The South Korean Navy has dispatched destroyer Yulgok YiYi, equipped with the Aegis Combat System, and its key destroyers, the Choi Young and Dae Jo Yeong, as well as the fast combat support ship, the Soyang. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Asagiri-class destroyer, the Umigiri, has participated in the trilateral naval drills. The three countries also have staged search and rescue exercises, known as SAREXs, for the first time since 2016 as part of their efforts to “normalize trilateral security cooperation,” South Korea’s Defense Ministry said. During the training, the naval forces of the three countries aim to master conducting maritime search and rescue operations, providing emergency medical treatment and transporting patients in the event of maritime accidents. The trilateral SAREXs, which are designed to enhance their interoperability to respond to disasters and provide humanitarian assistance, were initially staged in 2008. Seoul, Washington and Tokyo had conducted SAREXs once or twice a year until 2016. But nonmilitary trilateral exercises, including a maritime interdiction exercise as well as SAREXs, had been suspended especially in the aftermath of a radar lock-on dispute between South Korea and Japan in 2018. (Ji Da-gyum, “S. Korea, U.S., Japan Stages Anti-Submarine Drills amid Escalating NK Underwater Threats,” Korea Herald, April 3, 2023)

4/5/23:
South Korea and the United States held combined air drills, involving at least one U.S. B-52H strategic bomber today, Seoul’s defense ministry said, amid joint efforts to sharpen deterrence against evolving North Korean threats. The bomber was redeployed to the Korean Peninsula about a month after its last deployment here amid tensions caused by Pyongyang’s provocative moves, such as its unveiling of the Hwasan-31 tactical nuclear warhead last week. The South Korean Air Force mobilized its F-35A radar-evading fighters for the drills, while the U.S. side deployed F-35B and F-16 fighters. The training focused on practicing procedures to protect the strategic bomber from potential aerial enemy threats, and strengthening the allied forces’ interoperability and combined operational capabilities, according to the ministry. (Yonhap, “S. Korea, U.S. Hold Air Drills Involving B-52H Strategic Bomber: Defense Ministry,” April 5, 2023)

4/7/23:
Daily communication between the two Koreas was suspended Friday, as North Korea did not respond to regular contact via a cross-border liaison line and a military hotline, the South Korean government said. “The North was unresponsive to the closing call via the joint liaison hotline at 5 p.m. after it did not answer the opening call at 9 a.m.,” Seoul’s unification ministry said. The ministry earlier said as there was no problem with communication lines in the South, it will closely monitor the situation, including the possibility of a technical problem in the North. The two Koreas typically hold phone calls twice a day at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. via their joint liaison office channel. The North also did not respond to two regular daily calls via the military communication channel, according to the South’s military. The North may have severed the communication channels to protest the allies’ military exercises or the ministry’s latest publication of a report on the North’s human rights violations. Regular phone calls via inter-Korean communication channels have previously gone unanswered due to technical reasons. Last June, Pyongyang did not respond to a regular hotline call apparently due to technical glitches caused by heavy rains. In July 2021, the North restored the inter-Korean hotline, about a year after it severed the contact channel in protest against Seoul activists’ leaflet campaigns critical of Pyongyang. The liaison line was again cut off in October and restored later. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Unresponsive to Regular Contact via Inter-Korean Liaison Line, Military Hotline,” April 7, 2023)

KCNA: “A national defense science research institute in the DPRK carried out a test of underwater strategic weapon system from April 4 to 7. The underwater nuclear attack drone “Haeil-2” entered into the test in Kajin Port, Kumya County, South Hamgyong Province in the afternoon on April 4. It cruised 1 000 km of simulated underwater distance in elliptical and “8” patterns set in the East Sea of Korea for 71 hours and 6 minutes. In the afternoon on April 7 it arrived in the waters off Ryongdae Port, Tanchon City, South Hamgyong Province, the place of simulated target, where the test warhead accurately detonated underwater. The test perfectly proved the reliability of the underwater strategic weapon system and its fatal attack ability. The system will serve as an advantageous and prospective military potential of the armed forces of the DPRK essential for containing all evolving military actions of enemies, removing threats and defending the country.” (KCNA, “Underwater Strategic Weapon System Tested in DPRK,” April 8, 2023)

4/9/23:
When reports emerged late last year that South Korea had agreed to sell artillery shells to help the United States replenish its stockpiles, it insisted that their “end user” should be the U.S. military. But internally, top aides to President Yoon Suk Yeol were worried that their American ally would divert them to Ukraine. Yoon’s secretary for foreign affairs, Yi Mun-hui, told his boss, National Security Adviser Kim Sung-han, that the government “was mired in concerns that the U.S. would not be the end user if South Korea were to comply with a U.S. request for ammunition,” according to a batch of secret Pentagon documents leaked through social media. The secret report was based on signals intelligence, which meant that the United States has been spying on one of its major allies in Asia. Both Yi and Kim stepped down last month for unclear reasons. Neither man could be reached for comment. South Korea was aware of the news reports about the leaked documents and planned to discuss “issues raised” by the leak with Washington, a senior government official in Seoul told reporters today. When asked whether South Korea planned to lodge a protest or demand an explanation from Washington, he said the government would study precedents from the past and similar cases involving other nations. Although U.S. officials have confirmed that the trove of leaked documents appear to be legitimate intelligence and operational briefs compiled by the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, at least one had been modified from the original at some point. And the apparent authenticity of the documents is not an indication of their accuracy. The documents pertaining to South Korea showed a key American ally torn between Washington’s pressure on Seoul to help supply ammunition to Ukraine and its official policy of not providing lethal weapons to countries at war. Seoul feared that President Biden would call Mr. Yoon directly to press the matter. “Yi stressed that South Korea was not prepared to have a call between the heads of state without having a clear position on the issue, adding that South Korea could not violate its policy against supplying lethal aid, so officially changing the policy would be the only option,” the document said. Yi said that Yoon’s presidential secretary for national defense, Im Ki-hun, had promised to determine “a final stance by March 2.” But their boss, Kim, was worried that if the announcement of Yoon’s state visit to Washington coincided with an announcement of South Korea changing its stance on providing lethal aid to Ukraine, “the public would think the two had been done as a trade.” Yoon’s state visit to Washington, which is to take place on April 26, was announced March 7. Instead, according to the document, Mr. Kim “suggested the possibility” of selling 330,000 rounds of 155-millimeter artillery shells to Poland because “getting the ammunition to Ukraine quickly was the ultimate goal of the United States.” Yi agreed that it might be possible for Poland to agree to being called the end user and send the ammunition on to Ukraine, but that South Korea would need to “verify what Poland would do.” It is unclear exactly what he meant by this because South Korea’s export control rules stipulate that its weapons or weapon parts sold to a foreign country should not be resold or transferred to a third country without Seoul’s approval. The senior South Korean official today declined to reveal details of what he called “internal discussions” within Mr. Yoon’s government. But he added that “nothing has been finalized” and that there was still “no change” in Seoul’s policy on Ukraine. South Korea has been shipping humanitarian aid to Ukraine but has insisted that it would not directly provide any lethal weapons. “South Korea’s position has been that it will cooperate with the United States while not clashing with Russia,” said Yang Uk, a weapons expert at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. “The documents leaked put South Korea in a more difficult position.” And the mere fact of the spying taking place, leaving aside what it might uncover, is a damaging revelation, he said. “It’s reasonable to suspect that the United States spies on top defense and security officials in Seoul, but it’s bad news for the general public ahead of the South Korea-U.S. summit,” he added. “People will ask, ‘We have been allies for seven decades, and you still spy on us?’” (Choe Sang-Hun, “Leaked Documents Show Seoul Torn between U.S. Demands and Its Own Policy,” New York Times, April 9, 2023) Opposition lawmakers in South Korea criticized the leaked Pentagon documents as a major security breach and possible evidence of U.S. spying as the government of President Yoon Suk Yeol on April 11 sought to downplay the disclosures and defend Seoul’s alliance with Washington. The highly classified leaked documents suggest that the United States has been spying on top national security officials in Mr. Yoon’s administration, which opposition lawmakers described as “a super-scale security breach” while accusing Washington of “violating the sovereignty” of a key ally. “If it is true that they have spied on us, it is a very disappointing act that undermines the South Korea-U.S. alliance, which is based on mutual trust,” Lee Jae-myung, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, told foreign media reporters on Tuesday. If it was true, he added, Washington should also apologize to the South Korean people. Yoon’s administration has insisted that the scandal would not and should not damage his country’s alliance with the United States. On April 11, his government appeared to minimize the importance of the leak, saying that Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup and and his American counterpart, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, had agreed during a morning phone call that “quite a few of the documents in question were fabricated.” But South Korean officials would not discuss the information contained in the leaked documents or what exactly they considered to be fabricated. The reaction to the leak in South Korea is perhaps the strongest so far by an ally as the Biden administration scrambles to contain the damage from apparent U.S. spying on its partners, including Ukraine. U.S. officials “are engaging with allies and partners at high levels” over the leaked documents, “to reassure them of our commitment to safeguarding intelligence,” Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesman, told reporters on April 10. But he declined to provide more specifics, including whether Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken had reached out to officials in South Korea. So far, the leaked documents obtained by the New York Times have contained three entries on South Korea. One document said that the South Korean National Security Council in early March was grappling with a request from the United States to provide artillery ammunition to Ukraine. Seoul has never confirmed such a request, although it said it was discussing selling 155-mm artillery shells to Washington on the condition that the U.S. military would be their “end user.” That stance was designed in part to prevent provoking Moscow, whose cooperation Seoul needs to contain an increasingly belligerent North Korea. Another document showed senior presidential aides in Seoul concerned that President Biden would call Mr. Yoon to pressure him to ship ammunition to Ukraine or that the artillery shells South Korea was selling to the United States might end up in the war-torn country despite export controls. The aides also discussed the possibility of selling 330,000 artillery shells to Poland, with Warsaw “being called the end user” yet sending the ammunition on to Ukraine anyway. When asked if the conversation captured in the documents was accurate, Kim Tae-hyo, a deputy national security adviser to Yoon, said “No” to reporters at the airport on April 11, according to the national news agency Yonhap. Mr. Kim was departing for Washington to prepare for Yoon’s summit with Biden on April 26. Mr. Yoon’s office would not comment beyond Kim’s remark. In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Poland has emerged as the biggest buyer of South Korean weapons, agreeing to purchase multibillion dollars’ worth of South Korean tanks, howitzers, missiles and aircraft. A third document showed what looked like a timetable for 330,000 artillery shells in South Korea being airlifted to Ukraine or shipped from the South Korean port of Jinhae to the German port of Nordenham. It was unclear whether the timetable described a shipment already underway or just planned. The origin of the shells could indicate that the U.S. military was diverting its own stockpiles held in South Korea to Ukraine or that it was buying shells from South Korea to help replenish its own stockpiles. Senior U.S. officials said the Federal Bureau of Investigation was working to determine the source of the leaks. The officials acknowledged that the documents appear to be legitimate intelligence and operational briefs compiled by the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, using reports from the government’s intelligence community, but that at least one had been modified from the original at some later point. The apparent authenticity of the documents, however, is not an indication of their accuracy. Yoon’s office insisted on April 11 that it had a strong system in place to thwart attempts at spying on its officials. It accused opposition lawmakers of spreading “fake, negative suspicions” in order to gin up votes. “This is a self-damaging act against national interest that undermines the South Korea-U.S. alliance at a time of ceaseless provocations and nuclear threat from North Korea,” it said. The documents also said that North Korea had conducted checks on March 1 to prepare for an ICBM test flight. (The North launched an ICBM on March 16.) Another document said that the record-breaking number of intercontinental ballistic missile-class launchers North Korea showed during a military parade in February were “most likely carrying nonoperational systems.” “The North paraded these nonoperational systems to portray a larger, more capable missile force than it possesses and to mitigate the risk of damage to its real missiles,” it said. Independent analysts have long said that the missiles North Korea shows during its parades were likely imitations. The leaked document added that North Korea would probably be unable to outfit all of the paraded ICBM launchers with operational missiles capable of striking the continental United States during the next year “because of testing hurdles and resource constraints.” (Choe Sang-Hun, “Leaked Documents and Accusations of U.S. Spying Spark Outrage in Seoul,” New York Times, April 9, 2023)

4/10/23:
KCNA: “The 6th Enlarged Meeting of the 8th Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) which is of another great military significance was held at the office building of the WPK Central Committee on April 10 in the turning period of the development of our armed forces in which the powerful strategic measures are being carried out to expand and strengthen the war deterrent of the country in every way to cope with the escalating moves of the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet traitors to unleash a war of aggression. 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 enlarged meeting. Present at the meeting were major members of the Central Military Commission of the WPK and commanding officers of the large combined units of the Korean People’s Army on the front. The enlarged meeting clearly understood the serious present security situation in the Korean Peninsula that the aggressive military policy and actions of the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet traitors are emerging as a threatening entity, and discussed important military issues arising in making the country’s defense capacity and war preparations more perfect. Recently the enemy openly let out even warlike words such as the “occupation of Pyongyang” and “beheading operation” and staged the frantic large-scale joint military drill simulating an all-out war against the DPRK. And they clearly showed their sinister true colors for aggression while making reckless remarks for the confrontation with the DPRK and deliberately inciting the military actions for attack. The meeting made an in-depth analysis of the present situation in which the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet traitors are getting ever more undisguised in their moves for a war of aggression, and raised it as an indispensable requirement to make the military option of the DPRK clearer and make thoroughgoing preparations for switching to powerful practical action. It discussed practical matters and measures for machinery to prepare various military action proposals that no means and ways of counteraction are available to the enemy and decided on the relevant resolutions by a unanimous approbation. The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un stressed the need to expand the DPRK’s war deterrence being strengthened with increasing speed on a more practical and offensive and to effectively apply it as a measure for more strict control and management of the ever-worsening security on the Korean peninsula. Learning about the plan for offensive operation on the front and various combat documents, he clarified the principled issues arising in constantly studying and implementing the military measures to steadily update and perfect the war capabilities of the army. The military measures discussed at the Sixth Enlarged Meeting of the Eighth Central Military Commission of the WPK serve as an epochal occasion as they made another great stride in the course of bolstering up the armed forces to further clarify the stand of the WPK and the DPRK government on the enemy moves for igniting a war and to enhance the strong defense capability and overwhelming offensive force.” (KCNA, “6th Enlarged Meeting of 8th Central Military Commission of WPK Held ,” April 11, 2023)

4/12/23:
New reports show that South Korea and the U.S. reached an arrangement where the former would lend the latter 155-millimeter shells for use in howitzers and other weaponry. The U.S. has been requesting shells from South Korea since last year as its own stockpiles have been depleted by assistance to Ukraine in its war with Russia. South Korea’s approach of providing the US with “loans” of shells rather than sales (exports) suggests it is conscious of the potential for accusations that it is providing Ukraine indirectly with lethal weapons. According to accounts today from defense industry insiders and others, South Korea and the U.S. recently agreed on a contractual arrangement where South Korea would loan 155mm shells to the U.S. A decision is reportedly to be made on whether the shells lent by the U.S. will come from volumes produced by South Korean companies or the military’s existing stockpiles. Among the possible candidates are 155mm shells that the U.S. first brought to South Korea in the 1970s as part of its War Reserve Stocks for Allies (WRSA-K) to prepare for a possible total war on the Korean Peninsula, but that ended up being acquired by South Korea in 2008 due to the associated management costs. The scale of the loan is estimated at around 300,000 to 500,000 shells. The loan dates appear likely to remain undefined, with a future decision to be based on the situation with the U.S.’ own shell reserves. The method of providing shells as a loan is being interpreted as a compromise that would allow the South Korean government to stick to its principle of not providing assistance with lethal weapons, but without totally ignoring requests for weapon support from Ukraine and the U.S. According to an analysis made in November 2022, the exportation of 100,000 South Korean 155mm shells to the U.S. on the condition that it would be the “end user” would ultimately result in South Korean shells being sent to Ukraine. Even if South Korea added the proviso that the exports were intended for the US as an end user, it would have no way of checking or controlling their actual use once they had been purchased by the U.S. Under an arrangement where South Korea lends shells to the U.S. while retaining ownership of them, it would have a basis for demanding their return if South Korean-made shells were determined to have been used in Ukraine in violation of the loan’s conditions. But even that arrangement leaves open the possibility for a system of indirect support, where the U.S. supplements its own shell shortage with borrowed shells from South Korea and takes advantage of the new breathing room to provide its own shells to Ukraine. This means the potential for controversy over supplying indirect aid to Ukraine would remain alive. A classified U.S. CIA document including evidence of eavesdropping on South Korean National Security Office officials refers to discussions ahead of a South Korea-U.S. summit, with former National Security Office chief Kim Sung-han and former presidential foreign affairs secretary Lee Mun-hee talking about an indirect approach where 330,000 South Korea-made 155mm shells would be indirectly provided to Ukraine by way of Poland. The controversy over apparent communications monitoring has focused attention on whether the summit scheduled for April 26 will include discussions on indirect weapon aid to Ukraine. Even after the allegations of US eavesdropping, the South Korean Ministry of National Defense continued asserting that there had been “no change in our conditions of not providing lethal weapon aid to Ukraine and on the US being the end user of shells exported to the U.S.” Ministry officials said today that they were “not able to confirm” whether South Korea would be lending shells to the U.S. When asked about the plan by reporters at the National Assembly that day, Minister of Foreign Affairs Park Jin said, “There is nothing I can confirm at this time.” “The government adheres to the position that it does not provide lethal weapon assistance to Ukraine,” he added. After providing Ukraine last year with non-lethal military items such as gas masks, tents, blankets, combat rations, and medications, South Korea announced this year that it planned to send US$130 million worth of humanitarian assistance, with a focus on restoring power grids, providing healthcare equipment, and building or rebuilding infrastructure. (Kwon Hyuk-chul, “South Korea to Loan 155 mm Shells to U.S,” Hankyore, April 13, 2023)

4/13/23:
North Korea fired an intermediate- or longer-range ballistic missile toward the East Sea today, South Korea’s military said, escalating tensions amid its continued refusal to answer what used to be daily cross-border calls. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch in the vicinity of Pyongyang at 7:23 a.m., and the missile, fired at a lofted angle, flew about 1,000 kilometers before splashing into the water. “The intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are conducting a comprehensive analysis on its detailed specifications,” the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters. The North appears to have tested a “new” missile system, a Seoul official said on condition of anonymity. He noted the allies are looking into “various” possibilities, including the launch having involved a solid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The North’s last launch involving an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) or a longer-range one was that of a Hwasong-17 ICBM on March 16. Since April 7, the North has not responded to routine cross-border calls through inter-Korean liaison and military communication lines, raising concerns that the absence of regular contact could lead to provocations by the reclusive regime. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Fires Intermediate- or Longer-Range Ballistic Missile toward East Sea: S. Korean Military,” April 13, 2023) North Korea fired a ballistic missile toward the Sea of Japan today, prompting a Japanese emergency alert system to warn it may land near Hokkaido. The government later withdrew the warning, however, as it was determined the intercontinental ballistic missile would not land near Japan’s northern main island. Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu told reporters the missile, fired eastward from North Korea at a steep angle, did not fall within Japan’s territory or exclusive economic zone. The Japanese government initially issued a J-Alert warning that urged Hokkaido residents to take shelter as the missile was likely to land in the vicinity of the region around 8 a.m., but it was later retracted through a separate alert system. , Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno Hirokazu said the missile disappeared off the radar immediately after detection. The government, however, issued the warning from the perspective of protecting the safety of the people, he said, adding it was “appropriate.” (Kyodo, “North Korea Fires ICBM-Class Missile, Warning Alert Withdrawn in Japan,” April 13, 2023) North Korea said the next day that it had test-launched a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time, technology that would be a significant step forward for its missile program if developed successfully. The launch, off the North’s east coast, was reported at the time by South Korea’s military, which said only that it had been an intermediate- or long-range missile. Today, the North’s state media said it had been a three-stage Hwasong-18 ICBM, a new model with solid-fuel technology. A solid-fuel missile is easier to hide and transport, and it takes less time to prepare one for launch. That makes it harder to target in pre-emptive strikes than the North’s Hwasong-14, -15 and -17 ICBM models, all of which use liquid propellants. After further analyzing data from the launch, South Korea confirmed on Friday that the missile was a solid-fuel ICBM, but said the North would “need more time and effort before completing its development.” Analysts had suspected that North Korea was developing a solid-fuel ICBM, and Mr. Kim had vowed to add it to its growing nuclear arsenal. But until Thursday, North Korea had never launched one. In December, North Korea said it had tested a powerful new solid-fuel ICBM engine. After that test, Mr. Kim urged his engineers to build a solid-fuel ICBM “in the shortest span of time.” A military parade in Pyongyang, the North’s capital, in February included a record number of ICBM launchers, including one that looked as if it was designed for a solid-fuel missile. According to one of the secret Pentagon documents leaked in recent weeks, U.S. intelligence officials judged that “because of testing hurdles and resource constraints,” the North would probably not be able to outfit all of the ICBM launchers it displayed in the parade with operational missiles that could strike the continental United States — at least during the next year. Photographs released by state media on Friday appeared to show Mr. Kim watching, his young daughter by his side. as the new launcher rolled out from a concrete tunnel into an open field and fired the Hwasong-18. (Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Says It Launched a Solid-Fuel ICBM for the First Time,” New York Times, April 15, 2023, p. A-7)

Rodong Sinmun: “The DPRK’s nuclear war deterrent for self-defense is rapidly developing at increasing speed in keeping with the immutable strategic line and policy of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the government of the DPRK to ceaselessly develop the might of the strategic force of the DPRK to turn it into an entity of super power and absolute strength, a powerful force capable of preventing the nuclear holocaust and deterring all sorts of possible dangerous enemy invasions, and a treasured sword for defending justice and peace. On April 13, 2023, a powerful entity symbolic of the ceaseless development of the strategic force of the DPRK notified the world of its emergence. A new-type ICBM, Hwasongpho-18, which will fulfill its mission of an important war deterrent as the future core pivotal means of the strategic force of the DPRK, was test-fired. 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, guided the first test-fire of the new-type ICBM on the spot. The aim of the test-fire was to confirm the performance of the high-thrust solid-fuel engines for multi-stage missiles and the reliability of the stage-jettisoning technology and various functional control systems and to estimate the military feasibility of the new strategic weapon system. In consideration of the security of the neighboring countries and the safety of the multi-stage-separation of the missile during its flight in the territorial air, the test fire was conducted in the way of applying the standard trajectory flying mode to its first stage and the vertical mode to the second and third stages, and of confirming the technological features of all the components of the weapon system by restricting the maximum speed of the missile through delayed stage separation and motor reactivation. Kim Jong Un learned about the new weapon system on the spot while watching the pre-launch operation. The launching site, which was to witness once again an important event of great significance in the history of the development of the strategic force of the DPRK under the direct guidance of Kim Jong Un, was seething with the burning will of all the defense scientists and workers in the field of munitions industry to inform the whole world of the emergence of another powerful nuclear attack means of the DPRK and demonstrate the reliable nuclear war deterrence of the state. Ready for test-fire! When Kim Jong Un approved the test-fire of the new-type strategic weapon, General Jang Chang Ha ordered the second red flag company under the General Missile Bureau to launch the missile. The moment, a great entity fully representing the irresistible might of the DPRK began to soar into the sky with fierce flames at its tail, making a thunderous roar. The test-fire had no adverse effect on the security of the neighboring countries. Its first stage safely landed in the waters 10 km off the Hodo Peninsula in Kumya County, South Hamgyong Province and the second stage in the waters 335 km east of Orang County, North Hamgyong Province. The test-fire confirmed that all the parameters of the new strategic weapon system fully met the requirements of the design in terms of accuracy, providing guarantee and creditability that the new-type ICBM would serve as a powerful strategic attack means of greater military efficiency. The Hwasongpho-18 weapon system, to be equipped with and operated by the strategic force of the DPRK under the long-term plan for building the state nuclear force, will perform its important mission and duty as the most powerful, pivotal and principal means in defending the DPRK, deterring aggression and defending the security of the state. Kim Jong Un expressed great satisfaction at the eye-opening successes while guiding the test-fire. He was pleased with the fact that the DPRK has clearly proved once again the tremendous potentiality and reality of its defense technology further developing as the days go by and powerfully demonstrated its unshakable determination and practical ability to attain the goal for bolstering up the armed forces. He noted that it is the consistent stand of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the DPRK government to steadily and rapidly accelerate the development of more developed and advanced powerful weapon system to cope with the ever-worsening security environment of the Korean peninsula and long-term military threats. He mentioned with pride the significance of the test-fire, saying that the development of the new-type ICBM Hwasongpho-18 will extensively reform the strategic deterrence components of the DPRK, radically promote the effectiveness of its nuclear counterattack posture and bring about a change in the practicality of its offensive military strategy. Noting that it is an absolute mission and duty to be fulfilled by the DPRK’s defense scientists to uphold the WPK and the DPRK government’s policy of countering the enemy’s nukes and policy of frontal confrontation in kind with practical successes in the development of self-defense capabilities, he set forth the important strategic tasks for further accelerating the bolstering of the nuclear strategic force of the DPRK. He affirmed that the WPK and the DPRK government would make the enemy, who are imperiling the environment on the Korean peninsula and harassing the Korean people’s peaceful life and struggle for socialist construction with their inveterate policy of aggression and threatening military moves, experience a clearer security crisis, and constantly strike extreme uneasiness and horror into them by taking fatal and offensive counter-actions until they abandon their senseless thinking and reckless acts, thus making them feel regret and despair for their wrong choice by surely exposing them to an irresistible threat. The successful test of the new strategic weapon system serves as an occasion for proving that the nuclear strategic force and the missile scientists and technicians of the DPRK directly responsible for its development always thoroughly and perfectly implement the strategic intention of the WPK, getting fully prepared to carry out their important mission at any time.” (Rodong Sinmun, “Another Mighty Entity Showing Continuous Development of Strategic Force Unveiled in DPRK; Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Guides First Test-Fire of New-Type ICBM Hwasongpho-18 on Spot,” April 14, 2023)

Van Diepen: “North Korea launched its first solid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the road-mobile “Hwasongpho-18” (Hwasong-18 or HS-18), on April 13. The new ICBM is a notable achievement that underscores North Korea’s prowess in solid-propellant technology, but not an inconceivable one given its previous work on solids, the well-understood nature of what is now a 60-year-old technology, and probable acquisition of Russian and Chinese know-how. The HS-18 is not more mobile than at least the current liquid-propellant HS-15 road-mobile ICBM, but it is safer and easier to operate in a mobile mode because liquid missiles use toxic propellants that require special handling and impose operational burdens on their crews in the field. The lack of additional support vehicles needed for liquids also makes solid ICBM units easier to conceal when deployed to the field and thus harder for an adversary to detect and attack. But the North’s liquid, mobile ICBMs are already hard to find and thus highly survivable. It would not be surprising if North Korea deploys the HS-18 based on this one successful flight test, although it may still conduct one or two more. However, as with all the country’s recent new missiles, there is no indication as to how many HS-18s the North plans to deploy. It may also decide to base some HS-18s in other modes (such as rail-mobile), to use various combinations of its three stages to create medium- or intermediate-range missiles, and to eventually modify the HS-18 and develop more capable follow-on solid ICBMs as its technology improves. Yet it is highly likely to retain liquids in its ICBM force as well to take advantage of their greater range/payload capability and to capitalize on its long liquid experience and substantial infrastructure. Based on this analysis, the addition of solid-ICBMs is not a “game-changer” and does not substantially boost the North’s ICBM threat to the US. The US homeland has been under threat from liquid ICBMs since 2017, and liquid ICBM deployments are still likely to increase. The HS-18 will thus add incrementally to this threat, to the extent North Korea’s nuclear weapons and solid-propellant production capacities, and resource allocation decisions allow. North Korea launched a ballistic missile on the morning of April 13, flying about 58 minutes on a highly-lofted trajectory to a range of about 1000 km, according to the Japanese and South Korean governments. Both governments initially termed it a possible ICBM, but a subsequent White House statement confirmed it was an ICBM. The next day, North Korean press announced the successful first flight-test of the “Hwasongpho-18” (HS-18) solid-propellant ICBM. This was backed up by photographs and later video showing the launch of a canisterized three-stage solid ICBM from a road-mobile transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) and indications of in-flight stage separation. This was North Korea’s first flight test of a solid-propellant ICBM; the previously tested HS-14 (apparently never deployed), -15, and -17 are all liquid-propellant. Based on the launcher and launch canister seen, the HS-18 is the same system unveiled at the February 8, 2023 military parade. The North did not report the missile’s maximum altitude (South Korean sources report it was less than 3000 or less than 5000 km) which, when coupled with the unusual trajectory and apparent delayed upper-stage separation and ignition (as reported by North Korean media), means there is not currently a good open-source basis to estimate the HS-18’s range/payload capability. The photographs published in North Korean media provide a good basis for estimating the HS-18’s dimensions. According to one analyst, the HS-18 is 26.95 m long, its first stage is 2.21 m in diameter, and its second and third stages have a 1.9 m diameter. The length and maximum diameter are larger than previously estimated based on an analysis of the paraded launch canister (26.5 x 2.1 m), underscoring assessments at that time that the HS-18’s motors are less powerful than what we now know to be the similarly configured but smaller US Minuteman-III and Russian SS-27 Mods 1 and 2 solid ICBMs. The HS-18’s first-stage diameter is consistent with that estimated from photos of the large solid rocket motor North Korea reported static (ground) testing last December 15, which analysts assessed was appropriate for an ICBM first stage. Solid rocket motors are more difficult to develop and to produce reliably as they increase in size, particularly diameter. The North’s largest previously-flown motors were the 1.5 m diameter Pukguksong-1 and -3 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and Pukguksong-2 road-mobile medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM); the earliest of these was flight tested in 2015 (unsuccessfully) and 2016 (successfully). Pyongyang’s ability to successfully fly a three-stage ICBM using 1.9 m and 2.2 m diameter motors some 7-8 years later is a notable achievement, but not an inconceivable one. For example, the US first flight tested the 1.88 m diameter Minuteman-I solid ICBM in 1961, just five years after the first flight of the 0.79 m diameter Sergeant short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). The basic technology underlying solid ICBMs is now some 60 years old, fairly widely diffused, and reasonably well understood. We do not know from open sources how long North Korea has been developing solid ICBMs, although doing so has long been regarded as a logical next step. We also do not know if it conducted other ICBM-related static rocket motor tests beyond the one in December 2022, including for the upper stages. It seems fairly clear based on other aspects of the North’s missile program that it almost certainly has obtained substantial solid-propellant know-how from Russian entities since the early 1990s, and probably obtained at least production-related equipment and various material inputs from Chinese entities. Not more mobile, but easier to operate. Press reports routinely regard solid ICBMs as “more mobile” than liquids, but it is more accurate to say mobile solids are safer and easier to operate than mobile liquids. As one analyst put it, “it’s just easier to use solid-fuel missiles” in mobile applications. Initial reports that the HS-18 was launched from a grassy area rather than the concrete pads used previously for liquid ICBMs, and thus had better off-road capability, were disproven in commercial satellite imagery revealing that the HS-18 launch area had been graded, concreted, and covered with grass since last December and a concrete access bridge installed. At some 40-50 metric tons fully fueled, North Korea’s HS-15 liquid ICBM probably weighs less than the HS-18 (the smaller Russian SS-27 Mod 2 weighs 49.6 metric tons), and thus would be at least as easy to move around on a road-mobile TEL. Although the much larger North Korean HS-17 liquid ICBM, estimated at 80-110 metric tons fully fueled, would obviously be much harder to move around by road than the HS-18, it is on a par with the 104.5 metric ton former Soviet SS-24 solid-propellant rail-mobile ICBM. Beyond their weight, however, liquid missiles use toxic propellants that require special handling and impose operational burdens on their crews. Fueled liquid missiles also cannot tolerate rough transport as well as solids. In order to prevent leaks of the toxic propellants, operators would need to choose routes and speeds to limit sloshing in the liquid missile’s propellant tanks and avoid disrupting plumbing in the propulsion system. Solid propellants cannot leak, although overly rough handling and transport risks introducing cracks in the solid propellant grain that could inhibit missile performance or even lead to a launch or in-flight failure. Nevertheless, North Korea has some 35 years experience operating liquid-propellant road-mobile missiles in the field, which suggests it can adequately address the challenges of operating road-mobile liquid ICBMs. Indeed, it may well already have been doing so, since the road-mobile HS-15 probably has been operationally deployed since 2017. No reaction time advantage over modern liquids. Most press coverage of the HS-18 launch characterized solids as being able to launch faster than liquids, providing no warning time to an opponent. But many of the prerequisites for launching quickly without warning are available to both liquids and solids if the North provides them. These include being located in an area suitable for launch, mated with a warhead, crewed, and in communication with launch authorities. We do not know if North Korea keeps any ICBMs in such launch readiness on a day-to-day basis, or if it would instead increase readiness in a crisis or if it decided to prepare for a first strike. The real reaction time difference concerns whether the missiles are fueled with propellants. While solids are loaded permanently with fuel as part of the production process, liquids must be fueled at some point prior to launch. Once fueled, a liquid can launch as quickly as a solid. Thus, the key question is: how far in advance can a liquid ICBM be fueled? According to much press commentary, liquids supposedly must be fueled just hours prior to launch, with fueling taking an hour or more, during which liquid missiles supposedly are vulnerable to detection and attack. Liquids also are often characterized as supposedly being unable to remain fueled for prolonged periods due to the corrosiveness of their propellants, also forcing them to be fueled shortly before launch. But such assessments do not take account of the fact that the current generation of North Korean missiles (the HS-15 and -17 ICBMs and the HS-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile [IRBM]) use liquid propellants specifically developed by the US and USSR in the 1960s so ICBMs could stay deployed and immediately ready to launch for years at a time. At a minimum, therefore, North Korea could decide to fuel its liquid ICBMs early in a crisis (or if contemplating a first strike), days or weeks before dispersing them to the field prior to hostilities beginning. Moreover, in the September 2021 launch of the Hwasong-8 “hypersonic missile,” which used a shortened version of the HS-12 booster, the North referred to its use of a “missile fuel ampoule.” North Korean media coverage of the February 18, 2023 HS-15 launch also referred to the use of “the system of fuel ampoule.” Based on these indications, it is likely that the HS-15 ICBM is fueled in the factory before being sent to operational units, with its propulsion system sealed with membranes to separate the engines and fuel plumbing from the propellant tanks. Thus, it would be ready to launch without the need for potentially detectable in-field fueling. We do not know if the larger HS-17 uses the “ampoule” approach, but the similarly-sized Soviet SS-19 liquid ICBM apparently did, and the North has “noted the military significance of turning all missile fuel systems into ampoules.” The possibility that the HS-17 was too large to be safely erected from transport (horizontal) to launch (vertical) position while fueled, thus requiring it to be fueled only after being erected, appears to have been disproven by North Korean video of the erection and launch of an HS-17 on March 16. Less detectable, so more survivable…to an extent. A road-mobile solid-propellant ICBM unit would not need as many support vehicles — such as fuel, oxidizer, and propellant-handling vehicles — when deployed, meaning that a solid ICBM unit should be easier to conceal when deployed to the field and thus harder for an adversary to detect and attack. A unit of “ampoulized” liquid ICBMs probably would not need as many specialized vehicles as a unit deploying with unfueled missiles either, but probably would still include propellant-monitoring and consequence-management vehicles that are unnecessary in a solid ICBM unit. Either way, however, a larger logistic tail for liquid fuel missiles does not make them “easy targets for any adversary trying to take them out.” Iraq showed a remarkable ability to conceal Scud-class liquid missile units during the 1990-91 Gulf War despite Coalition air superiority, a dedicated “Scud hunting” effort, and desert terrain harder to hide in than North Korea. Thus, it would be an overstatement to call the future HS-18 force “the closest thing that North Korea will have to a relatively secure second-strike capability” — the existing road-mobile liquid ICBM force was already well on track to fulfill that role. Potentially greater reliability. In general, solid missiles have the potential to be more reliable than liquids (fewer missiles fail at launch or in-flight) because solids do not use large numbers of moving parts or high-pressure liquid flows. North Korea has demonstrated remarkable success in its flights of the current generation of solid SRBMs (KN-23/-24/-25). Although the HS-18’s larger-diameter motors may be more prone to production, quality-control, and handling problems than the smaller SRBMs, the high success rate even of apparent SRBM operational troop training launches suggests the North knows how to minimize and manage those kinds of issues in its solid ICBMs. The outcomes of future HS-18 launches will shed more light on this, but the above factors suggest the missile will not experience “a relatively high ‘dud’ rate” and that hedging against such failures will not be the reason Pyongyang retains liquid ICBMs (see below). The advent of solid-propellant ICBMs suggests the following for North Korea’s future missile force and the threat it poses to the US homeland: Deployment announcement soon. North Korea’s April 14 statement suggested the HS-18 was not yet deployed, but it would not be surprising if North Korea soon deems the system deployable based on its single successful flight test, just as was the case for the HS-15 in 2017. Even if it does conduct further tests before deployment, it would be reasonable to suspect there would only be one or two. Force size unknown. North Korea’s April 14 announcement claimed the HS-18 would be “the future core pivotal means of the strategic force of the DPRK” and “the most powerful, pivotal and principal means in defending the DPRK.” This will depend heavily on how many HS-18s are produced and deployed. One limiting factor will be the size of the North’s overall nuclear stockpile, which it apparently intends to distribute across SRBMs (including five new-generation systems), MRBMs, IRBMs, land-attack cruise missiles, and both liquid and solid ICBMs, possibly along with SLBMs, lakebed-based missiles, and perhaps even unmanned underwater Other limiting factors will be North Korea’s capacity to produce modern solid propellants, which are needed across all of its new solid ballistic missile systems (including the hundreds of SRBMs needed for conventional warfighting), and its capacities to cast and cure large-diameter solid motors and to produce large motor cases. Other versions and future follow-ons possible. North Korea may decide to use various combinations of the HS-18’s three stages as the basis for new solid propellant MRBMs and/or IRBMs, just as the USSR used the first two stages of the SS-16 solid ICBM to create the SS-20 IRBM. It may also decide to base some HS-18s in other modes, such as rail-mobile (for which the missile would be quite well-suited, and which might compensate for any shortage of road-mobile TEL chassis) or less likely in silos (which are much more vulnerable to detection and attack) or lakebed submersible launchers. The HS-18’s successful flight-test also augers well for any future North Korean development of solid SLBMs; the displayed but yet-to-be-tested Pukguksong-4 and -5 are each about 2 m in diameter (close to the HS-18’s second and third stage), and an even larger displayed SLBM (presumably Pukguksong-6) has about the same diameter as the HS-18’s first stage. Finally, Pyongyang can be expected over time to develop modifications of the HS-18 to take into account lessons learned in flight testing and deployment, as well as more capable follow-on ICBMs as the North’s propulsion and warhead technology improves. Liquids probably here to stay. Even if the HS-18 takes on a larger role in the North Korean ICBM force, it is highly unlikely that North Korea will entirely abandon liquid-propellant missiles. Liquid propellants are more energetic pound-for-pound, meaning that a given-size liquid will have more range/payload capability than a solid. The North probably will continue to want this capability to carry the “multi-warheads” and “super-large hydrogen bomb” Kim Jong Un reports are under development, as well the hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) it tested in September 2021 if it is intended for deployment. Moreover, after some 35 years North Korea has built a substantial liquid missile infrastructure and deep development, production, and road-mobile deployment experience. It probably regards liquids as capable, reliable, and survivable enough to merit a place in the missile force for years to come. Despite some press commentary that the HS-18 is “a huge leap in the North’s nuclear capabilities” and “more threatening to the US than a liquid-fueled missile,” the above analysis substantiates other analysts’ assessments that North Korea’s new solid ICBM “does not amount to anything like a game-changer.” The US homeland has been under threat from the HS-15 since 2017, and the HS-17 probably since this March, and deployments of both systems are likely to increase. The HS-18 will add incrementally to this threat, to the extent North Korea’s nuclear weapons and solid-propellant production capacities and resource allocation decisions allow. It will be somewhat more survivable in the field than the already-survivable road-mobile liquid ICBMs, and should be at least as reliable. The new ICBM does underscore North Korea’s prowess in solid-propellant technology, and makes good on Kim Jong Un’s January 2021 solid ICBM development goal.” (Vann H. Van Diepen, “North Korea’s New HS-18 Makes a Solid, but Incremental Contribution to the ICBM Force,” 38North, April 20, 2023)

4/14/23:
South Korea and the United States held joint air drills, involving at least one B-52H strategic bomber, today, Seoul’s defense ministry said, a day after North Korea test-fired a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The South Korean Air Force mobilized its F-35A radar-evading fighters and F-15K jets for the drills, while the U.S. side deployed F-16 fighters in addition to the bomber, according to the ministry. (Yonhap, “S. Kore, U.S. Stage Air Drills Involving B-52H Bomber after N. Korea’s ICBM Launch,” April 14, 2023)

4/15/23:
A South Korean Navy vessel fired warning shots to drive out a North Korean patrol boat that crossed the western de facto maritime border. The North Korean boat crossed the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in waters northeast of South Korea’s Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea today at 11 a.m., prompting the South Korean Navy to dispatch its Chamsuri-class patrol boat, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). After the North’s boat remained unresponsive to South Korea’s warning broadcasts and communication attempts, the South Korean vessel fired 10 warning shots with its autocannon and made the North Korean boat retreat. The North Korean boat made the incursion as it was chasing a Chinese fishing boat, according to an informed source. The JCS said there was contact between the South Korean vessel and the Chinese boat during the operation, and three of the South Korean sailors were sent to a hospital for injuries. One of them is known to have undergone surgery due to a fracture. The JCS said the North’s boat stayed south of the NLL for about 10 minutes, intruding past it by some 2 kilometers. A JCS official told reporters the South sees a “low possibility” of the North’s boat intentionally crossing the NLL, saying that it was seen chasing a Chinese vessel while sailing on a zigzagged path. Tension remains high along the poorly defined border, the scene of a series of bloody naval clashes between the two Koreas. North Korea has never recognized the NLL, demanding that it be re-drawn further south. The incident came as North Korea remains unresponsive to routine inter-Korean calls through the joint liaison office and the military hotline since April 7. Some observers said the North may try to use the latest incursion as a pretext to prepare for sporadic provocative acts near the NLL.In October 2022, a South Korean warship fired warning shots at a North Korean merchant vessel violating the NLL in the Yellow Sea. In response, the North’s military opened its warning fire against the South. (Yonhap, “S. Korea Fires Warning Shots after N. Korean Ship Crosses Maritime Border,” April 16, 2023) The incursion of a North Korean sea patrol that crossed the inter-Korean maritime border in the Yellow Sea today in pursuit of a Chinese fishing vessel led to a minor collision between a South Korean Coast Guard patrol and the Chinese boat, Seoul military officials said the next day. The North Korean patrol crossed the Northern Limit Line (NLL), which serves as the de facto Korean border at sea while chasing a Chinese boat suspected of fishing illegally in North Korean waters. The North Korean patrol did not respond to warning messages and signals from a South Korean Coast Guard patrol ship but returned across the NLL after the South Korean ship fired ten warning shots. However, the Chinese fishing boat ended up colliding with the South Korean Coast Guard ship. “There was contact between our high-speed patrol vessel and the Chinese fishing boat while a mission was urgently undertaken amid poor visibility conditions,” Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters, adding that a few South Korean crewmembers were receiving treatment for minor injuries sustained in the collision. The incident came amid a lack of coverage from North Korean state media regarding an expected visit by Kim to the ku*msusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang, which houses the embalmed bodies of both Kim’s grandfather and regime founder Kim Il Sung and father, Kim Jong-il. Saturday, April 15, is celebrated as the Day of the Sun in the North and marks the birth of Kim Il Sung. State media coverage of the holiday only showed fireworks along the Daedong River that flows through Pyongyang and North Koreans dancing in Kim Il Sung Square. Reports of Kim Jong-un’s visits to the mausoleum in previous years showed him accompanied by senior regime officials on the two former leaders’ birthdays. Kim last appeared to have not paid tribute to his grandfather on the holiday in 2020. State media also did not release reports of him visiting on his father’s birthday on Feb. 16 this year. Just a day before the holiday, North Korea said it launched what it called a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile. Photos released with the KCNA report showed Kim observing the launch along with his wife, Ri Sol-ju, daughter Kim Ju-ae and younger sister Kim Yo-jong. The missile was shown loaded onto a mobile launcher and leaving a concrete tunnel to be launched from an open field. (Michael Lee, “Chinese Boat Collides with Coast Guard after Pursuit by North Korean Patrol Vessel, JoongAng Ilbo, April 16, 2023)

South Korea, the United States and Japan agreed to hold missile defense and anti-submarine drills regularly to counter growing North Korean threats during their senior-level defense talks in Washington earlier this week, Seoul’s defense ministry said today. They reached the agreement at a session of the Defense Trilateral Talks (DTT) yesterday (Washington time), amid tensions caused by Pyongyang’s recent weapons tests, including that of what it claims to be a solid-fuel Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). “The representatives of the three countries decided to conduct missile defense and anti-submarine exercises on a regular basis to deter and respond to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, and had consultations on ways to resume trilateral training programs, including those for maritime interdiction and anti-piracy operations,” the ministry said in a press release. South Korean Deputy Defense Minister for Policy Heo Tae-keun, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner and Japanese Director General for Defense Policy Masuda Kazuo led their respective delegations at the latest DTT session. The DTT was previously held in 2020. It did not take place in 2021 and last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic and historical tensions between Seoul and Tokyo. (Yonhap, “S. Korea, U.S., Japan Agree to Hold Missile Defense, Anti-Sub Drills Regularly to Counter N.K. Threats,” April 15, 2023)

4/16/23:
South Korea and the United States will kick off a large-scale regular joint air exercise tomorrow, the South’s Air Force said today, in the latest drill meant to step up deterrence against North Korea’s evolving military threats. The 12-day Korea Flying Training will begin at the Gwangju Air Base in Gwangju, 267 kilometers south of Seoul, mobilizing some 110 aircraft and more than 1,400 troops, according to the armed service. South Korea plans to deploy some 60 warplanes, including F-35A, F-15K and KF-16 fighters and the KC-330 tanker transport aircraft, while the U.S. will mobilize more than 40 aircraft, such as its Air Force’s F-16 fighters, A-10 attack aircraft and the Marine Corps’ F-35B and FA-18 jets. The South’s Air Force said the drills will take place with a focus on enhancing the interoperability and combined operational capability of the allies’ advanced fourth and fifth generation fighters, such as the F-15K and radar-evading F-35 aircraft, respectively. (Yonhap, “S. Korea, U.S. to Kick off Large-Scale Combined Air Drills This Week,” April 16, 2023)

4/18/23:
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, inspected the National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) on April 18. He was accompanied by Pak Thae Song, secretary of the WPK Central Committee, Kim Jong Sik, vice department director of the WPK Central Committee, Kim Sung Chan, president of Kim Il Sung University and minister of Higher Education under the Education Commission, Pak Ji Min, president of Kim Chaek University of Technology, senior officials of educational and scientific research institutions, technicians and experts in the field of IT communication sci-tech studies and commanding officers of the technical intelligence department of the General Reconnaissance Bureau of the Korean People’s Army. He was greeted by leading officials of the NADA and the Academy of Defense Science on the spot. Going round the space science research institute, the space environment test center and other places, he learned in detail about the work for fulfilling the immediate scientific research tasks set forth by the Party’s far-reaching space-conquering policy on the long-term development of the country’s space industry, and about the recent progress achieved by the field of space science research in the development of core technologies and production. The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un highly praised the noteworthy achievements made by the NADA in the core space sci-tech studies to attain the immediate and long-term objectives of the space policy set forth at the 8th Congress of the WPK, the 5th and 6th Plenary Meetings of the 8th WPK Central Committee. Noting that the development of space industry is of very important significance in building a socialist economic power whose development is propelled and guaranteed by science and technology, he set forth the important tasks to be fulfilled to radically develop space science and technology. The growth of the space industry is a key element in the exploration of a shortcut to securing the position of a world-class economic and sci-tech power and a demonstration of the overall national power, he said, adding that it is necessary to build a full-fledged space industry capable of dynamically steering the economic development of the country by constantly spurring the independent space development. He noted that it is the steadfast stand of the WPK and the DPRK government to fulfill on a priority basis the advanced and valuable space development plans in the light of the strategic interests of the country in the present-stage efforts for achieving accelerated space development, steadily expand the successes and finally turn the country into a world space power. He underscored the need to set it as a main thrust to possess weather and earth observation and communication satellites, in particular, to get thoroughly prepared for the disastrous weather, effectively protect and use the resources of the country, and immediately provide the possibilities for giving strong impetus to the scientific development of the national economy. He also called on the educational and scientific research units at all levels to establish a system of actively participating in the development of application satellites of various uses, increase state investment for promoting the development of space science and technology, produce standardized and reliable carrier rockets on a full scale in step with the accelerated development of various satellites, and successfully build satellite launching sites reflecting the ideal and ambition for building a space power. He recalled that in the light of the present situation, in which the U.S. imperialists are deploying nuclear carriers, nuclear strategic bombers and other huge strategic assets of various missions on a permanent basis on the Korean peninsula and its vicinity to turn south Korea into an advanced base for aggression and an arsenal for war, and of the prospective concern that the military actions of the U.S. and south Korea threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the DPRK under the pretext of the allied readiness would get more undisguised, the Eighth Congress of the WPK specified it as the most important and prerequisite task for building up the national defense capabilities of the country to have access to the space reconnaissance capability for securing real-time information about the hostile forces’ military scenario and moves in the five-point major goals for developing the national defense capabilities. Again referring to the role and the strategic value and significance of possessing the military reconnaissance satellite in bolstering up the self-defensive military capabilities for defending the security environment and territorial integrity of the state, the safety and development interests of the people from the escalating military threat and challenge of the U.S. and south Korea, and for using the preemptive military power according to situation, he said that possession of such satellite is a primary task to be indispensably fulfilled to bolster up the armed forces of the DPRK that can never be abandoned, missed and changed, and belongs to its sovereignty and legitimate right to self-defence in view of the requirements of the recent security environment on the Korean peninsula and tackling of the long-term threats. As the U.S. and south Korea are scheming to further tighten their military posture against the DPRK under the pretext of “offer of extended deterrence” and “strengthened south Korea-U.S. alliance,”as evidenced by their most hostile rhetoric and explicit action this year, it is quite natural for the DPRK to develop its military deterrence strong enough to cope with the serious security environment at present and in the future, he said, adding that possessing and operating military reconnaissance means is the most crucial primary task for increasing the military effectiveness and utility of different war deterrence means of the DPRK in doing so. He set forth the militant task to organize a non-permanent satellite-launching preparatory committee to make sure that the military reconnaissance satellite No. 1 completed as of April will be launched at the planned date, speed up its final preparations and firmly establish the satellite intelligence-gathering capability by deploying several reconnaissance satellites on different orbits in succession in the future. Upon receiving the deep trust and encouragement of the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un, the officials, scientists and technicians of the NADA were filled with a firm determination to become conquerors of space faithfully upholding the Party’s far-reaching plan for building a space power through their perfect practice and thus proudly demonstrate the dignity and prestige of the DPRK and the great national power of Juche Korea in the outer space.” (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Inspects NADA,” April 19, 2023)

South Korea might extend its support for Ukraine beyond humanitarian and economic aid if it comes under a large-scale civilian attack, President Yoon Suk Yeol said, signaling a shift in his stance against arming Ukraine for the first time. In an interview with Reuters ahead of his state visit to the U.S. next week, Yoon said his government has been exploring how to help defend and rebuild Ukraine, just as South Korea received international assistance during the 1950-53 Korean War. “If there is a situation the international community cannot condone, such as any large-scale attack on civilians, massacre or serious violation of the laws of war, it might be difficult for us to insist only on humanitarian or financial support,” Yoon said. It was the first time that Seoul suggested a willingness to provide weapons to Ukraine, more than a year after ruling out the possibility of lethal aid. A key U.S. ally and major producer of artillery ammunition, South Korea has so far tried to avoid antagonizing Russia due to its companies operating there and Moscow’s influence over North Korea, despite mounting pressure from western countries for weapons supply. “I believe there won’t be limitations to the extent of the support to defend and restore a country that’s been illegally invaded both under international and domestic law,” Yoon said. “However, considering our relationship with the parties engaged in the war and developments in the battlefield, we will take the most appropriate measures.” In response, the Kremlin said supplying arms to Ukraine would make Seoul a participant in the conflict. “Unfortunately, Seoul has taken a rather unfriendly position in this whole story,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “They will try to draw more and more countries directly into this conflict. But of course, the start of arms deliveries will obliquely mean a certain stage of involvement in this conflict.” Yoon is scheduled to visit Washington next week for a summit with U.S. President Joe Biden to mark the 70th anniversary of the two countries’ alliance. During the summit, Yoon said he will seek “tangible outcomes” on the allies’ efforts to improve responses to evolving threats from North Korea. Seoul, for its part, will step up its surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence analysis capability and develop “ultra-high-performance, high-power weapons” to fend off the North’s threats, Yoon said. “If a nuclear war breaks out between South and North Korea, this is probably not just a problem between the two sides, but the entire Northeast Asia would probably turn to ashes. That has to be stopped,” he said. When asked if the allies would envision an Asian version of NATO’s nuclear planning group involving Japan, Yoon said they are focusing on bilateral measures to strengthen information-sharing, joint contingency planning and joint execution of the plans. Yoon said he is open to peace talks but opposes any “surprise” summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to “show off” to voters out of domestic political interests. He criticized former governments’ sudden, uninformed announcements of inter-Korean talks, which he said did little to build trust. “They used those talks ahead of elections, but ultimately inter-Korean relations were always back to square one,” Yoon said. Humanitarian aid could open the door for dialogue, and both sides could build on those discussions to move onto more sensitive topics including economy and military, he said. Yoon’s administration proposed COVID-19 relief last year and unveiled plans to provide economic aid in return for nuclear disarmament, but Pyongyang flatly rejected the offers. “If previous talks had proceeded step by step … before the leaders met, the inter-Korean relationship would have developed steadily, though at a snail’s pace,” Yoon said. On Sino-U.S. rivalry, Yoon has trodden cautiously, with China being South Korea’s largest trade partner, but he has been more vocal over tension in the Taiwan Strait. Tensions over democratic Taiwan, which China claims as its own, have spiked as Beijing intensifies diplomatic and military pressure to get Taipei to accept Chinese sovereignty. “After all, these tensions occurred because of the attempts to change the status quo by force, and we together with the international community absolutely oppose such a change,” Yoon said. “The Taiwan issue is not simply an issue between China and Taiwan but, like the issue of North Korea, it is a global issue.” (Soyoung Kim, Ju-min Park and Hyonhee Shin, “South Korea’s Yoon Opens Door to Possible Military Aid to Ukraine,” Reuters, April 19, 2023) The South Korean government has been looking at ways to help defend and rebuild Ukraine, and will take “the most appropriate measures” after considering its relationship with parties engaged in the war and developments on the battlefield, he said. “I believe there won’t be limitations to the extent of the support to defend and restore a country that’s been illegally invaded both under international and domestic law,” Yoon said. The presidential office dismissed speculation Yoon was alluding to a change in policy regarding aid to Ukraine. “The government’s position has not changed,” a presidential official told Yonhap, noting the conditions Yoon attached to expanding aid. “The international community has high expectations of South Korea’s role, and his answer was given in that context.” Another presidential official told reporters the key is to assess the situation in Ukraine. “The answer should be understood at face value,” the official said. When asked about Russia’s possible angry response to Yoon’s remarks, the official declined to answer a hypothetical question. Yoon said South Korea is looking to strengthen bilateral measures with the United States in terms of information-sharing, joint contingency planning and joint execution of the plans, rather than envisioning an Asian version of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s nuclear planning group involving Japan. “In terms of responding to a powerful nuclear attack, I think stronger measures than what NATO has should be prepared,” he said. “I think there’s no big problem if Japan is joining, but since there’s been much progress between the U.S. and South Korea, it would be more efficient to create this system ourselves first.” Yoon also spoke about the tensions in the Taiwan Strait, saying it is not simply an issue between China and Taiwan but, like the North Korea issue, is a global issue. “These tensions occurred because of the attempts to change the status quo by force, and we together with the international community absolutely oppose such a change,” he said. In response to the interview, the Kremlin said any decision by South Korea to supply arms to Ukraine would make South Korea a participant in the conflict. “Unfortunately, Seoul has taken a rather unfriendly position in this whole story,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a briefing, according to Reuters. “The start of arms deliveries will obliquely mean a certain stage of involvement in this conflict.” The Russian Embassy in Seoul later said in a statement it is “closely following the position” of South Korea on the issue of provision of support to Ukraine. “Such actions (potential provision of lethal weapons) would definitely ruin Russian-Korean relations that have seen constructive development for the benefit of both nations over the last three decades,” the embassy said in a statement sent to Yonhap. (Lee Haye-ah, “Yoon Says S. Korea Could Provide Non-Humanitarian Aid to Ukraine,” Yonhap, April 19, 2023) Russian Deputy Secretary of the Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, the next day threatened to arm North Korea if South Korea agrees to provide lethal aid to Ukraine. “I wonder what the inhabitants of this country will say when they see the latest samples of Russian weapons from their closest neighbors – our partners from the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] DPRK?” Medvedev, who once served as the president of Russia, questioned. It is unclear whether Russia is in a position to be arming other nations as it struggles to supply its own troops in Ukraine with sufficient weaponry, but Medvedev — who has become notorious for his outlandish comments since the invasion began — said providing North Korea with arms would be considered “quid pro quo.” (Caitlin McFall, “Russia’s Medvedev Threatens to Arms North Korea If South Korea Arms Ukraine,” Fox News, April 20, 2023)

4/19/23:
Air Force Global Strike Command test-launched a Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile April 19 from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif. The launch, at 5:11 a.m. Pacific time, had been planned for months in advance. The U.S. has canceled or postponed ICBM tests in the past to avoid the risk of escalation or miscommunication at times of heightened tensions. A March 2022 test was canceled after Russia invaded Ukraine and Putin raised to high the alert status of Russian nuclear forces. Another test was postponed in August, as China conducted military exercises around Taiwan in response to then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s visit there. The April 19 launch also tested the Airborne Launch Control System, used to control ICBM launches from the air. Airmen from the 625th Strategic Operations Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., launched the unarmed missile from aboard an airborne Navy E-6 Mercury, supported by Airmen from the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. The last prior Air Force ICBM test came in February Air Force Global Strike Command last tested the Airborne Launch Control System in August 2022. The April 19 test concluded when the re-entry vehicle splashed down at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands after traveling some 4,200 miles. (Greg Hadley, “Air Force Launches First ICBM Test Since Russia ‘Suspended’ New START,” Air & Space Forces, April 19, 2023)

4/21/23:
DPRK FoMin Choe Son Hui’s press statement: “I clarify the following stand as regards the fact that G7 foreign ministers made public a “joint statement” full of extremely interventionist and improper contents, malignantly pulling up the DPRK over the legitimate exercise of its sovereignty. G7 has neither authority nor qualification to say this or that about the DPRK’s exercise of its sovereignty and its national status. The measures the DPRK has so far taken to bolster up its military capabilities for self-defense constitute a just exercise of its sovereignty to deter threat from the unstable security environment caused by the reckless and provocative military maneuvers of the U.S. and its allies, defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and control and manage the situation on the Korean peninsula in a stable way. We will continue to take action measures based on all legal rights granted to a sovereign state until the military threat posed by the U.S. and its allied forces hostile toward us is completely removed and the hostile surrounding environment harassing the independent existence and development of our country is put to a definite end. The DPRK’s position as a nuclear weapons state is not a thing granted or recognized by anyone but was established along with the existence of the actual nuclear deterrence and fixed by the law on the state nuclear force policy adopted to the unanimous will of all the Korean people. G7 urges us to “completely and irreversibly dismantle our nukes”, saying that the DPRK cannot have the status of a nuclear weapons state according to the NPT. This is just the most absurd and illegal interference in the internal affairs of the DPRK to force it into flouting its sacred state law. Explicitly speaking, it is the essence of the DPRK’s access to nuclear weapons that it was compelled to have access to nukes literally to defend itself from the U.S. threat, not to be recognized by others. The position of the DPRK as a nuclear weapons state will remain as an undeniable and stark reality – no matter that the U.S. and the West would not recognize it for a hundred or a thousand years. It is anachronistic to think that the right to and capability for nuclear strike is exclusive to Washington. We will never seek any recognition and approval from anyone as we are satisfied with our access to the strength for a tit-for-tat strike against the U.S. nuclear threat. The U.S. and the West have no right to say this or that about the DPRK’s position as a nuclear weapons state, and it will never change no matter what they say. What should change now is not the DPRK but the U.S., and the U.S. should bear in mind that its security can be guaranteed only when it completely roots out its hostile policy toward the DPRK. The position of the DPRK as a world-class nuclear power is final and irreversible. G7, a closed group of a handful of egoistic countries, does not represent the just international community but serves as a political tool for ensuring the U.S. hegemony. We make it clear that we don’t have any interest in what G7 does but if it shows any behavioral attempt to infringe upon the sovereignty and fundamental interests of the DPRK, it will be completely deterred by strong counteraction. Taking this opportunity, I courteously remind the G7 foreign ministers once again that the DPRK is free from any NPT obligations as it legally withdrew from the treaty 20 years ago in accordance with the withdrawal procedures specified in Article 10 of NPT.” (KCNA, “Press State of DPRK Foreign Minister,” April 21, 2023)

4/24/23:
The Justice Department said today that it had indicted four men on charges of laundering virtual currency stolen by an infamous North Korean online criminal syndicate as part of a far-reaching scheme to buy goods with U.S. dollars and evade international sanctions. The charges, filed in three cases in federal court in Washington, outline a complex multiyear effort to launder cryptocurrency obtained by the Lazarus Group, an organization linked to espionage, online theft and cyberattacks, including the 2014 breach of Sony Pictures. The scheme involved a relatively modest amount of currency. But it represents only a fraction of the illegal activity being undertaken by North Korea, officials said — and it vividly demonstrated the creativity and resolve of an isolated country intent on defying demands that it abandon its nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs. In the first indictment, the government charged a banker based in China, Sim Hyon Sop, 39, along with three cryptocurrency traders with conspiring to convert virtual currency that had been stolen from accounts into dollars. North Korea’s government, short on cash, later used the money to buy goods, including tobacco and communications equipment, in 2018. The second indictment outlined a related conspiracy by Mr. Sim, and various North Korean information technology workers who used fake identities to get jobs with blockchain companies in the United States. Several workers, and others not named in court papers, used that access to launder about $12 million that passed through Mr. Sim’s cryptocurrency wallet, prosecutors said. A third indictment describes an unlicensed money-transmitting business that conducted over 1,500 trades for U.S. customers without the necessary licenses. Three of those charged, including. Sim, were based in China and Hong Kong when, according to prosecutors, they committed their crimes, while a fourth was identified only by an online alias. None of them are currently in U.S. custody, and a Justice Department spokesman declined to say if the Biden administration will request their extradition. The charges stemmed from “innovative attempts” by North Korean operatives to evade sanctions by “targeting virtual currency companies for theft,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr., the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in a statement. In a related action, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Mr. Sim and the two men named by the Justice Department, Wu HuiHui and Cheng Hung Man. Brian E. Nelson, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said North Korea’s effort to generate revenue using stolen virtual currency “directly threatens international security,” and destabilizes the international financial system. Since 2017, North Korea has pilfered an enormous amount of currency through fraud schemes and by hacking into virtual currency accounts. Operatives working at the behest of the country’s intelligence services and military stole about $1.7 billion worth of cryptocurrency in 2022 alone, according to the Treasury Department. North Korea employs a sprawling network of currency traders, many working out of China, meant to convert stolen virtual currency into so-called fiat currencies, like dollars and euros. That money is, in turn, used to buy badly needed goods for the government, military and leadership, investigators said. (Glenn Thrush, “4 Indicted For Assisting North Korea In Scheme” New York Times, April 25, 2023, p. A-10)

4/26/23:
Biden-Yoon summit declaration: “President Joseph R. Biden of the United States of America and President Yoon Suk Yeol of the Republic of Korea (ROK) met on this 26th day of April, 2023 to mark the 70th anniversary of the U.S.-ROK Alliance. The Alliance between our two nations has been forged in shared sacrifice, fortified by enduring security cooperation, and nourished by our close kinship that has enabled both countries to leverage their diplomatic resources to peaceably achieve crucial, strategic outcomes. What began as a security partnership has grown and expanded into a truly global Alliance that champions democratic principles, enriches economic cooperation, and drives technological advancements. Our Alliance has been tested many times, and in every instance we have risen to the occasion and responded to the changing threats on the Korean Peninsula and in the Indo-Pacific. To commemorate this historic year for our Alliance, President Biden and President Yoon have committed to develop an ever-stronger mutual defense relationship and affirm in the strongest words possible their commitment to the combined defense posture under the U.S.-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty. The United States and the ROK are committed to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, and the measures we take together are in furtherance of that fundamental goal. The ROK has full confidence in U.S. extended deterrence commitments and recognizes the importance, necessity, and benefit of its enduring reliance on the U.S. nuclear deterrent. The United States commits to make every effort to consult with the ROK on any possible nuclear weapons employment on the Korean Peninsula, consistent with the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review’s declaratory policy, and the Alliance will maintain robust communication infrastructure to facilitate these consultations. President Yoon reaffirmed the ROK’s longstanding commitment to its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as the cornerstone of the global nonproliferation regime as well as to the U.S.-ROK Agreement for Cooperation Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy. The Alliance commits to engage in deeper, cooperative decision-making on nuclear deterrence, including through enhanced dialogue and information sharing regarding growing nuclear threats to the ROK and the region. The two Presidents announced the establishment of a new Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) to strengthen extended deterrence, discuss nuclear and strategic planning, and manage the threat to the nonproliferation regime posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). In addition, the Alliance will work to enable joint execution and planning for ROK conventional support to U.S. nuclear operations in a contingency and improve combined exercises and training activities on the application of nuclear deterrence on the Korean Peninsula. In keeping with the Presidents’ commitments, the Alliance has established a new bilateral, interagency table-top simulation to strengthen our joint approach to planning for nuclear contingencies. President Biden reaffirmed that the United States’ commitment to the ROK and the Korean people is enduring and ironclad, and that any nuclear attack by the DPRK against the ROK will be met with a swift, overwhelming and decisive response. President Biden highlighted the U.S. commitment to extend deterrence to the ROK is backed by the full range of U.S. capabilities, including nuclear. Going forward, the United States will further enhance the regular visibility of strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula, as evidenced by the upcoming visit of a U.S. nuclear ballistic missile submarine to the ROK, and will expand and deepen coordination between our militaries. Furthermore, the United States and ROK will strengthen standing bodies for consultations on extended deterrence, including the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group, to better prepare the Alliance to defend against potential attacks and nuclear use and conduct simulations to inform joint planning efforts.

President Yoon affirmed that the ROK will apply the full range of its capabilities to the Alliance’s combined defense posture. This includes working in lockstep with the United States to closely connect the capabilities and planning activities of the new ROK Strategic Command and the U.S.-ROK Combined Forces Command. Such activities will include a new table-top exercise conducted with U.S. Strategic Command. In view of these critical developments, President Biden and President Yoon send a firm message to the international community that the United States and the ROK will stand together in the face of any and all threats to their shared security, and continue their close consultations on further steps to strengthen extended deterrence. In parallel, both Presidents remain steadfast in their pursuit of dialogue and diplomacy with the DPRK, without preconditions, as a means to advance the shared goal of achieving the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” (White House, “Washington Declaration,” April 26, 2023)

President Biden moved today to bolster the American nuclear umbrella guarding South Korea and vowed that any nuclear attack by North Korea would “result in the end” of the government in Pyongyang, underscoring a broad turn from diplomacy to deterrence in response to the threat from the volatile dictatorship. Hosting President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea at the White House for a state visit, Biden committed to giving Seoul a central role for the first time in strategic planning for the use of nuclear weapons in any conflict with North Korea. In return, the South disavowed any effort to pursue its own nuclear arsenal, a move Yoon briefly appeared to embrace earlier this year. Biden also announced that the United States would send American nuclear ballistic missile submarines to dock in South Korea for the first time in decades. “Look, a nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States, its allies or partisans — partners — is unacceptable and will result in the end of whatever regime were to take such an action,” Biden said during a news conference in the Rose Garden, where he and Yoon described their agreement, called the Washington Declaration. “It’s about strengthening deterrence in response to the D.P.R.K.’s escalatory behavior and the deal is complete consultation” between the allies, Biden said. The blunt language about bringing about the end of the North Korean regime was reminiscent of Biden’s bellicose predecessor, Donald J. Trump, who once threatened North Korea “with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it were to attack. In his public comments with Yoon Biden all but abandoned any talk of a negotiated diplomatic resolution of the 30-year-old confrontation over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. While saying he would still “seek serious and substantial diplomatic breakthroughs,” he and Yoon offered no path for doing so and instead emphasized their plans for “extended deterrence,” implicitly acknowledging that North Korea’s nuclear weapons were a reality unlikely to be reversed anytime soon. As part of the new agreement, the United States and South Korea will create a Nuclear Consultative Group to coordinate military responses to North Korea, and Washington vowed “to make every effort to consult” with Seoul before using nuclear weapons to retaliate against the North. Still, the agreement made clear that the American president reserves the sole authority to decide whether to launch a nuclear weapon. And Biden noted that beyond the mainly symbolic submarine visits, he had no intention of stationing nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. The United States withdrew its last tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991. Yoon’s visit came at a fraught moment between the two longtime allies after leaked disclosures made clear that the United States had intercepted private conversations within South Korea’s national security council. Classified documents made public in recent weeks recounted conversations among top South Korean officials about American pressure to provide artillery ammunition to Ukraine, despite Seoul’s policy of not arming combatants in active wars. While South Korea has provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine, it has not supplied weapons directly to Kyiv. Seoul has said it was considering selling 155-millimeter artillery shells to Washington as long as the United States would be the “end user.” According to the leaked documents, a top South Korean official discussed the possibility of selling shells to Poland on the same condition, while understanding they would be passed along to Ukraine anyway. The two leaders sought to ignore the disclosures today, brushing off questions as they celebrated 70 years of alliance between the two nations. “Our alliance is an alliance of values based on our shared universal values of freedom and democracy,” Yoon said during opening statements in the Oval Office before the meeting with Biden began. “It is not a contractual alliance” but an “everlasting partnership.” In perhaps an allusion to the furor over surveillance, he added, “Together we can resolve any issues between us.” Asked later explicitly about the leaked disclosures, Yoon offered only bland comments with no hint of outrage or consternation. “We need time to wait for the investigation results by the United States,” he said. “And we plan to continue to communicate on the matter.” Biden made no comment on the matter at all, though he cited their “shared commitment to stand with Ukraine and defend its democracy against Russia’s assault.” He called the American-South Korean relationship the “linchpin of regional security and prosperity,” adding that “I think our partnership is ready to take on any challenges.” The new cooperation agreement in the Washington Declaration is closely modeled on how NATO nations plan for possible nuclear conflict. While the United States has never formally adopted a “no first use” policy, officials said such a decision would almost certainly come only after the North itself used a nuclear weapon against South Korea. “The United States commits to make every effort to consult with the R.O.K. on any possible nuclear weapons employment on the Korean Peninsula,” the declaration stated, using the initials for the Republic of Korea. At the same time, it said, “President Yoon reaffirmed the R.O.K.’s longstanding commitment to its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty” not to develop nuclear weapons of its own. The accord is notable for several reasons. First, it is intended to provide assurance to the South Korean public, where pollsters have found consistent majorities in favor of building an independent South Korean nuclear force. Yoon himself mused openly about that option early this year, though his government quickly walked the statement back. He also raised the possibility of reintroducing American tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea, a step that his government has said in recent weeks it is no longer pursuing. The importance of the new declaration to Yoon was clear in the Rose Garden when Biden made no explicit mention of it in his opening remarks, while the South Korean leader focused intently on it in his own. Yoon called it “an unprecedented expansion and strengthening of the extended deterrence strategy” and said that the agreed response to North Korea’s threat “has never thus far been this strong.” He said, “Our two countries have agreed to immediate bilateral presidential consultations in the event of North Korea’s nuclear attack and promised to respond swiftly, overwhelmingly, and decisively using the full force of the alliance, including the United States’ nuclear weapons.,” The second reason it is important is one the Biden administration is saying little about: It edges toward reversing the commitment, going back to the Obama administration, to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in American defense strategy. [?] For years, the United States has been improving its non-nuclear strike options, improving the precision and power of conventional weapons that could reach any target in the world in about an hour. John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said, “I would caution anyone from thinking that there was new focus on the centrality of nuclear weapons,” despite the wording of the new declaration. “We have treaty commitments to the Republic on the peninsula,” he said, using the shorthand for the Republic of Korea, and “we want to make sure we have as many options as possible.” But the South is looking for greater assurance of “extended deterrence,” the concept that the United States will seek to deter a North Korean nuclear strike on the South with a nuclear response — even if that risks a North Korean strike on an American city. South Korea is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which prohibits it from obtaining nuclear weapons. So the commitment not to build its own weapons is not new. But nations can withdraw from the treaty, simply by providing notice to the United Nations. Only one nation has done so: North Korea, in 2003. (Peter Baker and David E. Sanger, “Biden Vows ‘End’ of North Korean Regime if It Attacks U.S. or Allies,” New York Times, April 27, 2023, p. A-16)

Hayes: “The Washington Declaration issued on April 26 2023 at the conclusion of the Biden-Yoon summit contains five key elements. 1. Biden threatens to eliminate (nuclear annihilate?) the DPRK regime Biden’s threat to end the DPRK regime in response to a DPRK nuclear attack on the ROK was in the Declaration wherein he states “that any nuclear attack by the DPRK against the ROK will be met with a swift, overwhelming and decisive response.” In less scripted form, he repeated this threat in in response to a journalist’s question. Look, a nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies or partisans — partners — is unacceptable and will result in the end of whatever regime, were it to take such an action. Biden is ambiguous as to whether nuclear or conventional means would be used to “end…the whatever [sic, DPRK] regime.” Scripted or not, Biden’s threat recalls Trump’s August 8 2017 threat to employ “fire and fury like the world has never seen” to counter the DPRK’s nuclear threat. From DPRK perspective, Democrat, Republican, they both project a threat to annihilate the DPRK leadership. In the DPRK’s corporatist system, the leader/regime is the same as the entire population. Intended or not, the perceived threat by North Koreans will be societal annihilation, not the “mere” elimination of the DPRK leadership. 2. End of nuclear and conflict resolution negotiations The joint declaration states: “”In parallel, both Presidents remain steadfast in their pursuit of dialogue and diplomacy with the DPRK, without preconditions, as a means to advance the shared goal of achieving the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” In practice, the United States and the ROK have pursued a crime and punishment approach to negotiations with the DPRK aimed at isolating and sanctioning the regime into compliance with their demands while offering nothing in return. The predictable response is the DPRK’s fight and flight refusal to resume dialogue with the United States and the ROK. Sole reliance on nuclear threat and military containment unaccompanied by engagement and meaningful diplomacy with adversaries is like trying to cut paper with a one-bladed scissors. If Yoon had a strategic goal in declaring that nuclear weapons are a live policy option in January 2023, this is it — to ensure that the United States does not resume dialogue with the DPRK, and for the moment, he has achieved it. There will be DPRK responses, at times with actions of their own choosing, and these will likely be aimed primarily at the ROK, not the United States. A possible early casualty will be military clashes that destroy the 2018 ROK-DPRK military agreement that maintained a relatively tranquil DMZ during the Moon Jae-In administration, what Yoon calls a “false peace.” 3. US-ROK presidential hotline? The commitment to consult after DPRK uses nuclear weapons is new but not really. First, it assumes the ROK president is still alive to consult after a DPRK nuclear attack on the ROK. Second, it applies only to DPRK use against the ROK, not DPRK use against the United States itself (for example, Guam), Japan, or someone else. The Declaration is explicit in this regard, stating that Biden says “any nuclear attack by the DPRK against the ROK will be met with a swift, overwhelming and decisive response.” However, the commitment is only to make “every effort” which means the United States is free to do whatever it wants with nuclear weapons, irrespective of this “commitment.” In other words, empty words. As a result of the declaration, there may be some upgrade in communications hardware between the ROK presidential office and the White House to make such a communication possible after a nuclear attack. Presumably this entails installing some form of secure and nuclear-hardened communication system, likely hooked into US Forces Korea’s (USFK) own nuclear command control and communications systems. Whether the ROK president’s wartime bunker at Yongsan base is hardened against direct nuclear blast damage and/or electromagnetic pulse from nuclear detonations is unknown. Possibly what’s envisioned is some form of ROK presidential mobile, videoconference-bandwidth, satellite hotline to a dedicated line in the White House or connected to a local US nuclear-hardened military communication system that might still be operating even after a nuclear attack, to connect back to US presidential command locations–or some other arrangement. 4. NATO-Style “Strategic scenario planning” According to the declaration, “the Alliance will work to enable joint execution and planning for ROK conventional support to U.S. nuclear operations in a contingency and improve combined exercises and training activities on the application of nuclear deterrence on the Korean Peninsula.” The two allies will create a Nuclear Consultative Group to enhance ROK understanding of US nuclear war planning. This is not at all the same as NATO style “nuclear sharing” as suggested by ROK Deputy National Security Adviser, Kim Tae-hyo, who reportedly stated that the arrangement will make South Koreans “feel that they are sharing nuclear weapons with the United States.” In fact, US National Security Council’s Ed Kagan stated: “So let me just be very direct. I don’t think that we see this as a de facto nuclear sharing.” This joint commitment boils down to conducting a “high level” scenarios exercise in the form of a table top simulation run by STRATCOM, not specific targeting or operational matters. There are strict limits on what nuclear-arms related information including knowledge as well as operational details and hardware information can be shared with the ROK with a US-ROK program of cooperation agreement. The information will therefore be generic and the simulation similarly non-specific, broad-brush. What may be new is increased attention to the role of ROK conventional military force supporting US nuclear operations although it’s unclear what difference this will make at an operational level. There is zero chance that ROK ASW would be involved in relation to supporting US SSBNs; and likely no role for the ROK in the unlikely event that US ICBMs or missile defense systems are involved in responding to a DPRK nuclear attack. If the DPRK used a submarine to launch the nuclear attack, ROK airborne and maritime ASW forces would be involved in finding and destroying them, but US nuclear operations would not be aimed at those platforms unless they fired from a port city in response to a nuclear attack by the DPRK on the ROK. In reality, the only nuclear operations in which the ROK’s military might play a supporting role relate to US nuclear bombers. ROK KC-330 aerial tankers might be used to refuel US bombers as they approach the Korean peninsula, although this seems unlikely as very high degrees of interoperability are required in refueling operations. The other possible conventional aerial support might come from ROK fighter aircraft. US strategic bombers rely on stealth not accompanying fighter protection. Indeed, having ROK fighter planes accompany US strategic bombers would tip off DPRK, Russian, and Chinese radars as to the presence of an otherwise invisible stealth bomber. The idea that ROK fighters would fly wingtip-guard each side of a US bomber is unrealistic. ROK planes and/or cruise missiles might be tasked with destroying DPRK radar and SAM sites so that US strategic bombers can fly unimpeded through entry corridors into the DPRK. Such attacks might take place — assuming ROK airfields have not been destroyed in a DPRK nuclear attack–sometime in the 3-4 hours it takes for US planes to fly from Guam to DPRK (if the US bombers have been moved forward to Guam which is unlikely as they would be vulnerable on the ground with nuclear weapons) or within 10-12 hours before US strategic bombers flying from CONUS arrive in the vicinity of the DPRK. However, this conventional role for ROK fighter and cruise missiles in attacking coastal radars and SAM sites assuredly is already a well-rehearsed role under the existing ROK “Kill Chain” posture as well as in the US-ROK Combined forces Command joint war-plans with USFK and the ROK military and is not an innovation resulting from the Joint Declaration. It is unlikely that such entry corridor clearance missions would take place on the northern parts of the DPRK east and west coasts because such an angle of approach comes perilously close to Chinese and Russian borders and also entails additional flight time for the bombers to get to targets. Almost certainly US strategic bombers would cross the coast somewhere well north of the DMZ and more or less opposite Pyongyang and Hamhung in the central coastal areas of the DPRK–well within range of ROK fighter-bombers and their standoff missiles — assuming the ROK planes still exist after a DPRK nuclear attack. The DPRK knows this, so these coastlines are heavily fortified with radar and surface-air missiles, which is precisely what past US-ROK exercises flying offshore are intended to “light up” so that US signals intelligence can located them ahead of time for targeting purposes. In sum, the declaration’s “deeper, cooperative decision-making” boils down to slightly enhanced symbolic participation in nuclear “planning” — similar to NATO’s nuclear planning for the 31 non-nuclear NATO members that don’t have nuclear weapons and don’t have the nuclear-delivery role of the 5 NATO non-nuclear delivery states (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey) that constitutes the core of “nuclear sharing.” The declaration made no change in how the United States shares nuclear weapons and operations with the ROK. In sum, for all the verbiage and new entity, nothing substantively new to see here. 5. Nuclear Signaling In addition to the threat rhetoric from Biden and Yoon, reinforced symbolically with the “planning,” table top simulation, and more explicit formulation of a possible ROK air force role in US nuclear bomber operations in the DPRK, the only other “new” item is resumption of ballistic missile firing submarines (SSBN) visits. The last SSBN visits to the ROK were to Chinhae in 1981, see Table 1. Many US nuclear-capable aircraft have flown to and around Korea in the last few years, so that tempo is already high; US nuclear attack submarines have also made port visits, although not often. US ICBM tests have been calibrated briefly by postponement due to tension in Korea, but there are only two such tests each year, so using missile tests is difficult signal threat in a crisis is difficult in a timely manner. Redeployment of US nuclear weapons to Korea was explicitly ruled out by Biden. Due to operational constraints and the vulnerability of US SSBNs in ROK port visits to Russian, Chinese, or DPRK attack, my best guess is that the United States will make one or two SSBN visits and then will return to its habitual mid-Pacific deployment to ensure that the SSBN retaliatory force is invulnerable. The timing would depend on having at least two such SSBNs deployed in the Pacific at the time of the visit, to ensure that no matter what happens to the ship visiting the ROK, the United States maintains its retaliatory capability in the Pacific at all times. 6. Conclusion The ROK tail (Yoon’s talk of nuclear proliferation) has wagged the American nuclear dog. His verbal antics in January 2023 about nuclear proliferation elicited enhanced “reassurance” in the form of restated generic nuclear commitment and an explicit US presidential threat to eliminate the DPRK, enhanced by a small, symbolic increase in access to nuclear war planning, buttressed by iconic signaling in the form of US SSBN visits (minor in the world of nuclear war), matched by a ROK recommittal to its NPT non-nuclear weapon state status. In short, reversion to the status quo ante — a fact noted by South Korean conservatives calling for the ROK’s independent nuclear armament after the declaration was issued. However, in inter-Korean relations, Yoon has unleashed the dogs of nuclear war on Kim Jong Un. Not only will nuclear diplomacy not occur during his tenure in the Blue House; but the stage is now set for increased DPRK nuclear threat and signaling aimed at the United States as well as fury focused on Yoon himself. For all the pomp, red carpet treatment and karaoke in Washington, Yoon was unable to change US nuclear policy in any substantive manner. In effect, the Washington Declaration is the reimposition of US nuclear policy whereby Washington pulled the ROK back into line and rebuked Yoon for his clownlike behavior in January. Having proven that he has no real influence over American policy, the DPRK now has no reason to talk with him. As has been the case for the last 3 decades, the United States and the DPRK will continue to use nuclear threat against each other for compellence (not deterrence purposes); and for reassurance by the United States of the ROK, not deterrence purposes. Nuclear extortion designed to force the other side to stop what they are already doing [that is, compellence] almost always has a bad outcome and undermines deterrence which remains based on each side’s conventional sledgehammer. This is the cost of the reassurance provided to the ROK by the United States, such as it is. Yoon’s January 2023 nuclear proliferation demarche and the US response have made the peninsula, the region, and the world more insecure whilst doing nothing to actually reduce the risk of nuclear war posed by the DPRK’s accelerating nuclear weapons program. The United States and its allies remain in strategic drift in Northeast Asia, and the risk of nuclear war — and its cataclysmic humanitarian consequences — are increasing with each day that passes without substantial nuclear arms control dialogues, preventive diplomacy and nuclear risk reduction measures. In this inter-Korean game of countervailing threat and escalation, Yoon has no cards left to play except making risky moves involving conventional forces on the western sea, overflights, or along the DMZ.” (Peter Hayes, “Dissecting the Washington Declaration,” NAPSnet, April 29, 2023)

4/28/23:
WPK Central Committee Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jong “made public the following stand through the Korean Central News Agency on April 28: South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol’s recent visit to Washington was an occasion for us to have much clearer understanding about the root-cause and physical entity disturbing peace and security of the Korean Peninsula and the region. After the summit on April 26, the chief executives of the U.S. and south Korea issued the so-called “Washington Declaration”, specifying the ways to strengthen the “extended deterrence”, thus stipulating their choice and will to act against the DPRK. The “Washington Declaration” fabricated by the U.S. and south Korean authorities is a typical product of their extreme anti-DPRK hostile policy reflecting the most hostile and aggressive will of action. As such, it will only result in making peace and security of Northeast Asia and the world be exposed to more serious danger, and it is an act that can thus never be welcomed. The formation of “Nuclear Consultative Group”, the regular and continuous deployment of U.S. nuclear strategic assets, and the frequent military exercises made the regional politico-military situation unable to extricate itself from the currents of instability. This provides us with an environment in which we are compelled to take more decisive action in order to deal with the new security environment. Another thing that we cannot let pass nor overlook is the fact that the chief executive of the enemy state officially and personally used the word “the end of regime” under the eyes of the world. Would we simply regard it as the man’s senility? It may be taken as a nonsensical remark from the person in his dotage who is not at all capable of taking the responsibility for security and the future of the U.S., an old man with no future, as it is too much for him to serve out two-year remainder of his office term. But when we consider that this expression was personally used by the president of the U.S., our most hostile adversary, it is threatening rhetoric for which he should be prepared for far too great an after-storm that will not be easy for us to deliver. Obsessed with overconfidence in strength, he was too miscalculating and irresponsibly brave. This time we reconfirmed the hostility of the rulers and military warmongers of Washington and Seoul towards our country, which cannot be interpreted otherwise and has become too obvious. This opportunity gave us a clear answer as to what we should do in the future and for what we should be fully prepared. So serious is the development of the situation. Yoon Suk Yeol, this time again, said that he will build the capability of overwhelming response including “south Korea’s three-axis defense system” and adopt the punitive posture. He also made it clear that the “south Korea”-U.S. joint exercises and training will be more intensive. It would be a bit hard to understand the mentality of such a fool that is so grateful for getting a nominal “declaration” as an “offering” from the U.S. and expresses “his absolute trust in the U.S. firm commitment to the extended deterrence”. However, we will keep watching to what extent he will go testing his mettle, putting the security into crisis with his incompetence. The pipe dream of the U.S. and south Korea will henceforth be faced with the entity of more powerful strength. We are convinced once again of the fact that the enhancement of the nuclear war deterrent, especially the second mission of the nuclear war deterrent, should be brought to further perfection. We know exactly what we are supposed to do. The more the enemies are dead set on staging nuclear war exercises, and the more nuclear assets they deploy in the vicinity of the Korean peninsula, the stronger the exercise of our right to self-defense will become in direct proportion to them.” (KCNA, “Vice Department Director of C.C., WPK Kim Yo Jong Clarifies Stand through KCNA,” April 29, 2023)

4/29/23:
South Korea possesses the necessary technological capabilities to rapidly acquire nuclear weapons, potentially within a year, should it decide to pursue that path. However, South Korea has deliberately chosen to uphold its commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, President Yoon Suk Yeol said today. Speaking at Harvard University’s Kennedy School in Boston, Yoon addressed growing public calls within South Korea for the country to pursue its own nuclear armament amid escalating North Korean missile threats. “However, nuclear weapons are not just a matter of technology. There are complex politics and economics and political and economic equations related to nuclear weapons,” he said. “There are various values and interests that must be given up when possessing nuclear weapons.” ( Shin Ji-hye, “S. Korea Can Develop Nuclear Weapons But Chooses Not to: Yoon,” Korea Herald, April 29, 2023)

President Yoon Suk Yeol went to Washington to reset South Korean diplomacy by drawing closer to the United States and taking a larger role on the international stage. If the warmth of his reception there was the gauge of success, he did well. President Biden welcomed him as “my friend.” Yoon belted out “American Pie” while the crowd whooped along during the White House dinner. Two days ago, he addressed the United States Congress, thanking Americans for their support during the Korean War, and extolling a deep relationship between the countries that helped energize South Korea’s rise to become a global technological and cultural powerhouse. “Even if you didn’t know my name, you may know BTS and Blackpink,” Yoon said to chuckles from American lawmakers. “BTS beat me to the White House. But I beat them to Capitol Hill.” But Yoon now returns home to South Korea to a decidedly colder audience — a public that has punished him with low approval ratings and, in some sectors, has deep misgivings over a pivot toward the United States that could alienate China and threaten the country’s long tradition of diplomatic caution. Even before Yoon departed for Washington, South Koreans were beginning to grapple with questions that seemed distant until recently. How can they feel safe under the rapidly expanding nuclear threat from North Korea? And how should they navigate the increasingly bitter rivalry between the United States, South Korea’s main military ally, and China, its biggest trading partner? The main answer Yoon is bringing home is the “Washington Declaration,” a joint statement with Biden. In it, Biden promised that Washington would embrace South Korea as a close consultative partner in its nuclear strategy over the Korean Peninsula — though American presidents will remain the sole authority on whether to actually use nuclear weapons. To show its “extended deterrence” commitment to defend its ally with nuclear weapons if necessary, Biden promised that U.S. nuclear ballistic missile submarines would make port calls in South Korea for the first time in decades. In return, Yoon reaffirmed South Korea’s intention not to develop nuclear weapons of its own, dispelling misgivings in Washington that he might consider a nuclear option, as he indicated he might early this year. But like everything else Yoon has done since his election last year, the reviews in South Korea were polarized. “History will remember the Yoon government as the first South Korean administration to recognize the North Korean nuclear program as a present and urgent threat and begin preparing responses to the crisis,” said Cheon Seong-whun, a former head of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. The Washington Declaration was “a big win” for South Korea because “for the first time, the allies are discussing nuclear deterrence, which Seoul has not been able to discuss with Washington until now,” said Kim Duyeon, a Seoul-based researcher for the Center for a New American Security. “They are gaming out scenarios in which not only North Korea might use a nuclear weapon but the U.S. would direct the employment of a nuclear weapon in response as well,” Kim said. “This is huge because until now, the tabletop exercises would end before Washington decides to use a nuclear weapon. The U.S. had considered such information to be too classified to share and because nuclear use would be a U.S. decision, operation and execution plan.” Yoon’s critics at home, however, felt he was giving away too much for too little, seeing the declaration and a separate joint statement from Yoon and Biden as a carefully wrought design to silence calls for South Korea’s own nuclear force or the redeployment of American tactical nuclear weapons in the South. Such calls have gained momentum in recent months, as North Korea has stoked nuclear jitters in the South by testing a series of what it called nuclear-capable short-range ballistic missiles. The North has also warned that first nuclear strikes were now part of its military strategy. “The Washington Declaration may look substantive and fantastic, but, in reality, it is an empty shell,” said Professor Kim Dong-yub, at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “There is no change in Washington policy.” Critics also doubted that the port calls by U.S. nuclear submarines would do much more than further escalate regional tensions with China and North Korea and provide another excuse for the North to expand its nuclear arsenal. Today, North Korea called Yoon “a fool” and Biden “an old man with no future” and said it felt compelled to take “more decisive action.” “They are not ‘extended deterrence,’ but rather ‘extended crisis,’” Mr. Kim said. An editorial in the conservative Chosun Ilbo sounded miffed by what it called the Biden administration’s efforts to “tighten the nuclear shackles” on its ally. “The declaration seems to put more emphasis on American concerns that South Korea could develop its own nuclear weapons than on the North Korean nuclear threat that prompts such aspirations,” it said. “Ultimately, South Korea must be in a position to defend itself.” In a survey by the Seoul-based Chey Institute for Advanced Studies late last year, nearly 49 percent of respondents said they doubted that Washington would fight for South Korea at the risk of a North Korean nuclear attack on mainland United States. Nearly 77 percent said South Korea needed to develop its own nuclear arsenal. To such skeptical South Koreans, Washington’s promise of extended deterrence “just amounts to rhetoric, however you package it,” said Lee Byong-chul, a researcher on nuclear policy at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University. Many South Koreans remain wary of great powers, reflecting their deep grievances over Japanese colonial rule and the division of the Korean Peninsula by the Soviet Union and the United States at the end of World War II. South Korea has kept Japan at arm’s length, even though Washington urged its two key allies to work closely together to deter China and North Korea. It has also sought diplomatic balance between Washington and Beijing. Its more progressive leaders, like Yoon’s predecessor, Moon Jae-in, doggedly pursued dialogue with North Korea, even causing friction with Washington, which tended to emphasize sanctions. In March, he broke a logjam in relations with Japan by promising that Seoul will no longer seek compensation for victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule. Yoon also doggedly aligned Seoul more closely with the United States, despite concerns about China’s ability to harm South Korea’s vital economy. “The alliance has now become a global alliance that safeguards freedom and peace around the world,” he told the U.S. Congress. “Korea will fulfill its responsibilities.” While in Washington, Yoon condemned the war against Ukraine as “a violation of international law.” In a jab at Beijing, he opposed “any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the Indo-Pacific, including through unlawful maritime claims, the militarization of reclaimed features and coercive activities.” Liberal South Koreans cautioned against Mr. Yoon’s approach. “If South Korea is unilaterally sucked into the new U.S.-led Cold War system, it must face up to the reality that relations with China and Russia, both of which have a strong influence on North Korea, will become more dangerous, and the risk of a North Korean nuclear crisis and even war on or around the peninsula will increase,” the liberal Hankyore said. Both hawks and doves in policy circles in Seoul will have reason to feel disappointed by the Washington Declaration, which “neither signals a push for dialogue with Pyongyang nor promises Seoul getting a nuclear deterrent of its own,” said John Delury, an East Asia scholar at Yonsei University in Seoul. But to many South Koreans, especially younger generations struggling with dwindling job opportunities, a more pressing issue than the North’s nuclear arsenal is the economy. In recent months, hardly a day has gone by in South Korea without headlines blaring concern that Mr. Biden’s Inflation Reduction and Chips and Science Acts would hurt two of South Korea’s most important industries: electric cars and semiconductors. But in their joint statement, Yoon and Biden only agreed to “continue close consultations.” “Younger Koreans don’t know the lyrics to ‘American Pie,’ but they know about the Inflation Reduction Act,” Delury said. (Choe Sang-Hun, “South Korean Leader’s Visit to U.S. Gets Chillier Reviews at Home,” New York Times, April 30, 2023, p. A-4)

5/7/23:
The leaders of South Korea and Japan agreed today to press ahead with joint efforts to improve bilateral ties despite skeptics at home, declaring that historical differences should not prevent the two nations from working more closely to cope with the growing security challenges from North Korea and China. Before Prime Minister Kishida Fumio of Japan arrived in Seoul to meet President Yoon Suk Yeol and to nurture a fledgling détente, South Koreans had been waiting intently for what Kishida might say about Japan’s brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula in the early 20th century. Kishida said Japan stood by the past statements in which some of his predecessors expressed remorse and apologies. But he went no further than that, merely saying that “my heart ached” when he thought of the suffering of the Koreans. His words fell short of the clear and direct apology that many South Koreans, including the head of the main opposition party, had demanded. But Yoon said he would not dwell on seeking such an apology. “It’s not something we can unilaterally demand; it’s something that should come naturally from the other side’s sincerity,” Yoon said during a joint news conference with Kishida. “We must abandon the notion that we cannot take a single step ahead for future cooperation until the past history is resolved.” The present moment was too urgent, he suggested. “Both South Korea and Japan face a grave security situation in Northeast Asia, and Prime Minister Kishida and I share the view that we stand at the crossroads of a shift of historic proportions,” he said, referring to the growing nuclear and missile threat from North Korea and the deepening rivalry between the United States and China. “South Korea and Japan, which share common values, must cooperate for joint interests.” Kishida said he was on the same page, commending the South Korean leader’s “determination and ability to act” to improve bilateral ties. Kishida’s two-day trip follows a visit in March by Yoon to Tokyo. It means that shuttle diplomacy between two key U.S. allies is back on track after regular exchanges between the countries’ leaders ended in 2011 over historical differences. Their vows today to deepen national ties are another encouraging sign for Washington, which has been urging Tokyo and Seoul to let go of past grievances and cooperate more. When he met Yoon in Washington late last month, President Biden thanked him for his “courageous, principled diplomacy with Japan.” In March, Yoon removed a roadblock in relations with Japan when he announced that South Korea would no longer demand Japanese compensation for victims of forced labor during World War II, but would create its own fund for them. He also said later that Japan should no longer be expected to “kneel because of our history 100 years ago.” The olive branch to Tokyo is part of Yoon’s broader efforts to reshape South Korean diplomacy, aligning his country closer to countries with “shared values,” especially the United States, on such things as supply chains and a “free and open” Indo-Pacific.Yoon’s diplomatic concessions have been a political boon for Kishida at home but have hurt Yoon in his own country, where he was accused of “traitorous, humiliating diplomacy.” His domestic critics say he gave too much and got too little in return from Japan, which they say has never properly apologized or atoned — a common complaint among many other Asian victims, especially in China and North Korea, of Japan’s World War II aggressions. To many South Koreans, what matters most in relations with Tokyo is how Japanese leaders view its colonial era, a time when Koreans were forced to adopt Japanese names; when schools removed Korean language and history from the curriculum; and when tens of thousands of Korean women were forced into sexual slavery for Japan’s Imperial Army. Today, the political opposition accused Yoon of “speaking on Japan’s behalf,” rather than for his own people. “Why should the abandonment of history be the condition for putting diplomacy back on track?” said Kang Sunwoo, a spokeswoman for the main opposition Democratic Party. “History is not a thing of the past. It is an ongoing matter of universal human rights.” Although Kishida did not deliver a new apology, he and Yoon did agree on more steps toward healing historical wounds and improving ties. At Sunday’s news conference, they said that when Yoon attends the Group of 7 summit meeting this month in Hiroshima, he and Kishida will visit a monument to Korean victims of the 1945 atomic bombing. Kishida also said Japan would allow South Korean experts to inspect the tsunami-destroyed f*ckushima nuclear power plant to ensure that a planned release of a million tons of water from there into the sea was safe. “Kishida, as expected, made a reference to the past that lacked clarity,” said Lee Junghwan, an expert in Korea-Japan relations at Seoul National University, after the summit meeting. “He was playing it safe, mindful of his domestic audience in Japan but also not saying anything that would provoke South Koreans.” The last time a Japanese leader visited South Korea, the relationship was so bad that the prime minister, Abe Shinzo, remained pointedly seated during a standing ovation as North and South Korean Olympians marched together during the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018. Kishida, traveling amid a more amicable mood, has said he wants to “add momentum” to the improving relations. But few analysts believed that decades-long tensions would disappear easily, given political pressure at home for both leaders. “More than 90 percent of our bilateral relationship is domestic politics,” said Miyake Kunihiko, a former Japanese diplomat. “So South Koreans cannot pardon us. They will continue to pressure us, and they want to maintain these sort of relations forever by moving the goal posts.” For his part, Kishida needs the support of right-leaning politicians in Japan, who are among the most influential in selecting party leaders. Yet Tokyo may be considering how to navigate subtle pressure from the United States, analysts said. Biden’s praise of Yoon’s diplomacy was “a kind of message not only to President Yoon but to Kishida,” said Nishino Junya, a law professor at Keio University in Tokyo. Yoon’s determination to improve ties with Tokyo is backed in part by shifting public opinion in South Korea. In recent surveys, China has replaced Japan as the country regarded least favorably, especially by younger people. But South Korean misgivings about Japan have deeper roots than Yoon may like to believe, analysts say. A survey in March found that 64 percent of South Korean respondents saw no need to hurry to improve ties unless Japan changed its attitude on history. Prof. Alexis Dudden at the University of Connecticut, an expert on Korea-Japan relations, cautioned Seoul, Tokyo and Washington against treating “history as mere background music to the present and irrelevant to how it informs immediate concerns — in this instance, standing firm on North Korea and increasingly on China, too.” As the history of the ties between South Korea and Japan has repeatedly shown, a reconciliatory move over one historical dispute accomplishes little if another dispute, such as over the territorial rights over a set of islets between the two nations, is rekindled. “The history issues have a way of coming back and biting you in the rear end,” said Daniel Sneider, a lecturer of East Asian studies at Stanford University. “These aren’t just issues of short-term public opinion. They are matters of identity in Korea.” (Choe Sang-Hun and Motoko Rich, “South Korea and Japan Evade Fraught History To Develop Deeper Ties,” New York Times, May 8, 2023, p. A-9) President Yoon and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida agreed today to allow a group of South Korean experts to visit Japan later this month to inspect the planned release of radioactive water from the crippled f*ckushima nuclear power plant. The agreement, announced following a summit in Seoul, is seen as a goodwill gesture by Japan amid warming relations between the two countries, as South Koreans remain concerned about the water release despite ongoing monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency. “With regard to the contaminated water from f*ckushima, we agreed on the dispatch of an on-site inspection team of South Korean experts,” Yoon said during a joint press conference at the presidential office. “I hope a meaningful step will be achieved in consideration of our people’s demands for a science-based and objective inspection,” he said. Kishida said he is well aware of South Koreans’ concerns over the planned water release this summer but vowed to do his best as Japan’s prime minister to ensure it causes no harm to the health of both nations’ peoples. “I decided to accept the dispatch of an on-site inspection team of South Korean experts this month so that the South Korean people may understand this issue,” he said. The two leaders met in Seoul for their second summit in less than two months, a highly symbolic meeting demonstrating the neighboring nations are firmly on course to the full restoration of long-frayed relations. Bilateral relations have warmed significantly following Seoul’s decision in March to compensate Korean victims of Japanese wartime forced labor without contributions from Japanese firms. Yoon traveled to Tokyo 10 days after the decision was announced and held a summit with Kishida as the first South Korean president to pay a bilateral visit to Japan in 12 years. Kishida’s visit is also the first bilateral visit by a Japanese leader in 12 years, marking the full-scale resumption of “shuttle diplomacy,” or regular mutual visits, as agreed between Yoon and Kishida during their summit in Tokyo in March. Kishida said the Japanese government’s commitment to inheriting past administrations’ positions on the two countries’ shared history is “unwavering,” referring, among other things, to a 1998 joint declaration that expressed remorse for the “horrendous damage and pain” Japan’s colonial rule inflicted on the Korean people. He also referred to Koreans forced to work at Japanese mines and factories during Tokyo’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. “My heart aches over the fact that many people had an extremely painful and sad experience in harsh conditions at the time,” he said. When asked by a reporter if his words were directed at the Korean forced labor victims, Kishida said he was honestly expressing his “own personal thoughts” about the people who had the difficult experience. Yoon reaffirmed that Seoul’s solution to the forced labor row will not change, calling it “the only solution” that satisfies both a 1965 agreement that normalized bilateral ties and the 2018 South Korean Supreme Court rulings that ordered Japanese firms to pay compensation to the victims. Yoon said he and Kishida shared the understanding that North Korea’s nuclear and missile development poses a serious threat to peace and stability not only on the Korean Peninsula and in Japan, but also in the world. He said he will visit Hiroshima, Japan, later this month to attend a summit of the Group of Seven (G-7) at Kishida’s invitation and together visit a memorial for Korean victims of the 1945 atomic bombing in the city. Yoon and Kishida also plan to hold a trilateral summit with U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G-7 gathering. Yoon said he and Kishida agreed to continue trilateral security cooperation, noting that talks are under way to flesh out an agreement the three leaders reached in November to share warning data on incoming North Korean missiles in real time. He also said the two agreed to work closely together to realize South Korea’s Indo-Pacific strategy centered on freedom, peace and prosperity, and Japan’s vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific. Yoon left open the possibility of Japan’s future participation in the Washington Declaration, an agreement he adopted with U.S. President Joe Biden last month, which outlines measures to strengthen the U.S. “extended deterrence” commitment to defending South Korea with all of its military capabilities, including nuclear weapons. “We do not rule out Japan’s participation,” he said. “The Washington Declaration is not completed, and we have to fill in the details by continuing discussions, and are in the process of carrying out joint planning and joint execution.” (Lee Haye-ah, “Yoon, Kishida Agree to Allow S. Korean Experts to Visit f*ckushima over Water Release,” Yonah, May 7, 2023)

5/11/23:
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol established a new committee today charged with guaranteeing “overwhelming” military power for countering North Korean missile and nuclear threats, stating that Seoul must deter the DPRK’s “provocative mentality in advance.” But overshadowing the announcement was Yoon’s selection of controversial former defense minister Kim Kwan-jin — a North Korea hardliner whose hawkish pronouncements once led Pyongyang to demand his execution — to serve as deputy head of the new Defense Innovation Committee. Kim is one of eight experts appointed to the all-male committee, which Yoon said will help South Korea equip “overwhelming response capabilities” to North Korean threats backed by “drastic, innovative changes at a revolutionary level in the military’s operating systems, software and hardware, akin to newly founding a military.” “Appointing former defense minister Kim and putting a renewed spotlight on him is likely aimed at emphasizing that the Yoon administration’s ‘innovation’ direction is to better deter North Korea — and that it is the core of ROK military’s identity going forward,” Yang Uk, military analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, told NK News.Yoon’s decision to appoint the DPRK hawk may also be an attempt to appeal to his conservative base. Kim has faced multiple criminal charges stemming from his time in office in recent years, and some conservatives have alleged that the charges were politically motivated and pushed by the progressive Moon Jae-in administration. Local media, citing government sources, have reported that Kim will work in the defense ministry building with a dedicated office despite technically holding a civilian advisor position on the new committee. The presidential office has not responded to requests seeking to verify the reports. Kim, 73, is a retired four-star general who once led the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was nominated as defense minister under conservative President Lee Myung-bak following North Korea’s sinking of the Cheonan corvette and artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island in 2010. He quickly earned a reputation for an uncompromising and aggressive posture toward North Korea. During his confirmation hearing, Kim said the ROK military should have fired back after the deadly Yeonpyeong attack with artillery and jet strikes because “they provoked us first.” As defense minister from 2010 to 2014, he boasted that South Korea could “exterminate 70% of North Korean forces in five days” and frequently lauded the merits of a preemptive strike against the country. President Yoon has made preemptive strikes against not only potential missile launches but also North Korea’s leadership a pillar of his defense policy, known as the three-axis system. Kim also told frontline soldiers to “wipe out not only the source of provocation but also the forces that support them” in the rear bases “should the enemy provoke us,” stating that Seoul should not feel bound by the “principle of proportionality” in responding to DPRK “provocations.” Kim made national headlines for urging the same troops “not to ask” before shooting at North Korea, but to act first and report later. He also questioned whether rules about cross-border engagement with the DPRK, created and enforced by the U.N. Command (UNC), should apply to all scenarios. The ROK army should be fully empowered to defend itself, Kim argued, even going above and beyond the “principle of proportionality” if necessary. Seoul’s response to North Korea’s drone incursion last December — sending its own unmanned aerial vehicles into DPRK territory — was “more than proportional” and violated the armistice, the UNC concluded. The defense minister’s hawkish comments attracted the ire of Pyongyang, which pilloried Kim as a “bastard” and “first-class warmonger.” North Korea’s army chief of staff even issued a formal statement in 2011 demanding the Lee Myung-bak administration “immediately execute” Kim, after South Korean media reported that some ROK army shooting ranges had used photos of North Korean leaders Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un as targets. State media later published photos of DPRK soldiers shooting at a target with Kim Kwan-jin’s photo, and of military dogs tearing up a dummy with his face. In the years after Kim left government, prosecutors investigated him on charges that he had used the military’s Cyber Command to write replies to online comments criticizing the conservative administration’s policies during an election period. He has defended himself by arguing that the operations fell within the command’s duties to conduct psyops against North Korea. A Seoul court sentenced Kim to more than two years in prison on the charges, but the Supreme Court cleared part of the charges in October and remanded the case to a lower Seoul court, where it is still ongoing. He was also investigated by a joint military-prosecutor investigation team under the Moon administration over his alleged role in drafting plans to declare martial law under the Defense Security Command, but the investigation did not lead to a trial or charges. (Jeongmin Kim, “Yoon Hires Hawkish Ex-Defense Minister Whom North Korea Wanted Killed,” NK News, May 12, 2023)

Garlauskas, Lee, and Corrado: “The vexing security dynamic on the Korean Peninsula and the mysterious nature of the Kim family regime continue to whet the public and professional appetite for insightful analysis of North Korea. This attention, however, does not always translate to high-quality analysis. Too often, authors and readers alike fall prey to the same mistakes: They misunderstand Pyongyang’s messaging, engage in mirror-imaging and groupthink, misdiagnose context, fixate on the “America factor,” or mis-use sources. These mistakes are understandable. North Korea has been famously dubbed a “hard target” by intelligence services. It is perhaps the most closed society in the world, and it has become even more isolated since the COVID-19 pandemic. Pyongyang does not provide regular press briefings and only discloses data in exceptional circ*mstances, such as when it released daily COVID-19 statistics following an outbreak. Furthermore, the power in autocratic North Korea is extremely concentrated — the inner workings and decision-making of Pyongyang’s leadership are closely guarded secrets. Most North Koreans lack internet access, and the select group of elites who use the internet provide limited results for U.S. attempts to harvest signals intelligence. The information North Korea does purposefully release is highly manicured public messaging, so the relevant implications need to be carefully gleaned from the subtext. But despite all this, getting North Korea right remains crucial. In order to effectively deter aggression, stabilize crises, and pursue opportunities for peaceful normalization, it is vital that the next generation of North Korea specialists have a nuanced understanding of Pyongyang’s modus operandi. Here’s how to get started. Emerging North Korea analysts should learn to read between the lines of propaganda, ditch their biases, work in teams, contextualize their sources, and expand their horizons beyond the peninsula. Reading North Korean propaganda begins with learning how to see the value hiding behind the noise and repetition. This entails parsing Pyongyang’s public messaging from five different angles: who it is coming from, who it is intended for, when it is released, how it is presented, and what the context is. Propaganda is worth deciphering precisely because it is so carefully controlled. North Korea exercises complete control over its public messaging to shape and manage domestic and international public opinion. And because propaganda is controlled, it relates to regime intent rather than fact. In that vein, the veracity of North Korea’s claims of “victory” against COVID-19 or its missile launch details, while valid questions for medical or military experts, are of little relevance to the North Korean propaganda analyst. The question of interest to the propaganda analyst is why North Korea is saying it. North Korean articles and statements all sound similar because they parrot established language, which is often meaningless noise for analytic purposes. The trick, however, is separating the wheat from the chaff, identifying what is new, and figuring out the reasons for any changes. For instance, it is noteworthy that Kim Jong Un used the phrase “strategic and tactical cooperation” — an expression typically reserved for North Korea-China relations — in his letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin six months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The “who,” or source level, is significant because it reflects the degree of regime commitment to the message. Not everything coming out of North Korea is equally important. Thus the higher the level of communication, the stronger the regime’s commitment. For example, a North Korean Foreign Ministry statement is likely to be more closely aligned with North Korea’s foreign policy than a news report. The “to whom,” or audience, is primarily a question of whether North Korea is making information available to both internal and external audiences, or just to external audiences. Pyongyang often uses internet-based sources like the Foreign Ministry website or Uriminzokkiri — a North Korean government website to which the average North Korean does not have access — to maintain policy flexibility or shield the domestic public from sensitive information while voicing its message. The “when,” or timing, is about how quickly or slowly North Korean media report on or react to a development. The speed of coverage or reaction indicates the sensitivity the country feels over an issue. The faster the reaction, the greater the sensitivity. Quick or slow is relative to North Korea’s average response time to a certain issue or event. The “how,” or tone, refers to the substance of North Korean messaging. This covers language, namely terminology, adjectives, adverbs, and conditionality, or omissions of language. It also covers photos and videos, as well as the placement of an article in a newspaper or newscast. North Korea can modulate or amplify its message as much or as little as it wishes through the use of words as well as visuals. The “context” — everything else not covered by the four aforementioned elements — is the domestic and external circ*mstances in which the regime’s perceptions are formed and decisions are made and rolled out. We need to connect the dots of broader trends and patterns and establish a baseline of North Korea’s historical patterns to understand the context that may be driving Pyongyang’s behavior. For example, examining North Korea’s missile launches piecemeal may be meaningful to military experts, but they should be viewed along with North Korea’s domestic and foreign policy trends to understand regime intent. Failure to contextualize North Korea’s public messaging can lead analysts astray. Cherry-picking data and exaggerating the significance of a statement or event that in fact may not be alarming, drawing conclusions based on the proximity of two events that may not be connected, comparing apples and oranges, or over-parsing a single data point — any of these can generate counterproductive speculation and misinformation. Dos and Don’ts Countering bias is a major aspect of prudent analysis. To do so, it’s important to work in teams, contextualize sources, consider the problem from the adversary’s perspective, and recognize and avoid groupthink. Don’t Rush to Judgment: When Kim periodically recedes from public view, rumors swirl about his health. But smoke doesn’t always mean fire. In April 2020, an article used an unnamed U.S. government source to claim that Kim was in “grave danger” following a medical procedure. Earlier reports said Kim had received cardiovascular surgery. Not long after, Kim resurfaced, looking no worse for wear, and neither of those claims have since been verified. This is a lesson in patience and source management. Check Your Biases at the Door: Analysis of North Korea is too often a Rorschach test, reflecting more about the analyst than the events they are striving to understand. Analysts sometimes fall into the trap of seeking evidence to fit a pre-existing belief. Analysts who are biased in favor of North Korea tend to give overly positive interpretations of regime intentions. Those biased against North Korea automatically assume Pyongyang will never change. Dueling accounts are constructed in which the two camps disagree on the basic proceedings of important turning points in the history of the peninsula, including all of the most significant attempts to transform the U.S.-North Korean relationship. This dichotomizing produces over-simplified policy debates on important questions such as denuclearization versus arms control and the sequencing of normalizing diplomatic relations, questions that demand more rigorous and unbiased debate. Avoid Groupthink and Work in Teams: North Korea watchers can be a tribal bunch. It’s hawks versus doves, engagers versus deterrers, and human rights advocates versus humanitarian advocates. This competitive atmosphere, wherein advocates of particular approaches vie for primacy in a zero-sum contest, spoils a community spirit and is counter-productive to the enterprise of analysis. For example, it’s not necessarily true that human rights must be sidelined during periods of rapprochement, or that deterrence by punishment will always be more effective than deterrence by denial. Although many of these approaches are framed as diametric opposites, most can easily be complementary. A flexible, issue-specific, and team-based approach can help to demonstrate this by bringing together analysts from opposite sides of these debates. An ideal team member strikes a balance between general knowledge and specialization. Hew too much towards the generalist camp and you’re spread too thin. Veer towards over-specialization and you’ve become the world’s leading expert on North Korean tank sprockets. Good analysts compensate for the inevitable appearance of blind spots by collaborating with partners who possess knowledge and skill sets that they lack. Know Your Source: Besides reading primary North Korean sources — preferably the Korean-language reports or reports that were translated from the vernacular — it is important to take advantage of the essential and irreplaceable insights of people with direct personal experiences inside North Korea. Media outlets with sources on the ground, such as Daily NK, can provide invaluable information about North Korean life and insight into North Koreans’ interpretations of regime messaging. For example, a North Korean party daily article in 2016 covered South Korea’s candlelight revolution leading to the downfall of then-President Park Geun-hye. The article intended to criticize the South Korean government, but North Koreans were instead captivated by this rare glimpse of democracy in action. Humanitarian aid workers go where few others can. They have excellent insights and meaningful personal relationships with ordinary North Koreans. They tend to be careful because their continued access to helping the most vulnerable people inside North Korea is contingent upon them not publicly criticizing the regime. Foreign diplomats enjoy excellent access to North Korean personnel, but mostly with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, far from the inner core of power brokers who really run the state. Refugees who have escaped North Korea are the single best source of information with regards to their own direct experiences and relationships. But too often, the media asks refugees to foresee impossible-to-predict outcomes — “When will the next nuclear test be?” — or speculate about the leadership’s psychology — “Does Kim Jong Un really trust Donald Trump?” Avoid Mirror-Imaging: Many authors fall prey to the cognitive bias of mirror-imaging. For example, many analysts (and policymakers) believe that North Korea may be willing to denuclearize in exchange for economic benefits. It makes sense at face value: nearly half of the population are undernourished and GDP growth has stagnated due to the country’s self-imposed isolation. But the proposed rewards packages disregard North Korea’s unique political economy, in which a very narrow group of stakeholders enjoy a stranglehold over the country’s resources. Therefore, the regime perceives so-called economic inducements that undermine this delicate dynamic as poisonous carrots. Kim’s priority is not widespread economic development, but his own grip on power. To avoid mirror-imaging, it is essential to consider the problem from multiple perspectives in North Korea. Obsessing over the uniqueness of the Korean Peninsula is counter-productive to rigorous analysis. It’s important for analysts to zoom out in time and space to place incidents inside the context of larger trends. Not Everything Is About the United States: Authors too often assert that North Korea’s actions, ranging from weapons tests to key official statements, are to get “America’s attention.” Pyongyang’s actions are driven by a combination of domestic and external factors, and the United States may or may not be a top consideration. Sometimes, domestic factors are more at play. Kim Jong Il’s illness in the summer of 2008, and the need to assert his power at home and abroad, was presumably a key driving factor behind Pyongyang’s second nuclear test in May 2009. Sometimes tests are about the need to make progress in the country’s nuclear and missile programs. America is just one audience of many when North Korea publicizes its weapons tests. Similarly, the Kim regime first decided to develop a nuclear weapons program and still maintains it today not simply to deter the United States, but also to lessen security dependence on China (and the Soviet Union), compete with South Korea, and ensure the security of the regime. North Korea’s nuclear weapons support the Kim government’s maintenance of power. A trumped-up invasion threat legitimizes totalitarian control, and nuclear weapons are the symbol of the government’s capability to defend against this supposed threat. The unsavory implication of this rather inconvenient truth is that the United States and South Korea may therefore not be capable of giving North Korea’s leadership what it needs to denuclearize. Confusing Causality: A classic example of this is ascribing the cause of all North Korean missile launches to U.S.-South Korean military drills. Most of these military exercises are regularly scheduled, with different permutations occurring at different times throughout the year. The Korean People’s Army Strategic Force conducts missile tests to further the development of its designs under the guidance of the Kim regime. It is true that both the joint drills and the missile tests have previously been paused to accommodate negotiations, but it is erroneous to assume that one is always a response to the other. Know More than Just the Korean Peninsula: A single-minded focus on the Korean Peninsula to the exclusion of all else often leads to a tunnel view. For instance, we don’t have to wonder how North Korea might end its isolation and enter the global economic community — we can look at the journeys of other post-socialist states to help forecast the obstacles, opportunities, and priority areas of reform. A past report did just that. Such analysis is not possible without mobilizing functional knowledge and historical comparisons. Obsessing over the uniqueness of North Korea and declaring it the exception to every rule is the easy way out. Don’t Assume Too Much Chinese Influence: U.S. analysts and policymakers sometimes overestimate the extent of Beijing’s influence over Pyongyang. Authors too often presume that North Korea is subservient to China and therefore that Beijing can get Pyongyang to behave. This fundamentally misunderstands the dynamic between China and North Korea, which is perhaps better characterized as mutual hostages rather than unquestioning allies. Analysts made the same mistake in 1950 when the consensus judgment was that the Soviet Union would restrain China from intervening in Korea. North Korea eventually makes a fool out of most analysts brave enough to make a bold, specific prediction. However, this is no excuse to throw up our hands and declare “We cannot assess at this time.” It’s impossible to predict with certainty what specific actions North Korea will take and when, but good analysis reduces uncertainty by identifying patterns, interpreting symbols, and deciphering intent. This equips policymakers with the tools to create opportunities to redefine the relationship, avoid unnecessary conflict, and deter and defend against aggression.” (Markus Garlauskas, Rachel Minyoung Lee, and Jonathan Corrado “How to Avoid a Bad Take on a Hard Target: Analyzing North Korea the Right Way,” War on the Rocks, May 11, 2023)

5/16/23:
KCNA: “The non-permanent satellite- launching preparatory committee for launching the military reconnaissance satellite No. 1, which is composed of scientists and technicians of the DPRK Aerospace Development Administration, national defense scientific research institutes and universities and scientific research institutes at all levels of the DPRK, is pushing ahead with its work at the final stage amid an intensive campaign for bolstering up the self-defense capabilities to attain the major five-point goals for developing national defense capabilities set at the 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea. 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 (DPRK), guided the work of the non-permanent satellite-launching preparatory committee on the spot on May 16. The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un was greeted by leading officials of the Department of Munitions Industry and the Department of Science and Education of the Party Central Committee, members of the Aerospace Development Administration and the non-permanent satellite-launching preparatory committee. After acquainting himself in detail with the work of the committee, he inspected the military reconnaissance satellite No. 1 which is ready for loading after undergoing the final general assembly check and space environment test. He highly appreciated that the preparatory committee has fulfilled its duty and role in a responsible manner in the course of carrying out the important work for dramatically developing the military technology of the country. To successfully launch the military reconnaissance satellite is an urgent requirement of the prevailing security environment of the country, a process of correctly implementing our Party and government’s policy of bolstering up the defense capabilities on a top priority basis, and at the same time, a clear stride forward in developing the space military, science and technology of the country, he said, specifying the strategic goals to be attained continuously in the field of space research. Repeatedly stressing the strategic nature of possessing military reconnaissance satellites, he said that the more desperately the U.S. imperialists and south Korean puppet villains escalate their confrontational moves against the DPRK, the more fairly, squarely and offensively the DPRK will exercise its sovereignty and just right to self-defense to deter them and defend the country. He approved the future action plan of the preparatory committee.” (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Inspects Preparatory Committee for Launching Reconnaissance Satellite,” May 17, 2023)

5/20/23:
China’s exports to North Korea soared in April from a year earlier, with wigs and fertilizer among major shipments, Chinese customs data showed today. Chinese outbound shipments to the isolated country surged 69% year-on-year to $166 million in April, data released by China’s General Administration of Customs showed. The top export items in terms of value were processed hair and wool used in wigs, worth about $11.6 million, and diammonium hydrogen phosphate, a widely used fertilizer, worth $8.84 million. Pyongyang purchased $5.07 million of rice from China in April. In January-April, Chinese exports to North Korea leapt to $603 million from $270.59 million a year earlier, according to the customs data. (Reuters, “China’s Exports to North Korea Surged in April,” May 21, 2023)

5/21/23:
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol held a trilateral summit with U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida today on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit. (Yonhap, “Yoon, Biden, Kishida Hold Summit in Hiroshima,” May 21, 2023)

5/23/23:
The United States today imposed sanctions on four North Korean organizations and one North Korean national for engaging in illegal cyber activities that help fund the country’s illicit weapons development programs. The Department of Treasury said those put on the blacklist “obfuscated revenue generation and malicious cyber activities that support the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) government.” “The DPRK conducts malicious cyber activities and deploys information technology workers who fraudulently obtain employment to generate revenue, including in virtual currency, to support the Kim regime and its priorities, such as its unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs,” it added. The designated North Korean organizations include the Pyongyang University of Automation, which the department said is responsible for “training malicious cyber actors, many of whom go on to work in cyber units subordinate to the Reconnaissance General Bureau. The department also designated the “RGB-controlled Technical Reconnaissance Bureau and its subordinate cyber unit, the 110th Research Center.” “The DPRK-based Technical Reconnaissance Bureau leads the DPRK’s development of offensive cyber tactics and tools and operates several departments, including those affiliated with the Lazarus Group,” it said in a press release. Also designated are Chinyong Information Technology Cooperation Company, also known as Jinryong IT Cooperation Company, which “employs delegations of DPRK IT workers that operate in Russia and Laos,” and Kim Sang-man, a North Korean national based in Vladivostok who is “presumed to be involved in the payment of salaries to family members of Chinyong’s overseas DPRK worker delegations,” according to the treasury department. “One such representative of the Chinyong office located in Vladivostok, Russia, DPRK-national Kim Sang-man is presumed to be involved in he payment of salaries to family members of Chinyong’s overseas DPRK worker delegations,” said the press release. “Today’s action continues to highlight the DPRK’s extensive illicit cyber and IT worker operations, which finance the regime’s unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson was quoted as saying. “The United States and our partners remain committed to combating the DPRK’s illicit revenue generation activities and continued efforts to steal money from financial institutions, virtual currency exchanges, companies, and private individuals around the world,” Nelson added, according to the treasury department. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was taking steps in coordination with South Korea, which concurrently imposed unilateral sanctions on North Korean organizations and individuals associated with illicit cyber activities. “Today’s Treasury action includes three targets that the ROK recently designated for engaging in cyber operations and illicit revenue generation that support the DPRK’s WMD programs. We will not hesitate to continue holding the DPRK regime responsible for its actions,” Blinken said in a released statement, referring to South Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea. Seoul earlier said it was imposing sanctions on three organizations and seven individuals involved in North Korea’s illegal cyber activities. (Yonhap, “U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Four N. Korean Organizations, One Individual for Illegal Cyber Activities,” Korea Herald, May 24, 2023)

5/25/23:
The United States and South Korea held their largest-ever combined live-fire exercise on today at a training site just miles from the demilitarized zone as tensions remain high with nuclear-armed North Korea. Thursday’s drill, the first of its kind in six years, took place at the Seungjin Fire Training Field in Pocheon, 15 miles south of the inter-Korean border. The exercise demonstrated the “realization of ‘peace through strength’ with overwhelming cutting-edge military capabilities,” the South’s Ministry of National Defense said in a statement. It also commemorated the 70th anniversary of the U.S.-South Korea alliance and the 75th anniversary of the founding of the South Korean military, the ministry said. Some 2,500 troops and more than 600 assets, including F-35A stealth fighters, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and K2 tanks, took part before a crowd of soldiers and invited civilians watching from a viewing stand. North Korea has regularly condemned the allies’ joint exercises as preparation for an invasion. Last week, state-run Korean Central News Agency called the upcoming live-fire drill “a typical [N]orth-targeted war rehearsal.” “We cannot but take a more serious note of the fact that they are going to make gunfire in such dangerous war exercises, which will last for more than 20 days, frantically in an area only a few kilometers away from our front,” the unsigned KCNA commentary said. The allies “are bound to face corresponding responses for their madcap nuclear war racket,” the article added. After introductory videos and a high-volume playlist of martial songs and heavy metal music, rocket launchers began a barrage that struck targets across the training field, sending out thunderous shockwaves and clouds of billowing smoke. South Korean forces continued the assault with ground and air assets, including K2 battle tanks, K21 armored vehicles, F-35A fighters, AH-64E Apache and AH-1S Cobra attack helicopters. U.S. Forces Korea also deployed M270A1 multiple launch rocket systems, M1135 nuclear, biological, chemical, reconnaissance vehicles and Apache helicopters. The allies plan to stage the combined exercise four more times through June 15. (Thomas Maresca, “U.S., South Korea Hold Largest-Ever Live-Fire Drill near DMZ,” UPI, May 26, 2023) More than 600 weapons systems, including the latest fighter jets, tanks and drones, as well as 2,500 troops from South Korea and the United States participated, Thursday, in the first leg of their largest-ever live-fire ordnance drills. F-35A stealth jets, AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzers, K2 Black Panther tanks and Nuclear Biological Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicles of the U.S. were among those mobilized for the exercises conducted at Seungjin Fire Training Field in Pocheon, a city less than 40 kilometers away from the inter-Korean border. Under a scenario of a North Korean invasion, initiated with barrages from self-propelled artillery guns, the allies responded immediately by mobilizing K-9 self-propelled howitzers as well as 239-millimeter Chunmoo rockets to destroy not only the North’s artillery corps but also their command and control facility. In the following scenario where the North began an all-out attempt to dominate the border region, the allies deployed dozens of unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles to gather key data before concentrating their firepower on its most vulnerable targets to incapacitate the enemy forces. The Joint Firing Destruction Drills have been conducted 11 times since 1977. Then President Park Geun-hye watched the drills in person at the training facility on Aug. 28, 2015, amid rising tensions following North Korea’s threat to attack South Korea’s loudspeakers installed near the Demilitarized Zone. The previous training was carried out in 2017, with more than 2,000 troops participating. The allies are scheduled to continue their gunnery exercises on June 2, 7, 12, and 15 before wrapping them up. (Jung Min-ho, “Hundreds of Weapons Systems Mobilized for ROK-U.S. Live-Fire Drills,” Korea Times, May 25, 2023)

5/26/23:
South Korea’s main satellite has successfully entered orbit and made multiple communications with ground stations, the science ministry said today. NEXTSAT-2 was deployed from South Korea’s homegrown space rocket Nuri on yesterday evening, followed by seven microsatellites at 20 second intervals. Korea’s King Sejong Station in Antarctica received the first signal from NEXTSAT-2 at 7:07 p.m. yesterday and a ground station in South Korea’s central city of Daejeon also communicated with the satellite some 50 minutes later, according to the Ministry of Science and ICT. NEXTSAT-2 also made two-way communications seven times with the Daejeon station and other overseas posts earlier Friday, the ministry said. All of the satellite’s operational functions, including power generation and data processing, are working well, it added. NEXTSAT-2 — the 180-kilogram satellite designed and developed by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) — will demonstrate X-band radar technology and measure space radiation on a dawn-dusk orbit for the next two years. The ministry said two of the four microsatellites developed by the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, codenamed SNIPE, have made communications with ground stations since they were put into space last night. The ministry earlier confirmed that three of the four SNIPE satellites were deployed from Nuri, saying the final one’s status remains unknown. Two of the three others — the JAC by the Korean engineering company Justek Inc., the LUMIR-T1 by the local space firm Lumir Inc. and the KSAT3U by startup Kairospace Co. — have corresponded with ground stations. The ministry said it will make constant efforts to make contact with the three satellites that remain silent. (Yonhap, “Nuri’s Main Payload NEXTSAT-2 Enters Orbit, Makes Contact with Earth,” May 26, 2023)

5/29/23:
KCNA: “The military tension on the Korean Peninsula and in the region is being further heightened due to the U.S. and south Korea’s military moves against the DPRK in which their aggressive nature is becoming reckless. In this regard, Ri Pyong Chol, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea, made public the following stand for bolstering up the capability for self-defense through the Korean Central News Agency on May 29: The U.S. forces and the south Korean puppet army are staging the largest-ever “combined joint fire annihilation drill” in Phochon, Kyonggi Province of south Korea adjacent to the Military Demarcation Line for the first time in six years. The drill aimed to “annihilate” the belligerent party in a true sense of the word will be staged one after another until mid-June. Involved there are various types of offensive arms and equipment of the U.S. forces in south Korea and the puppet army. Along with this, the U.S. is also scheming to launch a “proliferation security initiative” (PSI) which made the sea blockade against a sovereign state a fait accompli by rallying not only south Korea but also Japan, Australia and other followers under the pretext of ” non-proliferation of WMDs ” from the end of May. The U.S. navy’s strategic nuclear submarine will soon be deployed in south Korea for the first time in more than 40 years according to the “Washington Declaration” in which the U.S. and south Korea documented the plan for using nuclear weapons against the DPRK in late April. What should not be overlooked is the fact that the U.S. forces have recently conducted hostile air espionage activities on the Korean Peninsula and in its vicinity on an unprecedented level by mobilizing various air reconnaissance means deployed in the theatre of the Asia-Pacific operations. In May, the U.S. Air Force RC-135Ss, which had been mobilized to monitor the eastern area of the DPRK outside the exclusive economic zone of the East Sea of Korea, have flown the sky above the West Sea of Korea to constantly conduct surveillance and reconnaissance on the strategic depth of our territory. And various air reconnaissance means, including U-2 high-altitude strategic reconnaissance plane and unmanned fighter, MQ-9 and RQ-4B, are coming close to the sky above frontline maritime of the West Sea of Korea not far away from the Military Demarcation Line and committing espionage acts on the DPRK, especially on the western area, with an extremely provocative and dangerous mode. The operational radius and watch range of the air reconnaissance assets of the U.S. forces deployed in the Korean Peninsula and acting there comprise the northwestern area of the DPRK including the capital city of Pyongyang and the depth of a neighboring state and its capital, which pose a serious threat to the DPRK and its neighboring states. Such air reconnaissance extremely overheating the military tensions in the region clearly show the sinister intention of the U.S.-led allied forces to carry out the plan for a preemptive military act against the DPRK, based on overwhelming reconnaissance and information force, in an emergency. And it also fully proves how the enemy is making preparations for the military act of aggression on the DPRK. With the visit by the U.S. secretary of Defense to south Korea as a momentum, this year has witnessed the deployment of U.S. nuclear strategic offensive means on the Korean Peninsula raised to the level of the constant deployment, the U.S.-south Korea joint drills unprecedented in terms of the scale and period and the air reconnaissance staged on the unprecedented level, all of which are the striking examples showing the present security situation of the Korean Peninsula and have explosion potentiality which would bring a very dangerous subsequent storm and backward flow to the regional situation. The concerning security environment prevailing in the region owing to the dangerous military acts by the U.S. and its vassal forces requires us to secure as the most pressing task a reliable reconnaissance and information means capable of gathering information about the military acts of the enemy in real time. So the 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the six rounds of subsequent plenary meetings of the Party Central Committee set our armed forces a pressing task and issued an order to take a legal-defense measure. The DPRK’s military reconnaissance satellite No. 1 to be launched in June and various reconnaissance means due to be newly tested are indispensable to tracking, monitoring, discriminating, controlling and coping with in advance in real time the dangerous military acts of the U.S. and its vassal forces openly revealing their reckless ambition for aggression as time passes by and to strengthening the military preparedness of the armed forces of the DPRK. Under the present situation brought by the reckless military acts by the U.S. and south Korea, we steadily feel the need to expand reconnaissance and information means and improve various defensive and offensive weapons and have the timetables for carrying out their development plans. We will comprehensively consider the present and future threats and put into more thoroughgoing practice the activities for strengthening all-inclusive and practical war deterrents. The armed forces of the DPRK will discharge in a responsible manner its important mission for reliably defending the state’s sovereignty and security.” (KCNA, “Ri Pyong Chol Makes Public Stand for Bolstering up Capability for Self-Defense,” May 30. 2023)

A statement issued in the name of Vice Foreign Minister Pak Sang Gil asserted that “It is the stand of the DPRK government that if Japan tries to make a new decision from a broad perspective of recognizing each other as it is intact in conformity with the changed international trend and the times, not being shackled by the past, and seeks a way out for improving the relations, there is no reason for the DPRK and Japan not to meet.” (Isozaki Atsuhito, “North Korea: Kim Jong Il and Kim Yo Jung’s First Messages to Japan,” The Diplomat, March 10, 2024)

5/31/23:
KCNA: “The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) made public the following report on Wednesday as regards an accident occurred during the launch of military reconnaissance satellite: The National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) of the DPRK launched a military reconnaissance satellite, “Malligyong-1”, mounted on a new-type carrier rocket, “Chollima-1”, at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in Cholsan County of North Phyongan Province at 6:27 on May 31, Juche 112 (2023), as scheduled. The carrier rocket “Chollima-1” fell to the West Sea of Korea after losing thrust due to the abnormal starting of the second-stage engine after the separation of the first stage during the normal flight. The NADA spokesperson attributed the failure to the low reliability and stability of the new-type engine system applied to carrier rocket “Chollima-1” and the unstable character of the fuel used, saying that scientists, technicians and experts concerned start discovering concrete causes. The NADA said that it would thoroughly investigate the serious defects revealed in the satellite launch, take urgent scientific and technological measures to overcome them and conduct the second launch as soon as possible through various part tests.” (“KCNA Report,” May 31,2023)

North Korea fired what it claims to be a “space launch vehicle” southward today, but it fell into the Yellow Sea after an “abnormal” flight, the South Korean military said, in a botched launch that defied international criticism and warnings. The North confirmed the failure, saying its new “Chollima-1” rocket carrying a military reconnaissance satellite, “Malligyong-1,” fell into the sea due to the “abnormal starting of the second-stage engine,” according to its official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). It plans to conduct a second launch as soon as possible, the KCNA said. Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch from Tongchang-ri on the North’s west coast at 6:29 a.m. and the projectile fell into waters some 200 kilometers west of the South’s southwestern island of Eocheong following its flight over the waters far west of the border island of Baengnyeong. The South Korean military retrieved an apparent part of the North’s vehicle in the Yellow Sea, the JCS said. It was a cylinder-shaped object thought to have been used to connect the first and second stages of the rocket. Such a part could shed light on the makeup of the rocket and the North’s technological progress, observers said. The North notified Japan and the International Maritime Organization of its plan earlier this week to launch a satellite between Wednesday and June 11 despite criticism that it would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions banning any launch using ballistic missile technology. The recalcitrant regime last launched a rocket carrying what it called a “Kwangmyongsong-4” satellite in February 2016. After the latest launch, the presidential office convened an emergency standing committee session of the National Security Council, which condemned the launch as a “serious provocation” that threatens peace on the Korean Peninsula and in the international community. President Yoon Suk Yeol was immediately briefed on the launch and continued to be updated in real time, according to his office. The United States denounced the North’s launch, the White House said, noting President Joe Biden and his security team are assessing the situation in coordination with the allies and partners. “The United States strongly condemns the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) for its launch using ballistic missile technology, which is a brazen violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, raises tensions, and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region and beyond,” National Security Council spokesperson Adam Hodge said in a statement. DPRK is the North’s official name. In a separate release, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command stressed the “ironclad” security commitment to South Korea and Japan, saying it will continue to monitor the situation. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “strongly” condemned the launch and reiterated his call for Pyongyang to cease such acts and to “swiftly” resume dialogue for peace, his spokesperson said in a statement. The top nuclear envoys of South Korea, the United States and Japan held three-way phone talks and also “strongly condemned” the launch, saying that it cannot be justified in any way, according to Seoul’s foreign ministry. Observers said that the North appears intent to secure intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets as it is far behind the allies in ISR capabilities despite its focus on developing an array of formidable weapons systems, such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles and tactical nuclear arms. Seoul plans to launch its first military surveillance satellite in November under a project to deploy a total of five such satellites by the mid-2020s. The North previously launched what it called a satellite-carrying rocket six times — once each in 1998, 2006, 2009 and 2016, and twice in 2012 — according to Seoul’s defense ministry. The North claimed to have put a satellite into orbit after its launch in December 2012 and 2016. But it remains unknown whether they have been functioning normally. (Song Sang-ho and Chae Yun-hwan, “N. Korea’s 1st Attempt to Launch a Spy Satellite Fails after ‘Abnormal’ Flight: S. Korean Military,” Yonhap, May 31, 2023) The emergency siren began wailing at 6:32 a.m. Several minutes later, personal cellphones around Seoul were screeching with a government alert urging residents to “prepare to evacuate,” children and the old and weak first. For a half an hour this morning, confusion and panic swept across this city of 10 million as news spread that North Korea had fired a rocket. Then, the next wave of messages hit: The South’s home ministry issued a notice saying the earlier alert was a “false alarm.” Anxiety soon turned into anger and exasperation. “They messed up big time,” said Lee Jae, an office worker in Seoul who woke up to the sirens. South Koreans, who have grown inured to North Korea’s frequent provocations, were met with a disturbing taste of how their country might respond to a major military attack today when their government caused confusion with its public alert system at a time of heightened tension in the region. The confusion began after North Korea launched a rocket from the northwestern tip of the Korean Peninsula at 6:27 a.m. For days, the North had told the world that it was preparing to launch a rocket that would carry a homegrown military spy satellite into orbit, despite the action violating multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions. Data the North had released on the rocket’s preprogrammed trajectory showed that it would fly south, over the sea between the Korean Peninsula and China, and over the waters east of the Philippines. It is rare for a North Korean projectile to fly to the south. In 2016, when a North Korean rocket carrying a satellite flew on a southbound trajectory, South Korea issued an alert on Baekryeongdo, an island near the northwestern border with the North. Two minutes after the liftoff today, South Korea issued a similar alert on Baekryeongdo, but officials were investigating why the same alert was also issued to Seoul, even though the rocket flew hundreds of kilometers west of the city. After issuing the alert on Baekryeongdo, the home ministry left it to regional governments to decide whether to follow suit, according the Seoul city government. Officials in Seoul said they decided to issue an alert in the city as a precaution, even if they had to retract it. The mayor of Seoul later issued a public apology. For Chung Sung-hee, 62, the confusing response was infuriating. Ms. Chung said she was preparing breakfast at her home in central Seoul when she heard the phone alert, followed by a loudspeaker broadcast. When she opened the window and trained her ears, all she could make out was that it was “a real situation,” not a drill. “They should’ve said what was happening, and where to go,” Ms. Chung said. “Who would evacuate with a message like that?” When she got the second alert saying it was a false alarm, Ms. Chung said she couldn’t help but curse the authorities. “I blurted out, ‘These crazies — isn’t there one thing they can do right?’” she said. “The government should tell you, ‘this is the situation.’ If they out of nowhere just say ‘evacuate,’ what’s anyone to do?” South Koreans harbor deep skepticism over their government’s ability to handle major disasters. The government of President Yoon Suk Yeol was widely accused of failing to prevent or respond quickly enough to the deadly crowd crush in Seoul that killed nearly 160 people in October. Critics say that the response on Wednesday was symptomatic of an administration that has championed a tough stance against North Korea yet failed to assure the public of its safety amid the North’s growing nuclear threat. “It’s right for the Yoon government to have a sense of crisis with North Korea,” said Ahn Byong-jin, a political scientist at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. “But there has been little training for the general public on how to live with it. The commotion we had this morning encapsulates how the government is failing to understand and respond to this new normal with North Korea.” Min Yun-geun, a college student in Seoul, feared that false alarms, if repeated, might desensitize people to actual emergencies. “I’m realizing how we are actually not so prepared for war,” he said. Yoon’s office condemned the North’s rocket launch as a “grave provocation,” calling it a long-range missile test disguised as a satellite launch. By launching a rocket toward the south and attempting to place a military spy satellite into orbit, the North was escalating its nuclear threat, said Lee Byong-chul, a researcher on nuclear policy at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul. “North Korea has already shown that its missiles are powerful enough to fly the distances it wanted, but what it lacks is an ability to guide them to targets with precision,” Lee said. “Military spy satellites can help provide the North with that capability.” Though some were frustrated by the South Korean government’s response to the launch, others said they would rather have officials err on the side of caution in such situations. “It’s better that they did it and get chewed out than not doing anything and getting chewed out,” said Lee Jae-hee, 45. After he saw the alert, Lee said he saw a news report that it was about the space launch the North had warned it would conduct and fell back asleep. “If you’re hearing buildings blow up and things roaring, it’s probably too late to go anywhere anyway,” he said with a shrug. South Korea regularly conducted civil defense drills during the Cold War, with sirens wailing and megaphones urging people to take shelter in subway stations, underground parking lots and basem*nts of large buildings. Streets were vacated of traffic. The country now has thousands of underground shelters for emergencies. But those drills have become a distant memory for many across the country, particularly after Seoul began to engage in more diplomacy with North Korea under Yoon’s predecessor, Moon Jae-in. South Korea last conducted an air-raid drill in 2017. As tensions in the region rise, Yoon’s government has been slow to reintroduce civil defense drills. On May 16, South Korea conducted its first nationwide civil defense exercise in six years, but it was limited to public servants and schoolchildren. Jeung Yeon-cheon, 36, who lives on the 18th floor of an apartment building in Seoul, said he participated in the May training, though he thought that any risk of a North Korean attack felt remote. He quickly dismissed the alarm as a blip. “It didn’t feel that serious,” he said. (Choe Sang-Hun, Victoria Kim, and Jin Yu Young, “Seoul Awoke to Order, ‘Prepare to Evacuate.’ It Was a False Alarm,” New York Times, June 1, 2023, p. A-9)

The satellite that North Korea attempted to put into orbit in May was so rudimentary that it could never serve as a functioning spy satellite as North Korea wished, the South Korean military said on Wednesday. North Korea launched a new rocket, the Collima-1, on May 31, with the hope of putting its first military reconnaissance satellite, the Malligyong-1, into orbit. The rocket, which set off alarms and a false evacuation order in Seoul, malfunctioned and crashed into the sea off South Korea’s west coast shortly after launch. South Korea sent military aircraft, vessels and deep-sea divers to search for debris that would yield clues about the North’s rocket and satellite technology. The South had already salvaged parts of the rocket but confirmed on Wednesday that its military had also salvaged “key components” of the satellite. After analyzing the debris from the failed rocket launch, experts in South Korea and the United States concluded that the satellite “had no military use at all as a reconnaissance satellite,” the South Korean Defense Ministry said in a news release on July 5. (Choe Sang-Hun, “Seoul Mocks Spy Satellite as Primitive,” New York Times, July 6, 2023, p. A-7)

Van Diepen: “North Korea’s initial launch on May 31 of the new “Chollima-1” space launch vehicle (SLV), carrying the new “Malligyong-1” military reconnaissance satellite, was unsuccessful; the second stage booster apparently failed to ignite. Based on photos of the launch released in North Korean media, the first stage of the new SLV is based on the Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The second and third stages appear to be optimized for space launch, with new engines and apparently differences in propellant. The cause of the failure is unknown, but South Korean authorities are working to recover the second and third stages, and perhaps even the payload, from the Yellow Sea, which would shed more light on their capabilities. The SLV was launched from a new pad at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station built in just over a month, underscoring the political impetus of the launch and the overall satellite program. Pyongyang has pledged to conduct another reconnaissance satellite launch as soon as possible, which could take months from a technical standpoint, but could also occur sooner if the regime has political reasons to do so. Based on previous statements the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) has made about its satellite ambitions, we can expect multiple launches over the next several years once the Chollima-1’s problems are resolved, if North Korea can keep up production of reliable satellites within the SLV’s payload capability. The regime’s plans for networks of reconnaissance, weather, earth observation, and communication satellites also make it likely that a larger SLV is in development, as suggested by modifications since March 2022 at the original Sohae launch pad. On May 31, North Korea announced it had conducted the first launch of a “new-type” SLV, the “Chollima-1,” from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station on the country’s northwest coast. (Chollima is a mythological horse “synonymous with great speed and progress in the DPRK.”) The SLV was reportedly carrying the “military reconnaissance satellite, ‘Malligyong (telescope)-1.’” According to the announcement, the SLV failed “after losing thrust due to the abnormal starting of the second-stage engine after the separation of the first stage during the normal flight.” That failure was attributed to “the low reliability and stability of the new-type engine system applied to carrier rocket ‘Chollima-1’ and the unstable character of the fuel used.” The National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA), North Korea’s space agency, undertook to “thoroughly investigate the serious defects revealed in the satellite launch, take urgent scientific and technological measures to overcome them and conduct the second launch as soon as possible through various part tests.” South Korea confirmed the timing and location of the failed launch and released photographs of a 15-meter portion of the booster found in the Yellow Sea about 270 kilometers off its west coast. The following day, the North released two photographs showing what appeared to be a three-stage SLV with a large payload fairing, rising above a newly constructed launch pad at Sohae. Analysis The Chollima-1 is, indeed, a new type of SLV that is distinct from its ICBMs, although, as noted below, its first stage is based on the Hwasong (HS)-17 ICBM. The new SLV appeared to have been depicted in a blurred-over image of a display seen during Kim Jong Un’s visit to NADA in April. The upper stages probably have been designed for long-burning, low-thrust flight to maximize the ability to put a satellite into orbit and limit unnecessary vibration effects on a satellite payload. The nature of the exhaust plume from the first stage indicated the use of liquid propellants, and the first-stage engines appeared to be the same type used on the HS-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) and HS-15 and HS-17 ICBMs. According to one analyst, the North Korean photos indicate the first stage uses the engines in the same configuration as the HS-17 (two twin-chambered rocket engines, for a total of four rocket nozzles), and the overall SLV is about 29 meters long (including nozzles). The HS-17 has the most powerful North Korean booster seen to date, and even in an ICBM configuration should be able to put about 400 kilograms into the 500-km orbit apparently intended on May 31, compared to about 200 kg for the previous Unha (Taepodong-2) SLV. Differences in the opacity of the rocket plume from previous HS-12/-15/-17 launches seen in the North Korean photographs, and post-launch imagery of the launch pad showing a light gray residue apparently deposited by the first-stage burn, suggest the first-stage propellants may have been modified in some way. Unlike the continuous-diameter two-stage HS-17, the Chollima-1 uses a second and third stage with a smaller diameter than the first. Assuming the Chollima-1’s first stage is the same diameter as the HS-17 (about 2.6 meters), this same analyst estimates the two upper stages to each be about 2.1 meters in diameter — in between the HS-12 IRBM (1.65 meters) and HS-15 ICBM (about 2.25 meters) and thus further consistent with the use of a “new-type engine system” as claimed by North Korea. The 15-meter booster portion found by South Korea is consistent with the estimated combined length of the Chollima-1’s second and third stages, suggesting the “abnormal starting of the second-stage engine” also resulted in the third stage failing to separate. The failure of the SLV’s second stage, as reported in North Korean media, supports the idea that it contained a new-type engine, which would carry a higher risk of failure than the relatively well-proven ballistic missile engines used in the first stage. Based on the photos of the booster portion found by South Korea and its location relative to the danger areas announced by the North Koreans prior to launch, the second stage does not appear to have ignited at all. The North Korean coverage also mentioned “the unstable character of the fuel used” in conjunction with the “new-type engine system,” presumably in the second stage. It is unclear what propellants were used in the Chollima-1’s upper stages or what “unstable character” they possessed that might have contributed to the failure. South Korea will hopefully be able to answer these kinds of questions once it recovers and analyzes the launch debris. We do not know how much the Malligyong-1 satellite weighed or how capable its imaging system was. A satellite seen in photographs of Kim Jong Un’s May 16 visit to NADA to inspect the “military reconnaissance satellite No. 1,” said to be “ready for loading after undergoing the final general assembly check and space environment test,” was estimated to have dimensions of some 1.5 by 1.2 by 0.6 meters and to weigh between 200 and 500 kilograms. We also do not know if the SLV’s third stage was intended to boost the satellite into its final orbit or if the payload also included an apogee motor (or “kick motor”) for that purpose; the weight of any such motor is unknown. The failure of the Chollima-1 after the first stage operation deprived us of important information on how much payload the SLV is capable of putting into orbit. It remains possible that South Korea will locate the remains of the payload. Satellite launches are apparently an important enough objective, both politically and substantively, for North Korea to devote the resources necessary to develop an optimized SLV. But the seven-year hiatus between space launches, during which Pyongyang has launched scores of ballistic missiles, including four new types of ICBM, indicates space takes a distinct back seat to the ballistic missile force. To the extent it had used SLV launches in the past as a stalking horse for ICBM development, such an artifice is no longer necessary, given Pyongyang’s open testing of ICBMs since 2017. North Korea clearly has good substantive reasons to possess reconnaissance satellites, as well as the weather, earth observation and communication satellites Kim Jong Un has mentioned seeking. But Kim has also noted space as “a demonstration of the overall national power” and has gone out of his way to associate himself with the North’s space program and use it as a source of national prestige and both domestic and international propaganda. The importance of political motivations was clearly shown in the circ*mstances leading up to the Chollima-1 launch, calling into question assessments that the advent of the satellite program “shows a shift toward practical rather than political goals.” On April 18, Kim Jong Un visited NADA and “set forth the militant task to organize a non-permanent satellite-launching preparatory committee to make sure that the military reconnaissance satellite No. 1 completed as of April will be launched at the planned date, [and] speed up its final preparations…” The new launch pad at Sohae used in the May 31 launch began construction between April 19 and 30, according to analysis of commercial imagery. North Korea notified the proper Japanese authorities under International Maritime Organization (IMO) procedures on May 29 of a forthcoming satellite launch between May 31 and June 11. On May 30, the Vice Chairman of the Central Military Committee noted that “military reconnaissance satellite No. 1” is “to be launched in June.” Commercial imagery also showed the new pad and associated facilities — including a launch stand, SLV erector, and a retractable shelter able to cover the launch area — had been completed between May 22 and 30, an unusually short amount of time of roughly a month from start to finish. Some have also speculated the Chollima-1 launch was intended to preempt or match South Korea’s launch of a satellite on its Nuri SLV. On April 11, South Korea announced it would conduct the Nuri’s second launch of a satellite on May 24, and the launch occurred on May 25. This possibility cannot be ruled out. The quick construction of the Chollima-1 launch site also raises the intriguing possibility that the SLV itself was rushed into development, or at least rushed to launch, which might help explain the failure of the second stage during the May 31 launch. North Korea’s May 31 announcement made clear that another reconnaissance satellite launch will occur “as soon as possible.” That announcement described a fairly methodical series of steps that would be taken to diagnose and resolve the cause of the Chollima-1 failure, including “various part tests” of presumably the relevant second-stage components and any fixes. From a technical standpoint, the amount of time required for this would probably be on the order of months, depending on how useful the telemetry data Pyongyang received from the SLV was, the difficulty of diagnosing and resolving any problems, and the degree of ground testing chosen to confirm the fixes and check out the entire SLV once modified. For example, the North took eight months from the April 2012 in-flight failure of the Unha SLV to launch again. But if Kim Jong Un decides another launch needs to occur sooner for political reasons, that will almost certainly take precedence despite how unready the Chollima and its developers may be. Kim noted during his April 18 NADA visit the need for “deploying several reconnaissance satellites on different orbits in succession in the future.” Such a network would be necessary to ensure a large enough volume and frequency of imagery collection to make a military difference. Adding in the weather, earth observation, and communication satellites Kim has endorsed, each of which would need small networks of their own, we can expect quite a few satellite launches over the next several years after the Chollima-1’s problems are resolved, assuming North Korea can keep up production of reliable satellites within the SLV’s payload capability. Pyongyang may choose not to pre-notify SLV launches in the future, as it threatened on June 4 in reaction to the IMO’s condemnation of the May 31 launch. The apparent need for more satellites in orbit, and presumably for larger satellites over time, highlights the Chollima-1’s likely payload limitations and makes a case for larger SLVs in the future. North Korea is reportedly also interested in launching multiple satellites on a single SLV, which would be easier with a larger SLV. One explanation for why the North Koreans hastily constructed a new launch pad for the Chollima-1 rather than use the preexisting launch pad is that the latter has been under modification since March 2022 for an even larger new SLV. We should expect to see further evidence of a larger SLV soon and expect progressively larger North Korean SLVs to be developed over the next several years.” (Vann H. Van Diepen,”First Flight of North Korea’s ‘Chollima-1’ SLV Fails, but More Launches and More New SLVs Are Likely,” 38North, June 7, 2023)

6/1/23:
WPK Central Committee Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jong press statement titled “No one can deny the DPRK’s sovereign right to satellite launch”: “The U.S. is openly revealing its inveterate hostility toward the DPRK over its military reconnaissance satellite launch belonging to its right to self-defense.A spokesperson for the National Security Council of the White House on Wednesday clamored that all countries should denounce the DPRK’s military satellite launch, saying there is a danger of unnecessarily escalating tension and destabilizing the regional security as it is an open violation of the UNSC’s “resolution.” It is neither surprising nor new, but the U.S. is letting loose a hackneyed gibberish prompted by its brigandish and abnormal thinking. Who is escalating the tension unnecessarily and destabilizing the regional security situation? If the DPRK’s satellite launch should be particularly censured, the U.S. and all other countries, which have already launched thousands of satellites, should be denounced. This is nothing but sophism of self-contradiction. The far-fetched logic that only the DPRK should not be allowed to do so according to the UNSC’s “resolution” which bans the use of ballistic rocket technology irrespective of its purpose, though other countries are doing so, is clearly a gangster-like and wrong one of seriously violating the DPRK’s right to use space and illegally oppressing it. It is pitiful that the U.S.-style gangster-like logic was stipulated in the UNSC’s “resolution.” The U.S. is a group of gangsters who would claim that even if the DPRK launches a satellite in space orbit through balloon, it is illegal and threatening. It is the “tragedy of the U.S.” in the 21st century that it can never give a correct answer with a wrong formula and has not discarded misunderstanding of it. The U.S. should cool its head heated with confrontation hysteria and clearly look into the UN Charter and the provisions of the space treaty once again before groundlessly denying and pulling up a sovereign state over its satellite launch and its right to space development. Even at this moment, the U.S. is absorbed in watching every movement of the DPRK with sharp eyes after flying a lot of reconnaissance satellites, high altitude unmanned reconnaissance planes and all other reconnaissance assets in the sky above the Korean Peninsula. It is just like a guilty party filing the suit first and illogical to pull up the DPRK over its military reconnaissance satellite launch. The U.S. should no longer have illusion nor be overconfident itself. No one vested the U.S. with the authority to take issue with the sovereign right of a specified state. Taking this opportunity, we would like to once again clearly warn the U.S., which is trying to blind and deafen the eyes and ears of the international community with such honeyed dialogue ballad as “door of diplomacy” and “sincere negotiation.” We have no content of dialogue and do not feel the necessity of dialogue with the U.S. and its stooges that oft-repeat the “end of regime” and the “overthrow of system”. We will continue our-style counteraction in a more offensive attitude so that they should not but realize that they will have nothing to benefit from the extension of the hostile policy toward the DPRK and how dangerous their pursuit of confrontation with the DPRK is. We are ready to do whatever to defend our sovereign right and interests. Reading the psychology of the U.S. and its stooges that are so uneasy about the DPRK’s military reconnaissance satellite issue, we confirmed once again that the enemies are most afraid of the DPRK’s access to excellent reconnaissance and information means including reconnaissance satellite and, accordingly, we are aware that we should direct greater efforts to developing reconnaissance means. It is certain that the DPRK’s military reconnaissance satellite will soon start its mission on a space orbit. We are well aware of the protracted nature of the confrontation with the U.S. and will make all efforts to bolster up war deterrent in an all-inclusive direction, being conscious of the long-term threats and challenges. If the U.S. and its stooges continue to commit rash acts of infringing upon our sovereign right, we will never remain an onlooker to them.” (KCNA, “Kim Yo Jong, Vice Department Director of C.C., WPK Releases Press Statement,” June 1, 2023)

DPRK Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Son Gyong press statement titled “Dangerous sea intercepting drill escalating the regional tension”: “The U.S. and the south Korean puppets are persistently resorting to the saber-rattling against the DPRK despite deep concern and protest of the international community. The U.S., which staged the actual nuclear war exercises Freedom Shield and “combined joint formation drill” in the light of its form and contents in March and April, is going to stage a sea intercepting drill together with Japan, south Korean puppets, Australia and other vassal forces according to the “Proliferation Security Initiative” (PSI) in the open waters off the South Sea of Korea in late May. The U.S. cooked up PSI in 2003. In the past 20 years it has systematically expanded it and tried to use it as means for pressurizing the anti-U.S. independent countries. It is illogical and mockery of the international law for the U.S., the world’s biggest proliferator of WMDs and direct destroyer of international nuclear non-proliferation system, to talk about the control of someone’s “WMD proliferation.” This is evidenced by the fact that the U.S. openly connived at Israel’s possession of nukes and cooked up a nuclear proliferation mechanism called AUKUS to destroy the international nuclear non-proliferation system by itself. It is just like a guilty party filing the suit first that the U.S., which has built bio-chemical weapon laboratories in south Korea, Ukraine and other regions and unhesitatingly spread WMDs to the whole world, is talking about “non-proliferation.” The main purpose of the U.S. that fabricated the PSI is to legalize unilateral maritime transport interception and blockade against those countries which are not obedient to it and thus realize its strategy for hegemony. The U.S. and the south Korean puppet military are making far-fetched assertions that the drill is aimed at “defense” and “non-proliferation” but in view of the scale of the forces and the performance of equipment involved in the drill, it is quite clear that they are extremely dangerous military exercises for bolstering up the maritime operation capability with Japan and south Korean puppets in the Korean Peninsula and for perfecting the overall embargo on the export and preparations for preemptive attack on a specified state in contingency. The drill is being staged at a time when the U.S. and the south Korean puppets are going to stage the largest-ever “combined joint fire annihilation drill” in particular, which adds to the gravity and danger of the situation. The drill is being staged in the place adjacent to the sensitive waters where disputes over the issue of dominium continue. This shows that the sea intercepting drill has a multi-purpose nature to put pressure on the neighboring countries of the DPRK. The recent drill will be a catalyst for escalating the tension in Northeast Asia as it is being staged at a time when the U.S. has recently shipped various types of warships into the Straits of Taiwan under the pretext of “freedom of navigation” and NATO member states continue to take part in the U.S.-led joint military exercises in the Asia-Pacific. As the U.S. is steadily expanding the multi-national military cooperation frameworks such as PSI, the possibility of catastrophic military conflict in Northeast Asia is turning into reality day by day. All the facts clearly prove once again that the U.S. is chiefly to blame for heightening tension and increasing the danger of a nuclear war in the Korean Peninsula. If the U.S. and its vassal forces attempt to impose any hostile blockade on the DPRK or infringe upon our inviolable sovereignty even a bit, the armed forces of the DPRK will regard it as a declaration of war against it. The U.S. should stop at once the hostile acts of destabilizing the situation in the Korean Peninsula, bearing in mind that the ceaseless and dangerous war gambles being staged before our eyes will result in leading it to self-destruction.” (KCNA, Kim Son Gyong, Vice Foreign Minister of DPRK, Releases Press Statement,” June 1, 2023)

6/3/23:
Japan, the United States and South Korea agreed today to launch a system that will allow information about North Korean missiles to be shared in real-time by the end of this year, amid Pyongyang’s repeated ballistic missile tests. In a joint statement issued following their talks on the sidelines of the Asia Security Summit in Singapore, Japanese Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu and his U.S. and South Korean counterparts, Lloyd Austin and Lee Jong Sup, said they will “make further progress” toward making the new system operational “over the next few months.” The first talks between the three countries’ defense ministers since June last year took place on the fringes of the three-day summit in the Southeast Asian city-state, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, which began yesterday. The planned information-sharing system will enable the three nations to detect and track projectiles fired by the North more accurately and swiftly, and will be “a major step for deterrence, peace and stability,” the statement said. The ministers also pledged to hold three-way missile defense drills, alongside anti-submarine drills, on a regular basis in response to North Korea’s actions, as well as to act as a deterrent. Japan and South Korea will share real-time information via the United States, since the two U.S. security allies in East Asia do not have a direct communication mechanism established. Washington has a system that is linked with Tokyo and Seoul individually for tracking Pyongyang’s missiles from launch to impact. The envisaged framework “will improve each country’s ability to detect and assess the threat of North Korean missiles,” Hamada told reporters after the trilateral gathering, adding that details are still being worked out. Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol agreed at a meeting in Cambodia last November to share North Korean missile warning data in real-time. (Kyodo, “Japan, U.S., South Korea to Launch System to Share North Korea Missile Info,” June 3, 2023)

6/6/23:
Four Chinese and four Russian military planes entered South Korea’s air defense identification zone (KADIZ) without notice today, Seoul’s military said, prompting the South Korean Air Force to send its fighter jets to the scene. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said that between 11:52 a.m. and 1:49 p.m., the Chinese and Russian aircraft entered the southern and eastern parts of the KADIZ, respectively, and exited it. They did not violate South Korea’s air space, it added. “Our military identified the Chinese and Russian planes before their entry into the KADIZ and deployed Air Force fighters to conduct tactical steps in preparation against potential accidental situations,” the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters. (Yonhap, “4 Chinese, 4 Russian Military Planes Enter S. Korea’s Air Defense Zone without Warning,” June 6, 2023)

6/12/23:
KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, sent a message of greeting to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, president of the Russian Federation, on Monday [today]. He in the message offered warm congratulations on behalf of the government of the DPRK and its people to the president and the government of the Russian Federation and the friendly Russian people on their national day. The message appreciated that the strong and wise Russian people have made proud history and culture for a long time since they took their deep roots in their vast land, and covered a proud path of development, demonstrating the dignity and might of a powerful country. It said that thanks to the correct decision and guidance of the Russian president, the struggle of the Russian people to foil the hostile forces’ escalating threats and challenges to deprive Russia of its sovereignty, security and peaceful life has entered a new decisive phase. Justice is sure to win and the Russian people will continue to add glory to the history of victory, the tradition peculiar to them, the message stressed. It noted that the people of the DPRK are extending full support and solidarity to the Russian people in their all-out struggle for implementing the sacred cause to preserve the sovereign rights, development and interests of their country against the imperialists’ high-handed and arbitrary practices and to realize the international justice. The message said that the DPRK-Russia friendship, which has weathered all trials of history generation after generation and century after century, is a precious strategic asset common to the two countries and it is the fixed stand of the DPRK government to ceaselessly develop the good neighborly and cooperative relations, as required by the new era. The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un in his message affirmed his willingness to strive for closer strategic cooperation between the DPRK and Russia, holding hands firmly with the Russian president, in conformity with the common desire of the peoples of the two countries to fulfill the grand goal of building a powerful country and reliably defend global peace and security. The message sincerely wished the Russian president good health and bigger success in his responsible work, and the friendly Russian people constant prosperity, development and victory.” (KCNA, “Greetings to Russian President,” June 12, 2023)

Russia resumed oil exports to North Korea late last year, according to UN data, as the isolated regimes’ deepening ties drew US warnings that Pyongyang is planning to deliver more weapons to support Vladimir Putin’s war effort in Ukraine. Data released by the UN this week showed Russia supplied 67,300 barrels of refined petroleum to North Korea between December 2022 and April 2023, the first deliveries recorded since September 2020. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has assiduously curried favor with Putin since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the leaders offering each other material and political aid. In a statement marking Russia’s national day today, Kim pledged his “full support” for Putin and called for “closer strategic co-operation” between their countries, according to North Korea’s state news agency. Kim added he was “holding hands firmly with the Russian president, in conformity with the common desire of the peoples of the two countries.” The volume of Russian transfers to North Korea constitutes a tiny proportion of its exports, which were as high as 8mn barrels a day including both crude and refined fuels before the war in Ukraine. But the trade points to a reciprocal effort to foster closer ties between Moscow and Pyongyang, which was quick to endorse the invasion of Ukraine in February last year, and was just one of four countries other than Russia to oppose a UN General Assembly resolution condemning the war. The US State Department expressed concern this week that North Korea was “planning to deliver more military equipment to Russia.” It said the US had confirmed that North Korea had already completed a delivery of infantry rockets and missiles to the Kremlin-linked private military company Wagner Group. Any purchases of weapons from North Korea would violate UN resolutions to which Russia is a signatory as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Following North Korea’s sixth nuclear test in 2017, the UN Security Council imposed a cap on transfers of refined oil to North Korea at 500,000 barrels a year, far below the country’s energy needs. All transfers must be reported to a UN sanctions committee, but only a small fraction are in practice, and North Korea is known to evade the sanctions through illicit ship-to-ship transfers. The UN data also showed that China, which has maintained a steady supply of refined oil to North Korea throughout the pandemic, delivered 35,669 barrels in January and February this year According to Chinese customs data, North Korean exports to China also reached the highest level in five years in April, suggesting that Pyongyang has relaxed harsh border restrictions imposed in early 2020. The oil trade from Russia to North Korea had dropped to zero in October of that year, according to the UN data. Western diplomats worry that an increase in North Korean cross-border trade with Russia and China will further embolden Kim’s regime as it makes steady progress in developing its nuclear weapons program. Moscow and Beijing have repeatedly locked US-led Security Council resolutions condemning Pyongyang’s ballistic missile program, most recently after a failed military spy satellite launch late last month. (Christian Davies< “Russia Resumes Oil Exports to North Korea after Pandemic Hiatus,” Financial Times, June 14, 2023)

6/15/23:
DPRK Ministry of National Defense spokesperson “issued the following strong warning through the Korean Central News Agency on Thursday as regards the fact that the U.S. and south Korea are staging anti-DPRK hostile military drills for days on end: The U.S. forces in south Korea and the puppet army are staging “combined joint firepower annihilation drill” targeting the DPRK by massively mobilizing various types of offensive weapons and equipment. The drill has been staged five times on May 25 and June 2, 7, 12 and 15. Our response to this is inevitable. Our army strongly denounces the provocative and irresponsible moves of the puppet military authorities escalating the military tension in the region despite its repeated warnings, and warns them solemnly. Our armed forces will fully counter any form of demonstrative moves and provocation of the enemies.” (KCNA, “Spokesperson for DPRK Ministry of National Defense Issues Strong Warning,” June 15, 2023)

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward the East Sea today, Seoul’s military said, in apparent protest over a recent series of massive South Korea-U.S. live-fire drills that ended this week. Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launches from the Sunan area in Pyongyang between 7:25 p.m. and 7:37 p.m. It did not elaborate further, pending an analysis. The allies ended the fifth and last round of the Combined Joint Live-Fire Exercise, the first of its kind in six years, at the Seungjin Fire Training Field in Pocheon, just 25 kilometers south of the inter-Korean border, on Thursday to mark the 70th anniversary of the bilateral alliance. More than 610 military assets were mobilized for the drills, including F-35A fighters and K9 self-propelled howitzers from the South Korean side, and F-16 fighter jets and Gray Eagle drones from the U.S. side. The North’s defense ministry accused the allies of escalating tensions, saying the drills warrant its “inevitable” response. “Our army strongly denounces the provocative and irresponsible moves of the puppet military authorities escalating the military tension in the region despite its repeated warnings and warns them solemnly,” the spokesperson said in the statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. “Our armed forces will fully counter any form of demonstrative moves and provocation of the enemies,” the official added. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Fires 2 Short-Range Missiles toward East Sea: S. Korean Military,” June 15, 2023) Matsuno Hirokazu, a Japanese government spokesman, told reporters that at least two ballistic missiles had landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone between 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., calling the missile firing “an outrage which accelerates provocations against the international community.” He said that Japan did not take any action to shoot down the missiles. Hours before the launch, the South Korean and American militaries conducted a live-fire drill in Pochon, north of Seoul, the South Korean capital. The exercise, which involved artillery and warplanes among other things, was the latest in a series of similar drills the allies have conducted in recent weeks to beef up their readiness against North Korea. After watching the joint exercise, President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea said, “We don’t need a fake peace dependent on the good will of the enemy, we need a real peace that we can accomplish when we build our own security with our own power.” Yoon, a conservative, has been a vocal critic of his liberal predecessor Moon Jae-in’s policy of engaging North Korea with dialogue, using the words “fake peace” to describe the brief inter-Korean rapprochement under Moon. In a statement issued before its missile test, the North Korean Ministry of National Defense condemned the recent U.S.-South Korean combined exercises as “provocative and irresponsible moves” that raised tension. “Our response to this is inevitable,” the ministry said. “Our armed forces will fully counter any form of demonstrative moves and provocation of the enemies.” (Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Fires Two Ballistic Missiles,” New York Times, June 16, 2023, p. A-7)

6/16/23:
The South Korean military has retrieved a sunken part of an ill-fated North Korean space rocket from the Yellow Sea, officials said today, capping a weekslong salvage operation hamstrung by poor underwater visibility, fast currents and other obstacles. It raised the wreckage, presumed to be part of the rocket’s second stage, yesterday evening, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, amid expectations that a probe into it could shed light on the progress of the North’s long-range rocket development program. On May 31, the North fired what it claimed to be the new “Chollima-1” rocket carrying a military reconnaissance satellite, “Malligyong-1,” but it crashed into the sea due to the abnormal starting of the second-stage engine, according to its state media. On the same day, the South Korean military identified the wreckage when it splashed into the waters some 200 kilometers west of the western island of Eocheong. But it dropped to the sea floor at a depth of 75 meters due in part to its heavy weight. The lifted wreckage was around 12 meters long — shorter than previously thought — and 2 to 3 meters in diameter. The large portion of the rocket, thought to be about 30 meters long in total, could help elucidate how far North Korea’s rocket technology has come, observers said. For the retrieval operation, the Navy deployed a group of specially trained divers and some 10 vessels, including two salvage and rescue ships, the ROKS Tongyeong and the ROKS Gwangyang, as well as the ROKS Cheonghaejin submarine rescue ship, and multiple maritime aircraft. The painstaking operation was fraught with a set of challenges, including inclement underwater conditions, like visibility of just 50 centimeters, as the Navy prioritized the safety of divers and other personnel, according to a JCS official. “The Yellow Sea by nature has fast currents and poor visibility,” S. Cpo. Shin Gyoung-jun, a Navy deep-sea diver who took part in the salvage operations, said. “(We) virtually had to carry out operations through just the feel of our hands.” The military unveiled to reporters the cylindrical wreckage on the deck of the ROKS Gwangyang at the Navy’s Second Fleet in Pyeongyaek, 60 kilometers south of Seoul. On its exterior, “Cheonma” was written along with a drawing of a horse. Cheonma means heavenly horse in Korean. It was also covered with countless scratches made by deep-sea divers’ equipment used during the salvage operation. Some of the paint peeled off, while many dents were seen in an apparent indication of the shock it might have sustained during the crash into the waters. It was split into two parts, as the upper 2.5-meter-long section broke off due to a crack that had widened while being transported to the vessel. Officials did not confirm what was inside the wreckage, citing the need for further analysis. South Korea and the United States plan to conduct a joint probe into it as agreed on during the allies’ defense ministerial talks on the margins of an annual security forum in Singapore earlier this month. Various U.S. military and intelligence agencies will join the probe, including a unit under the Defense Intelligence Agency, an official at South Korea’s Defense Intelligence Command told reporters. The retrieval process proceeded in phases. Divers first attached pieces of hauling gear to the cylinder-shaped wreckage and linked it to steel wires. Before it was lifted close to the surface, divers added additional pieces of equipment to ensure it would not fall back down. Then, they hauled it onto a military ship, using a crane. Challenges emerged from the initial phase as divers could hardly find parts of the round-shaped wreckage’s exterior where they could fix wires — unlike the uneven exterior of the crashed helicopter salvaged last year. The military involved experts from the state-run Agency for Defense Development and other specialists in the operation to ensure it would proceed safely without losing any crucial pieces of the wreckage, the JCS official said. Among the hindrances were the heavy weight of the wreckage stuck in the mud flat and the possibility that it could break apart while being lifted. Concerns also arose that an explosion could occur if it contained combustible elements like a fuel storage part. “Due to the potential dangers, we had technical advisers on board so that we could take necessary steps while observing the situation,” the JCS official told reporters on condition of anonymity. “From the thickness of diving suits to other issues, we sufficiently took safety concerns into account.” The Navy successfully lifted the wreckage in its fourth attempt, after fastening cables on the lower part of the object, and installing hooks and additional cables on the upper section. It also recovered a ring-shaped object, presumed to be part of the rocket, at a different location on June 5, a military official said without elaborating. The military is also carrying out a separate mission to search for other rocket parts, including the third stage and a purported satellite. Their search has been proceeding at sea, underwater and in the air, the JCS said. (Song Sang-ho and Chae Yun-hwan, “S. Korean Military Salvages Sunken N. Korean Space Rocket Wreckage,” Yonhap, June 16, 2023)

A U.S. nuclear-powered submarine capable of carrying up to 154 Tomahawk missiles arrived at a South Korean naval base in Busan today, a day after North Korea fired two short-range missiles off its east coast in its latest provocation. USS Michigan SSGN, an 18,000-ton guided missile submarine and one of the most feared U.S. strategic assets, docked there as a demonstration of the security guarantee promised in the Washington Declaration and a symbol of “peace through strength,” South Korea’s Vice Adm. Kim Myung-soo said in a statement. It is the first time since October 2017 that a submarine classified as “SSGN” by the U.S. Navy, or a cruise-missile submarine, has stopped off in Korea, amid tensions following the North’s weapons tests and the intensifying Seoul-Washington military drills against the growing threat. A military official said the submarine will stay near the Korean Peninsula until June 22, during which it plans to participate in joint drills with the South Korean Navy. Demonstrating the overwhelming forces was one of the goals of the submarine deployment, Vice Adm. Kim said. “The U.S. SSGN’s visit to South Korea is intended to substantively implement the agreement in the Washington Declaration signed in April to enhance the regular visibility of its strategic assets on the Korean Peninsula,” Kim said. “It demonstrates the overwhelming capabilities and posture of the South Korea-U.S. alliance to realize ‘peace through strength.'” Armed with land-attack missiles ― nuclear or otherwise ― with a range of 2,500 kilometers as well as superior communications and stealth capabilities, the submarine is designed for clandestine missions. It had initially been built as an SSBN carrying longer-range ballistic missiles before being converted into an SSGN in 2007. Only two days ago, the U.S. Pacific Air Forces also announced that four B-52 Stratofortresses, long-range subsonic bombers, arrived on Guam, to conduct Bomber Task Force missions, as part of the effort to increase that visibility against North Korea’s threats. {Jung Min-ho, “U.S. Flexes Military Muscle as Tensions Rise on Korean Peninsula,” Korea Times, June 16, 2023)

6/16-18/23:
KCNA: “At a time when the invincibility and fortitude of our cause have been further demonstrated all over the world and the all-people struggle for ushering in a new upsurge in socialist construction is gaining momentum thanks to the scientific and strong guidance and practice by the ever-victorious Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee convened a plenary meeting to promote the perfect and substantial attainment of the grand goals of national prosperity. The 8th Enlarged Plenary Meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the WPK was held at the office building of the WPK Central Committee, the supreme general staff of the Korean revolution, from June 16 to 18, Juche 112 (2023) to arouse stronger enthusiasm of all the Party members and other people for the struggle to consolidate the precious victory and the dignity and position of our powerful state, which they achieved by boldly breaking through all difficulties under the leadership of the great Party Central Committee, with steady advance and continuous leaps. The plenary meeting made an interim summing-up of this year’s work for implementing the major policies to firmly preserve the interests and security environment of the country and bring about a fresh upswing in the overall development of Korean-style socialism in line with the goal for progress and strategic and tactical principles set forth at the 6th and 7th plenary meetings of the 8th Party Central Committee. It discussed and decided on the important policy issues to be addressed without fail and further spurred in the advance in the second half of the year. Attending the meeting were members of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee, members and alternate members of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee and members and alternate members of the WPK Central Committee. Present there as observers were officials of the relevant departments of the WPK Central Committee and the Cabinet, chairpersons of the provincial, city and county people’s committees, chairpersons of the provincial rural economy committees and leading officials of ministries, national institutions and major industrial establishments. The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, was present at the plenary meeting. The presidium of the meeting was formed with members of the Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK. The plenary meeting put the following items on its agenda: 1. On launching a bolder struggle for implementing the major policies for this year 2. On the epoch-making measures for developing education 3. On decisively enhancing the role of the officials of people’s committees at all levels 4. On the issues arising in strengthening the people’s power 5. On the important measures for intensifying the building of Party discipline 6. Organizational matter The plenary meeting unanimously approved the agenda items. … The report referred to the analysis and evaluation of the Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK on the justification for directing greater efforts to bolstering up the capabilities for self-defense in conformity with the present changed security situation of the DPRK and steadily updating the military hardware of the DPRK armed forces. The complicated and serious situation on the Korean peninsula which is getting out of control requires the DPRK to ceaselessly renew its military potentials and make a faster advance toward the bolstering up of its capabilities for self-defense. The practical actions which turned the core tasks for bolstering up the defense capability set forth at the 8th Congress of the WPK into successful entities, pursuant to the solemn declaration of the WPK that the DPRK will counter the enemies’ nukes and policy of frontal confrontation in kind, have demonstrated the rapid building speed of the ever-developing strategic force of the DPRK and its powerful military technical capabilities and have exposed the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet forces to the insurmountable security crisis. The Political Bureau of the C.C., WPK appreciated that the strategic force of the DPRK has made progress recognized by the world in the light of the high-level military technical capabilities and the development speed of weapon systems and has developed into an existing powerful entity. On the other hand, it strictly reviewed the shortcomings that were revealed in some fields and that cannot be overlooked. The most serious one was the failure of the military reconnaissance satellite launch, the important strategic work in the field of space development, on May 31. The five-point major goals for developing the defense capabilities set forth by the 8th Congress of the Party are all important, but the development of military reconnaissance satellite is of very great significance in prospect of the development of the armed forces of the DPRK and in making full preparations for combat. The report bitterly criticized the officials who irresponsibly conducted the preparations for satellite launch, and set forth the militant task for officials and scientists in the relevant field to make a thorough analysis of the cause and lesson of the recent failure, successfully launch the military reconnaissance satellite in a short span of time and thus make a shortcut to improving the capabilities of the Korean People’s Army’s reconnaissance intelligence and achieving a greater leap forward in the field of space development, bearing deep in mind their important mission. All the successes made in the field of developing various weapon systems including nukes and missiles are a big stride forward in the important and critical situation of bolstering up the nuclear war deterrent of the country, the Political Bureau affirmed, calling on the national defense field to consistently adhere to the orientation of developing nuclear weapons and the line of bolstering up the nuclear force set forth by the Party Central Committee and reliably defend the sacred cause of the Juche revolution by increasing the production of powerful nuclear weapons. The report seriously analyzed and evaluated the extremely deteriorating security situation on the Korean peninsula due to the reckless war moves of the hostile forces in disregard of the patience and warning of the DPRK and referred to the urgency to swiftly respond to them in a military technical, political and diplomatic way. The Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee recognized that the principle of action for action should be strictly adhered to and the overwhelming and offensive countermeasures should always be taken forcefully without delay against the enemy’s intentional and undisguised escalation of military tension. And the plenary meeting unanimously approved concrete plans and modes of counter-action for their implementation. The Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee set forth important tasks for conducting external activities independently and more actively on the principle of defending the sovereignty and national interests to cope with the swirling international military and political situation such as further strengthening solidarity with the countries which are opposed to the U.S. brigandish strategy for world supremacy. The report referred to the issues essential in remarkably increasing the leadership ability and fighting efficiency of the Party as required by the enormous revolutionary tasks facing the DPRK at present and the urgent requirements of the subjective and objective environment. … It discussed the organizational matter as the sixth agenda item. It recalled and by-elected members and alternate members of the WPK Central Committee. Choe Hui Thae and Kim Son Uk were by-elected as members of the Party Central Committee from alternate members. Kim Yong Chol and Kim Yong Gyu were by-elected directly as members of the Party Central Committee. Hong Pyong Chol, O Yong Jae and Kim Pong Chol were by-elected as alternate members of the Party Central Committee. It recalled and by-elected members and alternate member of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee. Kang Sun Nam was by-elected as member of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee from alternate member and O Su Yong was by-elected directly as member of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee. Kim Yong Chol was by-elected as alternate member of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee. It dismissed and elected a secretary of the WPK Central Committee. O Su Yong was elected as secretary of the Party Central Committee. It dismissed and appointed a department director of the WPK Central Committee. O Su Yong was appointed as department director of the Party Central Committee. It recalled and by-elected a member of the Central Inspection Commission of the WPK. Choe Kun Yong was by-elected as member of the WPK Central Inspection Commission.” (KCNA, “Report on 8th Enlarged Plenary Meeting of 8th WPK Central Committee,” June 19, 2023)

Kim Yong-chol, a former top North Korean party official in charge of affairs with South Korea, has returned to the ruling party’s politburo following a year of his absence from key party posts. Kim has been elected as an alternate member of the political bureau of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in the latest reshuffle of party officials following a three-day party plenary meeting that ended Sunday, according to state media. A photo carried by Rodong Sinmun described Kim as an “advisor” of the United Front Department (UFD), which handles inter-Korean affairs at the WPK. Kim, 77, was the former head of the UFD. The latest report raises speculation that Kim, who was known for his hardline stance on the South, may once again oversee the North’s inter-Korean affairs as the North has continued to dial up tensions. Kim, 77, served as the North’s top negotiator in denuclearization talks with the United States, but his political status was severely damaged following the breakdown of the Hanoi summit in 2019. He was effectively demoted to the head of the UFD in 2021 from the North’s party secretary on South Korean affairs as the post was eliminated at a party congress. In June last year, he was replaced by then Foreign Minister Ri Son-gwon as the UFD chief, and last September, he was also removed as a member of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly. Kim, former head of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, is suspected of having masterminded the North’s sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan in 2010. The torpedo attack left 46 sailors dead. The North fired a record number of ballistic missiles last year and continued to ratchet up its provocations. Last week, it resumed its missile tests after pausing them for around two months, and on May 31, it launched a space rocket carrying a purported military spy satellite, which ended up crashing into the Yellow Sea. Meanwhile, O Su-yong, 79, a former key party official handling economic affairs, has again assumed the posts of party secretary and director of the WPK’s economic department, after being dismissed from them a year earlier. His return comes as the North is grappling with severe food shortages and economic hardships aggravated by biting global sanctions and the country’s COVID-19 border closure. “O is a bureaucrat who has served in key posts for economic affairs. The North seems to have reappointed him to overcome (difficulties) as it currently lacks economic achievements,” Koo Byoung-sam, Seoul’s unification ministry spokesperson, told a regular press briefing. (Kim Soo-yeon and Lee Minji, “Ex-N. Korean Secretary of Inter-Korean Affairs Returns to Party Political Bureau,” June 19, 2023)

6/22/23:
North Korea will likely use its nuclear weapons to coerce political concessions from South Korea and its allies, a U.S. intelligence report said today. The office of the director of national intelligence (DNI) noted that Pyongyang may also employ non-nuclear, non-lethal attacks to advance its goals in the future, believing that its nuclear weapons will deter counter offensives. “We assess that through 2030, Kim Jong-un most likely will continue to pursue a strategy of coercion, potentially including non-nuclear lethal attacks, aimed at advancing the North’s goals of intimidating its neighbors, extracting concessions, and bolstering the regime’s military credentials domestically,” said the report, titled “National Intelligence Estimate” (NIE) on North Korea. The report, dated January 2023, was released today as part of the DNI’s transparency efforts, according to Sydney Seiler, National Intelligence Officer for North Korea at the National Intelligence Council. “Kim, who has relied largely on non-lethal coercive measures throughout his rule, probably will employ targeted diplomatic and covert actions and may use limited military force to raise tensions as a means to press key foreign governments into adopting positions favorable to his objectives, confident that his growing nuclear capabilities will deter any unacceptable retaliation or consequence,” the report added. Seiler noted the U.S. intelligence community (IC) assessed three different scenarios where the North Korean leader may decide to use nuclear weapons for coercive, offensive or defensive purposes. “The IC assesses that this offensive strategy seeking to seize territory, achieve political dominance over the peninsula and achieve these objectives that would include the use of nuclear weapons will be much less likely, much less likely than the strategy of coercion,” he said while speaking at a seminar hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Defensive like the offense was seen to be very unlikely, compared to the coercive scenario,” he added. Seiler noted the main driver for North Korea’s coercive strategy is its confidence that coercion will yield political, economic and military benefits while it also believes that the resulting escalation of tension will be “manageable.” “So you look at provocations over the history of North Korea. one thing that we see often is that these provocations tend not to escalate out of control like one normally would think,” he told the meeting. “We might even see periods of lessening of tensions on the peninsula. But again, we felt very unlikely that Kim would forego the very coercive options that his nuclear arsenal has provided,” added Seiler. On whether Pyongyang may give up its nuclear weapons entirely, the U.S. intelligence official argued that it is unlikely to do so at least until it has achieved its goals. “What I haven’t mentioned one of the drivers here is incredible cost, incredible investment. Will Kim be looking at a return on investment? Why is he spending the amount of money that he is spending on missiles and nuclear weapons or North Korea doing this over the course of three decades in the absence of an imminent existential threat?” said Seiler. “The NIE considered three scenarios of how Pyongyang could perceive value and the purpose of a growing nuclear arsenal through 2030. We assess that the coercive path is probably the most likely going forward, that Kim will most likely employ a variety of coercive methods and threats of aggression to see progress toward achieving his national security policies,” he added. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Most Likely to Use Nuclear Weapons as Means of Coercion: U.S. Intelligence Report,” June 22, 2023)

6/24/23:
DPRK FoMin Department of U.S. Affairs Director General Kwon Jong Gun’s press statement: “During his recent visit to China, Secretary of the U.S. Department of State Blinken let out a load of threatening remarks that the U.S. would take military measures China doesn’t like, together with Japan and south Korea, if China doesn’t move, saying that China is in the one and only position for pressurizing Pyongyang. By talking such rubbish, Blinken betrayed himself that he, styling himself experienced and intelligent man in the U.S. diplomatic camp, is no more than a low-class diplomat advocating power-based “diplomacy” who is actually incapable of discerning the nature of the relations between countries. His words are not just something new but stereotyped ones not helpful to resolving the issue. It is a manifestation of his dangerous hegemony-oriented mental state to plunge everything into an evil cycle again by bringing the situation back to the original point, for which the Korean peninsula issue has not been settled for the past 30 years. The root cause of the ever-escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula is not just the DPRK or its neighboring country but the U.S. which has seriously infringed upon the sovereignty and security of the DPRK by persistently pursuing the most hideous hostile policy toward it. Unless such root cause of having pushed the Korean peninsula issue to the current acute confrontation for decades is removed, it is utterly impossible to defuse the military tensions and standoff in the region. Blinken’s recent nonsense has served as an occasion for confirming once again that the U.S., pursuing its immutable hostility toward the DPRK, is just the most hostile entity which the latter should face with the clearest action mode until the issue comes to a settlement. The U.S. should be aware of the fact that it is bound to face security uneasiness and get exposed to more realistic threats for its expanded deployment of its strategic assets and more frequent military exercises of explicitly aggressive nature under the pretense of protecting allies. Taking this opportunity, we seriously warn that the scale and scope of the DPRK’s counteraction measures will be extended more overwhelmingly and offensively in case the escalation of the U.S. military action and provocation in the Korean peninsula and the region is spotted. Unless the U.S. stops the act of violating our sovereignty and threatening us in disregard of our rights and interests and takes a clear action measure to lift its heinous hostile policy toward the DPRK, there will be neither restraint nor adjustment in the latter’s exercise of its right to self-defense. The U.S. should bear this in mind.” (KCNA, “Press Statement by Head of U.S. Affairs Department of DPRK Foreign Ministry,” June 24, 2023)

6/28/23:
January 2023 NIE: “(U) Key Takeaway: During the period of this estimate, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un most likely will employ a variety of coercive methods and threats of aggression to try to make progress toward achieving his national security priorities. He may be willing to take greater conventional military risks, believing that nuclear weapons will deter an unacceptably strong US or South Korean response. The IC continues to assess that North Korea is unlikely to use nuclear weapons unless Kim believes his regime is in peril, and that he cannot achieve his strategic goals using conventional or chemical means. We judge it to be much less likely that Kim will choose an offensive pathway in which he seeks to use force, including the possible use of nuclear weapons, to split the US-South Korea alliance and establish clear political and military dominance on the Peninsula. We also judge it to be very unlikely that Kim will seek to use his nuclear arsenal solely as a deterrent and will refrain from coercive threats or aggressive behavior. Key Judgment 1: We assess that through 2030, Kim Jong Un most likely will continue to pursue a strategy of coercion, potentially including non-nuclear lethal attacks, aimed at advancing the North’s goals of intimidating its neighbors, extracting concessions, and bolstering the regime’s military credentials domestically. Kim, who has relied largely on non-lethal coercive measures throughout his rule, probably will employ targeted diplomatic and covert actions and may use limited military force to raise tensions as a means to press key foreign governments into adopting positions favorable to his objectives, confident that his growing nuclear capabilities will deter any unacceptable retaliation or consequences. Key Judgment 2: We assess that an offensive strategy that seeks to seize territory and achieve political dominance over the Peninsula through the use of force, including the use of nuclear weapons, will be much less likely than the strategy of coercion. An offensive strategy would become more likely if Kim believed he could overmatch South Korea’s military while deterring US intervention and maintaining China’s support, or if he concluded that a domestic or international crisis presented a last chance to accomplish revisionist goals. Key Judgment 3: We assess that it also will be very unlikely that North Korea will follow a defensive strategy — characterized by forgoing both nuclear-backed coercion and more escalatory aggressive actions, such as kinetic attacks during the period of this estimate. A defensive-focused North Korea would still continue to test, produce, and field missiles and nuclear weapons. In such a scenario, we might also see a sustained lessening of tensions on the Peninsula.” (January 2023 NIE 2023-00262-B, North Korea: Scenarios for Leveraging Nuclear Weapons Through 2030)

6/29/23:
Sungshin Women’s University professor Kim Young-ho nominated as South Korea’s Minister of Unification, has called for the “toppling” of the Kim Jong-un regime in North Korea. The 64-year-old Kim was also found to have characterized South and North Korea as being in a “hostile relationship.” Other comments by Kim that were unearthed showed him denouncing the Constitutional Court’s decision in favor of Park Geun-hye’s impeachment as president as having the “result of laying out the red carpet for those seeking to overturn the system,” and characterizing the candlelight demonstrations at the time as “totalitarian.” Critics are viewing him as unfit to hold the position of minister of unification, which involves implementing policies related to North Korea and reunification. A political scientist who has researched the Korean War, Kim previously served as Blue House secretary for unification and Ministry of Foreign Affairs human rights ambassador during the Lee Myung-bak presidency. Under the Yoon administration, he has been chairing the Ministry of Unification’s unification and future planning committee. Known for his “new right” views, he has posted around 2,800 videos to date — roughly 1.5 per day — on his YouTube channel “Professor Kim Young-ho’s Reading the World” since launching it on July 6, 2018. Hankyore’s investigation found numerous instances in his YouTube videos and writings where he expressed hostile views toward North Korea. In a contribution to the website Pennmike published on April 18, 2019, he wrote, “The path toward unification will only open when the Kim Jong-un regime is toppled and North Korea is liberalized, so that the political systems in North and South Korea become one system.” He also said the “North-South Joint Declaration of June 2000 was utterly manipulated by North Korea propaganda and incitement.” “We need ‘reunification of systems,’ not ‘reunification of the nation,’” he insisted. In another contribution to the same site on Sept. 13, 2018, he wrote, “The relationship between North and South is a hostile relationship.” “This is why it is constantly being suggested that President Moon Jae-in’s drive to ‘eradicate deep-rooted vices’ and amend the Constitution is an overreach intended to open the possibility for a federation system with North Korea,” he added. In addition to running counter to South Korea’s Constitution, Kim’s claims also conflict with the North Korea and unification policies of South Korean administrations since the post-Cold War era began — including Yoon’s. His characterization of inter-Korean relations as “hostile” and call for opening the path toward reunification by “toppling the Kim Jong-un regime” amount to an argument for absorbing North Korea by force — which is contrary to the official position of the Yoon administration and its insistence that it is “not pursuing unification by absorption.” It is also in violation of Article 4 of the South Korean Constitution, which explicitly rules out a unification-by-absorption scenario with its provision stating that the “Republic of Korea shall seek unification and shall formulate and carry out a policy of peaceful unification based on the basic free and democratic order.” Moreover, it conflicts with interpretations of the Constitution by the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court, which have deemed North Korea as “both an anti-state group and a partner in dialogue and cooperation” since the ninth constitutional amendment of 1987, which established the principle of peaceful unification laid out in Article 4, and the “special declaration” of July 7, 1988, by then-President Roh Tae-woo. If inter-Korean relations are defined as “hostile” as Kim describes them, this rules out the possibility of exchange or cooperation. Indeed, a YouTube video posted by Kim on Oct. 1, 2018, bore the title “Samsung will go bust investing in North Korea.” That video has since been set to private. Kim has also made far-right statements on domestic issues and matters concerning diplomatic relations with Japan. He denounced the Constitutional Court’s decision upholding Park Geun-hye’s impeachment in 2017 as having the “result of laying out the red carpet for those seeking to overturn the system.” “South Korean society is now like a damp sponge that immediately turns red the instant a drop of red ink is placed on it — defenselessly exposed to the routinization of totalitarianism,” he declared. The remarks came in a blog post on June 7, 2018, under the title “How do a handful of candles ‘speak for the entire public’?” In the same piece, he lambasted the candlelight demonstrations as “totalitarian.” Commenting on a 2018 Supreme Court ruling recognizing Japanese companies’ responsibility for compensating victims of forced labor mobilization, he criticized it as “in thrall to anti-Japanese tribalist thinking.” The occasion for his remarks was a talk on July 17, 2019, for his book “Anti-Japanese Tribalism,” which caused controversy among historians and in South Korean society at large with its denial of the forcible nature of the Japanese military’s drafting of women into sexual slavery during the colonial occupation. The presidential office reportedly decided on Kim as a candidate for minister of unification in line with its plan to use human rights issues as a basis for pressuring Pyongyang. On numerous occasions, he has advocated strongly for pressuring the North on human rights issues in order to achieve “liberalization.” “If we hope to achieve unification, we will need to establish an accurate understanding of the internal reality in North Korea,” a presidential office official told the Hankyore on June 27. “It is only possible to establish a vision and strategy for reunification once we understand how the Republic of Korea came about and how it got divided from a perspective of international politics,” they stressed. At an April 5 meeting to review governance tasks in foreign affairs and national security-related areas, Yoon emphasized that “raising broader awareness here and overseas about the reality of human rights violations against North Koreans is a matter of paramount importance and a way of upholding national security.” In an interview with the French daily Le Figaro published on June 17, he announced plans to “coordinate with France to raise wider awareness in the international community about North Korea’s severe human rights situation and develop plans for responding to it.” An official with the ruling People Power Party (PPP) explained, “Under the new minister, the Ministry of Unification will mainly be taking on the role of raising awareness of North Korea’s human rights situation on the global diplomatic stage.” But there has been an outpouring of criticism that Kim’s perception of inter-Korean relations as hostile and far-right views disqualify him from appointment as minister of unification. “If a person who clamors on about toppling the Kim Jong-un regime, liberalizing North Korea, and denies the necessity of compensating victims of Japan’s forced labor mobilization becomes minister of unification and starts clamoring on about improving human rights in North Korea, do you think that’s going to resonate?” asked a former minister of unification, voicing skepticism about Kim’s possible appointment. Multiple former high-ranking Ministry of Unification officials expressed similar doubts. One former senior-ranking official asked, “How can a person who has rejected the whole raison d’etre of the Ministry of Unification become minister of unification?” “It makes me wonder if [Yoon] is trying to tank the Ministry of Unification because he can’t do away with it outright,” another former senior official remarked. (Lee Je-hun, Kim Mi-na, Jang Ye-ji, Shin Hyeong-cheol, “Frontrunner for Unification Minister’s Remarks Criticized as Disqualifying by Some,” Hankyore, June 28, 2023)

6/30/23:
A U.S. B-52 strategic bomber took part in military exercises with South Korea today, Seoul officials said, in the latest show of force amid tension over North Korea’s failed launch of a spy satellite. The U.S. military also flew its F-16 and F-15 fighters alongside the bomber for the drills, which were joined by South Korean F-35 and KF-16 jets, Seoul’s defense ministry said. (Hyunhee Shin, “U.S. B-52 Bomber Joins Drills with South Korea amid North Korea Tension,” Reuters, June 30, 2023)

7/1/23:
DPRK FoMin Department Director General Kim Song Il’s press statement: “According to south Korean media, the side of the chairperson of the Hyundai Group submitted to the puppet authorities a plan to visit the area of the DPRK side as regards the issue of Mt. Kumgang tourist area. We make it clear that we have neither been informed about any south Korean personage’s willingness for visit nor known about it and that we have no intention to examine it. It is the policy of the DPRK government that entry by any personage of south Korea into its territory cannot be allowed. The Mt. Kumgang tourist area is a part of the DPRK’s territory and, accordingly, the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee cannot exercise any authority over the issue of entry into the DPRK. Such principle and policy are unchangeable and will be maintained in the future, too.” (KCNA, “Press Statement of Department Director General of DPRK Foreign Ministry,” July 1, 2023)

North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has rejected Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun’s request to visit Mount Kumgang in August to hold a memorial service for her late husband and former chairman of the group, Chung Mong-hun. This is a rare case of the regime using the foreign ministry, rather than agencies related to inter-Korean affairs, to make its position on an issue regarding South Korea. The move is seen as North Korea’s intent to handle South Korea as a foreign country, rather than acknowledging the two’s nations’ pre-war past, signaling a tougher environment for inter-Korean relations. In a statement released through the North’s Korean Central News Agency, Saturday, Kim Song-il, department director general of the North’s foreign ministry said, “We make it clear that we have neither been informed about any South Korean personage’s willingness to visit nor know about it and that we have no intention to examine it.” The comments came after the Ministry of Unification said Friday that Hyundai Group, which had run sightseeing programs at Mount Kumgang in North Korea, submitted documents to the ministry to visit the North in August to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the death of former chairman Chung. The submission of the plan is the first step in a two-stage process for South Koreans seeking to visit the North and meet people there. If all requirements are met, the process moves to the next stage, typically within seven days. In the next stage, individuals can request an invitation from their North Korean counterparts to visit the North. If the invitation is issued from the North, it is then submitted to the unification ministry for government permission. However, the North dismissed her visitation plan even before it was officially submitted, citing South Korean media reports. Hyun held a memorial service for the late Chung at the North Korean mountain in 2018 to mark the 15th anniversary of his death. “It is the policy of the DPRK (North Korean) government that entry by any personage of South Korea into its territory cannot be allowed,” the statement reads. “The Mt. Kumgang tourist area is a part of the DPRK’s territory and, accordingly, the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee cannot exercise any authority over the issue of entry into the DPRK. Such principle and policy are unchangeable and will be maintained in the future, too.”

The South’s unification ministry immediately expressed its regret over the North’s decision.

Attention is focused on the fact that the visit was rejected by the North’s foreign ministry, not by institutes related to inter-Korean matters. So far, the North has been responding to matters related to South Korea through the United Front Department of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, National Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland or statements from Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong, based on the notions that these are matters of the Korean nationals. Experts said this signals a major shift in the North’s perception of its relations with South Korea, which is heading away from any possibility of unification. “So far, the South and North have been acknowledging inter-Korean relations as a special relation which pursues unification, so they viewed businesses running in the Gaesong Industrial Complex as trade between Koreans, thus not imposing tariffs,” said Yang Moo-jin, president of the University of North Korean Studies. “If inter-Korean relations become a country-to-country relation, there will be major conflicts in South Korea’s Constitution regarding inter-Korean relations and more practical difficulties in pursuing unification will follow.” In 1991, the two Koreas adopted the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement, which stipulated that the relationship between the two sides is “a special interim relationship stemming from the process towards unification,” not “a relationship between states.” This is because each Korea does not recognize the other as a separate country, with Seoul’s Constitution stating that the country’s territory consists of the Korean Peninsula and its adjacent islands. However, from the perspectives of the international community, the two Koreas are recognized as independent states. Due to this, the two sides have seen their relationship as being specially formed in the process of pursuing reunification, not as a relationship between two separate countries. “The foreign ministry’s statement signals that the North is trying to see the South as a separate country, meaning that the basic agreement is losing its effect,” Yang said. “In that case, Seoul’s Constitutional spirit of pursuing unification is also facing a greater dilemma. If the North is viewed as a separate country, the cause for seeking unification gets weaker. The legal grounds for the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom may become an issue, and you even have to have a visa to visit the North, which is a violation of the South’s Constitution.” “From an international perspective, the North’s defining of the South as a separate country is feared to weaken global involvement in Seoul’s calls for Pyongyang’s denuclearization,” Yang said. Against this backdrop, Seoul’s new Minister of Unification nominee dropped hints at a shift in the Yoon Suk Yeol administration’s stance of respecting and executing all inter-Korean agreements. “In the changed situation between the two Koreas, we need to have selective manners in considering agreements between South Korea and North Korea as we move forward,” nominee Kim Yung-ho said on June 30. (Nam Hyun-woo, “Is North Korea Moving to Reclassify South Korea as a Separate Nation?” Korea Times, July 2, 2023)

7/2/23:
President Yoon Suk Yeol said today the unification ministry should no longer act like a support agency for North Korea, days after he nominated a conservative scholar to head the ministry. “So far, the unification ministry has operated as if it were a support department for North Korea, and that shouldn’t be the case anymore,” Yoon told his staff, according to senior presidential press secretary Kim Eun-hye. “Now, it’s time for the unification ministry to change.” Kim said Yoon made his remarks in a meeting with his staff over the recent nomination of Kim Yung-ho, a professor known for a hardline stance toward Pyongyang, as the new unification minister. “From now on, the unification ministry must carry out its proper responsibilities, in accordance with the constitutional principles that unification must be based on liberal democratic order,” Yoon was also quoted as saying. “The unification that we pursue must be one in which all the people from the South and the North enjoy better lives and are treated better as human beings.” (Yoo Jee-ho, “Yoon Says Unification Ministry Should No Longer Act Like N.K. Support Agency,” Yonhap, July 2, 2023)

7/3/23:
North Korea and Japan held working-level meetings multiple times last month over Pyongyang’s past abductions of Japanese nationals, a South Korean newspaper reported Monday, citing informed sources. The officials met at least twice in third countries such as China and Singapore, the report by Dong-A Ilbo said. While North Korea maintained that it considers the matter resolved, the report said that if talks continue, Pyongyang and Tokyo could hold higher-level meetings in the future. Japan notified the United States of the working-level meetings in advance, according to the report. The news of the meetings comes after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged in late May to set up high-level bilateral negotiations and arrange a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, prodding Pyongyang’s vice foreign minister to say there is “no reason” for the two countries “not to meet.” In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno denied the report’s assertions, saying at a news conference, “There are no such facts.” Matsuno refrained from commenting on whether Japan and North Korea have been engaged in talks, citing the possible negative impact that doing so could have on future negotiations related to the abduction issue. Since five abductees were brought back to Japan in 2002, Tokyo has called for the return of 12 others officially recognized as having been abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. The report, citing the sources, also said North Korea seems to have judged that having dialogue with Tokyo could drive a wedge between South Korea, Japan and the United States. (Kyodo, “North Korea and Japan Met to Discuss Abduction Issue, Report Says,” Japan Times, July 3, 2023)

DPRK FoMin Institute for Japan Studies researcher Ri Pyong Dok’s June 27 article titled “The UN should not be a ground for politically-motivated conspiratorial propaganda against a sovereign state”: “Japan is going to hold a video seminar on the abduction issue in the UN arena again in collusion with the U.S., Australia, EU and others. As was in the past, the seminar is no more than a last-ditch effort of the hostile forces to tarnish the international image of the dignified DPRK and create a collective atmosphere of pressure on it. Although Japan annually holds such a strange seminar in cahoots with those countries hell-bent on hostility toward the DPRK, it can never cover up the hideous inhumane crimes it committed against the Korean people in the last century as an assailant is unable to disguise itself as a “victim.” Japan, which occupied Korea by force of arms in the last century, forcibly drafted more than 8.4 million young and middle-aged Korean people, mercilessly killed more than one million of them and forced 200 000 Korean women into sexual slavery, is now talking about “abduction” and “human rights” in the UN arena. This is the height of shamelessness and an insult to history. As for the “abduction issue” talked by Japanese, it has been completely, finally and irreversibly settled, thanks to our magnanimity and sincere efforts. Japan should have honestly responded to our good faith with full apology and reparation for its past colonial rule and unethical atrocities. However, the successive Japanese ruling quarters have hyped up the “abduction issue” and frantically incited hostility toward the DPRK, while abusing the latter’s sincerity for realizing their wild political ambition for long-term office. Even such a weird expression as “abduction industry” was produced for such a wild rumor that it was highly likely that hundreds of Japanese missing in Japan had been “abducted” by the DPRK. But, several persons alleged to be missing appeared at home, provoking criticism and derision. It is needed to ponder how much profit the Japanese government will get from its anti-DPRK abduction racket while squandering the “abduction budget” collected as taxes from the people. It is a waste of time for Japan to persistently bring the unfeasible issue to the fore in the international arena. It is also little short of denying the stand of the Japanese chief executive who doesn’t miss an opportunity to say that he hopes for the “Japan-DPRK summit without preconditions.” No matter how desperately Japan tries to internationalize the “abduction issue”, it will not attract attention from anyone, except those pseudo-“human rights” experts and riff-raffs seeking to live on the “abduction budget” of Japan, and the U.S. and its vassal forces that are so eager to side with their ally. Japan is doggedly insisting that there would be no solution to the abduction issue unless the “repatriation of all victims” is realized. Japan should bear in mind that such insistence is no more than a daydream like calling for bringing the dead back to life. To say in addition, the U.S., which has set new records every year in its human rights abuses and constantly broken them, has neither face nor qualifications to take issue with anyone over his “human rights” performance. The UN should no longer be a politically-motivated plot-breeding ground against a sovereign state. The UN arena should become the one for condemning Japan, a war criminal state, which has not yet honestly atoned for the past crimes it committed against humanity by trampling down the sovereignty of a country and a nation for more than 40 years, despite the lapse of a long time, and for urging it to redeem its inglorious past. In order to fulfill its mission according to its sacred charter, the UN should disclose and punish Japan keen on the moves to have access to the capability for an aggressive preemptive attack under the pretext of non-existent threat from its neighbors, as well as the U.S. which is seriously threatening peace and stability in the region by actively encouraging Japan to do so.” (KCNA, “Japan’s Hostility toward DPRK under Fire,” June 28, 2023)

7/10/23:
DPRK Ministry of National Defense spokesman’s press statement: “Recently, the U.S. Defense Department officially announced its scheme to put strategic nuclear submarine into the operational waters of the Korean peninsula. The deployment of the U.S. strategic nuclear submarine carrying nuclear warheads in the Korean peninsula means that the U.S. strategic nuclear weapons will appear in the peninsula for the first time since 1981. This is a very dangerous situation as it will bring the regional military tension to a more critical state and may incite the worst crisis of nuclear conflict in practice. The present situation clearly proves that the situation of the Korean peninsula is coming closer to the threshold of nuclear conflict due to the U.S. provocative military action. The U.S. attempt to introduce strategic nuclear weapons into the Korean peninsula is the most undisguised nuclear blackmail against the DPRK and its neighboring countries and a grave threat and challenge to the regional and global peace and security. All the facts show most clearly who commits provocation and who exercises self-restraint, and who threatens and who is threatened on the Korean peninsula. It is necessary to make it clear once again who is to blame for the situation of military clash on the Korean peninsula that is approaching the worst crisis at present. Whether the extreme situation, desired by nobody, is created or not on the Korean peninsula depends on the future action of the U.S., and if any sudden situation happens in the future, the U.S. will be held totally accountable for it. The DPRK should show in the clearest way how it will take counteraction, in order to prevent the U.S. from doing such reckless acts with ease. The demonstrative actions like the deployment of strategic assets by the U.S. will never lead to the promotion of security but rather become a disaster of bringing more painful and worrying security crisis they themselves do not want. It is impossible to overlook the fact that the U.S. is getting more frantic in its military espionage against the sovereignty of the DPRK. Recently the U.S. has conducted hostile espionage activities in the Korean peninsula and its vicinity at an unprecedented level by intensively mobilizing various air reconnaissance means deployed in the Asia-Pacific operational theatre. This month alone, RC-135, U-2S and RQ-4B, strategic reconnaissance planes and reconnaissance drone belonging to the U.S. Air Force, flew over the East and West seas of Korea in turn for eight straight days from July 2 to 9 to conduct provocative aerial espionage on the DPRK’s strategic interior. In particular, a strategic reconnaissance plane of the U.S. Air Force illegally intruded into the inviolable airspace of the DPRK over its East Sea tens of kilometers several times. This year the U.S. sent various kinds of air reconnaissance means of its air force and navy, including strategic and electronic reconnaissance planes, into the airspace above the East and West seas of Korea and the Military Demarcation Line one after another. And it has got hell-bent on provocative information-gathering movement by letting high altitude strategic reconnaissance planes and drones fly north near the Military Demarcation Line. Quite obvious is the intention of the U.S. which is concentrating its air reconnaissance assets on the Korean peninsula, timed to coincide with the fact that it has staged joint air drills with B-52H nuclear strategic bomber involved one after another and calls for entry into south Korea of its strategic nuclear submarine carrying nuclear weapons. The U.S. has further intensified espionage activities beyond the wartime level by massively introducing air reconnaissance assets into the Korean peninsula where there exist a constant possibility of military conflict and the danger of a nuclear war is growing more serious. It is a clear threat to the sovereignty of the DPRK and a grave provocation plunging the regional situation into an irretrievable phase. We are analyzing the true intention of the U.S. ostentatiously perpetrating such reckless military action threatening the DPRK, while watching every provocative move. We are now maintaining our utmost patience and self-control, but everything has its limit. The present is the time when the U.S. is near the critical point to be concerned. The U.S. needs to recall one again the tragic fate of its spy plane EC-121 in 1969 and its reconnaissance helicopter which intruded into the area of our side along the Military Demarcation Line in 1994 and what dangerous situation its RC-135 was placed in March 2003. It is as clear as noonday what danger will be entailed by the fact that the enemy side’s spy planes are coming nearer to the territorial sky of its belligerent party in the Korean peninsula where huge armed forces and nuclear weapons are standing in confrontation with each other. The U.S. will surely have to pay a dear price for its provocative air espionage, frantically staged even invading the opposite side’s air space without previous notice. There is no guarantee that such shocking accident as downing of the U.S. Air Force strategic reconnaissance plane will not happen in the East Sea of Korea. The U.S. daily-escalating serious military activity for various purposes and the regional security environment getting more overheated evidently foretells a possible conflict. All the provocative moves of the U.S. should be stopped at once. We send a serious warning to all the U.S. dangerous and provocative military actions getting evermore undisguised.” (KCNA, “Press Statement by Spokesman for DPRK Ministry of National Defense,” July 10, 2023)

WPK Central Committee Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jong’s press statement: “A spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) this morning sent a serious warning to the U.S. forces’ worrying air espionage acts which have recently and seriously encroached upon the sovereignty, security and interests of the DPRK. Great irony is that the south Korean puppet military group quickly denied the U.S. forces’ serious infringement upon the sovereignty of the DPRK. Now the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the “ROK” are styling themselves spokesmen for the U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. The bad habit of quite often meddling in other’s affairs and feeling itchy if they do not so seems to be inveterate characteristics of the clans of the “ROK” that both the politicians and military gangsters have. How can they deny this hard fact without batting an eye? The intrusion into the DPRK’s 200-nautical mile economic water zone by the reconnaissance asset of the hostile country with a radius of detection of more than 240 nautical miles is clearly a grave encroachment upon the sovereignty and security of the DPRK. The sky above the economic water zone as well as the DPRK’s water zone along the military demarcation line is not a theatre for U.S. military exercises where its reconnaissance assets can enter at will. The puppet military should refrain from making far-fetched assertions and shut up. From around 5 a.m. today a strategic reconnaissance plane of the U.S. Air Force again conducted aerial reconnaissance of the eastern part of the DPRK while intruding into the sky above the economic water zone beyond the military demarcation line in sea waters of the DPRK side in the sky over the waters more than 270 km east of Uljin ~ 430 km east of Thongchon. The reconnaissance plane of the U.S. Air Force, which retreated by the responding sortie of the Air Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), again intruded into the sky above the military demarcation line in sea waters under the control of the DPRK side in the sky above the sea 400 km east of Kosong of Kangwon Province at around 8:50 and made a grave military provocation of conducting aerial reconnaissance. The KPA has already sent a strong warning to the U.S. forces’ side. A shocking incident would occur in the long run in the 20-40 km section in which the U.S. spy planes habitually intrude into the sky above the economic water zone of the DPRK beyond the Military Demarcation Line in sea waters. We will not take a direct counteraction against the U.S. forces’ acts of espionage outside the economic water zone of the DPRK side, but I repeatedly warn upon authorization that we will react with clear and resolute actions when they intrude into the economic water zone of the DPRK side beyond the military demarcation line in sea waters again. If the U.S. has not yet realized what danger is directly coming to it in disregard of the DPRK’s warning, the DPRK is not to blame for it. Moreover, if it suffers even a disaster, it will be a natural outcome of its acts.” (KCNA, “Press Statement of Kim Yo Jong, Vice Department Director of C.C., WPK,” July 11, 2023)

Van Diepen “In July 2019, North Korea revealed a conventionally powered ballistic missile submarine (SSB) in the late stages of construction and announced that it would be deployed in the near future. However, since then, there has been no evidence of the SSB’s launch, despite numerous occasions when that was expected. It is unclear what is holding up this process, although there are likely three key factors at play. 1. SSB efforts are much lower in priority than the North’s land-mobile missiles. 2. The submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) program is in flux, with three increasingly larger missiles having been unveiled since July 2019, but not yet flight tested — one of which may be too big for the new SSB to carry. 3. Problems may have been encountered in the construction of the new SSB that Pyongyang has still not overcome, or that may not be cost-effective to rectify, or the SSB may no longer meet the North’s operational needs. It remains to be seen when or if the new SSB ever sees the light of day. It is possible that the sub will be reconfigured once a suitably sized SLBM completes development or that it will be reconfigured for use in another role, such as supporting minisubs or special operational forces. Pyongyang may decide to dismantle the new SSB altogether in favor of building a larger sub. The SSB may just be left in the construction hall until a course of action is decided or even indefinitely. Whatever happens with the new SSB, a several-boat SSB force that could truly serve as a consequential and credible “leg” of a nuclear dyad or triad does not seem to be in the cards anytime soon. Pyongyang’s land-based missiles, which are much more survivable and cost-effective than an SSB force, are highly likely to remain the mainstay of its nuclear and missile forces. In July 2019, North Korean media reported that Kim Jong Un had “inspected a newly built submarine” and that the sub’s “operational deployment is near at hand.” Associated photos showed the presence of what appeared to be a substantially externally complete SSB inside a covered construction hall at the Sinpho South Shipyard. The sub seemed to be based on North Korea’s ROMEO-class submarine, which uses old Soviet technology, and apparently had room for three missile launch tubes in the sail. North Korea began work on the infrastructure to build a new type of submarine in June 2014, according to analysis of commercial imagery, and by September 2016, construction of the SSB appeared to be underway. Since mid-2019, there have been several instances where experts and analysts have predicted the imminent rollout of the new SSB based on various shipyard activities, upcoming North Korean ceremonial days, or trends in the North’s missile activities. These include: In September 2019, based on the erection of a concealment structure at the shipyard. In October 2019, based on the first flight test of the Pukguksong-3 (PKS-3) SLBM from a submersible test platform. In December 2019, given “growing speculation concerning a North Korean end-of-year ‘surprise.’” In May 2020, given speculation, triggered by Pyongyang’s touting of “new policies for further increasing the nuclear war deterrence,” that an SSB rollout would be “the most probable step North Korea may take” to make good on December 2019 warnings of a “new strategic weapon.” In October 2020, based on the belief by some of an “increasing” probability of an SSB rollout, reinforced by the upcoming October 10 Korean Workers’ Party Foundation Day celebration. In March 2021, based on the opportunity presented by the end of the North’s annual winter training cycle or presented by the upcoming July-September summer cycle. In April 2021, based on repositioning of the SLBM submersible test barge at the Sinpho South Shipyard. Also in April, based on “mounting speculation” of an SSB rollout given the additional impetus of the impending celebration of Kim Il Sung’s birthday. Yet again in April 2021, based on the imminence of the mid-month “Day of the Sun” anniversary, used in the past for tests of missile technology. In September 2021, based on the “considerable pressure” that was “likely” placed on North Korea to roll out the SSB by “South Korean reports during the past month describing their development and launching of a new class of ballistic missile submarine and reported testing of a submarine-launched ballistic missile.” In May 2022, based on the “increasing probability” of an SSB rollout, “considering the North’s accelerated testing rate of various ballistic missile systems during the past seven months.” Most recently, in October 2022, based on an atypical level of activity at the shipyard. North Korea could have rolled the SSB out of the construction hall at any time since at least the summer of 2020, when the parts yard apparently used to stage components flowing into the construction hall has been empty, suggesting the end of major construction, or July 2021, when the South Korean press claimed the Republic of Korea (ROK) and US intelligence assessed construction of the SSB was complete. As of June 10, 2023, there was still no open source evidence the SSB has been launched, although it is and will remain the case that the sub could be rolled out at any time in the future. The long period of time since Pyongyang publicly reported the SSB’s “operational deployment is near at hand” strongly suggests there are some compelling reasons why the sub has remained in the construction hall. Based on analysis of the available information, one or more of the following three key factors probably explains why the new SSB has been a no-show for almost four years. Missile subs are not a high priority. When the new SSB was revealed, the US media often claimed that Kim Jong Un was “determined to deploy it as soon as he can” and had a “full steam ahead program to perfect his submarines.” Such commentary was bolstered by assessments that North Korea was seeking to develop a “second leg of the nuclear triad,” even “undeniably” so. Clearly, the SSB program has not actually proceeded in this fashion and has not taken any central role in North Korea’s nuclear force. Pyongyang thus does not appear to have put much priority on ballistic missile submarines, and so there seems to be little pressure to finalize the new sub. (This lack of priority also is reflected in the associated SLBM program, discussed below.) A contrary example of what the North can do when it decides to ramp up the priority of a program is the recent attempt to place a reconnaissance satellite into orbit: a new satellite and space-launch vehicle — the Chollima-1 — were developed, and in just over a month a new launch pad was erected from scratch and used to conduct the first (albeit unsuccessful) launch on May 31, 2023. There are good operational and cost-effective reasons for the SSB not being a priority for North Korea, although we do not know the extent to which those reasons have influenced its decisions. The North’s large, longstanding force of road-mobile, land-based ballistic missiles offers substantially more survivability than noisy ROMEO-based SSBs that would be at substantial risk of acoustic detection and operate under conditions of allied air and naval superiority. SSBs will not expand the target coverage of land-mobile missiles or add meaningfully to the number of warheads North Korea can deliver — which can be done more cost-effectively by adding more truck- or railcar-based land-mobile missile launchers than by adding more resource-intensive, slow-to-build SSBs that only carry three SLBMs each. The SLBM program is in flux. When the SSB was first unveiled, it was widely assumed that the sub would carry the Pukguksong-3 SLBM (about 8 meters long and 1.6 meters in diameter), a missile revealed by the North in 2017 and flight tested for the first and only time in October 2019. Since then, the North has displayed — but has not yet flight tested — three progressively larger (and thus longer-ranged) SLBMs: The Pukguksong-4 (about 2 meters longer than the PKS-3 and about 2.05 meters in diameter), paraded in October 2020; The Pukguksong-5 (about 1.7 meters longer than the PKS-4, but the same diameter), paraded in January 2021; and A new large SLBM (presumably Pukguksong-6, about 1.6 meters longer than the PKS-5 and about 2.21 meters in diameter), paraded in April 2022. This lack of SLBM developmental flight testing also suggests lower priority for SSBs. In stark contrast, North Korea has flight tested six new types of land-based ballistic missiles since the only Pukguksong-3 SLBM test in October 2019: two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), two “hypersonic” medium-range ballistic missiles, and two intercontinental ballistic missiles. It also tested two new types of land-attack cruise missiles (LACM). Having the longest-ranged SLBMs possible makes the most military and operational sense for Pyongyang. This allows the associated missile sub to strike targets that are farther away while staying in waters closer to North Korea (and thus farther from allied anti-submarine assets, and closer to North Korean air and naval assets that can help protect the SSB). The delays in flight testing any of the new SLBMs (reinforced by the lack of any known ejection testing) may well have contributed to the delay in rolling out the new SSB, which would need to have its sail section modified to accept progressively larger launch tubes for the series of new SLBMs. Moreover, if the new large SLBM is now the missile of choice, it is possible that the new SSB is simply too small to accommodate that missile. This might mean that the SSB has become obsolete even before seeing the light of day. Further confusing the picture, North Korea launched a KN-23 SRBM from its single-tube GORAE (or SINPO)-class ballistic missile test submarine in October 2021. The test sub apparently is still configured to launch that much smaller, shorter-range missile (about 7.5 meters long and 0.9 meters in diameter) and would need to be reconfigured if it was going to be used in the flight testing of one of the larger SLBMs for ultimate deployment on the new SSB. Moreover, the GORAE’s missile hatch appears to be only 1.8 meters in diameter, which is too small to accommodate the new large SLBM. In any case, a deployed sub-launched KN-23 makes very little military sense, given the North’s large existing force of more survivable land-based SRBMs. It is possible that the North encountered problems in the construction of the new SSB (or its conversion from a preexisting ROMEO) that it has still not overcome, that any such problems were somehow insurmountable or not cost-effective to rectify, or that the North came to realize the SSB would not meet its operational needs. An example of the latter reason could be that, as noted above, the sub may be too small to accommodate the new large SLBM. All that can be said at this point is that there has been no evidence that the SSB has been moved from the construction hall, and given the lack of activity in the construction hall’s parts yard since the summer of 2020, it does not appear that the SSB has thus far been dismantled or subjected to major reconstruction, or that a replacement submarine is being built alongside it. It remains to be seen when or if the new SSB will ever be launched. There are four main possibilities for its future, listed in descending order of likelihood: North Korea may decide to configure it for a suitably sized missile, such as the KN-23 SRBM; the Pukguksong-3, -4, or -5 SLBMs if any of them complete development; or even a vertically launched version of the “Hwasal” LACM. It may decide to reconfigure the sub for use in another role, such as supporting minisubs or special operations forces — or even the “Haeil” nuclear-armed unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) if that system truly is intended for deployment. It may decide to dismantle the SSB, perhaps in favor of a larger sub able to carry the new large SLBM. Although likely aspirational in the near term, Kim Jong Un, in his January 2021 report to the Eighth Party Congress, set a task to “possess a nuclear-powered submarine.” Or it may allow the sub to lie fallow in the construction hall, either for another several years until it decides upon one of the above courses of action, or perhaps even indefinitely. Whatever happens with the new SSB, a several-boat SSB force that could truly serve as a consequential and credible “leg” of a nuclear dyad or triad does not appear to be in the cards anytime soon. Pyongyang’s land-based missiles, which are much more survivable and cost-effective than an SSB force, are highly likely to remain the mainstay of its nuclear and missile forces.” (Vann H. Van Diepen, “Hey, Boomer: What Happened to North Korea’s Ballistic Missile Subs?” 38North, July 10, 2023)

7/11/23:
WPK Central Committee Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jong’s press statement: “As regards the provocation by the U.S. forces, the military of the “ROK” again impudently took the lead in denying the encroachment on the DPRK’s sovereignty, while shamelessly asserting that it was a “normal flight of the ‘ROK’ and the U.S.” The issue related to the relevant aerial area is the one between the Korean People’s Army and the U.S. forces. The military gangsters of the “ROK” should stop acting impudently and shut up at once. The strategic reconnaissance plane of the U.S. Air Force illegally intruded into the economic water zone of the DPRK side in the East Sea of Korea eight times in the sky above the sea of 435 km east of Thongchon of Kangwon Province~276 km southeast of Uljin of North Kyongsang Province from 5:15 to 13:10 on July 10, to commit an aerial espionage act. I have already notified beforehand the counteraction of our army upon authorization. In case of repeated illegal intrusion, the U.S. forces will experience a very critical flight.” (KCNA, “Press Statement of Kim Yo Jong, Vice Department Director of C.C., WPK,” July 11, 2023)

7/12/23:
North Korea today launched an intercontinental ballistic missile toward the Sea of Japan, marking the longest-ever flight time for a projectile fired by the country at 74 minutes, the Japanese government said. The ICBM was fired at around 9:59 a.m. from a site near Pyongyang and fell into the sea some 250 kilometers west of Okushiri Island, which lies just off Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido, at about 11:13 a.m., the government said. The launch came after Pyongyang recently lambasted U.S. military activities near its territory as provocative, while the United States plans to send a nuclear-armed submarine to South Korea, further escalating tensions surrounding the Korean Peninsula. The missile is estimated to have flown around 1,000 km at a maximum altitude of more than 6,000 km, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno Hirokazu said, adding that the projectile could have been fired on a steep vertical path or a “lofted trajectory” based on its flight time. There were no reports of damage by the missile, which fell outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, said Matsuno, the top government spokesman. projected one, without elaborating the reasons. In Lithuania, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio told reporters that North Korea’s repeated missile launches in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Pyongyang are “totally unacceptable” and “pose a threat to peace and safety” in the region and the international community. Kishida, who is in the European nation to participate in a NATO summit, said Japan “strongly” condemns North Korea’s actions and that Tokyo had lodged a protest with Pyongyang. Japan will work closely with the United States and South Korea to monitor the North’s missile and nuclear activities and analyze related information, Kishida said. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who is also in Lithuania, criticized the North’s missile launch, saying the country will be made to “pay a price for the illicit act,” according to his office. The Japanese government held a meeting of the National Security Council involving senior government officials in Tokyo at the request of Kishida. At their bilateral summit in Lithuania today, Kishida told Yoon that trilateral security cooperation among Japan, South Korea and the United States is necessary to tackle missile and nuclear threats from the North. Despite North Korea’s repeated provocations, Kishida has voiced readiness to establish high-level talks with the nation to pave the way for an early meeting with leader Kim Jong Un to resolve the issue of the past abductions of Japanese nationals by Pyongyang. North Korea, however, has claimed that the abduction issue has been already resolved. Pyongyang last fired ballistic missiles on June 15 when two short-range projectiles fell inside Japan’s EEZ off Ishikawa Prefecture along the Sea of Japan. The firing of the projectile may have been a fresh test of the Hwasong-18 new solid-fuel ICBM launched in April, which is viewed as capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. A solid-fuel missile does not require fueling prior to launch like a liquid-fuel missile, making it harder for other countries to detect preparations for firing as well as giving it a better pre-emptive strike and retaliatory capability. (Kyodo, “North Korea Fires ICBM, Longest-Ever Flight Time,” July 12, 2023)

KCNA: “As a part of the efforts to bolster the just right to self-defense to reliably defend the security of our state and regional peace from the disaster of a nuclear war and thoroughly deter the dangerous military moves of the hostile forces, the General Missile Bureau conducted the test-fire of new-type ICBM Hwasongpho-18, the core weapon system of the strategic force of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on July 12. The test-fire was conducted according to the strategic judgment and crucial decision of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) at a grave period when the military security situation on the Korean peninsula and in the region has reached the phase of nuclear crisis beyond the Cold War era as the U.S. and its vassal forces’ unprecedented military provocations against the DPRK have been intensified. The U.S. cooked up the “Washington Declaration,” a program for nuclear confrontation with the DPRK, in April. It is openly planning to discuss the use of nuclear weapons against our state through a meeting of the U.S.-south Korea “Nuclear Consultative Group” which will be the parent body of the U.S.-Japan-south Korea “tripartite nuclear alliance”. It is driving the regional situation to the brink of an unprecedented nuclear war, while frequently deploying nuclear-powered submarine and nuclear strategic bomber around the Korean peninsula and its vicinity under the pretext of increased “visibility” of the U.S. strategic assets. What merits more serious attention is that the U.S., resorting to extremely provocative aerial espionage acts even by encroaching upon the sovereign territory of the DPRK, is planning to bring nuclear weapons to the Korean peninsula again by sending a U.S. nuclear submarine carrying strategic nukes to south Korea for the first time after 40 years. Such reckless military moves of the U.S. constitute the provocative act with aggressive nature pushing the situation on the Korean peninsula to the actual situation of armed conflict from A to Z, far beyond the constant military readiness posture targeting its belligerent party, and have irreversible negative impact on the regional military and political situation and security structure. The present situation, in which the U.S. and south Korea’s frantic confrontational attempts that will bring a new chain of nuclear crises to the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia are nearing an intolerable critical point, requires the DPRK to put spurs to bolstering the capability for self-defense and strengthening the nuclear war deterrence for self-defense in order to deter the reckless political and military provocations of the hostile forces by physical force and to impregnably defend itself. The test-fire is an essential process aimed at further developing the strategic nuclear force of the Republic and, at the same time, serves as a strong practical warning to clearly show the adversaries, which make clearer the policy of nuclear threat to the DPRK, the unwavering will to overwhelmingly counter them and the entity of physical strength, and to make the enemies clearly realize once again how risky and reckless their anti-DPRK military option is. Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and president of the State Affairs of the DPRK, personally guided the test-fire of a new-type ICBM Hwasongpho-18 on the spot. The test-fire was aimed at re-confirming the technical creditability and operational reliability of the new-type ICBM weapon system. In consideration of the security of the neighboring countries and the stability of domestic in-flight multi-stage separation, the test-fire was conducted in the way of setting the first stage as a standard ballistic flight mode and the second and third stages as high-angle flight mode and of confirming the technical characteristics of every component of the weapon system in the maximum range system. When the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un mounted the central command observation post to approve the test-fire of a new-type strategic weapon, General Kim Jong Sik issued a launch order to the Second Red Flag Company under the General Missile Bureau in charge of the test-fire mission. The moment, a huge body began soaring into the sky with a shower of fire in its tail, making a deafening explosion to signal the emergence of the entity of the strategic weapon fully loaded with the strength and technology of the DPRK. The test-fire had no negative effect on the security of the neighboring countries. The missile traveled up to a maximum altitude of 6 648.4 km and flew a distance of 1 001.2 km for 4 491s before accurately landing on the preset area in the open waters off the East Sea of Korea. All the new records confirmed through the test-fire proved the capability, reliability and military utility of the new-type strategic weapon system and verified the undoubted dependability of the nuclear strategic force of the DPRK. The Hwasongpho-18 weapon system, equipped and operated by the strategic force of the DPRK under the long-term plan for building the state nuclear force, will perform its mission and duty as the most powerful, core main force means for thoroughly deterring and overwhelmingly responding to diverse threats of a nuclear war and provocative acts of aggression against the DPRK and for reliably defending the security of the DPRK. Expressing great satisfaction over the results of the test-fire, the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un said with pleasure that this eventual success which fully demonstrated the might of the DPRK fully equipped with the firm nuclear war deterrence for self-defense and the overwhelming offensive power serves as another important stride in developing the strategic force of the DPRK. Noting that the present unstable situation in which the security environment on the Korean peninsula is being seriously threatened by the hostile forces every moment requires more intense efforts to implement the line of bolstering nuclear war deterrent set forth by the Eighth Congress of the WPK, he clarified again that there will be no change and vacillation in the strategic line and policy of the WPK and the DPRK government to steadily accelerate the development of more developed, effective and reliable weapon system. Saying that as the reality shows, it is a recognized law that only more surprising events will be ceaselessly recorded in the DPRK’s advance for bolstering the national defense capability, given the hostile forces’ ever-escalating military threat and challenges, he reaffirmed that a series of stronger military offensives will be launched until the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet traitors admit the shameful defeat of their useless hostile policy toward the DPRK in despair and give up their policy. He set forth the strategic tasks for the sector of the national defense science in dynamically promoting the bolstering of the nuclear strategic force of the DPRK. He extended warm congratulations and thanks to all the scientists and technicians in the national defense scientific research field who made a history of eternal victory for the times and future through the great success in the test of new strategic weapon system ahead of the 70th anniversary of the significant day of war victory the great Korean people won by totally shattering the myth of the “mightiness” of the U.S. imperialists. All the national defense scientists made a firm pledge to fulfill the important mission and duty they assumed before the Party, revolution, country and people. (KCNA, “Another Event of Great Significance Recorded in Developing Strategic Force of DPRK; Test-fire of New-type ICBM Conducted; Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Guides Test-fire of ICBM Hwasongpho-18,” July 13, 2023)

Van Diepen: “North Korea successfully conducted a second flight test of the Hwasong-18 (HS-18) solid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on July 12. The road-mobile launcher and missile appear unchanged from the previous flight, also a success, on April 13. Pyongyang suggested the lofted-trajectory flight, much longer in duration and higher in apogee than that in April, demonstrated the HS-18’s maximum range capability — on the order of 15,000 kilometers (km) if flown on an operational trajectory, easily enough to reach anywhere in the continental United States. This latest achievement shows that the HS-18 is nearing operational deployment, which, given the North’s past patterns of development, could be announced soon or perhaps after one or two more tests. When it is deployed, the HS-18 will add incrementally to the existing, ongoing deployments of HS-15 and -17 liquid propellant ICBMs. Although it will be somewhat more survivable in the field than the already-survivable road-mobile liquid ICBMs, the HS-18 will not be a “game-changer” and will not substantially boost the North’s ongoing ICBM threat to the US. North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on July 12, according to the South Korean and Japanese governments. The missile reportedly flew 74 minutes on a highly lofted trajectory with an apogee of about 6,000 km, landing in the sea about 1,000 km northeast of the launch site near Pyongyang. The next day, North Korean media reported the successful “test-fire of new-type ICBM Hwasongpho-18” (Hwasong-18) to a range of 1,001.2 km at a maximum altitude of 6,648.4 km on a 4,491-second (74.85-minute) flight. The missile reportedly flew with “the first stage as a standard ballistic flight mode and the second and third stages as high-angle flight mode…in the maximum range system.” The launch was explained as both “an essential process aimed at further developing the strategic nuclear force of the Republic” and as “a strong practical warning to clearly show the adversaries…the unwavering will to overwhelmingly counter them…and to make the enemies clearly realize once again how risky and reckless their anti-DPRK military option is.” Associated photos and video released by Pyongyang showed the canisterized HS-18 rolled out, erected, and cold-launched from a nine-axle, wheeled transporter-erector-launcher (TEL). The missile’s ejection from the canister, ignition and initial flight were shown, along with glimpses of stage separation. The TEL and missile appear unchanged from the first launch of the HS-18 on April 13 — also an apparent success. The latest launch had the longest flight time and highest apogee of any North Korean ICBM flight, much longer than the previous HS-18 flight of 58 minutes to an apogee reported by Japan and South Korea to be less than 5,000 or even 3,000 km (the North did not report the apogee of that flight). The April flight was reported by North Korea to have an unusual trajectory and delayed separation and ignition of the upper stages, which probably explains its lesser performance compared to the latest flight. Pyongyang suggested that the July launch exhibited the HS-18’s “maximum range.” According to some sources, the amount of energy demonstrated in that flight would allow the missile to travel 15,000 km on an operational “minimum energy” trajectory — easily enough to reach anywhere in the continental United States.[1] The payload weight demonstrated in both HS-18 flights is unknown; if the ultimately deployed payload is heavier than flown in the first two tests, the missile’s range will be less. The latest launch apparently occurred from the same location as the one in April, a grass-covered concrete apron on the grounds of a private mansion near Pyongyang. It has been suggested that the use of a concreted area and a wheeled TEL mean the HS-18 would be largely confined to operating on paved roads, and that consequential off-road capability would require the use of a tracked launcher. However, the fact that all of the world’s currently deployed road-mobile ICBMs — North Korea’s liquid-propellant HS-15 and -17, China’s solid-propellant DF-31 and -41, and Russia’s solid-propellant SS-25 and SS-27 Mods 1 and 2 — use wheeled TELs is a strong indication such vehicles have sufficient off-road mobility to allow adequate survivability. The second consecutive apparent flight test success of the HS-18 shows that the missile system is in the late stages of development and nearing operational deployment. North Korea may indicate soon that the missile is deployed, as it did with varying degrees of directness for the HS-15 and HS-17 ICBMs, although it may conduct one or two more flight tests first. When it is deployed, the HS-18 will add incrementally to the existing, ongoing deployments of HS-15 and -17 liquid propellant ICBMs to the extent North Korea’s production capacities for nuclear weapons and solid-propellant and its resource allocation decisions allow. The HS-18 is not “far more advanced” than the HS-15 and -17, which use modern storable propellants. It will be somewhat more survivable in the field than the already-survivable road-mobile liquid ICBMs, however, and should be at least as reliable. It continues to be the case that the addition of solid ICBMs is not a “game-changer” and “does not substantially boost the North’s ongoing ICBM threat to the US.” (Vann H. Van Diepen, “Second Consecutive Successful Flight Test Brings North Korea’s Hwasong-18 ICBM Close to Deployment,” 38North, July 18, 2023)

7/13/23:
South Korea and the United States conducted combined air drills, involving at least one U.S. B-52H strategic bomber, over the Korean Peninsula today, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, a day after North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The South deployed F-15K fighters to the drills, while the U.S. also sent F-16 jets, the JCS said, without specifying where in the peninsula the exercise took place. “Through this exercise, South Korea and the United States enhanced combined operational capabilities through the swift deployment of the U.S. extended deterrence asset that was coordinated in a timely manner,” the JCS said in a release. It said the drills demonstrated the U.S.’ resolve to carry out its “extended deterrence” commitment, adding that the South Korea-U.S. alliance will continue to realize “peace through strength” based on their “overwhelming” capabilities. (Yonhap, “S. Korea, U.S. Stage Air Drills Involing B-52H Strategic Bomber after N.K. ICBM Launch,” Korea Herald, July 13, 2023)

7/14/23:
WPK Central Committee Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jong’s press statement: “To thoroughly contain and frustrate the most hostile and threatening nuclear confrontation policy of the U.S. against the DPRK is the just right to self-defense to defend the Korean peninsula and the Asia-Pacific region from the disaster of a nuclear war, and no one has any justification for slandering the DPRK’s launch of new-type ICBM. The recent launch, conducted in the safest way, taking into full consideration any potential danger that may affect the security of neighboring countries, did not do any harm to international maritime and air security. However, the UNSC held an open meeting again to unilaterally pick a quarrel with the DPRK’s exercise of the right to self-defense, in disregard of the DPRK’s just security concern and the U.S. criminal attempt to increase the possibility of outbreak of a real nuclear war in the Korean peninsula and the region. This perfectly proved that it is a confrontation organization destroying the global peace and stability and a new Cold War mechanism totally inclined to the U.S. and the West. I express strong displeasure over and scathingly condemn the unfair and prejudiced behavior of the UNSC which again called into question the DPRK’s exercise of its just right to self-defense, which did not hurt anyone, under the unchanged and boring illegal pretext of violation of the UN “resolution.” Due to the aggressive provocations of the U.S. far beyond its constant military readiness, the situation of the Korean peninsula is now heading toward the threshold of nuclear clash and the outbreak of a nuclear war is not hypothetical but is becoming a miserable reality that countries in the Northeast Asian region have to face in the near future. The U.S. has frequently staged the joint military drills with clear aggressive character by mobilizing nuclear submarines, nuclear strategic bombers and other various nuclear strategic assets under the pretext of the offer of the so-called “extended deterrence” and planned to put into the Korean peninsula a nuclear submarine with strategic nukes for the first time in more than 40 years, along with the operation of the U.S.-south Korea “nuclear consultative group”, a nuclear war tool. Such military provocations of the U.S. are the most direct threat to the security of not only the DPRK but also all other Northeast Asian countries. The UNSC, whose mission is to defend global peace and security, should have squarely confronted this fact and properly judged who threatens with nukes and who is exposed to nuclear threat. Ignoring such bounden duty, the UNSC connived at and fostered and even instigated the U.S. moves to exterminate the DPRK, an expression of the extremely unfair and double-standard behavior. This is an irresponsible crime of pushing the whole of Northeast Asia and Asia-Pacific to the holocaust of a nuclear war. As the UNSC deliberately ignores the U.S. dangerous nuclear threat and blackmail, the U.S. nuclear weapons including strategic nuclear submarine will be more massively, often and openly deployed in the Korean peninsula under the mask of “lawfulness,” and the Northeast Asia will be soon turned into the world’s biggest nuclear arsenal. If an undesirable, unprecedented nuclear war breaks out in the Korean peninsula, the UNSC will be held accountable for it as it has worked hard to categorically restrain the DPRK from exercising its legitimate right to self-defense while being on the U.S. side. Availing myself of this opportunity, I warn that the riffraff, accustomed to follow their U.S. master blindly, joined in making public an anti-DPRK “joint statement” which is not recognized by anyone outside the arena. The U.S. should be aware that the more it makes the DPRK feel unpleasant, the worse it finds itself in a dilemma. Only when the U.S. withdraws its hostile policy toward the DPRK, can the DPRK’s displeasure and the evil cycle of the situation, which no one wants, disappear. However, the more the U.S. persists in its reckless and provocative confrontation option, refusing to reject it, the more the situation will lead to a very unpleasant direction for the U.S., and it itself will feel it every minute, every second, every hour and every day. The price the U.S. has to pay for its moves against the DPRK will never be low, and I do not conceal the fact that very unlucky things will wait for the U.S. The U.S. should be aware that the DPRK’s mode and scope of counteraction may be freer along with the increased “visibility” of deploying strategic assets on the Korean peninsula. Now that the U.S. does not respond to the abandonment of its hostile policy toward the DPRK, the only solution to achieving peace and stability in the Korean peninsula and the region, the DPRK will further put spurs to building up the most overwhelming nuclear deterrence until the U.S. admits its policy failure and for itself rolls back its line of confrontation with the DPRK.” (KCNA, “Press Statement of Kim Yo Jong, Vice Department Director of C.C., WPK,” July 14, 2023)

7/17/23:
WPK Central Committee Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jong’s press statement: “Recently the U.S. side builds up public opinion that the DPRK does not respond to dialogue. This is a tendency reflecting the uneasy and anxious mind of the U.S. which has continuously witnessed the thing it most fears in recent days. The present situation in the Korean peninsula has reached such a phase that the possibility of an actual armed conflict and even the outbreak of a nuclear war is debated, going far beyond the phase of acute confrontation between the DPRK and the U.S. created in 2017. As I had already clarified who is entirely responsible for the situation, this time I am going to refer to the absurdity of “dialogue without any preconditions” and “opened door of diplomacy” much touted by the U.S. in public. We had held a series of dialogues and negotiations with the U.S. since the 1990s. Therefore, we are aware that lurking behind the present U.S. administration’s proposal for “dialogue without any preconditions” is a trick to prevent the thing it fears from happening again. Even if the DPRK-U.S. dialogue is supposed to start, it is as clear as noonday that the present U.S. administration will put nothing but only “CVID” on the negotiation table. Today “denuclearization” is an outdated word to be found only in a dictionary of dead words. No matter how hard the U.S. racks its brain, it would be impossible for it to find out the terms and bargaining chip for negotiation with the DPRK. We can predict the possibility that the U.S. may play such old trick as a temporary halt to the U.S.-south Korea joint military drills, to which its preceding president was committed a few years ago, or merely please someone with such reversible things as reduced combined military drills and halt to the deployment of strategic assets. Such a slender trick for earning time can never work on us. Once decided, the strategic assets of the U.S. will be deployed in the Korean peninsula in a matter of 10 hours and 20 days will be enough for it to resume the joint military exercises by re-deploying troops. We are well aware that if the U.S. employs such a strategic trick as the end of its military presence in south Korea and withdraws all its troops and military equipment from south Korea, which is something fantastical, it will take only 15 days for the overseas-stationed U.S. troops to return to the “Republic of Korea” and turn it into a military vantage point. It is as easy as pie for the U.S. political circles to exclude the DPRK from the list of “sponsors of terrorism” today but re-list it tomorrow. In the final analysis, we are well aware that what the U.S. can offer to the DPRK in the dialogue is all changeable and reversible. However, what the U.S. wants from the DPRK is the “complete and irreversible denuclearization.” Then, can we exchange the eternal security of our state for immediate benefit, pinning our faith on such reversible commitment? We do not act against our own interests. The U.S. might be well aware why the DPRK has no interest in the dialogue with it. Even through the recent UNSC meeting on our launch of new-type ICBM, we could clearly confirm once again how our rivals have prolonged their policy toward the DPRK and what a sweet dream they have, along with the transfer of power from Moon Jae In to Yoon Suk Yeol, and from Trump to Biden. In the United States of America and the “Republic of Korea,” any agreements, signed and committed by preceding presidents, are instantly reversed once new regimes emerge. That’s why we have to adopt a long-term strategy against the “ROK”, the top-class stooge of America, and the USA, the empire of world evils, not such individuals as Yoon Suk Yeol or Biden, and build up a mechanism for guaranteeing the prospective security of the DPRK on the basis of overwhelming deterrent. It is a daydream for the U.S. to think that it can stop the advance of the DPRK and, furthermore, achieve irreversible disarmament through the interim suspension of joint military exercises, halt to the deployment of strategic assets and the reversible sanction relief. We squarely face up and attach importance to the reality. The reality before the DPRK is not dialogue repeatedly touted by the U.S. like an automatic teller machine but the nuclear strategic bomber flying near the DPRK regardless of time, air espionage of the U.S. violating our territorial sovereignty, convocation of the “nuclear consultative group” meeting openly discussing the use of nukes against the DPRK and the entry of U.S. strategic nuclear submarine into waters of the Korean peninsula for the first time in 40-odd years. The U.S. should know that its bolstered extended deterrence system and excessively extended military alliance system, a threatening entity, will only make the DPRK go farther away from the negotiating table desired by it. The most appropriate way for ensuring peace and stability in the Korean peninsula at present is to deter the U.S. highhanded and arbitrary practices in the position of might and with enough exercise of power, rather than solving the problem with the gangster-like Americans in a friendly manner. The DPRK is ready for resolutely countering any acts of violating its sovereignty and territorial integrity, threatening the wellbeing of its people and destroying peace and stability of the Korean peninsula. The U.S. should stop its foolish act of provoking the DPRK even by imperiling its security. What the U.S. witnessed in a worry a few days ago is just a beginning of the DPRK’s already-launched military offensive.” (KCNA, “Press Statement of Kim Yo Jong, Vice Department Director of C.C., WPK,” July 17, 2023)

7/18/23:
A U.S. nuclear-capable submarine is currently making a port call in Busan for the first time in decades to demonstrate the U.S. extended deterrence commitment to South Korea, a White House official said Tuesday. U.S. National Security Council (NSC) Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell made the remark to reporters at the presidential office after co-chairing the inaugural session of the Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) agreed by President Yoon Suk Yeol and U.S. President Joe Biden in April. “As we speak an American nuclear submarine is making port in Busan today. It’s the first visit of an American nuclear submarine in decades,” Campbell said. The last time a U.S. ballistic missile submarine visited South Korea is known to have been in March 1981, when the USS Robert E. Lee made a port call. The nuclear submarine headed to the southeastern city is the USS Kentucky, a U.S. Navy Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, the defense ministry later said in a press release announcing its arrival. The visit followed a U.S. pledge to send a nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarine to South Korea in the Washington Declaration adopted by Yoon and Biden during their summit in Washington in April to further enhance the “regular visibility” of strategic assets on the Korean Peninsula. A North Korean defense ministry spokesperson denounced the plan last week, warning it “may incite the worst crisis of nuclear conflict in practice.” The NCG was established under the Washington Declaration to discuss ways to strengthen the U.S. extended deterrence commitment to defending South Korea with all of its military capabilities, including nuclear weapons, amid calls in South Korea for its own nuclear armament to counter North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile threats. The notion of South Korea’s own nuclear armament has been rejected by the U.S. The NCG’s stated objective is to strengthen extended deterrence, discuss nuclear and strategic planning and manage the threat to the nonproliferation regime posed by North Korea, with the involvement of senior national security and defense officials from both sides. The first session was led by Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Tae-hyo, Campbell and NSC Coordinator for Defense Policy and Arms Control Cara Abercrombie. “The U.S. side showed resolve that in the event North Korea carries out a nuclear attack against the Republic of Korea, it will take swift, overwhelming and decisive response measures together and that this will lead to the end of the North Korean regime,” Kim said during the same press briefing. “We made clear that we have full confidence in this U.S. extended deterrence commitment.” A joint press release on the meeting said the two sides agreed the NCG will play an integral role in discussing and advancing bilateral approaches and guidelines to nuclear and strategic planning and responses to North Korean aggression. “To that end, both sides established a range of workstreams to bolster nuclear deterrence and response capabilities on the Korean Peninsula, including the development of security and information sharing protocols; nuclear consultation and communication processes in crises and contingencies; as well as coordination and development of relevant planning, operations, exercises, simulations, trainings, and investment activities,” the statement said. “In particular, the U.S. and ROK discussed joint planning and execution of ROK conventional support to U.S. nuclear operations as well as how to enhance visibility of U.S. strategic asset deployments around the Korean Peninsula,” it said, using the acronym of South Korea’s formal name, the Republic of Korea. The release said both sides committed to promptly executing the workstreams and other efforts within the NCG and to report progress to their respective presidents in the coming months. The group will be held quarterly at appropriate levels, with the next principal-level meeting set to be held in the U.S. later this year, it said. (Lee Haye-ah, “U.S. Nuclear-Capable Submarine Making Port Call in Busan for First Time in Decades: Campbell,” Yonhap, July 18, 2023)

North Korea has not yet responded to the mystery surrounding United States Army Pvt. Travis T. King’s decision to flee across the inter-Korean border today, and it may not comment on the case for days, or even months. Although North Korea has yet to acknowledge that it has Private King in its custody, given its past practices with other American detainees, much of its response will likely be determined by King’s motive. American soldiers who have deserted into North Korea in the past have been accepted as defectors who renounced capitalist ideology and have been allowed by the authorities in Pyongyang, to live in the country. Americans accused of illegal entry are held in detention and are sometimes released and expelled, or prosecuted and sentenced to hard labor. No matter the scenario, North Korea has treated such Americans as propaganda tools against the United States, and in some cases it has tried to use them as bargaining chips in negotiations with Washington, which has no formal diplomatic ties with the North. The Pentagon has only said that King dashed across the inter-Korean border into North Korea “willfully and without authorization” while he was on a group tour of the Joint Security Area, or Panmunjom, which lies in the middle of the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South. King, 23, had been assigned to South Korea as a member of the First Brigade Combat Team, First Armored Division. After he was released earlier this month from a South Korean detention center, where he spent time on assault charges, he was escorted by U.S. military personnel to Incheon International Airport outside Seoul yesterday to board a plane to the United States, where he was expected to face additional disciplinary action. He never boarded the plane. Instead, he took a tour bus to Panmunjom the next day. The last time an American soldier deserted into North Korea was in 1982. North Korea’s border is still shut, and its continued pandemic restrictions make it unlikely that Pyongyang would invite a high-profile American delegation into the country to retrieve King, as it did with some previous American detainees. In South Korea, some expressed their disbelief over King’s decision to flee into the North, as well as the possible security loopholes at the Joint Security Area. “I get that he was scared to go to the States to face his punishment, but he might get stuck in North Korea,” said Lee Jay-hyung, a 35-year-old consultant in Seoul. “It was a stupid move.” (Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Silent on U.S. Soldier Who Crossed Border,” New York Times, July 21, 2023, p. A-5)

7/19/23:
North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles toward the Sea of Japan early today, South Korean and Japanese officials said, in apparent retaliation to moves by the United States and South Korea to deter Pyongyang from using nuclear weapons. Japanese Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu told reporters that the two projectiles apparently fell outside the country’s exclusive economic zone, which extends some 370 kilometers from its coastline. Each missile flew for up to 600 km with a peak altitude of some 50 km, Hamada said, adding that they may have traveled on an irregular trajectory. The South Korean military said the North launched the missiles from near the Sunan area of Pyongyang between approximately 3:30 a.m. and 3:46 a.m. The Japanese government has received no reports of damage to aircraft or ships following the launches, and it has lodged a protest with North Korea through a diplomatic channel, Hamada said. (Kyodo, “North Korea Launches 2 Ballistic Missiles toward Sea of Japan,” July 19, 2023)

7/20/23:
DPRK Minister of National Defense Kang Sun Nam’s press statement: “In defiance of the repeated warning by the DPRK and serious concern of the international community, the U.S. and the group of traitors of the “Republic of Korea” (ROK) held a meeting of the “nuclear consultative group” on July 18 to discuss the plan for using nuclear weapons against the DPRK. In particular, the hostile forces posed the most undisguised and direct nuclear threat to the DPRK by bringing an Ohio-class strategic nuclear submarine to the Pusan Port operation base, which means strategic nuclear weapons have been deployed on the Korean peninsula for the first time after 40 odd years. This shows that the U.S. scenario for a nuclear attack upon the DPRK and its implementation have entered the most critical stage of visualization and systemization and the phase of a military clash on the Korean peninsula has surfaced as a dangerous reality beyond all sorts of imagination and presumption. Among the nuclear-armed nations of the world, the U.S. is the only country which openly made it its policy to use its nuclear weapons against a specific country. No one will be able to deny the gravity and dangerousness of the security environment facing the DPRK in the light of that fact alone. The U.S. and the traitors of the “ROK” are widely advertising the deployment of gigantic strategic nuclear weaponry of the U.S. We correctly know why such weapons have found themselves on the Korean peninsula and where they came from. As the U.S. and the “ROK” gangsters have gone beyond the “red line” in their military hysteria, now is the time for the DPRK to make clear once again its corresponding action choice and response direction. The military security situation in the area of the Korean peninsula, which has undergone a fundamental change due to the reckless military moves of the U.S. and its followers, more clearly indicates what mission the nuclear weapons of the DPRK should carry out. Through this press statement, I remind the U.S. military of the fact that the ever-increasing visibility of the deployment of the strategic nuclear submarine and other strategic assets may fall under the conditions of the use of nuclear weapons specified in the DPRK law on the nuclear force policy. The DPRK’s doctrine on the use of nuclear weapons allows the execution of necessary action procedures in case a nuclear attack is launched against it or it is judged that the use of nuclear weapons against it is imminent. The U.S. military side should realize that its nuclear assets have entered extremely dangerous waters. I seriously warn once again the U.S. and the “ROK” military gangsters’ group daringly touting the “end of regime” in our country. To the U.S. and the “ROK”, any use of their military muscle against the DPRK will be their most miserable choice by which they will have no room to think of their existence again. The armed forces of the DPRK will responsibly carry out their important mission for defending the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and fundamental interests and preventing a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula and in the Northeast Asian region by thoroughly deterring and repelling the crazy maneuvers of the U.S. and its stooges to use nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula.” (KCNA, “Press Statement of Minister of National Defense of DPRK,” July 20, 2023)

7/22/23:
North Korea fired several cruise missiles into the Yellow Sea today, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said. (Li Minji, “N. Korea Fires Several Cruise Missiles into Yellow Sea: JCS,” Yonhap, July 22, 2023)

7/24/23:
A nuclear-powered U.S. submarine arrived in South Korea today, marking the second deployment of a U.S. strategic asset in the past week intended to highlight Washington’s extended deterrence commitment to Seoul. The arrival of the Los Angeles-class USS Annapolis at a port on Jeju Island, which the South Korean Navy said was to replenish supplies, came amid intensified saber-rattling by the North and four days after the Ohio-class nuclear-powered ballistic submarine USS Kentucky departed from the southeastern city of Busan. In a text message sent to reporters today, the South Korean Navy said the main mission of the USS Annapolis includes anti-ship and anti-submarine operations but did not go into specifics. Thursday, July 27, marks the 70th anniversary of the armistice that ended hostilities in the 1950-53 Korean War. When asked whether South Korean and U.S. forces will hold combined drills involving the USS Annapolis, Navy Commander Jang Do-young told reporters that allied defense officials have consulted each other on the possibility. The USS Kentucky was the first nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine to make a publicly announced port call to South Korea in over 40 years. While Ohio-class submarines such as the USS Kentucky are armed with ballistic and cruise missiles mounted with nuclear warheads, Los Angeles-class submarines such as the USS Annapolis are equipped with Tomahawk long-range cruise missiles without nuclear weapons. The arrival of the latest U.S. nuclear-powered submarine came after South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that the North fired several cruise missiles into the Yellow Sea on Saturday and two ballistic missiles into the East Sea on Wednesday. In an editorial issued Monday, the mouthpiece of the North’s ruling party said that there will be “no end” to the regime’s efforts to strengthen its military capabilities, despite its moribund economy. “There can be no end to strengthening military power,” Rodong Sinmun said, arguing the pursuit of more powerful weapons should continue “at any cost.” The editorial also claimed that “eternal peace lies atop of self-defense power that can overwhelmingly prevail against any enemy.” (Michael Lee, “U.S. sends message to North — and China — with second sub visit to South,” JoongAng Ilbo, July 24, 2023)

North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast late today, South Korea’s military said, hours after a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine arrived in a naval base in the South. Japan’s defense ministry also reported the launch of what it said could be a ballistic missile by North Korea. Japanese media said there may have been multiple missiles launched, citing a Japanese government source. Earlier today, a nuclear-powered U.S. submarine entered a naval base in South Korea’s southern island of Jeju to load military supplies while on an unspecified operational mission, the South Korean navy said. (Jack Kim, Kim Chang-Ran, and Kanishka Singh, “North Korea Fires Two Missiles after U.S. Submarine Arrives in South,” Reuters, July 24, 2023)

7/27/23:
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has met with official Russian and Chinese delegations that are visiting Pyongyang to attend celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the armistice of the 1950-53 Korean War, state media said today. Russia’s military delegation, led by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and China’s party-government delegation, led by Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Li Hongzhong, arrived in Pyongyang this week to attend events marking the landmark anniversary on July 27, which the North refers to as Victory Day. The visits by the delegations from the two countries, which share strong ties with the North, marked a rare invitation of foreign guests given that the reclusive state has maintained strict border restrictions since the COVID-19 breakout. Yesterday, Kim and Shoigu visited the “Weaponry Exhibition-2023” event showcasing new weapons and equipment, accompanied by key Pyongyang officials, according to the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). During their visit, Kim introduced weapons the North has produced under its national defense development plan and shared his views on the “worldwide trend of weaponry development and its strategy” and security agenda facing the two countries. According to the KCNA, Kim expressed his views on “the issues of mutual concern in the struggle to safeguard the sovereignty, development and interests of the two countries” from “the high-handed and arbitrary practices of the imperialists.” Photos released by state media showed various weapons on display, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) as well as unmanned aircraft that appeared to be modeled after the U.S. surveillance aircraft Global Hawk. Kim and Shoigu held a separate meeting the same day, where they discussed defense issues in a “cordial atmosphere overflowing with militant friendship.” The KCNA said the two sides “reached a consensus” on their views on the topics discussed. The meeting has raised speculation that the two sides may have discussed the provision of North Korean weapons to Russia. North Korea has been strengthening its ties with Russia despite international condemnation of Moscow’s war with Ukraine, amid allegations that Pyongyang has provided arms to Moscow for use in the war. The KCNA also reported that Shoigu gave Kim a letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin. It added the meeting served as an occasion to further strengthen their bilateral ties amid “the ever-changing regional and international security environment.” At midnight, the North Korean leader attended a performance ceremony marking Victory Day with the Chinese and Russian delegations. Prior to the event, Kim met separately with the Chinese guests that arrived in Pyongyang on Wednesday. During the meeting, Li gave Kim a letter from Chinese President Xi Jinping, the KCNA said, without providing details. Upon receiving the letter, Kim said Beijing delegation’s visit reflects Xi’s “will to attach great importance to the DPRK-China friendship” and vowed to bolster ties with the “fraternal Chinese people.” DPRK refers to the North’s official name. Observers said North Korea apparently aims to use its celebrations to publicly show off its close ties with China and Russia in the face of strengthened defense cooperation among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan against Pyongyang’s provocations. (Lee Minji, “N.K. Leader Greets Russian, Chinese Delegates on Occasion of Armistice Anniversary,” Yonhap, July 27, 2023)

Van Diepen: “During an arms exhibition and military parade on July 26-27, North Korea revealed it is producing two new types of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that strongly resemble the large US Global Hawk and the medium-sized US Reaper. Pyongyang’s drone development was one of the many goals set during its Eighth Party Congress in 2021. It is not surprising that Pyongyang is able to develop these kinds of drones, given its success in developing missiles and producing light aircraft. However, while these new drones may look like US UAVs, the quality of the components hidden inside the airframes, which will determine their actual performance, is still unknown. These include: reconnaissance and targeting sensors, command and data links and engines. There is broad agreement among outside analysts that the North’s new UAVs are highly unlikely to be as capable as those of the U.S. Nonetheless, Pyongyang clearly is trying to show its technological prowess by unveiling look-alike UAVs. Furthermore, even if they are less capable than their US counterparts, the two new types of UAV would provide North Korea with worthwhile new capabilities if deployed in sufficient numbers. This would allow the North enhanced intelligence collection capabilities, bolstering the assessment of “normal” allied military behavior and early warning of behaviors that might deviate from that norm. But the new drones will be more useful in peacetime than wartime, as they will be extremely vulnerable to US and South Korean fighter aircraft and air defenses. Once its domestic requirements for the new UAVs have been fulfilled, Pyongyang is highly likely to offer the new systems for export. Although foreign demand for Reaper-like drones is likely to be strong, North Korea will face problems finding markets where its unproven products can compete with established UAV suppliers. One interesting possibility, however, would be export sales to Russia, especially in light of the shortcomings of Russia’s drone industry that have been revealed in the war with Ukraine. On July 27, North Korean media reported on a visit the previous day by Kim Jong Un and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to the “Weaponry Exhibition-2023” in Pyongyang. Associated photographs showed a medium-sized UAV resembling the US MQ-9 Reaper and a large UAV resembling the US RQ-4 Global Hawk. The Reaper-like UAV had air-to-surface missiles (ASMs) similar to the US Hellfire mounted under its wings and small bombs mounted under the fuselage. North Korea held a military parade in Pyongyang on the evening of July 27 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of what the North calls Victory Day (the signing of the Korean War armistice), with Kim, Shoigu and Chinese National People’s Congress official Li Hongzhong in attendance. According to the press coverage, “the strategic reconnaissance drone and the multi-purpose attack drone which [were] newly developed and produced and [are] to be furnished for the KPA air force made circular flights.” Associated photographs showed four of the Reaper-like UAVs (presumably the “multi-purpose attack drone”) driven by on trucks while mounting the same munitions seen at the exhibition, and the Global Hawk-like UAV (“presumably the “strategic reconnaissance drone”) flying above the parade. North Korean video released in conjunction with the parade showed both types of drones in flight and the Reaper-like drone firing ASMs while airborne. State television called the Global Hawk-like UAV the “’Saetbyol-4’ strategic reconnaissance drone” (Morning Star-4) and the Reaper-like UAV the “‘Saetbyol-9’ multi-purpose attack drone” (Morning Star-9). Although the exhibition and parade were the first revelations of the new UAVs in North Korean media, the two UAVs had been identified previously in Western commercial imagery. The Reaper-like Saetbyol-9 was seen on September 4, 2022 imagery of Panghyon airbase, with a wingspan measuring some 20 meters (compared to 20.1 m for the US Reaper), and again on June 3, 2023 imagery. The Global Hawk-like Saetbyol-4 was seen on June 12, 2023 imagery of the same airbase, with a wingspan measuring some 35 meters (compared to 35.4 meters for the RQ-4A model Global Hawk). In his report to the Eighth Party Congress in January 2021, Kim Jong Un referred to “the need to…conduct in real earnest the most important research to develop reconnaissance drones and other means of reconnaissance capable of precisely reconnoitring up to 500 km deep into the front” — presumably referring to the Global Hawk-like Saetbyol-4. Although Kim also referred in a different part of the report to how “the designing of various electronic weapons, unmanned striking equipment, means of reconnaissance and detection and military reconnaissance satellite were completed,” it is not clear whether he was referring to a strike UAV such as the Reaper-like Saetbyol-9. For example, at the time North Korea revealed the “Haeil” nuclear-armed unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), the same phrase was cited as relating to the UUV. On May 29, 2023, Ri Pyong Chol, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea, noted that “the DPRK’s military reconnaissance satellite No. 1 to be launched in June and various reconnaissance means due to be newly tested are indispensable to tracking, monitoring, discriminating, controlling and coping with in advance in real time the dangerous military acts of the U.S. and its vassal forces….” It is unclear whether the “various reconnaissance means” referred to one or both of the new UAVs. Implications A political statement. North Korea clearly is trying to show its technological prowess to both domestic and international audiences by unveiling UAVs that look like top-flight US systems, a point it presumably tried to drive home by publically designating the Global Hawk-like UAV as Saetbyol-4 (to match the US RQ-4) and the Reaper like UAV as Saetbyol-9 (to match the US RQ-9). Demonstrating the fulfillment of another of the weapons development objectives of Kim Jong Un’s January 2021 Eighth Party Congress report likewise is politically important, underscoring the regime’s competence and capability and bolstering its prestige. What counts is what’s inside. Given its success in developing ballistic and cruise missiles resembling foreign systems and producing light aircraft, it is not surprising that North Korea is able to produce UAVs resembling US models — particularly given the large amounts of publicly available information on the latter. But the real capability of the new North Korean UAVs is not apparent from the available information, as the determining factors are hidden inside their airframes: the types and quality of the reconnaissance and targeting sensors, command and data links and engines used. At the same time, there is broad agreement among outside analysts that whatever such components the Saetbyol-4 and -9 use, they are highly unlikely to be as capable as those in the US UAVs, given North Korea’s much lower level of electronics and aero-engine technology and the restrictions of Western export controls. Potential worthwhile addition. Even if less capable than their US counterparts, the two new types of UAV would provide North Korea with worthwhile new capabilities compared to its previous UAVs if they are produced and deployed in sufficient numbers: at least a dozen Global Hawk-like Satetbyol-4s and at least a few dozen Reaper-like Saetbyol-9s. We do not know how long it will take for the two drones to enter operational deployment (the North Korean press saying that they “are to be furnished” for the air force suggests deployment has yet to occur), their production rates, or their intended inventory sizes. The larger Saetbyol-4 could provide a high-altitude, long-loiter-time platform for reconnaissance sensors such as synthetic aperture radars and electronic intelligence receivers to see several hundred kilometers offshore and into South Korea from North Korean airspace, where the UAV could be commanded from the ground and relay the information it collects directly to ground stations within line of sight. The Saetbyol-9 could provide real-time tactical intelligence along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), help target other weapons systems such as artillery and short-range ballistic missiles and engage in limited strikes against discrete targets like buildings or vehicles within 10 km or so of the UAV using Hellfire-like ASMs. To provide these capabilities beyond line-of-sight of North Korea, the UAVs ideally would use satellite communications (satcom). Although both new types incorporate the bulbous noses their US counterparts use to house satcom antennas, we do not know if they actually carry such antennas. Moreover, North Korea has no communications satellites of its own, although it may be able to lease bandwidth on Chinese or Russian satellites. Another possibility to extend the operating distance of the new UAVs would be to operate a chain of manned aircraft or other UAVs at intervals to act as communications relays, although this would add operational complexity and wartime vulnerability. Given the recent rhetorical emphasis by both North and South Korea on being able to engage in preemptive strikes against each other, Pyongyang could find the prospect of regular, ongoing UAV intelligence collection in peacetime up to several hundred kilometers beyond the DMZ especially useful. This would allow the North to bolster its picture of what allied activity is “normal” and to obtain early indications of departures from “normal” that it might regard as preparations for an allied attack or an activity it might decide to “preempt.” Likewise, such information also could add to the picture North Korea might use to support first strikes of its own against the South. But more useful in peacetime than wartime. Although US UAVs had free rein to operate over Iraq and Afghanistan, the presence of US and South Korean fighter aircraft and air defenses would make both new types of new North Korean UAV extremely vulnerable over allied airspace in both peacetime and wartime. This would even be true over North Korean airspace in wartime, given the size and sophistication of allied fighter forces and supporting capabilities relative to the North’s own air defenses. Unlike the large numbers (hundreds to thousands) of small, low-altitude drones challenging air defenses in Ukraine, the Global Hawk-like Saetbyol-4 is the size of a Boeing 737 and must operate at high altitudes to collect strategic intelligence. Even the medium-size Saetbyol-9 would be quite visible on radar, needs to operate at altitudes susceptible to air defenses in order to obtain adequate visibility of its own targets, has poor evasive capability and will likely be deployed in relatively limited numbers. Possible export product. Once its domestic requirements for the new UAVs have been fulfilled, Pyongyang is highly likely to offer the new systems for export. Although foreign demand for Reaper-like drones in particular is likely to be strong, North Korea will face problems finding markets where its unproven products can compete with established UAV suppliers. Even less savory customers are often able to obtain Reaper-like drones from China or Turkey. While there are fewer current potential suppliers of Global Hawk-like drones, there are also fewer customer countries likely to see the need for them. As with other conventional weapons, Pyongyang might try to compete on price, but it is unclear if it would be able to charge much less than other non-Western suppliers with established production lines or whether the Saetbyol-4 and -9 will be seen as sufficiently capable technologically to be worth what the North would charge for them. But one interesting possibility would be export sales to Russia, especially in light of the shortcomings of Russia’s drone industry revealed in the war with Ukraine, its purchase of Iranian drones (and drone production capability) and North Korean artillery ammunition for use in that war, and Defense Minister Shoigu’s participation in the July weapons exhibition and parade.” (Vann H. Van Diepen, “Imitation Is the Sincerest Form: North Korea Unveils Two Types of Copycat UAVs,” 38North, August 4, 2023)

7/28/23:
South Korea’s Unification Ministry today unveiled its plan to shut down four organizations responsible for inter-Korean dialogue amid the ongoing deadlock in relations between the two Koreas. The ministry will proceed with merging these entities into a single unit, resulting in large-scale layoffs. The four organizations include the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Bureau, the Inter-Korean Cooperation District Policy Planning Directorate within the Unification Ministry, the Office of Inter-Korean Dialogue and the Inter-Korean Transit Office. The Unification Ministry will create a unified organization to handle the tasks currently managed by the four organizations. However, the new entity will be based at the headquarters of the Office of Inter-Korean Dialogue in Samcheong-dong, Seoul, as there will be no available space at the Unification Ministry. The announcement was made by Vice Unification Minister Moon Seoung-hyun, who assumed office in early July, a few hours before President Yoon Suk Yeol appointed Kim Yung-ho as the new unification minister, bypassing parliamentary approval. The large-scale layoff will affect 15 percent of the current workforce, around 80 members of staff, Moon said, adding that they will be transferred to other ministries. As of Friday, all six top civil servants at the Unification Ministry have submitted their resignation letters. The restructuring of the ministry was inevitable as inter-Korean dialogue and exchanges have been suspended for years, and the complex international political landscape has led to growing tensions between the United States and China. “We have been carefully reviewing organizational reconstruction, aiming to enhance flexibility, competitiveness and efficiency within the organization on the occasion of the concurrent replacement of the minister and vice minister,” Moon told reporters at the Government Complex in Seoul. The restructuring of the ministry, however, doesn’t mean that the government is abandoning inter-Korean dialogue. “We are determined to proceed with the reshuffle to ensure that we can promptly respond if there is demand for inter-Korean dialogue.” Earlier this month, Yoon criticized the Unification Ministry, saying, “Until now, the Ministry of Unification has played a supporting role for North Korea,” and calling for a major restructuring. His denunciation came following the unconventional and simultaneous appointments of a hard-liner on Pyongyang as minister and a seasoned diplomat as vice minister. The Unification Ministry will also establish a new department specifically tasked with addressing the matters concerning South Korean abductees, prisoners of war and other citizens detained in North Korea. As the new unification minister, Kim has personally taken the decision to launch this new department, Moon said. The Yoon government aims to restructure the Unification Ministry with a focus on analyzing the Kim Jong-un regime, addressing human rights issues in North Korea and facilitating the resettlement of North Korean defectors. Moon explained that the ministry has been formulating measures to reinforce the in-house team of analysts and identify key areas of analysis focused on North Korea. The reshuffle of the Unification Ministry is projected to be finalized by the end of August. The ministry has been in discussions over the major reshuffle with the Ministry of Personnel Management and the Ministry of the Interior and Safety. (Ji Da-gyum, “Unification Ministry Abolishes Inter-Korean Dialogue Organizations,” Korea Herald, July 28, 2023)

8/7/23:
An elite group of North Korean hackers secretly breached computer networks at a major Russian missile developer for at least five months last year, according to technical evidence reviewed by Reuters and analysis by security researchers. Reuters found cyber-espionage teams linked to the North Korean government, which security researchers call ScarCruft and Lazarus, secretly installed stealthy digital backdoors into systems at NPO Mashinostroyeniya, a rocket design bureau based in Reutov, a small town on the outskirts of Moscow. Reuters could not determine whether any data was taken during the intrusion or what information may have been viewed. In the months following the digital break-in Pyongyang announced several developments in its banned ballistic missile program but it is not clear if this was related to the breach. Experts say the incident shows how the isolated country will even target its allies, such as Russia, in a bid to acquire critical technologies. NPO Mashinostroyeniya did not respond to requests from Reuters for comment. Russia’s embassy in Washington did not respond to an emailed request for comment. North Korea’s mission to the United Nations in New York did not respond to a request for comment. The targeted company, commonly known as NPO Mash, has acted as a pioneer developer of hypersonic missiles, satellite technologies and newer generation ballistic armaments, according to missile experts — three areas of keen interest to North Korea since it embarked on its mission to create an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capable of striking the mainland United States. According to technical data, the intrusion roughly began in late 2021 and continued until May 2022 when, according to internal communications at the company reviewed by Reuters, IT engineers detected the hackers’ activity. NPO Mash grew to prominence during the Cold War as a premier satellite maker for Russia’s space program and as a provider of cruise missiles. The hackers dug into the company’s IT environment, giving them the ability to read email traffic, jump between networks, and extract data, according to Tom Hegel, a security researcher with U.S. cybersecurity firm SentinelOne, who initially discovered the compromise. “These findings provide rare insight into the clandestine cyber operations that traditionally remain concealed from public scrutiny or are simply never caught by such victims,” Hegel said. Hegel’s team of security analysts at SentinelOne learned of the hack after discovering that an NPO Mash IT staffer accidentally leaked his company’s internal communications while attempting to investigate the North Korean attack by uploading evidence to a private portal used by cybersecurity researchers worldwide. When contacted by Reuters, that IT staffer declined to comment. The lapse provided Reuters and SentinelOne with a unique snapshot into a company of critical importance to the Russian state which was sanctioned by the Obama administration following the invasion of Crimea. Two independent computer security experts, Nicholas Weaver and Matt Tait, reviewed the exposed email content and confirmed its authenticity. The analysts verified the connection by checking the email’s cryptographic signatures against a set of keys controlled by NPO Mash. “I’m highly confident the data’s authentic,” Weaver told Reuters. “How the information was exposed was an absolutely hilarious screwup.” SentinelOne said they were confident North Korea was behind the hack because the cyber spies re-used previously known malware and malicious infrastructure set up to carry out other intrusions. In 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin touted NPO Mash’s “Zircon” hypersonic missile as a “promising new product,” capable of travelling at around nine times the speed of sound. The fact North Korean hackers may have obtained information about the Zircon does not mean they would immediately have that same capability, said Markus Schiller, a Europe-based missile expert who has researched foreign aid to North Korea’s missile program. “That’s movie stuff,” he said. “Getting plans won’t help you much in building these things, there is a lot more to it than some drawings.” However, given NPO Mash’s position as a top Russian missile designer and producer, the company would be a valuable target, Schiller added. “There is much to learn from them,” he said. Another area of interest could be in the manufacturing process used by NPO Mash surrounding fuel, experts said. Last month, North Korea test-launched the Hwasong-18, the first of its ICBMs to use solid propellants. That fueling method can allow for faster deployment of missiles during war, because it does not require fueling on a launchpad, making the missiles harder to track and destroy before blast-off. NPO Mash produces an ICBM dubbed the SS-19 which is fueled in the factory and sealed shut, a process known as “ampulisation” that yields a similar strategic result. “It’s hard to do because rocket propellant, especially the oxidiser, is very corrosive,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a missile researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “North Korea announced that it was doing the same thing in late 2021. If NPO Mash had one useful thing for them, that would be top of my list,” he added. (James Pearson and Christopher Bing, “North Korean Hackers Breached Top Russian Missile Maker,” Reuters, August 7, 2023)

8/9/23:
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un replaced the military’s top general and called for more preparations for the possibility of war, a boost in weapons production, and expansion of military drills, state media KCNA reported today. Kim made the comments at a meeting of the Central Military Commission which discussed plans for countermeasures to deter North Korea’s enemies, which it did not name, the report said. The country’s top general, Chief of the General Staff Pak Su Il was “dismissed,” KCNA reported, without elaborating. He had served in his role for about seven months. Pak was replaced by General Ri Yong Gil, who previously served as the country’s defense minister, as well as the top commander of its conventional troops. Ri also previously served as the army chief of staff. When he was replaced in 2016 his sacking and subsequent absence from official events sparked reports in South Korea that he had been executed. He reappeared a few months later, when he was named to another senior post. Kim also set a target for the expansion of weapons production capacity, the report said, without providing details. Last week he visited weapons factories where he called for more missile engines, artillery and other weapons to be built. Kim also called for the military to conduct drills with the country’s latest weapons and equipment to keep its forces ready for combat, the report said. North Korea is set to stage a militia parade on September 9, marking the 75th anniversary of the Day of the Foundation of the Republic. North Korea has a number of paramilitary groups it uses to bolster its military forces. The U.S. and South Korea are scheduled to hold military drills between August 21 and 24, which the North sees as a threat to its security. (Hyunsu Yim, “North Korea’s Kim Dismisses Top General, Calls for War Preparations,” Reuters, August 9, 2023)

KCNA: “The Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) convened an enlarged meeting to discuss an important issue of making the army more thoroughly gird for a war given the grave political and military situation prevailing in the Korean peninsula. The 7th Enlarged Meeting of the 8th Central Military Commission of the WPK took place at the office building of the Central Committee of the WPK on August 9. 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 (DPRK), guided the enlarged meeting. Attending it were members of the Central Military Commission of the WPK. And present there as observers were commanders of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) services, commanding officers of the frontline corps and units in charge of important duties, and cadres of the relevant departments of the WPK Central Committee. The enlarged meeting analyzed the military moves of the chief culprits of deteriorated situation that disturb peace and stability in the Korean peninsula and its vicinity, and decided on the plans for offensive military countermeasures to thoroughly deter them. It also discussed as its major agenda item the issues of making full war preparations to neutralize at a blow the enemy attack with overwhelming strategic deterrence and launch simultaneous offensive military actions in contingency. The present situation, in which the hostile forces are getting ever more undisguised in their reckless military confrontation with the DPRK, requires the latter’s army to have more positive, proactive and overwhelming will and thoroughgoing and perfect military readiness for a war. The meeting examined a plan of forming frontline operation groups reinforced to overwhelmingly contain and destroy the enemy with absolutely superior military strategy, tactics and muscle in contingency, and the operational tasks to be fulfilled in carrying it out. It also deeply studied and discussed the military measures for diversifying the operational executive capabilities of frontline units and mapping out more detailed operational plans. On the basis of the results of the discussion, the Central Military Commission of the WPK issued important military action guidelines applicable to the enlarged and changed operational sphere and plans of the frontline units of the KPA. It also unanimously decided on the military and practical issues arising in proactively conducting actual war drills for fulfilling the new strategic mission and making full preparations for carrying out the operation plans any time. The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un signed the written order on the important military measures discussed and decided by the Central Military Commission of the WPK. He deeply summarized and analyzed the present situation of the Korean peninsula and its vicinity and made an important conclusion on further stepping up the war preparations of the KPA in an offensive way. Saying that to prepare a strong army is the key to implementing the military strategic plan of the Party Central Committee for containing the enemy’s use of military muscle in advance and neutralize all forms of its attack at once in case of the outbreak of a war, he called for securing more powerful strike means for arrying out the mission of war deterrence and continuously intensifying the work for deploying them in the units for action in a mobile way. He also called for actively conducting actual war drills to efficiently operate newly deployed latest weapons and equipment to ensure that they would display the maximum effect in combat, and radically increasing the KPA’s capabilities for fighting a war by making it keep its mobilized posture for combat all the time. Saying that the munitions factories have a very important duty to strengthen the KPA in terms of military technology, he underlined the need for all the munitions industrial establishments to push ahead with the mass-production of various weapons and equipment in real earnest to satisfy the operational demand of the KPA undergoing modernization, and set forth the goal for the expansion of the weaponry production capacity and the weaponry production plan. The enlarged meeting dealt with the organizational matter of dismissing General Pak Su Il from the post of the chief of the General Staff and appointing Vice Marshal Ri Yong Gil as new chief of the General Staff, and of dismissing, transferring to other posts or newly appointing some leading commanding officers. It also discussed a series of important tasks facing the armed forces of the DPRK, including the issue of making preparations for the successful militia parade marking the 75th founding anniversary of the DPRK. The 7th Enlarged Meeting of the 8th Central Military Commission of the WPK serves as a significant occasion in providing a firm military guarantee for victory in war by setting forth the substantive programs for the KPA to overpower the enemy by taking firm strategic and tactical initiative in modern warfare.” (KCNA, “7th Enlarged Meeting of 8th Central Military Commission of WPK Held,” August 10, 2023)

8/11-12/23:
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, gave field guidance to major munitions factories, including a factory producing tactical missiles, on August 11 and 12 to learn about the munitions production. He was accompanied by Jo Chun Ryong and Kim Jong Sik. Inspecting the factory producing tactical missiles, the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un acquainted himself in detail with the missile production and the project for reinforcing the production capacity and upgrading the factory. He expressed satisfaction over the fact that in recent years, the factory has perfected the scientific and technological issues arising in production, put the production processes on an automated and self-supporting basis and pushed ahead with the modernization of equipment while steadily expanding its production capacity, true to the WPK Central Military Commission’s instructions on concentrating efforts on the production of tactical missiles, and thus carried out the immediate goal for munitions production as planned without fail. He highly appreciated the factory for taking timely steps to rapidly establish the production processes of newly developed tactical missiles while turning out tactical missiles under serial production in a mobile way and for steadily pushing ahead with the modernization of the factory. He set forth an important goal to drastically boost the existing missile production capacity on the basis of the successes already achieved by the factory so as to mass-produce missiles as required by the system of the expanded and strengthened frontline units and missile units and by the operational plans. The qualitative level of war preparations depends on the development of the munitions industry and the factory bears a very important responsibility in speeding up the war preparations of the Korean People’s Army, he said, appealing to the factory to bring about a surge in production for war preparations by giving full play to patriotic enthusiasm of the working class. Kim Jong Un inspected the factory producing tactical missile transporter-erector-launchers (TEL) to learn in detail about the development and production of various TELs. Stressing the significance of the rapid development and production of TELs for major weapons to be effectively used in battlefields in accordance with the military strategic plan of the Party Central Committee, he underlined the need to go all out for producing Korean-style TELs with superb quality, under the situation that the demand of units for equipment and the plan for its use were confirmed, and thus unconditionally fulfill the planned production target set forth by the Eighth Congress of the Party. Saying that to realize the utility in the TEL production presents itself as the primary problem in view of the development of the national defense science and of efficiency under an operational situation, he called for producing more modern and highly efficient TELs substantially conducive to the army’s perfect war preparations by steadily updating the design of TEL and focusing efforts on the modernization of production processes. Kim Jong Un inspected the factory producing combat armored vehicles to learn about the development of utility combat armored vehicles, set forth at the Eighth Congress of the WPK. He highly appreciated the achievements made by the factory in the work to expand and modernize the production capacity of armored vehicles in line with the far-reaching plan and strategic design of the Party Central Committee for bringing about the second revolution of armored forces. He personally drove a newly-developed utility combat armored vehicle to learn about its militant performance and mobility and advanced the tactical and technical specifications to be reached in the development of Korean-style utility combat armored vehicle and the militant tasks facing the factory. He also inspected the factory producing large-caliber control multiple rocket launcher shells to learn about the attainment of an important goal set forth by the Party Central Committee, the modernization of production processes and the normalization of multiple rocket launcher shell production. Noting that the national defense scientific research field has made a great success through dynamic struggle after setting it as the most important work to realize the ballistic precise control of multiple rocket launcher shells, he said that the realization of the control of 122mm and 240mm multiple rocket launcher shells is a great revolution in the field of using multiple rocket launchers as it is a crucial change in the preparations for modern warfare and it can ensure the maximum defeating efficiency. Since a new technology was introduced into the KPA, it is important at present to turn out as one in the shell production so as to further raise the combat capability of the KPA artillery force, he added. He also noted with appreciation that the factory, deeply aware of its position and importance in bolstering up the artillery force of the KPA, has made great progress in modernizing the production processes and dynamically accelerated the normalization of production by giving full play to the mental power of scientists, technicians and employees and bringing about a revolution in technology and increased production. Saying that it is very urgent for bolstering up the artillery force of the frontline units to increase the production of control multiple rocket launcher shells at an exponential rate, he stressed the need to ensure boost in the production of shells in keeping with the army’s increased operational demand and thus deploy more shells to the frontline units in depth. He said that the KPA should have an overwhelming military force and get fully prepared for coping with any war at any moment so as to prevent the enemies from daring use their armed forces, and surely annihilate them if they launch an attack. He stressed once again that the munitions factories have a very important role to play in implementing the idea of the 7th Enlarged Meeting of the 8th Central Military Commission of the WPK on making the KPA more thoroughly gird for a war. Upon receiving his great trust and important instructions, officials, workers and technicians of major munitions factories made a firm pledge to remain absolutely faithful to the Party’s cause with countless achievements in increasing the production of powerful means of war deterrence, deeply cherishing once again their heavy mission to reliably guarantee the completion of war preparations of the KPA for national reunification and defense of the country with the weaponry production.” (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Inspects Major Munitions Factories,” August 14, 2023)

8/15/23:
KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, sent a message of greeting to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, president of the Russian Federation, on Aug. 15. In the message, the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un extended warm greetings on behalf of the DPRK government and people to President Putin and the government and people of the Russian Federation on the occasion of the 78th anniversary of Korea’s liberation. The Red Army officers and men, precious sons and daughters of the Russian people, defeated fascism that threatened the destiny of mankind with their noble sense of mission for the internationalist cause and then courageously turned out in the sacred war against Japanese militarism to win another brilliant victory, thus making a great contribution to the world people’s cause of national liberation, the message said, adding: Fields and mountains of Korea are dyed with blood shed by the known and unknown Red Army fighters in the fierce battles for Korea’s liberation together with the members of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army, and their heroic self-sacrificing spirit will be long conveyed to posterity along with the history of the DPRK-Russia friendship. The militant friendship and solidarity established between the armies and peoples of the two countries in the grim days of struggle against the common enemy have become a proud tradition of the DPRK-Russia relations and are now fully demonstrating their invincibility and might in the struggle to smash the imperialists’ arbitrary practices and hegemony. I am firmly convinced that the friendship and solidarity between the DPRK and Russia, provided by the preceding leaders and consolidated in the test of history, will be further developed into a long-standing strategic relationship in conformity with the demand of the new era and that the two countries will always emerge victorious, strongly supporting and cooperating with each other in the course of achieving their common goal and cause. The message wished President Putin good health and success in his responsible work, extending militant salute to the Russian government, army and people who have turned out in the historic grand project to defend the sovereignty, security and peace of the country and build powerful Russia.” (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Sends Greetings to Russian President,” August 15, 2023)

8/16/23:
KCNA “issued the following report: In the joint security area of Panmunjom on July 18, Juche 112 (2023), there happened an incident in which Travis King, a private 2nd class of the U.S. Army in south Korea, illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK. At 15:30 on July 18, King, who accompanied tourists to the joint security area of Panmunjom, came to be kept under control by soldiers of the Korean People’s Army on duty as he deliberately intruded into the area of the DPRK side between the room for the DPRK-U.S. military contacts and the rest room of security officers along the Military Demarcation Line. According to an investigation by a relevant organ of the DPRK, Travis King admitted that he illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK. During the investigation, Travis King confessed that he had decided to come over to the DPRK as he harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army. He also expressed his willingness to seek refuge in the DPRK or a third country, saying that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society. The investigation continues.” (KCNA, “KCNA Report on Interim Findings of Investigation into American Soldier,” August 16, 2023)

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Controls today imposed sanctions on three entities involved in illicit arms deals between North Korea and Russia, amid speculation that the countries may be seeking to bolster their illegal arms trade. OFAC imposed sanctions on Verus LLC, Defense Engineering LLP and Versor SRO, all of which are owned or led by Slovakian national Ashot Mkrtychev. Mkrtychev was designated on March 30 for “attempting to facilitate arms deals between Russia and the DPRK,” according to OFAC. “This action is part of the continuing US strategy to identify, expose, and disrupt third-country actors seeking to support Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine,” the department said in a press release. “As Russia has continued to expend munitions and lose heavy equipment on the battlefield, it has been increasingly forced to turn to its few allies, including the DPRK, to sustain its unprovoked war in Ukraine,” it added. (Yonhap, “U.S. Sanctions 3 Entities for Brokering Weapons Deal between N. Korea, Russia,” Korea Herald, August 17, 2023)

8/17/23:
North Korea is preparing to carry out various military provocations, including the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), on the occasion of the upcoming trilateral summit among South Korea, the United States and Japan or the South Korea-U.S. military exercise, a lawmaker said today. Rep. Yoo Sang-bum of the ruling People Power Party (PPP) made the remarks, citing what the National Intelligence Service (NIS) reported to a closed session of the parliamentary intelligence committee. “Active activities of vehicles supporting ICBM launches have been detected in Pyongyang. We are continuously identifying signs of preparation for an ICBM launch, such as the frequent movements of propellants out of liquid fuel factories,” Yoo said. He also said the North is expected to conduct a joint exercise of its armed forces, including the test launch of a missile that can be fitted with a tactical nuclear weapon, given the “unusually active” movements of vehicles detected around North Korea’s solid-fuel missile production facilities. Pyongyang could also carry out another launch of a military reconnaissance satellite in late August or early September ahead of the 75th anniversary of the regime’s establishment on September 9 if it succeeds in fixing the defects seen in its previous launch, he also said. The annual Ulchi Freedom Shield (UFS) exercise with the U.S. is scheduled to take place August 21-31, while the trilateral summit is slated for Friday at Camp David, in Maryland. The spy agency has concluded that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held a one-on-one meeting and reached “a broad framework” of agreements on military cooperation during the Russian official’s visit to North Korea from July 25-27. “Russia appears to have suggested sales of shells and missiles and conducting a joint military exercise while North Korea likely requested rentals of weapons produced in the West and technical assistance, including repairs of dilapidated equipment,” Yoo said quoting the NIS. Additionally, the spy agency detected a working-level Russian official visited North Korea from Aug. 1-2 on a military aircraft to discuss implementation of the cooperation agreement, followed by a Russian cargo plane carrying “unidentified” defense supplies out of Pyongyang on August 8. “We expect Russia-North Korea military cooperation may pick up pace,” the lawmaker said, adding the NIS is keeping close tabs on the possibility of Russia’s core nuclear or missile technologies being transferred to North Korea. Additionally, the NIS said the regime’s economy has entered a “vicious cycle,” posting negative growth for the past three consecutive years to 2022. Its gross domestic product plummeted 12 percent in 2022 from 2016. To tackle people’s growing discontent and protests fueled by economic difficulties, the North Korean regime formed a task force in charge of ferreting out dissidents, according to the NIS. Meanwhile, North Korea is assumed to have been behind hackings responsible for over US$1.5 billion worth of virtual funds theft since 2015, including $180 million this year alone, the spy agency also said. It also reported that about 240 North Koreans had died of starvation between January and July, more than doubling from the average of about 110 seen in the past five years. (Kang Jae-eum, “N. Korea Preparing ICBM Launch or Other Provocations for S. Korea-U.S.-Japan Summit: Spy Agency,” Yonhap, August 17, 2023)

KPA General Staff spokesman’s statement: “On August 17, the U.S. intruded a strategic reconnaissance plane into the air above the economic zone of the DPRK side on the East Sea of Korea to commit air espionage again. The strategic reconnaissance plane of the U.S. forces made a repeat circuitous flight above the sea 520 km east of Wonsan and 430 km east of Tanchon from 5:38 a.m. to 6:37 a.m. on August 17 and intruded into the economic water zone of the DPRK side to a maximum depth of 14 km three times to conduct espionage on the eastern and in-depth areas of the DPRK. This is a dangerous military provocation made in a matter of 20 days after the U.S. strategic reconnaissance planes illegally intruded into the economic water zone of the DPRK side on July 28 to commit espionage. Under such situation, the KPA General Staff promptly gave an order to pursuit planes of the Eastern Anti-Air Force Division to make an emergency sortie toward the air space intruded by the U.S. strategic reconnaissance plane and carry on an alert guard duty. The U.S. strategic reconnaissance plane retreated at around 7:15 owing to the countermeasures taken by pursuit planes of the KPA. The KPA pursuit planes had carried out an alert guard duty to frustrate any reattempt by the U.S. strategic scout plane until 9:00 a.m. As regards the enemies’ repeated provocative air espionage, the KPA General Staff is examining an operation plan to check the U.S. strategic reconnaissance planes’ illegal intrusion in the controversial air space and take a complete and thorough defense measure by constantly deploying a ship loaded with new-type anti-aircraft missiles in the line of 450 kilometers away from Wonsan, the economic water zone of the DPRK side. We have already clarified that the sky above the economic zone on the East Sea of Korea is a part of the DPRK’s territorial air where our sovereignty is thoroughly exercised. The KPA will not hesitate to take any physical counteraction to defend the sovereignty of the DPRK.” KCNA, “Statement by Spokesman for KPA General Staff,” August 18, 2023)

Postal: “Key Findings North Korea’s Hwasong-18 ICBM and its July 12, 2023 successful launch is likely the result of technical cooperation sourced to Russia. Unlike the North Korean liquid propellant ICBMs which North Korea has demonstrated over the past few years, the sudden appearance of a solid fueled ICBM occurred only months after a horizontal engine test. This test demonstrated that the Hwasong-18 can deliver substantial payloads to intercontinental ranges along with decoy canister countermeasures. The sudden appearance of these advanced capabilities is difficult to explain without cooperation from the Russian government and its scientists. The reported physical dimensions and flight trajectory data of the Hwasong-18 is nearly identical to that of the Russian Topol-M ICBM (SS-27 Mod 2). This missile is equipped to penetrate existing U.S. ballistic missile defenses with countermeasures and deliver multiple thermonuclear weapons to targets in the continental United States. A Hwasong-18 missile force will require the U.S. to consider additional concepts for missile defense including the use of airborne drone interceptors (“airborne patrol”). A transfer of this ICBM or its related technology from Russia would violate an unwritten international protocol to both refrain from and prevent transferring nuclear strike capabilities to other parties. The July 2023 visit by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to DPRK to attend the 70th anniversary of the Korean war armistice, and the personal audience with Kim Jong-un, is only the latest manifestation of growing Russian-DPRK ties that include the transfer of munitions in support of Russia’s war in Ukraine and Russian food and energy transfers to the North in return. This potential transfer of the Topol-M missile or its technology would take cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang against the U.S. and Indo-Pacific allies to a new and more dangerous level. The Hwasong-18 and the Topol-M ICBM On July 25, 2023 Russia’s Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, landed in Pyongyang. He was met at his plane by his North Korean counterpart, Kang Sun Nam, and the next day, he met with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un. The Russian Defense Ministry simultaneously announced that one purpose of Shoigu’s visit was to “help strengthen Russian-North Korean military ties … in the development of cooperation between the two countries.” What has so far been unrecognized in the West, is that this meeting is only one indicator of how far beyond previously forbidden political boundaries Russia has gone with this new initiative. The real issue is a radical departure from past political practice by Russia if it has chosen to transfer to North Korea an advanced 50-ton solid propellant ICBM, the Topol-M, also known as the SS-27. The key concern is that unlike the North Korean liquid propellant ICBMs we have seen over the last few years, this particular ICBM could not possibly have come into the hands of the North Koreans without the full support and cooperation of the Russian government. In addition, North Korea could not maintain and operate Topol-M ICBMs without substantial cooperation and training from the Russian government and its scientists. As such, the sudden appearance of the Hwasong-18 in North Korea cannot be ignored as simply “business as usual.” The Topol-M can deliver multiple thermonuclear bombs to the continental United States, and since North Korea has demonstrated in nuclear underground tests that it has thermonuclear weapons, it now has the ability to deliver these thermonuclear bombs to the continental United States. Further, its new ICBM, called the Hwasong-18 by North Korea, is fully capable of carrying and deploying multiple bombs and decoy countermeasures that will defeat any missile defenses currently being operated and modernized by the United States. What is also likely, but not yet known for sure, is whether the guidance system on the Hwasong-18 also provides it with sufficient accuracy, perhaps a few thousand feet (roughly 300 to 400 meters) to allow North Korea to target U.S. cities with sufficient accuracy to assure the destruction of city centers. The diameter of the first stage is about 2.2 m … as identified by careful studies of films of a ground test in North Korea of the missile’s first stage on December 15, 2022. North Korea announced that the first stage motor has a thrust of about 140 tons, which is consistent with the observed acceleration rate in the videos of Hwasong-18 shortly after its first stage ignition at launch. Assuming the estimate of a 2.2 m diameter for the first stage is correct, the ratios of dimensions as determined in the side-by-side photographs derived from the July 12 test indicates the Hwasong-18 is slightly longer than 22 m, which is essentially the same length as that of the Topol-M. About two weeks prior to Russian Defense Minister Shoigu’s visit, on July 12, North Korea launched a Hwasong-18 on a near vertical trajectory to 3,750 miles (6000 kilometers). The full flight time from launch to impact was reportedly 74 minutes, but the important demonstration in this flight was the decoy canister (in this particular case, probably containing chaff to mask warheads from early warning radars) released at an altitude of roughly 460 to 480 kilometers, shortly after the third stage burned out. The release of this canister would have been readily observable by South Korean, Japanese, and U.S. high-resolution X-band intelligence radars in Japan and South Korea and would have been an immediate indicator to Western intelligence of on-board missile defense countermeasure systems, in addition to multiple warhead capabilities. Simulations of the near vertical flight trajectory flown by the Hwasong-18 indicate that its capabilities very closely match those of the Russian Topol-M. Since the full payload of the Hwasong-18 (Topol-M) is about 2500 pounds, it is easily able to carry several warheads with yields of hundreds of kilotons. These demonstrated characteristics of the Hwasong-18 closely match the characteristics of the Topol-M described in the open literature and confirmed by comparisons with ICBMs like the Minuteman III. Estimates indicate that the North Korean demonstration test was performed with a payload weight of roughly 70% of full payload. Trajectories showing the range-capability of the Hwasong-18 on its vertical trajectory with a 70% payload and with a full payload of 2500 pounds are shown in the graph below. The range chosen for this ICBM trajectory with full payload is roughly 11,000 km, the distance between Pyongyang and Washington, D.C. Also shown is a trajectory of 20,000 km range, which assumes the same 70% payload flown on the demonstration test of July 12. These trajectories show the exceptional flexibility of the Hwasong-18 for carrying large payloads of warheads and missile defense countermeasures to many different ranges of strategic significance. The implications of this potential transfer of strategic nuclear-strike capabilities by Russia or its scientists to North Korea are obvious and politically far-ranging. First, if true, it would appear that Russia will have broken an unwritten international protocol to not provide nuclear strike capabilities to states that potentially pose a significant security threat to other nations, in particular the United States. Second, the United States currently has commitments to defend South Korea and Japan in the case of North Korean aggression against either or both nations. An important part of this U.S. commitment is maintaining the confidence of the two allies that the United States will stand by them in a time of crisis. The new North Korean ICBM capability significantly enhances the threat to the United States mainland with a nuclear attack if the United States were to intervene in a crisis. This is not unlike the dilemma that confronted the U.S. and its allies during the Cold War — would the United States trade Washington for Berlin? North Korea’s objective is to threaten the U.S. so that South Korea would not trust the U.S. commitment to come to its assistance. Although North Korea is not suicidal and understands that the United States would destroy it in response to an attack, this development still has very far-ranging implications for U.S. national security policy. For example, is it possible that Russia gave these missiles to North Korea as a warning to the United States that things are getting out-of-hand between the two nations? Is it an indicator of a new type of hostile actions by Russia? Is it an indicator of how much advanced strategic military technology that Russia is willing to share with North Korea? Could the next step by Russia be a game-changing transfer of advanced air defenses to North Korea? All of these questions, and many more, seem to now be in play. The current Topol-M (Hwasong-18) will be capable of overwhelming the long-range missile defense systems the United States has been building over the last more than 20 years. It was designed from the beginning to be able to deploy large numbers of decoys, which are the bane of all current U.S. missile defenses. However, there is a missile defense concept that could be effective if deployed against North Korea. This missile defense, we call the “airborne patrol”, takes advantage of the fact that North Korea is a small country and adjacent to the Sea of Japan, which provides a large area of adjacent international airspace over which drones can fly. This different missile defense concept nullifies the decoy problem by destroying North Korean ICBMs while they are in powered flight. The “airborne patrol” need not even be fully implemented to be of significant use within the context of North Korea. In the case of a limited deployment, a very small number of interceptors carried by drones could be used to shoot down long-range ICBMs being tested by North Korea. Currently, North Korea would have to flight-test any long-range ICBM to its full range. Although this is not technically demanding, it is essential for verification that a particular missile will be able to fly a trajectory where it tips over in order to place a payload on a long-range trajectory. The flight test would also have to be on an ICBM trajectory, where the deployment of warheads and decoys could be monitored for anomalies by North Korean missile engineers. The reentry of warheads would also have to be monitored in the target impact area, requiring the deployment and operation of a small fleet of specialized ships to observe the behavior of warheads as they reenter and move through the atmosphere. While this different flight trajectory is not demanding relative to a near vertical trajectory, a nation could not have confidence that their missile could be used reliably unless they tested it on such a full trajectory. One possibility that might be introduced through the UN, is an international sanction that permits South Korea, Japan, and the United States to shoot down any ICBMs being tested by North Korea. A closely related possibility is for such a sanction to approve interference with North Korea’s ships that must be deployed in the ICBM impact area to monitor the final phases of its tests. Ignoring the fact that current U.S. missile defenses have limited capability against the competent adversaries we now face, when we actually have a technically feasible missile defense like the airborne patrol that could work in East Asia, is irresponsible, ignoring technology and history — a repeat of the Maginot line of World War II. At this time, we do not yet have any special insights into the wide-ranging, unpredictable and complex political implications of this singular but deeply disturbing development. This should be a matter of greatest concern to the U.S. national security establishment.” (Theodore Postol, “The Transfer of a Russian ICBM to North Korea?” CSIS Beyond Parallel, August 17, 2023)

Van Diepen: “An August 17 article by a prominent academic technical expert claimed that North Korea’s new solid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-18 (HS-18), actually is a Russian-supplied missile. The article also makes a series of claims about the capabilities and implications of the HS-18. Contrary to all of these assertions, however: The HS-18 is neither a Russian ICBM nor is it “nearly identical” to one. It also is highly unlikely that Russia deliberately provided substantial ICBM technology. Most probably, North Korea developed the HS-18 on its own, benefitting from steady illicit acquisitions since the breakup of the USSR of significant ballistic missile technology directly from Russian companies and individuals, as well as dual-use items from entities in China and Russia. There is no open-source evidence that the HS-18 carries, or has been flight tested with, ballistic missile penetration aids (penaids) to confuse missile defenses, despite the article’s claim that it “was designed from the beginning to be able to deploy large numbers of decoys.” It would, however, be logical for North Korea to develop and deploy penaids. There is no evidence that any North Korean ICBM has carried or been flight tested with multiple warheads, despite the article’s contention that the HS-18 is “equipped to … deliver multiple thermonuclear weapons.” Pyongyang does, however, apparently intend to develop multiple-warhead ICBMs at some point. North Korea has probably operationally deployed ICBMs since 2017 without having flight tested them on an operational trajectory, despite the article’s claim that “North Korea would have to flight-test any long-range ICBM to its full range.” The North probably deploys old-style reentry vehicles, like the US and USSR used in the 1950s and 1960s, that are large and robust enough to be highly likely to survive reentry without full-range flight testing. Therefore, the North Korean nuclear ICBM threat to the US is not “new,” as the article maintains. The HS-18 will add incrementally to the threat posed since 2017 by ongoing deployments of liquid-propellant ICBMs, and it remains to be seen how many HS-18s will be deployed and at what pace. The article’s contention that the HS-18 “significantly enhances the threat to the United States mainland” is overstated. The HS-18 is not a Russian SS-27 Mod 1 (Topol-M) or Mod 2 (Yars) ICBM. (The article claims the HS-18 is an SS-27 Mod 2, which it mistakenly calls the Topol-M.) The HS-18’s general configuration — second and third stages sharing the same diameter, but smaller in diameter than the first stage — resembles these Russian missiles but also resembles the US Minuteman-III. More important, contrary to the article’s contention that the HS-18’s physical dimensions are “nearly identical” to the SS-27 Mod 2/Yars, the North Korean ICBM is longer than all three of the above foreign ICBMs. Based on measurements taken from the HS-18 launch canister previously paraded by North Korea and from photos of the first launch on April 13, 2023, the missile is some 25-26.95 meters long — significantly longer than the 22.5-meter Yars, the 21.9-meter Topol-M, and the 18.2-meter MM-III. (The article puts the HS-18 at “slightly longer than 22 m.”) A new analysis by researchers at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) provides several other technical explanations for why the HS-18 is not “nearly identical” to the Yars. Although the possibility cannot be ruled out that the Russian Government deliberately provided North Korea with substantial technology and technical assistance in producing the HS-18, this is highly unlikely to be the case. Russia probably regards Yars technology as a “crown jewel” that it would be highly reticent to part with. It probably would be highly concerned that such technology in North Korean hands would be more vulnerable to acquisition by the US, which would facilitate the latter’s development of countermeasures. The USSR and now Russia have had a pretty solid 60-plus-year track record of not deliberately providing countries other than China with nuclear weapons or strategic missile technology. Moreover, any such provision of technology needed to have occurred some 7-10 years ago to catalyze the development program that resulted in the appearance in 2023 of the HS-18. Although the advent of the Ukraine war arguably might provide Russia with an impetus to change its previous behavior and aid North Korean strategic programs (and the article points to the recent warming of bilateral relations as a sign of a recent ICBM transfer), such a shift would be too recent to explain the HS-18. North Korea most likely developed the HS-18 on its own, but the missile’s development probably benefitted from steady illicit acquisitions since the breakup of the USSR of significant ballistic missile technology and know-how directly from Russian and other former-Soviet companies, institutes, and individuals. For example, in the early 1990s, North Korea almost certainly illicitly acquired design documents and hired scientists from the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau responsible for Soviet/Russian submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The HS-18 likewise almost certainly benefitted from steady North Korean acquisitions over the past 25-30 years of dual-use equipment, components and materials from companies and individuals in China (especially) and Russia — both directly and by entities in both countries as fronts to obtain items from third countries. As noted previously, both types of acquisitions are unlikely to have been directly conducted or authorized by the Russian or Chinese governments. Thus, the article’s contention that “this particular ICBM could not possibly have come into the hands of the North Koreans without the full support and cooperation of the Russian government” is probably incorrect. That said, both countries have under-prioritized export control enforcement for years, so it would not be unreasonable to be concerned about them turning a blind eye to illicit North Korean missile proliferation activity, particularly in the past few years of “great power competition” with the US. Moreover, North Korea’s cyber intelligence operations have been enormously successful over the past decade, which also could have provided the country with relevant technological insights from Russia, China and other countries, even the US. But again, because of the development cycle of ICBM technology, any information gathered would likely have to have been obtained by North Korea 7-10 years ago. The article’s claim that the HS-18 “was designed from the beginning to be able to deploy large numbers of decoys” to confuse missile defenses (i.e., penetration aids or penaids) appears to be based on (1) the incorrect assumption that the missile is an SS-27, a system that is equipped with penaids, and (2) the contention that a “decoy canister” containing penaids was detached from the third stage during the HS-18’s July 12, 2023 second flight test. Although it would be logical for North Korea to deploy penaids on its ICBMs given US homeland missile defenses, and it is almost certainly technically capable of doing so, there is no open-source evidence that penaids have been flight tested or deployed on Pyongyang’s ICBMs or its medium- or intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The “decoy canister” the article contends was seen in North Korean media coverage actually appears to have been the HS-18’s spent second stage, given its size, configuration, and color scheme — an assessment shared (and augmented with much technical detail) by the CNS researchers. The article’s claim that HS-18 penaids “will defeat any missile defenses currently being operated and modernized by the United States” depends heavily on the type, number, and quality of whatever penaids North Korea might ultimately deploy — all of which are unknown from open sources. Moreover, unless North Korea flight tests penaids while using its own sensors of types similar to US missile defense sensors, Pyongyang itself will have a difficult time being assured that its penaids “will defeat” US defenses. No such testing has been detected in open-source reporting, and it is unclear if the North has deployed sensors suitable for such testing. Indeed, the US is highly likely to be able to collect better information on the performance of any flight tested North Korean penaids than Pyongyang can, which would assist Washington in countering them. This, in turn, might be a reason why North Korea would deploy penaids without flight testing, relying instead on ground testing, simulation, and the element of wartime surprise. The article’s contention that the HS-18 is “equipped to…deliver multiple thermonuclear weapons” also appears to be based on the incorrect assumption that the missile is an SS-27 Mod 2/Yars. (The Mod 1/Topol-M carries a single warhead.) It would be logical for North Korea to deploy multiple warheads on its ICBMs to increase target coverage and complicate US homeland missile defenses. Given sufficient flight testing, it is probably technically capable of doing so. However, there remains no open-source reporting of any North Korean flight testing of multiple warheads. Kim Jong Un reported in January 2021 that the North was in the final stage of “conducting research into perfecting the guidance technology for multi-warhead rocket.” This is generally interpreted by outside analysts as Kim making the development of multiple-warhead strategic missiles an objective. But it remains unclear whether the “multiple warheads” Kim referred to are shotgun-style multiple reentry vehicles (MRVs) or the more sophisticated multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) that are maneuvered to be released at widely dispersed targets by a separating post-boost vehicle (PBV, or MIRV “bus”) carrying the warheads as part of the missile’s payload. Although the article included a graphic suggesting that the HS-18 carries a PBV, there is no open-source evidence that the HS-18 released a PBV or multiple warheads in its two flight tests to date. The article contends that “North Korea would have to flight-test any long-range ICBM to its full range,” that testing on an ICBM trajectory is “essential,” and that “a nation could not have confidence that their missile could be used reliably unless they tested it on such a full trajectory.” Although this case is often made by outside analysts, North Korea’s historic track record of missile testing and operation strongly indicates it believes otherwise. North Korean ICBMs have probably been operationally deployed since 2017, despite the lack of any testing on a full-range ICBM trajectory. In order to have adequate confidence that its ICBM reentry vehicles would successfully reach their targets on an operational trajectory even without such flight testing, the North probably deploys old-style reentry vehicles like the US and USSR used in the 1950s and 1960s that are large and robust enough to be highly likely to survive reentry. It has accumulated enough expertise and experience over the 40+ years of its missile program to field such reentry vehicles and have substantial confidence in their performance without full-range flight testing. The use of such blunt-shaped and heavy RVs may also make it more difficult to deploy multiple warheads on the HS-18, especially MIRVs also requiring the weight of a PBV, given the missile’s diameter and apparent payload capacity. The much-larger-diameter, higher-capacity HS-17 liquid-propellant ICBM would be much easier to deploy with multiple old-style reentry vehicles. Finally, based on its contentions that the HS-18 is a Yars ICBM with multiple warheads and highly capable penaids, the article contends that North Korea “now has the ability to deliver these thermonuclear bombs to the continental United States” (emphasis added), and that “The new North Korean ICBM capability significantly enhances the threat to the United States mainland with a nuclear attack if the United States were to intervene in a crisis.” In fact, however, the North Korean nuclear ICBM threat to the US is not new; as noted above, it probably has been in place since 2017. The HS-18 will add incrementally to the threat posed since then by North Korea’s HS-15 and -17 liquid-propellant ICBMs, deployments of which are still being augmented. It remains to be seen how many HS-18s will be deployed and at what pace, which will be driven by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and solid-propellant production capacities and resource allocation decisions.” (Vann H. Van Diepen, “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover: North Korea’s HS-18 Is Not a Russian ICBM,” 38North August 21, 2023)

8/18/23:
Leaders of South Korea, the United States and Japan agreed today to significantly expand trilateral security cooperation, pledging to immediately consult one another in the event of common threats, hold annual joint military exercises and cooperate closely for stronger missile defense against North Korea. The agreements were reached during a trilateral summit between South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, the first time the leaders of the three countries met for a standalone meeting and one that was hailed by Yoon as opening a new chapter in trilateral cooperation. “Now, Camp David will be remembered as a historic place where South Korea, the United States and Japan declared their intention to promote the rules-based international order on the foundation of the common values of freedom, human rights and the rule of law, and to play a central role for regional security and prosperity,” Yoon said in a joint press conference after the summit. Biden touted the leaders as having “made history,” while Kishida said it was “necessary” and a demand of the times to realize their potential for strategic cooperation. The agreement to consult one another in the event of common threats, dubbed the “Commitment to Consult Among Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United States,” was a first among the three nations and elevated their partnership to a new level amid security and economic challenges posed by North Korea and China. It underscored the urgency of jointly responding to common challenges, such as North Korea’s nuclear threat and supply chain disruptions, after years of historical tensions between Seoul and Tokyo prevented deeper cooperation at the trilateral level. “We, the leaders of Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United States, commit our governments to consult trilaterally with each other, in an expeditious manner, to coordinate our responses to regional challenges, provocations, and threats affecting our collective interests and security,” the document said, referring to South Korea by its formal name. “Through these consultations, we intend to share information, align our messaging, and coordinate response actions.” The document did not specify the type of threat or challenge that will trigger the commitment to consult, but a South Korean presidential official cited examples such as trade disputes, a North Korean missile threat, a serious provocation at sea, or any threat in or outside the region. Also, in the event one country decides not to share information because it deems a particular threat to not be a threat to itself, it will have no obligation to do so, the official said. “Our countries retain the freedom to take all appropriate actions to uphold our security interests or sovereignty,” the document read, noting the commitment would not supersede any obligations under the alliance treaties between South Korea and the U.S. or between the U.S. and Japan, or give rise to rights or obligations under international or domestic law. The Commitment to Consult was one of a series of agreements reached by the three leaders at their summit. The overarching agreement, contained in a joint statement titled “The Spirit of Camp David,” called for holding annual trilateral meetings among the three countries’ leaders, foreign ministers, defense ministers and national security advisers, as well as the first trilateral meeting between their finance ministers. The leaders agreed to launch an annual Trilateral Indo-Pacific Dialogue to coordinate implementation of their Indo-Pacific approaches and to discuss ways to coordinate their efforts to counter disinformation, while also welcoming the trilateral development policy dialogue planned for October. The three countries announced plans to hold trilateral defense exercises on an annual basis and operationalize their real-time sharing of missile warning data on North Korea before the end of the year. They are committed to pursuing enhanced ballistic missile defense cooperation to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats and agreed to establish a new trilateral working group to combat North Korean cyber threats and block its cyber-enabled sanctions evasion. In addition, the three countries agreed to strengthen cooperation to improve the human rights situation in North Korea and resolve the issues of abductions, detainees and unrepatriated prisoners of war. The joint statement expressed the three countries’ shared concerns about “actions inconsistent with the rules-based international order,” recalling their individually announced positions on the “dangerous and aggressive behavior supporting unlawful maritime claims” by China in the South China Sea. “We strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the waters of the Indo-Pacific,” the statement said, adding the leaders reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. “There is no change in our basic positions on Taiwan, and we call for a peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.” The three leaders pledged to continue to support Ukraine in its war against Russia. “We commit to continue providing assistance to Ukraine, imposing coordinated, robust sanctions on Russia, and accelerating the reduction of dependency on Russian energy,” the statement said. Issues of economic security were also discussed in detail, with the three leaders committing to work closely to launch pilot programs for early warning systems about supply chain shortages. The three sides agreed to cooperate on supply chain resilience, especially on semiconductors and batteries; technology security and standards; as well as clean energy and energy security, among other areas. They further agreed to strengthen cooperation to prevent their cutting-edge technologies from being illegally exported or stolen abroad. (Lee Haye-ah, “Yoon, Biden, Kishida Agree to Immediately Consult in Event of Common Threat,” Yonhap, August 18, 2023) Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio may not have foreseen standing amicably together with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at the U.S. presidential retreat of Camp David quite so quickly when they first held formal talks in Tokyo just five months ago. But whether this was truly a historic event will not likely be determined for some time to come. What is clear is that U.S. President Joe Biden chose to host the trilateral summit at a symbolic location and that the three leaders unveiled a host of new initiatives to prevent the current positive momentum in their ties from going backward. The agreements included pledges to meet at least once a year, either by arranging further standalone summits or by taking advantage of opportunities to gather on the fringes of larger multilateral events. Jeffrey Hornung, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation think tank, noted that while issues concerning North Korea that the leaders agreed on are “low-hanging fruit,” many difficult issues will likely stand in their way as they go forward. Even if they start sharing real-time data about North Korean missile launches by the end of this year as agreed, he said, it is not realistic for the armed forces of Japan and South Korea to respond together to them in the foreseeable future. As Tokyo and Seoul do not have a security alliance and share a bitter past that includes Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula, Japanese officials involved in drafting some of the statements for the summit said they were careful about the wording of the documents. The Biden administration pushed the idea of “institutionalizing” the trilateral cooperation in an attempt to make their framework more durable, but that, as well as phrases and words repeatedly used by senior U.S. officials in the run-up to the summit such as the establishment of a “hotline” and “contingency,” were not included in the statements. One of the Japanese officials suggested that Tokyo was reluctant to employ any word that might give the impression that the trilateral framework would develop into a security alliance, noting that some remarks from the U.S. side exceeded what had been agreed. Biden, Kishida and Yoon also discussed shared concerns about China’s actions that run counter to the rules-based international order and touched on its “dangerous and aggressive behavior” in the South China Sea. A senior Biden administration official said, “Nothing in life is absolutely irreversible.” But the official, who declined to be named, said the chance of a future U.S. president altering the trilateral engagement is slim as enhancing Washington’s alliances and partnerships is largely supported by the mainstream of the Democratic and Republican parties. “I personally have rarely experienced this much bipartisan agreement on any initiative,” he said. (Karube Takuya, “Japan, South Korea, U.S. Summit Symbolic But Judgment of History Awaits,” Kyodo, August 19, 2023)

Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed today on a plan to develop a new type of missile capable of intercepting hypersonic weapons when they met near Washington for one-on-one talks. Kishida and Biden endorsed the joint development plan at the U.S. presidential retreat of Camp David at a time when China, North Korea and Russia are all aggressively pursuing hypersonic capabilities, according to the White House and the Japanese government. Hypersonic missiles and glide vehicles fly at speeds of over Mach 5, five times the speed of sound. They are also maneuverable and can change course during flight, making them more difficult to shoot down or track by radar. According to Japan’s Defense Ministry, the two countries aim to complete the missile’s development in the 2030s. It will be the second time for Japan and the United States to develop an interceptor missile together following the Standard Missile-3 Block 2A. The two countries said in November that their first co-developed missile had successfully destroyed an intercontinental ballistic missile target in a test after it was launched from an Aegis-equipped destroyer. (Kyodo, “Japan, U.S. Leaders Agree on New Missile Development,” August 18, 2023)

8/20/23:
In a coordinated effort, the South Korean police and the US military investigative agency have uncovered a malicious cyberattack by the North Korean hacking group “Kimsuky,” aimed at the Korea-US combined military exercise battle simulation center, according to the police today. According to the Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Police Agency, the North Korean hacking group has carried out continuous malicious email attacks targeting a domestic battle simulation company for military engaged in virtual war games since April 2022. The investigation revealed that the group successfully installed a malicious code on the company’s computer system in January 2023, by hijacking the email account of an administrative employee of the company. Through remote access, the hackers were able to monitor the victim company’s work progress and email activity in real time and steal the personal information of all employees. The group then used the hijacked data to send malicious emails disguised as certificates of tax withheld to the employees dispatched to the Korea-US combined military exercise battle simulation center, starting in February this year. While the security system of the US national defense digital network blocked the malicious code, some of the employees’ personal computers were infected by forwarding the email to external accounts. However, military-related information was not stolen, and the US military investigative agency recognized the hacking attack and confirmed the damage through information sharing with the police. The police agency and the US military investigative agency found that the IP address used in the hacking attack matched the IP address band identified in the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Hacking attack in 2014. The similarity in methods and North Korean vocabulary used in previous attacks suggested that the “Kimsuky” group was responsible. Both agencies have completed protection measures, including checks for infected public and personal computers and security training for employees attending the Korea-US combined military exercises to prevent further damage. Furthermore, the Gyeonggi Nambu Provincial Police Agency confirmed the existence of emails impersonating the directorate of personnel of the US army, sent to Korean employees in the United States Forces Korea in July 2023, just a month before the Korea-US Ulchi Freedom Shield combined military exercise scheduled for August 21-31. The police are collaborating with the US military investigative agency on this ongoing investigation. (Shin Ji-hye, “NK Hacking Group Targets Korea-U.S. Combined Exercise,” Korea Herald, August 20, 2023)

8/21/23:
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has visited a navy unit and inspected a cruise missile test aboard a warship, Pyongyang’s state media reported today, as South Korea and the United States began their annual joint military drills. The North’s leader visited the Navy flotilla tasked with defending the east coast and watched the seamen on a patrol ship stage a launching drill of “strategic” cruise missiles, KCNA said, without disclosing the date of his visit. “At the drill aimed to reconfirm the combat function of the ship and the feature of its missile system and make the seamen skilled at carrying out the attack mission in actual war, the ship rapidly hit target without even an error,” the KCNA said in an English-language report. South Korea and the U.S. kicked off the annual Ulchi Freedom Shield (UFS) exercise today, featuring various contingency drills, such as the computer simulation-based command post exercise, concurrent field training and Ulchi civil defense drills. The exercise will run until August 31. Photos carried by state media showed a missile firing from Patrol Ship No. 661, with Kim observing the scene aboard a separate vessel. Experts said it is not certain whether the North’s warship has stealth features, but the recalcitrant regime seems to have wanted to show off its naval capabilities in an apparent protest against the Seoul-Washington drills. In response to the KCNA report, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said later that many parts of the North’s announcement were “exaggerated and different from facts.” An informed source said the cruise missile fired in last week’s test was not a “strategic” nuclear-capable one given the size of the vessel, which was too small for such an important missile launch. He added that the missile failed to hit an apparently preset target. (Kim Soo-yeon and Song Sang-ho, “N. Korean Leader Inspects Cruise Missile Test as S. Korea-U.S. Military Drills Begin,” Yonhap, August 21, 2023)

8/22/23:
KCNA: “An unprecedented large-scale thermonuclear war is approaching the Korean Peninsula every moment as reality. On August 21, the U.S. and the south Korean puppet group started the largest-ever joint military drill “Ulji Freedom Shield” despite our repeated warnings. The nuclear war drill with huge aggression forces involved will last until August 31. The U.S. mobilized in the drill not only war hardware and troops deployed in the operational area of the Korean Peninsula but also space forces in its mainland for the first time in history. Such U.S. nuclear strategic assets are expected to be hurled into the drill as a nuclear carrier, a nuclear submarine, B-1B and B-52H. The aggressive character of the drill is becoming ever more conspicuous as even the war criminal states such as Australia, Canada, France, Britain, Greece, Italy, New Zealand and the Philippines, which entered the last Korean War under the cloak of “UN forces”, are participating in the drill. In this period, the U.S. and other hostile forces are going to wage over 30 joint field maneuvers and other exercises for an actual war to invade the north in all the operation areas, including ground, sea, air and space. The bosses of the U.S., Japan and the south Korean puppet group met at the Camp David Resort near Washington on Aug. 18 to detail, plan and formulate the nuclear war provocation on the Korean Peninsula. And the drill is being staged for carrying out the agreements even before the ink of agreed documents is dry so the gravity of the situation is further amplified. If the agreements fabricated at the Camp David Resort are additionally put into practice in the war drill involving human and material resources of the U.S. and other hostile forces and even the vassal forces, the possibility of outbreak of a thermonuclear war on the Korean peninsula will become more realistic. All the facts go to prove that the danger of the “Ulji Freedom Shield” joint military drill with all possible war resources involved can never be covered up with the words “annual” and “defensive.” It is as clear as noonday that the war rehearsal, daubed with such bellicose rhetoric as “occupation”, “annihilation”, “decapitation” and “scorched earth” and staged on the “largest scale and content in history”, is targeting the DPRK. The prevailing situation requires the Korean People’s Army to take the initiative, offensive and overwhelming action for a war. The will to punish the hostile forces threatening the sovereignty of our state and the right to existence of our people for decades is waiting for a moment of percussion. The armed forces of the DPRK will wait for the time.” (KCNA, “DPRK Armed Forces Show No Mercy: KCNA Commentary,” August 22, 2023)

8/24/23:
KCNA: “The National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) of the DPRK conducted the second launch of reconnaissance satellite Malligyong-1 aboard the new-type carrier rocket Chollima-1 at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in Cholsan County of North Phyongan Province at dawn of August 24, Juche 112 (2023). The flights of the first and second stages of the rocket were normal, but the launch failed due to an error in the emergency blasting system during the third-stage flight. The NADA said that it would make clear in a short span of time the reason why the emergency blasting system was operated abnormally. Explaining that the cause of the relevant accident is not a big problem in aspect of the reliability of cascade engines and the system, the NADA expressed the stand that it would conduct the third reconnaissance satellite launch in October after thoroughly probing the reason and taking measures.” (KCNA, “KCNA Report on Accident in Second Launch of Military Reconnaissance Satellite,” August 24, 2023)

Contradicting North Korea’s assertions, the second-stage flight of the country’s space launch vehicle, which was carrying a purported spy satellite, exhibited anomalies during a second launch, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said a day later. Lee publicly dismissed Pyongyang’s claims that the first and second-stage flights of a satellite launch vehicle Chollima-1, which was carrying the Malligyong-1 military reconnaissance satellite, operated successfully. North Korea maintained that a “malfunction in the emergency explosion system” during the third-stage flight led to the failure, likely alluding to the malfunction of the flight termination system attached to the launch vehicle. During a plenary session of the National Assembly’s Defense Committee, Lee said that in contrast to the first launch on May 31, the ignition of the second-stage engine was successful this time. The South Korean defense chief acknowledged the advancements North Korea has achieved since May when a second-stage engine malfunction resulted in a failure. However, he emphasized that it remains challenging to categorize the second-stage flight as a success. “The second-stage flight exhibited some abnormalities,” Lee told lawmakers. “We have some evidence to substantiate this assessment. However, arriving at a definitive conclusion will require more time.” Lee explained that South Korea’s state-run Agency for Defense Development and US experts have been conducting an analysis to that end. Speaking at the National Assembly, Lee also disclosed that Seoul and Washington have been engaged in collaborative efforts to locate and salvage launch debris. But as of Friday morning, the South Korean Navy has yet to identify any such debris in the West Sea. (Ji Da-gyum, “Second-Stage Rocket Unsuccessful, Contrary to NK’s Claims: Seoul,” Korea Herald, August 25, 2023)

KCNA: DPRK Minister of National Defense Kang Sun Nam’s press statement: “At the summit of the U.S., Japan and the “Republic of Korea” (ROK) held at Camp David on August 18, there was a confab in a bid to boost cooperation among the three parties for the restoration of Ukraine. Biden, at a joint press conference after the summit, incited another atmosphere of confrontation against Russia, saying that the international community needs to jointly respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and that such a situation may occur in Asia. This is a typical example of the desperate efforts by the Biden group to fuel the atmosphere of supporting Ukraine and recover from their political defeat by mobilizing their Asian stooges as the counteroffensive operations launched by the Zelenskiy group with an absurd wild ambition for “recovery of territory” have been defeated one after another by the superb tactics of the Russian army. The Ukrainian crisis is an inevitable product of the hegemonic ambition of the U.S. which has been hell-bent on ceaseless military threat and pressure policy by mobilizing its NATO allies, systematically encroaching upon Russia’s strategic security and interests while regarding Russia as the main enemy to bring down at any cost. The U.S., the arch criminal who has brought untold turmoil to the continent of Europe, summoned its puppets, who are thousands of kilometers away from Kiev and not familiar with the essence of the situation, to discuss so-called cooperation. This is an intolerable mockery of and insult to international peace and security and human life. The recent confab brought to light the U.S. sinister intention to lay big siege to China and Russia by tightly binding the hands and feet of Japan and the “ROK,” the primary bullet shield for realizing its greedy ambition for world domination, to the Asian version of NATO. Judging from the past, the “ROK” and Japan must presumably have accepted the U.S. demand for active military aid to Ukraine as they have no choice but to follow their master, not daring to calculate whether the master’s demand will bring peace or irreversible security crisis to them. The international community is now becoming increasingly vocal denouncing the U.S. and its followers who have been engrossed in provocation while escalating the tense situation in the region of Northeast Asia, which has been already strained through the exclusive factional spawning and inter-camp confrontation. Taking this opportunity, we clarify once again our clear stand to the U.S. which is trumpeting about violation of UN “sanctions” and claims that the DPRK supports the cruel aggressive war of Russia, spreading the “rumor of DPRK-Russia arms dealings” again with the Russian defense minister’s visit to the DPRK as an occasion. Not content with sending the notorious lethal weapons including cluster bombs to the Ukrainian battlefield, the U.S. is driving the Ukrainian crisis to the brink of world nuclear war by handing over even F-16 fighters to the Zelenskiy puppet regime. It has no legal right and moral justification to slander the normal cooperation between sovereign states in the field of national defense for peace and security in the region and the rest of the world. The DPRK has never recognized the “sanctions resolutions” of the UN Security Council cooked up by the hostile forces to stamp out its sovereignty and right to existence. And the definition of someone’s “aggression”, made by the U.S. and the West with their gangster-like logic and standards, does never work on us. Seeing the enemies uneasy about what kind of entity of strong power may be produced again by the cooperation and exchange between the world military powers in clearly smashing the U.S.-led unipolar world order, we came to reconfirm the orientation and way of more definitely overpowering our foes. Even if the U.S. and its stooges seek the “joint counteraction” to cope with threat from someone, we remain unchanged in our will and determination to resolutely take the overwhelming and preemptive armed counteraction, never pardoning any military moves against the DPRK. We will redouble the militant friendship and solidarity with Russia in the just struggle against the common enemy, extending full support and solidarity once again to the just cause of the Russian people for defending their sovereign right and realizing international justice. We are firmly convinced that the day will surely come when the heroic Russian army will write another glorious page in the history of the great war victory amid the material and moral support and encouragement of the righteous and progressive forces surpassing the U.S.-led Western group.” (KCNA, “Press Statement of DPRK Defense Minister,” August 24, 2023)

8/27/23:
North Korea has lifted an entry ban imposed on its citizens staying abroad over COVID-19 concerns, state media reported Sunday, reopening its border following more than three years of its stringent virus restrictions. The North’s national emergency epidemic prevention headquarters announced that North Korean “citizens abroad have been allowed to return home,” as it has decided to “adjust the anti-epidemic degree in reference to the eased worldwide pandemic situation,” according to KCNA. It added that those who return home will be put under “proper medical observation at quarantine wards for a week.” The move came after North Korea resumed commercial flights with China and Russia last week following more than three years of border closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Flights operated by Air Koryo, North Korea’s national carrier, arrived in Beijing and Vladivostok from Pyongyang last week, bringing the North’s people staying there back home. With the lifting of the entry ban, more North Korean diplomats, laborers and students staying in foreign nations are expected to come back to the North. North Korea, which closed its border in January 2020, imposed “maximum emergency anti-epidemic” measures in May 2022, when the country reported its first COVID-19 case. In July, the secretive regime invited senior Chinese and Russian officials to its military parade, marking the country’s first known foreign visitors since Pyongyang’s border shutdown. North Korean buses carrying dozens of its taekwondo athletes also crossed the border into China earlier this month to participate in the ITF Taekwondo World Championships in Kazakhstan. The North has also registered seven judokas to compete in the Asian Games to be held in Hangzhou, China, September 23-October 8. (Kim Soo-yeon, “N.K. Allows Citizens Abroad to Return in Official Reopening of Border Following Pandemic Closure,” Yonhap, August 27, 2023)

8/29/23:
KCNA: “The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un paid a congratulatory visit to the Navy Command on the occasion of the Navy Day, the holiday of the glorious Navy of the Korean People’s Army, and made a meaningful speech to congratulate all the service personnel of the Navy. He said: The Eighth Congress of the WPK set forth the militant tasks for developing our revolutionary armed forces into a genuine army of the Party modeled on the monolithic idea and an ultra-modern army and radically improving the modernity and fighting capacity of the Navy in a short span of time in conformity with the requirements of the developing revolution and the state security and the new world trend of military development. To achieve the successes in rapidly developing the naval force has become a very urgent issue in view of the enemies’ recent aggressive attempts and character of military actions. Recently, the U.S. imperialists are getting more frantic than ever before in the joint naval military exercises with their vassal forces in the waters around the DPRK, while putting the deployment of reinforced nuclear strategic assets in the waters around the Korean peninsula on a permanent basis. Recently, the gang bosses of the U.S., Japan and the “Republic of Korea” were closeted with each other, where they announced that they would conduct on a regular basis the tripartite joint military exercises under different codenames, and set about its implementation. Owing to the reckless confrontational moves of the U.S. and other hostile forces, the waters off the Korean Peninsula have been reduced into the world’s biggest war hardware concentration spot, the most unstable waters with the danger of a nuclear war. The prevailing situation requires our Navy to put all its efforts into rounding off the war readiness to maintain the constant combat alertness, and get prepared to break the enemy’s will for war in contingency and carry out the military strategy of the Supreme Headquarters. … Saying that the political and ideological superiority should be followed by military technical development in a balanced manner, he indicated the plan of our Party and the tasks to be fulfilled immediately to radically increase the modernity and combat capability of the navy by putting spurs to the modernization of the naval weapons and equipment. Noting that units of different services would be equipped with new weaponry according to the policy of expanding the tactical nuclear weapons operation specified in the line of building the state nuclear force, he stressed that the navy of the DPRK would become a component of the state nuclear deterrence carrying out the strategic duty. He set it as the most important requirement to more thoroughly establish the Party Central Committee’s monolithic command system throughout the navy in developing as early as possible the KPA Navy into a powerful service which is fully ready for war. … He stressed that the key to rapidly improving the combat capability of the Navy lies in dynamically pushing forward with the modernization of arms and equipment and properly conducting practical actual maneuvers in an actual war environment at the same time. He underlined the need to fully arm the officers and men of the units and sub-units at all levels with our Party’s Juche-oriented naval and underwater war methods and focus on developing new strategic and tactical plans for getting familiar with ever-changing patterns of naval warfare and countering the enemy’s methods of war for aggression and war tactics at present.” (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Makes Congratulatory Speech in Celebration of Navy Day,” August 29, 2023)

8/30/23:
KPA General Staff report: “On August 30 the U.S. imperialists let a formation of B-1B nuclear strategic bombers conduct a joint attack formation drill against the DPRK together with fighters of the military gangsters of the “Republic of Korea” in the sky above the East and West Seas of Korea. The drill, staged at a time when the enemies’ adventurous aggressive war exercises Ulji Freedom Shield reached their height, is a serious threat to the DPRK as it was just pursuant to the scenario for a preemptive nuclear strike at the DPRK. The enemies opened this fact to the press and loudly advertise it as a “demonstration of the implementation of the extended deterrence” against the DPRK. This is little short of informing the world that they made the preemptive nuclear strike at the DPRK a fait accompli and are putting it into practice. To cope with this, the KPA staged a tactical nuclear strike drill simulating scorched earth strikes at major command centers and operational airfields of the “ROK” military gangsters on the night of August 30. The tactical nuclear-armed unit of the KPA in the western region of the country conducted the relevant military activities. The missile unit fired two tactical ballistic missiles northeastward at Pyongyang International Airport and correctly carried out its nuclear strike mission through air bursts at a preset altitude of 400 meters above the target island. The drill is aimed to send a clear message to the enemies, who responded the DPRK’s repeated warnings with such military threat as deployment of strategic assets, and make them clearly realize once again the DPRK’s resolute punitive will and substantive retaliation capabilities. The KPA will never overlook the rash acts of the U.S. forces and the “ROK” military gangsters.” (KCNA, “KPA General Staff Releases Report,” August 31, 2023)

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 (DPRK), visited the training command post of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) on August 29 to learn about the state of the command drill involving the whole army. Accompanying him were KPA Marshal Pak Jong Chon and General Kang Sun Nam, minister of National Defense. He was greeted by the chief of the KPA General Staff and the director general of the KPA General Reconnaissance Bureau at the command post. To cope with the present situation in which the U.S. and the “ROK” military gangsters have staged extremely provocative and dangerous large-scale joint exercises simulating an all-out war against the DPRK, the KPA General Staff launched a command drill involving the entire army on August 29 to judge and inspect the operational organization and commanding abilities of the commanding officers and the staff sections of the large combined units and combined units at all levels. The drill is aimed at letting all the commanding officers and staff sections of the entire army make full preparations for war and have strong military response capability by helping them get familiar with action procedures at the time of being placed on a war footing, further enhancing their combat operation organizing and commanding ability and confirming the feasibility of operation plans. After receiving a report from the chief of the General Staff on the movement plans of the enemy forces and the KPA anticipated according to time and stage in the event of the outbreak of a war, the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un learned in detail about the organization and the state of the command drill. He acquainted himself with the plan of the drill staff, which is aimed at occupying the whole territory of the southern half by repelling the enemy’s sudden armed invasion and switching over to an all-out counterattack, and the combat documents on the operation plans of the staff sections of the large combined units and combined units at all levels to carry it out. He also examined in detail the documents on the actual operational plans of the General Staff, including the plan of using the frontline and strategic reserve artillery forces, the plan of forming a front behind the enemy lines and the plan of disrupting the entrance of outside armed forces in contingency. He stressed the need to pay the greatest attention to making the enemy dispirited, throwing their combat action into confusion and paralyzing their will and ability to fight a war from the outset by dealing heavy blows at their war potential and war command center and blinding their means of command communication at the initial stage of operation. And he detailed the comprehensive tasks, principled requirements and ways to be maintained by the KPA in the future operation planning and command and war preparations, including the issue of surely taking the strategic initiative by making simultaneous super-intense strikes at the pivotal military command centers, military ports, operational airfields and other important enemy military targets and core objects whose destruction may cause a series of socio-political and economic chaos and by combining and applying non-stop mopping-up warfare, front-line offensive operations and operations of harassing the enemy’s rear in a composite and organic manner, and in particular, the issue of taking thoroughgoing steps to protect the striking means from any enemy counteraction, and the issue of comprehensively updating the operation command system and fire command communications mode. Noting that modern war is a showdown characterized by the campaign of brains, he said that victory or defeat in war is decided first by brains of the commanding officers before the start of fighting. He urged all the commanding officers of the army to conduct the staff drill and operational combat situation control exercises intensively under an environment simulating an actual war to acquire exceptional organizing ability and superb commanding art, and thus fully prepare themselves to be all-round combatants and confident men of ability who are flexible in actual war, not in mere training. Saying that the busy military moves of the U.S. and the “ROK” military gangsters and their frequent and expanded military exercises under different codenames constitute a clear revelation of their scheme for invading the DPRK, he again stressed the need for the DPRK to thoroughly counter them. Issuing a series of important instructions for further intensifying the operation command drill, actual maneuvers and actual war exercises of the KPA, as required by the prevailing state security environment and situation, he clarified the comprehensive tasks and ways for more definitely completing the war preparations. The KPA commanding officers further hardened their militant conviction and outlook on war after receiving the great military program from Kim Jong Un. They are burning with the will to accelerate the war preparations and thus mercilessly wipe out the enemies and put the whole territory of the southern half under control anytime once an order is issued by him.” (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Inspects Training Command Post of KPA General Staff,” August 31, 2023)

The United States has new intelligence that shows arms negotiations between Russia and North Korea are advancing, as Moscow turns to pariah nations for weapons to fight the war in Ukraine, a White House spokesman said today. The spokesman, John F. Kirby of the National Security Council, said that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, had recently exchanged letters and that the Russian defense minister’s recent visit to Pyongyang included discussions on arms deals. “Following these negotiations, high-level discussions may continue in coming months,” Mr. Kirby told reporters, describing the talks as “actively advancing.” He declined to explain how the United States obtained the intelligence, saying only that it had been monitoring the situation “through a variety of means.” Kirby’s remarks were the latest case of the administration declassifying intelligence in an effort to disrupt or deter action, though the past cases — revealing Russia’s war plans, for example, or arms deals with Iran — have not stopped those plans from going through. U.S. officials have said that global sanctions have severely restricted Russia’s supply chains and forced Moscow to look for other sources of weapons as the war in Ukraine grinds into its 19th month. The White House has accused North Korea of supplying rockets and missiles to Russia for use in Ukraine, which Pyongyang has denied. Russia has also received shipments of Iranian-made drones. The United States has expressed concerns in the past that China was considering giving military aid to Moscow for the war in Ukraine. But Beijing has been reluctant to supply significant arms to Russia, even while it buys its oil and sells dual-use electronics and other technology. Kirby noted that North Korea had said publicly, on numerous occasions, that it would not sell ammunition to Russia, and he emphasized that any such deal would violate several U.N. Security Council resolutions. In March, the United States announced that Russia was seeking to offer North Korea food in exchange for munitions; that month the Biden administration also announced sanctions against a Slovakian national accused of trying to broker a weapons deal. Kirby said today that the letters between Putin and Kim were “surface level” and did not contain any details about a food-for-fuel deal. But he said the current talks could involve supplying “significant quantities and multiple types of munitions.” The talks come at a crucial moment in the war. The Ukrainian military launched a counteroffensive against Russia this summer but took heavy losses, leading to a change in strategy from head-on assaults to a war of attrition. “What we’re seeing in this counteroffensive is it’s a gunfight and both sides are blazing away with artillery,” Kirby said. “So we know that artillery is one of those items, but it’s multiple levels of types of munitions.” Kirby said the United States considered Russia’s pursuit of artillery from “rogue regimes” to be a sign of “desperation and weakness” on Putin’s part. “Mr. Putin has achieved — let me count it — zero of his strategic goals in Ukraine,” Kirby said. (Erica L. Green, “North Korea and Russia Said to Talk of Arms Deal,” New York Times, August 31, 2023, p. A-8)

8/31/23:
South Korea and the United States staged combined live-fire air drill today to bolster their precision strike capabilities, as part of the allies’ key annual military exercise. Seoul’s Air Force said the drills mobilized some 30 aircraft, including South Korean F-35A radar-evading jets, armed with various missiles, in connection with the Ulchi Freedom Shield (UFS) exercise set to end today. During the live-fire exercise over the Yellow Sea, the South’s F-35A, F-15K and KF-16 fighters fired air-to-air missiles to intercept a simulated enemy cruise missile. The F-15K and KF-16 jets then proceeded to release guided bombs to strike the origin of provocation by the enemy. The U.S. Air Force’s A-10 attack aircraft and the South’s FA-50 light attack aircraft also took part in the drills, staging missile and guided bomb strikes to neutralize other simulated enemy targets. The UFS exercise, which began on Aug. 21, is designed to strengthen the allies’ combined defense posture against North Korean military threats. Pyongyang has long accused the combined South Korea-U.S. drills of being rehearsals for an invasion against it. North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea late Wednesday in response to the allies’ air exercise staged hours earlier, involving at least one U.S. B-1B strategic bomber. (Chae Yun-hwan, “S. Korea, U.S. Stage Joint Live-Fire Exercise,” Yonhap, August 31, 2023)

9/1/23:
Japan, the United States and South Korea have imposed additional sanctions on North Korea, such as asset freezes on individuals and organizations, in response to Pyongyang’s failed attempt to launch a military satellite last week. Japan’s Cabinet today decided to designate four individuals — a British man, a Chinese man and two men from North Korea — and three groups, including North Korean hacking group Andariel, as new asset freeze targets. South Korea also announced sanctions on a North Korean firm linked to weapons development programs and five individuals. Seoul suspects the five have been involved in raising funds for the North’s nuclear and missile activities. The two countries are security allies with the United States, and the measures imposed are in step with punitive U.S. measures announced yesterday. Washington rolled out additional sanctions on two further individuals, a North Korean man and a Russian man, as well as on Intellekt LLC of Russia, alleging that they helped finance North Korean efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. The measures follow Pyongyang’s firing of a rocket carrying a reconnaissance satellite on August 24, which did not go into orbit due to an error in its emergency blast system. Japan, South Korea and the United States have criticized North Korea’s attempted satellite launches as violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit North Korea from activities using ballistic missile technology. The U.S. Treasury Department has said the new measures are aimed at curtailing efforts to generate revenue for Pyongyang’s “unlawful development of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.” The department alleged the North Korean man worked as an executive of a separate Russian company that was owned by the Russian man and made North Korean construction laborers work in Russia. The North Korean also led a group of information technology workers from his country and helped them obtain documents so they could legally work as freelancers, it alleged. Intellekt was awarded a contract for a construction project in Moscow which was coordinated by the North Korean man, the department said. (Kyodo, “Japan, U.S., South Korea Extend Sanctions over North Korea Satellite Launch,” September 1, 2023)

9/2/23:
North Korea fired several cruise missiles toward the Yellow Sea today, Seoul’s military said, days after South Korea and the United States wrapped up their major joint military drills. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) announced the North’s launch took place at around 4 a.m. but did not elaborate further, pending an analysis. (Yonhap, “North Korea Fires Several Cruise Missiles into Yellow Sea: JCS,” September 2, 2023)

KCNA: “After their adventurous large-scale joint exercises, the enemies staged again a joint guided missile firing and aerial bombing drill involving tens of different fighters for two days from August 31 to continuously escalate tensions and more openly reveal their military confrontation scheme against the DPRK. The recklessness and dangerous nature of the confrontation hysteria recently betrayed by the U.S. and the gangsters of the “Republic of Korea” are unprecedented in history. The Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) issued an order to conduct a relevant military drill to fully demonstrate the action will and capability to deter the enemies’ attempts for a war of aggression. In its written drill order, the WPK Central Military Commission stressed the importance of the drill and sent militant encouragement to the missile soldiers, affirming that the great power of the DPRK will soon reduce into misgivings the so-called self-pride and relieved feelings about the superiority of the combined air forces which the enemies seek to demonstrate continuously. A firing drill for simulated tactical nuclear attack was conducted at dawn of September 2 to warn the enemies of the actual nuclear war danger. A high-spirited strategic cruise missile-armed unit of the Korean People’s Army in the western region of the country conducted the relevant military activities. Prior to the drill, there was an inspection of the procedures for authenticating the nuclear attack order and the rapid operation normality of the technical and mechanical devices of the launch approval system, and two long-range strategic cruise missiles tipped with mock nuclear warheads were fired in an actual war environment according to rapid approval procedures. The missile sub-unit involved in the drill fired the long-range strategic cruise missiles toward the West Sea of Korea from the mouth of the River Chongchon. The unit successfully carried out its nuclear strike mission by making sure that the missiles flied along the pattern “8” flight track simulating the distance of 1 500 kilometers for 7 672-7 681 seconds respectively and their warheads detonated at a preset altitude of 150 meters above the target island. The Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea repeatedly stressed the need to take offensive actions for affording the understanding of the DPRK nuclear force’s deterrence, calling on all the service personnel of the nuclear force to maintain high alertness and mobilized posture and make the U.S. and the military gangsters of the “ROK” more clearly understand the situation that has reached a serious threat through the overpowering exercise of the war deterrence. The nuclear force of the DPRK will bolster up its responsible combat counteraction posture in every way to deter war and preserve peace and stability.” (KCNA, “Counteraction Drill for Important Purpose Conducted in DPRK,” September 3, 2023)

9/4/23:
Russia proposed conducting three-way naval exercises with North Korea and China when Moscow’s defense minister held a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in late July, South Korea’s intelligence agency was quoted today. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the proposal when he held a one-on-one meeting with the North’s leader, National Intelligence Service (NIS) Director Kim Kyou-hyun said during a close-door briefing to the parliamentary intelligence committee, according to Rep. Yoo Sang-bum of the ruling People Power Party. Shoigu visited the North from July 25-27. Asked about the agency’s analysis of North Korea’s recent increase in military provocations, Yoo said they appear to be in response to the South Korea-United States joint Ulchi Freedom Shield military exercise conducted from Aug 21-31. The agency reportedly confirmed North Korea’s two short-range ballistic missile launches August 30, saying only one succeeded while the other failed. North Korea has claimed both were successfully conducted. The NIS was also quoted as saying that it is “too early” to conclude whether Kim Jong-un has designated his daughter Ju-ae as his successor. According to Yoo, the NIS also shared intelligence with lawmakers that the North has issued orders to “anti-state forces” in the South to carry out protest movements related to Japan’s discharge of contaminated water from its crippled f*ckushima power plant. (Kang Jae-eun, “Russia Proposed Three-Way Naval Exercise with N. Korea, China: NIS,” Yonhap, September 4, 2023)

Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, plans to travel to Russia this month to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin to discuss the possibility of supplying Russia with more weaponry for its war in Ukraine and other military cooperation, according to American and allied officials. In a rare foray from his country, Kim would travel from Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, probably by armored train, to Vladivostok, where he would meet with Putin, the officials said. Kim could possibly go to Moscow, though that is not certain. Putin wants Kim to agree to send Russia artillery shells and antitank missiles, and Kim would like Russia to provide North Korea with advanced technology for satellites and nuclear-powered submarines, the officials said. Kim is also seeking food aid for his impoverished nation. Both leaders would be on the campus of Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok to attend the Eastern Economic Forum, which is scheduled to run September 10 to 13, according to the officials. Kim also plans to visit Pier 33, where naval ships from Russia’s Pacific fleet dock, they said. North Korea celebrates the anniversary of its founding on September 9. On August 30, the White House warned that Putin and Kim had exchanged letters discussing a possible arms deal, citing declassified intelligence. A White House spokesman, John F. Kirby, said high-level talks on military cooperation between the two nations were “actively advancing.” U.S. officials declined to give more details on the state of personal ties between the leaders, who are considered adversaries of the United States. The new information about a planned meeting between them goes far beyond the previous warning. The intelligence relating to the plans has not been declassified or downgraded by the United States, and the officials describing it were not authorized to discuss it. They declined to provide details on how spy agencies had collected the information. While the White House declined to discuss the new intelligence, Adrienne Watson, a National Security Council spokeswoman, acknowledged that the United States expected “leader-level diplomatic engagement” on the issue of arms sales to take place between Russia and North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “We urge the D.P.R.K. to cease its arms negotiations with Russia and abide by the public commitments that Pyongyang has made to not provide or sell arms to Russia,” she said in a statement after this story was published. At other times since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials have released declassified intelligence to try to dissuade North Korea, China and other countries from supplying Russia with weapons. U.S. officials say White House warnings about planned transfers of North Korean artillery shells stopped previous cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow. In late August, a delegation of about 20 North Korean officials, including some who oversee security protocols for the leadership, traveled by train from Pyongyang to Vladivostok, and then flew to Moscow, an indication that North Korea was serious about a visit by Kim. Their trip, believed to be a planning expedition, took about 10 days, according to officials briefed on the intelligence reports. One potential stop for Kim after Vladivostok, an official said, is Vostochny Cosmodrome, a space launch center that was the site of a meeting in April 2022 between Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus and a partner of Putin’s in the war in Ukraine. The center, whose first rocket launch took place in 2016, is about 950 miles north of Vladivostok. The idea for the Russia visit came out of a trip by Sergei K. Shoigu, the Russian defense minister, to North Korea in July for Kim’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of the “victory” over South Korean and U.S. forces in the Korean War, officials said. (In reality, the three-year war halted in 1953 in a stalemate and armistice agreement, and the two Koreas are still officially at war.) Kim took Shoigu to an exhibition of weaponry and military equipment that included ballistic missiles banned by the United Nations. During the meeting, Kim presented Shoigu with options for greater military cooperation and asked for Putin to visit North Korea, officials said. Shoigu then made a counterproposal, suggesting that Kim travel to Russia. Shoigu’s visit to North Korea was the first by a Russian defense minister since the fracturing of the Soviet Union in 1991. Shoigu presented Kim with a letter from Putin, according to KCNA. KCNA did not indicate that Kim had explicitly mentioned Ukraine in the conversations, but it said that he had “expressed his views on the issues of mutual concern in the struggle to safeguard the sovereignty, development and interests of the two countries from the highhanded and arbitrary practices of the imperialists and to realize international justice and peace.” Putin has characterized his war against Ukraine as one of protecting Russian sovereignty, since in his view Ukraine should be part of a restored Russian Empire. In June, Kim sent Putin a message on Russia’s national day in which he pledged to “hold hands” with the Russian leader and promised that the Russian people would have North Korea’s “full support and solidarity” for their “all-out struggle,” according to the KCNA. “The strengthening of the Russia-North Korea alliance comes at an opportune time for two countries with very few allies and a shared adversary in the United States,” said Jean H. Lee, a recent senior fellow on the Koreas at the Wilson Center. “It’s the resurrection of a traditional alliance that serves the strategic interests of both Putin and Kim.” A Chinese delegation led by Li Hongzhong, a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, also visited North Korea for its celebration, and Li handed Kim a letter from Xi Jinping, China’s leader, according to North Korean state media. Kim often exchanges affectionate and sometimes downright effusive letters with foreign leaders whom he considers allies or potential partners. He and President Donald J. Trump exchanged a series of letters as they prepared for historic face-to-face summits. For the second of those summits, held in February 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam, Mr. Kim traveled by armored train for two days from Pyongyang through China and across its tropical border with Vietnam. Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, and his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, both preferred to travel by train outside the country. Kim first visited Russia in 2019, when he arrived in Vladivostok on his armored green train to meet with Putin. As the train pulled slowly into the station, white-gloved North Korean attendants raced alongside it, frantically wiping down any handholds and other surfaces that Kim might touch as he disembarked. A beaming Kim stepped off in a black fedora and long black coat. He was received by an honor guard and brass band. Kim’s bodyguards jogged next to the black limousine that carried him through the city. The United States first warned about cooperation between North Korea and Russia a year ago. Officials, citing declassified U.S. intelligence, said that Russia planned to buy artillery shells for use in Ukraine. In subsequent disclosures, Kirby said North Korea had shipped munitions to Russia through the Middle East and North Africa. But U.S. officials said that the disclosures had deterred North Korea and that few if any North Korean weapons had made it to the front lines in Ukraine. Deterring support for Russia from North Korea, Iran and China is a critical element of the Biden administration’s strategy for helping Ukraine in its defense against Russia. China, warned by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in February not to provide lethal aid, has supplied dual-use technology and components but has not yet sent drones or heavy weaponry to the Russian military, U.S. officials said. Iran has supplied drones and is helping Russia build a drone factory. But U.S. officials believe their warnings have helped prod Iran to reconsider plans of providing ballistic missiles to Russia, at least so far. (Edward Wong and Julian E. Barnes, “Putin Will Host N. Korean Leader to Seek Weapons,” New York Times, September 5, 2023, p. A-1)

9/6/23:
KCNA: “A new powerful entity has emerged to demonstrate the rapid development of the Juche-based naval force all over the world in the glorious journey of ushering in a new era of a great prosperous and powerful country with the world-renowned tremendous national defense capabilities, unprecedented in the nation-building history of the DPRK, under the outstanding leadership of the ever-victorious Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). The heroic munitions industrial workers, scientists and technicians, boundlessly loyal to the revolutionary cause of the WPK, built a Korean-style tactical nuclear attack submarine and presented it as a gift to the motherland celebrating its 75th founding anniversary. The submarine-launching ceremony heralded the beginning of a new chapter for bolstering up the naval force of the DPRK and made clearer the steadfast will of the WPK and the government of the DPRK to further strengthen the state nuclear deterrence both in quality and quantity and by leaps and bounds for regional and global peace and security. The ceremony was splendidly held on September 6 in the presence of 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 … Then, Marshal Ri Pyong Chol conveyed the order of the Central Military Commission of the WPK on the transfer of the tactical nuclear attack submarine to the Navy of the KPA. According to the order of the Central Military Commission of the WPK, the tactical nuclear attack submarine No. 841, the first of its kind, was transferred to the relevant submarine squadron under the East Sea Fleet of the KPA Navy and named the “Hero Kim Kun Ok.” Kim Jong Un conferred the transfer certificate on the commander of the submarine squadron under the East Sea Fleet of the Navy. He made a meaningful speech congratulating the launching ceremony. Saying that the submarine No. 841 ” Hero Kim Kun Ok” to be launched today will perform its combat mission as one of core underwater offensive means of the naval force of the DPRK, he highly praised it as the first entity, produced by the noble ideal and peerless creation struggle of the WPK and its revolutionary industrial workers, in the great cause of building an advanced maritime power. He noted that the Party Central Committee decided to make greater leaps forward in the shipbuilding industry of the country in order to substantially guarantee a new heyday of bolstering up the naval force. There is no room to step back in the drive for the expansion of the naval vessel-building industry as it is the top priority task to be fulfilled without fail, he said, clarifying the strategic and tactical plan to continuously enhance the modernity of underwater and surface forces and push forward with the nuclear weaponization of the Navy in the future, too. … Marshal Ri Pyong Chol ordered the launching of the submarine after being informed by the manager of the factory that it was ready to be launched. When the signal was given, the newly built submarine was launched amid the shower of confetti and release of balloons, reflecting the excitement and joy of all the participants witnessing the historical moment of epochal significance in bolstering up the naval force. Kim Jong Un repeatedly praised the workers in the munitions industry, saying that thanks to the inexhaustible strength and enthusiasm resulting from the loyalty and patriotism displayed by them upholding the revolutionary defense-building policy with pure conscience, sense of obligation and devoted implementation, it was possible to demonstrate the might of the country once again ahead of the 75th founding anniversary of the Republic. … On September 7, he inspected the tactical nuclear submarine “Hero Kim Kun Ok” preparing for a shakedown cruise. A ceremony was hosted by the East Sea Fleet of the KPA Navy, to which the tactical nuclear attack submarine was assigned, to greet the Supreme Commander of the DPRK armed forces at the dock. Kim Jong Un reviewed the honor colors of the East Sea Fleet of the KPA Navy and the guards of honor. He was greeted by Admiral Kim Myong Sik, commander of the KPA Navy, Vice-Admiral Kim Chang Guk, political commissar of the KPA Navy, commanding officers of the East and West Sea Fleets of the KPA Navy and military and political officers of submarine squadrons. He entered the tactical nuclear attack submarine to acquaint himself with its weapon system and underwater operation capability. Saying that to arm the navy with nuclear weapons arises as an urgent task of the times and a crucial requirement for building the revolutionary armed forces, the fulfillment of which brooks no further delay, he stressed the need to enable the Navy to successfully carry out its strategic duty by hastening the transfer of underwater and surface vessels equipped with tactical nuclear weapons to the Navy. … The ceremony of launching a tactical nuclear attack submarine, held just before the 75th founding anniversary of the DPRK, will be etched in the history of the country as a historic event worthy of special note in the history of bolstering up the Juche-based naval force and the history of building the state nuclear force in the great era of Kim Jong Un, and as a significant occasion that solemnly declared the start of the advance toward the attainment of the grandiose goal for turning the country into an advanced maritime power.” (KCNA, “Great Event Heralding Arrival of New Era, Turning Point in Bolstering up Juche-based Naval Force Ceremony of Launching Newly-built Submarine Held with Splendor in Presence of Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un,” September 8, 2023)

North Korea said today that its first submarine capable of launching nuclear missiles was now operational, a development that would give the country a new, harder-to-detect means of launching a nuclear strike. The new “tactical nuclear attack submarine,” a remodeled Soviet-era vessel equipped with multiple launching tubes, was unveiled in a ceremony on Wednesday, state media reported. In a speech, Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader, vowed to similarly convert more of its existing submarine fleet, calling it “an urgent task of the times” to “arm the navy with nuclear weapons.” But South Korea’s military expressed skepticism about the submarine today, saying that it “doesn’t look capable of normal operation” and that there were signs of “deception and exaggeration” in the North’s report. The capabilities of the one introduced this week, originally a Romeo-class Soviet submarine, are unknown; there is no evidence that North Korea has test-launched a missile from the vessel. Photos released today with the state media report show that the submarine has 10 vertical missile launch tubes of two different sizes, said Yang Uk, a weapons expert at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. It has an “abnormally large” missile launch deck for its size, as if the North wanted to show off its nuclear force, Yang said. That structure “will limit the submarine’s underwater stealthiness and maneuverability,” Yang added. “Still, the design reflects Kim Jong-un’s policy of increasing his nuclear force ‘exponentially.’” The submarine is powered by a diesel engine. That means that, unlike a nuclear-powered submarine, it would have to resurface frequently during a long-distance trip, like crossing the Pacific. For a distant adversary like the United States, that makes it more detectable, and less of a threat, than a nuclear-powered sub would be. Nevertheless, it could potentially pose a new threat to the North’s regional adversaries, South Korea and Japan. Choi Il, a retired South Korean Navy submarine captain, said it was designed to carry shorter-range ballistic and cruise missiles that could reach those countries, not strategic ballistic missiles that could target the United States mainland. “Our enemies will consider today’s launching a burden similar to the building of a new nuclear-powered submarine by us,” Kim said in his speech. The new submarine — named Hero Kim Kun Ok, after a naval officer who fought in the Korean War — was unveiled days ahead of the 75th anniversary of the North’s founding tomorrow. During recent military parades, the North has also displayed what looked like new, longer-range submarine-launched ballistic missiles. In 2019, state media released photos of Kim inspecting the submarine, then under construction, that was introduced this week. American officials said this month that Kim planned to visit Russia soon for a meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin. That summit could lead to Russian technological support for the North’s nuclear and missile programs, in exchange for North Korean munitions, like artillery shells, that Russia needs for its war in Ukraine. In addition to its submarine program, North Korea has been trying to make its ballistic missiles harder to detect and intercept, and it has tested cruise missiles and underwater drones that it said could carry nuclear warheads. An ability to launch nuclear strikes from underwater would be a major addition to the North’s growing nuclear arsenal. (Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Says Its New Submarine Can Launch Nuclear Missiles,” New York Times, September 9, 2023, p. A-4)

Van Diepen: “On September 8, North Korean media announced that “a Korean-style tactical nuclear attack submarine” had been rolled out of a construction hall at the Sinpho South Shipyard into the water two days before. Associated photos revealed substantial modifications made to an existing old ROMEO-class conventionally powered submarine to launch “tactical nuclear weapons.” The text of a speech Kim Jong Un reportedly gave on the occasion provided further insight into the origin and purpose of the new sub, and North Korean plans for a nuclearized Navy, including further such conversions and a renewed commitment to building nuclear-powered submarines. There are six key takeaways from the rollout of the “new” nuclear-armed conventionally powered ballistic missile submarine (SSB): This is most likely the same ROMEO that was being modified when Kim Jong Un visited in July 2019, which had probably been in the construction hall since 2014. At that stage, the new submarine was expected to be configured to carry three submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launch tubes. However, extensive modifications appear to have been made after that site visit. The most significant remodifications focused on accommodating more missiles. The missile section is much longer, containing four launch tubes for SLBMs of about the same diameter as the 1,250-kilometer (KM) range Pukguksong-1 or 1,900-km range and Pukguksong-3 (which could also accommodate the smaller-diameter KN-23 short-range ballistic missile [SRBM]), and six launch tubes most likely for the 0.5-0.6-meter (m) diameter, 2,000-km-range Hwasal-2 land-attack cruise missile (LACM). The larger tubes could not accommodate the North’s newer, larger Pukguksong-4, -5 and probable -6 SLBMs. This shift ’in an SSB’s mission from strategic to “tactical” is consistent with North Korea’s emphasis on “tactical nukes” over the past few years for propaganda and deterrent purposes. The Pukguksong-1, -3, and LACM could cover all of South Korea and Japan, and US bases there, from North Korean territorial waters; the KN-23 would be largely limited to South Korea. Deployment close to North Korea will also be the best way to mitigate the extremely high vulnerability of the old-tech, very noisy sub — increased by the sub’s various modifications — to allied anti-submarine warfare (ASW). Kim apparently also intends to convert “all” of the North’s remaining ROMEOs (up to 19) to the new configuration, raising the prospect of a future force carrying up to 80 SLBMs and 120 LACMs. This combination of more subs carrying more missiles is probably North Korea’s best option to obtain a large enough sea-based deterrent to be militarily significant. But it remains to be seen how many ROMEOs are actually converted into missile subs and how long that might take, given North Korea’s limited shipbuilding capacity. Work on future conversions is likely to be slow-going — probably at least five years per boat. Deploying additional road-mobile missiles will almost certainly remain a more cost-effective and more survivable way for North Korea to add to its nuclear strike capability. Kim’s vision for the future of the Navy is heavily focused on it “going nuclear,” including explicitly for reasons of cost-effectiveness. This is strangely reminiscent of the Eisenhower Administration’s “New Look” strategy from the mid-1950s that relied on nuclear weapons as a less economically costly alternative to large conventional forces. That vision also still includes developing nuclear-powered submarines, to which Kim said, “…we should give greater impetus.” But the speech seems to recognize such a capability will be a long time coming, barring substantial Chinese and/or Russian technical assistance. The bottom line is that, while the rollout of the larger-capacity SSB and prospect of further conversions provides a credible path for a future (albeit theater-focused) sub-launched missile force, such a force will almost certainly continue to play second fiddle to the much larger, still growing, and much more survivable land-based ballistic and cruise missile force. The newly rolled-out sub is a large-scale modification of one of North Korea’s 20 Soviet-pattern 1950s ROMEO-class diesel/electric submarines, as was expected based on the photographs released by North Korea in July 2019 of a modified ROMEO under construction inside this same construction hall at Sinpho South Shipyard. Based on those photos, analysts expected to see a ROMEO with a sail elongated to accommodate three launch tubes for SLBMs about the size of the North’s Pukguksong-1 (first revealed in 2015) or Pukguksong-3 (first flight tested in October 2019). The rollout, however, revealed much more extensive modifications. The modified sub is about 10 meters longer than the original ROMEO, with the addition of a much longer missile section than expected based on the July 2019 photos (now some 22.4 m, including the sail), a roughly 30 percent reduction in the length of the hull forward of the sail, and a bow reconfigured to a rounded, bulbous shape. Some of the modifications are different than those seen in the July 2019 North Korean photos (others were obscured in those photos), raising the possibility that the submarine seen in 2019 and the one rolled out in 2023 are two different boats. Most likely, however, the same sub seen in July 2019 was remodified into the current configuration since then — a possibility previously flagged in 38 North. Not only do other prominent analysts seem to agree with this, but there has been no open-source reporting of a “missing” second ROMEO, another ROMEO being added to the construction hall, or the switching out of the one seen in 2019, which has not been seen outside the hall until now. Remodification of the original modified ROMEO also seems to be most consistent with the lengthy period the submarine spent under modification (since about June 2014); North Korea’s original July 2019 claims that the sub’s “operational deployment is near at hand,” and Kim saying in his latest speech that in 2019 he “came here [to Sinpho South Shipyard] and gave the task of introducing advanced power systems in the existing medium-sized submarines and improving their overall underwater operation capabilities.” Most importantly, the longer missile section incorporates hatch-covered launch tubes for 10 missiles rather than the originally expected three. Four of the 10 hatches appear large enough for missiles of about 1.5 m in diameter,the size of the Pukgukong-1 and -3. (Such tubes also could accommodate the 0.95-m diameter KN-23 SRBM.) The other six hatches are substantially smaller, most likely covering launch tubes for the 0.5-0.6 m-diameter Hwasal-2 land-attack cruise missile (LACM) — a possibility also foreshadowed in 38 North. The Pukguksong-1 has an estimated maximum range of about 1,250 km but has not been flight tested from a submarine since 2016, and only then to a range of about 500 km. Its land-based version, the Pukguksong-2, was last flight tested in a lofted trajectory in 2017, but reportedly has been operationally deployed since about 2019. The Pukguksong-3 has an estimated maximum range of about 1,900 km and has only been flight tested once in October 2019, from a submersible test platform. The Hwasal-2 has been reported by North Korea to have a 2,000 km range. It has reportedly been flown on the order of 17 times, mostly from road-mobile land launchers. But it was reportedly launched twice from a submerged submarine in March 2023 (apparently from its torpedo tubes) and once in August 2023 from a corvette surface combatant ship. The KN-23 has demonstrated a maximum range of 800 km but has generally flown to ranges of 400-630 km that maximize its maneuver capability against missile defenses. It was launched submerged from the single-tube GORAE/SINPO test sub in October 2021. Given the long time since the Pukguksong-1 and -3 were last launched, it is unclear whether North Korea would conduct further launches before deploying one of them on the new missile sub or if it would first conduct them from the submersible test platform or the single-tube GORAE/SINPO test sub. The Hwasal-2 has not been launched submerged from a vertical launch tube like that on the new missile sub, but it is not clear whether the North would test-launch it in such a configuration before loading it onto the new sub. It might regard the previous underwater torpedo-tube testing, in conjunction with the large number of other launches, as enough to be confident in Hwasal launches from the new sub. The KN-23 presumably would be good to go on the new SSB. (Interestingly, by September 8, the submersible test platform had been moved near where the new submarine is currently berthed.) Based on the July 2019 North Korean photos, the missile sub was generally expected to have a “strategic” mission, albeit within the confines of the range of the missiles it would carry. North Korea has since displayed, but has not yet flight tested, three progressively larger and longer-ranged SLBMs. It was generally expected that the launch tubes would have been modified over time to carry one of these, thus increasing the sub’s threat range and “strategic” utility, although at least the third and most recent SLBM was probably too large for that sub. It is now clear that the new missile sub will not be carrying any of the longer-range SLBMs, which exceed two m in diameter and thus are too large for its launch tubes. Kim Jong Un has specifically called the new SSB a “tactical nuclear submarine,” carrying “tactical nukes,” that will “stand in different parts of our territorial waters.” The refocusing of the sub on “tactical nukes” is consistent with North Korea’s emphasis on such weapons over the past few years for propaganda and deterrent purposes. An additional possible motivation behind the 2019 remodification of the sub may have been to devise a political counter to South Korean plans that the North could have become aware of in 2015 or 2016 to deploy short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), albeit with conventional warheads, on its next generation of submarine. From North Korean territorial waters, the new sub could cover all of South Korea and Japan, and US bases there, with the Pukguksong-1, -3, and LACM. The longer-ranged Pukguksong-3 and Hwasal-2 would have such coverage from any part of North Korea’s east coast. The KN-23, however, would be largely limited to South Korea. Deployment close to North Korea will be the best way to mitigate the extremely high vulnerability of the old-tech, very noisy ROMEO-based missile sub to allied anti-submarine warfare (ASW) assets — a vulnerability increased by the speed and maneuverability penalties and probably reduced battery capacity (and likely increased noise) caused by its various modifications. Not only does the new sub carry more missiles than previously expected, but Kim also noted his “intention to turn all the other existing medium-sized submarines into attack ones like this one,” which he termed “a revolutionary step for ensuring maximum efficiency,” yielding “a rapid improvement of our national defence capabilities.” This presumably means Kim intends to convert all the remaining 19 ROMEOs, which would yield an ultimate force of 80 SLBMs and 120 sub-launched LACMs. This combination of more conversions of existing subs carrying more missiles would help address a key shortcoming of the apparent three-SLBM track North Korea had been on in 2019: the difficulty of obtaining a large enough SLBM force to be militarily significant in anything resembling a cost-effective way compared to simply deploying more land-mobile missiles. But it remains to be seen how many ROMEOs are actually converted into missile subs (some boats may be too decrepit at this point, and conversion will sacrifice the missions those boats currently fulfill), how long that process will take, and whether Kim will stay the course or change his mind at some point about continuing with the conversions or about converting boats to the current configuration. Although Kim spoke in terms of “five or ten years” to “usher in an era when our Navy changes,” North Korea has limited capacity for this kind of work. The construction hall at Sinpho South that modified this sub can accommodate two boats at once, but currently appears to be empty. The even larger construction hall nearby could also be used for this purpose, but may be intended for future, larger submarines — possibly including future nuclear-powered submarines if North Korea is able to achieve them (see below). We also do not know the rate at which it could manufacture all the new submarine hull sections required to convert 19 more boats. It apparently took five years to get the current sub from ROMEO to first-iteration missile sub, and another four years to get it to its final configuration. Now that the North has apparently settled on the design for what Kim called “the standard type of tactical nuclear submarine,” and has experience with the first conversion, future production can presumably be faster and more efficient than nine years per boat — but five years each would seem a reasonable minimum. Furthermore, the construction and operation of each additional submarine will almost certainly remain a less cost-effective way of adding nuclear strike capability than producing and deploying four more road-mobile launchers for medium-range missiles and two more five-tube road-mobile LACM launchers. The survivability advantage of North Korea’s field-deployed land-mobile missiles over ROMEO-based SLBMs is even greater, given the further reduction in survivability from the missile subs’ modifications. One of the most remarkable things about Kim’s speech was his focus on “go[ing] nuclear “as “the most important thing” in strengthening the Navy, calling it “a rapid improvement of our national defence capabilities with the nuclear deterrence as the core.” Kim’s citing of the nuclear sub build-up as a direct alternative to “the past” where “we, in developing the submarine industry, focused on building many small and fast submarines,” and terming the nuclear build-up “a revolutionary step for ensuring maximum efficiency,” is strangely reminiscent of the Eisenhower administration’s “New Look” strategy from the mid-1950s that relied on nuclear weapons as a less economically costly alternative to large conventional forces. The nuclearization of the Navy is also evident in the deployment of LACMs on a surface ship and the launching of a KN-23 SRBM from the GORAE/SINPO test sub. Kim’s current vision for a nuclearized Navy also includes nuclear-powered submarines. He noted “our development-oriented, prospective plan for building nuclear submarines” in conjunction with the nuclear-armed, conventionally-powered modified ROMEO missile subs as “a ‘low-cost, hi-tech strategy’” combination. Kim avers that he gave the Sinpho South Shipyard the task of “commissioning” nuclear-powered subs “to the combat ranks” four years ago. But it seems clear that, although Kim said, “…we should give greater impetus to the building of nuclear-powered submarine[s],” he recognizes such subs will be a long time coming. This may help explain why he also said that “whether we launch powerful nuclear submarines sooner or later,” it is “how quickly our Navy is equipped with nuclear weapons… [that] will have a critical bearing on our state’s destiny.” Indeed, he claimed that the rollout of the new ROMEO-based missile sub “will be as burdensome to our opponents as is our building a new-type nuclear-powered submarine.” A nuclear-powered submarine is highly unlikely to be part of Kim’s inventory “when we, in five or ten years, usher in an era when our Navy changes” unless North Korea receives substantial technical and material assistance from China and/or Russia. The long-awaited rollout of the modified ROMEO missile sub makes good on an effort underway since at least 2014. The apparent remodification of the sub to carry a larger number of missiles for a “tactical nuclear” role against South Korea and Japan (and US bases there), and the newly-announced plan to convert more and perhaps all other ROMEOs to this configuration, is probably Kim’s best near-term option for a militarily meaningful sea-based nuclear deterrent. Kim may well also see his “New Look” nuclearized Navy as the best way to get combat value out of an old, technically lagging fleet. But converting all 19 of the other ROMEOs is likely to take much longer than five-10 years, and a nuclear-powered submarine, however much additional impetus it is going to receive, is unlikely to be part of the picture for a long time. The missile sub force will almost certainly continue to play second fiddle to the much larger, still growing, and much more survivable land-based ballistic and cruise missile force.” (Vann H. Van Diepen, “The Sleeper Has Awakened: The Six Key Takeaways from the Rollout of North Korea’s ‘Tactical Nuclear Attack Submarine,” 38North, September 11, 2023)

9/13/23:
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea today, South Korea’s military said, in an apparent show of force ahead of its leader Kim Jong-un’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launches from an area in or around Sunan in Pyongyang between about 11:43 a.m. and 11:53 a.m. The missiles flew some 650 kilometers each before splashing into the waters. Pyongyang’s latest saber-rattling came just before Russian media reported that Kim had met Putin at Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome space center in the Amur region ahead of their expected summit later in the day. (Chae Yun-hwan, “N. Korea Fires 2 Short-Range Ballistic Missiles ahead of Kim-Putin Summit,” Yonhap, September 13, 2023)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a summit today at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a space station in Russia’s far eastern Amur region, where Pyongyang received assurances of Moscow’s assistance in satellite technology. In the lead-up to the much-heralded meeting between Kim and Putin, there had been growing speculation over a possible arms deal. In addition, the venue for the summit also indicated that the two are interested in talks to exchange Moscow’s military technology for Pyongyang’s artillery shells for use in Ukraine. Russia is becoming more desperate for artillery shells to resupply its arsenal for the war in Ukraine, while North Korea seeks Russia’s help to build satellites. Attesting to this, Putin, who is famous for being late to summits, waited for Kim at the venue for 30 minutes. Putin confirmed the speculation by telling reporters before meeting Kim, “That’s why we came here. The leader of the DPRK shows great interest in rocket technology, they are trying to develop space,” according to Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency. He was also quoted as saying that the North Korean delegation will be shown new objects. “We, of course, need to talk about issues of economic interaction, about humanitarian issues, about the situation in the region,” Putin said, opening the meeting, according to RIA Novosti. In return, Kim assured Putin that North Korea supports all decisions of Russia and is ready to further develop bilateral relations, expressing hope that both countries will always fight together against imperialism, the report added. “Russia is currently engaged in a just fight against hegemonic forces to defend its sovereign rights, security and interests,” the North Korean leader said, according to the Associated Press. “I take this opportunity to affirm that we will always stand with Russia on the anti-imperialist front and the front of independence.” Before the summit, Putin showed the North Korean leader around Russia’s Soyuz-2 space rocket launch facility, with Kim asking detailed questions about rockets. When Kim arrived at the spaceport for the summit, the two heads of state shook hands and had a brief conversation. The North Korean leader thanked the Russian president for the invitation to his country and in response, Putin said he was glad to see Kim, adding that the meeting took place on dates that are significant for North Korea, the report said. Their talks lasted four to five hours and the two leaders are believed to have discussed military cooperation. Putin dropped hints about Russia’s military cooperation with North Korea, but details remain under wraps, with the Kremlin saying they talked about “sensitive issues which are not to be discussed in public.” During their lunch, Kim said that he and Putin agreed to deepen their “strategic and tactical cooperation.” “We believe with certainty that the Russian army and people will achieve a great victory in the just fight to punish the evil forces pursuing hegemonic and expansionary ambitions and create a stable environment for national development,” the North Korean leader said, according to the Associated Press. Proposing a toast at an official dinner after the summit, Kim told Putin that the Russian army and people will triumph over “evil” forces, in apparent endorsem*nt of its war in Ukraine. Kim said he was confident that Russia will win a great victory in the “sacred” struggle to punish the “evil” with hegemonic pretensions. The summit came amid concerns that the two countries may advance arms negotiations and bolster military cooperation. Kim, via a translator, added that he is deeply convinced that the Russian army and people will demonstrate their priceless virtues of honor in the apparent “special military operation” in Ukraine and building a strong state. Following the summit talks held at the Vostochny space center in Russia’s Amur region, Putin told a local news channel that he sees prospects for military and technical cooperation with the North. Putin also announced that Kim will travel to Komsomolsk-on-Amur and Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East after the summit. (Kang Seung-woo, “Russia Promises to Help North Build Satellites,” Korea Times, September 13, 2023) With the participation of delegations, Kim and Putin began talks at the Vostochny Cosmodrome space center after they shook hands and greeted each other for their first meeting in more than four years, according to Russian news media. Kim told Putin that “Russia is waging a sacred fight against the West,” adding that North Korea will work together with Russia to “fight against imperialism.” In an apparent reference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Kim said that he is supportive of “all decisions” made by Putin. “(North Korea’s) relations with Russia are the top priority of Pyongyang,” Kim told Putin at the start of the talks, adding the invitation came at a very important time. Putin said he hopes to talk about economic cooperation, security situations on the Korean Peninsula and humanitarian issues, according to Russian news agencies. In the run-up to the talks, Putin gave Kim a tour of the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Russian news agencies said Kim and Putin had no plan to sign official documents after they concluded a one-on-one meeting, which was followed by talks in an extended format. The two leaders were also offered an official dinner, according to Russian news agencies. Putin said “all issues” will be discussed during their talks, when asked by reporters if he plans to touch on military and technical cooperation. The Russian president also noted Kim has shown “great interest” in rocket technology, pledging to help the recalcitrant regime build its own satellite. North Korea made attempts in May and August to place a military spy satellite into an orbit, but they ended in failure. After departing from Pyongyang by armored train on September 10, the North Korean leader arrived at the rocket launch facility earlier in the day, traveling more than 1,000 kilometers north of the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, where they previously met in 2019. Photos carried by the North’s state media showed that Kim was accompanied by the North’s top party and military officials, including military marshals Ri Pyong-chol and Pak Jong-chon, and Pak Thae-song, an official in charge of space technology. The makeup of his entourage and the selection of Russia’s space facility as the venue for talks spawn speculation that North Korea may agree to supply Russia with ammunition and weaponry for its war in Ukraine. In return, North Korea may want food aid and a weapons technology transfer from Moscow, such as those involving spy satellites and nuclear-powered submarines. If Kim and Putin also agree to strengthen their military cooperation, including a three-way naval drill with China, it would pose a major security challenge on the Korean Peninsula and beyond. Any arms deal between Pyongyang and Moscow constitutes a violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions that prohibit any arms trade with North Korea. Their meeting comes as Pyongyang has recently been seeking to bolster military ties with Moscow and doubling down on its weapons development in the wake of growing security cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan. Kim earlier said his trip to Russia for a meeting with Putin is a “clear manifestation” of North Korea prioritizing the “strategic importance” of their bilateral ties, according to KCNA. (Lee Minji and Yi Wonju, “N. Korea’s Kim Pledges Support for Putin at Russia’s Spaceport Summit,” Yonhap, September 13, 2023) They gazed into the workings of a rocket launchpad. They tucked into crab dumplings, sturgeon and entrecôte. And they lifted their glasses at a flower-lined table in the conference room of a remote Russian spaceport, toasting the Kremlin’s “sacred struggle” against a “band of evil,” otherwise known as the West. The summit between President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, which took place today at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in eastern Russia, signaled a potential new era in relations between Moscow and Pyongyang, as two isolated leaders on wartime footing embraced each other in their moments of need. Russia, nearing the 19-month mark in its brutal war of attrition against Ukraine, arrived requiring more ammunition and military equipment for the battlefield, which Pyongyang keeps in abundance. North Korea came looking for food, fuel and cash, according to analysts, in addition to technological help for its missile and satellite programs, and parts for its old, Soviet-era military and civilian aircraft. By the time the two leaders had finished, with Kim scheduled to continue a rare foreign journey that would take him to aviation factories in Komsomolsk-on-Amur and naval facilities in Vladivostok, it wasn’t clear if any deals had been agreed. But Putin was sounding optimistic in comments to state news media. He touted cooperation on highways, railways, port infrastructure and agricultural initiatives — and professed that even military cooperation was possible, despite United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear program. “There are certain restrictions, Russia abides by those restrictions,” Putin said. “But there are things we of course can talk about. We are discussing and thinking about it. There is also promise here.” Intended or not, the summit delivered a pointed message to Washington, demonstrating that the West’s support for Ukraine would have consequences — in this case by pushing Moscow closer to Kim’s authoritarian regime. Russia for years had presented itself as a cooperative partner willing to join the rest of the United Nations Security Council in an international effort to thwart Mr. Kim’s nuclear ambitions. But that posture was gone on Wednesday, with almost no public discussion of nuclear disarmament. In Ukraine, Putin’s army is on the defensive, with analysts saying it will be unable to mount any substantive advance before the end of the year. Both Russia and Ukraine are running low on munitions. Against that backdrop, the talks also underscored how the demands of the war and the resulting international sanctions against Russia are setting the diplomatic agenda for Putin, prompting an aggressive embrace of any leader willing to stand with him against the United States — like the supreme leader of Iran and African dictators — or lend support to Moscow in its war against Ukraine. “The war is now the organizing principle of Russian foreign policy,” said Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, who said North Korea, a highly militarized society with one of the world’s largest armies and significant armament production facilities, had something to offer Moscow on that front. Kim, who is deeply reliant on China, has found opportunities in the deepening rivalry between China and the United States, and in Russia’s war in Ukraine. Although North Korea and China have called their relations as close as “lips and teeth,” Kim has tried to lessen Beijing’s influence on his country by finding new sources of trade. Russia, which shares a small border with North Korea, is one possible alternative, but Putin, needing Chinese support, has to be careful not to cross Beijing. As aides fanned out across the space facility, creating security perimeters, Putin waited out front for his guest, standing with his hands behind his back and answering questions from state news outlets. “Are we going to help North Korea launch its satellites and rockets?” one reporter asked. “That’s why we came here,” Putin replied, referring to the space facility. “We have good expertise, and we will show him our new infrastructure facilities.” Kim arrived and toured the facility alongside the Russian president, at one point inspecting a launchpad and also sitting down to sign a guest book. The two leaders met in a group with their respective ministers, including top defense officials, and afterward convened a tête-à-tête, ultimately talking for roughly two hours. After the talks, the Kremlin said the discussion included an offer to launch a North Korean astronaut into space, but offered few other details. The most notable public remarks came during the six-course lunch. Putin rose with a glass of red wine to toast “the strengthening of friendship and cooperation between our countries.” Kim, in his own toast, announced he had come to a consensus with Mr. Putin on “further strengthening strategic and tactical cooperation.” He had earlier praised Russia’s war effort, calling it “just.’’ “We are confident that the Russian army and people will win a great victory in the sacred struggle to punish the band of evil that aspires to hegemony and feeds on expansionist illusions,” Mr. Kim said, an apparent reference to the United States and its allies. The next day, North Korean state media said the two leaders had “reached a satisfactory agreement and consensus of views,” without providing specifics. It said Putin had accepted Kim’s invitation to visit North Korea “at a convenient time.” Despite international sanctions and domestic economic hardship, North Korea operates one of the world’s largest standing armies and a vigorous defense industry. In July, Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, visited Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, to mark the anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War. U.S. officials have repeatedly warned that North Korea was shipping artillery shells and rockets for Russian use in Ukraine. They fear that Kim’s meeting with Putin will result in additional arms deals, but also acknowledge that if the two sides do reach an agreement they may never announce it. In recent weeks, Kim has visited North Korean munitions factories, urging them to expedite the production of multiple rocket launchers, sniper rifles, drones and missiles, according to the country’s state media. North Korea faces critical technical hurdles in its efforts to build intercontinental ballistic missiles, ballistic missile submarines, military reconnaissance satellites and antimissile defense systems — all areas where it could benefit immensely from Russian technology. Last year, a U.N. sanctions committee reported that a North Korean diplomat in Russia had tried to acquire banned materials for the North’s ICBM program. When Mr. Kim said last week that his country was building a nuclear-propelled submarine, the program, according to Hong Min, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, was based on “expectations that North Korea would get technological support from Russia.” (Paul Sonne and Choe Sang-Hun, “Putin and Kim Bond Over Their Hostility Toward the West,” New York Times, September 14, 2023, p. A-10)

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 talks with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, president of the Russian Federation, on September 13. Comrade Kim Jong Un and Comrade Putin had a significant photo taken with the national flags of the two countries in the background before the talks. There took place talks between the two top leaders. Present at the talks from the DPRK side were Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, Korean People’s Army Marshal Pak Jong Chon, Minister of National Defense Kang Sun Nam, Secretaries of WPK Central Committee O Su Yong and Pak Thae Song and Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Im Chon Il. Present from the Russian side were Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Deputy Prime Minister and concurrently Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Mantrov, Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, Deputy Prime Minister Alexey Overchuk, Deputy Prime Minister and concurrently Presidential Envoy to the Far East Federal Region Yuri Trutnev, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration and Press Secretary for the President Dmitri Peskov, Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology and concurrently Chairman of the Russian side to the DPRK-Russia Inter-Governmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology Alexandr Kozlov, Minister of Transport Vitaly Saveliev and other senior officials and officials concerned, and Russian Ambassador to the DPRK Alexandr Matsegora. On the occasion, Putin warmly welcomed Kim Jong Un for visiting Russia again at a meaningful year marking the 75th founding anniversary of the DPRK and the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and the DPRK, expressing his pleasure of meeting Kim Jong Un at the Vostochny Spaceport. Expressing once again thanks to Putin for inviting the DPRK delegation at an important time and according it cordial hospitality from the beginning of its visit, Kim Jong Un said he was pleased to have a more detailed and deeper understanding of the reality and future of Russia, a space power, at the Vostochny Spaceport to which Putin is paying deep attention. It is the consistent stand of the DPRK government to attach utmost importance to the DPRK-Russia relations and invariably develop the tradition of deep-rooted friendship, he said, expressing belief that the visit would mark a significant occasion in raising the cooperative relations between the two countries to a new higher level. The top leaders discussed the issues of further consolidating the friendship and solidarity and cooperative relations and boosting mutual trust by deepening the many-sided exchange and cooperation in various fields including high-level visits between the two countries. At the talks there was wide-ranging and in-depth exchange of views on important issues of mutual concern. And they agreed to make joint efforts to promote the well-being of the peoples of the two countries and steadily expand the comprehensive and constructive bilateral relations. There took place a tete-a-tete between Kim Jong Un and Putin after the extended talks. Kim Jong Un highly appreciated that the relations between the two countries are developing on good terms in conformity with the aspirations and desire of the two peoples on the principle of friendship, good-neighborliness and mutual respect. The top leaders of the DPRK and Russia exchanged in-depth views on the remarkable successes and experience of constructive cooperation gained in all fields of politics, economy, military and culture for attaining the strategic goals of building a powerful state, and the future development orientation for national prosperity and well-being of the peoples of the two countries. They discussed with open mind the important issues and the immediate cooperation matters arising in defending the sovereignty and development and interests of the two countries, peace and security in the region and the world and international justice by further strengthening strategic and tactical cooperation between the two countries and extending strong support to and solidarity with each other on the common front to frustrate the imperialists’ military threat and provocation, high-handed and arbitrary practices to plunder independence, progress and peaceful life of humankind, and reached a satisfactory agreement and consensus of views. The talks proceeded in a comradely and constructive atmosphere.” (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Has Talks with Russian President,” September 14, 2023)

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 historic meeting with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, president of the Russian Federation, at the Vostochny Spaceport in Amur Oblast of the Far Eastern Region on September 13. The traditional relations of friendship between the DPRK and the Russian Federation, consolidated in trials of history generation after generation and century after century, are further developing into the invincible comrade-in-arms relations and the ever-lasting strategic relations amid the deep friendship and special fellowship between Comrades Kim Jong Un and Putin. The Vostochny Spaceport was in a warm welcoming atmosphere to greet Kim Jong Un paying an official goodwill visit to the Russian Federation for the new development of the DPRK-Russia friendly and cooperative relations with proudly excellent history and tradition. The private train of Kim Jong Un arrived at the Vostochny Spaceport at 13:00 local time. When he got off the train, the guard of honor of the three services of the armed forces of the Russian Federation courteously received him with deepest respect. He exchanged greetings with Alexandr Kozlov, minister of Natural Resources and Ecology, and other Russian leading officials and headed for the venue of the meeting with President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. He was accompanied by Choe Son Hui, foreign minister of the DPRK, Marshals of the Korean People’s Army Ri Pyong Chol and Pak Jong Chon, Kang Sun Nam, minister of National Defense of the DPRK, O Su Yong and Pak Thae Song, secretaries of the C.C., WPK, and other senior party, government and military officials and suite members. The national flags of the DPRK and the Russian Federation were fluttering before the carrier rocket assembly and test complex where the top leaders of the DPRK and Russia would meet. When Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the WPK and president of the State Affairs of the DPRK arrived, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, president of the Russian Federation, warmly greeted him. He gladly met and exchanged friendly greetings with President Putin. President Putin warmly welcomed him visiting the Russian Federation again at a significant and crucial time for the development of the Russia-DPRK relations. Expressing thanks to President Putin for warmly inviting and receiving him despite his busy schedule for leading the overall state affairs, Kim Jong Un said that he was pleased with the meeting being held in a very exceptional and special environment. He, together with President Putin, visited the Vostochny Spaceport. He was guided by Yuri Borisov, general manager of the Russian state-run corporation Roscosmos, and Nikolai Nestechuk, director general of the Center for the Operation of Ground-based Space Infrastructure. The Vostochny Spaceport is a comprehensive space launching base of Russia that has contributed to the remarkable growth of space development by successfully ensuring the launches of space capsules and satellites for different applications, playing an important role in promoting the socio-economic development of Amur Oblast and the Far Eastern Region. Visiting the carrier rocket assembly and test complex, together with President Putin, Kim Jong Un was briefed on the detailed technical features of Soyuz-2, Angara and other type carrier rockets and their assembling and launching processes. He also looked round the Soyuz-2 carrier rocket launching complex and the Angara carrier rocket launching complex under construction, being told about the state of their operation and construction, successes and experience gained by Russia in the field of space industry and the prospects for future development. Highly appreciating the fact that the Vostochny Spaceport, successfully built under the strategic space development plan of President Putin, has achieved invaluable successes, he sincerely hoped that the noble spirit and traditions of strong Russia which explored the path to space would be successfully carried forward. He expressed deep thanks to President Putin for personally organizing the visit to the important spaceport with sincerity and accompanying him during the visit. Putin showed his private car to Kim Jong Un before having a warm talk. Kim Jong Un left his autograph in the visitor’s book — ‘The glory of Russia that produced the first conquerors of space will be immortal. Kim Jong Un 2023. 9. 13.’” (KCNA, “New Milestone for Development of DPRK-Russia Relations: Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Has Historic Meeting with President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin at Vostochny Spaceport,” September 14, 2023)

9/16/23:
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met with Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and inspected Russia’s nuclear-capable bombers, missiles and a warship today after he arrived in Russia’s far eastern city of Vladivostok, Russian media reported. TASS reported Kim arrived at the Knevichi airfield in Vladivostok on Saturday, where he was greeted by Shoigu and an honor guard. Guided by Shoigu, Kim looked at Russia’s nuclear-capable strategic bombers — Tu-160, Tu-95 and Tu-22M3 — and its latest hypersonic Kinzhal missiles, according to news reports. Later in the day, Kim and Shoigu also inspected the Marshal Shaposhnikov frigate of Russia’s Pacific Fleet moored in Ulysses Bay in the port city, according to TASS. Admiral Nikolai Evmenov, the commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy, briefed Kim on the characteristics of the ship and its weapons, it said. Yesterday, Kim visited a Russian aircraft plant that produces advanced fighter jets, including the Sukhoi Su-35, in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. During his trip to the Yuri Gagarin Aviation Plant, Kim said he was “deeply impressed” with the advanced state of Russian aerospace and aviation