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Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
Sang-min Kim

Inter-Korean Hotlines Go Cold


September 2021
By Sang-Min Kim

North Korea is again ignoring hotline calls from South Korea after Seoul and Washington decided to resume their annual joint military exercises, which started Aug. 16.

Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, described the recent military training exercises between the United States and South Korea as “the most vivid expression of the U.S. hostile policy” toward North Korea. (Photo by Jorge Silva/AFP via Getty Images)The nine days of combined exercises were planned to consist mostly of defensive, computer-simulated command post training with minimum personnel and no live field training involving U.S. troops, according to an Aug. 15 statement from the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff. Preliminary drills, called crisis management staff training and designed to examine the allies’ readiness to respond to a potential contingency, were also conducted earlier in the month.

The military exercises have long been a source of friction between North Korea and the United States.

In a statement on official media on Aug. 10, Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, described the exercises as “the most vivid expression of the U.S. hostile policy” toward North Korea and pledged that Pyongyang would work to strengthen its national defense capabilities and preemptive strike capabilities.

Meanwhile, Kim Young Chol, department director of the Workers’ Party of Korea's Central Committee, told KCNA, the official media on Aug. 11 that “South Korea and the United States have invariably chosen confrontation with our state [and] it is clear that we cannot make another choice, either.”

Pyongyang reacted to the exercises by halting the 48 inter-Korean hotlines that are designed to allow the two sides to have a channel of communication that could help avert a crisis. They only came back online July 27 after a 13-month hiatus.

Nine of the hotlines directly linked the two militaries, and their reinstatement was hailed and supported by China, North Korea’s closest ally; the United States; and other countries. The key communication channels were reestablished after several months of letters between the Korean leaders. The U.S.-South Korean alliance made the decision to resume the joint military exercises “after comprehensively considering the COVID-19 situation, joint defense posture and ways to support diplomatic efforts to denuclearize and foster lasting peace on the Korean peninsula," the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby similarly stressed the “need for readiness on the Korean peninsula and our desire to work in lockstep with our [South Korean] allies on a training regimen that improves that readiness and keeps that readiness strong.”

Frank Aum, a senior expert at the United States Institute of Peace, told Arms Control Today in an Aug. 13 email that “[m]any voices in both the U.S. and South Korea were arguing for the continuation of the exercises given their importance to readiness and training, their relevance to the certification of operational capabilities related to [operational control] transition, and the lack of diplomacy with North Korea.” The transition of operational control refers to South Korea’s goal to assume and exercise control of its armed forces in wartime that U.S. forces in Korea would currently control.

Aum added that “the important aspects of this period are that North and South Korea have been exchanging letters for the last several months, which is a positive, but North Korea continues to reject U.S. efforts at engagement, which is negative.”

North Korea is again ignoring hotline calls from South Korea.

South Korea Boosts Military


September 2021
By Sang-Min Kim

The South Korean navy in August commissioned its first locally developed submarine capable of launching ballistic missiles. The weapon is part of a military buildup that is mainly driven by a desire to establish a more robust defense against North Korea, but other factors are also at work.

Equipped with six vertical launching tubes that can accommodate ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and various other armaments, such as mines, the Dosan An Chang-ho is the first of three 3,000-ton attack submarines intended to enhance South Korea’s underwater defense capabilities and is scheduled to be deployed next year. Several local defense companies, such as LIG Nex1 and STX Engine, contributed to the project.

Although North Korea maintains one of the largest submarine fleets in the world, it is believed to be comprised of about 70 outdated attack and midget submarines and submarines that are usable only for coastal water operations. North Korea has been developing several types of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and at least one ballistic missile submarine that would increase the survivability of its midrange ballistic missiles, but its missile and nuclear programs are the real long-term threat and the key drivers of South Korea’s military buildup.

South Korea is the first military without nuclear weapons to commission submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles. Notably, only seven other countries have developed a workable SLBM. South Korea’s existing submarine force consists of 1,200-ton and 1,800-ton diesel-electric attack submarines that are too small to be equipped with ballistic missiles.

Jeon Yong-gyu, head supervisor for the South Korean project, said at the Aug. 13 commissioning ceremony that the submarine’s commission “can be considered as a significant milestone that can once again prove to the world the advanced technology of the Korean defense industry [and] it should serve as a signal for a leap forward in defense industry technology.”

The submarine is one of many projects on the South Korean defense industry’s agenda, underscoring a larger official effort to strengthen the country’s indigenous defense technology companies. Over the next five years, South Korea will increase the amount of its defense budget going to purchase indigenously-produced weapons, Defense Minister Suh Wook said last year at a defense expo, DX Korea 2020. This has since crystallized into a formal "Buy Korea Defense" policy.

“What should not be overlooked in most of these instances is the role of arms exports,” Joshua Pollack, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told Arms Control Today in an Aug. 5 email. “The [South Korean] arms industry often seems more attuned to demand from abroad than [South Korea’s] own requirement. There is also pressure on the military to buy locally produced arms,” he added.

South Korea’s defense industry plays a major role in many critical initiatives, including a $2.6 billion project to develop an indigenous version of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. The project, approved by the Defense Ministry in June, would defend key infrastructure by destroying incoming threats from North Korea, such as artillery shells, short-range missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles.

In March, South Korea also unveiled the KF-21 Boramae, the country’s first locally developed supersonic fighter jet. The plan is to deploy a fleet of 120 of the aircraft by 2032 and arm them with new supersonic air-to-surface missiles.

“[Such] pressure may make it harder for the military to acquire foreign systems that meet its short-term needs when the manufacturers are promising an indigenous alternative in just a few years. The L-SAM program comes to mind,” Pollack suggested. The L-SAM is an indigenous, long-range surface-to-air missile system that would operate as part of South Korea’s ballistic missile defense system, called the Korean Air and Missile Defense, by intercepting targets at an altitude of 40 kilometers or higher.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has increased the country’s annual military spending by an average of 7 percent, some 3 percent higher than his predecessor, and robust investment in weapons procurement seems likely to continue. With $253 billion projected for defense spending in fiscal years 2021 to 2025, one-third of that amount would be allocated to procuring such weapons as a light aircraft carrier, a nuclear-powered submarine, Boramae fighters, new missile systems, and satellites, according to South Korea’s intermediate national defense plan.

“The bottom line is that defense acquisition is neither entirely rational, nor entirely about national defense requirements,” Pollack stated.

With the commissioning of a ballistic missile submarine in August, South Korea has taken another step towards developing its defense industry.

Raisi Pledges Return to Nuclear Talks

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi pledged to pursue “smart engagement” in order to lift sanctions on Iran during his Aug. 5 inauguration speech. Raisi characterized the U.S. sanctions as oppressive and said his government would support “a diplomatic plan that achieves this goal,” likely referring to efforts to restore U.S. and Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He also said that Iran’s nuclear program is “completely peaceful” and reiterated the official line that “Iran has placed a religious ban on nuclear weapons.” Talks to...

New Iranian President May Prolong Deal Talks

Iran’s president-elect Ebrahim Raisi has expressed support for returning Iran to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal if U.S. sanctions are verifiably lifted. Raisi’s election, however, appears to be responsible for delaying the resumption of talks in Vienna to restore the accord as the president-elect’s advisers are reviewing the progress that negotiators made in the first six rounds of talks. The sixth round concluded June 20, two days after the election, and it is still unclear when the seventh round will commence. Raisi’s position on the nuclear deal is consistent with the position taken...

Pyongyang Cool to Washington Talks


July/August 2021
By Sang-Min Kim

North Korea is dismissing offers by the United States to begin diplomatic contacts, signaling a diminished potential for talks on the North’s nuclear weapons program and other major issues for the foreseeable future.

Ri Son Gwon (C), now the North Korean foreign minister, arrives at Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone on January 9, 2018 for the first official face-to-face talks with South Korea in two years. At the moment, the North Koreans are reportedly resisting contacts with both Seoul and Washington. (Photo by Korea Pool/Getty Images)The latest rebuke came from Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon, who said on June 23 that North Korea is “not thinking about any meaningless contact with the U.S. or its possibility, where we would lose precious time,” according to a translation by the website 38 North.

The minister’s comments, reported by the state news agency, came after Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, announced on June 21 that he was ready to meet North Korean officials “anytime, anywhere without preconditions.”

One day earlier, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, appearing on ABC News, characterized remarks by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a recent party meeting as an “interesting signal.” Kim had said he was preparing for “dialogue and confrontation” in his dealings with the new Biden administration.

Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader’s sister, on June 22 warned Washington against interpreting signals from Pyongyang “the wrong way” because that “would plunge [the United States] into a greater disappointment.”

Pyongyang has also resisted efforts at engagement by Seoul, which reportedly has called North Korea every day for the past year without a response.

Meanwhile, North Korea began operating the steam plant at its Yongbyon Radiochemical Laboratory in February, marking a plausible length of time for a reprocessing campaign to produce weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel for nuclear weapons, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Although reprocessing cannot be confirmed, the North’s “nuclear activities remain a cause for serious concern. The continuation of [its] nuclear programme is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable,” IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi told the agency’s Board of Governors on June 7.

A reprocessing campaign would increase Pyongyang’s stockpile of nuclear weapons-useable material. It is estimated that North Korea already has enough fissile material for 40 to 50 nuclear warheads, according to a 2021 report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

North Korea has also continued to operate some of its other nuclear facilities, including Yongbyon’s experimental light-water reactor and a suspected second enrichment site at Kangson, Grossi reported. The IAEA observed no ongoing operations at Yongbyon’s five-megawatt electrical reactor, which is capable of producing seven kilograms of plutonium annually, or at the complex’s centrifuge enrichment facility, which produces enriched uranium, he added.

The United States has failed over many decades to halt the North’s nuclear weapons program. President Joe Biden recently pledged to undertake a new diplomatic policy, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said on June 3 that the appointment of veteran diplomat Sung Kim as the special representative for North Korea signals “readiness for dialogue.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 10 that Washington “will remain focused” on the increasing threat from North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and will work to mitigate its destabilizing and provocative behavior, leading with diplomacy.

The Group of Seven industrialized countries struck a stronger tone in its June 13 summit communiqué, calling for “the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the verifiable and irreversible abandonment of [North Korea’s] unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programmes.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has also been engaging with regional states affected by North Korea’s behavior. Its special representative on Korean peninsula affairs, Liu Xiaoming, had a phone call with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov on June 7 to discuss views on the Korean peninsula and affirmed China’s desire to “play constructive roles.”

Yang Jiechi, a member of China’s Politburo and director of the Office of Foreign Affairs, spoke by phone with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on June 11 and committed to work together for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

North Korea is brushing away overtures from the United States for new talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

India Arrests Alleged Uranium Traders


JulyAugust 2021
By Sang-Min Kim

Twice in the past two months, Indian authorities have arrested individuals on charges of illicit trading in uranium. The incidents have raised concerns about what appears to be a growing nuclear security risk in the region.

An intermediate form of uranium called "yellow cake" displayed at India's highly restricted uranium processing facility at Turamdih Uranium Mill at Jadugoda in Jharkhand in India. Twice in recent months, Indian authorities have arrested individuals for alleged illicit trading in uranium, which has applications in nuclear bombs, medicine and electricity production.  (Photo by Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images)In the first case, Indian police arrested two men in Maharashtra on May 7 for allegedly possessing 7.1 kilograms of natural uranium, estimated to be worth more than $2.8 million, according to news reports.

Natural uranium, which has applications in bombs and medicine, would have to be subjected to a substantial extraction process to be usable in nuclear weapons. Even so, it is supposed to be under state control, not available on the black market.

Authorities said the source of the uranium is currently unknown and being investigated.

In the second incident, police in Jharkhand, reportedly acting on a tip, arrested seven individuals on June 3 for allegedly possessing 6.4 kilograms of a substance said to be uranium.

But on June 10, a spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs disputed that claim. The Indian Department of Atomic Energy “stated that the material seized [on June 3] is not uranium and not radioactive,” the spokesperson said.

No further details on the material were provided.

The Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 4 criticized the Jharkland and Maharashtra arrests as showing “lax controls, poor regulatory and enforcement mechanisms, as well as possible existence of a black market for nuclear materials inside India.” The agency called for a “thorough investigation.”

The Indian spokesperson countered in a written statement, saying, “The gratuitous remarks about India by Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry drawing upon a media report indicate their disposition to malign India without caring to check/verify facts.”

Pakistan in recent years has improved its controls on nuclear materials, but it and India still rank near the bottom of the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s 2020 Nuclear Security Index, which annually rates states’ efforts to secure nuclear materials and protect nuclear facilities at home.

India possesses around 156 nuclear warheads and Pakistan has an estimated 165 nuclear warheads, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s 2021 report. Both countries are expanding their nuclear weapons arsenals and fissile material stockpiles.

Although India has two functional uranium mines in Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh, it is attempting to accelerate its domestic uranium mining efforts to offset its dependency of uranium imports from such states as Russia, Australia, and Kazakhstan.

With 22 nuclear reactors in operation and 21 under construction, India can hypothetically use highly enriched uranium to produce even more lethal capabilities by manufacturing thermonuclear or boosted-fission nuclear weapons.

India and Pakistan are not members of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but they are technically bound by international norms such as UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which calls on states to withhold any support to non-state actors acquiring nuclear weapons, and the IAEA Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, which urges states to enforce stringent measures for nuclear security.

Indian authorities arrest individuals for reportedly trading illicitly in uranium.

Iran Nuclear Talks Head to Sixth Round

The fifth round of talks on restoring U.S. and Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal wrapped up June 2. Negotiators appear optimistic about the prospects for success while acknowledging that some issues remain unresolved. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister and lead negotiator Abas Araghchi said that the next round of talks, slated to begin June 10, “logically could and should be the final round.” He told the press June 2 that the remaining differences are “not unresolvable.” Enrique Mora, the EU official coordinating the indirect talks between the United States and Iran, was similarly...

Missile Proliferation Poses Global Risk

June 2021
By Kelsey Davenport and Sang-Min Kim 

Even as world leaders raise alarms about accelerating missile proliferation, the primary multilateral initiative designed to check this trend is struggling to keep pace with the changing technologies that are making these weapons more accessible and more attractive. 

South Korea's Hyunmu-2 ballistic missile is fired during an exercise aimed to counter North Korea's nuclear test on September 4, 2017 in East Coast, South Korea. (Photo: South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images.)In an April 19 statement, the nonproliferation directors for the Group of Seven (G7) countries expressed grave concern over the “accelerating proliferation of ballistic and other missile technologies, including at the hands of non-state actors.” The spread of these systems is a “threat to regional and global security,” the statement said. 

It exhorted all states to “unilaterally adhere” to the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a voluntary export control regime designed to prevent the spread of missiles and materials used for missiles that could deliver weapons of mass destruction (see page 29). 

The MTCR is credited with slowing advances in a number of programs for ballistic missiles in the years after it was created, including a joint development project among Argentina, Egypt, and Iraq, as well as missile programs in Brazil and South Africa. The regime has also prompted member states to put in place export controls on missiles and related technology. But the initiative’s consensus-based decision-making has made it difficult to admit new members and update the regime’s guidelines to adapt to new technologies. 

Moreover, new acquisitions of missiles and related materials by countries such as China, India, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States, as well as nonstate actors such as Hamas and the Houthis, pose serious challenges. 

MTCR chair Thomas Hajnoczi of Austria told Arms Control Today in a May 17 email that he sees “missile-based power projection on the rise.” An increasing number of states and nonstate actors are producing missiles or missile components, making the MTCR “more relevant than ever,” he wrote.

Hajnoczi, speaking in his personal capacity, said the MTCR needs to make a concerted effort to address these developments in order to be effective. The “proliferation of technology becomes increasingly challenging to control—both in terms of concrete goods and components, as well as knowledge knowingly or unwittingly being transferred,” he said. 

Timothy Wright, a research analyst and program administrator at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told Arms Control Today in a May 17 email that the MTCR “remains a useful tool for countering missile proliferation” but the “regime is creaking in places” and reforms will be necessary to sustain and strengthen it. 

Wright said that “more states than ever possess ballistic and cruise missiles” and many are diversifying and improving their conventional missile capabilities but that it is debatable whether missile proliferation is accelerating. He noted, for example, that new types of land-attack cruise missiles were introduced at the same rate from 2000 to 2010 as from 2010 to 2020. 

As states develop new missile systems, they contribute to a risk of “proliferation through imitation,” as other states seek to acquire similar capabilities, Wright said. This trend is particularly evident among states pursuing new hypersonic glide vehicles, he added. 

The MTCR at a Glance

The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) is a voluntary export control initiative established in 1987 to limit the proliferation of ballistic missiles and cruise missiles capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload over a distance of more than 300 kilometers. Since then, the MTCR has expanded its mandate to cover missile systems and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of delivering biological and chemical weapons. 

The MTCR divides missile-related materials and technologies into two categories. Category I items include complete missiles, rockets, UAVs, major components of these systems, and production facilities. According to the regime guidelines, “[T]here will be a strong presumption to deny” Category I transfers. 

Category II items include specialized materials and technologies relevant to building missiles or UAVs, such as propellants. Export of these items should be considered on a case-by-case basis, given the applicability of these materials and technologies for civil uses, such as space exploration. Factors that states should take into account prior to exporting Category II items include the credibility of the stated purpose of the purchase and their potential contribution to nuclear-capable delivery systems. 

Prior to exporting any item listed in either category, MTCR members are supposed to obtain assurances that the materials in question will not be reexported and that the recipient will only use the materials for the original purpose. 

Because the MTCR is voluntary, there are no penalties for transferring controlled items outside of the approved guidelines. The United States, for instance, has transferred Category I systems to allies and partners, citing security needs. 

Initially comprising seven states, the MTCR has expanded to include 35 members.

Hajnoczi noted that not all hypersonic technology is covered by the MTCR and that could be an area for further discussion by member states. One of Austria’s priorities this year, he said, is “keeping pace with technological progress” to ensure the regime remains effective. He stressed the G7 commitment in the statement to “review the material and technology that we control . . . supporting work to update multilateral export control regime lists” and sharing expertise to address new technologies. 

Hajnoczi also cited the “unprecedented surge in interest and activity in space” that makes satellite technology more accessible. This poses a challenge because of the “substantial technological overlap between the technology used to transport satellites into space and that used to deliver weapons of mass destruction,” he said. The MTCR should work with other relevant international organizations to address this development, he said. 

The most recent annual report of the U.S. National Intelligence Ballistic Missile Analysis Committee, published in January, concluded that countries “view ballistic and cruise missile systems as cost-effective weapons and symbols of national power.” Advances in missile technology also drive state interest in these systems, the report determined.

Wright also cited technical developments as a factor increasing state interest in missile systems. Developments in guidance and propulsion technologies have made cruise and ballistic missiles “more accessible and affordable” and “increased the utility of missile systems as long-range precision strike weapons and as a means of regional deterrence,” he said.

Perceived regional threats appear to be spurring missile proliferation in Asia. Taiwan, which is not a member of the MTCR, is modernizing and diversifying its missile arsenal in order to bolster its deterrence posture against China. Although Taiwan’s missile force historically contained defensive anti-ship cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles, the island has begun developing and producing longer-range missile systems. 

In January, Taiwan deployed a new cruise missile with a range of 1,200 kilometers. In addition, as Li Shih-Chiang, director of the Department of Strategic Planning in the defense ministry, stated on April 19, the U.S. AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, which has a range of more than 370 kilometers, remains on “Taiwan’s arms wish list.”

MTCR members Australia and South Korea also have been increasingly investing in their missile forces. Although MTCR members do not commit to forgo missiles and UAVs capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction, their acquisition and development of these systems, sometimes with the assistance of other MTCR members, contributes to missile race dynamics. 

When South Korea joined the regime in 2001, it negotiated a new bilateral missile agreement with the United States that limited the country’s missiles to systems below the MTCR threshold, a modest extension to the range restrictions imposed by the original 1979 deal. In a series of agreements beginning in 2012, South Korea negotiated less stringent limitations on the payload and range of its missiles. (See ACT, June 2020.) Most recently, President Moon Jae-in announced May 21, after meeting with President Joe Biden, that the United States agreed to terminate the remaining restrictions. 

Australia, whose relationship with China deteriorated in 2020, announced on May 11 that its next fiscal year plan includes $212 billion over the next decade for upgrading defense capabilities, including building its own guided missiles with U.S. help.

Perceived changes in the strategic and security environment have impacted Australia’s decisions. In its 2020 Defence Strategic Update, the Australian Department of Defence reported new investments in an “enhanced integrated air and missile defence system and very high-speed and ballistic missile defence capabilities for deployed forces.” It tied the decision to the destabilizing effects of regional military modernizations, such as North Korea’s missile programs.

Nonstate actors are also pursuing missile systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. Houthi attacks using ballistic missiles on Saudi Arabia demonstrate the group’s ability “to design and manufacture missiles and UAVs domestically and their professional technical expertise,” according to the January 2021 report by the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen. 

The United Nations also found evidence of Iran providing missile systems to the Houthis, which highlights another proliferation challenge, namely that as states develop new capabilities, they could choose to sell their systems, driving further proliferation. 

The G7 call for all states to adhere to the MTCR could be useful in encouraging states to adopt more comprehensive and effective export control guidelines to prevent the transfer of dual-use materials and technologies. 

Hajnoczi said that “outreach to relevant countries” is important as the MTCR and Austria seek to expand the regime beyond the current membership. The pandemic halted outreach, but he hopes to resume those efforts later this summer. 

In the past, MTCR chairs have conducted outreach visits to nonmember states to provide updates on MTCR guidelines and learn about states’ export control legislation. Recent outreach visits in 2020 and 2018 included Israel, Jordan, and Pakistan.

Austria is committed to making more information about MTCR activities available to the public when appropriate, Hajnoczi said, noting that “increasing understanding of the objectives and work of the MTCR” could be beneficial to the regime. 

Wright also expressed support for expanding membership, particularly in regions where missile production and proliferation are prevalent. Some of the more troubling missile proliferation developments are taking place in the Middle East and Asia, where few states have joined the MTCR.

Even as missile proliferation accelerates, the primary initiative designed to check this trend is struggling to stay relevant and effective.

Biden Open to Talks With North Korea

June 2021
By Sang-Min Kim

U.S. President Joe Biden has promised to engage North Korea diplomatically on pragmatic steps to end the nuclear threat and reinforced that commitment by appointing veteran U.S. diplomat Sung Kim to lead the effort.

Career diplomat Sung Kim, currently the ambassador to Indonesia, will also serve as the U.S. special envoy to North Korea, President Biden announced on Friday, May 28. (Photo: Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images)Hosting South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House on May 21, Biden told a news conference that the United States and South Korea “share a willingness to engage diplomatically with [North Korea] to take pragmatic steps that will reduce tensions as we move toward our ultimate goal of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

Moon emphasized that pursuing North Korea’s denuclearization is the “most urgent common task” for the United States and South Korea to undertake. But in a hint of past difficulties in advancing that goal, Biden stressed that “we’re under no illusions how difficult this is.” 

North Korea’s arsenal of nuclear weapons and its stockpile of nuclear fuel has risen steadily at least since the Bush administration and roughly doubled in the past four years. It is estimated to have around 45 nuclear weapons, according to former Los Alamos weapons laboratory director Siegfried Hecker, who visited North Korea seven times between 2004 and 2010.

Kim, the new U.S. special envoy for North Korea, has been ambassador to Indonesia. Previously, he was ambassador to South Korea and also served as Obama’s special envoy to the six-party talks with North Korea. Moon praised the appointment as reflecting “the commitment of the U.S. for exploring diplomacy and its readiness for dialogue with North Korea.”

The summit took place several weeks after the Biden administration completed a review of North Korea policy. Few details have been made public.

Moon said the United States coordinated closely with his government and the resulting policy is “a very calibrated, practical, gradual, step-by-step manner, and very flexible” with the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula as the ultimate objective.

The policy builds on the 2018 Singapore joint statement, which was issued after a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un and calls for the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the establishment of a stable peace there.

Given that past administrations were unable to achieve denuclearization in a single, comprehensive deal, the policy moves away from a grand bargain, which North Korea rejected at the 2019 Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi, and from the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” approach that refused serious diplomatic engagement until North Korea changed its nuclear provocations and behavior.

After reportedly rejecting earlier Biden administration efforts to engage, Pyongyang has “well received” the U.S. offer to explain the outcome of the policy review, according to Yonhap News Agency. 

Kurt Campbell, the White House policy coordinator for the Indo-Pacific region, stated in a Yonhap News Agency interview on May 18 that UN sanctions on North Korea will remain and continue to be enforced. China and Russia have been pushing for sanctions relief for North Korea.

The Washington Post reported on April 30 that one U.S. official stated that the United States is prepared to offer relief for specific actions.

Zhang Jun, China’s UN ambassador, said on May 3 that he hopes the United States gives more importance to diplomacy and dialogue than pressure in its new North Korea policy.

Beijing supports a dual-track approach of pursuing denuclearization and the establishment of a peace mechanism on the Korean peninsula.

The United States conducted the policy review in close consultation with allies Japan and South Korea, but has also been in touch with other states in the region, such as Russia, about it.

The president pledged a new diplomatic efforts to try to end the North Korean nuclear threat and named diplomat Sung Kim to lead the effort.

U.S. Lifts Missile Limits on South Korea

June 2021
By Sang-Min Kim

Bilateral guidelines that have long restricted development of South Korea’s ballistic missile program have been terminated, according to an agreement announced by President Moon Jae-in at his summit with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House on May 21.

Addressing a White House news conference on May 21, South Korean President Moon Jae-in (L) and U.S. President Joe Biden promised to work together to solve the North Korean nuclear threat, but Biden stressed, "we're under no illusions how difficult this is." (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)The move, long sought by Seoul, will affect the regional security dynamic in Asia by expanding South Korea’s missile and space force capabilities. It is also expected to further contribute to a rebalancing of the military relationship between the two long-time allies.

The still-classified guidelines, signed by the two countries in 1979 and revised four times, placed varying limits primarily on the range and maximum payload that South Korea could incorporate in its ballistic missile designs. 

Washington originally provided technological support for Seoul’s missile systems in return for the restrictions because it wanted to stymie Seoul’s desire to build its own nuclear force. Prior to the May 21 revisions, South Korea’s missile forces could not develop or possess ballistic missiles with a maximum range of greater than 800 kilometers. 

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun tweeted on May 21 that terminating the guidelines meant his country would have “secure complete missile sovereignty [for the first time] in 42 years.”

South Korea and the United States have been working toward rebalancing their military dynamic. In March, the two countries signed the Special Measures Agreement, increasing Seoul’s financial contribution to the alliance. At a joint press conference with Biden, Moon said the missile agreement was a “symbolic and practical” sign of the “robustness of our alliance.” 

As further evidence of that commitment, Biden announced that the United States would provide enough COVID-19 vaccines for the 550,000 South Korean military personnel who work closely with the 35,000 U.S. forces based in the country. Although Seoul recently signed a deal with Moderna for approximately 20 million doses, with some arriving before June, the government has only vaccinated around 5 percent of the population, according to Reuters. 

In their formal joint statement, the two leaders affirmed their commitment to a combined defense posture under the U.S.-South Korea Mutual Defense Treaty and to the U.S. readiness to defend South Korea with its full range of capabilities. They also committed to “maintaining an inclusive, free, and open” Indo-Pacific region involving both the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea; preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait; and “maintaining joint military readiness.” 

At a May 24 press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian expressed Beijing’s concerns about the references in the Biden-Moon joint statement regarding Taiwan. 

Biden and Moon established a comprehensive KORUS Global Vaccine Partnership that strengthens collaboration in international vaccine efforts, promised to forge “new ties on climate, global health, emerging technologies, including 5G and 6G technology and semi-conductors, supply chain resilience, migration and development, and in our people-to-people relationship.” Plans also include bolstering their trilateral alliance with Japan and bilateral partnerships in space, science, and nuclear projects, according to the joint statement.

The summit featured pledges from major South Korean companies such as Samsung, Hyundai, and LG to invest more than $25 billion in the United States to help secure supply chains on semiconductors and other items.

From the beginning, Biden has made clear that he views strengthening security in East Asia and rejuvenating regional alliances as a priority. His first two overseas visitors at the White House were Moon and, before that, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.


 

Bilateral guidelines that have restricted development of South Korea’s ballistic missile program have been ended by agreement between President Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

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