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former IAEA Director-General
North Korea

Moon Reverses THAAD Decision

Moon Reverses THAAD Decision

By Kingston Reif
September 2017

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for temporarily installing additional elements of a controversial missile defense system following North Korea’s second long-range missile test on July 28, reversing his prior decision to suspend deployment pending a thorough environmental review.

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched from the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska in Kodiak on July 11. In the test, the THAAD weapon system successfully intercepted an air-launched intermediate-range ballistic missile target. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency)“President Moon sees North Korea’s missile threat with that much urgency,” a senior South Korean official told reporters on July 29 when asked about Moon’s decision to proceed with the deployment of four additional U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) launchers. “We’re trying to seek procedural legitimacy through the environmental impact assessment, yet feel the need to act fast on the situation that’s unfolding.”

China, which has long objected to the deployment of the THAAD system in South Korea, expressed concern about Moon’s reversal. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the decision “regretable” following a meeting with his South Korean counterpart on Aug. 6.

South Korea decided to deploy the anti-missile system in July 2016 under President Park Geun-hye to enhance the country’s defenses against North Korea. (See ACT, September 2016.) Moon was elected president in May following a corruption scandal that led to Park’s impeachment in late 2016.

The U.S. military declared the system in South Korea operational in early May, just days before the South Korean election. The initial deployment consisted of two launchers and an associated radar. Four other launchers were also brought to South Korea, but were not made operational.

The mobile, ground-based THAAD system is designed to defend against short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles during their terminal, or end, phase of flight. A THAAD battery typically consists of six launchers, 48 to 72 interceptor missiles, a radar, a fire control and communications system, and other support equipment.

After taking office May 10, Moon said he had not been informed of the presence of the additional four launchers on South Korean soil for weeks and ordered an investigation into why the South Korean Defense Ministry withheld this information. During his election campaign, Moon had been critical of his predecessor’s decision to accept the THAAD system without parliamentary approval, arguing that the decision on whether to deploy should be made by the incoming administration after public discussion and debate. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

Following his election, Moon stressed that he did not intend to reverse the deployment of the two launchers and radar, but said he would make a final decision about the fate of the system after the comprehensive environmental review. Many South Korean analysts viewed the review as an attempt by Moon to buy time to persuade China and vocal domestic opposition to the THAAD system in South Korea to accept the deployment.

But North Korea conducted its second successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), designated the Hwasong-14, on July 28, prompting Moon to complete the installation of the additional launchers.

Separately, the THAAD system successfully intercepted and destroyed a mock target having the range of an intermediate-range ballistic missile for the first time in a test July 11. In the test, a THAAD system located at Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska detected, tracked, and intercepted a ballistic missile target air-launched by a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport aircraft.

The THAAD system has completed successfully all of the 15 flight and interception tests conducted since 2006, according to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. 

Although the THAAD battery deployed in South Korea is designed to protect the country against North Korean short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, the Defense Department deployed a battery to Guam in 2013 to protect the U.S. territory, home to a major U.S. Air Force bomber base, against intermediate-range missile threats.

In an Aug. 10 statement released through the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea said that it was completing plans to test four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missiles that would “hit the waters 30 to 40 kilometers away from Guam.”

KCNA announced on Aug. 15 that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had reviewed the plan and would “watch a little more” the behavior of the United States before deciding whether to proceed with the launch.

The United States warned that any North Korean missile launched at U.S. territory could result in war between the two countries. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said at a Aug. 17 press briefing in Washington that if North Korea fires a missile toward “the territory of Japan, Guam, [the] United States, [or] Korea, we would take immediate, specific actions to take it down.”

5 Myths on Nuclear Diplomacy with North Korea

The struggle to address the nuclear and missile threat posed by North Korea has been underway for more than a quarter-century, but public and policymaker attention to the problems has been episodic and often superficial, leading to the emergence of misperceptions and myths about past efforts and current prospects for addressing the threat. The following is a review of some of the most common myths about past U.S. efforts to address the threat and how the United States and its allies can halt and reverse North Korea’s nuclear and missile pursuits in the future. Myth 1. Diplomacy with North...

U.S. Policy on North Korea: More Pressure, But Where’s the “Engagement?”

The UN Security Council responded to North Korea’s two intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests in July by unanimously passing new sanctions on North Korea over the weekend. But without a more concerted effort to engage Pyongyang in negotiations, these measures stand little chance of altering North Korea’s nuclear calculus. While the additional Security Council sanctions in Resolution 2371 send a strong signal to North Korea that there are consequences for flouting international prohibitions, sanctions alone are not a strategy for addressing the North Korean nuclear threat. It is past...

North Korea’s ICBM Presents ‘Global Threat’

North Korea’s ICBM Presents ‘Global Threat’

July/August 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korea crossed a technical and political threshold with the successful test of its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which experts assess could target parts of the United States.

The development raises the stakes as North Korea demonstrates advances in its nuclear and missile capabilities in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and other international efforts. The July 4 test occurred just days after U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korea President Moon Jae-in, meeting on June 30 at the White House, issued a joint statement that called on North Korea to refrain from provocative actions and pledged cooperation to achieve denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un celebrates the successful July 4 test of the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile in a photo from the official Korean Central News Agency. (Photo credit: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called the test “another brilliant victory of the Korean people in their struggle against the U.S.-led imperialists,” according to the government-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Kim was cited as saying that his country “would neither put its nukes and ballistic rockets on the table of negotiations…nor flinch even an inch from the road of bolstering the nuclear force chosen by itself unless the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat to [North Korea] are definitely terminated.”

The two-stage missile, designated the Hwasong-14, was tested at a lofted trajectory and splashed down in the Sea of Japan about 930 kilometers from the launch site. John Schilling, an aerospace engineer and analyst for the website 38 North, said in a July 6 press call that the missile’s range, if flown at a standard trajectory and in an eastward direction that takes advantage of the earth’s rotation, could be 7,000 to 8,000 kilometers.

That puts the Hwasong-14’s capability well beyond the 5,500 kilometer threshold for an ICBM and would allow North Korea to target Alaska (5,800 kilometers) and Hawaii (7,400 kilometers). Schilling said it is possible that North Korea could make performance improvements to extend the range to between 9,000 and 9,500 kilometers, which would cover the U.S. West Coast. Striking the U.S. East Coast would require a three-stage ICBM, he said.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said that the range of the missile and its mobile launch platform were North Korean capabilities that the United States had not seen previously. North Korea’s ICBM capability still considered limited because Pyongyang has not shown a successful re-entry vehicle nor the ability to fit a warhead onto the missile, he said.

In a July 5 statement, KCNA said that the ICBM can carry a “large-sized heavy nuclear warhead.” Schilling said that, in the near term, North Korea could use a basic type of re-entry vehicle called a blunt body that is less accurate but easier to engineer than newer types. Despite North Korea’s potential ability to mate a warhead with the ICBM, Schilling noted that the missile would be unreliable, particularly if launched under the time pressures of combat conditions.

The ICBM test was widely condemned by the international community as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting North Korean ballistic missile activity. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on July 4 that global action is required to stop the “global threat” posed by North Korea.

At a UN Security Council meeting July 5, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the United States is working on a resolution that “raises the international response in a way that is proportionate to North Korea’s new escalation.” Without providing details, she said that the international community can cut off “major sources” of hard currency, restrict oil for military programs, and increase maritime restrictions for North Korea.

China and Russia issued a joint statement condemning the test and urging the United States along with North Korea and all other states to “refrain from provocative actions.”

China and Russia also proposed a deal in which North Korea freezes missile and nuclear testing in exchange for the United States suspending military exercises with South Korea, reprising a Chinese initiative that the United States rejected in March. North Korea made a similar “freeze for freeze” proposal in January 2015 that Washington turned down as “inappropriately” linking U.S. defense exercises and North Korea’s prohibited nuclear and missile activities. (See ACT, March 2015.)—KELSEY DAVENPORT

Perry, Markey Urge Talks with North Korea to Halt and Reverse Its Dangerous Nuclear and Missile Programs



In a conference call with reporters, Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and former Secretary of Defense William Perry shared their interest in having the U.S. and South Korea pursue talks with North Korea on halting and reversing its dangerous nuclear and missile programs.


For Immediate Release: June 29, 2017

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102.

(Washington, D.C.)—On the eve of a critical meeting between recently elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump here in Washington, two leading figures outlined a pragmatic strategy for coordinated to U.S.-South Korean efforts to address the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, beginning with direct talks aimed at constraining, rolling, back and ultimately reversing North Korea’s programs.

In a teleconference call with reporters convened by the Arms Control Association, Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who is the ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, along with former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry described their recommended approach. (The audio of the teleconference is available online. A transcript of the speakers' opening remarks is below.) 

"President Moon's visit is an historic opportunity for the Trump administration to restart direct negotiations aimed at addressing the nuclear and missile threat from North Korea. The Trump administration should adopt a strategy of active and direct diplomatic engagement with North Korea, backed by rigorous sanction enforcement by China and a robust military deterrence posture in cooperation with our regional partners, especially South Korea." Senator Markey said.

Earlier Thursday President Moon met with senior Congressional leaders including Senator Markey. Last week, a bipartisan group of Senators issues a resolution welcoming President Moon and endorsing a diplomatic approach to achieving a nuclear-weapons-free Korean peninsula and working together for the enforcement of existing sanctions on North Korea.

Perry reiterated several points that he made in a June 28 open letter to President Donald Trump along with a distinguished group including Amb. Robert L. Gallucci, former director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Sigfried Hecker, former Sen. Richard G. Lugar, former Gov. Bill Richardson, and former Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan, George P. Shultz.

"Experts with decades of military, political, and technical involvement with North Korean issues, strongly urge the start of discussions with North Korea in the near future. This is the only realistic option to reduce dangers resulting from the current high state of tensions and prevent North Korea’s ongoing development and potential use of nuclear weapons."

"This diplomatic effort should begin with informal talks—with no preconditions—to explore options for more formal negotiations," Perry and his colleagues recommend.

"There is no guarantee diplomacy will work. But there are no good military options, and a North Korean response to a U.S. attack could devastate South Korea and Japan. Tightening sanctions can be useful in increasing pressure on North Korea, but sanctions alone will not solve the problem," Perry cautioned.

"Time is not on our side. Diplomacy should at the top of the list of options on the table," Perry said.

"The June 29-30 summit between Trump and Moon is an opportunity for both presidents to recalibrate and coordinate their approaches toward North Korea," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, which hosted the teleconference call.

"A strategy of coercive diplomacy, focused on freezing further nuclear and missile tests, and then ultimately rolling back Pyongyang’s illicit programs, offers the best prospect for success," Kimball said.


Former Secretary of Defence William Perry
[Start 2:30 on the audio, as delivered]

The primary goal of North Korea is extending the Kim dynasty. They have shrewdly done this for many decades (the regime is not crazy as some people think). They are the last Stalinist regime standing and that demonstrates I think, in the view of what has happened to all of the other Stalinist regimes, they have played their cards very shrewdly.

They do have a modest nuclear arsenal and they’re making many more, they have a large arsenal of medium-range ballistic missiles and are developing an ICBM. My judgment is that they will not use their nuclear weapon in the first strike because they know it will mean death to the leaders and great devastation to the country.

Their nuclear weapons therefore are useful but only if they do not use them.

Therefore, I do not recommend a preemptive strike. The cost of the strike, the downside of the strike is much greater than any value, any benefit that it would give. Beyond that, I argue that the preemptive strike cannot possibly take out all of their nuclear weapons. Therefore if we make it to preemptive strike, they are going to end up with nuclear weapons, which will be very, very dangerous. They will respond militarily to a preemptive strike and the response will be very, very damaging to South Korea, not only from the nuclear possibility from them using their remaining nuclear weapons, but also because of the very large number of conventional artillery they have within range of Seoul.

Finally, and most importantly, I believe that there may now be a window opened for diplomacy. China, which has not participated with us as constructively, now fully recognizes the possibility of a military conflict which would be very detrimental to their own interests. They also recognize the possibility of Japan and/or South Korea going nuclear, which would be very detrimental to their own interests. In addition to that, North Korea may now believe that a preemptive strike is credible, which will I think focus their attention on negotiation. That is, I believe that North Korea is now open to a reasonable diplomatic approach.

Diplomatic success will contrast with anything we tried in the past: will need new carrots and new sticks than approaches in the past. China has the sticks, and we together with South Korea and Japan have the carrots. So I think we can put together a very attractive approach today compared with the previous attempts.

China, however, in my judgment will not offer those sticks on their own; they will not participate in the diplomatic approach simply on their own. It’s not enough to say to China, “you solve the problem.” We must be able to partner with China and I think if we do that and we do that with quiet diplomacy, we can get China to participate in a meaningful, diplomatic approach.

If we had a diplomatic approach, and if it succeeded, it would have to be in two phases. The first phase being a freeze, which would be valuable in and of itself because it avoids the possibility of North Korea going from the bomb they now have to a hydrogen bomb and it also prevents them from getting an ICBM. A freeze, if successful, would not only would be valuable in and of itself, but it would be a platform for a second phase, which would be the roll back… of their nuclear program. So that’s what I’m recommending.  

[Start 12:45 on the audio, as prepared]

I was deeply disturbed yesterday afternoon when General H.R. McMaster announced that President Donald Trump has asked for new military options to stop North Korea’s nuclear program.

There is no military solution in North Korea. A second Korean War would be an incomparable tragedy, jeopardizing the lives of hundreds of thousands, even millions of people, and possibly could escalate into a nuclear war.

In March of this year, I sent a letter to President Trump, urging him to take a bold new approach to address the threat from North Korea’s growing nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities. I called on him to adopt a strategy of active and direct diplomatic engagement with North Korea, backed by rigorous sanctions enforcement by China and a robust military deterrence posture in cooperation with our regional partners.

Last year alone, North Korea tested two nuclear devices and carried out numerous ballistic missile tests. It is now accelerating efforts to develop a missile capable of striking the territory of the United States with a nuclear warhead.

These growing capabilities represent a grave threat to the security of the American people, and to our allies and partners in the region.

Existing policy to address this threat has not succeeded. Sanctions and deterrence, while essential, have failed — on their own — to induce the Kim regime to constrain its nuclear and missile ambitions.

Without a direct diplomatic track by the United States, North Korea is likely to continue exploiting divisions in the international community to steadily advance its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.

Only a comprehensive strategy of diplomacy — one that brings together economic pressure, military deterrence, and active negotiations — stands a chance of achieving a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

When Secretary Tillerson told the United Nations Security Council in April that the United States is open to negotiating toward a nuclear free Korean Peninsula, and the Trump adminisration announced its strategy of, quote, “maximum pressure and engagement” I was hopeful that level heads had prevailed.

But General McMaster’s remarks could indicate that the President has veered back onto a dangerous war path. And President Moon’s visit could not come at a more critical time.

President Moon’s visit is an historic opportunity for the Trump administration to restart negotiations aimed at addressing the nuclear and missile threat from North Korea.

President Moon made direct engagement with North Korea a core part of his electoral platform, and a recent survey showed that more than three-fourths of South Koreans want a resumption of dialogue with the North.

China has also wanted the United States to launch direct talks with North Korea for many years, so direct diplomacy could make it easier to get China to enforce sanctions and pressure North Korea to negotiate seriously on denuclearization.

If the Trump administration is serious about its strategy of pressure and engagement, it must strengthen existing sanctions and bolster deterrence. But it must also reach out to North Korea to begin talks aimed at constraining, rolling back, and ultimately eliminating its nuclear and missile programs.

Without diplomacy, however, pressure is unlikely to succeed. I reiterate my call for Donald Trump to stop what looks like a rush to catastrophic war and to get serious about implementing the strategy his administration announced – to pressure North Korea into engagement and negotiate denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Country Resources:

North Korea’s New Missile Tests South Korea

North Korea’s New Missile Tests South Korea

June 2017

By Kelsey Davenport

North Korea’s test of a ballistic missile capable of longer ranges poses an immediate challenge to newly elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who campaigned on an engagement-oriented approach to dealing with Pyongyang. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is showing no sign of making that easy as he continues to defy international demands that he halt nuclear weapons activities and missile testing.

The missile tested May 14 is a new system that North Korea debuted a month earlier at its parade celebrating the nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung. (See ACT, May 2017.) Known as the Hwasong-12, the missile likely is an intermediate-range ballistic missile, meaning its range is between 3,000 and 5,500 kilometers, which would put Guam within striking distance but fall short of reaching the continental United States. The test was intended to verify “the tactical and technological specifications” for a system “capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear weapon,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said.

This May 14 picture from the official Korean Central News Agency shows leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a Hwasong-12 ballistic missile before a test launch. The test was intended to verify “the tactical and technological specifications” for a system “capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear weapon,” according to the state-run news agency. (Photo credit: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)North Korea tested the missile at a lofted trajectory, so it flew higher than a normal flight pattern and traveled about 700 kilometers to splash down in the Sea of Japan. David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, used data from the test to calculate a 4,800-kilometer range at a standard ballistic missile trajectory, according to his organization’s blog, “All Things Nuclear.” The lofted trajectory was likely used to avoid the missile splashing down too close to another country.

The test came just four days after Moon won South Korea’s presidential election on May 10. He was sworn in immediately to fill the vacancy left by Park Geun-hye, who was impeached in December 2016.

Moon described the missile test as “deeply regrettable” and a violation of UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit North Korea from testing ballistic missiles. Despite saying that South Korea must “act decisively against North Korean provocations,” Moon said he remains open to dialogue with North Korea when Pyongyang “changes its attitude.” That dialogue cannot begin while North Korea continues to conduct ballistic missile tests, he said.

Moon’s openness to talks with Pyongyang marks a change from Park’s more hard-line policy toward North Korea. Moon has described his policy as moving away from the “pressure only” to “pressure with pragmatic engagement.”

For instance, Moon has suggested that he might reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Kaesong, located on the North Korean side of the border, provides space for South Korean companies to manufacture products using North Korean labor. The complex was closed in 2016 during a period of increased tensions between Pyongyang and Seoul following nuclear and missile tests by North Korea.

The Unification Ministry in South Korea also called May 17 for re-establishing the hotline between North Korea and South Korea. North Korea cut off the hotline in February 2016 in response to the closing of Kaesong.

Pressure Plus

Moon’s approach of pressure plus engagement sounds similar to the policy approach of “maximum pressure plus engagement” described by the United States after the Trump administration completed its policy review on North Korea. (See ACT, May 2017.) Moon, however, opposes U.S. talk about using military force without South Korean consent if diplomacy fails.

North Korea has pressed for talks with the United States without preconditions that it halt nuclear and missile activities. North Korean diplomat Choe Son Hui told reporters in Beijing on May 13 that Pyongyang would talk to the United States “if the conditions are there.” Choe did not specify what conditions North Korea is expecting from Washington and did not speculate on whether North Korea would reach out to South Korea for talks.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated the U.S. policy toward North Korea when meeting with South Korea’s special presidential envoy, Hong Seok-hyun, on May 18. Tillerson was reported in the South Korean press as saying that talks with North Korea can begin if Pyongyang refrains from nuclear and missile testing and is willing to trust that Washington not undertake hostile acts toward it.

Newly elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in greets supporters in Seoul after his victory was confirmed May 9. (Photo credit: Jean Chung/Getty Images)Washington’s statement after the missile test, however, took a more strident tone. The White House statement on May 13 called North Korea a “flagrant menace” and said all states must implement stronger sanctions against North Korea. The statement also noted Washington’s “ironclad commitment” to U.S. allies.

Moon will come to Washington in late June for a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. In announcing the summit, Moon’s office said on May 16 that the two states will look for “bold and practical” steps to take on North Korea.

UN Security Council President Elbio Rosselli of Uruguay issued a statement on behalf of all 15 members that “strongly condemned” North Korea’s ballistic missile launch. The May 15 statement called for Pyongyang to end its ballistic missile tests and for all UN member states to enforce sanctions on North Korea.

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters ahead of a May 16 consultation on North Korea that the United States is ready to “tighten the screws” on Pyongyang and will target sanctions against any country that is “supplying or supporting North Korea.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin also condemned the missile test and said on May 15 that Moscow is “categorically against the expansion of the club of nuclear states, including through the Korean Peninsula.” But Putin, who was on a trip to China at the time, said that “intimidating” North Korea was not the right path forward.

Missile Defense

Moon’s administration may review the decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea. The missile defense system became operational on May 2, according to U.S. officials.

Despite the operational status of the system, U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that he was aware that there were procedural concerns over the THAAD deployment.

McMaster’s comments came after Hong told him that South Korea’s National Assembly  needed to discuss the THAAD deployment. Moon made comments to that effect, namely that the correct procedure was not followed for deciding to deploy the THAAD system, during his campaign.

The United States and South Korea agreed on the THAAD deployment in July 2016 to the displeasure of China and Russia. (See ACT, September 2016.)

South Korea is working on its own ballistic missile defense, known as the Korea Air and Missile Defense System. Moon told the military to speed up development of the system after the North Korean ballistic missile test on May 14.

Missile Defense Can't Save Us From North Korea

This post originally appeared in War on the Rocks . There is no more urgent threat to the global nuclear nonproliferation order than North Korea’s accelerating and unconstrained nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Pyongyang is estimated to possess enough nuclear explosive material for at least 10 nuclear warheads, and in all likelihood already has the capability to deliver some of these weapons on its arsenal of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. By 2020, some experts believe Pyongyang may have enough fissile material for 100 warheads. With more nuclear tests, North Korea can...

New Leadership, Opportunities on the Korean Peninsula

The election of Mr. Moon Jae-in as South Korea’s next president could lead to an important and helpful shift in the international community’s approach to halting and reversing North Korea’s increasingly dangerous nuclear and missile programs. If Moon stays true to the policies outlined in his campaign , South Korea’s approach to North Korea will likely shift from “pressure only” to “pressure with pragmatic engagement.” This could improve the chances for lowering of tensions with North Korea and the resumption of talks designed to verifiably halt and then, later, reverse North Korea’s nuclear...

North Korea Review Completed

North Korea Review Completed

May 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

The Trump administration completed its review of U.S. policy toward North Korea and will pursue a strategy of increasing pressure and engagement, according to U.S. officials.

The details of the review have not been released, but Susan A. Thornton, acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters in an April 17 teleconference that there is not a “specific precondition” for talks and that the “focus is on getting some tangible signal from the North Korean regime that it is serious about engaging in talks.”

U.S. Army General Vincent K. Brooks, commander of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea, talks with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and his family near the Demilitarized Zone, April 17. Credit: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Sean K. HarpAbsent a signal from North Korea, she said, the international community likely will be resolved to “just continue ratcheting up the pressure to try to make it clear that there is no path forward without a discussion of denuclearization.”

This policy sounds similar to the Obama administration’s approach called “strategic patience,” which entailed increasing pressure through sanctions and engaging only once North Korea takes steps toward meeting the denuclearization pledge it made during multilateral negotiations in 2005.

But the Trump administration has injected a degree of uncertainty about U.S. intentions, including a threat of pre-emptive strikes, and Vice President Mike Pence declared during an April 17 reassurance visit to ally South Korea that “the era of strategic patience is over.” President Donald Trump faces an important test in light of North Korea’s growing stockpile of nuclear weapons materials, its increasing pace of missile development and testing, and the prospect that it soon may test a nuclear-tipped intercontinental missile able to reach the U.S. mainland.

The U.S. policy review comes amid increasing tensions with North Korea and an April 6 meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, during which the two leaders agreed to cooperate more closely on seeking a way to achieve denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Trump has made clear that he wants China to persuade North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to halt nuclear and missile development and to re-engage diplomatically while the United States keeps open “all options,” including military action.

The Trump administration gave a false impression in early April that a U.S. Navy carrier strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson—what Trump called “a very powerful armada”—was en route to the Korean region, although in fact the ships were first completing a naval exercise more than 3,000 miles away.

Despite the announcement, North Korea attempted to test a ballistic missile April 16, but it exploded shortly after the launch.

Thornton said that she does not think there is a “realistic expectation” of serious engagement from the international community while North Korea is conducting provocative and illegal activities, such as launching ballistic missiles barred by UN Security Council resolutions.

New Missiles Displayed

Despite Security Council prohibitions, North Korea is continuing to develop and test its ballistic missile capabilities. Pyongyang used its annual April 15 military parade to show off several new ballistic missiles.

Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate in the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said in an April 17 interview that the parade was “designed as a show of strength and power” for domestic and international audiences. North Korea’s display of short-, medium-, and intercontinental-range missiles also sent the message that “no country is off the hook” as a target for Pyongyang’s expanding ballistic missile program, she said.

Hanham noted that, in comparison to past parades, North Korea displayed more solid-fueled missiles, which require “less time to launch and fewer support trucks.” Unlike liquid fuel, which can be corrosive, solid fuel can be stored in ballistic missiles, eliminating the time spent fueling at the site of the launch and the need for fuel trucks.

North Korea also used more domestically produced vehicles with treads to transport its missiles, which could signal that Pyongyang is having problems importing wheeled vehicle chassis that it used in the past, she said. The move to domestically produced transport erector launchers for ballistic missiles, however, will allow North Korea to deploy and move more missiles as Pyongyang is no longer restricted by the number of vehicles it can import, Hanham said.

North Korea displayed a domestically manufactured tracked vehicle for transporting and launching a mobile ballistic missile in February. (See ACT, March 2017.)

The use of smaller, tracked vehicles with a sharper turning radius, combined with solid fuel, gives North Korea “more flexibility for moving and storing its ballistic missiles,” Hanham said. This, in turn, makes tracking movement using surveillance satellites more difficult due to less distinct imagery, she added.

North Korea also displayed what could be a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) variant and two canisters on mobile platforms it used in the past to transport ICBMs that Pyongyang has developed but not tested, known as the NK-08 and the KN-14. Hanham said that the new missile looks like a variant of the KN-08.

Canisters can be used to launch ballistic missiles, and North Korea used a canister for the launch of the solid-fueled medium-range Pukguksong-2 earlier this year. (See ACT, March 2017.) Experts caution against reading too much into the new canisters and said that they might not contain new missiles.

Michael Elleman, a missile expert with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said in an April 17 email to Arms Control Today that “displaying canisters leaves us guessing what, if anything is inside” and whether the canisters are to house an existing ICBM design or if a new design is under development. If the canisters are for a new design, Elleman said, that raises the question of why North Korea would pursue a new model and if it abandoned the KN-08 and KN-14 or is developing several designs in parallel.

Elleman said the idea that the canisters suggest North Korea is developing a solid-fueled ICBM is reasonable as a “long-term goal” but Pyongyang is “at least a decade, if not more, from developing a viable, solid-fueled ICBM.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said earlier this year that the country could test an ICBM by the end of the year. If so, Hanham said, the KN-08 is the most likely system because “elements of the missile have already been tested.” Any new system designed for the canisters displayed in the parade would need component tests first, she said.

Nuclear Mad Men

Less than 100 days into the administration of President Donald Trump, the war of words and nuclear threats between the United States and North Korea has escalated, and a peaceful resolution to the slow-moving crisis is more difficult than ever to achieve.

May 2017
By Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director

Less than 100 days into the administration of President Donald Trump, the war of words and nuclear threats between the United States and North Korea has escalated, and a peaceful resolution to the slow-moving crisis is more difficult than ever to achieve.

This undated picture released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) via KNS on March 7, 2017 shows the launch of four ballistic missiles by the Korean People's Army (KPA) during a military drill at an undisclosed location in North Korea. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)On Jan. 1, North Korea’s authoritarian ruler Kim Jong Un vowed to “continue to build up” his country’s nuclear forces “as long as the United States and its vassal forces keep on [sic] nuclear threat and blackmail.” Kim also warned that North Korea was making preparations to flight-test a prototype intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Two days later, Trump could not resist laying down a “red line” on Twitter, saying, “It won’t happen.”

North Korea has not yet tested an ICBM, but it has restarted its plutonium reactor and appears to be ready to conduct its sixth nuclear test explosion. Unless there is a deal to halt and reverse those efforts, Pyongyang’s nuclear strike capabilities will become more reliable with a longer range and less vulnerable to attack.

Last month, Trump and his team announced a policy of “maximum pressure and engagement” to try to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions and its ballistic missile program. However, as Vice President Mike Pence told CNN on April 19, the United States is not seeking to negotiate with North Korea “at this time.”

Better enforcement of existing UN sanctions designed to hinder North Korea’s weapons procurement, financing, and key sources of foreign trade is very important. Such measures can help increase the leverage necessary for a diplomatic solution. But it is naive to think China will help apply maximum pressure without a serious opening for talks between Washington and Pyongyang or that pressure alone can force North Korea to change course.

Worse still, Trump has begun to issue ultimatums to China and threats of overwhelming military force against North Korea. On April 3, Trump told The Financial Times that “if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.” As North Korea paraded its ballistic missile arsenal, including canisters for new ICBM variants, last month, senior U.S. officials warned that “[a]ll options are on the table.”

Such language implies that U.S. strategic forces, including nuclear weapons, could be employed to counter North Korean aggression or possibly to launch a pre-emptive attack on its nuclear facilities and missiles if North Korea tries to conduct an ICBM test. Just as the North Korean nuclear problem cannot be outsourced to China, the United States cannot eliminate the North Korean threat through military means.

Pyongyang has responded to the U.S. statements with its own, even more bellicose rhetoric. Following press reports that a U.S. carrier strike group was being sent toward the Korean peninsula, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations warned on April 17 that “a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment” and that his country is “ready to react to any mode of war desired by the United States.”

Attempts by Washington to demonstrate its resolve to use military force to defend allies against aggression may assure nervous leaders in Seoul and Tokyo, but they will not compel Kim to shift course. In fact, repeated threats of U.S. military force only give credibility to the North Korean propaganda line that nuclear weapons are necessary to deter U.S. aggression, and it may lead Kim to try to accelerate his nuclear program.

That should not come as a surprise. Since the beginning of the nuclear age, U.S. “atomic diplomacy” has consistently failed to achieve results. As Jeffrey Kimball and Bill Burr document in their 2015 book, Nixon’s Nuclear Specter, the historical record shows that U.S. nuclear threats during the Korean War and later against China and the Soviet Union, as well as Nixon’s “madman” strategy against North Vietnam, failed to bend adversaries to U.S. goals.

The comprehensive new study Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy by Todd Sechser and Matthew Furman provides further confirmation that nuclear coercion is difficult to achieve. Furthermore, as the taboo against nuclear use has become stronger, most leaders come to recognize that the role of nuclear weapons must be limited to deterring first use by others.

Similarly, with respect to North Korea, the threat of pre-emptive U.S. military action is not credible, in large part because the risks are extremely high. North Korea has the capacity to devastate the metropolis of Seoul, with its 10 million inhabitants, by launching a massive artillery barrage and hundreds of conventionally armed, short-range ballistic missiles. Moreover, if hostilities begin, there is the prospect that North Korea could use some of its remaining nuclear weapons, which could kill millions in South Korea and Japan.

Trump and his advisers need to curb the impulse to threaten military action, which may increase the risk of catastrophic miscalculation. A saner and more effective approach is to work with China to tighten the sanctions pressure and simultaneously open a new diplomatic channel designed to defuse tensions and to halt and eventually reverse North Korea’s increasingly dangerous nuclear and missile programs.

The monthly “Focus” editorials from Arms Control Today are available for reprint on a non-exclusive basis
with permission from the Arms Control Association and link to the original publication online.



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