Potential Worst-Case Scenarios from North Korea's Nuclear Threat
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There are many reasons to be worried about North Korea. It seems that we actually have not been concerned enough about this rogue nation for the past few decades. We kept our head in the sand and levied small economic sanctions on a country whose motto is “Juche,” the Korean term for self-reliance.
Most of North Korea believes Juche is a reason to make sacrifices during food shortages or to tolerate other economic problems. Others believe Juche is a tool of the leadership to suppress the population.
The Realities of Juche in North Korea
An NKNews.org article on a new book by B.R. Myers, a North Korean scholar at Dongseo University in South Korea, challenges the notion that Juche is the ruling ideology of Pyongyang or was ever central to the North Korean leadership’s policymaking.
Myers argues that “the West’s misunderstanding of Juche has been harmful to our interpretation of North Korean actions. Instead of viewing the DPRK as a state focused on unification of the Korean race, Westerners have interpreted North Korea as a failed communist state that desperately clings to self-reliance in an age of globalization. Myers sees this misunderstanding of Juche as not only harmful but dangerous, as it results in the West’s misguided hope for reform in the DPRK or a thaw in relations between the DPRK and the United States.”
With the help of a people who believe they should expect hardships and that Juche is honorable, it is easy to see how North Korea – often unable to feed its people without United Nations and South Korean food donations – can focus on an expensive weapons program. That cost is one-fifth to one-quarter of its gross domestic product (GDP), estimated at about $30 billion to $40 billion.
Imagine the chaos that would ensue if any Western democracy focused on a weapons system of that amount while not feeding its people. By comparison, the United States spends 3.5 percent of GDP on the military.
North Korea has a long history of generating funds through nuclear and missile proliferation. It has also used global racketeering in counterfeit currency, narcotics and even counterfeit U.S. postage stamps to earn funds.
North Korea’s Possible Nuclear Threat Arises from Sale of Nuclear and Missile Technology
The number one threat from North Korea is NOT the use of nuclear weapons against the United States. Unlike the U.S., North Korea does not have a large stockpile of nuclear weapons. Pyongyang cannot last long launching its nukes because it takes much more time to resupply or construct new weapons than it does for North Korea to launch them. Obviously, the U.S. can outlast North Korea in any exchange of nuclear strikes.
The more probable threat will come from the sale of nuclear and missile technology abroad, which helps feed North Korea’s population. These sales generate income for a country that is under severe economic sanctions.
In a January 5, 2015, article in the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, journalist Claudia Rosett notes: “We do know that North Korea has a long and enterprising history of illicit activities, and has done plenty of business with countries that are becoming increasingly notorious for their cyber-warfare capabilities. These include China, Russia, and, most disturbingly, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism—Iran.” North Korea’s cyberattacks generate funds, as do most of Pyongyang’s illicit activities.
North Korea and Iran have openly signed agreements such as the Scientific Cooperation Agreement at meetings like a summit of the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in September 2012. North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) described this agreement as “covering cooperation in science, technology and education.”
“Indeed, the recent Scientific Cooperation Agreement between North Korea and Iran bears an alarming resemblance not only to North Korea’s 2002 nuclear deal with Syria, but to a 1993 missiles-for-nuclear-technology bargain between North Korea and Pakistan….”
There is no doubt that nuclear proliferation will continue to be a problem. North Korea has the technology in weapons, nuclear technology and missiles, as well as a long history of operating clandestine organizations to acquire funds.
WMDs: Everyone Forgets North Korea’s Chemical and Biologic Weapons
Kevin Loria, writing in the July 26, 2017, issue of Business Insider, reported, “It’s likely that North Korea has been developing such weapons since the 1960s, according to most experts. Defectors and South Korean reports have suggested that North Korean researchers have worked with biological agents the U.S. government considers serious threats, including plague, anthrax, viral hemorrhagic fevers and potentially smallpox.”
In a June 2017 report by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, North Korea expert Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. suggests that, “North Korea has deliberately built its NBC [nuclear, biological, chemical] infrastructures in extreme secrecy; undertaken camouflage, concealment and deception operations to mask the NBC infrastructure; made extensive use of legitimate defensive or civilian industrial and research infrastructures; and dispersed NBC facilities around the country.”
According to Kyle Mizokami, a journalist writing for The National Interest magazine, North Korea’s chemical weapons should be taken seriously. In an August 10, 2017, article, Mizokami writes, “North Korea’s chemical weapons threat is real and the likelihood of their use in wartime is high.”
Mizokami goes on to say, “Chemical weapons will be used to create a local, tactical advantage on the front lines and neutralize some advantages, such as air power. Thanks to North Korea’s prodigious missiles and artillery, they can be employed beyond the battlefield as well. North Korea will likely attack South Korea (ROK) through its depth with chemical weapons, from the Demilitarized Zone to Busan [current spelling of Pusan].”
The attacker always has the element of surprise. The United States, South Korea and Japan always say they will not attack first, but will only respond to North Korea aggression.
However, North Korea has the ability to hold Seoul’s 11 million people hostage. If the U.S. does anything, Pyongyang will use its 15,000 North Korean cannons and rocket launchers, which, according to David Wood in the Huffington Post “are aimed at the glass skyscrapers, traffic-choked highways and blocks of apartment buildings 35 miles away in Seoul ― and the U.S. military bases beyond.”
Only Solution to North Korea Might Be a Preemptive Strike
The only solution would be a quick attack with new weapons like the recent “Mother of All Bombs,” the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb that the U.S. dropped on an ISIS target in Afghanistan in April 2017. Another option would be other newly created weapons targeting the artillery weapons near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to break North Korea’s stranglehold over Seoul. Neutralizing that hostage threat before the North can fire is key to winning any battle with North Korea.
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Giving North Korea the opportunity to decide when to start the next Korean War could result in a situation similar to the last Korean War. That would be a stalemate or a drive that pushes most of the Allied military forces into a small area in the south near Busan. No one wants that history repeated, especially the survivors of the last Korean War.
About the Author
James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. He is an adjunct professor at AMU. James has been involved in cyberespionage events from just after the turn of the century in Korea supporting 1st Signal Brigade to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis as the first government cyber intelligence analyst. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence with the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, government contracting and civil service.
Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded its 45th scholarship for national security students and professionals. James was also elected as the 2015 national vice president for the Military Intelligence Corps Association. He has also served in the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office after his active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba, in addition to numerous CONUS locations. In 2017, he was appointed to the position of Adjutant for The American Legion, China Post 1. James has authored a book published in 2013, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned,” a book published in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea,” and a new book in 2017 “Secrets to Getting a Federal Government Job.”