North Korea’s unexpected success in developing nuclear missiles

March 6, 2017 • 12:15 pm

An article in yesterday’s New York Times, “Trump inherits a secret cyberwar against North Korean missiles“, details not only the U.S.’s largely futile efforts to use hacking and antimissile defenses to derail or neutralize North Korea’s missile drive, but also the remarkable progress that that most repressive of all countries had made in missile production. I’m not sure how they did it. Despite sanctions, embargos, and so on, North Korea is poised to be able to deliver its warheads long distances, as shown in the second plot below.

North Korea being where it is, and being so small, I’m not sure what the DPRK’s monomania about missiles is all about. The only explanation, besides national pride, is to stave off a preemptive strike on their country. Perhaps, in their paranoia, they think they won’t be invaded if the invaders (read: U.S. and South Korea) know the devastation that would ensue to their own countries (right now only South Korea) . (The North Koreans would, however, need ample advance warning to have time to launch their own arsenal when they detect incoming missiles.) As for the world worrying about North Korea making its own preemptive strike, well, the DPRK would have to be suicidal, as the entire country would be immediately wiped out. But even preventing a preemptive strike is good for them, for it assures them that nobody is going to take the initiative to go after the world’s most odious regime. (And that would also ensure the deaths of millions of innocent North Koreans.) Nope, targeted assassination would be a better strategy if you’re really trying to destroy Kim Jong-un’s regime.

Here’s North Korea’s missile arsenal; note that the last two, the KN-8 and KN-14 (which haven’t been tested), have a potential range that includes the U.S. When North Korea manages to put a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile, then we’ll be in trouble. And that seems only a matter of time.

From the NYT:

An examination of the Pentagon’s disruption effort, based on interviews with officials of the Obama and Trump administrations as well as a review of extensive but obscure public records, found that the United States still does not have the ability to effectively counter the North Korean nuclear and missile programs. Those threats are far more resilient than many experts thought, The New York Times’s reporting found, and pose such a danger that Mr. Obama, as he left office, warned President Trump they were likely to be the most urgent problem he would confront.

And here’s the estimated ranges of those rockets. They already have delivery capability to devastate Japan once they put a nuclear warhead on a NODONG or a KN-11.

Source: The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies By Troy Griggs

I hope I live to see the day that North and South Korea are united in the same way as East and West Germany. I don’t think I will, and I weep for the North Korean people who, brainwashed from birth, truly believe that their country is a worker’s paradise beleaguered by America. Bit by bit, as foreign media infiltrates into North Korea, they’re learning. But the regime is as brutal as ever, and I despair of any progress.

45 thoughts on “North Korea’s unexpected success in developing nuclear missiles

  1. “North Korea being where it is, and being so small, I’m not sure what the DPRK’s monomania about missiles is all about. The only explanation, besides national pride, is to stave off a preemptive strike on their country.”

    North Korea is a buffer zone between an American-friendly country (South China) and communist China.

    Nobody sane wants to invade North Korea. There’s no profit in it. It’s not a functional country, it’s a military-political elite and an army with starving, brainwashed, uncultured and unproductive peasants attached. It has no significant resources.

    Not even South Korea wants to deal with cleaning up the mess left behind by a hypothetical collapse of North Korea. That’s why so many countries keep sending aid to the North Koreans.

    China is the main supporter and supplier of North Korea. They need a potentially threat to US interests which can’t be directly connected to them. North Korea is fine as a proxy for the real China-US Cold War.

    1. The onerous task lies with South Korea and America to becomes examples to China and/or North Korea. To paraphrase Kasparov:

      “There is no weapon or wall that is more powerful for American or South Korean security than an America or South Korea being envied, imitated and admired around the world.”

      Make the problem a different perspective. It’s not what China or North Korea think of America or South Korea (or united Korea). It’s what the rest of the world think’s of China or North Korea for despising American or South Korea. Have the classmates stand up for the most well liked.

  2. North Korea is such a strange and isolated place it is likely that only China can control the crazies within. 80 percent of their existence is provided by China, so only China has any influence there.

    Way back in 1950 when the great leader made his gamble and attacked the south it was Russia that backed him and gave the okay to do it. But then it was all on China and it is still on China today. So we have to make it in China’s interest to put the lid on North Korea.

    1. NK is completely dependent on China for energy. If instead of cutting off its coal imports, China cut off its fuel exports across the Yalu River, NK would collapse. But China won’t because it does not want a united Korea on its border.

      1. I wonder whether South Korea can afford a united Korea? From what I have read, the defectors from The North don’t have a lot of success integrating into a 1st world economy. Imagine South Koreans trying to manage a massive immigration from the Third World, as their population jumps 50% overnight.

      2. China has in fact ‘turned off the taps’ by shutting down its oil pipelines into NK on more than one occasion. They do it whenever the NK regime does something they really disagree with. Most of the time it works, and NK revises it’s stance to be more in line with what China wants. But it doesn’t always work. A specific and relevant example of when it hasn’t worked has been with missile tests; China has cut off oil in response to NK missile tests in the past, but obviously this has not deterred NK from testing and continuing to develop that technology.

      3. It seems, from all our previous experience, that talking to North Korea does not accomplish much of anything. This is the history and will continue to be. The ruling class plays a psychological game with it’s people to maintain the status quo because that is their survival. As long as it benefits or does not damage China to continue with this game, they do nothing to change it.

        They keep their people living like a cult/prison system of the 1940s and keep all the money for themselves. Just keep the war going. Personally I would not lose a lot of sleep over this clown but we need to find a way to apply heat on China. This is their child.

        1. I sometimes think the best move we could make would be to offer a peace treaty; recognize NK as a country, recognize the regime as legitimate, recognize the borders, and normalize relations between it and the rest of the western world, with the removal of all border mines etc. to follow after some reasonable period when we can be more confident NK won’t attack SK.

          Recognizing the regime absolutely sucks, but I strongly suspect that normalizing relations and opening the borders to travel and trade would end the regime (or cause it to significantly reform) very very quickly. Actually I suspect the regime would refuse precisely because they know what open borders would do to their control of the population, but with the offer on the table the west clearly gains the moral high ground and I think there would be a slow building pressure over time from China to accept it. After all, China probably doesn’t want the current drain on their economy, they just politically want to be perceived as winning. So let them have the Pyrrhic victory.

          1. I do not know enough about that to comment specifically but my understanding is that they did meet for many years at the boarder and had talks with the North. These talks were to do exactly that – have a final peace treating that would end the conflict. These talks finally broke down and I do not think they talk any longer at the site.

            It seemed the North did not want the conflict to end and they do not want any opening of the boarders with travel back and forth. This is essentially a closed society and the people are kept in the dark about everything. The only outside information is smuggled in for a few to see. Thousands are in prison. If you do anything that offends they send you and everyone in your family to prison.

            I suspect the only thing that can break N. Korea down is China and they seem to prefer it like it is. If NK gets too wild and think China will act.

            1. Interesting: N.Korea needs an enemy to keep it’s people enslaved. Don’t we have a similar situation starting up here?

            2. I should also have said, the South Koreans are very much involved in what we do in South Korea and we must act in concert with them.

              I have been to South Korea many times but always with work, not vacation or tourist. This was from about 1983 to early 90s. The U.S. and South Korea have always had a very close relationship, particularly at the military and political level. The south Korean army soldiers are referred to as ROK (republic of Korea soldiers and they are very tough, highly trained military.

  3. Even China is getting pissed off with Kim Jong-un. He’s apparently even worse than his father and grandfather, and especially more irrational.

    There were new sanctions applied by the UN late last year which included a cut in the amount they can earn from coal, their biggest foreign exchange earner, by 60%. China has just reduced their imports of NK coal even more, and they were the biggest customers. They need foreign exchange to fund their nuclear programme. The sanctions were designed to starve them of foreign cash for that, while not affecting the people so much.

    The UN sanctions also basically give every country the right to search and seize cargo to North Korea. They’re getting stuff for their nuclear weapons programme from countries that need the cash. Iran has been an issue in the past though I’m not sure if they still are. At least one cargo with a fake manifest, from or through Venezuela to North Korea iirc, was seized last year because it carried banned goods.

    1. NHK, the Japanese national broadcaster, reports the Japanese government getting exercised over the latest missile tests – reasonably so, since North Korean missiles can already reach most of Japan. Japan used to be quite tolerant of NK, with NK vessels entering at least one Japanese port, but that time is long past.
      And China cannot be happy with Kim III strutting his stuff right while they’re holding a major party conference trying to deal with a the economy and pollution issues. As Heather says, they’ve cut back on NK coal imports; and if I understood NHK correctly last night, now completely stopped for the remainder of 2017.

  4. Maybe Kim is just ronrey…soooo ronrey. To celebrate the coming nuclear apocalypse I’ll be watching Team America World Police tonight.

  5. This could deteriorate into a nightmare scenario, with N. Korea handing Trump an excuse to rain holy hell down on Pyongyang as a means of distracting this nation from his burgeoning Russian scandal, and with Kim Jong-Un visiting massive retaliation on the South.

    We have an unqualified madman in the White House, folks, one completely unsuited to high office, who’s acting more and more each day like the strongman in a banana republic.

    1. Crunch time may come when North Korea has the missile capability to hit Hawaii or Alaska. It will certainly come when it can hit the continental United States. What will the United States do? I suspect that most administrations would live with the situation, as untasteful as that may be, coupled with a warning to North Korea that it will be utterly destroyed if it should launch nuclear missiles against the United States. But would Trump act this way or would he launch a preemptive strike, the consequences of such no one can imagine? Trump’s finger on the nuclear trigger should make everyone nervous. It may only be a couple of years before we find out. Should he decide to go nuclear, all other concerns will turn trivial in the flash of a nuclear mushroom.

      1. Trump has tweeted “It won’t happen!” as to North Korea obtaining a missile capable to attacking the US.

        The main trick in Trump’s bag is to disrupt the news cycle whenever things go bad for him. Nothing would do turn that trick like a preemptive strike on the DPRK.

        Does anybody trust him not to?

        1. Now your dilemma is to decide what is the worst case. Trump or that short fella in N.K. Right now I think it’s 50/50. I think this is a serious choice.

          1. Trump is more rational (amazingly) and has better civil society and government, but has *much* more (military and economic) power. So sort of toss-up, in a way. And the Koreans (both countries’ worth) are the likely victims regardless …

    2. Somehow I think the Pentagon has a veto on Trump in case he get’s trigger happy. At least I’d hope the there is enough sanity around him to defuse any impulsiveness on Trump’s part. An actual coup may be needed at some point.

      1. If something like that unfolds, I’d be looking for a 28th amendment to the constitution to prevent a recurrence.

      2. No one can countermand an order from the commander-in-chief. I’d be surprised if there’s an officer in the Pentagon who’s ever refused a direct order from a superior officer. The rule in the military is to follow the chain of command and to respect the rank, even if you can’t respect the person.

        I think the three generals at the upper level of the Trump administration are the sanest, most qualified people he has around him. But I’ve seen no evidence that they have his ear. If it comes down to it, I hope cooler heads would prevail, and that they would be able to talk Trump out of anything foolhardy. But I have no confidence that would be so.

        1. I’d think it would depend a lot on how confident they are that Trump is behaving irrationally. If he wants to nuke NK the generals would have a Nuremberg decision to make, not so much who’s higher on the chart.

            1. I am not so sure. It would certainly be a bad situation, but there is also a tradition in the US military to refuse to follow unlawful and, for lack of a more accurately descriptive term, assinine orders. So there is a tension there. It really just depends on the individual(s) and that is indeed a very scary thing.

  6. Why would Obama bother briefing Trump on North Korea. I’m sure Trump knows more about DPRK than anyone, or at least he will when someone tells him what and where it is.

    1. I’m almost sure Trump has never been to South Korea. Unless he has a building there he would know nothing. If anyone wanted to see the greatest contrast on earth, next to each other, it is North and South Korea. And Seoul, Korea, nearly the size of Tokyo is just a few miles from the North (DMZ). If one gets a chance to visit the DMZ and Freedom Bridge, you will not forget it.

      So one point I would make is – That nut in North Korea is not testing missiles to attack the South. He already has thousands of weapons pointed at Seoul and Pusan. Yet for 64 years they have never tried to continue the war that has existed all this time. If they have been wise enough not to do that, I really do not think they are going to attempt to go long, so to speak.

      1. The current “dear leader” has been at the top of the heap for just five years. He assumed command at age 26; he has no memory of the cold war, let alone the post-WW2 period. If he’s put in fear that he’s about to lose ’em, he might well use ’em.

        1. I really don’t think his memory or how long he has been the dear leader makes much difference. Just like the others before him, he wants to live and retain the power as he sees it. He has been brought up and trained his entire to do this.

          Look at Trump, he has been president for a little more than 5 minutes. But he has been playing this game for most of his life. His act is less predictable than shorty over there in North Korea. I worry more that Trump will do something stupid than I worry about NK.

          1. That’s like the choice between the ducking stool and the breaking wheel.

            At least the North Koreans have the excuse of a hereditary autocracy. We the People brought this upon ourselves.

        2. Not to mention the fact that he appears to be nuts. And really, it would be surprising if he weren’t nuts given his life. I think it would be foolish to expect rational behavior from him or to put any faith in his minions reigning him in.

  7. I watched a documentary about North Korea just last night, with some pretty intimate footage of what goes on in hospitals. It really is terrible. About 40% of the children are malnurished and stunted. Rates of preventable diseases are high, as are serious health problems relating to chronic malnutrition.
    In a visit into a home with a woman blinded by cataracts, (with monitors, of course), the women and her family were moved to tears by the prospect of having simple cataract surgery done so that she may see the face of the ‘dear leader’ again. The only pictures in the house were of the royal family. They really seemed to be not pretending. I thought they were really unable to comprehend life in freedom.

  8. Last week, a former U.S. commander in South Korea said the new administration of President-elect Donald Trump will have to consider a pre-emptive strike on North Korea before it can launch a long-range missile.

    “I don’t think any talking, any diplomacy, is going to convince Kim Jong-un to change,” retired Army Gen. Walter Sharp said of the North Korean leader in suggesting the possibility of a pre-emptive strike to eliminate the nuclear threat.

    Should North Korea put a missile such as the three-stage Taepodong 2 on the launchpad, and the U.S. was unsure whether it carried a satellite or a nuclear warhead, the missile should be destroyed, said Sharp, the former commander of U.S. Forces-Korea and the United Nations Command from 2008 to 2011.

    1. I’m sorry but that just sounds crazy to me. The General is nuts to say that and there is no facts to back up what he says we must do. They already have nuclear weapons and have had for some time. They also can launch them a considerable distance now. But they have not. So tell me why? Ask the General, why did he not say strike them as soon as they had that capability? There are millions of people in South Korea including thousands of Americans. Same can be said for Japan. This General is full of beans.

  9. Your point about how North Korea has been able to progress so rapidly in its development is intriguing. This may be off the wall, but given the trajectory of suspicion in our own country at the moment, might Russia be assisting the North Koreans? Their goal might be simply to make life more complicated for everyone else, and to gain an “ally” that might be an ace in the hole for use later in ways not yet predictable against the West as well as the East.

    1. Or the Chinese. Or the Iranians. Or the Argentinians. Or it could just be the internet and or espionage.

      For example, designing and even fabricating a basic atomic bomb is not especially difficult these days, especially with access to the internet, good optical manufacturing equipment, years to work and a strongly committed, obsessed even, leader of even a devastatingly poor country.

      The really difficult part is acquiring the suitable fissionable material. Unfortunately, back in the ’50s NK got some training from the Soviets on fission. And they have uranium ore which they have been mining since about the 70s. By the 80s they had built and were running reactors and producing weapons grade fissionables. They’ve been selling some of it to China (and others maybe?) and some of it they have been using for their own weapons program.

      The delivery system, missiles, are nearly as difficult in some ways. Their currently longest range tests, which are medium range, are hardly reliable systems. Of course that doesn’t mean they can’t be dangerous. I also think it will be more difficult for them to make the step up to long range ICBMs. It isn’t just a matter of more powerful engines and or more fuel.

  10. These comments about Russia or China using North Korea are pretty far-fetched, I think. What use is North Korea to *anybody*, except possibly as a distraction or an irritation. Look at the map: it’s not big enough and it doesn’t control access to any area that Russia, China, Japan (or South Korea) can’t control just as well or better from within their own territory.

    So the only use might be as some sort of political pawn, but that usefulness would surely be minimised by the unreliability of the ruling regime. No use having a pawn if it’s too crazy to control.


      1. Umm, yeah. If you’re referring to Trump’s alleged sponsorship by the Russians, I think he’d be of limited direct use to them. Too unpredictable. The only advantage of Trump as opposed to Hilary (from their point of view), would be in reducing the effectiveness of the US as a political or economic power.

        But that surely is a different case from North Korea, which has zero economic power or political influence anyway.


        1. I can see the possibility that Russia is cultivating many situations around the world to put in its hip pocket, so to speak, for whatever later use might arise. It cannot outgun the US, so Putin has to be wily, which he demonstrably is. It’s the kind of thing that just might come in handy some day.

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