North Korea conducted two nuclear tests, 24 missile tests and a ground jet test of a newly developed high-thrust missile engine in 2016. Such flurry of launches indicates new advancements in the rogue nation’s missile and nuclear weapons program.
Last year’s unprecedented level of missile tests included a launch of three submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and a test-fire of eight intermediate-range Musudan ballistic missiles. Once deployed for combat use, Pyongyang’s SLBMs may incapacitate Seoul’s preemptive strike (i.e. the Kill Chain) and defense (i.e. KAMD and THAAD) systems that are being developed by the US-ROK forces. Quite a few of the North’s missiles launched last year were fired at a steep angle. For example, the Hermit Kingdom intentionally reduced the range of the Rodong to just 600 km by shooting it higher into the air on July 19, 2016 and announced the next day that “the drill was conducted to test missiles for possible strikes against Pohang and Busan, if preemptive U.S. military reinforcements were to arrive in those port cities.”
Pyongyang, by testing medium-range projectiles within a limited range by launching them at a sharp angle, showed off its capability to deal a heavy blow to U.S. augmentation forces at South Korean ports in time of emergency. North Korea’s march toward a much larger nuclear arsenal with more sophisticated missiles to deliver them is highly likely to continue in 2017. Indeed, this year is off to the races, with three missiles launched and a new inter-continental ballistic missile engine tested to date. Also, there are ominous signs of further nuclear tests.
Unfortunately, nuclear weapons are not the only type of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Pyongyang possesses. On February 13, 2017, Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s absolute leader, was assassinated with VX, one of the most lethal chemical weapons, at Kuala Lumpur airport. This heartless and depraved murder shed new light on North Korea’s chemical warfare capabilities, a point familiar to experts in the South.
In fact, the DPRK’s pursuit of chemical weapons dates to the 1960s when the regime pushed ahead with its chemical weapons policy, producing and stockpiling various chemical warfare agents (CWA). The North, based on the Soviet Union’s technical assistance and agricultural chemicals imported from Japan, has built a strong foundation for chemical weapons production and created a broad range of chemical weapons such as nerve, blister, choking, riot control and blood agents. As of now, nearly all countries around the world have either abolished chemical weapons or been in the process of doing so according to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC); however, North Korea has refused to either sign or accede to the treaty.
Pyongyang has more than 10 chemical weapons production facilities that are disguised as fertilizer, chemical and vinalon plants all across the country. Also, the DPRK’s each army corps has a chemical defense battalion, and each division and regiment comes with a chemical defense company and platoon respectively. Leon J. Laporte, Former Commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, during his term, warned that in case the two Koreas engage in an all-out war, one third of the shells initially fired by the North will be chemical-filled ones.
The communist regime, on top of its chemical warfare capabilities, is equipped with world-class biological weapons. At the beginning of the 1960s, the DPRK embarked on a major development program of bacteriological weapons according to Kim Il-sung’s order to carry out systematic germ warfare, and today there are well over ten biological weapons production and test facilities covered as hospitals, medical schools, biology and disease control research centers in various cities such as Pyongyang, Jungju and Hamcheon.
The North, without a doubt, has developed a few dozens of biological agents and toxins in the aforementioned facilities, and it is highly likely that Pyongyang has already weaponized anthrax, cholera, plague, smallpox bacilli and botulinum toxins. Biological weapons are banned worldwide by the 1975 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), but ten or so countries including Iraq and Libya attempted to create biological weapons, exploiting the loophole of the BWC: in a development process of bio-agents, it is difficult to determine whether they are weaponized anti-personnel agents or those used for protective purposes. The DPRK has run active biological warfare programs through exploiting the ambiguity of the BWC, the only measure the regime joined to prevent terrorists from acquiring WMD.
Today, North Korea is suspected to be one of the most dangerous bio-chemical weapons states in the world, possessing 2,500 to 5,000 tons of chemical and biological agents. Unlike sophisticated weapons, bio-chemical weapons are relatively cheap to produce, and any trained operatives could utilize them to carry out terror attacks. Also, most importantly, the delayed effect of bio-chemical weapons allows for undetected release and ease of escape by those perpetrating such attacks. Therefore, bio-chemical terrors wreak havoc on many and create uncontrollable chaos. In short, Pyongyang has become the world’s ninth nuclear power, the sixth leading country in terms of missile capability and the deadliest bio-chemical state, making it a grave threat to not only the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia but also the entire planet. Could the global community co-exist in peace with this rogue nation?
If the answer is no, the international community should change its response to the DPRK’s WMD threat. In this vein, it is very encouraging that President Trump declared an end to America’s policy of “strategic patience” toward North Korea. Also, it is a welcoming sign that the United States mobilized a special forces unit for large-scale decapitation operation training targeting the leadership in Pyongyang during the recent US-ROK joint Key Resolve/Foal Eagle exercises from March 13 to 23.
In addition, the United States Congress should be applauded for tightening the sanctions against North Korea by building bipartisan support for the following bills: H.R.1644 – Korean Interdiction and Modernization of Sanctions Act; H.R.479 – North Korea State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act of 2017; H.Res.92 – Condemning North Korea’s development of multiple intercontinental ballistic missiles, and for other purposes; H.Res.223 – Calling on the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to cease its retaliatory measures against the Republic of Korea in response to the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), and for other purposes. Against this backdrop, Beijing should join in Washington’s effort to rein in Pyongyang. China, so far, has aided and abetted the North’s nuclear development while sanctioning the wrong Korea over the deployment of THAAD. Beijing must come to its senses and put an end to its paradoxical Seoul bashing.