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 Russian Reaction Blog / North KoreaTeasers

I once wrote a long article about a Korean War II.

But this one chart tells essentually the same tale.

korean-military-balance

I suspect it will be a harder nut to crack than Iraq in 2003, or even 1991. It is an ultranationalist (not a Communist) regime with a formidable secret police, so you’re not going to be buying any generals off. North Koreans have higher IQs than Iraqis (so more competent), do not practice inbreeding (so more cohesive), and a have a lot more hills, mountains, and tunnels (which partially negate South Korean/American technological predominance).

Still, the gap is too vast for the ultimate result to be in doubt. (Unless China gets involved. Then things get complicated.)

And this is why it’s isn’t going to happen.

I do think that Kim Jong Un enjoys the good life, as do the elites he’s fostered in Pyongyang the past decade – according to Andrey Lankov, one of the foremost experts on North Korea, living standards are now far higher than during the grim 1980s or the dismal 1990s – and would prefer to keep things that way. If there is a limited strike on Nork nuclear facilities in the coming days, I doubt we will see anything more substantial than outraged rhetoric.

China will probably be just fine with that. There is very little love lost between Kim Jong Un and the current Chinese leadership. Xi Jinping recently noted that whereas his father had visited China four times, the son had yet to do so, which is a rather open criticism by demure Chinese standards. This was understandable, since Kim Jong Un has spent the last few years suppressing pro-Chinese factions in his country, including members of his own family (executed uncle, assassinated half brother). I suspect the Chinese are fine with Kim Jong Un receiving a demonstrative slapdown, and wouldn’t mind seeing his nuclear program set back a few years. After all, Beijing is considerably closer to Pyongyang than is Tokyo, to say nothing of Honolulu, and there is no telling what North Korea would do in a truly serious future crisis.

Why not get Donald “I Make the Best Deals” Trump to give Kim Jong Un a good beating, especially when he’s also offering to throw in some excellent trade deals for free. It’s a bargain!

 

Another (possibly abortive) North Korean nuclear test, another round of hyperbolic headlines about how Kim Jong Un is going off his rockers. Admittedly, this is an impression North Korea’s state media – perhaps the closest approximation we have to a Real Life troll – is always happy to feed.

But hystrionics aside, the reason for North Korea’s pursuit of a nuclear deterrant can be encapsulated in one graph, using my Comprehensive Military Power index.

korean-military-balance

Throughout the 1970s to early 1980s, North Korea had substantial military preponderance over South Korea, although even then it had no realistic chance of making a breakthrough due to the US presence. Their two lines converged by the waning years of the Cold War. After the withdrawal of Soviet support and the collapse of the North Korean economy, the military balance swung sharply and irrevocably in favor of the South, to the extent that South Korea by itself is now approximately four times as powerful even as it spends a mere 2.5% of its GDP on the military (the figure for North Korea is unknown but might be around 20%). Add in the US presence and the discrepancy becomes all the more extreme.

Recall that due to the exponential nature of Lanchester’s Laws even modest differences in force ratios will, all else equal, result in increasingly crushing victories for the more powerful faction. As such, the goals of North Korea’s prodigal militarization have long shifted from entertaining scenarios in which they could conveivably “win” to merely keeping the costs of South Korean/US preemptive aggression sufficiently high as to forestall them. But this is a race which they cannot win, and indeed, have constantly been slipping behind in.

Maintaining a huge army, which amongst other things has to man the ~10,000 artillery pieces in hardened dugouts close to the DMZ which are to flatten Seoul in the first hours of conflict, is a very expensive and suboptimal security solution. If you can get a nuclear bomb, or ten, to fulfill essentially the same deterrant function, then hundreds of factories can be converted to non-military production and hundreds of thousands of troops can be demobilized back into the civilian economy. This is called “nuclear substitution” in IR theory jargon.

This would fit in well with Kim Jong Un’s demonstrated priorities. Without much fanfare, market relations have been sprouting, and the post-collapse depression has long come to an end. Though this is not saying much, ordinary North Koreans have never lived better; though predictably marked by corruption and rising inequality, today things are vastly better than in the spartan 1970-80s, to say nothing of the famine-wracked 1990s. (This is not just my opinion but that of Andrey Lankov, one of the world’s foremost experts on North Korea).

It appears that Kim Jong Un wants gradual integration into the global economy but only on North Korea’s own terms – not America’s, to be sure, but not China’s either (his uncle thought differently on the latter, which is the ultimate reason why he was executed). It is telling that North Korea’s condition for stopping its nuclear tests is a formal peace treaty with the US. It is probably better to take it as opposed to further sanctions because a better deal isn’t on the horizon. The pursuit of nukes is almost certainly done for this end, as opposed to any bellicose intentions, and its fiery but predictable rhetoric regardless.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Military, North Korea, Nuclear Weapons 

In a response to a race denier on this blog, who argued for the primacy of culture and political economic systems, Lazy Glossophiliac wrote:

In regards to North Korea: how’s that Sudanese nuclear weapons program coming along? Any 100-story hotels put up with the help of local engineering talent? Come to think of it, did even any of Dubai’s high-rise projects use local engineering talent? If the US government ever became so displeased with Congo-Brazzaville as to wish to contain it, how many troops would it need to use? 400? 4,000? 40,000? How long would they have to stay? How much money would have to be spent on this?

Touché. NK demonstrates that no matter how fucked up a country’s polity is, the HBD component will still make itself felt. The distortions of a command economy that directs up to a third of the national output into the MIC might be making it as poor as Senegal but the hermit kingdom nonetheless managed to build nuclear weapons, ICBM’s, architectural splendors, an indigenous operating system; synchronize gymnastics performances involving hundreds of thousands of people; invent political philosophies like Juche and Songun; create a ton of inspiring music; and maintain a million man army posing a grave threat to the prosperity and well-being of its immeasurably richer southern neighbor.

In effect a nation of 23 million people has managed to build, and sustain for 60 years and counting, a mini civilization against a hostile outside world. It might be a deeply perverse civilization from our perspective, held together by love and fear of the Leader, but it is no less an achievement for all that. It is ironic but had Koreans been a less intelligent and socially conformist people, the regime would have likely long since disintegrated from total collapse of basic infrastructure and discipline.

(Reprinted from AKarlin.com by permission of author or representative)
 

This is the Karlin Freedom Index for 2012, a political classification system I formulated more than a year ago in response to systemic bias on the part of traditional “freedom indices” such as Freedom House and The Economist Democracy Index (hint: they give massive bonus points for neoliberalism and pro-Western foreign policy orientations).

The explanation: Reconciling democracy with liberalism is really hard: since people are illiberal by nature, there is usually a trade-off between the two. The more frequent result is Semi-Liberal Democracy (describes most “Western” countries), which in turn can degenerate into a full-blown Illiberal Democracy (as did Russia around 1993, or the US and Hungary around 2011). Oligarchy is meant in the sense of rule by a few. It should be noted that some legislation ostensibly enacted to protect the public interest, such as libel laws, surveillance laws and anti-terrorist laws – in practice serve more to undermine liberalism. When they go too far, there appear Semi-Authoritarian states of permanent emergency. In the lower rung, Authoritarianism consolidates all political power unto the state (Semi-Authoritarianism tries to, but isn’t as successful). Totalitarianism extends the political realm over all spheres of life, bringing us into the realm of (Viereck’s) Metapolitics.

Liberal Democracy

  • Iceland – In the wake of its post-financial crisis constitutional reforms, this small country may claim to have the most direct democracy on Earth.
  • Netherlands
  • California (state government)
  • Germany
  • Finland
  • Sweden – Not as high as it might have been due to the politically-motivated prosecution of Assange.
  • Spain
  • Czech Republic


Semi-Liberal Democracy (tends to be corrupted by moneyed interests and/or other influential interest groups)

  • Canada – A good democracy, but a whiff of a downwards trend under Harper. ↓
  • Belgium
  • Italy – Not a personalistic regime once Berlusconi left, but not helped by the fact that an appointed technocrat now runs it.
  • Portugal
  • Australia
  • Brazil – Arbitrary power structures; extra-judicial murders.
  • France – Paternalistic; corporatist surveillance state; discrimination against minorities. ↓
  • Chile
  • Estonia – Has excellent Internet democracy ideas, but is hampered by discrimination against Russophone minorities.
  • Japan – Paternalistic; ultra-high conviction rates; no gun rights; but ceased being an (effectively) one-party state with recent election of DJP. ↑
  • Bulgaria
  • Mexico – Drug cartels challenge to the state may lead to curtailment of freedom. ↓
  • Switzerland – The last canton only gave women the right to vote in the early 1990′s, and the banning of minarets restricts religious freedom.
  • UK – Corporatist surveillance state; repressive libel & PC laws, regulations; no gun rights; strongly trending to Illiberal Democracy. ↓↓
  • India – Strong tradition of debate & power diffusion, marred by caste inequalities, privilege, political cliquishness, bottom-up free speech restrictions.
  • South Korea – Paternalistic; surveillance state; restrictive regulations, freedom of speech restrictions.
  • Poland
  • Indonesia
  • Latvia
  • Colombia – Pursued illiberal policies vs. FARC, but transitioned to a Semi-Liberal Democracy with recent transfer of power. ↑
  • Romania ↓
  • Argentina – New sweeping media laws bring Argentina close to the bottom of the Semi-Liberal Democracy rankings. ↓
  • Ukraine – In “anarchic stasis” since independence; arbitrary power structures; recently trending to Illiberal Democracy. ↓

Illiberal Democracy (tends to feature oligarchies and personalism)

  • USA – Highest prison population; corporatist surveillance state; runs transnational Gulag; increasingly arbitrary power structures; despite strong freedom of speech protections and surviving separation of powers, it can no longer be considered a Semi-Liberal Democracy after its formal legalization of indefinite detention under the NDAA 2012. ↓
  • Armenia
  • Israel – Severe national security-related civil liberties restrictions; growing influence of settler & fundamentalist agendas over the traditional Zionist foundation; severe new NGO laws, and discrimination against Palestinians makes Israel a downwards-trending Illiberal Democracy. ↓
  • Hungary – The recent Constitutional reforms in Hungary have effectively ended separation of powers, constrained the media, and established a basis for indefinite one-party dominance. It is now the only EU member to qualify as an Illiberal Democracy. ↓↓
  • Russia – Super-presidentialism with no real separation of powers; arbitrary power structures; surveillance state; and as recently shown, elections are subject to moderate fraud. However, new reforms (e.g. opening up of the political space), technical measures (e.g. web cameras at polling stations) and permits for opposition protests at the end of 2011 portend an upwards trend. ↑
  • Venezuela – Increasingly illiberal, especially as regards media laws. ↓
  • Thailand
  • Georgia – Arbitrary power structures; opposition protests broken up; main opposition candidate to Saakashvili stripped of Georgian citizenship.
  • Algeria
  • Turkey – Maintains severe restrictions on free speech (a country that has the world’s largest number of imprisoned journalists, many under bizarre conspiracy charges, can’t really be any kind of liberal democracy); ethnic discrimination; arbitrary power structures; paradoxically, both authoritarian & liberal principles strengthening under influence of Gulenists & AKP. ↓

Semi-Authoritarianism (tends to feature permanent states of emergency)

  • Egypt – Despite the revolutionary upheaval, the military retains wide influence and shoots at protesters in Cairo; this cannot be a democratic state of affairs. The future is uncertain. ?
  • Libya
  • Pakistan
  • Singapore – Overt political repression; repressive laws (esp. on libel); surveillance state.
  • Kazakhstan – Overt political repression; Nazarbayev is Caesar.
  • Azerbaijan – Overt political repression; Aliyev is Caesar.
  • Belarus – Elections completely falsified; overt political repression, and getting worse. ↓
  • Iraq – ↓
  • Iran – Overt political repression; though Velayat-e faqih has embedded democratic elements (under formal clerical “guardianship), in recent years, the system is strongly trending to Authoritarianism as the IRGC clan tries to wrestle the old clerics out of power. ↓

Authoritarianism

  • Vietnam
  • China – Overt political repression; no national elections (but exist at village level & in some municipalities); the Internet is restricted by the “Great Firewall”, but print & online getting freer to discuss issues unrelated to a few unacceptable topics (e.g. Communist Party hegemony, Tiananmen, etc); may implement new form of political model of “deliberative dictatorship”; trending towards Semi-Authoritarianism. ↑
  • Cuba – Overt political repression; pervasive Internet & media censorship.
  • Uzbekistan
  • Syria
  • Saudi Arabia – Overt political repression; pervasive censorship; very repressive laws; political Islam permeated everyday life, esp. in regard to women’s rights; one law for the Saud family, another for the rest.

Totalitarianism (the realm of metapolitics)

  • North Korea – Not much to say here.
(Reprinted from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

It’s sad, but not unexpected, to see the usual motley of neocons, freepers and general creeps crawling about the interwebs, baying for Assange’s blood and calling for him to be disappeared into the Nacht und Nebel. But it is absolutely tragic that, misled by the MSM and dulled by their own cynicism, so many people who in other times might have resisted those right-wing thugs, instead just content themselves with making smartass remarks about how Cablegate has revealed nothing new or consequential (or even, implausibly and disingenuously, accuse Wikileaks of being a CIA front tasked with spreading pro-US disinformation).

Now even if this charge were valid, it would be no reason to dismiss a project that is enabling the rise of “contemporary history” and opening up the cynical workings of geopolitical actors to a public that is nowhere near as familiar with them as those smug commentators. And it’s no reason whatsoever not to condemn the enraged lunatic fringe calling for Wikileaks to be branded a terrorist organization (with all the attendant consequences for its members’ life expectancy), or not to confront the “moderates” like Joe Lieberman who intimidate private enterprises into joining the crusade against Wikileaks and through their actions enable the extremists. [BTW, a fun factoid: one of old Joe's biggest hobbies is bashing Russia for its human rights abuses, such as breaking up (unsanctioned) protests: such atrocities never happen in the US, of course.]

But even that isn’t all there is to it, because if you look deeply enough, there ARE many, many very interesting revelations in these cables. It’s just that the Western MSM, beholden to the corporate and political elites that provide it with audiences, sources and funding, is actually COLLUDING with their governments, and above all the US government, to conceal or ACTIVELY DISTORT the content of many of these cables. And with great success, as even the skeptics and free thinkers are drawn into the resulting narrative.

Even the Empire's satirists are its (unwitting) servants...

Even the Empire’s satirists are its (unwitting) servants…

Take a look at that cartoon above. See that “flabby old chap” Kim Jong-il of North Korea handing a nice fat missile to Iranian President Ahmadinjad (the one about to be stabbed by the fat Arab with shades)? That part of the cartoon reflects an NYT story that – based on a cable that it refused to reprint under pressure from the Obama administration – supposedly claimed that “secret American intelligence assessments have concluded that Iran has obtained a cache of advanced missiles, based on a Russian design, that are much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal.” So it’s politically accurate and cynically subversive artwork, right?

Unfortunately, no. Thanks to yeoman investigative journalism by Gareth Porter, the NYT story WAS MISSING A CRITICAL HALF: the tight Russian arguments that in fact no such missiles were known to exist in North Korea (let alone Iran), and that a weapons transfer of such magnitude between the two countries was impossible. His article Wikileaks Exposes Complicity of the Press is a rare example of what real journalist is about and cannot be recommended enough. It also illustrates that, by deliberately overlooking the Russian objections to American assessments of Iran’s missile capabilities, the authors of the NYT article deliberately slanted their coverage, in such a way that “a key Wikileaks document which should have resulted in storiescalling into question the thrust of the Obama administration’s ballistic missile defense policy in Europe based on an alleged Iranian missile threat has instead produced a spate of stories buttressing anti-Iran hysteria.”

But it gets even darker. Thanks to the commendable efforts of our freedom-protecting friends at the Department of Homeland Security to intimidate companies “hosting WikiLeaks to immediately terminate its relationship with them,” – BTW, any chance that the Tea Party will get up in arms over this latest intrusion of the Obama socialist regime into private business? LOL. – by the time I tried to access the original cable, the original site was down.

Though you can still browse Wikileaks through the IP quad http://213.251.145.96/, I couldn’t find that cable there. AFAIK, the only remaining online copy of the offending cable – at least now, if and until Wikileaks restores it – is in the Internet graveyard that is http://cablegate.wikileaks.org/cable/2010/02/10STATE17263.html" href="http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://cablegate.wikileaks.org/cable/2010/02/10STATE17263.html">Google Cache. But not any longer. I’m reprinting the whole thing below in solidarity with the Wikileaks idea. (In particular, please read #26 and #29).

(And expect more in the future. Like Sean Guillory and Russian Reporter, I too intend to cover many more leaks in what promise to be some very fun and interesting next few weeks.)

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
10STATE17263 2010-02-24 22:10 2010-11-28 18:06 SECRET Secretary of State
R 242212Z FEB 10
FM SECSTATE WASHDC
TO AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
S E C R E T STATE 017263 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/24/2035
TAGS: ETTC IR KN MTCRE PARM RS TSPA

SUBJECT: U.S.-RUSSIA JOINT THREAT ASSESSMENT TALKS -
DECEMBER 2009 

REF: 09 STATE 082572 

Classified By: ISN Acting A/S Vann H. Van Diepen.  Reason 1.5 (D)

Summary

1. (S) A U.S. interagency team — lead by ISN Acting
Assistant Secretary Vann H. Van Diepen — met with a Russian
interagency team lead by Vladimir Nazarov, Deputy Secretary
of the Russian National Security Council (full participants
list is provided in paragraphs 76-77 below), on December 22,
2009 for a second round of discussions on a Joint Threat
Assessment (JTA), as agreed by Presidents Obama and Medvedev
in the 2009 U.S.-Russia Summit Joint Statement on Missile
Defense Issues. The Russian delegation came prepared to
engage seriously, and made presentations on their evaluation
of the missile programs of Iran and the DPRK; a conceptual
framework for evaluating the risk posed by various missile
programs; Russian concerns about instability in Pakistan and
the security of nuclear weapons and missiles there; and the
work of the FSB (Federal Security Service) in countering
efforts by Iranian and North Korean agencies to either obtain
nuclear and missile technologies and materials in Russia or
to transship the
m through Russian territory. While the Russians were
prepared for discussions of cooperation at a strategic level
on countering missile proliferation, their position remained
the same: in their analysis, the missile programs of Iran and
the DPRK are not sufficiently developed, and their intentions
to use missiles against the U.S. or Russia are nonexistent,
thus not constituting a “threat” requiring the deployment of
missile defenses. The discussions included a vigorous
exchange of questions and answers, and concluded with an
invitation by the Russians to hold the next round of the JTA
in Moscow in March or April 2010. The discussions lasted the
full day. End Summary.

Opening remarks

2. (S) Van Diepen recalled that the July 2009 U.S.-Russia
Joint Statement called for U.S. and Russian experts to work
together to analyze ballistic missile threats and that the
U.S. side had provided analyses of Iran’s and North Korea’s
missile programs at the September JTA. He said that the U.S.
side looked forward to receiving Russian perspectives on
these programs and discussing areas of agreement and
disagreement. He added that the U.S. hoped that development
of a more shared perspective on these issues would help
inform how the U.S. and Russia address missile threats
bilaterally and multilaterally. Consistent with the Joint
Statement and the non-paper U/S Tauscher provided to Russia
in November, this effort also could help the U.S. and Russia
assess how to defend against missile threats if that becomes
necessary. Van Diepen ended by underscoring that the U.S.
looked forward to detailed discussions and then deciding on
potential next steps.

3. (C) Nazarov thanked Van Diepen for reminding both sides of
the context for the work of the JTA. He noted that the July
6 Joint Statement said that experts of both countries would
analyze threats of the 21st century and make recommendations
for political and diplomatic means to address them. Russia
takes this seriously, and President Medvedev has given the
highest priority to this work and has instructed that this
work be coordinated under the Security Council of the Russian
Federation. Accordingly, Nazarov said, the Russian
delegation includes representatives from all of the Russian
agencies responsible for tracking missile threats and
countering them. He added that the Russian side planned to
make presentations, focusing primarily on Iran and North
Korea. After that, the Russian delegation would be prepared
to comment on the presentations made by the U.S. at the last
JTA meeting in July. He said the Russian delegation had
studied these materials closely and had several comments and
questions.

4. (S) Nazarov concluded by noting that Russia looked forward
to a creative dialogue and robust exchange of opinions
between the experts of both sides. He said Russia would
focus primarily on the threats from Iran and North Korea,
noting that Russia believed the long-term strategic interests
of the U.S. and Russia largely coincide and that the
acquisition of nuclear and/or missile capabilities by Iran,
North Korea, or other threshold states is unacceptable.
Nazarov hoped that the discussions would be productive and
potentially lead to the drafting of a joint assessment, and
perhaps to the creation of a joint document.

Russian Presentations on Iran and North Korea

Iran:

5. (S) Evgeny Zudin of the Russian Ministry of Defense gave
detailed presentations on the Russian assessment of the
Iranian and North Korean missile programs, and the degree to
which Russia believes these programs constitute threats
requiring missile defense responses. For Russia, the bottom
line is that, in essence, neither program constitutes a
threat at the moment or in the near future.

NOTE: Russia did not provide paper copies of either
presentation to the U.S. delegation. END NOTE.

6. (S) On Iran, Zudin made the following points concerning
Scud missiles:

–Given the challenging and complex situation of the regional
context that surrounds Iran, Iran’s leaders view acquiring a
missile capability as a deterrent to existent threats. To
that end, they also consistently exaggerate Iran’s
achievements in missile production.

–The core of the Iranian missile program has been the
evolutionary development of liquid-fueled missiles based on
Soviet Scud technology from the 1960s.

–Tehran acquired Scud B systems from a number of countries
during the 1980s.

–The Iranian version, called the Shahab-1, has a range of
300 km and a reentry vehicle of 1 ton.

–With scientific and technological assistance from North
Korea, Iran acquired production capabilities for both the
Scud B and the Scud C.

–The Scud C, called the Shahab-2 by the Iranians, has a
range of 550 km with a 700 kg payload.

–Iran has also developed and commissioned a medium range
ballistic missile (MRBM) called the Shahab-3, based on the
North Korean No Dong-1 and using Scud-based technologies.
The Shahab-3 has a range of 1,500 km and a 700 kg payload.

–Iran has done a good deal of work to improve the precision
and range of this system, creating the Shahab-3M, which Iran
claims has a range of 2,000 km, although so far the confirmed
range is only 1,600-1,700 km.

–Russia’s analysis indicates that this was achieved by
reducing the re-entry vehicle weight to 250 kg and improving
the engine.

– Russia also believes that this very nearly exhausts the
potential for Iran to increase the range of the Shahab-3 or
make further improvements to Scud-based missile technology.

7. (S) Moving on from Scud-based technology, Zudin made the
following points on Iran’s development of a 2,000 km-range
solid propellant system:

–Iran has been developing solid propellant MRBMs/IRBMs with
better operational capability since 2000.

–Currently, Russia is seeing the development of a two-stage
intermediate (2,000 km) solid propellant missile.

–The first test of this system in November 2007 failed.
During the second test on November 12, 2008, Iran
successfully accomplished the uplift stage of the missile.

–Following the third test of the missile in May 2009, Iran
announced that the launch was successful and that it would
begin serial production of this missile.

–This system was tested again on December 16, 2009, and Iran
also claimed this test was successful.

–The Russian assessment is that regardless of optimistic
statements from Iran, the test of this missile was actually
just a test of a successful prototype and that what the test
did was allow Iran to practice first stage operation and
stage separation.

–Russia believes Iran will need another 2-3 years of testing
to perfect the missile. Russia believes it will not actually
be deployed for 5-6 years.

8. (S) Zudin said that another potential success indicator
for Iran’s missile program is the Safir space launch vehicle
(SLV) program. He said the Safir launch on February 2, 2009
was successful in putting the Omid (26 kg) satellite into
orbit. However, Iran’s first attempt to launch the satellite
into orbit on August 17, 2008 was unsuccessful. Russia
assesses that in order to achieve the successful launch, Iran
had used
the maximum potential of its liquid-propellant technology
(the first stage of the Safir was a Shahab-3). As for Iran
developing combat/offensive long-range missiles based on SLV
technology, Russia believes, in theory, this is possible.
However, from a military technological perspective, Russia
believes this is unviable due to low throw weight of the
system. In addition, Russia believes that development of a
long-range missile based on its SLV efforts would require
Iran to intensify its research and development, conduct a
series of test launches outside its territory, and increase
throw weight and accuracy. Thus, in Russia’s view, despite
Iran’s successful launch of a satellite, it is premature to
talk about Iran successfully developing the technology for a
militarily useful long-range ballistic missile capacity.

9. (S) Zudin summed up his presentation on Iran by noting
that over the last four years, Iran has successfully launched
a 26 kg satellite into orbit and conducted several successful
launches of a solid propellant MRBM, according to unconfirmed
information. However, Russia believes Iran’s “success” boils
down to creating Shahab-3-class liquid propellant missiles
with an accuracy of several kilometers that can reach targets
in the Middle East and Southeastern Europe, but given
conventional warheads, these missiles cannot do substantial
damage. Under favorable conditions, Russia believes Iran
might be able to begin a program to develop ballistic
missiles with ranges of between 3,000-5,000 km after 2015,
but Russia does not see Iran taking any steps in this
direction. Rather, Russia has concluded that Iran’s
ballistic missile program continues to be directed toward
developing combat ready missiles to address regional concerns.

North Korea:

10. (S) Zudin made the following points with regard to the
DPRK’s missile program:

–Over the last two decades North Korea has paid increased
attention to developing and producing ballistic missiles and
SLVs.

–The DPRK has commissioned the production of liquid
propellant missiles such as Scud Bs and Cs (which North Korea
calls the Hwasong 5 and 6), the No Dong I, the short-range
KN-02, and the “Luna-M” tactical missile, plus solid
propellant battlefield and tactical rockets.

–The core of North Korea’s missile capability is missile
technology from the 1960s.

–The potentially outdated No Dong-1, with a range of
1,000-1,300 km and a reentry vehicle of one ton, is the most
advanced missile commissioned by the North Korean military.

–In Russia’s assessment, only the KN-02, with a range of
less than 100 km, is relatively modern.

–Since early in the 1990s, North Korea has slowly developed
missiles of the Taepo Dong class.

–Russia estimates that the Taepo Dong-1 (TD-1) was a
prototype two-stage liquid propellant missile with a
2,000-2,500 km range.

–The TD-I first stage used a No Dong-1 engine, and the
second stage used a Scud engine.

–The only flight test of the TD-I was conducted on August
31, 1998, during which the DPRK practiced separation of
missile stages. North Korea declared this test to be an SLV
launch.

–The Taepo Dong-2 (TD-2) MRBM is a two-stage liquid
propellant missile with a range of 3,500-6,000 km, depending
on the weight of the warhead.

–A July 5, 2006 test launch of the TD-II failed as the
missile exploded 40 seconds into flight.

–Russia estimates that North Korea tested elements of the
Taepo Dong-2 with its April 5, 2009 SLV launch.

–Russia believes North Korea has demonstrated a certain
level of progress in the missile area by creating a first
stage engine with a thrust of 100 tons.

–North Korea conducted tests of nuclear devices on October
9, 2006 and May 26, 2009. However, it remains unproven
whether North Korea can make a nuclear warhead of the size
and weight that would allow it to be carried by a ballistic
missile.

11. (S) Zudin said that in Russia’s view, the widespread
claims about North Korea’s achievements in the missile area
are dubious. In particular, Russia notes that it is claimed
that North Korea has a new missile based on the Soviet R-27
(NOTE: SS-N-6. END NOTE) submarine-launched ballistic
missile (SLBM) that is capable of reaching ranges of
2,400-4,000 km. However, the many published reports
regarding this missile, which is known as the BM-25, contain
claims that are made without reference to any reliable
sources. Moreover, Zudin said, the fact is that there have
been no successful tests of this missile in either North
Korea or Iran. Russia also is unaware that this missile has
ever been seen. There are claims that 19 of these missiles
were shipped to Iran in 2005, but there is no evidence for
this and concealment of such a transfer would be impossible.

12. (S) Zudin said Russia believes the real missile potential
of North Korea is an impressive arsenal of outdated missiles
with ranges no greater than 1,300 km and that are only a
threat to countries in the region that North Korea considers
to be enemies. Russia estimates that in the years to come
North Korea will devote considerable effort to improving and
perfecting its SLV. To this end, it will use the launch
facility near the community of Tongchang-Dong (NOTE: Known to
the U.S. as the Yunsong facility. END NOTE). Russia
assesses that North Korean development of long-range
ballistic missiles based on SLVs is possible in principle,
but perfection will take years. The prospects for North
Korea developing a combat operational system from such a
process is not likely due to the inability to conduct
concealed preparations for launch and the long preparation
times.

13. (S) Summing up, Zudin said Iran’s and North Korea’s
missile programs can be characterized as follows: the only
real successes are liquid propellant intermediate range
missiles with ranges of 1,300 km, and both countries would
face real technical difficulties in trying to make additional
advances to increase the range of their systems.

Discussion on Iranian and North Korean Missiles

14. (S) Van Diepen thanked the Russian delegation for its
presentations, noting that there appeared to be some areas
where both sides agree, other areas where the two sides see
the same thing a little differently, and areas where the two
sides disagree. He said it is good to have the opportunity
to examine the differences and the reasons for them, and
urged that this be done in a structured way. Van Diepen
proposed discussion begin with Iran and North Korea
generally, and then move to specific categories of
short-range, medium range, and long-range missiles. On Iran,
he said it appeared that both sides had similar assessments
at the technical level with regard to short range missiles in
Iran. On medium range missiles in Iran, both sides agree
there is the original No Dong, a modified No Dong with longer
range – although the U.S. and Russia have different ideas of
the modifications made to achieve that longer range. And
both sides seem to agree that Iran is developing a two-stage
solid propellant missile.
Beyond that, U.S. and Russian assessments seem to diverge.

15. (S) Based on the Russian presentations, the U.S.
delegation posed a number of questions. The Russian
delegation also raised a number of questions about U.S.
comments and the U.S. presentations on Iran and North Korea
from the September JTA talks. The topics raised and
follow-up discussions were as follows:

16. (S) Shahab-3 Reentry Vehicle Mass

The U.S. noted that based on modeling, it assesses that the
modified Shahab-3 has 600 kg re-entry vehicle mass at a range
of 2,000 km, and asked for Russia to explain the basis for
its assessment of 250 kg re-entry vehicle mass. The U.S. also
asked how useful such a missile would be as a military
weapon. Russia responded that there is some uncertainty in
its estimate, conceding that the 250 kg is at the low end of
Russia’s estimate. However, Russia believes that the low
weight of the Shahab-3 warhead makes it pointless as a
military weapon. Although the range could be further
increased with a lighter warhead, Russia’s view is that such
a missile also is pointless. Additionally, while Russia
views the U.S. 600 kg estimate as being close to the 700 kg
weight of the basic Shahab-3 warhead, it assesses that the
range of the system with that warhead is 1,300 km, not 2,000
km. Russia does not believe that if the weight of the
warhead is decreased by just 50 kg, it is realistic to assess
that the Shahab 3 would
achieve a 2,000 km range.

17. (S) Aluminum Airframe

The U.S. said that its assessment of a 2,000 km range for the
Shahab-3 is achieved through the use of an aluminum airframe
instead of steel and increased engine thrust. Russia asked
whether the assessment that the Shahab 3 airframe is made
with aluminum rather than steel is based on speculation or
fact. The U.S. responded that the assessment derives from
information relating to Iran seeking various aluminum alloys.
Additionally, during the Information Exchange (IE) portion
of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) Plenary, a
number of presentations, including by the UK and France, also
assessed that the Shahab-3 has an aluminum airframe and
described a number of Iranian attempts to procure aluminum
for this purpose. For this reason there also have been MTCR
proposals to add the types of aluminum sought by Iran to the
MTCR Annex.

18. (S) Safir Airframes

The U.S. noted that it appears that the first stage of the
Safir SLV is the Shahab-3, and asked whether Russia believes
the Safir could achieve orbit with a steel airframe. Russia
answered that the facts are that the Safir was used to put a
satellite with a very low mass into orbit. It is likely that
the technologies used to achieve this were exploited to their
utmost. Russian analysis showed that the size of the Omid is
the limit of what Iran could put into orbit. The U.S. agreed
that a very low weight satellite was all that the Safir
could put into orbit, but assessed that even orbiting such a
small satellite could only be done using an aluminum
airframe. In U.S. modeling of the launch using a steel
airframe, the Safir was not able to get close to putting
anything into orbit.

19. (S) Russia remarked that even if the U.S. and Russia
disagree over the materials used in the airframe, both sides
can agree that the capability of this missile was used to its
maximum to get a satellite into orbit. If there is agreement
on this point, then both sides should be able to agree that
using this system as a weapon is pointless. The U.S.
responded that this was not necessarily so and would depend
on how the rocket is used. The Safir launch might have
been a technology demonstrator. If one clustered or stacked
the Shahab, it could be used as a longer-range system. The
U.S. added that something using a single Shahab as its first
stage will have limitations, but that is not the only option.

20. (S) Using Clustered Engines

Russia noted that during the JTA talks in Moscow, the U.S.
discussed several options Iran would have with regard to a
cluster scheme. However, in Russia’s view, the problem with
a cluster scheme is that it makes the missile nonviable for
military purposes. The U.S. responded that a cluster scheme
would make the system less mobile, but noted that it would
provide a possibility for putting a missile further
downrange. However, the basic U.S. point is that the Safir
could have been a technology demonstrator for staging,
separation, ignition, and control of an upper stage. Russia
noted that it views the Safir launch as a success and has
stated this. Additionally, Russia agrees there are ways to
increase the throw weight, including the clustering of
engines, but the goal of the Russian review of Iran’s missile
capabilities was to examine whether the Iranian program could
create a combat ready missile that meets certain
specifications. In Russia’s view it cannot, and talking
about the Shahab-3 as a long-range
combat missile is unrealistic.

21. (S) The U.S. agreed it is not realistic for a mobile
missile, but thought it would be realistic for use in a silo
or underground. Russia responded that such a missile would
require a fixed launch pad. Fifty years ago fixed launch
pads deep inside a country were survivable, but now that is
not realistic. The U.S. countered that both Russia and the
U.S. still have hundreds of such launch sites. Russia said
that was a topic for another discussion, not JTA.

22. (S) Iran Not Capable of Producing Longer-Range Missiles

Russia said its bottom line is that Iran lacks appropriate
structural materials for long-range systems, such as high
quality aluminum. Iran can build prototypes, but in order to
be a threat to the U.S. or Russia Iran needs to produce
missiles in mass quantities, and it lacks materials
sufficient for the type of mass production needed to be a
security threat. Russia further noted that the technology
for longer-range missiles is sophisticated and difficult to
master. For example, the elongated airframes Iran is using
might not survive the stresses of a ballistic flight path,
and the guidance system for the missile (Shahab-3) is
outdated and does not allow for precision steering.
According to Russian calculations, if the control system is
used at a range of 2,000 km, it could veer as much as 6-7 km
off its target; at 5,000 km, the accuracy could be off by
50-60 km. In addition, the liquid propellants used by the
Iranians are of low efficiency. Iran is working to improve
the power of the engine and develop
more efficient kinds of fuel. However, it faces significant
challenges. Iran also has problems with launch preparation
times, although it has made some recent improvements.

23. (S) Launching from Silos

Russia said it does not think a Shahab-3 derived system could
be launched from a silo. Ground launch sites that are for
SLVs are not suitable for military launches, and missiles
with side-based vent engines and clustered engines cannot be
silo-based. The U.S. responded that this might be an area
where U.S. and Russian assessments differ. For example, the
U.S. thinks the Taepo Dong-2 is a clustered missile that can
be launched from a silo or underground launcher, adding that
there are scenarios to compensate for shortcomings of this
technology should the Iranians or North Koreans choose to
pursue them.

24. (S) Iranian Solid Propellant MRBM

The U.S. said it does not see the solid-propellant MRBM as a
technology demonstrator. This system has been tested four
times in the past two years, and the U.S. assesses Iran will
be ready to field it in less than the 5-6 year timeframe
Russia envisions. Russia asked how soon the U.S. thought the
system could be ready. The U.S. said that it would not be
surprised if a two-stage system with a range up to 2,000 km
were fielded
within a year, at least in limited numbers. The U.S. also
noted that not all countries follow the same testing
procedures as the U.S. and Russia. North Korea is an extreme
example, but Iran does not have the same test philosophy as
either the U.S. or Russia.

25. (S) The Path to Long Range Missile Development in Iran

The U.S. said the main potential avenue for Iran developing
long range missiles is by using current systems as building
blocks. For example, using the Shahab-3 with clustered or
stacked engines could be one path. Another path might be the
so-called BM-25 missile that the U.S. believes was sold to
Iran by North Korea. A third path might be development of a
solid-propellant MRBM with more powerful motors. Russia said
that its views on the Shahab 3 had already been discussed.
Russia had some questions about the other two paths the U.S.
had identified. In addition, Russia thinks it also will be
very important to consider the intentions of Iran and North
Korea that could lead to creation or improvement of its
missiles. This will affect what each side (U.S. and Russia)
does to monitor what these countries (Iran and North Korea)
do to acquire missile technologies, including procurement
methods. It also will help define the key technologies
required by these countries now and in the future and in
finding a means for protecting these technologies.

26. (S) The BM-25

Russia said that during its presentations in Moscow and its
comments thus far during the current talks, the U.S. has
discussed the BM-25 as an existing system. Russia questioned
the basis for this assumption and asked for any facts the
U.S. had to provide its existence such as launches, photos,
etc. For Russia, the BM-25 is a mysterious missile. North
Korea has not conducted any tests of this missile, but the
U.S. has said that North Korea transferred 19 of these
missiles to Iran. It is hard for Russia to follow the logic
trail on this. Since Russia has not seen any evidence of
this missile being developed or tested, it is hard for Russia
to imagine that Iran would buy an untested system. Russia
does not understand how a deal would be made for an untested
missile. References to the missile’s existence are more in
the domain of political literature than technical fact. In
short, for Russia, there is a question about the existence of
this system.

27. (S) The U.S. repeated its earlier comment that Iran and
North Korea have different standards of missile development
than many other countries, including the U.S. and Russia.
North Korea exported No Dong missiles after only one flight
test, so it is not unimaginable that it would build and seek
to export a system that has not been tested. This is
especially true for North Korea because of its need for hard
currency. In the U.S. view, the more interesting question is
why would Iran buy a missile that has not been tested. One
possible answer is that Iran has recognized that the BM-25′s
propulsion technology exceeds the capabilities of that used
in the Shahab-3, and that acquiring such technology was very
attractive. Iran wanted engines capable of using
more-energetic fuels, and buying a batch of BM-25 missiles
gives Iran a set it can work on for reverse engineering.
This estimate would be consistent with the second stage of
the Safir SLV using steering engines from the BM-25 missile.

28. (S) Safir and BM-25

The U.S. explained that based on a comparison of Internet
photos of the second stage of the Safir, the U.S. assessment
is that the steering (vernier) engines on the Safir are the
same as on the R-27. The weld lines and tank volumes from
the Safir second stage show that the ratio of oxidizer to
propellant is not consistent with Scud propellants and more
consistent with unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) and
nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4), which were used in the R-27. The
U.S. does not have any information on why Iran has not flight
tested the BM-25. It may be due to difficulties assembling
the missiles, but it appears that they have at least done
work with the steering (vernier) engines. Russia asked if
the U.S. was saying that its case for the existence of the
BM-25 missile is that individual elements of the Safir
resemble the steering engines of the R-27 missile.

29. (S) The U.S. said that is only part of the case. In the
media, and more importantly in the MTCR Information Exchange,
countries have offered direct evidence of the transfer of the
BM-25 from North Korea to Iran. Russia asked if the U.S. had
pictures of the missile in Iran. The U.S. did not, but noted
that North Korea had paraded the missile through the streets
of Pyongyang. Russia disagreed. Russia said it had reviewed
the video of the North Korean military parade and concluded
that North Korea had shown a different missile. Russia does
not think the BM-25 exists. The missile appears to be a
myth, and some say that it is based on a Russian missile.
However, no one has seen it, and Russia cannot find traces of
it. The U.S. said it would endeavor to provide further
information on the existence of the BM-25 at the next round
of talks, noting that reaching agreement on this point will
affect the joint assessment of Iranian and North Korean
missile capabilities.

30. (S) Safir Fuel

Russia asked whether the U.S. had any clear images of the
Safir that allow for the assessment of tank volumes and the
ratio of fuel to oxidizer. The U.S. said that the weld lines
of the second stage are clear in the pictures Iran put on the
Internet, and U.S. analysts were able to make pretty good
calculations based on this information. Russia questioned
this, saying that the photos did not allow for accurate
measurements of distances. The U.S. undertook to provide
more information on this point at the next round of talks.

31. (S) The U.S. then asked Russia for its assessment of the
types of propellant used in the Safir second stage. Russia
said it thinks that hydrazine is used. The U.S. asked
whether Russia thought UDMH might be involved. Russia did
not. It said that there might be different combinations of
fuel and oxidizers, but the base is hydrazine.

32. (S) More on Propellants

The U.S. asked whether Russia assesses that Iran is moving
beyond Scud propellants. Russia responded that it believes
Iran is trying to move in this direction because it wants
something more powerful – something that can lift 40-50 tons.
With bigger engines, Iran can improve missile range. Thus,
Iran has been working to acquire more-energetic fuels and
trying to produce UDMH and N2O4. However, Iran has been
working on this for approximately 10 years, and Russia has
not seen any serious results. Russia further noted that
Malik Ashtar University in Tehran has been working on fuel
combinations, but it apparently has not been successful. The
fact that Iran has not succeeded in this area is evident in
Iran’s effort to seek this technology from abroad.

33. (S) The U.S. noted that it was significant that both the
U.S. and Russia assess that Iran is working on more-energetic
propellants, even if the two sides differ in how far along
they are. Russia responded that this is due to the fact that
Iran has not yet launched any longer range missiles. There
have been no tests, and statements from Iran that it has
missiles that can fly 2,000 km have not been substantiated.
The longest range that Russia has seen is 1,700 km, and that
was achieved only because of a reduced throw weight. If the
U.S. has additional data to share, Russia would be
interested. The U.S. agreed to look into the matter and
elaborate further at the next JTA talks.

34. (S) However, the U.S. also noted that modeling shows that
achieving a greater range is possible. Just because a
capability has not been demonstrated operationally does not
mean that it is not possible. Once a program has achieved
1,500 km, going a few hundred kilometers more is not that
much of an obstacle. Going from 1,700 to 2,000 km is not a
great technological stretch. Russia said it could not agree
because with a longer flight, various parts of the missile
could burn through, the missile could fall apart, or it could
go off course. It needs to be tested at its maximum range.
As discussed earlier, the U.S. believes Iran can achieve the
increased range due to a combination of increased thrust from
more powerful engines, a slightly reduced payload, and the
use of aluminum instead of steel.

35. (S) Russia disagreed with the U.S. assessment that Iran
has been able to buy technology to produce solid propellant
engines. Russia believes Iran continues to work on the
technology to mix and pour the propellant. This is a very
difficult process. Solid fuel has to be very evenly mixed to
work properly. It must be put into the motor case and then
allowed to solidify, and the resulting fuel must be
homogeneous. In addition, fuel loading is more complicated
for larger engines, and Iran has not mastered this. Russia
also believes Iran is experimenting with fuel composition,
how long fuels can be preserved, and how temperatures can
affect the mixture. Russia does not think that Iran has
solved the problem of thermal isolation of the engine from
the airframe, as the junction with the engine tends to burn
through. Russia also does not think that Iran has solved the
problem of thrust vector control and gas steering
technologies. The old technologies are not reliable, and
Iran has had a hard time getting
components from abroad. In addition, Iran cannot produce
high-quality spherical aluminum powder and without this it
cannot reliably produce solid fuel. Russia noted that even
Israel needs to buy ammonium perchlorate from abroad. Iran
has been trying to produce it indigenously, but Russia has no
information indicating it has been successful. In Russia’s
view, Iran appears to be having very serious problems with
engine development.

36. (S) The Ashura

Russia said that in June 2008, it had received information
from the State Department that within the framework of the
Ashura program, Iran is producing a 3-stage missile called
the Ghadr-110. At that time, the U.S. told Russia that this
missile is very similar to the Pakistani Shaheen-II and has a
range of 2,000 km with a throw weight of one ton. Testing of
the Ghadr-110 may have started in 2008, and Russia would like
additional information on this system. The U.S. said that
there appeared to be some confusion: the Ashura is a
two-stage solid propellant missile with a 2,000 km range, and
the Ghadr-110 is the Fateh-110, a single-stage SRBM.

37. (S) Sejjil

Russia asked whether the Sejjil was part of the Ashura
program. The U.S. said it thinks the Sejjil is another name
for the Ashura. In addition, Iran also has a short range
solid propellant system called the Fateh-110. The experience
gained from that program has been used in the development of
the Ashura and helps explain how Iran acquired the capability
to develop larger motors. In the 1990s, Iran received
production technology and infrastructure from China to
develop solid propellants. That infrastructure was used in
the Fateh-110 and now is being used as the technological
basis for the Ashura. While the U.S. would agree that a
larger solid propellant engine is challenging, Iran has over
a decade of experience producing solid propellant motors and
it got an important head start from China. Independent of
what Iran has since acquired, this head start allowed Iran to
develop the Ashura, which has been flight tested
successfully, and also to work toward longer-range systems.
Russia did not fully agree,
saying that the technology for an SRBM is quite different
from medium and longer range systems.

38. (S) Iranian Challenges

Noting that Russia had mentioned several problems with Iran’s
efforts to develop larger motors, the U.S. asked for the
basis of Russia’s assessment and specifically whether it
derived from the results of ground testing. Russia responded
that Iran is having problems generally because it did not
develop the technology in Iran and is trying to work off of
North Korean technology. The U.S. then asked how Russia
would explain
the Ashura having been flight tested twice successfully.
Russia said there is nothing special there as the technology
is all old technology as described in detail in the
literature of the Chinese Long March 4 engine. The U.S.
pointed out that the Long March is a liquid propellant
system, and the Ashura is a solid propellant system. If Iran
has successful tests, it shows Iran has built MRBM rocket
motors. Russia countered that all it shows is that Iran is
testing parts of the missile. Iran may have claimed success
but that is not the reality. If Iran wants it to be
reliable, the missile has to be tested many times before it
can be deployed. This is what Russia believes. Russia
understands the U.S. has a different point of view and this
can be discussed again another time.

39. (S) North Korean Scuds

The U.S. said it seemed that both sides had a common
evaluation of what types of short range systems North Korea
possesses: the Scud B, Scud C, and the new solid propellant
MRBM. Russia said that in 2008, the U.S. indicated that
North Korean Scuds were launched at longer ranges. Russia
asked for any specific data on these missile launches and for
U.S. thinking on why these systems are extended range Scuds
and not Scud C missiles. The U.S. said that it would try to
provide more information on this issue at the next round of
talks. However, it is known that there have been at least
two cases of North Korea helping other countries to develop
Scuds with longer ranges than the Scud C. One example is
Libya. When Libya gave up its MTCR-class missile programs in
2003, it showed the U.S. a missile it called the “Scud-C.”
However, it had a longer range than the missile we refer
generally refer to as the Scud-C. Additionally, many
presentations in the MTCR Information Exchange have reported
that North Korea is helping other countries, particularly
Syria, develop a Scud with a longer range. These
presentations have referred to this longer range system as
the Scud-D.

40. (S) No Dong

The U.S. thought that both sides had similar assessments of
the No Dong. Referring to the U.S. presentation from the
previous JTA talks, Russia noted that the U.S. said there
were seven launches of the No Dong in July 2009 by North
Korea. Russia has no information on such tests, and wondered
if there U.S. had been referring to 2006. The U.S. said that
there had been tests of the No Dong just after July 4, 2009,
and that there had been plenty of South Korean and Japanese
reporting at that time. Russia agreed there were July 4
missile launches, but of missiles with shorter ranges, not
Scuds or No Dongs. Given the confusion on this point, Russia
urged that the issue be revisited during the next round of
talks.

41. (S) UDMH

Russia asked whether the U.S. thinks North Korea is trying to
develop a new engine that uses UDMH. The U.S. said it
believes this effort is connected with a new system North
Korea is working on. The U.S. thinks this new system is an
IRBM.

42. (S) IRBM

Russia asked whether the U.S. has any specific data on this
system. The U.S. said it believes the system exists and has
been sold to Iran as the BM-25.

43. (S) Taepo Dong

The U.S. agreed with Russia that the Taepo Dong-1 was a
technology demonstrator that is no longer being used, and
that the Taepo Dong-2 has had two tests that have been
unsuccessful. However, there is not agreement on the purpose
of the Taepo Dong-2 system. In tests, the intent has been
billed as putting a satellite into orbit, but the U.S. also
thinks it is very much intended as part of the development of
an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Russia noted
for clarification that North Korea calls the Taepo Dong-2 the
Unha-2.

44. (S) Russia believes the system has an engine with a 100
ton capacity that uses clustered designs based on old
technology, and asked whether the U.S. thought the Taepo
Dong-2 uses any new technology. The U.S. responded that it
has not seen any new technology associated with this system.
Nevertheless, one path to acquiring a longer range system
would be to cluster or stack engines for the new IRBM in the
same way North Korea used Scud and No Dong engines in the
Taepo Dong-2. Russia pointed out that so far this has not
been observed and there is no new technology associated with
an ICBM in North Korea. The U.S. agreed that no new
technology has been observed in the ICBM, but it has been in
the IRBM.

45. (S) Russia noted that in its presentations the U.S. had
given a range of 10,000 km – 15,000 km with a 500 kg warhead
for the Taepo Dong and asked how the U.S. had calculated
this. The U.S. said that for the 10,000 km range, it had
assumed a clustered first stage and a No Dong second stage.
For the 15,000 km range, it assumed a 3-stage configuration
with the same clustered engines and second stage.

46. (S) Taepo Dong-2 and Military Applications

Russia pointed out that the Taepo Dong-2 would be hard to use
for combat due to a lack of sites and its long launch
preparation time. The U.S. noted that North Korea could
mitigate those problems by placing it in a silo or using it
as a first strike weapon. These would not be optimal
approaches but if North Korea is sufficiently desperate, it
would go with the systems available to it. Moreover, North
Korea puts great political value on these systems. In the
wake of the nuclear test and the UNSCR that followed, North
Korea threatened to conduct an ICBM test. This is another
manifestation of the political value of this program for
North Korea.

47. (S) North Korean Path to an ICBM

The U.S. said it saw three potential paths for North Korea to
follow to obtain an ICBM: 1) use the Taepo Dong-2 as an ICBM;
2) further develop the technology for an IRBM based on their
new MRBM, in the same way the No Dong was a path to the Taepo
Dong; and 3) use the very large launch facility that is being
constructed on the west coast of North Korea to launch a very
large missile. Russia said that the first two paths could be
discussed at a later date.

48. (S) With regard to the third path, Russia wonders whether
North Korea is building the new launch site to avoid
launching over Japan and for safety reasons. The U.S.
responded that the size of the facility is of concern. It
does not simply replicate other sites. This facility is much
larger than the Taepo Dong launch facility. This is not to
say there is evidence of a new missile system larger than the
Taepo Dong-2 being developed, but it suggests the
possibility. North Korea does not spend money on things
unless they really matter. Russia noted that North Korea
does not have so much money, so it must economize. However,
Russia can probably agree that the new site is being built to
test new missiles. That said, Russia still thinks North
Korea has problems developing more-powerful engines and
accurate guidance systems. This merits further observation
and analysis.

49. (S) General Comments

Russia said it sees it as significant that Iran and North
Korea are trying to buy more materials abroad and trying to
get around existing export control regimes. However, each
country is different and Russia cannot say they are working
according to the same principles. On clustering, Russia has
a different point of view than the U.S., but will look
further into this. Russia also has a different view on
silos, but that can be discussed in more detail next time.
In short, North Korea is complex and neither the U.S. nor
Russia fully understands its capabilities. Both sides need
to monitor this carefully and work together on this issue.

Russian presentation of a framework for evaluatingmissile risks, dangers and threats; and discussion

50. (S) Nazarov said Russia believes any missile assessments
should be based not only on modeling, but also on
consideration of the real technical barriers faced by Iran.
Serious attention must be given to these technical problems.
Otherwise, we will use erroneous assumptions to evaluate the
problem. For example, we can count the number of
centrifuges, multiply by production capabilities, and say
Iran can produce enough uranium for several warheads.
However, this would not be correct because the models do not
take into account the technical difficulties in cascade
technologies that Iran has not worked out yet.

51. (S) In the same way, Russia thinks that when talking
about the Shahab-3, there is no possibility of Iran using
these missiles in a launch silo configuration. Also, Russia
does not see Iran increasing the throw weight or range to the
declared capabilities. Thus, as regards attempting to draft
a joint report, Russia foresees no problems in an evaluation
of the basic systems, but does foresee a difference in the
evaluations of the technical barriers faced by the Iranians.
With regard to timeframes, Nazarov said that if we talk about
real threats, and not just potential challenges, then we need
to think about all the systems that need to be developed and
tested. To facilitate this, Russia thinks the JTA
discussions should be divided into discussions on missile
risks and missile threats. The two sides should agree on
what these are and then work to prevent missile risks from
growing into missile threats.

52. (S) Nazarov then asked Vladimir Yermakov, Director for
Strategic Capabilities Policy, Russian Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, to introduce Russia’s proposed methodology for
evaluating missile risks and missile threats. Yermakov said
Russia views the December JTA talks as the first step in
implementing the goals of the July 2009 Presidential Joint
Statement. These consultations build on many years of work
with the U.S. on missile defense, including missile threat
assessment, and Russia would like to underscore that the
dialogue and close collaboration on missile defense is due to
the positive decisions taken by the new administration on
missile defense. Russia’s official assessment of Obama’s
missile defense policy is that it is a step in a positive
direction. Russia commends the U.S. decision to drop the
fielding of missile defense elements in Poland and the Czech
Republic and replace it with a multi-phased program for
missile defense in Europe. Russia will only be able to give
its assessment of the new
project after it has seen the implementation of the first
phase. Further collaboration in missile defense will depend
on how the project will be developed on the U.S. side. But a
key part of our collaboration will be the joint assessment of
missile threats.

53. (S) Continuing, Yermakov said Russia believes that any
further practical cooperation on missile defense will be
based on a concrete joint assessment of the missile threats.
The U.S. and Russia need to have a clear understanding of
whom we are cooperating against and we need to make clear
distinctions between missile risks, missile challenges, and
missile threats. Russian and U.S. perceptions may coincide
and may differ, that is understandable. We can work together
to address threats we both agree on. But there may be
threats the U.S. sees as real and Russia sees only to be
perceived ones, and vice versa. In such cases, the extent of
our cooperation may be less or lower, but we can still do
something jointly to address these threats as well.

54. (S) Yermakov said that Russia sees as an end-goal of the
JTA consultations a document outlining jointly assessed
missile threats and challenges. Naturally, in working on
such a document, the U.S. and Russia will recognize that
their views differ and those differences will have to be
reflected in this document. We can take as an example our
record of cooperation within the NATO Russia Council (NRC).

55. (S) Yermakov then distributed a paper on a framework of
criteria for assessing the level of risk of a given missile
program. He explained that the material on the first page is
a graph presented in simplified form in which Russia presents
two categories – a threat and a challenge. In order for
there to be a threat, it is necessary to have two components:
intention and capabilities. Only when both components are
present does a threat become real. From the Russian point of
view, lack of either component makes the threat hypothetical.
When both components are lacking, the threat is only
“perceived,” and the threat of a nuclear missile strike is
zero.

56. (S) Yermakov noted that on the second page, Russia
suggests four categories: missile challenge, missile danger,
missile threat, and missile strike. Russia views a missile
challenge as an aspiration to obtain capabilities in the
field of rocketry to fulfill one’s legitimate national goals.
These goals can be a space program or missiles as weapons.
A missile danger emerges when nations envision in national
guidelines a doctrine that they could/could use missiles. A
missile threat is a more advanced category in which a country
has the intention to use its missile capability to further
its national military and political goals. A missile strike
is self evident. Yermakov urged the U.S to review the paper
and, at a later stage, provide an assessment of this
approach. At that point, the two sides can compare views,
theoretical approaches and assessments of threats, and use
this framework to develop a joint document of challenges,
risks, and threats.

57. (S) Nazarov thanked Yermakov for his presentation, saying
that he believed the U.S. and Russia needed to continue their
joint work based on a shared methodology. The methodology
proposed in the Yermakov presentation will allow us to
address challenges and threats concretely, and to overcome
differences of opinion. Nazarov said he did not see U.S. and
Russian differences as significant for a joint document and
thought they could be overcome. In this context, Russia has
prepared a memorandum with respect to drafting a joint
assessment. The essence of the paper is that the two sides
would work together to draft a document on a joint
understanding of the problems of missile proliferation. It
would be an assessment of the current trends, conditions, and
factors that make up today’s situation, and appropriate
conclusions.

58. Nazarov suggested the two sides agree on a timeframe for
drafting the document, which would lay the foundation for
cooperation and make it more dynamic. Russia thinks the JTA
work could finish by the end of 2010 and believes that
following this round, the group could come up with a draft
report and then work to improve it and flesh out some of its
provisions. Based on the principle of rotation, Russia also
thinks the next round of JTA talks should be in March or
April, 2010 in Moscow. Finally, given the sensitive nature
of the eventual final document, it should be treated as
confidential and only made available to third parties with
the consent of both our parties. (Passed over non-paper.)

59. (S) Van Diepen appreciated the thought put into the
Russian document and the invitation to Moscow, which he
accepted. He said the U.S. would study the paper and provide
comments at a later date. This will lay the groundwork for
productive meetings in Moscow. However, he also cautioned
that the two sides must be careful not to let process get in
the way of substance. He said the U.S. and Russia need to
share assessments first and then think about what to do with
them. He also said the two sides should identify the
differences in our assessments and the reasons for those
differences, rather than get bogged down in wordsmithing and
nuances.

60. (C) Nazarov said Russia shares the opinion that the JTA
study has a practical goal. He said Russia is serious about
the problem of future missile threats and that the JTA work
is under the close scrutiny of the President of the Russian
Federation, who demands that the Russia side give an
impartial and objective assessment. Russia believes there is
a danger in over- or underestimating the threat as it could
prod us to move in the wrong direction. When it comes to
missile and nuclear threats, errors in estimation in both
directions are dangerous.

61. (S) Yuriy Korolev, an expert from the Russian Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, explained that during a meeting in Budapest
in February 2008, Russian experts presented a collection of
interesting approaches on assessing missile proliferation
threats. Using that document, Russia thought one could give
a more unbiased assessment of missile threats. However,
there has been no reaction from the U.S. This may be due to
the fact that only limited numbers of the document were
distributed and they did not reach all appropriate senior
U.S. officials. Russia continues to believe this document is
interesting and would appreciate U.S. views, analysis,
comments, and proposals on how to make our efforts on
countering missile proliferation more effective. Russia’s
view is that the methodology presented would make assessments
of missile threats more impartial (handed over copies).

Russian presentation on the security threat presented byinstability and Islamists in Pakistan and discussion

62. (S) Korolev noted that while the focus of the discussions
had been on the missile threats from North Korea and Iran,
Russia did not think discussion should be limited to only
those threats from Iran and North Korea. In the Russian
view, there is another serious threat that should be
discussed: Pakistan. Pakistan is a nation with nuclear
weapons, various delivery systems, and a domestic situation
that is highly unstable. Russia assesses that Islamists are
not only seeking power in Pakistan but are also trying to get
their hands on nuclear materials. Russia is aware that
Pakistani authorities, with help from the U.S., have created
a well-structured system of security for protecting nuclear
facilities, which includes physical protection. However,
there are 120,000-130,000 people directly involved in
Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs, working in these
facilities and protecting them. However, regardless of the
clearance process for these people, there is no way to
guarantee that all are 100% loyal
and reliable.

63. (S) In addition to the Islamist interest in these
facilities, Russia also is aware that Pakistan has had to
hire people to protect nuclear facilities that have
especially strict religious beliefs, and recently the general
educational and cultural levels in Pakistan has been falling.
Due to these facts, extremist organizations have more
opportunities to recruit people working in the nuclear and
missile programs. Over the last few years extremists have
attacked vehicles that carry staff to and from these
facilities. Some were killed and a number were abducted and
there has been no trace seen of them. Also, even if places
are well protected, transportation of materials is a
vulnerable point. In Pakistan, it is hard to guarantee the
security of these materials during transportation. For these
reasons, Russia thinks Pakistan should also be a particular
focus of JTA discussion.

64. (S) Nazarov clarified that Russia believes the focus of
the JTA discussions should be the missile programs of Iran
and North Korea. Russia assumes the nuclear and missile
programs of Pakistan are regionally oriented and thus outside
the scope of the current JTA discussion. However, Russia
recently hosted a delegation led by Senators Hagel and
Harkin. The Senators told a meeting of the Russian Security
Council that Pakistan poses the greatest threat to the world.
Therefore, Russia would appreciate any additional
information the U.S. can provide on the actual situation with
regard to the protection, storage, and transportation of
nuclear and missile weaponry in Pakistan.

65. (C) Van Diepen appreciated Russia’s concern with Pakistan
and interest in getting further information but noted that
the issue as described is primarily nuclear materials being
acquired by terrorists, it is more of a nuclear issue and
less related to ballistic missiles. He undertook to report
back and facilitate a response from the appropriate office
outside the context of the JTA.

66. (S) Nazarov said Russia is interested in using all
channels to cooperate with the U.S. on this subject. First
and foremost, Russia is talking about the threat of nuclear
terrorism. If the scenarios include future development, the
threat of missile technology getting into the hands of
terrorists should also be considered. Russia would like to
put its concern on the record, and particularly with regard
to the possibility of Islamists coming to power in Pakistan.
Russia would appreciate the U.S. providing additional
information on the subject – perhaps at the follow-up meeting
in Moscow.

67. (C) Van Diepen said he would report Russia’s concerns but
noted that the U.S. response would likely come through
diplomatic channels rather than at our April/March meetings.
He also urged that Nazarov raise his concerns with Special
Advisor Holbrooke or his Deputy.

Russian presentation on FSB work to interdict Iranian andNorth Korean attempts to buy restricted technology, or totransship third party materials through Russia

68. (C) Anatoliy Raikevich, First Deputy Department
Director, Federal Security Service (FSB), said that both Iran
and North Korea appear to depend heavily on illegally
obtaining equipment and technology from abroad for missile
and WMD programs. The FSB has information that Iran and
North Korea both have programs to try to acquire Russian
technology. One of the basic tasks of the FSB is to prevent
them from acquiring WMD-related production technology in
Russia. To do this, the FSB takes action based on Russian
law and export controls. In particular, the FSB monitors and
takes measures to prevent WMD technology exports. This
includes criminal investigations of attempts to export
contraband and items on the prohibited list. Russian
analysis shows that that these efforts have significantly
reduced the achievements of the Iranian security services in
this area. However, the Iranians continue to try to use the
territory of Russia for transits and reexports of such
materials.

69. (C) A key effort of the Iranian services is the company
to company approach, whereby they use fake companies run by
the Iranian security service to procure Russian goods. The
FSB has set up sting companies to uncover Iranian activities.
In the past two years, the FSB has cut off a good deal of
the exports of such technology.

70. (C) The FSB has determined that Iran is trying to get
equipment such as measuring devices, high precision
amplifiers, pressure indicators, various composite materials,
and technology to create new missile engines from Russia and
from sources in Western Europe. To produce these items
itself, Iran would need to seriously modernize its
technological base. To combat this, the FSB must cooperate
with the U.S. and European security services. Russia has
many years experience cooperating with U.S. security services
and has moved from information exchanges to operational
activities. The FSB thinks U.S. services are very
professional and well prepared, and hopes cooperation will
continue.

71. (C) Van Diepen thanked Raikevich for his presentation,
noting that he had had lots of experience during the 1990s
working with Russian counterparts on the problem and trying
to reduce the success of Iran in acquiring missile
technology. Van Diepen said he was impressed by the people
in Russia working on export controls and appreciated that
Russia recognized that Iran is still trying to acquire
technology from Russia. He said he would pass on to U.S.
security services the FSB’s interest in continued
cooperation. He added that the U.S. would want to work with
Russia in those channels as well as in diplomatic channels as
the need arose to address specific shipments of concern.

72. (S) Raikevich replied that discussing these issues with
the U.S. will help Iran and North Korea to “boil in their own
oil.” He said Iran and North Korean may have small successes
here and there with procurement, but the FSB will see to it
that their successes remain small. The FSB is grateful for
information the U.S. passes along regarding various Russian
organizations that may be working with Iran or North Korea,
and wants continue to work together to prevent the spread of
this technology from Russia and other countries.

Concluding remarks

73. (S) Yermakov said that Russia thought the discussions had
been productive and cooperative. He noted that both sides
have significant homework assignments to complete before the
next round and can test the results at the end of
March/beginning of April. He then offered concluding remarks
on behalf of the Deputy Secretary of Russia’s National
Security Council:
– With regard to Iran, Russia believes the possibility of
improvement of its liquid propellant missiles is nil.

–It is impossible from the Russian point of view for Iran to
put a nuclear device on existing missiles with an improved
range and throw weight.

–Iran has no ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear
weapons at this time, and Russia sees no threat from missiles
in Iran.

–In Russia’s view, Iran presents a missile challenge.

–A missile threat would only develop if Iran seceded from
the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and successfully
developed an MRBM with a 3,000 km range and a warhead of one
ton.

–Iran does not have the military-industrial capability to
develop such a program. If Iran could gain access to foreign
technology, it might develop such a program but this is
unlikely due to export controls.

–In any case, even with the assistance of foreign
technology, Russia assesses it will take Iran 6-8 years to
gain the ability to launch an MRBM with a nuclear warhead.

–With regard to an ICBM, Russia considers this purely
hypothetical and does not see the possibility of Iran having
this capability for the next 10 years.

–For North Korea, Russia assesses that its only real
capabilities are outdated missiles with ranges of no more
than 3,500 km.

–While it is possible to develop missiles with greater
ranges based on an SLV program, that would take many years,
even with a successful program.

74. (C) Yermakov said these were the basic conclusions Russia
wanted to make. If the conclusions are agreeable to the U.S.
side this could be noted. If not, they can be discussed
again at a later date and will be the basis for future work,
to continue successful bilateral cooperation. He said Russia
is not at all concerned about differences regarding various
aspects of these programs. Russia sees this as natural.
Having differences just means that we need to meet more often
and exchange information through appropriate channels.
Russia looks forward to a U.S. interagency delegation coming
to Moscow. Until then the two sides can communicate through
diplomatic channels or even just by telephone.

75. (S) Van Diepen thanked the Russia side, especially
Nazarov, for its thorough preparation and professionalism.
He said the U.S. was pleased with the interagency character
of the Russian delegation and appreciated that Russia had
given a lot of thought to both conceptual issues and
technical matters. The challenge going forward – as shown in
the contrast between the technical discussions and Russia’s
concluding remarks – will be to come to a greater shared
understanding of the issues. On the technical side, there is
a fair amount of agreement, but as we go up in range, our
views diverge. Based on common data, we have different
perceptions. The conclusions the U.S. would draw would be
different in each case from the conclusions Yermakov
outlined. That is not bad, but both sides need to work to
understand the conceptual and technical basis for these
views. There is a great deal to discuss, and we will need to
be well prepared for fruitful and informative discussions in
Moscow in the spring. The U.S.
will study the Russian papers and follow up through
diplomatic channels. The U.S. also will do its homework
assignments, propose specific dates for the next round of
talks, and be prepared for “our exams” next time in Moscow.

Participants

76. (SBU) U.S. Delegation:

Vann H. Van Diepen, Acting Assistant Secretary, ISN
(Head of Delegation)

Frank Rose, Deputy Assistant Secretary, VCI

Pamela Durham, Director, ISN/MTR

Kimberly Hargan, ISN/MTR

Michael Kerley, ISN/MTR

David Hoppler, ISN/MDSP

Steve Rosenkrantz, ISN/MDSP

Kathleen Morenski, Deputy Director, EUR/PRA

Caroline Savage, EUR/RUS

Michael Fogo, EUR/RUS

Joshua Handler, INR/SPM

Anita Friedt, Director for Arms Control and
Non-Proliferation, National Security Council (NSC)

Daniel Menzel, Intelligence Analyst

Michael Barnes, OSD Office of Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia
Policy, Defense/OSD

Dimitry Zarechnak, Interpreter

77. (SBU) Russian Delegation:

Vladimir Nazarov, Deputy Secretary of Russia’s Security
Council (Head of Delegation)

Vyacheslav Kholodkov, Deputy Department Director, Security
Council

Oleg Khodyrev, Senior Counselor, Security Council

Vladimir Yermakov, Director for Strategic Capabilities
Policy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Andrey Shabalin, Second Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Yuriy Korolev, Expert, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Anatoliy Raikevich, First Deputy Department Director, Federal
Security Service

Alexander Novikov, Deputy Department Director, Ministry of
Defense

Evgeny Zudin, Office Director, Ministry of Defense

Alexander Derevlev, Senior Officer, Ministry of Defense

Alexander Serenko, Deputy Department Director, Roscosmos

Evgeny Bobrovskiy, Counselor, Russian Embassy

Oleg Pozdnyakov, First Secretary, Russian Embassy

Vadim Sergeev, Interpreter, Russian Embassy
CLINTON

NNNN

End Cable Text

(Reprinted from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 

The recent sinking of a South Korean (ROK) corvette, with the probable deaths of several dozen sailors, brings to focus the fraught situation on the Korean peninsula. Now the cause of this incident – North Korean (DPRK) torpedo or tragic accident – is not yet clear. Moreover, the two sides have a long history of border clashes – the current hot-spot over the Northern Limit Line, claimed by the ROK but disputed by the DPRK, has already seen three armed clashes in 1999, 2002, and 2009. The Korean War never really ended (the DPRK actually withdrew from the 1953 Armistice in 2009), and the North has pursued a strategy of periodically ratcheting up tensions to extract concessions from South Korea and the US. So this latest near-crisis is neither unexpected nor exceptionally destabilizing. As with the Cold War nuclear standoff, though the chances of any one trigger setting off an escalation to all-out war are small, they do accumulate over time.

Welcome to North Korea!

The Democratic People’s Republic is, as is well known, neither democratic (elections are fixed), popular (it is run by a small clique), or even a republic (Kim Jong-il succeeded his father Kim Il-sung to become “Supreme Leader”, and his son Kim Jong-un is slated to take over in 2012). Its political economy is essentialy based on the Asiatic mode of production – “held in thrall by a despotic ruling clique, residing in central cities and directly expropriating surplus from largely autarkic and generally undifferentiated village communities” (Martin & Wigen, 1997). These surpluses are used to buy the loyalties of the ruling elites who plan the DPRK’s self-sufficient economy (Juche) and uphold the “military first” (Songun) policy, as a result of which the DPRK is by far the most militarized state in the world – around 5% of its population are in the Korean People’s Army, on which the state has lavished a third of its entire gross product since the 1970′s. What emerges is an apotheosis of industrial totalitarianism, a “hermit kingdom” that manages to develop ballistic missiles and nukes, but can’t even feed its people – permanent dearth occasionally dips into outright famine, such as in 1995-98 when around 12% of its population starved to death.

Nonetheless, this does not mean that the DPRK is weak or unstable. Though its system of personal rule is brittle, a combination of coercion and legitimizing propaganda suppresses popular uprisings from below and open struggles amongst the elites. Consumer poverty has not preempted the sustenance of a 1.1mn-strong military, with some NBC capabilities, that is nearly twice the size of its southern adversary (not only in manpower, but also tanks, artillery pieces, warships, and fighters). This military buildup serves two complementing imperatives of the regime – 1) preserve the political dominance of the ruling elites centered around the Kim dynasty and upper echelons of the Party and military-industrial complex, and 2) pursue Kim Il-sung’s policy of “reunification through military force under DPRK conditions” that consitutes the legitimizing basis of the regime’s permanent war economy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJ6E3cShcVU

["Welcome to North Korea" documentary about the extent to which the Kim family's personality cult has taken over society].

Contrary to popular opinion, the North Korean regime is essentially stable. It survived its baptism of fire in 1950-53, the collapse of the Soviet Union (and of its subsidies) in the early 1990′s, and a devastating famine in 1995-98. It is merely authoritarian regimes, like Iran or China, which tend to be the most unstable. On the other hand, North Korea is a throughly totalitarian society, in which all information about the outside world is limited and dissenting voices are sent off to vast political prisons. Though hardship, dearth, and black markets may undermine the DPRK, there is always China to provide a last bulwark against disintegration. China has no interest in seeing the DPRK collapse, since doing so 1) may unleash a destabilizing flood of refugees and 2) much more importantly, its successor state will probably align with, or be absorbed by, South Korea, which is a regional rival and a firm ally of the US. The Chinese will do everything in their power to avoid a scenario in which a united Korean peninsula points like a dagger into their heartlands. Hence, as long as the DPRK’s rulers are united in their will to perpetuate the system, it will not collapse of its own accord.

This simple equilibrium, however, is complicated by outside Powers and the DPRK’s strategic culture. As Nicholas Eberstadt notes, North Korea is “deeply dissatisfied with the current configuration of the international chessboard and fundamentally committed to transforming it”, and the pursuit of nuclear weapons is one way to further these objectives. First, they help the regime legitimize itself domestically. Second, they are believed to deter South Korea and the US from launching preemptive strikes (senior figures in the DPRK have acknowledged outright that the example of Iraq is a great incentive to acquire nuclear arms).

Third, some elements of the Korean leadership may believe that nukes would deter the US and Japan from interfering in a renewed Korean War. Though the DPRK must realize their technological inferiority before South Korea, they may believe that in the absence of US reinforcements and airpower, their own advantages in sheer mass, special forces and infiltration, and NBC weapons may enable them to break through the DMZ and overrun the South. Unlikely? Maybe. But North Korea’s penchant for brinkmanship and unclear level of rationality means that the possibility must not be discounted. Really, all it takes is one low-level hothead to unfreeze the Korean War.

There is no question that North Korea is, if not planning, at least actively preparing for war. Despite its permanent economic hyper-depression, military mobilization remains as high as ever. Nationalism is cultivated, the South portrayed as a “puppet” of American imperialism. North Korea’s side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) has 500-600 SCUD missiles, which can deliver chemical agents, and 11,000 artillery pieces in hardened dugouts, capable of firing up to 500,000 rounds per hour. This volume of fire is capable of leveling much of Seoul, potentially causing hundreds of thousands of casualties (millions if nuclear weapons are used), and severely damaging the first of the South’s three defensive lines. Whereas in 1994 some 45% of Korea’s military manpower was located at the DMZ, by 1998 it had grown to 65% (and 80% of firepower) and more than 70% today. Tunnels have been dug underneath South Korea fortifications and the North boasts a 100,000-strong special forces, the biggest in the world. At least in public, the DPRK unwaveringly believes in its own military superiority.

Preparing for War

Assume the recent naval incident spirals out of control in the next few weeks. I’m not saying it will – that’s very unlikely, based on past precedent – but let’s just assume it. Though North Korea is as opaque as ever, there are indications that domestic crisis is brewing. Recent attempts at currency reform have failed, triggering what may be imminent hyperinflation (the mastermind behind this reform is rumored to have been executed). Furthermore, there are the challenges of the upcoming leadership transition. An increasingly paranoid DPRK leadership, facing the specter of unrest and renewed famine, decides that a war may be the way out of their increasingly untenable predicament. They begin to prepare a blitzkrieg against the South.

Though the military balance on the Korean peninsula was tipped towards North Korea throughout the Cold War, the situation was reversed in the early 1990′s as the ROK acquired new, modern equipment that was no longer needed by NATO on the Central European Plain. Even as South Korea’s economy continued its relentless surge into a leading global position, the North’s collapsed into a hyper-depression from which it has not emerged twenty years later. By 1998 it was estimated that though North Korea had the equivalent of 5 heavy US divisions, compared to South Korea’s 3.75, this slight margin was more than closed when one accounted for the latter’s better logistics, support equipment, and prepared defensive positions (not to mention 37,000 US troops and aeronaval forces). The tables had turned and it is like that by then the South could have defended itself even without outside support.

Fast forward another ten years to today. The North is now slightly better off than it was in the crisis-wracked 1990′s, having transitioned from militarized Marxism-Leninism to militarized neo-feudalism (nowadays, the Party has withered away and it is the Army that runs the economy). The gap between North and South is greater than ever. The ROK is now an advanced industrial economy, with the region’s third most powerful economy and military (behind China and Japan). On the other hand, the DPRK is the apotheosis of the late Industrial Age national security state – it has plenty of tanks, schools, spies, radios, bunkers, patriotic songs, etc, but lacks the information infrastructure that is indispensable for remaining competitive in the Information Age. As long as it retains its Juche system, it will continue slipping ever further behind.

However, one (dis)advantage of being disconnected and living in a personality cult is that you become pretty confident about your own strength. So back to our scenario of North Korea’s war preparations in April 2010. They will conduct a campaign of strategic deception, or maskirovka, to conceal their true intentions. Even as stockpiles of fuel, munitions, and spare parts are built up on the DMZ, relations with the South will appear to be better than ever.

Nonetheless, it should be noted that the DPRK has the dubious distinction of being America’s “most watched” country. American reconaissance satellites keep a permanent watch on the hermit kingdom and target lists are continuously updated. The primary concern nowadays is to detect North Korean missiles being prepped and fueled, so that the US is capable of intercepting them before launch if it so chooses. But suspicious signs of the buildup will likely be detected, and confirmed for certain hours, if not days, in advance.

The DPRK’s air defense system is extremely dense, and many artillery positions are concealed and/or hardened. However, the system’s obsolesence makes it ineffective against stealth or high-flying warplanes, and it can be easily jammed by modern electronic countermeasures. Though hardened, the ensuing lack of mobility makes them easy game for the precision-guided bunker busters that the US has in abundance. And it is doubtful that concealment will do the North Koreans much good when any armchair general can identify hidden artillery positions on Google Earth!

Pyongyang has over 150 AAA positions, making it by far the most defended city in the world, though the guns and fire-control radar are of 1950′s/60′s Soviet vintage. Source.

What may happen is that an hour or two before North Korean tanks are slated to begin rolling south, on receiving confirmation of an imminent invasion, the USAF and Korean Air Force will launch massive spoiling attacks on North Korea’s DMZ artillery positions, C&C nodes, airfields, critical infrastructure, and supply depots. Below is one scenario of a “Surgical Air Strike” from the 2003 report Stand-Off with North Korea: War Scenarios and Consequences by two analysts from the Center for Defense Information that gives some idea of the immense significance of US air power.

Six B-2s each armed with 80 500-lb JDAMs sequentially launch from Guam. The strike is coordinated with several divisions of B1-s with 12 JDAMs per aircraft and F-117s with two laser-guided precision-guided weapons per aircraft, taking off from other bases in the region. These strikes would be deconflicted with the launch of more than 300 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the various cruisers and submarines positioned in the Pacific. Six additional B2s, flying out of their homebase in Missouri, time their arrival closely behind – loaded with 24 1,000lb JDAMs or 16 2,000lb JDAMs. One thousand targets could be destroyed prior to sunrise. This would prepare the battleground for ground forces to rapidly sweep to the North under a protective close air support umbrella of tactical aircraft from two carrier battle groups and other aircraft and assault helicopters in the South.

The F-117 was retired in 2008, but is now being replaced by the much more capable F-22 Raptor. The scenario remains valid. However, it actually referred to a long-planned surgical strike designed to take out the North’s nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and decapitate its means for artillery retaliation. Obviously, the overall damage will not be as crippling to the North if the US and ROK have advance notice of only a few hours. Nonetheless, America’s bomber forces are at permanent readiness, there is an uninterrupted carrier battle group (CVBG) presence near the Korean peninsula, and the their target lists are always up to date. The preemptive air strikes will substantially weaken the Northern assault given their poor air defense and logistics.

At this point, control of the Combined Forces Command (CFC) of the ROK and the US is transferred onto an American general from Korea. (Though there is an agreement to let South Korea have wartime control from 2012).

Korean War 2.0 – The Tanks roll South

It begins. As North Korean generals become aware that their adversaries have jumped the gun on them, they will order the DMZ artillery to immediately open fire on the South’s first defensive lines, which has 8 out of its 19 divisions, and on Seoul, so as to create a flood of panicked refugees that would clog nearby roads, hampering resupply efforts and reinforcements. There may be initial wave of poor-quality troops (e.g., perhaps conscripted from its 200,000 political prisoners) to clear the minefields and soften up the ROK’s defense lines. Special forces units begin infiltrating the enemy rear, with the help of incursion tunnels beneath the DMZ.

Soon after, the DPRK’s four pre-positioned Army corps begin to move south along the “two major avenues of approach that lead toward Seoul, via Kaesong and Munsan nearer the west coast, and Chor’won and Uijongbu further inland”, as well as smaller operations “along the east coast from Kansong to Sokch’o as well as the Taedong mountains further inland”. Heavily influenced by Soviet military philosophy of the 1970′s-80′s, the North Korean plan is to use infantry supported by armor – emphasizing strategic surprise, mobility, and concentration of firepower, in tandem with special forces operations in the enemy’s rear – to rapidly overrun the South’s defense lines and reunify the peninsula “under DPRK conditions” within 30 days, before the ROK can fully mobilize or bring in heavy American reinforcements.

North Korean attack plan. Source.

North Korean attack plan. Source.

The breakthrough will be very hard for the KPA to accomplish, since they will face multiple prepared, unbroken, and amply manned defense lines across the DMZ. They will be continuously reinforced by an allied operational reserve that includes the US 2nd Infantry Division and two of the three South Korean mechanized divisions. A rapid North Korea breakthrough is very unlikely – historically, “advance rates were rarely more than four to five kilometers a day… when armies in World War II tried to drive through prepared defenses”.

As noted previously, the war will be very costly, in both blood and dollars. In 1994, when war seemed imminent, senior US military leaders estimated that in the first ninety days there would be “52,000 US military personnel killed and wounded, along with 490,000 South Korean military casualties… as well as ‘enormous’ DPRK and civilian casualties”. Furthermore, up to 80,000-100,000 American citizens could be killed, the war would cost the US 100bn $, and “the destruction and interruption of businesswould cost a trillion dollars to the countries involved and their immediate neighbors”. And this assumed that North Korea didn’t go nuclear, in which case costs would rise by another order of magnitude.

This was back in 1994. Sixteen years later, South Korea and the US have greater potential for minimizing their casualties thanks to technological developments, such as the following:

The United States has been working upon this problem for some years, and an Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) was mounted on the Peninsula in 1996-97 for this very purpose. The Precision/Rapid Counter – Multiple Rocket Launch ACTD, completed in 1997, apparently successfully developed and demonstrated all weather, day/night “precision deepstrike capability” to neutralize the rocket launchers and heavy artillery deployed north of the DMZ.

Whatever the costs of the war, however, it is almost certain that North Korea will fail to attain its objectives. Given the much better equipment, training, surveillance assets, and battlespace knowledge of the Combined Forces, as well as the parlous state of the North Korean military (e.g. its fighter pilots only get 10 hours of training per year, as opposed to 200+ hours for American pilots), its antiquated weapon systems (e.g. the main North Korean battle tank is based on the Soviet T-62), and its economic base (only has enough fuel reserves to sustain operations for 2-3 months), there is little doubt that South Korea will hold its defensive lines. Perhaps a few vanguard KPA detachments will penetrate to within sight of Seoul’s suburbs – where they will be bewildered at the puppet state’s relative prosperity – but that is the best that North Korea can realistically expect.

What if North Korea uses tactical nukes to break through the South Korean defense lines, similar to some Warsaw Pact plans for the conquest of Western Europe? This is a possibility, though not a particularly high one. Both DPRK nuclear tests “fizzled”, i.e. they were unsuccessful, indicating that their nuclear devices are quite primitive and not properly weaponized. (Building a nuclear device is pretty easy, making it reliable and mating it to a robust delivery system is the hard bit). This does not bode well for them given that most estimates indicate that the North only possesses a dozen or so bombs. More importantly, any offensive use of nukes by the DPRK will likely be met by a devastating response from the US; certainly that is the case if they manage to strike Japan or Hawaii (though that is a very remote prospect given that DPRK missiles are liquid-fueled, easily-detectable, and take a few days to “prep”, making them sitting ducks for the USAF). So despite the rhetoric, the DPRK is only probably going to “go nuclear” when it begins to feel it is losing – for instance, in a last-ditch attempt to seize Seoul before the South launches a strong counter-offensive with American reinforcements, or by “nuclear mining” the road to Pyongyang .

“Given the mass of combat power the U.S. and South Korea have available, both in forward stationed forces and in reserve, exposed invasion forces that became slowed or halted would be in dire straits from the defense lines in front of them and to their flanks, as well as indirect fire from artillery”. The Combined Forces will rapidly achieve full air superiority over the North Koreans, and will be able to inflict a lot of damage with minimal interference. US reinforcements will pour in by sea and air, and advance elements of heavy divisions will appear by Day 30. This will set the ground for the third phase of the war – the conquest and destruction of the DPRK as a political entity.

Korean War 2.0 – The March to Pyongyang

The allied war plan, Operations Plan 5027, calls for a “regrouping phase after halting the initial invasion” (expected within 7-10 days of the start of the North Korean offensive), around the “layered defense lines north of and around Seoul”, to be followed by a full-scale counteroffensive whose ultimate objective is Pyongyang and the reunification of the peninsula under the Republic of Korea. This invasion will be preceded by heavy B-1 and B-52 bombardment before the allied advance and the use of amphibious Marine operations to “cut the DPRK’s narrow band in two”.

This advance is expected to encounter fierce resistance. Practically every adult in North Korea has military training and the country has been devoting the bulk of its resources to defense since the 1970′s. Finally, much of the North Korean terrain is mountainous and less favorable to America’s hi-tech assets than the flat deserts of Iraq. Below is a summary of the views of one Chinese military analyst, Zhen Xi, writing in the 1990′s, on how he believes North Korea can defend itself.

NORTH KOREA CAN DEFEAT AMERICA

Chinese military authors also appear to devalue the effectiveness of U.S. forces in a future Korean scenario. According to a colonel at AMS, several factors ensure U.S. defeat “if in the next few years a Korean War erupted.” His main points are:

  • The United States will not have 6 months to deploy and train forces. Instead, “the Korean People’s Army will surprise attack South Korean air bases, ports and communication lines.”
  • “U.S. casualties will not be as low as in the Gulf War. . . . On the Korean peninsula, the population is dense, with river networks and mountains, roads are few, unsuitable to armor . . . casualties will be extremely high.”
  • “North Korea’s mountains are wrapped in clouds and mist; it will be difficult for the U.S. Air Force and high-technology weaponry to give full play to their vast superiority.”
  • Temperatures of negative 40 degrees centigrade “provide excellent conditions” for guerilla warfare.
  • North Korea will not allow the United States to land in the rear.
  • U.S. forces lack numerical strength. During the Korean War, U.S. troops reached over 400,000, but the result was not victory. In the 1960s and 1970s, in the Vietnam War American forces were 663,000 and had great technical superiority, but the result also was defeat. U.S. forces in year 2000 will be 70 percent of today.

These are all more-or-less valid points, but there are a number of caveats that must be taken into account in such an analysis.

First, it should be borne in mind that the bulk of the military mass will now be provided by South Korea, which has around 5mn men in the reserves and a massive industrial base of its own. The most important US contribution will be its surveillance and reconaissance capabilities, air and naval power, and amphibious operations. Such a single-minded emphasis on the US is misplaced.

Second, whereas in the 1980′s the KPA was a motivated and able force, it is far from clear whether that is still the case. There are numerous reports of metastasizing corruption within the DPRK reaching to the highest levels of government. As happened in 2003 Iraq, it may even be possible to bribe some North Korean generals into non-interference or surrender.

Third, likewise it is not at all clear that the general North Korean population will willingly fight for the regime, at least not with the fanatic zeal one sees in DPRK propaganda. Yes, the hermit kingdom remains, by and large, a very closed society. However, hundreds of thousands have emigrated into China, and millions have now been exposed to videos of life in South Korea. Since the early 2000′s, VCR’s have become accessible to better-off North Koreans, along with black-market DVD’s of South Korean dramas and films. Observers report a (relative) relaxation of social controls – not for lack of effort, but simply because the resources available for surveillance have plummeted along with everything else – and increasing disillusionment with the government.

Fourth, another very important thing is that the DPRK’s fertility rate has been at or below the replacement level rate of 2.1 children per woman since the 1990′s. Historically, only high-fertility nations have been able to sustain intense guerilla campaigns or “people’s wars“, since the death of a son is far more tragic – and economically ruinous – when he is your only one. Moreover, most of the troops invading North Korea will be fellow Koreans – yet another disincentive for waging an uncompromising resistance struggle.

Fifth, the importance of the allied technological edge must not be underestimated. When you are losing five or ten soldiers for every one of the enemy’s, the will to fight becomes incredibly sapped. And those are the likely ratios when low-category North Korean units come up against the advancing Combined Forces.

I am not saying that the march to Pyongyang will be like a walk in the park. At least initially, the Korean People’s Army and its military reserves will put up a fight, and as mentioned above, facing the certainty of its own demise, the regime may not shy away from unleashing any nuclear capabilities they may have. Nor are the South Koreans going to be particularly restrained – one authority on the matter informs me that the South Korean officer class hates the Northern elites, and will probably “take no enemies, anyone associated with the party (which means all officers) will be eliminated”. However, there is no way that even a big guerrilla army – poorly trained, logistically-challenged, and armed with antiquated 1950′s/60′s-era Soviet weaponry – will be able to halt the advance of a modern military enjoying advanced space-based surveillance systems and complete air and naval superiority. An eventual Combined Forces victory is assured, unless…

The Specter of Escalation

Crossing the DMZ with the intention of toppling the DPRK and replacing it with a government allied with or integrated into South Korea will put a whole set of new dynamics into play. Though China has no intention of aiding North Korea in aggression, it views the establishment of an American bridgehead on its Manchurian border with trepidation and may intervene under extreme circumstances, such as an all-out American and South Korean drive for “regime change” in Pyongyang.

If this were to happen, all bets are off. China will probably be able to roll back the invasion forces to the DMZ. After all, it managed to do this in the 1950′s, when it was much more militarily backwards relative to the US. Now, it will have a big preponderance over land, while its new “carrier-killing” ballistic missiles, submarines, cruise missiles, and Flanker fighters are now, at some level, able to deny the seas off China to the US Navy, while its anti-satellite tests and cyberwar prowess means that the American dominance in space and information ought not be taken for granted either. Now I am not saying that the People’s Liberation Army comes anywhere close to matching the American military; however, it might well already have the ability to defeat it in a local war on China’s borders. If China is successful, it will re-establish North Korea as its own protectorate, although under someone more rational and reliable than Kim Jong-il (though needless to say this will also completely sever its economic relationship with the US and cause a severe, but temporary, economic contraction due to the collapse of its export sector).

There will be a cascade of consequences elsewhere. Taiwan may use the opportunity to declare independence, provoking a second war in the region. Though the US says that it will not come to Taiwan’s aid if it does this unilaterally, America will probably change its mind if it is simultaneously embroiled in an intense local war with China on the Korean peninsula! Other actors opposed to American hegemony may view this as a chance to undermine the overstretched superpower. For instance, Russia could orchestrate a new war against Georgia and China may even persuade Iran to mine the Strait of Hormuz in exchange for security guarantees and technology transfer. All these dominoes going down may even precipitate the collapse of the increasingly fragile Pax Americana.

But this is all speculation. I will end this article on something a lot more fundamental – the fact that North Korea is running out of time. Having abandoned the aptly-named “sunshine policy” (1998-2008) towards the DPRK, today’s South Korea has ambitious plans for a military modernization designed to achieve full-spectrum superiority over its northern neighbor by 2020. This involves making the ROK Army more network-centric, acquiring top-end ABM and space capabilities, and increasing automization (e.g. gun sentries). North Korea is digging underground to conceal its military assets, but these efforts are in a race against improving bunker-busting bombs and underground imaging technology. On current trends, it is quite likely that by the 2020′s, North Korea will even lose its ability to pose a credible threat to Seoul. Even if, against all odds, the DPRK manages to develop nuclear-tipped, solid-fuel ballistic missiles – i.e., which can be prepped for launch within a few minutes – they will be rendered irrelevant by the proliferation of advanced ABM systems in the Western Pacific. This means that North Korea’s “window of opportunity” to reunify the peninsula is closing fast (if it was ever open in the first place). If it is to have the smallest, non-zero chance of success, it has to strike very soon. Is North Korea’s recent bellicosity and abrogation of the 1953 Armistice mere coincidence?

Now I should stress again that the scenario I have painted is not likely to unfold as I predict. Quite simply, for all its bluster, the North Korean regime may well simply be too fearful of its domestic position, too satisfied with its creature comforts, too post-ideological and disillusioned, to risk undergoing the ultimate trial of its own strength and intelligence – war. But it is not impossible.

(Reprinted from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
 
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.