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Nuclear Flashpoints: North Korea (DPRK)

historic breakthrough for Koreas

April 27, 2018:
Extraordinary: Koreas Pledge To Pursue Final Peace, Denuclearization
After an historic summit, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have pledged to pursue "a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula" and to work towards "a permanent and solid peace regime."
Kim said: "There is no reason why we should fight each other- we are one nation."
"The Koreas will work together to ensure they do not 'repeat the unfortunate history in which past inter-Korea agreements...fizzled out after beginning.'" (story)

March 13, 2018:
In Surprise Move, Trump Tweets He'll Meet With Kim Jong Un by May
Tillerson blindsided, returns early from Africa, but is tweet-fired before he hits the ground.

Behind VP Pence: Kim Yong Nam, President of the Presidium of North Korean Parliament, and Kim Yo Jong, sister of leader Kim Jong Un (photo: Washington Post)

February 11, 2018:
Pence Snubs Peace Initiative at Winter Olympics
Experts have been saying for some time that there is no good military solution to the Korea crisis. The best way to see the crisis defused would of course start with a rapprochement of the two Koreas. In fact the State Dept. recently said that the US would have no objection to a unified Korea as long as it was de-nuclearized. So that path was in the wind, but when the two Koreas initiated a peace and reconciliation effort at the Olympics, US Vice President Pence refused to go along.
"Pence spent the days leading up to Friday's opening ceremonies warning that the North was trying to 'hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games' with its 'propaganda.'
"But the North was still welcomed with open arms to what South Korean President Moon Jae-in called 'Olympic games of peace' and the U.S. appeared to be the one left out in the cold.
"Pence sat stone-faced in his seat as Moon and North Koreans officials stood together with much of the stadium to applaud their joint team of athletes. White House officials stressed that Pence had applauded only for the American team, but Asia experts said the vice president's refusal to stand could be seen as disrespectful to the hosts.
"While South Korean President Moon did not hesitate to shake hands and smile with his North Korean visitors, Pence didn't appear to even look in the direction of the North Korean delegation during the Friday event." (source: WaPo)
Seems the Trump administration would rather threaten than talk.
- Pence's Anti-North Korea PR Campaign Bombs
- US Vice-President Mike Pence rains on Olympic parade with Korea team snub

January 11, 2018:
NM Senator Martin Heinrich Letter to Sec.Def. Mattis Warning Against "Bloody Nose" Attack on North Korea
"Massive gamble", "risk of mass casualties and utter devastation"... Urges diplomatic efforts... (view/download PDF)

Jan 11, 2018:
DPRK Develops its Nukes For The Same Reason We Keep Ours: Deterrence
We often hear these days that the North Korean nuclear weapons program is a failure of deterrence. It is not. DPRK's nuke forces were developed for the same reasons ours exist: to deter another state from attacking it. (In particular, the US.) DPRK's program is a confirmation of the concept of deterrence.
The concept of deterrence means a state has nuclear weapons so other states dare not attack. As such all states might aspire to develop a deterrent. Our 'deterrence' was never meant to prevent states form going nuclear, only to prevent them from attacking us.
Preventing other states from going nuclear was the purpose of the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty. The NPT deal was that non-nuclear weapons states would abstain from developing nuclear arsenals in exchange for a promise from the nuclear weapons states to negotiate in good faith to achieve genuine reductions and eventual abolition of nuclear arsenals. The nuclear weapons states have not done that. They still have 15000 nukes. That is the failure.
DPRK's nuclear development isn't down to a failure of deterrence but rather a failure of the nuclear weapons states to abide in good faith by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

September 27, 2017:
Hawaii, California Preparing for North Korean Nuclear Attack
A startling headline, but alas, true. Precautionary measures no doubt, in case the angry war of words goes to military violence and a possible nuclear exchange. It's unlikely Kim would fire a first strike at the US mainland; but in response to a US strike on North Korea, well maybe. Apparently, some people are seeing America's 'military option' becoming more likely.
- Hawaii residents told to prepare for nuclear attack as tensions reach new high
"The state will begin testing a siren warning system, a wailing sound, in November. It would give people about 12 to 15 minutes to get to safety, after which they would be required to stay indoors for 48 to 72 hours."
- North Korea: California's plans for nuclear attack revealed
"The threat of a nuclear attack on California is real enough that a regional task force circulated a document to help the state prepare for a 'catastrophic' strike." (
October 10, 2017:
University of Hawaii sent an email to students Monday with tips on how to prepare for a nuclear attack

September 18, 2017:
Mattis: Yes, there are military options that do not put Seoul at Risk
Hans Nichols, NBC pentagon correspondent, tweeted:
- Mattis just dropped by Pentagon bullpen; "There are many military options, in concert with our allies"
- Mattis confirms military options against N Korea that do not put Seoul at risk: "Yes there are are, but I will not go into details."

Kim Jong Un and H-Bomb fitting nose cone of ICBM
Kim Jong Un and H-Bomb fitting nose cone of ICBM, photo released September 2, 2017

September 3, 2017:
North Korea: Sunday's test was a hydrogen bomb small enough to fit an ICBM
Sunday morning North Korea set off what is thought to have been a 120 kiloton hydrogen bomb, a day after press pictures were released showing Kim Jong Un and staff with what was said to be a miniaturized thermonuclear warhead ready to load in an ICBM nose cone. [Note Sept 14: 38North has revised the estimated yield to 250 kilotons.]
"Based on the seismic signature, the yield of this test definitely is an order of magnitude higher than the yields of the previous tests..." - Catherine Dill, James Martin Center
In China the blast was felt as a strong tremor (USGS: 6.3 mag.) shaking windows. Chinese officials said they were carrying out emergency radiation testing along the border with North Korea.
North Korea's brief period of "restraint", what Secretary Tillerson called a possible "pathway" to dialogue, is over, following the launch of a missile over Japan on August 28, and now it's most powerful nuclear test to date. Pres. Trump had said only last week that his threat to rain "fire and fury" on North Korea was working, and that Kim was "starting to respect us". Well, apparently not. Kim probably feels like he's on a run, and might just as well go full speed ahead; he may well believe he has outplayed the US and won't be stopped. Some have suggested that when Kim feels he has an effective enough arsenal to deter the US, he may be ready for a freeze or suspension and negotiations toward a peace treaty. On the other hand, one can imagine that he may see no need of that, and just keeps growing his nuclear forces. (Note that at some point he will also be a threat to China.)
The test was rather irritating for China, as Premier Xi is hosting the BRICS Conference this week, an important element of China's foreign policy agenda, and he will not like being upstaged by Mr Kim's latest feat.
- Regarding the Hwasong-12 missile launch on August 28:
In "North Korea's Hwasong-12 Launch: A Disturbing Development" Michael Elleman, wrote: "An alternative disturbing hypothesis is that tests of the missile have included a small post-boost vehicle (PBV) to provide extra boost to the payload after the main stage is discarded..." (read on)
- Recommended: End the 67-year war by Robert Alvarez, at the Bulletin. "It's time to find a path to end the 67-year-long Korean war. As the threat of military conflict looms, the American public is largely unaware of the sobering facts about America's longest unresolved war and one of the world's bloodiest." (read on)
September 13: DPRK launches another missile over Japan, with greatest range yet, enough to hit Guam. (ref)
- See our dossier for more: Flashpoint: North Korea

Trump threatens fire and fury on North Korea

August 9, 2017:
North Korea: Red Lines Crossed, Threats Intensify
"If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air,
  the like of which has never been seen on this earth." - Truman, August 6, 1945

"They will be met with fire and fury the likes of which this world has never seen before..."
- Trump, August 8, 2017

Within hours of Trump's "fire and fury" warning, North Korea announced it was "carefully examining" plans to launch 4 missiles toward Guam.
Could we be seeing the confluence of events that bookends a 72-year hiatus with another nuclear bombing in Asia?
August 8: The Washington Post is reporting that a 'confidential assessment' by the "intelligence community" that Kim has already miniaturized his bombs, that he has as many as 60 nukes, that he's scaling up his ICBM missile production... in other words, red lines crossed.
Senator Lindsay Graham, Aug 1, 2017: Trump has "got to choose between homeland security and regional stability... If there's going to be a war to stop [Kim Jong Un], it will be over there. If thousands die, they're going to die over there. They're not going to die here. And [Trump's] told me that to my face. That may be provocative, but not really. When you're president of the United States, where does your allegiance lie? To the people of the United States." (source)

So here we stand on the brink of nuclear hostilities. Note that the nuclear weapons state with the smallest arsenal and a barely functioning ICBM is still an existential threat, even to the country with the largest arsenal and the most advanced delivery systems on the planet.
It seems that the nuclear weapon is most useful to the smallest power, transforming it from a military gnat into a lethal danger to even the most powerful states.
One would think that it would be in the interest of the powerful country to seek the complete removal of nuclear weapons from the picture. ASAP. But in fact, given the opportunity- of the Ban Treaty negotiations for example- the US has refused to have anything to do with any such effort. ("We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it.") Instead, a trillion dollar renewal and 'modernization' of our nuclear forces is planned.
Where does that road lead?

July 28:
UCS: North Korean ICBM in latest test appears able to reach major US cities, including New York
Union of Concerned Scientists Reports that, like the previous test on July 8, North Korea launched its missile on a highly lofted trajectory; a standard intercontinental trajectory, accounting for the Earth's rotation, would give it range to hit New York City, and only 100 kilometers short of Washington DC. (see full UCS report).

July 4, 2017:
North Korea Finally Tests an ICBM
"As with most of North Korea's recent long-range missile tests, this one used a so-called "lofted" trajectory to keep the missile from overflying neighboring countries while still demonstrating high performance. If the data is correct, preliminary trajectory reconstructions indicate that if the missile were fired on a more efficient trajectory it would reach a range of anywhere from 6,700 to 8,000 km. David Wright, who provided the 6,700 km figure, acknowledges that his early analysis did not include the effect of the Earth's rotation and the performance would probably be higher if the missile were launched in an easterly direction. The United States, of course, is to the east of North Korea. By any standard, this is the performance of an intercontinental ballistic missile. Fired from North Korea, it probably couldn't reach the contiguous United States, but Hawaii and Alaska would be within reach." - John Schilling,

June 2017:
How to Deal With North Korea
There are no good options. But some are worse than others.
This is a detailed long-form report from Mark Bowden at The Atlantic. It's well worth the read; - or you can listen to a sonorous voice patiently read the whole thing to you (recommended) via Soundcloud. The "no-good options"? Prevention (first strike); Turning the Screws; Decapitation; Acceptance. Read all about each.

May 14, 2017:
North Korea's Latest Missile Test: Advancing towards an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) While Avoiding US Military Action
"North Korea's latest successful missile test represents a level of performance never before seen from a North Korean missile. The missile would have flown a distance of some 4,500 kilometers if launched on a maximum trajectory. It appears to have not only demonstrated an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) that might enable them to reliably strike the US base at Guam, but more importantly, may represent a substantial advance to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)." (John Schilling,
The high altitude reached by the Hwasong-12 missile (1300+ miles) allowed the DPRK to test the first two stages of the three-stage missile, as well as the performance on atmospheric re-entry of the 3rd-stage warhead vehicle- a key hurdle in developing a true ICBM capable of reaching the North American continent. The steep trajectory of the test meant that the missile did not land anywhere near neighboring countries.
- North Korea's Latest Missile Test: Advancing towards an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile
  (ICBM) While Avoiding US Military Action

- North Korea Missile Test Appears to Tiptoe Over a U.S. Tripwire
- A Quick Technical Analysis of the Hwasong-12

Military parade, Pyongyang, on the 105th anniversary of founder's birth, April 14, 2017.

North Korea threatens nuclear war if US strikes
As the US war fleet approaches, Pyongyang stages huge military parade, showing off new ICBMs - as yet untested- capable of reaching North America, submarine launched missiles, and mobile launch platforms.

April 15, William Perry:
How to Make a Deal With North Korea
Escalating tensions have made a diplomatic solution possible.
It might be the last chance we have.

"The latest provocation came on Saturday, when the Democratic People's Republic launched a missile after U.S. warnings not to do so. (The missile reportedly blew up almost immediately.) But, paradoxically, these same escalating conditions have also paved the way for a new diplomatic solution. Let's hope the administration will see this opportunity and seize it.
"It's important to understand just what dangers we are trying to mitigate..." (read on)

April 14, China foreign minister Wang Yi:
"One has the feeling that a conflict could break out at any moment. I think that all relevant parties should be highly vigilant with regards to this situation...We call on all parties to refrain from provoking and threatening each other, whether in words or actions, and not let the situation get to an irreversible and unmanageable stage." (ref: BBC)

North Korea launches 4 intermediate range missiles toward Japan

2017: Crunch Time Approaching on North Korea
Recent events:
- Last year, North Korea tested a submarine launched missile. 3 weeks ago, a solid-fuel rocket.
- The new Trump administration began examining it's options for dealing with the DPRK, including the military, including possible regime decapitation.
- Kim Jong-Nam, half brother of the North Korean ruler, an advocate of reform once seen as an alternative to Kim Jong-Un who has been living under Chinese protection in Macau, was assassinated by DPRK agents using VX at the Kuala Lumpur airport while traveling incognito.
- The Times reports the US under Obama had been conducting a cyber and electronic warfare effort against North Korea. (ref)

March 6, 2017:
- During US-South Korean military exercises, North Korea launched 4 intermediate range missiles (photo above) toward Japan; this range can reach US forces in Japan and other regional bases.
- Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD missile defense: deployment begins in South Korea, over Chinese objections.

N. Korea's KN-08 missile
The KN-08 intercontinental missile is thought to be capable of reaching all targets in the continental US. (ref)

March 8, 2017:
China Alarmed, Says DPRK Should Stop All Bomb and Missile Tests, US-South Korea Should Cease Military Exercises
"The United States and North Korea are set for a "head-on collision" with neither side willing to give way, China's top diplomat has warned. In a week of heightened tensions in the region, Foreign Minister Wang Yi cautioned the US in unusually frank language against the deployment of a controversial missile defense system in South Korea. The system is vehemently opposed by China. But he also had strong words for North Korea, saying Pyonyang should suspend its nuclear weapons program. "'The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming towards each other,' Wang told reporters in Beijing. 'The question is, are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision?'" ("US and North Korea set for 'head-on collision', China warns" - CNN)

US rejects China's call to halt drills if North Korea stops tests (ref)
US Ambassador to the UN Niki Haley said "all options are on the table".

North Korea's missile ranges

North Korea Increases Pace of Missile, Nuke Testing... What's Next?
For years whenever the North Korean dictator set off an atom bomb, or tested a missile, or threatened a nuclear attack on the US, the narrative was that he was just trying to get the world's attention, maybe get a foreign aide deal. By now though it is clear that whatever the motivations were a decade ago, the North Korean regime under Kim Jong-Un is going for a nuclear force capable of striking the United States. Recent DPRK claims, though perhaps exaggerated, point the direction ahead: thermonuclear weapons, miniaturization of weapons for long-range missile delivery, the development of a strategic submarine fleet. Once DPRK has the military capability to launch a nuclear missile attack on the US from submarine platforms, the empty threats are not so empty anymore, and it might be assumed that the US would have to take action. One might also assume that China, desiring to be the arbiter and dominant power in East Asia, would rather be the one to deal with the North Korea problem- better than sitting back and letting the US demonstrate a continuing pre-eminence in the region.
While the US cannot afford to ignore Mr Kim's threats once he has obtained the ability to carry them out, Kim's game vis-a-vis the US is likely deterrence, rather than the pre-emptive attack he has sometimes threatened. Kim may not be quite that crazy. Instead, he may be imagining that the DPRK could invade the South, gloriously expelling the foreigners and uniting the Korean homeland- so long as he can deter the US from intervening by holding US and Japanese cities under nuclear threat.
This year's US-South Korean military exercises currently underway for the first time include practice in hitting the nuclear sites and command and control centers in the North. This is serious planning, not 'sending a message', though it is likely we'd want the Chinese to take note and redouble their efforts to 'solve' the North Korea problem from their side. Time is running out.
- Toronto Star, March 9: Kim claims North Korea can put miniaturized atomic bombs on missiles
- FPIF, April 15: North Korea's New Rocket Technology Looks Like It's for Real: New missiles
  could reach US East Coast by 2020.

- WaPo April 23: North's Successful Test of Submarine Launched Missile Confirmed by Seoul
- NYTimes May 7: As North Korea's Nuclear Program Advances, U.S. Strategy Is Tested
"After years of trying to separate fact from propaganda about North Korea's nuclear program, American and South Korean intelligence officials say they have concluded that the country can now mount a small nuclear warhead on short and medium-range missiles capable of hitting much of Japan and South Korea..." (story, NYTimes)
- May 2016, Mr. Kim at the Party Congress: "As a responsible nuclear weapons state, our Republic will not use a nuclear weapon unless its sovereignty is encroached upon by any aggressive hostile forces with nukes." (That is the quote Reuters and other sources are using; is there an equivalent of "nukes" in the Korean language?)

Democratic People's Republic of Korea

Recommended reading:
A Murderous History of Korea
- New York Review of Books, May 18, 2017
Especially now, it's important to know the context of the Democratic People's Republic, which, by the way, has been in existence as long as the Soviet Union.

Selected Press Items -

Koreas agree to work toward peace and 'complete denuclearization'

Trump's strike on Syria is exactly why North Korea wants nuclear weapons

The Trump-Kim Summit and North Korean Denuclearization: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Pence's Anti-North Korea PR Campaign Bombs

US Vice-President Mike Pence rains on Olympic parade with Korea team snub

S. Korea, U.S. agree to work toward opening denuclearization talks with N. Korea

Could a false alarm like Hawaii trigger a war?

Japan public TV sends mistaken North Korean missile alert

Hawaii's Nuclear Wakeup Call (and Why We Should Take MLK's Advice)

What the Hell Happened in Hawaii?

Hawaii Panics After Alert About Incoming Missile Is Sent in Error

University of Hawaii emailed students tips on how to prepare for a nuclear attack

The New Hwasong-15 ICBM: A Significant Improvement That May be Ready as Early as 2018

North Korea signals intent to 'complete' its nuclear force

How U.S. Intelligence Agencies Underestimated North Korea

Preemptive or preventative strikes: The Dangerous Misunderstanding at the Core of the North Korea Debate

North Korea: Hawaii residents told to prepare for nuclear attack as tensions reach new high

California's plans for North Korean nuclear attack revealed

The Memo: Fears escalate over North Korea

Trump at UN threatens to 'totally destroy' North Korea

North Korea's Threat Pushes Japan to Reassess Its Might and Rights

North Korea responds to latest U.N. sanctions with second missile over Japan

North Korea's nuclear plans are actually very clear. It's far less obvious what Donald Trump will do

Hwasong 14: Not an ICBM? Still an open question

Analysis: North Korea's "not quite" ICBM can't hit the lower 48 states

UCS: North Korean ICBM Appears Able to Reach Major US Cities, incl. New York

North Korea Finally Tests an ICBM

How to Deal With North Korea: There are no good options

Detailed report on Nth Korea missile and nuclear weapons programs

Thinking the Unthinkable With North Korea

A Quick Technical Analysis of the Hwasong-12

North Korea's Latest Missile Test: Advancing towards an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) While Avoiding US Military Action

North Korea Missile Test Appears to Tiptoe Over a U.S. Tripwire

August 18, 2016:
North Korea Resumes Plutonium Production
North Korea says it has resumed plutonium production from spent fuel rods and has no plans to stop nuclear tests as long as the United States still "threatens" Pyongyang, Kyodo News reported Wednesday. (story)
- South Korea's military said on Thursday it would conduct its largest ever artillery drill near the border with North Korea, a day after Pyongyang said it had resumed plutonium production and would continue nuclear tests. (more)

June 14, 2016, Reuters Exclusive:
North Korea may be 'significantly' upping nuclear bomb output
Kim Jong Un may have a total of 13 to 21- or even more- nuclear bombs already... And, "the estimate did not take into account the possible production of additional highly enriched uranium at a second centrifuge plant thought to exist". In addition, just a week before the report was released, a senior State Department official told Reuters that North Korea had restarted production of plutonium fuel. (story)

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General Lee Butler on Nuclear Weapons "I am the only person who ever looked at all twelve thousand five hundred of our targets. And when I got through I was horrified. Deterrence was a formula for disaster. We escaped disaster by the grace of God. If you ask one person who has lived in this arena his whole career, I have come to one conclusion. This has to end. This must stop. This must be our highest priority." -Gen. Lee Butler (Ret.), former Commander in Chief, U.S. Strategic Command

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