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Nuclear Flashpoints: North Korea (DPRK)

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?)

DPRK - Democratic People's Republic of Korea

Selected Press Items -

Preventing North Korea's Nuclear Breakout
"North Korea is on the verge of a strategic breakout- quantitatively (by ramping up its warhead numbers) and qualitatively (through mastery of warhead miniaturization and long-range ballistic missiles)- that directly threatens the U.S. homeland."
Download Edward Litwak's book from the Wilson Center (free).

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
"We cannot at once keep sacred the miracle of existence and hold sacrosanct the capacity to destroy it." -Gen. Lee Butler (Ret.), former Commander in Chief, U.S. Strategic Command

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