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Nuclear Flashpoints: North Korea (DPRK)


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, 38North.org)
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


2016:
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



Selected Press Items -

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




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 "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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