A Conversation with North Korea Defense Policy Experts, January 20, 2017
1. The background of Kim Jong-un’s Economy-Nuclear Parallel Policy
1.1. The Actual Condition of the North Korean Military after Kim Jong-un’s Rise to Power
After Kim Jong-il’s sudden death in early 2012, Kim Jong-un was put in the position to lead the entire military.
In this new position, Kim Jong-un toured all the islands in the NLL area on the West Coast under the IV Corps to see their state of preparation for war.
When Kim Jong-un saw how the military bases on the frontline had been preparing for war he was speechless.
The North Korean military, which Kim Jong-un had seen, was incapable of going to war on North Korea’s established military doctrine.
1.1.1. The North Korean military that is too weak to carry out North Korea’s Military Strategies on South Korea
North Korea’s military strategy towards South Korea is
1. Launch a preemptive attack
2. Combine conventional war and guerrilla war tactics and use ICBMs to block US military reinforcements.
Based on this strategy, North Korea has been storing war reserves, placing most of its forces on the frontline where they go through intense training for preemptive attacks in the highly mobilized military structure.
North Korea has been strengthening its preparations for high-level military services by operating a large special force of more than 200,000 soldiers.
However, the North Korean military that secured by Kim Jong-un is in no condition to carry out the military strategy against South Korea.
First, the embezzlement of war supplies has decreased the war reserve stocks, meaning there is not enough war supplies.
There are not enough weapons or equipment, and many avoid military training due to the lack of food that is supplied.
Second, even when looking at it in terms of preemptive strategy, the soldiers in North Korea’s frontline are severly malnourished and the poor command and control of the North Korean army means that it is not able to carry out an effective surprise attack.
Third, as soldiers are forced to do side-work during their military service, they have had limited training and their military abilities are limited.
Fourth, after the collapse of the former Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, the North Korean military has been unable to receive free military support and thus has not gone through a process of modernization in the military for almost 30 years.
In the end, Kim Jong-un learned that if an asymmetric strategy was not used, then he would not be able to narrow the gap between the South Korean military in terms of conventional force.
1.1.2. The Asymmetric Strategy Chosen by Kim Jong-un
Eventually in March 2013, Kim Jong-un adopted the parallel development policy of ‘economy and nuclear weapons’ during a plenary session of the Party Central Committee.
The essence of the parallel development policy was that weapons of mass distraction and asymmetric weapons such as nuclear and bio-chemical weapons could turn South Korea into ashes- an extremely dangerous strategy of unifying the Korean Peninsula.
In other words, it would have the biggest impact for the smallest amount of money.
This means that North Korea will make nuclear weapons “smaller and lighter”, complete the development of ‘boosted fission weapons’ and ‘strategic nuclear weapons’ so that eventually it can develop miniaturized nuclear weapons with projectile shells and long-range missiles.
Additionally, the plan is to complete the development of a submarine-launched ballistic missile to neutralize South Korea’s kill chain.
In North Korea this strategy is taught in public lectures in the Party and Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the ‘Egg War Strategy (알 전쟁 전략).’
In other words, the victory of a war does not lie in mechanised forces such as tanks or armoured vehicles but rather nuclear warheads and bio-chemical weapons.
With its successful satellite launches, North Korea is now working to extend the range of its missiles including SCUD, Rodong and Taepodong so that it can speedily develop ballistic missiles at the level of ICBMs.
Additionally, North Korea has recently been concentrating on increasing the accuracy of the long-range missiles.
These technical developments of long-range missiles can be analysed to be a strengthening of North Korea’s ability to attack South Korea’s strategies using guerrilla tactics.
Other than this, the reinforcement of North Korea’s Asymmetric Strategies can be seen through the diversification of strategies such as cyber warfare, electronic warfare and drones.
In recent days, drones can now be seen regularly in military parades in North Korea.
North Korea developed the Yono-class submarine in addition to its Romeo-class submarine, Sang-O-class submarine and Yugo-class submarine in order to launch its attack on Cheonan.
Recently, North Korea began to develop a 1,000-ton class new-style submarine and a 3,000-ton class golf-class submarine that is capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
It has also strengthened the training of 200,000 or so special operation forces.
The Missile Strategy group has grown considerably in the military over the past 3 years.
1.1.3. A case study showing the importance of nuclear development in North Korea
North Korea held its 7th Party Congress in May 2016 and there were about 100 representatives sitting at the front and middle of the assembly hall.
In May 2016, the 7th Party Congress was held and about 100 delegates were sitting at the front of the conference hall.
Before the meeting and during the break, a deputy head of the Organization and Guidance Department warned the delegates not to fall asleep and to sit properly. But everybody in the middle section kept scratching their heads and moving around.
Only these people were let off by the OGD. They were nuclear scientists.
There was one party delegate present to represent 1,000 party members at the 7th Party Congress.
However, in the field of nuclear weapons development, about 100 people participated, regardless of the number of party members.
The fact that they continued to scratch their head and bodies during the assembly is evidence that they were suffering from nuclear radiation.
1.2. An evaluation of North Korea’s military strategy towards North Korea
1.2.1. North Korea’s military strategy based on nuclear weapons
North Korea‘s military strategy towards South Korea is to use various weapons of mass destruction at the beginning of the war to use fear and shock to neutralize the will of the South Korean soldiers to fight in the war.
After burning South Korea to the ground with nuclear and biochemical weapons, North Korea will swoop over the front lines and use tanks and mechanized units to launch a rapid shock tactics.
The importance here is a strategy that blocks US intervention.
If North Korea shows the United States it has an ICBM equipped with a nuclear warhead it will show that if the United States intervenes, it has the ability to destroy one or two cities in the US which will lead to the US’ retreat.
1.2.2. The Power of Nuclear Weapons in the Sino-Soviet Border Conflict as seen by Kim Il-sung
Let me tell you about a case study that is often used in lectures at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when discussing North Korea’s nuclear development.
When the Soviet Union heard that China was developing nuclear weapons in the early 1960’s, Mikoyan, who was the Chairman of the Presidium at the time was sent to Beijing.
Mikoyan tried to convince China to halt its development of nuclear weapons stating that nuclear weapons are dangerous and expensive, and that the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons were enough for the Socialist Family.
However, upon realising that China was determined to go down the path of nuclear development, Mikoyan warned that the USSR would stop its coordination with China and make China go back to how it was in the Stone Age.
As China went through with nuclear development, the USSR evacuated 600 economic assets and told China to immediately pay back its debts.
Even with 30 million people starving to death, China repaid its debts to the Soviet Union and completed the development of nuclear weapons.
Then in the late 1960’s the Sino-Soviet Border Conflict broke out.
As the two communist states brought their military head-on and broke out into war, the international communist community was in shock.
The Soviets threatened China that if it did not suspend the actions of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) then it would use strategic bombing to turn Chinese cities into ashes. In retaliation, China said that if the USSR used strategic bombing it would send a nuclear bomb to Moscow.
Eventually the Soviet Union surrendered and the Sino-Soviet Border Conflict was over.
When Kim Il-sung, who had been in awe of the Soviet Union, saw the USSR fall to its knees in front of China, he was shocked at the power of nuclear weapons.
With this, Kim Il-sung went to China and asked Mao Zedong how much it cost to develop nuclear weapons. Mao replied that it cost 2 billion dollars and the lives of 30 million people, and that Kim Il-sung shouldn’t even dream of developing nuclear weapons.
Upon his return to Pyongyang, Kim Il-sung stated that if North Korea developed nuclear weapons then China would cut all its economic aid.
So, the nuclear weapons will have to be developed secretly and if China ever finds out, North Korea should always deny it and say that North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons if the US leaves.
Whenever Kim Jong-il went to China, he reminded the Chinese about Kim Il-sung’s Policy of Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and that North Korea’s nuclear weapons were only for negotiations.
However, now Kim Jong-un has begun to openly tell China that North Korea is in possession of nuclear weapons.
1.3. The Right Time for Developing Nuclear and ICBMs as seen by Kim Jong-un
For Kim Jong-un the right time is 2017- the year where there are elections and a change in government in South Korea and the US.
In Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Address, he revealed the current status of nuclear weapons in North Korea and stated his plan to be acknowledged as a nuclear power from South Korea and the US and be released from sanctions.
While saying that North Korea had succeeded in its Hydrogen Tests and Nuclear Warhead Tests in 2016, Kim Jong-un threatened that if the US and South Korea continue their joint military exercises and hostile policies (i.e. sanctions), North Korea would continue to strengthen its defence and preemptive strike abilities using ICBM.
In other words he is saying ‘I already have the nuclear weapons to burn South Korea to the ground, I have an ICBM card to use against the US; so if you want me to stop then lift the sanctions and stop the military training.’
This shows Kim Jong-un’s fear of not being able to be acknowledged as a nuclear power by South Korea and the US.
Yesterday I discussed the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons for an hour with an American Journalist.
The American journalist said that as there is no way to stop Kim Jong-un on his path of nuclear development, Trump should at least put Kim Jong-un’s mind at rest by offering to stop military training exercises and lift sanctions if North Korea stops nuclear and missile tests.
Then he should offer Kim Jong-un a large amount of economic aid to change his mind and then in the end make Kim Jong-un give up his nuclear weapons.
While some Americans talk about preemptive attacks, the journalist said that he did not think the US would launch a preemptive or preventative attack.
I told the journalist, I hear you and what you are saying sounds logical. But don’t you see? This is exactly what Kim Jong-un wants.
Kim Jong-un chose to continue provocations during the year of 2016 because he had no solutions and wanted South Korea and the US to change policies.
If Trump did what Kim Jong-un wanted and suspended US-ROK military exercises and lifted sanctions in exchange for the freezing of nuclear and missile tests then
- It will rationalise the claim that the responsibility of Kim Jong-un’s development of nuclear weapons lies in South Korea and the United States
- Internationally, through the recognition of North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons, it will be recognised as a nuclear state
I told him that you think that if North Korea freezes its nuclear program, is given economic aid, it will give up its nuclear weapons for money. But Kim Jong-un will never give up his nuclear weapons.
For now, South Korea should go its own way of coexisting with a nuclear-possessed North Korea while trying to change the North Korean system.
1.4. When will North Korea provoke this year?
North Korea may launch a strategic and tactical provocation when the US-ROK military drills, Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, take place in March 2017.
The US-ROK military drills will be a litmus test for North Korea to see the Trump Administration’s policy towards North Korea.
That is why self-defense measures such as the deployment of THAAD are needed.
The evacuation drills of US families in South Korea in November 2016 probably had a huge impact on North Korea.
2. Where is the weak point of North Korea’s military?
2.1. The decentralized North Korean Military
As North Korea is currently in a hostile state with South Korea, it should have a unified command structure, but it is in fact structured to prevent military affairs from operating.
At present, the North Korean army is decentralized by military forces: General Staff, 91 Training Camp, the Supreme Guard Command (Section 1, Section 2), Defense Security Guard Command, Ministry of State Security, Ministry of People’s Security and these forces only answer directly to Kim Jong-un.
The North Korean military is divided into three lines of command and surveillance: military command, political command and security officers.
The problem is that the North Korean military has never fought in a war under this structure.
During the Korean War there was only a structure under the Commander-in-Chief. There was an attempt to bring out the Ministry of Culture and establish a political command system, but it was not perfected.
2.2. Inadequate Military Provisions
Currently the provisions given to the North Korean military are extremely inadequate.
After Kim Jong-un looked around Jangjaedo and Mudo around the NLL in 2012, he gave orders that the generals should have better houses built for them. However, as it was not possible to do using only military resources eventually the tasks were divided between the ministries and central departments.
With the lack of provisions given to the soldiers, they often have no choice but to secretly use or sell food or oil that has been stored for military reserves.
The current North Korean army is similar to Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party Army or the Army of the Republic of Vietnam in the 1970’s.
2.3. The military blinded by making money
In North Korea, the military has been focused on making money ever since Kim Jong-il’s ‘Military-First Policy.’
At first, the military started delving into economic activity as a way of solving the lack of food and clothes in the military. However, it slowly began to expand into just money-making.
In the case of Pyongyang, military-owned passenger cars and automobiles outnumber civilian automobiles and passenger cars.
The number of fishing boats that belong to the military have grown substantially.
In the beginning, the military itself has started economic business to solve food problems and clothing problems, but it is expanding to make money.
2.4. Kim Jong-un’s military commander surveillance and command system
After Kim Jong-un rose to power, the control over military leaders has intensified.
The trend of embellishing generals with stars only to have them stripped away with a small mistake has caused a lot of discontent amongst the commanding officers.
In fact, commanding officers are being ordered to complete swimming training while 60-year old officers are ordered to fly aeroplanes.
3. South Korea’s Responses to the North Korean Military
3.1. Psychological Warfare must be undertaken to weaken the North Korean frontline
Most generals and officers who have worked for more than ten years on the front line are those who do not have good family backgrounds.
Children of state officials will usually do their military service for 5 years and are discharged and come to Pyongyang as soon as they become a party member.
The most frustrated people in the North Korean military are the soldiers on the frontline.
Thus, South Korea should strengthen the psychological warfare broadcasts to North Korea and send more leaflets that target these soldiers with snacks or money as a way of making them read the leaflets.
In the bordering regions with China, soldiers work to help North Koreans defect and smugglers across the river.
If the North Korean-Chinese border region has opened to US dollars, there is no reason that the demarcation line won’t also.
It is important to reveal the falsity of the Kim regime and show the reality of North Korea through radio broadcasts.
North Korean soldiers should be informed of their rights as human beings, and the elite who are discharged to live extravagant lives in Pyongyang should be informed of the grueling conditions of the soldiers who are unable to go to university upon discharge but are instead sent in groups to work in mines and construction sites.
Thus, we must help these soldiers realise and criticise the reality of North Korean society that only allows the rich to get richer.
3.2. If North Korea launches provocations as it did with the bombardment of Yeonpyeong or the Land Mine Incident, South Korea should showcase its strong will.
South Korea did the right thing by starting propaganda broadcasts straight after the Land Mine Incident.
3.3. The US-ROK alliance must be strengthened so that North Korea does not make any misjudgements.
We need to complete training exercises such as the Non-combatant Evacuation Exercise where USFK families also assisted in the exercises in November 2016 that will actually frighten North Korea.
North Korea is carefully watching the movement of US forces in Korea. It is the withdrawing of USFK families rather than the arrival of aircraft that will stop North Korea’s provocations and put them on edge.