A Defense Department report to Congress on security developments in North Korea warned that the country is pulling closer to its “stated objective of being able to strike the U.S. homeland.”
In the same report, Pentagon analysts also told lawmakers that Kim Jong-un really just wants to get along with the U.S., which, along with Asian allies, is the target of daily threats from the communist nation.
The unclassified report, which cost $59,000, was mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012.
It came as North Korea sentenced an American, Kenneth Bae, to 15 years of hard labor for “crimes aimed to topple the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with hostility toward it” — crimes that might range from his Christian faith to potential photos he took of starving orphans and public executions of dissenters.
“We don’t know the facts of the case. The Swedish certainly are our protecting power and have had, I believe, in a few opportunities, the chance to meet with Mr. Bae, but there hasn’t been transparency in the case,” spokesman Patrick Ventrell said at the State Department today. “So while some of the facts are limited to our knowledge – we don’t know all of the facts – we are concerned that – broadly speaking, about the transparency and due process in North Korea, and we think he should be released.”
The new Pentagon report calls the DPRK, which has the fourth largest military in the world, “one of the United States’ most critical security challenges in Northeast Asia.”
“North Korea remains a security threat because of its willingness to undertake provocative and destabilizing behavior, including attacks on the Republic of Korea (ROK), its pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles, and its willingness to proliferate weapons in contravention of its international agreements and United Nations Security Council Resolutions.”
The Pentagon concludes the “strategic goals” of the Kim dynasty will be “consistent under North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong Un” and the country’s military capability can inflict “serious damage” on South Korea
“The DPRK continues to be deterred from conducting attacks on the ROK largely because of the strength of the U.S.-ROK Alliance,” reads one back-patting passage. The 2010 sinking of the Cheonan, which killed 46 South Korean sailors, was classified in the report as a “smaller scale” attack.
“North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear technology and capabilities and development of long-range ballistic missile programs, as reflected in the December 2012 Taepo Dong 2 missile launch and April 2012 display of a new road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, underscores the threat to regional stability and U.S. national security posed by North Korea,” it continues. “These programs, as well as North Korea’s expressed hostility toward the ROK and proliferation of items prohibited under United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1718, 1874, and 2087 make the DPRK a continued security challenge for the United States and its Allies and partners.”
Still, the report claims that Pyongyang just wants to be loved and accepted by the U.S. and coexist in harmony as it “seeks recognition as an equal and legitimate international player and as a recognized nuclear power that is eventually able to normalize its diplomatic relations with the Western world and pursue economic recovery and prosperity.”
“The DPRK’s rhetoric suggests the regime at this time is unlikely to pursue this second goal,” the report adds.
That “goal” runs counter to a recent propaganda video by North Korea showing dreams of nuking New York City to the instrumental strains of “We Are the World.” The strict communist state is also unlikely to embrace capitalism as the “prosperity” analysis projects.
The report paints Pyongyang as caring deeply about what Russia and China think of the country’s actions, and as a nation not likely to reconcile with Japan soon because there’s no “breakthrough on the issue of North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens” in sight.
“Although North Korea is unlikely to attack on a scale that it assesses would risk the survival of its government by inviting overwhelming counterattacks by the ROK or the United States, we do not know how North Korea calculates this threshold of behavior,” the report continues. “North Korea’s use of small-scale attacks and provocative acts leaves much room for miscalculation that could spiral into a larger conflict.”
Pyongyang is making “some effort” to upgrade its conventional forces as well as expand its nuclear capability, and the Pentagon expects missile tests in defiance of UN sanctions will continue.
The intelligence on emerging weapons capabilities is largely gleaned by what is put on display at military parades in the nation’s capital.
With the past couple of years this has included new tanks, artillery, and infantry weapons, updating the Soviet-era stock that had been propping up the ground forces. In all, the Pentagon estimates Pyongyang has 4,100 tanks, 2,100 armored vehicles, 5,100 multiple rocket launchers, and 8,500 field artillery, mostly concentrated in the south. The country has nearly a million military personnel in the ground forces at maximum strength.
The North Korean Air Force has more than 1,300 aircraft, with the most recent “surreptitiously purchased used Kazakh MiG-21.” In 2010, Pyongyang dispelled a new vertical mobile surface-to-air missile launcher with radar that bears a striking resemblance to Russian and Chinese equipment. Its Navy has patrol combatants, amphibious landing craft, and mini-submarines like the one that sank the Cheonan.
Special operations forces — a “vital tool tool for asymmetric coercion” — and an “ambitious” ballistic missile unit round out the military.
Advances seen in ballistic missile delivery systems, including improvements to the Taepo Dong-2 missile system with a range greater than 3,400 miles, and nuclear developments “are in line with North Korea’s stated objective of being able to strike the U.S. homeland.”
“North Korea followed its February 12, 2013 nuclear test with a campaign of media releases and authoritative public announcements reaffirming its need to counter perceived U.S. ‘hostility’ with nuclear-armed ICBMs,” states the report. “North Korea will move closer to this goal, as well as increase the threat it poses to U.S. forces and Allies in the region, if it continues testing and devoting scarce regime resources to these programs. The pace of its progress will depend, in part, on how many resources it can dedicate to these efforts and how often it conducts tests.”
The Pentagon also found North Korea “probably” has cyberwarfare capabilities, something at which their friends the Chinese are particularly adept. North Korea has been blamed for a range of cyberattacks in the past few years. “As a result of North Korea’s historical isolation from outside communications and influence, it is likely to employ Internet infrastructure from third-party nations.”
The country’s “world-wide network” of arms sales includes regular customers Iran, Syria, and Burma. Its biological warfare capability is “potentially robust” and its probable “longstanding” chemical weapons program is thought to have the capability to produce and stockpile “nerve, blister, blood, and choking agents” — and sell them to the highest bidder.