Last week, lost in the buzz that was the U.S. Department of Defense’s latest assessment of China (see Andrew Erickson’s Take here), DoD released another very important report with some crucial information all its own.
Entitled Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea 2012, the report, in its unclassified format, attempts to provide information concerning “the current and future military power of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).”
There are quite a few important nuggets of information in the report. I would encourage Flashpoints readers to read the document in its entirety, but here are some of the highlights:
From the Executive Summary:
“North Korea fields a large, forward-deployed military that retains the capability to inflict serious damage on the ROK, despite significant resource shortfalls and aging hardware. The DPRK continues to be deterred from conducting attacks on the ROK largely because of the strength of the U.S.-ROK Alliance. On a smaller scale, however, the DPRK has demonstrated its willingness to use military provocation to achieve national goals, such as in 2010 when it sank the ROK naval vessel CHEONAN, killing 46 ROK Navy sailors, and shelled Yeonpyeong Island, killing two ROK Marines and two civilians.”
North Korean Security Perceptions:
“North Korean threat perceptions are shaped by a legacy of guerilla warfare dating back to its anti–colonial struggle against the Japanese, political and economic isolation, experience during wartime, and a political culture that is defined by an unending existential struggle with outside forces. North Korea has portrayed the ROK and the United States as constant threats to North Korea’s sovereignty, in a probable attempt to legitimize and justify the Kim family rule, its draconian internal control mechanisms, and its existing strategies as the best defense against encroachments on the North’s sovereignty.”
“Since the loss of the Soviet Union as a principal benefactor, devastating famine of the 1990s, and the economic rise and political maturation of the ROK, North Korea has largely abandoned unilaterally enforced reunification as a practical goal. North Korean goals and strategies reflect the reality of political isolation, significant economic deprivation, a deteriorating conventional military, and the increasing political and military power of nearby states. Nevertheless, the North has pursued a military posture that allows it to influence coercively South Korea through provocation and intimidation, and to attempt to have as equal a voice as possible in the future of the Peninsula.”
One area the report touches on that is of major importance to security watchers is North Korea’s other weapons of Mass Destruction that are non nuclear; mainly Biological:
“Open sources have often reported defector allegations of a North Korean biological warfare program. North Korea continues to research bacterial and viral biological agents that could support an offensive Biological Weapons program. Infrastructure, combined with its weapons industry, gives North Korea a potentially robust biological warfare capability.”
“North Korea probably has had a longstanding Chemical Weapons (CW) program with the capability to produce nerve, blister, blood, and choking agents and likely possesses a CW stockpile. North Korea probably could employ CW agents by modifying a variety of conventional munitions, including artillery and ballistic missiles. In addition, North Korean forces are prepared to operate in a contaminated environment; they train regularly in chemical defense operations. North Korea is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
Such reports, as can be seen in the recent China DoD report, give scholars without security clearance a window into modern U.S. national security thinking. They can serve as a guide to the capabilities and assets potential adversaries may pose, potential military strategies and doctrines, and even sometimes areas of cooperation and hopes for compromise.
The danger in such reports is that certain lines or phrases can be cherry picked by various parties for agenda setting or even domestic propaganda. Just a quick survey over China’s reaction to the recent DoD report as well as various pundits’ reactions to Australia’s recent white paper demonstrate this point. Nonetheless, such defense assessments are important for researchers, scholars, and interested parties to move beyond the headlines and take a more analytical view.
So North Korea watchers and media, read the report in full. It’s worth your time.