/* Am I A Pundit Now?: Flashpoint: North Korea

Monday, May 02, 2005

Flashpoint: North Korea

Democratic People's Republic of North Korea (DPRK)

Leader: Kim Jong-IL, the 'Dear Leader', and now the 'Great General'. Kim Jong-Il assumed dictatorial power over the DPRK on July, 1994 upon the death of his father, Kim Il Sung.

Military Posture - North Korea fields the world's fourth largest army with 1 million men-at-arms, in a country of only 22 million people. The Korean People's Army is considered to be the vanguard of the revolution, and now North Korea has adopted a 'Military First' policy that makes the military the top priority of the nation. North Korea spends 22% of its GDP on military forces. The North Korean Order of Battle includes 12 corps, 4 mechanized corps, 2 armored corps, and 2 artillery corps.

The U.S. has 30,000 troops in the Seoul area, acting as a 'tripwire' that will invoke security agreements with the ROK in the event of an invasion.

Nuclear Weapons: North Korea's acquisition of nuclear weapons is now a fait accompli. The DPRK has a variety of ICBM and orbit-capable missiles, based upon a mix of Soviet and chinese designs. Their longest range ICBM is the Tae'po-Dong 2, see below. The head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency testified last week that he believes the DPRK can now arm this missile with a nuclear weapon, and that it is capable of hitting the U.S.

North Korea's main nuclear facility is at Yongbyon, located 100km north of Pyongyang. This reactor has recently been shut down, leading to suspicions that the regime intends to remove fissible material from it. It is estimated that North Korea may have as many as five nuclear weapons.

Will Kim's Regime Collapse? Just because you are paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. Apparently Kim is obsessed with being deposed by his own people, in the style of Ceaucescu of Romania. Odd, considering that the national motto is "One is sure to win if one believes in and depends upon the people." Kim Jong-Il actually seems to engender genuine affection from much of the population however (even causing women to 'swoon' in his presence), and polls of his popularity show wide support for him, even in the face of obvious deprivations. The North Korean people have some access to radios and south korean videotapes of popular programming. Their relative poverty compared to the south is not unknown. North Korea has suffered repeated famines, with the most serious famine occuring in 1997. There were reports of people resorting to eating grass, and bark from trees. The United States sends some 300 million in food aid every year to North Korea, and they are quite dependent upon it.

Kim's son, Kim Jong-chol, age 23, is reported to be the heir apparent as party chairman.

The economy of the DPRK is a centralized command economy based upon the principle of 'juche' or self-reliance. The North Korean economy has essentially collapsed: during the 90's it had periods of negative economic growth. North Korea is also loosening the autarky that kept their economy shut out from the world, and is now engaged in small free-market reforms and trade with China, as well as in their own cities. North Korea's economy has failed, yet since the regime has survived widespread starvation and negative economic growth, it appears that economic collapse, by itself, it not sufficient to cause the fall of the regime.

Prognosis. There are few options available to stem North Korea's nuclear proliferation. The DPRK is autarkic and mostly immune from trade sanctions. The one nation that has real leverage over the DPRK, China, has been reluctant to take harsh measures against its neighbor. One of the best methods of undermining the regime would be for China to open the borders and drain North Korea of its population - but China runs detention camps for defectors and returns them once they are caught.

Night satellite picture of the Korean peninsula.

Tae'po-Dong 2 Missile

2 or 3 stage liquid-fueled rocket, range of 6-10,000km - full specifications.

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