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Thursday, September 21, 2023

It may be too late to reverse the North Korean missile development

By Markish SchiederSpecial to CSMS MagazineThe latest rounds of missiles testing launched by the North Korean leadership have not only thrown the major powers into a virtual disarray, but also have created a media frenzy that requires a flashback of the Korean issue. Since 1945, the Korean Peninsula has been the subject of hot political debates. It is the last flash point between Moscow and Washington or between Beijing and Washington.The defeat of the Japanese empire in East Asia at the end of the 2nd world war paved the way for the liberation of Korea, which was, as many other countries in South East Asia, under Japanese occupation. The Soviet Union, which controlled the northern part the peninsula proposed unification with the south, which was controlled by the US army. The western powers agreed, but only under a pros-western government based in Soul, the capital of South Korea. The Soviet, of course, rejected the idea; and like Vietnam promoted the establishment of a Marxist government in the North. Three years later, the North and its allies, China and the Soviet Union, in an effort to reunite the country, launched a bloody warfare (1950-52). The effort failed and left more than a million people dead in the process.The war ended with no peace treaty, for the belligerents on both sides never accepted the idea of a divided Korea. Only a seize-fire stopped the war in 1952, and it has been holding ever since. An imaginary line called the Demilitarized Zone, popularly known as the DMZ, constitutes a buffet, protecting the de facto partition.Since 1945, North Korea, understandably, has been claiming legitimacy over the Peninsula. It never had foreign soldiers on its soil since the Korean War ended in 1952. By contrast, the US army never left South Korea, and for years, an American general was the head of the South Korean army. But over the years, the impressive industrial development of South Korea renders the North’s legitimacy almost irrelevant, thus reducing the North Korean leadership into a strategy of survival. To survive in a unipolar world where the Soviet Union no longer exists, the North embarked upon a journey to acquire the ultimate weapon: the nuclear weapon, which most experts agree that it has already possessed the capability.If the North Korea’s ballistic missile capability remains in doubt with its latest failure to successfully test its 3-stage intercontinental Taepodong 2 (Taepodong 3) with a range covering between 10,000-12,000km made to feet in a warhead of about 500-1,000kg, however it has some of the most developed missile systems in the world, according to Bertil Lintner, a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review and the author of Great Leader, Dear Leader: Demystifying North Korea under the Kim Clan. To Lintner, “not even years of near-economic collapse, famine and hunger have hampered the country’s missile-development programs, which are meant both as a preemptive defense – to scare off potential attackers – and for export.”            It is believed that North Korea has earned substantial revenue from the sale of missiles, and missile components and technology. It is widely believed that the sale of missiles is the financial source for the country’s nuclear program, which is the reason United States and other Western countries are eager to stop North Korean missile exports.              According to US-based North Korea expert Joseph Bermudez,  a number of countries have been buying missile parts and technology from North Korea, including Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam. Assisted by Soviet experts and technicians, North Korea began producing surface-to-air missiles more than 40 years ago. But the first ones were quite rudimentary, and it was not until North Korea signed a military agreement with China in 1971 that the industry took off. Gradually, however, the North Koreans themselves became capable of developing and fine-tuning their growing arsenal of missiles – together with some rather unexpected, non-communist partners. As early as 1965 – and with the Korean War still in fresh memory – the Great Leader Kim Il-sung established the Hamhung Military Academy to conduct research into missile technology.            In the early 1980s, Egypt provided North Korea with Soviet-made Scud B missiles, which can carry a 200-kilogram warhead 290 kilometers or more. None of these missiles was test-fired, but they were used as models for reverse-engineering in a string of new factories that were built near the Chinese border in the north, far away from the Demilitarized Zone and prying South Korean and US eyes. The first North Korean-made replica was finished in 1984 and called the Hwasong 5.  “At an early stage, Iran expressed an interest in buying missiles, which it needed for its long and bloody war with Iraq, from North Korea. In June 1987, the two countries concluded a US$500 million arms agreement, which included about 100 Hwasong 5s. In Iran, the missile was given a new name: the Shehab 1.”             However, there is no ample evidence to indicate that the Soviet Union and other communist states were involved in North Korea’s missile development to a great extent. Experts believe that China provided technical training to North Korean engineers as well as high-quality machine tools. As skills and techniques improved, North Korea began to develop more advanced missiles. The Hwasong 5 was followed by the Hwasong 6, which could be armed with chemical and cluster warheads. It was also sold to Iran as the Shehab 2.            In the winter of 1993, North Korea test-fired a new missile called Rodong, which could carry either a 1,200kg warhead 1,300km, or a 1,000kg warhead as far as 1,500km – or enough to be able to reach major cities and US bases in Japan. A 21-member delegation headed by Brigadier-General Hossein Mantequei, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander in charge of Tehran’s missile force, had arrived in Pyongyang to observe the test. The Iranians were satisfied, and as many as 150 Rodongs were sold to Iran, where the missile was renamed the Shehab 3.             Pakistan is one of the countries outside of the Middle East to receive close cooperation with North Korea in missile development. In fact, Pakistan emerged as North Korea’s foremost trading partner for military hardware forced in part by the escalation of its war with India in the early 1970s over East Pakistan’s attempts to break away. In 1972, North Korea and Pakistan established diplomatic relations, and North Korea sold artillery, multiple rocket launchers, ammunition, and a variety of spare parts to Pakistan. The modified Pakistani version of the North Korea’s Nodong, or Rodong, missile was called the Ghauri and was first tested on April 6, 1998. Pakistan’s cooperation with North Korea came to a halt when, in late 2001, the former became an ally of the United States in the “war on terror”. Now Iran has become North Korea’s main partner in missile, and most likely also nuclear, development.            The prospect of a nuclear North Korea dreads Japan to the core, for North Korea never stops asking Japan to pay compensation for its brutal colonial rule of Korea, from 1910 to 1945 – and Japan is extremely sensitive to North Korea’s missile and nuclear capabilities. In 1999, Hwang Won-tak, adviser to then South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, indicated that the North might demand food and hard currency from Japan in return for not test-firing missiles.            On August 31, 1998 North Korea test-fired a new generation of missiles: the three-stage Taepodong 1, which it test-fired over Japan on August 31 from the Musudan-ni launch facility on the coast of North Hamgyong province. That has sent chill to the Japanese government, which considered it as a grave provocation. But the North Koreans stated that the purpose was only to place their first satellite – the Kwangmyongsong 1 – into orbit to beam down hymns in praise of Kim Il-sung. The next few days or weeks will be critical to find a peaceful solution to the Korean crisis. Already, Japan has conveyed its interest to go nuclear if North Korea does not relinquish its presumed acquisition of nuclear weapon.  Markish Schieder heads the Center for East-Asian Studies based in Toronto, Canada. He wrote this piece exclusively for CSMS Magazine.

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