North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile Friday that appears to have the range to hit major US cities, experts say, and prompted a fresh round of condemnation from the United States, China, Japan and South Korea.
If the missile were fired on a flatter, standard trajectory, it would have major US cities like Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago well within its range, with possibly the ability to reach as far as New York and Boston, according to David Wright, a missile expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
However, early analysis of Friday’s test cannot determine how heavy a payload the missile was carrying in its warhead, Wright said. The heavier the payload, the shorter the range.
South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said they estimate that the intercontinental ballistic missile tested Friday is more advanced than one launched earlier this month based on the range it traveled.
Kim Jong-Un is quoted as saying “the whole US mainland” is now within North Korea’s reach. He called Pyongyang’s weapons program “a precious asset” that cannot be reversed nor replaced, according to KCNA.
US President Donald Trump condemned the missile launch and said the US would act to ensure its security.
North Korea threatened a nuclear strike on “the heart of the US” if it attempts to remove Kim Jong Un as Supreme Leader, Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Tuesday. The threat was in response to comments from CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who said last week that the Trump administration needed to find a way to separate Kim from his growing nuclear stockpile.
On Saturday at the Aspen Security Forum, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said at some point military plans would be presented to President Trump on how to deal with North Korea.
KCNA reported that a spokesman from the North Korean Foreign Ministry said, “The DPRK legally stipulates that if the supreme dignity of the DPRK is threatened, it must preemptively annihilate those countries and entities that are directly or indirectly involved in it, by mobilizing all kinds of strike means including the nuclear ones.”
A spokesperson for Defense Intelligence Agency declined to comment directly on a report from The Washington Post that the agency’s latest assessment concludes Pyongyang will have a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile as early as next year but admitted that Pyongyang’s missile capabilities are progressing.
North Korea also appears to be preparing for another missile test, according to a US Defense official who said that transporter vehicles carrying ballistic missile launching equipment were seen arriving in Kusong, North Korea last week. A launch could occur to coincide with the upcoming July 27 North Korean Holiday celebrating the armistice which ended the Korean War.
The Chinese military has reportedly been building up defenses along its border with North Korea that coincide with warnings by President Trump that he is considering military action over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons push.
The Wall Street Journal, citing a review of official military and government websites and interviews with experts, reported that Beijing has built bunkers to protect against nuclear blasts, established a new border brigade and a 24-hour surveillance of the mountainous frontier. The preparations are intended to respond to worst-case scenarios, like an economic collapse, nuclear contamination or a conflict, the experts told the paper.
The Chinese government has not spoken out about the report of preparations. An official from its defense ministry said in a statement that the forces “maintain a normal state of combat readiness and training.”
Mark Cozad, who works at the Rand Corp think tank, told the paper these preparations “go well beyond” creating a buffer zone at the border.
“If you’re going to make me place bets on where I think the U.S. and China would first get into a conflict, it’s not Taiwan, the South China Sea or the East China Sea: I think it’s the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford suggested Saturday that Americans must be prepared for the possibility of a military confrontation with North Korea, whose nuclear program he deemed an urgent threat.
As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Dunford is the United States’ highest-ranking military officer.
Although Dunford stressed the importance of applying continued economic and diplomatic pressure aimed at persuading Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arms program, he dismissed the oft-stated notion that a military option shouldn’t be on the table.
“Many people have talked about military options with words like ‘unimaginable,'” Dunford said. “I would probably shift that slightly and say it would be horrific, and it would be a loss of life unlike any we have experienced in our lifetimes…”
“But as I’ve told my counterparts … what’s unimaginable to me is allowing a capability that would allow a nuclear weapon to land in Denver, Colorado. That’s unimaginable to me. So my job will be to develop military options to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
More on the subject:
What war with North Korea would look like
A nuclear war with North Korea
Akin to World War II
Aftermath of war with North Korea
A refugee crisis no one is ready for
Robert Kelly is an American living in South Korea, teaching at an university in Busan. Busan in the south of the country would still be in range of the North’s ballistic missiles, including nukes. The THAAD shield system might stop some of them but not all.
There is no such protective shield to defend the capital Seoul against the rain of artillery and rockets that could be fired by the North from the demilitarized zone. In greater Seoul, which the North has threatened to turn into “a sea of fire” if it were ever attacked, there are an estimated 100,000 Americans living among the population of 25 million people.
If Donald Trump lost patience with the North’s recalcitrance over its nuclear program and decided to launch a pre-emptive strike against the regime of Kim Jong-un, he would have to consider whether he wanted to see images of hundreds, maybe thousands of dead Americans on CNN on top of the tens of thousands of dead South Koreans.
This is just part of the devilish difficulty that military planners face as they try to keep “all options on the table” as the Trump administration insists it is doing. Bruce Bennett, a Korea expert from the RAND Corporation, points out is that “there are no good military options”. Read more
Today North Korea can’t seriously threaten North America with missile strikes, but it probably will by 2019. Meanwhile, North Korean nuclear and conventionally-armed missiles (and this could include poison gas and biological warheads) today threaten the 80,000+ US military personnel based in Japan, South Korea and Guam. They would be immediate targets should the US and South Korea attack the north.
Add tens of millions of South Korean and Japanese civilians who are at risk of North Korean retaliation. It would take only three nuclear weapons to shatter Japan and just two to cripple South Korea, not to mention polluting the globe with radioactive dust and contaminating North Asia’s water sources. Nuclear explosions would spread radioactive contamination over northern China and Pacific Russia.
Almost equally important, North Korea boasts one of the word’s biggest armies – 1,020,000 men, 88,000 crack special forces, and an trained militia of over 5 million. The North’s weapons are obsolescent; its small air forces and navy will be vaporized by US power but its troops are deeply dug into the mountainous terrain and would be fighting from prepared positions. War against North Korea would be a slow and bloody slog.
The Pentagon is not eager to tangle with the tough North Koreans. Estimates of the cost of a US invasion of North Korea have run as high as 250,000 US casualties and tens of billions of dollars.
[Excerpts of article by Eric S. Margolis, internationally syndicated columnist.]
Human rights groups say North Korea workers in Russia are little more than slaves, subjected to everything from cruel and violent acts to ruthless exploitation at the hands of corrupt officials, while being forced to turn over large chunks of their pay to the North Korean government.
One Russian boss was quoted as saying, “They don’t take holidays. They eat, work and sleep and nothing else. And they don’t sleep much. They are basically in the situation of slaves.”
A report issued earlier this year by the Seoul-based Data Base Center for North Korean Human Rights estimates that about 50,000 North Korean laborers are working low-paying jobs in Russia. They send at least $120 million every year to the regime in Pyongyang.
“The North Korean government maintains strict controls over their workers’ profits, in some cases probably taking 90 percent of their wages,” Scott Synder, director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy at the Council of Foreign Relations, told Fox News.
Even so many North Korean laborers are willing to pay bribes to be sent to Russia given the dire economic and political situation at home.
The U.S. State Department issued a report on human trafficking last month that concluded that North Korean workers in Russia had been subjected to “exploitative labor conditions characteristic of trafficking cases such as withholding of identity documents, non-payment for services rendered, physical abuse, lack of safety measures, or extremely poor living conditions.”
Such North Korean laborers work in other countries besides Russia. China uses large numbers of them, and Qatar has North Korean laborers helping build its World Cup stadium.
Some NGO workers helping trafficking victims said they estimated that 100,000 North Korean workers are in one region of Russia alone, working in gulag-like camps with salaries paid directly to the North Korean government.
“As in virtually every North Korean labor contract in foreign countries, employees’ wage payments are made to a DPRK government overseer or agent who skims off the lion’s share for dispatch to the Kim regime in Pyongyang, leaving a pittance for the individual DPRK laborers,” Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea said.
The Global Slavery Index – an annual study of worldwide slavery conditions by country – estimates US$2.3 billion is generated per year for the North Korean government while civil society groups say North Korean workers earn only between US$120 and US$150 per month and “may be forced to work up to 20 hours per day with limited rest days”.
Steven Kim, founder of US-based 318 Partners, a non-profit organization that helps North Korean refugees, said he had met many North Korean men who were in forced labor in restaurants, on farms or factories and were exploited by Chinese business owners who threatened them with deportation. A few of these North Koreans reacted violently when they were not paid and subsequently were sent to prison.
[South China Morning Post]
In the North Korean video, she says she was lured away and forced to slander the North, and has voluntarily returned across the border.
The propaganda video was released on Youtube by the North Korean Uriminzokkiri website on Sunday. In the video, the woman introduces herself by another name, Jeon Hye-Sung. She is shown in conversation with an interviewer and Kim Man-bok, another former defector who also returned to the North.
She says she was lured to the South by the “fantasy” that she could “eat well and make lots of money” and claims that she was forced into slandering her own country. She describes how in the South everything was judged by money, how she was struggling to make ends meet and was asked to discredit the North on several TV shows. She said she was now living back with her parents again after returning to the North last month.
JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reports that the defector had thanked her fans as recently as April for a birthday party, calling it “possibly the happiest birthday of my life”.
Intelligence officials are investigating how Ms Lim might have re-entered North Korea. Some North Korean defectors have speculated that she may have been abducted on the China-North Korean border while attempting to smuggle out family members, the Korea Times reports.
Over the past decade, tens of thousands of North Koreans have defected from the authoritarian state into South Korea. The unification ministry in Seoul told the BBC that since 2012 only 25 have returned.