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How Serious Should the World Take North Korea

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

North Korea: One TV news report said North Korea issued another threat today against the US for the continuation of joint training with Republic of Korea forces. NightWatch was unable to find that text. However, North Korea said in a past statement that it would be on alert as long as the US-ROK exercises lasted. They are scheduled to end on 30 April - two more weeks.



The Rear. The party daily Rodong Sinmun carried articles on 17 April about a soccer match between North Korea and Mongolia, the first camping session of the year for children and various cultural and construction projects.


Special comment on North Korean missiles and warheads: The press coverage of North Korea's missiles and warheads is a mélange of accurate and confusing, reassuring and vigilance-raising articles. The purpose of this special comment is to report for Readers a few facts as NightWatch has learned them in the past 40 years.


Missiles. North Korea can make ballistic missiles. The names and capabilities of North Korean ballistic missiles are readily available on the internet.


Its ballistic missiles work. Syria, Pakistan and Iran all have fired North Korean-made missiles and indigenously- made missiles manufactured in turnkey production facilities purchased from and built by North Korea.


Syrian Scud ballistic missiles occasionally fired at the anti-government opposition were made at a North Korean-built Scud facility. Pakistani Ghauri missiles are a variant of the North Korean Nodong missile. They are tested periodically for system reliability by firing them into Baluchistan. They are a key part of Pakistan's strategic forces for attacking India.


Iran launched more than 170 Scuds - Shahab I 's -- against Iraq during the War of the Cities in 1985. The first hundred or so were bought from North Korea. North Korea also built a Scud manufacturing facility for Iran.


North Korea also sold Iran Nodong's which were renamed Shahab IIIs. Iran can make Shahab IIIs. Iran's missile test facility was built by North Korea. Iran also bought 18 or 19 BM-25/Musudan missiles with launchers from North Korea in 2005, according to a variety of blog sites that track missile proliferation.



Warheads. North Korea can make high explosive, fragmentation and a variety of other non-nuclear warheads for all of its missiles. As noted above, some have been and are being used in combat. They work.


Can North Korea make a nuclear warhead? This question contains sub-questions about physics and about machine engineering. The machine engineering issue should not be the subject of much debate. North Korea is a country of miners and it makes tools. It has large machine-tool plants, a large steel making industry and makes and maintains modern mining equipment.


Some Readers might reply accurately that some of the North's weapons don't hold up in repeated use. Weapons made under the pressures of socialist production schedules tend to be slip shod in order to meet quota assignments. The missiles and mining equipment are not in the same category as some of the self-propelled guns, for example.


North Koreans scientists and technicians have had the opportunity and fissile material to work on machining plutonium since at least 1993. If Pakistan can machine fissile material to make a warhead then the North Koreans, inferentially, can because North Koreans worked at Khan Labs for years after the 1998 Pakistani nuclear test to develop warheads for the Ghauri missile, also made by Khan Labs.


As to the nuclear and flight physics of a nuclear warhead, especially miniaturization, the evidence is indirect.


On the website 38 North, David Albright made an excellent argument for North Korea having at least the capability to fit a plutonium warhead on a Nodong: the North has been working at it with outside help for so long. The outside help has come from Russian contract scientists; Pakistan's A.Q. Khan and, Albright says, from China when Kim Il-sung was alive.



None of the above proves that North Korea has a nuclear warhead, but it proves the existence of an expansive network of cooperating missile and nuclear physics experts across continents and active for many years. It includes North Korea.


Several technical blogs contain excellent explanations about how the technology transfer would occur, especially for the Musudan missile, which required help from Russian scientists hired by North Korea. The trial testimony of A.Q. Khan establishes the fact of a two-way technology transfer for the Ghauri missile and for processing fissile material.


The North Korean development path. One comment this week accurately noted that North Korea has not demonstrated a fully tested nuclear weapon. That also may be said of many of the weapons it makes. North Korea follows a high risk, development path different from Russia or the US.


It performs fewer tests than the pioneering nuclear states performed. That should surprise no one because so has Pakistan and India. It is not reassuring.  Secondly, technology is shared among the members of the nuclear technology network, as the testimony at trial of A.Q. Khan proved.


Again, none of that is direct evidence of a nuclear warhead. It is not proof. However, it is probative indirect evidence and it establishes the threat as a moderate probability-high risk threat, if only because one member of the technology exchange network has the capability North Korean claims it has.


That quality and quantity of evidence support the prudent precautions that the Allies have taken and must sustain for the next two weeks. Defense against and management of low probability-high risk threats should be familiar tasks because they were at the center of US defense policy and strategic thinking after the Soviets got the bomb.



China: The government published a defense white paper that describes Chinese judgments about the international environment. It amplifies the defense themes that President Xi addressed in his speech to the People's Liberation Army delegates at the National People's Congress, particularly the "new situation."


Section one describes the new situation, new challenges and new missions. In the middle of the second full paragraph, the paper states," Some country has strengthened its Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanded its military presence in the region, and frequently makes the situation there tenser."


Comment: NightWatch intends to publish a more detailed examination of the white paper, but the quoted sentence, about the US pivot to Asia, has received extensive press coverage.


Some Chinese analysts might claim, as some press outlets already allege, that this is only the view of the Ministry of Defense. That is accurate, but it precisely follows President Xi's guidance to the PLA delegates. It also provides a different, non-cooperative explanation and context for Chinese reactions to the Korean confrontation.


The Ministry of Defense sees the US as exploiting the confrontation to justify its defense build-up in Asia which is encouraging bad behavior by China's neighbors. Japan is cited "for making trouble" over the Diaoyu/Senkakus Islands. The paper at this point conveys defensiveness and suspicion of US intentions. More later.


Pakistan: Former president Musharraf has been disqualified from running for parliament in Chitral. Chitral was the last jurisdiction to accept his nomination papers as a candidate for parliament, but subject to challenge.



Other candidates contested Musharraf's qualification with election officials and in court. A three-member tribunal rejected his nomination papers on the grounds that he had subverted the Constitution as army chief and had illegally placed judges under house arrest. (Note: the judges arrested included the current Chief Justice of Pakistan, Chaudhry.)


Musharraf's appeal of an earlier rejection decision for a seat in Punjab Province also was rejected by an election tribunal in Lahore. The tribunal said the former president had abrogated the Constitution thrice and thus did not qualify to contest in the coming general election.


Comment: Musharraf had applied to run from four different districts, which is allowed in Pakistan.

Over a week ago, judges reviewing Musharraf's nomination papers disqualified him from running in three districts because he suspended the Constitution while in power. With today's rulings, it is a clean sweep.


Musharraf's attorney promised to appeal the latest decisions, but his return to influence through the election process looks doubtful. Nevertheless, it is too soon to discount his ability to influence Pakistani politics, especially through his Army contacts. The senior generals in the armed forces owe their promotions to Musharraf.


Syria-Lebanon: The opposition Syrian National Coalition called on Lebanon to control its frontiers Tuesday. "The Syrian National Coalition calls on the Lebanese government to exert control over its borders and put an immediate stop to Hezbollah's military operations on Syrian territory," the SNC said in a statement.



"We call upon the Lebanese government to take action against Hezbollah's aggressions and do everything within their means to ensure the safety of the innocent civilians on the Syrian-Lebanese border."


"Due to the sensitivity of the situation," the Coalition also called on Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions in Homs Province of Syria to "exercise restraint" and "respect the sovereign borders of Lebanon."


Comment: In the past several months, Hezbollah has increased its attacks against the Syrian opposition forces from Lebanon to ease pressure against the Syrian government forces. The Syrian opposition retaliated over the weekend, killing two Lebanese.


Lebanon has no military force able or willing to stand up to Hezbollah's militiamen. The Syrian political leaders order to the FSA battalions is instructive. If Hezbollah were to declare war against the FSA, the FSA would be defeated. The Coalition leaders seem to recognize this and want to avoid any additional expansion of the fighting.


Mali: Update. The head of the pan-African force sent to fight Islamist militants in Mali arrived in the northeastern city of Kidal on Monday to discuss security in the war-torn desert region. Kidal is one of the locations from which the Chadians are withdrawing their forces.


On 15 April, France obtained a draft resolution in the UN Security Council for an 11,000-strong UN peacekeeping force to take over military duties in Mali on 1 July.


Comment: The African forces in Mali at this time are operating under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) auspices with European and US support. A senior US official has described the ECOWAS contingents as "completely incapable." Despite France's best efforts, towns in northern Mali are in danger of falling under al Qaida control by July.



End of NightWatch



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