RAMSTEIN, Germany – Allied Air Command successfully accomplished support for the US-led Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) exercise Formidable Shield 17 from September 24 to October 18, 2017.
This tactical level BMD exercise was conducted by Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO) on behalf of the US Sixth Fleet. Allied Air Command enabled the datalink architecture through NATO’ system of systems that can manage, communicate and provide decision-making information to NATO command entities.
A US exercise with NATO involvement, Formidable Shield 17 demonstrated the capability of Nations and the Alliance to execute live intercepts of missile threats using a complex system of sensors and shooters in defence of NATO Allies’ territories, populations and forces from the sea.
This exercise provided nations the ability to connect fire units and sensors to NATO’s data-link architecture. With the assistance of US Joint Interface Tactical Control Officers and through a complex architecture, Allied ships and aircraft were able to integrate surveillance pictures from the tactical to the operational levels of command.
For the first time in Allied Air Command history a fully Integrated Air and Missile Defence Picture involving joint assets was used to support a no-notice launch and simultaneous engagement of ballistic and air defence targets to test the live-fire version of the defence in depth concept of operations.
Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States participated with forces in exercise FORMIDABLE SHIELD 17; Belgium and Denmark also send staff members. In total, 14 ships, ten aircraft, and more than 3.300 personnel participated in this exercise. NATO AWACS sorties conducted important link integration and range safety functions throughout the exercise.
Russia bans sailing around Novaya Zemlya for a period of ten days in the Barents Sea.
The Port Administration for Northwestern Russia has issued several navigation warnings for larger parts of the eastern Barents Sea and Kara Sea. All warnings read: ‘Missiles shooting’ and are posted on the portal of the agency.
The warnings are for different dates within the period from Tuesday October 17th and last until October 30th.
The warning regarding the costal waters just northeast of the Kildin Island north of Murmansk, followed by a warning for the same dates further north in the Barents Sea is typical for a submarine launched intercontinental ballistic missile (SLBM). Such test-launchings are normally done submerged, either from a Delta-IV class or a Borei class submarine.
Both the Northern Fleet’s six Delta-IV submarine and the Borei submarine Yury Dologuky are based in Gadzhiyevo on the coast of the Kola Peninsula, a few hours sailing from the area east of Kildin marked on the map.
The larger sealed off area in the northern part of the Barents Sea is where the first stage of the missile is separated and fells to the sea before the rest of the missile enters orbit on its way to the target on a shooting range on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Far East.
Similarly, when sailing restrictions are announced for the waters in the Chosha Bay, east of the Kanin Peninsula, another SLBM is likely on its way in the opposite direction. Launched from one of the Pacific fleet’s Delta-III or Borei class submarines towards the Chizha range on Cape Kanin. Such trans-Arctic criss-cross ballistic missile tests are carried out several times in recent years when Russia is exercising its strategic nuclear rocket forces.
Both warnings indicating ballistic missile testings are valid for the 10 days period October 20th to 30th.
The warning issued for the waters around Novaya Zemlya is dated from October 17th to 22nd. Normally when waters around Novaya Zemlya are sealed off, it indicates testing of one or several cruise missiles, either submarine launched or from a larger surface warship.
This time, however, the sealed off area is much larger than normal, including both the Barents Sea side of Novaya Zemlya and the southwestern part of the Kara Sea.
The only information attached to the agency’s civilian warning is, as stated: ‘Missiles shooting’.
U.S. with similar warnings
Similar warnings like the ones issued by Russia’s civilian port administration, are also to be found on the public portal of the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Here, the two warnings regarding the Barents Sea for the period October 20th to October 30th are listed and marked with: ‘Hazardous operations’ and ‘Missile operations’. The coordinates are similar to the ones published in Russia.
The Russian Defense Ministry has carried out a test launch of the intercontinental ballistic missile RS-24 Yars towards a proving ground in the Kamchatka Peninsula. All tasks have been coped with.
“At the experimental space site Plesetsk a combat crew of the Yoshkar-Ola missile unit carried out a test launch of the solid propellant mobile-based intercontinental missile (ICBM) RS-24 Yars with a multiple re-entry vehicle.
The warheads reached the designated area at the Kura proving ground in the Kamchatka Peninsula,” the Defense Ministry said. “All tasks have been coped with in full.”
The purpose of the launch was to reaffirm the reliability of a batch of missiles of this class.
“Strategic missile forces practiced the procedure of redeploying a battery of the mobile system Yars to a remote region, preparations for and the launch proper,” the Defense Ministry said.
On September 12 the Strategic Missile Force test-launched a silo-based RS-24 missile with a multiple warhead from Plesetsk. The experimental warheads reached the designated area at the Kura proving ground.
The RS-24 ICBM was designed by the All-Russia Thermal Engineering Institute. It is based on the same scientific and technological solutions as the Topol-M missile, which allowed for considerably reducing the research and design phase and costs.
Currently this missile systems are on duty at five missile units located on a vast area from the Ivanovo region in the west to Irkutsk, in the east.
Hagatña, Guam (CNN) North Korean military figures are putting the final touches on a plan to fire four missiles into the waters around the US-territory of Guam, to be presented to leader Kim Jong Un within days.
In a statement last week, Gen. Kim Rak Gyom, commander of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army, said the plan to fire “four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range strategic ballistic rockets … to signal a crucial warning to the US” would be ready by “mid-August.”
Recent days have seen a significant escalation of tensions in the region as preparations are put in place for a possible launch in Guam, Japan and South Korea.
A notice put out by Guam’s Joint Information Center Saturday warned residents how to prepare “for an imminent missile threat.”
“Do not look at the flash or fireball — it can blind you,” the note said. “Lie flat on the ground and cover your head. If the explosion is some distance away, it could take 30 seconds or more for the blast wave to hit.”
On Saturday, some of Japan’s land-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile interceptors began arriving at Japanese Self Defense Forces (SDF) bases in three of the four prefectures any North Korean missiles would likely fly over en route to Guam.
Pyongyang identified three of those areas — Shimane, Hiroshima and Kochi prefectures — in its statement last week.
A spokesman for SDF said the missiles were being deployed not to intercept missiles, but rather “just in case.” He did not elaborate.
Sim Tack, a senior analyst for private intelligence firm Stratfor, said the Japanese batteries are designed for protecting the area where they are deployed, “(they are) not meant to shoot missiles out of the sky as they pass over Japan at high altitude.”
“So unless those North Korean missiles were to fall short, the Patriots shouldn’t have a function to serve in this particular case,” he said.
Aegis is able to track 100 missiles simultaneously and fire interceptors to take out an enemy’s ballistic projectiles.
In South Korea, where both the military and civilians are used to facing threats from North Korea, Defense Minister Song Young-moo warned the country’s armed forces “to maintain full readiness” to “immediately punish with powerful force” any action against the South.
“Recently, North Korea made its habitual absurd remarks that it will turn Seoul into a sea of fire and that it will strike near Guam,” Song said according to ministry official. “North Korea raising tension (on the Peninsula) is a serious challenge against the South Korean-US alliance and the international community.”
Meanwhile, US-South Korean joint military exercises are due to begin later this month. The annual exercises, called Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, are expected to run from August 21 to 31.
On Friday, US President Donald Trump doubled down on his statement that he would unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if Pyongyang continued its threats, saying in a tweet that “military solutions” were “locked and loaded” for use against North Korea.
According to a statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Xi told Trump in a call between the two leaders Saturday all “relevant parties parties should exercise restraint and avoid words and actions that would escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel described escalation as “the wrong answer,” while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Trump’s statements were “very worrying.”
Last week, New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English criticized Trump’s “fire and fury” comments as “not helpful in an environment that’s very tense.”
French President Emmanuel Macron called for the international community to work with North Korea to “resume the path of dialogue without conditions,” following a call with Trump Saturday.
Washington has previously said it will consider talks with Pyongyang if it agrees to give up its nuclear weapons program, a pre-condition North Korean officials have described as a non-starter.
At a church in central Guam Sunday, parishioners sang “Lord, we pray for world peace” after discussing the potential North Korean threat.
“There’s a lot of disbelief going on, there’s a lot of anxiety,” Father Paul Gofigan told CNN after the mass.
Gofigan said there is not a lot of panic in Guam, and that people’s faith — the island has been overwhelmingly Catholic since the arrival of Spanish missionaries in the 17th century– has been on display in recent days.
“Faith is so deeply rooted into our culture,” he said.
The territory’s governor, Eddie Baza Calvo, said he spoke with Trump and the President’s chief of staff, John Kelly, on Saturday.
“Both assured me that the people of Guam are safe,” Calvo wrote on Facebook. “In the President’s words they are behind us ‘1,000 percent.’ As the head of the Government of Guam, I appreciate their reassurances that my family, my friends, everyone on this island, are all safe.”
“Nobody really deserves to be caught in the middle of these games,” said Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero, an activist who campaigns for a lowered military presence.
“You’re playing with people’s lives. We just want peace, we just want to continue to enjoy our lives here.”
James Griffiths reported and wrote from Hong Kong. Joshua Berlinger reported from Hagatña, Guam. CNN’s Steven Jiang, KJ Kwon, Chieu Luu, Brad Lendon and journalist Chie Kobayashi contributed reporting.
North Korea said it is “carefully examining” plans to attack Guam with medium- to long-range ballistic missiles, state-run media reported Wednesday.
The rogue nation’s statement follows President Donald Trump‘s comments hours before, during which he warned North Korea that any threats to the U.S. “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”
The North Korean army made the announcement in a statement distributed by its state-run news agency that the military is reviewing a plan to create an “enveloping fire” in areas around the U.S. territory, located in the Pacific Ocean about 2,100 miles from North Korea.
The statement said the decision to review such plans is in response to a recent ICBM test.
There are 7,000 US military personnel on Guam.
The main base on the island is Andersen Air Force Base that is home to long-range B-1 bombers that have recently been used for “show of force” missions to South Korea following North Korea’s two ICBM missile launches.
Andersen Air Force Base is just one of the installations on Guam; Naval Base Guam also has a significant number of personnel.
Guam’s offices of Guam Homeland Security and Civil Defense said in a statement that its threat level remained unchanged, and that it will “continue to monitor the recent events surrounding North Korea and their threatening actions.”
Homeland Security adviser George Charfauros said in a statement, “As of this morning, we have not changed our stance in confidence that the U.S. Department of Defense is monitoring this situation very closely and is maintaining a condition of readiness, daily. We will continue to keep the public updated on any changes or requests for action. For now, we advise the community to remain calm, remember that there are defenses in place for threats such as North Korea and to continue to remain prepared for all hazards.”
Charfauros is in regular contact with the federal Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense. He has not received any guidance that there is an imminent threat, Guam Homeland Security said.
Still, the speaker of the Guam Legislature told The Associated Press he hopes the island can defend itself in the event of a North Korean attack.
“We’re just praying that the United States and the … defense system we have here is sufficient enough to protect us,” Benjamin J. Cruz said.
Cruz said the threat is “very disconcerting,” adding, “It forces us to pause and to say a prayer for the safety of our people.”
Guam’s governor, Eddie Calvo, released a two-minute video message to the island’s residents, in which he said, “I want to ensure that we are prepared for any eventuality.”
The nation’s second highest military officer is worried about the defense industry’s ability to deliver the critical components of the nuclear deterrent modernization on time, specifically warning that the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs) are scheduled to sail until “the absolute end of their service life.”
“There is no slack in our ability to deliver the Columbia class” submarines that are to replace the Ohio-class SSBNs, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Aug. 3.
“If we don’t replace the Ohio class with Columbia, we won’t have a sea-based deterrent,” Selva told a Mitchell Institute breakfast on nuclear deterrence.
The Navy already has extended the service life of the 14 Ohio subs to 40 years, and plans to begin building the first of 12 Columbia-class boomers by 2021 and have it in service by 2029. But Navy officials have warned that if the Ohios are not replaced on time, their hulls may be unable to take the pressure of operating at their normal depth.
A May report by the Congressional Research Service projected that even if the first Columbia is operational in 2029, the SSBN fleet will have dropped to 12 because the three oldest Ohio-class boats will have been decommissioned. The long-range plan for 12 Columbia SSBNs is based on the expectation that the new submarines will not have to be taken out of service for maintenance and upgrades as often, allowing 10 operational boomers at all times.
The nuclear deterrent Triad includes an air leg, currently consisting of B-52s, some of which are nearly 50 years old, and the 19 newer B-2s; and a ground-based leg of 400 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The Air Force is pushing development of the B-21 Raider to replace the B-52s and a new ICBM to replace the Minuteman missiles.
Selva said there was “no alternative” to replacing the current nuclear deterrent Triad because “nuclear weapons pose the only existential threat to the United States.” That is why, maintaining and modernizing the Triad is “the most important mission of the Defense Department,” he said.
Selva emphasized that the program was to replace, not modernize, the Triad. He noted that an essential part of the replacement program was the nuclear command and control network, which has components that include 1950s vacuum tubes.
In describing the threat that the nuclear deterrent Triad must counter, Selva listed Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, noting that Iran is the only one that does not have nuclear weapons, which he attributed to the multinational agreement that has frozen Tehran’s program.
Asked about the threat from North Korea, which has staged multiple tests of nuclear devices with increasing power, and in July conducted two tests of ballistic missiles that may have the range to hit the United States, Selva said “before we can assume that North Korea has the ability to strike the United States with a nuclear weapon,” it would have to demonstrate four capabilities.
The Pentagon believes North Korea has a missile with adequate range, does not believe it has a missile with the guidance, control and stability to deliver a warhead without breaking up; does not know if it has a re-entry vehicle that can survive the heat and pressure; and does not know if it has a warhead that can survive re-entry.
Independent analysts have reported that in the last ICBM test, which appeared to have the range to hit the United States, the re-entry vehicle apparently broke up before reaching the surface.
But, Selva added, he could not rule out North Korea correcting those problems because people can learn “some interesting things if they are willing to fail.” And North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un “is willing to fail.”
South Korea said Saturday it will proceed with the deployment of four additional units of the U.S. THAAD anti-missile defense system after North Korea’s latest launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The deployment of the additional Terminal High Altitude Area Defenae (THAAD) units had been delayed after the initial two units, after South Korean President Moon Jae-in ordered an environmental assessment.
China has been notified of the move to speed up the deployment, the South’s presidential Blue House said.
China’s Foreign Ministry expressed serious concern Saturday about South Korea decision to proceed with the deployment of the additional units.
The deployment will not resolve South Korea’s security concerns and will only make things more complex, the ministry said, reiterating a Chinese call for the system to be withdrawn.
North Korea said earlier Saturday it had conducted another successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that proved its ability to strike all of America’s mainland.
Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), formerly Theater High Altitude Area Defense, is an American anti-ballistic missile defense system designed to shoot down short, medium, and intermediate range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase by intercepting with a hit-to-kill approach. THAAD was developed after the experience of Iraq’s Scud missile attacks during the Gulf War in 1991. The THAAD interceptor carries no warhead, but relies on its kinetic energy of impact to destroy the incoming missile. A kinetic energy hit minimizes the risk of exploding conventional warhead ballistic missiles, and nuclear tipped ballistic missiles will not detonate upon a kinetic energy hit.
Originally a United States Army program, THAAD has come under the umbrella of the Missile Defense Agency. The Navy has a similar program, the sea-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, which now has a land component as well (“Aegis ashore”). THAAD was originally scheduled for deployment in 2012, but initial deployment took place in May 2008. THAAD has been deployed in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and South Korea.
The THAAD system is being designed, built, and integrated by Lockheed Martin Space Systems acting as prime contractor. Key subcontractors include Raytheon, Boeing, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Honeywell, BAE Systems, Oshkosh Defense, MiltonCAT and the Oliver Capital Consortium.
On 6 March 2017, two THAAD launcher trucks arrived by air transport at Osan Air Base South Korea, for a deployment. Earlier that day, North Korea had launched 4 missiles. A Reuters article stated that with the THAAD defense system, a North Korean missile barrage would still pose a threat to South Korea, while an article in the International Journal of Space Politics & Policy said that South Korean forces already possess Patriot systems for point defense and Aegis destroyers capable of stopping ballistic missiles that may come from the north, in a three-layer antimissile defense for South Korea. On 16 March 2017, a THAAD radar arrived in South Korea. The THAAD system is kept at Osan Air Base until the site where the system is due to be deployed is prepared, with an expected ready date of June 2017. Osan Air Base has blast-hardened command posts with 3 levels of blast doors.
By 25 April 2017, six trailers carrying the THAAD radar, interceptor launchers, communications, and support equipment entered the Seongju site. On 30 April 2017, it was reported that South Korea would bear the cost of the land and facilities for THAAD, while the US will pay for operating it. On 2 May 2017, Moon Sang-gyun, with the South Korean Defense Ministry and Col. Robert Manning III, a spokesman for the U.S. military announced that the THAAD system in Seongju is operational and “has the ability to intercept North Korean missiles and defend South Korea.” It was reported that the system will not reach its full operational potential until later this year when additional elements of the system are onsite. In June 2017 South Korea decided to halt further deployment. The 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade (United States) has integrated THAAD into its layered defense on the Korean Peninsula.
Even in the face of a North Korean ICBM test on 4 July 2017, which newly threatens Alaska, a Kodiak, Alaska-based THAAD interceptor test (FTT-18) against a simulated attack by an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile had long been planned. FTT-18 was successfully completed by Battery A-2 THAAD (Battery A, 2nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) of the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade (United States) on 11 July 2017. The soldiers used the procedures of an actual combat scenario and were not aware of the IRBM’s launch time.
Also in 2017 another Kodiak launch of a THAAD interceptor is scheduled between 7:30PM and 1:30AM on Saturday 29 July, Sunday 30 July, or Monday 31 July, at alternative times. North Korea is apparently positioning launch equipment in Kusong in preparation for a 27 July holiday. Lee Jong-kul, of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s Minjoo Party states “The nuclear and missile capabilities of North Korea…have been upgraded to pose serious threats; the international cooperation system to keep the North in check has been nullified..”, citing tensions over the U.S. deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system in South Korea.
Kim, announcing the second intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, said it demonstrated that North Korea could launch “at any place and time.” The KCNA also quoted him as saying that “the test confirmed all the US mainland is within our striking range.”
But should these claims be taken seriously? Can North Korean ICBMs really strike any target in the US? After all, North Korean leaders are known for exaggerating their nuclear and missile program achievements.
But it seems that Pyongyang is not entirely incorrect about its ICMB claims.
Military analysts say the latest North Korean ballistic missile appeared to have a range of around 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles), which would put the US mainland within its reach.
“Based on current information, today’s missile test by North Korea could easily reach the US West Coast, and a number of major US cities,” arms expert David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists said on his blog.
Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago appear to be well within range of the ICBM, which may also be capable of hitting Boston and New York, Wright said.
North Korean officials said the latest missile had flown for 47 minutes and reached an altitude of more than 3,700 kilometers. On a standard trajectory, the missile would have a range of 10,400 kilometers.
Earth’s rotation boosts range
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, North Korea launched its missile on high trajectory to allow it to fall in the Sea of Japan, rather then flying over Japan. However, it was still possible to make the calculation about the range.
If fired eastward, the rotation of the Earth could also increase the range of the missile, meaning the missiles have different ranges depending on the direction they are fired in.
Los Angeles is at a distance of 9,500 kilometers from North Korea, and the calculated range of the missile toward the city is 11,700 kilometers, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. If fired in the direction of Boston, the missile range would be 10,750 – still just about enough to reach the city.
New York would also be roughly in range, but Washington DC would probably be just outside the strike area.
The organization stressed that the missile range also depends on the mass of the payload it carries. A heavier payload than that used in the test flight might mean the range would be reduced.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. General Mark Milley, the chief of staff of the Army, said on Thursday that North Korea’s July 4 test of an intercontinental ballistic missile showed its capabilities were advancing significantly and faster than many had expected.
Milley, in remarks to the National Press Club in Washington, said there was still time for a non-military solution to the crisis caused by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, but cautioned that “time is running out.”
“North Korea is extremely dangerous and more dangerous as the weeks go by,” he said.
U.S. media reported this week that the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Pentagon spy agency, had assessed that North Korea would be able to field a nuclear-capable ICBM by next year, earlier than previously thought.
However, two U.S. officials said some other analysts who study North Korea’s missile program did not agree with the assessment, although there was no question that Pyongyang had moved further and faster in its efforts.
U.S. officials said on Tuesday they had seen increased North Korean activity that could be preparations for another missile test within days.
After its July 4 test, North Korea said it had mastered the technology needed to deploy a nuclear warhead via the missile. It also said the test verified the atmospheric re-entry of the warhead, which experts say may be able to reach the U.S. state of Alaska.
North Korea has made no secret of its plans to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the United States and has ignored international calls to halt its weapons programs.
The vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul Selva, said last week that North Korea did not have the ability to strike the United States with “any degree of accuracy” and that while its missiles had the range, they lacked the necessary guidance capability.
Reporting by Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool.
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — When North Korea decided to go nuclear, it committed to a huge investment in a program that would bring severe sanctions and eat up precious resources that could have been spent boosting the nation’s quality of life.
Money well spent?
Leader Kim Jong Un seems to think so.
North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs have without doubt come at a high cost, but the North has managed to march ever closer to having an arsenal capable of attacking targets in the region and – as demonstrated by its July 4 test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile – the United States’ mainland.
Good, solid figures for just about anything in North Korea are hard to find. So what follows should be taken as ballpark guesses, at best.
But here’s a look at how much that arsenal might cost Pyongyang, and why Kim might think that’s the price he must pay to survive.
THE NUCLEAR PRICETAG
South Korea has estimated the cost of the North’s nuclear program at $1 billion to $3 billion, with the higher number combining nuclear and missile development.
For context: one nuclear-powered Virginia class attack submarine costs the United States Navy about $2.5 billion. The USS Gerald Ford, America’s newest aircraft carrier, has an $8 billion price tag, not counting development costs.
South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense estimated the cost of the first 31 ballistic missiles Kim Jong Un test-launched from when he took power in late 2011 until July last year at $97 million. It put the price of each Scud at $1 million to $2 million; each Musudan from $3 million to $6 million; and each submarine-launched ballistic missile at $5 million to $10 million. Up until July last year, Kim had launched 16 Scuds, six Rodongs, six Musudans and three SLBMs.
Including the launch this month of its first ICBM, North Korea has conducted 11 tests, launching 17 missiles, so far this year.
North Korea’s total defense spending is believed to be around $10 billion a year, or somewhere between a fifth to a quarter of its gross domestic product (about $30 billion to $40 billion).
WHERE DOES IT GET THE MONEY?
That’s a matter of heated debate. But the $2 billion it made in exports in 2015 would not begin to cover it. North Korea is also believed to have relied on foreign currency sent by tens of thousands of laborers dispatched abroad, as well as exports of illegal weapons and cybercrime.
Its military-spending-to-GDP ratio far exceeds any other country, but in monetary terms it spends much less than its neighbors, including South Korea and Japan, and its budget is absolutely minuscule when compared to the United States.
Curtis Melvin, a researcher at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said that if the South Korean nuclear-program estimate is correct it would be a significant – but not necessarily destabilizing – draw on the North’s economy.
“This is expensive, but probably a cost the country can absorb without fomenting much resentment among North Korean “elites,” he said. “In fact, North Korean elites would probably feel less secure without a nuclear program even if its costs relative to the economy as a whole were higher.”
Melvin said the economic situation for common North Koreans would have to be in near ruin, with domestic resentment among elites reaching dangerous levels, before North Korea would reconsider its nuclear program.
“Current signals indicate that North Korea is nowhere near this breaking point,” he said.
BURDEN OR BARGAIN?
The bottom line is that regime survival is Kim Jong Un’s primary objective.
There is no way North Korea could keep up with its richer and more technologically advanced neighbors in a conventional arms race.
While certainly expensive, the North’s nuclear strategy is in one sense a potential source of savings – once developed, maintaining a viable nuclear deterrent is less costly than paying for its conventional, million-man military. Once it has reliable nuclear arms, Pyongyang could reduce its spending on other areas of the military and redirect those savings toward the domestic economy.
It’s possible Kim Jong Un has already begun doing that.
Officially announced budgets have shown increases in funds for the public good, and Kim has adopted as his guiding policy a strategy of simultaneously developing the country’s nuclear arsenal and the national economy. Outside estimates indicate the North’s GDP has been growing slowly or at least holding steady since he became leader, and there has been visible growth in construction and infrastructure projects, along with the production of consumer goods, over the past five years.
The flip side is the harder to quantify loss in revenue from trade and friendly relationships with the outside world due to sanctions aimed at getting Pyongyang to denuclearize.
Talmadge is the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief. Follow him of Twitter at EricTalmadge and Instagram.
South Korea on Monday proposed military talks with North Korea this week, the first government-level talks since late 2015, in an effort to halt hostile activities near their joint border and after a series of missile tests by the North in recent weeks.
The proposal is the first formal overture by the government of President Moon Jae-in, who came to power in May pledging to engage the North in dialogue, as well as to apply pressure on Pyongyang to reduce tension on the Korean peninsula.
“We request military talks with the North on July 21 at Tongilgak to stop all hostile activities that raise military tension at the military demarcation line,” South Korea’s Vice Defence Minister Suh Choo-suk told a media briefing.
Tongilgak is a North Korean building at the Panmunjom truce village on the border used for previous inter-Korea talks. The last government-level talks were held in December 2015.
The proposal came roughly a week after Moon said the need for dialogue with North Korea was more pressing than ever to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes.
The vice defence minister did not elaborate on the meaning of hostile military activities, which varies between the two Koreas. South Korea usually refers to loudspeaker broadcasts and other provocations, while the North wants a halt to routine joint U.S.-South Korea military drills.
Moon has suggested hostile military activities be halted at the inter-Korean border on July 27, the anniversary of the 1953 armistice agreement that ended the Korean War.
The South Korean Red Cross on Monday proposed talks with the North to discuss reunions of family members separated during the Korean War. It suggested talks be held on August 1, with possible reunions over the Chuseok holiday, which falls in October this year.
Pyongyang has repeatedly said it refuses to engage in all talks with the South unless Seoul turns over 12 waitresses who defected to the South last year.
North Korea says the South abducted the 12 waitresses and the restaurant manager and has demanded their return, but the South has said the group decided to defect of its own free will.
The North has conducted two nuclear tests since the beginning of last year and missile-related activities at an unprecedented pace.
It conducted the first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) earlier this month, claiming to have mastered the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on the missile. South Korea and the United States dispute the claim.
In an act to rein in the North, the United States is preparing new sanctions on Chinese banks and firms doing business with Pyongyang possibly within weeks, two senior U.S. officials said last week.
Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Paul Tait and Michael Perry.