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North Korea

Japan's Defense Posture Review Interim Report  of 26th July 2013  has attracted much favourable comment for its speed (six months after commissioning), timeliness (so quickly after the main report was published, it's responding to changing conditions) and brevity - the summary below, in a provisional translation, comes on two sides of paper.


Given the following developments, the Government of Japan decided to review the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) by the end of 2013, and its Ministry of Defense (MOD) established the “Defense Posture Review Commission” in January 2013.

-The regional security environment has become more tense,  as seen by China’s increasing activities in Japan’s vicinity as well as North Korea’s missile launches

-The U.S. is emphasizing its presence in the Asia-Pacific area in cooperation with allies including Japan

-Lessons from the Self Defence Force’s (SDF) activities following the Great East Japan Earthquake need to be addressed

-The Commission focused on development of joint operations and made an interim report about the directions and issues through its deliberations.

The main points are on the next page.

Read more...  

by Bruce Klingner

On July 4 Pyongyang launched seven Scud missiles in a rebuff to international diplomatic efforts to deter North Korea from developing a missile delivery capability for nuclear weapons. North Korea's blatant defiance of yet another UN resolution demonstrates the critical necessity for the U.S. and its allies to have robust missile defense systems—even as America does all it can both multilaterally and unilaterally to squeeze Pyongyang into abandoning its programs. Washington and Tokyo have deployed an effective, though still limited missile defense system, while Seoul has yet to upgrade its rudimentary defenses.

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By Bruce Klingner

North Korea has established an independent military division responsible for controlling and deploying its intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs).  Known as the Musudan, these IRBMs are a strategic-level asset controlled by the senior leadership. Little is known about the missile, but U.S. assessments consider it to be a single-stage, road-mobile IRBM with a range of 1,800 to 3,000 miles--capable of targeting U.S. military bases in Japan, Okinawa, and Guam.

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By Barbara Demick.

Published by Granta (ISBN 978-1-84708-141-4)

Reviewed by Adam Dempsey, Research Associate, UK Defence Forum

Barbara Demick's coverage of the war in Sarajevo won the Robert F. Kennedy award and was also shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2001 she became correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, covering both North and South Korea. As in common with many journalists, it proved difficult for Demick to visit the North. When she eventually gained access reporting was severely limited by the regime's employment of minder's to guide journalists on pre-planned tours. There was never any conversation with 'ordinary' North Korean citizens. Yet through contact with defectors to the South, Demick was able to paint a picture of life in North Korea. Just as the title of the book suggests, life in the last remaining bona fide Communist state is nothing much to envy.

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26th March: The Cheonan, a Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) corvette sailing close to the disputed inter-Korean maritime border, sank after an explosion split the vessel in two. Fifty-eight sailors manage to escape but another forty-six were killed.

27th March: As the ROKN continued its search for survivors, South Korea's president, Lee Myung-bak, calls emergency security meetings and orders an investigation into the sinking. With speculation mounting of a possible North Korean torpedo attack, South Korea's Defence Minister indicated to Parliament that the authorities would undertake a full investigation. It was also emphasised that it was still too early to connect the sinking of the ship to North Korea.

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North Korea and South Korea have reportedly traded artillery fire Nov. 23 across the disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow Sea to the west of the peninsula. Though details are still sketchy, South Korean news reports indicate that around 2:30 p.m. local time, North Korean artillery shells began landing in the waters around Yeonpyeongdo, one of the South Korean-controlled islands just south of the NLL. North Korea has reportedly fired as many as 200 rounds, some of which struck the island, injuring at least 10 South Korean soldiers, damaging buildings and setting fire to a mountainside. South Korea responded by firing some 80 shells of its own toward North Korea, dispatching F-16 fighter jets to the area and raising the military alert to its highest level.

South Korean President Lee Myung Bak has convened an emergency Cabinet meeting, and Seoul is determining whether to evacuate South Koreans working at inter-Korean facilities in North Korea. The barrage from North Korea was continuing at 4 p.m. Military activity appears to be ongoing at this point, and the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff are meeting on the issue. No doubt North Korea's leadership is also convening.

The North Korean attack comes as South Korea's annual Hoguk military exercises are under way. The exercises — set to last nine days and including as many as 70,000 personnel from all branches of the South Korean military — span from sites in the Yellow Sea including Yeonpyeongdo to Seoul and other areas on the peninsula itself. The drills have focused in particular on cross-service coordination and cooperation in recent years.
North Korean Artillery Attack on a Southern Island

Low-level border skirmishes across the demilitarized zone and particularly the NLL are not uncommon even at the scale of artillery fire. In March, the South Korean naval corvette ChonAn was sunk in the area by what is broadly suspected to have been a North Korean torpedo, taking tensions to a peak in recent years. Nov. 22 also saw South Korean rhetoric about accepting the return of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to the peninsula, though the United States said it has no plans at present to support such a redeployment.

While the South Korean reprisals — both artillery fire in response by self-propelled K-9 artillery and the scrambling of aircraft — thus far appear perfectly consistent with South Korean standard operating procedures, the sustained shelling of a populated island by North Korea would mark a deliberate and noteworthy escalation.

The incident comes amid renewed talk of North Korea's nuclear program, including revelations of an active uranium-enrichment program, and amid rumors of North Korean preparations for another nuclear test. But North Korea also on Nov. 22 sent a list of delegates to Seoul for Red Cross talks with South Korea, a move reciprocated by the South, ahead of planned talks in South Korea set for Thursday. The timing of the North's firing at Yeonpyeongdo, then, seems to contradict the other actions currently under way in inter-Korean relations. With the ongoing leadership transition in North Korea, there have been rumors of discontent within the military, and the current actions may reflect miscommunications or worse within the North's command-and-control structure, or disagreements within the North Korean leadership.

Read more: North Korean Artillery Attack on a Southern Island | STRATFOR

Reproduced with the permission of STRATFOR


A major new series of articles on the future of North Korea has been released by the UK Defence Forum at 

The series, entitled: 'Policy Alternatives for North Korea', examines the behaviour and future national trajectory of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in a number of innovative and original ways. Through examining both the recent policy initiatives and belligerent activities of the North, alongside what is known of the actual conditions within the DPRK, the series attempts to reveal the alternative policy directions available to the regime in the coming years. The series attempts to postulate various policy alternatives available to the Kim regime which, if skilfully implemented could both secure the succession of Kim Jong Un and ensure the long term survival of the regime.

The content of the series is divided into eight distinct, but interconnected sections. Each section examines aspects of the current policy of the PDRK and the alternative directions available to it in the future. The sections are organized as follows:


1.    A Grand Strategy for a Viable Future for North Korea

2.    North Korea and Global Energy Security

3.    North Korea and the Deepening Sino-American Relationship

4.    North Korea Policy Objectives

5.    North Korea's National Trajectory

6.    North Korea and Islamist Terrorism

7.    North Korea and Middle Eastern Nuclear Proliferation

8.    North Korea and Global Economic Rebalancing


The series, which is based on the work of the U K Defence Forum which competed in the Wikistrat international grand strategy competition earlier this year, will be of interest to policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists and general readers interested in East Asian politics, global affairs and security issues.


Recent American and South Korean intelligence reports speculate that North Korea may be preparing for its first nuclear tests since 2009. Satellite images show that North Korea has dug an 800 metre tunnel at its test site at Punggye-ri. Experts believe that the tunnel will be ready for a nuclear test when it reaches 1 kilometre, which South Korea believes may occur in early April.

Adam Dempsey, Research Associate for the UK Defence Forum, has recently undertaken a study of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme. His report outlines the development of Pyongyang's programme and ballistic missile capabilities.

In keeping with many aspects of North Korean life, Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme is shrouded in secrecy and subject to speculation. Official estimates of North Korea's programme are varied and remain primarily reliant on open-source intelligence. To complicate matters, Pyongyang's nuclear missile development may have benefitted from illegal exchanges involving the A.Q. Khan network.

Adam's full report is available here.


Many Western politicians are likely to share U.S. Senator John D Rockefeller's sentiment that 'Iran is nothing but trouble, and always has been that.' This is especially true of Israeli politicians like former President Moshe Katsav. He has previously claimed that 'Iran stands behind a substantial number of terrorist actions against us, together with Hezbollah and the Islamic Jihad. It pretends to care for the Palestinians.'

Yet other Western politicians hold a more pragmatic view of Iran. Despite condemnation of Iran's human rights record and nuclear programme Senator Howard Berman acknowledges that the country is central to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Iran is also 'a major player in global energy markets, and a key country in terms of our interaction with the Muslim world.'

Such diverse ranges of opinion underpin one of the UK Defence Forum's major research projects for 2011. The 'Iranian Insights' series will provide a comprehensive assessment of the government, politics and people of Iran. Subjects to be covered include:

·         The 'birth' of the modern Iranian state

·         Religion in Iran

·         Human rights and political freedom

·         Iran's internal security apparatus

·         Historical overview of Iran's relations with the Middle East

The series begins, however, with a more contemporary study. Adam Dempsey, Research Associate, has updated the Forum's factsheet on Iran's nuclear weapons programme. All reports will be available at the UK Defence Forum's library, with notification of their publication made on Viewpoints.


By Tom French

The recent shelling by the North Korean People's Army of Yeonpyeong Island and the resultant civilian and military casualties have raised many questions about the possible causes behind, and responses to, this clear act of aggression.


Much like the original outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 the exact cause or 'who fired first' in this incident may never be known. However, it seems that the North Korean shelling began ostensibly in response to an artillery exercise by the South Korean military. Nevertheless, the bombardment is believed by most observers, and crucially, the South Korean leadership, to have been a premeditated act of aggression.

Much like the sinking of the Cheonan on 26 March the incident has provoked a flurry of speculation about the North's motivation behind these highly risky acts of aggression. Some have speculated that the attack could be a response to the recent hosting of the G20 by the South, with the North unwilling to be upstaged by its southern neighbour. Others have argued that the attack could be a result of the recent statements by a US diplomat that Americans would not reward Northern provocations by returning to the six party talks. The often advanced theory of blaming of the incident on 'rogue elements' within the Northern military is also a common theme. No doubt these and the clichés of the North as a 'mad', 'bad' or even 'sad' regime will fill much of the commentary on the incident.

These rather flimsy arguments seem to unravel when confronted by the question: why would the North risk so much over such minor incidents as it would almost certainly be defeated if it came to war? A more credible explanation lies in attempting to assume the perspective of the Kim regime and the choices available to it.

Caught in the midst of a succession crisis, the ailing Kim Jong-il seems to want to ensure the smooth transition of power to his heir apparent Kim Jong-un. A useful tool in this seems to be winning the support of both the military and people through 'victories' over the United States and its South Korean 'puppet'. As noted in B.R. Myers's recent book The Cleanest Race this form of anti American / South Korean propaganda is very common in the North and a the sinking of a southern warship and the bombardment of a military base offer the chance to renew and strengthen this narrative and with it the interconnected Kim dynasty personality cult and central, highly respected position of the military.


The cessation of the bombardment and the apparent absence of any further acts of aggression seem to prove that the North doesn't seek a wider conflict, however the full response of the South is yet to be revealed. As noted in a previous Defence Viewpoints article, three possibilities lay open to the Southern government, sanctions, a blockade of some kind and finally, military action. It seems that the South too does not yet seek an escalation of the incident however the remarks by Southern President Lee Myung-bak that the attack would be met "through action", not just words may hint at a tougher line over the coming days. It seem Southern patience is wearing thin and this coupled with the inevitable public outcry and the clear opportunity the attack provides for a strike against the North's nuclear facilities, (including the recently discovered centrifuges at the Yongbyon nuclear complex) might yet result in a hardening of the South's attitude towards its northern neighbour.

About the author

Tom French is a graduate of Durham University and is currently completing his PhD in Northeast Asian Security from Southampton University.


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