- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2001

North Korea is continuing to build up its military forces and has shown few signs of matching diplomatic and military overtures offered by South Korea and the United States, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials.
The Pentagon has no plans to reduce the 37,000 troops based in South Korea until it sees clear signs that the North Korean military is reducing its hair-trigger force posture, said a senior military official.
"I don't see reducing numbers until we get confidence-building measures with the North Koreans," the official said in an interview with The Washington Times. "Until we can get real verifiable confidence-building measures which move them back off the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), and increase warning time, I don't see changing it."
The official spoke before the signing of a major agreement Thursday between North and South Korea to build a rail line between Seoul and Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Still, the military official noted, North Korea has refused to match most of the proposals and actions of the South Koreans aimed at reducing tensions.
"The South Koreans have completely cleared the mines off their side [of the DMZ] and are ready to go, and the North Koreans haven't done anything," the official said. "They just finished a set of meetings last week to negotiate the conditions of this passage through the DMZ, but we haven't seen real action there."
North Korea also has rejected a series of steps aimed at reducing tensions, such as communications lines between military command headquarters, an exchange of observers and notification of military exercises.
North Korea on Saturday notified South Korea that it was postponing implementation of Thursday's agreement for "administrative reasons," the Associated Press quoted an official at Seoul's Defense Ministry as saying today.
The railway agreement calls for setting up a limited communications hot line between commanders overseeing construction of a 250-yard-wide corridor through the DMZ where the rail line and four-lane highway will pass.
CIA Director George J. Tenet told a Senate hearing on Wednesday that "the North Korean military appears for now to have halted its near-decade-long slide in military capabilities" and is expanding its short- and medium-range missile arsenal.
Mr. Tenet also said there are few signs of real economic reform.
U.S. officials said projections for grain production in North Korea this year show only one-third of the amount needed to adequately feed the population.
"Pyongyang's declared 'military first' policy requires massive investment in the armed forces," Mr. Tenet said.
Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the same Senate hearing that North Korea is unlikely to reduce its threatening military position because the military is needed to keep the regime in power.
Pentagon officials said mercurial North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is winning the support of his military leaders by using scarce resources to buy new weapons and supplies.
North Korean military leaders remain "deeply suspicious" of any moves toward reconciliation with the South and economic reform, a senior U.S. military official said.
Mr. Kim's recent trip to China fueled speculation of economic reform in North Korea. Mr. Kim plans to set up a special economic zone in part of North Korea, as China did for its move away from communist economics.
However, the country remains unstable because of the closed nature of the system, the senior official said.
The North Korean leader has access to cable television and the Internet, "but he's the only one," he said.
"He personally has an idea about the West, and yet when he turns to pass off ideas, policies to his next echelon, they don't know beans about what's going on," the official said.
"They don't watch the channels, they don't get the papers, they don't get to travel. So you have in many ways an unstable situation in which you have one guy making decisions and one frame of reference, and then you have other people carrying them out with entirely another frame of reference, mostly dominated by the propaganda picture which North Korea has painted over the years."
A Pentagon report made public in September said North Korea's military buildup includes bolstering ground forces with large numbers of artillery rockets and tubes that are deployed in bunkers.
The buildup is focused mainly on bolstering ground forces.
Large numbers of long-range 240 mm multiple-rocket-launcher systems and 170 mm self-propelled guns were fielded recently in areas hardened from attack near the DMZ, the report said.
Officials said the North Koreans also have been building new ballistic missile facilities, purchased some fighter aircraft and deployed more anti-tank barriers and combat posts on military transit routes.
The North Korean military also is dispersing its forces and using more camouflage.
U.S. intelligence agencies also reported that the North Koreans are trying to buy 3,000 advanced SA-18 anti-aircraft missiles to beef up aircraft defenses.
Recently, newer communications and more fuel have boosted North Korean forces, the senior official said. Exercises during the winter training cycle also are more active. Despite cold weather and temperatures of minus-50, "they are out there exercising," the official said.
The U.S. military in South Korea recently completed a new Status of Forces Agreement comparable to arrangements for troops in Japan and Germany.
The military is consolidating the more than 90 military camps and stations in South Korea into a more efficient structure.
"Basically, we've shifted our approach in Korea," the official said. "Until fairly recently, it's been 'we have to fight tonight,' and therefore military requirements are the most important thing."
The new U.S. military approach is that U.S. forces are in South Korea "for the long haul" and thus the military is doing more "smart good-neighbor things" to improve relations, he said.
Robert Manning, an Asian affairs specialist with the Council on Foreign Relations, said North Korea could become the first policy crisis for the Bush administration.
"The problem is that diplomacy is way out front of threat reduction," Mr. Manning said in an interview.
"The threat hasn't lessened at all, and yet the diplomacy and imagery is that this is somehow a new North Korea and [Kim Jong-il] is a charming guy."
The agreement that ended North Korea's nuclear weapons program, the Agreed Framework, is so far behind schedule that Pyongyang this spring could threaten to restart its nuclear arms program, Mr. Manning said. "You could have a serious escalation of the threat," he said.

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