U.S. intelligence officials assessing North Korea’s recent bellicose statements are increasingly concerned that Kim Jong-un could use his limited nuclear arsenal as part of offensive military attack that would be calculated to improve the prospects for reunifying the country rather suffering a collapse of his regime.
According to officials familiar with unclassified assessments, the North Korean leader and his military hampered by economic sanctions and a declining conventional military force remain paranoid about a U.S. military offensive.
The regime is also growing increasingly worried that China will not support its fraternal communist ally and so could calculate that it must launch a military attack. Pyongyang also fears the Chinese will replace the Kim family dynasty with a pro-China puppet regime.
Launching a war might present China with a reunified Korean Peninsula, then North Korea could seek Beijing’s support for negotiating a settlement to civil war.
Mr. Kim may take a page from his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, who launched the Korean War in part because he feared losing power.
The North Koreans are calling their strategy “the spirit of the offensive.” It calls for decisive, surprise attacks carried out very rapidly.
The strategy also calls for a four-front war against South Korea and the United States involving strategic missiles with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons to destroy U.S. and allied military bases. It would launch conventional military strikes through the demilitarized zone and into South Korea. Special operations commandos would mount rear-guard attacks. Cyberwarfare would take down critical infrastructure.
A North Korean nuclear strike could translate into a long-range missile either a Taepodong-2 or KN-08 road-mobile missile topped with a small nuclear warhead or use a suitcase nuclear bomb in downtown Seoul or at the gate of a U.S. military base.
CHALLENGED ON MISSILE DEFENSE
A senior House Republican is questioning Secretary of State John F. Kerry‘s recent offer to China to trade U.S. missile defense upgrades for help in pressing North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
Rep. Mike Rogers, Alabama Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces, expressed his concerns in a letter sent Monday to Mr. Kerry.
“Many of our Asian allies have watched with consternation the success with which Russia has obtained concessions from the Obama administration about U.S. missile defenses that NATO allies have agreed to host,” Mr. Rogers stated.
“No doubt, many Asian allies wondered when China would begin to seek similar concessions.”
Mr. Kerry told reporters April 13 in Beijing that the U.S. missile defenses are needed to defend against direct North Korean missile threats.
Asked if he discussed limiting U.S. missile defense deployments in talks with the Chinese, Mr. Kerry said: “Now obviously, if the threat disappears, i.e., North Korea denuclearizes, the same imperative does not exist at that point in time for us to have that kind of robust, forward-leaning posture of defense.”
A day later in Tokyo, Mr. Kerry was asked to elaborate and said there were no agreements, discussions or concrete proposals laid out.
“I was simply making an observation about the rationale for that particular deployment, which is to protect United States’ interests that are directly threatened by North Korea, specifically Guam, Hawaii, possibly at some point given the direction [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un has indicated he wants to go the continental United States, and very much our current allies, the Republic of Korea, Japan, and others in this region,” he said.
According to U.S. officials, Mr. Kerry has discussed canceling the Pentagon’s recently announced plan to add 14 additional ground-based interceptors to the 30 missiles now deployed in Alaska and Hawaii.
In his letter Mr. Rogers, “I urge you to earnestly issue a clarification of your remarks that under no circumstances will the United States ‘trade’ its missile defense deployments in Asia to China.”
Noting his position as chairman of the subcommittee responsible for missile defense, Mr. Rogers added, “I can assure you that my subcommittee will not fund any removal of U.S. missile defenses from the region under any circumstances.”
Mr. Rogers suggested that North Korea is not the sole state posing a missile threat to the United States and its allies, noting that another country China lacks transparency about its military program. It is building up its military with double-digit military spending and is expanding its missile and nuclear programs.
In a statement, Mr. Rogers also criticized the Obama administration’s handling of North Korea.
“It is disturbing, yet sadly no longer surprising, the administration’s response to North Korean aggression is further provocative weakness,” he said. “Not only did Secretary [of Defense Chuck] Hagel delay a needed reliability test of our ICBM systems, he has forced into the Air Force budget an environmental impact study that can only be necessary to shut down an ICBM missile wing or squadron.”
The measure sends the wrong message to U.S. allies and adversaries, Mr. Rogers said.
Rep. Michael R. Turner, another senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, questioned President Obama about U.S. missile defense strategy following Mr. Kerry’s comments in China.
“I am greatly concerned that your missile defense strategy is languishing, resulting in increased risk to the United States, increased cost to the taxpayer and needless alienation of our allies,” the Ohio Republican stated in a letter sent to Mr. Obama on Wednesday.
“Mr. President, the world is not becoming a safer place,” Mr. Turner said.
“Offering to weaken our defenses in hopes of irrational nations suspending their weapons programs is not an effective security strategy. Simply put these offers are of greater benefit to our adversaries and to the detriment of the American people.”
CHINA OIL FLOWS TO NORTH KOREA
China is continuing an interrupted flow of oil into North Korea, contrary to recent press reports indicating Beijing may have curtailed Pyongyang’s key source of energy as a punitive action.
U.S. officials with access to intelligence reports dismissed reports that China suspended crude oil shipments to North Korea in February.
The oil pipeline from Dandong, China, to North Korea was not disrupted, and the pipeline continues to transfer oil that amounts to 500,000 tons annually, they said.
The officials added that North Korean officials were seen at an oil-measuring station in Dandong. The North Koreans visit the facility monthly to check on planned oil deliveries.
Reports from China also indicated that oil trucks travel daily to North Korea from Dandong.
Also, no travel agencies or Chinese news outlets in Dandong reported any disruptions of tour groups visiting North Korea.
Reuters reported March 21 that China did not export any crude oil to North Korea in February the first time there was such a cutoff since 2012.
The report, based on customs data obtained in Beijing, said the temporary cutoff might have been a sign of China’s displeasure over North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests.
China provides an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 tons of crude oil to North Korea every month as part of an aid program.