Tag Archives: DPRK

What the Hanoi Summit Tells Us About North Korea’s Nuclear Intentions

Christopher Watterson, Research Associate (christopher.watterson@kcl.ac.uk)

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What the Hanoi Summit Tells Us About North Korea’s Nuclear Intentions

The second U.S.-North Korea summit was a bust, with Kim and Trump leaving Hanoi without any mutual concessions or even a joint statement. In a post-mortem press conference North Korea explained its negotiating position, stating that it was willing to verifiably decommission the Yongbyon site in exchange for sanctions relief. While this would appear to be a significant concession given that Yongbyon contains North Korea’s only operational 5 MWe reactor and proven uranium enrichment facility, this article argues that the North Korean offer does not represent a sincere commitment to denuclearisation but rather an intention to shift its nuclear weapons enterprise away from the Yongbyon site.

Fallout from Kim-Trump Summit “No Deal”

Fallout from Kim-Trump Summit “No Deal”

The much-hyped second summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un ended prematurely earlier today with both sides unable to come to an agreement on sanctions relief and DPRK concessions. Today’s failure highlights the broader tensions in normalising relations with North Korea that are likely to persist well beyond the current US presidency.

From media reports coming out of Hanoi, it appears the stumbling block was over an apparently simple trade-off: what sanctions would be eased and in return for what denuclearisation steps by the DPRK?

Ahead of the summit, there was a sense from some DPRK watchers that some sanctions could be lifted – including certain UN measures – but most must stay in place to maintain pressure on Pyongyang in order to nudge it towards compliance in the future. In terms of denuclearisation, reports suggest that Kim was prepared to freeze or close parts or all of the Yongbyon nuclear facility which houses the country’s plutonium production reactor and its only known uranium centrifuge facility. However, this is but one of several nuclear facilities that the DPRK is believed to have. Therefore, a freeze or closure would not assuredly and irreversibly end the country’s nuclear program. This point weighs on the mind of many analysts as North Korea has previously rowed back on similar freezes in its program.

While at first glance, the differences in two sides’ positions might seem reconcilable, Pyongyang’s apparent insistence on lifting all economic sanctions at once apparently prevented the two parties from reaching an agreement. While Pyongyang’s game plan is still somewhat unclear, recent events give more credence to the idea that Kim would not give up his nuclear weapons program for only an easing of sanctions. Indeed, it should be borne in mind that the DPRK’s controversial nuclear and ballistic programs do not only constitute a strong security guarantee for Pyongyang, but also provide a tool to demonstrate that the regime is using a wide array of instruments to secure concessions from the US, ranging from a peace treaty to the Korean War to assistance in economic development.

Many in the West will welcome the US’ willingness to walk away from the summit. While Kim may not be prepared to trade the nuclear weapons programme for sanctions relief, many states in the West will feel that sanctions relief should not be granted in exchange for anything else. So, there may be some relief around Western capitals that no meaningful concessions were made.

Depending on how one reads Kim’s strategy, the failure in Hanoi might not be a complete loss. Ahead of the summit, numerous countries were positioning themselves to re-enter the North Korean market assuming that sanctions would be eased. Based on Project Alpha’s work, it seems likely that North Korea will find more lax enforcement of sanctions in many parts of the world following its diplomatic efforts with the US. One key question left unanswered after the summit is the impact of the “no deal” on current North-South dialogue. Absent a full lifting of sanctions, South Korean president Moon Jae-in will not be able to pursue its policy of economic engagement with the North – unless they break said sanctions.

Perhaps more problematically from the US perspective, the North’s engagement with South Korea is likely to continue to progress even absent a US-North Korea agreement. This may result in pressure to reopen the joint industrial zone. The US could then find itself being cast as the foreign force obstructing a further easing of tensions on the peninsula. Whereas all North-South declarations since the historical 2000 inter-Korean summit enshrined the principle of a Korean reunification led by Koreans alone. We may expect to see Kim Jong-un complaining to his Southern counterpart about what he will perceive as Trump’s stubbornness, increasing pressure on South Korea’s already difficult diplomatic position.

The status quo will also not help Kim getting the much-needed foreign investment that was pledged by South Korea, and, apparently, already agreed on by Chinese companies. The previous summit allowed the DPRK to emerge as a rational and “normal” diplomatic actor, and this episode did nothing but confirm this trend, offering a glimpse into Pyongyang’s negotiation tactics. However, from North Korean’s point of view, the “no deal” in Hanoi, unless if part of a larger strategy, might give Trump administration to upper hand in any future negotiations. While the current diplomatic sequence was started by the DPRK following Kim Jong-un’s 1st of January 2018 speech, by walking away from the negotiation table the Trump administration is imposing its own agenda. Time will tell if Pyongyang will compromise on its “all or nothing” bargaining position or if we go back to brinkmanship.

 

 

 

North Korea’s Proliferation & Illicit Procurement Apparatus within China

North Korea’s development of weapons of mass destruction, missile delivery systems and conventional military equipment continues despite ever increasing international sanctions. It is known that North Korea relies upon trade in and through China to bypass sanctions. A key knowledge gap relates to what apparatus North Korea maintains in China, especially the border region, to facilitate this. An initial study by King’s College London identified a number of findings:

  • The presence of extensive procurement networks in the Chinese border regions are significant to both North Korea’s economy and support to its military-related programmes, including WMD.
  • It is assessed that North Korea employs a covert system in its attempts to prevent the activities between North Korea-based entities and suppliers being identified.
  • The majority of those entities identified in the China border regions were located in Dandong, although significant numbers were also identified in Dalian and Shenyang. The research to date also found potential presence of North Korean-associated companies in other locations within the Chinese border provinces.
  • Within the cities of Dandong, Dalian and Shenyang many of the entities were found to be collocated suggesting centres for North Korean-related trade, and close proximity to logistic centres.
  • The nationality of the majority of people identified and associated with the entities in this report are assessed to fall into three basic categories;
    • Chinese (citizens) business people who trade with North Korean.
    • Ethnic Koreans of which there are over 2 million who are Chinese citizens living in the border provinces of Jilin, Liaoning and Heilongjiang.
    • North Korean persons living and/or working in the border regions within China.
  • From open source information this study has identified a large number of networks/groups that North Korea could potentially use in support of proliferation-related procurement. However, this is considered to be only part of the potential number of entities that exist.
  • Most of the entities/companies included in international sanctions lists are based in North Korea. So far, of the entities and people identified in this study only two appear in any sanctions list, these being;
    • Korea Ryonha Machinery Joint Venture Corporation (UNSCR 1718)
    • Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Company Ltd. (US)
  • A number of companies and individuals identified have been included in UNSCR 1718 PoE reports with the assertion that they have aided North Korean proliferation activity, but have not been included in any sanctions list.

Although this initial study has not identified any new policy recommendations, it has shown that the extent of the problem is potentially far greater than many have previously considered. To have effective sanctions against North Korean proliferation activity cooperation with, and support to, Chinese authorities should be considered.

North Korean Scientists – Chemical and Biological Weapons Programmes

Many consider the North Korean ideology of Juche (self-reliance) to include science and technology as one of its three priority pillars alongside ideology and the military. Given its prominence, in the late 1990’s the DPRK formulated a plan for science and technology development that included investment and scientific exchanges with foreign countries. North Korea continues to be one of the most closed nations, and acquiring information relating to scientists and their work is no exception.  Some technological fields, such as nuclear and military arms technology are considered to be relatively well advanced, but very little is understood regarding any current chemical and biological weapons programmes.

The study by King’s College London aimed to identify where possible scientists that have been recognised through awards and honours for their work in support of North Korea’s ideology and objectives. Specifically those that may be involved in or have conducted research work in support of the DPRK’s suspected chemical and/or biological weapons programmes. Analysis was also conducted in an attempt to identify persons that worked at entities and/or locations suspected of being involved in chemical and/or biological weapons programmes. The findings included;

  • The Order of Kim Il-sung is the highest order of North Korea, along with the Order of Kim Jong-il. Recipients can be individuals or organizations, who have contributed “outstanding services to the Republic of the Korean nation and communism”.
  • The People’s Scientist is an award by the People’s Prize Awarding Commission that works directly under the Cabinet of North Korea.
  • The names of some of the recipients are available but in many cases details of their role, profession and parent organisation are not reported.
  • The overwhelming trend is not to name scientists associated to nuclear or missile-related programmes who have received awards.
  • According to a study by ScienceCentral, analysis of publications from North Korea indexed in the Web of Science Core Collection found 318 articles from North Korea mostly in collaboration with other countries. The study also identified that most research results by North Korean researchers have been published in journals in North Korea.
  • Analysis of data acquired by KCL of over 29,000 papers published in North Korea identified a total of 33 of potential interest. 24 were identified against a list of key terms and a further 9 were identified as topics of potential interest.
  • In most cases there was no additional information about the authors of these papers, or their parent organisations.
  • Entity/location analysis of data extracted from open source websites has identified approximately 1200 people linked to entities or locations that are of possible concern. Of those identified, some are award recipients.
  • Due to its dual use applications chemical and biological research, development and production those involved are possibly more likely to have some public recognition.

Report of the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea

The UN Panel of Experts on North Korea at the end of February released a substantial report on North Korea’s proliferation-related activities.

The report contains a significant number of cases concerning North Korean illicit trade and sanctions violations. The report also notes a ‘significant increase’ in the number of national implementation reports by UN Member States since the adoption of UNSCR 2270.

The report contains numerous recommendations to the UN Security Council as listed below. It is notable that the intensely political Security Council in recent years has often failed to adopt the recommendations of its Panel of Experts. The Security Council has nonetheless now renewed the mandate of the Panel of Experts for a further 12 months. The recommendations contained in the new resolution are also reproduced below.

Continue reading Report of the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea

DPRK successful ballistic missile test 12 February

Image courtesy of AFP/KCNA

On 12 February 2017 the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) carried out a successful ballistic missile test of a medium range ballistic missile, the Pukguksong-2. The missile reached a height of 550 kilometers before impacting in the East Sea. This is the first such provocation by the DPRK since Donald Trump became President of the US and will be a first test of the administration. The test itself according to a number of analysts is concerning. The Pukguksong-2 shares significant similarities with the KN-11 (Pukguksong-1), a submarine based solid fuel ballistic missile. This represents a new capacity for the DPRK and one that is potentially more robust and manoeuvrable. The use of a cold-launch canister system being carried on a tracked transporter-erector launcher vehicle provides substantially greater cross-country mobility than many other North Korean ballistic missiles. Being solid fuel also means this ballistic missile would not require tanker trucks giving it a smaller foot print and making it quicker to launch. The test clearly shows the DPRK is looking to increase its ballistic missile capabilities and has the ability to do so.

 

Alpha In Depth: North Korea’s Proliferation and Illicit Procurement Apparatus

 

Available now to purchase at the Project Alpha page at the King’s College London e-Store

Project Alpha is today releasing the second in a new series of reports – Alpha In Depth. Alpha In Depth reports are intended as comprehensive studies of issues of particular interest to policymakers. They will be available for purchase from Project Alpha.
Continue reading Alpha In Depth: North Korea’s Proliferation and Illicit Procurement Apparatus