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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

NORTH KOREAN THREAT -- (BY PETER ALMOND) (Extension of Remarks - April 26, 1990)

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in the House of Representatives


  • Mr. BURTON of Indiana. Mr. Speaker, the following April 26, Washington Times article correctly emphasizes that the United States must take an extremely cautious approach to reducing our troop strength in South Korea. For those Members of Congress advocating drastic cuts in our troop commitment to South Korea, this article is a must:



A slow but continuing buildup of North Korean troops close to the demilitarized border with South Korea has prompted U.S. intelligence officials to reduce the warning time for a North Korean invasion to less than 24 hours.

The cut in warning time runs totally counter to huge increases in the amount of time the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has to prepare for an attack from Warsaw Pact nations--now nearly three months.

The short North Korean attack warning time signals the serious threat an increasingly isolated and potentially unstable North Korea poses to U.S. troops.

`We are advising to plan on zero warning time,' said one intelligence official, noting that 70 percent of North Korea's 930,000-man ground force is on permanent war footing in bunkers and tunnels within 15 to 20 miles of the demilitarized zone.

The new, secret National Intelligence Estimate dropping the warning time from 48 hours to under 24 hours comes as the Pentagon plans a cutback of U.S. troops in South Korea and prepares to hand over control of ground forces to a South Korean general.

`It serves as a warning to be very, very careful about any changes in our military commitments to South Korea,' said one U.S. official. `This is the one place in the world where we are closest to war. With [North Korean dictator] Kim Il-sung preparing to hand over power to his son, North Korea could be dangerously unstable.'

Added to North Korea's attempts to get nuclear weapons, there is rising concern that the United States must not send any wrong signals to North Korea about U.S. willingness to defend South Korea.

It was just such a wrong signal that started the Korean War 40 years ago this June, historians have concluded.

`We must be very careful we don't send any wrong signals,' said Sen. John McClain, Arizona Republican and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who visited South Korea in February. `The North Koreans have a very good, well-equipped, fanatical army. They could attack at a moment's notice.'

Added Virginia Sen. John Warner, ranking Republican on the committee and an ex-Marine who served in the Korean War, `I am strongly in favor of shifting the defense burden [to South Korea] at the earliest possible date, but I want to be cautious that they [North Koreans] will not read this wrongly.'

The two senators, however, appear to hold minority views in a Congress determined to cut the U.S. defense budget and shift more of the defense burden to allies.

Last week, Democratic members of the Armed Services Committee complained that Bush administration plans to cut 7,000 of the 42,500 U.S. troops in Korea over the next 2 1/2 years and hand over military control to the South Koreans are too cautious.

Paul Wolfowitz, undersecretary of defense for policy, answered that any faster effort to cut the U.S. role `would be courting a much higher risk of war in Korea. . . . North Korea remains one of the most reckless and dangerous actors on the international scene.'

But some defense officials are concerned that even the planned withdrawal pace may be too fast. They are upset that the Pentagon has failed to provide to Congress a substantial assessment of the North Korean threat.

Intelligence officials, however, say they have more difficulty finding out about the inner workings of the North Korean regime than almost anywhere else.

Kim II-sung, the country's 78-year-old Stalinist ruler, is expected to hand over power to his son and heir, Kim Jong-il, at any time.

`Not a lot is known about that son, and what is known is not particularly comforting with regard to risk,' said Rear Adm. William Pendley, director of plans for the U.S. Pacific Command.

Kim Jong-il is regarded as something of a playboy by U.S. and South Korean officials. Reportedly, he is not involved in government business. According to Maj. Gen. Jung Hwan Kim, defense attache at the South Korean Embassy, he spends most of his time watching movies and drinking. His mother died when he was very young, and his brother died in his father's swimming pool.

His questionable personality may be one reason his father is holding off a transfer of power. In some respects, said Gen. Kim, Mr. Kim can afford to wait and watch U.S. power decline in South Korea because of his firm grip on North Korea and the unlikelihood of a democratic upheaval as has occurred in Eastern Europe.

However, Gen. Kim said Mr. Kim is anxious about changes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and that both China and the Soviets are opening channels to South Korea. He could decide that it is `now or never' to reunite the country on his terms, according to U.S. officials.

`He knows that in the long term the situation favors the Repbulic of [South] Korea,' said Gen. Kim . `I think there is some possibility of provocation in the short term. We must be ready for this.'

Ground forces:





Armed personnel carriers


Air Force:

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[North Korean-South Korean military comparison, January 1990]

                                     North Korea South Korea 

Ground forces:                                               
Troops                                   930,000     550,000 
Infantry divisions                            30          21 
Armored brigades                              15           1 
Tanks                                      3,500       1,500 
Armored personnel carriers                 1,940       1,500 
Artillery tubes                            7,200       4,000 
Multiple rocket launchers                  2,500          37 
Surface-to-surface missile launchers          54          12 
Anti-aircraft artilery                     8,000         600 
Surface-to-air missie sites/missiles      54/800      34/210 
Air Force:                                                   
Personnel                                 70,000      40,000 
Fighters                                     750         480 
Bombers                                       80           0 
Transports                                   275          34 
Helicopters (including army)                 280         280 
Personnel                                 40,000      60,000 
Attack submarines                             23           0 
Destroyers                                     0          11 
Figates                                        2          17 
Missile attack boats                          29          11 
Torpedo boats                                173           0 
Coastal patrol                               157          79 
Mine warfare                                  40           9 
Amphibious craft                             126          52 
Total personnel                        1,040,000     650,000 

[Footnote] Source: Defense Department.


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