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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Chemical Weapons Program

In 1954 the Soviet Union and China transferred certain special technologies as well as chemical agents and means of protection against them captured from the Japanese and Kuomintang during World War II to the Korean People's Army [KPA]. The next five years were marked by the swift development of the DPRK chemical industry. Despite the fact that the country possessed considerable deposits of natural raw materials, it proved to be a rather difficult task to create domestic capacities for producing chemical weapons. In 1964 the DPRK concluded a contract with Japan for deliveries of agricultural chemicals. Under their guise, components came into the country initially for synthesis of tabun and mustard gas, and a later chlorine and phosphorus-containing organic compounds were imported.

North Korea's chemical warfare program is believed to be mature and includes the capability, since 1989, to indigenously produce bulk quantities of nerve, blister, choking and blood chemical agents as well as a variety of different filled munitions systems. North Korea is believed to possess a sizable stockpile of chemical weapons, which could be employed in offensive military operations against the South. North Korea has also devoted considerable scarce resources to defensive measures aimed at protecting its civilian population and military forces from the effects of chemical weapons. Such measures include extensive training in the use of protective masks, suits, detectors, and decontamination systems. Though these measures are ostensibly focused on a perceived threat from U.S. and South Korean forces, they could also support the offensive use of chemical weapons by the North during combat. North Korea has yet to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and is not expected to do so in the near-term, due to intrusive inspection and verification requirements mandated by the agreement.

North Korea maintains a number of facilities involved in producing or storing chemical precursors, agents, and weapons. North Korea has at least eight industrial facilities that can produce chemical agents; however, the production rate and types of munitions are uncertain. Presumably, sarin, tabun, phosgene, adamsite, prussic acid and a family of mustard gases, comprising the basis of KPA chemical weapons, are produced here. North Korea has the capability to produce nerve gas, blood agents, and the mustard-gas family of chemical weapons.

Estimates of North Korea's total stockpile vary by more than an order of magnitude. In the assessment of US intelligence services, their reserves, accommodated in perhaps half a dozen major storage sites and as many as 170 mountain tunnels, are at least 180 to 250 tons, with some estimates of chemical stockpiles run as high as 2,500-5,000 tons.

In May 1996 ROK Foreign Minister Yu Chong-ha reported to the National Assembly that it was estimated that North Korea possessed approximately 5,000 tons of biological and chemical weapons. Estimates of the number of DPRK production, research, and storage facilities have remained stable over the last decade, with the ROK government estimating current peacetime annual production capability (if not actual production) at 4,500 tons, with the likelihood of a surge capacity to 12,000 tons in wartime. This estimate of actual production is consistent with the estimates for the total stockpile of several thousand tons.

Annual production level for chemical weapons probably varied considerably during the 1990s due to natural disasters and economic restrictions. According to one estimate [Planning for a Peaceful Korea, pages 95-96], on average the North may have produced about 8,000 tons of agent per year. Due to a high level of impurities in the agent stock produced, the North probably dedicated approximately half of production to replacement of deteriorating stockpiles. Of the rest, 30 percent goes towards building the KPA's stockpiles, 10 percent for training, 5 percent for research, and 5 percent is wastage. Under emergency conditions, the North may be capable of producing up to 20,000 tons of chemical agents a year. According to this estimate, the North is capable of producing a wide variety of chemical agents including: adamsite (DM), chloroacetophenone (CN), chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS), hydrogen cyanide (AC), mustard-family (H or HD), phosgene (CG and CX), sarin (GB), soman (GD), tabun (GA), and V-agents (VM and VX). For operational and technical reasons, the DPRK is thought to have concentrated on mustard, phosgene, sarin, and the V-agents. During the past 1990s the North may have begun production of binary agents. These agents provide greater safety of handling in transit and longer period of stability in storage.

North Korea is capable of producing and employing chemical weapons that virtually all the fire support systems in its inventory could deliver, including most of its artillery pieces, multiple rocket launchers (including those mounted on CHAHO-type boats), and mortars. Some bombs the Air Force employs also could deliver chemical agents, as could the FROG or the SCUD missile.

Chemicals could increase the impact of a surprise attack. If the North should use this option, it would have an advantage over forward-deployed South Korean and US forces. Nonpersistent chemical agents also could be used to break through defensive lines or hinder a South Korean counterattack's momentum. Persistent chemical agents could be used against fixed targets in the rear areas, such as command and control elements, major lines of communications, or logistic depots. Not only do these weapons enhance North Korea's offensive capabilities, but this chemical capability could deter South Korea or the United States from using chemicals during hostilities. In any attack on the South, Pyongyang could use chemical weapons to attack forces deployed near the DMZ, suppress allied airpower, and isolate the peninsula from strategic reinforcement.

The Korean Peninsula provides an example of how chemical weapons can be employed on the battlefield. But one must consider North Korean CW use in the context of conventional operations. A North Korean offensive against South Korea will consist of three phases. The objective of the first phase is to breach the DMZ and destroy forward Combined Forces Command (CFC) defenders. In the second phase, North Korean Forces will attempt to isolate Seoul and consolidate their gains. The third phase is to be the pursuit and destruction of remaining CFC Forces and the occupation of the peninsula.

At the onset of hostilities, North Korean Forces will seek to suppress Allied counter air operations. Scud-B and -C Missiles, with persistent Nerve Agent in the warheads, would be launched against airbases such as Kimpo, Osan and Taegu. Command, control, and communications centers, and logistics depots are also likely chemical targets.

In the artillery preparation, the North would attack ROK defenses in the corridors with a mix of conventional high-explosive and non-persistent chemical strikes. North Korean 122mm and 240mm multiple rocket launchers are particularly effective for delivering Hydrogen Cyanide and Sarin. The CFC defenders will be forced into protective gear, hindering weapons sighting, maneuver, and communications. But the contamination will dissipate by the time North Korean Forces reach the defenses.

As defenses in the corridors are breached, fires will shift to deeper targets. Long range artillery such as the 170mm Koksan Gun, and Frog-7 Rockets could place persistent Nerve and Blister Agents on C3, logistics, and reserves. Contamination of key points along lateral and rear area lines of communication will disrupt resupply and reinforcement. Persistent agents may be employed to protect the flank of advancing North Korean Forces. North Korean Forces may establish a defense to consolidate gains, await additional resources, or repel Combined Forces Command counterattacks. In the defense, chemical mines may be emplaced in protective minefields. Artillery and air delivered persistent agents would deny the Allied Forces the use of terrain, canalize Allied Forces into kill zones and disrupt the momentum of the attack by forcing soldiers to take protective measures. For soldiers in protective gear, unit performance is degraded.

North Korean military units conduct regular NBC defensive training exercises in preparation for operations in a chemical environment. North Korea has chemical defense units at all levels of its force structure. These units are equipped with decontamination and detection equipment. North Korean military personnel have access to individual protective masks and protective suits.

Since 1990, Pyongyang has placed high priority on military and civilian chemical defense readiness. It has mandated operational training in chemical environments as an integral part of armed forces training and is trying to equip all military forces, including reserves, with full protective gear. In addition, the leadership has required broad segments of the population to engage periodically in simulated chemical warfare drills. Pyongyang has emphasized building and installing collective protection equipment at military production and civilian alternate wartime relocation sites, directing that the entire population be issued protective masks.

On June 4, 2003 Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John R. Bolton announced that a French and German combined effort to intercept sodium cyanide likely bound for North Korea's chemical weapons program had taken place within two months prior to his testimony.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 04:38:15 ZULU