DPRK military policy focuses on maintaining and sustaining a military force capable of conducting an offensive operation into the ROK to attain the national goal of reunifying the peninsula. It is based on three fundamental and interconnected concepts shaped by the late Kim Il-song's vision of the future of the Korean Peninsula:
- Eventual reunification,
- DPRK regime and leadership survival and
- the application of military force to achieve these goals
The North Korean regime is regularly portrayed in the Western as the lunatics in charge of the asylum. The traditional US deterrence posture rested on the ability to launch a devastating counter-strike against any country that used weapons of mass destruction against America, its allies or deployed forces. Such measures worked against the Soviet Union, whose leaders were rational and risk-averse, but some argue that they may not deter rogue states such as North Korea, whose leaders are indifferent to their people's welfare. Although North Korea's strategies and tactics can be (sometimes purposely) baffling, the country is being run by extremely intelligent and very rational people with a strongly developed sense of self-preservation. The North Korean acquisition of weapons of mass destruction stems not from an indifference to deterrence, but rather a keenly developed understanding of the uses of deterrence.
Essentially nothing is directly known about North Korean nuclear strategy, doctrine, or war plans, except that North Korea's collaborations with Soviet and Chinese military and nuclear programs probably influenced Pyongyang's approach toward nuclear weapons development and policy. It is also quite certain that North Korea has closely studied US nuclear doctrine. Reflecting Soviet military doctrine, the DPRK has traditionally viewed chemical weapons as an integral part of any military offensive. There are no indications this view has altered since the end of the Cold War.
DPRK chemical weapons would compliment conventional military power. In a surprise attack, DPRK forces are expected to use chemical weapons to demoralize defending forces, reduce their effectiveness, and deny use of mobilization centers, storage areas, and military bases without physically destroying facilities and equipment. Non-persistent chemical agents could be used to break through defensive lines or to hinder a CFC counterattack. Persistent chemical agents could be used against fixed targets in rear areas, including command and control elements, major LOCs, logistic depots, airbases, and ports.
It is likely that chemical weapons would be used early in the conflict, rather than held in strategic reserve. Virtually every stage of US military operations would be made more complicated by the requirement to operate after the use of chemical weapons, beginning with deploying through vulnerable ports and staging facilities. Far from being weapons of last resort, chemical weapons may be a weapon of first resort.
The introduction of chemical weapons in a conflict would have profound political consequences, raising the possible use of nuclear weapons in response. US nuclear weapons might play only a limited role in deterring North Korean chemical weapons use against military targets in the South. While a nuclear response may be seen as credible in retaliation for use of nuclear or biological weapons against urban populations, such a response could be seen as less credible against the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield, since it could be perceived as totally disproportionate.
The perceived value of nuclear weapons for North Korea is reflected in the often cited statement attributed to former Indian Army Chief of Staff Sundarji: "one principal lesson of the Gulf War is that, if a state intends to fight the United States, it should avoid doing so until and unless it possesses nuclear weapons."
In the face of a credible threat of use of nuclear weapons, the United States and its coalition partners could be forced to change the way the US would conduct operations. North Korea may see the threat of use of nuclear weapons against US coalition partners or allies as a powerful tool in undermining US options for coalition warfare, or in seeking through coercion to undermine US basing or other support for operations. North Korea must also perceive enormous value threatening Japan in order to deny the United States access to key ports and airfields in the south.
Nuclear weapons would also serve to coerce and deter the United States from responding to a North Korean attack on the South by launching a counter-offensive aimed at, for instance, seizing Pyongyang.
Under Operations Plan 5027 (CINCUNC/CFC OPLAN 5027), the United States plans to provide units to reinforce the Republic of Korea in the event of external armed attack. These units and their estimated arrival dates are listed in the Time Phased Force Deployment List (TPFDL), Appendix 6, to Annex A to CINCUNC/CFC OPLAN 5027. The TPFDL is updated biennially through U.S./ROK agreements. CINCUNC/CFC OPLAN 5027 is distributed with a SECRET-U.S./ROK classification. The Ulchi-Focus Lens (UFL) exercise is the largest Command Post Exercise [CPX] among JCS Exercise category. It provides an opportunity for commanders and staffs to focus on strategic and operational issues associated with general military operations on the Korean peninsula. During this exercise each August, the ROK-US Combined Forces Command (CFC) and the United Nations Command (UNC) of Korea, as well as USFK practice the implement of OPLAN 5027 with the scenario of North Korean Peoples Army's (NKPA) aggression. Combined political-military training emphasizes Flexible Deterrent Options (FDO), ROK mobilization, US reinforcement, and synchronization of Deep, Close and Rear battles.
OPLAN 5027 is the operations plan that is the "go to war in Korea" plan. Tasks performed during the early denial phase of OPLAN 5027 include Noncombatant Evacuation Operations (NEO) operations and theater Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration [RSOI]. This phase of OPLAN 5027 assumes the sustainability of the southern defense and consequently enough time for reinforcements. Tasks performed during the Destruction Phase of the OPLAN involves a strategy of maneuver warfare north of the Demilitarized Zone with a goal of terminating the North Korea regime, rather than simply terminating the war by returning North Korean forces to the Truce Line. In this phase operations would include the US invasion of north Korea, the destruction of the Korean People's Army and the north Korean government in Pyongyang. US troops would occupy north Korea and "Washington and Seoul will then abolish north Korea as a state and 'reorganize' it under South Korean control.
Given the parameters of OPLAN 5027, the narrow window for a decisive and relatively safe North Korean opportunity would be between a week and a month -- during the Denial Phase, before the rapid deployment of US light forces would be followed by the arrival of advance units of heavier divisions. North Korea would have significant incentive to achieve decisive results during this phase, at least through the use of chemical weapons against US forces in South Korea. North Korea might also seek to discourage Japanese support for reinforcments through threatening the use of nuclear weapons against US facilities in Japan, or threatening the use of chemical or biological weapons against the Japanese population, delivered either by missiles or clandestine means. The credibility of these threats against Japan might be enhanced through "demonstration" attacks that were not of sufficient magnitude to provoke American nuclear retaliation.
The Destruction Phase of OPLAN 5027 evidently poses the issue of national entity survival for the North Korean regime, and would be the most plausible circumstances under which the North would plausibly contemplate initiating the use of nuclear weapons, striking first in the last resort.
A March 2005 statement by the Foreign Ministry of the DPRK noted that "The DPRK and the U.S. are in the relationship of belligerency and at war technically. Therefore, it is quite natural that the DPRK has manufactured nukes for self-defence and continues to do so to cope with the policy of the Bush administration aimed at mounting a preemptive nuclear attack on it."
In addition to the political and military value of special weapons, North Korea apparently views the development and possession of special weapons as providing near and long-term economic benefits. North Korea has produced and sold large numbers of various models of missiles for significant amounts of money to customers such as Iran and Pakistan. North Korea has also found development of special weapons an effective means of extracting money from the western nations, notably the United States and Japan.
Fundamentally, however, the North Korean special weapons agenda is not simply military or economic, it is also political. North Korea has effectively manipulated American concerns about their nuclear and missile programs as a means of advancing their broader agenda. The North Koreans have been remarkably clear in their demands, and when the West has done a poor job of listening, manipulation of the status of their nuclear or missile programs have served as effective attention-getters.
North Korean nuclear and missile tests in early 2016 were carried out in defiance of a United Nations resolution, which prompted the international body to increase its own sanctions against the government in Pyongyang on 02 March 2016. The UN Security Council voted unanimously to adopt its toughest sanctions to date. The new infringements include mandatory inspections of cargo leaving and entering North Korea by land, sea or air; a ban on all sales or transfers of small arms and light weapons to the North; and the expulsion of North Korean diplomats who engage in "illicit activities."
The latest measures also provide more tools to US officials to make current non-proliferation sanctions more effective by leveling so-called secondary sanctions - restrictions imposed on third-party countries on doing business with Pyongyang. Unlike previous measures, the economic sanctions imposed in 2016 created the legal scope for the US to sanction a wide range of foreign individuals or entities engaged in listed, proscribed activities with North Korea. This opened the possibility for Washington to impose unilateral sanctions on foreign firms, particularly Chinese ones, operating in North Korea.
The new restrictions will result in some deterioration of the already tough economic situation in the country. And in authoritarian states like North Korea, the brunt is mostly borne by weaker sections of society. China ensured that there is a ban on North Korean exports of products such as rare earths where they both compete. That allows China to economically benefit and continue its tight, monopolistic grip on this market.
Even prior to the latest US decision, the East Asian nation was already one of the most heavily sanctioned in the world. And experts believe the new measures are unlikely to have an impact on Pyongyang's course of action. Matters are likely to continue as before, with a hope that North Korea would eventually follow the example of Eastern Europe and implodes on its own. But outsiders have been waiting for that to happen for 25 years now. China does not want the economic collapse of North Korea and the burden of bailing out a collapsed North. Also, a unified Korea may not be in China's strategic interest.
The North has remained steadfast in developing its nuclear arms program which it regards as crucial for its national security. Besides, an effective deterrent would provide the North with not only a security guarantee, but also a better bargaining position vis-à-vis the US and South Korea.
Respected Supreme Commander Kim Jong Un delivered the New Year Address on January 1, Juche 107 (2018). Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un stated: "An outstanding success our Party, state and people won last year was the accomplishment of the great, historic cause of perfecting the national nuclear forces.
"On this platform one year ago I officially made public on behalf of the Party and government that we had entered the final stage of preparation for the test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. In the past one year we conducted several rounds of its test launch, aimed at implementing the programme, safely and transparently, thus proving before the eyes of the world its definite success.
"By also conducting tests of various means of nuclear delivery and super-intense thermonuclear weapon, we attained our general orientation and strategic goal with success, and our Republic has at last come to possess a powerful and reliable war deterrent, which no force and nothing can reverse.
"Our country’s nuclear forces are capable of thwarting and countering any nuclear threats from the United States, and they constitute a powerful deterrent that prevents it from starting an adventurous war. "In no way would the United States dare to ignite a war against me and our country.
"The whole of its mainland is within the range of our nuclear strike and the nuclear button is on my office desk all the time; the United States needs to be clearly aware that this is not merely a threat but a reality....
"We have realized the wish of the great leaders who devoted their lives to building the strongest national defence capability for reliably safeguarding our country’s sovereignty, and we have created a mighty sword for defending peace, as desired by all our people who had to tighten their belts for long years. This great victory eloquently proves the validity and vitality of the Party’s line of simultaneously conducting economic construction and building up our nuclear forces and its idea of prioritizing science, and it is a great historic achievement that has opened up bright prospects for the building of a prosperous country and inspired our service personnel and people with confidence in sure victory.
By consistently holding fast to the line of simultaneously promoting the two fronts in accordance with the strategic policy set by the Party at the Eighth Conference of Munitions Industry, the defence industry should develop and manufacture powerful strategic weapons and military hardware of our style, perfect its Juche-oriented production structure and modernize its production lines on the basis of cutting-edge science and technology.
The nuclear weapons research sector and the rocket industry should mass-produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, the power and reliability of which have already been proved to the full, to give a spur to the efforts for deploying them for action.
And we should always be ready for immediate nuclear counterattack to cope with the enemy’s manoeuvres for a nuclear war.....
Even though the United States is wielding the nuclear stick and going wild for another war, it will not dare to invade us because we currently have a powerful nuclear deterrent. And when the north and the south are determined, they can surely prevent the outbreak of war and ease tension on the Korean peninsula....
As a responsible, peace-loving nuclear power, our country will neither have recourse to nuclear weapons unless hostile forces of aggression violate its sovereignty and interests nor threaten any other country or region by means of nuclear weapons. However, it will resolutely respond to acts of wrecking peace and security on the Korean peninsula."
After a 22-day absence from public view, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reappeared at a key military meeting. On 24 May 2020, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that the leader presided over the seventh meeting of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party. It did not reveal the exact date of the meeting, but it is assumed to have taken place on May 23, as North Korea typically reports on events the day after they are held.
According to the North Korean state media, Kim discussed new policies for further bolstering the nuclear war deterrence and putting the strategic armed forces on a high alert operation. The media also said that the leader stressed revolutionary military policies and detailed tasks in each area. The military meeting focused on ways to remedy various flaws in military organizations. It also touched on the issue of increasing the self-reliant defense capabilities quickly. Kim Jong-un mentioned, “new policies for putting the strategic armed forces on a high alert operation.”
Attention was drawn to the expression, “boosting nuclear deterrence.” This is in line with the term, “strategic nuclear war deterrence,” used by North Korea’s Academy of Defense Science at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in December 2019. It’s also in line with another statement, “a new strategic weapon,” mentioned at the key party meeting in the same month.
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