US intelligence chief: North Korea military crumbling

According to the AP (Via Boston Herald):

President Barack Obama’s top intelligence official said Tuesday that North Korea relies on its nuclear weapons program because of a crumbling military that cannot compete with South Korea.

Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair described in testimony before the U.S. Congress a North Korean army that struggles with aging weapons, poorly trained, out-of-shape soldiers, inflexible leaders, corruption, low morale and problems with command and control.

North Korea, Blair said, has little chance of reversing a huge gap in military capabilities with South Korea and so “relies on its nuclear program to deter external attacks on the state and to its regime.”

Officials from South Korea, the U.S., Japan, Russia and China have been working to get North Korea back to nuclear disarmament talks after Pyongyang walked away from the negotiations last year. For more than a decade, the North has gained energy and aid concessions from the talks and then backed away from nuclear agreements.

Blair said the United States does not know whether the North had made nuclear weapons but that it has that capability. He said that while a 2006 nuclear test was a “partial failure,” the May test of last year was more successful.

Blair said North Korea has shipped missiles to Iran and Pakistan and helped Syria build a nuclear reactor.

The North is thought to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least half a dozen atomic bombs. North Korea argues that it was compelled to develop nuclear weapons to cope with a military threat from the United States, which has about 28,500 troops in the South.

Blair said North Korean leader Kim Jong Il wants recognition of his country as a nuclear weapons power, something he said the United States will not do.

Dennis Blair’s Annual Threat Assesment of the US Intelligence Commuity can be read here. Here is what it had to say about the DPRK:

North Korean WMD and Missile Programs

Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile programs pose a serious threat to the security environment in East Asia. North Korea’s export of ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries including Iran and Pakistan, and its assistance to Syria in the construction of a nuclear reactor, exposed in 2007, illustrate the reach of the North’s proliferation activities. Despite the Six-Party October 3, 2007 Second Phase Actions agreement in which North Korea reaffirmed its commitment not to transfer nuclear materials, technology, or know-how we remain alert to the possibility North Korea could again export nuclear technology.

The North’s October 2006 nuclear test was consistent with our longstanding assessment that it had produced a nuclear device, although we judge the test itself to have been a partial failure based on its less-than-one-kiloton TNT equivalent yield. The North’s probable nuclear test in May 2009 supports its claim that it has been seeking to develop weapons, and with a yield of roughly a few kilotons TNT equivalent, was apparently more successful than the 2006 test. We judge North Korea has tested two nuclear devices, and while we do not know whether the North has produced nuclear weapons, we assess it has the capability to do so. It remains our policy that we will not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state, and we assess that other countries in the region remain committed to the denuclearization of North Korea as has been reflected in the Six Party Talks.

After denying a highly enriched uranium program since 2003, North Korea announced in April 2009 that it was developing uranium enrichment capability to produce fuel for a planned light water reactor (such reactors use low enriched uranium); in September it claimed its enrichment research had “entered into the completion phase”. The exact intent of these announcements is unclear, and they do not speak definitively to the technical status of the uranium enrichment program. The Intelligence Community continues to assess with high confidence North Korea has pursued a uranium enrichment capability in the past, which we assess was for weapons.

Pyongyang’s Conventional Capabilities. Before I turn the North Korean nuclear issue, I want to say a few words regarding the conventional capabilities of the Korea People’s Army (KPA). The KPA’s capabilities are limited by an aging weapons inventory, low production of military combat systems, deteriorating physical condition of soldiers, reduced training, and increasing diversion of the military to infrastructure support. Inflexible leadership, corruption, low morale, obsolescent weapons, a weak logistical system, and problems with command and control also constrain the KPA capabilities and readiness.

Because the conventional military capabilities gap between North and South Korea has become so overwhelmingly great and prospects for reversal of this gap so remote, Pyongyang relies on its nuclear program to deter external attacks on the state and to its regime. Although there are other reasons for the North to pursue its nuclear program, redressing conventional weaknesses is a major factor and one that Kim and his likely successors will not easily dismiss. Six Party Talks and Denuclearization. In addition to the TD-2 missile launch of April 2009 and the probable nuclear test of May 2009, Pyongyang’s reprocessing of fuel rods removed from its reactor as part of the disablement process appears designed to enhance its nuclear deterrent and reset the terms of any return to the negotiating table. Moreover, Pyongyang knows that its pursuit of a uranium enrichment capability has returned that issue to the agenda for any nuclear negotiations. The North has long been aware of US suspicions of a highly enriched uranium program.

We judge Kim Jong-Il seeks recognition of North Korea as a nuclear weapons power by the US and the international community. Pyongyang’s intent in pursuing dialogue at this time is to take advantage of what it perceives as an enhanced negotiating position, having demonstrated its nuclear and missile capabilities.

North Korea and Venezuela possess more limited intelligence capabilities focused primarily on regional threats and supporting the ruling regime. North Korea continues to collect information on US technologies and capabilities. Venezuela’s services are working to counter US influence in Latin America by supporting leftist governments and insurgent groups.


One Response to “US intelligence chief: North Korea military crumbling”

  1. eunsung says:

    Nuclear weapons are not necessary to deter an American attack.

    Deterrence is easily achieved because arms parity is not required; a deterrent must only survive an initial attack, and counterattack with enough force to mitigate the gains of the initial attack.

    Because even the “crumbling” NK military can meet these requirements (think of all that artillery pointed at Seoul), nukes are not necessary for deterrence.

    Thus, nukes for NK constitute an attempt at “first strike” capability (i.e., the ability to destroy an enemy’s deterrent completely), a bargaining chip, or some kind of domestic propaganda ploy. What do you think?