North Korean Nuclear Intentions: Hiding in Plain View

By Danny Lam

JCS General Joseph Dunford informed the Senate Armed Services Committee at his Sept 26, 2017 hearing that DPRK is assumed to have the capability to attack the US mainland with a nuclear armed ICBM.

While it is not yet proven or demonstrated that North Korea can do so with a thermonuclear warhead that will survive re-entry and accurately strike a target, General Dunford noted it is a matter of time.

This brings to the forefront the question of what DPRK will do with their nuclear strike capability in the future.  

Every nuclear weapons state prior to North Korea have used their WMD capability as a defensive, last resort insurance policy.

No nuclear weapon was used in anger since 1945.

US policy makers since 1994 have wishfully hoped that DPRK is an anomaly that will go away on its own. (Bracken, 2017)

But that has not happened.

Is, or will North Korea be different or will they be the first of a new breed of “Second Nuclear Age” powers?

DPRK Foreign Minister Ri Young Ho’s UN speech on Sept 23, 2017 (which few read in full), unambiguously and clearly laid out their aims and objectives.Minister Ri said at the UN:

“Through such a prolonged and arduous struggle, now we are finally only a few steps away from the final gate of completion of the state nuclear force.”

This statement make clear that things will change when DPRK is a nuclear armed state.

They are willing, able, and intend to use it to achieve their goals.

These goals are not just geopolitical, but economic.

“The day will certainly come in near future when we settle all damages inflicted to our peaceful economic development and improvement of the people’s livelihood and all the sufferings imposed on our innocent women, children and elderly by the heinous and barbaric sanctions against our Republic.”

Minister Ri’s stated goals here are limited to damages caused by sanctions.

However, this is not narrowly defined to UN and member state (e.g. US) sanctions dating from 2006 when DPRK went nuclear.

Minister Ri elaborates by stating:

“The U.S. had put sanctions against our country from the very first day of its foundation and over the 70-year long history of the DPRK..” (p. 7)

Thus, the claim for damages dates from the first day of the founding of DPRK (September 9, 1948).

“The DPRK already organized a national damage investigation committee to make comprehensive study of total damages inflicted on our Republic by all kinds of sanctions.”

Note the reference to “all kinds of sanctions” rather than to specific sanctions (e.g.) against their missile or nuclear or WMD programs.

This is broadly defined by DPRK to include sanctions at the outbreak of the Korean war (1950) that included UN Security Council Resolution 82 that “Calls upon all Member States to… refrain from giving assistance to the North Korean authorities.”

What kind of damages?

“This committee will thoroughly investigate and compile all physical and moral damages imposed upon the DPRK by the U.S., its followers and also those countries that submitted to the U.S. coercion.”

There are two key points here: precisely how DPRK intend to “investigate and compile all physical and moral damages” and, what is the list of “all those countries that” that damages will be sought from?

DPRK have previously (2010) assessed damages the US caused since 1945 to 2005 at US$65 trillion.

This breaks down to $26 trillion for US “atrocities”, and $13.7 trillion of sanctions over 60 years, and property damage/loss of $16.7 trillion.

Moral damages is an interesting term of art.

DPRK have asserted that Japan owe damages for colonialism (1910-1945) and demanded compensation and reparations.

Moral damages could also, in the DPRK view, including any interaction that polluted the purity of the “Cleanest Race” including the practice of religion.

Claims will be made to each and every nation that participated in the Korean war against DPRK, and participants in sanctions or other perceived wrongs against DPRK since.

It is not known how DPRK will assess damages from sanctions from countries like PRC and USSR/Russia that effectively switched sides and joined sanctions.

Claims that DPRK have against just about every country in the world will likely amount to multiples of the claim against the US at $65 trillion (to 2005).

How will DPRK enforce these claims?

Minister Ri answer this question:

“When this racket of sanctions and pressure reaches a critical point, thus driving the Korean peninsula into an uncontrollable situation, investigation results of this committee will have a huge effect in holding those accountable.”

The “uncontrollable situation” in this context is likely to mean the start of hostilities that DPRK expects to end with a North Korean victory so they can dictate terms.

North Korea’s damage claims will be used to extract tribute (or compensation) from just about every country in the post Korean war world.

How might a war start once DPRK is sufficiently well armed and confident of victory?

DPRK makes clear their intent is to preemptively strike “U.S. and its vassal forces” that “show any sign of … military attack against our country.” (p.6).

What is not defined is what constitute “any sign”?

Would it be routine military maneuvers?

Increasing defensive capabilities like deploying more ballistic missile defense systems?

More sanctions?

A bit more rhetoric?

Kim Jong Un’s speech on September 22, 2017 that the US have declared war on DPRK and “will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech calling for totally destroying the D.P.R.K.” in this context leaves no doubt that North Korea will use their nuclear capabilities offensively against the US.

DPRK Foreign Minister Ri’s speech publically stated in front of the UN General Assembly that North Korea intend to handsomely profit from their ability to enforce settlement of their alleged grievances against the world with thermonuclear weapons.

That much, is perfectly clear: North Korea will be the world’s first nuclear armed extortionist.

This was first published on September 29, 2017.