N. Korea’s Evolving Nuclear and Missile Technologies
North Korea fired a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile toward the North Pacific Ocean from the Sunan area in Pyongyang at 6:57 a.m. on September 15. The missile launch came 17 days after the launch of the same type of missile on August 29 and three days after the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a new resolution calling for sanctions on North Korea in response to its sixth nuclear test. The Hwasong-12 missile flew 3,700 kilometers over Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean. North Korea seems to have wanted to demonstrate that its missile could fly far enough to reach Guam, which is about 3,000 kilometers away from the Korean Peninsula, and also to resist the fresh U.N. sanctions. The missile was fired from a mobile platform, not from a ground-based launch pad, indicating that it has a higher level of mobility and is more difficult to be detected before being launched. Here’s Yang Wook, senior research from the Korea Defense and Security Forum.
North Korea has test-fired missiles in three different ways. The initial stage of the missile launches involved ignition and separation. In the next stage, missiles were fired at high angles not to violate territorial waters of other countries, but to still test their capabilities overall. In the last stage, the test-launches were aimed at verifying whether the missiles could be deployed for actual combat. While the last-stage test-firing of the Hwasong-12 occurred on August 29, the same test was conducted once again on September 15. The latest test shows that North Korea has added another function to the existing ones. Unlike in the past, when missiles were fired from a makeshift launch pad, this one was launched directly from a missile vehicle to show off its actual warfare capabilities.
One day after the missile launch, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said that leader Kim Jong-un inspected the test and declared that the combat power of the Hwasong-12 has been realized. It would mean that the nation will deploy the missile for combat use. Experts have suspected that North Korea developed Musudan missiles for the purpose of striking Guam. The North tested Musudan missiles eight times from April to October last year, but only one was considered a success. Therefore, some experts predict that the Hwaswong-12 will replace the existing Musudan missile.
The Hwasong-12 missile became known in April this year, when it was first tested. In another Hwasong-12 test on May 14, the missile flew 787 kilometers after reaching a maximum altitude of 2,111 kilometers. Considering that the missile was launched at a steep angle to reduce its range, it was speculated that it could fly 4,000 to 5,000 kilometers if fired at a standard angle. Until then, a Musudan was the only intermediate-range missile owned by North Korea, and it was assumed it could fly up to 3,500 kilometers. By developing the Hwasong-12, however, North Korea is believed to secure striking capabilities for a longer distance.
North Korea’s declaration of the Hwasong-12 being “operationally ready” shows that the nation’s ballistic missile technologies have advanced significantly. Experts are saying that the test of the Mt. Baekdu engine, which Kim Jong-un called the “March 18 Revolution,” has contributed greatly to the technological development. On March 18 this year, North Korea carried out a rocket engine test at its Dongchang-ri missile launch site in North Pyongan Province and claimed that the engine’s thrust had a force of 80 tons. It is believed that the new rocket engine known as the Mt. Baekdu engine was a turning point in the nation’s nuclear and missile development.
The success of a Hwasong-12 missile depends on its engine. In the past, North Korea had no high-powered single engine. In March last year, North Korea unveiled what it called a high-thrust rocket engine, but it actually put the engines of two Musudan missiles together. The North disclosed a new rocket engine in September last year. And on March 18 this year, it showed that a core engine and auxiliary engines were connected, demonstrating that it secured a high-thrust engine. The new engine is very significant in terms of long-distance striking capabilities. Given the performance of the engine, it seems to have derived from an engine called RD-250 that is manufactured in Ukraine. In other words, it is assumed that the technology related to RD-250 was leaked into North Korea, which localized it to produce its own engine.
After the recent Hwasong-12 missile test-launch, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared that his nation has almost reached the stage of complete nuclear armament. Pyongyang has openly said that its nuclear missiles would target the U.S. The nation is nearing the point of placing the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile for actual combat. In the next stage, it is expected to test-fire a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile at a normal angle to show off its capabilities to hit the U.S. mainland and declare the completion of nuclear armament.
I’d say that North Korea is nearing the completion of its Hwasong-14 missile. It tested the performance of this missile by launching it at lofty angles on July 4 and July 28, calling the tests a success. A test of its actual war operational capability is the only remaining stage for this missile, like the recent test-launch of the Hwasong-12. North Korea usually conducted a missile test for actual combat use 100 to 105 days after the performance test of the same missile. With July 4 in mind, North Korea may possibly carry out a Hwasong-14 test for combat use around mid-October, followed by the declaration of the missile being operationally ready. That would be the point of completing its missile capabilities. Of course, it doesn’t mean the completion of nuclear armament. It is also necessary to restructure military units or the command and control system. But speaking of missile capabilities alone, I suppose North Korea might field the Hwasong-14 for actual warfare within this year, though in a restrictive way.
Kim Jong-un has conducted a lot more missile test-launches than his predecessors. Under his leadership, the locations of missile launches have also diversified, with 19 different sites confirmed. It seems technological development and military purposes have motivated the North to test-fire more types of missiles.
North Korea has launched some 110 ballistic missiles since Scud missiles appeared in the nation in 1984 during the reign of Kim Il-sung. Among them, 80 have been tested during the Kim Jong-un regime. This is staggering. Behind the relentless barrage of North Korean missile tests lie the nation’s confidence in missile technologies and its intention to show to the international community that its missiles are being deployed for actual combat. North Korea has repeated nuclear tests and missile test-launches steadily. In the process, a considerable amount of relevant data and technologies have been accumulated. After all, North Korea has entered a virtuous cycle of missile development.
One day after North Korea’s Hwasong-12 missile launch, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a press statement condemning the North and urged member countries to actively enforce existing U.N. sanctions on North Korea. China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that China is opposed to North Korea’s move to launch missiles using ballistic technology in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. She also said that Beijing would fully and strictly implement the resolutions as it objects to Pyongyang’s missile provocations. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump have agreed to strengthen cooperation between their countries in response to North Korean provocations. In their telephone conversation, the two leaders promised to focus on the thorough implementation of the U.N. resolutions. With the international community stepping up its criticism and sanctions on North Korea, attention swings to how Pyongyang may act down the road.
We have to see what North Korea wants to do eventually. Its ultimate goal is to deploy an intercontinental ballistic missile for actual combat and establish its status as a nuclear weapons state. It will likely verify its ability to fulfill that purpose through additional missile launches. Before that, it may ignore any effort toward dialogue or negotiations. Based on its nuclear capabilities, North Korea will seek to eliminate international sanctions. For regime maintenance at least, it will be difficult for the nation to discard its nuclear and missile programs.
The international community is increasingly concerned about how to stop North Korea’s reckless rush to develop missiles and nuclear weapons.
[Interview] ‘Unification Coordinators’ to Promote Inter-Korean Unity
South Korean citizens and defectors from North Korea are talking with each other at the office of a pro-unification civic group called the Organization for One Korea, located in Jongro-gu district in Seoul. They are attending a training program offered by the group with the purpose of nurturing the so-called “unification coordinators”.
While attending the program, I came to understand the characteristics and lifestyles of people in South and North Korea. I discovered South and North Koreans differ widely in their culture, despite the fact that they are the same people and live on the same peninsula. I thought it would be better for them to get closer to each other as friends and companions.
Unification coordinators refer to experts who specialize in unification issues and therefore will play a crucial role in unifying the two Koreas. The training program started in 2014, with this year’s session marking the third term. Let’s hear from the head of the group, Shin Mi-nyeo.
Many people vaguely talk about unification, but a rosy future is not guaranteed after unification. South and North Korea could be unified politically, but what’s important is the unification of the people, not of the land. To prepare for a post-unification era, it’s necessary to better understand people in the two Koreas. Unification coordinators are entrusted with this mission.
Fourteen South Koreans and the same number of North Korean defectors are taking part in this training session. The 10-week program helps them learn the political, social, economic and cultural differences between South and North Korea, and also share their opinions about how to overcome the differences and achieve unity. Professor Kwon Soon-hee from the Department of Korean Language Education at Ewha Womans University offered a class under the theme of “Language differences between South and North Korea.”
Pronunciation, intonation and vocabulary used by North Koreans are different from those of South Koreans, as they have lived in a different society and culture. For example, North Koreans have accepted a lot of Russian words, while South Koreans use many English expressions. In North Korea, self-criticism or criticizing other people is common, and this culture has affected their language. On the other hand, praising other people is an important element in the way of speaking in South Korea.
Society and culture greatly influence a language, and this is shown in how Korean has evolved differently in South and North Korea. Due to the language differences, many North Korean newcomers have a hard time resettling in South Korea.
There is a “speech act theory.” In indirect speech, an interrogative sentence could be used instead of an imperative one. For instance, if you want to say, “Please open the door,” you can say it in a different way, like “Isn’t it too warm here?” or “Can I open the door?” as if asking for an agreement. By using these indirect expressions, you won’t make others feel that you are bossing them around. North Korean defectors are not familiar with this indirect way of talking. In the workplace, in particular, they are not very good at apologizing or rejecting something in a polite way, often leading to unnecessary misunderstandings. I lectured on proper ways to refusing something without hurting one’s honor or feelings and the importance of apologizing in an appropriate way.
The program isn’t all about one-sided lectures. The trainees are eager to participate in the lectures. After the lectures, they engage in an active debate to learn about particular subjects in more detail. Here again is Ms. Shin.
Even experts may not know about the reality of North Korea very well. At times, North Korean trainees correct some parts mentioned by lecturers. It’s quite interesting to see that. Like in South Korea, different regions in North Korea have their own characteristics. When newcomers from various parts of North Korea talk about their hometowns, it feels like we’re looking at North Korea under a microscope. We learned that differences could be found in North Korea, too, depending on the regions.
We may wonder how South Koreans can understand North Korea correctly and how North Korean defectors can accept a lot of diversity in South Korean society. People in the two Koreas have experienced starkly different systems, values and ideology for over 70 years, and many are concerned that they may not assimilate into each other’s culture even after unification, due to the differences. Trainees can join various other programs, in addition to regular classes.
The training doesn’t end in classrooms. We plan to go on a field trip to Yeoncheon on September 25. Also, a two-day workshop is scheduled for November. Here, we have five teams. Each team engages in its own activities. For example, members of a team get together at a coffee shop or have a meal together to get to know each other better. It seems they find the activities fun and interesting. On the first day, they formed a group chat room on a social networking site so they could talk wherever they are. It’s great to get to know each other naturally and reveal oneself to others. When it comes to communication, the more the better.
The trainees are cherishing the dream of playing a bridging role between people in South and North Korea and becoming experts who will contribute to promoting inter-Korean unity.
After Korea is unified, I’ll go to North Korea and open a nursing home. Here, I learned economics and social welfare. I even earned a master’s degree in business administration, with the possibility of running a nursing home in mind. I do hope I can fulfill my dream, and I’m in the process of making necessary preparations step by step.
In this training program, North Koreans can learn about South Korea. In the same way, I’m sure I can help people in North Korea better understand South Korea after unification.
We believe the unification coordinators will prepare for a post-unification era actively and enthusiastically.