South Korea's Defense Ministry has released its biennial report on North Korean military power. In many respects, it's a disturbing document, a reminder of how much the hermit kingdom spends on its military forces (at the expense of its citizens), and Pyongyang's ability to wreak havoc and destruction on its neighbors, using weapons of mass destruction.
USA Today has a summary of the ROK report in today's editions. As a long-time Korea-watcher, I didn't find anything particularly new or revelatory in the assessment. However, the paper's "sidebar" analysis does contain a predictable effort to spin the study's findings, with an invalid comparison of the U.S. and North Korean nuclear arsenals, and suggestions that Bush Administration policies have actually worsened the crisis.
First, the comparison:
HOW MANY BOMBS: Estimates of the amount of radioactive material the North possesses vary widely, enough for possibly between four and 13 weapons, and are unverifiable.
The count compares with a U.S. arsenal of more than 5,000 strategic warheads, more than 1,000 operational tactical weapons -- meant for the battlefield and less powerful than the strategic arms -- and approximately 3,000 reserve strategic and tactical warheads.
In other words, why should we be so concerned about North Korea's miniscule arsenal, since the U.S. has enough nukes to flatten the DPRK many times over. But such arguments are specious--and ignore the larger point. The last time I checked, 70% of U.S. military wasn't sitting on the border, prepared to invade our closest neighbors. We don't fire ballistic missiles over Mexico, Canada, Russia, or anyone else to make political points, and the United States hasn't conducted nuclear tests to gain attention on the world stage. As for Pyongyang, guilty on all counts.
Additionally, the United States is not part of a global proliferation network that is actively engaged in the transfer of ballistic missile and (possibly) nuclear weapons technology. Pyongyang, on the other hand, is already the world's largest exporter of ballistic missiles, and there is great concern that the bankrupt DPRK will share its nuclear expertise as well. There is justifiable fear that a North Korean nuke design (or a finished weapon) will wind up in the hands or Iran, Syria, or terrorist organizations--regardless of how large or small the U.S. nuclear arsenal might be.
And, if that weren't enough, USA Today also offers this interesting "history" of North Korea's nuclear program:
HISTORY: North Korea is believed to have been accumulating plutonium for a bomb since the mid-1980s. It froze the program in 1994 as part of an agreement with the United States. Since the breakdown of that agreement in late 2002, North Korea is believed to have ramped up production.
Some experts estimate that at least 80% of the country's stockpile of 44 to 116 pounds of refined plutonium was processed since the end of the freeze in 2002.
Rubbish. The 1994 "freeze" (part of the disastrous, Jimmy Carter-negotiated "Agreed To" framework) was a fraud. After reaching that agreement with the United States and South Korea, Pyongyang never halted its nuclear efforts, they were simply shifted to covert facilities. Even the USA Today timeline suggests that some plutonium processing occurred between 1994 and 2002, contradicting claims of a "freeze." In reality, the North used that eight-year period to continue important work on weapons design and production, setting the stage for a "re-emergence" of its nuclear program in 2002, and last year's abortive test. This "history lesson" is nothing more than another attempt to paper over the failure of the 1994 agreement, and to suggest that the current, Six-Party Talks have made matters worse. Such assertions are no only laughable, they are dangerous.
Readers will note that the paper's analysis was provided by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a supposedly non-partisan think tank. But the institute's executive director, David Albright, is a former senior staff scientist at the decidedly liberal Federation of American Scientists (FAS), and most of his work has appeared in left-leaning publications, including the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Arms Control Today, and of course, The New York Times. And, if that weren't enough, one of Albright's senior analysts, Jacqueline Shire, was part of the Clinton Administration team that negotiated with North Korea in the early 1990s. On the issues of the Agreed To Framework and its "contributions" to regional stability, it's pretty clear where the ISIS stands. So much for objectivity.