Posts Tagged ‘Middlebury Institute’

North Korea Expands Long-Range Missile Base, Analysts Say

December 7, 2018

Pyongyang is also still producing nuclear weapons, according to researchers studying satellite images, casting a new shadow over disarmament talks

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SEOUL—North Korea is expanding military facilities thought to house long-range missiles that can hit the U.S., according to a think-tank report that revives doubts about the regime’s sincerity in disarmament negotiations.

Pyongyang is still producing nuclear weapons and appears to be upgrading a missile base near the Chinese border, according to the analysis by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, Calif., based on satellite imagery taken in recent months.

“The missile base at Yeongjeo-dong has long been a concern to U.S. and South Korean officials because of its unique location,” the report said, referring to the border site, which it said is likely to receive the North’s latest weapons.

Seven miles away, North Korea has been building new facilities that appear to be either another missile base or an expansion of the Yeongjeo-dong facility, said the Middlebury analysis, first reported by CNN.

The U.S. Embassy in Seoul declined to comment.

U.S. officials have questioned whether North Korea is serious about giving up nuclear weapons as negotiations falter due to disagreements over U.S.-led sanctions and the pace of North Korean disarmament.

North Korea insists it has made significant concessions, including dismantling a missile launch site and a nuclear-weapons test site, and has called for the lifting of sanctions that ban or limit its trade in coal, textiles and raw materials. Washington has refused to ease sanctions until Pyongyang takes more concrete steps toward denuclearization.

Expansion of the Yeongjeo-dong site wouldn’t necessarily violate the agreement that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump reached in Singapore in June.

The deal obliges both sides to pursue new relations and “to work toward complete denuclearization”—vague phrases that were drafted by Pyongyang officials, according to a former senior North Korean official who defected to the South. The lack of specifics in the agreement has given diplomats room to negotiate, but also failed to bridge fundamental disagreements between the sides.

The U.S., though, has kept open the possibility of another summit between the two leaders, which Mr. Trump has said could take place early in the new year.

Meanwhile, warming inter-Korean relations are complicating the nuclear calculus.

South Korea has been urging Washington to accept some North Korean demands for a partial lifting of sanctions. Such a step would allow for renewed economic engagement between North and South, a goal of South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

But the South Korean leader has been cautious not to get too far out ahead of his U.S. ally. In a meeting with Mr. Trump last weekend, Mr. Moon expressed continued support for sanctions on Pyongyang, according to his spokesman.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and South Korea have worked to ease tensions with Pyongyang by scaling back joint military exercises this week. North Korea likewise toned down its usual criticism of the maneuvers, only briefly calling the exercises a “dangerous” move in a short article on its state media.

Write to Andrew Jeong at


North Korean Pushback Undercuts U.S. Exuberance Over Kim Meeting

May 19, 2018

The dizzying pace of North Korean-U.S. diplomacy this year had President Donald Trump fielding questions about whether he might win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Now, North Korea has threatened to scrap Trump’s June 12 summit with Kim Jong Un, bringing lofty expectations about what may be achieved at the summit down to Earth. Like Trump’s predecessors, this White House is getting a reality check on the pitfalls of negotiating with the isolated and mercurial regime in Pyongyang.

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Ahead of next month’s summit in Singapore, which the White House insists is going forward, skepticism has replaced the confidence that North Korea is ready to reverse decades of intransigence and give up its nuclear weapons for good.

“That rosy outcome was very unlikely to come to fruition,” said Melissa Hanham, a senior researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. “I never put in a lot of stock in the U.S.-North Korea summit because the U.S. and North Korea have never had a successful negotiation that ended up in preventing nuclear weapons.”

Read more: Trump rebuts aide Bolton, says Libya isn’t a model for Kim talks

Up until this week, some administration officials were all but declaring success in their bid to use heightened United Nations sanctions and diplomatic isolation to get North Korea to commit to “complete denuclearization,” without acknowledging that Pyongyang’s definition of the term might be different than Washington’s.

To bolster their optimism, the American officials cited moves North Korea made without much prompting: a promise to freeze nuclear and missile tests, the announcement of plans to destroy a nuclear test site and the decision to release three American prisoners when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited.

With the momentum appearing to build, Pompeo extolled the possible economic benefits North Korea might receive from the U.S. once it gave up its weapons.

“I think he appreciates the fact that this is going to have to be different and big and special, and something that has never been undertaken before,” Pompeo said of Kim when he spoke to Fox New Sunday. “Our eyes are wide open with respect to the risks. But it is our fervent hope that Chairman Kim wants to make a strategic change.”

Read a QuickTake on the long history of failure in North Korea talks

But U.S. hopes began to darken after North Korea issued statements this week withdrawing from a planned meeting with South Korean leaders and threatening to scrap the summit with Trump. North Korean officials also lambasted National Security Adviser John Bolton, who had gone on television Sunday to praise the “Libya model” of arms control, under which the late dictator Moammar Qaddafi surrendered his nuclear program in exchange for an easing of economic sanctions.

Two years later, Qaddafi was overthrown by rebels who hunted down and killed him in the streets, providing an alternative definition of the “Libya model” that Kim would rather not be associated with.

In a bid to keep plans for the summit on track, Trump on Thursday contradicted Bolton, saying his administration isn’t using Libya as a example for North Korea “at all” and that the U.S. would probably need to provide assurances to the regime to get a grand bargain.

Under such an accord, Trump said of Kim, “He’d be there, be in his country, he’d be running his country. His country would be very rich.”

Conflicting Messages

North Korea also reacted vehemently against Pompeo’s suggestion that North Korea would be eager for U.S. trade and infrastructure investment that would flow if North Korea gave up its nuclear weapons. What the regime probably wants, analysts say, is just an easing of UN sanctions so that it can conduct whatever business it wants.

“The U.S. is trumpeting as if it would offer economic compensation and benefit in case we abandon nukes,” North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA, said. “But we have never had any expectation of U.S. support in carrying out our economic construction and will not at all make such a deal in future, either.”

The back-and-forth on the U.S. messaging underscored new skepticism and confusion about the administration’s strategy, and what exactly it wants out of the meeting.

“It’s not clear, what is the purpose of the summit, I’m really wondering,” said Srinivasan Sitaraman, a professor of political science at Clark University. “What are the North Koreans willing to give up, what are the compromises the U.S. is willing to make? They are at opposite extremes. I really don’t see where they can come to an agreement.”

‘Big Down Payment’

U.S. officials say their goal remains clear, using an acronym that has quickly entered the Washington lexicon: CVID, or “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.” Susan Thornton, the acting assistant secretary for East Asia and the Pacific, spelled out that approach to Kim during a Wall Street Journal event in Tokyo on May 15.

“There’s an expectation as he’s already committed to complete denuclearization and in his conversations with the South Koreans that there will be a big down payment, a big upfront demonstration of his intention, to do that,” Thornton said. “Not just words and statements but also actions.”

Whether North Korea is willing to go that far remains an open question — but many observers think not, and there lies the danger for Trump. He needs to be able to show something concrete from the summit, while for Kim, just having the meeting will be a victory, according to said Daniel Russel, former assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, who’s now vice president at the Asia Society Policy Institute.

North Korean Legitimacy

North Korean leaders have for years sought a meeting with a U.S. president for the legitimacy it would confer on a regime that has been isolated and scorned by the international community. Kim is on the cusp of making that a reality.

Trump was warned of the dichotomy in U.S. and North Korean interests by some of his top advisers in the past, who had cautioned the president against meeting Kim without a concrete set of objectives in hand. Several of those advisers, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were later dismissed.

“One of the two leaders is going into this meeting with a very well developed plan, is bringing a sophisticated understanding of the issues, the background, the history and the baggage,” said Russel, the former State Department official. “Unfortunately that isn’t the president of the United States. It’s Kim Jong Un.’

What now for ‘nuclear’ North Korea?

November 29, 2017


© AFP | Pyongyang residents watched news of the landmark missile test on a screen near the city’s railway station

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un declared his country had achieved its long-cherished goal of full-fledged nuclear statehood after successfully testing a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile on Wednesday.

The United States and its allies have always maintained they would never accept a nuclear North Korea, but have been forced to watch from the sidelines as Pyongyang pursued an accelerated weapons drive.

But what did the latest test actually achieve and does the North’s claim to have completed its nuclear deterrent open the door to diplomatic negotiations?

– A new missile? –

The North said Wednesday’s test was of a new ICBM — called a Hwasong 15 — that was capable of carrying a “super-large heavy warhead” to any target in the continental United States.

The North provided no images from the test for outside experts to analyse, but initial flight data suggested it was indeed a more powerful missile — with some estimating a range of around 13,0000 kilometres (nearly 8,100 miles).

“Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington DC, and in fact any part of the continental United States,” said US-based arms control expert David Wright.

Some questions will likely remain over the North’s mastery of the technology required to guarantee any warhead would survive atmospheric re-entry — the key element it has not yet demonstrated.

– A new nuclear state? –

Much is already being made of leader Kim Jong-Un’s declaration after the test that the North had finally realised “the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force.”

Whether that means no more nuclear or missile tests in the future remains to be seen, but the clear suggestion is that Pyongyang now believes it has a nuclear arsenal that amounts to a credible, working deterrent.

“To me, ‘completing’ sounds pretty robust, not just about quality, but quantity,” said Melissa Hanham, senior research associate with the East Asia Nonproliferation Program of the Middlebury Institute.

It is likely that the US and its allies will continue to refuse to recognise North Korea as a nuclear state, but US Defence Secretary James Mattis conceded that Wednesday’s test was a step towards ballistic missiles that can “threaten everywhere in the world, basically.”

The North’s end goal has always been a nuclear strike threat against the United States and it often refers to its nuclear weapons as a “treasured sword” to protect itself from potential invasion by its US “imperialist enemy.”

– What next? –

While some countries will shudder at Kim’s declaration of nuclear statehood, others might see a diplomatic opening.

The North has always said its nuclear weapons are not up for negotiation, and that it will only deal with the United States from a position of equality — which it now suggests it has attained.

Significantly, the official statement on the missile test included a “solemn declaration” that the North would always be a “responsible nuclear power” and pose no danger to any other country as long as it did not come under threat itself.

But sitting down with a “nuclear” North Korea that only achieved its status by defying multiple UN resolutions would represent an enormous climbdown — not just for the US, but the international community at large.

Then again, global pressure has proved remarkably ineffective in reining Pyongyang in so far, and the calls for dialogue are likely to grow stronger.

The UN Security Council was due to meet in emergency session later Wednesday and, as always with North Korea, much of the focus will be on China and how it reacts.

The North’s sole major ally has grown increasingly frustrated with Pyongyang’s provocations. But China has a strategic interest in avoiding any regime collapse in the North which could bring about a reunified Korea allied to the United States.

China has pushed for a “dual track approach” which would see the US freeze its military drills in South Korea in exchange for the North halting its weapons programmes.

Washington has repeatedly rejected such a quid pro quo, but if the North’s claims are true, Wednesday’s test might have rendered such a trade-off obsolete anyway.

North Korea ‘Decoders’ Offer Dire Warnings About Nuclear Program

October 5, 2017

A video showing how experts outside U.S. government are using North Korea’s propaganda to track the regime’s nuclear weapons advancements

North Korea ‘Decoders’ Are Sounding Alarms | Moving Upstream
North Korea boasts about its nuclear weapons program by releasing photos and videos of its missiles. But in them are tiny clues to their true capability. A team of U.S. analysts, working outside the government, shows how they decode these images to determine when North Korea is bluffing – and when it is showing true power.

A group of analysts at the Middlebury Institute’s Center for Nonproliferation studies in Monterey, Calif., are finding amazingly detailed information about North Korea’s military capabilities.

They closely study the propaganda photos and videos put out by the regime, and apply to them new tools such as satellite imagery and 3-D mapping.

In this video, they walk us through the clues that reveal the capabilities of a North Korean missile, show us cases where they’ve found the North Koreans to be faking success.

Write to Aaron Zitner at

Includes video:


Video of North Korean submarine-launched ballistic missile launch “improved by heavy editing”

January 12, 2016


By James Pearson

SEOUL (Reuters) – Footage of a North Korean submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test released by Pyongyang two days after it announced it had conducted the country’s fourth nuclear test last week was faked, according to an analysis by a California-based think tank.

In defiance of a UN ban, the isolated country has said it has ballistic missile technology which would allow it to launch a nuclear warhead from a submarine, although experts and analysis of North Korean state media cast doubt on the claim.

North Korean state television aired footage on Friday of the latest test, said to have taken place in December. Unlike a previous SLBM test in May, it had not been announced at the time.

“The rocket ejected, began to light, and then failed catastrophically,” said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the California-based Middlebury Institute’s James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS).

South Korea’s military said on Saturday North Korea appeared to have modified the video and edited it with Scud missile footage from 2014 although an official told Reuters that the ejection technology might have improved since the May test.

The CNS analysis shows two frames of video from state media where flames engulf the missile and small parts of its body break away.

“North Korea used heavy video editing to cover over this fact,” Hanham said in an email.

“They used different camera angles and editing to make it appear that the launch was several continuous launches, but played side by side you can see that it is the same event”.

North Korean propagandists used rudimentary editing techniques to crop and flip old video footage of an earlier SLBM test and Scud missile launch, the video analysis showed.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un salutes during a visit to the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces on the occasion of the new year, in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 10, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA

The North’s claim that its fourth and most recent nuclear test, conducted last Wednesday, was of a more advanced and powerful hydrogen bomb has drawn scepticism from the U.S. government and experts.

It is also unclear if North Korea has developed a nuclear device small enough to mount on a missile.

(Story refiled to correct time of Scud footage in paragraph 9.)

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park and Hyunyoung Yi; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)


 Hillary Clinton’s Asia Pivot? — 2012

Hillary Clinton talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. The Pivot to Asia was an idea generated by her State Department — but it had almost no impact on China or North Korea’s behaviour.