North Korea Threatens Northeast Asian, World Security

By Gerry J. Gilmore

Mercurial North Korean leader Kim Jong-il heads the world’s fifth-largest military and continues to act as if he might use it to subjugate his southern neighbor, the commander of U.S. forces in South Korea told the House Armed Services Committee here March 31.

North Korea, Army Gen. Leon J. LaPorte said in prepared testimony, "poses a variety of threats to regional and global security," and "reunification of the (Korean) peninsula under North Korean control remains the primary stated purpose" of Kim’s regime.

North Korea has a nearly million-man field army and another 6 million reservists, LaPorte pointed out. Seventy percent of that force, he said, is deployed south of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, placing it "where they are capable of attacking with little tactical warning."

For example, LaPorte reported, many North Korean long-range artillery units are targeted on South Korea’s capital and "can strike Seoul from their current locations."

Kim is channeling a third of his starving country’s domestic product to fund his military, LaPorte said, while the dictator replenishes government coffers with international aid and ill-gotten gains from drug production, smuggling and counterfeiting.

Consequently, although he described the North Korean economy as "derelict," LaPorte acknowledged that Kim’s military "has the ability to inflict great destruction and casualties if they choose to attack."

The North Korean military also possesses a bevy of asymmetrical capabilities, including a 122,000-member commando force, which is "the world’s largest," LaPorte said.

"They are tough, dedicated, well-trained and profoundly loyal to the Kim regime," the general explained, noting that such a force could produce much mayhem.

The North Koreans also have more than 500 Scud missiles "that can deliver conventional or chemical weapons across the entire (Korean) peninsula," LaPorte said, while the regime continues to develop an inventory of No-Dong ballistic missiles that are capable of striking Japan. They’re also working on "a three- stage variant of the Taepo Dong missile," LaPorte reported, that "could provide North Korea the capacity to target the continental United States."

North Korea has "an assessed significant chemical agent stockpile," LaPorte noted, as well as a bioweapon inventory that may include anthrax, botulism, cholera, hemorrhagic fever, plague, smallpox, typhoid and yellow fever.

"North Korea believes that these missile, chemical and biological weapons programs measurably contribute to its security from external threats and supplement their conventional military capabilities," the general explained.

LaPorte told the lawmakers that North Korea has pulled out of several anti- nuclear proliferation agreements in recent years, and that intelligence agencies believe the country has one or two nuclear weapons and may be able to make more.

"The Kim regime has clearly stated it will continue to increase its nuclear deterrent capability," LaPorte said, "unless it receives significant economic assistance, security guarantees and appropriate political concessions from the international community."

There is no reason to expect that North Korea will change its policies, LaPorte told the committee, noting that Kim’s power is strongly ensconced across the government and military. Therefore, "for the foreseeable future, North Korea remains a major challenge to security in Northeast Asia," the general concluded.