The public perspective toward the threat posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea changed significantly after April 11, 2013. It was on that date that the following quote from Rep. Doug Lamborn was widely reported throughout the media: “DIA assess with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles. However, the reliability will be low'” (Mulrine, 2013). The “North” to which Lamborn referred was the regime of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (hereafter referred to as “North Korea”) and his mention of the DIA referenced the US Defense Intelligence Agency Dynamic Threat Assessment 8099: North Korea Nuclear Weapons Program published in March 2013.
The response to Lamborn’s public referencing of an intelligence assessment not yet classified because it had yet to even be released illustrates the current state of intelligence analysis concerning the North Korea regime. The media has constructed a portrait of North Korea and particularly its current head of state Kim Jong-un as a completely unpredictable and unknowable force of psychopathological extremes that even the slightest release of misinformation by official agencies is charged with the power to provoke misplaced fear and anxiety (Lerner, 2015) With that potential in mind, the following intelligence report attempts to provide an assessment of actual dangers currently posed to the rest of the world by the North Korean government.
The North Korean system of government under the direction of the Jong family has for decades relied on institutionalized systems of forced labor as an essential component of their methodology of extreme authoritarianism. The practice of enforced labor covers the full spectrum of the rogue nation’s demographic makeup to make room for women and men as well as children and the elderly.
The forced labor conditions are the result of an ideological mindset that places supreme above all else allegiance to the ruling family. The consequences of such a perversely applied national ideology is prison labor camps for those merely accused of crimes related to breaking the restrictions imposed by this codified system of allegiance, but also extends to a darker and less well-defined engagement in the practice of human trafficking for the purposes for sexual enslavement.
Current estimates place the number of political prisoners sent to forced labor camps throughout North Korea somewhere between 80,000 and 120,000. In many if not most of these cases, the prisoners have not been officially charged with any crime, much less convicted. The punishment is viewed as punitive for violation of an ideological system that can only thrive upon the effects of suppression and repressive measures and so this forced labor has been deemed punitive enough to qualify as systemic violation of human rights.
This very system of punitive violation of human rights also has the effect of stimulating human trafficking across the border in China. Those attempting to flee North Korea before being subjected themselves to such harsh conditions as exist in the forced labor camps often wind up in being enticed into escape solutions that turn out to be a front for sex trafficking interests. The result is very often a circuitous route into forced labor of a longer sentence where the labor is prostitution (US Dept. of State, “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”).
North Korea appears to be a major player in the burgeoning problem of cyberterrorism around the globe although the target and aim of the majority of the country’s largest attacks has thus far been to disrupt the political and economic stability of South Korea. A 2013 assault was nicknamed “Dark Seoul” targeted major banking institutions and media outlets through a viral attack that successfully wiped out the hard drives of nearly 50,000 computers at broadcasting networks. This attempt to utterly destroy all information contained on those computers is a prime example of the primary threat posed by North Korean intelligence operations. While “Dark Seoul” was strategically aimed at the less secure computers of the media companies, if the same success rate had been enjoyed in a strategic attack on financial industry computers, the result could have well have been an economic meltdown (“Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea 2013”). The potential for bringing about devastation throughout the world’s banking system represents a much greater clear and present danger than the threat of nuclear annihilation.
Which is not to suggest that North Korea does not present an actual military threat to the rest of the world. Once again, however, it must be noted that the primary target for North Korean military aggression remains its neighbor to the south. The inescapable reality is that the regime of Kim Jong-un has continued in the tradition of his father and grandfather to accumulate as much military weaponry as possible. The overriding issue at hand relative to the militarization of North Korea is the impotence of global condemnation to impact this strategy. North Korea has a long history of ignoring such international condemnation. This aggressive stance has resulted in a continuing effort by the country to publicly display their military power in exhibitions of that power through the launching of long-range rockets. The launching of rockets into the airspace over the Korean peninsula has the propagandistic effect of stimulating fear and dread among the population of neighboring countries (Chanlett-Avery, et.al)
The looming concern over the psychopathology of the leader of its authoritarian regime remains at the heart of the continuing intelligence analysis into the state of the North Korean nuclear weapons program. The Director of National Intelligence assesses that North Korea views its nuclear capabilities as intended for “deterrence, international prestige, and coercive diplomacy” and assert that North Korea remains firm in its commitment that will not end its nuclear program until all other states with the capability do so as well (Chanlett-Avery, et.al).
North Korea has long been considered a rogue nation and the fear of its leaders getting their hands on nuclear weapons capability can be fairly described as the driving issue behind all political and economic reactions to the country. The facts are quite clear: should North Korea ever become a viable nuclear power, the safeguards against an invasion of South Korea would essentially disappear. Should North Korea merely threaten to detonate a nuclear weapon against South Korea, the current tensions in that region would explode beyond the capacity of conventional military defenses to withstand.
At this point, it is very important to note that it is the psychological character of the overall regime in general and that of Kim Jong-un that lies at the heart of the foreign policy position taken toward the country. The reality is that the North Korean nuclear program was initiated with the assistance of the Soviet Union during the height of Cold War tensions on the peninsula in the late 1950’s following the withdrawal of American troops from the military conflict. The country constructed its first reactor for research purposes during the height of Cold War tensions in Southeast Asia in 1967. The timeline of North Korean nuclear weaponry research thus stretches over a period in excess of half a century (Chanlett-Avery, et.al).
Chanlett-Avery,, E., Rinehart, I., & Nikitin, M. (2015, July 21). North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. (2014). http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/countries/2014/226753.htm
Lerner, M. (2015). Markets, Movies, and Media: The Growing Soft Power Threat to North
Korea. The Journal of East Asian Affairs, 29(1), 41.
Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea 2013.
Mulrine, A. (2013, April 11). Lawmaker Drops Bombshell: North Korea May Have Nuclear
Missiles. The Christian Science Monitor.