Thursday, April 19, 2012
Arms Race in Korea
North Korea is more likely to fire off missiles or trigger national clashes near the border with South Korea than conduct another nuclear test in the near future, a U.S. security expert said Wednesday.
"I think there will be more provocations, probably missile launches. I am still skeptical that there is going to be a nuclear test in the short term," Frederick Fleitz, formerly a CIA official, told Yonhap News Agency after attending a congressional hearing.
"I think missile launches are very likely. Maybe there will be naval confrontations in the Yellow Sea," he added, asked about what the North will do next as its long-range rocket launch failed last week.
He dismissed reports of South Korean intelligence, based on satellite images, on digging activities at the North's nuclear test sites.
Such activities have been frequent there over the past few years, according to Fleitz, who served as chief of staff to Undersecretary of State John Bolton from 2001 to 2005. He now works as managing editor at the Langley Intelligence Group Network in Washington. He said Pyongyang will test its nuclear weapons again some day but it seems not to be imminent.
Although the North chose nuclear experiments after their two last long-range missile launches, he stressed, the two incidents would not necessarily constitute a trend.
He pointed out that the North's new regime took significant steps to make its latest rocket launch less provocative, such as an unprecedented level of oneness with the press.
"Second, North Korea has only a limited amount of fissile material," he said. "I believe it will eventually test another nuclear weapon when it is technically ready and prepared to endure an enormous and debilitating amount of diplomatic isolation."
In the hearing at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, lawmakers and witnesses took issue with Washington's Feb. 29 deal with Pyongyang, which has effectively become null and void.
The U.S. agreed to provide a massive food aid in return for the North's suspension of some of missile and nuclear activities.
"A particularly unfortunate result of the Leap Day agreement was the combining of discussions of nuclear disarmament and food assistance at the same negotiating table," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chairwoman of the committee.
She expressed regret that the U.S. officials who negotiated the deal refused to attend the hearing.
Scott Snyder, senior researcher at the Council on Foreign Relations, also said the food issue should have been discussed separately.
"It was a mistake to allow food aid to be brought directly into the negotiations as a quid pro quo for North Korean actions," he said.
He added it was hasty for Washington to announce the deal while the North's new leader, Kim Jong-un, was still trying to consolidate power.
Rep. Howard Berman, the top Democrat in the committee, recalled comments by former President Ronald Reagan on the Soviet Union that the U.S. should "trust but verify."
"With regard to North Korea, he might have said 'never trust and never cease to verify,'" he said.
Berman accused China of doing little to stop the North's provocations despite its diplomatic leverage as a main supplier of food and energy for the communist ally.
"By enabling North Korean regime's reckless and aggressive behavior, which threatens regional stability, China ends up undermining its own security calculus," he said.
In response to this, South Korea has deployed a new long-range cruise missile that puts nuclear and missile sites in the entire North Korean territory within striking distance, defense ministry officials said Thursday, amid growing security jitters sparked by the North's botched rocket launch.
The new, home-grown cruise missile has a range of "more than 1,000 kilometers and can immediately strike anywhere in North Korea," said Maj. Gen. Shin Won-sik, the senior official in charge of policy planning at the ministry.