North Korea releases two images taken during suborbital missile test

North Korea images of South Korea

North Korea today released two images of two South Korean cities that it claims were taken from space during a suborbital satellite test flight this past weekend.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency also released low-resolution, black-and-white photos showing a space view of the South Korean capital [Seoul] and Incheon, a city just west of Seoul, in an apparent attempt to show the North is pushing to acquire a surveillance tool to monitor its rival.

The rocket carrying the test satellite was launched Sunday to assess the satellite’s photography and data transmission systems, KCNA said.

Those pictures are at the right, at the resolution released. Though poor compared to most satellite reconnaissance, the photos suggest that the control systems of the rocket and camera worked, pointing it properly.

North Korea continues to push its missile and rocket program hard, this year launching a record number of missiles. According to the article, analysis of the image showing the launch suggests yesterday’s test was a liquid-fueled rocket, meaning North Korea is truly working towards an orbital rocket.

Space Force and South Korea set up joint office to monitor North Korea

The U.S. Space Force has now partnered with a new South Korean Air Force space division to jointly monitor the space-based and military actions of North Korea, including its increasingly aggressive missile testing program.

From the first link:

[Brig. Gen. Anthony Mastalir, commander of the U.S. Space Forces Indo-Pacific.] later told reporters the unit will undergo analysis in the coming months to assess its mission capabilities and said it is interested in holding discussions with South Korea regarding specific future missions, like missile warning and defense.

The new unit is expected to help monitor, detect and trace projectiles from the North and elsewhere in an operation likely to reinforce overall deterrence capabilities of the South Korea-U.S. alliance, observers said.

This new office really isn’t anything new, simply the renaming and reshuffling of the military bureaucracy from the American Air Force to the Space Force. The military has been present in South Korea since the Korean War in the early 1950s, monitoring North Korea. All that has really changed is North Korea’s growing ability to launch missiles, thus changing the focus of that monitoring, combined with South Korea’s recent effort to accelerate its own space effort, both civilian and military.

Moranbong Band – Csardas & Gypsy Airs

An evening pause: Hat tip Jim Mallamace, who notes,

Talk about an eclectic Evening Pause. “Csardas” was written by Italian, Vittorio Monti, in the early 20th century. “Gypsy Airs” was composed by Spaniard, Pablo de Sarasate, in the late 19th century. Both compositions are inspired by Hungarian music. And the orchestra is North Korean.

The band was organized by North Korea’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un. This performance was from 2012. From the link this interesting tidbit:

In December 2015, Kim Jong-un sent the band to perform in a series of shows in Beijing to improve relations between China and North Korea; these would have been the band’s first performances outside of North Korea. However, the band left Beijing on a scheduled flight to Pyongyang only a few hours before their performance was scheduled. China’s Xinhua news agency stated that all of the band’s performances had been cancelled due to “communication issues at the working level.” The Korea Herald reported that North Korea had cancelled the tour because China had requested that North Korea’s missiles should not be shown during performances.

North Korea does second missile test in a week

North Korea today did its second short-range missile test in the past week.

They launched two missiles, each traveling about 260 miles.

This is clearly a negotiating tactic on their part. This spat of launches now might also have been encouraged by their sponsor, China, which is also in negotiations with the Trump administration about trade. China gains negotiating leverage with Trump in that it can say: Give us what we want and we will pressure North Korea to cease missile tests.

North Korea tests short-range missiles

North Korea today conducted its first missile tests since November 2017, firing off several short-range “projectiles” into the Sea of Japan.

These are not the long-range ballistic missiles that North Korea was testing two years ago that had the potential of reaching the U.S. Still, this test indicates that this country remains an unpredictable threat to its neighbors and the world. The test also indicates we don’t yet have any agreement from them concerning demilitarization.

Trump walks out on North Korea summit

Unsatisfied with the deal offered by North Korea’s leader on his nuclear weapons, President Trump abruptly ended their summit meeting in Vietnam today.

Donald Trump’s talks with Kim Jong-un ended abruptly on Thursday as the president said he was forced to walk away after the North Korean dictator demanded that all sanctions be lifted in return for giving up only some of his nukes.

Trump said the final snag that caused the sudden breakdown was over sanctions – and Kim’s push to have all of them lifted in exchange for a concession Trump and his secretary of state could not live with. ‘Sometimes you have to walk away,’ Trump told reporters at a press conference in Hanoi that was abruptly moved up after a breakdown in talks.

The president expressed his hope that the two leaders would meet again, but acknowledged: ‘It might be soon, it might not be for a long time. I can’t tell you.’

The standard American politician since the 1960s would have instead gone through with the ceremonies, including signing some form of fake agreement that in terms of the U.S. would have stunk. That standard American politician would have typically been willing to sell out the U.S. in order to save face.

Trump is no standard American politician. He is there to actually negotiate, and sometimes a negotiation requires you, as he said, to walk away, as Reagan did with the Soviets in 1986.

North Korea’s actions post-summit remain unclear

Two stories today highlight for me the murky state of North Korea’s nuclear bomb program.

The first story is originally from the Washington Post, which might not want to say good things about Trump’s foreign policy efforts with North Korea. The second story however is from the French news service AFP, which also has no kind thought’s about Trump.

So, we really do not have a clear idea yet whether North Korea is shutting down its nuclear bomb and missile program. What we do know for certain is that since November 28, 2017 North Korea has conducted no ballistic missile tests. Prior to that date they were launching test missiles at a rate of two to three a month, for years. North Korea might not be completely dismantling its missile and nuclear program, but it has at least ceased its most bellicose behavior since Trump’s diplomatic effort.

North Korea upgrading nuclear research facility

Satellite photos indicate that North Korea has been upgrading its nuclear research facility, despite its public claims that it is eliminating its nuclear program following Kim Jong Un’s meeting with Trump earlier this month.

The satellite photos indicate that North Korea is quickly progressing on several adjustments to the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center.

The improvements include a new cooling water pump house, multiple new buildings, completed construction on a cooling water reservoir and an apparently active radiochemical laboratory. It is unclear whether the reactor is still in operation, the report said.

38 North notes that North Korean nuclear officials are expected to proceed with “business as usual” until Kim orders official changes to procedure.

News reports have focused so far on the defusing of North Korea’s anti-American propaganda machine, but that’s just empty words. Upgrading this nuclear facility tells us what they really plan on doing.

Trump-Kim summit ends

The summit meeting between President Trump and North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un took place yesterday with much fanfare, ending with a signed agreement that did little but outline some future negotiating goals.

1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.–DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
2. The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.

While Trump’s hard-nosed policies toward North Korea has clearly forced that nation to back away from its former bellicose positions, threatening war with everyone, we will have to wait and see if this summit really forces them to abandon their nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Can we trust any deal with North Korea?

Link here. The article, from the science journal Nature, is an interview with a South Korean nuclear expert who is very skeptical of any claims by North Korea that it has dismantled its nuclear program.

This skepticism seems reasonable to me. Consider the history. The Clinton administration signed a deal with North Korea (very similar in many ways with Obama’s Iran nuclear deal) that was supposed to prevent North Korea from getting the bomb. Instead, all it did was allow us to make believe it wasn’t happening, even as North Korea developed the technology and eventually completed several underground tests of nuclear bombs.

We shall see if Trump allows himself to get fooled, like Clinton. Right now, the indications are no. At the same time, it pays to be as skeptical of any politician as this South Korean nuclear expert is of North Korea. None of these power-hungry politicians can be trusted, even Trump. When the general public makes the mistake of trusting them it always gets screwed.

Update: Trump has canceled the summit with North Korea.

Summit between leaders of North and South Korea began today

The first summit in more than a decade between the leaders of North and South Korea began today.

The two leaders are meeting at Peace House, south of the demarcation line in the border truce village of Panmunjom.

Kim is the first North Korean leader to step foot in South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War, and the two leaders are expected to discuss issues relating to peace and denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

The two leaders smiled and shook hands after which Kim gestured to Moon to cross over to North Korea briefly, which they did for a few steps, then returned to the South, holding hands.

Though no one should trust much of what Kim says or does, this summit is certainly a testament to the foreign policy of Donald Trump. During the Obama administration, all we had from North Korea were nuclear tests and threats of war, with the U.S. weakly responding with typically empty diplomatic statements of “serious concern.”

Now Kim is signing the guest register in South Korea like so: “New history starts now; age of peace, from the starting point of history.” Trump forced his allies, most specifically China, to put pressure on him, and it has apparently had a positive effect.

North Korea suspends nuclear and rocket programs

Can we believe it? In anticipation of the upcoming summits with both South Korea and President Trump, North Korea today announced that it has suspended both its nuclear and missile programs.

The new policy, which sets the table for further negotiations when the summits begin, was announced by leader Kim Jong Un at a meeting of the North Korean ruling party’s Central Committee on Friday and reported by the North’s state-run media early Saturday.

Kim justified the suspension to his party by saying that the situation around North Korea has been rapidly changing “in favor of the Korean revolution” since he announced last year his country had completed its nuclear forces. He said North Korea has reached the level where it no longer needs to conduct underground testing or test-launching of ICBMs.

I think the real reason he announced this is that he knows that if he continues the program, he shall be increasingly isolated. Trump’s pressure on China forced that nation to put the screws on Kim, and as a result he really has no choice but announce the suspension of these programs.

What we really don’t know is if this announcement can be taken seriously. Its public framing, justified under the lie that the programs were completed, makes me very suspicious that he is lying about everything. We shall see how Trump takes it in the coming months..

Trump to meet with North Korean leader

President Trump has accepted an offer by North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-Un to meet face-to-face sometime in the next few months to discuss that nation’s nuclear weaponry.

The historic meeting was brokered by the South Korean government, which delivered the invitation to the White House and divulged the details outside the West Wing. “He expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible,” South Korean National Security Director Chung Eui-yong said of Kim. “President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong-Un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.”

According to Chung, the North also agreed to suspend nuclear and missile tests during such future talks — a longstanding US demand.

There is progress here, but everyone should not assume much will come of this. The last time an American president, Bill Clinton, made a deal with North Korea, it was supposed to have ended North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. That certainly didn’t work, and Trump could be double-crossed just as easily.

Nonetheless, Trump appears to be having more success forcing North Korea to the table than anyone in decades.

North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un meets with South Korean delegation

In a sign that he is backing off his previous and long maintained belligerent stance, North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un met with a South Korean delegation on March 5.

The above link is a press release by a North Korean news source, so it is hardly informative. This Reuters story has some information from the South Korean delegation:

Next month, North Korea and South Korea will have the first meeting between their leaders since 2007 at the border village of Panmunjom, said Chung Eui-yong, head of the South Korean delegation. “North Korea made clear its willingness to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and the fact there is no reason for it to have a nuclear program if military threats against the North are resolved and its regime is secure,” Chung told a media briefing.

Chung cited North Korea as saying it would not carry out nuclear or missile tests while talks with the international community were under way. North Korea has not carried out any such tests since last November. North Korea also is willing to discuss normalizing ties with the United States, Chung said.

This sudden willingness to talk, after more than a decade of war talk, strongly suggests that Trump’s hardline position, which subsequently forced China and others to follow, has had an effect.

North Korea launches another ICBM

North Korea today launched another ICBM, landing it in the Sea of Japan.

The Department of Defense said that initial assessments indicated the missile was an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. In a news conference, Japan’s defense minister also said it seemed to be an ICBM. The missile went higher than any shot North Korea had previously taken, according to Defense Secretary James Mattis.

This was North Korea’s first launch in a couple of months.

North Korea’s new plan to develop and launch satellites

North Korea announced yesterday a new program to accelerate the development of home-built space satellites and orbital rockets.

North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun published a commentary laying out the country’s plans to send more satellites into space over the next five years. The program “can contribute to improving the economy and people’s lives,” the article reads. “It is a global trend to seek economic development through space programs,” the October 31 piece said. “According to our five-year plan for space development, we will launch more working satellites, such as geostationary ones.” Geostationary satellites orbit the Earth about 38,500 kilometers (22,000 miles) over a fixed position over the equator and revolve from west to east like the Earth.

It is hard to know how realistic this program is, and how much of it is actually a cover for North Korea’s ICBM development efforts.

Could North Korea use its missiles to fill orbital space with debris?

Link here. While most of the discussion about the missile threat from North Korea has focused on the possibility of it detonating a nuclear bomb high enough to cause an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that would disable most electronic equipment, this article notes that they could much more easily do almost as much harm by simply using their ballistic missiles to fill low-Earth-orbit (LEO) space with space junk, thus disabling much of the world’s military surveillance and reconnaissance satellites.

I am not sure how much of a threat this might be, but I find the article somewhat worrisome because it proposes something that seems quite reasonable and doable, with the technology that North Korea appears to have, right this minute.

Chinese government orders shutdown of all North Korean businesses

The Chinese government has ordered that all businesses run by North Koreans, whether singly or in a joint partnership, must shut down within the next four months.

The order applies to all such businesses in China, as well as any Chinese/North Korean joint ventures abroad. It will exempt nonprofits and “noncommercial infrastructure projects,” whatever that is, and will also allow individual businesses to request a waiver.

Chinese banks cease all business with North Korea

China’s central bank has ordered all Chinese banks to stop all business with North Korea.

Chinese banks have come under scrutiny for their role as a conduit for funds flowing to and from China’s increasingly isolated neighbor. The sources said banks were told to stop providing financial services to new North Korean customers and to wind down loans with existing customers, following tighter sanctions against Pyongyang by the United Nations. The sources said lenders were asked to fully implement United Nations sanctions against North Korea and were warned of the economic losses and reputational risks if they did not do so.

Chinese banks received the document on Monday, the sources said.

It appears that this order only effects new business with North Koreans, which means it can be gotten around, and is somewhat meaningless. At the same time, it appears that China’s is slowly stepping up its pressure on North Korea, which is a good thing.

North Korea fires another missile

North Korea today test fired another missile, this time sending it over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean.

South Korea’s defense ministry said it probably traveled around 2,300 miles and reached a maximum altitude of 478 miles after being launched near Pyongyang’s airport.

It was the second aggressive test-flight over the territory of the close US ally in less than a month and it followed the sixth and most powerful nuclear test by North Korea to date on September 3.

Russia and China both condemn North Korea’s nuclear test

Has the veil finally lifted from their eyes? The leaders of both Russia and China on Sunday agreed to work together to deal with the threat of a North Korea with nuclear weapons and ICBMs, with China strongly condemning North Korea.

It appears that these nations have suddenly realized that a North Korea with nuclear weapons and missiles capable of delivering those weapons anywhere on the globe is not merely a threat to the U.S., it also poses a threat to them. It is a shame that it took so long for this basic and obvious fact to sink in.

North Korea appears to back down

A news report today out of North Korea suggests that its leader, Kim Jong Un, has stepped back from a plan to test fire four missiles in the direction of Guam.

This could be related to China’s decision this week, under strong pressure from the Trump administration, to finally go along with UN sanctions and ban imports of iron, lead, and coal from North Korea.

China admits it will do nothing to stop North Korea from attacking US

In an official editorial, China has admitted that it will do nothing to stop North Korea from using missiles to attack the US territory of Guam.

Beijing is not able to persuade Washington or Pyongyang to back down at this time. It needs to make clear its stance to all sides and make them understand that when their actions jeopardize China’s interests, China will respond with a firm hand.

China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten US soil first and the US retaliates, China will stay neutral. If the US and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.

In other words, China will not stop North Korea from carrying out its attacks, but if it does so China will also not do anything if the U.S. responds.

The editorial is intellectually dishonest however. It also states,

The real danger is that such a reckless game may lead to miscalculations and a strategic “war.” That is to say, neither Washington nor Pyongyang really wants war, but a war could break out anyway as they do not have the experience of putting such an extreme game under control. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words are simply wrong. It has been very clear now for several years that North Korea is eager for war, and has been doing everything it can to instigate a conflict.

North Korea launches another ballistic missile

Does this make you feel safer? North Korea today launched another ballistic missile.

Not much is known about the rocket or the launch. My overall impression however is that North Korea is refining its approach to the launch of these rockets. Several years ago they would blast away, with no sense of rhyme or reason, often following up one failed launch with another almost immediately. Sometimes they would even try to launch a bunch of rockets in one day. To me these earlier launches suggested a mindless attempt at bravado, with little serious interest at improving the technology.

Now their launches seem to have a more measured cadence, as if they are properly treating each launch as an engineering test. They then review their results, apply them, and try again.

If so, we have much more to fear from their effort to develop rockets and nuclear bombs.

North Korea test fires another ballistic missile

North Korea today launched another test missile into nearby waters, this time landing in Japanese waters.

Update: North Korea now claims this was an ICBM that could have reached Alaska, and some of the experts quoted appear to agree.

It was estimated to have reached an altitude that “greatly exceeded” 2,500 kilometres, Japan said, prompting arms control specialist Jeffrey Lewis to respond on Twitter: “That’s it. It’s an ICBM. An ICBM that can hit Anchorage not San Francisco, but still.”

David Wright, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote on the organisation’s allthingsnuclear blog that the available figures implied the missile “could reach a maximum range of roughly 6,700 km on a standard trajectory. … That range would not be enough to reach the lower 48 states or the large islands of Hawaii, but would allow it to reach all of Alaska.”

China cuts off oil to North Korea

It’s about time. China’s national oil company has suspended all oil sales to North Korea because of lack of payment.

The reason North Korea doesn’t have the money to buy oil is largely because it hasn’t been able to sell any coal to China. And the reasons for both is likely China’s increasing desire to rein in North Korea’s missile and nuclear arms programs.

Without oil or coal, North Korea’s leadership will find itself hard-pressed to survive.

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