South Korean military fires warning shots at objects flown from North

South Korean forces have fired at objects flown across the border from North Korea, officials said. The balloon-like items flew with the wind and may have been carrying propaganda leaflets.

Nordkorea Südkorea Konflikt DMZ UN (Getty Images/AFP/J. Martin)

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Seoul’s forces fired around 90 machine gun rounds towards the targets and across the heavily militarized border, according to South’s Yonhap news agency. The incident was triggered by ten spherical objects flying with the wind in the border area. Some of them traveled into Seoul’s territory, defense ministry spokesman Moon Sang-Gyun said on Wednesday.

The military later analyzed the data, determining the objects were “balloon-like,” Moon added.

Both Seoul and Pyongyang use balloons to distribute propaganda leaflets across the border. Moon ruled out the possibility of the balloons coming from the South, saying that Seoul uses cylindrical balloons, rather than spherical ones.

Previously, Yonhap cited a defense official as saying that the military fired at what could have been a drone. The object returned across the borders and disappeared from the radar, according to this official’s account.

The military said it had sent a warning to Pyongyang and increased its air surveillance in response to the incident.

The rival governments remain on edge as the North escalates its nuclear program. Pyongyang also has a history of sending spy aircraft across the border. In January 2016, the military fired on a North Korean drone that flew into the demilitarized zone, and in September 2014, a South Korean fisherman found a drone that was also believed to have come from there.

China | Bundesaußenminister Gabriel besucht China (picture-alliance/dpa/G. Fischer
)Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has arrived in China

Gabriel in China

Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned of “dangerous developments” in North Korea after landing in Beijing on Wednesday.

“We believe the Chinese have a big responsibility there, but we’re also sure that the Chinese government is aware of that,” Gabriel said at the start of his one-day diplomatic visit to China, North Korea’s key ally.

Pyongyang’s nuclear program is expected be among key issues as Gabriel meets with Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Foreign Minister Wang Yi later in the day.

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North Korea fires another missile

UN Security Council vows new sanctions

The border incident came two days after Pyongyang fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan. It was the second launch in just over a week and the eighth since the start of 2017.

The United Nations Security Council said on Monday it would impose additional sanctions on North Korea in response, accusing the country of “destabilizing behavior and flagrant and provocative defiance.”

Members of the council vowed to better implement six rounds of sanctions already imposed against Pyongyang and demanded that the country halt its nuclear program and missile tests.

China called on “all parties to remain calm, exercise self-restraint and avoid taking provocative actions that would escalate the tensions.”

The United States has urged China to use its influence over North Korea to change its behavior.

dj/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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North Korea’s second missile launch in a week provokes international outcry

Pyongyang’s increasing missile and nuclear capabilities are raising concerns in Washington, Tokyo and Seoul. The totalitarian regime is on a collision course with the US and its allies on the key issue of security.

Norkorea Rakete (Getty Images/KCNA)Last week’s missile test raised the possibility of new UN sanctions

North Korea test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile that traveled about 500 kilometers (310 miles) Sunday, just one week after a previous launch provoked international condemnation and threats of new sanctions from the United Nations.

South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-in called an emergency meeting of his National Security Council to discuss the North’s latest missile test, according to the Yonhap news agency.

“Our military is closely monitoring signs for additional provocation by the North Korean military and we are keeping a full military readiness,” a statement said.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry called the launch “reckless and irresponsible.”

Watch video01:47

Japan joins military buildup off Koreas

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he will raise the issue of North Korean missile launches at the Group of Seven leaders’ summit in Italy this month.

It was not immediately clear what type of missile was launched Sunday, but it did not have the range of the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missile fired on May 14. That missile traveled some 700 kilometers further than any previous ballistic missile launched by Pyongyang.

The North claims the Hwasong-12 could carry a nuclear warhead.

Analysts said the missile represented a significant advancement in the North’s weapons capabilities as it continues efforts to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the continental United States.

Watch video03:22

N. Korea tests missile after hinting at willingness to hold talks – DW’s Jason Strother

The missile launches and the threat of a new nuclear test have ratcheted-up tensions with the US government. President Donald Trump has vowed that an ICBM launch by the North “won’t happen.”

Pyongyang has long had medium-range missiles that can reach targets across South Korea and Japan.

US warns others

With a reported range of 4,500 kilometers, the Hwasong-12 also puts US bases on the Pacific island of Guam within reach.

The UN Security Council held a closed-door meeting last Tuesday to discuss harsher sanctions against Pyongyang after last weekend’s missile test.

Nikki Haley, Washington’s ambassador to the UN, said the US and China are working on a new sanctions resolution and warned that all countries must take more aggressive measures against Pyongyang or face measures themselves.

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S. Korea’s new leader seeks to ease tensions

“We all have to send a sign to North Korea, and that is: ‘No more. This is not playtime. This is serious. These threats are not welcome,'” Haley told reporters.

“If you are a country that is supplying or supporting North Korea, we will call you out on it,” Haley said.

The North has insisted that it needs missiles and nuclear weapons to deter any attack by the US.

The North Korean state newspaper Minju Joson threatened more launches on Sunday.

“If the US persists in confrontation with the DPRK (North Korea), the latter will show how the crime-woven history of the US is put to an end,” the statement said.

“Many more ‘Juche weapons’ capable of striking the US will be launched from this land. This is the DPRK’s answer to the Trump administration,” it said, referring to the national philosophy of “Juche” or self-reliance.

bik/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

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Russia steps up North Korea support to constrain US

In spite of international sanctions on North Korea’s communist regime, Russia has been increasing fuel exports to Pyongyang and filling in the supply gap created by China halting trade. Julian Ryall reports.

Russland Militärparade in Moskau (Reuters/S. Karpukhin)

Despite efforts by the United Nations to impose isolating sanctions on North Korea in response to the country’s continued development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, trade between Russia and North Korea soared more than 85 percent in the first four months of the year.

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Citing Russian customs data, the Voice of America broadcaster has reported that bilateral trade climbed to $31.83 million (29 million euros) in the January-March quarter, with the vast majority being energy products going over the border into the North.

This included $22 million worth of coal, lignite with a value of around $4.7 million, and oil estimated at $1.2 million. In return, North Korean exports to Russia were estimated to be worth $420,000. The most significant exports were chemicals and – curiously – wind instruments.

China trade falls

In contrast, North Korea’s trade with China, traditionally its most important economic partner, has plummeted. Pyongyang’s exports of coal to China in March came to 6,342 tons, a fraction of the 1.44 million tons sent to China in January, with an estimated value of $126.39 million. Similarly, Beijing has stopped supplying critically-needed fuel oil to the North, a clear demonstration of China’s displeasure at North Korea’s ongoing weapons tests.

The release of the figures detailing Russia’s increased trade with North Korea coincide with President Vladimir Putin’s statement on Monday that Pyongyang’s latest missile launch was “dangerous” – but, he added, “We must stop intimidating North Korea and find a peaceful solution to this problem.”

Read more: North Korea claims successful test of new rocket able to carry nuclear warhead

James Brown, an associate professor of international relations at Tokyo campus of Temple University, believes some of the cross-border trade may be “economic opportunism” but the motivation for the vast majority of it is geopolitical.

“Russia is very worried about the isolation of North Korea and believes that makes the situation dangerous as the US is taking a confrontational approach,” he told DW.

“Moscow’s position is that pressure on the North has not worked and has in fact caused Pyongyang to react because it feels threatened,” he said. “So instead of isolation, which is not working, Russia is proposing engagement.”

Nordkorea Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) Raketentest (Reuters/KCNA)The UN condemned North Korea’s missile test and vowed new sanctions

New ferry route

The most recent example of this support for Pyongyang is the plan to open a ferry route between North Korea and the Russian Far East port of Vladivostok, although the proposal has been delayed by strong protests from Japan.

Read more: North Korea builds closer ties with fellow outcast Russia

In 2014, Russia announced that it was canceling $10 billion of North Korea’s $11 billion in Soviet-era debt and that the remaining $1 billion would be invested back into the country. Russian investors also agreed to sink $25 billion into the North’s dilapidated railway system, while more would go into basic infrastructure. The two governments also announced that Russia would rebuild the North’s power grid, while the two countries would develop the ice-free port of Rason for exports of Russian coal.

In total, Russia planned to increase bilateral trade almost ten-fold to $1 billion by 2020, and that does not appear to have been hampered by more recent UN sanctions.

But Putin is also motivated by security concerns in Russia’s Far East, Brown said.

“Moscow has always been worried that the defensive missile systems that the US is deploying in the region – the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea and now Japan is discussing having Aegis Ashore – are more directed at its interests than North Korea,” he said.

Daniel Pinkston, a professor of international relations at the Seoul campus of Troy University, believes that Putin – who is at odds with the international community over the Ukraine conflict and has been accused of meddling in a number of elections, including those in the US and France – may be forging closer ties with Pyongyang to sow further disarray among his perceived enemies.

Watch video00:33

North Korea launches ballistic missile

‘Slash-and-burn approach’

“Putin seems to have adopted a slash-and-burn approach to the liberal international order, so anything that serves to undermine institutions such as NATO, the European Union or democracy in general is fair game,” Pinkston said. “He is intent on creating instability in a way that serves Russian interests and this sort of multi-front, hybrid war serves to undermine the US and its allies.”

“North Korea fits neatly into that agenda because it causes problems for Washington, keeps the US tied down, drains its resources and causes friction with allies in the region.”

Pinkston points out that playing neighboring nations off one other for their respective favors is not a new North Korean tactic. It has manipulated China and Russia for its own ends in the past.

“That sort of back-and-forth was easier to pull off in the Cold War, but they seem to be trying to capitalize on their relations with Russia now that China has become more distant,” the expert underlined. “And I think it is clear that North Korea will take whatever it can get in terms of political, diplomatic or military support, as well as resources.”

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North Korea’s mystery islands: Man-made keys could be new nuclear launch sites

North Korea is at it again. Or rather, it is continuing what it started five years ago.

Artificial islands have been discovered surrounding Sohae Satellite Launching Station, a missile development and testing site roughly 70 miles northwest of Pyongyang. Satellite images suggest the islands are home to military installations and have been under development for at least five years.

While their purpose is unknown, suspicions are high that the islands could be used to launch missiles. Those speculations are not far off the mark, according to Gordon Chang, author of “Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World.”

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“North Korea is never up to any good,” Chang said in an emailed statement to Fox News. “The new facilities, whatever their purpose, will be used for evil deeds, mischief, or troublemaking of some sort.”

“My sense is that the facilities on the new islands will be used for missile launches of some kind, especially because they are near Sohae.”

North Korea could just be following in its neighbor China’s footsteps. In recent years, China has reportedly been stocking its disputed man-made islands with missiles.

The missile theory is being rebuffed by some. North Korea expert and political science professor Dr. Bruce Bechtol does not think the islands deserve so much focus.

NORTH KOREA DETAINS ANOTHER AMERICAN OVER ALLEGED HOSTILE ACTS

“As far as the islands being something that could present a real imminent threat to the U.S. or South Korea,” he said, “I’m just not seeing it.”

According to Bechtol, North Korea has far stealthier stockpiles than what could be placed on islands easily monitored via satellite.

“The land mass of those islands is too small to move around missiles,” he said. “It’s interesting that they’re developing these islands, but they’re probably mostly for civilian use.”

The islands could very well be used agriculturally, which could benefit North Korea since the country has struggled to feed its citizens.

“They [North Korea] ruined a lot of their soil in the 80s and 90s. These islands have the potential to really help them out through possible fish farms or oyster farms,” Bechtol stated.

Or, maybe the country has two goals in mind.

“The North Koreans build just about everything for dual purpose,” Steve Sin, a researcher on unconventional weapons and technology at the University of Maryland, told the Los Angeles Times. “So, building something that is of military use on an agricultural project is certainly within its usual pattern.”

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North Korea crisis: Which country has the strongest military in the region?

Tensions continue to run high on the Korean Peninsula as North Korea’s bellicose posture makes its neighbors increasingly nervous. DW takes a look at the military strengths of the main players in the region.

Südkorea TV Übertragung Raketentest in Nordkora (Getty Images/AFP/J. Yeon-Je)

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Aggressive rhetoric and actions on the Korean Peninsula over the past several months have raised concerns about a potential conflagration. The US government under President Donald Trump has put an end to the “strategic patience” policy pursued by the previous Barack Obama administration. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has stressed that the military option remains on the table. And this month, Washington has once again tightened its already stringent sanctions against the reclusive regime in Pyongyang.

Read more: Is a second Korean War imminent? 

China, regarded as the North’s only ally, continues to push for all sides to find a diplomatic solution to the problem. But Beijing, like Washington, has increased the pressure on Pyongyang by enforcing the sanctions regime more tightly, for instance, by halting coal imports from the North.

The growing international calls seem to have made little impact on the North. Kim Jong Un’s regime has increased the pace of nuclear and missile tests over the past year. Experts observe increased activity at the Punggye-ri atomic site hinting at a potential nuclear test soon. Official statements in North Korea’s state media stress the country’s readiness to wage a “total war” at any moment.

Many doubt the ability of the international community to persuade the regime to leave its present course, meaning militarization in the region is unlikely to subside.

High militarization in North Korea

Both North and South Korea have been divided by the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The conflict back then ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, and the DMZ remains one of the most heavily fortified places on Earth, where two of the world’s largest militaries stay prepared for a confrontation.

According to an index developed by the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), a German NGO, South Korea is one of the most militarized nations in the world. It ranks sixth worldwide on the index, which was last updated in 2016.

North Korea is not ranked in the index due to the difficulty in acquiring and assessing information related to its military. But it’s assumed by observers like BICC’s Marius Bales that “there is a high degree of militarization” in North Korean society as well. “This is obvious from the fact that they have a 1.2-million strong military for some 24 million inhabitants.”

Allies for North and South

The two highly armed Koreas are each backed by countries that have a historic geopolitical rivalry with each other. Standing behind the the North, it’s the People’s Republic of China, while on the side of the South, it’s the US. The US-South Korean relationship was sealed in 1953 by a military alliance. In 1961, the North signed a friendship treaty with China and the former Soviet Union including the provision of military and economic aid.

Watch video01:47

Japan joins military build-up off Koreas

Although Russia later abrogated the military assistance pact, China has maintained it. But Beijing has been increasingly vocal in its call for North Korea to back down from its aggressive posture. China’s “Global Times” newspaper, known for its nationalist commentary, has been blistering in its criticism of North Korea, accusing it of destabilizing the region and calling for a halt to its nuclear program.

Another player in the region, Japan, feels threatened by North Korea. While Tokyo’s position in the region is underpinned by its special relationship with the US, its relations with countries like South Korea and China are burdened by its colonial past and World War II legacy.

Quantity vs. quality

One way of showing the military balance of power in the region is by comparing the number of people in the armed forces in each country, as well as the size and scope of the armaments they possess. However, such an approach is mired in imperfections, and the numbers presented have to be treated with some caution.

An annual report on the subject entitled “The Military Balance,” published by the UK-based think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), is considered to be authoritative. It extensively documents the procurement of weapons by various militaries.

Infografik Militärisches Kräfteverhältnis in Ostasien ENG

The figures are partly based on the official data supplied by the countries to international organizations like the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms. But the IISS neither reveals all the sources of its information nor follows a uniform method. It’s unclear, for instance, how accurate statistics on North Korea are as the country doesn’t release any official data.

There is no other alternative, though, says BICC expert Bales. “The Military Balance is the best as well as the only source in this field.”

Still, the expert underlined that the figures represent only the quantity of weapons and not their quality. For example, Bales points out that one heavy tank cannot be considered to be exactly equal in its capabilities to another heavy tank. “A Soviet T-62 tank of the North Korean Army from the late 1960s cannot be on an equal footing with a South Korean K2 Black Panther tank from 2013.”

The manner in which the comparative strengths of militaries were assessed in the 19th and early 20th centuries has become obsolete, experts say.

“Modern warfare and modern weapon systems can’t be compared like that,” Bales stressed, because today we don’t need tanks in equal number to destroy enemy tanks, but can also use drones, helicopters and other aircraft to do that task.

Also, the figures do not show details of other critical resources that are required to operate the weapons. North Korea, for instance, suffers from an acute fuel shortage, hindering its ability to operate training aircraft. In the case of North Korea, Bales said, “the size of the military stands in contrast to its quality. Its air force, in particular, is obsolete, with its most modern aircraft dating back to the 1980s.”

South Korea, on the other hand, is equipped with state-of-the-art military gear, thanks largely to weapons deliveries from the US and Germany.

Watch video01:56

Trump, Kim step up saber-rattling competition

What the figures additionally show is what areas each country’s military focused on. Being an island nation, Japan has paid attention to strengthening the capabilities of its navy and air force. In the Koreas, however, the army occupies the central role.

The relatively high number of heavy tanks and artillery guns in both those countries show that their armies are designed for large field battles and the defense of their borders. The large number of North Korean submarines is due to their high deterrent potential. And the figures also prove all the countries’ determination to defend themselves militarily.

Technological gap

Still, all this would be meaningless when compared to the mighty US military machine.

A look at the country’s strategic weapons, including long-range missiles and nuclear warheads, makes it clear immediately. China and the US have such capabilities, unlike South Korea and Japan.

North Korea is striving hard to acquire them, but has faced daunting challenges in developing reliable long-range missiles. The US’ weapons technology is so far advanced that North Korea hardly has any chance of competing with it on a technological level, observers reckon.

“With all the technical considerations, however, one should not forget the mutual vulnerability of North and South Korea,” says BICC analyst Bale.

About 70 percent of North Korea’s ground troops are stationed along the border. And South Korea’s bustling capital, Seoul, is just 50 kilometers away from the frontier. “Even with obsolete technology, a devastating attack on South Korea can be carried out with the large number of tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers.”

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North Korea crisis: Which country has the strongest military in the region?

Tensions continue to run high on the Korean Peninsula as North Korea’s bellicose posture makes its neighbors increasingly nervous. DW takes a look at the military strengths of the main players in the region.

Südkorea TV Übertragung Raketentest in Nordkora (Getty Images/AFP/J. Yeon-Je)

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Aggressive rhetoric and actions on the Korean Peninsula over the past several months have raised concerns about a potential conflagration. The US government under President Donald Trump has put an end to the “strategic patience” policy pursued by the previous Barack Obama administration. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has stressed that the military option remains on the table. And this month, Washington has once again tightened its already stringent sanctions against the reclusive regime in Pyongyang.

Read more: Is a second Korean War imminent? 

China, regarded as the North’s only ally, continues to push for all sides to find a diplomatic solution to the problem. But Beijing, like Washington, has increased the pressure on Pyongyang by enforcing the sanctions regime more tightly, for instance, by halting coal imports from the North.

The growing international calls seem to have made little impact on the North. Kim Jong Un’s regime has increased the pace of nuclear and missile tests over the past year. Experts observe increased activity at the Punggye-ri atomic site hinting at a potential nuclear test soon. Official statements in North Korea’s state media stress the country’s readiness to wage a “total war” at any moment.

Many doubt the ability of the international community to persuade the regime to leave its present course, meaning militarization in the region is unlikely to subside.

High militarization in North Korea

Both North and South Korea have been divided by the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The conflict back then ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, and the DMZ remains one of the most heavily fortified places on Earth, where two of the world’s largest militaries stay prepared for a confrontation.

According to an index developed by the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), a German NGO, South Korea is one of the most militarized nations in the world. It ranks sixth worldwide on the index, which was last updated in 2016.

North Korea is not ranked in the index due to the difficulty in acquiring and assessing information related to its military. But it’s assumed by observers like BICC’s Marius Bales that “there is a high degree of militarization” in North Korean society as well. “This is obvious from the fact that they have a 1.2-million strong military for some 24 million inhabitants.”

Allies for North and South

The two highly armed Koreas are each backed by countries that have a historic geopolitical rivalry with each other. Standing behind the the North, it’s the People’s Republic of China, while on the side of the South, it’s the US. The US-South Korean relationship was sealed in 1953 by a military alliance. In 1961, the North signed a friendship treaty with China and the former Soviet Union including the provision of military and economic aid.

Watch video01:47

Japan joins military build-up off Koreas

Although Russia later abrogated the military assistance pact, China has maintained it. But Beijing has been increasingly vocal in its call for North Korea to back down from its aggressive posture. China’s “Global Times” newspaper, known for its nationalist commentary, has been blistering in its criticism of North Korea, accusing it of destabilizing the region and calling for a halt to its nuclear program.

Another player in the region, Japan, feels threatened by North Korea. While Tokyo’s position in the region is underpinned by its special relationship with the US, its relations with countries like South Korea and China are burdened by its colonial past and World War II legacy.

Quantity vs. quality

One way of showing the military balance of power in the region is by comparing the number of people in the armed forces in each country, as well as the size and scope of the armaments they possess. However, such an approach is mired in imperfections, and the numbers presented have to be treated with some caution.

An annual report on the subject entitled “The Military Balance,” published by the UK-based think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), is considered to be authoritative. It extensively documents the procurement of weapons by various militaries.

Infografik Militärisches Kräfteverhältnis in Ostasien ENG

The figures are partly based on the official data supplied by the countries to international organizations like the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms. But the IISS neither reveals all the sources of its information nor follows a uniform method. It’s unclear, for instance, how accurate statistics on North Korea are as the country doesn’t release any official data.

There is no other alternative, though, says BICC expert Bales. “The Military Balance is the best as well as the only source in this field.”

Still, the expert underlined that the figures represent only the quantity of weapons and not their quality. For example, Bales points out that one heavy tank cannot be considered to be exactly equal in its capabilities to another heavy tank. “A Soviet T-62 tank of the North Korean Army from the late 1960s cannot be on an equal footing with a South Korean K2 Black Panther tank from 2013.”

The manner in which the comparative strengths of militaries were assessed in the 19th and early 20th centuries has become obsolete, experts say.

“Modern warfare and modern weapon systems can’t be compared like that,” Bales stressed, because today we don’t need tanks in equal number to destroy enemy tanks, but can also use drones, helicopters and other aircraft to do that task.

Also, the figures do not show details of other critical resources that are required to operate the weapons. North Korea, for instance, suffers from an acute fuel shortage, hindering its ability to operate training aircraft. In the case of North Korea, Bales said, “the size of the military stands in contrast to its quality. Its air force, in particular, is obsolete, with its most modern aircraft dating back to the 1980s.”

South Korea, on the other hand, is equipped with state-of-the-art military gear, thanks largely to weapons deliveries from the US and Germany.

Watch video01:56

Trump, Kim step up saber-rattling competition

What the figures additionally show is what areas each country’s military focused on. Being an island nation, Japan has paid attention to strengthening the capabilities of its navy and air force. In the Koreas, however, the army occupies the central role.

The relatively high number of heavy tanks and artillery guns in both those countries show that their armies are designed for large field battles and the defense of their borders. The large number of North Korean submarines is due to their high deterrent potential. And the figures also prove all the countries’ determination to defend themselves militarily.

Technological gap

Still, all this would be meaningless when compared to the mighty US military machine.

A look at the country’s strategic weapons, including long-range missiles and nuclear warheads, makes it clear immediately. China and the US have such capabilities, unlike South Korea and Japan.

North Korea is striving hard to acquire them, but has faced daunting challenges in developing reliable long-range missiles. The US’ weapons technology is so far advanced that North Korea hardly has any chance of competing with it on a technological level, observers reckon.

“With all the technical considerations, however, one should not forget the mutual vulnerability of North and South Korea,” says BICC analyst Bale.

About 70 percent of North Korea’s ground troops are stationed along the border. And South Korea’s bustling capital, Seoul, is just 50 kilometers away from the frontier. “Even with obsolete technology, a devastating attack on South Korea can be carried out with the large number of tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers.”

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Russia ‘full-scope cyber actor’ that will remain ‘major threat’ to US ‒ intel director

Russia 'full-scope cyber actor' that will remain 'major threat' to US ‒ intel director
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has accused Russia of being a “full-scope cyber actor” that will remain a “major threat” to the US government. The DNI made the comments during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on global threats.

Coats was joined by several other heads of the intelligence community: CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Director Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Director Robert Cardillo.

The panel discussed worldwide threats to the US, ranging from cybersecurity dangers by Russia, China, North Korea and Iran to international crises involving North Korea and terrorism.

“I understand that many people tuned in today are hopeful we’ll focus solely on the Russian investigation of their involvement in our elections. Let me disappoint everybody up front,” Chair Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) said in his opening statement. “While the committee certainly views Russian intervention in our elections as a significant threat, the purpose of today’s hearing is to review and highlight to the extent possible the ranges of threats that we face as a nation.”

Despite Burr’s intentions, much of the focus, especially from Democrats, was dominated by discussions of alleged Russian cyber penetration into the US and French presidential elections, as well as the FBI’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. McCabe took the place of former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired on Tuesday.

Russia is ‘greatest threat of any nation on Earth’ – FBI director https://on.rt.com/8apd 

‘Russian interference’

Ranking Member Mark Warner (D-Virginia) immediately began focusing on Russia, Comey’s firing and the FBI probe. He asked if the intel community’s late January assessment accurately characterized Russian interference in the 2016 election, to which the entire panel answered yes.

He also asked about the alleged Russian hacking in the French presidential election. On Tuesday, Rogers informed a different Senate committee that the US notified French officials that it had found evidence of Russian hacking. Warner wanted to know what the US is doing to prevent future Russian interference.

In his written testimony, Coats discussed how Russian interference has advanced.

“Moscow has a highly advanced offensive cyber program, and in recent years, the Kremlin has assumed a more aggressive cyber posture,” which “was evident in Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 US election,” and that “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized the… data thefts and disclosures,” he wrote.

It has also spread elsewhere, including Montenegro and Ukraine, Coats told the senators, especially with its manipulation of social media. Russia is a “great threat to democratic process,” he said, accusing Moscow of seeking to “maintain control over Kiev and frustrating European integration” in 2017.

Pompeo also cited the importance of social media as a tool for Russian cyber interference, saying it presents a continuing threat.

“There’s nothing new, only the cost has been lowered,” he said.

Russia has repeatedly denied meddling in other countries’ elections and internal politics. Several members of the intelligence community have admitted that the alleged Russian interference in the US would have been about changing minds, but didn’t change physical votes.

Other cyber threats

Echoing Rogers’ testimony on cybersecurity in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, the panel discussed other countries ‒ specifically China, Iran and North Korea ‒ that are involved in cyber warfare and hacking.

“Our adversaries are becoming bolder, more capable and more adept at using cyberspace to threaten our interests and shape real-world outcomes,” said Coats. “And the number of adversaries grows as nation states, terrorist groups, criminal organizations and others continue to develop cyber capabilities.”

China is targeting both the US government and American companies, Coats said, but noted that the attacks have decreased since Washington and Beijing reached a “common understanding”on cyber spying in 2015. Tehran is making use of its high-tech capabilities, Coats said, outlining a 2013 Iranian hacking incident and a 2014 data-deletion attack. North Korea “previously conducted cyber-attacks against US commercial entities,” he said in his written testimony, citing the 2014 Sony hack, and “remains capable of launching disruptive or destructive cyber attacks to support its political objectives” against both the US and its allies.

Although Rogers noted on Monday that US Cyber Command, which he also heads, is “still trying to find a way forward” on creating a cybersecurity plan, Pompeo praised the Trump administration’s headway in the area.

“This administration has reentered the battlespace in places the previous administration was absent,” the CIA director said.

Coats, however, sided with Rogers, telling Senator John Lankford (R-Oklahoma): “All of us would agree we need a cyber doctrine.”

North Korea

Amid rising tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, Coats described North Korea as a “very significant, potentially existential” threat to the US, while Pompeo told Sen. Angus King (I-Maine): “We haven’t seen anything that would make any of us feel any better about this threat.”

However, the CIA director told Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), “the Chinese have made efforts they have not made before” using trade, including restricting coal, but noted that Beijing can do more to pressure Pyongyang on its nuclear program. Coats agreed with that assessment, telling Feinstein that “interaction with the Chinese of late, we think, can play a significant role in terms of how we deal with this.”

China tests new missile near Korean peninsula https://on.rt.com/8b75 

Photo published for China tests new missile near Korean peninsula — RT News

China tests new missile near Korean peninsula — RT News

Beijing has tested a new missile close to the Korean peninsula amid heightened tensions in the region, after North Korea, South Korea, and the US recently conducted military drills in the area.

rt.com

On the reclusive country’s increased testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles, Stewart of the DIA warned that, although North Korea hasn’t yet carried out a complete test of ICBM with a nuclear device, “they’re going to put those two together at some point.”

The panel declined to answer many of the senators’ questions on North Korea, preferring instead to reserve their responses for a second, closed hearing on Thursday afternoon.

War on Terror

Afghanistan, where the US “war on terrorism” began shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks, is a major concern, Stewart told Burr. “Unless we change something, such as inserting US forces or NATO forces, that changes the balance of forces on the ground… the situation will continue to deteriorate” and all the gains of the past several years will be lost.

militants developing own social media platform, ‘its own part of the internet to run its agenda’ https://on.rt.com/8amo 

Referencing Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), Coats said the terrorist group “will continue to be a threat to the US,” as it “maintains the intent and capability to direct, enable, assist, and inspire transnational attacks.”

“This threat will persist with many attacks happening with little or no warning,” he said.

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