The ICAS Lectures


North Korea's Military Threat and ROK-US Alliance

Seung Jo Jung

ICAS Spring Symposium

May 23, 2014 1:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Cannon Caucus Room
Cannon House Office Building Capitol Hill, Washington, DC

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

Biographic sketch & Links: Seung Jo Jung

( Gen. Jung's presentation was broadcast on C-SPAN LIVE )

North Korea's Military Threat and ROK-US Alliance

Seung Jo Jung
General (Ret) Republic of Korea

Opening Remarks

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my great honor to have the opportunity to speak in front of the distinguished guests, here in Capitol Hill, the symbol of American Democracy. I believe most audience in this room are in support of our bloody-tied alliance. I appreciate your great support on the alliance. Also, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the ICAS, for hosting this wonderful event. I am sure this will highly contribute to the betterment of our great two nations.

If I may introduce myself a little more, I put on my service uniform in January 1972 when I entered the Korean Military Academy. I have lived as a soldier for 41 years 8 months and 17 days until I retired from my last position as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in October 16, last year. It's already been more than half a year since I retired, but I still feel like a man in uniform. Although I am in civilian clothes now, I believe that my speech today will have the tendency to be the perspective of a military officer.

I'd like to begin with the situation assessment of the 4 neighboring countries surrounding the Peninsula; US, Japan, PRC, and Russia. Afterwards, I will go into the north Korean military threat and then discuss the ROK-US capability and postures in response to these threats.

1. Neighboring Countries


The security of the Republic of Korea, particularly the response to north Korean threats, is based on the principle of the ROK-US Combined defense. Therefore, the situation in the United States, its security policies, and strategies are critical to the security of the Republic of Korea. I believe that you understand the situation in US much better than I do. I humbly believe that the US will put forth the majority of its attention towards the elections in November. Key agendas like health care or immigration reforms will be closely monitored. In a security perspective, the US will continue to pursue 'Rebalancing to Asia’ policy, while it focuses on the Iranian nuclear issues, Syrian issue and other Middle East issues. I think that the US will try to strengthen the tri-lateral cooperation among ROK, US, and Japan during this process.

From a military perspective, the sequestration will result in a reduced defense budget. The military will have to focus on maintaining high priority military capabilities such as Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance assets, and the precision strike assets. The reduction in defense budget will hinder readiness of the US armed forces as a whole, but the US is likely to overcome this difficulties.

B. Japan

In the midst of Prime Minister Abe's prolonged term, we anticipate continued shift to the right with the amendments of the constitution and the three principles of transferring defense equipment, as well as acquisition of the capabilities to strike enemy bases. Through the amendments to the US-Japan Guidelines, Japan will seek to expand its role in the region. It will bring some concerns from the neighboring countries. If Japan continues on the wrong policies such as history distortion, not only will it create difficulties in normalizing relations with China and the ROK, but also result in making the trilateral cooperation among ROK, US, and Japan more difficult.

From a military perspective, the most prominent phenomenon is the increase in defense budget. Japan actively facilitates the construction of Integrated capabilities to apply the Mobile Defense Concept. They also make efforts to field high-tech equipment, establish integrated operation system, and obtain maritime and air superiority in response to the attacks toward their islands.


The People’s Republic of China will focus on its own social stability and national consolidation with stable management of the domestic political affairs. They will intensify politico-economic reforms as well as anti-corruption policies. China will work to firmly deter independence movements by minority ethnic groups while expanding political dialogue and economic exchange with Taiwan to ultimately seek the maintenance of national consolidation.

In terms of foreign policy, China will seek to expand its influence in line with the grown national power. They will try to raise their international status while maintaining "a new major power relationship" with the US. China will enhance military cooperation and resource cooperation with Russia in response to the "Rebalancing to Asia" policy of the US. China will closely check Japan's increased defense budget and the military capability build- up. They will maintain omnidirectional diplomatic efforts to enhance sovereignty over the South and East China Sea. In regards to North Korea's development of nuclear weapons, ROK-US will be able to cooperate with China, as it will not want the nuclearization of North Korea, either.

Militarily, China has perceived that the US is applying a Containment policy against it. In response to this, China will continue to modernize their armed forces. China already possesses an aircraft carrier, and they plan to acquire more. Also, China will enhance nuclear ballistic missile capabilities, expedite space programs, and continue to augment their military capabilities.

In border areas with North Korea, they have deployed elite armed police and military forces. They enlarge training and exercises in the area. These bring about concerns about China’s possible intervention in times of crisis in North Korea.

D. Russia

Russia seeks to achieve a "Strong Russia", as witnessed through the events in Ukraine. They want to raise their status in the international community. Russia will try to prevent the US and EU from exerting influence over the old Soviet Union countries. Also, in regards to the Syrian situation and Iran nuclear issue, it will enhance its efforts to curb the US under cooperation with the PRC. Through these efforts, the Putin administration will seek to shape environments for stable domestic politics.

Militarily, Russia will continue to modernize their equipment while enhancing nuclear deterrence capabilities. Russia will also use military power to maintain sovereignty and obtain dominance in the Arctic Sea.

What I have said so far is the summary of my understanding for the situation of the 4 neighboring countries surrounding Peninsula. Now let me move on to the North Korean military threats.

2. North Korean Threat assessment

The biggest concern for the Republic of Korea's security is the North Korean military threat. In August 15, 1945, we have restored our independence with the fall of Japan. However, the global superpowers of the time lacked the knowledge of the region, and decided to separate Korea on the 38th parallel. They neglected the fact that Korea had been one unified independent country for a thousand years. This marked the beginning of our long tragedy. Afterwards, the Republic of Korea has never been free from the constant military threats of North Korea. Some of you may believe that the Korean War was the beginning of the North Korean threat, but in actuality, North Korea has been threatening the South Korea long before the war. Even after the Korean War, North Korea has been violating the armistice agreement and continues to threaten the security of ROK.

Looking at the past three months, North Korea has been displaying serious and grave threats. I would like to list some of the key incidents. In February 21, North Korea fired 4 rounds of artillery from Wonsan area in the east coast. Although North Korea fired them into the sea, this was clearly a demonstration of aggression. 6 days later, they fired 4 rounds of SCUD missiles to the East Sea. On March 3rd, they fired 2 short-range ballistic missiles from the east coast. On March 7th, they fired 7 rounds of rockets from what is speculated to be their new artillery. From March 16 to the 23rd, they fired 71 rounds of short-range FROG-7 missiles from Wonsan. On March 26th, they fired 2 Rodong missiles from Suncheon into the East Sea. The Rodong missiles have a range of roughly 800 miles. On March 31st, they conducted maritime live fire exercises near the NLL, north of the Northwest Islands. During the exercise, 100 rounds fell south of the NLL so the ROK armed forces had to respond with a return fire into the seas north of the NLL. The North Koreans conducted another live fire exercises in the same sea on April 29th again, while the South Koreans were mourning the tragic ferry accident. Yesterday, they fired 2 rounds of coast gun against our patrol boat which was conducting routine mission at the south of NLL. Aside from these, North Korea infiltrated ROK airspace at least twice with UAVs for reconnaissance. They also showed signs of a 4th nuclear test before the end of April. Although they have not conducted it yet, they maintain the posture to conduct a nuclear test and fire long-range missiles at any time.

North Korea has diverse means to threaten the ROK and the international community, which can be categorized into three. First is an all out war against the ROK, second is provocation, and the last is the possibility of sudden instability within North Korea.

A. Threat of All-out war

Although North Korea may have some limitations, I assess that North Korea has the capability, willingness, and the posture to conduct an all-out war against the Republic of Korea. Some experts assess that North Korea does not have the capability to conduct an all-out war due to aged equipment and the economic gap. However, I am skeptical of this assessment.

At this moment, North Korea possesses 1.2 million active duty troops, roughly 4,200 tanks, 8,600 field artillery, 4,800 multiple rocket launchers, and 820 fighter jet aircraft. Although their equipment is out of date, according to our observations on their field training exercises, they are still in operation as normal. Also, North Korea fielded SCUD, Rodong, Musudan and a number of other types of missiles. At the same time , North Korea is pursuing augmentation of asymmetric forces such as; Special Operation Forces, Long Range Artilleries, Chemical weapons and cyber forces. In addition to the regular active-duty troops, they also have roughly 7.7 million in reserve.

The objective of North Korea is to reunify the Peninsula under the red banner. As long as the Kim Jung Un regime holds, it is unlikely that this objective may change. In order to achieve this goal, North Korea adopts the military strategy based on surprise attacks, composite warfare, and swift and decisive attacks while seeking various changes to their tactics and strategy to defeat the ROK-US alliance.

To conduct a surprise attack at all times, 70% of the North Korean ground forces are stationed south of the Pyongyang-Wonsan line, and maintain readiness. In particular, the 170mm Self-propelled artillery and the 240mm Multiple Rocket Launchers located in the forward area are stationed in a way that they can launch a large- scale surprise bombardment to the Greater Seoul Metropolitan Area(GSMA).

As I have explained so far, North Korea still poses threats of all-out war to South Korea, considering their capabilities, their will, and their posture to conduct surprise attacks. Although it seems that North Korean weak economy prevents them from sustaining all-out war, it is important to note that they never gave up that option at all. We have to remember lessons from the history. When the Mongolian and the Mancunian conquered the main Chinese dynasties Song and Ming, their population and troops were less than 10% of those of the central Chinese dynasties. We cannot ignore the possibility that North Korea may attempt to conduct the all out war.

B. Local Provocation threat

Next category of threat is provocation.

The provocations have the highest likelihood. Compared to all-out wars, the provocations are limited in terms of location, intensity and method. North Korean provocations can be military provocations, or non-military provocations. However, it may not be meaningful to distinguish the two.

Major North Korean provocations in recent years include; the Cheon- an sinking on March 2010; the shelling of YP-do in November 2010; 3rd nuclear test; ballistic missile launches; cyber attacks on ROK banks and Press; and GPS jamming; etc. Aside from these provocations, North Korea may also conduct provocations with artillery fire on The Great Seoul Metropolitan Area or border areas, seizure of the Northwest Islands, or the Special Operation Forces infiltrations through land and sea.

The international community is interested mainly in North Korean nuclear weapon testing and long-range missile launching. However, from a ROK perspective, the threat of artillery fires that can cause mass civilian casualties and cyber attacks that can cause mass societal confusion as well as others are also considered to be serious threats. In today's speech, I'd like to focus on the threat of North Korean missile launches and nuclear tests in which the international community is highly interested.

I'd like to begin with the missile threats. North Korea began to develop ballistic missiles in 1970. They achieved operational deployment of the SCUD-B missile with 300km range and SCUD-C missile with 500km range in the 1980s. In the 1990s, North Korea test-launched and deployed the Rodong missile which has a range of 1,300km. In 2007, they deployed the Musudan missile, which has a range of 3,000km. Currently, North Korea achieved direct strike capabilities against not only any part of Korea, but also Japan, Guam as well as other neighboring countries.

North Korea began to develop Long-range Ballistic missiles, and test-launched the Daepodong-1 in 1998, and the Daepodong-2 in 2006, which has a range of over 6,700km. In 2009, 2012, and 2013, they test-launched the Long Range missile using Daepodong-2 which they claimed the satellites. In addition, North Korea is currently developing the KN-08, with a range of over 10,000km.

In the Dongchangri missile launch site in the Northwest area of North Korea, they recently completed expansion of the launcher from 10 to 13 stories. They continue the activities related to engine tests. The expansion of launch sites are assessed to be for larger ballistic missiles in its range and magnitude.

Next, we have the threat of North Korean nuclear development. North Korea began construction of the Yeong-byun nuclear complex in the 1960s. They focused on nuclear fuel refinement, conversion, and reprocessing. Starting in the 1980s they secured nuclear materials through used nuclear fuel rod reprocessing after activating the 5MWe nuclear reactor. Utilizing this accumulated knowledge that they had gotten through these activities, they conducted three nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and in 2013. We assess that North Korea possesses roughly 40kg of plutonium through 4 rounds of nuclear fuel rod reprocessing. Also in 2009, the North Korea Foreign Ministry spokesperson mentioned uranium enrichment program. They revealed uranium enrichment facilities in November 2010. We assess that North Korea is pursuing a Highly Enriched Uranium program as well.

Recently, North Korea shows significant activities related to nuclear development. We continue to detect steam and coolant coming out of the 5MWe nuclear reactor at the Yeong-byun nuclear facility since August last year. We also assess that they are continuing their uranium enrichment activities as well. The Pungyeri nuclear test site is assessed to be ready to conduct nuclear tests anytime. If North Korea determines that there is a political need for a nuclear test, they are ready to conduct one.

If North Korea conducts its 4th nuclear test, it will attempt to try something different from the previous 3 tests. First of all, they will try to show off the diversity of nuclear weapons by utilizing highly enriched uranium to hold a high-intensity nuclear test. In particular, considering the fact that they possess only 40kg of plutonium, North Korea is in dire need of a HEU program. North Korea has roughly 26 million tons of uranium deposits, and roughly 4 million tons of them is ready to be mined. If North Korea succeeds in uranium bomb testing, they will actively advocate their capability to the international society.

Secondly, there is the possibility that North Korea conducts an amplified nuclear fission test that has boosting technology for detonation. This way, they may try to increase the intensity and magnitude of the nuclear explosion by 2~5 times compared with the 3rd test.

Thirdly, North Korea may attempt simultaneous or continuous nuclear tests rather than a single nuclear test like before. When we look at the Pungyeri test site, it has several underground tunnels. They may conduct a plutonium or HEU nuclear test at the same time or conduct them consecutively in order to show off their abundance of nuclear material and that they have diversified their nuclear capabilities.

Fourth, in parallel with nuclear tests, we cannot exclude the possibility of long-range ballistic missile launches. This way, they will demonstrate their ability to reduce the weight of the warhead as well as the ability to directly target CONUS.

If North Korea conducts a 4th nuclear test and, achieve their desired goals, the threat will become enormous. If North Korea secures nuclear capabilities that include not only plutonium but also over 20kt of Highly Enriched Uranium bomb, then they will produce mass nuclear weapons.

If they obtain nuclear fusion capabilities, North Korea will be able to produce high-intensity nuclear weapons like the hydrogen bomb. If North Korea is able to possess a number of nuclear weapons and combine them with TEL mechanisms like the Musudan, or KN-08, it will not only threaten Korea, but also prove to be a threat to the continental US. Even at limited levels, North Korea will likely pursue 2nd strike strategy against the US. They are trying to intimidate the South with nuclear weapons at this moment, but in the future North Korea will try to blackmail the entire world.

C. Threat of instability

Next I will speak about the threat that may occur if North Korea falls into instability. There's a diverse opinion amongst scholars and experts on whether instability may occur in North Korea. However, if instability occurs in North Korea, this will cause a significant threat. Of course, it also contains the element of a great opportunity at the same time.

There are several types of instability in North Korea that we can anticipate. There may be a humanitarian crisis from economic depression. In this case, large-scale defections may occur by land and sea. If a massive refugees rush into the PRC and Russia, they will be faced with a huge societal problem. If a large number of people become 'Boat People', then it will also become a big international issue.

The Kim Jung Un regime seems to be stable at the moment. However, as we witness through the recent purging of Jang Sung Taek, we cannot conclude that the power structure in North Korea is completely stable. I believe that internal power struggles between the party and the military as well as among its members within the party or military will continue for the time being. If the situation is combined with economic hardship, it may result in a large-scale humanitarian crisis, and control over WMDs may be weakened.

However, we must be wary of thinking that North Korea may suffer instability by basing our assessments on just a few phenomena that appear externally. When Kim Il Sung died in 1994, most experts believed that North Korea would fall within 3 years. However, Kim Jung Il firmly consolidated power within the regime. Although Kim Jung Un is a relatively young leader, he seems to exceed expectations in consolidating power. In the democratic society of western world, hereditary transfer of power that extends from grandfather through grandson is highly unlikely. However, for North Korean citizens who have never experienced democratic change of power, they seem to remain loyal to the Kim family to the level beyond comprehension by most westerners. Instability may or may not occur in North Korea, but the ROK-US alliance must remain vigilant in preparation for that possibility.

I have spoken on the threats North Korea is imposing on us. Next, I will talk about what the ROK-US alliance is doing in response, and how we should respond in the future.

3. ROK-US Alliance

We do not hesitate to call the ROK-US alliance the most successful alliance in the world. Also, the current alliance is stronger than ever before. The alliance could be said that it was born through the ROK-US mutual defense treaty in 1953 after the Korean war. However, the ROK and US relationship goes back way further than that. In May 22, 1882, Joseon and the US began our nation to nation relations through a "Mutual Trade Treaty".

About a year ago, I had once invited two gentlemen with the names of Mr. John Linton and Peter Underwood to my quarters to have dinner together. They were the descendants of those who founded the Yonsei university and The National Medical Center. These American missionaries came to Joseon in the late 19th century, and founded hospitals and schools. They did many charitable works for the people of Joseon.

In August 15, 1945, after the US rose victorious from the Pacific War, Korea was liberated from Japan's colonial rule. However, the disarmament of the Japanese troops north of the 38th parallel was agreed to be handled by the Soviet Union. As the Soviet Union occupied the North, the Peninsula became divided and suffered structural instability. After our liberation, the United States who was in charge of military administration for South Korea, withdrew their forces before June 29, 1949 as the Republic of Korea government was established 1948. They left only 479 members as the Korea Military Advisory Group (KMAG). Also, on January 12th, 1950, the Secretary of State, Mr Dean Acheson excluded Korea from the US Pacific defense line. Because of these, Kim Il Sung and Stalin were inspired to start the Korean War.

Although a series of unfortunate events caused the Peninsula divided and the Korean War occurred, the US swiftly intervened in the Korean War to rescue South Korea from the brink of utter defeat. The Communist invasion was defeated, the UN Forces advanced all the way to the Ap-Rok river, but the Chinese Communist forces intervened and the Peninsula was unable to be reunified. The ROK-US achieved a half-victory entering armistice at the current military demarcation line. After the armistice, two countries signed the mutual defense treaty in October 1, 1953 and officially launched the ROK-US alliance system.

After the Korean War, the alliance was very successful. As I have mentioned earlier, there has been small and large North Korean provocations, but the alliance has been successfully detering an all-out war with North Korea. Boosted by the firm ROK-US combined defense, the Republic of Korea was able to achieve tremendous economic growth and established a democratic society. The Alliance wasn't just one sided. The ROK also provided assistance as an ally in Vietnam, Afghanistan and in Iraq. In the Somalia waters, ROK and US Naval ships are conducting counter-pirate operations together. I, myself also had the personal experience to fight alongside US forces as a multi-national division commander during the 'Operation Enduring Freedom' in Iraq from 2005 to 2006.

To this day, the ROK-US alliance successfully deters North Korean threats and contributes to world peace. Roughly 27.5 thousand USFK service members, separated from their families, are detering North Korean aggression and provocations under the command of General Scaparrotti. They also contribute to the security of North East Asia. The ROK-US forces continually develop OPLAN to respond to North Korean threat of all-out war, and master it through regular combined exercises. In order to respond to North Korean provocations, two militaries signed the Joint Counter Provocation Plan. In addition to these, we continue to develop plans to respond against a variety of contingency situations and master them. I believe that the ROK-US alliance possesses the capability, commitment, and readiness to respond to any threat by North Korea.

The ROK-US alliance is beneficial not just for the ROK. The ROK forces have never fought against the US forces, instead, we have been fighting together in the spirit of the alliance. The ROK government has been supporting the USFK’s stationing costs since 1991 according to the Special Measure Agreement of Article 5 of the SOFA, and providing more and more budgetary support each year. The ROK government is providing immense budgetary support for the Land Partnership Plan that integrates the US bases scattered all over Korea into several hub bases. We are also supporting the Yongsan Relocation Plan that relocates the ROK-US Combined Forces Command in order to ensure stable conditions for the USFK. Also, the ROK is providing various support to enhance the image of the USFK.

The US is the ROK's sole and extremely beneficial alliance. At the same time, I believe that the Republic of Korea is the US' best ally in the region. In Northeast Asia region, the US has over 600 thousand ROK service members who are on the front line of democracy. There is no other country in the region that can be more beneficial to the US than the ROK.

The ROK-US alliance has been successful but I believe there are some areas in which we can improve upon. The first area is to improve the capabilities of the alliance. The ROK armed forces need to facilitate force buildup projects continuously, to acquire precision strike capabilities, C4I systems, and ISR capabilities enabling network-centric warfare in the future. As the North Korean missile and nuke threat continues to rise, we must prioritize the acquisition of Korea Anti-Missile Defense system and Kill Chain that can neutralize North Korean missiles before they launch. The USFK should also steadily maintain the 27.5 thousand personnel stationed in Korea and maintain most modernized equipment. The US should provide sufficient Bridging Capability that includes information capabilities like ISR for the ROK forces.

Secondly, the Alliance must display the robustness of the alliance and reaffirm our commitment to utilize our capability if necessary. When President Obama visited Korea last month, I believe that the two Presidents’ visit to the Combined Forces Command proved to be an effective deterrence against North Korean provocations. North Korea has been threatening to 'blow up a big one', hinting at the 4th nuclear test, but hasn't done it so far. I believe that this was because the two Presidents displayed the robust alliance. The combined exercises by ROK-US alliance have been greatly contributing to the deterrence of North Korean provocations. In addition, when the North Korean threat was being heightened, even a brief deployment of US high-tech combat assets like F-22 or B-2 effectively deterred North Korean provocations. There will be a time in the future when we must display our commitment again, and utilize our allied capabilities.

Third, the ROK-US combined forces must maintain a sufficient readiness posture. Although we have the capability and commitment, if we do not possess the appropriate posture to utilize this capability in a timely manner, we cannot deter North Korean provocations. It is important to have tailored readiness posture against North Korean nuclear threat, especially now when the threat is ever-increasing. We must have a more detailed plan for extended deterrence, and maintain the posture to execute it by conducting regular exercises. Only then, we can effectively deter the North Korean nuclear threat.

Fourth, the effective command structures of the ROK-US Combined Forces are very important. As agreed by the ROK-US presidents, the OPCON transfer will take place with consideration of the condition. Many people have great interest in the timing of the OPCON transfer. However, what's more important than timing of transfer is what sort of system can be established that will allow the ROK-US combined forces to swiftly and effectively fight under a single plan and under a single command.

The fifth requirement is that the ROK-US alliance must coordinate to enhance the role of China in order to effectively manage the North Korean threat. China often denies its influence over North Korea. However, China has decisive influence over North Korea. Over 80% of North Korean trade is conducted with China, and almost 100% of oil entering North Korea is from China. Without China’s support, the North Korean Regime cannot survive. The ROK-US alliance must work to convince and apply pressure toward China along with the international community to have China play a more positive role in a proactive manner to make North Korea cease its provocations.

The ROK-US alliance began as a military alliance, but now we have advanced to a more comprehensive strategic alliance. The ROK-US alliance is stronger than ever and it's the most successful alliance in the world. Our great achievements will further the strength of the alliance and develop it into an even more successful one.

Thank you for paying close attention.

This page last updated May 25, 2014 jdb