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  • Author: James Hackett
  • Publication Date: 06-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Institute for Strategic Studies
  • Abstract: As US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meet in Singapore on 12 June, it is useful to keep in mind what is at stake. The long-standing tinderbox of the Korean Peninsula, if ignited through another provocation or miscalculation, could spark a full-scale war that could well go nuclear. The prize of diplomacy – sustainable peace on the peninsula – is all the more valuable when one considers the range of military capabilities potentially in play. This information is of use in assessing both the goals of diplomacy and the risks should the current efforts fail. Weapons based on the Korean Peninsula have become faster, more precise and more powerful. North Korea has tested a thermonuclear weapon, an intercontinental ballistic missile and more accurate shorter-range missiles, all designed to offset the relative qualitative weakness of its broader conventional forces. It has also pursued advanced cyber capabilities. South Korea, meanwhile, has focused on developing military systems allowing for more rapid and precise strikes. US forces on the peninsula have introduced yet more advanced capabilities. For these reasons the IISS provides this independent, measured and detailed analysis of military dynamics on the peninsula. The report focuses on the defence policies and military capabilities of the two Koreas, and the US military forces stationed in South Korea which can be brought to bear in a crisis. While it does not ignore unconventional systems, it principally focuses on conventional capabilities. Due to its poverty and isolation, North Korea’s conventional forces have become relatively weaker, compared with those of South Korea and its US ally. Aware of this qualitative inferiority, Pyongyang has invested in asymmetric capabilities, particularly the pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to deliver them. Nonetheless, Pyongyang’s armed forces remain equipped with a wide range of conventional military systems, including large numbers of artillery pieces and multiple-launch rocket systems. Its armed forces, at around 1.2 million, are the fourth-largest in the world. Its conventional military power remains significant, not least because of these numbers (for instance, 4,000 main battle tanks and 8,500 self-propelled- and towed-artillery systems) and the weight of fire they could rapidly bring to bear if employed. Seoul, for instance, is within range of many of North Korea’s artillery systems. North Korea has also developed increasingly advanced cyber capabilities as another aspect of its asymmetric power. The North will continue to improve these, if only to slow the decline in military parity between it and the South. US and South Korean defence authorities assume that the North will, in the event of major conflict, use cyber attacks against South Korean critical infrastructure and command-and-control networks. However, recent events like the Wannacry ransomware attacks have shown that North Korea is now using its cyber power for another purpose: raising revenue to support the regime. Meanwhile, South Korea’s defence policy and military posture is dominated by the security challenge from the North. This has led Seoul to pursue military capabilities, and strategies, designed to defeat North Korean provocations. These range from developments in air-defence, intended to tackle North Korea’s air force and missile capabilities, to strategies designed to pre-empt a potential North Korean provocation. To enable these strategies, South Korea has developed and procured increasingly advanced military systems, ranging from its own Hyeonmu ballistic- and cruise-missiles, to advanced air-to-ground air-launched weapons and, in the next few years, squadrons of F-35A combat aircraft. Working closely with the South Korean armed forces, the US maintains a military presence some 28,500-strong in South Korea, augmented by advanced military systems on the peninsula like the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) ballistic-missile-defence system, and the military power deployed by the US in the broader Indo-Pacific. This publication builds on the contributions of expert analysts of military power on the Korean Peninsula, and the extensive information holdings available in the IISS Military Balance+ database. It was prepared with the support of the Korea Foundation.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, International Cooperation, Nuclear Weapons, Military Strategy
  • Political Geography: United States, Japan, China, Asia, South Korea, North Korea
  • Author: Michael Elleman
  • Publication Date: 08-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Institute for Strategic Studies
  • Abstract: With the Iran nuclear accord currently on life support, it is not too late to pursue diplomatic measures that address the growing challenge posed by Iran’s ballistic missiles, argues Michael Elleman in a new report. The lack of curbs on Iran’s missile programme was cited by President Donald Trump in May 2018 as one of the principal reasons for withdrawing from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). With the nuclear accord consequently on life support, it is not too late to pursue diplomatic measures that address the growing challenge posed by Iran’s ballistic missiles. The most promising would be to lock in, through negotiations, the 2,000 kilometre-range limit that Iran has previously stated is its maximum requirement. While this would not reduce the threat perceived by Iran’s regional neighbours, it would forestall development of systems that could target Western Europe or North America. Tehran is not likely to commit to verification measures for such negotiated range limits, however, without receiving something in return. One bargain that could be considered would be to allow Iran to continue its satellite-launch programme, under certain conditions, while capping the maximum range of its ballistic missiles. Such a trade-off may also be relevant to the North Korean case.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, International Cooperation, Nuclear Weapons, Military Strategy
  • Political Geography: United States, Japan, China, Asia, South Korea, North Korea