Current Events and the Psychology of Politics

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August 12, 2017 Update

For the latest North Korea threat assessment, refer to North Korea Threat Assessment: Psychological Profile of Kim Jong-un.

North Korea Will Pose Direct Threat to U.S. in 5 Years

Defense secretary cites Pyongyang’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, efforts to expand nuclear weapons capability

Image: Robert Gates
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at the Asia Security Summit in Singapore on Saturday, May 30, 2009. (Photo credit: Wong Maye-E / AP)

The Associated Press and Reuters via
January 11, 2011

BEIJING — North Korea will pose a direct threat to the United States within five years if the communist dictatorship isn’t reined in, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday.

Gates cited the North’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and its efforts to expand its nuclear weapons capability during a press conference in Beijing with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Gates told reporters that he did not believe North Korea would amass large numbers of the missiles, saying it would be a limited capability. …

North Korea has more than 800 ballistic missiles and more than 1,000 missiles of various ranges. It has sold missiles and technology overseas, with Iran a top buyer.

Pyongyang’s arsenal includes intermediate-range missiles that can hit targets at up to 1,860 miles away, the Yonhap news agency quoted a South Korean official as saying last year. Those missiles could hit all of Japan and put U.S. military bases in Guam at risk. …

Full story


2/13/2012 Update

U.S. Says It Will Hold Nuke Talks with North Korea

February 13, 2012

WASHINGTON — A U.S. envoy will hold talks with North Korea on its nuclear program in Beijing next week, the State Department said on Monday.

The American envoy for North Korea Glyn Davies planned to meet Feb. 23 with North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, The Associated Press reported.

It would be the first such U.S.-North Korea talks since the Dec. 17 death of longtime North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

The talks were aimed at restarting multinational aid-for-disarmament negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear program, the AP reported.

Full story at


3/21/2012 Update

Obama to Visit Korea DMZ Ahead of Nuclear Weapons Summit

South Korean soldiers stand guard at the Military Demarcation Line in the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas since the Korean War, in the border village Panmunjom in Gyeonggi-do, South Korea. (Photo credit: Jeon Heon-Kyun / Pool — EPA)

Reuters via
March 20, 2012

President Barack Obama, seeking to increase pressure on North Korea to abandon its atomic weapons, will visit the Demilitarized Zone on South Korea’s tense border on Sunday before a nuclear security summit in Seoul.

Obama’s visit to the border will be a strong show of support for South Korea, the White House said on Tuesday, sending a message to the North as Washington builds an international effort to get stalled nuclear disarmament talks back on track.

North Korea will not attend the summit, where Obama will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and urge him to use Beijing’s long-standing influence with Pyongyang, where leadership has recently passed to Kim Jong-un.

“We certainly hope and recommend that China bring all the instruments of power to bear to influence the decision-making in North Korea,” said Daniel Russel, White House National Security Council senior director for Asia.

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, said the trip has two purposes for Obama.

“The first is the focus he has put on nuclear security along with non-proliferation since the beginning of his time in office,” Rhodes said. “And the second is, of course, our increased focus on the Asia Pacific as a region of great importance to the United States.”

Obama will meet with U.S. troops at the DMZ during the trip, his third to South Korea in three years, White House officials said.

Secretive North Korea has twice tested a nuclear device, and the United States says its long-range ballistic missile program is progressing quickly.

While experts doubt North Korea has the ability to miniaturize an atomic bomb to place atop a warhead, last year Washington warned that the American mainland could come under threat from North Korean missiles within five years.

Last month, North Korea reached an agreement with Washington to suspend nuclear tests, long-range missile launches and uranium enrichment as part of a deal to restart food aid, but then announced it would launch a rocket carrying a satellite to mark the centenary of founder Kim Il-sung’s birth next month. …

Full story at



Satellite images show North Korea prepping rocket launch (MSNBC “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” April 5, 2012) — Author Victor Cha talks about the nuclear future of North Korea and the growing concern that the country is about to launch a long-range missile test. (03:03)


4/9/2012 Update

North Korea Shows Off Its Launch Pad and Satellite


North Korea prepares to launch rocket (NBC Nightly News, April 8, 2012) — The U.S. isn’t nervous about the satellite North Korea will launch, but the rocket that will launch it. NBC’s Richard Engel reports. (03:02)

By Jean H. Lee

April 8, 2012

TONGCHANG-RI, North Korea — North Korean space officials have moved all three stages of a long-range rocket into position for a controversial launch, vowing Sunday to push ahead with their plan in defiance of international warnings against violating a ban on missile activity.

International news agencies, including The Associated Press and NBC News, were allowed a firsthand look at preparations under way at the coastal Sohae Satellite Station in northwestern North Korea.

North Korea announced plans last month to launch an observation satellite using a three-stage rocket during mid-April celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung. The U.S., Japan, Britain and other nations have urged North Korea to cancel the launch, warning that firing the long-range rocket would violate U.N. resolutions and North Korea’s promise to refrain from engaging in nuclear and missile activity. …

Experts say the Unha-3 rocket, slated for liftoff between April 12 and 16, could also test long-range missile technology that might be used to strike the U.S. and other targets.

North Korea has tested two atomic devices, but is not believed to have mastered the technology needed to mount a warhead on a long-range missile. …

All three stages of the 91-ton rocket, emblazoned with the North Korean flag and “Unha-3,” were in position at the towering launch pad, and fueling will begin soon, Jang said. He said preparations were well on track for liftoff and that international space, aviation and maritime authorities had been advised of the plan. …

Engineers gave reporters a peek at the 220-pound Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite due to be mounted on the rocket, as well as a tour of the command center.

About two weeks before North Korea unveiled its rocket plan, Washington announced an agreement with the North to provide it with much-needed food aid in exchange for a freeze on nuclear activity, including a moratorium on long-range missile tests. Plans to send food aid, as well as a recently revived project to conduct joint searches for the remains of U.S. military personnel killed during the Korean War, have now been suspended. …

It is meant to show that North Korea has become a powerful, prosperous nation, celebrate the centenary of founder Kim Il Sung’s birth, and usher in a new era under his grandson, Kim Jong Un, said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Seoul’s Dongguk University.

“North Korea needs to show some tangible achievements to its people to solidify Kim Jong Un’s leadership,” he said. “North Korea intends to provide its people with a sense of pride.” …

Brian Weeden, a technical adviser at Secure World Foundation who is a former Air Force officer at the U.S. Space Command, questioned whether North Korea truly has the technology to successfully send a satellite into orbit.

“The end goal is to test and develop their ballistic missile program and show their people and the world that they are strong,” Weeden said from Washington. …

Full story


4/25/2012 Update

North Korean Nuclear Test Imminent

North Korea may already have ‘few dozen’ nukes


North Korea rocket launch fails (MSNBC TV, April 12, 2012) — U.S. officials say an attempted rocket launch in North Korea ended in failure when the rocket broke up shortly after launch. NBC’s Bob Windrem reports. (05:01)

By Richard Engel, Jim Miklaszewski, and Robert Windrem

April 24, 2012

North Korea could carry out an underground test of a nuclear weapon as early as Tuesday night as the North’s reclusive leadership dramatically tries to up the stakes with the U.S. and the West, U.S. officials told NBC News.

U.S. officials say North Korea may already have an arsenal between 12 and a “few dozen” far more advanced weapons, many more than generally believed. …

Tensions between North and South Korea increased this week when Pyongyang threatened to turn Seoul into “ashes.” While the North regularly issues such threats, the South seemed to be taking this round of threats more seriously by increasing its security.

U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies have been monitoring test preparations at P’unggye-yok, the North Korean test site near the Chinese border, for the past several weeks. As new evidence of tunneling emerged, officials began to see Army Day celebrations scheduled for Wednesday (Tuesday night in the U.S.) as a possible date for the test.

It will be the first time the country’s 29-year-old leader, Kim Jong Un, will get a chance to address the Korean People’s Army as commander.

At the high end of the range, U.S. officials and other researchers said, North Korea may already have up to “a few dozen” nuclear weapons that could be fitted atop its vast fleet of ballistic missiles. Currently, North Korean missiles are limited to an intermediate range, capable of hitting cities in Japan or South Korea but not the United States. What the new test could reveal is an improvement in the type of weapons North Korea has.

For the past several years, the U.S. has been monitoring North Korean research into thermonuclear weapons, hydrogen bombs and bombs known as boosted fission weapons, in which plutonium and uranium are combined. …

North Korea successfully tested nuclear weapons in 2006 and 2009. In both cases, the first word came in statements from the North Korean Foreign Ministry hours before the tests were carried out. No such statement has been issued yet, but a U.S. official said it’s possible that this time North Korea wouldn’t follow the same protocol.

Ten days ago, North Korea failed in its attempt to launch an observation satellite, a test the U.S. believed was a cover for test of intercontinental missile technology. In response, the U.S. canceled an agreement that would have provided 241,000 tons of nutritional aid, while the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to “strongly condemn” the failed launch and said it would tighten sanctions against Pyongyang’s government. …

Full story


Related reports on this site

North Korea Threat Assessment: Psychological Profile of Kim Jong-un (April 8, 2013)

North Korea Steps Up Nuclear Threat Against U.S. (Jan. 27, 2013)

Kim Jong-un Succession in North Korea (Oct. 11, 2010)

North Korean Nuclear Jihad (Dec. 23, 2010)

Adm. Mullen Puts Kim Jong-il on Notice (Dec. 8, 2010)

North Korea ‘Very Dangerous’ (Nov. 22, 2010)

North Korea Threatens ‘Sacred War’ (July 23, 2010)

Iran, North Korea Threat Level Rises (Dec. 13, 2009)

North Korean Missile Barrage (July 4, 2009)

North Korea Nuclear Threat (June 16, 2009)

Kim Jong Il Threat Assessment (May 31, 2009)

Tensions Rise in Korean Peninsula (May 30, 2009)

Tense Stand-Off With North Korea (May 28, 2009)

North Korea Warns of Possible Military Action (May 27, 2009)

North Korea Launches Rocket (April 5, 2009)

U.S. Warns North Korea on Missiles (Feb. 17, 2009)

North Korea Missile Launch? (Feb. 11, 2009)

Korea Headache Looms for Obama (Jan. 28, 2009)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — January 11, 2010

Deadly Day in Afghanistan

Image: U.S. Marines from India Company, 3rd Battalion 4th Marines, walk as they go for a mission
U.S. Marines from India Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines embark on a mission from Base Delaram in Nimroz province, southern Afghanistan Jan. 11, 2010. (Photo credit: Marko Djurica / Reuters)

One year ago today, I reported that six NATO service members, including three Americans, were killed in Afghanistan, making it the deadliest day for the international force in more than two months.


FROM THE ARCHIVES: Two Years Ago — January 11, 2009

Bush Nixed Israeli Plea to Hit Iran

Image: Iran's Natanz nuclear plant
A November 2005 photo shows the nuclear enrichment plant of Natanz in central Iran. (Photo credit: Abedin Taherkenareh / EPA)

Two years ago today, on Jan. 11, 2009, I reported that President George W. Bush in 2008 rejected a plea from Israel to help it raid Iran’s main nuclear complex, opting instead to authorize a new U.S. covert action aimed at sabotaging Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, according to the New York Times.

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