It’s a Mad, M.A.D. World: North Korea’s Potential Arms Exports Reshape East-West Geopolitics


It’s a Mad, M.A.D. World

North Korea’s Potential Arms Exports Reshape East-West Geopolitics

by Ian Greenhalgh, Managing Editor, Veterans Today

Asymmetric M.A.D. – Kim, Assad, Xi & Putin: How Dr. Strangelove’s Cats Can Eat Trump’s & Bibi’s M.A.D. Canaries

Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) works well against those who do not have covert defences and against those who fear their own destruction. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un certainly wants to assure his own survival, but Kim is willing to engage in a “scorched earth” policy against South Korea and others if U.S. President Donald J. Trump and the U.S. attack North Korea first.

With VT author Jeff Smith, Part 1 of this series of articles on Kim and North Korea (“Doctor Strangelove Returns: How I Learned to Live with the North Korean Bomb“) detailed how North Korea obtained nuclear weapons; why China would help; and what North Korea’s possession and proliferation of such nukes would enable North Korea and others to do.

This article (Part 2) details North Korean exports of “Scud” missiles to Iraq, Syria, United Arab Emirates etc. and the potential for North Korea to export “Scud Nukes” to countries that have been victims of unacknowledged mini-nuke attacks (e.g., Syria, Donbass, Yemen and others). As detailed in VT’s earlier articles, China also experienced an unacknowledged mini-nuke attack on Tianjin, the port city closest to the Chinese capital, Beijing. Thus, China had adequate motivation to help North Korea with asymmetric M.A.D.

North Korea’s Missile Programme

The Hwasong-5 North Korean tactical ballistic missile was derived from the Soviet R-17 Elbrus missile. It is one of several missiles with the NATO reporting name Scud.

North Korea obtained its first R-17 missiles from Egypt in 1979 or 1980, in return for assistance during the Yom Kippur War against Israel. As relations with the Soviet Union were rather strained at the time, and Chinese assistance had proven unreliable, the North Koreans set about reverse engineering the Egyptian missiles. This process was accompanied by the construction of a missile-building infrastructure, of which the main elements were the 125 factory at Pyongyang, a research and development institute at Sanum-dong and the Musudan-ri Launch Facility.

The first missile prototypes were completed in 1984. Designated Hwasong-5, and known in the West as the “Scud Mod. A”, they were identical to the R-17Es obtained from Egypt. The first test flights occurred in April 1984, but the first version saw only limited production, and no operational deployment, as its purpose was only to validate the production process.

Production of the definitive version of the Hwasong-5 (“Scud Mod. B” or “Scud-B”) began at a slow rate in 1985. The type incorporated several minor improvements over the original Soviet design. The range with a 1000 kilogram warhead was increased from 280 to 320 kilometres, and an array of payloads was developed, including high explosive (HE), cluster, chemical, and possibly biological warheads. Throughout the production cycle, until it was phased out in favour of the Hwasong-6 in 1989, the DPRK manufacturers are thought to have carried out small enhancements, in particular to the guidance system, but the exact details are unknown.

Tongchang-ri: In this March 6, 2017, photo distributed by the North Korean government, four extended range Scud missiles lift off from their mobile launchers in Tongchang-ri in North Pyongan Province, North Korea. The four Scuds fell into the ocean 300 to 350 kilometers (185 to 220 miles) from the coast of Japan. The ruling party’s newspaper stated it was not a test to see if the missiles would work but rather a “drill” to train the troops who will “strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in Japan in a contingency.”

 North Korean Finds Strategic Partners

In 1985, Iran acquired 90 to 100 Hwasong-5 missiles from North Korea in a deal worth US$500 million. As part of the deal, North Korea agreed on a missile technology transfer, and it helped Iran establish a production line. In Iran, the Hwasong-5 was produced as the Shahab-1. United Arab Emirates purchased Hwasong-5 missiles in 1989.

Work on an extended-range version of the Hwasong-5 began in 1988, and with only relatively minor modifications, a new type was produced from 1989, designated Hwasong-6 (“Scud Mod. C” or “Scud-C”). It was first tested in June 1990, and entered full-scale production the same year, or in 1991.

To increase range over its predecessor, the Hwasong-6 has its payload decreased to 770 kg (1,700 lb) and the length of the rocket body extended to increase the propellant by 25%; accuracy is 700–1,000 meters circular error probability (CEP). Such range is sufficient to strike targets as far away as western Japan.

By 1999, North Korea was estimated to have produced 600 to 1,000 Hwasong-6 missiles, of which 25 had been launched in tests, 300 to 500 had been exported, and 300 to 600 were in service with the Korean People’s Army.

The Hwasong-6 was exported to Iran, where it is designated as the Shahab-2 and to Syria, where it is manufactured under licence with Chinese assistance, further export sales were made to Yemen.

Iranian Shahab-3 on i’s mobile launcher. You can’t find the missile-launchers before the missiles are fired – as the high number of Iraqi Scud launches throughout the 1991 Gulf War attests.

Gulf War 1 – Iraqi Scuds Bombard Israel & Saudi Arabia

The most famous use of Scud missiles came during the 1991 Gulf War when Iraq fired 88 locally modified Scuds at Saudi Arabia (46) and Israel (42) during January and February 1991.

The greatest tactical achievement of the Iraqi missile campaign was the destruction of a US military barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on 25 February 1991, when 28 soldiers were killed and another 110 injured, effectively taking out of action an entire supply company, composed mainly of reservists from Pennsylvania.

One of the units involved in this incident, the 14th Quartermaster Detachment, specializing in water-purification, suffered the heaviest toll among US troops deployed in the Persian Gulf, with 81% of its soldiers killed or wounded. The other unit badly hit by the strike was the 47th Quartermaster Detachment.

Patriot’s Failure Illustrates The Fallacy of ABM Defence

In response to the Iraqi missiles, the US installed Patriot SAM batteries in both Israel and Saudi Arabia and claimed to be highly successful at intercepting incoming Scuds. President George H. W. Bush declared “Patriot is 41 for 42: 42 Scuds engaged, 41 intercepted!” However, it was later shown that no Scuds were successfully intercepted.

The failure of the Patriot system in tracking the Iraqi missile over Dhahran was alleged to have been provoked by a shift in the range gate of the radar, due to the continuous use of the software for more than 100 hours without resetting.

Today Patriot in it’s PAC-3 form is still widely deployed, including by Japan as a defence against North Korean missiles, however, it is highly unlikely that either Patriot nor its THAAD successor would be any more effective in the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) role than was witnessed in 1991.

On November 2, 2006, Iran fired unarmed missiles to begin 10 days of military simulations. Iranian state television reported “dozens of missiles were fired including Shahab-2 and Shahab-3 missiles. The missiles had ranges from 300 km to up to 2,000 km. … Iranian experts have made some changes to Shahab-3 missiles installing cluster warheads in them with the capacity to carry 1,400 bombs.” These launches come after some United States-led military exercises in the Persian Gulf on October 30, 2006, meant to train for blocking the transport of weapons of mass destruction.

From Scud Missiles to Thermonuclear Warheads

As we have seen, North Korea exported large numbers of Scud missiles and found willing partners to share the financial and technical burden of its missile development programme in Iran and Syria.

In part one of this article we laid out the technical details and background to how North Korea obtained it’s own thermonuclear warheads. North Korea will have the ability to manufacture more of these warheads, and there is no doubt that they will seek to export them to other nations wishing to acquire their own nuclear arsenals.

The list of nations who would be potential customers is long but at the top of the list would be North Korea’s existing strategic partners in Iran and Syria, nations who have been prime customers for North Korean arms exports for decades and who have had long-standing manufacturing partnerships with North Korea to produce ballistic missiles. Both Syria and Iraq had their own nuclear programmes, but both had to abandon them in the face of intense international pressure and both had their nuclear reactors attacked by Israeli airstrikes in order to prevent their possible use for production of weapons grade fissile materials.

These factors, compounded by the US-Israeli-Saudi campaign to destroy Syria, Iraq, Yemen and eventually Iran, which has been disguised under the flag of Islamic State act as major motivators for Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Iran to wish to arm themselves with nuclear weapons as deterrence against further aggression.

A tactical nuke explodes on the outskirts of the Yemeni capital, San’a

The Victims of Nuclear Strikes Seek Deterrence

As VT has reported, Syria, Iraq and Yemen have all been victims of assault by nuclear weapons. The Yemeni capital San’a was struck by a tactical nuclear weapon on 2015, most likely dropped by an Israeli F-16 fighter bomber.

Syria has been struck multiple times, including an Israeli tactical strike against Damascus that was disguised by an artillery barrage fired by the Israeli controlled ‘rebels’ who occupy the Syrian territory bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan heights. Other instances we know of include a strike on Syrian military positions near Aleppo.

Iraq was also struck by nukes several times, both during Gulf War 1 in 1991 when the Republican Guard were reduced to quivering wrecks who meekly surrendered after being hit by tactical nukes and in Gulf War 2 in 2003-4 when tough pockets of Iraqi resistance in Fallujah and the Baghdad Airport were taken out by tactical nuclear strikes. There was also the Baghdad marketplace truck bombing of 2015 where a small nuke was detonated and credit claimed by Islamic State.

The fact that these nations have fallen victim to nuclear attack provides powerful motivation for them to arm themselves with nuclear weapons in order to deter future nuclear attacks. These nations already possess the ballistic missiles to carry nuclear warheads, thanks to their long partnerships with North Korea, so it does not take much imagination to see how the next logical step is for North Korea to supply them with those warheads and as we explained in part one of this article, those warheads are thermonuclear devices with explosive yields of 150 to 200 kilotonnes.

Soon no nation will be able to use nuclear weapons with impunity, they will risk thremonuclear retaliation

Mutually Assured Destruction Will Soon Arise in The Middle East

The prospect of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen arming themselves with ballistic missiles tipped with thermonuclear warheads will doubtless make the blood of the rulers of Israel and Saudi Arabia run very cold indeed. Their nations are within range of ballistic missile strikes from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen and their major cities would be reduced to smouldering piles of ash by a thermonuclear weapon of the type North Korea is now producing.

Where Israel & Saudi Arabia have hitherto-fore been able to carry out tactical nuclear strikes with impunity, that will no longer be the case once North Korea begins to export its thermonuclear warheads. If Israel and their Saudi cohorts repeated their nuclear strikes on Damascus or San’a, they would be running the risk of seeing Tel-Aviv or Riyadh incinerated in response.

This new era of Mutually Assured Destruction will be just one part of a new world order that is truly multi-polar, where the USA is no longer the ‘bully in the yard’ and able to manipulate and coerce other nations or to carry out regime change. This new world order will no longer be dominated by any single power, rather, we will see Russia, China and India become legitimate superpowers in their own right; smaller nations like Iran and Venezuela will no longer be victimised.

Although, at first hearing, it may sound incongruous, but I believe that this new world order where thermonuclear weapons have become widespread will be more peaceful and stable than the old unipolar world order. Furthermore, I believe that leaders across the globe, not least those in Moscow to Beijing feel the same way, otherwise they would not have stood by and allowed North Korea to develop thermonuclear weapons and would be taking active steps to ensure Pyongyang not only ceased to develop it’s nuclear arsenal, but to also ensure there was no chance of such weapons proliferating.

In part 3 of this series of articles we will delve deeper into the underlying geopolitical machinations that have lead to the dawn of this new thermonuclear reality.

See Also: De-Nuking the Trump-Kim Pissing Contest by Thomas J. Mattingly





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  1. Restart cultural exchange with North Korea in some way lead by North Korea. Then POTUS should push to get food to North Koreans even if it has to come from Navy Kitchins. Then restart the old Sunshine policy.

  2. Superb, Ian, simply superb.

    Neither Congress nor any other media (yet) ‘get’ this stuff.

    VT & you do. Trump & Trump’s VT-reading NSC too, BTW…

    ‘Cuz Trump is now threatening both China & Russia — again.

    Unfortunately, President Tweet still doesn’t know WTF to do… 😉

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