North Korea’s latest nuclear threat represents a dark reminder of the progress made by Kim-Joung-Un’s towards his military aspirations. When discussing its WMD development program and its growing threat to the region, however, the focus remains mostly on Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic capabilities, often at the expense of the issue of its Chemical and Biological stockpiles.

Estimates of North Korea’s chemical and biological weaponry are imprecise and often contested, but they are sufficient to raise grave security concerns in South Korea, particularly considering Seoul’s vicinity to the border. Contrary to Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities, which are showcased in the recurrent tests and military parades, the advancements of its chemical and biological programs remain a mystery. North Korea, for example, has never adhered to the Chemical Weapons Conventions and hasn’t, therefore, been subjected to any inspection or investigation.

To get a better overview of the current concerns and countermeasures in place in South Korea, IB Consultancy had the pleasure to speak with Brig. Gen. (ret.) Woon Goh, Former CBR Defense Commander, as well Former Commander of the ROK Army CBRN School. Brig. Gen. (ret.) Goh graduated from the Korean Military Academy in 1985, where he received his Bachelor in Chemistry. In 2003, he became a Chemical Operational Officer in the Korean Army Headquarters and one year later Chemical Control Officer in the President Security Service for 3 years. He became the Head of Academic Affairs of the CBR School of the Korean Army and later the Head of Battle Development. He moved to the CBR Defense Command in 2009 as the Head J2/3 and he joined the Joint Chiefs Command in 2011 as the Head of the Chemical Branch J3, just prior to his current assignment.

During the past decades, North Korea has pursued Nuclear, Chemical and Biological programs with strong determination, in order to improve self-reliance and deterrence. The focus has often been on nuclear capabilities, but a chemical or biological threat could be as deadly for South Korea as a nuclear one. How high of a priority is the deterrence of a biological program compared to a nuclear one?

Chemical and biological weapons in North Korea are very lethal weapons like nuclear weapons.
I think there is a difference in the use of nuclear weapons and chemical weapons.
Nuclear weapons are strategic level weapons and have great significance in terms of deterrence. It is perceived as weapons that cannot be used in war because of its deadly risks, but it plays a role in deterrence war through “the balance of fear”.
On the other hand, chemical and biological weapons are operational and tactical level. That is, chemical and biological weapons are much more likely to be used in wars and terrorism, so they should be prepared first.

There is evidence that suggest Pyongyang could possess anthrax weapons as well as possibly cholera, plague and even smallpox. What are the tools currently available to assess North Korea’s development of a Biological Weapons program?

 It is very difficult to determine which country has a biological weapons program. Especially in the case of a closed country like North Korea, it is hard to know more.
However, when we analyze North Korean defectors’ statements and SI information, North Korea estimates that it has a biological weapons program. Since the 1970s, North Korea has set up a bacteriological research institute and a central biological research institute to study biological weapons programs.

Currently, North Korea has about 13 kinds of biological agents and 5 kinds of biologic agents are considered to be weaponized.

Can you provide an overview of what are the countermeasures in place in South Korea to prevent or respond to a chemical or biological attack from Pyongyang?

We are preparing to establish a system to detect and respond to North Korea’s biological weapons attacks in advance.

We are expanding a system to protect civilians and armed forces so that North Korea knows that even if it uses biological weapons in South Korea, it will not have the desired effect.

First of all, we are making efforts to form a national consensus on the danger of biological weapons in North Korea. Second, we organized biologic response organizations within the military, police and fire departments to respond systematically against them.
Third, we deploy detection and diagnosis systems for early detection of biological weapons.
Finally, we are expanding the stockpile of various treatments and vaccines.

 

 

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Caterina Perossa is an analyst at IB Consultancy. She holds a MSc in International Relation from the University of Bristol and a Bachelor in International and Diplomatic Sciences from the University of Trieste (Italy). Her research interests are in International Security and Strategic Studies, Arms control and Defence Policy-Making, with a specific focus on East-Asia and the Asia-Pacific.