” In war,science has proven an evil genius; it has made war more terrible than it ever was before” – William Jennings Bryan
Much has been reported regarding North Korea’s (DPRK) continued pursuit of nuclear weapons capability, and apparently, they have succeeded in developing intercontinental ballistic missle capabilities, as they have been operating a robust nuclear weapons research and development program for decades.
According to experts at the Henry L. Stimson Center, the DPRK is one of the most closed and militarized societies on Earth. Its military and defense infrastructure take precedence over any societal needs, even when faced with the disastrous consequences of the wholesale neglect of its citizenry.
Despite international sanctions, economic upheaval, and agricultural crises resulting in the starvation of millions, North Korea perseveres in its obsessive pursuit of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Intelligence-gathering efforts and educated analysis have indicated that the DPRK has developed a vast and covert chemical and biological weapons production program which has been in existence for well over 30 years.
In fact, in 1947, the North Korea People’s Army published a chemical warfare manual which states the following: ” Poison gas is employed to destroy the fighting power of the enemy army by the deprivation, either temporary or permanent, of the normal function of a part of the physiological structure of men or beasts. again, by making the enemy use protective equipment against poison gas, the combat range of the enemy army is reduced or curtailed, and their combat strength is weakened”.
North Korea’s offensive chemical warfare (CW) program had its formal beginnings in the 1960s, initially relying upon the Chinese to help develop the weapons, and upon Japan and other countries to obtain the chemical precursors necessary for their production.
As with their nuclear weapons scheme, the DPRK ‘s CW program vacillated between the former Soviet Union and China for technical support and aid.
Even so, the DPRK’s program failed to yield impressive results, save for small quantities of mustard vesicant and nerve agents produced around 1966. With the USSR losing interest in North Korea, China was left to take up the slack.
During the 1980s, North Korea developed the capability and capacity to manufacture large quantities of CW agents and to deploy extensive amounts of chemical ordnance, such as chemical artillery shells.
Built and based on Communist ideology that emphasizes juche (self-reliance), North Korea continues to threaten South Korea and forcefully unify the Korean peninsula, as well as regularly demonstrates aggression against the U.S. and flagrantly challenges Western democracy.
On February 13,2017, the estranged half-brother of Kim Jun Un, Kim Jong Nam, was mysteriously assassinated by two female assailants who had smeared the potent militarized nerve agent, VX on Nam’s face in the midst of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
An unusual choice as an assassination weapon, one can only surmise that it may have been due to the fact that VX is highly lethal in very small quantities and that perhaps, in the broader context, North Korea wanted to demonstrate that it has the capability to produce lethal CW agents and is willing to utilize them.
Moreover, North Korea is not a signatory of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), one of only four holdouts to the almost universal treaty. The country is presumed to have approximately 2,500-5,000 tons of chemical agents, including the virulently toxic VX.
However, assessments indicate that North Korea ‘s three chemical weapons facilities could produce up to 12,000 tons of chemical weapon agents per year.
” The choice of weapons was not accidental “, said Sue Mi Terry, a former senior analyst on North Korea at the CIA and currently managing director for Korea at the Bower Group Asia. “Everything about this incident was intended to send a message”, claims Ms. Terry.
Open-source assessments of the DPRK’S CW arsenal indicate that this rogue nation has amassed an impressive stockpile of battle-field grade CW agents such as:
- Sarin (GB)
- Tabun (GA)
- Soman (GD)
- Sulfur mustard (HD)
- Cyanogen chloride
- Hydrogen cyanide
- Adamsite (DA)
- Phosgene oxime (CX)
In the minds of the North Korean leadership, chemical warfare agents such as these, may offer the illusion of a qualitative military edge.
According to past U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) assessments, North Korea has been conducting an offensive biological warfare (BW) research and development program for greater than 30 years.
Additionally, the country has obtained and developed resources, including a biotechnological infrastructure capable of producing weaponized infectious diseases and biological toxins as well as bioweapons delivery systems.
Sufficient intelligence-gathering, including the debriefing of defectors, has created a mosaic of the DPRK’s bioweapons program.
The origins of the DPRK’s BW stockpile is not certain. However, whatever the origin, an estimated 12-13 different species of pathogenic microorganisms were researched during the initial and later phases of the program, and included Bacillus anthracis (causes anthrax infection), Yersinia pestis (plague) , Vibrio cholera ( cholera), Variola major (the Orthopox virus responsible for smallpox), the flavivirus which causes yellow fever (transmitted by mosquitoes), Salmonella typhii (responsible for causing typhoid fever) and Mycobacterium tuberculosis (bacillus responsible for tuberculosis-TB).
Some of these pathogens were presumably obtained from culture collections in Japan, however, some may have been contributed by China and the Soviets, as both nations had an extensive bioscience /BW brain trust and bioweapons R&D programs, including the infamous Russian Biopreparat program.
Many experts allege that the North Koreans conducted human experimentation with both chemical and biological weapons on political prisoners and innocent citizens.
In fact, Kim Jong Un has made regular visits to various biological research institutes around North Korea that possess bioreactors and other “dual use” equipment capable of producing large yields of pathogens.
What may be worrisome in the current geopolitical situation is North Korea’s increasing advancements in ballistic missile technology and the possibility of long -range delivery of chem-bio weapons.
To quote Rebecca Hersman, a former DoD deputy assistant secretary for countering weapons of mass destruction,” North Korea is bad enough when you are talking about their nuclear and missiles program. But I think we ignore their chemical and biological programs truly at our own risk”.
Perhaps, in the case of North Korea, or any rogue nation with a CBRN capability, ignorance should never become bliss.