North Korea’s Nuclear and Missile Programs

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September 5, 2006

DPRK Upcoming “Tests” Linked to Iranian Interests and Japanese Changes

Analysis. Reports of planned additional tests of North Korean (DPRK) tests of ballistic missiles — and possibly a nuclear weapon — were, as of September 4, 2006, being attributed to possible protests by Pyongyang over the September 14, 2006, Washington summit between US Pres. George W. Bush and South Korean (ROK) Pres. Roh Moo Hyun, but are more likely expected to coincide with a further push by Iran in its strategic confrontation with Israel and the West.

Significantly, as of the early hours of September 5, 2006, East Asian Time, the special train of DPRK leader Kim Jong-il was known to be in the city of Sinuiju, in the North Pyongan Province, just across the border from Dandong, in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Normally, when Kim makes a rail visit to the PRC, Dandong is put on an Urgent Situation notice for the passage of the DPRK special train. Dandong, as of September 5, 2006, was not on Urgent Situation notice.

Moreover, North Pyongan Province is the site of considerable DPRK nuclear weapons work, including a “hole” which could be being prepared for an underground nuclear test explosion. Iranian officials were also understood to be in the area.

The DPRK July 2006 tests, and probable coincident Iranian moves, were also likely to represent attempts by North Korea and Iran to seize the strategic initiative as Iran was likely to face international sanctions over its nuclear programs, and as Japan began moves to transition power to Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who was expected to take over as Prime Minister from the retiring Junichiro Koizumi. Mr Abe is known to favor a harder line against North Korea than that taken by Prime Minister Koizumi.

Significantly, the linked Iranian-DPRK actions indicate that neither state was backing down in their intentions to pursue an unequivocal position with regard to their nuclear weapons defenses. The open question, in early September 2006, however, was the extent to which joint DPRK-Iranian actions would go at this time to confront their perceived opponents with the reality of their nuclear weapons capabilities.

On August 25, 2006, Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, in a report entitled No Stand-Down in Iranian Military Confrontation of Israel, noted:

Highly-placed Iranian and Israeli sources have advised that the passing without incident of the August 22, 2006, “deadline” for anticipated Iranian strategic action in its war against Israel has not diminished the prospect of such action occurring in the near future. Sources in both countries have pointed to the ongoing nature of the current strategic military and security exercises being conducted by the Iranian Government under the codename “The Blow of Zolfaghar”, which contain all the elements necessary to be transformed into offensive military operations against both Israel and the Iranian population.

See also Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, August 21, 2006: Iran Continues With Thrust of War Against Israel and the West, But Has the Timetable Been Altered?

The August 25, 2006, report also noted: “... it should be expected, given past experience, that a rise in DPRK activity, possibly built around a new round of missile tests involving the TaepoDong-2 missiles now in place on fixed launch systems, should also serve as an indicator of impending major Iranian action. The DPRK and Iran have a mutual pact to provide diversionary operations to each other in times of operational threat.”

Although the DPRK has on a number of occasions provided “strategic diversion” for Iran’s clerical leadership, by undertaking incidents which divert US and world attention away from the Middle East at critical times, the DPRK itself is determined to stake out its position for the incoming Japanese leadership. Japanese Cabinet Secretary Abe, Foreign Minister Taro Aso, and Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, will contest the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party on September 20, 2006, although Abe was considered by far the most promising candidate to succeed to the LDP leadership and thus to the Premiership of Japan.

See Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, July 6, 2006: DPRK Strategic Command and Control, Missile Launch Exercise Marks Operational Watershed.

The Japanese Government had, after its initial confirmation of the success of the July 2006 DPRK ballistic missile/national command authority (NCA) tests, been pressed by the US Government to revise its public statements to indicate that the tests had been a failure. But Japanese officials have subsequently told GIS that they remained aware of the success and lethality of the DPRK strategic weapons and command and control complex, and sources close to Cabinet Secretary Abe have indicated that, as Prime Minister, Mr Abe would significantly upgrade Japan’s defense posture, particularly related to its anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capabilities.

As Japanese officials are aware, during the July 2006 missile/NCA tests, closely monitored by Iranian officials, the DPRK activated a myriad of mobile launchers representing its various missile units. These launcher-vehicles moved around the DPRK and gravitated toward the launch zones. By the time the exercise reached the launch point, however, only about half the launcher-vehicles actually launched ballistic missiles (the TaepoDong-2 was actually launched from a static rig, but its pre-launch maneuvering was simulated). The other launcher-vehicles continued their seemingly random travel paths. Now, these vehicles seem to be gravitating anew toward the test-launch area. Hence, the growing anxiety in Tokyo and Seoul.