Concern Grows As North Korea Develops Missile Force

By Jose Antonio Custodio

The Philippines may be under threat from the continuing tension at the Korean peninsula and from the nuclear weapons program of North Korea. Pyongyang already has had a record of conducting mischief not only against its neighbors but also against the Philippines as it did so in the past.

The recent tension between North Korea and South Korea has again highlighted the fragile state of affairs between the two nations who are technically still at war with each other. Over the past decade, North Korea has developed several different missile systems., many mounted on vehicles that allow Pyongyang to change locations and deploy the systems more rapidly. Experts say the country now possesses a vehicle mounted Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) called the KN-08 that North Korea claims is capable of striking targets throughout the East Asia region and even the United States.

Since coming to power in 2011, Kim Jong Un has pursued a policy known as “military first,” devoting much of the resources of the poor, heavily sanctioned country to the development of complex weapons. Many experts believe that North Korea also relies heavily on the illicit import of material to build such systems. For example, military experts have concluded that the KN-08 missile is actually mounted on a heavy duty vehicle chassis manufactured by a Chinese company as it lacks the resources, time and manufacturing expertise to produce them independently. Given the international sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear program, it is believed that Kim Jong Un will be forced to continue illicit foreign acquisition of similar equipment to realize his well-publicized military aspirations.

A new opportunity to learn about North Korea’s missile program will occur on Oct. 10 when North Korea plans to honor the 70th anniversary of the Korean Workers Party by staging a large military parade in Pyongyang. This parade will serve as a showcase of North Korean weapons advancements, to include new long range missile equipment and will undoubtedly attract international attention, and ultimately, additional scrutiny from the United Nations Security Council. Past UN action has led North Korea to issue bellicose denials and threats of retaliation against its accusers, a  pattern is likely to repeat itself on the heels of 70th anniversary celebrations.

North Korea had previously been a sponsor of the New People’s Army and had supplied arms to the communist rebels during the 1970s and 1980s, even providing training for the cadres of the underground organization. In exchange, the CPP-NPA furnished intelligence data on US military bases and personnel in the country.

While there is still no evidence of continued North Korean support to the NPA, a worsening of the situation in the peninsula may just lead that country to once again fully support Philippine rebels and in a worst-case scenario include the Philippines as a potential target for their nuclear missiles in an attempt to retaliate against the US and South Korea.

(Custodio is a Manila-based defense analyst.)

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