Impact Player: Ri Son-gwon

Analysis, Commentary
, by and Ri Son-gwon is the newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs of North Korea. He is a former military official in the Korean People’s Army (KPA) and the former head of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC), the bureau in charge of inter-Korean relations.

December 2019 Update: Chamjin-ni Vertical Engine Test Stand

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and The Chamjin-ni vertical engine test stand appears to be minimally maintained but apparently capable and available for engine testing at any time. It is North Korea’s oldest known test stand, developed in the 1980s. There is no evidence of recent tests. This is indicated by the absence of scarring in the exhaust deflector and color-infrared imagery showing healthy vegetation at the end of the exhaust deflector.

Living History with Ambassador Shin Kak-soo

Foreign Affairs
This Living History interview features Shin Kak-soo, former South Korean ambassador to Japan (2011-2013). Ambassador Shin reflects on the complexities of Korea’s relations with its neighbor Japan. He provides an overview of how entrenched partisan politics can prevent the successful resolution of crises between these two key U.S. allies.

December 2019 Sinpo Update No. 2: Waiting for Godot

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and As with Beyond Parallel’s December 4 report, satellite imagery of the Sinpo South Shipyard collected on December 14, 2019 does not provide any indication of the launch of the much anticipated “newly built submarine” or preparations for the shipyard’s test stand. The only observation of significance at the shipyard is the presence of a 16-METER class midget submarine (SSW) moored alongside the barely visible submersible missile test stand barge in the shipyard’s secure boat basin.

December 2019 Update: Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and While speculation (sometimes wild) continues to grow concerning a North Korean end-of-year “surprise,” Beyond Parallel is continuing its recent series of surveys of the North’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) facilities to determine if there are any new developments. It is our desire to provide objective and factual information to enable decision-makers, policymakers and the general public to better understand the important aspects of the threat posed by North Korea and provide assistance to all in arriving at calm and informed decisions. Our recent surveys include the Sinpo South Shipyard, Sohae Satellite Launching Station, Nampo Submersible Test Stand Barge and Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Stand.

December 2019 Update: The Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and The Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility is located a few kilometers west of the Hamhung-Hungnam area and along the east coast of North Korea. December 6 imagery shows minor activity at the facility, including the presence of a small truck and some crates. Although no recent test appears to have taken place (i.e., absence of scarring in the exhaust deflector and healthy surrounding vegetation), the facility appears to be well-maintained and ready for solid rocket motor testing at any time. A successful test of solid fuel propellant engine, particularly at the east test stand, would denote another major advancement in survivable nuclear weapons capability, and would presumably also be designed to put additional pressure on the U.S. to make concessions in negotiations.

Sohae Engine Test Part of Coercive Diplomacy Tactic as End-of-Year Deadline Approaches

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and On December 7, North Korea conducted what it described as a “…very important test at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground.” Satellite imagery in the days leading up to and after the test clearly shows that this was a rocket engine test at the vertical engine test stand at Sohae. This test was most probably of a liquid-fuel rocket engine as only liquid-fuel rocket engines have previously been tested here, while large solid rocket motors have been tested at the Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility on the east coast and elsewhere. Whether the liquid-fuel rocket engine was an existing model or a new one is unknown.

U.S.-South Korea Cost-Sharing Negotiations Impacting Korean Public Support for U.S. Security Umbrella

Analysis, Military
, by , and Predata signals suggest a significant perception gap emerging between the U.S. and South Korea. First, South Koreans are more focused on the financial burden of the U.S. military presence than on the positive security benefits it provides. Second, U.S. demands for $5 billion in cost-sharing are generating the highest ever levels of social media and video commentary critical of U.S. forces in Korea.

Yongbyon Update: November Movement of Radioactive Material?

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by , and Recent satellite imagery from November 2019 shows the presence of four specialized railcars that have been associated with the movement of radioactive material in the past. The last observed movement of these railcars by Beyond Parallel was in April 2019. It is unclear whether the railcars are being used for the outbound shipment of irradiated liquid or solid waste, disassembled but contaminated equipment or the movement of fissile material to facilities outside the Yongbyon area. A less likely alternative is the inbound shipment of radioactive material from a facility outside the Yongbyon area.

Living History with Minister Song Min-soon

Foreign Affairs, Nuclear Weapons
This Living History interview features former South Korean minister of foreign affairs and trade, Song Min-soon. Song was director general for North American affairs and chief delegate during the six-party talks in 2005. He played a key role in the multilateral denuclearization agreement with North Korea, involving the United States, Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia, achieved in September 2005.

North Korea’s Strong Hand Against the U.S.

Commentary
, by For Halloween, Kim Jong Un gave Donald Trump a trick, not a treat: North Korea fired two short-range missiles on Thursday toward the Sea of Japan. It was North Korea’s 13th weapons test this year—and the first since the Trump administration’s latest attempt to restart negotiations with North Korea quietly failed a few weeks ago. The first talks between the two sides in eight months broke down after only 8½ hours in Stockholm. The North Korean delegates stalked out, and Pyongyang subsequently said they wouldn’t resume the “sickening” negotiations with the U.S.

Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site: Imagery Supports ROK and U.S. Government Reservations about Permanent Disablement

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and Analysis of satellite imagery of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility acquired during 2019 and more specifically on September 23rd and October 9th, 2019 shows the facility in caretaker status, likely being maintained by security personnel. While there is no evidence of current efforts to restore any of the nuclear test portals, several observations lead us to believe the facility has not been permanently disabled and that the detonations in May 2018 are not necessarily irreversible.

Yongbyon Declassified Part V: Expansion Begins Across the Kuryong-gang

Nuclear Weapons
, by Collected eleven months after the image provided in Part 4 (December 10, 1967) this November 21, 1968 KH-4B image of the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center does not show any significant developments in the operations (with the IRT-2000 research reactor), support or administrative/laboratory areas. It does, however, show continuing development within the village of Sang-dong and the early stages of construction for a new road bridge across the Kuryong-gang in the Pungang-ni area that will connect the support area to the opposite side of the river. Taken as a whole, these developments represent both continuation of a first-phase construction project for the facility and the earliest infrastructure development stages within a longer-term plan for future expansion.

Pakchon Uranium Concentrate Pilot Plant

Analysis, Nuclear Weapons
, by and The Pakchon Uranium Concentrate Pilot Plant is one of only two declared and known uranium concentrate plants in North Korea (Pyongsan Uranium Concentrate Plant at Pyongsan is the other). This facility was used for Yellowcake production at least through the mid-1990s, and therefore would require inspection under any new U.S.-DPRK denuclearization declaration and agreement as it has not been subject to international inspection for over 25 years since IAEA visits to the site as part of the Full Scope Safeguards Agreement process in 1992.

Is the State Department’s “Commission on Unalienable Rights” Relevant for North Korea?

Human Rights
, by At a press conference last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the creation of a Commission on Unalienable Rights. He explained its purpose: “The commission is composed of human rights experts, philosophers, and activists, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents of varied background and beliefs, who will provide me with advice on human rights grounded in our nation’s founding principles and the principles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” The membership of the commission is a distinguished and diverse group of individuals, but the responsibility assigned to the commission seems to raise questions.

Yongbyon Declassified Part IV: Continued Construction Observed into 1967

Nuclear Weapons
, by Acquired almost two years after the image provided in Yongbyon Declassified Part III (February 11, 1966), this December 10, 1967 image of the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center is one of the first acquired by the improved reconnaissance KH-4B. Among other improvements, the resolution of the newer KH-4B was 1.8 meters versus 2.7 meters of the earlier KH-4A allowing for considerably better image quality.

Yongbyon Declassified Part III: Significant Construction of Facilities at Nascent Yongbyon Nuclear Site by 1966

Nuclear Weapons
, by Acquired seven months after the image provided in Yongbyon Declassified Part II (August 23, 1965) this 2.7-meter resolution image covers the Yongbyon area on February 11, 1966. While the general area remains primarily engaged in agricultural activity typical of rural North Korea during the 1960s, significant construction activity is observed at the nascent Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center and adjacent village of Sang-dong.

Yongbyon: Movement of Specialized Railcars May Indicate Transfer of Radioactive Material

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and DigitalGlobe satellite imagery of North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Research Facility acquired on April 12th shows the presence of five specialized railcars near the Uranium Enrichment Facility and the Radiochemistry Laboratory. In the past these specialized railcars appear to have been associated with the movement of radioactive material or reprocessing campaigns.

North Korea’s No. 17 Explosives Factory: No Significant Activity

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and Satellite imagery acquired on March 21, 2019 and over the past six months indicates that the No. 17 Explosives Factory near Hamhung is active. While no significant changes have occurred with its infrastructure during this period, the factory was expanded during 2012 with the construction of a large mixing/casting facility capable of producing large solid-propellant rocket motors for ballistic missiles.

Sohae Launch Facility Update—Work Continues; Concealment of Launch Pad and Engine Test Stand

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by and Commercial satellite imagery acquired on both March 6 and March 8, 2019, shows that North Korea has continued preparations on the launch pad and the vertical engine test stand at the Sohae Launch Facility. Based on past practices, these activities could be consistent with preparations for the delivery of a rocket to the launch pad or engine to the test stand; or, they could be North Korean coercive bargaining tactics after the failed Hanoi summit.

Undeclared North Korea: The Sangnam-ni Missile Operating Base

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by , and Located 250 kilometers north of the DMZ, Sangnam-ni missile operating base is an operational missile base that houses a battalion- or regiment-sized unit equipped with Hwasong-10 (Musudan) intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM). Multiple flight failures of the Musudan missile in 2016 could have also led the KPA Strategic Force to abandon the system and replace it with the more successful Hwasong-12 IRBM.

Undeclared North Korea: The Sino-ri Missile Operating Base and Strategic Force Facilities

Military, Nuclear Weapons
, by , and Located 212 kilometers north of the DMZ, Sino-ri is an operational missile base that houses a regiment-sized unit equipped with Nodong-1/-2 medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM). It is one of the oldest of approximately 20 undeclared missile operating bases and is reported to serve as the headquarters of the Strategic Rocket Forces Nodong missile brigade. It may have also played a role in development of the newest generation Pukkuksong-2 (KN-15) ballistic missile first tested or unveiled by North Korea on February 12, 2017.

Making Solid Tracks: North Korea’s Railway Connections with China and Russia

Infrastructure & Energy
, by , and Should inter-Korean cooperation result in the re-connection of the railways in North and South Korea, the rail networks of the Korean peninsula could then be integrated into a rail network spanning the Eurasian continent through China and Russia. If actualized, this would mark a significant diplomatic and geopolitical accomplishment for the Korean peninsula. Nonetheless, a long and significant modernization process will need to take place to fully integrate the systems in a commercially viable way.

Undeclared North Korea: The Sakkanmol Missile Operating Base

Military
, by , and Sakkanmol is an undeclared North Korean operational missile base for short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and is one of approximately 20 undeclared missile sites and one of the closest to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and Seoul, giving it the shortest flight time. Sakkanmol currently houses a unit equipped with SRBMs but could easily accommodate more capable medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs).

Undeclared North Korea: Missile Operating Bases Revealed

Military
, by , and New research undertaken by Beyond Parallel has located 13 of an estimated 20 North Korean missile operating bases that are undeclared by the government. These missile operating bases, which can be used for all classes of ballistic missile from short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) up to and including intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), would presumably have to be subject to declaration, verification, and dismantlement in any final and fully verifiable denuclearization deal.

A Vase or a Missile? North Korea’s Christmas Surprise

Commentary
, by Christmas passed without the threatened “Christmas gift” from North Korea. President Trump quipped while on holiday in Mar-a-Lago that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un might send him a “beautiful vase” rather than a missile as a gift. In either event, the two years of summit diplomacy and Trump-Kim “bromance” appears to have reached a turning point with no progress on denuclearization since the failed Hanoi summit and a series of North Korean missile tests in the past two months.

Database: North Korean Provocations

Military, Nuclear Weapons
The CSIS Beyond Parallel team compiled an original database of all North Korean provocations since the Korean War in 1953, beginning with the first provocation documented in 1958. There has been more than 280 instances of provocations, including from missile and nuclear tests, airplane hijackings, bombings, exchange of fire, to infiltration and territorial incursions into South Korea.