My morning news feed carried a report from CNN that is completely false regarding North Korea. “Of course,” I hear you respond. Everything on CNN is false, biased and partisan.
So what really is going on in North Korea? Is Kim Jong Un keeping his word so far?
North Korea is dismantling facilities at Sohae launch center. The imagery analysts at 38 North reported on 23 July that their analysis of commercial satellite imagery of the Sohae satellite launch complex from 20 and 22 July shows significant new activity.
At the launch pad on 20 July, the rail-mounted transfer and security structure was moved to the middle of the pad. The roof and structural framework had been partially removed. Numerous vehicles were present—including a large construction crane.
On 22 July, imagery showed the continued presence of the crane and vehicles. A major section of the rail-mounted structure had been removed, and the parts were visible on the concrete pad.
At the high-energy engine test stand, imagery on 20 July showed the presence of a crane and several vehicles. The rail-mounted environmental shelter, which hadn’t been moved since December 2017, had been removed. The older fuel/oxidizer bunkers were in the process of being razed, and portions of the test stand’s upper steel framework have been dismantled and its paneling removed.
On 22 July, fewer vehicles were present and the test stand superstructure had been completely dismantled, leaving only the base, which also was in the process of being removed.
The 38 North analysts judged that given the state of activity, work probably began within the past two weeks.
On 12 June, after the official summit meetings, the US President asked Chairman Kim Jong Un to dismantle a rocket engine test site. Kim agreed to the request. He kept his word to the US President.
The facilities at the Sohae complex are less than 20 years old. Even the limited de-construction work to date is a major step in building confidence and creating an atmosphere of trust, as Kim describes it. The disassembly of the large transfer and security structure is intended to be imaged. Its de-composition suggests that the future uses of the launch pad at Sohae will be open to satellite detection.
As for the rocket engine test stand, its dismantling looks irreversible. It also is being conducted so that it is certain to be detected by the US. The work reinforces Kim’s decision that North Korea no longer needs the facilities that have been and are being dismantled.
Kim announced earlier this year that North Korea would begin mass production of missile engines. That announcement indicates North Korea’s missile team judges it has the engine designs it needs and the scientific expertise to manufacture the engines.
The openness of the de-construction work conveys a message that the next step, in the step-by-step process, is for the US to take. Kim will be expecting a major US reciprocal move. He might be expecting some easing of sanctions.
At the Aspen Security Forum, over the weekend, the Commander of US Forces Korea, General Brooks, said that North Korean leader Kim is keeping his word thus far. He also said that US Forces Korea has detected “some diminution of training for military readiness,” but they are still training.
General Brooks said his command judged that fuel shortages resulting from shortages probably contributed to less training. He said that the ripple effects of the US summit also probably contributed.
He also said the Korean Peninsula has gone 235 days without a provocation. The period without a provocation is a good start and might be a record. Even during the Agreed Framework period (1994-2003), some kind of incident occurred every three or four months.
The comment about the diminution of North Korean conventional forces training is the first report of this kind in open sources.