The second session of North Korean-South Korean military talks is taking place at Panmunjom. North Korea did not roll over and play dead at the Summit at Singapore this summer. A negotiation is underway. That’s what the take away from ongoing talks is. Negotiation.
Fox News and several US newspapers published information from “spy agencies” and from commercial satellites about continuing activity at North Korea’s Sanumdong ballistic missile manufacturing complex near Pyongyang. The news outlets reported that there is activity going on at the facility.
Imagery detected new construction. It also detected trucks at the facility. One analyst of commercial imagery judged that the facility is active.
Sanumdong facility has been assembling missiles for decades and continues to do so, most likely including North Korea’s new liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missiles. One of the imaged vehicles could carry a large missile airframe.
If satellites image a vehicle at a sensitive complex, such as Sanumdong, it means North Korea wants it to be imaged, for its purposes. In the past, Sanumdong is where North Korea has brought potential customers, including Iranians, to showcase newly made missiles and support equipment. At times, it has hung huge tarps to deny imagery of whatever was in the display area.
Chairman Kim has not agreed to disarm or to stop making and selling North Korean military equipment. The imagery of Sanumdong conveys that message, just as the commercial imagery of the dismantling of the Sohae rocket engine test site conveys a different message. The press reports help ensure that Chairman Kim’s message gets wide dissemination.
In dealing with North Korea, deception is presumed. The North Koreans are practiced masters of showing the false, hiding the real and reinforcing mistaken perceptions and judgments. They consider deception a force multiplier, not just a national strategic security program. All branches of deception are always at work all the time, especially when its leaders are behaving well.
Over the years, satellites and other sources of imagery occasionally have detected military surprises in North Korea. Most often, the important challenge is to determine why North Korea would want a target or set of targets to be seen by the US.
In this case, the imagery of continuity in missile production makes the imagery of dismantling at the engine test stand more vivid and, arguably, more persuasive. At this point, North Korea has agreed to suspend testing and to dismantle two sites.
Imagery confirms the dismantlings and that everything else continues as before.