Northeast Asia


Northeast Asia remains a region of vital importance to the United States, particularly in view of the growing prominence of the Pacific Rim nations as trading partners and as important players in the global economy. Security and stability in this region are essential if our economic relations are to continue to flourish. Our overarching long-term objective in the region remains the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula. The United States will continue to maintain forces on the peninsula to assure security for South Korea as long as the Republic of Korea Government wants them to stay.

Although the October 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea over its nuclear facilities mitigated the immediate nuclear threat, Pyongyang still possesses an unnecessarily large conventional force, as well as militarily significant chemical weapons and the means to deliver them. Proliferation, particularly the broad-based NBC weapons and missile programs that North Korea has implemented, poses a significant challenge to U.S. security interests as well as to those of our allies and friends.

In the event of another war on the Korean peninsula, these weapons present a significant threat to our forces and the security of our allies. Should a conflict occur, North Korea likely will try to consolidate and control strategic areas of South Korea by striking quickly and attempting to destroy allied defenses before the United States can provide adequate reinforcements. Pyongyang hopes to do this with its large conventional force and its chemical weapons and ballistic missiles complement.

Strong bilateral relations with our allies and friends are the foundation of our Asia-Pacific strategy, and the North Korean NBC weapons and missile programs have the potential to complicate relationships within our bilateral alliances throughout the region. Should a proliferant go unchecked, calling U.S. capabilities and commitments into question, states may seek unilateral alternatives to ensure their security, thus stimulating proliferation. Nearly 100,000 soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen of the U.S. Pacific Command maintain the strong forward presence that deters aggression, reassures our allies, and enhances stability throughout the region -- a critical mission.

China, which has been a nuclear weapons state since 1964, remains a source of concern primarily because of the role of Chinese companies in supplying a wide range of materials, equipment, and technologies that could contribute to NBC weapons and missile programs in countries of proliferation concern. Beijing has signaled some willingness to adopt a more responsible supply policy by adhering to international nonproliferation norms such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1992) and reaffirming to the United States its pledge to abide by the basic tenets of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). However, Chinese firms' continued willingness to engage in nuclear and missile cooperation with countries of serious proliferation concern, such as Pakistan and Iran, presents security concerns in many regions where the United States has defense commitments. Counterproliferation will continue to be a strong component of our regional strategy in Northeast Asia as long as our defense commitments and our forces are threatened by the spread of NBC weapons and missiles.


North Korea

As stated previously, the urgent threat of North Korean nuclear proliferation has abated since Pyongyang signed the Agreed Framework with the United States in October 1994. If Pyongyang adheres to this agreement, its current nuclear program will phase out over time. In the near term, its production of fissile material for nuclear weapons has halted under IAEA monitoring. Nonetheless, North Korea continues developing missiles and chemical warfare capabilities and exporting ballistic missiles and related technologies, which contribute to proliferation.

North Korea has significantly advanced its nuclear, chemical, and ballistic missile programs during the last 10 years. While agreeing to freeze activity at and eventually eliminate its existing plutonium production nuclear reactors and associated facilities, North Korea maintains chemical warfare and ballistic missile capabilities.

For many decades Pyongyang has mounted an all-out effort to build and strengthen its military. As a result, it has one of the five largest armed forces in the world -- over one million active duty personnel. Over the years, Pyongyang has worked to improve its capability to launch a surprise attack against South Korea. With the right conditions, or with the perception of the right conditions, Pyongyang could launch an attack supported by chemical weapons and SCUD missiles against any military or civilian targets in South Korea, including key logistics facilities at Pusan, Taegu, and Kwangju.

Regional Ballistic Missile Threat

Despite its isolation, North Korea uses several methods to acquire technology related to nuclear, biological, or chemical warfare and missiles. For example, the Japan-based General Association of Korean Residents -- the Chosen Soren -- has among other activities an ongoing effort to acquire and export advanced technology to North Korea. In addition, North Korean intelligence organizations are involved in clandestine operations to acquire technology, equipment, and scientific and technical information to aid the full spectrum of North Korea's conventional and NBC weapons programs.

Selected Nuclear and Missile Facilities


In the 1960s, under a "peaceful uses of atomic energy" agreement, the Soviet Union provided North Korea a small nuclear research reactor and related training. This assistance vested North Korea with a fundamental understanding of and practical experience in nuclear physics and engineering as well as reactor operations.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, North Korea developed a complete nuclear fuel cycle that included a plutonium production capability at the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center. This center, about 90 kilometers north of Pyongyang, comprises facilities with capabilities to fabricate nuclear fuel, a 5-megawatt (electric) reactor to produce plutonium, and a reprocessing facility to extract weapons-grade plutonium from irradiated fuel -- the key materials needed to produce nuclear weapons. This plutonium production reactor became operational in 1986, with some refueling in 1989, thereby providing weapons-grade plutonium for at least one nuclear weapon. Fuel from this reactor also was discharged in May-June 1994 and, had it been reprocessed, could have provided enough plutonium for several additional nuclear weapons.

Additionally, North Korea was building a 50-megawatt (electric) reactor at Yongbyon and a 200-megawatt (electric) power reactor at Taechon. Construction of these reactors has been halted under IAEA monitoring as part of the Agreed Framework, under which all of these facilities are obliged to be dismantled. The 50-megawatt (electric) reactor would have produced enough plutonium for North Korea to build an additional 7-10 nuclear weapons per year. Moreover, the reprocessing facility at Yongbyon has been sealed. This large facility was key because it would have enabled Pyongyang to extract weapons-grade plutonium from irradiated fuel from both the 5- and 50-megawatt (electric) reactors.

North Korea has not allowed the IAEA to perform inspections sufficiently comprehensive at all sites to verify the operating history of the 5-megawatt (electric) reactor, the amount of reprocessing accomplished, and whether special nuclear materials have been diverted to develop nuclear weapons. Under strict adherence to the Agreed Framework, however, North Korea must make its nuclear program completely transparent and must allow the IAEA to perform special inspections prior to the delivery of Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) controlled items to the Light Water Reactors. North Korea also has obligated itself beyond its NPT and IAEA requirements by agreeing to eliminate eventually all its existing or planned nuclear power and related facilities.


North Korea began to develop a chemical industry and a chemical agent production capability after the Korean War. It had made significant progress by the late 1960s, when it began to produce offensive chemical agents experimentally.

Since the late 1980s, North Korea has intensified and expanded its chemical warfare program as part of its military preparedness plan. Today, it can produce large quantities of nerve, blister, and blood chemical warfare agents, and it maintains a number of facilities involved in producing or storing chemical precursors, agents, and weapons. A precursor is a commercial chemical that is necessary for the production of a lethal chemical agent.

Since 1990, Pyongyang has placed a high priority on military and civilian chemical defense readiness. It has mandated training in chemical environments as an integral part of armed forces training and is attempting to equip all military forces, including reserves, with full protective gear. In addition, broad segments of the population engage periodically in simulated chemical warfare drills. These drills ensure coordination and control of the population should the North employ tactical chemical weapons against opposing forces on its own territory. The drills also reinforce Pyongyang's propaganda that the United States and South Korea intend to employ chemical agents. Pyongyang has emphasized building and installing protection equipment at military production and civilian alternate wartime relocation sites, and it directed that the entire population be issued protective masks.


At the direction of President Kim Il-Song, North Korea began to emphasize an offensive biological warfare program during the early 1960s. With the scientists and facilities for producing biological products and micro-organisms, North Korea probably has the ability to produce limited quantities of traditional infectious biological warfare agents or toxins and biological weapons.


North Korea has progressed from producing SCUD missiles to establishing a broad based missile industry, developing and producing a variety of missiles both for its own use and for export. Serious ballistic missile development began in the early 1980s, when Pyongyang started to reverse-engineer SCUD-B missiles. North Korea now produces the SCUD-B, with a maximum range of 300 kilometers, and a variant, the SCUD-C, with a maximum range of 500 kilometers. Several hundred of these missiles are available for use in the North Korean missile force.

Ranges of Current and Future Ballistic Missile Systems

North Korea is in the late stages of developing a new missile, the NODONG, for its own military as well as for export markets such as the Middle East and North Africa. Flight tested in May 1993, this 1,000 kilometer-range missile will be able to strike nearly all of Japan when it is deployed.

The North Koreans are looking well beyond the NODONG. Currently, they are designing two new missile systems -- the TAEPO DONG 1 and TAEPO DONG 2 -- which have estimated ranges greater than 1,500 and 4,000 kilometers, respectively. Though neither missile has been flight tested, the designs of both are likely based on new combinations of existing missile system components.


North Korea has four types of land- and ship-based anti-ship cruise missiles. Since the 1980s, North Korea has produced two variants with ranges of about 100 kilometers based on Soviet and Chinese technology. It is developing a longer-range anti-ship cruise missile, flight-tested in 1994.

North Korea has a wide variety of combat aircraft capable of delivering NBC weapons, including MiG-29, MiG-23, MiG-21, Su-25, and Su-7 fighters; Il-28 bombers; and Mi-2, Mi-4, and Mi-8 helicopters. The North could use its indigenously produced artillery, multiple rocket launchers, mortars, and agricultural sprayers to disperse chemical agents. North Korea has a very limited air-to-surface missile capability.


North Korea has provided hundreds of SCUD missiles to countries in the Middle East, such as Iran and Syria, and is developing and marketing the new 1,000 kilometer-range NODONG missile. These sales provide Pyongyang with critically needed foreign exchange. North Korea has received millions of dollars worth of bartered goods and services and hard currency for its deliveries, and it will continue to market missiles and missile-related technology to support its weak economy. Although North Korea is an active supplier of missiles and related production technology, it has not yet become a supplier of nuclear, chemical, or biological warfare-related technology.


Since mid-1991, China has shifted from avoidance to participation in international arms control regimes. In 1992, it acceded to the NPT and agreed bilaterally with the United States to abide by the guidelines and parameters of the MTCR. In 1993, Beijing signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). And, in October 1994, Beijing reaffirmed its commitment to abide by the 1987 version of the MTCR Guidelines and committed not to export ballistic missiles inherently capable of reaching a range of 300 km with a payload of 500 kg in exchange for the United States agreeing to lift the MTCR Category II sanctions it imposed in August 1993 for China's transferring M-11 related equipment to Pakistan. In addition, China has expressed support for negotiating a multilateral convention banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and endorsed the 1994 U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework. While China continues to conduct underground nuclear tests, it has stated that it intends to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996.

Nonetheless, some Chinese commercial transactions, particularly transactions involving nuclear-, missile-, and chemical-related technologies to unstable regions such as the Middle East and South Asia, raise serious proliferation concerns. The Chinese continue to modernize their inventory of nuclear weapons systems, which now includes over a hundred warheads deployed operationally in medium range ballistic missiles (MRBMs), intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Since becoming a nuclear weapons state in 1964, Chinese officials have declared a policy of "no first use" repeatedly, and have stated that China's nuclear arsenal is for self-defense only.

China has a mature chemical warfare capability and may well have maintained the biological warfare program it had prior to acceding to the Biological Weapons Convention in 1984. It has funded a chemical warfare program since the 1950s and has produced and weaponized a wide variety of agents. Its biological warfare program included manufacturing infectious micro-organisms and toxins. China has a wide range of delivery means available, including ballistic and cruise missiles and aircraft, and is continuing to develop systems with upgraded capabilities.

China plans to expand its already substantial nuclear power program by constructing several new plants during the next 20 years. China continues to market its growing expertise in nuclear power technology to other countries, which adds to concerns about proliferating nuclear materials and know-how that may support weapons programs.

Role as Supplier

Because its conventional arms exports have declined significantly since the late 1980s, China's defense industry is reluctant to reduce its remaining arms exports. In the past, China has exported chemical warfare-related material and missile technology and components to Iran. Overall, China continues to try to balance its role as an aspiring global power that abides by international arms control regimes with its need to use exports to expand its influence abroad and sustain its defense industries.

Table of Contents | Next Section