Fred Fleitz, managing editor of LIGNET.com, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee this morning on the threat from North Korea, telling Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the other members of the committee that Kim Jong Un’s hold on power is likely secure, even with last week’s failed missile launch, but that the 28-year-old ruler may not have the same degree of power as his father and grandfather before him.
Fleitz said he doubted that the failed launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which North Korea insisted was the launch of a satellite into orbit, would lead to any serious challenges to the Kim Jong Un regime, or any major policy shift by North Korea.
“It would be a mistake to interpret minor changes in policy concerning the way North Korean officials handled last week’s failed missile launch as a major policy shift. Kim Jong Un may have signaled this when he endorsed the ‘military first’ policy of his father during his first public speech at a massive celebration in Pyongyang yesterday.”
In his testimony, Fleitz emphasized that even in light of the failed missile launch, North Korea remains a serious threat to Asia and to the West, with a special operations force of 60,000 trained in a variety of infiltration methods, and a conventional weapons arsenal believed to include 13,000 artillery systems, 2,000 armored personnel carriers, 1,700 aircraft and 800 surface combatants.
Its unconventional arsenal, said Fleitz, is thought to include 600-800 ballistic missiles, a number of intercontinental ballistic missiles, both a chemical and a biological weapons program, and a nuclear program well enough developed that North Korea exported this technology to Syria.
“While there are serious questions about the capabilities and operational readiness of North Korea’s armed forces, it has a massive arsenal of missiles as well as chemical weapons and nuclear weapons targeting Seoul and the 24 million who live in the Seoul metropolitan area. There is little leeway for miscalculation on North Korea,” said Fleitz.
Fleitz spent more than 20 years as a CIA analyst, and also served as chief of staff to Ambassador to the UN John Bolton and as a senior staffer on the House Intelligence Committee before joining LIGNET in 2011.
In his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he raised the little-mentioned issue of North Korea’s kidnapping of several hundred Japanese and South Koreans in the late 1970s, most of whom are believed to have been taken to assist North Korean agents with espionage training. Some Japanese and South Korean women may have been seized to serve as wives for North Korean officials and spies.
The issue has gotten little international attention, though it is a major point of contention between North Korea and Japan and North Korea and South Korea.
“While North Korea admitted to a handful of Japanese abductions in 2002, it has never fully accounted for them,” said Fleitz. “The issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea remains an enormously important issue for the people of Japan and unfortunately has been largely ignored by both the Obama and Bush administrations."
“We have to hold to our principles and fight for everything we believe in when we engage the North Koreans,” said Fleitz in response to a question by a member of the committee.