Korea: Just Trying to Survive


November 10, 2023: While North Korea sells Cold War era weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine, South Korea is selling quantities of modern weapons to a growing number of export customers who want, and can afford, the best. Export sales in 2021 were $7.3 billion but the Ukraine War caused that to spike to $17 billion in 2022 and the 2023 total is still higher. Sales have expanded so quickly that South Korea had to obtain additional financing because import-export banks hit mandatory limits on how much they could do to facilitate arms exports from one country in a single year.

South Korea has profited from this because NATO nations bordering Ukraine or Russia have dramatically increased defense spending and purchased nearly $15 billion worth of South Korea weapons and munitions so far. South Korea produces a lot more military weapons and equipment than the North and it is of the highest quality. South Korea based its weapons on what the Americans were offering, but added additional features that made their weapons more attractive to export customers. This included lower prices. One side effect is that, once Poland receives all the South Korean tanks, mobile artillery and guided or unguided rocket launchers from South Korea, they will have the most powerful army in European NATO. This is to discourage any Russian attacks on Poland or any other NATO nation in the area.

Because of all these new export customers, South Korea is on-track to depose China from its current position as the fourth largest arms exporter.

November 9, 2023: Corruption in North Korea is becoming more common and flagrant. Even government officials are stealing from the government with a sense of impunity, which is not quite justified. Thieving officials who are flagrant or defiant are sometimes arrested and executed. Most of the time they can bribe their way out or call on more powerful officials to protect them. That is changing as the bribes demanded are increasing, often to levels the guilty officials cannot pay. Senior officials willing to bail out a subordinate are less likely to do so. The cost of everything is going up, including how much it costs for corrupt officials to stay alive. The Chinese government has become more aggressive in detecting and disrupting this smuggling. This is not just to reduce gangster activity in China, but also to assist Chinese foreign policy. Chinese diplomats can let it be known that they can do something about halting or providing smuggling capabilities to other nations.

November 8, 2023: In southwest North Korea (North Hwanghae Province) there are uranium mines that produce nearly all the uranium needed for the nuclear weapons program. North Korea had problems getting experienced miners to work in the uranium mines because of the risk of radiation poisoning. This can be minimized by wearing protective equipment, but experienced North Korean miners were not interested. The government then sought prison labor near the mine and ordered prisoners to work in the mine. These men were inexperienced but as prisoners in a “labor camp” knew that they were at high risk of dying in the camp. The miners were not fed unless they brought to the surface a high quota or ore. The death rate among the miners was high but there were always more prisoners to send into the mine. All this was top secret, but word eventually got out that if you were sent to a certain labor camp in North Hwanghae Province, you were likely to die there.

November 7, 2023: China has cracked down on North Korea information gathering inside China. North Korea used these photos and other evidence of military or commercial activities in China that foreign customers would be willing to pay for. With this new policy, North Koreans in China caught taking illegal photos and asking about local activities are arrested and charged with espionage.

November 6, 2023: South Korea intelligence believes that, so far, North Korea has provided about a million 152mm artillery shells to Russia.

November 5, 2023: In North Korea parents of young women eligible to be conscripted into the army, have arranged to have their daughters fitted with an IUD. This is a long-term contraceptive device that does a good job preventing pregnancy. About ten percent of recruits are women and it is widely known that officers will often rape female soldiers If the soldier gets pregnant, she is blamed and accused of having loose morals. These rapes have become more common in the last two decades and the government does not pressure the army to do something about this abuse.

November 4, 2023: Recent efforts by North Korea to improve their nuclear weapons involved offering Russia an opportunity to pay for some of the munitions North Korea was providing by agreeing to help North Korea improve the reliability and effectiveness of its nuclear weapons. Russia is not sure this would be a good idea because the sanctions they are dealing with now could get worse and become more difficult to get removed if they helped North Korea improve its relatively primitive nukes. Then there is the issue of South Korean attitudes. South Korea has become an economic powerhouse and one of the top ten economies in the world. Because of that South Korea has more friends and trading partners in East Asia than Russia does. South Korea has the wealth and technical skill to build nuclear weapons and reliable ones at that. Russia believes that offending South Korea is a bad idea while disappointing North Korea creates no new problems. Then there are the earlier South Korea efforts to keep nuclear weapons out of the Korean peninsula. The Americans have already taken the lead in this. In 1991 the United States withdrew all its nuclear warheads from South Korea and managed to get the two Koreas to agree not to develop and deploy nuclear weapons. This included both Koreas signing the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty). North Korea went ahead and developed nuclear weapons anyway, even though it was obvious that South Korea could do the same and produce more reliable nuclear warheads and more effective submarines to launch them from. When North Korea violated the agreement, South Korea went ahead and produced SLBMs (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles) with conventional warheads launched from South Korean designed and built submarines. Since 2014 South Korea has been building nine 3,300-ton KSS-III submarines, each able to carry six or ten locally developed SLBM ballistic or cruise missiles with a range of up to 3,000 kilometers. North Korea realized they could not develop and build anything similar. South Korea now has a growing fleet of locally built submarines that can carry ballistic or cruise missiles. Most South Koreans now approve of building nuclear warheads, just in case North Korea foolishly makes a serious threat to use such missiles against South Korea or any other country. This made North Korea realize that the economically more powerful and technically more accomplished south not only can outproduce the north when it comes to any type of weapon but has actually done so many times and is now a major producer and exporter of modern weapons. South Korea is not impressed with North Korean threats to attack them with devastating effect. The north can attack, but the south can retaliate with far greater destructive force. That is why the north continues to issue threats that South Korea ignores.

November 3, 2023: In a cost saving measure, North Korea is closing about a quarter of its foreign embassies. Most of the embassy’s closing are in Africa but others, like Spain and Hong Kong are not. The foreign embassies used to be a source of considerable income from illegal activities that were protected by diplomatic immunity. The countries where these illegal practices were conducted by embassy personnel found ways to disrupt or block these activities. Sometimes this meant shutting the North Korean embassy down. North Korea remains subject to numerous economic sanctions and one of the reasons for that was abusing diplomatic immunity in their foreign embassies to protect illegal activities.

November 2, 2023: Russia has suddenly become North Korea's largest and most profitable weapons customer. South Korean intelligence believes that North Korea also sold Russia several different types of missiles that North Korea manufactures. The largest of these are short-range ballistic missiles. North Korea also manufactures portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. Weapons sold to Russia are often the older ones that are soon going to be too old to work reliably. Many of the weapon’s shipments to Russia are paid for with Russian tech and assistance in upgrading North Korean weapons and manufacturing technology. North Korea is also receiving tech to improve North Korea's space satellites and the rockets used to launch them. North Korea also sold Russia a million 152mm artillery shells and its weapons factories are working overtime to meet the Russian demand.

November 1, 2023: North Korea is seeking ways to provide support for Palestinians fighting Israel. North Korea sees the Palestinians as another customer for North Korean weapons. Currently the Palestinians are broke because of the violence actions of the radical Palestinian faction Hamas. Israel is destroying Hamas and their base in Gaza is under attack by Israeli forces. The Israelis plan to occupy Gaza indefinitely.

October 31, 2023: The South Korean economy continues to grow while the North Korea economic growth is stalled. In terms of GDP per capita, the South Korean economy is 20 times the size of North Korea’s. North Korea insists it has no economic problems, but quietly accepts any opportunities to change that. Selling weapons to Russia for their war in Ukraine is one of those opportunities and North Korea is making the most of it.

October 29, 2023: Recent arms exports to Russia were considered newsworthy because of the War in Ukraine where Russian troops desperately need additional weapons. That brought attention to the fact that North Korea exports a lot of weapons to countries all over the world. These are usually weapons for outlaw nations or rebels. North Korea will sell to whoever can pay. Major clients include countries under sanctions or simply seeking weapons from a supplier who does not question what the weapons will be used for. This includes nations like Iran, Syria, Egypt and Qatar. Egypt and Qatar are banned from obtaining certain types of weapons. North Korea does not ban anyone who can pay, including the costs of smuggling in the weapons. This includes what North Korea must pay to Chinese smugglers who can hide the weapons shipments in legitimate ship cargoes and get most of these concealed weapons delivered. Some shipments have been discovered, which is why so much is known about the Chinese involvement.

October 24, 2023: North Korea is not hiding the increased trade with Russia. North Korea is sending weapons and Russia is paying for it with food shipments that are now arriving by train. The government wants the North Korean people to know that the chronic food shortage problem is being addressed because of increased weapons exports to Russia. This also means more work for some North Korean factories that produce weapons. What is not mentioned is that Russia is losing their war in Ukraine and the severe economic sanctions imposed on Russia are having an impact on the Russian economy. This means that buying weans from North Korea is a temporary measure. The food imports from Russia have not yet had an impact on North Korean food prices, which are still rising.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close