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July 9, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

North Korean leadership
New reports from U.S. and diplomatic sources say that the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il continues to decline and that he may have only one more year to live.

A U.S. official who is familiar with the Korea situation but spoke on condition that he not be named said there are signs that Mr. Kim is still not well nearly a year after he suffered a stroke.

"Kim Jong-il certainly hasn't been in good shape since his stroke last year, and, as time wears on, it's increasingly clear that he's not where he was before experiencing his health setback," the official said.

A diplomatic source who also asked not to be named said reports from Asia indicate Mr. Kim recently gave up Western medical treatment and is relying mostly on Asian remedies, including herbal brews and other nontraditional methods.

Mr. Kim, 67, made a rare public appearance on state television in Pyongyang on Wednesday and appeared haggard and gaunt. Intelligence analysts had earlier concluded that he appeared to have recovered from the stroke and assessed that he remained firmly in control as the reclusive communist state's maximum leader.

However, the announcement last month that Mr. Kim's third son, Kim Jong-un, would eventually take over from his father fueled speculation that Mr. Kim is in failing health.

U.S. and diplomatic sources declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the information. They said Mr. Kim's health problems have set off an apparent succession in Pyongyang that is expected to culminate in Kim Jong-un taking over in about a year's time.

Two power factions have emerged within the ruling military-political structure in North Korea that are being watched closely by intelligence analysts.

One is headed by close confident and senior military aide to Kim Jong-il, Gen. O Kuk-ryol. The other faction is headed by Jang Song-taek, who is related to Mr. Kim by marriage and who is considered a key aide with experience. Both Gen. O and Mr. Jang were elevated to positions on the all-powerful Central Military Commission, the power organ that has eclipsed the communist Workers' Party of Korea as the main vehicle of control for the regime.

POW commission restarts
Russia agreed this week to reactivate a U.S.-Russian commission on prisoners of war and missing in action (POW-MIA) issues that Moscow backed away from in 2004 amid worsening ties with Washington.

The White House announced that the U.S. and Russian governments reached "a common understanding on a framework" on the commission after exchanging diplomatic notes.

Specifically, the two sides are renewing talks at the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on Prisoners of War and Missing in Action set up in the early 1990s to resolve issues of missing servicemen.

The commission first rose to prominence in 1994 when the Russian head, Col. Gen. Dmitri Volkogonov, announced that he had discovered a KGB document from the 1960s stating that Russian intelligence had been assigned the task of delivering knowledgeable Americans to the then-Soviet Union for intelligence purposes. The general's claims were never verified, and Russian intelligence later claimed no such plan was implemented.

If American POWs were shipped from Vietnam to Russia, it would be contrary to official U.S. claims that all Americans were accounted for from the Vietnam War.

Longtime POW researcher Mark Sauter, who has 20 years' experience probing the fate of Korean War POW-MIAs, including research in Russia and North Korea, said Russia halted the commission work five years ago.

"Restoring the Joint Commission is overdue and necessary, but not sufficient, to resolve the fate of many missing American heroes," Mr. Sauter said.

Mr. Sauter said the commission helped the Russians resolve the fate of dozens to scores of Russian soldiers lost in Afghanistan after the 1979 Soviet invasion.

Several U.S. cases, including the recovery of the remains of an American aviator killed in Russia during the Cold War, also were resolved by the panel.

However, Mr. Sauter said the problem with the commission is that Moscow has been withholding secret files it has on American POWs shipped to Siberia from Korea.

"We know and they know they have files that would resolve cases of Americans shipped from Korea to China, to Siberia," he said. "But all the U.S. side has been allowed to do is pick around the edges of those files." Mr. Sauter said Moscow has refused to release files from the KGB intelligence service, GRU military intelligence, and Central Committee documents on U.S. prisoners.

A Russian Embassy spokesman could not be reached for comment about the issue.

President Bush first requested in 2006 that the commission be reactivated and returned to its position under the Kremlin after it was downgraded and put under the Russian Defense Ministry in 2004.

"This exchange restores in full the important work of the Joint Commission and demonstrates the unwavering commitment both our countries have toward our servicemen and -women," the White House said in a July 6 statement.

The U.S. side is headed by retired Air Force Gen. Robert H. "Doc" Foglesong, and commission members include Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, and Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat; former Vietnam War POW Rep. Sam Johnson, Republican of Texas; Ambassador Charles Ray, deputy assistant defense secretary for POW/MIA Affairs; A. Denis Clift, president of the Joint Military Intelligence College; Timothy Nenninger of the National Archives; and Pentagon official Norman Kass, who serves as the executive secretary.

The commission will include four working groups on missing from World War II; the Korean War; the Vietnam War, and the Cold War, including Soviet military personnel unaccounted for in Afghanistan.

It is not clear why Russia agreed to renew the Commission's work, but Mr. Sauter suggested it may have been a way for the Russian government to show a desire to improve relations with Washington while President Obama visited Moscow this week.

Deterrent working, group reports
An informal group of security specialists is challenging President Obama's stated goal of eliminating nuclear weapons, saying it could produce policies that will undermine much-needed modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons and infrastructure. The New Deterrent Working Group stated in a white paper released last week that the president is rushing into a new strategic arms agreement with Russia before completing two congressionally required strategic reviews of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

"The bottom line is that any follow-on agreement must ensure the continued effectiveness and credibility of the U.S. strategic posture sufficient to maintain America's own security and that of its allies through extended nuclear deterrence," the report stated.

The report said that any new strategic arms treaty with Russia must not limit the effectiveness of maintaining a credible and reliant U.S. strategic nuclear deterrence.

U.S. nuclear forces "serve as a deterrent to attacks on the United States from countries armed with nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, such as biological and chemical weapons," the report said.

"For example, U.S. nuclear forces provide a hedge against a resurgent Russia, which deploys thousands of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, has placed increasing emphasis on its nuclear forces in its military doctrine, and continues to modernize its nuclear weaponry in concert with its pursuit of a more anti-American foreign policy," the report said. "They serve as a deterrent to China, which is also pursuing its own extensive military modernization program. They can also dissuade other nuclear and non-nuclear powers from adopting more belligerent policies that threaten U.S. interests."

Peter Huessy, a member of the working group, said the group's report highlights the concern that lowering the number of nuclear arms does not always enhance deterrence. "In the case of the current U.S. deterrent, further dramatic reductions could be very dangerous," said Mr. Huessy, a senior consultant at the National Defense University Foundation and president of GeoStrategic Analysis, a consulting firm.

Mr. Huessy said the current Russian government proposal to cut nuclear delivery systems to 300 to 500 "platforms" -- missile launchers, bombers and submarine launchers -- would reverse four decades of arms control progress that sought to strengthen deterrence and crisis stability.

"If we go down to 300 to 500 platforms which the Russians have proposed at one time or another, this would cut our nuclear deterrent forces by between at least 50 to 70 percent, dramatically increasing instability, making any crisis more dangerous, and heightening the possibility that nuclear weapons would be used quickly in a crisis," he said, noting that his views for the working group did not represent those of the NDU Foundation.

Mr. Huessy said he favors keeping the current level of U.S. nuclear platforms to 450 Minuteman missiles, 14 submarines with over 300 missiles and some 70 bombers.

"This deterrent strategy has kept the peace for the past five decades," he said. "While warheads can be reduced should geostrategic conditions allow, the platforms on which they are carried should stay absolutely at their current level."

The working group included several arms and defense specialists, including Mr. Huessy, Henry F. Cooper, former head of the Strategic Defense Initiative; Paula DeSutter, former assistant secretary of state for verification; Frank J. Gaffney, former assistant defense secretary for international security; Sven F. Kraemer, former director of arms control at the National Security Council; retired Adm. James Lyons, former commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet; retired Vice Adm. Robert Monroe, former director of the Defense Nuclear Agency; Robert L. Pfaltzgraff, president of the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis at Tufts University; and Troy Wade, former Energy Department director of defense programs.

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