Rebecca Jimerson

In recent years, it has become less and less realistic for any nation to ignore the uses of space, and space-based technologies. Space technologies are useful to developing, as well as developed, nations both for their civil and military potential. While access to space-based technologies and their benefits is becoming far more affordable and widespread, the realm of outer space remains technologically and economically demanding and risky. For the government of an industrializing nation like North Korea to focus many of the country's precious resources towards becoming a space power is risky at best. For North Korean leaders bent on demonstrating their technological capabilities, the prospect of achieving space power may be tempting indeed, even if it comes at the expense of feeding their own citizenry. North Korea appears to have made just such a gamble.

A brief examination of North Korea's national governmental, military, and economic characteristics will allow for a more accurate assessment of North Korea's achievements in space. North Korea is perhaps the world's most militarized, isolated, and strictly controlled Communist nation. North Korea occupies an important strategic position in Asia, bordering South Korea (the border demarcated by a demilitarized zone), China and Russia. It is about the size of the US state of Mississippi with a population of about 23 million people.
North Korea's governmental system is highly authoritarian. North Korea's Communism, which began as Confucian-influenced Marxism-Leninism, evolved into the "Juche Idea," which is based on the necessity and desirability of self-reliance. "The [current] constitution stipulates: 'The Democratic People's Republic of Korea makes the Juche Idea, a revolutionary ideology with a people-centered view of the world that aims to realize the independence of the masses, the guiding principle of its actions." 1 North Korea's Constitution has gone through multiple revisions, the latest of which occurred in 1998. In many ways, the constitution has little effect on actual governance. On paper, a legislature (the Supreme People's Assembly), a cabinet, the head of the government, and the head of state all share power to govern the nation. However, North Korea effectively is governed by the head of state. Until his death in 1994, this leader was Kim Il Sung. Since then, his son, Kim Jong Il, has led the country, though he was not officially inaugurated as chairman of the National Defense Commission until 1998. Kim Jong-Il is also the leader of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party and of the Party Central Military Committee. While Kim Jong-Il's hold on North Korea is not as strong as his late father's, around whom a significant personality cult still centers, he appears to be firmly in control of North Korea. North Korea's most powerful institutions and constituencies are the military, the Korean Workers' Party, and the Socialist Youth League. Although most North Koreans are technically members of these groups, only a very small elite has a significant role or influence in the political maneuvering, power struggles, and corruption which define North Korea's high level governance.
North Korea's current grave weaknesses—famine and a stagnant economy—are fueled in large part by the tragic inefficiencies of its governmental system and priorities. There is no doubt that floods, poor growing seasons, and the naturally inhospitable nature of North Korea's mountainous terrain make feeding its population extremely difficult. However, many experts believe that inefficiencies and corruption account for up to 85% of North Korea's food deficit. 2 Since Kim Jong-Il's ascension to power, North Korea has abandoned its short-lived economic reforms. "An editorial of [the Party newspaper] Rodong Shinmun...indicated North Korea will scrap the agriculture-first, light-industry-first, trade-first policy adopted in the three-year economic plan (1994-1996) and instead will give top priority to heavy industry." 3 Despite these measures, growing numbers of joint projects with South Korean firms shows a certain degree of North Korean ideological flexibility in economic matters. The deteriorating humanitarian conditions in North Korea affect a large proportion of its population but appear to have little or no effect upon the Pyongyang leadership's economic priorities. North Korea is a contradiction-a nation where the vast majority of people live in poverty, but also a nation with substantial military power and potential space power. Experts believe that North Korea is essentially dominated by the top 9 to 13% of the population. 4 These 2 million-plus people constitute a formidable military and technical force.

The 1990s have not been kind to North Korea. As the most centrally planned economy in the world, 5 the DPRK has long been burdened by the inefficiencies inherent in a highly collectivized and monitored economy. North Korea lost many of its significant communist trading partners, and sources of economic assistance, to the democratizations elsewhere in the world. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea lost favorable trade opportunities and several forms of economic aid. 6 North Korea's ability to feed its own people, always precarious because of to the difficulties of successfully pursuing collectivized agriculture, the overwhelming emphasis on military industry, and the low proportion of arable land, was disastrously compromised by serious floods in the mid-1990s, which precipitated widespread and persistent famine and disease. Malnourishment is sufficiently widespread that North Korea, long proud of its self-sufficiency, appealed to the international community for help. 7
North Korea also suffers from severe energy shortages and a crumbling and inadequate civilian infrastructure (which hinders the distribution of internationally donated food aid). North Korea's GNP has dropped steadily throughout the 1990s - from $22.9 billion in 1991 to $20.5 billion in 1993. 8 Living conditions have been worsening over the past few years as food, medicines, and other necessities are in short supply. The death rate among young children is reportedly very high. 9
North Korea's isolated and often belligerent international stance, its internal regimentation, and its military and space programs are closely related. North Korea is one of the several likely flashpoints for conflict in the Pacific Rim. Because of its strongly isolationist nature, North Korea's international relations have traditionally been highly limited in nature and scope.
Although North Korea's international outlook is dominated by its relationship with South Korea (see the discussion in the chapter on South Korea), it has significant interactions with other nations in the region, as well as with the United States, which maintains a significant military presence in South Korea. The following paragraphs summarize these relationships.
UNITED STATES- Between the United States and North Korea lie fifty years of military skirmishes, harsh words, and veiled threats. North Korea's ire and military posturing has often been directed as much toward the United States as toward South Korea. While the United States dwarfs North Korea in power, influence, and military capability, it has never had the luxury of being able to ignore the Communist nation. During the Cold War, North Korea's proximity to US allies in Asia, as well as to the USSR and China, made it a more significant threat to US interests than most third-world communist nations. The United States and North Korea first clashed during the Korean War, where US troops dominated the UN "police action." Since the end of the Korean War, and the posting of large numbers of US troops in South Korea, American and South Korean troops have had numerous tense, and several violent, contacts with North Korean forces. Early main incidents of high tensions and/or violence include the 1968 seizure of the USS Pueblo by North Korea, the "Hatchet Incident" of 1976, 10 incursions from the North, and events surrounding the succession to the South Korean leadership in 1979.
While the end of the Cold War marked an improvement in US relations with many of the remaining Communist states, United States-North Korean relations have only worsened. "North Korea, independent and unstable, looked even more frightening than when thought to be a puppet of the communist bloc. Pyongyang had little to lose, having been virtually abandoned militarily, politically, and economically by Moscow and Beijing, as well as facing recurrent natural disasters." 11 In 1993, tensions on the Korean peninsula rose to a dangerously high level as a result of North Korean attempts to develop nuclear weapons. While much of North Korea's focus on nuclear technology and build-up conventional of weapons is officially directed against South Korea, as one of the regions chief power brokers, the United States is often the main target of North Korea's aggressive behavior. 12
North Korea remains a high priority foreign policy and military concern for the United States, not only because of US concern for the safety of its forces in South Korea, as well as its regional allies, but also because of certain key strategic factors affected by North Korea's behavior. North Korea's military capability has long motivated significant US deployments in South Korea. North Korea's development of advanced military capabilities, from chemical and biological weapons, to nuclear capabilities, to missile technology, has raised US concerns, and has led to fears that North Korea would develop the ability to threaten US territory directly. As noted in the chart below, North Korea's newer missiles have the capability to threaten, not just South Korea, but Japan, much of the Asia-Pacific region, and eventually, potentially even the United States. The North Korean ability to access space, even to a limited extent, threatens the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific, and could, in time, affect the perceived US control over outer space. North Korea's 1998 launch of a Taepo-Dong missile over Japan, and its concomitant developments in missile technology, as well as its role in missile proliferation, have helped to prompt military enhancements in China, Japan, and South Korea.
It is in the interests of both the United States and North Korea to strive toward a lessening of tensions in the region through an improved relationship. "Despite the belligerence that earned it the label of 'rogue state,' North Korea has long sought to achieve greater recognition from Washington." 13 North Korea has rather skillfully used its missile capabilities and the threat of a renewed nuclear program to coax significant humanitarian aid from the United States. A more peaceful North Korea, and an improvement in relations between the United States, North Korea and South Korea, could help lower tensions in the volatile Pacific Rim. The United States has made clear its willingness to pursue relations with North Korea so long as "North Korea publicly renounce[s] terrorism and expel[s] all terrorism suspects." 14 The two nations held talks on terrorism in summer 2000, though little concrete progress was made. In response to the constructive character of the inter-Korean summit and North Korea's recent overtures to both South Korea and the United States, the United States partially lifted its long-standing economic sanctions against North Korea. Despite more liberal trade policies, "US counter-terrorism and weapons-proliferation sanctions against North Korea remain in effect..."15
United States-North Korean relations remain shaky at best. The United States, one of the main parties in the Korean War and one of the main parties in the maintenance of the fragile fifty-year peace on the Korean peninsula, has almost obsessively monitored North Korean's advancements in military technology, and is particularly concerned about its missile development. Recently, an improbable, but potentially useful opportunity to encourage North Korean compliance with nonproliferation regimes has emerged. The July 2000 meeting between Russian President Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il yielded a tantalizing, if somewhat dubious, offer. Putin later reported that North Korea had offered to cease its development of long-range missiles if other countries would agree to assist its space efforts by launching at least two North Korean space satellites a year. 16 US military and government officials responded to the North Korean missile offer with "controlled exuberance but said [these events] do not justify a reduction of US troops in South Korea or cancel the requirement for a National Missile Defense system to protect the United states from missile attacks." 17 Even without long-range missiles, North Korea's large military force makes it a major regional power. 18
Later reports suggest that Kim Jong II was not serious in his offer. 19 In a meeting with South Korean media executives, Kim "acknowledged that 'we are selling rockets to Syria and Iran' and would continue rocket development. 'How could we not do it when a couple of hundred million dollars come out of rocket research?'" 20 Kim's comments were sufficiently vague that some believe he was sincere in his earlier comments to Putin and merely wants to make clear that, even as North Korea pursues peace, it still maintains the ability to wage war. In keeping with the Juche idea, Kim noted that, "the smaller a nation is, one should strongly keep its pride and confront powerful big nations." 21
CHINA- As two of Asia's remaining Communist states, China and North Korea have never been hostile to each other, but they are not close allies. However, this year saw a warming of their relationship. On May 29, 2000, the North Korean leader made a secret visit to China to meet with Chinese premier Jiang Zemin in Beijing. The two leaders focused on North Korean preparations for the June 2000 inter-Korean summit and on possible Chinese economic assistance to North Korea, indicating the renewal of more intensive contacts between the two states. 22 China was highly supportive of the North-South Korean summit and facilitated secret talks between North and South Korea prior to the summit. 23 Chinese officials have stated several times their belief that North Korea's adversarial and militaristic stance is based, at least in part, on the US military presence in South Korea, and will be worsened by any US deployment of theater missile defense (TMD) in South Korea. Improving relations between North Korea and China could have political and practical benefits for both nations. Efforts by China and Russia to reduce North Korea's threatening image could undercut the perceived need for a US TMD. 24
RUSSIA/USSR-During the Korean War, the USSR and the DPRK were, to some extent, allies. The USSR was one of North Korea's major trading partners, and supplied the nation with significant amounts of military and economic aid. The USSR was one of the main sponsors of the Korean War, and primarily responsible for arming the North Korea state. Certain aspects of Soviet military and communist doctrine remain dominant in North Korea to this day. Nevertheless, despite their technical ideological similarities, the USSR and the DPRK were never close allies. North Korea's highly isolationist attitude distanced it from both China and the Soviet Union.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union brought about an abrupt end of Soviet aid to North Korea, leading, in large part, to North Korea's economic decline. Since the end of the Cold War, Russia and North Korea have grown apart. However, Russia's desire to maintain its regional influence and its ability to play North Korea against the United States, has led to a continuing relationship with North Korea. Russian scientists have (against the Russian government's publicly-stated wishes) continued to be employed as military consultants in North Korea.
There have also been significant recent developments in North Korea's relations with Russia. As noted above, on July 20, 2000, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong-Il. Putin's visit to North Korea was the first visit of a Russian- or Soviet- leader to that state. "The American antiballistic missile plan [was] very much on the agenda, according to the Russians...Russians and North Koreans would have a general discussion on 'how we can act together in the world situation, including in connection with US plans for ABM.'" 25 Putin's meeting with Kim Jong-Il confirmed Russia's renewed commitment to North Korea, and spurred debate over the possible emergence of an informal Chinese-Russian-North Korean alliance in Asia. As well, in April 2001, Russia and North Korea signed an agreement wherein Russia will upgrade North Korea's Soviet era weapons. 26 The Russian-North Korean meeting demonstrates quite clearly that not only is North Korea ready to move at least a bit from its isolationist stance, but also that other nations are ready to meet North Korea halfway.
North Korea's Relations with Other Nations- While North Korea has long been highly isolationist, it has also maintained contacts with other nations. Many of these have been adversarial, as with the United States, South Korea, Japan, but it also has long standing unofficial and friendlier relations with nations such as Iran, Syria, Libya and Pakistan, which are interested in purchasing North Korean missiles, missile technology, and other weapons.
In recent years, North Korea has been forced to adjust its prior stance of almost total isolation. North Korea received humanitarian aid from a number of nations—including the United States, Japan and South Korea—during the 1990s. This is an unwelcome choice for North Korea, for it directly counters the Juche idea. As well, while "North Korea desperately needs economic fears political instability if its repressed citizens see the prosperity outside its borders." 27 In addition to seeking humanitarian aid, North Korea has also moved cautiously towards normalizing relations with other nations, including Italy, Australia, and the Philippines, which will facilitate the delivery of economic aid from these and other countries. 28 Normalization of relations allows North Korea greater access to humanitarian assistance and improves its world standing. Western nations who have normalized their relations with North Korea have done so in hope that this will give them more influence over the reclusive state. For Japan and South Korea, granting humanitarian aid to North Korea has also been done, at least in part, to mitigate the threat of possible North Korean aggression.
The year 2000 has brought significant developments in North Korea's foreign relations, both with South Korea, and with other nations. North Korea's slow emergence from total isolation accelerated in 2000, "creating a new political and security environment in East Asia, setting off a scramble for influence by Asian powers and the United States." 29 North Korean representatives—including foreign minister Paek Nam Sun—attended the regional summit at the G-8 meeting at Okinawa. North Korean diplomats were greeted with enthusiasm, as representatives of North Korea's new willingness to practice conventional diplomacy. While many nations still doubt the sincerity of North Korea's overtures, these overtures may lead to a less dangerous Southeast Asia.

As the world's most militarized nation, there is often very little distinction between the goals of the North Korean military and those of the nation. North Korean military doctrine and the actions of the North Korean regime appear enigmatic to the Western eye. "Although North Korea's strategies and tactics can be (sometimes purposefully) baffling, the country is being run by extremely intelligent and very rational people, with a strongly developed sense of self-preservation. The North Korean acquisition of weapons of mass destruction stems not from an indifference to deterrence, but rather a keenly developed understanding of the uses of deterrence." 30 North Korean military doctrine depends closely on the Juche idea, which stresses the importance of self-reliance and independence from outside parties... 31 As well, "DPRK military policy focuses on maintaining and sustaining a military force capable of conducting an offensive operation into the ROK to attain the national goal of reunifying the peninsula..." 32 While North Korean military doctrine stresses the necessity of a strong offense in case of a conflict, it does not necessarily require the initiation of conflicts. North Korean military doctrine has evolved steadily since 1948. Between 1951 and December 1962, North Korea followed a conventional doctrine derived from Soviet doctrine and operations, modified according to its experience with the Korean War. In 1962, a revised military doctrine emphasized the modernization of the Korean army, the fortification of the entire nation, self-reliance, and the preparation for a war of attrition. 33 During the 1960s, military planners paid significant attention to the ideological aspects of war.
From the mid-1970s on, North Korean military strategy focused on a continual modernization of weapons, and an increase in force mobility. It also focuses on offensive operations, in the belief that its forces can achieve decisive results only by a strong offense with three objectives: "the destruction of enemy forces, the seizure and control of territory, and the destruction of the enemy's will to fight." 34 Despite the offensive orientation of North Korean military doctrine and the somewhat inflammatory nature of North Korean rhetoric, North Korean actions have rarely been explicitly aggressive. North Korean military doctrine stresses the use of both conventional weapons, and chemical and biological weapons in such an offensive. Western analysts know very little about North Korea's nuclear strategy except that the country's collaboration with the Soviet and Chinese militaries has probably influenced its approach to the development and deployment of such weapons. 35
It is widely estimated that "Pyongyang commits roughly 25 to 30 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to military spending." 36 The North Korean military is broken down into the North Korean People's Army (which includes the Army, Navy and Air Force) and the Civil Security Forces. North Korea's standing Army, which makes up the major arm of the military, is more than a million strong. 37 One distinctive characteristic of the DPRK's Army is the Special Purpose Forces Command, which focuses on reconnaissance and preparation for guerilla activity. 38

North Korean Ground Forces Order of Battle 1992 Number 1999 Number
Strength +1,100,000 996,000
Divisions/Brigades 153
Infantry Divisions 26-30 60
Mechanized and mobile brigades 23-30 25
Armor brigades 14-15 13
Artillery brigades 20-30 30
Special operations forces brigades 22 25
Total medium and light tanks 3,600 2,800
Artillery 11,200
Chart courtesy of FAS, accessed at

North Korea's air force is of medium strength and capabilities, with over 500 combat aircraft, including several hundred fairly new MiG-21s and MiG-29s. The North Korean Air Force " became a separate service in 1948. The air force adapted Soviet and Chinese tactics and doctrine to reflect North Korea's situation, requirements, and available resources. Its primary mission is air defense of the homeland." 39 The North Korean Air Force has significant resources for, and focus upon, air defense. It has placed many of its military industrial production, and aircraft supporting, including hangers, ammunition, fuel, and repair facility either underground or in hardened shelters. It also has an extremely dense air defense network. 40

North Korean Air Force Order of Battle, 1992 Number
Strength 70,000
Air combat commands 3
Air division 1
Interceptor regiments 12
Total aircraft
Jet fighters 760
bombers 82
Transports 280
Helicopters 300
Chart courtesy of FAS, accessed at

The North Korean People's Army also includes a separate naval force, which is headquartered in Pyongyang and focuses on coastal defense. "Most North Korean combat vessels, such as light destroyers, patrol ships, guided missile boats, torpedo boats, and fire support boats are small. Some 40 guided missile boats pose a substantial threat; they have the capability of launching missile attacks against [US] large vessels and are equipped with two to four 46-km-range Styx anti-ship missiles." 41 The North Korean Navy appears to have reduced its earlier habit of mounting seaborne infiltration attempts into South Korea, though the possibility of renewed actions of this sort remains.

North Korean Navy Order of Battle, 1992 Number
Strength 40,000-60,000
Fleets 2
Squadrons- East Sea 10
Squadrons- Yellow Sea 6
Submarines 25
Missile attack boats (PTG) 39
Coastal partol boats 400
Amphibious craft 198
Marine warfare craft 23
Chart Courtesy of FAS, accessed at

Although the North Korean military suffers from outdated weapons and infrastructure, and certain deficiencies within its structure and technology (such as a relatively weak Air Force), it remains a potentially formidable adversary. The North Korean army does not, in general, reflect the impoverished nature of the DPRK, but rather the strong image North Korea strives to project.
Certain sectors of the North Korean's military are technologically well advanced. It also maintains at least some limited nuclear capability. Some experts believe that North Korea has sufficient plutonium to arm one or two nuclear weapons. 42 While North Korea signed the 1994 Agreed Framework with the US (and South Korea), which committed the DPRK to a cessation of military-oriented nuclear activities, it is unlikely that this agreement has (or will) substantially alter North Korea's intentions, merely its methods. Experts worry that continued undeclared development of nuclear weapons continues, leading to the possibility that North Korea could produce nuclear weapons despite the 1994 Agreed Framework. 43,44
North Korea is also suspected of producing both biological and chemical weapons. North Korea is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention (1993) or to international agreements governing biological weapons, and, may, in keeping with Soviet doctrine, regard chemical weapons as integral to any future military action. 45 North Korea also appears to be continuing its development and stockpiling of toxic and biological substances, including malignant anthrax, cholera, bubonic plague and smallpox. It is also apparently testing biological weapons on its nearby island territories. 46
North Korea's probable chemical and biological weapons capability (and likely nuclear weapon capability) are made a more serious threat by the DPRK's fairly robust missile base (which could serve as a delivery system for weapons of mass destruction, as well as for conventional weapons.)

North Korea has been actively pursuing a ballistic missile development programme since the mid 1970s, when it became involved in a Chinese programme...Despite severe shortages of resources, North Korea continues to press forward with its ballistic missile programmes. The reported 1997 deployment of the No-Dong Medium-Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM), during a period of widespread famine in the country, highlights Pyongyang's determination to bolster its missile capabilities at any cost. This deployment and the ongoing work on the longer-range Taepo-Dong 1 and 2 systems underscores North Korea's interest in using its ballistic missile forces to hold more distant targets at risk, including those in Japan and ultimately the United States. 47
The DPRK's missile programs have become steadily more advanced over the last decade. North Korea's missiles have not only provided North Korea with a significant source of income, but also serve as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the United States, Japan and South Korea. North Korea began its ballistic missile program by obtaining a few Scud-Bs from Egypt in the early 1980s. North Korea modified the Scuds for greater range and payload capacity, which improved the missile enough to make it attractive enough for export. It was at this time that North Korea obtained financial support from Iran to support the Mod-B's development. 48 North Korea is a leading arms exporter, exporting 500 to 600 million dollars worth of weapons per year. 49,50 This makes North Korea's military technologies one of the nation's major sources of hard currency. 51 North Korean engineers have proved extremely capable in reverse engineering and improving Russian and Chinese missile systems. Indeed, Syria has reportedly paid North Korea to reverse-engineer and produce Russian SS-21 missiles. 52 In the last several years, North Korea has reportedly exported missiles to Iran, to Pakistan, and possibly to Libya. North Korea may also export its future longer-range missiles to these countries. 53
Nevertheless, North Korea's current ballistic missiles are nowhere near as advanced as US, Russian or Chinese systems. North Korea continues, therefore, to work on advancing its ballistic missile capability both through internal development and by seeking "to obtain advanced conventional weapons and related technologies such as aircraft electronics and spare parts from several countries, including Kazakhstan." 54 While both China and Russia have downgraded their relationship with North Korea, substantial and often unofficial contact between military and technical communities have continued to bolster North Korea's advancing missile program.
Since the mid-1990s, North Korea has focused upon the development of a longer range ballistic missile, the Taepo Dong series. North Korea continues to perfect its Taepo Dong missiles, launching a three-stage missile with a range of up to 3,500 miles, in August 1998. 55 The Taepo Dong missiles are far more sophisticated than the SCUDs with which North Korea started. Three-stage missiles could also be used for launching satellites (see further discussion in next section).

North Korean Missile Technology56
Designation Stages Propellant Range IOC Inventory Comment
Scud-B 1 liquid 300 km 1981 ? 100
Hwasong-5 1 liquid 330 km 1984 ? 150 Scud-B derivative
Hwasong-6/td> 1 liquid 500 km 1989 ? 250 Scud-C
No-dong-1, 257 1 liquid 1300 km 1999 100 (approx)
Taepo Dong-1 2 liquid 1500 - 2000 km 2000 0
Taepo Dong-2 2 liquid 3750 - 6000 km 2000 0
NKSL-1* 3 liquid + solid orbital 1998 ILC 0
NKSL-X-2** 3 liquid + solid orbital 1999 ILC? 0

*NKSL-1 is an unofficial designation created by Charles Vick. The NKSL-1 is a Taepo Dong-1 missile with a third stage and satellite added.
**NKSL-X-2 is an unofficial designation created by Charles Vick. NKSL-X-2 is a Taepo Dong-2 missile with a third stage and satellite added.

North Korea has, at least implicitly, identified outer space as an area of national interest. The development of space technologies is a priority for North Korea because of the special characteristics of space as the high ground of offense and defense. For North Korea, outer space is of military interest, first and foremost. For the DPRK, an impoverished nation with a highly regimented society, and an inward looking worldview dominated by military concerns, space power, while not easily achieved, is a potentially invaluable goal.
The North Korean government cannot realistically deny or ignore the threats that external space based technologies potentially pose to North Korea and its governing regime. These threats are great indeed, for they are cultural, political and military in nature. Transparency, both military and cultural, poses a grave danger to North Korea's leadership. Although the isolated general population seems not to be dissatisfied with its rulers, access to global communications and media- through space-based technologies could de-stabilize the domestic situation and seriously hinder North Korean leaders' ability to stay in power. The growing utility and hazards of outer space have led the DPRK's leaders to attempt to mold North Korea into a power in space, one of the arenas in which it is also most vulnerable. North Korea's primary approach to space has been via the quasi-space military technologies, including ballistic missiles. North Korea's ballistic missile program, while not technically a space program, demonstrates a moderately advanced technical capability. North Korea could, potentially, apply the lessons of its ballistic missile program to a true space program.
There is some evidence that North Korea's interest in space transcends the quasi-space military technologies. The August 1998 attempted satellite launch using the Taepo-Dong missile was intended to "greatly encourage the Korean people in the efforts to build a powerful socialist state under the wise leadership of General Secretary Kim Jong Il." 58 Any North Korean satellite launched at the present level of technological ability would not have any substantial military utility. However, it would be a significant feat in terms of image enhancement, and in terms of the military utility of future satellites.
The ballistic missiles that have raised such Western concerns about North Korea are not launch systems, and are not necessarily part of a space program. However, ballistic missiles and launch systems have many systems and technologies in common. As the North Korean attempt to launch a satellite using a Taepo-Dong demonstrates, three-stage missiles can be fairly easily modified for use as launch vehicles. In the earlier eras of their space programs, the United States, Russia, and China all launched satellites on barely-modified ballistic missiles. 59 Thus far, North Korea's focus has been primarily upon the development of missile technology, not space technology, but gaining expertise in one may enables future expertise in, and exploitation of, the other.
The DPRK's space capabilities are limited by the abysmal condition of the North Korean economy, as well as by the technically challenging nature of space operations. However, North Korean leaders appear aware of space's utility, and motivated to develop their nation's space capabilities. The DPRK has proved adept at using military space power as a bargaining chip. On a more concrete level, North Korea is believed to be using commercially available space systems and technologies to maximize its military use of space. "It is believed that North Korea has obtained commercial Global Positioning System satellite navigation packages which it will attempt to integrate into the No Dong's guidance system. If successful, this would give the missile substantially greater accuracy and bring about a corresponding increase in operational effectiveness." 60 While integration of GPS technology (and corresponding gains in accuracy) would have only limited impact on ballistic missiles, this type of technological expertise could enable the development of guided missiles.
It is difficult to obtain information on North Korean policies regarding other space capabilities and technologies, such as GPS, remote sensing, and satellite communications. However, it is possible to speculate as to North Korea's most likely policy standpoint on such issues. Such hypotheses are based largely upon the thesis that the DPRK's space program may be following a similar course as China's, not only technologically, but also politically. The technical parallels between the development of the Chinese and North Korean space programs stem largely from the fact that much of North Korea's missile know-how originated in China. That China and the DPRK's motives for seeking space power may be similar is also a reasonable conjecture. North Korea is, in many ways, a more extreme version of today's China: more rigid in its totalitarianism, more pronounced in its poverty, and more entrenched in its isolation. China has sought space power in part to be able to deal with conditions of asymmetry, to be able to fight wars in which it is the weaker power. 61 North Korea, aware that it is likely to be the weaker power in a conflict, may attempt to deal with its weakness by equalizing the playing field and depriving its adversary of advanced capabilities.
The relevant question is not how long it will take North Korea to "catch-up" with China, or the West, but rather, how long it will be before the DPRK is able routinely to use its advanced weapons systems as a bargaining chip and deterrent. North Korea's development of space capabilities has been aided by transfers of space-oriented technology from China (and Russia.) These transfers appear to have continued even in recent years. Despite years of Western predictions of North Korea's imminent demise, unless food supplies for the military are depleted enough to provoke military unrest, the North Korean regime is unlikely to collapse in the immediate future. 62 Despite, or perhaps because of, its extreme poverty and the humiliation this has caused, North Korea appears determined to strengthen its military capabilities. To the degree that space power and military strength are perceived as synonymous or mutually reinforcing, North Korea has also pursued space power.