South Korea fears North Korean ballistic missiles because inexplicably, it has not yet constructed a national ballistic-missile defense system. South Korea built three Kim Sejong class Aegis destroyers, but unlike Japan, did not purchase the software and missiles necessary to allow them to engage ballistic missiles. A nationwide missile defense system is currently under development, but until then, South Korea will have to rely on Patriot-2 missiles for point defense. In the meantime, for broad national defense, South Korea would have to rely on United States and Japan and their BMD-capable destroyers.
North Korea is long known to possess chemical weapons. North Korea has a curious attitude toward chemical weapons: unlike with nuclear weapons, it keeps relatively quiet about its chemical arsenal and does not threaten to use them against South Korea and the United States.
North Korea develops and manufactures its own chemical weapons. The Second Academy of Natural Sciences and the Fifth Machine Industry Bureau are responsible for the development and production of chemical weapons and related equipment.
According to Joseph Bermudez, the Korean People’s Army is known to have inventories of adamsite, CN and CS (riot control gases), chlorine and mustard gases (irritants), hydrogen cyanide, cyanogen chloride and phosgene (blood agents), as well as sarin, soman, tabun, VM and VX (nerve gasses). Bermudez believes the North has an inventory of 2,500 to 5,000 tons of agents—mainly mustard gas, phosgene, sarin, VM and VX.
There have been reports of North Korea testing chemical weapons on political prisoners, including women and disabled children. According to one defector, a former Army captain, political prisoners are marched into glass chambers and then gassed, with doctors noting how long it takes the prisoners to die. The reports are impossible to corroborate, but they are consistent.
North Korea produces artillery shells, missile warheads and air-delivered weapons capable of carrying chemical weapons. North Korea is also known to have exported chemical-weapons gear. North Korea built the Syrian Al-Safir chemical weapons facility and missile base in the 1990s, where chemical munitions are produced and ballistic missiles with chemical warheads are stored. In 2012, North Korean gas masks, protective gear and detection ampules were discovered in Syria.
South Korea should fear Northern chemical weapons because the Korean People’s Army appears extensively trained in their usage. Furthermore, the population density in South Korea, particularly in and around Seoul would make chemical attacks even more deadly against civilians.
Kyle Mizokami is a writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and The Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami. Editor's Note: This piece first appeared in July 2014 and is being reposted due to reader interest on North Korea.