North Korean leader Kim Jong-un should pay attention to America’s shock attack on Syria’s chemical weapons depots and its related Damascus Scientific Research Center.
All of them were allegedly knocked out on Saturday by cruise missiles fired by the United States, United Kingdom and France from ships, submarines and aircraft, including the B-1 bomber that allows for strikes outside of Syrian air space.
And despite what the Russians are saying, not a single cruise missile was shot down and all but one of the 105 missiles fired at targets in Syria hit their mark.
Moreover, there were no civilian or military casualties caused by the cruise missile strikes, according to initial reports.
According to the US Defense Department, the Syrians were firing air defense missiles blindly into the air and launched some 40 missiles well after the raid had ended. The Russians claimed that more than 70 cruise missiles were shot down.
Moscow’s is a nonsense claim because even if there was some truth in it there was no way the Russians could document shoot downs without photographic, radar and other evidence.
And the Russians were upended even by Syrian TV, which broadcast video of the total destruction of the chemical weapons research center in the national capital that was flattened by the strikes.
It is important to point out that the research center has been involved since the early 1970’s in chemical and biological weapons research and development, and has received some 40 or more shipments of specialized supplies from North Korea, according to reports.
It has also licensed the nerve agent Tabun from the Iranians, the same reports said. Overall, the center’s links to North Korea and Iran are not just related to research and development. It was also a hub for the unconventional mass destruction technology all are using or plan to use.
Yet it is surprising that some Western news media offered up the Russian version of events as truthful, without confirming anything and without checking with authorities in the US, the UK or France.
In fact, the US waited until daylight to confirm that its missile strikes had destroyed all the targeted depots and research facilities.
The raid was especially successful not only because it destroyed a good deal of Syria’s chemical weapons capability but also because the allies showed that they were carrying out their stated objective, no more and no less.
In other words, the Russians had to clearly understand that the attack was not aimed at them, nor at the Iranians, although US President Donald Trump made it abundantly clear that they were both complicit in aiding and abetting Syria’s retention and use of chemical weapons.
Trump also made it clear that the use of chemical weapons was in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The American president’s claim that Syria had used both chlorine and the nerve agent Sarin was backed by intelligence provided by the White House, that also contained in clear language the assessments made by the US intelligence community.
The Syrians were mixing nerve agents into their chlorine barrel bombs and even filling chemical hand grenades with Sarin, and they were doing so without respite since 2013, two years into the country’s civil war.
This is what happened in Douma on April 7, and it was enough to kill 70 people –many of them women and children– and facilitate the takeover of the area by Syrian troops.
Since the start of Syria’s civil war, government forces have used chemical weapons at least 50 times, according to Nikki Haley, America’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Given what is known about Russia’s continuing nerve agent program and the semi-exotic new generation of nerve agents known as Novichok, it is probably a fair assessment that Russia’s military plans to use nerve gas when needed, either to flush out the enemy or destroy civilian populations that give support and cover for groups it deems as terrorists.
In the past, when Russia used excessive force to destroy the Chechen rebellion, it seems chemical weapons were not used.
It is quite possible, although more research is needed for confirmation, that the Russians reactivated their nerve gas and other chemical munitions programs primarily to use alternative means of ending internal terrorism, especially from Chechens and other Islamists.
Thus while Russia is a signatory to the UN’s Chemical Weapons Convention, Moscow made sure it did not cover certain types of organophosphates and their precursors, enabling the manufacture of a new generation of nerve agents.
The new Novichok agents have apparently not been transferred to Syria, which is relying on sarin and chlorine. (The Syrian government denies it uses chemical weapons.) Chlorine is not banned by the Convention — a big omission — but sarin and its precursors are.
The US was well within its rights to take action where it saw clear violations of the Convention, because the Convention itself relies on its signatories for enforcement.
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un should pay attention to recent events for two key reasons. First, he is known to have a chemical weapons program which is a threat to security in the entire region, but especially to South Korea.
He has already used a lethal nerve agent to kill his half brother Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia. The US could target his chemical weapons in a similar limited strike missile attack.
The second reason for Kim Jong-un to take notice is that the US and its allies just demonstrated that they don’t miss their set targets.
With negotiations soon to take place between North and South Korea, followed by bilateral talks between the North and the US, Pyongyang can expect explicit demands for denuclearization.
Now, given Trump’s decision to strike Syria over its chemical weapons, the North Koreans may also expect to hear demands from the US to surrender their chemical weapons and end their production.
Kim Jong-un should consider receiving a Pentagon briefing on Syria before he meets with Trump. It will be sobering for him.