- U.S. general calls conventional forces declining but potent
- Kim Jong Un is in complete control of military, Brooks says
North Korea’s asymmetric warfare potential is being bolstered by one of the world’s best and most organized cyber attack capabilities, according to the Army general nominated to command U.S. forces in South Korea.
“This is an area of growth,” Army General Vincent Brooks told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his nomination hearing Tuesday. “While I would not characterize them as the best in the world, they are among the best in the world and the best-organized. What they are experimenting with” and “what they are willing to do” has shown boldness and capability, he added.
Although Brooks, the former head of Army Pacific forces, touched on North Korea’s cyber attack skills, he declined during the public hearing to discuss U.S. offensive cyber capabilities against Kim Jong Un’s reclusive regime.
FBI Director James Comey said in early 2015 that his agency had “high confidence” that North Korea orchestrated a 2014 attack against Sony Corp. that led to the leak of information on the company’s employees, internal e-mails and future movies. North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau was behind that hack, James Clapper, U.S. director of national intelligence, also said in 2015. North Korea rejected the accusations.
North Korea’s conventional forces remain forward-deployed near the demilitarized zone separating it from South Korea, and the U.S. has seen a decline in the levels and complexity of training for those troops, Brooks said. Moreover, the north’s military possesses “badly outdated” weapons and its weak economic base means it “lacks the logistical support necessary to sustain a large-scale attack.”
“The majority of its combat systems are antiquated, with many of the weapons systems dating from the 1960s, 70s and 80s,” he said. North Korea’s biggest conventional threat comes from its more than 300 long-range artillery and multiple rocket launchers, which can reach into the south and hit Seoul.
While the United Nations tightened economic restrictions on North Korea earlier this year in retaliation for its missile program and nuclear tests, Brooks said in his written response to the committee’s questions that the U.S. should assume the country “has the technical capability to mount and deliver a nuclear warhead using ballistic missiles.”
The general said he sees no signs of instability in Kim’s regime after the leader succeeded his father Kim Jong Il in 2011, despite several high-level shakeups.
“Compared to his father, Kim Jong Un is more aggressive with advancing the North’s nuclear program and ignoring international concerns,” Brooks said. “His father was more willing to offer negotiations probably to ease Chinese and other international pressures.”