Forget N. Korean nukes, there are sarin and typhus, says Seoul

North Korea has stockpiled up to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons and has thirteen types of biological agents, the South Korean Defense Ministry has said. Experts are taking the claims with caution.

The DPRK chemical arsenal is estimated at 2,500 to 5,000 tons and includes mustard gas, phosgene and sarin, Minister Kim Tae Young told members of the South Korean parliament.on Monday. Among the microbial weapons are cholera, yellow fever, smallpox, typhus, typhoid fever and dysentery.

“I would be very cautious towards any statements made by South Korea about the North. Frankly speaking, South Korean intelligence knows little about the North,” commented Evgeny Kim, from the Centre for Korean Studies at the Institute of Far East of the Russian Academy of Sciences to RT. He cited a recent embarrassing mistake when South Korean officials reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had chosen his third son as his “successor”, but managed to name him erroneously.

Chemical and biologicalWMD

Chemical weapons like mustard gas and chlorine were used extensively throughout WWI, but by WWII, lethal poisons had become an unpopular weapon, both due to their inefficiency against protected troops and the indiscriminate nature of their effects. Conflicting parties stockpiled more advanced chemical agents and developed biological weapons during the Cold War, but they were not used. The arsenals were very costly to dismantle later, and the work to destroy them is still ongoing.

The production, storage, use and transfer of biological and chemical WMDs were banned by the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. North Korea assented to the former, but not to the latter.

To date there is no documented instance of the use of either kind of weapon by North Korea.

Seoul receives almost all its knowledge about the on-ground situation in its neighbor from defectors, and this information cannot be double-checked, the expert added. “This information is just information. Nobody can say how reliable it is. Ten years ago they claimed that North Korea has eight nuclear bombs.”

The parliamentary report brings up questions about the credibility of the information, as well as the professionalism of the intelligence officers who provided them, agrees Kim’s colleague Konstantin Asmolov.

“North Korea is a very secretive country, especially when it comes to its defense projects. I have a strong belief that the report was based on data provided by unreliable sources and tells more about the lack of competence of South Korean intelligence and their desire to produce information, which fits an outdated demonized image of North Korea, rather than an objective reality.”

“There are people [among the South’s officials] who faithfully believe that Kim Jong-il’s only dream is to conquer the South and that the nuclear weapon was created for this only purpose. It’s the level of awareness of reality similar to that of some hard-headed generals in the North, who also seem to be living on some other Earth than ours,” he added.

Asmolov says Pyongyang’s official policy is to rely on its nuclear capabilities in case of a military conflict and as a deterrent, while other weapons of mass destruction the DPRK likely possesses, are more or less irrelevant. “Of course I can assume that the North Korea has something in that line, but most of its neighbors have it too,” he said.

The report coincided with a three-day visit to North Korea by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. During the visit Pyongyang announced its willingness to restart six-party talks, which it withdrew from earlier this year. This will be possible if bilateral negotiations with the United States proof fruitful.

There is discontent in the South about its possible sidelining as the dialogue between DPRK and other parties intensifies. Seoul wants the negotiations with Pyongyang to proceed under their control and is reluctant to let anyone, especially the Americans, to take the initiative.