Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How to Build a Juche-based Torpedo

On Tuesday, North Korea tried once again to present evidence contradicting the findings of the international investigation team into the Cheonan incident, this time by offering to give a sample of one of its torpedoes, which the National Defense Commission(NDC) says are made "with steel alloy materials by the working class in the Juche way", or, to put it in the much more entertaining Yonhap way, "Juche-based torpedoes," to the international community.

Since it will obviously act to neither confirm nor deny North Korea's guilt in and of itself, it is best to ignore the offer of a sample. Further to which, no-one, least of all me, wants to get into the question of what features a torpedo would have to include if it were to be considered a Juche-based torpedo.

However, what I do want to pause over is today's Daily NK report, which responds to the NDC refutation with a claim from an inside source that the "No. 129 Factory" in the north-eastern coastal city of Chongjin makes torpedoes with aluminium, and that this is so well-known that;

Even ten-year-old kids in Songpyong-district boast of the fact that our No. 129 Factory produces torpedoes,” adding that it is common knowledge in the area around the factory that aluminium is used for this purpose.

If true, the NDC claim is a bare-faced lie. I'm inclined to think this is probably the case, given the timing of the offer and North Korea's history of propaganda nonsense and disinformation half-truths, but The Daily NK story is not verifiable and that is a problem.

Furthermore, based on the prima facie evidence presented in the report, an objective thinker would rightly pause to question the claim about local people's knowledge of the factory's operations, since it is not logical to imagine that a child of ten in any country would know what a torpedo was made from, even if it were being made in his metaphorical backyard.

But it is possible in this case as a result of "83 Processes". This is the name given to the part of the "7.1 Measures" of 2002 whereby munitions factories and other state enterprises were given permission to use the leftover materials from the industrial processes they are designed to perform to produce other light industrial products for sale on the open market, and the profits used to prop up the, mostly loss-making, enterprise itself, and probably a number of venal Party hacks into the bargain.

In the case of the "No. 129 Factory" in Chongjin, this happens to mean kitchen implements. Aluminium kitchen implements.

As my colleague Park In Ho noted when I spoke to him about the article this afternoon, people think that North Korea's munitions industry is very secretive, but that is not true. They know what is being made, and that is due to "83 Processes".

So while I do not really believe that the average ten-year-old boy running the streets of Songpyong-dong in Chongjin necessarily does know what is being made, or more pertinently from what it is being produced, it is important to note that the route by which he could reasonably find out is there, and there is nothing unduly secret about it.

Did the Chongjin source who proffered this story exaggerate? Well maybe, but don't let that get in the way of the central claim, which is more reasonable than the article at first glance makes it appear.

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