The North Korean regime is doing whatever it can to survive, according to a new Pentagon assessment which predicts that, despite international efforts, Pyongyang's leadership will continue to build more nuclear weapons and asymmetric warfare capabilities.
In its first annual report to Congress, the Pentagon said North Korea sees that its military power is falling behind that of its neighbors -- South Korea, Japan, and China. Instead of trying to match those capabilities, however, it has chosen to pursue nukes and small-war strategies.
But the regime may feel more threatened by its own people.
"The regime's greatest security concern is opposition from within," the Pentagon told Congress in the report. The regime's fear of external threats is that they will foster internal revolt. As such, the North Korean military is as involved in maintaining oppressive "internal security" as it is in threatening South Korea or the United States.
The Pentagon believes the North Korean military's provocations are calculated to avoid triggering a full-scale counterattack. But DOD is worried about "miscalculation that could spiral into a larger conflict."
"Although North Korea is unlikely to attack on a scale that it assesses would risk the survival of its government by inviting overwhelming counterattacks by the ROK or the United States, we do not know how North Korea calculates this threshold of behavior."
If war happens, the Pentagon would face an aged military.
"The KPA fields primarily legacy equipment, either produced in, or based on designs of, the Soviet Union and China, dating back to the 1950s, 60s and 70s," said the report, though last year's NorthKorean military parade revealed some new tanks, artillery, and infantry hardware.
The North Korean air force has not purchased new fighters since a 1999 buy of MiG-21s. It has more than 1,000 planes, but its most capable are Soviet-era MiG-29s. The regime's naval forces are barely worth a mention, though the Pentagon said a mini-submarine was able to sink the South Korean ship Cheonan.
The one threat the Pentagon shows concern over: ballistic missiles and the progress toward nuclear-tipped ICBMs.
"North Korea will move closer to this goal, as well as increase the threat it poses to U.S. forces and Allies in the region, if it continues testing and devoting scarce regime resources to these programs."