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North Korea’s Biochemical Threat: US Sounds Alarm on Weapons Development

US government’s report on North Korea
Continuation of biological and chemical weapons development
North Korea’s manufacturing capabilities are sufficient


The US government has revealed that North Korea is consistently accumulating technology related to genetic manipulation for irregular warfare using biological weapons.

This assessment, included in the annual report released by the US State Department, is shocking as it suggests for the second time after the 2023 Biological Defense Posture Review report released by the US Department of Defense last year that North Korea is capable of manufacturing biological and chemical weapons.

Attention is now being drawn to the scenario that North Korea could trigger a biochemical war by spreading pathogens for which there are no vaccines or antidotes through genetic manipulation.

On the 15th local time, the US State Department released the 2024 Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Compliance Report. According to the report, the US believes that North Korea has the technological capability to produce bacteria, viruses, and toxins that can be used as biological weapons. It was also assessed that institutions like North Korea’s National Science Institute can proceed with gene scissors such as altering and inserting the DNA of organisms.

News 1

Unlike the report released by the US State Department last year, which suggested that North Korea has limited capability to manipulate genes to biological weapons and may have the technical ability to produce bacteria, this report confidently states that “North Korea possesses the capability.” This definitive assessment by the US suggests that the level of North Korea’s biological weapons-related technology has significantly advanced.

The US State Department, which releases the report annually, is known to be closely monitoring the nuclear activities and biological weapons development situation of North Korea, Iran, and Russia, in cooperation with its intelligence agencies and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The report released this time, like last year, confirmed that it includes the content that “North Korea can use biological weapons through sprayers or poison pens injector”.

The US has long predicted that North Korea could attempt irr.”ular warfare, such as aerial dispersal of poisonous gas using drones or underwater dispersal of toxic substances using the Han River, rather than direct confrontation. Among these, what is particularly problematic as the damage is difficult to estimate is the spread of bacteria that have no antidotes or vaccines because they artificially manipulated the characteristics of organisms.


When the international community has established various international agreements to prevent the use of such weapons, it appears that North Korea may continue to attempt to develop not only nuclear weapons but also biological and chemical weapons.

To be precise, biological weapons that use infectious pathogens and chemical weapons that use microbes and toxins exhibit different characteristics. However, BW monitoring seems to target both since the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) of the United Nations, which came into effect in 1975 and is the basis for the report presented by the US State Department, prohibits both biological and chemical weapons.

The biological weapons that North Korea is believed to be continuously developing are thought to include bacteria such as anthrax and cholera, viruses such as Japanese encephalitis, Ebola virus, and smallpox, and toxins such as botulinum and nerve poison VX.

The New York Times

Among them, VX is a poisonous substance that causes death with light physical contact and was used by North Korea to assassinate Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia.

For this reason, it is known that the US RAND Corporation and the Korean Asan Policy Institute expressed concern in their joint report analyzing North Korea’s biological and chemical weapons in 2022 that “North Korean special forces may be able to spray sarin nerve gas in the metropolitan area using aerosol sprayers.”

North Korea’s biological and chemical weapons are expected to include not only these but also more than 10 types of biological weapons such as anthrax, botulinum toxin, epidemic hemorrhagic fever, and pneumonic pest. This result does not include new pathogens developed through manipulation such as gene scissors, so it is believed that North Korea may possess even more biological and chemical weapons.

The report released by the State Department estimates North Korea’s biochemical weapons holdings to be at least 2,500t to over 5,000t, and it implies that they can be spread using artillery, ballistic missiles, unmanned aircraft, and special operations forces.

Ministry of Defense

Meanwhile, it is estimated that if North Korea detonates about 22lb of anthrax in the sky above Seoul at noon, up to 220,000 casualties could occur, which is considered to be a grander scale of damage than the estimated 125,000 casualties when a 12.5 kt nuclear weapon is detonated in the air. Also, a report was released last year analyzing that if North Korea sprayed 2t of the nerve agent Sarin in densely populated areas like Seoul, the affected area would be 7.8 square miles and the casualties would reach about 250,000.

According to The Implications of North Korea’s Asymmetric Force Augmentation in Multiple Security Crises in East Asia presented by Park Eun Joo, Deputy Researcher of the Unification Research Institute last year, North Korea is focusing on biochemical weapons for their efficiency. It is seen that biological weapons, often referred to as the poor man’s nuclear weapon, are easy to manufacture technically but can cause massive casualties at a low cost.

This report estimates that North Korea is currently operating biological weapons research and cultivation/production facilities in a total of 17 places including Chongju and Munchon, and has succeeded in weaponizing 5 types of virus weapons including anthrax, smallpox, pest, cholera, and botulinum.

South Korea is known to be institutionalizing overall response procedures such as initial actions, situation management, analysis, and verification of the military in preparation for the possibility of North Korea’s use of biochemical weapons, conducting land training with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

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