Despite Trump’s Overhyped Summit, North Korea Is Working On New Missiles

Yet another sign that the Singapore Summit didn't really accomplish much of anything.

In the latest sign that the Singapore Summit really didn’t result in any significant breakthroughs, The Washington Post is reporting that American intelligence agencies are saying that North Korea appears to be working on new ballistic missiles:

U.S. spy agencies are seeing signs that North Korea is constructing new missiles at a factory that produced the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States, according to officials familiar with the intelligence.

Newly obtained evidence, including satellite photos taken in recent weeks, indicates that work is underway on at least one and possibly two liquid-fueled ICBMs at a large research facility in Sanumdong, on the outskirts of Pyongyang, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe classified intelligence.

The findings are the latest to show ongoing activity inside North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities at a time when the country’s leaders are engaged in arms talks with the United States. The new intelligence does not suggest an expansion of North Korea’s capabilities but shows that work on advanced weapons is continuing weeks after President Trump declared in a Twitter posting that Pyongyang was “no longer a Nuclear Threat.”

The reports about new missile construction come after recent revelations about a suspected uranium-enrichment facility, called Kangson, that North Korea is operating in secret. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged during Senate testimony last week that North Korean factories “continue to produce fissile material” used in making nuclear weapons. He declined to say whether Pyongyang is building new missiles.

During a summit with Trump in June, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to a vaguely worded pledge to “work toward” the “denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula. But since then, North Korea has made few tangible moves signaling an intention to disarm.

Instead, senior North Korean officials have discussed their intention to deceive Washington about the number of nuclear warheads and missiles they have, as well as the types and numbers of facilities, and to rebuff international inspectors, according to intelligence gathered by U.S. agencies. Their strategy includes potentially asserting that they have fully denuclearized by declaring and disposing of 20 warheads while retaining dozens more.

The Sanumdong factory has produced two of North Korea’s ICBMs, including the powerful Hwasong-15, the first with a proven range that could allow it to strike the U.S. East Coast. The newly obtained evidence points to ongoing work on at least one Hwasong-15 at the Sanumdong plant, according to imagery collected by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in recent weeks.

“We see them going to work, just as before,” said one U.S. official.

The exception, the officials said, is the Sohae Satellite Launching Station on North Korea’s west coast, where workers can be observed dismantling an engine test stand, honoring a promise made to Trump at the summit.

Many analysts and independent experts, however, see that dismantling as largely symbolic, since North Korea has successfully launched ICBMs that use the kind of liquid-fueled engines tested at Sohae. Moreover, the test stand could easily be rebuilt within months.

Buttressing the intelligence findings, independent missile experts this week also reported observing activity consistent with missile construction at the Sanumdong plant. The daily movement of supply trucks and other vehicles, as captured by commercial satellite photos, shows that the missile facility “is not dead, by any stretch of the imagination,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. The Monterey, Calif., nonprofit group analyzed commercial photos obtained from the satellite imagery firm Planet Labs Inc.

“It’s active. We see shipping containers and vehicles coming and going,” Lewis said of the Sanumdong plant. “This is a facility where they build ICBMs and space-launch vehicles.”

Intriguingly, one image, taken July 7, shows a bright-red covered trailer in a loading area. The trailer appears identical to those used by North Korea in the past to transport ICBMs. How the trailer was being used at the time of the photograph is unclear.

Lewis’s group also published images of a large industrial facility that some U.S. intelligence analysts believe to be the Kangson uranium-enrichment plant. The images, first reported by the online publication the Diplomat, show a football-field-size building surrounded by a high wall, in North Korea’s Chollima-guyok district, southwest of the capital. The complex has a single, guarded entrance and features high-rise residential towers apparently used by workers.

All of this comes almost exactly one and a half months after President Trump met North Korea’s Kim Jong Un for a summit in Singapore that, while it was much hyped by the media and the Administration both before and afterward, clearly seems to have been more a photo opportunity than a sign that anything productive had been accomplished. This was especially true given the fact that the communique that was issued after the meeting was exceedingly vague and spoke more in broad generalities than anything specific. Despite that fact, President Trump claimed in the aftermath of the summit that great progress had been made in the relationship between North Korea and, specifically, that North Korea was no longer a nuclear threat to the United States. It quickly became apparent, though, that the accomplishments in Singapore were much less than meets the eye. Within two weeks after the summit, for example, it was reported that North Korea was increasing production of the fuel needed to make additional nuclear weapons and that it was concealing the existence of ongoing nuclear weapons research at secret facilities well hidden from both surveillance and, most likely, the ability of the United States to take the sites out in a military strike. Additionally, it became apparent in the days after the summit that the much-publicized destruction of the DPRK’s primary nuclear weapons test site, an event it had invited American and other international journalists to witness, was much less than met the eye and that the site could easily be rebuilt if needed in the future. In other words, by the time we reached the one-month anniversary of the summit, it was apparent that the reality of what had been accomplished at the summit did not meet the rhetoric.

The fact that the North Koreans are both dragging their feet on doing anything substantive in the wake of the summit and that they appear to be secretly continuing both their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile research programs should not be a surprise. From the DPRK’s point of view, they got exactly what they wanted out of the Singapore Summit, specifically the international recognition with sharing the stage with the President of the United States combined with the kind of positive worldwide press coverage that has been rare for North Korean leaders in the past. In exchange, they have basically given up nothing. Yes, they have ceased nuclear weapons testing and, at least for the moment, ballistic missile testing, but by all accounts, they had already accomplished their goals in this area to the point where they believe they have what amounts to a nuclear deterrent against a future conventional or non-conventional attack. Additionally, as noted above, the destruction of testing facilities now appears to be much less than meets the eye. The one thing they have done since the summit was last week’s turnover of the remains of roughly 100 allied soldiers who were killed during the Korean War more than sixty years ago as well as an apparent agreement that will allow American and other allied investigators to search areas of North Korea where they believe other remains will be found. That, however, is a relatively costless concession by the DPRK that arguably helps them when it comes to the international public relations game. On the substantive issues dealing with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, though, they have yet to give up anything of substance.

In any case, as I’ve said before, the promises that the DPRK made in Singapore aren’t really worth the paper that they were printed on. This is especially true given the fact that the United States and North Korea clearly have very different ideas of what “denuclearization” means and nothing that happened at the summit changed those differences. Additionally, it’s worth noting that everything that the DPRK supposedly agreed to are essentially the same as what they have agreed to a number of times in the past, such as in 1985, 1992, 1994, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2016. Each of those times, the promises proved to be empty, and the DPRK continued to advance its research programs with respect to both nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Now it seems to be the case that this is happening all over again.

What this news does make clear, though, is that the skepticism that many observers had both before and after the summit was well-founded. The idea that the DPRK is ever going to completely give up its nuclear weapons program is incredibly naive and defies logic. The lessons of recent history, arising out of the different treatment of nations such as Iraq and Libya compared to, for example, Iran, Pakistan, and India, makes it clear that nations that voluntarily give up a deterrent force such as nuclear weapons are essentially signing their death warrants. No amount of “security guarantees” that the United States and South Korea might be willing to give to the Kim regime are going to match the guarantees that come with actually possessing a credible, albeit small, nuclear weapons arsenal. This latest news is seeming proof of that, as well as being proof of the fact that very little actually changed in Singapore. The fact that the President and his advisers are apparently surprised by this demonstrates just how naive they are, and does not bode well for our dealings with far more serious threats from nations such as Russia, China, and Iran.


FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, National Security, North Korea, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. MarkedMan says:

    I honestly wonder if Trump will even be told of this? I highly doubt Fox and Friends will mention it.

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    Yet another sign that the Singapore Summit didn’t really accomplish much of anything.

    Correct, for us. For Kim Jong Un it was amazing.

  3. CSK says:

    I just checked over at The Trumpkins are dismissing this as “fake news” because it’s reported by the WaPo, and because our intelligence agencies are completely untrustworthy entities dedicated solely to the destruction of Donald Trump.

    You can laugh contemptuously at them–and I do–but it’s frightening that a sizable minority of Americans now believe that the only reliable sources of information are Breitbart, Infowars, The Gateway Pundit, and The Conservative Treehouse.

  4. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    President Man-baby got played for a fool.
    Where are our resident fanboi’s? I long to hear them tell us how this is all part of Dennison’s 10-D chess strategy.

  5. MBunge says:

    What this news does make clear, though, is that the skepticism that many observers had both before and after the summit was well-founded.

    Uh, no. There was no “skepticism.” There was…




    And on the subject of the Washington Post and reports from “intelligence agencies”…


  6. CSK says:


    Kellyanne Conway just told Fox that this is “no big deal,” since Kim and Trump are “still negotiating.”

  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:



    Why are you so sure he won’t? He still has two years, and Kim is still making weapons.


    He did…giving Kim everything he wanted, and getting absolutely nothing in return.


    See number two.

    Jesus-gawd you are dumb.

  8. CSK says:


    Well, it’s also being reported by everyone else, including Fox eight hours ago.

    Trump did Tweet, upon his return from Singapore, that we could all “sleep well,” since the nuclear threat was ended.

  9. Kathy says:

    No amount of “security guarantees” that the United States and South Korea might be willing to give to the Kim regime are going to match the guarantees that come with actually possessing a credible, albeit small, nuclear weapons arsenal.

    In ancient times, and even into the Middle Ages, hostages were exchanged as security guarantees. Sons, typically, of prominent noble families were given to enemy nations as hostages, and viceversa. The hostages were well treated and raised in the manner of their host nation. If the other side attacked, the hostages would be killed.

    I’m not clear when they were returned and/or replaced by fresh hostages. But a few late Roman generals were raised as hostages by Huns and Goths.

    Anyway, such a thing wouldn’t work now. Today’s nobility wouldn’t stand for it (can you see McConnell sending off some of his grandchildren to be raised in North Korea?). And even if they did, the nobility today is transitory in power, and often in influence as well. For that matter, it didn’t work well in ancient times, either.

    We know nuclear deterrents can work, though they create their own tensions and problems, notably brinkmanship as diplomacy, which is a harrowing thing.

    On the other hand, look at Europe. What keeps the peace there? Partly democracy and a lack of desire in most of the population for warfare. Partly the strong ties of trade and cultural exchange.

  10. CSK says:

    Breaking news: John Kelly has agreed to stay through the 2020 election.

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: See, you need only ask and up he pops. But he is right about something, WaPo and others should have been more skeptical about WMDs. Maybe they’ve learned something and are applying it to this situation.

    ETA: So, I assume John Kelly has no remaining prospects for meaningful work? How sad for him.

  12. MarkedMan says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Where are our resident fanboi’s?

    And up one pops. It’s sad when we know they are just running over to their RWNJ websites in order to get their marching orders. But even sadder is reading someone sarcastically throwing shade at them and taking that as their marching orders…

  13. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    WaPo and others should have been more skeptical about WMDs

    I have commented, dozens of times on this site, that the fourth estate is failing us.
    WMD’s, Trickle-Down Economics, Death Panels, Birthers, Climate Change, Tea-Baggers, even the fvcking Swift-Boaters…the list of News Media failures is incredibly long.

  14. Mikey says:

    @MBunge: No, you prevaricating treason apologist, that’s not how it went. We all said Trump was going to give away the store in exchange for jack shit, and then come back and proclaim victory, and shortly thereafter the Norks were going to do something that would prove how badly Trump got played.

    And, as this news proves, we were right and you’re full of shit as usual.

  15. JohnMcC says:

    @Kathy: Brief note to compliment/thank you for analogies to ‘ancient’ history. Long time ago history major, lifelong reader and student of same, appreciates your comments.

  16. Yank says:

    @Mikey: Bingo. This was incredibly predictable. You have to be either really dumb or really intellectually dishonest to not have seen this coming. There is a reason why no other president has met with NK and it is not because they are all bad “deal-makers.”.

  17. Grewgills says:

    I know it’s worthless to give you time, but I’m bored

    The Trump might get us into a stupid quagmire of a war in NK talk was when he was full of bluster and regularly threatening NK, not immediately prior to the summit.

    Immediately prior to the summit most on the left and almost everyone here was saying Trump would get played, Kim would get the photo-op and prestige of a one on one meeting with the US president that is father and grand father desperately wanted. Many were worried that Trump would give up more to Kim than that without getting anything meaningful in return because he doesn’t know what he is doing, yet thinks he can navigate these things on feel. Turns out we were right. Trump not only gave Kim the photo-op and prestige (somewhat muted by the president he met with being Trump) AND Trump gave up the military exercises, was full of praise for the brutal dictator, and announced that the NK threat was over. He still won’t acknowledge that he was wrong, like you won’t admit that you were wrong.

    We were absolutely 100% correct about point 2 and his idiotic bluster was dangerous, though he did exchange it for obsequiousness and averted that particular danger in the very short term.

    Do you ever tire of hero worshiping a narcissistic imbecile?

  18. ratufa says:

    My pet theory (though I’d be happy to be wrong) is that Trump got played, but by his national security ,advisers, not just the North Koreans. People like John Bolton know that NK isn’t going to give up its nukes without a messy fight, and they’s rather focus on Iran and the Middle East. So, they convinced Trump that the summit was was a success, pending negotiations to work out “details”, and and now Trump is focused on their intended target. If I were more conspiracy-minded, I’d now be expecting some Gulf of Tonkin-like incident(s) in the Persian Gulf.

  19. Kathy says:


    Why, thank you!

    One studies the past to understand the present, after all. But when I look at ancient times, it strikes me how similar and, at the same time, how different the ancients were compared to us. Sometimes I like to make the contrast in public fora and see what develops.

    Like, for instance, keeping the peace with an enemy state is as complex now as it was in the time of the Roman Empire

  20. Kathy says:


    The Trump might get us into a stupid quagmire of a war in NK talk was when he was full of bluster and regularly threatening NK, not immediately prior to the summit.

    Count your blessings. at least he didn’t say “Wars against nuclear-armed states are good and easy to win!”

    He must be very disappointed, too, that the Iranians turned him down.

  21. CSK says:


    I, too, enjoy your posts. I started my professional/academic life as a medievalist, a field that I have recently discovered, to my horror, has been co-opted by Milo Yiannopolis and his merry band of white supremacists.

  22. Kathy says:


    Oddly I prefer ancient and modern history.

    Hijacking history is all too common. While some situation in the past can be applied to the present, most times conditions and culture are too different to do so. One can see how some aspects of the past apply today, or contain lessons that can apply today. But there’s no way to simply repeat past actions and expect them to 1) work and 2) work exactly as they did in the past (although Trump’s Tariffs may replicate the effects of Smoot-Hawley with amazing precision).

  23. Gustopher says:

    I do think that we should be engaging with North Korea, rather than going to war with them, but we shouldn’t just be cancelling military exercises and declaring peace in our time.

    Not so much of the photo ops and the praising of dictators, but more trade and cultural exchange. Take that $12B in farm subsidies, and use it to ship excess food to North Korea to help reduce the famine. Full bellies mean that people can focus on other things, like freedom, and entertainment and blue jeans. Our goals should be aimed towards the people of North Korea, not just fluffing the dictator.

    We should have a similar plan with Iran, but not wait until they have nuclear weapons and can blackmail us into doing what they want.

  24. Grewgills says:

    Same happened to me with my love of Norse mythology. A complicated and fun mythos now too strongly associated with white supremacists.

  25. CSK says:


    Yes, I understand many of them purport to worship the Norse gods. I wonder if their Protestant fundamentalist cohorts understand this.

  26. Kathy says:


    How do you worship the Norse gods? I know the Greco-Roman gods require prayer, animal sacrifices, offerings of drinks (basically pouring wine on the ground), and offerings of expensive goods.

    Prayer in this sense means “Listen up, you powerful being. I’m going to lay down flattery with a trowel, then ask for what I need or want. Then I’ll tell you what I’m offering in exchange.”

    Come to think of it, take out the animal sacrifices, pour the drink offering in your mouth instead, or share it among the congregation, and it doesn’t seem all too far removed from modern religions.

  27. Kylopod says:

    @Grewgills: @CSK: If you’ve ever read about white supremacist groups in the US, one of the more bizarre facts about them is that they’re surprisingly diverse in their religious beliefs. The Klan always identified as a form of extreme Protestantism. So-called “Christian Identity” churches adhere to a doctrine that says the Biblical Israelites were a Nordic race, Jews are the spawn of Satan, and nonwhites are “mud people.” But other white nationalists are atheists or pantheists, and yet others (as you mention) dabble in Nordic neo-paganism.

    At the end of the day, these differences turn out to be relatively trivial, as all these groups hold much of the same basic worldview.

  28. CSK says:


    I know. People tend to think of white supremacists as fundamentalist Protestants. Many of them indeed are, but the number of Norse god worshipers (or admirers) is not inconsiderable. There are two factors operating here: The first is that the Norse gods are racially pure (Nordic), and the second is that Christianity, with its emphasis on turning the other cheek and loving thy neighbor, is for wimps.

  29. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @ratufa: I don’t know that I think that Bolton is either opaque enough or disingenuous enough to pull that kind of a stunt off, but sure, that’s a reasonable enough theory. I’ll give that some thought–and look for “an act of war” somewhere in the Strait of Hormuz. Good idea!

  30. Kylopod says:

    @CSK: From what I’ve read, Norse worship seems to be concentrated mostly among neo-Nazis as opposed to other branches of white nationalism. The original Nazis themselves had elements of that, and while their anti-Semitism had its roots in centuries of Catholic and Protestant teachings, Nazi doctrine was too extreme to fit into a traditional Christian mold. They promoted what they called “Positive Christianity,” which was really an Orwellian term that meant replacing Christianity with a new religion centered around the Fuehrer and racial purity.

    American white supremacy historically has a much closer relationship with Protestant fundamentalism, and that I think is part of what leads to this division among today’s white nationalists. But it may not matter that much in practice; for one thing there’s a lot of overlap between the Klan and neo-Nazis (David Duke was both). When there’s conflict among WNs today, it’s usually not over religion, but over degrees of extremism (people who try to promote a “softer,” more moderate image of the movement in order to penetrate the mainstream vs. the more hardcore, unapologetic ones).

  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Don’t disagree, but I’m less sanguine about how much we actually can engage with NK and what ends might be sought doing so. The first bar we’d need to get over is accepting that NK’s nuclear program is typical of other small countries (Pakistan, India, Israel anyone?) and can be safely treated as a basically defensive fait accompli. I don’t see Republicans acknowledging that for, say… any Democrat that has ever been close to public office even to wave at it from the horizon, and they’re barely willing to work with Trump on that idea. Beyond that, we might need to lift the various embargoes that are starving the citizens, and that idea is problematic at best. (ETA: There’s no particular evidence so far that food aid that is currently given ends up anywhere but with the military, for example.) What might be accomplished by releasing the pressure that we have on NK is difficult to imagine. It’s possible that even Idi Amin had more interest in the people of his country than Kim Jong-un and his forebearers had. I wish I had a better feel about it, but it’s seems like a non-starter to me. YMMV.

  32. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Lava Land:

    what did he get amazed with

    Mostly with how stupid Dennison and his supporters really are.
    The rest of it you wouldn’t understand.

  33. CSK says:

    @Lava Land:

    I am asking with polite and sincere interest: What are your favored news sources?

  34. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Kathy: As a student of the origins of World War 1, I see several analogies to the present. For the rivalry between Germany and Britain pre-1914, substitute China – USA today. For Kaiser Wilhelm II pre-1914, substitute Donald Trump today.

  35. JohnMcC says:

    @Kylopod: There really isn’t any difficulty in believing in ‘biblical christianity’ and something pretty much like the Nazi view of Jews. If you have ‘faith’ in a god who destroys the entirety of mankind except Noah & clan, say, or who directed Joshua in the genocide of the Canaanites, then you have no problem with ‘the curse of Ham’.

    I don’t see any point in dancing around on the head of the pin which would distinguish between those religions.

    And I join completely with everyone who loves to immerse in ancient, medieval, Norse or modern history.

  36. JohnMcC says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Well, obviously we have to find some new approach to NKorea because of their weapon development. And huge shipments of food (assured of reaching the hungry Koreans instead of being sold on the international market) would be part of that. But there really is some problem with ‘rewarding’ their nuclear behavior. And if we DON’T revise our policy based on their becoming a nuke-possessing nation we risk them selling their bombs and/or enriched U-235 or Plutonium to godknowswho.

    A string of Presidents have tried to put their thumbs in the dike and failed.

  37. Kathy says:


    Yes, indeed.

    But we may just be lucky enough to avoid a similar conflagration this time around. For one thing, nuclear powers are very reluctant to make war upon each other. The cost simply isn’t worth it.

    I wonder, though, had China not been so badly treated by the British and other Western nations, as well as Japan, whether the world might not be more peaceful now.

  38. Kylopod says:


    There really isn’t any difficulty in believing in ‘biblical christianity’ and something pretty much like the Nazi view of Jews.

    I would agree that there isn’t any intrinsic incompatibility between Christianity and anti-Semitism in a general sense; indeed, I would argue that most of the elements of contemporary anti-Semitism have their roots in medieval Christianity. But that was far more of a religious than racial doctrine. Christians persecuted Jews for having rejected (and allegedly having murdered) Christ, and even when they began incorporating racist elements into this belief system, as in the “purity of blood” doctrine in 15th-century Spain, it never reached the racist absolutism of the Nazis, who held that the Jewish gene was inherently defective. It’s what led the Nazis to claim that Jesus was an Aryan and to denounce not only the entire Old Testament but also the teachings of the undeniably Jewish Paul. (See the “Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life.”) The Nazis promoting these beliefs still claimed to be Christian for the most part, but it was unquestionably a radical departure from traditional Christianity, not because it was virulently anti-Semitic but because it questioned many of the foundational beliefs of the religion.