Nuclear Weapons Program
John Bolton, US ambassador to the United Nations from August 2005 to December 2006, wrote on April 30, 2015 "Tehran and Pyongyang have cooperated on ballistic missiles since at least 1998 ... numerous reports have emerged of Iranian and North Korean scientists exchanging visits and potentially valuable information. What if Pyongyang is already hosting an extensive Iranian-enrichment program, deeply buried somewhere in its half of the peninsula? What if some of the estimated 20 warheads are actually Iran’s property, having been manufactured and now stored far from Tehran to avoid detection? East Asian experts have long looked through a stovepipe at North Korea, and Middle East experts gaze through their own stovepipe at Iran."
Since the 1950s, the DPRK has been proceeding with a nuclear development program. It seems that North Korea is engaged in one of two things. Either they are building weapons to give them up for a new relationship with the United States. Or the down side and very dangerous side is that they're trying to build-up a nuclear arsenal for deterrence.
Some observers call it "diplomacy by extortion." They say the communist north is building atomic weapons in order to secure economic aid and special trade agreements with its neighbors and the West in exchange for curtailing its nuclear weapons program.
Pyongyang maintains that it needs a deterrent to possible South Korean, Japanese and American military aggression against North Korea. But this argument has lost its credibility. The north has always argued that while they're interested in economic reform, they need to leverage the security threat because they're not certain that the intentions of the rest of the world are really benign in terms of negotiating with North Korea. The problem, though, is that since 1994 there is a record of engagement with North Korea by South Korean, Japan, the United States, Europe and Australia. It would be very difficult to survey all of these countries that have engaged North Korea and argue that they have not credibly communicated that their intentions are benign. So this argument that the north continues to put forward, while it still may be credible to them, is becoming less credible to the rest of the world.
The nuclear program can be traced back to about 1962, when the DPRK government committed itself to what it called "all-fortressization," which was the beginning of the hyper militarized North Korea of today. In the mid-1960s, it established a large-scale atomic energy research complex in Yongbyon and trained specialists from students who had studied in the Soviet Union. Under the cooperation agreement concluded between the USSR and the DPRK, a nuclear research center was constructed near the small town of Yongbyon. In 1965 a Soviet IRT-2M research reactor was assembled for this center. From 1965 through 1973 fuel (fuel elements) enriched to 10 percent was supplied to the DPRK for this reactor.
North Korea maintains uranium mines with four million tons of exploitable high-quality uranium.
In the 1970s, it focused study on the nuclear fuel cycle including refining, conversion and fabrication. In 1974, Korean specialists independently modernized Soviet IRT-2M research reactor in the same way that other reactors operating in the USSR and other countries had been modernized, bringing its capacity up to 8 megawatts and switching to fuel enriched to 80 percent. Subsequently, the degree of fuel enrichment was reduced. In the same period the DPRK began to build a 5 MWe research reactor, what is called the "second reactor." In 1977 the DPRK concluded an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], allowing the latter to inspect a research reactor which was built with the assistance of the USSR.
The North Korean nuclear weapons program dates back to the 1980s. In the 1980s, focusing on practical uses of nuclear energy and the completion of a nuclear weapon development system, North Korea began to operate facilities for uranium fabrication and conversion. It began construction of a 200 MWe nuclear reactor and nuclear reprocessing facilities in Taechon and Yongbyon, respectively, and conducted high-explosive detonation tests. In 1985 US officials announced for the first time that they had intelligence data proving that a secret nuclear reactor was being built 90 km north of Pyongyang near the small town of Yongbyon. The installation at Yongbyon had been known for eight years from official IAEA reports. In 1985, under international pressure, Pyongyang acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). However, the DPRK refused to sign a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an obligation it had as a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In September 1989 the magazine JANE'S DEFENCE WEEKLY stated that North Korea "could manufacture nuclear devices in five years' time, and the means to deliver them soon afterward." In July 1990 THE WASHINGTON POST reported that new satellite photographs showed the presence in Yongbyon of a structure which could possibly be used to separate plutonium from nuclear fuel.
The Joint Declaration on denuclearization was initialed on December 31, 1991. It forbade both sides to test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy, or use nuclear weapons and forbade the possession of nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities. A procedure for inter-Korean inspection was to be organized and a North-South Joint Nuclear Control Commission (JNCC) was mandated with verification of the denuclearization of the peninsula.
On January 30, 1992, the DPRK also signed a nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA, as it had pledged to do in 1985 when acceding to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This safeguards agreement allowed IAEA inspections to begin in June 1992. In March 1992, the JNCC was established in accordance with the joint declaration, but subsequent meetings failed to reach agreement on the main issue of establishing a bilateral inspection regime.
As the 1990s progressed, concern over the North's nuclear program became a major issue in North-South relations and between North Korea and the US. The lack of progress on implementation of the joint nuclear declaration's provision for an inter-Korean nuclear inspection regime led to reinstatement of the US-South Korea Team Spirit military exercise for 1993. The situation worsened rapidly when North Korea, in January 1993, refused IAEA access to two suspected nuclear waste sites and then announced in March 1993 its intent to withdraw from the NPT. During the next 2 years, the US held direct talks with the DPRK that resulted in a series of agreements on nuclear matters.
North Korea was reported to have created a “nuclear backpack” special military unit tasked with spraying toxic radioactive materials at the enemy. The U.S.-based Radio Free Asia(RFA) on 24 August 2016 quoted a source in the North Korean province of North Hamgyong as saying that Pyongyang created the nuclear backpack troops in March. The unit is said to consist of soldiers selected from the scout platoons and light infantry brigades under the Korean People’s Army.
Another North Korean source residing in Yanggang Province told RFA that the regime is telling the soldiers that nuclear backpacks are not designed to detonate nuclear bombs, but spread radioactive substances over a wide area. In October 2015, the North displayed soldiers carrying backpacks emblazoned with nuclear radiation symbols during a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the North’s Workers’ Party. It also showed a truckload of soldiers wearing the backpacks during a military parade in 2013.
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