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."
"Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea," Trump tweeted 13 June 2018 shortly after meeting with the North Korean leader. After his summit with Kim in Singapore, Trump touted the meeting as an overwhelming success.
The American broadcast news source NBC reported 29 July 2018 that North Korea had increased its production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months. While citing US intelligence agencies, NBC also said that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may try to hide those facilities as he seeks more concessions in nuclear talks with the US. NBC News said that the intelligence assessment seemed to counter the sentiments expressed by President Donald Trump, referring to his Twitter posts that claimed there was no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea after his 12 June 2018 summit with Kim. The White House did not immediately respond to the news report. "There's no evidence that they are decreasing stockpiles, or that they have stopped their production," one official told NBC.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) chided President Trump's claims that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat amid reports that the country is ramping up its nuclear fuel production. Skeptics of the meeting noted that Trump signed an agreement that provided concessions without receiving a concrete commitment to a timeline and method for irreversible denuclearization. They also pointed out that North Korea has made similar agreements in the past, only to renege.
Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un signed a brief declaration at the Singapore summit 12 June 2018, short and vague, with few details on how Pyongyang would denuclearize or how the US would verify steps toward that goal. Trump assured reporters after the summit that US and international inspectors would monitor North Korea's commitment this time around, but it remained noteworthy that the two sides did not include that detail in the final declaration.
"North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons easily, if at all," said Evans J.R. Revere, an expert at the Brooking Institute in Washington and a former US State Department official. "North Korea wants to resuscitate the approach it pursued in every previous nuclear negotiation: Launch a lengthy, complicated negotiation to get agreement on actions each party must take, and use this process to buy time for the development of the North's nuclear weapons program," he said.
There had been mixed messages coming out of the White House. On 25 June 2018, the US Secretary of State said there is no timeline being given to North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. But just two weeks before, he said that he expected North Korea to denuclearize by 2020, the end of President Trump's first term.
Since the end of the Kim-Trump summit, North Korea had not shown any visible sign that it has begun the process of denuclearization. But it does seem like it will send back the remains of U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War, as part of the agreement that was reached between the two leaders. Although North Korea's pledge to denuclearize was progressing slowly, the U.S. and South Korea halted their joint-military drills for the next few months. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was in Seoul, meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Song Young-moo.
The two Koreas were really pushing ahead with exploring joint activities and ventures, such as connecting railways, separated family reunions, and joint basketball games. But there was some criticism that by doing this South Korea is effectively easing pressure on North Korea, when so far the regime has shown little progress towards denuclearization.
New satellite imagery showed North Korea had made rapid improvements to the infrastructure at its Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center -- a facility used to produce weapons-grade fissile material, according to an analysis published by 38 North, a prominent North Korea monitoring group. Captured on 21 June 2018, the photos reveal modifications to the site's plutonium production reactor and the construction of several support facilities -- long-planned upgrades that were already underway before North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump met in Singapore.
In 2007, just one year after its first nuclear test, North Korea agreed to deactivate the reactor following 6-party talks with South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States. However, the isolated nation changed its mind in 2015. The state-run media announced that all nuclear facilities, including a uranium enrichment plant and an experimental reactor, had been restarted.
The Washington Post reported 08 August 2017 that the Defense Intelligence Agency assessed that North Korea had successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles. “The IC [intelligence community] assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles,” the assessment states, in an excerpt read to The Washington Post. Another intelligence assessment sharply raises the official estimate for the total number of bombs in the DPRK’s atomic arsenal at up to 60 nuclear weapons. Siegfried Hecker, director emeritus of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, had calculated the size of North Korea’s arsenal at no more than 20 to 25 bombs.
James Clapper, former U.S. director of national intelligence for the Barack Obama administration, said 03 July 2017 that North Korean denuclearization was no longer achievable and that Washington should focus on capping its nuclear and missile capabilities. Clapper said he could attest from first-hand experience in North Korea during his trip there in November 2014 that Pyongyang will not give up its nuclear arsenal. “Would be nice if they did, would be great if we could figure out some incentive to motivate them to give up their nuclear weapons, but they’re not going to do that,” said Clapper. “That’s their ticket to survival. It’s how they create deterrence against attacks against them, which they are very afraid of, and it’s how they have leverage, how they have face.”
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 was 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.
Strongly condemning the nuclear test conducted by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on 09 September 2016, the Security Council on 30 November 2016 unanimously adopted measures that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described as "the toughest and most comprehensive sanctions regime ever" against that country. Through a unanimously adopted resolution, the 15-member Council reaffirmed that the DPRK should not conduct any further nuclear tests, launches using ballistic missile technology, or any other provocation.
The sanctions target revenue sources for the North-east Asian country's nuclear or ballistic missile programmes, with the Council for the first time imposing a limit on how much coal the DPRK can export per year. According to the resolution, total exports of coal from the DPRK to all Member States should not exceed $400 million or 7.5 million metric tonnes annually, whichever is lower, beginning January 1, 2017. For the remainder of this year, the ceiling is $53.4 million, or one million metric tonnes.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said 20 April 2018 his country will freeze tests of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and close down a nuclear test site. "From April 21, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles," North Korean state media said. "The North will shut down a nuclear test site in the country's northern side to prove the vow to suspend nuclear tests," the official KCNA news agency said, according to Yonhap. KCNA also said North Korea will join international efforts to halt nuclear tests entirely. "As the weaponization of nuclear weapons has been verified, it is not necessary for us to conduct any more nuclear tests or test launches of mid- and long-range missiles or ICBMs," Kim told a ruling party meeting, KCNA reported. "The northern nuclear test site has completed its mission," he added.
Interviewed 12 June 2018 by ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Trump said: "'George, I'm given what I'm given,' Trump said. 'I've met him. I've spoken with him. This has started early and it's intense. He really wants to do a great job for North Korea. I think he wants to denuke. Without that there's nothing to discuss. A total denuclearization of North Korea. We're starting from scratch and we have to get rid of weapons".
Trump said "I can only tell you from my experience ... I think that he really wants to do a great job for North Korea.... We have the framework for getting ready to denuclearize... He's de-nuking the whole place and I think he's going to start very quickly ... He really wants to do something I think terrific for their country".
South Korea's foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, said 05 October 2018 the decades-old animosity between North Korea and the United States is why Pyeongyang's denuclearization requires an approach different from the conventional "declaration and inspection first."
"After 70 years of distrust with the U.S., denuclearizing North Korea is much harder than Ukraine, South Africa or Kazhakstan, which quickly gave up their nukes and allowed inspections by the IAEA. This is why the North's denuclearization must be carried out together with trust-building measures, as stipulated in the Sentosa Joint Declaration."
Minister Kang told the Washington Post that the U.S. should hold off on demanding a nuclear inventory from the North. In the interview, she noted that past denuclearization talks with the North broke down after a list was submitted when the parties were discussing verification.
She told reporters that inspection IS crucial, but the U.S. and North Korea can negotiate WHEN it should take place. Washington might not be 100-percent on the same page as Seoul, she said, but the U.S. too is considering those different approaches.
As for what might constitute the kind of "corresponding measure" Pyeongyang wants in exchange for dismantling its Yeongbyeon nuclear site, Kang noted that a declaration ending the Korean War has been mentioned numerous times. But she added that South Korea is proposing all kinds of possibilities to both sides.
She did not, however, specify whether those options include reopening the Gaeseong industrial complex or the Mt. Geumgang tourism project, as a South Korean media report had suggested. Minister Kang did reiterate, though, that nothing will happen on that front unless there is a change in the sanctions.
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