Today’s NK Dump

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Jennifer Lind and Daryl Press, looking at the ISIS data Joshua at OFK posted, make a good argument why we shouldn’t give North Korea credit for the Bomb just yet.

Jennifer Lind and Daryl Press, looking at the ISIS data Joshua at OFK posted, make a good argument why we shouldn’t give North Korea credit for the Bomb just yet.

North Korea has been working on its nuclear program for many years, and has made real progress. It is clear from the recent uranium enrichment revelations that their leaders are committed to building an atomic arsenal. It’s not at all clear, however, whether Pyongyang has any deployable weapons. Rather than proclaiming North Korea as the world’s latest member of the nuclear club, policy makers and analysts should clarify the facts: North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests. The tests reveal that the program has struggled. It’s not yet clear that North Korea wields any functioning nuclear weapons.

North Korea’s efforts at uranium enrichment may reflect their fear of a U.S. air strike on their nuclear facilities (because uranium enrichment sites are easier to bury and hide than the nuclear reactors that produce plutonium). According to this view, the revelation of the centrifuge site at Yongbyon is a warning that North Korea may have other secret enrichment sites hidden elsewhere.

A simpler interpretation, however, is that Pyongyang is still having trouble with its plutonium program. Perhaps the anomalies in the 2006 and 2009 tests were caused by problems in plutonium reprocessing. Or perhaps the test failures were caused by problems in implosion designs. Continued frustrations with their plutonium designs could have led North Korean leaders to accelerate uranium enrichment efforts.

All that one can conclude from the newly revealed enrichment facility is that despite all of the censure North Korea has received, North Korea remains committed to building nuclear weapons. But the revelations do not demonstrate that Pyongyang has an operational nuclear arsenal.

So what, one might wonder: what difference should it make for policy making toward North Korea whether the country actually has a functioning nuclear arsenal? Indeed, the mere possibility that North Korea has nuclear weapons warrants treating Pyongyang with considerable caution. Furthermore, even a weapon that fizzled and produced “only” a 1-kiloton explosion would cause terrible damage if successfully delivered to a populated location in Japan or South Korea.

Nevertheless, it’s important to highlight the questions raised by North Korea’s tests, and the hurdles the country still may face in building an arsenal. According North Korea membership in the nuclear club may help it peddle its nuclear know-how on international markets. A more skeptical discussion of North Korean capabilities, by contrast, might cause potential customers to think twice before partnering with Pyongyang.

Secondly, by acting as if North Korea’s tests were successful, its adversaries obviate the need for further tests of plutonium devices. More testing would eat up more of North Korea’s small stock of plutonium, and might reveal continuing problems with its bomb program. Presumably, an important reason that Pyongyang conducts tests is to demonstrate its nuclear capabilities to potential adversaries. If North Korea’s adversaries prematurely give it credit for having a functioning arsenal, they will permit Pyongyang to conserve its scarce plutonium.

Finally, by giving North Korea the bomb we miss the opportunity to impart an important lesson to potential proliferators such as Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey: building these weapons is very hard. It’s hard to acquire fissile material. It’s hard to perfect the mechanics of implosion. Tests will fail, and valuable fissile material will be wasted in this process. It will all take a long time, and you’ll be left with delivery systems which themselves will have questionable ability to reach their targets. And throughout this long and uncertain process, your country will be a global pariah. That message would strengthen the U.S. non-proliferation effort, and it also has the virtue of also being true.

NKEW offers a record of Yongbyon developments.

  • No Runaround:

    US Decretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has told Pyongyang where the road map leads.

    US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday that North Korea must reach out first to South Korea before it can expect any resumption of denuclearization talks involving Washington.

    Clinton met with Japan’s visiting Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto and jointly renewed calls on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, a source of decades of tensions with the communist state.

    “We have made consistently clear what we expect from North Korea in its actions in the future,” Clinton told reporters.

    “We would like to see them engaging in meaningful dialogue with the South in the first instance prior to any other steps that might be taken,” she said.

  • Recidivist:

    It seems a man previously arrested for posting pro-North Korean material on websites has fallen afoul of South Korean authorities again.

    South Korean prosecutors say they’re investigating whether a former software company worker stole military secrets and handed them over to North Korea.

    Prosecution spokesman Park Gyung-ho said Monday that the man allegedly stole the information from 2005 to 2010 while working for a company tasked with developing military and government computer programs.

  • Pyongyang Wants All Their Cellphones:

    North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity said in its latest newsletter police in North Hamkyong and Yangkang provinces bordering Russia and China have started urging residents to voluntarily surrender mobile phones or face punishment. It cited sources in the border cities of Hyesan and Hoeryong. The police warned that special devices to detect mobile phone use had been brought in to punish “those spreading capitalist ideas and eroding socialism”, the group quoted one of the sources as saying.

    North Korea strictly controls access to outside information and fixes the tuning controls of radios and televisions to official stations. But many residents in border areas that can receive mobile reception from China are known to use smuggled phones to talk to relatives and friends who escaped the impoverished state to settle in China or South Korea. At present users restrict conversations to five minutes, the minimum time authorities need to trace a call, said the source.

    South Korean analysts and officials say the reclusive regime has lately tightened controls on outside information to suppress news of popular revolts against despots in the Arab world.

  • Kim Jong-un Wants His Defectors Back:

    “I understand Kim Jong-un is involved in security affairs in the method of directly receiving reports and handing down instructions though he does not have any formal titles of related offices,” a source told Yonhap News Agency. “He is especially showing a lot of attention to the issue of defectors.” Kim is also thought to be behind Pyongyang’s persistent demand for the return of four North Korean residents who sought asylum in South Korea after their fishing boat drifted across the tense western sea border into the South in February. The four were part of a larger group of 31 North Koreans. Seoul sent 27 of them back to their homeland in March, but the other four remained after they expressed their desire to defect. The North has since called for their repatriation, a demand that Seoul has spurned. Kim allegedly instructed related government offices to bring the four people home by all means in order to prevent similar recurrences.

    The heir-apparent’s strong commitment to resolving the incident pushed the North’s public security agencies to produce a tangible result in dealing with the matter, according to the sources. Some speculate that the intensified crackdown is driven as part of Pyongyang’s efforts to strengthen Kim’s role in its power hierarchy.

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Filed under: Korea, Link Dumps, USA, WMD Tagged: cellphones, defectors, hillary clinton, kim jong un, lwr, north korea, six party talks, South Korea, uranium enrichment, yongbyon



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