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"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
Daryl Kimball

Report on Nuclear Review Stirs Debate

Daryl G. Kimball

The White House is “weighing options” for sharp reductions in U.S. nuclear forces as part of its study of how to implement the results of its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the Associated Press reported Feb. 14.

The report, which cited unnamed congressional and former administration sources, said the administration is considering “at least three options for lower total numbers of deployed strategic nuclear weapons cutting to around 1,000 to 1,100, 700 to 800, or 300 to 400.” The United States reported that it deployed 1,790 strategic nuclear warheads as of Sept. 1. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) allows Russia and the United States to deploy as many as 1,550 warheads apiece through 2021.

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor called the Associated Press report “wildly overwritten,” noting that “[a]s part of the NPR implementation study, [the Department of Defense] used a range of policy criteria to develop options for the presidential guidance that will be used to develop force structure, force postures, and stockpile requirements. The implementation study is still underway, and the Department of Defense has not yet presented the study to the president.”

In recent weeks, senior administration officials have indicated that the presidential review will open the way for further nuclear reductions. According to the Pentagon’s new defense strategy, released Jan. 5, “It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force.”

At a Nov. 2 hearing of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller said that based on options developed by a Pentagon study completed at the end of 2011, President Barack Obama would issue new guidance on nuclear weapons employment, force levels, and alert posture. (See ACT, December 2011.)

In a Feb. 15 session with reporters, Acting Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller said the NPR implementation study was necessary “homework” to help determine the contours of future negotiations with Russia on deployed, nondeployed, strategic, and nonstrategic nuclear weapons.

Some congressional Republicans were quick to react to the leaked account of the secret administration deliberations and the possibility of reductions to 300-400 deployed strategic warheads.

In a letter sent to Obama a day after the publication of the Associated Press story, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), strategic forces subcommittee chairman Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), and 32 other House Republicans wrote, “We seek your assurance…that you will cease to pursue such unprecedented reductions in the U.S. deterrent and extended deterrent.”

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who opposed New START, told the Associated Press, “A 300 number would [mean] the Chinese would have more than we have. I mean, this is a number where anybody that wanted to could build up to that number and be a peer with the United States.”

Currently, the only other nuclear-armed adversary of the United States other than Russia with nuclear warheads on intercontinental-range missiles is China, with an estimated stockpile of 40 to 50.

Miller said at a public forum on Feb. 15 that one of the options under consideration will be to remain at the 1,550 New START limit, but he suggested that getting below 1,550 is more likely, according to the Associated Press. The presidential review is expected to be completed this year.

The White House is “weighing options” for sharp reductions in U.S. nuclear forces as part of its study of how to implement the results of its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the Associated Press reported Feb. 14.

Tauscher Leaves State Dept. Post

Daryl G. Kimball

Ellen Tauscher stepped down on Feb. 6 from her position as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security to serve as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense. Clinton tapped Rose Gottemoeller to be acting undersecretary while continuing to serve as assistant secretary for arms control, verification, and compliance.

The Department of State announced the changes Feb. 7.

Gottemoeller, who led the U.S. team that negotiated the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, had assumed a lead role for the administration on its efforts to begin negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty and secure Senate approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. She will advise Clinton on the full range of arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament matters, the department said.

Tauscher, who successfully overcame esophageal cancer during her tenure at the State Department, decided it was time to scale back her schedule and will spend some of her time advocating for cancer patients and pursuing projects outside government, according to State Department sources cited in a Jan. 25 report in The Cable.

Ellen Tauscher stepped down on Feb. 6 from her position as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security to serve as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense. Clinton tapped Rose Gottemoeller to be acting undersecretary while continuing to serve as assistant secretary for arms control, verification, and compliance.

North Korea Pledges to Refrain from Further Nuclear Tests and Halt Other Nuclear, Missile Activities

On February 29, the U.S. State Department announced that the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) has agreed to implement a moratorium on nuclear weapon test explosions, long-range missile launches and other nuclear activities, including enrichment at its Yongbyon nuclear complex and to allow U.N. nuclear watchdog inspectors in to ensure compliance. North Korea is the only country that has conducted nuclear test explosions in the past decade, with tests in 2006 and 2009. The State Department also said that the United States had agreed to finalize details of a proposed food aid package...

Op-Ed: Start Cutting U.S. Nuclear Weapons Down To 1,000

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By Daryl G. Kimball 

The following piece was originally published on AOL Defense on February 17, 2012.

We may well be on the cusp of another round of deep cuts -- 50 percent or more -- to the American nuclear arsenal. While nuclear weapons occupy a unique niche in America's arsenal, they are fundamental to the nation's strategic planning. Fewer nukes can mean more money for other national security needs, or for other domestic spending. So I asked the head of the sober Arms Control Association to offer his view of what should happen. Given the fairly close links between the association and the administration, you may well find these same arguments being deployed later. The Editor.

In the 20 years since the end of the Cold War, successive U.S. and Russian presidents have gradually reduced the size and salience of their enormous nuclear stockpiles, which remain by far the largest of any country. Nevertheless, the size of each country's arsenal far exceeds what is necessary to deter nuclear attack by the other or by one of the world's other nuclear-armed states.

Both sides can and should go lower.

Even under the New START treaty, approved in 2010, each country is still allowed to deploy 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons on 700 missiles and bombers until the year 2021. Under current plans, thousands of additional warheads would held in reserve. Today, each nation's total nuclear stockpile exceeds 5,000 nuclear bombs. Unless they adjust their thinking, both countries will spend hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain and modernize these large nuclear force levels for 20 to 30 years to come.

Press reports this week confirm that President Barack Obama is poised to review the presidential nuclear "guidance" that determines U.S. nuclear war plans, the target lists, and the number of nuclear weapons and delivery systems "required" to hit them. While no decisions have been made yet, Mr. Obama will reportedly consider options developed by the Pentagon that could eventually lead to a reduction in the number of deployed nuclear weapons of 50 percent or more.

That's welcome news. A wide-range of national security and military experts believe that this review is overdue and that fundamental changes are in order.

The Obama administration's 2010 "Nuclear Posture Review Report" provides a new framework for the steps the President should now take to reduce the role and number of U.S. nuclear weapons and eliminate outdated Cold War thinking. The document states that "the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear forces is to deter nuclear attacks against the U.S. and our allies and partners." That is an important shift away from the Cold War-era strategy of being prepared to "prevail" in a protracted nuclear exchange with the Soviets involving thousands of city-busting nuclear bombs, and also to be prepared to use nuclear weapons against conventional military threats.

In line with this new approach, the United States (and Russia) could reduce their overall nuclear stockpiles substantially-to 1,000 warheads each-- and still retain sufficient firepower to deter nuclear attack by any current or potential adversary. Other than Russia and the United States, no other country deploys more than 300 strategic warheads. China possesses just 40 to 50 nuclear warheads on intercontinental-range missiles. Iran does not have nuclear weapons and North Korea's arsenal is limited in size and range.

And given the reality that the chance of a bolt-from-the-blue nuclear attack from Russia is near zero and far less likely today than it was during the Cold War, the nuclear force required to deter such an attack is far less than it was then. Joseph Stalin might have been willing to sacrifice tens of millions of Russians in a nuclear exchange, but Vladimir Putin would not. Just one U.S. nuclear-armed submarine could devastate an entire nation and kill millions.

A 2007 Arms Control Association report, "What Are Nuclear Weapons For?" by Stanford physicist Sidney Drell and James Goodby of the Hoover Institution concluded that the United States can and should achieve move to a smaller force of 500 deployed and 500 nondeployed strategic warheads on a mainly submarine-based "triad" of nuclear delivery systems within the next few years.

A 2010 study by three Air Force analysts in Strategic Studies Quarterly concluded that the United States could deter nuclear attack with a relatively smaller number of survivable, reliable weapons dispersed among missile silos, submarines, and airplanes." They argue that such a force might number only 311 nuclear weapons.

There are a number of changes to nuclear weapons plans President Obama should consider to move in the right direction. He could eliminate entire target categories from the current nuclear war plan, which now include a wide range of military forces, nuclear weapons infrastructure, and military and national leadership targets, and war-supporting infrastructure, mainly in Russia. These targeting assumptions were developed decades ago to deplete war-fighting assets rather than ensure there is a sufficient retaliatory capability to deter nuclear attack in the first place.

Obama should also direct war planners to discard old assumptions for how much damage must be accomplished to ensure that a target is destroyed. Current plans require hitting many targets with more than one nuclear weapon. To deter a nuclear attack, adversaries need only realize the United States is capable of reducing key targets to radioactive rubble rather than a fine dust.

The nuclear policy review also gives President Barack Obama the chance to eliminate the Cold War practice of keeping nuclear weapons ready to launch within minutes. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama said the practice is "outdated" and "increases the risk of catastrophic accident or miscalculation." Indeed, a reliable and credible U.S. nuclear deterrent does not require the ability to retaliate immediately if U.S. nuclear forces and command and control systems can survive an attack -- and they can.

Obama can and should make it clear that the United States no longer will develop or exercise plans for rapid launches and will replace such plans with new ones that would allow the president to delay a response to a nuclear attack for days. He should invite Russia to make reciprocal changes to its nuclear posture.

Some of the administration's critics may -- incorrectly -- assert that given the risk that nuclear weapons will spread, further reductions in our arsenal would be unwise. But maintaining overpowering nuclear forces does not deter nations, such as Iran or North Korea, or terrorist actors to abandon their pursuit of these weapons. We must recognize that the other pressing security threats we face today – terrorists, short and medium-range ballistic missiles, and cyberattack --simply cannot be dealt with by means of a large nuclear arsenal. And all of the United States major allies support further steps to reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles.

Maintaining an excessively large nuclear force could also push China to alter increase the size and lethality of its relatively limited long-range nuclear force. For its part, Russia will be hard pressed to deploy 1,550 strategic warheads unless it undertakes an expensive ballistic missile modernization effort. Rather than induce Russia to build up, it is in the security and financial interests of both countries to pursue further, parallel nuclear reductions.

Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. presidents have understood the logic and value of reducing nuclear overkill. During George H. W. Bush's four years in office, the total U.S. arsenal was shrunk from about 22,200 weapons to 13,700 -- a 38 percent cut. In George W. Bush's eight years, the U.S. arsenal dropped from about 10,500 weapons to just over 5,000 -- about 50 percent fewer.

Now is the right time for President Obama to provide the leadership necessary to discard dangerous Cold War-era nuclear war plans, slash costly nuclear arsenals, and redirect taxpayer dollars to more pressing U.S. security needs.

Daryl G. Kimball is executive director of the independent Arms Control Association in Washington, D.C.

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In the 20 years since the end of the Cold War, successive U.S. and Russian presidents have gradually reduced the size and salience of their enormous nuclear stockpiles, which remain by far the largest of any country. Nevertheless, the size of each country's arsenal far exceeds what is necessary to deter nuclear attack by the other or by one of the world's other nuclear-armed states.

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Study Alleges DPRK N-Tests in 2010; Findings Questioned

A paper in the March issue of the journal Science & Global Security titled "Radionuclide Evidence for Low-Yield Nuclear Testing in North Korea" by Lars-Erik De Geer, Research Director at the Swedish Defence Research Agency claims that North Korea may have carried out a very low-yield nuclear weapon test explosion in May 2010. North Korea is known to have conducted a nuclear test explosion in 2006 and again in 2009. The paper says that radionuclide data collected between 14 and 23 May 2010 at stations in South Korea, Japan and Russia suggest that North Korea carried out a very low-yield...

Nuclear Test Downwinders Recognized

Today is the first annual National Downwinders Day, recognizing the many people across the United States--but especially in the Mountain West--who were affected by radiation exposure from nuclear test explosions in Nevada. Last year the US Senate voted unanimously to honor downwinders with a special day of recognition. Today is also the 61st anniversary of the nuclear test code-named "Able," the first of 928 nuclear test explosions in Nevada. There's a great collection of information on the health effects of the resulting atmospheric fallout from the CTBT Organization online here . There is...

The Future of the U.S. Nuclear Arsenal and the Budget

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For Immediate Release: January 26, 2012

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, Exec. Director, 202-463-8270, ext. 107;
Tom Z. Collina, Research Director, ACA, 202-463- 8270, ext. 104.

(Washington, D.C.) At 2 p.m. today, the Pentagon is scheduled to release major budget decisions stemming from its Jan. 5 strategic guidance review, which states that: "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy."

The Arms Control Association hosted a briefing Jan. 20 on the future of the U.S. nuclear arsenal with Morton Halperin of the Open Society Institute, Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, and Amy Woolf of the Congressional Research Service. The event explored the Obama administration's review of nuclear policy, the cost of strategic nuclear forces, and options for reducing nuclear weapons spending. The transcript for that event can be found here.

For additional relevant background information on U.S. nuclear policy and nuclear weapons spending, see:

"Reviewing Nuclear Guidance: Putting Obama's Words Into Action," by Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, in the November issue of Arms Control Today.

"Modernizing the Triad on a Tight Budget," by Amy F. Woolf, specialist in nuclear weapons policy at the Congressional Research Service, in the Jan./Feb. issue of Arms Control Today.

"How Obama can slash defense budget: Cut unnecessary nuclear weapons programs," by Daryl G. Kimball and Tom Z. Collina of ACA, in the Jan. 19 Christian Science Monitor.

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The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent nongovernmental organization dedicated to addressing the challenges posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

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(Washington, D.C.) At 2 p.m. today, the Pentagon is scheduled to release major budget decisions stemming from its Jan. 5 strategic guidance review, which states that: "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy."

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Op-Ed: How Obama can slash defense budget: Cut unnecessary nuclear weapons programs

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By Daryl G. Kimball and Tom Z. Collina

The following piece was originally published in The Christian Science Monitor on January 19, 2012.

In order to reach its goal of at least $480 billion in Pentagon savings over the next decade, the Obama administration must scale back previous schemes for a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons delivery systems.

Earlier this month, President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta outlined a more streamlined and affordable defense strategy that envisions a more limited role and smaller budget for US nuclear weapons.

While they were short on specifics, it is clear that in order to reach the administration’s goal of at least $480 billion in Pentagon savings over the next decade, previous schemes for a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons delivery systems must be scaled back.

The Navy has been seeking 12 new nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines to carry more than 1,000 nuclear warheads into the 2070s, at a total cost of almost $350 billion. The Air Force has sought a new, nuclear-armed strategic bomber that would cost at least $68 billion, as well as a new fleet of land-based ballistic missiles.

In July, then-Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright explained that “… we have to recapitalize all three legs [of the nuclear triad], and we don’t have the money to do it.”

But as the new defense strategy correctly asserts, “It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force...”

Such adjustments are long overdue. Today, more than 20 years after the end of the Cold War, US and Russian nuclear arsenals still exceed what is reasonably necessary to deter nuclear attack. The United States deploys 1,790 strategic warheads, while Russia deploys 1,560 strategic warheads. Each side possesses thousands more warheads in storage.

No other nuclear-armed country deploys more than 300 strategic warheads; China has no more than 40 to 50 warheads on intercontinental-range missiles. Just one US nuclear-armed submarine could devastate an entire nation and kill millions.

Rather than maintaining obsolete arsenals that they neither need nor can afford, leaders in Washington and Moscow could pursue further, reciprocal reductions in their overall strategic nuclear forces – to 1,000 warheads or fewer each – and still retain more than enough megatonnage to deter nuclear attack by any current or future adversary.

There are three key ways in which the president and the Congress can trim at least $45 billion from strategic nuclear force modernization programs over the next 10 years.

The first step is to downsize the nuclear-armed submarine force. By reducing the Trident nuclear-armed sub fleet from 14 to eight or fewer boats and building no more than eight new nuclear-armed subs, the US could save roughly $27 billion over 10 years, and $120 billion over the 50-year lifespan of the program.

And by increasing the warhead loadings on each submarine, the Navy could still deploy the same number of strategic nuclear warheads at sea as currently planned under the New START treaty (about 1,000).

Second, work on a new strategic bomber should be delayed. There is no rush to field a fleet of new bombers given the Pentagon’s plan to retain 60 of its existing nuclear-capable, long-range B-2 and B-52 bombers into the 2040s. Delaying work on the new bomber program would save $18 billion over the next decade, according to the Pentagon.

For additional savings, the Pentagon could consider reductions to its land-based strategic missile force from 420 to 300 by cutting one squadron at each of the three Air Force bases where such missiles are deployed and foregoing a follow-on missile program to replace the existing force.

Some may believe that further reductions in US nuclear forces might encourage other states to improve their nuclear weapons capabilities. In reality, wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on an excessive nuclear force does nothing to help convince nations, such as Iran or North Korea, or terrorist actors to abandon their pursuit of dangerous weapons.

Moreover, by maintaining a larger nuclear force than America needs, it is more likely to induce Russia to build up its nuclear arsenal, which only undermines international security.

We can expect the congressional “doomsday caucus” – many of them have strategic nuclear weapons bases in their states – will oppose any reduction in the number of nuclear-armed subs, missiles, or bombers for fear of losing defense dollars and jobs in their districts.

But fresh thinking is in order. Programs that address low-priority threats must be scaled back to make room for more pressing national priorities and reduce the deficit. Smart reductions in spending on unnecessary new nuclear weapons systems would enhance US security.

Daryl G. Kimball is executive director of the independent Arms Control Association. Tom Z. Collina is research director

Description: 

By Daryl G. Kimball and Tom Z. Collina

The following piece was originally published in The Christian Science Monitor on January 19, 2012.

In order to reach its goal of at least $480 billion in Pentagon savings over the next decade, the Obama administration must scale back previous schemes for a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons delivery systems.

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Indonesia Ratifies Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

Daryl G. Kimball

The Indonesian House of Representatives approved the ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on Dec. 6, decreasing the number of states that must ratify the pact before its entry into force from nine to eight.

Indonesia signed the CTBT in 1996 and is the 156th country to ratify the treaty, which prohibits all nuclear weapons test explosions.

Formal entry into force of the CTBT requires that a specific group of 44 states named in Annex 2 of the treaty ratify it. Eight more Annex 2 states must still ratify the treaty to trigger formal entry into force: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States.

In comments following Indonesia’s parliamentary vote, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said, “I am determined to ensure that Indonesia’s decision today will create momentum to encourage others who are still holding out to do the right thing. And the only right thing is to ratify the CTBT now, no more procrastination, no more delaying because it is right, it is proper, and it makes a more secure world.”

Indonesia—the world’s fourth most-populous country—is currently the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and recently helped negotiate an agreement between that group and the five original nuclear-weapon states to enable them to accede to the Treaty of Bangkok’s protocol. (See ACT, December 2011.) Under the protocol, nuclear-weapon states pledge to respect the Southeast Asian nuclear-weapon-free zone created by the pact.

Following Indonesia’s ratification vote, Ismet Ahmad, a lawmaker from the National Mandate Party, called on the world’s nuclear-armed countries, especially Israel and the United States, to follow suit. “Indonesia’s ratification has no significance unless other nuclear states take the same step,” he said, according to an Agence France Presse report.

In a Dec. 6 statement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also urged others to ratify the treaty. “My message is clear: Do not wait for others to move first,” Ban said. “Take the initiative. Lead. The time for waiting has passed.”

In a joint op-ed published Dec. 18 on Al Jazeera’s Web site, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa Cantellano, who currently lead outreach efforts to the states that have not yet ratified the treaty, addressed the eight nonparties directly. “[N]ow the spotlight is on you,” they said.

In a statement issued Dec. 6, U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed Indonesia’s ratification and said, “The United States remains fully committed to pursuing ratification of the Test Ban Treaty and will continue to engage members of the Senate on the importance of this Treaty to U.S. security. America must lead the global effort to prevent proliferation, and adoption and early entry into force of the CTBT is a vital part of that effort.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised Indonesia’s leadership. In a Dec. 6 statement, she said the United States “calls on all governments to declare or reaffirm their commitment not to conduct explosive nuclear tests” and “urge[s] all states that have not yet ratified the treaty to join us in this effort.”

Last May, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher announced that the Obama administration had begun informal briefings of senators and staff on the key technical and scientific issues that were cited as reasons for opposing the treaty in 1999, when the Senate voted it down. Those briefings have continued. Several members of Congress also have toured the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization’s headquarters in Vienna in the past year.

However, with the presidential election campaign under way and a new National Academy of Sciences report on the technical issues surrounding the treaty still under declassification review, few observers believe there is sufficient time for the Senate to conduct an in-depth review of the treaty before U.S. elections in November.

The Indonesian House of Representatives approved the ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on Dec. 6, decreasing the number of states that must ratify the pact before its entry into force from nine to eight.

Next Moves on North Korea

Daryl G. Kimball

North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il may be gone, but the dangers posed by Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs persist. Although the long-term future of the regime under the new young ruler, Kim Jong Un, remains uncertain, it is clearly in the United States’ interest to get the much-delayed denuclearization process back on track.

A third round of U.S.-North Korean bilateral talks was to have been held in December but was delayed as news of the elder Kim’s demise broke. Those talks were expected to lead to U.S. food assistance to the impoverished North and the renewal of six-party negotiations addressing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Now, as the symbolically important 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung approaches, it is vital that President Barack Obama re-engage the North Korean regime and re-establish a verifiable freeze of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs before they take yet another turn for the worse. Pyongyang has publicly and privately said it would be willing to impose such a freeze in return for resuming the six-party talks.

Given that further international sanctions and isolation will not alter the North’s behavior or precipitate “regime change,” Republicans and Democrats interested in protecting U.S. and international security have an obligation to put election-year politics aside and support the administration’s efforts to restart the nuclear talks.

Although North Korea’s leaders may not be willing to negotiate away their nuclear weapons program altogether, they still appear to be willing to abandon portions of it in exchange for improved relations with the United States and the possibility of much-needed investment from South Korea. For Washington and its allies in Asia, it is essential that North Korea’s nuclear program remain as limited as possible.

For now, North Korea possesses enough plutonium for fewer than a dozen bombs, but if left unchecked, it could soon amass a larger and more deadly arsenal. A successful, third nuclear weapons test explosion could allow North Korea to prove a miniaturized warhead design that might be used to arm short- or medium-range ballistic missiles.

Although North Korea has a substantial arsenal of short- and medium-range missiles, its two intercontinental-range Taepo Dong-2 tests ended in failure. Further tests of North Korean long-range ballistic missiles, if successful, would likely expand Pyongyang’s nuclear reach.

As part of the six-party denuclearization process, North Korea shut down its plutonium-production facility at Yongbyon in July 2007, but it has built centrifuge arrays that could be improved and expanded to enable it to generate enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for one to two bombs per year.

Siegfreid Hecker, the former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was shown “astonishingly modern” uranium-enrichment facilities during his November 2010 tour of the Yongbyon complex. Hecker believes the centrifuges are probably configured to make low-enriched uranium for a light-water power reactor now under construction. These centrifuges, however, could be converted to produce HEU fuel, and North Korea probably has additional centrifuges at other locations.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have not visited Yongbyon since 2009, when North Korea withdrew from the six-party talks. It is essential that the agency be allowed to return to verify that North Korea is not enriching uranium to weapons grade at Yongbyon and to learn more about Pyongyang’s enrichment work.

For these reasons and others, Obama should seize—or create—the opportunity to resume talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. To start, the goal should be to persuade North Korea to agree to steps it previously has taken: halting plutonium production and uranium enrichment at Yongbyon, refraining from further nuclear test explosions and medium- and long-range ballistic missile flight tests, and allowing IAEA inspectors back into the country.

Once these steps are in place, Washington should press for wider IAEA inspections, guarantees that North Korea has suspended all nuclear and missile exports, and its return to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapon state.

North Korea will likely seek fuel and food supplies and the normalization of relations in exchange for nuclear restraint. If so, that is a bargain worth making, given the risks.

It also is likely that Pyongyang’s leaders will revive their request for outside assistance for the construction of a nuclear power reactor. This would be politically risky and unwise for the United States to agree to do, but is something that China or Russia might provide as a further inducement for North Korean denuclearization.

As South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Jan. 2, the Korean peninsula is “at a turning point.” Doing nothing in the face of the risk of new and more dangerous North Korean nuclear and missile capabilities is not an option. The only option that has succeeded in limiting North Korea’s nuclear and missile potential over the years has been U.S.-led disarmament diplomacy. Now is the time to act. ACT

North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il may be gone, but the dangers posed by Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs persist. Although the long-term future of the regime under the new young ruler, Kim Jong Un, remains uncertain, it is clearly in the United States’ interest to get the much-delayed denuclearization process back on track.

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