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"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."

– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
March 2007
Edition Date: 
Thursday, March 1, 2007
Cover Image: 

Chinese Proud, Defensive About ASAT Test

Scarlet Kim

After shooting down one of its weather satellites Jan. 11, the Chinese government maintained a baffling silence until Jan. 23 when it confirmed foreign reports of the event. Since then, government leaders in Beijing have said little, but the same cannot be said for some of China’s 1.3 billion people, who are expressing patriotic pride and defending their military’s technological achievement.

News of the anti-satellite (ASAT) test trickled into the Chinese mainland hours after the first official U.S. reports appeared Jan. 18. Shortly thereafter, commentary emerged on major Chinese internet forums, a proxy barometer of public opinion. Although some Chinese initially voiced doubts about the authenticity of the news, the reaction was generally positive. A typical opinion appearing on the military forum bbs.military.china.com stated, “[The test] is of great political significance to our country…and a milestone in our country’s scientific advancement. Our army can no longer be considered backwards.”

In a Jan. 26 interview with Arms Control Today, Professor Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at the Beijing-based People’s University, stated that “100% of internet public opinion…enthusiastically applauds this development.” He cautioned, however, that internet views might not be an entirely accurate reflection of Chinese sentiment, noting that those who harbor reservations about the test may fear expressing their opposition openly.

Shi also noted that most Chinese may not be fully aware of the event, owing to sparse Chinese media coverage of the satellite destruction. Still, he concluded, “for those who do know, I suppose that the overwhelming majority is in favor of this development of space military capabilities.”

While Western media have been busy scrutinizing China’s test and growing ASAT capabilities, China’s state-run media has spotlighted the space capabilities and plans of other countries, particularly the United States. As a result, many Chinese may not realize the seeming contradiction between China’s official position in support of limits on space weapons and its recent ASAT test. In the last few weeks, the Chinese government has continued to insist that it wants to prevent the “weaponization” of space.

China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency published a Jan. 28 article, “United States Issues New Space Policy: An Inventory of American Anti-Satellite Warfare Capabilities.” Relying primarily on U.S. nongovernmental analysis, the article outlines U.S. missile defense capabilities and concludes that Washington is determined to deploy space-based weapons. Other Chinese news outlets have run variations of this piece.

At the same time, some Chinese are concerned that the test could bolster some claims in Washington and elsewhere that China is a growing military competitor. A student at the People’s University wrote in an online academic forum that the test will only “add fuel to the ‘China Threat’ argument,” supporting those “Western conservative politicians who want to restrain China even if she is rising peacefully.”

The Chinese military has dismissed such claims. In a Feb. 2 article in the Global Times, a weekly Chinese Communist Party-run newspaper, Major General Zhang Zhaozhong noted that “if a strong military indicates a large threat,” then by that logic “ China is not the country that poses the biggest threat to the world.”

After shooting down one of its weather satellites Jan. 11, the Chinese government maintained a baffling silence until Jan. 23 when it confirmed foreign reports of the event...

Chinese Satellite Destruction Stirs Debate

Wade Boese

In January, China for the first time used a weapon to destroy one of its satellites. Beijing says its feat was not hostile, but it polluted space with a huge amount of potentially harmful debris and sparked debate over China’s professed desire to prevent a space arms race.

China Jan. 11 demolished an aging weather satellite, the Feng Yun-1C, orbiting Earth at an altitude of approximately 850 kilometers. The satellite disintegrated when struck by a projectile carried into space by a ballistic missile launched from the Xichang space launch facility in southwestern China.

The United States and the Soviet Union pursued anti-satellite weapons programs throughout much of the Cold War. Before China’s test, Washington in 1985 had carried out the only previous test in which a satellite was destroyed. In that experiment, an F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft fired a missile armed with a kill vehicle that collided with the U.S. Solwind satellite.

Beijing provided no advance notice of its test and stayed silent for days afterward. The U.S. government confirmed the incident Jan. 18.

China publicly acknowledged the test Jan. 23. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao said that day that the test was “not targeted at any country.” He reiterated China’s long-standing position that it opposes the “weaponization” of space, but Liu did not discuss the reasons for the test, an approach the Chinese government has maintained.

Broad speculation has filled the void. Some have interpreted the experiment as a Chinese show of strength and a warning to Washington that its space assets would be vulnerable to attack if the United States and China ever went to war. Others have seen the test as Beijing’s attempt to stimulate the United States to drop its long-standing opposition to Chinese- and Russian-advocated negotiations on prevention of an arms race in outer space.

If the latter was the intent, China appears to have miscalculated, at least in the short term. U.S. Ambassador Christina Rocca told delegates to the 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva Feb. 13, “Despite the [anti-satellite] test, we continue to believe that there is no arms race in space, and therefore no problem for arms control to solve.”

Rocca’s statement meshes with the Bush administration’s stance in its national space policy released last October, ruling out future arms control measures for space. In general, the policy emphasized that “freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power.” (See ACT, November 2006. )

Rocca assured CD members that the United States is “not out to claim space for its own or to weaponize it.” But she also stressed Washington would defend its space assets from threats, noting that the Chinese test “reminds us that a relatively small number of countries are exploring and acquiring capabilities to counter, attack, and defeat vital space systems.”

Pointing out that China launched its satellite-smashing weapon from earth, Rocca questioned whether a space weapons treaty would include terrestrial-based anti-satellite arms. She suggested such definitional issues and potential verification difficulties posed immense problems and pitfalls for any negotiations. Past Chinese and Russian proposals have included obligations against “the threat or use of force against outer space objects.”

Other CD members pressed China for an explanation of its test, but some also urged the United States to revise its anti-space negotiations stand. German Ambassador Bernhard Brasack, speaking Feb. 13 for the 27-member European Union, declared it “irresponsible to block the further discussion on [the space issue] for fear of too ambitious goals.” The CD operates by consensus, and the United States for years has staunchly objected to space talks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Feb. 10 that Moscow would soon be submitting to the conference a draft treaty banning space weapons. The Kremlin is keen on stopping possible deployment of U.S. anti-missile systems in space, an option the Pentagon wants to start testing around 2012.

Meanwhile, Canada’s ambassador to the CD, Paul Meyer, promoted a multilateral moratorium on anti-satellite tests. He argued Feb. 13 that it was an urgent step, given increasing space debris, which refers to any man-made item in orbit that no longer has a use.

Meyer did not explicitly say so, but China’s test created a lot of space garbage. Indeed, Nicholas Johnson, NASA’s chief scientist for orbital debris, told Arms Control Today Feb. 22 that the obliteration of the Feng Yun-1C marked “the worst satellite breakup” ever in terms of creating large debris and long-term effects on the “near-Earth environment.”

The United States tracks large debris, any item greater than 10 centimeters, because it could collide with and damage or destroy satellites or manned spacecraft. Because items in space are traveling so fast, even debris as small as one centimeter could prove harmful.

Johnson said the United States is currently tracking approximately 1,000 large debris items out of the more than 35,000 pieces of debris one centimeter or larger that NASA estimates the Chinese test produced. Before the test, roughly 10,000 large debris units existed in space.

Although some of the new debris will soon re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, satellites and spacecraft will have to navigate around some chunks for years, decades, and perhaps a century or more. If the new test debris damages any country’s space assets, China would be liable under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which aims to preserve space for peaceful purposes and protect national and international space assets. Beijing acceded to the treaty in 1983.

Given the high cost of satellites and their significant commercial and military utility, many countries are eager to prevent additional space debris. In February, a subcommittee of the 67-member UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, which includes China, Russia, and the United States, adopted nonbinding space-debris mitigation guidelines. The full committee is expected to adopt the guidelines later this year.

The space debris problem clearly ranked as an immediate worry for U.S. officials after the Chinese test, but they also questioned the Chinese political and military motivations behind the test. Senior administration officials labeled the test variously as “very troubling,” “very worrisome,” “destabilizing,” and “quite unpleasant.”

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 6 that the test showed a capability but does not reveal how it fits within China’s “strategic outlook” or potential-use calculations. U.S. officials say they are seeking such clarifications from Beijing.

Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) argued Jan. 29 that Beijing’s intentions are self-evident and that United States should pursue space weapons capabilities, including anti-satellite systems. “We need to have the capability to eliminate a hostile satellite when necessary,” Kyl said.

A senior Air Force official told reporters Feb. 5 that the United States is not interested in such a destructive capability. “We don’t want to do that,” said the official, who also added that the United States is “not real eager to cause a lot of debris in space.”

One idea the official proposed exploring was adding sensors to each satellite to enable it to “see if somebody is coming up close” or to know if it has been “hit by a laser.” Both China and the United States allegedly have been exploring microsatellites that could maneuver close to and disable another satellite, as well as lasers to blind or impair satellites.

 

The USSR’s Past Anti-Satellite Testing

Wade Boese

The Soviet Union pursued anti-satellite (ASAT) programs for decades but apparently never smashed a satellite into bits as China did recently and the United States did in 1985. Still, Washington assessed Moscow’s capabilities as a viable threat to U.S. satellites.

Before instituting a moratorium on ASAT test launches in August 1983, the Kremlin conducted at least 20 ASAT tests beginning in 1968. The Soviet tests involved the use of interceptor vehicles with explosives designed to detonate near their intended target.

None of the Soviet tests resulted in a target’s complete destruction. Indeed, Nicholas Johnson, NASA’s chief expert on orbital debris, told Arms Control Today Feb. 24 that “only one Soviet ASAT target ever released debris as a result of an ASAT engagement.” He reported that four pieces of debris were detected from a November 1968 test.

Nevertheless, Johnson noted that even though targets were not obliterated, the tests were not necessarily failures. “In [the November 1968 test] and other successful engagements, the target satellite might well have been ‘destroyed’ from an operational viewpoint,” he stated.

The Pentagon assessed the Soviet Union as first attaining an operational ASAT capability in 1971. The now-disbanded congressional Office of Technology Assessment reported in an extensive September 1985 report on ASAT systems that “Soviet ASAT capabilities threaten U.S. military capabilities to some extent now and potentially to a much greater extent in the future.”

Moscow continued to investigate ASAT systems, allegedly including lasers, after its 1983 test moratorium, but it is uncertain how extensive and productive those efforts were and what Russia’s exact ASAT capabilities are today.

HEU Smuggling Sting Raises Security Concerns

Justin Reed

Georgia and the United States revealed in January that in early 2006 they had arrested a Russian man attempting to sell 100 grams of weapons-grade uranium. The seizure was one of the largest of its kind and raised questions about the security of nuclear stockpiles in the region.

A joint Georgian-CIA operation nabbed Oleg Khinsagov in Tbilisi along with several Georgian accomplices. The sting was set up after Georgian authorities discovered extensive smuggling operations in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“When we sent buyers, the channels through Abkhazia and South Ossetia began to expand, and we started seeing a huge flow of materials…. Sometimes it was low-grade enriched materials, but this was the first instance of highly enriched material,” Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili told the Associated Press.

Khinsagov was carrying a plastic bag full of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in his jacket pocket. “He was offering this as the first stage in a deal and said he had other pieces,” Merabishvili said. “We don’t know if that was true,” he added. Georgian authorities sentenced Khinsagov to eight to 10 years in prison.

Efforts to discover the origin of the HEU have been hampered by squabbling between Russia and Georgia. Georgia gave a sample of the smuggled material to Russia for analysis but Russia’s Scientific Research Institute of Non-Organic Materials called the quantity of the sample “insignificant.” Only a few grams of HEU are needed to perform a full forensic analysis, however.

The Russian prosecutor-general is considering an inquiry.

Georgian and Russian officials blame each other for not being fully forthcoming. Tensions have been high since President Mikheil Saakashvili was elected in 2004 on a pro-U.S. platform. His election exacerbated disagreements over the stationing of Russian troops in border regions. (See ACT, January/February 2007. )

In a related development, the United States and Georgia signed a deal in February 2007 to increase cooperation in preventing nuclear smuggling. The agreement will facilitate information sharing between U.S. and Georgian offices, train Georgian experts, adequately store discovered radioactive substances, and increase border patrols.

The United States has already provided similar assistance to Russia to prevent nuclear smuggling.

Bush Cuts Threat Reduction Budget

Daniel Arnaudo

President George W. Bush’s 2008 fiscal year budget request calls for more cuts in programs related to nonproliferation activities in the former Soviet Union, although some individual threat reduction programs would see gains or maintain funding.

Some proposed reductions reflect the winding down or closure of programs, while other cuts may reflect a shift in priorities away from traditional U.S.-Russian programs such as Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) to more regional or international programs.

Department of Defense

Money requested for the CTR program in the Department of Defense budget is down again this year to $348 million. The $24 million reduction for fiscal year 2008 follows a $44 million cut the previous year. The CTR program seeks to better control the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) complex in the former Soviet Union by securing chemical, biological, and nuclear facilities and finding employment for former weapons scientists and technicians.

The Pentagon budget would increase spending by $75 million in fiscal year 2008 for biological threat reduction efforts, including securing pathogens and facilities and setting up monitoring equipment for border posts and customs. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), however, said he plans to offer an amendment to increase funding for biological weapons nonproliferation by $100 million. If approved, this would bring overall spending to $244 million in the next fiscal year.

Nonetheless, in a Jan. 25 interview with Inside the Pentagon, Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, said broader increases for CTR funding were unlikely. Spratt said that although he wanted to see increased funding for securing fissile material and a more “rigid” scheme of accounting for sites in Russia and the United States, “I don’t think the budget will come to us…with enough money in [in it] to do these extra things.” He said he would work to find an offset for increased funding of nuclear nonproliferation activities but would not take it out of funding for the war in Iraq or other essential activities.

Indeed, money proposed for the Nuclear Weapons Storage Security program was down to $23 million for fiscal year 2008, a decrease of $64 million from current spending. This reflects the completion of a number of significant upgrades to Russian facilities and a shift to maintenance.

No funds were requested for the chemical weapons destruction program in fiscal year 2008. Although work on the weapons destruction facility at Shchuch’ye in Russia is still unfinished, the program is scheduled to end this year. Independent experts estimate the facility needs at least another $200 million to be completed.

The Nuclear Weapons Transportation Security program, on the other hand, is slated to receive $38 million for fiscal year 2008, a $5 million increase over the current spending. This will help to transport 48 trainloads of nuclear warheads to more secure facilities for storage and dismantlement.

The administration also requested a $2 million increase in funding for the Strategic Offensive Arms Elimination program. The $78 million in funds requested for fiscal year 2008 would be used to carry out such tasks as eliminating 65 ICBMs, defueling and storing another 20 ICBMs, and decommissioning or eliminating 44 ICBM silos.

The request for the WMD Proliferation Prevention Initiative to create better monitoring facilities on the borders of former non-Russian Soviet states was slightly higher than the previous year, at $38 million.

Department of Energy

The administration’s fiscal year 2008 budget request for a number of Department of Energy nonproliferation programs would also be below current spending. The International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation (INMP&C) program was cut by $41 million to $372 million.

The INMP&C program works to secure the former Soviet nuclear complex, both personnel and material. Part of its funding is dedicated to goals agreed to in a 2005 joint statement between Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bratislava. The Energy Department has explained that the decreases reflect completion of many of the upgrades.

The Energy Department cut $40 million out of the Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF) and 12th Main Directorate program, citing contractor and technical access problems as well as poor weather conditions. The program seeks to secure vulnerable nuclear weapons and weapons usable materials at SRF and 12th Main Directorate sites in Russia. The Bush administration also indicated that it projects further large cuts in funding to programs in “closed” Russian cities once dedicated to designing and testing nuclear weapons. In 2005 at Bratislava, however, the United States promised to continue to support such programs.

The Elimination of Weapons Grade Plutonium Production program also will receive less funding this year as its projects in Russia continue to wind down. Some $182 million is requested for fiscal year 2008, down $25 million from current spending. The projects were created to replace Russian plutonium reactors with generators powered by fossil fuels at Severnsk and Zhelenznogorsk. They are on schedule to be completed by fiscal year 2008 and fiscal year 2011, respectively.

Funding for the Russian Fissile Materials Disposition program will be cut to zero for fiscal year 2008. This comes after a dispute over Moscow’s refusal to pay for a mixed-oxide fuel-fabrication facility. This refusal angered Congress and halted the program, which converts weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for civilian nuclear reactors. The greater Fissile Materials Disposition program, which focuses on cutting stockpiles in the United States through similar techniques, was slightly increased to $609 million after the Senate concluded it was still worthwhile.

By contrast, funding for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) continues to increase, up $13 million to $119 million. The program works to reduce and protect nuclear and radiological material internationally.

Department of State

The administration requested $464 million for the Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism, De-mining and Related Programs line item in the Department of State’s budget. Funding for all of the subprograms within this section devoted to nonproliferation were down, something that was noted by Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Lugar in a Feb. 8 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Export Controls and Border Related Security was set at $41 million, the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund at $30 million, and the Global Threat Reduction Program, formerly the Nonproliferation of WMD Expertise Program, is presently allocated $53.5 million.

Obama in particular took issue with the cuts, saying that these are “modest, but cuts nevertheless.” He added, “Now, I recognize that budgets are about priorities, but given how important, potentially, interdiction and some of these other programs are, you know, I’d like to see us at least stay constant…not go backwards.”

In response, Rice, while noting that these programs may be in less demand than in past, said, “I don’t think that we want to be complacent, and obviously we’ll keep examining it.” The administration, however, requested a $36 million increase for small arms and light weapons destruction activities globally. This proposed boost would raise future spending to $44.7 million.

President George W. Bush’s 2008 fiscal year budget request calls for more cuts in programs related to nonproliferation activities in the former Soviet Union, although some individual threat reduction programs would see gains or maintain funding.

House Approves Nonproliferation Initiatives

Miles A. Pomper

The House of Representatives approved several nonproliferation initiatives in January as part of a broader bill to fully implement the recommendations of an independent commission that investigated the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Implementing a campaign pledge of new Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House approved the measure 299-128 on Jan. 9 in one of the first pieces of legislation of the new Democratic-controlled Congress. Congressional aides said that they expect the measure eventually to be reconciled in a House-Senate conference committee with similarly broad legislation approved Feb. 15 by the Senate Governmental Affairs and Homeland Security Committee.

The 9/11 Commission, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, had warned in 2004 that “the greatest danger of another catastrophic attack in the United States” comes from weapons of mass destruction (WMD). (See ACT, September 2004. )

Key provisions in the House bill would lift legal roadblocks to providing aid to Russia and other former Soviet states to safeguard or destroy nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons stockpiles as well as associated delivery vehicles and facilities; create a White House office to coordinate U.S. efforts to prevent WMD proliferation and terrorism as well as establish an independent commission guiding U.S efforts; and seek to use sanctions and foreign aid to prevent the emergence of new black market nuclear networks.

The House bill would overturn long-standing requirements that bar the disbursement of threat reduction monies unless the president annually certifies that former Soviet states receiving the aid are committed to meeting several criteria, including compliance with all arms control agreements. In December 2005, Congress granted the president permanent authority to annually waive those restrictions but stopped short of eliminating them outright. (See ACT, January/February 2006. )

The certification requirement became a major hurdle to threat reduction activities in Russia and other former Soviet states in 2002 when President George W. Bush refused to certify Russia’s commitment to complying with treaties banning chemical and biological weapons. That refusal, the first since the program began in 1991, triggered a freeze of some threat reduction funds, stalling projects aimed at securing and dismantling surplus weapons and their fabrication facilities.

The bill included another provision that would create a new Senate-confirmed White House coordinator of efforts to counter the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, particularly to terrorist groups.

Democrats have long campaigned for such a coordinator, saying that greater coherence needs to be brought to scattered efforts across the government. But the idea has won little support from the White House itself, which sees it as simply adding additional bureaucracy. Moreover, budget authority for individual programs would still remain with the relevant agencies.

In a related provision, the measure would establish a nine-member independent commission to assess the current initiatives in this area and recommend steps for moving forward.

A newer initiative included in the bill seeks to prevent the recurrence of black market nuclear networks like the one fashioned by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. Khan’s network is said to have provided technology for enriching uranium to Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

It would require the president to impose sanctions for the transfer of enrichment or reprocessing materials or technology to some non-nuclear-weapon states that did not have functioning enrichment or reprocessing plants as of Jan. 1, 2004. In particular, penalties would be required if the transfers went to states that did not have in force an additional protocol to their safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or had a nuclear weapons program. The most sweeping sanctions would include suspensions of arms licenses and foreign aid to countries that host such black market networks. However, these sanctions could be waived by the president.

Both uranium enrichment and the reprocessing of spent fuel for plutonium can provide the fissile material for nuclear weapons. Additional protocols provide IAEA inspectors with greater authority to investigate allegations of undeclared weapons programs.

The passage of the nonproliferation provisions was a victory for Democrats, such as Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who have unsuccessfully pushed similar legislation in the previous Republican-controlled Congress.

Tauscher told the House that, “[f]or too long, the Bush administration and their congressional allies have left nonproliferation on the back burner. The bill before us today provides the tools we need to fight the threat of the world’s most dangerous weapons.”

Many Republicans, however, objected both to the broad scope of the bill and individual provisions. In particular, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sought to strip a provision that would encourage the Bush administration to seek UN Security Council authorization for its Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). The 2003 initiative launched by the United States aims to interdict shipments of weapons of mass destruction and related goods to terrorists and countries of proliferation concern.

“Giving the United Nations the ability to define what is permissible under the PSI will result in the imposition of unpredictable limitations, unpredictable conditions, and unpredictable interpretations and would result in a regulatory straightjacket overseen by the international bureaucracy,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “If this recommendation were followed, the PSI would be undermined.”

Democrats, however, countered that the provision was aimed at broadening international support for the PSI. The motion failed on a largely party-line vote of 198-230.

The House of Representatives approved several nonproliferation initiatives in January as part of a broader bill to fully implement the recommendations of an independent commission that investigated the September 11 terrorist attacks.

U.S. Funding for CTBTO Lags

Daryl G. Kimball

Accumulating shortfalls in the U.S. contribution to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) could slow its effort to complete a global monitoring network and conduct data analysis designed to detect and deter treaty violations, according to diplomats and congressional staff. The deficits are mounting even as that network recently scored some new successes in registering North Korea’s Oct. 9, 2006, nuclear test.

In fiscal year 2006, which ended Sept. 30, 2006, the Bush administration requested and Congress approved $14.4 million for the CTBTO, which was more than $6 million short of the $22 million assessed by the Vienna-based organization. A stopgap fiscal year 2007 spending bill approved by Congress in February set spending at the same levels, which meant it fell even further short of last year’s U.S. assessment of $23 million.

The Bush administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2008, which begins Oct. 1, calls for an $18 million U.S. contribution. Although closer to the CTBTO’s current-year assessment, it would still fall about $3 million short.

A few other, smaller states also are behind in their contribution to the CTBTO. The United States is the single largest contributor, however, making any funding shortage significant. The CTBTO’s budget for 2007 is $102 million.

The budgetary shortfalls could directly affect the CTBTO’s ability to complete construction and certify for use the remaining stations in the International Monitoring System (IMS), diplomats say.

“While it is difficult to understand how shortfalls in contributions from specific countries will affect the CTBTO, less money is less money,” said a senior diplomat based in Vienna. “The main victim will likely be the completion of the remaining IMS stations, as well as maintenance and recapitalization for some existing stations, some of which are nearly 10 years old,” the diplomat said.

The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) calls for the establishment of 321 monitoring stations to collect data worldwide and transmit them in real time to the International Data Center (IDC) in Vienna. When fully completed, the system will consist of 170 seismic, 60 infrasound, and 11 hydroacoustic stations capable of detecting tremors and waves caused by a nuclear explosion. The system will also include more than 80 radionuclide stations, supported by 16 analytical laboratories, to measure air samples for radioactive material associated with nuclear explosions.

The IMS stations and IDC analyses provide a baseline capability for detection that is augmented by national intelligence gathering techniques, as well as thousands of civilian seismic monitoring stations. Among the IMS stations yet to be completed are those in more remote regions, such as Turkmenistan, and those involving more sophisticated and expensive technologies.

According to the diplomat, “If this continues, the United States could also lose its voting rights sometime in 2008-2009, which depend on states-parties making their assessed contributions to the CTBTO.”

Under Article II of the CTBT, which the United States has signed but not ratified, “a member of the Organization which is in arrears in the payment of its assessed contribution to the Organization shall have no vote in the Organization if the amount of its arrears equals or exceeds the amount of the contribution due from it for the preceding two years.” CTBTO member states may make an exception if they believe the failure to pay is due to “conditions beyond the control of the member.”

IMS Assets Detect North Korean Test

Although only 60 percent of all IMS stations have been certified and are transmitting data, more than 10 of the IMS primary seismic stations detected the ground tremors produced by the Oct. 9, 2006, North Korean underground nuclear test explosion near P’unggye, according to the January 2007 newsletter of the CTBTO, Spectrum. The North Korean test blast was estimated by various national, international, and scientific monitors to be less than 1 kiloton (TNT equivalent) in yield. (See ACT, November 2006. )

More significantly, one of 10 experimental “noble gas” monitoring stations that are to be part of the IMS detected trace amounts of unique radioactive material that confirmed the explosion was nuclear. The station, which is located near Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories, detected two spikes in xenon gas readings, on Oct. 22 and 25, which, on the basis of atmospheric modeling, were consistent with the North Korean test, according to diplomats from two countries who are familiar with the data.

On Oct. 11, 2006, U.S. national monitoring assets also detected “radioactive debris” that indicated the explosion was nuclear, according to a statement from the office of the U.S. director of national intelligence.

U.S. Sanctions Iranian, Syrian Entities

Wade Boese

As part of its campaign to bankrupt certain foreign arms programs, the United States recently sanctioned several entities from Syria and Iran, including the fifth-largest Iranian state-owned bank, Bank Sepah.

In June 2005, President George W. Bush authorized the Department of the Treasury in Executive Order 13382 to freeze the U.S. assets of foreign entities suspected of spreading or supporting the development of unconventional arms and ballistic missile programs. (See ACT, September 2005. ) The order bars U.S. citizens, companies, and institutions from doing business or facilitating transactions with sanctioned entities, a term that encapsulates individuals, private companies, or government agencies. Other foreign entities that do business with those already sanctioned risk being penalized as well.

The Treasury Department added nine entities to the executive order’s sanctions roster in three separate announcements in January and February. A trio of Syrian entities was penalized Jan. 4: the Higher Institute of Applied Science and Technology, the Electronics Institute, and the National Standards and Calibration Laboratory. All three were identified as subordinates of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, which the Treasury Department previously sanctioned for alleged biological and chemical weapons activities.

In addition to sanctioning Bank Sepah Jan. 9, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the bank’s chairman and director, Ahmad Derakhshandeh, and a wholly owned subsidiary based in the United Kingdom, Bank Sepah International. Stuart Levey, treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, described Bank Sepah that day as “the financial linchpin” of Iran’s missile acquisition efforts.

Three Iranian entities—the Kalaye Electric Company, the Kavoshyar Company, and the Pioneer Energy Industries Company—each affiliated with Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, were sanctioned Feb. 16. The U.S. government charges that the Iranian nuclear program is dedicated to producing weapons, not energy, as Tehran asserts.

Washington is urging other capitals to similarly penalize the Iranian entities, citing obligations imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 1737. Passed last December in response to Iran’s failure to comply with previous council demands, the resolution mandates that countries freeze the financial assets of and deny financial assistance to entities identified by the United Nations as “involved in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.” (See ACT, January/February 2007. ) Kalaye Electric Company is named as such in an annex to Resolution 1737.

Senior Treasury officials claim they are seeing results. Levey asserted Jan. 9 that “many leading financial institutions have either scaled back dramatically or even terminated their Iran-related business entirely.” Treasury Department spokesperson Molly Millerwise declined Feb. 20 to provide specifics, but she said that Treasury officials have met with “institutions throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.” One institution publicly cutting ties with Iran is the European banking giant UBS, which has offices in more than 50 countries.

The January and February sanctions raise the number of penalized entities under the U.S. executive order to three dozen. Iranian entities (13) and North Korean entities (11) account for two-thirds of the total, while China and Syria have four entities apiece on the Treasury sanctions roll. Millerwise said the department cannot legally disclose the total value of frozen assets.

U.S., Europe Anti-Missile Plans Upset Russia

Wade Boese

A U.S. bid to base anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic is provoking strong reactions from Russia, including hints that it might abrogate a two-decade-old treaty restricting Russian missile holdings.

Moscow has consistently opposed Washington’s proposal to base long-range ballistic missile interceptors in Europe since it first became public in 2004. (See ACT, July/August 2004. ) But January revelations that Washington has approached Prague and Warsaw to start formal negotiations over deployment options have reinvigorated the Kremlin’s denunciations.

Lieutenant General Henry Obering, head of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), told reporters Jan. 25 that the proposed stationing of 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a high-powered radar in the Czech Republic were not aimed at Russia, but primarily Iran. Tehran’s longest-range deployed missile, the Shabab-3, which some Iranian officials claim can fly up to 2,000 kilometers, could reach southern Europe. The MDA contends Iran might acquire a missile capable of striking the United States before 2015.

In a Feb. 10 speech blasting the United States at a high-level security conference in Munich, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed Iran as a threat justifying the U.S. bases. Putin said the fielding of missile defenses in Europe “cannot help but disturb us.”

Days later, top Russian military officials, including General Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of Russia’s general staff, implied Russia could react to the U.S. interceptors by withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. This accord, which led to the destruction of 2,692 missiles, bans U.S. and Russian possession of ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Putin also indicated Russia was re-evaluating the INF Treaty, although he attributed the deliberations to the accord’s inequity of forbidding Russia from having missiles similar to those being acquired by other countries. “It is obvious that in these conditions we must think about ensuring our own security,” Putin stated.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates registered concerns about the treaty’s possible abrogation. He told reporters Feb. 15 that it would be “a problem for us” and a “special problem” for European countries. Gates also said a Russian INF Treaty withdrawal could not be linked plausibly to the proposed European anti-missile units because they pose “no threat to Russia.”

Obering made a similar case Jan. 25, noting that Russia’s hundreds of ballistic missiles vastly outnumber the 10 planned interceptors. He further pointed out that the anti-missile systems would be physically incapable of stopping Russian missiles launched at the United States because the interceptors would be attempting to catch Russian missiles from behind as they fly away from, not toward, the interceptors.

The MDA chief also said he had kept Russian officials informed of U.S. plans and “will continue to work closely with the Russians.” Obering noted, however, that the United States would have to secure the agreement of host governments to permit Russian delegations to visit any future U.S. anti-missile sites on the continent.

If the Polish and Czech governments quickly consent to U.S. plans, Obering said construction could begin in 2008 and the sites could be operational as soon as 2011. He projected costs could total $3.5 billion and said that the United States would pick up the full tab.

U.S. lawmakers last year trimmed requested funding for exploratory site work from $56 million to $32.8 million and provided $63 million for initial work on 10 interceptors that could be deployed in Europe or the United States. MDA spokesperson Rick Lehner told Arms Control Today Feb. 20 that the administration’s February fiscal year 2008 budget request asks for about $225 million for the European sites. Fiscal year 2008 begins Oct. 1.

The United States is currently deploying and testing the ground-based interceptor model designated for Europe. The model scored its first intercept of a target last September, while earlier prototypes tallied five hits in 10 attempts during rudimentary testing. (See ACT, October 2006. )

Similar to the Fort Greely, Alaska, interceptor field, which totaled 14 interceptors at the end of February, no interceptors will be flight-tested out of the European site. Obering said that, during a real attack, there probably would not be time to consult a host government before launching an interceptor.

Sovereignty concerns, doubts about the system’s capabilities, and comments by Russian officials that they would target the anti-missile sites have caused mixed opinions among the Polish and Czech populations about the endeavor. Nevertheless, leaders in each country say they are inclined to engage in formal negotiations.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Forces Policy Brian Green told reporters Jan. 25 that the United States has been “very, very pleased” with discussions with the two governments and that Washington has “every expectation that our more intense discussions…will succeed.” Green and Obering said, however, that alternatives existed if negotiations with the two countries failed.

A U.S. bid to base anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic is provoking strong reactions from Russia, including hints that it might abrogate a two-decade-old treaty restricting Russian missile holdings. (Continue)

Initial Pact Reached to End North Korean Nuclear Weapons Program

Paul Kerr

On Feb. 13, participants in six-party talks announced that they had agreed on initial steps for ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The agreement marked the first concrete sign of progress since the talks stalled almost 18 months ago. Still, many contentious issues remain unresolved.

The plan describes the first phase of actions that the six parties will take for implementing a September 2005 joint statement as well as outlining a process aimed at making future progress. In the 2005 statement, North Korea pledged to abandon its nuclear weapons and “existing nuclear programs” in exchange for a series of political and economic incentives. (See ACT, October 2005.)

The six parties, which also include China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, reached agreement after debating a Chinese-prepared draft during a meeting in Beijing that began Feb. 8. The six-party talks were launched in August 2003.

During the 60-day initial phase, North Korea is to halt the operation of its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon in return for energy and economic assistance from the other five parties. Five working groups, which are to begin meeting within 30 days, are tasked with formulating “specific plans” for implementing the rest of the 2005 statement.

The six parties are to meet again on March 19 “to hear reports” from the groups and to discuss “actions for the next phase.”

Talks Back on Track

Achieving consensus on the initial provision of energy assistance to North Korea was apparently the most contentious task during the recent round of talks. In several press appearances, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill said that Pyongyang insisted that the plan include a specific amount of assistance, rather than having working groups resolve the matter.

Prior bilateral U.S.-North Korean meetings contributed to the diplomatic breakthrough. Hill and North Korean Vice Minister Kim Gye Gwan held three days of bilateral talks in Berlin in January. The discussions reportedly formed the basis for the Chinese draft.

Those talks followed a six-party meeting last December that failed to make progress. At that time, the United States presented a denuclearization proposal, but the North Korean negotiators refused to discuss the matter until issues concerning the Macau-based bank Banco Delta Asia were resolved.

Hill complained at the time that his North Korean counterparts lacked the requisite negotiating authority. (See ACT, January/February 2007.)

In September 2005, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated the bank as a “money laundering concern,” asserting that it provided financial services to North Korean government agencies and front companies engaged in illicit activities such as drug trafficking. Subsequently, the bank froze North Korea’s accounts, and other financial institutions curtailed their dealings with Pyongyang.

Arguing that the designation indicated the Bush administration’s lack of willingness to negotiate in good faith, Pyongyang refused to attend any six-party meetings until this past December. (See ACT, September 2006.)

Both sides have recently shown some flexibility on the issue. For example, North Korea has backed down from its previous refusal to negotiate until the matter was resolved. Washington has also compromised; Hill told reporters Feb. 13 that “we will resolve the [Banco Delta Asia] matter…within 30 days.”

Last fall, the two countries established a bilateral working group to address the matter. The group met in December and again in late January. Daniel Glaser, deputy assistant treasury secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, told reporters Jan. 31 that the group plans to meet again, but no date has yet been scheduled.

Perhaps significantly, Pyongyang also took unilateral actions in October to address at least some of its illicit activities. Press reports Feb. 20 cited a statement from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service that North Korea’s legislature has adopted measures prohibiting financial transactions that involve earnings from illicit activities. These measures also require North Korean financial institutions to enact certain transparency measures.

The Details

The Feb. 13 plan is the latest bid to end North Korea’s nuclear programs. A previous U.S.-North Korean agreement, the 1994 Agreed Framework, broke down in 2002. Under that agreement, Pyongyang froze the Yongbyon facilities, including a five-megawatt graphite-moderated nuclear reactor and a reprocessing facility. These facilities, along with approximately 8,000 spent fuel rods, were monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In exchange, the United States formed an international consortium to provide North Korea with 500,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil annually and to construct two light-water-moderated nuclear reactors. North Korea was to “dismantle” its reactor and related facilities when the project was completed. The agreement also stated that the two countries would “move toward full normalization of political and economic relations.”

The agreement unraveled in October 2002. That month, then-Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly told North Korean officials that the United States had evidence that the country was pursuing a uranium-enrichment program. Both highly enriched uranium and plutonium can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang subsequently ejected IAEA inspectors, announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, restarted the reactor, and claimed to have reprocessed the spent fuel to obtain plutonium. Neither light-water reactor was ever built.

North Korea tested a nuclear device this past October and is estimated to have enough plutonium for as many as 11 weapons. (See ACT, November 2006.)

Multilateral Steps

The Feb. 13 agreement seeks to roll back some of North Korea’s activities. During the initial phase, North Korea is to shut down and seal its nuclear facilities, including the reactor and reprocessing facility, “for the purpose of eventual abandonment.” The government is to allow IAEA inspectors to conduct the “necessary monitoring and verifications” of the shutdown.

North Korea also is to “discuss with other parties a list of all its nuclear programs” during this phase.

In return, the other parties agreed to provide emergency energy assistance to Pyongyang “equivalent to 50,000 [metric] tons of heavy fuel oil.” This assistance will begin during the initial 60-day period, but Hill said in a Feb. 15 interview with The News Hour With Jim Lehrer that North Korea must shut down its facilities before receiving any assistance. South Korea has agreed to provide the entire amount.

A Japanese diplomat told Arms Control Today Feb. 20 that Tokyo will not provide direct energy assistance to Pyongyang during the initial phase. In fact, Japan refuses to do so until North Korea has made “progress” in resolving Tokyo’s concerns about the country’s past abductions of Japanese citizens, Foreign Ministry Deputy Press Secretary Tomohiko Taniguchi said during a Feb. 13 press briefing.

The agreement’s description of the next diplomatic phase is less detailed. It is to include North Korea’s provision of “a complete declaration of all nuclear programs,” as well as the “disablement of all existing [North Korean] nuclear facilities, including [its] graphite-moderated reactors and reprocessing plant.” In return, the other parties are to provide “economic, energy and humanitarian assistance up to the equivalent” of an additional 950,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil. The “detailed modalities” of this assistance are to be determined “through consultations and appropriate assessments” of the working group charged with managing economic and energy cooperation.

Two other working groups will discuss the denuclearization issue and implementation of a “Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism,” the agreement says.

Bilateral Steps

The two remaining working groups are to manage the normalization of Pyongyang’s relations with the United States and Japan. Pyongyang is to start bilateral talks aimed at normalizing its relations with both governments, according to the agreement.

In the case of Japan, the talks are to address “outstanding issues of concern,” including the abductions issue.

For its part, the United States will “advance the process of terminating” sanctions on North Korea that have been applied under the Trading with the Enemy Act. Some of those sanctions had been eased during the Clinton administration, but the Bush administration has imposed new restrictions. Most recently, the Treasury Department amended the Foreign Assets Control Regulations to prohibit U.S. citizens from registering vessels in North Korea or “otherwise obtaining authorization for a vessel to fly the North Korean flag.” The department imposed other restrictions on North Korean shipping last May. (See ACT, May 2006.)

Washington also is to “begin the process” of removing North Korea from a list of state-sponsors of terrorism, the agreement says. States on that list are subject to a variety of U.S. sanctions, including provisions that require the United States to block aid to those countries from international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

During the 1990s, the United States described to North Korea the steps it must take to be removed from the list, according to a 2004 Congressional Research Service report. Those procedures have not changed.

Looking Forward

The six parties must resolve various other outstanding issues, several of which could prove to be stumbling blocks to future diplomatic progress.

Perhaps the most difficult task will be to devise mutually acceptable procedures for halting activity within North Korea’s nuclear facilities. For example, the six parties still need to reach agreement on the details of disabling those facilities, a South Korean diplomat said in a Feb. 21 interview.

For its part, the State Department is currently leading interagency discussions on the matter.

Kelly and former State Department official David Straub told Arms Control Today Feb. 20 that the Bush administration has conducted intergovernmental discussions about methods for North Korea “to disable or dismantle” nuclear facilities and weapons. These notions were contained in a U.S. proposal presented during the June 2004 round of six-party talks but were never discussed with Pyongyang in detail, Kelly said. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

The six parties also will eventually need to determine the fate of North Korea’s existing nuclear weapons and fissile material, an issue that the recent agreement does not address directly.

Additionally, Hill told CNN Feb. 13 that Washington wants Pyongyang to include information about its suspected uranium-enrichment program in its upcoming declaration. Later, at a briefing at the Brookings Institution Feb. 22, Hill said “the North Koreans made certain purchases of equipment, which is entirely consistent with a highly enriched uranium program.” He also acknowledged, however, that there are gaps in Washington’s knowledge about Pyongyang’s effort to pursue uranium enrichment.

Such a program would require “a lot more equipment than we know that they have actually purchased [and] some considerable production techniques that we are not sure whether they have mastered,” he said.

Arms Control Today and others previously have reported that the administration’s initial estimates, made in 2002, of Pyongyang’s uranium-enrichment capacity may have been overstated. (See ACT, October 2005.)

Although Pyongyang has not yet acknowledged that it has such a program, it is willing to discuss the matter, Hill said.

The IAEA also has work to do. The agency and North Korea must agree on the proper monitoring procedures for Pyongyang’s nuclear facilities. IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei announced Feb. 23 that he has accepted an invitation from Pyongyang to visit North Korea in March to “implement the agreement reached at the six-party talks about the shutdown and eventual abandonment of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, including the reprocessing facility.”

Other issues could prove contentious. For example, David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, and Joel Wit, a former State Department official, told a Washington audience Feb. 14 that North Korea has not given up its previous demand to receive light-water nuclear reactors in exchange for ending its nuclear programs. Wit and Albright visited North Korea shortly before the recent talks began. The six parties did not discuss the matter during the recent talks, Hill said.

The 2005 joint statement says that the other parties would “discuss, at an appropriate time,” the provision of such reactors to North Korea.

Additionally, the failure of Pyongyang and Tokyo to resolve the abductions issue could potentially impede a final resolution. The South Korean diplomat indicated that at least some participants are concerned about such an eventuality. Although the agreement says that one working group’s progress shall not affect the others’ work, it says that the groups’ plans “will be implemented as a whole in a coordinated manner.”

 

Six-Party Agreement on North Korean Nuclear Program

After six days of negotiations, six countries on Feb. 13 reached an agreement on a series of initial steps aimed at freezing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. They also pledged to undertake further nuclear disarmament negotiations in line with a Sept. 19, 2005 framework and “the principle of ‘action for action.’” The text of the agreement follows:

The Third Session of the Fifth Round of the Six-Party Talks was held in Beijing among the People’s Republic of China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the United States of America from 8 to 13 February 2007.

Mr. Wu Dawei, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the PRC, Mr. Kim Gye Gwan, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK; Mr. Kenichiro Sasae, Director-General for Asian and Oceanian Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan; Mr. Chun Yung-woo, Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs of the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Mr. Alexander Losyukov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation; and Mr. Christopher Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the Department of State of the United States attended the talks as heads of their respective delegations.

Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei chaired the talks.

I. The Parties held serious and productive discussions on the actions each party will take in the initial phase for the implementation of the Joint Statement of 19 September 2005. The Parties reaffirmed their common goal and will to achieve early denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner and reiterated that they would earnestly fulfill their commitments in the Joint Statement. The Parties agreed to take coordinated steps to implement the Joint Statement in a phased manner in line with the principle of “action for action”.

II. The Parties agreed to take the following actions in parallel in the initial phase:

1. The DPRK will shut down and seal for the purpose of eventual abandonment the Yongbyon nuclear facility, including the reprocessing facility and invite back [International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)] personnel to conduct all necessary monitoring and verifications as agreed between IAEA and the DPRK.

2. The DPRK will discuss with other parties a list of all its nuclear programs as described in the Joint Statement, including plutonium extracted from used fuel rods, that would be abandoned pursuant to the Joint Statement.

3. The DPRK and the US will start bilateral talks aimed at resolving pending bilateral issues and moving toward full diplomatic relations. The US will begin the process of removing the designation of the DPRK as a state-sponsor of terrorism and advance the process of terminating the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act with respect to the DPRK.

4. The DPRK and Japan will start bilateral talks aimed at taking steps to normalize their relations in accordance with the Pyongyang Declaration, on the basis of the settlement of unfortunate past and the outstanding issues of concern.

5. Recalling Section 1 and 3 of the Joint Statement of 19 September 2005, the Parties agreed to cooperate in economic, energy and humanitarian assistance to the DPRK. In this regard, the Parties agreed to the provision of emergency energy assistance to the DPRK in the initial phase. The initial shipment of emergency energy assistance equivalent to 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil (HFO) will commence within next 60 days.

The Parties agreed that the above-mentioned initial actions will be implemented within next 60 days and that they will take coordinated steps toward this goal.

III. The Parties agreed on the establishment of the following Working Groups (WG) in order to carry out the initial actions and for the purpose of full implementation of the Joint Statement:

1. Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula

2. Normalization of DPRK-US relations

3. Normalization of DPRK-Japan relations

4. Economy and Energy Cooperation

5. Northeast Asia Peace and Security Mechanism

The WGs will discuss and formulate specific plans for the implementation of the Joint Statement in their respective areas. The WGs shall report to the Six-Party Heads of Delegation Meeting on the progress of their work. In principle, progress in one WG shall not affect progress in other WGs. Plans made by the five WGs will be implemented as a whole in a coordinated manner.

The Parties agreed that all WGs will meet within next 30 days.

IV. During the period of the Initial Actions phase and the next phase, which includes provision by the DPRK of a complete declaration of all nuclear programs and disablement of all existing nuclear facilities, including graphite-moderated reactors and reprocessing plant., economic, energy and humanitarian assistance up to the equivalent of 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil (HFO), including the initial shipment equivalent to 50,000 tons of HFO, will be provided to the DPRK.

The detailed modalities of the said assistance will be determined through consultations and appropriate assessments in the Working Group on Economic and Energy Cooperation.

V. Once the initial actions are implemented, the Six Parties will promptly hold a ministerial meeting to confirm implementation of the Joint Statement and explore ways and means for promoting security cooperation in Northeast Asia.

VI. The Parties reaffirmed that they will take positive steps to increase mutual trust, and will make joint efforts for lasting peace and stability in Northeast Asia. The directly related parties will negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula at an appropriate separate forum.

VII. The Parties agreed to hold the Sixth Round of the Six-Party Talks on 19 March 2007 to hear reports of WGs and discuss on actions for the next phase.

Dangerous Dealings: North Korea’s Nuclear Capabilities and the Threat of Export to Iran

Siegfried S. Hecker and William Liou

On Oct. 9, 2006, North Korea conducted a nuclear test and proclaimed itself a world nuclear power. The explosion yield was less than one kiloton, much less than the first nuclear test of other states and even less than the expected yield of four kilotons that North Korean officials forecast to their Chinese counterparts.

Nonetheless, the test demonstrated Pyongyang’s mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle and at least rudimentary nuclear-weapon design and manufacturing capabilities.

On Feb. 13, North Korea signed a six-party agreement to take initial actions to implement a Sept. 19, 2005 Joint Statement for the eventual abandonment of its nuclear weapons program. While this is welcome news, the road to the abandonment of North Korean nuclear weapons and capabilities will be long and arduous, and success is far from guaranteed. Its nuclear program still poses significant risks to international security, the most serious of which is the export of nuclear materials, expertise or technologies to states such as Iran and the potential for subsequent proliferation to terrorists.

It was clear by 1994 when Pyongyang signed the Agreed Framework[1] with the United States that North Korea had mastered the basic technologies required to produce and separate plutonium, which has subsequently formed the centerpiece of its nuclear weapons program. Experts have estimated that North Korea could have produced and separated nearly 10 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium by then, although they have acknowledged very large uncertainties in that estimate.[2] Moreover, the 8,000 spent fuel rods that were then stored in a spent fuel pool contained roughly an additional 25 kilograms of plutonium.

The Agreed Framework froze all but maintenance activities at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear complex from 1994 to the end of 2002. In December 2002, following a political altercation with the United States over accusations of conducting a covert uranium-enrichment program and subsequent suspension of U.S. heavy fuel oil shipments, North Korea expelled International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors. In January 2003, it announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and restarted its five-megawatt (electric capacity) nuclear reactor to strengthen its “deterrent” by reprocessing plutonium from the spent fuel stored since 1994.

Since the demise of the Agreed Framework, it has been difficult to assess developments in North Korea’s nuclear program. International access to Yongbyon, which reportedly employs about 3,000 scientists, engineers, and research personnel alone,[3] has been essentially terminated. However, one of the authors (Hecker) had the opportunity to visit Yongbyon in January 2004 and held additional discussions with its technical leadership in Pyongyang in August 2005 and November 2006.[4] This assessment of North Korea’s technical capabilities is based on open literature augmented by what was learned during these visits.

Nuclear Fuel-Cycle Capabilities

North Korea’s nuclear program began with a 1959 nuclear cooperation agreement with the Soviet Union. That pact led to the construction of the nuclear research facilities at Yongbyon, the training of North Korean scientists and engineers, and geological surveys that ultimately discovered large deposits of uranium ore and graphite in North Korea.[5] Although the Soviets did not intend for this help to assist Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons, it allowed North Korea to master the plutonium fuel cycle.

Nuclear Reactors

In the 1960s, the Soviet Union supplied North Korea with its first reactor, a small IRT-2000 research reactor fueled by highly enriched uranium (HEU), along with a small hot-cell facility for isotope production. Today, this reactor is used sparingly for medical isotope production because Pyongyang has not been able to acquire fresh fuel since the demise of the Soviet Union.

By 1980, North Korea had launched an ambitious program of reactor construction to build a national nuclear power industry. The program called for the indigenous design and construction of three gas-cooled, graphite-moderated, natural uranium-fueled reactors: a small five-megawatt research reactor and a larger 50-megawatt prototype power reactor at Yongbyon and a full-scale 200-megawatt power reactor at Taechon.

These electric reactors were patterned after the British Magnox reactor, the first of which was built at Calder Hall 50 years ago. Experience in the United Kingdom and in France showed that this type of reactor is inferior to light-water reactors (LWRs) for generating electricity but is well suited for producing weapons-grade plutonium because these reactors use natural uranium fuel. Also, the graphite-moderated reactors do not require uranium enrichment, for which much of the materials, equipment, and technology would have to be imported, allowing North Korea to build a self-sufficient, indigenous nuclear program and to produce plutonium fuel for bombs. (Pyongyang eventually realized that LWRs are better power reactors and began to negotiate for Soviet LWRs in 1985.)

By 1994 the five-megawatt reactor was operating and producing approximately six kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium, or roughly one bomb’s worth, per year. North Korea claimed that the 50-megawatt reactor was within one year of operation and that construction of the 200-megawatt reactor had begun but was still several years from operation. These reactors, when fully operational, could produce nearly 60 kilograms and 240 kilograms of plutonium per year, respectively.

Following the breakdown of the Agreed Framework, the five-megawatt reactor was loaded with new fuel and restarted operations in February 2003. It was most likely unloaded and reloaded between April and June 2005 and has been operating since then. Apparently, fuel cladding problems have limited full-scale operations during the past year. If this reactor is not shut down as part of the six-party agreement, then the current load of fuel can remain in the reactor for several more years; the projected plutonium production would be at most six kilograms per year. New fuel would have to be fabricated to continue reactor operations beyond that time.

Construction of the 50-megawatt reactor was halted during the Agreed Framework. During the January 2004 visit, the exterior of the reactor building appeared to be in a poor state of repair. During the August 2005 visit, our delegation was told that North Korea had completed a design study that concluded that construction of the reactor could continue on its original site using much of the original equipment and that the workers were ready to return to the reactor construction site. The delegation was also told that the core of the reactor and other components were not at the Yongbyon site. During the most recent visit, we were informed that little progress had been made at the 50-megawatt-reactor site. Difficulties were encountered in recovering the original state of the equipment. The main problems were not at Yongbyon, but rather in the preparation by other industries and the recovery in other factories. North Korean officials also told us that the recovery job will be more difficult and will take longer because it is difficult to import materials and equipment.

Nothing has been done at the construction site for the 200-megawatt reactor since 1994. Future plans are still being evaluated, but North Korean officials noted that it is most likely less expensive to start over than to continue at the current site.

If the five-megawatt reactor continues to operate over the next few years, it will increase North Korea’s plutonium inventory at most by one bomb’s worth of material per year and, hence, will not change North Korea’s nuclear capabilities dramatically. Completion of the 50-megawatt reactor, however, would greatly enhance Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities because of the roughly tenfold increase in plutonium production. Such an increase would give North Korea much greater flexibility to test weapon designs, increase the size of its nuclear arsenal, and more aggressively consider the export of plutonium. It is also possible that North Korea could make its substantial experience in reactor design and operations available to states with nuclear fuel-cycle aspirations.

Front End of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle

In the 1980s, North Korea began building the requisite facilities to provide fuel for its reactor program. Geological surveys performed by the Soviet Union demonstrated that North Korea had substantial uranium deposits and led to large-scale uranium mining operations in the late 1970s or early 1980s. By the early 1990s, it was estimated that the facilities could produce approximately 300 metric tons of yellow cake (an impure mixture of uranium oxides) per year, which would require approximately 30,000 metric tons of raw uranium ore.

Between 1980 and 1985, a fuel fabrication facility was completed at Yongbyon to refine the yellow cake and produce uranium metal fuel elements for its reactors. In 1992, North Korean officials claimed that the factory was capable of producing up to 300 metric tons of uranium fuel per year. To put these figures in perspective, the five-megawatt reactor requires some 50 metric tons of uranium fuel for one complete reactor core, while the 50-megawatt and 200-megawatt reactors require about 400 and 1,400 metric tons, respectively.[6] To produce uranium metal fuel for its reactors, North Korea developed extensive engineering, chemical, and metallurgical capabilities. These included the ability to conduct the required uranium separations, purification, and conversion to oxide and metal, as well as the casting and machining of the fuel.

Although routine maintenance of the fuel fabrication facility was allowed during the Agreed Framework, parts of the facility deteriorated badly during this time. Our delegation was told that some equipment had corroded and collapsed. The director of the Yongbyon facility expected refurbishment of the facility to be completed and fuel fabrication to resume in 2007. He stated that in 1994, two complete loads and a partial load of clad fuel rods were available for the five-megawatt reactor. He claimed that the two complete loads were used during the February 2003 and June 2005 reloading operations. Hence, only partial reloading of the reactor is possible until fuel fabrication resumes. Although some fuel had been fabricated for the 50-megawatt reactor, operating this reactor, if it is completed, also will require the refurbishment of the fuel fabrication facility.

Virtually all aspects of North Korea’s fuel production capabilities pose an export threat. The uranium ore deposits are a valuable commodity for any potential nuclear reactor or weapons operation. The uranium mining, milling, separations, purification, and conversion facilities can produce uranium oxide or metal fuel for reactor operations. To produce uranium metal fuel for its plutonium producing reactors, North Korea developed facilities that bring it within one step of producing uranium hexafluoride, the key feed material for centrifuge enrichment. Such enrichment can produce HEU, which like plutonium can be used as a fissile material in nuclear weapons.

During inspections of the fuel fabrication facility prior to 2003, IAEA inspectors found no signs of fluorination equipment that would be needed to make uranium hexafluoride. Yet, there is no question that North Korea has the technical ability to do so. In spite of denials by North Korean officials, Pyongyang quite certainly has an enrichment effort. North Korea made several attempts in the late 1990s and early in this decade to purchase key materials required for a centrifuge program.[7] Pakistan’s president, General Pervez Musharraf, revealed that the Abdul Qadeer Khan network sold centrifuge parts to North Korea for its uranium-enrichment program.[8] Also, when Libya declared its nuclear program in 2004, one of the recovered containers of uranium hexafluoride appeared to be traceable to North Korea. Our judgment is that Pyongyang’s enrichment program is still at the research and development stage and poses little threat of additional weapons capability or export of HEU at this time. Its fuel fabrication capabilities, however, would allow it to supply the key feedstock, namely natural uranium hexafluoride.

In addition, North Korean technical specialists have developed extensive uranium-metallurgy capabilities for uranium metal-alloy fuel fabrication. North Korea’s capabilities to produce, alloy, cast, and machine metal and to protect surfaces are all extremely valuable commodities to states or groups interested in producing nuclear weapons using HEU. These specialists have the type of hands-on practical experience that one cannot learn from the open literature.

Back End of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle

During the 1980s, North Korea also began building the requisite facilities for the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle, the reprocessing of spent fuel to extract plutonium produced in the uranium-238 fuel and to manage nuclear waste from spent fuel processing. Initial experience with processing spent fuel to extract valuable isotopes was gained in the small Soviet-supplied hot-cell facilities at the IRT-2000 reactor site. In 1984, North Korea began construction of an industrial-scale reprocessing facility, called the Radiochemical Laboratory, at Yongbyon to separate plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. Reprocessing, rather than a once-through nuclear fuel cycle, is preferred for spent fuel from this type of reactor because of the difficulty of safely storing the magnesium alloy-clad spent fuel.

IAEA inspectors found the Radiochemical Laboratory operational during their visits from 1992 to 1994. The facility had a nominal capacity for reprocessing roughly 220 to 250 metric tons of spent fuel per year when operated continuously for 300 days, which is more than sufficient capacity to reprocess all of the spent fuel from the five-megawatt and 50-megawatt reactors. Its operation was also frozen, except for maintenance, during the Agreed Framework.

During the January 2004 visit, North Korean officials escorted the delegation through parts of the facility and showed us a sample of the extracted plutonium-metal product. In August 2005, North Korean officials claimed the facility’s throughput was increased by 30 percent by replacing some troublesome mixer-settler boxes with pulsed columns. The Yongbyon technical leadership told us that they had conducted two reprocessing campaigns. The first, in 2003, reprocessed the 8,000 spent fuel rods that had been stored in the spent fuel pool during the Agreed Framework. The second, in the summer of 2005, extracted plutonium from the reactor campaign of February 2003 to March 2005.

Our estimates are that North Korea extracted approximately 25 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium in the first campaign and 12 to 14 kilograms in the second campaign. These quantities, combined with the best estimate of 8.4 kilograms of plutonium produced and extracted prior to the Agreed Framework, gave North Korea approximately 40 to 50 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium, sufficient for roughly six to eight bombs, before its Oct. 9, 2006, nuclear test. Although this amount of plutonium is rather modest, it represents the most serious export threat.

The rest of North Korea’s back-end fuel-cycle capabilities pose less of an export threat than its front-end capabilities. Although North Korean specialists have all the requisite technical know-how, it is more difficult to build reprocessing facilities and to hide them than it is to build front-end capabilities. Nevertheless, the capabilities to handle spent fuel and extract plutonium could be useful to Iran once it completes its heavy-water reactor at Arak and produces plutonium. This technical expertise could also prove useful to groups that may have designs to extract plutonium from spent fuel being stored in many locations around the world. Although most of this fuel is physically secured and is dangerous to handle because the fission products emit deeply penetrating radiation, it nevertheless represents a potential threat.

Nuclear Weapons

Although North Korea has mastered the full nuclear fuel cycle, it is less clear how much progress it has made in nuclear weapons design, manufacture, and deployment. Although the actual explosion yield of the Oct. 9, 2006, test was less than one kiloton instead of the predicted four kilotons, North Korean specialists most likely learned enough to field a large, simple design with several times that explosion yield. For comparison, the Nagasaki device produced an explosion yield of 21 kilotons. It is also very likely that Pyongyang is trying to develop more sophisticated, smaller, and lighter designs that are capable of being deployed on a missile. Yet, with the limited nuclear test success and the mixed results of its July 5, 2006, missile tests, it is unlikely that North Korean officials have adequate confidence to launch a nuclear device on one of their missiles unless they feel the regime is faced with certain destruction.

All available evidence suggests North Korea’s current nuclear arsenal is small and of limited utility. The size of the arsenal is limited by the plutonium inventory, which we estimate is sufficient for roughly six to eight bombs. The sophistication of its arsenal is limited by its single, not fully successful nuclear test. The likely large size and lack of sophistication of their nuclear devices limit delivery means to aircraft, boat, or van. Preparedness for a potential war-fighting role is limited by safety concerns inherent in an assembled nuclear device. In discussions with North Korean military and political officials, however, Hecker found little recognition of the safety hazards posed by primitive nuclear bombs. Also, not surprisingly, there was rather little indication of a nuclear doctrine or war-fighting strategy.

Consequently, the North Korean nuclear arsenal appears to pose a limited direct threat. In addition to the technical issues just presented, the likelihood of U.S. retaliation and subsequent regime change represent a strong deterrent against the use of its nuclear arsenal. Nevertheless, one cannot rule out potential use by North Korea against U.S. assets or allies as an act of desperation. The threat may also increase in the event of a leadership succession struggle or during political turmoil. We also expect there to be a strong deterrent against North Korea “outsourcing” the delivery of a nuclear weapon to subnational groups such as al Qaeda. Pyongyang would surely be reluctant to give up control of any of its weapons, and it would face certain retaliation from the victim country because attribution of such a device to North Korea is very likely.[9]

Still, outsourcing also cannot be ruled out completely in a desperate situation. The history of the Khan network should serve as a reminder that even when governments have strong incentives not to engage in proliferation activities, some powerful individuals inside their bureaucracy may take matters into their own hands.

Therefore, although North Korea’s nuclear arsenal may not pose a great direct threat to its neighbors or the United States, Pyongyang has apparently accomplished what it cites as the justification for its arsenal: to deter the United States from attacking it. However limited the direct threat of its arsenal may be, Pyongyang has used its indirect leverage with great diplomatic skill. It has been able to keep the United States and the four neighboring states at bay while slowly but surely building up its arsenal. And now it appears that North Korea may be ready to bargain away that arsenal and its nuclear program for economic assistance and normalized relations with the United States.

There is no indication North Korea received weapon-related assistance from China or Russia. Its plutonium-weapon design appears to be indigenous, although it may have received HEU-weapon design information from Khan, perhaps as part of a missile-for-nuclear barter agreement in the late 1990s.[10] Khan sold blueprints of what is reported to be a Chinese HEU implosion weapon design to Libya, complete with step-by-step assembly instructions.[11] It has been reported that U.S. intelligence believes similar information was provided to North Korea.[12] Although North Korea’s weapons are plutonium based, the Khan information would still allow North Korean scientists and engineers to compare their work in implosion design with a design that has been tested. Any test data they may have received could help validate their computational models and increase their confidence in the viability of a more-sophisticated plutonium design. In addition, should North Korea develop its enrichment capabilities to the point of producing weapon quantities of HEU, the design information would be very useful.

The direct threat from the North Korean arsenal would increase greatly if Pyongyang finished the construction of its 50-megawatt reactor and scaled up its plutonium production or if North Korea conducted additional nuclear tests. These actions would enhance both the number and sophistication of its weapons. Currently, the threat of exporting nuclear weapons design, manufacturing, and testing skills is less than that posed by exporting its fuel cycle skills because North Korea has much less experience and limited success with its weapons. Also, exporting fuel cycle skills is more difficult to prevent because these skills can be marketed for civilian nuclear programs, whereas those for nuclear weapons cannot. Nevertheless, North Korean expertise with high explosives, non-nuclear explosive testing, underground tunneling and testing, computational skills, and plutonium metallurgy and fabrication skills are all marketable talents.

Threat of Nuclear Export

In spite of UN Security Council condemnation and sanctions of North Korea’s missile tests and nuclear test, Pyongyang has continued its nuclear weapons program. It has progressively crossed widely recognized red lines without paying a significant price. Short of the use of its weapons, the most serious red line remaining is the export of its weapons or its plutonium. North Korea also has a full range of nuclear technologies and skills that it can market to states or nonstate groups with nuclear-weapon aspirations. The highest priority goal of the six-party agreement must be to prevent such exports.

Whereas Pyongyang may be tempted to market its nuclear products for money alone, much as it does its conventional weapons, missiles, drugs, narcotics, and counterfeit currency, the risk of doing so would be high, probably too high. On the other hand, it is more plausible that North Korea could seek partners that have money and could effectively help to constrain the United States from taking actions against it. In other words, it may seek to strike a deal that would help ensure regime survival and yield much-needed revenues.

To be sure, nuclear commerce of any kind poses significant risk for Pyongyang. The transit of nuclear weapons and plutonium may be interdicted. Detonation of a nuclear device, either an as-built North Korean nuclear weapon or a crude, improvised nuclear device, is very likely to be traced back and would be guaranteed to elicit a strong response from the international community, including military action that would surely result in regime change. For these reasons, North Korea is unlikely to sell or outsource a nuclear weapon. It is also unlikely to simply sell its plutonium, although a grander bargain may be possible as outlined below. It may be much more likely to put its nuclear technologies and expertise on the market because it could claim these to be civilian transactions.

A Potential North Korean-Iranian Nuclear Deal

Iran appears to be North Korea’s most likely customer or partner for nuclear technologies. Each side has what the other needs. Despite protestations to the contrary, Iran seems to be on a determined, albeit slow, path to nuclear weapons. It began its covert uranium-enrichment program nearly 20 years ago but has only recently publicly demonstrated its ability to produce low-enriched uranium. Iranian officials have said that the small quantities of HEU that have been discovered at its facilities are not the result of domestic capabilities, but rather of importing “contaminated” Pakistani equipment. In any case, the amount that has been discovered would not suffice for building nuclear weapons.

Obtaining 10 to 20 kilograms of plutonium from North Korea, however, would catapult it into nuclear-weapon status. In addition, a longer-term deal could assist Iran with a uranium-based nuclear-weapon development effort. As indicated above, Pyongyang has front-end fuel-cycle capabilities that could aid most of Iran’s uranium-enrichment activities from mining through the production of uranium hexafluoride. It has hands-on experience in uranium metallurgy that would prove useful in fabrication of HEU weapons. It has the requisite capabilities and facilities for plutonium separation from spent fuel, which would be useful once Iran completes its heavy water reactor. It has some nuclear-weapon design experience, non-nuclear-explosive test experience, and limited nuclear test experience, all of which could provide valuable assistance to a fledgling nuclear-weapon state.

Iran has money and oil, just what Pyongyang needs most. The two countries have long-standing collaborations in ballistic missiles dating back to the Iran-Iraq War. In addition to missile sales, North Korea helped Iran establish a missile assembly facility and provided the required technical documentation for future production.[13] Key engineers and military personnel were exchanged on a regular basis, and missile cooperation continues today.[14] If the six-party agreement falls through, Iran could help finance an expanded North Korean nuclear weapons program—for example, the completion of its large reactors, in exchange for nuclear assistance, just as it had done with the North Korean missile program in the mid-1980s in exchange for ballistic missile technology. Alternatively, even additionally, Iran could provide North Korea with heavily discounted rates for crude oil.

The sale of plutonium represents the gravest and most immediate threat. During the visit to Yongbyon, North Korean technical specialists demonstrated the ability to produce plutonium metal or plutonium oxide powder, the two most likely forms for transport. In fact, Hecker was allowed to hold a sealed glass jar with a 200-gram casting of alloyed plutonium metal. Alloying plutonium with a few atomic percent gallium or aluminum makes it easier to cast and produces a more-corrosion-resistant surface.

Plutonium oxide powder could be shipped using methods similar to some of the methods used to transport heroin.[15] Unless it is packaged properly, however, plutonium oxide powder is dangerous to handle because of the health risk of inhalation or ingestion. Also, additional processing is required to convert the oxide back to weapons-usable metal. A safer and more convenient choice is to alloy the plutonium and cast it into pucks of moderate weight. North Korea could easily produce pucks that weigh one kilogram and can fit in the palm of one’s hand (approximately 6.5 centimeters in diameter and 2 centimeters thick). Roughly six such pucks are required for a simple nuclear bomb.

North Korea is unlikely to encounter serious hurdles if it were to ship plutonium to Iran, considering the level of current commerce and exchange. Detecting such metal pucks would be very difficult. Plutonium decays principally by the emission of alpha particles, which are easily stopped by plastic, a glass container, or a cardboard box. Its gamma rays and neutrons are not as easily stopped, but they can be quite effectively shielded with lead and B-poly plastic, respectively. North Korea has extensive experience in shipping legitimate and illegal goods to many states, including Iran. It had an especially active trade with Pakistan, using shipping routes by sea and by land and air through China. Sea routes are the least attractive because of the threat of maritime interception under the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). By contrast, the likelihood of detection and interdiction by PSI through land routes is virtually zero.

North Korea may view a nuclear deal that combines near-term sale of some of its plutonium combined with long-term transfer of nuclear technologies and expertise to Iran to yield sufficient benefit to warrant the risk. Unlike a sale to terrorists or organized crime, nuclear cooperation with Iran would be more difficult to detect and deter. A nuclear deal could allow Iran quickly to produce a few nuclear weapons and, even without using them, shift the regional security balance in the Middle East in its favor. If North Korean-fueled Iranian weapons were not detonated, it would be difficult to take actions against Pyongyang. If a deal were to deliver plutonium to Iran, however, the likelihood of it winding up in the hands of terrorists might increase dramatically, given Iran’s much closer ties to such groups.

To be sure, some scholars argue that Iran, like North Korea, may be seeking nuclear weapons in the interest of self-preservation.[16] If this assessment were correct, then Iran would also face disincentives for passing nuclear weapons to nonstate actors. Yet, given Iran’s much closer ties to terrorists, any potential deal to deliver plutonium to Iran would still significantly increase the likelihood of plutonium winding up in the hands of such groups. Nuclear weapons experts generally agree that terrorists would face significant challenges in constructing and detonating a rudimentary nuclear device that could devastate a big city. Once terrorists have access to sufficient fissile material, these roadblocks would not be insurmountable.[17]

Preventing a North Korean-Iranian Nuclear Deal

The recent six-party agreement makes a North Korean-Iranian nuclear deal less likely. It removes some of the principal incentives for North Korea to strike such a deal and offers a much lower risk option within the six-party process for Pyongyang to get what it wants. However, several steps should be taken now to reduce the likelihood of a North Korean-Iranian nuclear deal regardless of the eventual outcome of the six-party agreement. First, a clear message must be sent to North Korea that the export of plutonium or other technical assistance to further an Iranian nuclear weapons program would represent a real red line. Specifically, if a nuclear bomb fueled by North Korean plutonium is detonated anywhere in the world, it will elicit a massive military response that will destroy the regime of Kim Jong Il. Pyongyang must be warned that once plutonium leaves its borders, it loses control but retains responsibility because that plutonium will reveal its unique fingerprint. Hence, North Korea will not be able to escape the consequences of the misuse of that material. Once in Iran, the potential pathways for the plutonium from the government minders to potential terrorist groups are frighteningly many. To date, the response to the missile tests and nuclear test has brought nearly universal condemnation, but few strict reprisals.

China and South Korea are particularly reluctant to take strong measures because they view the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program and how it should be countered quite differently than it is viewed in the United States. Yet, a nuclear bomb fueled with North Korean plutonium detonated anywhere in the world will be a global catastrophe. In addition to the massive loss of life in the affected country, the political and economic instabilities that would follow the nuclear detonation and the retaliatory military response will disrupt global commerce and life. It is in China’s self interest to help prevent the transport of North Korean plutonium and nuclear technologies across its land or air space.

Second, although North Korea has agreed to shut down its nuclear facilities and allow IAEA inspectors to return, it has not given any indication of when the weapons would be eliminated and what will be done with the plutonium. To avoid the potential export of plutonium, it is imperative that steps are taken as quickly as possible to secure its plutonium inventory in a verifiable manner.

Finally, Pyongyang must agree to abandon the construction of the 50-megawatt reactor at the Yongbyon construction site and at other sites that have been fabricating the reactor core and other components. Permanently disabling this reactor will prevent the ten-fold scale up of plutonium production and, in turn, greatly reduce the risk of plutonium export.

 


Siegfried S. Hecker is co-director of Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and a professor (research) in the Department of Management Science and Engineering. He was director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1986 to 1997. William Liou was a research assistant at the Center for International Security and Cooperation while working at Sandia National Laboratories as a graduate student intern. He is now a technical staff member at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.


ENDNOTES

1. On October 21, 1994, the United States and North Korea signed the Agreed Framework, calling on Pyongyang to freeze operation and construction of nuclear reactors and related facilities suspected of being part of a covert nuclear weapons program in exchange for two light-water nuclear power reactors. The agreement also called on the United States to supply North Korea with fuel oil pending construction of the reactors. An international consortium called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization was formed to implement the construction of the reactors. The Agreed Framework ended an 18-month crisis during which North Korea announced its intention to withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

2. David Albright and Kevin O’Neill, eds., “Solving the North Korean Nuclear Puzzle,” Institute for Science and International Security, 2000.

3. Larry A Niksch, “ North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program,” CRS Issue Brief for Congress, May 25, 2006.

4. The three visits to North Korea by Siegfried Hecker were led by Prof. John W. Lewis of Stanford University. See Siegfried S. Hecker, “The Nuclear Crisis in North Korea,” Bridge, Summer 2004, pp. 17-23; Siegfried S. Hecker, “Technical Summary of DPRK Nuclear Program,” Carnegie International Non-Proliferation conference, Washington, DC, November 8, 2005; Siegfried S. Hecker, “Report on North Korean Nuclear Program,” National Press Club, Washington, DC, November 15, 2006; Siegfried S. Hecker, “Report on North Korean Nuclear Program,” Center for International Security and Cooperation, November 15, 2006, found at http://iis-db.stanford.edu/pubs/21266/DPRK-report-Hecker06.pdf.

5. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), North Korea’s Weapons Programmes: A Net Assessment ( New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), p. 24.

6. Ibid., pp. 33-34; Albright and O’Neill, “Solving the North Korean Nuclear Puzzle,” pp. 139-165.

7. Chaim Braun and Christopher F. Chyba, “Proliferation Rings,” International Security, Vol. 29, No. 2 (Fall 2004), pp. 5-49.

8. Pervez Musharraf, In the Line of Fire ( New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005).

9. William Dunlop and Harold Smith, “Who Did It? Using International Forensics to Detect and Deter Nuclear Terrorism,” Arms Control Today, October 2006, pp. 6-10.

10. IISS, North Korea’s Weapons Programmes, p. 46.

11. Joby Warrick and Peter Slevin, “Libyan Arms Designs Traced Back to China,” The Washington Post, February 15, 2004, p. A1.

12. David Sanger, “ U.S. Widens View of Pakistan Link to Korean Arms,” The New York Times, March 14, 2004, p. A1.

13. Joseph Bermudez Jr., “A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK,” Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, 1999.

14. Paul Kerr, “ Iran, North Korea Deepen Missile Cooperation,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2007, pp. 38-39.

15. In April 2003, Australian officials seized 125 kilograms of heroin from a cargo vessel, the MV Pong Su, which was owned by a North Korean state enterprise. This incident corroborates the findings of a series of reports from the Department of State and Congress that have determined that North Korea has developed extensive experience in the packaging and illegal trafficking of narcotics. See Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State, “ Southeast Asia,” International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, March 2006, found at http://www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2006/vol1/html/62110.htm.

16. Abbas Milani, “ U.S. Foreign Policy and the Future of Democracy in Iran,” The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Summer 2005), pp. 41-56.

17. Graham Allison, “Confronting the Specter of Nuclear Terrorism,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, Vol. 607, No. 1 (September 2006).

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