I salute the Arms Control Association … for its keen vision of the goals ahead and for its many efforts to identify and to promote practical measures that are so vitally needed to achieve them. -

– Amb. Nobuyasu Abe
Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
March 2013
Edition Date: 
Friday, March 1, 2013
Cover Image: 

EU Urges Middle East Meeting in 2013

Kelsey Davenport

The European Parliament passed a resolution Jan. 17 calling for a conference to be held in 2013 on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

The meeting was supposed to be held last December, but was postponed.

The resolution “deplores the postponement” of the meeting and urges the conveners and the member countries of the European Union to ensure that the conference takes place “as soon as possible in 2013.” The resolution said that key elements of the zone should include compliance by all countries in the region with comprehensive International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, including adherence to an additional protocol that gives the agency greater latitude to carry out inspections; a ban on fissile material production for weapons; and accession by all states in the region to the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The commitment to hold the 2012 meeting was a key part of the final document of the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. (See ACT, June 2010.) Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the UN secretary-general were named the conveners of the conference; Finnish Undersecretary of State Jaakko Laajava later was chosen as the facilitator.

The meeting was scheduled for December in Helsinki, but the conveners announced Nov. 23 that the conference would be postponed due to disagreements on “core issues” and to “present conditions in the Middle East,” according to the U.S. statement. At the time of postponement, no deadline was set for rescheduling or holding the meeting, although Russia called for it to be held as soon as possible in 2013.

Before the postponement announcement, all of the countries except Israel that are expected to be part of the proposed zone verbally committed to attending the meeting, although there were indications that Iran said it would attend only after learning that the conference would be postponed. (See ACT, December 2012.)

In a Jan. 22 statement to the Conference on Disarmament (CD), Wafaa Bassim, the Egyptian representative to the CD, called on the co-conveners “to set, without further delay,” a date for the conference before the NPT preparatory committee meeting that is scheduled to be held in Geneva from April 22 to May 3.

According to news reports, the ministerial statement issued at the end of a Jan. 13 Arab League meeting in Cairo said that the group would consider boycotting the NPT preparatory meeting if action was not taken.

In a Feb. 11 e-mail to Arms Control Today, an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official also called for action but without referring to the boycott. He said “steps should be taken” to encourage Israeli participation, but “not at the cost of further delay.” He also said the current domestic situation in Egypt made pushing for the conference “less of a priority issue” for the foreign ministry than it has been in the past.

The U.S. State Department did not respond by press time to a request for information on the steps the United States is taking to reschedule the conference, but Laura Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to the CD, said in a Jan. 22 statement that the United States stands by its commitment to hold a conference that is “meaningful” and “includes all states of the region.” The statement urged the states to “engage directly with each other to bridge conceptual differences.” The EU resolution also referenced the importance of all countries in the zone participating in the conference when it is convened.

Russia will continue to work actively toward convening a meeting, Alexey Borodavkin, Russia’s representative to the CD, said Jan. 22.

The European Parliament passed a resolution Jan. 17 calling for a conference to be held in 2013 on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

China Conducts Missile Defense Test

Timothy Farnsworth

China successfully launched a land-based missile interceptor Jan. 28, according to Xinhua, the country’s official news agency.

In a statement released after the test, a Chinese Defense Ministry official said it had accomplished “the pre-set goal,” but did not say what the goal was. The test was “defensive in nature and target[ed] no other country,” he said.

It was not clear from the Chinese statement whether the test involved a target for the interceptor to hit. China’s only previous missile interceptor test, on Jan. 11, 2010, did involve a target.

In 2007, China conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) test, destroying one of its own satellites instead of a test warhead. (See ACT, March 2007.) That test prompted objections from numerous countries, in part because of the debris it created. The two later tests took place at a lower altitude and created no debris.

In a Feb. 12 interview, Li Bin, a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a professor of international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said the latter two tests were focused on developing and understanding missile-intercept technology rather than assessing the performance of a deployable missile defense system.

According to Li, the Chinese versions of the statements released after each of those tests were identical. Li said, however, that the official English translation of the Jan. 28 statement omitted the word “technology” from the phrase “land-based mid-course missile interception technology test,” the term that China used in 2010. He said the use of the word “technology” indicates that China was trying to better understand missile defense capabilities and was not testing in order to deploy a national missile defense system.

Li said Beijing has three options: keeping the technology in reserve, deploying a regional missile defense system around major cities, and deploying a national system. Li said the first two options are more likely because it would be too costly to create a national system that could defend against an adversary that has a large number of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Experts disagree on whether the main goal of the Chinese program is to develop a national missile defense system or an ASAT system. In a Feb. 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today, David Shlapak, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, said that there are differences in the development paths for the two systems. The numbers of interceptors and the “engagement dynamics”—the way the interceptors strike the target object—associated with targeting an enemy’s satellites “are much easier to manage than those associated with large-scale missile defense,” he said.

“I don’t think that the testing we’ve seen to date reveals much about China’s intentions. China could be experimenting with technology, seeking to develop a real capability, or sending a message,” he said. “Unless and until we see more activity, it’s going to be hard to make a conclusive determination.”

Previous Tests

In 2007, China destroyed an aging weather satellite with a hit-to-kill interceptor approximately 850 kilometers above the earth. According to NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office, the tally of space debris created by the test had reached 3,037 pieces as of September 2010, of which 97 percent remained in orbit. Much of the international community, including the United States, condemned the test, which U.S. officials often cite as an example of how space has become more “congested, contested, and competitive.”

According to a January 2010 State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks, the target of the 2010 test was a CSS-X011 medium-range ballistic missile rather than a satellite and took place at an altitude of 250 kilometers, much lower than the 2007 test. But the two tests used the same interceptor vehicle, the SC-19, the cable said. The cable also said that U.S. missile-warning satellites detected the launch of the interceptor and the target missile, as well as the actual interception.

International Reaction

The United States and other countries have expressed concerns about China’s ASAT and missile defense tests. In a Jan. 29 e-mail to Arms Control Today, a State Department official said, in regard to the 2007 ASAT test, “the United States has consistently urged Beijing through diplomatic, military-to-military, and scientific channels not to conduct further anti-satellite weapons testing in space.”

India, another country that has nuclear weapons and a growing space program, recently increased its own missile defense testing and closely watches China’s ASAT and missile defense tests. (See ACT, January/February 2013.)

According to Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a senior fellow at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, the 2007 Chinese ASAT test sparked a debate within and outside India’s government, “forcing a re-evaluation of India’s policy against militarization of space.” In a Feb. 20 e-mail to Arms Control Today, Rajagopalan, a former assistant director of India’s National Security Council Secretariat, said that since the 2007 test, “there has been fresh pressure brought about for an Indian ASAT system” and “a need for India to have demonstrated ASAT capability.” Although the Indian government has not made a total shift in its policy, “[t]he growing Chinese capabilities (be it ASAT or missile defense capabilities) have clearly upped the ante in the region,” Rajagopalan said.

She questioned the effectiveness of the “space security regime” and the ability “of the major global powers to respond [to] and affect” China’s behavior. “India has continued to argue for [a] legally binding mechanism to deal with the myriad challenges [of the] space domain,” Rajagopalan said.

China successfully launched a land-based missile interceptor Jan. 28, according to Xinhua, the country’s official news agency.

States to Meet for ‘Final’ ATT Conference

Daryl G. Kimball

In a renewed effort to complete negotiations on the first treaty establishing common standards for international conventional arms transfers, representatives from more than 100 states are expected to gather later this month in New York for what is being described as the “final” UN conference for concluding an arms trade treaty (ATT).

Peter Woolcott, the Australian ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, will serve as the president for the March 18-28 negotiations. According to the UN resolution mandating the conference, the talks will be based on the draft treaty that emerged from the July 2012 negotiating forum on the treaty, which failed to reach consensus on the text. (See ACT, September 2012.)

According to Woolcott and other diplomats involved in the process, the short amount of time available to reach consensus on a final text means that states will have to limit their proposed adjustments and clarifications to the draft text. As a result, Woolcott has been stressing that the meeting should not take up the limited time with general debate but should work in a “focused” and “businesslike” way on concluding a treaty, according to diplomats.

The draft treaty would establish legal prohibitions on arms and ammunition transfers that contribute to war crimes, require that all states put in place national regulations on international arms transfers, set forth common international standards for approval of the transfers, and mandate regular reporting on arms transfers.

On Nov. 7, the UN General Assembly First Committee approved the resolution mandating the March conference by a margin of 157-0, with 18 abstentions. Four of the world’s five largest arms suppliers—China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States—voted in favor of the resolution, while Russia abstained. The General Assembly gave its final approval to the resolution in December.

The rules of procedure allow the treaty to remain on the assembly’s agenda, meaning a vote to endorse the treaty could be called after the conference concludes. Many civil society leaders argue that this situation would enable states to carry forward a widely supported text that fails to garner consensus in March.

Although the proposed ATT has drawn support from the vast majority of UN member states and a large number of nongovernmental development, human rights, and religious organizations, several potential obstacles could complicate the negotiations.

Because of the relatively short time available, treaty opponents could stymie efforts to finalize the text simply by creating delays, diplomats involved in the treaty talks said. The rules of procedure stipulate that the conference must approve the final treaty text by consensus.

In recent weeks, a small group of states that includes Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and others calling themselves the “Friends of the ATT” has emerged. The group includes a number of delegations that have expressed reservations about key aspects of the July 26 draft treaty.

In addition, some major arms-supplier states and states most affected by the illicit global arms trade may seek to modify several key sections of the treaty when the conference begins, diplomats said.

For example, several African states are expected to press for the inclusion of ammunition in the scope of the treaty in a way that mandates import and export regulation. They argue that the transfer of ammunition helps to fuel armed violence as much as weapons transfers do. The current draft treaty would require states “to establish and maintain a national control system to regulate the export of ammunition for conventional arms under the scope of this Treaty.”

Under the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, the United States already licenses the import and export of ammunition, but a separate law passed in 1986 restricts reporting on the importation of ammunition. U.S. officials continue to tell other delegations that they oppose the inclusion of ammunition in the scope section of the treaty.

Chinese diplomats have objected to possible changes to the current text that would explicitly apply the treaty guidelines and prohibitions to state-to-state “gifts” of conventional weapons. Other states are concerned that transfers labeled as gifts could create a loophole in the treaty.

Officials from Russia, which continues to resupply the Assad regime in Syria with weapons during that country’s civil war, continue to express concerns about a core provision in the draft treaty that would prohibit authorization of conventional arms transfers “for the purpose of facilitating” genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes as defined by the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

On the other hand, nongovernmental organizations and many governments, including Norway and Switzerland, are seeking to strengthen that section of the treaty or at least modify it to ensure it is not interpreted in a way that may undermine existing understandings of international humanitarian law.

In a speech before the UN Security Council on Feb. 13, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on states to conclude the treaty. “We all have a responsibility to protect. Violence against civilians is unquestionably abetted by the free flow of weapons. We urgently need a robust and comprehensive agreement that addresses the humanitarian impact of the poorly regulated trade in arms,” Ban said.

In a renewed effort to complete negotiations on the first treaty establishing common standards for international conventional arms transfers, representatives from more than 100 states are expected to gather later this month in New York for what is being described as the “final” UN conference for concluding an arms trade treaty (ATT).

Book Review: Rethinking the Utility of Nuclear Weapons

Reviewed by Douglas B. Shaw

Five Myths about Nuclear Weapons
By Ward Wilson
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 208 pp.

The Second Nuclear Age: Strategy, Danger, and the New Power Politics
By Paul Bracken
Times Books, 2012, 320 pp.

How are nuclear weapons useful today? The answer to that question has practical as well as theoretical importance. For example, it has played a major role in the Obama administration’s current effort to determine the appropriate size and composition of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The role of nuclear weapons in the 21st century, however, is not well understood; new knowledge and a new generation of experts are needed to meet this challenge. Ward Wilson and Paul Bracken help this cause with their new books, which probe some of the issues surrounding nuclear weapons from widely divergent perspectives.

In Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons, Wilson critically analyzes what he characterizes as myths that lead to traditionally overblown assessments of the usefulness of those weapons. His book suggests that nuclear weapons do not win or prevent wars and that there are viable security alternatives to maintaining a nuclear arsenal.

The first piece of received wisdom that Wilson disputes is that “nuclear weapons shock and awe opponents.” Building on his earlier research and that of others,[1] Wilson questions the role of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in precipitating the Japanese surrender that ended World War II. Arguing, for example, that the atomic bombings were not of a shockingly different scale than the conventional bombings of other Japanese cities in 1945, he offers an alternative explanation in Japanese dismay over the Soviet declaration of war. He suggests that Japan and the United States, for different reasons, might have found the story of the atomic bomb’s decisive role to be a convenient post hoc rationalization for the surrender. Wilson’s arguments about Japanese actions in the final days of the war undermine the case that nuclear weapons are useful for shocking an enemy into surrender.

The issue of whether nuclear weapons shock and awe opponents sufficiently to cause their surrender is important, but also problematic. Any answer must account for the case of Japanese surrender in World War II, but counterfactual analysis does not offer the certainty necessary to change the way policymakers refer to and rely on this emotionally charged historical case. Wilson’s answer is not newly definitive, but he performs an important service by asking this difficult question in a public way.

The second argument in Wilson’s crosshairs is that the increase in explosive yield made possible through the development of fusion weapons, which he calls the “H-bomb quantum leap,” made nuclear weapons more useful. In observing that “the destructiveness of nuclear weapons today is not all that much greater than that of the bombs used to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” he raises doubt about the value of explosive yield as a useful measure of the wider effectiveness of nuclear weapons and alludes to the strategic learning that led to a reduction in the average yield of U.S. nuclear weapons. This second finding, however, is indistinct from and does little to further support the first: that nuclear explosions—fission or fusion—do not win wars.

The third item on Wilson’s list of myths is that “nuclear deterrence works in a crisis.” Wilson effectively rebuts this argument by citing several cases in which an adversary’s nuclear weapons did not deter provocative action completely. For example, he observes that the prospect of nuclear attack failed to deter President John Kennedy from blockading Cuba during the 1962 missile crisis, although it moderated his response.

Next, Wilson argues against the notion that “nuclear weapons keep us safe,” specifically, that they contributed decisively to what historian John Lewis Gaddis termed “the long peace” among the great powers following World War II. Wilson critiques Gaddis’ explanation that nuclear weapons kept the peace as “proof by absence” and offers five alternative explanations for the span of more than 40 years without war between the nuclear superpowers.

His alternative explanations weaken the case that nuclear weapons were necessary to explain the long peace, but do not respond to the possibility that nuclear weapons might help explain the absence of war between the superpowers, avoiding a decisive confrontation with Gaddis’ argument. Since si vis pacem, para bellum (“if you wish peace, prepare for war”) has been received wisdom for millennia, another argument would be needed to overturn reliance on preparation for nuclear war to preserve peace among nuclear-armed states.

Wilson’s final target is the argument that “there is no alternative” to relying on nuclear weapons for security because they cannot be disinvented. He responds that obsolete technologies are not disinvented; they simply slide “into oblivion.” He misses an opportunity to invoke Vladimir Lenin’s incisive question, “Kto, kovo?” (“Who can do what to whom?”). If nuclear weapons do not win wars, they are useless as an ultimate guarantee of state security. If nuclear weapons do not reliably deter aggression in a crisis, they are dangerous to those who rely on them because the false sense of security they provide could embolden governments to take actions that risk triggering a crisis. If nuclear weapons do not keep the peace among great powers, they are useless for the great majority of humanity. Yet so far, nuclear weapons show almost no signs of sliding into oblivion. For example, the vocal advocacy of nuclear disarmament by former Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) is based on the incompatibility of nuclear weapons with long-term security, even as it treats nuclear disarmament as “the mountaintop,” a goal toward which the path is unclear at this time. People and institutions sufficiently powerful to maintain nuclear weapons persist in believing these weapons are useful. How might they be convinced they are wrong?

Warning Shot

Wilson’s critique of the component assumptions underlying belief in the utility of nuclear weapons is interesting and sometimes compelling. He asks important questions, but his book is more of a warning shot than a broadside against the utility of nuclear weapons. He questions deterrence in surprising terms aimed at its assumptions, but does not attack those assumptions sufficiently to collapse them. Instead of identifying specific arguments to which he objects, Wilson attributes generalized statements to “proponents,” “common interpretations,” “people,” and “general perception.”

He refers to “realism” as if it were a monolithic approach with a singular and uncritical affection for nuclear deterrence. In international relations scholarship, realism is a diverse and nuanced research tradition that illuminates important topics, including how nuclear deterrence may contribute to strategic stability and the prevention of war. The insights realism offers may be impermanent or wrong, but one cannot overturn or build upon them without addressing their specifics. Wilson does not do that, perhaps because he felt that such an undertaking would have been beyond the scope of his book. Whatever the reason for the omission, this undertaking represents an important direction for future research that his book suggests.

Next steps to build on Wilson’s work include a systematic review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy to determine the assumptions decision-makers actually hold, the conditions under which they hold these assumptions, and the roles these assumptions play in nuclear weapons policy. Such research could limit the impact of Wilson’s five myths or reveal 50 more.

Wilson insightfully observes, “[T]he two key questions for nuclear weapons are: When are nuclear weapons the right tool for the job? And how likely are these circumstances to arise?” To these, I would add two more: How many nuclear weapons does the United States need to respond to the answers to the first two questions? How sure can the public be that policymakers know? These questions describe a research agenda that could dramatically improve on the rationale that nuclear weapons provide unique capabilities to respond to an uncertain future. Wilson contributes significantly to the discourse on global security by raising the questions in a way that should prompt debate beyond the world of arms control policymakers and academics.

Modernizing Nuclear Thinking

In the introduction to The Second Nuclear Age: Strategy, Danger, and the New Power Politics, Bracken defines his undertaking as “assess[ing], with clear eyes, the new geopolitical dynamics wrought by the bomb’s emergence in what I call the second nuclear age.”

Bracken argues that although the global context of U.S. nuclear weapons policy has changed dramatically since the Cold War, the intellectual basis for this policy has stagnated and eroded. He argues that the legacy of strategic concepts and terms left over from the Cold War fails to comprehend contemporary challenges related to nuclear weapons policy and that wholesale failure to transmit knowledge about nuclear weapons to a new generation underscores this problem.

He makes a strong case for greater analytical focus on and rigor in the development of a framework of strategic concepts to address the full range of dangerous nuclear weapons issues: “More facts will be collected—about Iran’s centrifuges, Pakistan’s plutonium, and China’s missiles—but there will be little comprehension of what these facts mean. What is needed is a framework that offers more perspective and that uses strategic concepts to cut the job down to size. Yet such a framework is hard to devise. It is premature, yet at the same time overdue.”

Bracken observes that policymakers need more facts to inform a sound understanding of contemporary nuclear dangers but nonetheless must act on the basis of an incomplete understanding while waiting for patterns to be discernible among emerging facts in the 21st century.

Bracken cites a number of important changes in the context for nuclear weapons policy. He describes a world in which the number and arrangement of relevant players have changed, bipolar bloc discipline has disappeared, and several world regions now threaten nuclear escalation with their own weapons. He notes that states that have recently acquired nuclear weapons may have more-vulnerable nuclear forces or smaller conventional forces than the United States and the Soviet Union had and may have less time than those two countries did to learn how to maintain stability. An additional complicating factor, he says, is that terrorism can act as an accelerant to crises. Thus, strategic complexity has increased sharply.

These are sound observations, but Bracken’s analysis is clouded by his central characterization of a second nuclear age, as he allows that this second nuclear age is neither second nor an age. He defines it as “post-Cold War” in strategic character but overlapping with the Cold War in time.

He also focuses on the effects of nuclear weapons. According to Bracken, these weapons can kill a million people in a day; induce restraint in a crisis; level the potential consequences of conflict; reduce the cost of defense in terms of dollars, troops, and social strain; confer asymmetric advantage; and facilitate communication and bargaining. His analysis is a helpful exercise in understanding the utility of nuclear weapons, but it is incomplete in that he lumps physical effects together with political effects that are mediated through perception and political processes. He assigns tremendous political influence to nuclear weapons without specifying how nuclear weapons exert this influence. For example, he asserts that, without nuclear weapons, “no one would have taken [France] seriously,” a statement that is both factually wrong and argumentative.

Bracken’s summary of the significant political effects he attributes to nuclear weapons raises more questions than it answers. These questions could have significant policy implications, including the possibility that achieving these political effects in the 21st century may not require nuclear weapons.

Bracken’s book is provocative. Inflammatory word choices abound; for example, he dismisses the risk of accidental nuclear war as “nonsense.” He makes politically loaded assertions, including statements that two U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore, “now devote far more attention to environmental problems than to nuclear war” and that “the United States did everything it could to foster global antinuclear policies after the Cold War.”

Together with an equally relentless torrent of insights about regional instability and other contemporary dangers, this barrage of needless provocations seems designed to shock readers. The goal apparently is to stimulate policy innovation: “Arms control is in desperate need of fresh ideas…. Without new energy and new edginess, arms control’s downward spiral into irrelevance will continue. Arms control is too important to allow this to happen.”

The edgy tone makes Bracken’s book challenging and accessible to readers on both sides of the political spectrum. He challenges the arms control community by stating that, “[w]ithout greater intellectual content behind it, no amount of public marketing by interest groups or social network tweeting is going to sell [arms control] to a disengaged public or a deeply skeptical Congress.”

One topic Bracken raises is as familiar to disarmament activists as it is to war planners: “how catastrophes in the second nuclear age can be exploited to create a much more restricted global nuclear order, or even one that abolishes the bomb altogether.” Many nuclear experts have lamented that something significant will have to change before nuclear weapons receive wider political attention, but that something significant may be catastrophic. Bracken unflinchingly suggests that policymakers should plan for the sort of shocks that can be expected in the second nuclear age.

He challenges supposed orthodoxy by suggesting that some instances of proliferation may be worse than others. This view does not seem to give sufficient weight to the prospects of a proliferation cascade, erosion of already-weak institutional constraints, or other systemic effects. Yet, Bracken’s imaginative lens on proliferation dangers—imagining the day after a bad outcome before it happens—may help develop policy options to manage the dangers he identifies as well as those he does not address.

According to Bracken, “[A] wider conversation is needed,” and “[t]his isn’t something that can be done by a government agency.” He recalls how a prior generation of scholars and other experts “broke the government’s monopoly on the conversation about nuclear weapons [and] broadened it to allow a much wider national debate.” Although he spends a good deal of time on topics such as operational concerns and how militaries can execute only the operations they practice, he remains explicitly open to a wider discussion. He recalls “how the moral concerns over nuclear weapons drove one of the most remarkable technological transformations in military history” from large, city-busting nuclear weapons to smaller-yield, more-accurate weapons designed for counterforce attacks against an opponent’s nuclear forces. According to Bracken, the inclusion of diverse expert views of widely differing perspectives in the U.S. debate over nuclear weapons policy during the Cold War “lowered the risk of nuclear war.”

Points of Agreement

The two books make opposing arguments with surprisingly little contradiction. Bracken’s most shocking insight is that “the superpowers didn’t understand their own forces.” He reinforces this point in saying that “[n]o one fully understood [the U.S. nuclear force], how it would work, or how it could provoke dangerous responses in the enemy’s systems” during the Cold War.

Wilson is similarly shocking. He questions the proposition that nuclear explosives are weapons in the sense of tools suited to achieving military or political objectives. Put another way, he is not sure U.S. nuclear policymakers fully understand what nuclear weapons are and what they do. Both authors encourage prompt, inclusive, and vigorous efforts to better understand nuclear weapons and their role in world politics. In neatly summing up the differences between himself and a group that includes Bracken, Wilson emphasizes that “[w]hat is striking about the debate described above, however, is the extent to which it is not really about nuclear weapons. Both sides, at bottom, are talking about us, about human nature.”

Each author offers a powerfully imaginative perspective on nuclear weapons at a moment when nuclear imagination is in short supply. Bracken sees danger in failing to explore how nuclear weapons can be useful today. Wilson questions whether they ever were useful. Their arguments are most compelling where they overlap, in observing a gap in nuclear knowledge that constrains nuclear weapons policy choices for dealing with an uncertain future. They agree not only that a nuclear knowledge gap exists, but also that it should be treated by more-imaginative and -inclusive dialogue and analysis of nuclear weapons policy issues.

Both authors caricature supposed orthodoxies blinding humanity to catastrophic and changing nuclear dangers. Wilson decries nuclear “myths” left unexamined too long, arguing against a straw-man version of the realist tradition of international relations scholarship. Bracken disputes the capacity of the U.S. government to understand how nuclear weapons can be used to respond to contemporary security challenges, observing that the nuclear weapons policy experts of prior generations “have long since died off,” leaving a culture of “near total indifference” to nuclear issues. If Wilson approaches nuclear issues from the political “left” and Bracken approaches theses issues from the political “right,” they arrive in a common wilderness of analytical insufficiency with regard to nuclear weapons policy. They agree that governments and wider society need to build capacity to think critically and creatively about nuclear weapons in the 21st century.

Douglas B. Shaw is associate dean for planning, research, and external relations at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, where he also is assistant professor of international affairs.  During the Clinton administration, he served in the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and the Department of Energy. He holds a Ph.D. in international relations from Georgetown University.


1. Ward Wilson, “The Myth of Nuclear Deterrence,” The Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 15, No. 3 (November 2008): 421-439. For an example of previous research in this area, see Martin J. Sherwin, A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies, 3rd ed. (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003).


In their respective books on the utility of nuclear weapons, Ward Wilson and Paul Bracken approach the issue from different perspectives, but they agree in seeing today’s policymakers as being constrained by shortages of nuclear knowledge and imagination, reviewer Douglas B. Shaw says.


Challenges for Pakistan’s Nuclear Security

Naeem Salik and Kenneth N. Luongo

The attack last August against the Kamra military air base in Pakistan reignited concerns about the threat that terrorists could pose to the security of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. There is no doubt that recent attacks on military targets in Pakistan have increased in number and boldness. So far, however, the targets of the attacks have not been military installations that contain nuclear weapons or components.

Yet, the confluence of increased terrorist activity in Pakistan, the country’s ongoing political instability, and the growing size of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal is increasing the challenge to Pakistan’s nuclear security. The number of facilities and people that produce and use sensitive nuclear materials and technologies in Pakistan is increasing, raising the bar for personnel screening and infrastructure protection. Last summer, there was a reported threat by the Taliban to attack the nuclear complex at Dera Ghazi Khan, a remote town in southern Punjab, but the attack failed to materialize.

Since 2001, Pakistan, cognizant of the terrorist danger, has taken a number of steps to improve the command and control system for its nuclear assets and the screening and training of employees in its nuclear enterprise. As with all security systems, constant vigilance and a culture of continuous improvement are important to deter and, if necessary, respond to threats.

The U.S. government has put forth a message of reassurance regarding Pakistan’s nuclear security. President Barack Obama and top administration officials have consistently said since 2009 that they have confidence that Pakistan takes its security mission seriously and that its physical protection and training are adequate and improving.[1] This is in part a result of collaboration between the Pakistani and U.S. governments on best practices for the security of Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure. These interactions have led to better training and equipment.

Despite these assurances, a number of specialists around the world remain skeptical of the security steps that Pakistan has taken. There are several explanations for this perspective. One is that foreign experts and journalists have highlighted the danger when reporting on Pakistan’s nuclear program.[2] Also, within the country, the media, politicians, and anti-nuclear activists raised a number of questions about the ability of the Pakistani nuclear security establishment to protect and defend its nuclear assets against an intruding force in the wake of the Osama bin Laden raid at Abbottabad by U.S. special forces in May 2011.[3]

In an article written after a 2009 visit to Pakistan, former U.S. Department of Defense official Lawrence J. Korb recounted various doomsday scenarios for Pakistan and argued that “given the strategic location of Pakistan and the fact that it has nuclear weapons, it’s easy to see why some might embrace a worst-case scenario. But based on my visit, I don’t buy it at this time.”[4] Although made four years ago, his point is still valid; the situation on ground is not as bad as it may appear to distant observers.

Yet, there is much that the U.S. and other governments do not know about the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, despite closer cooperation, especially between the United States and Pakistan, over the past decade. The overarching reason for the recurring concerns is the prevailing internal security situation in Pakistan. The nightmare scenario is that, in the event of a political collapse in Pakistan, things could spiral out of control and even the best training and equipment could not be relied on to keep terrorists away from Pakistan’s weapons.

Understandably, distant observers will find it difficult to accept the notion that the nuclear installations in Pakistan are islands of stability and security in the midst of a generally chaotic security and political environment, especially when so little information on Pakistan’s nuclear security regime is available. This is a major reason why the recent attacks on military bases have raised alarm about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure.

The Kamra Air Base Attack

The Taliban attack in August 2012 on the Pakistani air force base at Kamra, northwest of Islamabad, made headlines in the international media and renewed concerns about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.[5] Many news reports speculated about the presence of at least a part of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal being at the base.[6] Despite the reporting, the Kamra base does not have nuclear weapons. A Pakistani government spokesman denied that any nuclear weapons were stored at the base, and U.S. military and diplomatic officials ruled out the possibility that the attack on the base posed any threat to nuclear weapons.[7]

The August attack was the third on the Kamra base and the most threatening so far. The target of the first attack, in December 2007, was a school bus carrying children of base employees on a public highway outside the base. In the second attack, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the main entrance to the base.

The August attack was carried out by nine militants who breached the perimeter fence but could not penetrate much farther due to timely response by the security forces. All of the attackers were killed during the ensuing shoot-out.

The base houses a major aeronautical complex with facilities for production of avionics equipment and the overhaul and assembly of aircraft, including jet trainers and the JF-17 Thunder, which China and Pakistan jointly developed. At the time of the August attack, some aircraft with airborne warning and control systems were parked on a tarmac that suffered some damage from rocket-propelled grenades fired by the militants.

A recent attack by Afghan Taliban on Camp Bastion, a British military base in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, has proven that even a facility located in a desolate area and protected with some of the most sophisticated sensors can be penetrated. The attackers destroyed five aircraft worth millions of dollars at a base that some have described as the safest place on earth.

Pakistani air bases cover a large area protected by barbed wire fences, which are not too difficult for an organized and determined attacker to breach. The aircraft parked on the runway are soft targets that can be observed from a distance and hit with relatively unsophisticated weapons. In addition, it should be kept in mind that the objective of the suicide bombers is to cause maximum damage, not to seize equipment or materials.

Pursuing Nuclear Security

In an address at the United Nations last September, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that her country takes nuclear security “very seriously.”[8] Islamabad’s efforts in the 15 years since its 1998 nuclear tests give some support to that claim.

In February 2000, Pakistan announced the establishment of a National Command Authority (NCA), with the Strategic Plans Division (SPD) as its permanent secretariat. The responsibilities of the NCA include deploying and employing the nuclear force, coordinating Pakistan’s strategic organizations, dealing with arms control and disarmament issues, and overseeing implementation of export controls and the safety and security of nuclear installations and materials.

The NCA has a three-tiered structure with two committees. The Employment Control Committee and the Developmental Control Committee constitute the first tier, the SPD the second tier, and the three services’ strategic force commands the third tier. The SPD is responsible for the daily management of Pakistan’s strategic assets, coordinating with all strategic organizations and overseeing the budgetary and administrative aspects of these organizations. The primary responsibility of the services’ strategic force commands is to exercise technical, training, and administrative control over the strategic delivery systems. Operational control, however, rests with the NCA.

Islamabad also established the autonomous Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) in January 2001. In 2004, comprehensive export control legislation was promulgated, with control lists meeting the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, and Australia Group, which covers exports that are potentially relevant to biological or chemical weapons. Since then, rules and regulations and administrative structures have been developed for the effective implementation of the export control law.[9]

In late 2007, an NCA ordinance was issued to regulate the functioning of strategic organizations such as the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and the Khan Research Laboratories, which have played a central role in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. The ordinance also specified criminal activities and the legal powers and procedures to deal with any infringements of the law. The ordinance was passed as an act of parliament in 2010.

From the perspective of nuclear security, however, the most significant organization is the security division of the NCA. The organization has grown exponentially over the years from a very modest beginning and is headed by a two-star general, who currently has 20,000 personnel under his command. This strength is projected to reach a total of 28,000 men in the next few years. The division is responsible for the physical security of all sensitive nuclear sites through a layered system of defense with inner and outer perimeters augmented by electronic sensors and counterintelligence teams. It screens all personnel inducted into any component of the strategic program in concert with other intelligence agencies in the country. It also administers an improved and rigorous Personnel Reliability Programme.

It is useful to recount some of the most significant developments of the NCA Security Division. Initially, the division’s security force comprised mostly retired military personnel. More recently, however, it set up a state-of-the-art training academy in Kalar Kahar, comparable to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration’s academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The new Pakistani academy provides specially selected Pakistani recruits with training similar to that given to the special forces. These recruits have become the backbone of the nuclear security force and gradually will replace most of the retired military personnel. Through field exercises and war games, Pakistan regularly tests the capabilities of the upgraded security force.

The SPD training academy also is going to house a mock nuclear facility that is being designed and built in collaboration with the PNRA. This will become a “center of excellence” for security forces training and, under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will offer training facilities to other countries.[10]

The security division also has constituted an elite response force and an emergency response center at its headquarters in Rawalpindi to deal with an emergency at any nuclear facility. It has installed radiation detection monitors at various entry and exit points. These portal monitors are in addition to the ones installed by the PNRA.[11]

Pakistan also has taken steps to improve nuclear safety. In his address to the annual IAEA General Conference in Vienna last September, PAEC Chairman Ansar Parvez said Pakistan had been “actively engaged in absorbing lessons” from the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima nuclear reactor complex in Japan. The PAEC has “identified a comprehensive set of safety retrofits” that are “in various stages of implementation,” he said.[12]

The PNRA has set up the School for Radiation and Nuclear Safety, where it holds regular courses, workshops, and tabletop exercises to train first responders in handling a radiation emergency. It includes the customs service and other border control agencies. The PNRA also has established a National Radiation Emergency Coordination Center at its headquarters in Islamabad and has put in place the national Nuclear Safety Action Plan to guide the organizations acting as first responders to a nuclear or radiological emergency.

The Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences has introduced master’s degree-level courses with a specialization in nuclear safety, mainly, to train new PNRA personnel. Pakistan also has benefited from cooperation and exchanges of information on best practices with friendly countries, including the United States, and has maintained a vibrant, cooperative relationship with the IAEA.

Participation in Global Efforts

Despite an impressive inventory of actions, Pakistani efforts to provide information about all these developments domestically and internationally have not been adequate. This has contributed to the continued skepticism about Islamabad’s ability to protect its nuclear assets.

Yet, one avenue through which Pakistan has been able to play an active role in advocating for and taking action on global nuclear security issues is the nuclear security summit process, in which Pakistan is one of the more than 50 countries that have participated. There have been two nuclear summits, in Washington in 2010 and in Seoul in 2012. A third is planned for The Hague in 2014.

Participants at the summits endorsed a number of important steps, including President Barack Obama’s goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material in four years. The national leaders who attended the summits underscored the importance of maintaining effective security over all nuclear materials on their territory; encouraged the conversion of reactors that use highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low-enriched uranium; and recognized the importance of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism and the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and its 2005 amendment. (The amendment would extend protection requirements beyond the original agreement, which covers nuclear material while in international transport, by expanding the coverage to apply to nuclear facilities and to materials in peaceful domestic use and storage.) Pakistan has acceded to the convention on physical protection but not to the 2005 amendment or the nuclear terrorism convention.[13]

Summit participants also supported full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all countries to enact legislation to prevent the proliferation of nonconventional weapons and their means of delivery, and recognized the continuing importance of the IAEA and its nuclear material security guidelines and activities. The participants also supported the actions of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT). Other ambitious objectives of the summits included the removal and disposal of nuclear materials no longer needed for operational activities and the minimization of the civilian use of HEU. The participants also agreed to consider plans to consolidate nuclear material at fewer national storage sites.

Pakistan has submitted four reports to the UN committee overseeing the implementation of Resolution 1540, thus meeting an international nuclear nonproliferation and security obligation that a number of countries have not met. Islamabad is an active participant in the GICNT, especially on issues related to nuclear forensics and efforts to upgrade the international community’s ability to detect nuclear and other radioactive materials in order to prevent nuclear trafficking.

At the Washington and Seoul summits, individual countries made commitments to improving domestic regimes for nuclear security. Approximately 80 percent of these national commitments were fulfilled between 2010 and 2012.[14] Pakistan did not make any unilateral commitments at the 2010 summit, but it did at the summit in 2012, when it pledged to open a nuclear security training center and signed the Joint Statement on Nuclear Security Training and Support Centers. The center is intended to serve as a regional and international hub for training in nuclear security; in the joint statement, Pakistan joined with 22 other countries in forming what will amount to an international network on that issue.

In Seoul, Pakistan also agreed to continue deploying portal monitors to detect special nuclear material as a means of impeding the illicit trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials. In addition, it offered to provide nuclear safety and security assistance under IAEA auspices to interested states.

In its progress report at the Seoul summit, Pakistan noted its steps to improve export controls, secure radiological sources, and prevent nuclear smuggling. In these areas, it revised its national export control lists and operates mobile laboratories for technical assistance to law enforcement and first responders. Pakistan also reported that, under its renewed Nuclear Security Action Plan, originally established in 2006, it is upgrading the physical security at its 11 nuclear medical centers. Medical facilities utilize high-intensity radioactive sources that can be used in a “dirty bomb.”

Pakistan has taken a number of actions related to nuclear security and safety beyond those it pledged at the summits. It has intensified collaboration with the IAEA by joining “collaborating centers,” which are designed to standardize technology, disseminate information, and facilitate research and learning on a range of issues related to IAEA activities, including nuclear safety and security. It also is participating in the development of the IAEA Nuclear Safety Action Plan.

It has incorporated some of the lessons of the Fukushima accident, including holding an international seminar on nuclear safety and security and developing a radiation emergency response mechanism and a Nuclear Security Emergency Coordination Center. It also is considering a program for upgrading physical protection of civilian nuclear power plants.

It is not yet clear how the Pakistani steps on nuclear security and safety should be seen. On one hand, if they represent the limits of Pakistan’s movement toward transparency and cooperation, they are disappointing. On the other hand, they represent an evolution from Pakistan’s previous opaqueness, and that may lead to further progress.


Pakistan is located in a very dangerous neighborhood; it has a history of political instability; and terrorist activity in and around the country remains significant. Control of the nuclear program resides primarily with military authorities, which are not very transparent about nuclear security and weapons operations. There is only modest civilian oversight.

These distinguishing features make the security of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program and its infrastructure a global concern, which is unlikely to diminish anytime soon. As a result, all acts of terrorism in the country, especially those directed at military targets, are going to raise concerns and invite scrutiny and skepticism of official assurances of control.

Pakistan has taken its responsibility for nuclear security seriously. It has collaborated with the United States on best practices, training, and personnel screening. It is participating in international forums devoted to preventing nuclear terrorism and improving nuclear security. It has made strides domestically to improve the legal and regulatory system for preventing proliferation of sensitive materials and technologies. Not least, the authorities in Pakistan, the first Islamic country to possess a nuclear weapon, recognize that the nuclear weapons program is deeply intertwined with national identity and that security of its nuclear infrastructure is a top priority. Domestically or internationally, it cannot afford a loss of control. Yet, there is more that Pakistan can and should do to provide confidence to the international community that its nuclear program employs the highest level of safety and security.

First, there is the need to accept all international instruments that underpin the current nuclear security regime, including the nuclear terrorism convention and the 2005 amendment to the convention on physical protection. Also, as the Fukushima nuclear accident highlighted, the decision by any country, developed or developing, to remain insular and opaque on matters of nuclear safety and security can be harmful to that country and its neighbors.

Although the sovereign control of nuclear assets remains the dominant model at present, there is an increasing recognition that countries have an international responsibility to prevent the unauthorized release of radiation or the theft of materials from their facilities. Both dangers directly affect other countries. These concepts of sovereignty and international responsibility should not be in competition. Both are important and need to be balanced.

There should be a commitment to the highest levels of nuclear security at home and a willingness to provide nonsensitive information on these actions to the global community. This process could begin with the actions listed above, first as a voluntary activity and then evolving into a codified requirement for all countries over time. These steps offer the best combination of assurances and can improve international confidence in Pakistan’s nuclear security.

Naeem Salik, a retired general in the Pakistani army, served as director of arms control and disarmament affairs at the Strategic Plans Division of Pakistan’s National Command Authority from 2001 to 2005. He currently is a Ph.D. candidate in political science and international relations at the University of Western Australia. Kenneth N. Luongo is president of the Partnership for Global Security and a former senior adviser on nonproliferation policy to the U.S. secretary of energy.


1. Lawrence J. Korb, “The Security of Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May 19, 2009, http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/features/the-security-of-pakistans-nuclear-arsenal. See “President Obama’s 100th-Day Press Briefing,” The New York Times, April 29, 2009; General David H. Petraeus, interview with Chris Wallace, Fox News Sunday, Fox, May 10, 2009, http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2009/05/10/fox_news_sunday_david_petraeus_96429.html; “Pak Nukes Safely Guarded, Says Narayanan,” Press Trust of India, December 16, 2007, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/Pak+nukes+safely+guarded,+says+Narayanan/1/2524.html.

2. Michael Krepon, “Sy Hersh and Pakistan’s Nukes,” Arms Control Wonk, November 19, 2009, http://krepon.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/2539/sy-hersh-and-pakistans-nukes; Ejaz Haider, “Leave Us Alone and Worry About Yourself!” Daily Times (Pakistan), January 13, 2009. See Joby Warrick, “Pakistan’s Nuclear Security Questioned,” The Washington Post, November 11, 2007; David E. Sanger, “Trust Us: So, What About Those Nukes?” The New York Times, November 11, 2007.

3. Jane Perlez, “Pakistan Army Under Scrutiny After U.S. Raid,” The New York Times, May 5, 2011; Zahid Hussain, Matthew Rosenberg, and Jeremy Page, “After Raid, Confused Response,” The Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2011.

4. Korb, “The Security of Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal.”

5. Declan Walsh, “Pakistani Air Force Base With Nuclear Ties Is Attacked,” The New York Times, August 15, 2012. See Shaiq Hussain, “Militants Storm Pakistan Air Base,” The Washington Post, August 16, 2012; Kelsey Davenport, “Militants Attack Pakistani Base,” Arms Control Today, September 2012.

6. An example is Walsh, “Pakistani Air Force Base With Nuclear Ties Is Attacked.”

7. Davenport, “Militants Attack Pakistani Base”; Kelsey Davenport and Marcus Taylor, “Pakistani Security Called Adequate,” Arms Control Today, October 2012.

8. “Pakistan Security Brief,” AEI Critical Threats, October 1, 2012, http://www.criticalthreats.org/pakistan-security-brief/pakistan-security-brief-october-1-2012-0; “Pakistani Minister Insists Nuclear Weapons Are Under Tightest Protections,” Global Security Newswire, October 2, 2012, http://www.nti.org/gsn/article/pakistani-minister-insists-nuclear-weapons-are-under-tightest-protections/. See “Pakistan’s Nuclear Programme Fully Secure: FM Khar,” Associated Press of Pakistan, September 29, 2012.

9. For details of the National Command Authority (NCA) and the salient points about the export control law, see Kenneth N. Luongo and Naeem Salik, “Building Confidence in Pakistan’s Nuclear Security,” Arms Control Today, December 2007.

10. Strategic Plans Division officials, conversations with Naeem Salik, Kalar Kahar, Pakistan, August 8, 2012.

11. NCA Security Division senior officials, interview with Naeem Salik, Rawalpindi, August 6, 2012.

12. “Purchase of Safety-Related Nuclear Equipment: Pakistan Slams Curbs by Some Countries,” Dawn, September 19, 2012, http://dawn.com/2012/09/19/purchase-of-safety-related-nuclear-equipment-pakistan-slams-curbs-by-some-countries/.

13. Among states with nuclear weapons, France, Israel, North Korea, and the United States also have not ratified the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism or the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.

14. Michelle Cann, “2010 Nuclear Security Summit National Commitment Implementation,” U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS, March 2012, http://uskoreainstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/USKI_NSS2012_Cann.pdf.

The attack last August against the Kamra military air base in Pakistan reignited concerns about the threat that terrorists could pose to the security of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. There is no doubt that recent attacks on military targets in Pakistan have increased in number and boldness. So far, however, the targets of the attacks have not been military installations that contain nuclear weapons or components.


Prelude to an ICBM? Putting North Korea’s Unha-3 Launch Into Context

Michael Elleman

Last December, after two decades of development and four failed attempts since 1998, North Korea finally boosted a small satellite into orbit using a domestically assembled Unha-3 rocket. Although the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite failed to orient itself properly and never beamed signals to earth-based stations as designed, Pyongyang nonetheless heralded the launch as an epic national achievement.

The December launch, like those that preceded it, was promptly denounced by the international community. On January 22, after a month of intense negotiation, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2087, which condemned North Korea’s use of ballistic missile technology in violation of Resolutions 1718 and 1874.[1] On February 12, in the wake of UN efforts to denounce the satellite launch, North Korea tested a nuclear weapon.

Although international anger over Pyongyang’s launch using the Unha-3 rocket is understandable, efforts to condemn and punish North Korea for it might not be properly placed. Policymakers around the world face an important choice. They can impose further demands on an already heavily sanctioned country for exploring outer space, albeit using missile technologies. Alternatively, they can scale back their collective reaction to North Korean provocations that do not pose an immediate or significant threat and instead preserve their punitive responses for those activities that are most threatening, such as the February 12 nuclear test or future flight tests of long-range ballistic missiles. The history of ballistic missile development in other countries, which shows that space launches do not and cannot play a decisive role in the creation of long-range missiles, suggests the latter.


In a 1993 speech to the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s leader from his founding of the country in 1948 until his death in 1994, called for North Korea to join the exclusive list of space-faring nations.[2] Pyongyang’s formal decision to begin developing a space launcher and earth-orbiting satellites likely followed that speech.

The February 1994 discovery by U.S. spy satellites of two rocket bodies at the Sanum-dong research and development center on the outskirts of Pyongyang and reports of ground-based engine tests related to a large rocket using a Taepo Dong rocket test stand suggest that informal activities aimed at fashioning a satellite launch vehicle or long-range ballistic missile began well before Kim’s 1993 speech.[3]

The existence of the rockets spotted in U.S. satellite imagery suggested that North Korea was concurrently pursuing two large-rocket development projects. The first system, named Paektusan-1 by North Korea and dubbed Taepo Dong-1 by U.S. intelligence agencies after the name of a village near the Musudan-ri launch facility on North Korea’s east coast, was thought to be a two-stage rocket based on the Nodong and Hwasong-6 (Scud-C) missiles. Most probably, the rocket was designed to help North Korea master the process of staging, a key technology for creating long-range missiles and satellite launchers. A second, more ambitious program featured the much larger Paektusan-2 (Taepo Dong-2), which was believed to have a first stage consisting of a cluster of four Nodong engines and a modified Nodong missile as the second stage.

Four years after initially sighting the Taepo Dong rockets, U.S. intelligence detected activities consistent with preparations for a missile test or satellite launch at the Musudan-ri facility. Despite diplomatic efforts by Washington and others to dissuade Pyongyang from testing a missile, North Korea launched the rocket on August 31, 1998.[4] To the surprise of many, the Taepo Dong-1 was not a two-stage ballistic missile as previously thought, but rather a three-stage rocket configured to place the small Kwangmyongsong-1 satellite into orbit.[5] The first two stages appear to have performed as designed, and the third stage is believed to have separated from the second, but malfunctioned soon thereafter, with the remains of the third stage and the satellite plunging into the ocean roughly 1,600 kilometers from the launch site.

Although the vehicle’s trajectory was consistent with an attempted space launch, its flight path crossed Japanese territory. In the diplomatic uproar following the launch and under international pressure, Pyongyang entered into negotiations with Washington, resulting in the September 1999 flight-test moratorium agreement. Under the deal, North Korea promised to suspend future long-range missile tests, understood to include the Nodong and longer-range systems, while Washington agreed to lift a number of economic sanctions. Pyongyang adhered to the moratorium until 2006.

Taepo Dong-2 and Unha-2

The maiden flight of the Taepo Dong-2 occurred on July 5, 2006, roughly one month after the executive board of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization decided to terminate its light-water nuclear power reactor construction project, which was created as part of the 1994 Agreed Framework between Washington and Pyongyang. The Taepo Dong-2 launch was accompanied by the firing of six additional missiles, all taking place within a 14-hour window.[6] The near-simultaneous launch of seven missiles suggests that the exercise was not designed to meet a technical imperative or to orbit a satellite. It is more likely that Pyongyang sought to convey a political message by launching a salvo of missiles.

Regardless of the reasons behind the test, the Taepo Dong-2 exploded roughly 42 seconds into its flight, well before analysts could determine whether they were observing a ballistic missile test or a satellite launch. Because Pyongyang never released a technical description or photographs, the rocket’s configuration remains a public mystery.

On February 24, 2009, the Korean Committee for Space Technology declared that it was preparing to launch an Unha-2 rocket for the purpose of orbiting a Kwangmyongsong-2 experimental communications satellite. Taking lessons from the diplomatic fallout from the earlier launches in 1998 and 2006 and making an obvious attempt to minimize potential criticism and sanction, Pyongyang announced in March 2009 that it intended to adhere to the Outer Space Treaty and the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched Into Outer Space. It notified the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization that it planned to launch the satellite during April 4-8. The notifications provided official warning to aircraft and ships to avoid the “hazard zones,” two large swaths of designated airspace and ocean where remnants of the rocket’s first and second stages were expected to fall.

After weeks of North Korean preparations and repeated international appeals to cancel the test, Pyongyang launched the Unha-2 on April 5, 2009. Breaking with the pattern of its previous missile tests or satellite launches, the North Korean government released a video recording of the Unha-2 firing, revealing for the first time information about the system’s configuration and its approximate performance characteristics. Nevertheless, it remains unclear if the Unha-2 is a replica of the 2006 Taepo Dong-2 or a new system altogether.

Flight data gathered by the Japanese Ministry of Defense and published in the Japanese press indicated that the first two stages of the Unha-2 performed as North Korean engineers had projected.[7] The first stage splashed down in the East Sea approximately 540 kilometers from the launch site, within the hazard zone designated by North Korean officials before the flight, albeit at the edge of the zone closest to the Korean coastline. The second stage landed in the Pacific Ocean, roughly 3,200 kilometers from Musudan-ri, within the hazard zone, but at the forward edge. It is unclear if the third stage separated from the second stage. If it did successfully separate, it might not have ignited properly. The third stage and satellite tumbled out of control and fell into the ocean very near the second-stage impact location.[8]


Shortly after announcing the “Leap Day deal,” the February 29, 2012, agreement under which the United States agreed to provide food assistance in exchange for a North Korean moratorium on “long-range missile launches,” uranium enrichment, and nuclear testing,[9] Pyongyang declared that it would again attempt to loft a satellite into orbit using an Unha rocket. The launch was slated to coincide with Kim’s 100th birthday.

Although there was no doubt that the planned launch would violate the terms of the newly minted agreement, as well as Resolutions 1718 and 1874, officials in Pyongyang clumsily attempted to minimize the diplomatic fallout by declaring beforehand that the launch was to be part of a peaceful space program. North Korea notified international organizations responsible for maritime and airspace safety of the anticipated launch dates and the expected hazard zones, where launch debris were expected to hit the ocean. Additionally, Pyongyang invited foreign observers to the new Sohae launch facility, situated near the western coastal city of Tongchang-ri, to witness the final preparations of the Unha-3 rocket and view a model of the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite.

The Unha-3 was launched on April 12, 2012, but not in the presence of the foreign observers. As the rocket headed south from the launch site, as expected, it reportedly failed after approximately 100 seconds of flight.[10] Sections of the rocket and satellite were strewn across a swath of sea west of South Korea. The timing of the failure and the impact locations of the debris indicate that a malfunction occurred during first-stage operation, but the precise cause cannot be determined from available data. Pyongyang did not release any video of the launch.

Prelaunch photographs of the Unha-3 show it to be a near copy of the Unha-2 fired in 2009 although the third stage appears to have been stretched by 30 to 50 centimeters, presumably to carry additional propellant.[11] High-resolution photographs indicate that the second stage was neither a modified R-27—a retired Soviet submarine-launched missile, known in the West as the SS-N-6—nor a stage that employs the higher-energy propellants associated with the R-27, as some analysts had concluded after the 2009 launch. Indeed, the relative size of the oxidizer and fuel tanks found on the second stage is consistent with the propellant combination used by the Nodong engine.[12]

Last November, North Korea announced a second attempt to boost the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite into orbit using the Unha-3. The launch presumably was timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the death of Kim Il Sung’s son and successor, Kim Jong Il, and the ascension to power of the latter’s son, Kim Jong Un. The timing of the launch, so soon after the unsuccessful attempt in April, suggests that North Korean engineers were able to identify and correct the technical fault that doomed the first Unha-3 firing. Yet, it is possible that political imperatives trumped technical ones and that the Unha-3 was fired before engineers could make the appropriate adjustments.

Assembly, systems checks, and fueling of the Unha-3 at the Sohae facility lasted about two weeks. Inclement weather and a minor technical glitch may have delayed the launch by a few days, but on December 12, the Unha-3 lifted off and successfully inserted a satellite into a sun-synchronous orbit, which required the third stage to execute a challenging dogleg turn to avoid overflying populated territory. The satellite, once in orbit, failed to stabilize its orientation relative to the earth’s surface, precluding it from capturing images as planned. The satellite also failed to transmit signals to receiving stations on earth.

Missile Test or Satellite Launch?

Pyongyang has repeatedly insisted that the sole purpose of the Unha-3 launch was placing an earth observation satellite into orbit. The rocket’s trajectory and placement of a satellite in orbit support North Korea’s official claims,[13] as does Pyongyang’s prelaunch notification to international organizations responsible for airspace and maritime safety. Further, the Taepo Dong-1 launched in 1998 was on a trajectory consistent with a satellite launch, as were the 2009 Unha-2 and the April 2012 Unha-3 firings. The 2006 launch attempt also might have been designed to orbit a satellite, but because it failed so early in its flight, it is not possible to determine the mission’s purpose.

Yet, international skepticism and criticism of North Korea’s intentions have prevailed. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in referencing the December launch, asserted that North Korea had fired “a multi-stage rocket using ballistic missile technology.”[14] To be sure, the technologies and components employed by space launchers and long-range ballistic missiles are very similar, if not the same. Both use powerful rocket engines, high-strength and lightweight airframes, inertial navigation and guidance units, and payload separation mechanisms. Key features, however, differentiate the two systems, apart from the payload itself.

First, ballistic missile payloads must survive the rigors of re-entry into the atmosphere. Protecting a long-range missile’s payload from the extreme heat and structural loads experienced during re-entry requires the development and production of special materials, which must be tested and validated under real conditions.

A second, less obvious difference lies with the operational requirements. Before their flight, space launchers, unlike their ballistic missile counterparts, are prepared over a period of many days, if not weeks. Components and subsystems can be checked and verified prior to launch, and the mission commander can wait for ideal weather before initiating the countdown. If an anomaly emerges during the countdown, engineers can delay the launch, identify and fix the problem, and restart the process. In contrast, ballistic missiles, like all other military systems, must perform reliably under a variety of operational conditions, with little or no warning. These operational requirements impose a more rigorous validation scheme, which includes an extensive test program. Only after successfully completing validation testing is a missile deemed to be combat ready.

Although space launch activities offer an opportunity to accumulate experience and generate data that could aid efforts to develop long-range ballistic missiles, the results have limited application to ballistic missiles. Only a fraction of the overall missile development issues can be addressed when testing the system as a satellite launcher. Other requirements, most notably re-entry technologies and operational flexibility requirements, cannot be adequately addressed by satellite launches. A proven satellite launch vehicle would still need to be flight-tested as a ballistic missile a half-dozen or more times before it would be combat ready. For these reasons and others, the universal trend has been to convert ballistic missiles into space launchers, not the opposite, as evidenced by the Soviet, U.S., and Chinese experiences.

The Soviets, for instance, began development of the R-7 (Semyorka, or SS-6) intercontinental missile in 1954 and initiated flight trials in May 1957. Two dozen R-7s were tested as ballistic missiles before the weapon became operational. During the R-7 flight trials, a handful of prototypes were diverted from the military program and transformed into satellite launchers or lunar probes. The reconfigured and renamed launcher, dubbed Soyuz, boosted the first earth-orbiting satellite, Sputnik, on October 4, 1957.

The R-7 was an impractical ballistic missile. It was deployed in limited numbers, no more than six, and was soon replaced by the R-16 (SS-7), R-36 (SS-9), and UR-100 (SS-11) missiles, which offered greater deployment flexibility.[15] The R-7, however, provided the foundation for the world’s most diverse and widely used family of satellite launchers. Derivatives of the R-7 have flown more than 1,800 manned and unmanned space missions since 1957.

The U.S. experience was similar but broader. During the latter half of the 1950s, the United States ambitiously pursued a handful of ballistic missile development efforts, each of which would also establish the foundation for satellite launch vehicles. The short-range Redstone missile, itself derived from the German V-2, was the basis for the Jupiter-A and -C experimental rockets and space launchers, as well as the Jupiter intermediate-range ballistic missile. The Jupiter-C, also known as Juno-1, placed the first U.S. satellite, Explorer-1, into orbit on January 31, 1958. The first U.S. manned missions to space were powered by Redstone rockets.

The Thor intermediate-range missile, propelled by a modified Jupiter engine, was eventually used as a satellite launcher and is the progenitor of today’s Delta family of heavy-lift systems. Similarly, the Atlas and Titan ballistic missiles were transformed into satellite launchers, providing the building blocks for a family of launch vehicles operated under the same names. Interestingly, the four-stage Vanguard rocket, designed specifically for launching satellites, was never used as a ballistic missile. It did, however, place the world’s fourth satellite into orbit on March 17, 1958.

Thus, space launch activities apparently played only a minor role, if any, in the development of U.S. and Soviet long-range ballistic missiles. In China, however, satellite launches might have significantly aided the military’s missile development efforts. The DF-3 and DF-4 intermediate-range missiles, as well as the CZ-1 satellite launcher, for instance, shared the same first-stage booster. Development of the single-stage DF-3 began in the early 1960s. It was first flight-tested in December 1966 and deployed in 1971. The two-stage DF-4 was flight-tested three times from December 1969 to November 1970. During this period, the CZ-1 satellite launcher, which was derived from the DF-4, was launched three times; and on April 24, 1970, it successfully lofted China’s first satellite into orbit.

Before the DF-4 was inducted into military service, however, it had to undergo two batches of additional flight trials. The first stretched from May 1976 to November 1977, and the second took place in 1980. The missile achieved combat readiness in late 1980, 10 years after China’s first successful satellite launch.

Similarly, China’s first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the DF-5, and its workhorse satellite launcher, the CZ-2, appear to have been developed in tandem. The first flight of the DF-5 came in late 1971; the second flight was in 1973. The missile was not launched again until June 1979, when it underwent operational flight trials before being deployed in August 1981. However, the CZ-2, which employed DF-5 booster rockets not used during the initial flight trials in the early 1970s, was launched four times during the six years spanning the second and third DF-5 test firings. It seems reasonable to conclude that technical issues related to the stalled DF-5 development effort were at least partially addressed by the CZ-2 space missions.

History strongly suggests that satellite launch activities have assisted long-range missile development to varying degrees, but civilian space efforts have never played a decisive role in the creation of a long-range missile. In each of the cases reviewed above, regardless of the number of satellite launches conducted during new missile development, extensive flight trials in the military mode were needed to confirm combat readiness. The same principles apply to North Korea. Unha launches, although troubling and politically provocative, are not a substitute for ballistic missile testing.

A Viable Weapon?

The Unha-3 consists of three stages. The first is powered by a cluster of four Nodong engines and steered using four small vernier engines. The available evidence suggests that the second stage is a modified Nodong missile, with a larger-diameter fuselage to accommodate additional propellant. The configuration of the third stage is not known with certainty, but is most likely similar to that of the second stage of Iran’s Safir launch vehicle, which is suitable for satellite launches but not powerful enough to propel a moderately sized military payload. If North Korea built a ballistic missile using the first two stages of an Unha-3, the notional missile might achieve a maximum range of 5,000 to 6,000 kilometers. To reach the continental United States, a powerful third stage would have to be developed and added to the first two stages of the Unha-3.

The Soviet Union considered an analogous upgrade in 1957, when Soviet designers suggested combining the main boosters of the R-12 and R-14 missiles to create the R-16 ICBM. The R-16 was successfully developed, but only after substantial redesign, including the development of new engines using more-powerful propellants. This Soviet experience suggests that North Korea would find it difficult to build an operational ICBM founded on the Unha-3 technology.

Nevertheless, North Korea could contemplate using the Unha-3 as the basis for an ICBM. The missile would weigh more than 90 tons, making it too large and cumbersome to be viably deployed on a mobile launch platform. Silo deployment might be possible, but North Korea is a relatively small country and would find it difficult to conceal the location of its silos. Further, all of North Korea’s silos would be fewer than 200 kilometers from the coastline and thus vulnerable to pre-emptive strikes by advanced military powers, such as the United States.

A new missile design seems more likely. In April 2012, North Korea unveiled mock-ups of a mobile, long-range missile during a military parade in Pyongyang. The missile has never been tested, and its origins are not known. If propellants more energetic than those used by the Unha-3, Nodong, or Scud missiles were employed, the new missile might be capable of intercontinental range. Until it is flight-tested, however, such possibilities remain speculative.

North Korea and Iran

Satellite launch activities provide Pyongyang with a platform for exploring and demonstrating new technologies relevant to the creation of an ICBM. The international community should discourage such activities through diplomatic and other means. Satellite launches, however, are not a substitute for ballistic missile flight trials. North Korea cannot develop an operationally sound ICBM without first conducting a series of test flights in the ballistic missile mode.

The international community therefore should refrain from overreacting to North Korean satellite launches. Condemnations of space-related activities that utilize ballistic missile technologies are warranted and necessary. However, the threat of coercive measures such as economic and trade sanctions or enforced embargoes should be reserved for dissuading North Korea from testing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. If such tests occur, punitive measures should be available to punish North Korea for its actions. North Korea’s recent nuclear test in the wake of the December Unha launch and subsequent UN Security Council resolution are a case in point. Diplomatic initiatives and the threat of punitive action during the first months of 2013 should have focused on deterring Pyongyang from testing a nuclear weapon rather than punishing North Korea for having used the Unha-3 to loft a satellite into orbit.

The same rule of thumb should apply to Iran. Tehran has stated that it will boost a satellite into orbit using a Simorgh launcher later this year. The Simorgh, if it resembles the launch vehicle mock-up unveiled by Iran in February 2010, will be a large rocket, comparable to the Unha-3. Although such a rocket could establish the basis for an intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of threatening all of Europe, it would not be a decisive step toward that goal.

Iran would necessarily have to modify the Simorgh, develop re-entry technologies, and repeatedly flight-test the new system as a ballistic missile, all of which take time. Reaction to a Simorgh satellite launch should be measured and consistent with the long-term threat it poses, but should not complicate efforts to induce a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear standoff.



Michael Elleman is senior fellow for regional security cooperation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and is principal author of “Iran’s Ballistic Missile Capabilities: A Net Assessment” (2010). He spent 20 years developing ballistic missiles at Lockheed Martin Corp. before joining the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission as a missile expert for weapons inspection missions in Iraq. From 1995 to 2001, he led a Cooperative Threat Reduction program in Russia aimed at dismantling obsolete strategic missiles.




1. UN Security Council, S/RES/2087, January 22, 2013.

2. Brian Harvey, Henk H. F. Smid, and Théo Pirard, Emerging Space Powers: The New Space Programs of Asia, the Middle East, and South America (New York: Springer, 2010), p. 448.

3. Barbara Starr, “North Korean Missile R&D Gains New Pace,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, Vol. 21, No. 25 (June 1994): 10; Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., “A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK,” Center for Nonproliferation Studies Occasional Paper, No. 2 (November 1999), p. 28.

4. “Successful Launch of First Satellite in DPRK,” Korean Central News Agency, September 4, 1998.

5. For details on the rocket’s configuration, see Theodore Postol, “A Technical Assessment of Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program: Technical Addendum to the Joint Threat Assessment on Iran’s Nuclear and Missile Potential,” May 6, 2009, http://docs.ewi.info/JTA_TA_Program.pdf.

6. Doug Richardson, “Transonic Buffeting May Have Doomed Taepo Dong-2,” Jane’s Missiles and Rockets, August 1, 2006.

7. “Misairu sandanmewa koukajini bunri – nichibei suitei” [Third stage of missile separates upon descent: Japan–U.S. assumption], Chunichi Shimbun, April 10, 2009; David Wright and Theodore Postol, “A Post-Launch Examination of the Unha-2,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 29, 2009, http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/features/post-launch-examination-of-the-unha-2.

8. The third-stage and satellite wreckage may have traveled further downrange. See Wright and Postol, “A Post-Launch Examination of the Unha-2.”

9. Mark Fitzpatrick, “Leap Day in North Korea,” Foreign Policy, February 29, 2012.

10. “Analysis Finds N. Korean April Rocket Launch Complete Failure,” Kyodo News, December 4, 2012.

11. Trajectory modeling by David Wright suggests a similar conclusion. See David Wright, “A Comparison of North Korea’s Unha-2 and Unha-3,” Union of Concerned Scientists, April 8, 2012, http://allthingsnuclear.org/a-comparison-of-north-koreas-unha-2-and-unha-3/.

12. The Nodong engine is powered by a nitric acid oxidizer and a kerosene fuel. The two propellant components are carried by the missile stage in separate tanks. The oxidizer tank for this propellant combination is roughly 1.8 times larger than the fuel tank. The Soviet R-27 submarine-launched missile uses a different propellant combination (nitrogen tetroxide and a hydrazine derivative known as UDMH) that is carried by an oxidizer tank about 1.2 times larger than the fuel tank. The Unha-3 second-stage tank sizes are consistent with the Nodong propellants. For more details, see Markus Schiller, “Characterizing the North Korean Nuclear Missile Threat,” RAND Technical Report, 2012, p. 85, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/technical_reports/2012/RAND_TR1268.pdf.

13. David Wright, “Debris From North Korea’s Launcher: What It Shows,” Union of Concerned Scientists, December 27, 2012, http://allthingsnuclear.org/debris-from-north-koreas-launcher-what-it-shows/; David Wright, “South Korea’s Analysis of North Korea’s Rocket Debris,” Union of Concerned Scientists, http://allthingsnuclear.org/south-koreas-analysis-of-north-koreas-rocket-debris/.

14. U.S. Mission to the United Nations, “Remarks by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at a Security Council Stakeout Following Consultations on North Korea,” December 12, 2012, http://usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/201940.htm.

15. The R-7 was too large (weighing more than 270 tons and standing roughly 36 meters tall) and operationally cumbersome. Consequently, its deployment numbers never topped six during the eight years it was in military service. Only one dedicated R-7 ICBM launch pad was constructed, at the Baikonur facility in Kazakhstan, and six to eight were built at the Angara complex located in Plesetsk. In contrast, the R-16, R-36, and UR-100 were deployed in much larger numbers, measured in the hundreds.

Last December, after two decades of development and four failed attempts since 1998, North Korea finally boosted a small satellite into orbit using a domestically assembled Unha-3 rocket. Although the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite failed to orient itself properly and never beamed signals to earth-based stations as designed, Pyongyang nonetheless heralded the launch as an epic national achievement.

North Korea’s Nuclear Wake-Up Shot

Daryl G. Kimball

North Korea’s third nuclear weapons test explosion, in defiance of its lone remaining ally, China, and the rest of the international community, should prompt a reappraisal of Beijing’s accommodating attitude toward its neighbor and rejuvenate U.S.-led diplomacy designed to freeze and reverse Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

Pyongyang’s Feb. 12 nuclear test produced a significant yield, estimated to be six to seven kilotons. Although one more test does not fundamentally change the security threat North Korea poses, this test has undoubtedly taken it one step closer to possessing a missile-deliverable nuclear warhead.

North Korea already has a substantial arsenal of short- and medium-range missiles with conventional warheads. However, it has not yet demonstrated a nuclear-armed, intercontinental-range ballistic missile capability, which would require many more flight tests and additional nuclear test blasts.

It also is likely that North Korea used highly enriched uranium (HEU) rather than plutonium for this test. This is significant because its plutonium supply is limited, perhaps enough for fewer than 10 bombs, but its HEU production capacity is probably expanding.

As part of the six-party denuclearization process, North Korea shut down its plutonium-production facility at Yongbyon. Yet, North Korea has built centrifuge arrays that could enable it to generate HEU for one to two bombs per year.

If its nuclear and missile programs continue unchecked, North Korea could amass a larger and more deadly nuclear arsenal in the next few years. This could pose a much more significant threat to the region, embolden Pyongyang to take greater risks, prompt counteractions by South Korea and Japan, and increase the risk that Pyongyang sells fissile material to another country or to terrorists in exchange for much-needed hard currency.

The seriousness of this issue demands a full-court press by the international community. The United States needs to work more closely than ever to coordinate policy with other stakeholders in the region.

Although it is important not to reward irresponsible behavior, it is also irresponsible for the United States to maintain a policy of “strategic patience” while the North’s capabilities grow. “Naming and shaming” and further sanctions on the North through the UN Security Council are certainly justified in the wake of the latest nuclear test, but by themselves, such responses will not produce adequate results.

North Korea’s latest nuclear blast is not just a rebuke of the international community’s call for nuclear restraint, but an embarrassment for China and a test of leadership for Xi Jinping, the new Communist Party secretary.

In the wake of Pyongyang’s 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests, China reacted negatively and voted for tougher UN sanctions, but did not significantly curtail aid and assistance to North Korea. This time, Beijing must recognize that Pyongyang’s actions represent a direct threat to China’s long-term interests and security, and its leaders must take stronger steps to implement existing UN sanctions. Doing so would not lead to a collapse of North Korea as Beijing’s leaders fear, but would help moderate the confrontational behavior of the North’s young leader, Kim Jong Un.

Although some believe Chinese influence on Pyongyang is overestimated, it is clear that Beijing could do much more to apply pressure. Past Chinese diplomatic and economic support has allowed North Korea to ignore world opinion and advance its nuclear and missile capabilities in spite of the desperate state of its economy and hunger-ravaged population.

To protect its interests and credibility, it is important that Beijing now demonstrate that its policy of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula is sincere and that the unanimous resolutions of the UN Security Council demand respect.

As difficult as Pyongyang’s leaders are, U.S. President Barack Obama also must renew efforts to engage in serious negotiations designed to curtail North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities, with the long-term goal of achieving verifiable and complete nuclear disarmament.

Although North Korea’s leaders might not, for now, be willing to negotiate away their nuclear weapons program altogether, they still appear to be willing to abandon portions of it in exchange for improved relations with the United States, a formal end to the Korean War, and the possibility of much-needed energy and economic support. U.S.-led negotiations, combined with stronger Chinese pressure on the North, could bring a halt to further nuclear and missile tests.

The latest North Korean nuclear test also is a blow to the global nonproliferation system. In response, the world’s nuclear-armed states, specifically the United States, China, and India, have a responsibility to help reinforce the global taboo against testing by doing their part to bring the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into force.

Given the nuclear dangers lurking over the horizon, it is essential that Washington and its allies in Asia pursue more energetic and effective strategies to ensure North Korea’s nuclear program remains as limited as possible.

North Korea’s third nuclear weapons test explosion, in defiance of its lone remaining ally, China, and the rest of the international community, should prompt a reappraisal of Beijing’s accommodating attitude toward its neighbor and rejuvenate U.S.-led diplomacy designed to freeze and reverse Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.


The January/February 2013 article “Back to the Drawing Board: The Need for Sound Science in U.S. Missile Defense” implied that the report on missile defense by a National Academy of Sciences committee warned against the deployment of Standard Missile-3 Block IIB interceptors in Poland because of the capability of those missiles to intercept Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles launched from southwestern Russia. In the passage that the article cited, the committee report was referring to the potential deployment of the proposed Ground-Based Midcourse Defense-Evolved interceptor.


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