"I want to tell you that your fact sheet on the [Missile Technology Control Regime] is very well done and useful for me when I have to speak on MTCR issues."

– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
May 2016
Edition Date: 
Thursday, April 28, 2016
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From Paper to Practice: The Significance of New UN Sanctions on North Korea

May 2016

By Andrea Berger

For many years, common wisdom held that North Korea was one of the most heavily sanctioned countries on earth and therefore one of the most isolated. Shortly after Pyongyang’s third nuclear test, in 2013, one commentator, expressing a widespread view, asked, “Is there anything left to sanction in North Korea?”1

Only three years later, the UN Security Council showed that there was in fact much more that could be done. On March 2, the council passed Resolution 2270 in reaction to North Korea’s fourth nuclear test and subsequent satellite launch. Until now, the sanctions regime against North Korea has evolved slowly, incrementally expanding the authority of previous resolutions. By contrast, Resolution 2270 adds numerous, qualitatively different restrictions. 

The resolution’s practical effect, however, may be more limited than the changes on paper. Pyongyang’s international isolation—largely self-imposed, though compounded by sanctions—has created unique trade and finance dynamics. In particular, it has cemented China as the primary trade and finance pathway for North Korea and therefore the linchpin for sanctions effectiveness. China’s decisions over the next few months will largely determine the size of the barriers to North Korean prohibited activity created by Resolution 2270. 

By contrast, North Korea’s sanctions evasion skills will determine whether these barriers are surmountable. Such skills, including the creation of opaque corporate structures and the holding of assets offshore, have helped it cope with the UN sanctions regime to date and have given it a head start in overcoming any added challenges created by the new resolution. 

An Evolving Framework

The trigger for UN sanctions on North Korea was the country’s first nuclear test, in October 2006. Although countries such as the United States had previously restricted interactions with North Korea by their nationals or companies, it was not politically possible to attract Chinese or Russian support for multilateral sanctions until North Korea publicly crossed the nuclear threshold. Resolution 1718, adopted on October 14, 2006, five days after North Korea’s nuclear test, contained a basic framework, built specifically to counter North Korean activity directly relevant to its nuclear and missile programs. It includes an embargo on trade in any goods or services related to nonconventional weapons or missiles; an embargo on trade in large conventional weapons systems, the revenue from which the Security Council argued would flow into the same coffers that fund Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development; a ban on luxury goods; and a freeze on assets held outside of North Korea by listed individuals and entities violating the resolution. 

That framework expanded in the same way it was born: in reaction to North Korean testing of nuclear weapons. In 2009, after Pyongyang’s second test, the arms embargo was expanded to include all conventional arms and related materiel and services,2 and a panel of experts was established to monitor implementation of the resolutions. In 2013, after the third test, the Security Council approved new provisions calling for states to refrain from providing certain financial services or establishing financial relationships with North Korea if there were reasonable grounds to believe they could contribute to prohibited activities. Among other things, the council decided that states should restrict bulk cash transfers by North Korea and inspect cargo going to or coming from the country if they could contribute to prohibited programs. It also called on states to “exercise enhanced vigilance” over North Korean diplomatic personnel, but it did not clarify what this vigilance should entail in practice. 

In response to North Korea’s nuclear test on January 6, the United States drafted Resolution 2270 and presented it to China, but the resolution saw little progress for several weeks. When Beijing did show movement and propose amendments, which were fewer and less extensive than expected, bilateral negotiation of the resolution proceeded rapidly. In substantive terms, the resolution goes far beyond previous measures. Its key provisions require countries to expel all representatives of designated entities and close their offices,3 “inspect” all cargo going to and coming from North Korea, deny port access for or impound certain North Korean-controlled vessels, cease purchases from North Korea of certain minerals, limit coal and iron ore imports from the country, ban exports of airplane fuel to North Korea,4 cut off any relationships with North Korean banks outside North Korea, and forbid their financial institutions from opening new offices, subsidiaries, or accounts in North Korea.

The new resolution represents a departure from the sanctions regime’s earlier focus on restricting North Korean activity only when member states have information suggesting that the activity could contribute to prohibited programs. That focus meant the regime was designed primarily to prevent illicit arms-related activities and stop ongoing proliferation incidents. Many of the new obligations in Resolution 2270, including commodity-based sanctions on trade in rare earth minerals, demonstrate that this time the measures are partly punitive. Restrictions of this type, although they may constrain a general revenue stream for North Korea, have no direct, conclusive connection to North Korea’s weapons development or proliferation. Their purpose is instead to make clear to Pyongyang that its actions can have a wide range of consequences. South Korean President Park Geun-hye, for instance, clarified that the United Nations should make North Korea feel “bone-numbing pain” through sanctions.5

Since North Korea’s fourth nuclear test, Japan, South Korea, and the United States have solidified the substantive shift toward more general trade and finance sanctions by instituting their own new unilateral restrictions.6 Although their promotion of such a shift may have been foreseeable, the fact that notoriously sanctions-averse countries such as China and Russia consented came as a greater surprise. 

Beijing and Moscow were eager to send a strong warning to Pyongyang that its actions would risk alienating even those who had given it political cover at the UN. This resolution squares that desire with their continued objection to the idea that sanctions can and should play a decisive role in resolving the nuclear dispute with North Korea. Both countries insisted on inserting major caveats and ambiguities into the text of the resolution that lighten the implementation burden. Restrictions on coal purchases from North Korea, for example, exempt transactions that are for undefined “livelihood” purposes—language that Beijing can use as cover if it wishes to do so. China’s insertion of major exemptions for commodity-based sanctions in this way suggests that it wished to buy itself leverage over North Korea that it claimed it previously did not have. In practice, it is therefore likely that China will vary its enforcement of the provisions in reaction to North Korean behavior, taking action only sporadically. 

Previous rounds of sanctions against North Korea have never covered as much ground or as much paper. Yet, even the unprecedented length of the new resolution has not been enough to address all of the practical challenges with implementing member state obligations. There already are signs that implementation will be a challenge for those who wish to be compliant. Under Resolution 2270, states are required to freeze all assets of the designated North Korean shipping firm Ocean Maritime Management (OMM) Co., including by impounding its vessels, listed in an annex to the resolution. As required, the Philippines diligently impounded the MV Jin Teng.7 

This action has raised numerous issues. For a few weeks, it was unclear whether Manila would have to detain the ship indefinitely. The nature of an asset freeze is such that those vessels should remain “frozen” as long as OMM is designated.8 Because few individuals realistically foresee North Korean capitulation on its nuclear and missile programs as a result of sanctions, few believe the company will ever be removed from the sanctions list. Would the Philippines incur the costs of berthing the vessel in port indefinitely? Could it sell the ship instead? 

Ultimately, China insisted that the UN sanctions committee on North Korea delist four of the vessels because their ties to OMM could not be proven. This included the MV Jin Teng. Issues over reimbursement of the port berthing costs incurred during the period of detention persist. Such growing pains are unsurprising considering the speed at which the new resolution was amended in negotiations between China and the United States, and they are sure to materialize again in the near future.

A Decade of Sanctions Evasion

North Korea already has numerous tools and tactics that it will use to circumvent the new restrictions. As discussed above, the multilateral sanctions regime against North Korea has evolved relatively slowly in line with Pyongyang’s nuclear testing activities. This decade-long evolution has given the country’s overseas networks the time to hone an array of evasive tactics in three areas: corporate structures, logistics, and finance.9 

Corporate structures. In terms of corporate structures, North Korea enjoys a significant presence in neighboring countries, especially China. The diaspora of ethnic Koreans in China remains actively involved in cross-border trade, and North Korea deploys countless businesspeople to neighboring countries to establish companies. To give a sense of scale, more than 300 companies in Liaoning province alone are registered formally as North Korean owned.10 Many more fronts and shells are registered by Chinese nationals or North Korean dual nationals. Although they are not listed officially as having foreign ownership, they could in fact have North Korean beneficiaries. Another approximately 1,000 companies in Liaoning have recorded official trade with North Korea in the past five years although these companies are not necessarily North Korean controlled.11 

The majority of these firms list their business as “general import and export.” In almost every instance investigated by this author where a Chinese-registered company has been involved in illegal North Korean activity, the company in question also had licit business. In one recent example, the representative of a North Korean-controlled company in Liaoning was found to be trading headphones, pasta machines, solar water heaters, and nonferrous metals now banned under Resolution 2270. North Korea exploits these dynamics to make the task of detecting illegal activity comparable to finding a needle in a stack of needles. 

Beyond China and Russia, North Korea does not have a substantial and loyal diaspora that it can co-opt into illegal activity. Instead, it draws on its diplomats and foreign trade representatives for its prohibited activities, having them serve as facilitators of prohibited activity. In 2015, for example, the United States accused the North Korean ambassador to Myanmar of facilitating deals for his country’s primary arms trading firm. Pyongyang also consistently deploys representatives of designated entities abroad and often embeds them in foreign companies. Representatives from North Korea’s designated OMM are known to have embedded in local firms in Singapore and Hong Kong, for example. Similarly, North Koreans operating abroad have bought or otherwise secured access to passports of convenience, further obscuring their personal links to North Korea and the links of any companies they subsequently register.12 In many circumstances, North Korea has managed to co-opt foreign nationals into registering companies and opening bank accounts overseas on its behalf. Research into North Korea’s foreign operations and recent revelations from the Panama Papers show that the country’s corporate networks commonly extend into traditional tax havens and jurisdictions with poor transparency requirements, such as the British Virgin Islands.

The result of these elaborate efforts is that, on paper, when one examines a network that facilitates North Korean trade, whether licit or illicit, there is very rarely obvious and conclusive evidence of the involvement of a North Korean national. This makes detecting the beneficial owners, rather than the on-paper owners, immensely difficult for private sector organizations and governments that wish to avoid inadvertently facilitating or otherwise participating in North Korean trade, especially illegal trade.

Trade flows. The vast majority of North Korea’s maritime, air, and overland trade flows into China as a first port of call. The bulk of the North Korean commercial shipping fleet stays in North Korea’s neighborhood, making repeated trips to and from Chinese ports. 

The portion of this fleet that flies the North Korean flag is steadily decreasing. The country repeatedly carries out major campaigns to reflag its vessels, it frequently changes their corporate structure, and it involves foreign partners in vessel chartering and operations in order to further distance a ship from any North Korean connection on paper. 

Once in China, goods destined for foreign countries are transshipped or re-exported and often put on vessels or other forms of transport that do not have an obvious North Korean identifier or are not North Korean controlled, including vessels of major shipping firms. 

An illustrative example of this pattern is the 2009 seizure by South African authorities of North Korean conventional weapons and parts en route to the Republic of Congo. The relevant containers had been shipped from North Korea through the Chinese port of Dalian, where a North Korean-controlled company in China arranged for them to be booked aboard the CGM Musca bound for Malaysia. There they were again transshipped and loaded onto the MV Westerhever, which was chartered at the time by a subsidiary of the French firm CMA CGM. 

North Korea commonly falsifies the documentation accompanying its shipments to conceal the true nature of the goods and the parties involved. It may mislabel the goods or alter the documents for a number of reasons—for example, to give the impression that the goods originated outside of North Korea. As those consignments travel, the average eye will likely not be able to immediately identify anything potentially suspicious. 

The reverse of this scenario—goods going to North Korea—involves similar patterns. Investigations by the UN panel of experts on North Korea and by this author show that Pyongyang continues to procure a range of legal and illegal goods by declaring false end users in China, including Hong Kong, who are commonly part of North Korea’s wider trade networks. Products are then re-exported to or rerouted by the declared end user or other intermediaries in the transaction. This was exemplified by a recent attempt by a North Korean-linked businessman in China to procure high-tech cameras from the United Kingdom, with the intent to re-export them for North Korea’s unmanned aerial vehicle program.13

Financial flows. North Korea’s evasion activities are as sophisticated in the financial realm. In particular, North Korea is accustomed to amassing its assets offshore. It generates revenue abroad in various ways, including through illegal activity, and holds the funds in overseas accounts. Those accounts may be attached to companies with no immediate North Korean identifier or to foreign nationals co-opted by North Koreans abroad. Contrary to popular belief, North Korea continues to be able to open and maintain accounts with major global banks. North Korea’s primary construction firm operating abroad, Mansudae Overseas Projects, uses one of South Africa’s “big four” banks to conduct its Namibian transactions, for example. Its activities are insured by Old Mutual, a South African-owned financial institution on the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index.14

Where North Korea manages to collect assets in offshore accounts, it uses them to process a wide variety of transactions relating to legal and illegal national business overseas. When money needs to be transferred into North Korea itself, evidence shows that one of the primary methods used is to withdraw the cash needed and carry it into the country. North Korean diplomats have been caught recently in Sri Lanka doing just that.15 In short, Pyongyang is highly accustomed to moving money through the formal financial system in support of its overseas activity in a way that masks the North Korean source or beneficiary of the funds. As with its trade documentation, the start or end of the financial paper trail visible to a bank will rarely be in North Korea. 

Implications. North Korea’s sanctions evasion activity over the course of the last decade highlights the country’s head start in circumventing the stronger measures just put in place by Resolution 2270. When taken together with the already limited global presence of North Korean banks, Pyongyang’s familiarity with offshoring practices means that the bulk of the financial restrictions imposed by the new resolution, which focus on relationships with North Korean banks, will likely fail to substantially impede North Korea’s access to the formal financial system. The ability of North Korean networks to use elaborate corporate structures and the cooperation of foreign nationals to hide their beneficial ownership of companies and the bank accounts they open only add to the difficulties of getting to the heart of illicit North Korean finance. 

As with the movement of funds, the country’s ability to hide evidence of North Korean involvement while its goods are in transit will continue to help it engage in the prohibited activities identified by Resolution 2270. 

The Case of Chinpo Shipping

Chinpo Shipping Co. in Singapore is a ship chandler that has conducted its entire business with North Korean ships since its incorporation in the 1980s. Until 2013, Chinpo’s director, Tan Cheng Hoe, allowed North Korea to use his Bank of China account to process hundreds of foreign remittances totaling nearly $40 million.1 North Korea would transfer money into Tan’s account from accounts belonging to non-North Korean companies overseas. Tan would be instructed by officials from North Korea’s Ocean Maritime Management Co. to execute payments to other foreign accounts although those payments were unrelated to his own business. 

When Pyongyang needed to move some of the assets in Tan’s account back into North Korea, a diplomat would withdraw up to $500,000 and carry the cash out of Singapore by hand.2 The diplomat was stopped at the border once, but subsequently released. Tan was ultimately caught and charged when North Korea used his account to pay a Panamanian firm for the Panama Canal passage of the Chong Chon Gang, which was seized while smuggling conventional weapons from Cuba to North Korea in 2013. In 2015, he was found guilty of aiding North Korean proliferation and processing remittances without a license.


1.   Andrea Berger, “Thanks to the Banks: Counter-Proliferation Finance and the Chinpo Shipping Case,” 38 North, December 16, 2015, http://38north.org/2015/12/aberger121615/.

2.   Sangwon Yoon, Sam Kim, and Andrea Tan, “How North Korea Funnels Cash Into the Country,” Bloomberg, February 21, 2016, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-21/china-at-the-heart-of-north-korea-s-illicit-cash-flow-funnel.

    The Enforcement Landscape

    As mentioned above, North Korea will likely encounter few insurmountable difficulties in moving goods or funds from a foreign destination to China or vice versa. The key question is how much scrutiny North Korean cargo will encounter in its travels to and from China. Some of the new provisions in Resolution 2270 would be more acutely felt by North Korea than other provisions would be if they were systematically implemented by Beijing. Obligations to inspect cargo are foremost among them. A decision by China to undertake systematic inspections of North Korean land, air, and sea freight—an enormously burdensome endeavor—undoubtedly would punish Pyongyang by slowing bilateral trade and hamper North Korea’s ability to sell and buy illicit goods internationally. 

    By contrast, the value of Chinese implementation of provisions requiring that OMM ships be denied entry into foreign ports or be impounded will decline over time. North Korea almost certainly will bring the remaining 27 designated OMM ships home, keep them close, and later attempt to sell some of them, perhaps to others in the North Korean shipping network who can challenge the Security Council’s assessment that they are OMM controlled. Countries on the UN committee on North Korea sanctions, including China, should seek to pre-empt this possibility by agreeing on the criteria by which vessels are deemed to be OMM owned and thus subject to an asset freeze.

    Curbing North Korea’s coal and iron exports would also be significant, as China is Pyongyang’s largest customer. As described above, however, there are notable caveats in the resolution that permit coal trade for “livelihood” purposes and for transactions unrelated to generating revenue for prohibited activities. Financial flows from general commodity sales to prohibited programs are extremely difficult to prove in practice, meaning that China will be able to continue to buy large quantities of North Korean coal and argue that it is adhering to the resolution.

    Whether China will opt to systematically change its practice with respect to any of the aforementioned sanctions obligations remains to be seen. Over the last decade, it has failed to show adequate vigilance over high-risk trade with North Korea, such as consignments aboard charter flights on North Korea’s national airline, Air Koryo. It has been largely unresponsive to intelligence shared with it about ongoing prohibited activities. Furthermore, it allows offices of designated entities to remain open on its territory, permitting their representatives to go about their business and travel freely. 

    Many hope that the substantive leap encompassed in the text of Resolution 2270 represents a dissolution of Chinese apathy toward sanctions implementation. In the weeks since the resolution’s adoption, news reports have quoted unnamed traders and bankers as saying that China has been putting more resources into cargo screening at the border, turning away North Korean ships, and issuing directives to Chinese banks.16 Although some designated North Korean vessels appear to have been denied port access, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has directly contradicted the claim in some media reports that it has decided to turn away all North Korean ships.17 

    Beijing’s other actions point to the conclusion that North Korea’s nuclear test did not instantly increase China’s appetite for robust, burdensome sanctions implementation. Most recently, Beijing reportedly infuriated Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, by demanding that the Security Council delist four of the 31 OMM vessels it agreed to designate only weeks before and vowing to withhold cooperation on other issues if the ships were not stricken from the sanctions list.18 

    Ultimately, it is unlikely that any pressure exerted by Western nations on China will succeed in convincing Beijing to implement more systematically the restrictions on North Korean trade and finance to which it has agreed. North Korea’s own behavior may be the only variable that can bring about this change of heart. Until such a development transpires, North Korea’s illicit networks will continue to use China as a commercial base and primary trade and finance pathway. Combined with Pyongyang’s prowess in evading sanctions evasion, its unfettered access to China will make it more difficult for countries in other parts of the globe to detect and inhibit North Korea’s prohibited activities. Pyongyang will be able to camouflage much of its involvement in a particular transaction behind Chinese-incorporated companies; Chinese nationals, including dual nationals; or Chinese bank accounts. 

    Although this may make the sanctions implementation task for countries in other parts of the globe more difficult, it does not make it impossible or unimportant. Panama searched the Chong Chon Gang, throwing a wrench into the North Korean-Cuban military relationship. Singapore prosecuted the financiers of the Chong Chon Gang shipment, shutting down an important financial pathway for OMM. Comparable actions by cooperative countries can have a similarly disruptive effect in the future on individual nodes in North Korea’s networks. 

    As a result, even if Chinese cooperation is not forthcoming, the dissemination of up-to-date information on North Korea’s current evasive practices and the obligations encompassed in the new resolution still must be given high priority. If these dynamics are not well understood internationally, there could be numerous ramifications. National laws could inadequately reflect UN requirements, resulting in the inability of officials to act on an ongoing incident of prohibited activity. Directives might not be given to customs officials or port operators, for example, or those that are given may be out of step with the requirements of Resolution 2270. The UN panel of experts on North Korea already has done an admirable job in improving international awareness of the sanctions regime and the tactics employed by North Korea to circumvent it, but by its own account, much more outreach is needed.


    The latest UN Security Council sanctions resolution on North Korea is a significant step on paper, in terms of the removal of the narrow focus on trade that is determined to be proliferation sensitive and the type of new measures imposed—for example, restrictions on commodities that are not related to weapons. The fact that notoriously sanctions-shy countries such as China and Russia agreed to the resolution is equally noteworthy. Their acquiescence is a large warning to North Korea: its provocations risk alienating even its key partners. The design of the new provisions suggests that China wished to buy itself additional leverage over North Korea and that Beijing may now intend to vary its implementation of individual sanctions in reaction to North Korean developments. 

    This will be important to bear in mind as those who championed Resolution 2270 seek to measure its practical effect. Large gaps in enforcement left by Chinese or Russian inaction or variable interpretations of the resolution’s provisions will undercut not only the chances that other countries will be able to successfully detect prohibited activities and take action, but also the significance of those actions on North Korea’s broader networks, trade, and finance. As long as illicit goods and funds can cross North Korea’s borders into neighboring states, Pyongyang’s sanctions evasion techniques and networks will allow the majority of them to flow unhindered through other jurisdictions, even those cooperating with UN sanctions. 

    The next few months will be crucial in a number of respects. As evidenced by the discussions over the fate of the OMM vessel impounded in the Philippines, practical growing pains will continue to affect the reformed sanctions regime against North Korea. Beijing’s implementation approach also will become apparent, confirming or contradicting some of the initial “leaks” to the media about the state of Chinese action. Countries in other parts of the world will similarly be required to understand North Korea’s current tactics and implement national laws and procedures reflective of Resolution 2270. Although China may not welcome implementation assistance, countless other governments are open to it. Countries and civil society representatives with expertise should do all they can to support efforts to raise awareness about the North Korea sanctions regime. 

    National approaches ultimately will determine the number and size of the barriers that North Korea will have to use its sanctions evasion skills to surmount. Without active and informed participation by countries, especially those in North Korea’s neighborhood, any barriers erected will be insufficient to regularly prevent illicit activity, punish North Korea for its latest nuclear test, or change Pyongyang’s calculations concerning the desirability of its nuclear and missile programs.


    1.   Colum Lynch, “Is There Anything Left to Sanction in North Korea?” Foreign Policy, February 13, 2013, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/02/13/is-there-anything-left-to-sanction-in-north-korea/

    2.   Sales of small arms and light weapons to North Korea were exempted by the resolution, but this loophole was closed in 2016 by UN Security Council Resolution 2270.

    3.   The term “designated” refers to the addition of a particular entity or individual to the sanctions list, requiring states to subject that entity or individual to a travel ban and assets freeze.

    4.   An 11th-hour Russian amendment to the resolution clarified that fueling of Air Koryo planes in foreign airports would continue to be permissible.

    5.   Ju-min Park and Tony Munroe, “South Korea Calls for ‘Bone-Numbing’ Sanctions on North for Nuclear Test,” Reuters, January 13, 2016, http://uk.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-nuclear-usa-congress-idUSKCN0UQ2MK20160113

    6.   A few countries have chosen to go beyond Security Council resolutions and pass more-expansive measures. Japan and South Korea have newly introduced shipping sanctions forbidding vessels that have recently called in North Korea from calling in their ports. In February, U.S. President Barack Obama signed the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016 into law. It calls for extensive action by the Department of the Treasury to designate those assisting Pyongyang’s illicit aims, sets in motion a process for the introduction of secondary sanctions against foreign financial institutions processing North Korea-related transactions, and could lead to enhanced restrictions on trade with foreign ports deficient in their North Korean cargo screening requirements.

    7.   Elizabeth Shim, “Philippines Seize Second North Korea-Operated Ship,” United Press International, March 15, 2016, http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2016/03/15/Philippines-seize-second-North-Korea-operated-ship/2611458059392/

    8.   In the case of Resolution 2270, the Security Council actually listed the 31 vessels it believed were controlled by the Ocean Maritime Management Co. in order to clarify the grounds for asset freezing by member states. China subsequently negotiated the delisting of four of the vessels, including one of the ships held by the Philippines, the Jin Teng, which has since been released. 

    9.   Andrea Berger, “Target Markets: North Korea’s Military Customers in the Sanctions Era,” Whitehall Paper, no. 84 (December 8, 2015), pp. 35-62.

    10.   Data collected by the author using Chinese corporate and credit registry information.

    11.   Data collected by the author using official Chinese customs data provided through Panjiva, covering 2010-2015.

    12.   Andrea Berger and Ching N. Fung, “Business or Pleasure? A N. Korean-Cambodian Arrested in Hawaii,” NK News, August 7, 2015, https://www.nknews.org/2015/08/business-or-pleasure-a-n-korean-cambodian-arrested-in-hawaii/

    13.   UN Security Council, “Note by the President of the Security Council,” S/2016/157, February 24, 2016, pp. 33-38 (containing “Report of the Panel of Experts Established Pursuant to Resolution 1874 [2009]”). 

    14.   Ibid, p. 180.

    15.   “N. Koreans Detained in Sri Lanka After Carrying Cash,” Yonhap, March 17, 2016, http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2016/03/17/65/0401000000AEN20160317010500320F.html

    16.   Ju-min Park et al., “Chinese Banks Freeze North Korean Accounts: South Korean Media Report,” Reuters, February 22, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-satellite-china-banks-idUSKCN0VV09S; “China Strengthens NK Cargo Inspections: Source,” Yonhap, March 16, 2016, http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2016/03/16/0401000000AEN20160316010100315.html

    17.   “China Denies Reports of Entry Ban on All N. Korean Vessels,” Yonhap, March 23, 2016, http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/news/2016/03/23/0200000000AEN20160323008200315.html

    18.   Michelle Nichols, Louis Charbonneau, and James Pearson, “U.N. Lifts North Korea Sanctions on Four Ships at China’s Request,” Reuters, March 22, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-sanctions-china-usa-exclus-idUSKCN0WN287

    Andrea Berger is deputy director of the Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Program at the Royal United Services Institute in London. She is author of the 2015 paper “Target Markets: North Korea’s Military Customers in the Sanctions Era.”

    The recently adopted UN Security Council resolution on North Korea is qualitatively different from its predecessors, but its practical effect may be more limited than the changes on paper...

    Can a North Korean ICBM Be Prevented?

    May 2016

    By Michael Elleman and Emily Werk

    In January 2011, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates mused that “North Korea will have developed” an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) by 2016, with the caveat that the arsenal would be small with limited operational capability.1 

    Five years later, in 2016, there still is hope that the United States and its Asian allies can prevent North Korea from developing a nuclear-capable ICBM. Pyongyang, however, is not cooperating. North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January, with Kim Jong Un boasting that it had exploded a hydrogen bomb. A month later, it successfully lofted a satellite into orbit using a large, long-range rocket. Then in March, North Korea unveiled a mock-up of a miniaturized nuclear bomb and performed two separate missile-related ground tests. The first test simulated the conditions a warhead would experience during re-entry into the atmosphere to evaluate the thermal protection technologies. The other was a stationary firing of a large, solid-fueled rocket motor. 

    In April, North Korea tested a previously unseen liquid-propellant engine. In response to Pyongyang’s provocative actions, the UN Security Council enacted the most stringent sanctions to date on North Korea.2 Perhaps most importantly, China seems to have lost its patience with the Kim regime and has promised to enforce export controls along its heretofore porous border with North Korea.3 At this point, it is not clear if these actions would be enough to forestall the North’s development of long-range missiles. The international community might need to be more creative and proactive. 

    North Korea has limited experience developing ballistic missiles. Its Scud and Nodong missiles were likely imported from Russia. The Unha satellite launcher is an indigenous design and was assembled in North Korea, but its main engines were likely imported. If North Korea builds its own ICBM, it will probably rely on engines fabricated elsewhere. If Pyongyang is already in possession of the engines needed for an ICBM, then political restraint, money, and time are the only hurdles standing in the way of a capacity to threaten the U.S. mainland, short of military action by a foreign power. Fortunately, North Korea’s inexperience with missile development will slow its progress, leaving the international community with an extra year or two to identify and implement new policies aimed at slowing Pyongyang’s pursuit of new nuclear delivery capabilities. 


    North Korean efforts to acquire ballistic missiles likely began in the mid-1970s, when three parallel routes were initiated.4 One pathway sought to clone the Soviet-designed FROG, or Luna, long-range artillery rocket. The second program explored adapting surface-to-air missiles for use as ballistic missiles. Both approaches were abandoned when it became clear that neither would yield the short- and medium-range ballistic missile systems Pyongyang desired. On the third route, North Korean engineers joined a Chinese initiative to develop a liquid-propellant ballistic missile called the Dongfeng-61 that was to have a range of 600 kilometers. Domestic politics in Beijing caused China to abandon the project in 1978, after just one year.5

    Having failed to develop the necessary technologies, North Korea turned to foreign sources from which it could import ballistic missile technology. The effort focused on acquiring Soviet-built, short-range Scud-B missiles and the accompanying support vehicles and equipment. Poor diplomatic relations between Pyongyang and Moscow during the mid-1970s drove North Korea to seek an alternative supplier of Scud-B technology. Egypt proved willing and delivered to North Korea missiles, equipment, and transporter-erector launchers (TELs) sometime between 1976 and 1981.6 

    The history of North Korean ballistic missile development after the initial acquisition of Scud-B technology has become a source of debate. Conventional wisdom argues that North Korea began the process of reverse-engineering Scud missiles acquired from Egypt and, in April 1984, test-launched a Scud-B, which was rebranded as the Hwasong-5.7 After this initial flight test, North Korea launched up to five additional Hwasong-5 missiles; three of these launches were successful.8 The Hwasong-5 can carry a 1,000-kilogram warhead a distance of 300 kilometers.

    In the late 1980s, North Korea began to develop a modified Hwasong-5 missile, the Hwasong-6, which is a clone of the Soviet-designed and -built Scud-C. Just as the Scud-C has technological similarities with the Scud-B, the Hwasong-6 uses the same engine, guidance and control systems, and fuel-oxidizer combination as the Hwasong-5. The two versions are identical in length and diameter, but the warhead mass of the Scud-C/Hwasong-6 is approximately 270 kilograms less than that of the Scud-B/Hwasong-5. Furthermore, the Scud-C/Hwasong-6 uses a common bulkhead to fit additional propellant into the airframe, which, when combined with the lighter warhead, increases the range to 500 kilometers. 

    The limited number of flight tests during development of the Hwasong-5 and -6, the near perfect replication of the Scud-B and -C performance and reliability characteristics, and the rapid deployment of the Hwasong systems cast doubt on claims that they were reverse engineered from a few sample missiles acquired from Egypt or elsewhere. Available evidence argues convincingly that North Korea more likely purchased Soviet-made Scud-B and -C missiles or acquired a licensed production line to manufacture them (see box below).9

    Reverse Engineering: Reality or Myth?

    Scud-B missiles exported by North Korea, some as late as 2002,1 are identical in appearance to those produced by Russia. Further, Scud-B missiles said to be of North Korean origin have performance and reliability characteristics that duplicate perfectly those of the Russian versions.2 The tightly compressed timeline associated with the development of a reverse-engineered missile, the immediate success achieved during the initial flight tests of the replicated Scud, and the domestic deployment and foreign sales of newly produced systems prior to the completion of performance and reliability testing conflict with the common view that North Korea established a self-sufficient manufacturing line. 

    Historical evidence indicates that North Korea would have faced extensive challenges reverse-engineering the missiles. There is no confirmed instance of a country successfully reverse-engineering an entire ballistic missile system. After five years of effort, the Soviet Union’s attempts to copy the German A-4 (V-2) ballistic missile yielded the R-1, which underperformed in comparison to the original. Furthermore, unlike the North Koreans, the Soviets had access to the original design and production documentation, the German manufacturing line, and many of the German engineering experts. Similarly, China tried to reverse-engineer the Soviet-built R-2 and R-5 missiles. Even with access to design and production documents and collaboration with Soviet scientists, China needed more than five years to successfully flight-test prototype missiles, all of which exhibited inferior performance when compared to the original R-2 and R-5. In another example, Iraq’s effort to duplicate the engine used by the Soviet-built SA-2 air defense missile largely failed, despite having used between 50 and 100 reference engines to extract measurements and other key design features. North Korea possessed only a small collection of Scud-B missiles from which to derive the necessary information. 

    As another hypothetical route to development of the Hwasong-5 and -6, North Korean acquisition of a licensed production line for Scud-type missiles also is belied by available evidence, according to skeptics. The Soviet experience in trying to leverage the German manufacturing equipment for the A-4 missile indicates that replicating a production line can prove difficult. The paucity of flight tests to validate the missiles produced in North Korea is also at odds with experience elsewhere. Random testing of missiles being produced is one of the hallmarks of any new or even existing manufacturing line. 

    As with the reverse-engineering hypothesis, some experts argue that North Korea scaled up the Scud-B to create the Nodong, a medium-range missile, in the late 1980s,3 possibly in collaboration with technicians from the Makeyev Design Bureau, the Soviet company responsible for production of the Scud-B and the developer of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) for the Soviet navy. Media reports that Makeyev scientists were detained in late 1992 en route to Pyongyang are consistent with this hypothesis. 

    The role these scientists were to play in North Korea is not known with certainty. They might have been sent to aid in the design of a larger missile and help commission a production line, but this conflicts with the history of events in North Korea. Indeed, North Korea is believed to have attempted a flight test of the Nodong in 1990, although scorch marks left on the launch pad suggest the launch failed badly.4 Moreover, Pyongyang initiated discussions with possible foreign buyers of the Nodong in 1991 and hosted delegations from Pakistan and Iran in May 1993, where they witnessed a successful launch of a Nodong.5 Although one cannot discount the possibility that the Makeyev experts detained in 1992 were preceded by others, the rapid pace of development; a flight-test program limited to two firings, one of which failed; and the confidence Iran and Pakistan indicated by their commitment to make the purchase suggest otherwise. So too does the basic design of the Nodong. As noted by German missile experts Robert Schmucker and Markus Schiller, the Nodong’s dimensions are identical to those of the nuclear version of the Scud-B, not the conventional version.6 The nuclear version of the Scud-B is roughly 20 centimeters longer than the version designed to carry a conventional, high-explosive warhead. The additional length is found at the base of the nuclear warhead, where it is connected to the missile’s airframe. The Nodong shares this feature with the nuclear Scud-B, but North Korea never had access to that version of the missile. 

    Available evidence from the North Korean program, when combined with the history of missile development elsewhere, indicates that arguments offered by skeptics of the reverse-engineering process are likely correct. If this is the case, North Korean engineers accumulated very little experience designing, developing, and producing new missiles indigenously prior to the mid-1990s. Recent satellite launches, which employ a three-stage rocket of domestic design, albeit with engines of Soviet design and likely Russian manufacture, indicate that North Korea has begun the process of establishing the skills needed for indigenous design, development, and assembly of more-capable missiles. Yet, contrary to popular concerns, these satellite launch activities will not provide North Korea with a shortcut for developing a viable and reliable long-range ballistic missile.7


    1.   On December 10, 2002, Spanish and U.S. ships intercepted the North Korean ship Sosan en route to Yemen. The Scud missiles photographed and presented as public evidence of the interdiction are identical in appearance to the original Soviet version of the missile. See Markus Schiller, “Characterizing the North Korean Nuclear Missile Threat,” RAND Corp., 2012, p. 77, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/technical_reports/2012/RAND_TR1268.pdf.

    2.   Ibid., p. 24.

    3.   See George C. Marshall Institute and Claremont Institute, “Ballistic Missiles: No Dong 1,” Missile Threat, October 26, 2012, http://missilethreat.com/missiles/no-dong-1/.

    4.   Geoffrey Forden, “Master Proliferator or Simple Front Company?” 38 North, May 2, 2010, http://38north.org/2010/05/master-proliferator-or-simple-front-company/.

    5.   Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., “A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK,” Center for Nonproliferation Studies Occasional Paper, No. 2 (November 1999), http://www.missilethreat.com/repository/doclib/19990000-CNS-dprk.pdf; Bill Gertz, “North Korea as Nuclear Exporter?” Washington Times, June 8, 1994.

    6.   Robert H. Schmucker and Markus Schiller, Raketenbedrohung 2.0: Technische und politische Grundlagen (Berlin: E.S. Mittler und Sohn, 2015). 

    7.   Michael Elleman, “Prelude to an ICBM? Putting North Korea’s Unha-3 Launch Into Context,” Arms Control Today, March 2013.

      Satellite Launch Rockets

      Mock-ups of the large rockets North Korea would eventually use in its attempts to loft satellites into low-earth orbit were first spotted by U.S. intelligence in February 1994 at the Sanum-dong research center outside Pyongyang.10 A little more than four years later, in August 1998, North Korea used the Taepo Dong-1, a three-stage rocket launched from Musudan-ri. The launch failed shortly after the third stage separated from the second. 

      Eight years after the Taepo Dong-1 firing, in July 2006, North Korea launched a much larger rocket, the Taepo Dong-2. The rocket exploded just 42 seconds into its flight; its intended mission therefore remains a mystery, as does its configuration. There are no publicly available photographs or videos of the launch. Then, on April 5, 2009, North Korea attempted to boost a small satellite into orbit using a three-stage Unha-2 rocket from the Musudan-ri launch facility. It failed after second-stage burnout, with remnants of the satellite and third stage of the rocket falling into the ocean roughly 3,200 kilometers from the launch site.

      North Korea again attempted a satellite launch on April 12, 2012, using the Unha-3, a slightly modified version of the Unha-2.11 The new rocket was fired from the Sohae facility, situated on the western shores of the Korean peninsula. It failed roughly 100 seconds into first-stage operation. Finally, on December 12, 2012, the Unha rocket successfully placed a satellite into orbit, although the satellite did not operate as designed. North Korea successfully repeated the launch in February 2016, when it placed the Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite into orbit. The new satellite reportedly weighed 200 kilograms, about twice as much as the previous one. The satellite continues to orbit the Earth at an altitude of roughly 500 kilometers. 

      With the exception of the Taepo Dong-2 test-fired in July 2006, which exploded too soon after liftoff to determine its trajectory and mission, all of the large rockets launched by North Korea were designed to maximize performance as a satellite launcher. In each case, the Taepo Dong-1 and Unha rockets flew on trajectories fully consistent with a satellite launch. Furthermore, all employed low-thrust engines in the upper stages, which would not provide sufficient power if the rocket were to fly on a ballistic missile trajectory. Gravity losses resulting from the long-burning, low-output engines would rob the Unha rocket of 1,000 kilometers or more of range if used as a surface-to-surface missile. 

      The Unha-2 or -3 could serve as a springboard for the development of an ICBM, but the history of long-range missile development by other countries, including the Soviet Union, the United States, China, and France, indicates that satellite launch activities have limited impact on missile programs. No country has converted a satellite launch rocket into a long-range ballistic missile. China ran parallel programs, but it still conducted a full set of flight tests to validate the performance and reliability of the long-range missiles that are part of the Dongfeng series. Nonetheless, North Korea could attempt to transform the Unha rocket into a long-range missile.

      A militarized version of the satellite launch rocket would require a significant redesign, including new second and third stages. If done with existing options available to North Korea, the resultant missile could deliver a 1,000-kilogram warhead to a range of 10,000 kilometers. The transformation, however, would entail many challenges. First, the new missile would have to be flight-tested along a ballistic missile trajectory to include a warhead that survives re-entry into the atmosphere at speeds of roughly seven kilometers per second. A single flight test would not be sufficient; a series of tests would be required to verify the reliability and performance of the missile operating under a variety of conditions. If North Korea succeeded in developing an ICBM based on the Unha rocket, it would find that the ICBM would be too cumbersome for deployment on mobile platforms. In principle, Unha-based ICBMs could be placed in silos, but unlike China, Russia, and the United States, North Korea is small, making it more difficult to hide silo locations from U.S. surveillance satellites. Furthermore, the long preparation and fueling times would leave the missile exposed to pre-emption for extended periods. Nonetheless, North Korea could pursue this option as a more feasible alternative to developing a mobile ICBM. Western observers would receive advance notice of a new capability because the flight trials would take several years and would be detected by intelligence agencies. 

      The Musudan 

      The Musudan, as it is named by U.S. intelligence agencies, had been rumored to be under development in North Korea since the mid-2000s.12 Some reports contend that the missile was initially deployed by North Korea as early as 2003, with others suggesting 2006.13 The missile reportedly appeared in a military parade in April 2007,14 but no photographs were made public. In October 2010, a handful of Musudan mock-ups carried on TELs were unveiled during a parade broadcast by state-run television. The mock-ups show a missile similar in appearance to the Soviet-era R-27 (SS-N-6, Serb) submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) although the North Korean version is longer. Other minor differences, such as the change in the position of the cable duct that runs along the missile’s outer frame, are visible.

      The technologies used by the Soviet R-27 are quite sophisticated relative to the Scud missiles North Korea has maintained and operated for the past three decades. The R-27 airframe and propellant tanks are made using a chemical etching process to provide it with considerable strength while remaining lightweight. It is unclear if North Korea has the technical knowledge, experience, and industrial infrastructure to replicate the processes needed to fabricate the airframe. Even if Pyongyang’s production engineers have mastered the etching process, additional structural elements would be needed to accommodate the added length of the Musudan and to ensure that the missile, which was designed to be housed in the relatively benign, temperature-controlled environment of a submarine launch tube, survives the rigors of deployment on a road-mobile TEL. Finally, the R-27 engine is a closed-cycle, high-pressure system, very different from and far more advanced than the low-pressure, open-cycle engines North Korean engineers have employed to date. If North Korea has struggled to replicate the Scud or Nodong engines, it would be almost impossible for it to master production of the R-27’s main engine. 

      Although mock-ups of the Musudan have been seen on numerous occasions, there is no public evidence that North Korea has conducted test flights of this missile.15 Yet, reports continue to suggest that the Musudan has been deployed to missile bases in Yangdok in South Pyongan province and Sangnam-ri, in North Hamgyong province.16 The Musudan missiles showcased during parades in Pyongyang are not copies of the original R-27 design, suggesting that North Korea has incorporated some changes. Like any new system, it therefore must be flight-tested to validate reliability and performance. Without undertaking the necessary developmental tasks, including flight trials, North Korea must accept considerable risk that it will not work if launched. 

      China, Russia, the United States, and other countries would not deploy a strategic weapon without first verifying its capabilities. Even Iraq, in the midst of its war with Iran in the 1980s, conducted 10 flight tests of a modified Scud-B, the al-Hussein missile, over approximately two years before firing them on Tehran and other cities. That North Korea has not test-flown the Musudan hints that Pyongyang either does not possess R-27 missiles and its major components or that it is willing to accept very poor reliability of the modified missile. The April test-firing of what appears to have been a pair of main engines from the R-27 at the vertical stand at the Sohae facility suggests that Pyongyang possesses some Soviet-made R-27 engines. If North Korea has such engines, its limited experience developing missiles indigenously and the typical imperfections contained in any new missile design will present challenges. Without flight-testing Musudan missiles, North Korea would run the risk that fewer than half of those missiles would reach their assigned targets. 

      North Korean ICBMs

      During an April 2012 military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea unveiled a three-stage missile carried on a 16-wheel TEL. A more detailed and slightly modified mock-up appeared in another military parade a year later. Dubbed the KN-08 and sometimes referenced as the Hwasong-13, the missile is very likely powered by liquid-propellant engines, as evidenced by the small fueling and draining ports positioned along the airframe’s length. Engineering reconstructions of the missile by Western experts suggest that the KN-08 first stage employs a cluster of four Scud engines with four small steering engines used to control the missile’s flight. The second stage is powered by the main and steering engines of the R-27, if indeed North Korea has them. Steering engines, which are also employed by the Unha rocket, are likely found on the third stage. If this reconstruction is accurate, the KN-08 could have a range of 7,500 to 9,000 kilometers when carrying a warhead and re-entry vehicle weighing between 500 and 700 kilograms.17 In principle, it could reach the west coast of the United States. 

      There is little doubt that North Korea has ambitions to field a viable ICBM fleet. The KN-08 and KN-14 currently are likely candidates to fulfill Pyongyang’s aspirations. Yet, neither missile has been flight-tested, and North Korea has not developed and tested a re-entry vehicle capable of withstanding the thermal and mechanical rigors of re-entry into the atmosphere at ICBM velocities. Engineers might have taken a first step toward the development of the technologies capable of facilitating re-entry by placing a nosecone replica under the exhaust plume of a Scud engine to simulate re-entry conditions.19 Such tests, however, are not a substitute for testing under real conditions. Further, the dimensions and geometry of the nosecone tested do not match those of any of North Korea’s long-range missile mock-ups. During a 2015 parade, North Korea unveiled what appears to be a two-stage, long-range missile, subsequently identified as the KN-14. The KN-14 mock-up shares many of the external features found on the Soviet R-29R SLBM. The R-29R (SS-N-18 Mod 1, Stingray) is a product of the Makeyev Design Bureau, the Russian entity with which North Korea allegedly has worked in the past. It is unclear, however, when and how the R-29R would have been transferred from Russia to North Korea because the missile is still deployed on Russia’s Delta III (667BDR) submarines and was test-fired by the Russian navy as recently as October 2012.18 It is difficult to imagine that Russia would export a strategic weapon that is currently serving on active duty. The range-payload capabilities of KN-14 are unknown or highly speculative.

      Regardless of the authenticity or success of the re-entry technology test, the fact that it was performed indicates that North Korea is pursuing the engineering activities needed to develop a functional ICBM. North Korea will need more than a handful of years of additional developmental actions, including multiple flight tests, before it has a viable, long-range nuclear capability. Satellite launches using the Unha rocket are not a substitute for KN-08 or KN-14 tests. Unha flights will contribute to the development of an ICBM but not decisively.20 

      As with the Musudan, North Korea could elect to use an unproven missile under emergency conditions. The failure rate of first- and second-generation, long-range missiles developed by other countries during initial flight trials was greater than the success rate, and each of those countries had far more experience designing and developing ballistic missiles prior to their respective long-range missile flight trials than North Korea now does. It is safe to assume that the KN-08 and KN-14 will not succeed more than half the time without test flights. More likely, only one-third to one-quarter of all launches under emergency conditions will succeed. One or two test launches would improve North Korea’s odds of success but not substantially. 

      Latest Developments

      In addition to its quest to develop a long-range nuclear strike capability, North Korea has initiated two new programs aimed at diversifying its strategic delivery options. 

      The first project was initially detected in late 2014 by Joseph Bermudez and the 38 North website when they spotted equipment commonly used to develop an SLBM at a navy yard in Sinpo, North Korea, on commercially available satellite imagery.21 Months later, on May 9, 2015, North Korea aired photographs of Kim Jong Un witnessing first hand a test of a sea-launched missile.22 Photographs from the test show a missile emerging from underwater and its main engine igniting, although the engine did not operate for more than a few seconds. Shutting down the engine shortly after ignition is a common practice when the primary test objective is focused on the launch-tube ejection system. Prudently, North Korea did not use a submarine for the test, instead electing to employ a submergible barge with a launch tube, towed by a surface ship. From its outward appearance, the missile appears to be a variant of the Musudan, although the exhaust plume seen in the photographs is not consistent with the propellant combination employed by the R-27 and the presumed Musudan. 

      Additional tests of the system have been reported in the media, a clear indication that North Korea aspires to develop an SLBM capability. If North Korea pursues the engineering steps at a healthy pace, it could have an operational system in about five years. Historically, however, projects undertaken by other countries to develop an SLBM have encountered unanticipated technical challenges that extended the timeline, sometimes more than doubling or tripling the development schedule. North Korea’s limited experience developing missiles domestically likely will prolong the developmental program beyond what other countries have encountered. The added time needed by North Korea to operationalize the capability provides the Japanese, South Korean, and U.S. navies a cushion in time to hone their respective anti-submarine warfare skills to be able to confidently detect and track North Korea’s underwater systems. 

      The second developmental effort appears to be focused on mastering the production of large, solid-propellant rocket motors. In late March 2016, North Korea released photographs of Kim attending a ground test of such a motor.23 Although the size of the motor is difficult to determine using the available pictures, it is likely about 1.25 meters in diameter and roughly three meters long. Its size indicates that it is designed to be the upper stage of a larger missile. 

      Several possibilities for its planned use come to mind. North Korea might be attempting to develop a solid-fueled version of the Nodong missile, much like what Iran has attempted to do with the two-stage, medium-range Sajjil. Solid-fueled missiles are easier to deploy on road-mobile platforms than liquid-fueled missiles are, and they require less logistical support for mobile operations. Because they do not require fueling prior to launch, they can be fired more quickly than their liquid-propellant counterparts. Moreover, the greater density of solid propellants reduces the overall size of the missile, which is preferable for mobile deployment. 

      If this is what North Korea has in mind, it will require many years to perfect and field a medium-range missile powered by a solid propellant. Iran has been developing the Sajjil for more than a decade, with an initial ground test of the first-stage motor taking place in 2005. Flight tests began in 2008. Yet, technical difficulties appear to have slowed the Iranian effort, as it has not launched a Sajjil since 2011. North Korea will likely encounter many challenges as well, suggesting that it will not begin deploying a mature design to the military before 2022 at the earliest.

      The upper-stage motor might also be intended for use as the third stage of a militarized version of the Unha rocket. The current configuration of that rocket is optimized for satellite launches, not as a ballistic missile. North Korea might seek to replace the second and third stages of the Unha with higher-thrust, shorter-action time stages that would improve the range capabilities of the rocket by avoiding the gravity losses, and thus range reductions, resulting from the use of underpowered stages. The modification would require flight testing, although the flight trials could be shortened marginally because of North Korea’s experience working with the first stage, which is not likely to undergo significant modifications. Even so, a flight-test program would likely take at least two years and more likely three to five.

      In the near to medium term, North Korea will not benefit hugely from using solid-propellant technologies. In the longer term, however, the strategic significance could be consequential. Mastering the technology would enable Pyongyang to field reliable and capable long-range missiles on road-mobile launch platforms, making them more difficult to destroy before they are fired. On the other hand, mastering the art of producing a solid-propellant motor is expensive and time consuming. North Korea will struggle mightily to produce a flight-proven, solid-fueled ICBM before 2030.24

      Preventing an ICBM

      Activities over the past five years and perhaps much longer suggest that North Korea is edging toward the goal of creating a nuclear-armed ICBM. Underground nuclear tests, satellite launches, and the launching of Nodong missiles demonstrate capabilities, a key pillar of a deterrence posture. Unveiling mock-ups of the Musudan, KN-08, and KN-14 during military parades and showcasing a mock-up of a small nuclear device are more suggestive than real for now. 

      It should be remembered, however, that North Korea placed mock-ups of the Taepo Dong-1 and -2 rockets in the open for U.S. intelligence satellite to see in 1994. Four years later, North Korea launched a Taepo Dong-1 rocket in an attempt to orbit a small satellite. It took a dozen years before a Taepo Dong-2 was test-launched and 18 years until the Unha, a variant of the Taepo Dong-2, successfully lofted a satellite into orbit. It seems reasonable to project that North Korea could test-launch a KN-08 or KN-14 before 2020 and have it available for emergency operations. In other words, it could be available for use if the Kim regime’s hold on power is directly threatened by a foreign government. 

      More-recent revelations, including ground tests of re-entry technologies and solid-propellant motors, appear to serve as a warning to Pyongyang’s adversaries that North Korea is serious about its pursuit of a viable strategic deterrent capacity. These tests also provide preliminary technical data to support full development of the capability. The strategic significance of these tests is incremental at best. Yet, North Korea undeniably is inching forward and will likely succeed in fulfilling its ambitions over the long term.

      The United States and the international community have a limited capacity to inhibit North Korea’s aspirations to build an ICBM. Two immediate actions, however, could impede Pyongyang’s endeavors with regard to long-range missiles. First, if North Korea can be dissuaded or prevented from flight-testing the KN-08 or KN-14 or a variant of the Unha that has been optimized for ballistic missile missions, the reliability of any of these missiles will remain marginal. If North Korea fields only a dozen or so ICBMs of marginal reliability, the U.S. national missile defense system has a more than decent chance of blocking an attack. Dissuading Pyongyang could come in the form of negotiations or coercion. Prevention would be more difficult, as it could require military action. Ashton Carter and William Perry proposed a similar option in a 2006 op-ed, which argued for destroying a North Korean missile on the launch pad.25 Today, somewhat less-provocative measures are possible, including the use of Aegis Standard Missile-3 interceptors to destroy a missile in the boost, or ascent, phase of flight. Such steps, however, carry greater risk today than in 2006 because North Korea now has nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, the option deserves careful study.

      Second, strict adherence to trade sanctions would slow North Korea’s development of large, solid-fueled motors that could be used for long-range missiles. If North Korean engineers and motor producers are unable to establish a reliable and consistent supply of basic solid-propellant ingredients—for example, high-quality aluminum powder and ammonium perchlorate or a similar oxidizer component—from the same manufacturer, they will be severely challenged to master the production of large motors. Iran’s efforts to develop fully the Sajjil medium-range missile appears to have been hampered by UN sanctions that disrupted its supply line of ingredients.26 How much sanctions will set back North Korea’s solid-fuel program depends primarily on China’s willingness to enforce them along its border with North Korea. 

      Another variable is North Korea’s determination to gain an ICBM capability. If Pyongyang is determined to achieve that goal and is willing to accept the likelihood its long-range missiles will suffer from a high failure rate, the success of either of these two policy options, or anything less than the fall of the Kim regime, will likely be minimal. 


      1.   Phil Stewart, “U.S. Sees North Korea Becoming Direct Threat, Eyes ICBMs,” Reuters, January 11, 2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE70A1XR20110111

      2.   U.S. Mission to the United Nations, “Fact Sheet: DPRK Resolution 2270 (2016),” March 2, 2016, http://usun.state.gov/remarks/7161.

      3.   Jonathan D. Pollack, “China and North Korea: The Long Goodbye?” Brookings Institution, March 28, 2016, http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/order-from-chaos/posts/2016/03/28-china-north-korea-sanctions-pollack.

      4.   International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), “North Korean Security Challenges: A Net Assessment,” IISS Strategic Dossier, July 2011, p. 129.

      5.   Ibid., p. 130.

      6.   Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., “A History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK,” Center for Nonproliferation Studies Occasional Paper, No. 2 (November 1999), p. 6, http://cns.miis.edu/opapers/op2/op2.pdf.

      7.   Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., “Ballistic Ambitions Ascendant,” Jane’s Defense Weekly, Vol. 19, No. 15 (April 10, 1993), pp. 20-22.

      8.   IISS, North Korean Security Challenges, p. 130.

      9.   Ibid., p. 146.

      10.   Barbara Starr, “North Korean Missile R&D Gains New Pace,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, Vol. 21, No. 25 (June 25, 1994), p. 10; Bermudez, “History of Ballistic Missile Development in the DPRK,” p. 28.

      11.   David Wright, “A Comparison of North Korea’s Unha-2 and Unha-3,” Union of Concerned Scientists, April 8, 2012.

      12.   Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., “Japan Reveals Name of North Korea’s R-27 IRBM,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, Vol. 44, No. 21 (May 23, 2007).

      13.   Nuclear Threat Initiative, “North Korea’s Missile Capabilities,” May 1, 2010, http://www.nti.org/analysis/articles/north-korea-missile-capabilities/.

      14.   Daniel Pinkston, “North Korea Displays Ballistic Missiles During Military Parade, Some for First Time,” WMD Insights, June 2007.

      15.   In defiance of U.N. sanctions, North Korea attempted to launch a missile on April 15. The flight test failed a few seconds after ignition, when the missile exploded. The missile is widely presumed to have been a Musudan, but no direct evidence has been made available to the public. If it was the Musudan, this would represent its first launch attempt. The cause of the failure is not known. See, Michael S. Schmidt and Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korea Ballistic Missile Launch a Failure, Pentagon Says,” The New York Times, April 15, 2016.

      16.   “Press Gets 1st Look at N. Korean Mid-Range Missile,” Chosun Ilbo, October 11, 2010.

      17.   John Schilling and Henry Kan, “The Future of North Korean Nuclear Delivery Systems,” 38 North, April 7, 2015, http://38north.org/2015/04/nukefuture040715/.

      18.   Pavel Podvig, “Launch of a R-29R Missile From the Pacific,” Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, November 2, 2012, http://russianforces.org/blog/2012/11/launch_of_a_r-29r_missile_from.shtml.

      19.   Jack Kim and James Pearson, “North Korean Leader Says Will Soon Test Nuclear Warhead,” Reuters, March 16, 2016.

      20.   Michael Elleman, “Prelude to an ICBM? Putting North Korea’s Unha-3 Launch Into Context,” Arms Control Today, March 2013. 

      21.   “Media Busters: Is North Korea Building a Ballistic Missile Submarine?” 38 North, November 4, 2014, http://38north.org/2014/11/editor110414/.

      22.   Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., “Underwater Test-Fire of Korean-Style Powerful Strategic Submarine Ballistic Missile,” 38 North, May 13, 2015, http://38north.org/2015/05/jbermudez051315/.

      23.   Elleman, “Prelude to an ICBM?” 

      24.   John Schilling, “A Solid but Incremental Improvement in North Korea’s Missiles,” 38 North, March 29, 2016, http://38north.org/2016/03/jschilling032916/.

      25.   Ashton B. Carter and William J. Perry, “If Necessary, Strike and Destroy,” The Washington Post, June 22, 2006.

      26.   “Iran: Sanctions Halt Long-Range Ballistic Missile Development,” IISS Strategic Comments, No. 22 (July 13, 2012).

      Michael Elleman is consulting senior fellow for missile defense for the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Emily Werk is special assistant to the executive director for IISS-Americas.

      North Korea apparently is edging closer to creating a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile. A key variable is Pyongyang’s determination to achieve that goal...

      Getting to Know Carolyn Mac Kenzie

      May 2016

      Interviewed by Daniel Horner

      Carolyn Mac Kenzie has spent much of her professional life in pursuit of radioactive sources that are no longer under the control of authorities. These sources, which are used in medicine, research, and industry, can be dangerous if they fall into the hands of people who do not realize what they are or if people do know what they are and want to use them to make a radiological dispersal device, or “dirty bomb.” Mac Kenzie’s experience in tracking “orphan” sources has included stints at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. 

      She spoke to Arms Control Today on April 6 from her office at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is the radiation safety officer. The interview, which was conducted by Daniel Horner, has been edited for length and clarity.

      I wanted to ask how you got into this field. Could you lay out the path that led you to be interested in radioactive sources?

      I sort of fell into it, but I always thought I would be probably pretty good at this when the issue of orphan sources came up in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 

      Why did you think that? What is it about you that makes you good at it?

      It’s my adventuresome spirit. I’ve traveled the world a lot, and I understand how radioactive sources are used. When I was 20 years old, I had backpacked across Africa, India, and the Middle East. I knew I could comfortably go to out-of-the-way developing countries and help them find these things. 

      The first opportunity came up in 2002 working with Russia and radiological thermal generators that are placed along the Arctic Circle to power lighthouses. Livermore was involved with their removal and replacement with solar units. They are a very large source of strontium-90, and they have a potential to be used as a dirty bomb. My background was in radiation safety, and I knew I could help.

      So I got my first taste of this, and I enjoyed it. Some people from the IAEA had heard about that work and called me and were interested in having me come over to the IAEA and help them with their orphan-source mission. So it sort of was fate; things fell together.

      Did you have a scientific inclination that led you this way, or you just followed the adventuresome spirit?

      Right out of college, I got a job at a cyclotron making radiopharmaceuticals. I was taking some fairly significant radiation doses, and the regulator threatened to shut us down. So I got really motivated to try to figure out how to reduce radiation exposure. I then went back to graduate school in biophysics to learn more.

      The big focus at the IAEA in 2004 was on a series of incidents around the world in the late 1990s and early 2000s where scrap metal dealers or illiterate people had found large radioactive sources and wanted to salvage the lead around them. They had not a clue what they were, nor did they recognize the trefoil [radiation] symbol as meaning anything. They saw the lead and knew it was valuable. As a result of removing it, they became excessively exposed to radiation, which caused death or severe injuries. I was tasked with helping to locate these sources and finding a symbol for the sources to prevent this from happening.

      Tell me about creating the supplementary symbol.

      It was fascinating. The task was to help develop a symbol that anybody, especially illiterate people, would recognize as “Danger. Don’t touch. Leave alone.” The intent was to put the symbol right on the lead, right where you would go to take off [the lead]. With the symbol that we ended up settling on, the vast majority of the people saw that there was a grave danger. 

      You visited more than 35 countries to do this work. Did you have to do anything differently because you are a woman? 

      Initially, in some of the countries, but we got past it. I had this one experience with the Russian military where I think initially they were thinking, “What? Why is she along with us?” And then by the end of the trip, I would be the one going forward first with the [radiation] meter and measuring the source instead of them just marching right in. Later in the trip, they would say, “Oh, Carolyn, you go on in and tell us if it’s safe to come in now.” So you had to earn their respect. 

      Her “adventuresome spirit” led to a love of travel and a career that has focused on hunting for radioactive sources.

      Obama Hails Nuclear Security Milestone

      May 2016

      By Kelsey Davenport

      An amended treaty setting standards for nuclear security received enough ratifications to enter into force, President Barack Obama announced at the fourth meeting of world leaders on nuclear security in Washington last month. 

      The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed the announcement on April 8, when Nicaragua became the 102nd state-party to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) to deposit its instrument of ratification for the 2005 amendment to the treaty. 

      Two-thirds of the states-parties to the original CPPNM must complete the ratification process for a proposed amendment to be approved and take effect. The newly approved amendment will enter into force May 8.

      The CPPNM amendment expands the original treaty to require parties not only to protect nuclear material in international transit, but also to protect nuclear facilities and nuclear material that is in domestic storage, use, or transit. 

      In an April 1 press briefing at the end of the two-day summit, Obama said that entry into force of this treaty will provide “more tools” in the event of the theft of nuclear materials or an attack on a nuclear facility. 

      Since Obama hosted the first summit focused on preventing nuclear terrorism and securing nonmilitary nuclear materials in 2010, entry into force of the 2005 amendment to the CPPNM has been a key priority. After the initial call for ratification at the 2010 summit in Washington, it was reiterated at the subsequent gatherings in Seoul in 2012 and The Hague in 2014. At the 2012 summit, leaders set the goal of entry into force by the end of 2014. 

      Several summit participants completed ratification of the amended treaty in the weeks leading up to the meeting, including Azerbaijan, New Zealand, and Pakistan. The United States, after committing to ratify the amended treaty at the 2010 summit, completed the process last July. 

      IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano said on April 8 that entry into force will “increase international cooperation in locating and recovering stolen or smuggled nuclear material.”

      National Commitments

      Over the course of the six-year summit process, countries made more than 260 specific commitments to improve nuclear security, Obama said in his April 1 remarks. 

      Beginning with the 2010 summit, each country was encouraged to make specific commitments to enhance nuclear security at each subsequent summit. Beginning in 2012, countries could also make commitments in coordination with other countries in the form of joint statements (see box below).

      In addition to the elimination and consolidation of weapons-usable nuclear material, Obama noted that the summit commitments included state actions to improve nuclear security by strengthening regulations and physical security of nuclear facilities and multilateral cooperation to prevent nuclear smuggling.

      A European official at the summit said on April 14 that some of the “more notable accomplishments” at this summit came from China and India, countries that have stockpiles of weapons-usable materials for civilian uses.

      The official said these countries “finally stepped up” and joined one of the major multilateral initiatives to emerge from the summit process.

      A 2014 joint statement committed subscribing states to meet the intent of the IAEA’s voluntary guidelines on nuclear security in their domestic laws and regulations. China and India did not sign the joint statement in 2014, but committed to it at this year’s summit.

      An official from an Asian country pointed to an increased number of peer reviews as an important accomplishment of the summit process. He said that the summit process “transformed” the IAEA International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS) from “a practice for states with security concerns to an accepted best practice.”

      More than 20 countries, including China, France, Indonesia, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, requested IPPAS missions over the course of the summit.

      The Asian country official said that the summit process could have done more to encourage states to examine protections against cyberattacks or sabotage, which he identified as growing threats that “many countries are not prepared to combat.”

      The UK did offer a joint statement on enhancing cybersecurity at nuclear facilities. It includes holding workshops to address areas at risk from cyberattacks and reporting to the IAEA on the progress made to address these threats. Twenty-eight countries signed on to the statement. 

      Material Removals

      One of the initial goals for the summit process that Obama announced in April 2009 in Prague was to “lock down” weapons-usable nuclear material in the civilian sector. When the summits began in April 2010, 32 countries possessed weapons-usable materials. By April 2016, that number had dropped to 22 countries. 

      Obama said in his April 1 press conference that, over the course of the summit process, “more than 3.8 tons” of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium has been removed or secured. That is “more than enough to create 150 nuclear weapons,” he said. 

      Notable Joint Statements from the 2016 Summit

      When 52 countries met for the fourth nuclear security summit in Washington from March 31 to April 1, they had the opportunity to sign on to multilateral joint statements that targeted particular areas of nuclear security. These joint statements, or “gift baskets,” are voluntary commitments. More than a dozen new joint statements were offered at the summit. Some of the more important ones are summarized below.

      Consolidated Reporting

      Seventeen countries, led by the Netherlands, subscribed to a joint statement that integrates reporting requirements under treaties and other international instruments into a single consolidated national nuclear security reporting form. The form includes relevant requirements under the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires states to provide information on steps taken to put in place export controls and nuclear security measures. It also allows for the voluntary provision of additional information on domestic measures taken to enhance nuclear security. Subscribing states support the use of the model reporting form.


      Twenty-eight countries signed on to a joint statement, led by the United Kingdom, that commits them to ensuring adequate cybersecurity at industrial control and plant systems at nuclear facilities. The statement includes plans for international workshops on threats, vulnerabilities, and incidents that can affect control systems.

      Mitigation of Insider Threats

      Twenty-seven countries committed to establishing and implementing national-level measures to mitigate insider threats. The measures outlined in the joint statement include implementing national-level policies on this issue, establishing trustworthiness programs, and developing a nuclear security regime for the protection of materials and facilities from insider activities. States also committed to supporting an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) training course on measures to prevent and protect against insider threats.

      Preparedness and Response

      Capabilities South Korea led 24 countries in supporting a joint statement in which they pledge to consider developing certain capabilities, such as establishing and maintaining national preparedness and response plans. The statement commits subscribing states to supporting international best practices on preparedness and sharing technical capabilities. The statement encourages national tabletop simulation exercises to ensure preparedness for and responses to incidents of nuclear or radiological terrorism.

      National Nuclear Detection Architecture

      Finland led 23 countries in a joint statement that commits the subscribing states to supporting and implementing the IAEA’s recommendations on nuclear detection and creation of national comprehensive and integrated nuclear detection strategies. Countries also pledged to share best practices and work on integrating border and interior detection capabilities.

        At the recent summit, Argentina announced that it had gotten rid of its remaining HEU, joining more than a dozen countries that removed all weapons-usable material over the course of the summit process. 

        With the elimination of Argentina’s remaining stockpile, South America is free of weapons-usable materials. 

        Indonesia committed at the summit to eliminate its remaining stockpile of HEU by this September, and Poland is scheduled to complete removal of its remaining stockpile before the end of the year. 

        While acknowledging that minimizing the number of countries with weapons-usable nuclear materials is significant, the European official said these efforts are “just a drop in the bucket” in comparison to the stockpiles of materials in the military sector.

        According to a January report from the nongovernmental Nuclear Threat Initiative, 83 percent of weapons-usable material is in military stockpiles. Military stockpiles were not targeted as part of the summit process. 

        During the summit, however, the United States released information on the security of its military stockpiles. A White House summary document released at the summit provided some details on U.S. security for these materials, which includes steps such as personnel reliability programs and physical protection measures that meet or exceed IAEA recommendations for storage of nuclear materials.

        In another step toward greater openness, Washington publicly released data on the size of its HEU stockpiles for the first time in 15 years. According to a White House press release on March 31, the United States had 586 metric tons of military and civilian HEU as of September 2013. The United States held 740 metric tons in 1996, according to the release.

        The European official said that Washington’s announcement of its stockpile size was a “positive step toward greater transparency” that he hoped would encourage similar steps from countries such as China and Russia. 

        The official also applauded Washington’s decision to explore using low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel for naval reactors, which was announced at the summit. Currently, naval nuclear reactors for U.S. Navy ships and submarines use HEU. 

        Some countries, such as France, already produce submarines that use LEU.

        A key nuclear security treaty achieved enough support to enter into force, President Barack Obama announced at the fourth nuclear security summit. 

        Summit Looks Ahead Amid Concerns

        May 2016

        By Kingston Reif and Daniel Horner

        The more than 50 national leaders who attended the recent nuclear security summit in Washington endorsed action plans for five key institutions and initiatives to carry on parts of the summit agenda amid concerns from some observers that momentum on this agenda will fade now that the summit process has ended. 

        In an April 1 press conference at the end of the two-day summit, President Barack Obama said that “one of the central goals of this summit was how do we build on the work that has been done so that we have an international architecture that can continue the efforts, even though this is the last formal leaders’ summit.”

        The meeting was the fourth and final biennial summit on nuclear security since Obama hosted the first one in April 2010 as part of an accelerated effort to prevent nuclear terrorism and secure civilian nuclear material worldwide. Subsequent summits took place in Seoul in 2012 and The Hague in 2014.

        The summit participants, comprising 52 countries and four international organizations, issued a consensus communiqué expressing their “collective determination to ensure political momentum and to continuously strengthen nuclear security at national, regional, and global levels.”

        To do that, the summit created action plans to highlight and augment the nuclear security roles of the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Interpol, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), and the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. 

        In addition, 29 summit countries signed a joint statement creating the Nuclear Security Contact Group. The group, which will consist of an “informed senior official or officials” from each of the participating countries, is tasked with convening annually on the margins of the IAEA General Conference with the goal of keeping senior officials focused on nuclear security and advancing commitments made at the summits. 

        Some nuclear security experts warned that these efforts would not be enough to sustain the high-level attention necessary to further improve global nuclear material security in the future.

        Matthew Bunn, a professor of practice at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, said in an April 4 article published on the website of the school’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs that the communiqué offered “no firm new nuclear security commitments.”

        Bunn, a member of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors, added that the action plans for the five international institutions provided “few steps beyond what those institutions are already doing—certainly less than is needed to fill the gap left by the end of the summit process.” 

        In a commentary published on the website of the European Leadership Network, Miles Pomper, a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said the end of the summit process “threatens to downgrade the issue from one of high politics to a technical concern that receives insufficient attention—until or unless there is a terrorist attack that uses such materials.”

        Central Role for IAEA

        The text of the action plan for the IAEA stressed the central importance of the agency in strengthening global nuclear security in the aftermath of the summits and the need to buttress the agency’s nuclear security role and capabilities. 

        In particular, the plan expressed strong support for the agency’s convening of a regular, triennial nuclear security meeting “to promote political commitment, enhance awareness and keep momentum on strengthening the global nuclear security architecture.”

        The IAEA held the first such meeting in July 2013. The second is scheduled for December 2016.

        The plan also calls on summit participants to provide “reliable and sufficient resources” for the agency and to use “information sharing mechanisms managed by the IAEA to build domestic, regional and international confidence in the effectiveness of national nuclear security regimes.”

        In addition, states are encouraged to collaborate with the IAEA “to raise awareness of the threat of cyber attacks with potential impacts on nuclear security.” The plan recommends that the agency “develop a methodology for states to report cyber or computer security attacks.”

        Trevor Findlay, an associate of the Belfer Center’s Project on Managing the Atom, said in an April 8 blog post published on the center’s website that the essential role given to the IAEA is noteworthy given “years of speculation as to whether and to what extent the Agency could or should take on the summits’ innovative, high-level approach and activities.”

        But he said the action plan “is more wish list than action plan.” Findlay added that the plan provides no new authorities or funding to the IAEA and missed an opportunity to propose that the agency’s voluntary recommendations on the security of nuclear and radiological materials ultimately evolve into legally binding standards. 

        Russian Objections

        With the exception of Russia, all of the countries from the 2014 summit attended in 2016. Russia announced in late 2014 that it would not attend the Washington meeting. (See ACT, December 2014.)

        At an April 7 event in St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin said a main reason he decided not to attend was because Russia was invited to participate in the drafting of only one of the five action plans in the preparatory process leading up to the gathering. 

        “[A] big nuclear power like Russia cannot take part in an event such as this and not have the possibility to influence the drafting of the final resolutions,” Putin said.

        Russia remains a co-chair with the United States of the GICNT, a voluntary organization launched in 2006 to strengthen global abilities to prevent and respond to acts of nuclear terrorism. (See ACT, March 2016.)  The action plan for the GICNT emphasizes buttressing the national capacity of partner states in nuclear security, particularly in the areas of nuclear detection, forensics, and response.  

        In addition to not participating in the 2016 summit, Russia decided in late 2014 to end most nuclear security cooperation with the United States. (See ACT, March 2015.)

        In his article, Bunn said Washington should “put high priority on rebuilding nuclear security cooperation with Russia, on a different, more equal model.” 

        Given the threat posed by the Islamic State and the large stockpiles of nuclear weapons and material in Russia and the United States, cooperation between the two countries is essential, he said.

        Legal Standards 

        One of the most noteworthy achievements of the final summit was the announcement that the 2005 amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) received the necessary ratifications to enter into force. (See ACT, May 2016.)

        The CPPNM amendment expands the original treaty to require parties not only to protect nuclear material in international transit, but also to protect nuclear facilities and nuclear material that is in domestic storage, use, or transit.

        Some observers advocate negotiating more-comprehensive binding standards for securing nuclear and other radioactive material based on the IAEA’s currently voluntary guidance on nuclear security and creating a process to assess implementation and review those standards. 

        But in an email to Arms Control Today during the run-up to the summit, a senior White House official observed that it has taken more than 10 years to bring the CPPNM amendment into force and that only a fraction of IAEA member states have endorsed a document originating at the 2014 summit in which countries committed themselves to meet the intent of the IAEA’s voluntary guidelines in their domestic laws and regulations. That track record indicates that “there is not adequate support within the IAEA to create legally binding standards at this time,” the official said in the Feb. 12 email. 

        In remarks on March 30 at a high-level nuclear industry gathering held in conjunction with the governmental security summit, John Barrett, president and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association, said mandatory standards might be “too much too soon.” In the remarks and an interview afterward, he said binding standards might take some time to develop, as they often do not comport with the existing legal regimes in some countries.

        At least at first, the industry might take an approach of forming “coalitions of the willing,” in which some companies jointly agree to accept certain higher standards, he said. A slightly different approach would be to establish industry benchmarks or approved best practices, he said.

        In all of those cases, Barrett emphasized, companies not following the model should have to be able to answer the question, “If not that, then what are you doing” to achieve the same goal by different means?

        As part of a report for the industry meeting, a working group chaired by Barrett produced a “governance template” that poses a series of questions for organizations that are responsible for the security of nuclear and radiological materials. One question in the template asks how the organization’s board of directors carries out “effective governance and oversight” of the organization’s nuclear security program. It observes that boards of directors “are usually required by law to oversee risk, including security,” and asks, “Does your Board have a mechanism to review security policy and performance? If not, why not?”

        In a presentation at the March 30 session of the industry meeting, Roger Howsley, executive director of the World Institute for Nuclear Security, said that a goal for nuclear organizations is that they increasingly see nuclear security “as a strategic issue…rather than a regulatory burden.”

        Howsley elaborated in an April 14 email to Arms Control Today, saying that the organizations’ governing bodies should “really believe that the nuclear security arrangements for which they are responsible are key to business success and take a view on the risk and associated security measures, rather than just complying with security regulations on a compliance basis.”

        National leaders last month endorsed action plans for five key institutions and initiatives to carry on parts of the nuclear security summit agenda.

        North Korea Ramps Up Missile Effort

        May 2016

        By Elizabeth Philipp

        North Korea has recently accelerated efforts to display advances in its ballistic missile program, conducting a test launch of one missile and a ground test of the engine for a different missile in April. 

        On April 15, North Korea attempted to launch an intermediate-range ballistic missile, according to an official from the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff quoted in a Yonhap story the same day. According to the story, the Korean official described the launch as a failure, saying that after the missile lifted off, it did not maintain a “normal” trajectory. The North Korean media, which is state run, did not report the launch.

        The test was of the Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile, according to the officials quoted in the Yonhap story. The Musudan was first displayed in a military parade in October 2010 and was not known to have been flight-tested. 

        U.S. intelligence had been tracking two mobile ballistic missile systems in the days leading up to the test, according to an April 13 report by CNN. Officials told CNN the anticipated launch would most likely be of the Musudan. 

        The UN Security Council “strongly condemned” the launch in an April 15 press statement. Security Council President Liu Jieyi, the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, said that although the attempted launch was “a failure,” it “constituted a clear violation” of existing council resolutions. 

        The launch came less than a week after Pyongyang claimed to have successfully conducted a “ground jet test” of a “new type” of “inter-continental ballistic rocket” via an April 9 report in the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). The rocket engine was designed and produced by North Korean scientists, according to the KCNA report. The test of the rocket engine reportedly took place at the Sohae launch facility on the western coast and was guided by the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un. 

        The report quoted Kim as stating that North Korea now “can tip new type inter-continental ballistic rockets with more powerful nuclear warheads,” claiming that the United States is within North Korea’s striking range, and emphasizing “the need to diversify nuclear attack means.” 

        The KCNA report did not specify for which intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) models the engine was designed. According to John Schilling, a specialist in satellite and launch vehicle propulsion systems at the Aerospace Corporation, the photographs of the test published by the KCNA indicate that North Korea tested a liquid-fueled engine comprising a pair of Soviet-designed 4D10 missile engines. If nuclear-armed KN-08 or KN-14 ICBMs were to be outfitted with this new engine, it would give the missiles a range of 10,000 to 13,000 kilometers, Schilling wrote in an April 11 analysis published on 38 North, an online publication of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University. This test, however, indicates that Pyongyang likely “still lacks the ability to design (or buy) engines any larger than the 4D10,” Schilling wrote. The KN-08 and KN-14 are ICBMs under development in North Korea, but neither has been flight-tested. 

        In March, North Korea claimed to have conducted a simulation test of a re-entry vehicle. (See ACT, April 2016.) This information, coupled with the ground engine test, indicates that North Korea “might be far enough along to conduct flight tests in as little as a year,” Schilling said. On this timeline, Pyongyang may be able to deploy a complete delivery system by 2020 “in a limited operational capability,” he wrote. 

        Meanwhile, in late April, South Korea was bracing for a fifth nuclear test by North Korea. President Park Geun-hye said that preparations for such a test had been detected, according to a Yonhap story on April 18. Park then reportedly ordered her military to “maintain readiness” to “sternly retaliate” against North Korea, according to the report. North Korea last conducted a nuclear test on Jan. 6. (See ACT, January/February 2016.)

        North Korea is “several years” away from being capable of mounting a nuclear warhead on an ICBM, according to a senior South Korean government official quoted in The New York Times on April 5. North Korea is able to arm its medium-range Nodong ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead, according to the official, who was cited as saying that South Korea did not have evidence that North Korea has deployed nuclear-armed Nodong missiles.

        The Chinese ambassador to the United Nations called North Korea’s attempted launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile “a clear violation” of Security Council resolutions.

        States Deepen Cooperation on N. Korea

        May 2016

        By Elizabeth Philipp

        Senior officials from Japan, South Korea, and the United States announced last month that they will bolster their cooperation in responding to North Korea’s recent moves in its nuclear and missile programs.

        Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki, South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed strategic coordination on North Korea policy when they met April 19-20 in Seoul. At an April 20 press briefing, Blinken cited increased intelligence sharing as an example of the ways in which the three states will enhance their collaboration on North Korea policy, according to a Yonhap report. The three states also will set up trilateral consultations on sanctions implementation, including those for UN Security Council Resolution 2270, which the council adopted March 2. 

        On Jan. 6, Pyongyang conducted its fourth underground nuclear test and, on Feb. 7, conducted a space launch using ballistic missile technology. Pyongyang has, in addition, announced additional advances in its delivery systems in recent weeks and months. (See ACT, May 2016.

        The high-level meetings in South Korea followed world leaders’ calls at the nuclear security summit in Washington earlier this year for a greater effort to counter North Korea’s nuclear advances. In remarks on March 31, U.S. President Barack Obama called for states to use existing nonproliferation infrastructure, stating that “it is important to the entire international community to vigilantly enforce the strong UN security measures.” 

        Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye met on the sidelines of the summit and “discussed ways to deepen [their] cooperation” with the goal of “deterring the North Korean nuclear threat and the potential of nuclear proliferation as a consequence of North Korean activities,” Obama said at the joint press conference after the meeting. 

        Park said North Korea would be “certain to find itself facing even tougher sanctions and isolation” if there were “further provocations” from Pyongyang.

        Also in April, the United Nations added to the list of items that its member states are barred from sending to North Korea under Resolution 2270, which the Security Council adopted March 2. 

        Román Oyarzun Marchesi of Spain, the chair of the specialized sanctions committee on North Korea, delivered the list to the Security Council in an April 4 letter. The list includes items that are usable in programs to produce nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons or to produce missiles. 

        China has continued to take steps to implement the sanctions imposed by Resolution 2270. On April 7, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced a new list of mineral products that cannot be bought from North Korea. The list of additional banned items was adopted “[i]n order to carry out relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council” and includes imports to China from North Korea of coal, iron, gold, and rare earth minerals, as well as exports to North Korea from China of certain aircraft and rocket fuels, with some limited exceptions to the bans, according to the official announcement. 

        China has undertaken similar national bans in the past in order to implement UN resolutions, including an executive order to reinforce a blacklist instituted by Security Council Resolution 1874 in 2009, according to Yang Xiyu, a former Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official speaking at an April 20 press briefing in Washington held by the U.S.-Korea Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. China has banned more than 900 items for export to North Korea, Yang said. 

        U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated his appreciation for China’s actions at the meeting in Hiroshima on April 11 of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized countries. “China has an enormous ability to send a message to and have an impact on North Korea. And China, we are pleased, joined us in doing some things that have an impact” on North Korea, Kerry said.

        Also at the G7 meeting, Kerry stated that the United States has “made it clear that [it is] prepared to negotiate a peace treaty on the [Korean] peninsula,” as well as a “non-aggression agreement” and that the United States is prepared to “welcome the North back to the community of nations.” But in describing these moves toward diplomatic thawing, Kerry emphasized that it “all depends on the North making the decision that they will negotiate denuclearization.”

        In March, Kerry had delivered remarks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, during which Wang had called for “parallel track” negotiations with North Korea to address both the conclusion of a peace treaty and a denuclearization agreement. (See ACT, April 2016.) At that time, Kerry did not echo Wang’s call for peace talks.

        Senior officials from Japan, South Korea, and the United States agreed to increase intelligence sharing and set up consultations on sanctions implementation. 

        U.S. Reveals New Data on Nuclear Costs

        May 2016

        By Kingston Reif

        The U.S. government in recent months has released new long-term cost data that shine further light on its plans to ramp up spending to maintain and modernize U.S. nuclear weapons, especially during the 10-year period between 2025 and 2035. 

        Senior officials from the Defense and Energy departments have warned for years about the affordability challenges posed by their nuclear spending plans, but they argue that the expenditures are needed to sustain a credible nuclear deterrent and can be successfully carried out if appropriately prioritized. 

        On April 1, the Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) publicly released the fourth version of its annual report on the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan. The fiscal year 2017 iteration projects more than $300 billion in spending on agency efforts related to modernizing the nuclear weapons stockpile over the next 25 years. 

        The NNSA is requesting $9.2 billion for its nuclear weapons activities in fiscal year 2017, an increase of almost $400 million, or 4 percent, above the enacted level for the current year. (See ACT, March 2016.)

        Notably, the new report says that the NNSA may need $2.9 billion more in funding between 2022 and 2026 to implement its weapons activities than the agency is projecting to request. During this period, the NNSA is planning to be in the midst of simultaneously executing four to five major warhead life extension programs and several major construction projects.

        The mismatch between NNSA budget projections and program plans is driven in part by the agency’s costly and controversial proposal to eventually consolidate the U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads. The April report does not alter the schedule for that effort.

        First announced in June 2013, the so-called 3+2 strategy has a sticker price of roughly $60 billion and calls for shrinking the current stockpile of nine different warhead types down to five types. Three of these warhead types would be “interoperable” on land- and sea-based ballistic missiles, an approach that has not been tried. Two other warhead types would be used on bombers, and two of the seven current warhead types would be retired.

        Congress has repeatedly questioned the wisdom of the 3+2 approach, citing the cost and risks involved with the interoperable warheads. (See ACT, May 2014.)

        Nonetheless, the NNSA maintains that the 2017 version of its stockpile plan is “generally more affordable and executable” than last year’s version because the projected budget requests between 2026 and 2041 more closely align with the actual predicted costs of the plan. 

        Meanwhile, the Pentagon in recent months has begun to reveal more information about the planned costs of its plans to build new fleets of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), ballistic missile submarines, long-range bombers, and short-range tactical aircraft. 

        Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the Senate and House armed services committees in March that he “expects the total cost of nuclear modernization to be in the range of $350-$450 billion.” He did not provide further details on what accounts for the large range in the estimate, whether any projected NNSA costs are included, or what timeline the figure covers.

        Carter said that although the nuclear modernization plan “still presents an enormous affordability challenge for [the Defense Department], we believe it must be funded.”

        He added that prior “modernizations of America’s strategic deterrent and nuclear security enterprise were accomplished by topline increases to avoid having to make drastic reductions to conventional forces, and it would be prudent to do so again.”

        Pentagon officials have previously stated that the cost to build and sustain new nuclear missiles, submarines, and bombers and to make needed improvements to nuclear command-and-control systems is projected to average $18 billion per year from 2021 to 2035 in constant fiscal year 2016 dollars. (See ACT, September 2015.

        In addition, a Defense Department chart obtained by Arms Control Today shows that the department’s planned nuclear spending is slated to average more than $40 billion in constant fiscal year 2016 dollars between 2025 and 2035. The chart was prepared in January by the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, which provides the Defense Department with detailed analysis of the costs of major acquisition programs. 

        A knowledgeable source said last month that the chart does not include the NNSA’s projected weapons-related spending during this period. Including these costs would push average spending during this period to well more than $50 billion per year.

        A new report by the National Nuclear Security Administration illuminates U.S. plans to spend more on nuclear weapons maintenance and modernization.

        U.S.: Russian INF Treaty Breach Persists

        May 2016

        By Kingston Reif

        Russia remains in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty for the third year in a row, according to an annual State Department report released on April 11.

        Nevertheless, one high-ranking State Department official expressed optimism that Russia and the United States could make progress this year toward resolving the issue. 

        Reiterating the public assessment that it made in July 2014 and June 2015, the State Department said Russia is violating its INF Treaty obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” (See ACT, July/August 2015.

        Moscow continues to deny that it has violated the agreement. The Russian embassy in Washington said in a lengthy April 16 statement that the United States “does not provide objective facts or any other reliable arguments to reiterate these accusations.”

        The statement also accused the United States of “preparing military response scenarios” to Russia’s alleged violation that could “have unpredictable consequences for Europe and the international community as a whole.”

        In testimony at a Dec. 1 hearing held jointly by House armed services and foreign affairs subcommittees, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said the Pentagon is “developing a comprehensive response to Russian military actions” and “committing to investments that we will make irrespective of Russia’s decision to return to compliance with the INF Treaty due to the broader strategic environment we face.” (See ACT, January/February 2016.

        As in the 2014 and 2015 reports, this year’s report did not specify the type of Russian cruise missile in question, the number of tests conducted, or the location of the tests.

        Defense and State department officials have said they do not believe Russia has deployed the prohibited missile.

        In March 17 testimony at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said she had seen “some progress in Russia’s willingness at the highest level to recommit to the treaty” and that the U.S. government is “looking forward to moving expeditiously in 2016 to try to make some progress on this difficult matter.”

        Gottemoeller did not elaborate on the reasons for her optimism.

        Meanwhile, the compliance report also registered concerns about Russia’s compliance with the 1992 Open Skies Treaty. The report said Russia “continues not to meet its treaty obligations to allow the effective observation of its entire territory.” In addition, the report said that Russia in 2015 refused to allow Ukraine to overfly its territory “unless Ukraine paid for each flight in advance.” This “could be the basis for a violation determination” by Ukraine, the report said. 

        The Open Skies Treaty, which entered into force in 2002, permits each of the agreement’s 34 states-parties to conduct short-notice, unarmed reconnaissance flights over the others’ entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities.

        Separate from the compliance concerns, some U.S. military officials and intelligence officials appear to be opposed to Russia’s request in February to end the use of older wet-film cameras on flights over the United States and instead use a more advanced digital optical sensor to collect data. 

        Although the upgrade to digital equipment is allowed under the treaty, the concern is that the use of the more advanced cameras and sensors would greatly increase Russia’s ability to collect intelligence on critical military and civilian infrastructure. 

        Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the House Armed Services Committee at a March 2 hearing that he has “great concern about the quality of the [digital] imagery” for intelligence collection purposes and “would love to deny the Russians…that capability.” 

        The United States has yet to transition to the use of the more advanced digital sensors in its treaty flights over Russia, but plans to do so in the near future.

        Gottemoeller told lawmakers at the March 17 hearing that she has “a somewhat different view of the utility of the treaty” than Stewart does. 

        “I do want to stress that the Open Skies Treaty is an arms control treaty with a larger set of goals and purposes, among them confidence building, mutual confidence building,” she said. 

        “It has a great value to our allies and to our partners,” such as Ukraine, Gottemoeller said, adding that Ukraine has “made great use of the treaty” during its ongoing confrontation with Russia.—KINGSTON REIF

        For the third year in a row, the State Department declared Russia to be in violation of the arms control pact, despite Moscow’s continued denial. 

        Kerry, G7 Ministers Visit A-Bomb Site

        May 2016

        By Daryl G. Kimball

        During a visit to Hiroshima last month for a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized countries, John Kerry became the first sitting U.S. secretary of state to visit the site of the atomic bombing in the Japanese city. 

        After Kerry and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida toured the Peace Memorial Museum on April 11, the two men were joined by the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the European Union at the cenotaph in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to offer wreaths in honor of the people who died on Aug. 6, 1945, and in the years afterward.

        In remarks following the visit, Kerry said, “Going through the museum was a reminder of the indisputable truth that war must never be the first resort.”

        “What I got here was a firsthand sense of what happened in Hiroshima and what happens with a nuclear weapon, particularly in terms of its types of destruction,” Kerry said at an April 11 press briefing. “So for me, today really was…a moment of connecting to this place and to the feelings of the Japanese people and the terrible events of that day in a very personal and special way.”

        An estimated 240,000 people died by 1950 as a consequence of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

        At the briefing, Kerry said that “the reason I thought that it was particularly important to come to Hiroshima and to come now was not just that Fumio Kishida and I work together and are friends and this is his home community and we have a G7 meeting here, but because we are engaged in this effort to try to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons and because we are trying to remind people of the power of reconciliation.”

        Kerry added, “Everyone should visit Hiroshima, and ‘everyone’ means everyone. So I hope one day the president of the United States will be among the everyone who is able to come here.” President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend the G7 summit that will be held May 26-27 in Japan’s Mie prefecture. 

        No sitting U.S. president or vice president has ever visited Hiroshima. While serving as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited the Hiroshima memorial site in September 2008.

        The seven foreign ministers also issued a two-page joint declaration on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. The document reaffirmed their “commitment to seeking a safer world for all and to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in a way that promotes international stability.”

        The ministers declared, “No state should conduct a nuclear test explosion and all states should sign the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty without delay and without conditions.” They urged “all states to work with us on practical and realistic initiatives that can promote meaningful dialogue on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation among all.” 

        In the document, the ministers urged other political leaders to visit the sites of the two atomic bombings and concluded, “We share the deep desire of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that nuclear weapons never be used again.”

        During a visit to Hiroshima last month, John Kerry became the first sitting U.S. secretary of state to visit the site of the atomic bombing in the Japanese city. 


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