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former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
North Korea

Sixth North Korean Nuclear Test Creates New, More Dangerous Phase in Nuclear Crisis



Statement from Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball

For Immediate Release: September 3, 2017

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104

(Washington, DC)—North Korea’s 5.9 to 6.3 magnitude nuclear test explosion September 3 marks a new and more dangerous era in East Asia.

The explosion, which produced a yield likely in excess of 100 kilotons TNT equivalent, strongly suggests that North Korea has indeed successfully tested a compact but high-yield nuclear device that can be launched on intermediate- or intercontinental-range ballistic missiles.

Ryoo Yog-Gyu, a Monotoring director of National Earthquake and Volcano Center, shows seismic waves taking place in North Korea on a screen at the Korea Meteorological Administration center on September 3, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea, Japan and the U.S. detected an artificial earthquake from Kilju in the northern Hamgyong Province of North Korea. The Japanese government has confirmed they believe it was North Korea's sixth nuclear test. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images) Still more tests are likely and necessary for North Korea to confirm the reliability of the system, but after more than two decades of effort, North Korea has a dangerous nuclear strike capability that can hold key targets outside of its region at risk. This capability has been reached since U.S. President Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” if Pyongyang continued its nuclear and missile pursuits Aug. 8.

The inability of the international community to slow and reverse North Korea’s nuclear and missile pursuits is the result of missteps and miscalculations by many actors, including the previous two U.S. administrations—George W. Bush and Barack Obama—as well as previous Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean governments. 
Unfortunately, since taking office, President Donald Trump and his administration have failed to competently execute their own stated policy of “maximum pressure and engagement” with North Korea. Trump has greatly exacerbated the risks through irresponsible taunts and threats of U.S. military force that only give credibility to the North Korean propaganda line that nuclear weapons are necessary to deter U.S. aggression, and have spurred Kim Jong-un to accelerate his nuclear program.
The crisis has now reached a very dangerous phase in which the risk of conflict through miscalculation by either side is unacceptably high. Trump and his advisers need to curb his impulse to threaten military action, which only increases this risk. 
A saner and more effective approach is to work with China, Russia, and other UN Security Council members to tighten the sanctions pressure and simultaneously open a new diplomatic channel designed to defuse tensions and to halt and eventually reverse North Korea’s increasingly dangerous nuclear and missile programs.
All sides need to immediately work to de-escalate the situation.
  • The United States needs to consult with and reassure our Asian allies, particularly South Korea and Japan, that the United States, and potentially China and Russia, will come to their defense if North Korea commits aggression against them.
  • As the United States engages in joint military exercise with South Korean and Japanese forces, U.S. forces must avoid operations that suggest the Washington is planning or initiating a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, which could trigger miscalculation on the part of Pyongyang.
  • Proposals to reintroduce U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea are counterproductive and would only heighten tensions and increase the risk of a nuclear conflict.
  • The United States must work with the world community to signal that international pressure—though existing UN-mandated sanctions on North Korean activities and trade that can support its illicit nuclear and missile activities—will continue so long as North Korea fails to exercise restraint. Better enforcement of UN sanctions designed to hinder North Korea’s weapons procurement, financing, and key sources of foreign trade and revenue is very important.
  • Sanctions designed to limit North Korea’s oil imports should now be considered. While such measures can help change North Korea’s cost-benefit calculations in a negotiation about the value of their nuclear program, it is naive to think that sanctions alone, or bellicose U.S. threats of nuclear attack, can compel North Korea to change course.
  • The United States must consistently and proactively communicate our interest in negotiations with North Korea aimed at halting further nuclear tests and intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile tests and eventually to verifiably denuclearize the Korean peninsula, even if that goal may no longer be realistically achievable with the Kim regime in power.
  • Washington must also be willing to do more than to simply say it is “open to talks,” but must be willing to take the steps that might help achieve actual results. This should include possible modification of U.S. military exercises and maneuvers in ways that do not diminish deterrence and military readiness, such as replacing command post exercises with seminars that serve the same training purpose, dialing down the strategic messaging of exercises, spreading out field training exercises to smaller levels, and moving exercises away from the demilitarized zone on the border.
  • This latest North Korean nuclear test once again underscores the importance of universalizing the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. 

Unless there is a more serious, more coordinated, and sustained diplomatic strategy to reduce tensions and to halt further nuclear tests and long-range ballistic missile tests in exchange for measures that ease North Korea’s fear of military attack, Pyongyang’s nuclear strike capabilities will increase, with a longer range and less vulnerable to attack, and the risk of a catastrophic war on the Korean peninsula will likely grow.

NOTE: This post includes a corrected estimate of the explosive yield of the nuclear test explosion.


The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

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Advances in North Korea’s Missile Program and What Comes Next

By Melissa Hanham and Seiyeon Ji
September 2017

North Korea in July test-launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. Such long-range capability, coupled with nuclear warhead advances, has been considered a U.S. redline that could draw a U.S. military response.

A spectrum of diplomatic and military options is available to the United States and allies South Korea and Japan. The risks are significant, and the time available for diplomacy may be limited. In response to the August missile tests, the United States made a show of force, flying nuclear-capable aircraft over South Korea, and President Donald Trump on Aug. 8 threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continues to make threats against the United States. A hawkish minority in South Korea has renewed arguments for returning U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to their country or even for building South Korea’s own nuclear deterrent. North Korea responded to Trump’s statements by stating that leader Kim Jong Un would consider testing the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missile toward the U.S. territory of Guam. It appears that this plan is tabled pending a favorable response from the United States.1

Overwhelmingly, military and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) experts agree that there is no way to engage North Korea in a limited war that would not escalate and result in the loss of tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives on the peninsula, including American ones. “If this goes to a military solution, it’s going to be tragic on an unbelievable scale,” Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said at a Pentagon news conference May 19, before the latest escalation in tensions.2 “So our effort is to work with the UN, work with China, work with Japan, work with South Korea to try to find a way out of this situation.”

North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear and missile programs pose a growing threat to the region and now the United States mainland, but the threat has not changed dramatically for South Korea, Japan, and U.S. forces based in the region. North Korea already maintains short- and intermediate-range missiles capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction or conventional high explosives, in addition to their conventional artillery and other forces. Yet, growing North Korean capabilities increase the stakes for military confrontation and reduce the time frame for diplomatic options.

North Korea’s ICBMs

On July 5 and July 29 (local time), North Korea flight-tested a Hwasong-14 ICBM. This missile is a powerful two-stage rocket that was tested at a “lofted” trajectory, meaning it went nearly four times higher than across the earth.3 The benefit of this trajectory is that the missile did not overfly Japan. If this type of missile were launched at a more gradual trajectory toward the United States, one calculation places it as likely having a range of approximately 10,400 kilometers (6,500 miles), putting cities such as Chicago at risk. Taking account of the Earth’s rotation, the range may extend to Boston and New York depending on various factors, including the weight of the missile payload.4

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) has asserted that the Hwasong-14 could carry a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead.”5 North Korea possibly is developing an even larger and heavier warhead than was previously claimed, such as a thermonuclear warhead. KCNA has made repeated claims that North Korea desires this technology, even claiming the January 2016 nuclear weapons test explosion was thermonuclear.

This photograph, released on July 4 by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (second on R) inspecting a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

In addition to the Hwasong-14, at least two other ICBMs may be under development. In April, North Korea paraded several missiles systems that were purported ICBMs, including two canisterized systems. Very little can be determined about these systems through open sources because not even the missiles were visible. Although it is possible to dismiss them, these are likely design concepts that are intended for development in the future. In 2012, for example, North Korea revealed a version of the KN-08 ICBM with poor welding and other design flaws that some analysts found suspect,6 until the design became more apparent in subsequent parades.

North Korea intends to use its ICBMs to deter the United States from coming to the aid of defense treaty allies South Korea or Japan in a confrontation. Kim is gambling that the United States would not be willing to risk a major homeland city for the sake of its allies in the region. In this way, North Korea is trying to compensate for its naturally asymmetric position.7

Solid-Fueled Missiles

In February, North Korea tested a new land-based missile with a solid-fueled motor. This missile, known as the Pukguksong-2, is nearly identical to the submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) known as the Pukguksong. It is carried in a canister to maintain an optimal environment for the rocket. A solid-fueled motor offers several advantages over many North Korean missiles with liquid-fueled engines.

North Korea rotates its many road-mobile missiles constantly around its territory and in and out of caves, tunnels, and warehouses to make them difficult for adversaries to locate and track. In 2011, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, “North Korea now constitutes a direct threat to the United States . . . . They are developing a road-mobile ICBM. I never would have dreamed they would go to a road-mobile [missile] before testing a static ICBM. It’s a huge problem. As we’ve found out in a lot of places, finding mobile missiles is very tough.”8 To track road-mobile missiles, military satellites typically track a configuration of known vehicles that travel in convoys. A solid-fueled missile likely needs a smaller convoy because it can travel prefueled without risking the same level of corrosion as a liquid-fueled one. In addition, a prefueled rocket will shave minutes off its launch time, making them faster to use in a conflict.

North Korea revealed a new kind of transporter truck with the Pukguksong-2. This caterpillar-treaded truck is likely made at the tank factory near the launch site. This strange-looking vehicle likely appeared because North Korea can no longer procure wheeled chassis even illicitly. The treaded vehicles will present a different visual signature to the satellites tracking them. They likely are shorter range or need to be moved by rail, and they have a tighter turning radius and more difficulty on steep grades. Nonetheless, more launchers means more missiles, and they will add a dimension of difficulty to continually tracking road-mobile missiles, be they solid or liquid fueled.

North Korea’s SLBM is also solid fueled. After several disastrous explosions and even some rather ingenious fakery,9 North Korea finally had a series of successes in 2016. Like the land-based version, North Korean SLBMs are meant to increase survivability by frequently rotating. They drive up resources needed for tracking the submarines.

Warhead and Re-entry Vehicle

In March 2016, North Korea showed off what it claimed was a nuclear warhead. Set alongside an untested KN-08 missile, the message was clear: North Korea is building an ICBM to deliver a nuclear warhead to the U.S. mainland. It is not possible to confirm that the round, silver object in front of Kim in a photograph was indeed a nuclear warhead. Some features seem credible while others seem baffling. The displayed object would certainly fit on a number of North Korean missiles from short range to long range. If this is indeed a warhead, it could mean that South Korea and Japan already face a nuclear threat from North Korea. On Aug. 8, sources in the U.S. intelligence community relayed their belief that North Korea has developed a warhead capable of fitting on a missile and may have as many as 60 of them.10

Ballistic-missile canisters are displayed during a military parade in Pyongyang marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of the former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, in an April 15 photograph from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency shows. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)Unfortunately, the only way for North Korea to prove its capability is by inviting experts to examine the weapon or by testing it on a missile in a demonstration similar to China’s 1966 CHIC-4 warhead test on a Dongfeng-2 missile. At such a tense time, no one is encouraging that option.

While many continue to question North Korea’s ability to build a re-entry vehicle (RV), it is likely they have already produced and tested one. In March 2016, Pyongyang distributed photographs of a re-entry simulation in Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling party. Much as is the case with the warhead, it is impossible to prove that the simulation was effective with photographs alone, although the method was the same that the United States used in the 1970s.

Since the test of the intermediate-range Musudan ballistic missile in 2016, North Korea has been using a lofted trajectory to test its missiles. The purpose of this testing method may say a great deal about the crowded geography of Northeast Asia, but it also means that North Korea has been breaching the troposphere with its missiles for several months. The angle at which the missile descends is much sharper than if the missile were targeting the United States.

Therefore, the re-entry vehicle is not being tested under realistic conditions. Nonetheless, the re-entry vehicle is not one of the more complicated parts of the rocket. Its goal is to protect the warhead through the heat, pressure, and vibrations of the atmosphere. On Aug. 12, sources stated that the CIA and the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center assessed that the Hwasong-14’s re-entry vehicle would likely be sufficient for a trajectory that targeted the U.S. mainland.11

The Military Option

Along the spectrum of U.S. options, a military attack on North Korea is the most dangerous. Any aggressive military strategies confirm deep-rooted North Korean suspicions and will trigger a counterreaction endangering the lives of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of South Koreans and the approximately 23,000 U.S. troops stationed there.12 Even putting aside weapons of mass destruction, North Korea is capable of using conventional artillery to shell Seoul, which is only 35 miles from the demilitarized zone. As Mattis said on May 28,

A conflict in North Korea would be probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes…. The North Korean regime has hundreds of artillery cannons and rocket launchers within range of one of the most densely populated cities on Earth. . . . This regime is a threat to the region, to Japan and South Korea and in the event of war they would bring danger to China and to Russia as well. But the bottom line is it would be a catastrophic war if this turns into. . . combat if we’re not able to resolve this situation through diplomatic means.13

A preventative strike by U.S. forces, intended to be limited or not, likely would mean all-out war. North Korea knows that it has a limited number of missiles and they need to use them or lose them. Their Scud and Nodong missile drills since 2015 hint at an offensive doctrine, in which nuclear weapons must be used early in a conflict before the Kim regime or its missile and WMD sites can be destroyed.14

In 1994, when U.S. President Bill Clinton contemplated the use of force to conduct a first strike on North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reactor, the Pentagon concluded that a war on the peninsula would result in 1 million dead and nearly $1 trillion in economic damage.15 This estimation was made well before North Korea possessed nuclear weapons and ICBMs capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

The human costs of any military conflict will only increase when taking into account Japanese and U.S. citizens, including U.S. soldiers and their families stationed in Japan and Guam. Within North Korea, internal displacement resulting from violence and instability means that a vast proportion of North Koreans will lack access to basic necessities and will be difficult for humanitarian agencies to reach.16 Furthermore, a Bank of Korea study predicts that 3 million refugees will attempt to cross into the South in a North Korean collapse scenario.17 A still greater number may cross the Chinese border.

Negotiating With an Enemy

On the other end of the spectrum is diplomatic engagement, which has suffered repeated failure in the past. The 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea sought to limit Pyongyang’s nuclear activities, but broke down in 2002 due to U.S. intelligence about covert uranium-enrichment activities and the George W. Bush administration’s opposition to the accord. The subsequent six-party talks’ attempt to build a permanent peace regime in 2007 was a positive development, resulting in a denuclearization plan involving a 60-day deadline for Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for aid.18 Unfortunately, by the end of 2008, the North Korean regime had restarted its program and barred nuclear inspectors.19

The United States, South Korea, and Japan remain extremely skeptical of negotiating with Kim, who has been consolidating power and fortifying his cult of personality since the December 2011 death of his father, Kim Jong Il. In addition to being a reprehensible regime with profound human right violations, North Korea long has been a spoiler, holding negotiations hostage for petty reasons and failing to meet their commitments as a member of the United Nations. Yet, misunderstandings and offense have been made and received on all sides.

Although prospects for negotiations may seem dim, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in August that the United States could be open to talks if North Korea halts missile testing. If the United States and its allies get to negotiations, North Korea would likely seek political, economic, and security guarantees.

North Korea has left one small window open. Following the first Hwasong-14 missile test, KCNA reported that Kim “stressed that [North Korea] would neither put its nukes and ballistic rockets on the table of negotiations in any case nor flinch even an inch from the road of bolstering the nuclear force chosen by itself unless the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat to [North Korea] are definitely terminated.”20 Even North Korea’s August statement about launching intermediate-range missiles to splash down off the coast of Guam was left open-ended based on the behavior of the United States.

North Korea frequently demands an end to U.S.-South Korean military exercises and international sanctions, in addition to recognition that it is a nuclear-weapon state.21 North Korea would likely call for an end to the Korean War, with a peace agreement supplanting the armistice, and for additional security guarantees and aid. The United States and South Korea have largely spurned these demands, with new South Korean President Moon Jae-in repeatedly stating that reducing the joint military exercises is not an option for now and that North Korea’s nuclear freeze and a reduction of the joint military exercises cannot be linked.22

North Korea wants recognition and legitimacy in the international community that may include such things as routine diplomatic relations with the United States. Previously, there have been diplomatic exchanges between the United States and its allies and North Korea, but the United States historically has placed preconditions for talks with North Korea. For example, in 2001, the George W. Bush administration maintained that any negotiation and dialogue with North Korea would have to be preceded by “complete verification of the terms of a potential agreement.”23 The Obama administration insisted on North Korea’s commitment to denuclearization conducted in close alliance with Seoul and other members of the six-party talks.24

An additional challenge is that North Korea has no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons capabilities in the near term. North Korea’s nuclear policy has been influenced at least partially by its understanding of events in countries such as Iraq and Libya. A North Korean statement cites them as examples of “U.S. schemes to overthrow independent countries” by “weakening their military self-defense capabilities.”25 In official statements, North Korea makes clear that it will not “fall victim to the same tragic destiny” by abandoning its access to nuclear weapons.26

If North Korea will not immediately denuclearize and the United States will not accept a growing nuclear threat, the best option is to focus negotiations for a freeze, narrowing though they may be. Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory who has made seven trips to North Korea, has called for “Three Nos”: No more bombs, no more nuclear tests, and no more proliferation.27 To this might be added no additional rocket tests28 and no additional missile proliferation.

An medium-range Pukguksong-2 ballistic missile is shown being test-launched  Feb. 12 in a photograph from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

These are very tall asks for North Korea, South Korea, Japan, and the United States, and the prospects for securing what everyone wants are low. The task at hand is to incrementally find those low-hanging and, if necessary, reversible agreements that will gradually build trust. The United States was able to negotiate with the Soviet Union under much tougher circumstances.

The stakes for all sides are high, but the time for negotiation, however problematic, is now. The longer the wait, the greater North Korea’s technological capabilities will become, making diplomacy and war more difficult and dangerous.


1. “Kim Jong Un Inspects KPA Strategic Force Command,” KCNA, August 15, 2017.

2. U.S. Department of Defense Press Operations, “Department of Defense Press Briefing by Secretary Mattis, General Dunford and Special Envoy McGurk on the Campaign to Defeat ISIS in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room,” May 19, 2017, https://www.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/1188225/department-of-defense-press-briefing-by-­secretary-mattis-general-dunford-and-sp/.

3. Ankit Panda, “North Korea Just Tested a Missile That Could Likely Reach Washington DC With a Nuclear Weapon,” The Diplomat, July 29, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2017/07/north-korea-just-tested-a-missile-that-could-likely-reach-washington-dc-with-a-nuclear-weapon/.

4. David Wright, “North Korean ICBM Appears Able to Reach Major U.S. Cities,” All Things Nuclear, July 28, 2017, http://allthingsnuclear.org/dwright/new-north-korean-icbm.

5. “Kim Jong Un Guides Second Test-fire of ICBM Hwasong-14,” KCNA, July 29, 2017.

6. Markus Schiller and Robert H. Schmucker, “A Dog and Pony Show,” Arms Control Wonk, April 18, 2012, http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/files/2012/04/KN-08_Analysis_Schiller_Schmucker.pdf.

7. Ankit Panda and Vipin Narang, “North Korea’s ICBM: A New Missile and a New Era,” The Diplomat, July 7, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2017/07/north-koreas-icbm-a-new-missile-and-a-new-era/.

8. John Barry, “The Defense Secretary’s Exit Interview,” Newsweek, June 21, 2011.

9. Catherine Dill, “Video Analysis of DPRK SLBM Footage,” Arms Control Wonk, January 12, 2016, http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/1200759/video-analysis-of-dprk-slbm-footage/.

10. Joby Warrick et al., “North Korea Now Making Missile-Ready Weapons, U.S. Analysts Say,” The Washington Post, August 8, 2017. See Ankit Panda, “U.S. Intelligence: North Korea May Already Be Annually Accruing Enough Fissile Material for 12 Nuclear Weapons,” The Diplomat, August 9, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2017/08/us-intelligence-north-korea-may-already-be-annually-accruing-enough-fissile-material-for-12-nuclear-weapons/.

11. Ankit Panda, “U.S. Intelligence: North Korea’s ICBM Reentry Vehicles Are Likely Good Enough to Hit the Continental U.S.,” The Diplomat, August 12, 2017, http://thediplomat.com/2017/08/us-intelligence-north-koreas-icbm-reentry-vehicles-are-likely-good-enough-to-hit-the-continental-us/.

12. “Counts of Active Duty and Reserve Service Members and APF Civilians by Location Country, Personnel Category, Service and Component,” Defense Manpower Data Center, February 27, 2017.

13. “War With North Korea Would Be ‘Catastrophic,’ Defense Secretary Mattis Says,” CBS News, May 28, 2017.

14. Jeffrey Lewis, “North Korea Is Practicing for Nuclear War,” Foreign Policy, March 9, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/03/09/north-korea-is-practicing-for-nuclear-war/.

15. Don Oberdorfer, The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History (New York: Basic Books, 1997).

16. Bridget Coggins, “Refugees, Internal Displacement, and the Future of the Korean Peninsula,” Beyond Parallel, February 2, 2017.

17. Na Jeong-ju, “3 Million NK Refugees Expected in Crisis: BOK,” Korea Times, January 26, 2007.

18. The Six-Party Talks at a Glance,” Arms Control Association, July 2017.

19. Ibid.

20. “Kim Jong Un Supervises Test-Launch of Inter-Continental Ballistic Rocket Hwasong-14,” KCNA, July 5, 2017.

21. “DPRK’s Bolstering of Nuclear Force Hailed by Swiss Organizations,” KCNA, December 1, 2016.

22. “Moon Says Reducing Military Drills Not an Option, at Least for Now,” Yonhap News Agency, June 29, 2017.

23. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, “Remarks by President Bush and President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea,” March 7, 2001.

24. Bruce Klingner, “Obama’s Evolving North Korean Policy,” SERI Quarterly Vol. 5, No. 3 (2012): 111.

25. Ri Hyon Do, “DPRK’s Nuclear Deterrence Is Treasured Sword of Nation.” Rodong Sinmun, June 29, 2017.

26. Kim Sung Gol, “Just Is DPRK’s Access to Nuclear Deterrent,” Rodong Sinmun, May 2, 2017.

27. Steve Fyffe, “Hecker Assesses North Korean Hydrogen Bomb Claims,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January 7, 2016, http://thebulletin.org/hecker-assesses-north-korean-hydrogen-bomb-claims9046.

28. Both space rockets and missiles to avoid the confusion of the so-called Leap Day Deal in 2012. See Ankit Panda, “A Great Leap to Nowhere: Remembering the U.S.-North Korea ‘Leap Day’ Deal,” The Diplomat, February 29, 2016.


Melissa Hanham is a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and the Mixed-Methods ­Evaluation, Training and Analysis (META) Lab of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Seiyeon Ji is a research assistant at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Advances in North Korea’s Missile Program and What Comes Next


U.S., North Korea Jockey Over Missile Tests

By Kelsey Davenport
September 2017

In the early days of August, the United States and North Korea seemed to be slipping toward the unthinkable, a war on the Korean peninsula that could kill hundreds of thousands of people or more within the initial hours.

President Donald Trump declared in unscripted remarks on Aug. 8 that North Korea will be met with “fire and fury” and “power the likes of which this world has never seen before” if Pyongyang makes further threats against the United States. His vague and escalatory comments quickly drew a response from Pyongyang that its military leaders would draw up plans giving leader Kim Jong Un a confrontational option of launching four ballistic missiles that would overfly Japan and splashdown in international waters near the U.S. territory of Guam in the western Pacific Ocean.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is shown reviewing plans for a missile strike near the U.S. territory of Guam in photo from the official Korean Central News Agency released August 15. The video monitor appears to show a satellite image of Andersen Air Force Base on Guam. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)Yet, there were signs that a better course could be found. Despite provocative missile tests by North Korea in July and threatening rhetoric from Trump, Pyongyang seemed to signal that it is willing to engage in talks with the United States, and that has not gone unnoticed in Washington. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at an Aug. 22 news conference that diplomacy may be possible in the “near future,” noting that North Korea had demonstrated “some level of restraint that we have not seen in the past.” Trump pulled back a bit later the same day. “Maybe, probably not, but maybe, something positive can come about,” Trump said in impromptu remarks during a free-wheeling, campaign-style speech Aug. 22 in Phoenix.

Those comments offered some basis for hope that the two sides can find a diplomatic off-ramp before a conflict is triggered intentionally or by accident. Just how tentative that prospect remains, however, was demonstrated Aug. 29 (Korean time) as tensions flared anew following a North Korean missile test that overflew Japan.

North Korea has issued statements reiterating that it will not negotiate as long as the United States maintains a “hostile policy and nuclear threat.” Yet, it appeared to keep the door open for diplomacy even as tensions escalated after The Washington Post reported on Aug. 8 on a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency assessment that North Korea has miniaturized nuclear warheads for use atop its ballistic missiles, including missiles capable of reaching much of the U.S. mainland. The assessment followed North Korea’s first two launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in July, both of which were successful. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

North Korea has threatened Guam in the past because U.S. military bases there are used by B-1B strategic bombers that conduct flyovers of the Korean peninsula, but until this year, Pyongyang had not successfully tested a ballistic missile capable of reaching the island. Although the bombers are not nuclear capable, North Korea views the flyovers as aggressive.

North Korea’s statement was widely perceived as a threat and an escalation
of rhetoric, but some North Korea experts such as Robert Carlin, a former CIA and State Department analyst who took part in past negotiations, read Pyongyang’s statement about developing a “plan” to fire missiles toward Guam as a signal
that North Korea was moving to
de-escalate tensions.

Carlin, a visiting scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford, said that Pyongyang’s subsequent decision to wait and gauge Washington’s response before launching missiles toward Guam was a positive sign. In an Aug. 15 piece for the blog 38 North, Carlin wrote that this is “exactly how the North moves back from the edge of a cliff.”

Having broken the tension, it would “not be unusual for North Korea to pivot to diplomacy,” he wrote.

Tillerson also noted in his Aug. 22 news conference that Pyongyang had not conducted a missile launch or provocative act since the UN Security Council adopted a resolution imposing addition sanctions on the country—an observation that was overtaken by events a week later. The resolution, adopted unanimously Aug. 5, was a response to North Korea’s ICBM tests. The resolution contained new restrictions, such as an export ban for North Korean coal, iron, seafood and lead, particularly affecting vital trade with China and Russia.

Ahead of Tillerson’s Aug. 22 news conference, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Russian and Chinese entities for supporting North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said it is “unacceptable for individuals and companies in China, Russia, and elsewhere” to enable North Korea to generate income for its nuclear and missile programs. Additional designations targeted foreign entities that use North Korean workers, which is a source of income for Pyongyang.

Tillerson’s approach of pairing sanctions pressure with diplomatic overtures seems to have support from key cabinet officials, such as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. In a joint op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 13, Tillerson and Mattis wrote that “diplomacy is our preferred means of changing North Korea’s course of action” but those efforts are backed by military options.

The military option, particularly the viability of preventive strikes targeting North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities, is increasingly dismissed as ineffective and likely to lead to a larger conflict with catastrophic consequences. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, former supreme allied commander of NATO, wrote in a commentary for CBNC on Aug. 10 that to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear and missile program, there is “no military option short of general warfare in Korea,” which would likely result in millions of casualties.

That is known within the White House, as Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon said in an indiscreet Aug. 16 interview with the editor of The American Prospect magazine. “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it,” he was quoted as saying. “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”

Alongside Tillerson’s diplomatic overtures, the United States is likely to continue pressuring North Korea with additional sanctions.

The U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises underway tested North Korea’s nascent restraint and may have contributed to North Korea’s decision to conduct the Aug. 29 launch. On Aug. 17, North Korea had called on Washington to refrain from “extremely dangerous actions around the Korean peninsula” and deploying “huge nuclear strategic equipment.”

The United States and South Korea began joint military exercises Aug. 22. The United States does not have nuclear weapons stationed on South Korean soil, but nuclear-capable bombers have participated in past exercises. Pyongyang views so-called decapitation drills, which are military training for targeting North Korea’s leadership, as particularly confrontational.

North Korea has said it would agree to a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing if the United States suspends joint military exercises with South Korea.

The United States may not be able to front-load the agenda with discussions of denuclearization, which North Korea publicly rejects because it views nuclear weapons as ensuring the survival of its regime. Still, halting additional progress on missiles and nuclear warheads through a test moratorium would be a positive step to prevent qualitative improvements derived through testing.

Putting a suspension or roll-back of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises on the table in exchange does not undermine U.S. commitments to its allies and can be quickly ramped back up if North Korea abandons the moratorium. There also is precedent for this type of deal. Washington scaled back exercises in the 1990s and successfully negotiated a deal with North Korea that halted the country’s production of plutonium for nuclear weapons for nearly a decade.

If both sides are able to stick to a “freeze for freeze” deal, that could open up space to talk about a more comprehensive agreement that includes additional limits and a roll-back of North Korea’s nuclear program.

South Korea Seeks to Extend Missile Range 

South Korea raised the possibility of extending the permitted range of its ballistic missiles during the June summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington.

A South Korean official, speaking to Arms Control Today on Aug. 16 on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that Seoul is hoping to open talks on the subject, but would not provide details on the range extension that South Korea is requesting.

This is not the first time South Korea has sought to extend the permitted range of its missiles, which is limited under agreements with the United States. In October 2012, South Korea announced it had reached an agreement with the United States to extend the range of its ballistic missiles to 800 kilometers with a 500-kilogram payload, an increase both countries said was necessary to counter the growing threat posed by North Korean ballistic missiles. (See ACT, November 2012.)

South Korea is currently testing a ballistic missile, the Hyunmoo-2, capable of traveling 800 kilometers, but has not deployed the system. After a June test, officials said a few more tests are required before the missile will be ready. When deployed, South Korea will be able to target any site in North Korea from anywhere in its own territory, so the rationale for an additional range extension is unclear.

Prior to the 2012 agreement, South Korea was limited by a 2001 agreement that restricted its missiles to a 300-kilometer range with a 500-kilogram payload. That was an increase from the 180-kilometer limit that South Korea initially accepted in a 1979 missile technology accord with the United States.—KELSEY DAVENPORT 

U.S., North Korea Jockey Over Missile Tests

Moon Reverses THAAD Decision

By Kingston Reif
September 2017

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for temporarily installing additional elements of a controversial missile defense system following North Korea’s second long-range missile test on July 28, reversing his prior decision to suspend deployment pending a thorough environmental review.

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched from the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska in Kodiak on July 11. In the test, the THAAD weapon system successfully intercepted an air-launched intermediate-range ballistic missile target. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency)“President Moon sees North Korea’s missile threat with that much urgency,” a senior South Korean official told reporters on July 29 when asked about Moon’s decision to proceed with the deployment of four additional U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) launchers. “We’re trying to seek procedural legitimacy through the environmental impact assessment, yet feel the need to act fast on the situation that’s unfolding.”

China, which has long objected to the deployment of the THAAD system in South Korea, expressed concern about Moon’s reversal. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the decision “regretable” following a meeting with his South Korean counterpart on Aug. 6.

South Korea decided to deploy the anti-missile system in July 2016 under President Park Geun-hye to enhance the country’s defenses against North Korea. (See ACT, September 2016.) Moon was elected president in May following a corruption scandal that led to Park’s impeachment in late 2016.

The U.S. military declared the system in South Korea operational in early May, just days before the South Korean election. The initial deployment consisted of two launchers and an associated radar. Four other launchers were also brought to South Korea, but were not made operational.

The mobile, ground-based THAAD system is designed to defend against short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles during their terminal, or end, phase of flight. A THAAD battery typically consists of six launchers, 48 to 72 interceptor missiles, a radar, a fire control and communications system, and other support equipment.

After taking office May 10, Moon said he had not been informed of the presence of the additional four launchers on South Korean soil for weeks and ordered an investigation into why the South Korean Defense Ministry withheld this information. During his election campaign, Moon had been critical of his predecessor’s decision to accept the THAAD system without parliamentary approval, arguing that the decision on whether to deploy should be made by the incoming administration after public discussion and debate. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

Following his election, Moon stressed that he did not intend to reverse the deployment of the two launchers and radar, but said he would make a final decision about the fate of the system after the comprehensive environmental review. Many South Korean analysts viewed the review as an attempt by Moon to buy time to persuade China and vocal domestic opposition to the THAAD system in South Korea to accept the deployment.

But North Korea conducted its second successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), designated the Hwasong-14, on July 28, prompting Moon to complete the installation of the additional launchers.

Separately, the THAAD system successfully intercepted and destroyed a mock target having the range of an intermediate-range ballistic missile for the first time in a test July 11. In the test, a THAAD system located at Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska detected, tracked, and intercepted a ballistic missile target air-launched by a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport aircraft.

The THAAD system has completed successfully all of the 15 flight and interception tests conducted since 2006, according to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. 

Although the THAAD battery deployed in South Korea is designed to protect the country against North Korean short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, the Defense Department deployed a battery to Guam in 2013 to protect the U.S. territory, home to a major U.S. Air Force bomber base, against intermediate-range missile threats.

In an Aug. 10 statement released through the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea said that it was completing plans to test four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missiles that would “hit the waters 30 to 40 kilometers away from Guam.”

KCNA announced on Aug. 15 that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had reviewed the plan and would “watch a little more” the behavior of the United States before deciding whether to proceed with the launch.

The United States warned that any North Korean missile launched at U.S. territory could result in war between the two countries. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said at a Aug. 17 press briefing in Washington that if North Korea fires a missile toward “the territory of Japan, Guam, [the] United States, [or] Korea, we would take immediate, specific actions to take it down.”

Moon Reverses THAAD Decision

5 Myths on Nuclear Diplomacy with North Korea

The struggle to address the nuclear and missile threat posed by North Korea has been underway for more than a quarter-century, but public and policymaker attention to the problems has been episodic and often superficial, leading to the emergence of misperceptions and myths about past efforts and current prospects for addressing the threat. The following is a review of some of the most common myths about past U.S. efforts to address the threat and how the United States and its allies can halt and reverse North Korea’s nuclear and missile pursuits in the future. Myth 1. Diplomacy with North...

U.S. Policy on North Korea: More Pressure, But Where’s the “Engagement?”

The UN Security Council responded to North Korea’s two intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests in July by unanimously passing new sanctions on North Korea over the weekend. But without a more concerted effort to engage Pyongyang in negotiations, these measures stand little chance of altering North Korea’s nuclear calculus. While the additional Security Council sanctions in Resolution 2371 send a strong signal to North Korea that there are consequences for flouting international prohibitions, sanctions alone are not a strategy for addressing the North Korean nuclear threat. It is past...

Report of Note: Risky Business: A System-Level Analysis of the North Korean Proliferation Financing System

Risky Business: A System-Level Analysis of the North Korean Proliferation Financing System
by David Thompson, C4ADS, June 2017

The pace of North Korea’s missile testing has accelerated in recent months, bringing a further urgency to resolving the threat posed by leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear arsenal. This study from C4ADS, a nonprofit organization working on conflict and security issues, seeks to contribute to that effort by providing insight on measures to disrupt North Korea’s  weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and missile programs. Pyongyang relies on a complex overseas network to provide needed inputs for its weapons programs, ranging from sophisticated technologies to mundane products such as switches and relays. In 2016, C4ADS released its first investigation of North Korea’s overseas networks and called for a more detailed understanding of how these channels operate. This follow-up study is intended to be a resource for policymakers in crafting a more targeted, effective sanctions regime. Using open source data, the report finds North Korea’s funding and procurement network to be centralized, limited, and vulnerable. As a result, the report argues that North Korea’s supply channels are ripe for disruption, countering the narrative that sanctions are an ineffective policy response due to North Korea’s “closed” economy. The open source information in this report should be a useful resource for disrupting North Korea’s overseas network because information derived from classified sources cannot be used to prosecute sanctions violators.—TYLER RODGERS

Risky Business: A System-Level Analysis of the North Korean Proliferation Financing System
by David Thompson, C4ADS, June 2017

REMARKS: Dealing with North Korea: Lessons from the Iran Nuclear Negotiations

July/August 2017
By Suzanne DiMaggio

Kelsey Davenport (left) and Suzanne DiMaggio (right) at the 2017 Arms Control Association Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. (Photo Credit: Terry Atlas/Arms Control Association)The Trump administration’s re­cently completed North Korea policy review calls for “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang, but leaves open room for engagement. Although President Donald Trump warned in an interview in late April that “a major, major conflict” with the North was possible, he also said he would prefer a diplomatic outcome. Following “Track 2” talks in Oslo in May, a senior North Korean diplomat, Choe Son Hui, told reporters that his country is open to dialogue with the United States “under the right conditions.” The task at hand is to find out what the right conditions might be.

In thinking through a diplomatic path, it is worth considering some lessons from the Iran nuclear negotiations. Of course, the two cases are very different. One obvious difference is that North Korea has nuclear weapons; Iran has never possessed a nuclear weapon and is a member of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It is clear that the applicability of the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as a model is limited at best, but the process of diplomacy that the United States pursued with Iran could offer some insights on how to begin engagement with an adversary whose leadership is extremely distrustful of the United States and vice versa.

There are three elements of diplomacy with Iran that we should be looking at. The first is to initiate a low-key diplomatic channel authorized at the highest level. Prior to the start of official negotiations, diplomats from the United States and Iran engaged in a series of meetings held secretly over a period of about 16 months. These eventually led to the multilateral P5+1 talks and an interim agreement in November 2013. Given the level of mistrust between Pyongyang and Washington, it would be a good first step to try to have a dialogue without preconditions. We can call it “talks about talks” to help clarify the acceptable conditions to begin negotiations. How can we meet them and overcome differences? What are the non-negotiables?

The second element is to focus on a limited set of realistic objectives, not a grand bargain. The U.S.-Iranian discussions were limited to what both sides deemed to be a very specific, manageable set of items in the nuclear field. The United States placed a priority on preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon; the Iranians focused on lifting sanctions. Now the United States must decide on its highest priority with North Korea. It must zero in on identifying a key, early goal that is within the realm of achievability. To diffuse tensions, the best bet would be to begin by pursuing a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear testing. One of the key goals would be to get International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors back into the country. One of the most remarkable elements of the JCPOA is its extensive monitoring and verification requirements. It is an important precedent we should strive to emulate.

A suspension of testing is an interim step, and a nuclear weapons-free Korean peninsula should remain an end goal. Writing recently in The New York Times, Harvard scholar Graham Allison asked rhetorically, “Is United States’ national security really strengthened if a 33-year-old dictator with a record of executing his enemies and defying red lines is left with an arsenal of 20 warheads and missiles that can deliver nuclear strikes against Seoul and Tokyo?” We know the answer. The suspension of testing is an important first step that could create the space to pursue an additional agreement or agreements.

The third element is to pursue a win-win approach. The United States and Iran committed themselves to a win-win narrative in their early talks that enabled them each to say they succeeded in fulfilling their objectives at the end. This reinforced the understanding that each side would have to make compromises.

Recently, I was on a panel, and one of the other participants disagreed with what I was proposing. The reason, he said, was that we have tried diplomacy with the North Koreans before—it is too difficult, they cheat, and they cannot be trusted. I heard the same arguments about Iran for years. In fact, during the 35 years of hostility before the JCPOA was reached, there were countless failed attempts at diplomacy, as well as missed opportunities. Yet, we now have an agreement that is working.

Because we have failed in the past does not mean we should not try again. Indeed, we should learn from past attempts.

Suzanne DiMaggio is a director and senior fellow at New America, where she directs a long-running U.S.-Iran policy dialogue and a recently launched a U.S.-North Korea “Track 2” dialogue. This piece is adapted from remarks at the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting on June 2.

REMARKS: Dealing with North Korea: Lessons from the Iran Nuclear Negotiations

North Korea’s ICBM Presents ‘Global Threat’

July/August 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korea crossed a technical and political threshold with the successful test of its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which experts assess could target parts of the United States.

The development raises the stakes as North Korea demonstrates advances in its nuclear and missile capabilities in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and other international efforts. The July 4 test occurred just days after U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korea President Moon Jae-in, meeting on June 30 at the White House, issued a joint statement that called on North Korea to refrain from provocative actions and pledged cooperation to achieve denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un celebrates the successful July 4 test of the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile in a photo from the official Korean Central News Agency. (Photo credit: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called the test “another brilliant victory of the Korean people in their struggle against the U.S.-led imperialists,” according to the government-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Kim was cited as saying that his country “would neither put its nukes and ballistic rockets on the table of negotiations…nor flinch even an inch from the road of bolstering the nuclear force chosen by itself unless the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat to [North Korea] are definitely terminated.”

The two-stage missile, designated the Hwasong-14, was tested at a lofted trajectory and splashed down in the Sea of Japan about 930 kilometers from the launch site. John Schilling, an aerospace engineer and analyst for the website 38 North, said in a July 6 press call that the missile’s range, if flown at a standard trajectory and in an eastward direction that takes advantage of the earth’s rotation, could be 7,000 to 8,000 kilometers.

That puts the Hwasong-14’s capability well beyond the 5,500 kilometer threshold for an ICBM and would allow North Korea to target Alaska (5,800 kilometers) and Hawaii (7,400 kilometers). Schilling said it is possible that North Korea could make performance improvements to extend the range to between 9,000 and 9,500 kilometers, which would cover the U.S. West Coast. Striking the U.S. East Coast would require a three-stage ICBM, he said.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said that the range of the missile and its mobile launch platform were North Korean capabilities that the United States had not seen previously. North Korea’s ICBM capability still considered limited because Pyongyang has not shown a successful re-entry vehicle nor the ability to fit a warhead onto the missile, he said.

In a July 5 statement, KCNA said that the ICBM can carry a “large-sized heavy nuclear warhead.” Schilling said that, in the near term, North Korea could use a basic type of re-entry vehicle called a blunt body that is less accurate but easier to engineer than newer types. Despite North Korea’s potential ability to mate a warhead with the ICBM, Schilling noted that the missile would be unreliable, particularly if launched under the time pressures of combat conditions.

The ICBM test was widely condemned by the international community as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting North Korean ballistic missile activity. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on July 4 that global action is required to stop the “global threat” posed by North Korea.

At a UN Security Council meeting July 5, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the United States is working on a resolution that “raises the international response in a way that is proportionate to North Korea’s new escalation.” Without providing details, she said that the international community can cut off “major sources” of hard currency, restrict oil for military programs, and increase maritime restrictions for North Korea.

China and Russia issued a joint statement condemning the test and urging the United States along with North Korea and all other states to “refrain from provocative actions.”

China and Russia also proposed a deal in which North Korea freezes missile and nuclear testing in exchange for the United States suspending military exercises with South Korea, reprising a Chinese initiative that the United States rejected in March. North Korea made a similar “freeze for freeze” proposal in January 2015 that Washington turned down as “inappropriately” linking U.S. defense exercises and North Korea’s prohibited nuclear and missile activities. (See ACT, March 2015.)—KELSEY DAVENPORT

North Korea’s ICBM Presents ‘Global Threat’

Perry, Markey Urge Talks with North Korea to Halt and Reverse Its Dangerous Nuclear and Missile Programs



For Immediate Release: June 29, 2017

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102.

(Washington, D.C.)—On the eve of a critical meeting between recently elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump here in Washington, two leading figures outlined a pragmatic strategy for coordinated to U.S.-South Korean efforts to address the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, beginning with direct talks aimed at constraining, rolling, back and ultimately reversing North Korea’s programs.

In a teleconference call with reporters convened by the Arms Control Association, Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who is the ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, along with former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry described their recommended approach. (The audio of the teleconference is available online. A transcript of the speakers' opening remarks is below.) 

"President Moon's visit is an historic opportunity for the Trump administration to restart direct negotiations aimed at addressing the nuclear and missile threat from North Korea. The Trump administration should adopt a strategy of active and direct diplomatic engagement with North Korea, backed by rigorous sanction enforcement by China and a robust military deterrence posture in cooperation with our regional partners, especially South Korea." Senator Markey said.

Earlier Thursday President Moon met with senior Congressional leaders including Senator Markey. Last week, a bipartisan group of Senators issues a resolution welcoming President Moon and endorsing a diplomatic approach to achieving a nuclear-weapons-free Korean peninsula and working together for the enforcement of existing sanctions on North Korea.

Perry reiterated several points that he made in a June 28 open letter to President Donald Trump along with a distinguished group including Amb. Robert L. Gallucci, former director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Sigfried Hecker, former Sen. Richard G. Lugar, former Gov. Bill Richardson, and former Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan, George P. Shultz.

"Experts with decades of military, political, and technical involvement with North Korean issues, strongly urge the start of discussions with North Korea in the near future. This is the only realistic option to reduce dangers resulting from the current high state of tensions and prevent North Korea’s ongoing development and potential use of nuclear weapons."

"This diplomatic effort should begin with informal talks—with no preconditions—to explore options for more formal negotiations," Perry and his colleagues recommend.

"There is no guarantee diplomacy will work. But there are no good military options, and a North Korean response to a U.S. attack could devastate South Korea and Japan. Tightening sanctions can be useful in increasing pressure on North Korea, but sanctions alone will not solve the problem," Perry cautioned.

"Time is not on our side. Diplomacy should at the top of the list of options on the table," Perry said.

"The June 29-30 summit between Trump and Moon is an opportunity for both presidents to recalibrate and coordinate their approaches toward North Korea," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, which hosted the teleconference call.

"A strategy of coercive diplomacy, focused on freezing further nuclear and missile tests, and then ultimately rolling back Pyongyang’s illicit programs, offers the best prospect for success," Kimball said.


Former Secretary of Defence William Perry
[Start 2:30 on the audio, as delivered]

The primary goal of North Korea is extending the Kim dynasty. They have shrewdly done this for many decades (the regime is not crazy as some people think). They are the last Stalinist regime standing and that demonstrates I think, in the view of what has happened to all of the other Stalinist regimes, they have played their cards very shrewdly.

They do have a modest nuclear arsenal and they’re making many more, they have a large arsenal of medium-range ballistic missiles and are developing an ICBM. My judgment is that they will not use their nuclear weapon in the first strike because they know it will mean death to the leaders and great devastation to the country.

Their nuclear weapons therefore are useful but only if they do not use them.

Therefore, I do not recommend a preemptive strike. The cost of the strike, the downside of the strike is much greater than any value, any benefit that it would give. Beyond that, I argue that the preemptive strike cannot possibly take out all of their nuclear weapons. Therefore if we make it to preemptive strike, they are going to end up with nuclear weapons, which will be very, very dangerous. They will respond militarily to a preemptive strike and the response will be very, very damaging to South Korea, not only from the nuclear possibility from them using their remaining nuclear weapons, but also because of the very large number of conventional artillery they have within range of Seoul.

Finally, and most importantly, I believe that there may now be a window opened for diplomacy. China, which has not participated with us as constructively, now fully recognizes the possibility of a military conflict which would be very detrimental to their own interests. They also recognize the possibility of Japan and/or South Korea going nuclear, which would be very detrimental to their own interests. In addition to that, North Korea may now believe that a preemptive strike is credible, which will I think focus their attention on negotiation. That is, I believe that North Korea is now open to a reasonable diplomatic approach.

Diplomatic success will contrast with anything we tried in the past: will need new carrots and new sticks than approaches in the past. China has the sticks, and we together with South Korea and Japan have the carrots. So I think we can put together a very attractive approach today compared with the previous attempts.

China, however, in my judgment will not offer those sticks on their own; they will not participate in the diplomatic approach simply on their own. It’s not enough to say to China, “you solve the problem.” We must be able to partner with China and I think if we do that and we do that with quiet diplomacy, we can get China to participate in a meaningful, diplomatic approach.

If we had a diplomatic approach, and if it succeeded, it would have to be in two phases. The first phase being a freeze, which would be valuable in and of itself because it avoids the possibility of North Korea going from the bomb they now have to a hydrogen bomb and it also prevents them from getting an ICBM. A freeze, if successful, would not only would be valuable in and of itself, but it would be a platform for a second phase, which would be the roll back… of their nuclear program. So that’s what I’m recommending.  

[Start 12:45 on the audio, as prepared]

I was deeply disturbed yesterday afternoon when General H.R. McMaster announced that President Donald Trump has asked for new military options to stop North Korea’s nuclear program.

There is no military solution in North Korea. A second Korean War would be an incomparable tragedy, jeopardizing the lives of hundreds of thousands, even millions of people, and possibly could escalate into a nuclear war.

In March of this year, I sent a letter to President Trump, urging him to take a bold new approach to address the threat from North Korea’s growing nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities. I called on him to adopt a strategy of active and direct diplomatic engagement with North Korea, backed by rigorous sanctions enforcement by China and a robust military deterrence posture in cooperation with our regional partners.

Last year alone, North Korea tested two nuclear devices and carried out numerous ballistic missile tests. It is now accelerating efforts to develop a missile capable of striking the territory of the United States with a nuclear warhead.

These growing capabilities represent a grave threat to the security of the American people, and to our allies and partners in the region.

Existing policy to address this threat has not succeeded. Sanctions and deterrence, while essential, have failed — on their own — to induce the Kim regime to constrain its nuclear and missile ambitions.

Without a direct diplomatic track by the United States, North Korea is likely to continue exploiting divisions in the international community to steadily advance its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.

Only a comprehensive strategy of diplomacy — one that brings together economic pressure, military deterrence, and active negotiations — stands a chance of achieving a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

When Secretary Tillerson told the United Nations Security Council in April that the United States is open to negotiating toward a nuclear free Korean Peninsula, and the Trump adminisration announced its strategy of, quote, “maximum pressure and engagement” I was hopeful that level heads had prevailed.

But General McMaster’s remarks could indicate that the President has veered back onto a dangerous war path. And President Moon’s visit could not come at a more critical time.

President Moon’s visit is an historic opportunity for the Trump administration to restart negotiations aimed at addressing the nuclear and missile threat from North Korea.

President Moon made direct engagement with North Korea a core part of his electoral platform, and a recent survey showed that more than three-fourths of South Koreans want a resumption of dialogue with the North.

China has also wanted the United States to launch direct talks with North Korea for many years, so direct diplomacy could make it easier to get China to enforce sanctions and pressure North Korea to negotiate seriously on denuclearization.

If the Trump administration is serious about its strategy of pressure and engagement, it must strengthen existing sanctions and bolster deterrence. But it must also reach out to North Korea to begin talks aimed at constraining, rolling back, and ultimately eliminating its nuclear and missile programs.

Without diplomacy, however, pressure is unlikely to succeed. I reiterate my call for Donald Trump to stop what looks like a rush to catastrophic war and to get serious about implementing the strategy his administration announced – to pressure North Korea into engagement and negotiate denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.


In a conference call with reporters, Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and former Secretary of Defense William Perry shared their interest in having the U.S. and South Korea pursue talks with North Korea on halting and reversing its dangerous nuclear and missile programs.

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