As Biden Mulls North Korea Some Urge Arms Control Approach
Former U.S. President Donald Trump tried threats of “fire and fury, followed by personal letters and made-for-TV summits to convince North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear weapons.
As U.S. President Joe Biden now maps out his own strategy for North Korea, many former U.S. officials want the White House to base its approach on a less flashy but in some ways even more provocative idea: that North Korea has no plans to abandon the nuclear program it spent decades building.
The United States has long demanded the complete denuclearization of North Korea, even as a wide range of Korea watchers agreed that will likely never happen. For many, the alternative is simply unfathomable recognizing North Korea as a nuclear weapons state could convince other nations to pursue the bomb, leading to a regional or global arms race.
But with or without recognition, North Korea has made steady progress on its nuclear and missile programs. According to recent estimates, North Korea possesses anywhere from 15-60 nuclear warheads. It also has an increasingly diverse array of ballistic missiles, including some that may be able to reach anywhere in the continental United States.
Given the trajectory, a growing number of observers advocate what they say is a more pragmatic approach that would aim to cap or reduce the threat of North Koreas arsenal, even if the immediate goal isnt full denuclearization.
North Korea Bomb: Trumps Trade Threat To China Not Seen As Credible
The US imported $463bn worth of goods from China in 2016. Cutting off trade with Beijing would trigger a protectionist spiral leading to a global recession
Donald Trump huddled with his national security advisers on Sunday to try to decide on a response to North Koreas sixth and most powerful nuclear test.
Pyongyang said it had detonated a hydrogen bomb, using nuclear fusion as well as fission, and the seismic data suggested a blast that was ten times as big as any of its previous tests.
Before meeting his advisors, Trump was asked if he was considering a military response. Well see, he replied.
However, his initial responses on Twitter suggested the key aspect of the US reaction would be a call on China and other trading partners to tighten the economic vice on North Korea.
The United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea, Trump tweeted.
The threat was not seen as credible. In 2016, the US imported $463bn worth of goods from China, North Koreas biggest trade partner. Cutting off trade with Beijing would trigger a protectionist spiral that would create a global recession.
However, former officials and analysts said that much would depend on how China now reacted. Beijing had repeatedly warned the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, not to carry out another nuclear test.
Stockpile Estimates And Projections
Defense Intelligence Agency
On August 8, 2017, the Washington Post reported recent analysis completed the previous month by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency which concluded that North Korea had successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit in missiles and could have up to 60 nuclear warheads in its inventory.
By 2019 the DIA estimated that North Korea had accrued a stockpile of 65 weapons’ worth of fissile material and that the country was producing as much as twelve weapons’ worth of fissile material annually. U.S. intelligence also assessed that North Korea had built around 30 fissile material cores for use in nuclear weapons, including four-to-six two-stage thermonuclear weapons.
Siegfried S. Hecker
On August 7, 2017, Siegfried S. Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory who has visited North Korea nuclear facilities many times on behalf of the U.S., estimated that North Korea’s stockpile of plutonium and highly enriched uranium was probably sufficient for 20 to 25 nuclear weapons. He assessed that North Korea had developed a miniaturized warhead suitable for medium-range missiles, but would need further tests and development to produce a smaller and more robust warhead suitable for an intercontinental ballistic missile and re-entry into the atmosphere. He considered the warhead as the least developed part of North Korea’s plans for an ICBM.
Institute for Science and International Security
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North Korean President Issues Warning To Us During Workers’ Party Speech
Any warmth between the leaders appeared to have diminished Saturday as Kim also disclosed a list of high-tech weapons systems under development, although he insisted his country was a “responsible nuclear state,” and would not abuse its weapons unless first threatened.
In an apparent attempt to also apply pressure on the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, Kim said: “Whoever takes office in the U.S., its basic nature and hostile policy will never change.”
Relations between North Korea and the U.S. would depend on “the U.S. withdrawing its hostile policy,” he added.
Biden, who will take office on Jan. 20, has previously called Kim a “thug” and criticized his summits with President Trump. He is unlikely to hold direct meetings with Kim unless the North Korean leader takes significant denuclearization steps first.
Among the sophisticated weapons systems listed as being under development by Kim, were multi-warhead missiles, underwater-launched nuclear missiles and spy satellites which will bolster his country’s ability to attack the U.S. mainland.
The State Department declined to comment.
It’s unclear if the secretive communist state is capable of developing such systems. Information about one of the worldâs most cloistered countries is scarce, and estimates on the exact status of its nuclear and missile programs vary widely.
In 2018, the South Korean government said North Korea was estimated to have up to 60 nuclear weapons.
Donald Trumps North Korea Gambit: What Worked What Didnt And Whats Next
The last four years proved once again that Kim Jing-un is rational and therefore able to be deterred not the madman with nukes that is so often portrayed and that he is sufficiently interested in talks to voluntarily halt nuclear and long-range missile tests while they were going on, to slow his march if not to halt it altogether.
Its easy to criticize Donald Trump on North Korea: the declarations of love for a brutal dictator, the disdain for details and history, the photo opportunities where the strategy should have been, but while the execution may have been lacking, he did attempt a new approach, and that offers important lessons for the incoming administration.
It did not get off to an auspicious start. During Trumps first year in office, Kim Jong-un tested his first intercontinental ballistic missiles, demonstrating the potential to reach the U.S. homeland for the first time, along with a slew of short and medium-range projectiles and what appeared to be his first hydrogen bomb.
But it was the summit with Donald Trump in Singapore in June 2018 that made history, as Kim Jong Un became the first North Korean leader to meet a sitting U.S. president a feat neither his father nor his grandfather achieved.
This article originally appeared on The National Interest.
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Sixth Nuclear Test And Aftermath: September 2017
On September 3, at 3:31 am UTC, the United States Geological Survey reported that it had detected a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in North Korea near the Punggye-ri test site. Given the shallow depth of the quake and its proximity to North Korea’s primary nuclear weapons testing facility, experts concluded that the country had conducted a sixth nuclear weapon test since the country first exploded a nuclear device in 2006. North Korea claimed that they had tested a hydrogen bomb capable of being mounted on an ICBM. The independent seismic monitoring agency NORSAR estimated that the blast had a yield of around 120 kilotons. An official KCNA statement of September 3, also claimed North Korea’s ability to conduct a “super-powerful EMP attack“.
On the same day, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis speaking on behalf of the White House, warned there would be “a massive military response” to any threat from North Korea against the United States, including Guam, or its allies.
Early on September 4, the Republic of Korea conducted a ballistic missile exercise that involved the South’s Hyunmoo ballistic missile and the F-15K fighter jets, which was billed to be in response to North’s detonation. The state news agency Yonhap said the South’s military had carried out a live-fire exercise simulating an attack on the North’s nuclear site, hitting “designated targets in the East Sea“.
Exports Related To Ballistic Missile Technology
In April 2009, the United Nations named the Korea Mining and Development Trading Corporation as North Koreas primary arms dealer and main exporter of equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons. The UN lists KOMID as being based in the Central District, Pyongyang. However, it also has offices in Beijing and sales offices worldwide which facilitate weapons sales and seek new customers for North Korean weapons.
KOMID has sold missile technology to Iran and has done deals for missile related technology with the Taiwanese. KOMID has also been responsible for the sale of equipment, including missile technologies, gunboats, and multiple rocket artilleries, worth a total of over $100 million, to Africa, South America, and the Middle East.
North Koreas military has also used a company called Hap Heng to sell weapons overseas. Hap Heng was based in Macau in the 1990s to handle sales of weapons and missile and nuclear technology to nations such as Pakistan and Iran. Pakistans medium-range ballistic missile, the Ghauri, is considered to be a copy of North Koreas Rodong 1. In 1999, intelligence sources claim that North Korea had sold missile components to Iran. Listed directors of Hap Heng include Kim Song in and Ko Myong Hun. Ko Myong Hun is now a listed diplomat in Beijing and may be involved in the work of KOMID.
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N Korea Threatens To Build More Nukes Cites Us Hostility
SEOUL, South Korea North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened to expand his nuclear arsenal as he disclosed a list of high-tech weapons systems under development, saying the fate of relations with the United States depends on whether it abandons its hostile policy, state media reported Saturday.
Kims comments during a key meeting of the ruling party this week were seen as applying pressure on the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has called Kim a thug and has criticized his summits with President Donald Trump.
The Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim as saying the key to establishing new relations between and the United States is whether the United States withdraws its hostile policy.
He again called the U.S. his countrys main enemy.
As Kim Wooed Trump With Love Letters He Kept Building His Nuclear Capability Intelligence Shows
In a secret letter to President Trump in December 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un likened the two leaders budding friendship to a Hollywood romance. Future meetings with Your Excellency, Kim wrote to Trump, would be reminiscent of a scene from a fantasy film.
Yet even as he penned the words, Kim was busy creating an illusion of a different kind. At six of the countrys missile bases, trucks hauled rock from underground construction sites as workers dug a maze of new tunnels and bunkers, allowing North Korea to move weapons around like peas in a shell game. Southeast of the capital, meanwhile, new buildings sprouted across an industrial complex that was processing uranium for as many as 15 new bombs, according to current and former U.S. and South Korean officials, as well as a report by a United Nations panel of experts.
The new work reflects a continuation of a pattern observed by analysts since the first summit between Trump and Kim in 2018. While North Korea has refrained from carrying out provocative tests of its most advanced weapon systems, it never stopped working on them, U.S. intelligence officials said. Indeed, new evidence suggests that Kim took advantage of the lull by improving his ability to hide his most powerful weapons and shield them from future attacks.
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The Guardian View On North Korea’s Missiles: Trump And Proliferation
Pyongyangs latest military parade is another reminder of the dangers that have grown under this administration
The 2020 Commission Report is thank God fiction. But it is an alarmingly plausible account of a North Korean nuclear strike on America, presented as the findings of a US government investigation. Its author, an arms control expert, makes the catalyst a rogue tweet from Donald Trump. Even in a novel, the North is not suicidal enough to choose an attack the danger comes from mistakes and miscalculations.
The storys broader truth is twofold: that the risk of something going wrong grows as weapons proliferate, and that, despite the show business of his summits, the threat from Pyongyang has grown thanks to President Trump. At the weekend, North Korea presented its largest ever display of new weaponry at a military parade celebrating the 75th anniversary of the ruling Workers party. It included an intercontinental ballistic missile described by one expert as a monster possibly the worlds largest road-mobile ICBM, albeit one that is yet to be tested and additional missile transporters.
This was demonstrative, not provocative: Kim Jong-un accompanied the hardware with a softer speech, without the threatening rhetoric of his new year address. Anti-US slogans seen in previous years appeared to have been removed. But the message was clearly aimed at Washington.
What Donald Trump Should Have Done With North Korea And What The Next President Should Do
Writing in The National Interest, Michael O’Hanlon argues that “there is a way ahead. Rather than pursue complete elimination of all of North Koreas nuclear capabilities, the Trump administration would aim for a more modest trade as at least an interim step. It would require North Korea to verifiably dismantle all capabilities it possesses to make more bombs in exchange for a partial lifting of the sanctions which have driven North Koreas economy into the tank.”
President Donald Trump recklessly risked war over North Korea in 2017, but then appeared to make relatively good use of that scare by starting a negotiation process with Kim Jong-un the following two years. Unfortunately, the momentum is now gone, and we are back to almost where we started three and a half years ago. At least North Korea is not testing nuclear weapons or long-range missiles right now, but it could resume those testsand it has never stopped building more nukes. The next president, Biden or a reelected Trump, needs to break out of this logjam.
There is a way ahead. Rather than pursue complete elimination of all of North Koreas nuclear capabilities, the Trump administration would aim for a more modest trade as at least an interim step. It would require North Korea to verifiably dismantle all capabilities it possesses to make more bombs in exchange for a partial lifting of the sanctions which have driven North Koreas economy into the tank.
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