North Korea has advanced its indigenous atomic capabilities so much that it is not realistic to expect international sanctions and export controls to constrain its progress in developing a nuclear weapon, Agence France-Presse reported on Wednesday, citing the findings of experts.
Analysts speaking at a Seoul forum organized by the Asan Institute were of mixed views on just how far the North had progressed toward acquiring a credible nuclear weapon. Still, they agreed it was past time for the international community to develop a new plan of action for dealing with the isolated nation's atomic work.
North Korea is "not at the start of this process anymore," Asan Institute Science and Technology Policy Center Director Park Jiyoung said. "They've been at it a long time."
A new analysis by experts Joshua Pollack and Scott Kemp this week concluded Pyongyang had developed the ability to domestically produce uranium centrifuges. North Korea has one known uranium enrichment plant at the Yongbyon nuclear complex. Uranium enrichment plants are less energy intensive than plutonium-producing reactors, so uranium sites are more difficult to detect via satellite. That means there could be uranium plants established elsewhere that the world does not know about.
Because of the difficulty in confirming the exact scope of North Korea's uranium-enrichment program and whether it is really honoring potential future aid-for-denuclearization agreements, the world should concentrate on convincing Pyongyang not to carry out a fourth atomic test, Pollack told conference participants.
Li Bin, a nuclear researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted that in the most recent February test, "they could not finish the task of miniaturization ... but if they have a chance for more nuclear tests, maybe one more, they would be able to have small and more reliable device for their missile," the Yonhap News Agency reported.
North Korea is thought to be developing long-range ballistic missiles, and achieved its first successful three-stage rocket launch in December. A particularly difficult question to answer is how far the Kim Jong Un regime has progressed in producing a warhead small enough to mount on an ICBM.
Global concerns about the North's progress toward acquiring a credible nuclear-armed missile reached a crescendo point this spring after Pyongyang threatened repeatedly to carry out nuclear strikes on South Korea and the United States and deployed missile launchers on its coast. The United States responded by announcing it would field more long-range interceptors in Alaska and by posting additional antimissile systems on Guam.
All of that earlier worry, though, was not in evidence when U.S. President Obama addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. In a speech that focused heavily on prospects for diplomacy with Iran and the Syrian chemical-weapons crisis, the president did not mention North Korea and its continued nuclear weapons progress once, Yonhap reported.