North Korea’s Nuclear Work Is Beyond Sanctions’ Ability to Constrain: Experts

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Sept. 25, 2013, 7:02 a.m.

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.

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