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– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
Missile Testing

Missile Testing

North Korea Tests New Missile

Leader Kim Jong Un again defies a UN Security Council prohibition.

March 2017

By Kelsey Davenport

North Korea successfully tested a new medium-range ballistic missile last month that demonstrated several technical advances, including a domestically produced launch vehicle.

North Korea test fires its new medium-range Pukguksong-2 ballistic missile February 12 in a photo distributed by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)The missile, known as the Pukguksong-2, is a two-stage, solid-fueled system, likely adapted from the submarine-launched ballistic missile, the Pukguksong-1, that North Korea has been developing for the past several years. North Korea is prohibited from testing ballistic missiles by UN Security Council resolutions, but has continued to develop and test a range of ballistic missiles. The UN Security Council condemned this latest test on Feb. 13.  

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), in a Feb. 13 report, described the missile as a “Korean style new type strategic weapon system” and called the test a success. The report said that leader Kim Jong Un had the system developed based on the indigenously developed Pukguksong-1, which international weapons analysts call the KN-11. 

The missile flew approximately 500 kilometers, but was tested at a lofted trajectory that the KCNA said was done to take into account the security of neighboring countries. Experts assess that the missile, if flown a standard trajectory, would have a range of approximately 1,200 kilometers, which is similar to the assessed range of the submarine variant and puts it in the category of a medium-range ballistic missile. When deployed, the Pukguksong-2 will likely be nuclear capable. 

North Korea has other land-based, medium-range ballistic missiles, but they are liquid fueled. Solid-fueled ballistic missiles require less support because they are not fueled at the launch site, making them more difficult to track and pre-empt. 

North Korea also used a technique for launching the missile that is similar to a submarine launch. The Pukguksong-2 was ejected from the canister using compressed gas. The rocket engine ignited after the launch, which protects the vehicle from the worst of the heat from the launch. 

North Korean Launch Vehicle

North Korean media highlighted that the tracked vehicle used to transport and launch the missile, often referenced as a transport-erector launcher (TEL), was also indigenously produced. Joshua Pollack, senior research associate with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told Arms Control Today on Feb. 17 that North Korea’s claims that the TEL was produced domestically are credible. 

Pollack said there are aspects of the vehicle that resemble Soviet-made TELs, but the newly displayed model appears to be unique. There are some externally visible components of the TEL that match those of tanks and other tracked vehicles produced in North Korea, he said. The site where the missile was tested is a proving ground for tracked vehicles located near North Korea’s Kusong tank factory, he said. 

North Korea’s development of an indigenous TEL production capability is unfortunate because launch vehicles were a “noticeable area of weakness in North Korea’s missile program” and Pyongyang has until now relied on foreign suppliers for TEL chassis, Pollack said. North Korea has displayed several different missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles, on wheeled vehicles produced in China and adapted by Pyongyang to transport and launch missiles. 

Pollack’s hypothesis is that North Korea is currently unable to reliably import wheeled vehicles to use for missile launchers, so Pyongyang is falling back on track technology that it already knows how to produce. When denied sensitive technology, North Korea’s “general strategy is to turn to domestic production” wherever possible, he said.

Pollack, who is also the editor of The Nonproliferation Review, said using tracks instead of wheels on the launch vehicle is a “double-edged sword.” Although tracks allow a vehicle to traverse more difficult terrain, other things being equal, the vehicle will move more slowly than a wheeled counterpart, he said. 

U.S. Response

Washington’s response to the missile launch was muted. U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese President Shinzo Abe, who was visiting the United States at the time, issued statements on Feb. 11. Abe labeled the test intolerable and called for the United States and Japan to “further reinforce our alliance.” Trump said that the United States “stands behind Japan.” 

The Trump administration is currently reviewing its policy toward North Korea. During his confirmation process, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that he would work “closely with…interagency colleagues to develop a new approach to proactively address the multitude of threats that North Korea poses to its neighbors and the international community.”

The P5+1 And Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, February 17

Israel and EU Talk Iran During Washington Visits Neither U.S. President Donald Trump nor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu advocated for abandoning the nuclear deal with Iran during a Feb. 15 joint news conference in Washington, DC. But both leaders called for additional sanctions on Tehran and Netanyahu said he welcomed Trump’s “challenging Iran on its violations of ballistic missiles.” There are no prohibitions on ballistic missile activity in the July 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but continued testing of certain ballistic missile...

The P5+1 And Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, January 17

Iran Deal Hits One Year Milestone Jan. 16 marked one year of full implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal. Around the anniversary, key U.S. and Iranian figures issued contrasting comments about the future of the deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On ABC News’ This Week program, President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus did not directly answer a question about whether Trump was still committed to tearing up the deal. Priebus said the deal is on “life support,” but that he is “not here to declare one way or the other...

India Tests Long-Range Missile

India conducted a successful fourth flight test of its Agni-5 ballistic missile, a nuclear-capable system likely to reach intercontinental-ballistic-missile classification. 

January/February 2017

By Kelsey Davenport

India conducted a successful fourth flight test of its Agni-5 ballistic missile, a nuclear-capable system likely able to reach the range for classification as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). 

According to a press release from the Indian Defence Ministry, the Dec. 26 launch tested the full range of the Agni-5 and successfully achieved all mission objectives. The release said that the flight test “further boosted the indigenous missile capabilities and deterrence level of the country.” 

The Agni-V missile is displayed during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2013. (Photo credit: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images)The Agni-5 is a road-mobile, three-stage, solid-fueled ballistic missile believed to be capable of carrying a 1,500 kilogram warhead an estimated 5,000-5,800 kilometers. The threshold for ICBM classification is 5,500 kilometers. 

The Indian Defence Research and Development Organization, which developed the Agni-5, will not give an exact range for the system, but has said publicly that it is more than 5,000 kilometers. That distance would put within range all of China, a nuclear-armed neighbor that New Delhi views as a threat. The two fought a brief border war in 1962 and have continuing territorial disputes.

Hua Chunying, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, at a Dec. 27 press conference cited nonbinding UN Security Resolution 1172, which in 1998 called on India and Pakistan to “cease development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” Beijing maintains that “preserving the strategic balance and stability in South Asia is conducive to peace and prosperity of regional countries,” Hua said. 

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs rebutted the implication that India was not complying with the UN resolution and said India “abides by all” applicable international obligations. 

The missile was tested from Dr. Abdul Kalam Island, off the eastern coast of India in the Bay of Bengal. The first Agni-5 test took place in 2012, and the most recent before the December launch was in January 2015. (See ACT, March 2015; May 2012.)

The P5+1 And Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, December 22

The Iran Deal Under Trump President-elect Donald Trump has yet to clarify his administration’s policy toward Iran and the July 2015 multilateral nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). But he will need to move quickly as Iranian news outlets are reporting that the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said a meeting of the nuclear deal's Joint Commission will take place in early January and include members of the Trump team. Trump’s advisors, however, have voiced conflicting views about the agreement. The presumptive National Security Advisor,...

UN Struggles Over North Korea’s Actions

The UN Security Council quickly condemned a missile test, but moves slowly on new sanctions in response to September nuclear test.

November 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

The UN Security Council issued a statement condemning a North Korean missile test last month, but has yet to pass a resolution in response to the underground nuclear test explosion Pyongyang conducted in September. 

According to a statement from U.S. Strategic Command, North Korea attempted to launch a Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile on Oct. 14 from an airfield near Kusong, a city in the northwestern part of the country. The missile exploded shortly after liftoff. The missile has an estimated range of 3,000 kilometers with a 750-kilogram payload.

This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency on June 23 shows what is described as a test launch of a Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missile at an undisclosed location in North Korea. (Photo credit: KCNA/AFP/Getty Images)Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations and president of the Security Council, said in an Oct. 17 statement that council members condemned the test as a “grave violation” of past Security Council resolutions and that North Korea’s ballistic missile activities “increase tension.” 

He called on all member states to “redouble their efforts to implement fully” the sanctions imposed on North Korea and reiterated the Security Council’s commitment to finding a way to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula. 

Just days after Churkin’s statement, North Korea attempted another launch, presumably of a Musudan. The Oct. 19 test, which also took place near Kusong, failed. North Korea has tested the Musudan eight times in 2016. Only one launch, in June, was successful. 

The council is discussing a new resolution expanding sanctions on North Korea in response to its Sept. 9 nuclear test, but has yet to agree on a text. (See ACT, October 2016.

During a trip to Seoul, Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the UN, called negotiations over the resolution “intense” and said that there are political and technical issues involved in the talks over new sanctions. Power said that the United States wants a resolution that “makes a substantive difference and changes the calculus over time of the North Korean leadership” and that officials are “working around the clock” to quickly secure passage of a resolution.

Power said that the United States has engaged at the highest level with China on the resolution. China and the United States are reportedly at odds over what restrictions to include in the resolution. 

Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Ash Carter met with their South Korean counterparts in Washington on Oct. 19 to discuss a range of issues, including the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. 

In a news conference following those talks, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said that Washington and Seoul agreed during the meeting to “use all available tools” to “beef up pressure and sanctions” on North Korea. 

Yun said that the two countries will “institutionalize the extended deterrence doctrine, which is at the heart of the U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea.” To accomplish this, Yun said that the four officials agreed to establish a high-level “extended deterrence strategy and consultation group.

Kerry and Carter “have reaffirmed that the U.S. will defend South Korea from any and all North Korean threats through extended deterrence, encompassing all parameters of defense capabilities, including nuclear umbrella, conventional, and missile defense,” Yun said. “They also made it loud and clear that Pyongyang will be met with effective and overwhelming responses should it resort to nuclear weapons.”

Lost Cause

The top U.S. intelligence official effectively buried the Obama administration’s effort to force North Korea to give up all its nuclear weapons, but in doing so, he opened the way for the next president to pursue a different approach to dealing with Pyongyang.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Oct. 25 that the best that can be achieved diplomatically may be limiting further advances in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and even that, if possible, would require offering Pyongyang “significant inducements.” 

“I think the notion of getting the North Koreans to denuclearize is probably a lost cause,” he said at an event held by the Council on Foreign Relations. “They are not going to do that. That is their ticket to survival.”

North Korea is thought currently to have enough plutonium for approximately six to eight weapons and the capacity to produce six to eight a year, according to U.S. officials and private analysts. The intelligence community previously assessed that North Korea has been able to develop a warhead that could be mounted on a missile, Clapper said.

The six-party negotiations between North Korea and China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States collapsed in 2009, leaving North Korea to advance its weapons programs. The Obama administration has pursued a policy of “strategic patience,” which includes international sanctions and Chinese diplomacy to induce North Korea to return to denuclearization negotiations. 

As recently as Sept. 9, following a North Korean underground nuclear test explosion, President Barack Obama said in a statement that “the United States does not, and never will, accept North Korea as a nuclear state.”

Clapper said his views in part draw on his visit to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, in 2014 on a mission to gain the release of two Americans. “I got a good taste of that when I was there about how the world looks from their vantage [point],” he said. “They are under siege, and they are very paranoid. So the notion of giving up their nuclear capability, whatever it is, is a nonstarter with them.”

Asked about whether there may be prospects for an Iran-type accord to roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities, Clapper said, “I don’t think so.”

“The best we could probably hope for is some sort of a cap,” he said. “But they’re not going to do that just because we ask them. There’s going to have to be some significant inducements.”

The P5+1 and Iran Nuclear Deal Alert, September 30

Ministers Meet to Review Iran Deal Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) met at the ministerial level to review implementation of the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The September 22 meeting in New York was the first ministerial-level meeting on the nuclear agreement since the ministers gathered to announce implementation of the deal in January. Iran requested that the meeting take place to review progress on the deal and to raise concerns over the slow pace of sanctions relief. European Union foreign...

Interview with The Hankyoreh (Seoul)

Hankyoreh: North Korea its 5th nuclear test at the eight months after 4th nuclear test on January. It was regarded as very unusual beacause North Korea conducted nuclear test at intervals of two or three years so far. What do you think is its implication in terms of technology? Daryl Kimball: The cumulative knowledge of the five nuclear test explosions since 2006, and the dozens of ballistic missile tests, especially in the last 12 months, has provided the DPRK’s technical and military teams greater confidence that they can deploy warheads on their short and medium-range ballistic missiles...

The Complex and Increasingly Dangerous Nuclear Weapons Geometry of Asia

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Asian states Pakistan, India, China, and North Korea comprise four of the world's nine nuclear-armed states. The interconnections of these countries must be considered to fully understand how nuclear nonproliferation can be influenced.

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By Greg Thielmann
July 2016

Download PDF

While much of the world’s attention is focused on efforts to halt the nuclear and missile tests of North Korea, the nuclear arsenals and ambitions of India, Pakistan, and China also pose significant dangers and deserve more attention.

The complicated nuclear weapons geometry of Asia extends from the subcontinent to the other side of the world. While Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is designed to counter India’s conventional and nuclear forces, New Delhi measures its own nuclear weapons program against that of China. Beijing, in turn, judges the adequacy of its nuclear arsenal against the threat it perceives from the United States’ strategic offensive and defensive capabilities. And in its efforts to mitigate the ballistic missile threat from North Korea, the United States and its allies in the region are expanding their strategic and theater missile defense capabilities.

In order to fully understand how the pace and direction of nuclear proliferation can be influenced, the interconnections of these countries must be considered, along with the kinds of nuclear weapons they have at their disposal.

Progress on Nuclear Disarmament, Nonproliferation Inadequate to Meet Threats, New Study Finds

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Description: 

A new study suggests that President Obama, failed to make progress in key nuclear disarmament areas during his second term.

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For Immediate Release: July 15, 2016

Media Contacts: Tony Fleming, communications director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 110; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, D.C.)—President Barack Obama failed to make progress in key nuclear disarmament areas over the course of his second term, but did achieve important steps to improve nuclear materials security and strengthen nonproliferation norms, namely the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, according to a new study released by the Arms Control Association, which evaluates the recent records of all the world’s nuclear-armed states.

The report, "Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, 2013-2016," is the third in a series that measures the performance of 11 key states in 10 universally-recognized nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear security categories over the past three years. The study evaluated the records of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea—each of which possess nuclear weapons—as well as Iran and Syria, which are states of proliferation concern.

“The United States is investing enormous resources to maintain and upgrade nuclear weapons delivery systems and warheads and is keeping its deployed nuclear weapons on ‘launch-under-attack’ readiness posture. The lack of U.S. leadership in these areas contributes to the moribund pace of disarmament,” said Elizabeth Philipp, the Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the Arms Control Association, and a co-author of the report.

“Obama should use his remaining months in office to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategies and mitigate the risks of inadvertent use. Obama could consider declaring that Washington will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association and co-author of the report.

“U.S. leadership could spur China and Russia to take positive actions and improve the prospects for further disarmament. Russia’s decision to develop a new missile in violation of its treaty commitments and Moscow’s rebuff of attempts by the United States to negotiate further nuclear reductions is very troublesome, as is the expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal and Beijing’s steps toward increasing the alert levels of its forces,” Philipp added.

“Several states did take significant steps over the past three years to strengthen nuclear security, including action by the United States and Pakistan to ratify key nuclear security treaties,” said Davenport.

“The July 2015 nuclear deal struck between six global powers and Iran was also a significant nonproliferation breakthrough that has significantly reduced Tehran’s nuclear capacity and subjected its activities to more intrusive international monitoring and verification. While the international community must remain vigilant in ensuring that the deal is fully implemented, blocking Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons negates a serious nonproliferation concern and demonstrates the consequences of flouting the international norms and obligations,” Davenport said.

“For the third time, the United Kingdom received the highest grade of all the states assessed, while North Korea remained at the bottom of the list with the lowest overall grades. North Korea’s recent nuclear test and its ballistic missile development require the next U.S. administration to pursue more robust engagement with Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear activities,” Philipp said.

“Our review of the record indicates that further action must be taken by all 11 states if they are to live up to their international disarmament and nonproliferation responsibilities. By tracking the progress, or lack thereof, of these states over time, we hope this report will serve as a tool to encourage policymakers to increase efforts to reduce the risk posed by nuclear weapons,” Davenport said.

A country-by-country summary can be viewed here.
The full report card can be downloaded here

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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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