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former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Nuclear Nonproliferation

U.S. Courts Allies to Contain North Korea, Talks Lag

Paul Kerr

As the United States continues to insist that it seeks a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis, recent statements from high-level officials indicate that Washington plans to push forward with a strategy of containment. No negotiations have been held between the two countries since April, and on June 9 North Korea explicitly declared for the first time that it is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.

A U.S. containment strategy would aim to impede North Korea’s trade in items that provide Pyongyang with hard currency that could then be used to support its weapons programs. John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, identified “remittances” from foreign organized crime networks, as well as the sale of ballistic missile components and illegal drugs, as sources of North Korean hard currency during a June 4 hearing before the House International Relations Committee.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said in a June 9 press briefing that preventing North Korea from acquiring hard currency would “restrict the…movement of the regime” and perhaps induce North Korea to give up its nuclear program. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz argued during a May 31 conference in Singapore that North Korea “is teetering on the edge of economic collapse” and that this weakness “is a major point of leverage” for the United States and its allies. Other countries in the region should threaten to cut off aid to North Korea if it does not change policies the United States finds objectionable, he added.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in a June 11 press briefing that the United States has been consulting with Japan and Australia on specific measures to stop North Korean illicit trade but emphasized that no decisions on interdiction have been made. South Korea participated in similar discussions with the United States and Japan, according to a joint statement following a June 13 meeting of the Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Group (TCOG). Japan has taken a first step toward enhancing interdiction, increasing port inspections of North Korean ships traveling between the two countries, Japan’s Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Chikage Oogi said in a June 10 press conference.

The effort to contain North Korean trade policy is related to the Bush administration’s recently announced Proliferation Security Initiative—a broader U.S. effort to prevent proliferation by persuading other countries to interdict the transfer of weapons of mass destruction and related technologies. Australia and Japan are members of the initiative, but China and South Korea are not. (See ACT, July/August 2003.) Secretary of State Colin Powell said June 17 that he believes that sufficient pressure can be brought to bear on North Korea even without China’s help.

There is concern among experts, however, that the containment strategy taking shape will not protect the United States from North Korea’s nuclear program—at least not for the immediate future. When asked if a containment policy provides a short-term solution to the nuclear crisis, Wolfowitz conceded that it does not but added that he did not think any other solution would be effective in the short term.

North Korea called the planned U.S. interdiction policy “little short of a sea blockade” and a “war action” in a June 18 statement from the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). North Korea also denied that it conducts illicit commerce, saying specifically that it would not sell nuclear material or missiles to terrorist organizations.


Despite its moves to strengthen the containment of North Korea, the United States maintains that it wants to “have multilateral talks” with Pyongyang that include Japan and South Korea, Armitage said in a June 20 press briefing. In a June 9 KCNA statement, Pyongyang reiterated that it would be willing to participate in multilateral negotiations but insisted that it first hold bilateral talks with Washington.

The United States and North Korea last held formal discussions in April that included China. During the trilateral talks, which took place in Beijing, North Korea told the United States that it possesses nuclear weapons, threatened to transfer them to other countries, and made a veiled reference to nuclear testing, according to U.S. officials. (See ACT, April 2003.)

The April talks were the first since the nuclear crisis started last October. At that time, according to the United States, North Korean officials told a U.S. delegation during a meeting in Pyongyang that North Korea was pursuing a uranium enrichment program in violation of several nuclear agreements, including the 1994 Agreed Framework. The situation escalated for months, and in January North Korea announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). [See sidebar below.]

It is not known whether North Korea possesses nuclear weapons, but Powell said June 9 that the United States believes North Korea has “some small number of nuclear weapons.” The uranium enrichment program is being designed to produce two weapons per year. (See ACT, June 2003 and April 2003.) Additionally, U.S. officials have said that North Korea can develop five or six nuclear weapons within months if it reprocesses several thousand spent-fuel rods it has. Despite reports that in April North Korea claimed to have begun reprocessing its spent fuel, a State Department official interviewed June 24 said the United States does not know the status of Pyongyang’s reprocessing efforts.

The official also confirmed that Washington continues to insist that Pyongyang verifiably dismantle its nuclear program before President George W. Bush will undertake his self-described “bold approach,” which U.S. officials have said involves “economic and political steps” to help North Korea and to improve relations between the two countries. The official explained that the Bush administration may initiate these steps if North Korea gives up its nuclear program, but that issues such as human rights, missiles, and conventional forces would still have to be addressed.

North Korea continues to reject the U.S. stance on negotiations. A June 18 KCNA statement stated that this policy, combined with Washington’s efforts to increase pressure on Pyongyang, is an attempt to “contain” the country “with ease after forcing it to disarm itself.” The statement also explained North Korea’s view that such attempts at disarmament are a prelude to war, citing the invasion of Iraq in March as proof.

Increasing its rhetoric even further, North Korea stated in a June 9 KCNA statement that it would “build up a nuclear deterrent force” if the United States “keeps threatening [North Korea] with nukes instead of abandoning its hostile policy toward Pyongyang.” Although the statement did not say that North Korea possesses nuclear weapons, it marked the most explicit public statement from North Korea on the issue. The statement nevertheless maintained that a North Korean nuclear force would not be aimed “to threaten and blackmail others.”

U.S. officials have said that in April North Korea offered to eliminate its two nuclear programs and halt its missile exports if the United States complied with a list of demands which, according to a South Korean official, included the resumption of heavy-fuel oil deliveries, the completion of the reactors promised under the Agreed Framework, the “normalization of relations” between the two countries, and an “assurance of non-aggression.”

North Korea referenced its April proposal in the June 9 statement and indicated that it would “clear up” U.S. concerns about its nuclear program if Washington “drops its hostile policy toward” North Korea—a reference to what North Korea perceives as U.S. attempts to weaken its economy and threaten its security with both nuclear and conventional forces.

Meanwhile, Washington is renewing its efforts to persuade the UN Security Council to adopt a Security Council president’s statement condemning North Korea’s actions, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said June 20. A U.S. official interviewed that same day said that the United States has informally circulated a draft among the Security Council’s members.

The official added that China continues to oppose the statement because it does not believe the timing is right and wants to know more about the U.S. “game plan” for resolving the situation. (See ACT, April 2003.) Beijing continues to encourage dialogue and support a negotiated settlement to the nuclear crisis, a foreign ministry spokesperson said in a June 17 press briefing. (See ACT, June 2003.)

South Korea and Japan also continue to support a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but a joint press conference held June 7 between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun revealed that the two leaders continue to differ somewhat in their approaches to North Korea. Koizumi stated that “dialogue and pressure are necessary for the diplomatic…solution,” according to a June 7 Agence France Press report, but Roh said that Seoul places “more emphasis on dialogue.”

Indeed, Seoul proposed a negotiating strategy with North Korea during the TCOG meeting, apparently similar in many respects to North Korea’s April proposal. According to a June 17 Joongang Ilbo article, the South Korean plan suggests “step-by-step measures,” requiring North Korea to verifiably dismantle its nuclear program, end missile exports, and continue its missile-test moratorium. In return, Pyongyang’s demands for security assurances, economic assistance, normalized relations, and the resumption of heavy-fuel oil shipments that had been part of the Agreed Framework would be addressed.

North Korea’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Status

Although North Korea announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) on January 10, Pyongyang’s status within the regime has yet to be formally determined.

Some states have argued that because North Korea did not cite or explain what “extraordinary events” led to its January 10 announcement, as required by the treaty, its withdrawal is invalid. A requisite three-month waiting period ended without comment on April 10, and a meeting of the remaining 188 NPT member states in late April did not confront the issue directly. (See ACT, June 2003.) The treaty’s depositories—Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—have not arrived at a decision about how to address North Korea’s withdrawal, prolonging the holdup of a formal announcement of North Korea’s treaty status.

Sources indicated that the depository governments are unwilling to expend bureaucratic time and energy on the question. One Western diplomat stressed, “It’s important to focus on what the North Koreans are actually doing” and leave the question of its NPT status aside for the moment. According to another source close to the issue, if the biggest problem—getting Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons ambition—is solved, North Korea could again be compliant with NPT standards, thus rendering the question of withdrawal moot.

-Christine Kucia

As the United States continues to insist that it seeks a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis, recent statements from high-level officials indicate...

Congressional Delegation Visits North Korea to Ease Tension

Jonathan Yang

A bipartisan delegation returned June 3 from a rare trip to North Korea convinced that a negotiated solution could be found to the current tension over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

The delegation considered its purpose to put “a human face on the U.S.” rather than to represent the administration, according to Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and the leader of the delegation. Representatives Solomon Ortiz (D-TX), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), Jeff Miller (R-FL), and Joe Wilson (R-SC) were also members of the delegation. Weldon added that the delegation’s trip was “extremely worthwhile” and “positive,” with discussions covering a variety of issues with North Korean officials, including allegations of drug trafficking, weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missile testing and sales, and Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

Trying to gauge whether diplomacy could solve the current tensions with Pyongyang, Weldon presented a 10-point plan of action to Kim Gye Gwan, North Korean vice foreign minister and the appointed leader for negotiations on this issue, and received an encouraging response. In a June 25 speech at the 50th anniversary celebration of the U.S.-South Korean alliance, Weldon emphasized that the plan was not an attempt to negotiate, and the vice minister understood that the points were Weldon’s personal ideas and were not endorsed by the U.S. State Department. However, the vice minister’s extremely positive response provided encouragement that official negotiations could provide a solution—after hearing the plan, Kim “smiled and said that it was ‘exactly what we’re looking for,’” recalled Weldon.

In his June 25 speech, Weldon described his 10-point plan as a two-phase solution. Initially, the United States, its allies and North Korea would pursue five points of action. These included the United States entering into a one-year nonaggression pact with the North Korean government and officially recognizing that government. Pyongyang would “officially renounce its entire nuclear weapons and research programs” and rejoin the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The United States and its allies would also provide an economic aid package to help North Korea’s economy and its citizens.

The second phase would occur at the end of one year or another agreed upon time period, contingent on the successful completion of the other points in phase one, including complete nuclear transparency and ratification of the NPT by North Korea. This phase proposes an additional five points of action. Pyongyang would join the Missile Technology Control Regime and agree to establish a plan for improving humanitarian rights in North Korea. The United States would enter into a permanent nonaggression pact and establish interparliamentary relationships to work with North Korea’s legislature on a variety of issues. Finally, a multinational threat reduction program would attempt to remove all nuclear weapons, materials, resources, and capabilities from North Korea within two years.

With the sense that a diplomatic solution exists, Weldon is now focused on encouraging Pyongyang to drop its opposition to multilateral talks. He plans to meet in New York City with North Korea’s UN ambassador, Song Ryol Han, to discuss this issue.


A bipartisan delegation returned June 3 from a rare trip to North Korea convinced that a negotiated solution could be found to the current tension over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Western Governments Assess Nonproliferation Measures

Christine Kucia

The Group of Eight (G-8) and the European Union (EU) issued declarations in June supporting the potential use of force against countries that do not comply with nonproliferation regimes, reflecting a growing concern over Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs. The declarations also emphasized international commitment to efforts to secure and destroy weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

At the G-8 summit, held June 1-3 in Evian, France, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States issued a declaration describing WMD proliferation as “the pre-eminent threat to international security.” The statement noted that G-8 member states place a high value on diplomatic nonproliferation tools, such as inspections, export controls, and treaties. But the statement also indicated support, if necessary, for “other measures in accordance with international law,” a phrase that implies the use of force.

A senior U.S. official told the Associated Press June 3 that the United States interprets the statement—which includes strong condemnations of Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear activities—to mean that the G-8 condones the use of force against countries that violate nonproliferation regimes. French President Jacques Chirac, however, took exception to that interpretation, calling it “extraordinarily far-fetched,” and asserted, “There was never any question of using force against anyone in any area,” Reuters reported June 3.

Soon after the Evian meeting, EU heads of state met June 19-20 in Thessaloníki, Greece, and endorsed a statement titled “Basic Principles for an EU Strategy Against Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.” Citing the international security threat posed by the spread of WMD and related materials, they professed the need for a “broad approach” to address the problem, which could include “coercive measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and international law.” The statement notes that the use of force by EU member states “could be envisioned.”

EU diplomats agreed that, although the statement represents a departure from previous declarations, they must keep all options open to deal with nonproliferation threats. Despite its strong dissent earlier in the month regarding the interpretation of the “other measures” that the G-8 leaders had sanctioned, the French government says it supports the EU’s endorsement of using force in extreme circumstances. “Traditional nonproliferation approaches have their limits. This new strategy is a way to expand the means available to countries,” said Martin Briens, political counselor with the French Embassy in Washington. Another Western official noted that the declaration “clearly shows our commitment to the use of force—as a last resort.”

The G-8 Partnership

At their meeting, the G-8 leaders also reviewed the first year of the Global Partnership Against the Spread of WMD, in which the United States pledged up to $10 billion—an amount to be matched by G-8 and other partner states—over the next 10 years to help safeguard and dispose of Russian weapons and radiological materials. (See ACT, July/August 2002.) A G-8 report on the partnership’s progress to date noted that although several obstacles to implementation, such as Russian tax issues, are being resolved, others, such as liability protection for foreign contractors, still remain. And while noting that many countries have undertaken bilateral projects with Russia to dismantle decommissioned submarines, dispose of fissile material, or destroy chemical weapons, the report stressed that “sustained and broadened efforts will be needed.”

The report also applauded efforts to solicit new donors to the partnership, and the United States announced June 2 that Finland, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland had joined the assistance effort, which was first laid out at the 2002 G-8 Summit in Kananaskis, Canada. Additionally, an “action plan” endorsed at the Evian meeting indicated the partnership intends “to enter into preliminary discussions with new or current recipient countries…that are prepared to adopt the Kananaskis documents, as the Ukraine has already done.” Rozanne Oliver, U.S. State Department senior policy coordinator for the partnership, noted, “It was the intent all along to be open to recipients from other countries.” Although Ukraine’s application was not acted upon at this meeting, Oliver said, “The Global Partnership will be looking at this issue more after the initial phase.”

G-8 states also discussed the task of securing radioactive sources that could be used to develop a “dirty bomb,” the focus of a meeting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had hosted in March. (See ACT, April 2003.) G-8 leaders endorsed the findings of that meeting, which advocated enhanced national controls and stepped-up international measures to secure radioactive materials, particularly those that have been abandoned, and they agreed to support the IAEA’s programs to do so. France offered to host another international conference in 2005 to assess the IAEA’s progress and discuss new strategies to tackle the problem.


The Group of Eight (G-8) and the European Union (EU) issued declarations in June supporting the potential use of force against countries that do not comply with...

Intelligence: The Achilles Heel of the Bush Doctrine

Gregory F. Treverton

There is not yet a clearly articulated “Bush doctrine” of national security. Yet the pointers so far, especially the victory in Iraq, suggest the shape of one that is stunning in its ambition. Focused on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the emerging Bush doctrine is anticipatory, pre-emptive, and, if need be, unilateral. Yet the emerging doctrine is bedeviled at its core by legitimacy and capacity, including, critically, the capability of U.S. intelligence. Although the United States has the military power to take out whatever miscreant state it chooses, it still lacks the ability to precisely locate and pre-emptively target WMD, despite all the technical wizardry of its intelligence. Indeed, even determining whether a potential adversary, such as Iraq, is developing and deploying nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons will continue to prove difficult. Taking out a foe’s real or suspected WMD is likely to continue to require taking out the foe.

Parsing the Bush Doctrine

In his 2002 national security strategy, President Bush was explicit about acting first:

We must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they can threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends. …To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act pre-emptively.

Or, as he put it more colorfully in his speech to the nation on March 19:

We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.

He had foreshadowed the new strategy in his speech at West Point in June 2002:

By confronting evil and lawless regimes, we do not create a problem; we reveal a problem. And we will lead the world in opposing it.

In making its case for war, the administration did not point to a specific set of deployments or threats that would have constituted the grounds for “anticipatory self-defense” under international law. Instead, the administration argued that, given its nature, Iraq would pose a threat to international peace if it came to possess WMD—an argument that hinged on the link between the nature of the Iraqi regime and its internal and external behavior. As Bush said in his 2003 State of the Union address, “The gravest danger facing America and the world is outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.” (Emphasis added.)

In other words, democratic France might be trusted with nuclear weapons, but Saddam Hussein surely could not. He could not be deterred with any certainty. Nor could Saddam be trusted not to transfer weapons to other rogue states or terrorist groups, even though the evidence connecting Saddam to terrorism was weak at best. Thus, he had to be denied access to them. In Bush’s words: “We must work together with other like-minded nations to deny weapons of terror from those seeking to acquire them.”

The Limits to Muscular Pre-emption

Although it is logical to meet the WMD threat now with military force abroad so that first responders at home do not have to, the emerging Bush doctrine of pre-emption or preventive war places stresses on intelligence that it cannot bear. America’s capacity for “ISR”—intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance—is unparalleled, truly in a class by itself. It is also improving rapidly. However, its shortcomings actually mirror the techniques used in enemy WMD programs. Existing ISR is not good at detecting objects that are hidden under foliage, buried underground, or concealed in other ways. Nor is it good at precisely locating objects by intercepting their signals. Would-be proliferators can exploit these weaknesses, taking pains to conceal their facilities or change the pattern of activities at weapons sites, as India did before its 1998 explosion of a nuclear weapon.

None of the limitations on U.S. intelligence-gathering capacity will ease dramatically, at least not soon. Progress is most apparent in locating moving objects using satellites and, especially, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—and, soon, expendable optical sensors launched from airplanes—though sorting out such objects from other “traffic” or ground clutter will continue to remain demanding. Predator and Global Hawk UAVs came of age in Iraq.1 They flushed out Iraqi air defenses, targeted missiles, and provided real-time video surveillance of every mission. The armed version of the smaller, lower-flying Predator fired more than a dozen Hellfire missiles, and it was a Predator operated by the CIA that blasted a car in Yemen last fall, killing a suspected al Qaeda operative and five others.

Locating and targeting moving objects better will surely be important at the opening of any war, especially one involving the possible use of WMD. That capability, though, will not greatly help the United States to pre-emptively destroy nascent WMD facilities. Other technical innovations in intelligence will help identify suspicious facilities in the future. Hyperspectral imagery, for instance, can contribute to what is called MASINT (measures and signatures intelligence) by permitting analysts to identify the composition of facilities and their emissions. But such capabilities remain limited today.

Reading the Intelligence Record

Iraq and North Korea point to the limits of the administration’s emerging national security strategy. Months of scouring have yet to produce more than possible husks of proscribed WMD in Iraq, demonstrating the limits of strategic intelligence. The United States’ tactical wartime intelligence was impressive, however. As in Afghanistan, with absolute air supremacy, U.S. intelligence had layers of sensors, from satellites to UAVs to the tactical intelligence aboard warplanes, supporting both advance special operations forces and advancing main force units. John P. Abizaid, whom President Bush has nominated to head U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 25, “Intelligence was the most accurate that I’ve ever seen on the tactical level, probably the best I’ve ever seen on the operational level, and perplexingly incomplete on the strategic level with regard to weapons of mass destruction.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations before the war contained indications of the range of U.S. sources, especially imagery and intercepted communications between Iraqi leaders.2 In intercepted communications, Iraqi officials spoke of concealing “forbidden ammo” and made references to “nerve agents.” Powell showed satellite photographs of buildings, said to be chemical and biological weapons bunkers, with “decontamination trucks” parked outside. Another set of aerial photographs, said to have been taken two days before inspections began in November, showed a convoy of trucks and a crane, which Powell said indicated pre-inspection “housecleaning.”

The latest advance in what used to be called “all source analysis”—that is, putting together indicators from the various intelligence sources, or INTs—and what later was called “fusion” is now “multi-INT.” It involves teams of computer-savvy analysts, using today’s robust communications capabilities, to very quickly put together satellite and aircraft imagery (or IMINT) with intercepted signals (or SIGINT) and any human-source intelligence (or HUMINT), such as defector reports or interviews with recently captured Iraqis.

One intelligence tip on the eve of the war resulted in the attack on Baghdad, which was targeted at Saddam—though that appears to have been a “single-source” tip from an individual. Throughout the war, the communications problems that had hampered U.S. operations in earlier conflicts, including Afghanistan, were much less in evidence. There was much better intelligence coordination between ground and air forces, enabling air strikes against enemy ground forces with fewer casualties to friendly forces.3 In the fog of war, American forces were occasionally surprised and sometimes made mistakes, but U.S. intelligence told them where enemies were and allowed them to target foes with precision weapons to a degree unprecedented in the annals of warfare.

Still, however the debate over prewar intelligence turns out, it was plain that U.S. intelligence was far from good enough to identify, let alone target, specific Iraqi biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons with any precision. Whether Iraq successfully hid evidence of its WMD, moved the weapons on the eve of the invasion, or didn’t have many to begin with, the United States could not locate weapons of mass destruction—before or after the war.

And, in many respects, Iraq was a convenient case if not an easy one. Not only had the United States and its intelligence been working on the country solidly for more than a decade, it also had been Iraq’s ally during Baghdad’s war with Iran. Iraq’s prominence among U.S. national security concerns ensured regular collection of all kinds against Iraqi targets, and U.S. analysis had a constancy and depth during the 1990s that distinguished Iraq from many others. Moreover, while weapons inspectors with the United Nations Special Commission, or UNSCOM, left Iraq in 1998, their years of work provided at a baseline for later efforts by the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, or UNMOVIC.

Pre-empting Against North Korea

The North Korea case is a harder one still for the would-be pre-emptor. As one illustration, U.S. intelligence has judged since the mid-1990s that North Korea had enough plutonium to build one or two hidden nuclear weapons.4 But it has had little idea where those weapons, if they exist, might be located in North Korea’s mare’s nest of underground tunnels.

The most recent North Korean crisis also serves as a reminder of how hard it is for intelligence to know of, let alone locate and still less target, incipient WMD programs. Over the summer of 2002, U.S. intelligence concluded that, in addition to its known plutonium facilities, North Korea was operating a covert uranium-enrichment program. The program apparently began in the late 1990s, but U.S. intelligence only confirmed its existence during 2001 by monitoring activities, such as North Korea’s extensive purchases of materials for construction of a gas-centrifuge enrichment facility. The CIA contended in November 2002 that the facility was at least three years from becoming operational, but analysts believed that a completed facility could ultimately produce sufficient fissile material for “two or more nuclear weapons per year.”5

Sheer numbers and warning time compound the problem of taking out North Korea’s WMD. For delivery vehicles, it has an estimated 12,000 artillery tubes and 2,300 multiple rocket launchers that, from their current emplacements, are capable of raining 500,000 shells per hour on U.S. and South Korean troops. Five hundred long-range artillery pieces are able to target Seoul, which is only about 20 miles from the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea.6

By one estimate, much of North Korea’s forward-based force is protected by over 4,000 underground facilities in the forward area alone, including tunnels under the demilitarized zone that would enable the North Koreans to rapidly insert forces behind the defenders. Warning times for U.S. and South Korean forces would be short—24 hours or less—if North Korea invaded using this forward-leaning posture.

Not surprisingly, recent history is also cautionary about pre-emption. The last major nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula erupted in 1993, when North Korea was caught extracting bomb-making plutonium from spent reactor fuel produced by its 5-megawatt research reactor at Yongbyon. The United States came close to war, and there was much talk in Washington and Seoul about “surgical strikes” against these nuclear facilities. In the end, the Clinton administration took the path of negotiation. Given the proximity of the North and its weaponry, the death toll from war could have run into the hundreds of thousands, with large-scale casualties among the 37,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in South Korea. The eventual result was the Agreed Framework of 1994, under which the United States agreed to provide fuel oil and two light-water reactors in return for North Korea suspending its nuclear program.7 The Bush administration, however reluctantly, is likely to be forced down a similar negotiating path when dealing with Pyongyang.

International Inspections

The cases of North Korea and Iraq suggest both the value and the limits of on-site inspections, such as those conducted by UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in buttressing national intelligence. On the down side, no system of international inspection can be foolproof, not least because nations can dismiss the inspectors, as North Korea did with the IAEA late last year. And inspectors will almost always be too few in number and too limited in their ability to conduct surprise inspections anywhere in a country. UNSCOM’s years of inspections in Iraq in the 1990s were a cat-and-mouse game, a constant struggle between Iraq’s restrictions and UNSCOM’s struggle against those restrictions.

Indeed, according to one analyst, it would not be possible to verify a North Korean commitment to freeze or dismantle its uranium program.8 Instead of running 3,000 centrifuges at one site to produce several bombs’ worth of uranium per year, groups of centrifuges could be hidden in some of the country’s thousands of caves. Unlike North Korea’s declared plutonium production facilities, whose locations are known and whose operation can be detected by satellite, much of North Korea’s uranium enrichment program appears to be out of sight at indeterminate underground locations. With centrifuge enrichment technology, there is much less need to centralize production at a single site than is the case for plutonium production, so it is more difficult to determine whether a country has acquired the requisite equipment.

Yet the contrast between the two countries also suggests the value of on-site inspection. There is little baseline data on Pyongyang’s nuclear activities. In contrast, although the UNSCOM inspectors were harassed, they did fan out across Iraq for seven years, from l991 through l998, visiting both declared and undeclared sites. In contrast, IAEA inspectors conducted only one routine inspection of North Korea’s declared nuclear facilities, and that was 10 years ago.

Other circumstances no doubt will circumscribe how closely U.S. intelligence can cooperate with international inspectors, but the experience in Iraq drives home the desirability of doing so when possible.9 As the prospect of war loomed, the earlier sensitivities about information sharing between U.S. intelligence and a UN body, UNMOVIC, diminished. U.S. U-2s, along with other allied aircraft, began flying reconnaissance for UNMOVIC, giving the inspectors much more capacity to see developments at suspected facilities over time.

If the United States contemplates preventive or pre-emptive action, in principle it will want the widest possible international support and authorization for doing so. Yet, as the Iraq example demonstrated, that is precisely what it cannot get. The problem arises not from the fecklessness of the UN but rather from asking nations to take hard, potentially dangerous decisions about dealing with threats that have not yet materialized, and whose imminence is a matter of judgment.

In those circumstances, the United States will want to make the best case it can. Ideally, it will want an “Adlai Stevenson moment,” a moment like that in 1962 when the U.S. ambassador to the UN brandished incontrovertible images of Soviet missile bases in Cuba taken from a U-2 spy plane. Otherwise, even if intelligence is good enough to undertake the military pre-emption, the United States will run the risk of looking like a bully who wants rules to apply to others but not itself.




1. Eric Schmitt, “In the Skies Over Iraq, Silent Observers Become Futuristic Weapons,” The New York Times, April 17, 2003. The various UAV programs are comprehensively surveyed in a new CRS report. See Elizabeth Bone and Christopher Bolkcom, “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress,” (Washington: Congressional Research Service, April 25, 2003).


2. Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus, “Satellite Images, Communications Intercepts and Defectors’ Briefings,” The Washington Post, February 5, 2003.


3. Ronald O’Rourke, Iraq War: Defense Program Implications for Congress, (Washington: Congressional Research Service, June 4, 2003), pp. 59-60.


4. See U.S. National Intelligence Council, “Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat Through 2015,” December 2001, at https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/missilethreat_2001.pdf.


5. “CIA Report to the U.S. Congress on North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Potential,” November 19, 2002, as published at http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/dprk/nuke/cia111902.html.


6. Willis Stanley, “From Vietnam to the New Triad: U.S. Nuclear Weapons and Korean Security,” March 11, 2003 at http://www.nautilus.org/VietnamFOIA/analyses/StillValid.html#Stanley.


7. For background on the framework, see Jonathan D. Pollack, “The United States, North Korea, and the End of the Agreed Framework,” Naval War College Review, Summer 2003.


8. Henry Sokolski, “Contending With a Nuclear North Korea,” December 23, 2002, available at http://nautilus.org/fora/security/0228A_Sokolski.html.


9. Damian Carrington, “Spy Planes ‘Significant’ Boost to Weapons Inspections,” The New Scientist, February 17, 2003, available at http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99993399.



Gregory F. Treverton is a senior analyst at RAND and associate dean of the RAND Graduate School. He was vice chair of the National Intelligence Council in the first Clinton administration, and his Reshaping National Intelligence for an Age of Information was published in 2001 by Cambridge University Press.






Turning Iran Away From Nuclear Weapons

Daryl G. Kimball

Situated in a rough, nuclear-armed neighborhood, Iran has for more than two decades been on the short list of states with the potential capability and motivation to get the bomb. Troubling revelations make it clear that Iran is now within closer reach of a nuclear weapons-making capacity than previously thought.

With Iran nearing the nuclear weapons crossroads, the international community must redouble its efforts to persuade Tehran’s leaders to accept greater transparency and forego the nuclear weapons route. In the long run, success hinges on whether the United States can fashion a new and more sophisticated strategy to reduce Iran’s incentives to acquire nuclear weapons and increase the benefits of openness and compliance.

Over the years, U.S. policymakers have successfully used the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group to conduct special inspections in Iran and further limit Iran’s access to sensitive nuclear technologies. But recent site inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) prompted Iran to reveal that it is pursuing a very extensive array of nuclear projects, including uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz that could provide the ingredients for nuclear weapons.

The leaders of oil-rich Iran claim that the projects are strictly for “peaceful” uses and will remain under IAEA safeguards which guard against diversion for military purposes. But without Iranian acceptance of a more intrusive inspection protocol, the IAEA cannot determine whether additional, undeclared nuclear capabilities exist or whether Iran has already enriched uranium, a step that would violate its NPT obligations.

With increased attention focused on its intentions, Iran’s wisest course would be to promptly dispel doubts by signing up to the Additional Protocol and providing the IAEA with honest answers to its inquiries. Without such cooperation, the European Union should delay the establishment of closer economic ties and Russia should withhold further technical assistance on the current light-water reactor project at Bushehr.

U.S. efforts to gain Iran’s support for the IAEA’s Additional Protocol and for reducing Russia’s nuclear assistance are vital but insufficient. Even with greater transparency under the Additional Protocol and strict compliance with the NPT, Iran may still have the capacity to produce bomb-grade nuclear material within the decade, and it might withdraw from the treaty and build nuclear weapons.

Ultimately, Iran’s leaders will decide whether to pursue the nuclear weapons path, but the United States can help affect that decision and avoid the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran. To do so, Washington must finally address the factors that could encourage Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

To begin, the president and his aides must refrain from inflaming Iranian nationalism with bellicose threats and demands. Such statements, along with the inclusion of Iran in the administration’s “axis of evil,” only increase Iranian perceptions of insecurity. They reinforce arguments from hardline clerical leaders in Iran who wrongly believe that nuclear weapons enhance their national prestige, help counter Israel’s nuclear arsenal, and balance U.S. conventional forces deployed in the region.

The value of nuclear weapons for Iran is illusory. They would undermine rather than enhance Iran’s security by increasing the threat of pre-emptive attack from nuclear-armed Israel or the United States. Some Iranian leaders appear to recognize this reality. In 2002, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, the Iranian defense minister, said, “The existence of nuclear weapons will turn us into a threat to others that could be exploited in a dangerous way to harm our relations with the countries of the region.”

As long as U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy in the region is solely trained on denying Iran nuclear weapons while overlooking NPT outliers such as Israel, Iranian leaders are likely to ensure that they are in a position to produce nuclear weapons relatively quickly, despite the costs. Instead, the United States should convey assurances rather than threats.

One important step would be to clarify to Iran that neither the United States nor Israel will initiate a military attack as long as it does not acquire nuclear weapons, support terrorism, or threaten Israel’s existence. Washington should also reaffirm its longstanding commitment to support a Middle East nuclear-weapon-free-zone.

Iran’s nuclear activities create difficult challenges that defy quick military solutions and will require steadfast and multifaceted diplomacy. The NPT’s safeguards have their limitations, but they provide the fundamental legal and technical basis for preventing proliferation in Iran and elsewhere. Not only must Iran abide by its commitments, but the United States must also adopt a more consistent nonproliferation policy that reinforces the view within Iran that it does not need and will not benefit from nuclear weapons.


IAEA Presses Iran to Comply With Nuclear Safeguards

Paul Kerr

Increasing pressure on Iran to come clean about its nuclear program, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors issued a statement June 19 expressing “concern” that Tehran has failed to report nuclear “material, facilities, and activities as required by its safeguards obligations.”

The statement stops short of saying that Iran is in violation of its safeguards agreement. Such agreements are required under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to ensure that member states do not divert civilian nuclear programs to military purposes. But the board urged Iran to remedy its failures and “resolve” open questions about its nuclear activities.

The board also called on Iran to conclude and implement an Additional Protocol to its existing safeguards agreement. The Additional Protocol would provide for more rigorous inspections, including visits to facilities Iran has not declared to the IAEA, to check for clandestine nuclear programs. The foreign ministers of the European Union also called on Iran to conclude the agreement in a June 16 statement. (See ACT, July/August 2003.)

The United States, which welcomed the board’s statement, has long had concerns that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program and has objected to Russia’s construction of a light-water reactor at Bushehr. Those concerns were exacerbated last August, when an Iranian opposition group revealed the existence of a uranium enrichment facility at the Iranian town of Natanz and a heavy-water reactor program at Arak. Washington publicly confirmed the existence of those facilities in December, and Tehran has since declared that it is mining uranium and pursuing a complete nuclear-fuel cycle. (See ACT, March 2003.) Iran maintains that it is not developing nuclear weapons and that its nuclear program is for producing energy, but the United States has repeatedly dismissed this explanation.

The Board of Governors statement that Iran has engaged in clandestine nuclear activity has heightened concern about the situation. The statement was based on a June 6 IAEA report, produced as the result of a series of inspections in Iran, and a February visit by the agency’s director-general, Mohamed ElBaradei.

The report identified several areas in which Iran has not complied with its safeguards agreement: Tehran failed to disclose its importation of nuclear material; the use of that material in various nuclear activities; and the facilities where the material, as well as nuclear waste, was stored and processed. The report acknowledged that Iran has now declared much of this activity and provided some relevant information about the facilities in question but said, “The process of verifying the correctness and completeness of the Iranian declarations is still ongoing.”

The Specifics

Among the report’s chief findings was that Iran imported 1,800 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride, uranium tetrafluoride, and uranium dioxide in 1991, an action it never reported to the IAEA. Iran acknowledged the imports but says it did not believe it was obligated to report such a small quantity of material. The report stated that Iran was, in fact, obligated to do so. China supplied the material, a State Department official said last month. (See ACT, June 2003.)

Significantly, the report said that some of the uranium hexafluoride—the material introduced into gas centrifuges for processing into reactor-grade fuel—has not been accounted for, suggesting that Iran has been pursuing covert nuclear activities in violation of its safeguards agreement. Although the matter is still under investigation, a State Department official interviewed June 19 said that Iran may have used some of the material to test centrifuges in its uranium enrichment program at Natanz. Uranium enrichment has civilian applications, but it can also produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

During his February visit, ElBaradei discovered that the Natanz facility, which consists of a pilot plant and a larger commercial plant, was more advanced than the agency had realized. Iran told the IAEA that the pilot enrichment plant is scheduled to start operating in June 2003 and that centrifuges are to be placed in the commercial plant starting in early 2005. The pilot plant, which had more than 100 centrifuges installed when ElBaradei visited the facility in February, is to contain 1,000 centrifuges by the end of 2003. The commercial plant will ultimately contain “over 50,000 centrifuges,” enough to produce fissile material for at least 25 nuclear weapons per year.

Constructing the centrifuges and facility buildings has not violated Iran’s safeguards agreement, but testing the centrifuges without declaring such tests to the IAEA would. According to the IAEA report, Iran has denied doing so, claiming that it tested the centrifuges via simulations. The State Department official called Iran’s explanation “extremely implausible,” adding that there is no precedent for testing centrifuges through simulations.

The question could be resolved through further examination of a site known as the Kala Electric company, where, according to the June report, Tehran acknowledged that it had produced “centrifuge components.” The IAEA asked to conduct inspections and environmental sampling to verify “the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities,” which would help determine if Iran has tested centrifuges with nuclear material. After some hesitation, Iranian officials allowed the inspectors to visit the facility but have not yet allowed environmental sampling.

Additionally, the report provided details about Iran’s heavy-water reactor program. Iranian Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh publicly disclosed the program in a speech the day after Iran notified the IAEA in a May 5 letter that it plans to construct a heavy-water research reactor at Arak. Construction of the reactor is to start in 2004. Iran has also been constructing a heavy-water production plant at Arak. (See ACT, January/February 2003.)

The State Department official said the reactor may be part of a nuclear weapons program because its small size will not contribute significantly to a civilian energy program (it will produce only 40 megawatts) but could generate plutonium for reprocessing into fissile material. Another State Department official interviewed in May said heavy-water reactors pose a greater proliferation risk than the proliferation-resistant light-water reactor being built at Bushehr because their spent fuel is easier to reprocess into weapons-grade plutonium. Additionally the Iranian reactor’s design uses natural uranium for nuclear fuel, which will allow Iran to bypass the uranium-enrichment process and use indigenous uranium. It could also complicate efforts to monitor the diversion of nuclear fuel.

The report also provided a number of other pieces of information that Iran had not previously made public: In addition to the gas centrifuge program, Iran has acknowledged “a substantial” laser-based uranium enrichment program, which the IAEA is also investigating. The IAEA report also questioned Iran’s claim that it is building a facility that would convert uranium oxide into uranium hexafluoride without having tested it with nuclear material. Finally, the report added that Iran told the agency it converted most of the imported uranium tetrafluoride into uranium metal in 2000, although neither of Iran’s nuclear reactor programs require the material for fuel. The State Department official said that, under these circumstances, the main use of uranium metal would be for nuclear warheads. The IAEA is continuing to investigate the matter, the report said.

Next Steps

The IAEA is continuing its investigation into Iran’s nuclear program. The June 19 Board of Governors statement said that the IAEA expects “Iran to grant…all access deemed necessary by the Agency” to alleviate concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and to allow inspectors to take environmental samples at the Kala company. The board also requested that Iran refrain from introducing nuclear material into the centrifuges at the pilot enrichment plant “pending the resolution” of other issues surrounding the nuclear program.

Although President George W. Bush stated June 18 that the United States “will not tolerate” an Iranian nuclear weapon, the United States appears willing to let the IAEA take the lead for now. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said June 19 that the United States “welcomes” the June 6 report, and a State Department official interviewed June 19 said that the United States is awaiting the results of further IAEA investigations, which will be discussed at an IAEA Board of Governors meeting in September.

Whether Iran will cooperate with the IAEA, however, is another matter. An Iranian government spokesman stated that Iran welcomes “any measure for confidence building among the international community for peaceful use” of nuclear energy, according to a June 23 Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) report. But Aghazadeh left doubts about the extent of this cooperation. Although saying that Tehran’s cooperation with the IAEA would be “comprehensive” and “at a level acceptable to the agency,” Aghazadeh added that Iran would go ahead with its plans to enrich uranium, according to a June 22 Associated Press report. Additionally, he suggested during a June 20 Iranian television broadcast that Iran would not permit environmental sampling at the Kala company.

Tehran’s position on the Additional Protocol is also unclear. Russian President Vladimir Putin told journalists during a June 20 press conference that Iran “plans to sign” the Additional Protocol, but a June 23 IRNA report stated that Iran continues to condition its signing of the protocol on Western countries lifting restrictions on supplying nuclear technology to Iran. U.S. economic sanctions on Iran are an example of such restrictions.

Moscow continues to work on the Bushehr reactor—now expected to be finished in 2004, according to IRNA—and Russian officials have said that they may build more reactors in Iran. Russia has agreed to provide fuel for the reactor, with the condition that Iran sign an agreement to return the spent fuel, but this agreement has not yet been concluded. Indeed, Russia appears to be increasingly concerned about Iran’s nuclear activities and may even condition the delivery of the Bushehr fuel on Tehran’s conclusion of an Additional Protocol, although Russian officials have issued conflicting statements on this matter.

Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev June 20 as saying that Russia will only deliver the reactor fuel if Iran “places under IAEA control all of its nuclear facilities and answers the [agency’s] questions.” A State Department official told Arms Control Today June 26 that Washington interprets this ambiguous statement to mean that the fuel delivery is conditioned on the conclusion of the Additional Protocol. The Bush administration intends to hold Moscow to that interpretation, he added.

But Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Georgy Mamedov indicated in a June 6 interview with Vremya Novostei that a Russian agreement to supply fuel to the Bushehr reactor is not related to whether Iran signs the Additional Protocol.

Although Iran and Russia say the Bushehr reactor will operate under IAEA safeguards when finished, Washington has long opposed the project out of concern that Iran will gain access to dual-use technology that can aid it in developing a nuclear weapons program. Undersecretary of State John Bolton articulated another objection to the Bushehr project during a June 4 hearing before the House International Relations Committee. He argued that Iran could build “over 80 nuclear weapons” if it had access to sufficient fuel, operated the reactor for 5-6 years, and chose to withdraw from the NPT.

Russia’s provision of fuel for Bushehr is related to U.S. concerns about Iran’s fuel cycle ambitions. The United States has argued that Iran has no need to develop a complete fuel cycle if it will receive fuel from Russia. Although Iran has countered by saying it cannot rely on foreign suppliers, the State Department official said June 19 that Iran’s known uranium reserves are insufficient to support a civilian nuclear program, but are enough to supply material for more than 100 nuclear weapons.


Increasing pressure on Iran to come clean about its nuclear program, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Board of Governors issued a statement...

Iran Failed to Comply With Nuclear NPT, IAEA Reports

Amid increasing pressure from the United States, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors addressed concerns regarding Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program at a June 16-19 meeting. What follows are excerpts from Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei’s report “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

[The full IAEA document is available at http://www.iaea.org/worldatom/Documents/Board/2003/gov2003-40.pdf.

D. Findings and Initial Assessment

32. Iran has failed to meet its obligations under its Safeguards Agreement with respect to the reporting of nuclear material, the subsequent processing and use of that material and the declaration of facilities where the material was stored and processed. These failures, and the actions taken thus far to correct them, can be summarized as follows:

(a) Failure to declare the import of natural uranium in 1991, and its subsequent transfer for further processing.

On 15 April 2003, Iran submitted ICRs on the import of the UO2, UF4 and UF6. Iran has still to submit ICRs on the transfer of the material for further processing and use.

(b) Failure to declare the activities involving the subsequent processing and use of the imported natural uranium, including the production and loss of nuclear material, where appropriate, and the production and transfer of waste resulting therefrom.

Iran has acknowledged the production of uranium metal, uranyl nitrate, ammonium uranyl carbonate, UO2 pellets and uranium wastes. Iran must still submit ICRs on these inventory changes.

(c) Failure to declare the facilities where such material (including the waste) was received, stored and processed.

On 5 May 2003, Iran provided preliminary design information for the facility JHL. Iran has informed the Agency of the locations where the undeclared processing of the imported natural uranium was conducted (TRR [Tehran Research Reactor] and the Esfahan Nuclear Technology Centre), and provided access to those locations. It has provided the Agency access to the waste storage facility at Esfahan, and has indicated that access would be provided to Anarak, as well as the waste disposal site at Qom.

(d) Failure to provide in a timely manner updated design information for the MIX Facility [xenon radioscope production facility] and for TRR.

Iran has agreed to submit updated design information for the two facilities.

(e) Failure to provide in a timely manner information on the waste storage at Esfahan and at Anarak.

Iran has informed the Agency of the locations where the waste has been stored or discarded. It has provided the Agency access to the waste storage facility at Esfahan, and has indicated that access will be provided to Anarak.

33. Although the quantities of nuclear material involved have not been large,6 and the material would need further processing before being suitable for use as the fissile material component of a nuclear explosive device, the number of failures by Iran to report the material, facilities and activities in question in a timely manner as it is obliged to do pursuant to its Safeguards Agreement is a matter of concern. While these failures are in the process of being rectified by Iran, the process of verifying the correctness and completeness of the Iranian declaration is still ongoing.

34. The Agency is continuing to pursue the open questions, including through:

(a) The completion of a more thorough expert analysis of the research and development carried out by Iran in the establishment of its enrichment capabilities. This will require the submission by Iran of a complete chronology of its centrifuge and laser enrichment efforts, including, in particular, a description of all research and development activities carried out prior to the construction of the Natanz facilities. As agreed to by Iran, this process will also involve discussions in Iran between Iranian authorities and Agency enrichment experts on Iran’s enrichment programme, and visits by the Agency experts to the facilities under construction at Natanz and other relevant locations.

(b) Further follow-up on information regarding allegations about undeclared enrichment of nuclear material, including, in particular, at the Kalaye Electric Company. This will require permission for the Agency to carry out environmental sampling at the workshop located there.

(c) Further enquiries about the role of uranium metal in Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle.

(d) Further enquiries about Iran’s programme related to the use of heavy water, including heavy water production and heavy water reactor design and construction.

35. The Director General has repeatedly encouraged Iran to conclude an Additional Protocol. Without such protocols in force, the Agency’s ability to provide credible assurances regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear activities is limited. This is particularly the case for States, like Iran, with extensive nuclear activities and advanced fuel cycle technologies. In the view of the Director General, the adherence by Iran to an Additional Protocol would therefore constitute a significant step forward. The Director General will continue to keep the Board informed of developments.


6. The total amount of material, approximately 1.8 tonnes, is 0.13 effective kilograms of uranium. This is, however, not insignificant in terms of a State’s ability to conduct nuclear research and development activities.


Amid increasing pressure from the United States, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) board of governors addressed concerns regarding Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons...

Nuclear Inspectors Return to Iraq, Pentagon Balks

Paul Kerr

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have returned to Iraq to account for and secure nuclear material that had been under IAEA safeguards. Meanwhile, coalition forces have yet to turn up any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, and the CIA has tapped a former IAEA inspector to help them in the search.

The IAEA announced June 6 that it is conducting an inventory of nuclear material at a storage site near the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, following reports that nuclear material had been looted there during the recent invasion.

The nuclear material stored at Tuwaitha had been under IAEA safeguards from 1991 until just before the recent conflict. The IAEA is responsible for monitoring safeguards agreements undertaken by states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. IAEA inspectors last visited the site in February.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei stated that “the initial report [from inspectors] is that most of the material is accounted for,” according to a June 22 Reuters article.

But Pentagon officials emphasized in a June 5 press briefing that these inspections do “not set any precedent for future IAEA involvement in Iraq” and are only for securing the site at Tuwaitha as per the IAEA’s safeguards agreement. Such inspections of a declared installation are separate from those the IAEA conducted to enforce UN Security Council resolutions requiring Iraq to dismantle its suspected nuclear weapons and related facilities.

The officials emphasized that the inspection is a “cooperative effort” and that coalition forces are providing logistics support and security.

A knowledgeable U.S. official said in a June 20 interview that Washington will “revisit” UN weapons inspectors’ mandates, as per UN Security Council Resolution 1483, and has not ruled out readmitting the inspectors. The resolution, adopted in May, “reaffirms that Iraq must meet its disarmament obligations...and underlines the intention of the Council to revisit the mandates” of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the IAEA. UNMOVIC was charged with verifying that Iraq had dismantled its arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and destroyed its missiles with a range of more than 150 kilometers.

The United States, however, has indicated little interest in allowing the inspectors to return to Iraq. Pentagon officials said June 5 that Washington is concerned for the inspectors’ security. U.S. officials have also said that there is no need for UN inspectors because coalition forces are already performing disarmament tasks.

Hans Blix, who retired July 1 as executive chairman of UNMOVIC, told Arms Control Today June 16 that UN inspectors should verify that Iraq is free of WMD because that process “would have greater international credibility.” He added that UN inspectors could also perform a long-term monitoring function to ensure that Iraq does not reconstitute its prohibited weapons programs. (See ACT, July/August 2003.)

The UN inspectors left Iraq March 18, the day before the coalition invasion started and after almost four months of work. Their departure followed U.S. failure to gain support from Security Council members opposed to the immediate use of force against Iraq.

Although coalition forces have discovered two trailers that U.S. officials believe were components of mobile facilities designed to produce biological weapons agents, no actual weapons have been discovered. (See ACT, July/August 2003.)

Washington Augments Inspections

The Pentagon also provided new details about the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), formed in May to ferret out Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Major General Keith Dayton, currently with the Defense Intelligence Agency, has been assigned to head the group. The ISG will have between 1,300 and 1,400 personnel, with 200-300 devoted to searching for weapons on the ground.

During a May 30 press briefing, Dayton contrasted the ISG’s methods with the current coalition search. Rather than selecting sites for weapons searches from an existing list of possible sites, the ISG will consolidate intelligence capabilities in order to exploit new intelligence and identify sites where weapons are likely to be found. Undersecretary of Defense Stephen Cambone stated during the same briefing that forces first assigned to locate weapons were supposed “to support the combat forces…[and] weren’t prepared…to do the kind of wide-scale analytic work” that the ISG will perform.

The CIA announced June 11 that George Tenet, director of Central Intelligence, has appointed former IAEA inspector David Kay as special adviser for strategy regarding Iraqi WMD programs. Kay’s task is “refining the overall approach for the search for Iraq’s” WMD while working with the ISG, the agency said.

Administration officials continue to assert that coalition forces will locate prohibited weapons in Iraq, attributing the lack of discoveries to Iraq’s skill at concealing weapons, the need to interview scientists knowledgeable about Iraq’s weapons programs, the looting and burning of evidence at suspected weapons sites, the need to review relevant documents, and the possibility that Iraq might have destroyed or moved prohibited weapons. (See ACT, May and June 2003.)


International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have returned to Iraq to account for and secure nuclear material that had been under IAEA safeguards.

Inspectors' Accomplishments in Iraq, 2002-2003

Hans Blix, executive chairman of the United Nations Monitoring,Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), sent the commission’s 13th quarterly report to the UN Security Council on May 30. Information from the report has been used to update and augment a summary of inspectors’ accomplishments in Iraq that appeared in the April 2003 issue of Arms Control Today.

The Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein continually stated that it had destroyed all of its prohibited weapons. However, Iraq’s UN-required declarations about its weapons programs never provided an adequate accounting of Baghdad’s weapons programs or proof that the weapons had been eliminated.

The May 30 report stated that inspections “contributed to a better understanding of previous weapons programmes,” but “the long list of…unresolved disarmament issues was not shortened either by the inspections or by Iraqi declarations and documentation.” The report added that, while Iraq “devoted much effort to providing explanations and proposing methods of inquiry” into outstanding disarmament issues, “little progress was made.”

UN weapons inspectors began their work in Iraq November 27 and left March 18. Iraq submitted a declaration containing information about its weapons of mass destruction December 7, as required by UN Security Council Resolution 1441. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conducted 237 inspections at 148 sites, including 27 sites not previously inspected. UNMOVIC inspectors conducted 731 inspections at 411 sites, including 88 sites not previously inspected. Of those inspections, 22 percent were related to chemical weapons, 28 percent to biological weapons, and 30 percent to missiles. The remaining 20 percent were multidisciplinary inspections, involving experts from each disarmament area.

UNMOVIC carried out a total of eight aerial surveillance and monitoring missions by helicopter and 16 reconnaissance missions using U-2 and Mirage aircraft between mid-February and mid-March 2003.

Inspectors also conducted 14 private interviews with Iraqi scientists, out of 54 that they had requested, between January and March 2003. Iraq provided 31 lists of Iraqi scientists to UNMOVIC, five of which contained the names of experts involved in the handling and destruction of prohibited weapons materials. Some of these scientists were involved in destroying anthrax—one of the most important outstanding disarmament issues—but inspectors were withdrawn before those scientists could be interviewed. UNMOVIC considered such interviews to be a critical source of information, especially when, as Iraq claimed, documentation did not exist to support Baghdad’s assertion that it had destroyed its prohibited weapons.

The IAEA found no evidence that Iraq was pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Based on information in the May 30 report and previously issued documents, UNMOVIC inspectors:

  • Supervised the destruction of 72 prohibited al Samoud-2 missiles and dozens of associated warheads. The May 30 report said Iraq destroyed 74 warheads and that 25 missiles and 38 warheads remained to be destroyed, but those numbers differ from previous UN statements.
  • Supervised the destruction of three al Samoud-2 missile launchers but said six remained to be destroyed.
  • Supervised the destruction of two casting chambers capable of producing motors for prohibited missiles.
  • Discovered 231 illegal Volga missile engines. Iraq had declared that it had imported only 131 such engines, but the report places the total number at 380.
  • Supervised the destruction of five engines—presumably Volga engines—for al Samoud-2 missiles. The May 30 report, however, stated that 326 remained to be destroyed and did not explain the apparent discrepancy between the number of engines imported and those slated for destruction.
  • Discovered 14 empty 122-millimeter rocket warheads that could be used to deliver chemical weapons. Iraq notified UNMOVIC that it had discovered another four warheads.
  • Supervised the destruction of 14 155-millimeter shells containing mustard gas that had been found by the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) in 1997 at a declared location. UNSCOM had emptied four of the shells but not destroyed them.
  • Discovered a component of a cluster sub-munition designed to deliver chemical or biological weapons.
  • Discovered fuel spray tanks modified for possible use in delivering chemical or biological agents.
  • Found and destroyed a small quantity of a precursor chemical for the production of mustard agent. The May 30 report stated the quantity was 500 milliliters, but a February UNMOVIC report placed the amount at one liter.
  • Verified Iraq’s declarations that it had reinstalled eight pieces of prohibited chemical equipment. UNMOVIC decided that Iraq should destroy the equipment, but the destruction was not carried out before UNMOVIC left the country.
  • Observed Iraqi efforts to recover physical evidence of 157 R-400 bombs, built for the delivery of biological agents, that Iraq claimed to have destroyed and apparently buried in 1991. According to the May 30 report, the excavations accounted for 104 bombs, which, combined with the 24 bombs excavated by UNSCOM at the same site, accounted for 128 munitions. The liquid contents of two bombs UNMOVIC excavated tested positive for anthrax.
  • Were unable to determine whether Iraq had pursued an unmanned aerial vehicle program to deliver chemical and biological weapons.
  • Discovered no mobile facilities for producing weapons.



Radioactive Materials Discovered in Thailand, Georgia

Christine Kucia

Police in Thailand and Georgia recently apprehended suspects possessing radiological materials, reinforcing international concern about the availability of the building blocks for “dirty bombs.”

Authorities in Thailand apprehended Narong Penanam on June 13 after the police, tipped off by U.S. investigators, seized a substance in an undercover sting operation that the suspect claimed was uranium. Tests later showed the material was cesium-137, which, if paired with a conventional explosive, could be used to make a radiological weapon, or “dirty bomb,” that could spread radioactive debris over a wide area.

U.S. and Thai authorities have been working together since October 2002, after preliminary reports surfaced about the possible sale of weapons-grade uranium in Asia, according to a June 13 Homeland Security Department press release. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge called the sting operation “an outstanding example of international cooperation in disrupting the proliferation of radiological material.”

The suspect claimed that he procured the material from a source in neighboring Laos and expected to net as much as $240,000 from selling it. U.S. officials told The New York Times that the seized quantity of cesium—initially reported to weigh around 66 pounds—may have originated in Russia.

Loose radioactive material was also found in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, according to a June 16 Reuters article. Georgian police found containers of cesium-137 and strontium-90, as well as nerve gas concentrate, in a Tbilisi taxi cab May 31, and they arrested the taxi driver and two other suspects. Like cesium-137, strontium-90 is a radioactive isotope that could be used to make a dirty bomb. According to Givi Mgebrishvili, spokesman for the Georgian Interior Ministry, “The most likely version is that the containers were intended to be transported on to Turkey and to be resold,” Reuters reported.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has worked with Georgian authorities since 1997 to secure radioactive materials and dispose of abandoned equipment containing such materials, often found at Soviet-era military installations. They have not always been successful: In June 2002, for example, IAEA and Georgian authorities failed to find two strontium-90 thermoelectric generators known to have been abandoned in western Georgia.

The agency has documented over 280 incidents worldwide since 1993 involving the illicit trafficking of radioactive material, and in March over 120 countries met to discuss the problem. (See ACT, April 2003.)



Police in Thailand and Georgia recently apprehended suspects possessing radiological materials, reinforcing international concern about the availability of the building blocks for “dirty bombs.”


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