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North Korea

UN, Others Respond to N. Korean Moves

March 2016

By Elizabeth Philipp

14_NEWS_NKorea.jpgThe international community is debating new punitive measures in response to recent actions by North Korea to advance its nuclear and missile capability.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned North Korea’s Feb. 7 satellite launch and a Jan. 6 nuclear test as violations of previous Security Council resolutions. Last month, North Korea launched a three-stage rocket and placed a satellite into orbit. The rocket launch is of concern to the international community because of the potential scientific advantage it provides Pyongyang for developing a long-range missile that could eventually be outfitted with nuclear warheads.

In January, North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test, which had a yield of about 10 kilotons. Pyongyang said it had tested a hydrogen bomb, which would signify a technological advance for the state. Government officials and independent experts expressed serious doubts about the claim.

In a statement shortly after the satellite launch, Ban said, “It is deeply deplorable that [North Korea] has conducted a launch using ballistic missile technology in violation of relevant Security Council resolutions.”

The Security Council last adopted a resolution on the North Korean nuclear program in 2013. Late last month, the council was deliberating on an additional resolution condemning the recent nuclear test explosion, reaffirming restrictions on North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs and the financing of them, and imposing new restrictions.

Ban reiterated his call to Pyongyang to “halt its provocative actions and return to compliance with its international obligations” and his “commitment to working with all sides in reducing tensions and achieving the verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”

After Pyongyang’s nuclear test in January, Ban condemned the test “unequivocally” at a press conference.

U.S. Responds

In the United States, President Barack Obama on Feb. 18 signed into law a bill that expands sanctions on North Korean individuals and banking, calls for closer scrutiny of the human rights violations experienced by North Korean citizens abroad, and supports enforcing existing nonproliferation efforts.

The bill, H.R. 757, was introduced in the House of Representatives in February 2015 by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and a bipartisan group of five co-sponsors. The bill initially stalled, but after the Jan. 6 nuclear test, it gained momentum and moved through the House and Senate, where the Foreign Relations Committee added several new sections. One imposed a requirement on the secretary of state to report to Congress on a review of U.S. policy toward North Korea, based on a “complete interagency review of current policies and possible alternatives,” and provide recommendations for legislative and administrative action. Another addition requires the president to direct development of a strategy to improve international implementation and enforcement of existing UN sanctions specific to North Korea.

After the Senate passed the bill on Feb. 10 by a vote of 96-0, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) issued a statement saying the legislation provides “a more robust set of tools to confront the growing North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile threat.” The House approved the Senate version of the bill on Feb. 12.

The United States previously has imposed national sanctions on North Korean entities for actions materially contributing to the proliferation of nonconventional weapons or their means of delivery, most recently in December 2015.

North Korea’s Progress on Sub Missile Questioned

North Korean video footage of the Dec. 21 test launch of a ballistic missile designed for deployment on submarines appears to have been seriously doctored, a U.S. research institute says.

The footage, which Pyongyang released Jan. 8, intentionally misrepresented the success of the test, experts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies wrote in a Jan. 12 analysis.

The launch was an ejection test of the KN-11 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) from a submerged barge. Ejection tests are designed to evaluate a missile’s stabilization systems and the process of underwater launch. North Korea first conducted a successful ejection test from a submerged barge in May 2015. (See ACT, January/February 2016.)

Pyongyang attempted to launch the KN-11 from a submarine last November, but the test reportedly was a failure because the missile failed to eject successfully.

“Although the KN-11 appears to eject successfully, which is an improvement over November, we think that a catastrophic failure occurred at ignition…. The rocket appears to explode,” wrote Catherine Dill of the James Martin Center.

The launch portrayed in the video took place in the waters near the Sinpo Shipyard, where Pyongyang’s SLBM program is based, Dill wrote.

The December test was the third SLBM test for North Korea in 2015. Although it is not clear why the SLBM tests have failed thus far, “it seems the North Korean specialists are trying to master the mechanism for ejecting the missile from the launch tube, and then igniting the missile’s engine,” said Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in a Feb. 19 email to Arms Control Today.

North Korea has likely tested the missile ejection mechanism on land, Elleman said. But “failures are inevitable and expected” in developing a viable SLBM capability and “only tell us that [the North Koreans] are trying to do something that they have not done before,” he said.

There are “no shortcuts” to developing a reliable SLBM system, Elleman said. “[I]t will take some time to perfect all of the necessary technologies.”

He said he suspects it will be “most likely after 2020” before North Korea could develop an operational SLBM capability.—ELIZABETH PHILIPP

    Regional Reactions

    China has signaled support for punitive actions against North Korea. In remarks on Feb. 16, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that North Korea must “pay the necessary price” under new UN sanctions, according to a report by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. Wang said the purpose of a forthcoming UN resolution would be to “stop North Korea from going any further down the path of developing nuclear weapons.” He stated that North Korea must return to the six-party talks, a negotiating forum that Pyongyang left in 2009.

    Japan and South Korea also have taken action against North Korea in response to its recent actions. Tokyo intends to tighten restrictions on travel between North Korea and Japan and to ban North Korean ships from docking in Japanese ports, Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, said at a Feb. 8 press briefing.

    On Feb. 10, South Korea suspended its participation in the joint industrial venture at Kaesong in North Korea. The Kaesong Industrial Complex has served as a cooperative project for the two Koreas since 2002 and the city of Kaesong as a venue for diplomatic meetings as recently as December 2015. As further justification for shuttering the industrial zone, the South Korean minister of unification, Hong Yong-pyo, also publicly stated on Feb. 10 that hard currency earned by the North Koreans through the Kaesong venture has been “wrongly harnessed” and used to fund Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

    Space Launch

    The Feb. 7 launch marked North Korea’s fifth firing  of a long-range rocket since 1998. U.S. officials contend that the launch is a cover for an effort to eventually develop and deploy a long-range missile capable of striking the United States. UN Security Council President Rafael Darío Ramírez Carreño of Venezuela referred to the Feb. 7 event as a “missile launch,” as did U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby in a Feb. 8 press briefing. Other experts, however, suggested that although the firing of the space launch vehicle had implications for ballistic missile development, North Korea might also have an interest in space development. In a recent analysis for 38 North, an online publication of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies suggested that the sequence of events in the North Korean rocket program does not comport with a program of research and development on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). No country has first developed space launch technology and then applied it to an ICBM program, he said. In the analysis, he explained that the large rockets North Korea has launched have been designed to perform as satellite launchers. Significant flight testing would also be required before North Korea could deploy a reliable ICBM, he wrote.

    The rocket fired on Feb. 7 had three stages and was liquid fueled, making it similar to the Unha space launch vehicle that North Korea sent into space in 2012, Elleman said. According to a Feb. 20 story from Yonhap, the South Korean military has finished gathering debris from the launch and will assess it to gain data on Pyongyang’s capability. The final stage exploded into more than 270 pieces, possibly intentionally by North Korea, before landing in the Yellow Sea, the story said.

    North Korea announced its impending test to the International Maritime Organization on Feb. 2 for the period of Feb. 8-25, but later shortened the anticipated launch period to Feb. 7-14.

    North Korea watchers have been anticipating a rocket launch since North Korea undertook serious renovations at its Sohae satellite launch station at Tongchang-ri on the peninsula’s west coast. Renovations completed in 2015 included the installation of a covered launch tower and a movable warehouse, both of which serve to protect a space launch vehicle from the elements and to conceal launch preparations, according to analysts at 38 North. North Korean rockets are liquid fueled, meaning they must be fueled in place before launch, which is a slow and detectable process.

    With the Feb. 7 launch, North Korea claims to have placed into orbit an earth observation satellite, the Kwangmyongsong-4. (Kwangmyongsong means “bright star.”) There is no public information indicating that the satellite is transmitting a signal back to Earth. According to a Yonhap report, South Korean intelligence has estimated that the Kwangmongsong-4 weighs 200 kilograms, twice as much as the satellite launched in 2012.

    Pyongyang also claimed to have placed a satellite into orbit in 2012, but it is thought to have been a dummy satellite as there is no indication that it ever made contact with Earth.    

    Following broad international criticism, new punitive measures are promised. 

    After Tougher Sanctions, Effective Engagement Needed to Curb North Korean Nuclear and Missile Threat

    Today, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a fifth resolution to address North Korea’s destabilizing nuclear and missile programs. UN Security Council Resolution 2270 was adopted in response to North Korea’s dangerous nuclear provocations of early 2016, namely a fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and a second launch of a satellite on Feb. 7, which has implications for its long-range ballistic missile development efforts. The new resolution imposes the most comprehensive sanctions to date. UNSCR 2270 seeks to: curb Pyongyang’s access to materials with military applications,...

    North Korea’s Nuclear Threat: How to Halt Its Slow but Steady Advance


    By Greg Thielmann
    February 2016

    Download PDF

    In the first five weeks of 2016, North Korea twice defied UN Security Council resolutions designed to stem its pursuit of nuclear weapons. On January 6, it conducted its fourth underground nuclear test; on February 7, it launched a satellite into space for the second time. These two events provided a vivid reminder that North Korea continues to make progress mastering the technology needed for developing long-range ballistic missiles and arming them with nuclear warheads.

    U.S. leaders have long sought to formulate and implement policies that would secure a denuclearized Korean peninsula, but these efforts have not been successful. U.S. political commentary on North Korea vacillates between taking at face value the regime’s exaggerated claims of technological prowess and reducing its leadership to cartoonish stereotypes.

    A clearer understanding of North Korea’s motives and the current status of its nuclear and missile programs can lead to a more realistic strategy for enhancing U.S. security. That strategy would involve using enhanced sanctions as leverage for achieving a halt in North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing and production of fissile material, but this can only happen through negotiations.


    In the first five weeks of 2016, North Korea twice defied UN Security Council resolutions designed to stem its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

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    North Korea Claims Hydrogen Bomb Test

    January/February 2016

    By Elizabeth Philipp

    Ko Yun-hwa (left) and Yun Won-tae, senior officials with the Korea Meteorological Administration, point to a screen in the organization’s offices in Seoul showing seismic waves originating from the area of North Korea’s nuclear test site on January 6. (Photo credit: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)North Korea declared on Jan. 6 that it had successfully conducted a test of a hydrogen bomb earlier that day, sparking a mix of condemnation and skepticism around the world. Government officials and independent experts agreed that the event was an underground nuclear test, but cast doubt on the claim it was a hydrogen bomb.

    In response to the North Korean announcement, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Jan. 6 that the initial evidence of the test is “not consistent with North Korean claims of a successful hydrogen bomb test” but that the blast was “provocative and a flagrant violation” of a number of UN Security Council resolutions. The test has not “caused the United States government to change [its] assessment of North Korea’s technical and military capabilities,” Earnest said.

    Classic hydrogen bombs are more technologically sophisticated devices and produce a higher explosive yield because they involve two stages: a first one involving nuclear fission, the splitting of atoms, and a second one involving nuclear fusion, the combining of atoms. North Korea’s past three nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, and 2013 were of fission devices. North Korea is prohibited from testing nuclear weapons under UN Security Council resolutions.

    The Jan. 6 announcement, which was relayed by Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), described the test as a “spectacular success.” Pyongyang also indicated its intent to continue nuclear development, stating it “will steadily escalate its nuclear deterrence of justice both in quality and quantity.”

    Punggye-ri Test Site

    Seismic activity from the nuclear test was detected immediately by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), the international body that is preparing for the implementation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and monitors the environment for nuclear testing.

    North Korea, which is not a party to the CTBT, is the only state to test a nuclear weapon in this century.

    The CTBTO reported an “unusual seismic event” near North Korea’s known nuclear testing site via a statement on its website Jan. 6. The seismic data confirm that it was “indeed a manmade explosion,” said Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the CTBTO, at a Jan. 7 press briefing.

    Although North Korea did not announce an imminent test, experts have been aware of preparations for months, tracking activity at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site. In a Dec. 2 analysis on 38 North, an online publication of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, wrote that Pyongyang is “excavating a new tunnel for nuclear testing.” Speaking on the implications of that activity at a Dec. 16 press briefing by 38 North, Joel Wit of the U.S.-Korea Institute said digging a tunnel is “serious” and that North Korea “may want more tunnels for the future to conduct more tests.” In a Jan. 7 analysis of satellite imagery published by 38 North, Joseph Bermudez, chief analytics officer for AllSource Analysis, said the test almost certainly was conducted at an older tunnel that was used for the 2009 and 2013 tests. North Korea had been excavating this tunnel for more than a year, he wrote.

    Nuclear Yield

    Experts can estimate the yield of a nuclear explosion based on seismic data. Through its International Monitoring System, the CTBTO detected the test at more than two dozen detection stations around the world, Zerbo said at a Jan. 6 press briefing. The explosion was found to be similar to the 2013 test in size and location, he said.

    The CTBTO analysis found the magnitude of the explosion to be 4.85, just slightly smaller than the 2013 test, which had a magnitude of 5.1, according to Zerbo. The recent event is “on the order of 10 kilotons,” said Lewis at a Jan. 7 briefing by 38 North. But that is just an estimate, given that the North Korean site is not calibrated, he said. A calibrated site would allow for a standardized and reliable seismic reading.

    Zerbo said the CTBTO would monitor its radionuclide detectors, which collect gases released into the air by the nuclear explosion. The presence of certain elements, such as xenon, can confirm that the seismic event was caused by a nuclear explosion. It can take time for the gases released by the explosion to reach the surface. In 2013, it took 55 days for the CTBTO’s radionuclide detectors to pick up evidence from the February test. The 2009 nuclear test yielded no radionuclide evidence.

    Test Type

    The evidence indicates that the magnitude of the test was significantly less powerful than past tests of hydrogen bombs by other states, said a South Korean military official quoted by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

    Randy Bell, director of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization’s International Data Centre speaks at a press briefing in Vienna on January 6. (Photo credit: CTBTO)Rather than a classic two-stage hydrogen bomb design, it is more likely that North Korea tested a “boosted fission device,” Lewis said at the Jan. 7 briefing by 38 North. A boosted device uses hydrogen isotopes to increase the explosive yield by making the fission reaction more efficient.

    That may be what North Korea means when it refers to a “hydrogen bomb,” he suggested. The detonation of a boosted fission device thus would be consistent with North Korea’s hydrogen bomb claim and with the observed yield, he said. A boosted device would be a “reasonable” step for North Korea in its fourth nuclear test, he said.

    The increased efficiency means that North Korea would require less fissile material for each weapon and therefore represents an “important and useful step” in developing warheads for its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program, Lewis said.

    North Korea deploys a variety of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. It has displayed an ICBM, the KN-08, but not tested it. Pyongyang is also developing a submarine-launched ballistic missile, which it most recently tested in December (see page 38).

    A second important implication of the test is that a boosted device “makes an excellent first stage” of a two-stage hydrogen bomb, Lewis said.

    International Responses

    At a Jan. 6 press conference, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “condemn[ed the test] unequivocally” and announced that the UN Security Council would immediately begin work on a new resolution against North Korea.

    The Security Council held an emergency meeting on Jan. 6 to discuss responsive measures. The United States expressed its support for new multilateral sanctions in a Jan. 6 press statement by Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

    The effectiveness of additional sanctions depends on China, Joseph DeThomas, former deputy assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, said at the Jan. 7 press conference by 38 North. Experts have criticized Beijing, which is North Korea’s primary trading partner, for being too lenient on Pyongyang.

    “Sanctions alone will not leverage change in the North Korean policy in the absence of a fundamental change in the Chinese policy,” DeThomas said. The additional sanctions should eventually be coupled with a diplomatic and political track that provides North Korea a pathway to negotiated denuclearization, he said.

    South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (center) speaks as Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se (second from right) listens during an emergency meeting of the National Security Council at the presidential Blue House on January 6. (Photo credit: South Korean Presidential Blue House/Getty Images)On Jan. 6, the Chinese Foreign Ministry published a statement, saying the Chinese government is “firmly opposed” to North Korean nuclear testing and called on Pyongyang to “honor its commitment to denuclearization.”

    In a Jan. 6 statement, South Korean President Park Geun-hye called for the United States and other allies of Seoul to impose sanctions on North Korea, saying her country would work with the international community to ensure North Korea “pay[s] the price” for the “grave provocation.”

    Members of the U.S. Congress from both political parties called for a variety of actions, particularly a strengthening of sanctions. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said on Jan. 6 that “new and more biting” sanctions on North Korea are necessary. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) called for the “toughest and broadest possible sanctions against North Korea” and any entities that support Pyongyang’s illicit activities.

    In separate Jan. 7 statements, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called for expanding missile defense systems to counter the threat posed by North Korean missiles. 

    North Korea declared it had successfully conducted a test of a hydrogen bomb, sparking a mix of condemnation and skepticism around the world.

    North Korea Tests Sea-Based Missiles

    January/February 2016

    By Elizabeth Philipp

    North Korea conducted two tests of a sea-based missile late last year, apparently with mixed results.

    The most recent ejection test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), on Dec. 21, was successful, according to analysts. In an analysis of satellite imagery for 38 North, an online publication of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, Joseph Bermudez said reports of the Dec. 21 test at the Sinpo Shipyard were supported by imagery of the site.

    Ejection tests are designed to evaluate the missile’s stabilization systems and the process of underwater launch. North Korea first conducted a successful ejection test from a submerged barge last May. (See ACT, June 2015).

    The Dec. 21 ejection test came less than a month after a failed Nov. 28 launch test from North Korea’s experimental SINPO-class submarine. Despite the failure of the launch test, some experts suggested it may be a more focused research and development effort by Pyongyang to hone and eventually deploy a sea-based nuclear-armed missile. The subsequent ejection test in December appears to substantiate this suggestion.

    South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency first reported on the Nov. 28 launch that day, citing a South Korean official who described the test as unsuccessful because the missile “failed to soar from the waters.” Additionally, “no missile flight was tracked on radar” nor was missile debris “observed floating on the surface of the water following the test,” according to Bermudez, who is chief analytics officer for AllSource Analysis.

    Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at Rand Corp., told Arms Control Today in a Dec. 17 email that the development of new technologies is sometimes a process of “two steps forward, one step back,” in which “something that worked in an earlier test fails in a later test.” Testing the SLBM would help North Korea “identify flaws that need fixing,” he said.

    Missile components are increasingly difficult for Pyongyang to procure due to UN Security Council resolutions, Bennett said. Resolutions have included demands for North Korea to cease its nuclear weapons program, including ballistic missile development.

    The SLBM tests coincided with the run-up to North Korea’s Jan. 6 test of a nuclear device (see page 36). Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency on Dec. 10 reported North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s announcement that his country was “ready to detonate self-reliant A-bomb and H-bomb.” The assertion of a hydrogen bomb, or H-bomb, design is new for North Korea.

    North Korea said the Jan. 6 test involved a hydrogen bomb, but experts are skeptical of the true test type. North Korea is believed to be able to deliver a nuclear weapon via its medium-range Nodong missile. (See ACT, June 2014). 

    North Korea conducted two tests of a sea-based missile late last year, apparently with mixed results. 

    North Korea and Nuclear Testing

    January/February 2016

    By Daryl G. Kimball

    North Korea’s fourth nuclear weapons test explosion is yet another startling reminder of the necessity of fresh thinking, stronger global leadership, and new approaches to prevent further nuclear proliferation and nuclear testing in the 21st century.

    The Vienna-based Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) measured the blast as slightly less powerful than North Korea’s 2013 detonation, which had a yield with a TNT equivalent of six to 10 kilotons. Nonetheless, with every successive underground nuclear test, North Korea’s nuclear scientists undoubtedly learn more about how to design smaller warheads that can be delivered by missiles.

    Randy Bell, director of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization’s International Data Centre speaks at a press briefing in Vienna on January 6. (Photo credit: CTBTO)

    Like previous North Korean nuclear tests, this one will prompt UN Security Council action against Pyongyang. This time, however, there must be tougher penalties.

    Unfortunately, China, which is North Korea’s only significant trading partner, so far has been unwilling or unable to enforce fully the existing sanctions and has resisted tougher measures. That approach must change.

    Washington’s diplomatic posture must shift as well. For too long, U.S. and North Korean diplomats have haggled over the conditions for resuming nuclear talks, with Washington insisting that Pyongyang recommit to its broken 2005 denuclearization pledge.

    Meanwhile, Pyongyang has used the time to amass larger amounts of fissile material, test more-sophisticated bombs, and develop longer-range ballistic missiles. Today, it likely has 10 to 16 nuclear weapons. By the end of the decade, it could have more than 50.

    The long-term U.S. goal should continue to be North Korea’s verifiable denuclearization and the normalization of relations. But realism demands that talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program resume soon, with the near-term goal of halting further nuclear testing, missile testing, fissile material production, and the possible transfer of nuclear material.

    North Korea’s test is more than a regional proliferation challenge. It has been condemned by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini “as a threat to international peace and security” and by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as “a grave contravention of the international norm against nuclear testing” established by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996.

    North Korea, which is not a party to the treaty, is the only state to have conducted nuclear test explosions since 1998. The world’s other nuclear-armed states have either signed the CTBT or, in the case of India and Pakistan, declared testing moratoriums.

    Pyongyang’s Jan. 6 blast is an uncomfortable reminder that 20 years after the conclusion of the CTBT, the door to further nuclear testing remains ajar. Formal entry into force has been delayed by the failure of seven other states—China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and the United States—to ratify the treaty.

    Worse still, several states are actively pursuing new or modernized nuclear weapons. If the treaty remains in limbo for many more years, one or more nuclear-capable states may try openly or surreptitiously to conduct a nuclear test. Russia, for example, supports the CTBT, but has shown contempt for compliance with other arms control treaties. President Vladimir Putin has ordered his defense laboratories to rebuild and upgrade Russia’s vast strategic nuclear arsenal. The plan apparently includes a reckless program to develop a new, long-range nuclear-armed torpedo designed to strike harbors and cities.

    Weeks before the North Korean test, at a special conference on the CTBT at the United Nations on Sept. 29, Kazakhstan’s foreign minister, Erlan Idrissov, warned that “business as usual” efforts will not suffice. CTBT supporters need a “more aggressive approach,” he said.

    The de facto norm against testing cannot be taken for granted. Responsible states can do more to reinforce it pending CTBT entry into force. To do so, they should consider a new, high-level diplomatic effort to encourage key states such as Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, and Pakistan to condemn North Korea’s test, reaffirm their support for the global testing moratorium, and promptly consider the CTBT.

    In addition, they could pursue the adoption of a new UN Security Council resolution and a parallel UN General Assembly measure calling on all states to refrain from testing, declaring that nuclear testing would trigger proliferation and undermine international peace and security, and recommending that the treaty’s Provisional Technical Secretariat and Preparatory Commission, including the International Monitoring System, be considered permanent institutions because of their critical role in detecting and deterring nuclear testing.

    Such an initiative, like Resolution 1887, which was approved in 2009, while not legally binding, would have tremendous political value in reinforcing the global norm against testing in the years ahead. It would also help guard against the danger of treaty fatigue, including the slow erosion of support for the CTBTO and its global network of 337 sensors, which is now 90 percent complete.

    If North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs remain unchecked and if key states do not renew the global push to ban all nuclear testing, the threat posed by North Korean nuclear testing will only grow. So will the potential for nuclear tests by other states. Now is the time for more-energetic action. 

    North Korea’s fourth nuclear weapons test explosion is yet another startling reminder of the necessity of fresh thinking, stronger global leadership, and...

    A Fourth North Korean Nuclear Test: What It Means; What Must Be Done

    (Updated January 19, 2016 to reflect the revised magnitude estimate.) North Korea claims it has conducted a fourth nuclear weapons test explosion and early readings from seismic stations in the region strongly suggest a relatively low-yield underground nuclear test was conducted. According to the Vienna-based Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) , the “initial location estimate” of the seismic activity shows that the event took place in the area of North Korea’s nuclear test site, Punggye-ri, which is located in the northeast of the country. The test has been universally...

    Show but Don’t Tell: Selective Nuclear Narratives in North Korea

    For a propaganda state reliant on a state-sanctioned image to indoctrinate its people and promote a certain reputation globally, a successful missile test is an event to be photographed and celebrated in the state-run news. Today, the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced that his state has developed a hydrogen bomb, a new claim that has elicited skepticism from experts. This decree, like its many other public pronouncements and demonstrations of military equipment, does not necessarily reflect North Korea’s true current capability. Pyongyang meticulously crafts its own nuclear narrative...

    South Korea Plans New Missile for 2017

    December 2015

    By Kelsey Davenport

    A South Korean ballistic missile is displayed during a rehearsal for Armed Forces Day at Seongnam military airport on the outskirts of Seoul on September 29, 2003. South Korea is planning to deploy ballistic missiles with a range of 800 kilometers, giving them the ability to reach any site in North Korea from anywhere in the South. (Photo credit: Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images)South Korea aims to deploy ballistic missiles with longer ranges by 2017, but some experts question whether Seoul can meet that timeline.

    On Oct. 1, several South Korean newspapers quoted military sources as saying that Seoul planned to deploy ballistic missiles with a range of 800 kilometers by 2017 in accordance with a plan developed by the country’s Agency for Defense Development. Missiles of that range would be able to reach any site in North Korea from anywhere in the South.

    In a Nov. 19 interview, a former South Korean official said the 2017 deployment deadline “may be overly ambitious” but is consistent with Seoul’s 2012 five-year plan to extend its missile ranges. South Korea is capable of testing a missile with that range by 2017, but the missile “may not be ready for reliable deployment” after such a short period, the former official said.

    In an Oct. 16 piece, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) called the move to deploy the new missile in 2017 “a reckless action to escalate tension on the Korean peninsula.”

    South Korea agreed to 800 kilometers as the maximum range for its ballistic missiles in a 2012 agreement with the United States. (See ACT, November 2012.) Prior to 2012, Seoul was limited to developing ballistic missiles with ranges of no more than 300 kilometers with a 500-kilogram payload under a 2001 agreement with the United States.

    The United States said it agreed to the extension to allow South Korea to counter the growing threat posed by North Korea’s ballistic missiles.

    Since the 2012 agreement, South Korea has tested ballistic missiles with increased ranges. The most recent tests took place in June, when Seoul tested two Hyunmoo-2B missiles, which can carry a 1,000-kilogram payload over a distance of 500 kilometers. The missiles are believed to be road mobile.

    North Korea has repeatedly lashed out over Seoul’s decision to extend its ballistic missile range. A day after the June 4 test of the Hyunmoo-2B, the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army published a statement on the KCNA’s website saying that the test-firing proves that Pyongyang is “wise and just” in pursuing its own deterrent.

    North Korea has deployed short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. It is developing longer-range systems, including an intercontinental ballistic missile. (See ACT, June 2015.)

    South Korea plans to deploy ballistic missiles with increased ranges by 2017, but some experts question whether Seoul can meet that timeline. 

    Putting the Horse Before the Cart: Resuming Talks with North Korea

    International relations with North Korea have been marked by provocations, off-and-on diplomatic engagement, and the threat of military conflict for decades. The threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs came back into the spotlight this fall with talk from North Korea that it would soon conduct a fourth satellite launch, which has not been delivered upon to date, the highly anticipated military parade in honor of the Korean Workers’ Party 70 th anniversary, and reports that Pyongyang is making preparations for a fourth nuclear test explosion. It is Pyongyang itself that...


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