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“The Arms Control Association is very successful at framing the important nuclear security issues for both general and expert audiences."

– General John Shalikashvili,
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
North Korea

Trump Seeks More Pressure on North Korea

While seeking greater sanctions pain, U.S. is vague on engagement strategy.

December 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

U.S. President Donald Trump during a trip to Asia publicly urged North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to “come to the table” to negotiate over the country’s nuclear program, as he pressed regional leaders to increase economic pressure on the Pyongyang regime.

Although his rhetoric toward North Korea during the trip was less aggressive than recent statements and tweets, Trump still did not lay out a strategy for engagement and continued to send mixed signals about what the United States wants to see from North Korea before engaging in talks. Trump’s trip included stops in Japan, South Korea, and China, with the North Korea challenge a key agenda item in his talks.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping leave a business leaders event at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 9.   (Photo credit: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a Nov. 6 press conference with Trump that Japan would adopt additional sanctions measures on North Korea. “Now is not the time for dialogue but for applying the maximum level of pressure on North Korea,” he said.

In South Korea, President Moon Jae-in said on Nov. 7 that he and Trump affirmed their “current strategy, which is to maximize pressure and sanctions on North Korea until it gives up nuclear weapons” and comes to the table for dialogue “on its own.” He said that the goals must be to freeze and “ultimately dismantle” North Korea’s nuclear weapons and that the timing is not right to discuss replacing the 1953 armistice with a “permanent peace on the Korean peninsula.”

Despite having affirmed a shared strategy toward addressing North Korea’s nuclear program, Moon’s comments are at odds with statements by U.S. officials, who have discounted the value of purusing a freeze deal with North Korea. Trump said at the same briefing that all nations must “cease trade and business entirely with North Korea” and fully implement UN Security Council resolutions.

When pressed on his diplomatic strategy, Trump said in Seoul, “[W]e’re making a lot of progress,” but provided no details, stating that he does not like to talk about whether he sees a diplomatic outcome to avert threatened U.S. military action.

Still, after earlier threats to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea, Trump’s comments appeared aimed at easing regional alarm that he was careening toward a potentially nuclear conflict on the Korean peninsula that could extend to Japan and beyond, given the range of North Korea’s nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. North Korea also has chemical weapons and is thought to have biological weapons capabilities.

No additional detail was provided during Trump’s stop in China, which the U.S. administration sees as the country most able to influence North Korea’s leadership. In a Nov. 9 press statement, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the United States and China are committed to “working toward a solution through dialogue and negotiation” to achieve denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Trump said he and Xi would not “replicate failed approaches of the past” that unsuccessfully sought denuclearization. Even so, Trump’s remarks during his Asia trip demonstrate that his policy remains similar to that of U.S. President Barack Obama, namely to ratchet up pressure and insist that North Korea take steps toward denuclearization as a precondition for beginning negotiations. But although Obama declared a policy of “strategic patience” even as North Korea advanced production of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, Trump has said that the clock is running out to stop North Korea before it produces reliable, nuclear-armed ballistic missiles able to strike major U.S. cities.

Trump has progressively increased pressure on North Korea through unilateral U.S. actions, most recently by designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism on Nov. 20, and by supporting more aggressive UN Security Council measures. Along with seeking to curtail North Korea’s key trade relations, the United States is pressing countries such as Kuwait and Qatar to stop using North Korean construction laborers, whose employment provides a major source of foreign currency for the isolated North Korean government.

Unlike during his stops in Seoul and Tokyo, Trump in Beijing did not single out China to better enforce UN Security Council sanctions, but said in Nov. 9 remarks with Xi that Washington and Beijing were in agreement to “increase economic pressure until North Korea abandons its reckless and dangerous path.”

Trump and Xi did not take questions from the press. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that there is “no disagreement” between the leaders on the goal of negotiations with North Korea but the two countries favor different tactics.

China supports a resumption of the so-called six-party talks, which took place from 2003 to 2009, and has proposed that North Korea freeze nuclear and missile testing in return for a suspension of U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

Shortly after Trump’s visit, China announced Nov. 15 that it was sending a high-level envoy to Pyongyang, likely to push for a resumption of talks. The four-day visit was the first to North Korea's capital by a high-level Chinese envoy in two years.

According to the official announcement from Beijing, Song Tao, the head of government’s external affairs department, would inform North Korea about the outcome of the Communist Party Congress, which took place in October and reappointed Xi Jinping to a second term as president. Experts interpreted the wording of the announcement to mean that Song likely also would urge North Korea to engage in negotiations over its nuclear program.

Trump also focused on the U.S. security alliances with South Korea and Japan during visits and said that Washington stands ready to “defend itself and its allies using the full range of our unmatched military capabilities.”

Moon said on Nov. 7 that he and Trump agreed to expand the rotational deployment of U.S. strategic assets in and around the Korean peninsula and to discuss South Korea’s acquisition and development of military reconnaissance assets.

Moon also confirmed that Seoul and Washington reached a final agreement to eliminate the payload limit on South Korean ballistic missiles. Trump had already agreed in principle to lift the limit in September after North Korea’s sixth nuclear test. (See ACT, October 2017.)

 

China, South Korea Drop THAAD Dispute

China and South Korea set aside what had been a disruptive dispute since South Korea deployed a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery earlier this year.

The Chinese and South Korean foreign ministries released a joint statement Oct. 31 on restoring normal diplomatic relations. The two countries said they would resume all cooperation and trade “expeditiously” and cooperate on reaching a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear crisis.

China had encouraged an informal boycott against South Korean companies this year, pushing South Korean President Moon Jae-in closer to the United States. It is unclear what prompted China’s sudden shift because South Korea offered no significant concessions on the THAAD dispute or change in policy. Chinese President Xi Jinping may have decided that economic sanctions were failing to erode the U.S.-South Korean alliance and may have seen an opportunity to exploit the growing discomfort among many South Koreans with what they perceive as U.S. President Donald Trump’s aggressive approach toward North Korea.

China maintains its opposition to the THAAD deployment, but acknowledged South Korea’s reassurances that the missile defense system is not aimed at China and that it would not deploy more THAAD batteries, participate in a U.S.-led strategic missile defense system, or form a NATO-like U.S.-Japanese-South Korean military alliance.

China’s economic actions hurt elements of South Korea’s economy, particularly the tourism sector. The number of visiting Chinese tourists fell by half in the first nine months of this year, which cost the economy $6.5 billion in lost revenue based on the average spending of Chinese visitors in 2016, according to data from the Korea Tourism Organization cited by Reuters. China also restricted imports of South Korean cosmetics, barred performances by K-pop musical groups, and ramped up criticism in official media of the South Korean government.

Moon and Xi met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang, Vietnam, on Nov. 11, where they reiterated the agreement to quickly normalize bilateral relations and agreed to hold further talks on managing the North Korean crisis, according to South Korean presidential spokesman Yoon Young-chan.—MACLYN SENEAR

Trump Repeats Failing Formula on North Korean Threat

In his high profile address to the South Korean National Assembly Nov. 8, President Donald Trump missed a crucial opportunity to clarify and adjust his administration’s disjointed and, at times, reckless policy toward North Korea. Although Trump indicated earlier today in a press conference in Seoul that he is "open" to talks with North Korea, he has also said in recent days that now is not the time for such talks but instead it is time to apply “more pressure” on North Korea to bring North Korea to bargaining table and to agree to eliminate its nuclear program. While in Asia, Trump has also...

The North Korean Missile Crisis

The nuclear danger posed by North Korea is not new. But as Trump readies for a trip to East Asia, the crisis enters a critical phase.

The nuclear danger posed by North Korea is not new. But since the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House, a bad situation has become far worse. Now, as Trump readies for a trip to East Asia, the crisis enters a critical phase.

This July 28, 2017 picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 29, 2017 shows North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Hwasong-14 being lauched at an undisclosed place in North Korea. Kim Jong-Un boasted of North Korea's ability to strike any target in the US after a second ICBM test that weapons experts said could even bring New York into range - in a potent challenge to US President Donald Trump. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)The risk of conflict through miscalculation by either side now may be as severe as during the tense days of October 1962, when the United States and the Soviet Union nearly went to war over the deployment of Soviet missiles in Cuba.

Now, as then, miscalculation could lead to war and escalation to the nuclear level. Millions of lives in South and North Korea and Japan are at risk. Each side must refrain from further threats and taunts and open a direct, private, and high-level diplomatic channel of communication.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration said its North Korea policy would involve “maximum pressure and engagement.” Since then, we have seen pressure, reckless rhetoric, and threats, not engagement.

North Korea responded with accelerated ballistic missile testing, including two intercontinental-range tests. That led China, North Korea’s major trading partner, to announced it was halting imports of coal, iron, and lead from North Korea.

On Sept. 3, North Korea conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test—a thermonuclear blast having a yield of 150 to 250 kilotons. In response, China and Russia voted for new sanctions at the UN Security Council. China’s central bank has also instructed other Chinese banks to stop providing financial services to North Korea.

In his inaugural address to the United Nations on Sept. 19, Trump worsened the situation. “We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea” if it threatens U.S. allies in the region, he said. Trump has ordered regular B1-B strategic bomber flights near North Korea, which Pyongyang sees as a prelude to war. He called North Korea’s authoritarian leader, Kim Jong Un, a “rocket man” on “a suicide mission.”

In his clumsy style, Trump appears to be trying to intimidate Kim. But the history of the nuclear age has shown that 
smaller states, even those without nuclear weapons, are not easily intimidated by U.S. nuclear threats. North Korea is 
no exception.

To show Pyongyang’s determination, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho warned that North Korea might conduct a hydrogen bomb test explosion over the Pacific. Ri claims that the United States has effectively declared war on his country and therefore North Korea reserves the right to shoot down any U.S. aircraft that fly over or near its territory.

In October 1962, President John F. Kennedy worked very hard to carefully coordinate all U.S. government messages and signals toward Moscow so U.S. intentions were clear. He exchanged direct, private messages with his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev, to seek a way out of the crisis. Kennedy was careful not to rule out certain compromises that would later prove to be essential to resolving the crisis.

But Trump is no Kennedy. The lack of discipline and coordination shown by the Trump administration greatly increases the risk factor. “I think there’s a 10 percent chance the wheels really come off, and we have a full-on war on the Korean peninsula, which would include nuclear use,” warned former NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis on Sept. 28.

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the UN, and other U.S. officials have unwisely knocked down Chinese proposals to de-escalate tensions that would involve North Korea halting further nuclear and missile tests in exchange for the United States pausing certain military exercises that North Korea sees as particularly threatening.

If each side can refrain from further threats, it may still be possible for a direct U.S.-North Korean dialogue, without preconditions, that sets a new course toward a negotiated or brokered agreement that addresses the concerns of the international community and the security concerns of North Korea.

A commonsense first step would be an immediate halt to further North Korean nuclear and intermediate- or long-range ballistic missile tests and U.S. military exercises and maneuvers that could be interpreted to be practice runs for an attack.

Given that neither Kim nor Trump has ever been known to publicly back down, however, an outside diplomatic intervention may be in order. The UN secretary-general could convene an emergency, closed-door meeting with senior leaders from the members of the past six-party talks (China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States) and initiate a serious dialogue designed to lower tensions and address issues of mutual concern. A trusted emissary from a third party, such as the Vatican, could pursue shuttle diplomacy. Alternatively, Trump could authorize a personal representative to meet with a senior representative of Kim to work out a plan to reduce tensions.

As Kennedy said 55 years ago following the Cuban missile crisis, “Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to the choice of either a humiliating defeat or a nuclear war.”


The monthly “Focus” editorials from Arms Control Today are available for reprint on a non-exclusive basis
with permission from the Arms Control Association and link to the original publication online.

 

Trump Boxes U.S. In on North Korea

U.S. draws a hard line on denuclearization and raises the prospect of military action.


November 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

U.S. President Donald Trump is boxing himself in on options for responding to the North Korean nuclear crisis, appearing to rule out deterrence as an approach for dealing with Pyongyang and undercutting calls for negotiations by his own top diplomat.

Representatives from the United States (left), South Korea (center) and Japan (right) take part in three-way talks on North Korea in Seoul on October 18. (Photo credit: ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images)Continued confusion regarding U.S. policy toward North Korea comes ahead of Trump’s visit the region Nov. 3-13, which includes stops in South Korea, Japan, and China, and as North Korea downplays the chances for diplomacy with the United States after Trump insulted leader Kim Jong Un at the UN General Assembly in September. (See ACT, October 2017.)

Choe Son-hui, director-general of the North America Department of the North Korean Foreign Ministry, said at a conference in Moscow on Oct. 20 that North Korea is “not planning to hold talks on nuclear weapons” at this time. Choe’s statement reiterated recent messages from Pyongyang that North Korea will not negotiate while the United States engages in a hostile policy.

Choe, describing North Korea’s nuclear weapons as “designed for the protection of our homeland from the constant nuclear threat from the U.S.,” said Washington will have to “get along” with North Korea’s nuclear status. Trump administration officials continue to reject the idea of any acceptance of North Korea having nuclear weapons.

U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster, speaking Oct. 19 at an event hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that Trump will not accept North Korea “threatening the United States with a nuclear weapon” and that an approach of “accept and deter is unacceptable.” The United States is in a “race to resolve this short of military action,” he said.

McMaster’s comments were echoed by CIA director Mike Pompeo. Speaking at the same event, Pompeo said that the United States is “running out of time” to stop North Korea from developing the ability to strike the United States with a nuclear-armed ballistic missile. Trump has been very clear that he will not allow North Korea to “hold America at risk” and will use military force if necessary to prevent it, he said.

A photo released July 30 by the South Korean Defense Ministry shows a U.S. Air Force B-1B  bomber (top) accompanied by South Korean F-15 fighter jets over the Korean peninsula in response to North Korea's missile tests.  (Photo credit: South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images)Trump has made comments in the past alluding to the use of military force or a preventative strike against North Korea’s missile capabilities. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said in an Oct. 11 interview with VOX that the president “has sent us very clear signals about his enthusiasm for military conflict with North Korea.”

“Given the stakes of a potential strike against North Korea, we have to act under the assumption that he’s serious,” Murphy said.

Although prior U.S. presidents have not ruled out such use of military force, Trump’s rhetoric and actions far exceed past threats.

For instance, the United States in September flew B1-B bombers farther north of the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea than “any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century,” according to a Sept. 23 press release from Pentagon spokesperson Dana White. The mission was a “demonstration of U.S. resolve and a clear message that the president has many military options to defeat any threat,” according to the statement.

Concern about a possible preventative or pre-emptive military strike against North Korea without an authorization for the use of military force from Congress has prompted a bipartisan group of 60 members in the House of Representatives to support a bill calling for a prohibition on “unconstitutional” strikes against North Korea.

The bill, led by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), says that the president must seek an authorization from Congress before conducting a strike. In an Oct. 19 letter to colleagues about the bill, Conyers and several other members wrote that the legislation is meant to “ensure that President Trump cannot launch an unconstitutional strike that experts say would lead to catastrophic war on the Korean Peninsula.”

The legislation also includes a sense of Congress that “conflict on the Korean peninsula would have catastrophic consequences” and that “the president, in coordination with U.S. allies, should explore and pursue every feasible opportunity to engage in talks with North Korea on concrete steps to reduce tensions and improve communication, and to initiate negotiations designed to achieve a diplomatic agreement to halt and eventually reverse North Korea’s nuclear and missile pursuits and to move toward denuclearization.”

Although several different versions of a so-called freeze-for-freeze proposal have been put forward, Russia and China support a version that calls for North Korea halting nuclear and missiles tests in return for the United States and South Korea rolling back joint military exercises.

McMaster has dismissed the idea of an interim deal intended to freeze North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities. McMaster also said in September that he would not comment on the specific preconditions for talks with North Korea, but gave some examples of confidence-building measures that Pyongyang could take, including allowing inspectors into its nuclear facilities before talks on denuclearization can begin.

More recently, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said that the U.S. objective remains a “denuclearized Korean peninsula.” Speaking to reporters Oct. 18 following a trilateral meeting in Seoul with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, he said that the Trump administration is “dedicated” to diplomacy and will continue to use a “campaign of pressure to bring North Korea to the negotiating table without preconditions.”

Sullivan’s remarks coincide with previous statements on diplomacy without preconditions made by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but McMaster’s rhetoric appears to reject talks without conditions, and Trump himself tweeted on Oct. 1 that Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate” with North Korea.

Much of the Trump administration’s pressure campaign has focused on ratcheting up sanctions, including an executive order in September that targets companies and banks doing business with North Korea, but former officials are doubtful that sanctions alone will be enough to get North Korea back to the negotiating table.

Former CIA director James Woolsey told Voice of America in a September interview that sanctions “probably won’t get the job done” but that the United States should do what it can on sanctions, including working with China to “bring them along” on tougher sanctions.—KELSEY DAVENPORT

MTCR Plenary Discusses Challenges

MTCR Plenary Discusses Challenges

Members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) holding an annual plenary in October sought to address challenges facing the 30-year-old accord, including emerging technologies and regional proliferation. MTCR members agree to control exports of missiles and other unmanned delivery systems in order to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Since the voluntary regime began in 1987, its membership has grown from seven to 35 countries.

The meeting, co-chaired by Iceland and Ireland, discussed intangible-technology transfers, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), “catch all” controls, regional proliferation, and outreach to non-MTCR countries, according to an Oct. 20 joint statement.

Members also renewed their commitment to exercising “extreme vigilance” in restricting technology transfers that could contribute to North Korea’s missile program, according to the statement. For the meeting, the United States prepared a proposal that exports of certain UAVs, now tightly restricted as being equivalent to cruise missiles, be treated more leniently, according to an Oct. 11 Reuters report. That reflects an interest by the Trump administration and UAV manufacturers in pursuing increased U.S. drone exports, Reuters said. A State Department official praised the MTCR in an Oct. 25 email to Arms Control Today but provided no details about the confidential discussions.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Trump, Kim Make Nuclear Crisis Personal

For now, it is a war of words. That could change. 


October 2017
By Terry Atlas and Kelsey Davenport

Tensions between the United States and North Korea moved into dangerous new territory last month, as two inexperienced national leaders engaged in name-calling backed up by threats of nuclear conflict.

It remains unclear whether the tension that has been increasing for months, as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un defied international pressure to halt his nuclear weapons program, will drive a serious effort for negotiations or trigger, intentionally or by accident, military action that could cause tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths on the Korean peninsula and perhaps beyond.

North Koreans in the capital, Pyongyang, on Sept. 22 (local time) watch a report on leader Kim Jong Un’s statement denouncing U.S. President Donald Trump as a “rogue and a gangster” who will “pay dearly” for his threats against their country. (Photo credit: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)
Complicating matters is the fact that the two key decision-makers, Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump, are untested in such diplomatic crisis situations and have shown tendencies to provoke further confrontation.

Addressing the UN General Assembly on Sept. 19, Trump belittled Kim as “rocket man” and used the podium of the world’s pre-eminent peacemaking institution to threaten to “totally destroy” North Korea if the United States “is forced to defend itself or its allies.” In doing so, the Los Angeles Times reported, Trump ignored appeals from his national security team not to make the situation more dangerous and the path to negotiations more daunting by insulting the young dictator.

Kim quickly responded in kind and, for the first time, personally issued a statement directed at a U.S. president, saying that Trump barks like a “frightened dog” and is a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” which is a senile or weak-minded individual.

In a sign of further defiance, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho was quoted Sept. 21 as telling journalists in New York, where he was attending the UN session, that Kim is considering whether to test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean, which would be the first atmospheric nuclear test explosion since China conducted one on Oct. 16, 1980.

Ri was likely referring to launching an intercontinental ballistic missile paired with a nuclear warhead into the Pacific Ocean to demonstrate North Korea’s capabilities. That would be a profoundly provocative action, with environmental and health implications from the radioactive fallout, and defy the norm against atmospheric nuclear tests established by the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty.

Trump fired back at Kim using his favored communications weapon, Twitter, writing that “Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before!” Less provocatively, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Sept. 22 on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that “we will continue our efforts in the diplomatic arena, but all our military options are on the table.”

Yet, any military option comes with significant risks, particularly with South Korea’s capital, Seoul, within range of North Korea artillery just north of the Demilitarized Zone, which may dismiss it as a viable solution.

Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, told The American Prospect in August, “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis subsequently said, without providing any details, that the United States has military options that would not put Seoul at risk.

The Trump administration has paired its threats with additional sanctions targeting North Korea. Trump issued an executive order Sept. 21 that targets banks and companies that continue to do business with North Korea. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that Washington has the tools to “cut off banks from the banking system in the United States.”

“For much too long, North Korea has been allowed to abuse the international financial system to facilitate funding for its nuclear weapons and missile program,” Trump said in announcing the measures.

Significantly, China’s central bank agreed to cooperate and directed financial institutions throughout China to curtail their loans and other business with North Korea and the North Korean government.

In his address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23, Ri said it was a “forlorn hope to consider any chance that [North Korea] would be shaken an inch or change its stance due to the harsher sanctions by the hostile forces.” Ri also called out Trump’s “reckless and violent” words and said that, by insulting North Korea, he made the “irreversible mistake of making our rockets’ visit to the entire U.S. mainland inevitable all the more.”

The Trump administration is seeking to use increasing pressure from tightening economic sanctions, influence from China, and the threat of military action to force North Korea to negotiate denuclearization. “It is time for North Korea to realize that the denuclearization is its only acceptable future,” Trump declared in his address to the UN General Assembly.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans participate in a state-organized, anti-U.S. rally in Pyongyang on Sept. 23.  (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)In recent years, diplomacy has not gained traction. U.S. President Barack Obama tried to use UN Security Council demands and sanctions to increase pressure on North Korea while waiting for Kim Jong Un to take steps toward denuclearization, a policy called “strategic patience.” The Obama administration’s insistence on onerous preconditions and misreading of North Korean signals in favor of talks, however, failed to produce results. (See ACT, March 2015.)

As a result, North Korea’s nuclear program raced ahead to produce additional nuclear material for warheads and increasingly powerful missiles. Now, under the Trump administration, North Korea is able for the first time to reach much of the U.S. mainland with its ballistic missiles, although the accuracy and reliability is questionable.

Since taking office, Trump has redoubled sanctions pressures and demanded China step up and said on Aug. 8 that the North would feel the “fire and fury” of the United States if the regime continued its threats and destabilized the Korean peninsula and East Asia. Kim responded with further missile tests and, on Sept. 3, North Korea claimed a hydrogen bomb test vastly more powerful than previous underground tests.

On the diplomatic front, Trump so far has been dismissive of the freeze-for-freeze proposal favored by China and Russia in which North Korea would suspend nuclear and ballistic missile tests and the United States would suspend more provocative elements of its large-scale joint military exercises with South Korea.

Trump may have narrowed his leverage further with his denunciations of the Iran nuclear deal, indicating that he may walk away from that accord and seek to impose new, tougher restrictions on Iran. That may signal to Kim that any deal, even if it is endorsed by the UN Security Council as the Iran deal is, may not be upheld by the United States, meaning that nuclear weapons are needed for regime security. James Clapper, former U.S. director of national intelligence, has said that he does not foresee a scenario in which North Korea relinquishes its nuclear weapons.

That would mean accepting negotiations focused on achieving some level of nuclear arms control and reduced tensions, coupled with U.S. nuclear deterrence policies. If so, Trump may have a choice between becoming the U.S. president who acquiesced to North Korea as a nuclear weapons power or as the U.S. president who went to war to prevent that outcome. Neither of the two U.S. defense treaty allies with the most at risk, South Korea and Japan, seem politically prepared for a serious military conflict with North Korea. —TERRY ATLAS AND KELSEY DAVENPORT

North Korea’s Sixth Test Its Largest Yet

The Sept. 3 nuclear test explosion at North Korea’s underground Punggye-ri test site produced a magnitude 6.1 seismic event, according to specialists at the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) International Data Centre (IDC) in Vienna.

The analysis was made on the basis of information from 41 primary and 90 auxiliary seismic stations that are part of the CTBTO International Monitoring System (IMS). Signals from the nuclear test were also detected by two hydroacoustic stations and one infrasound station. The IMS consists of 50 primary and 120 auxiliary seismic stations, of which 42 and 107 stations, respectively, are certified.

The IDC detected a second event that occurred 8.5 minutes after the initial blast, at approximately the same location, but two units of magnitude smaller. That event, along with a magnitude 3.4 seismic event detected on Sept. 23, have been assessed by the CTBTO and national authorities to have been caused by geologic disturbances created by the Sept. 3 nuclear test explosion.

At a magnitude of 6.1, the Sept. 3 nuclear test was by far North Korea’s largest. On Sept. 14, the CTBTO published a chart listing the range of body wave magnitudes and estimates of yield, which ranged from 140 to 450 kilotons TNT equivalent. Such a blast would be roughly 10 to 30 times the strength of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, which was about 15 kilotons. The largest previous North Korean nuclear test was in the 20-kiloton range.

Analysts Frank V. Pabian, Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., and Jack Liu estimated the yield of the test was roughly 250 kilotons, according to their analysis published in the blog 38 North.

North Korea claimed the device was a hydrogen bomb designed to be carried by a long-range missile. Whether such a North Korean device could be fitted into a warhead small enough and light enough for such a missile is not clear, according to Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

In a Sept. 7 interview in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Hecker said the explosive power of the Sept. 3 blast “was consistent with a hydrogen bomb—that is, a fusion-based bomb. However, it could also have been a large `boosted’ fission bomb, in which the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium were used to enhance the fission yield.” More testing, Hecker said, would make it possible for North Korea to arm a long-range missile with ahigh-yield warhead.—DARYL G. KIMBALL


Comparison of Seismic Signals From the Six North Korean Nuclear Tests

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization's International Data Centre estimates the seismic wave produced by the Sept. 3 explosive nuclear test was equivalent to a magnitude 6.1 earthquake. The seismic signals (shown to scale) of the six declared North Korean nuclear tests, as observed at the International Monitoring System station AS-59 in Aktyubinsk, Kazakhstan, show the latest explosion produced a much higher yield than the previous five tests

 

Urgent Need to De-escalate Tensions Between Washington and Pyongyang

Sections:

Body: 

Statement from Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball

For Immediate Release: September 22, 2017

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 102

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—The escalating crisis over North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests has now reached an extremely dangerous level. The risk of conflict through miscalculation by either side is unacceptably high.

Mr.Ri Yong Ho, Foreign Ministrer of the Democratic People's Republic of KoreaWe are alarmed and strongly condemn the unecessary and provocative threat of massive retaliation against Pyongyang by President Donald Trump in his UN address on Sept. 19, and we condemn in the strongest possible terms the suggestion by the Foreign Minister of the DPRK on Sept. 22 that his government may conduct a nuclear test explosion in or over the Pacific Ocean in reaction to Mr. Trump’s remarks.

Such a nuclear test would be a threat not just to the United States, but would be a global security and health threat to the entire international community, which has prohibited all nuclear test explosions through the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. A nuclear test explosion over the Pacific could trigger events that escalate even further beyond the control of Washington and Pyongyang.

We strongly appeal to key leaders in the region, particularly the United States and North Korea, to immediately take steps ease tensions and refrain from making any further threats of nuclear or missile tests or military action of any kind. Each side must chose their words very carefully and seek open direct channel of communication to avoid miscommunication and miscalculation. The current path being pursued by both sides leads to catastrophe.

We call on the UN Secretary-General to convene a series of emergency, closed-door meetings with senior leaders from the members of Six-Party-Talks to intiate a serious dialogue designed to lower tensions and address issues of mutual concern.

US Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun (L) talks with South Korea's representative to the six-party talks, Kim Hong-Kyun (R), during their meeting at the foreign ministry in Seoul on March 22, 2017. The meeting came as a new North Korean missile test failed on March 22, according to the South's defence ministry, two weeks after Pyongyang launched four rockets in what it called a drill for an attack on US bases in Japan. (Photo: JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)It is past time for a direct dialogue, without preconditions, that sets a new course — toward a negotiated or brokered agreement that addresses the concerns of the international community and the security concerns of the DPRK. Such a course begins with an immediate halt to further nuclear test explosions and intermediate- or long-range ballistic missile tests and any military exercises that could be interpreted to be practice runs for an attack.

As President John F. Kennedy said following the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis: “Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to the choice of either a humiliating defeat or a nuclear war.”

Now is the time to back away from edge of a conflict that could escalate to the nuclear level all too quickly.


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Trump's UN Address a  Failure of Nuclear Leadership

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Statement from Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball

For Immediate Release: September 19, 2017

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, (202) 463-8270, ext. 102; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104

Since 1945, U.S. presidents have sought to rally global support and action toward practical solutions curbing the spread of nuclear weapons and reducing the dangerous likelihood of their use. 

US President Donald Trump waits after addressing the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, in New York on September 19, 2017. (Photo: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)Sadly, President Donald J. Trump, in his first, fiery address before the UN General Assembly has demonstrated that he is not up to this most important of U.S. presidential responsibilities. 
 
Instead, Trump threatened to unravel the widely-supported, hard-won 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers that verifiably blocks Iran’s path to a bomb. Allies and security and nonproliferation experts agree that Iran is meeting its nuclear-related commitments under the deal. Any further steps by the Trump administration to undermine the Iran nuclear deal will isolate the United States, make it harder to confront Iran’s misbehavior in the region, and worst of all, potentially lead to the undoing of the agreement, thereby increasing the threat of war and a spiral of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and beyond.
 
On the growing tensions over North Korea's nuclear and missile program, Trump likewise failed to appeal to the international community to better implement existing sanctions and to support efforts for a realistic, negotiated solution, instead recklessly threatening to destroy North Korea. It is naive to think that sanctions pressure and bellicose U.S. threats of nuclear attack can force North Korea to change course.

As President John F. Kennedy said following the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis: “Above all, while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to the choice of either a humiliating defeat or a nuclear war.”
 
Trump missed an opportunity to outline a coherent approach on how the United States, Russia, and other nuclear-weapon states could responsibly reduce nuclear tensions and work together to prevent nuclear conflict. At this point in his first term as president, Barack Obama had convened a special meeting of the UN Security Council and won the adoption of a comprehensive strategy (UNSC 1887) to reduce nuclear risks worldwide.
 
Trump’s address is yet another sign that we are entering a dark and difficult phase in the long-running effort to reduce the threat posed by nuclear weapons.

In the long run, the United States will continue to play an essential and useful role in reducing the risks of nuclear weapons. But in the near term, other responsible U.S. and world leaders must step forward to provide the nuclear leadership that Mr. Trump is failing to demonstrate.

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Sixth North Korean Nuclear Test Creates New, More Dangerous Phase in Nuclear Crisis

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Statement from Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball

For Immediate Release: September 3, 2017

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107; Kingston Reif, director for disarmament policy, (202) 463-8270 ext. 104

(Washington, DC)—North Korea’s 5.9 to 6.3 magnitude nuclear test explosion September 3 marks a new and more dangerous era in East Asia.

The explosion, which produced a yield likely in excess of 100 kilotons TNT equivalent, strongly suggests that North Korea has indeed successfully tested a compact but high-yield nuclear device that can be launched on intermediate- or intercontinental-range ballistic missiles.

Ryoo Yog-Gyu, a Monotoring director of National Earthquake and Volcano Center, shows seismic waves taking place in North Korea on a screen at the Korea Meteorological Administration center on September 3, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea, Japan and the U.S. detected an artificial earthquake from Kilju in the northern Hamgyong Province of North Korea. The Japanese government has confirmed they believe it was North Korea's sixth nuclear test. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images) Still more tests are likely and necessary for North Korea to confirm the reliability of the system, but after more than two decades of effort, North Korea has a dangerous nuclear strike capability that can hold key targets outside of its region at risk. This capability has been reached since U.S. President Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” if Pyongyang continued its nuclear and missile pursuits Aug. 8.

The inability of the international community to slow and reverse North Korea’s nuclear and missile pursuits is the result of missteps and miscalculations by many actors, including the previous two U.S. administrations—George W. Bush and Barack Obama—as well as previous Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean governments. 
 
Unfortunately, since taking office, President Donald Trump and his administration have failed to competently execute their own stated policy of “maximum pressure and engagement” with North Korea. Trump has greatly exacerbated the risks through irresponsible taunts and threats of U.S. military force that only give credibility to the North Korean propaganda line that nuclear weapons are necessary to deter U.S. aggression, and have spurred Kim Jong-un to accelerate his nuclear program.
 
The crisis has now reached a very dangerous phase in which the risk of conflict through miscalculation by either side is unacceptably high. Trump and his advisers need to curb his impulse to threaten military action, which only increases this risk. 
 
A saner and more effective approach is to work with China, Russia, and other UN Security Council members to tighten the sanctions pressure and simultaneously open a new diplomatic channel designed to defuse tensions and to halt and eventually reverse North Korea’s increasingly dangerous nuclear and missile programs.
 
All sides need to immediately work to de-escalate the situation.
  • The United States needs to consult with and reassure our Asian allies, particularly South Korea and Japan, that the United States, and potentially China and Russia, will come to their defense if North Korea commits aggression against them.
  • As the United States engages in joint military exercise with South Korean and Japanese forces, U.S. forces must avoid operations that suggest the Washington is planning or initiating a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, which could trigger miscalculation on the part of Pyongyang.
  • Proposals to reintroduce U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea are counterproductive and would only heighten tensions and increase the risk of a nuclear conflict.
  • The United States must work with the world community to signal that international pressure—though existing UN-mandated sanctions on North Korean activities and trade that can support its illicit nuclear and missile activities—will continue so long as North Korea fails to exercise restraint. Better enforcement of UN sanctions designed to hinder North Korea’s weapons procurement, financing, and key sources of foreign trade and revenue is very important.
  • Sanctions designed to limit North Korea’s oil imports should now be considered. While such measures can help change North Korea’s cost-benefit calculations in a negotiation about the value of their nuclear program, it is naive to think that sanctions alone, or bellicose U.S. threats of nuclear attack, can compel North Korea to change course.
  • The United States must consistently and proactively communicate our interest in negotiations with North Korea aimed at halting further nuclear tests and intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile tests and eventually to verifiably denuclearize the Korean peninsula, even if that goal may no longer be realistically achievable with the Kim regime in power.
  • Washington must also be willing to do more than to simply say it is “open to talks,” but must be willing to take the steps that might help achieve actual results. This should include possible modification of U.S. military exercises and maneuvers in ways that do not diminish deterrence and military readiness, such as replacing command post exercises with seminars that serve the same training purpose, dialing down the strategic messaging of exercises, spreading out field training exercises to smaller levels, and moving exercises away from the demilitarized zone on the border.
  • This latest North Korean nuclear test once again underscores the importance of universalizing the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. 

Unless there is a more serious, more coordinated, and sustained diplomatic strategy to reduce tensions and to halt further nuclear tests and long-range ballistic missile tests in exchange for measures that ease North Korea’s fear of military attack, Pyongyang’s nuclear strike capabilities will increase, with a longer range and less vulnerable to attack, and the risk of a catastrophic war on the Korean peninsula will likely grow.

NOTE: This post includes a corrected estimate of the explosive yield of the nuclear test explosion.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

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U.S., North Korea Jockey Over Missile Tests

U.S., North Korea Jockey Over Missile Tests


By Kelsey Davenport
September 2017

In the early days of August, the United States and North Korea seemed to be slipping toward the unthinkable, a war on the Korean peninsula that could kill hundreds of thousands of people or more within the initial hours.

President Donald Trump declared in unscripted remarks on Aug. 8 that North Korea will be met with “fire and fury” and “power the likes of which this world has never seen before” if Pyongyang makes further threats against the United States. His vague and escalatory comments quickly drew a response from Pyongyang that its military leaders would draw up plans giving leader Kim Jong Un a confrontational option of launching four ballistic missiles that would overfly Japan and splashdown in international waters near the U.S. territory of Guam in the western Pacific Ocean.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is shown reviewing plans for a missile strike near the U.S. territory of Guam in photo from the official Korean Central News Agency released August 15. The video monitor appears to show a satellite image of Andersen Air Force Base on Guam. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)Yet, there were signs that a better course could be found. Despite provocative missile tests by North Korea in July and threatening rhetoric from Trump, Pyongyang seemed to signal that it is willing to engage in talks with the United States, and that has not gone unnoticed in Washington. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at an Aug. 22 news conference that diplomacy may be possible in the “near future,” noting that North Korea had demonstrated “some level of restraint that we have not seen in the past.” Trump pulled back a bit later the same day. “Maybe, probably not, but maybe, something positive can come about,” Trump said in impromptu remarks during a free-wheeling, campaign-style speech Aug. 22 in Phoenix.

Those comments offered some basis for hope that the two sides can find a diplomatic off-ramp before a conflict is triggered intentionally or by accident. Just how tentative that prospect remains, however, was demonstrated Aug. 29 (Korean time) as tensions flared anew following a North Korean missile test that overflew Japan.

North Korea has issued statements reiterating that it will not negotiate as long as the United States maintains a “hostile policy and nuclear threat.” Yet, it appeared to keep the door open for diplomacy even as tensions escalated after The Washington Post reported on Aug. 8 on a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency assessment that North Korea has miniaturized nuclear warheads for use atop its ballistic missiles, including missiles capable of reaching much of the U.S. mainland. The assessment followed North Korea’s first two launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in July, both of which were successful. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

North Korea has threatened Guam in the past because U.S. military bases there are used by B-1B strategic bombers that conduct flyovers of the Korean peninsula, but until this year, Pyongyang had not successfully tested a ballistic missile capable of reaching the island. Although the bombers are not nuclear capable, North Korea views the flyovers as aggressive.

North Korea’s statement was widely perceived as a threat and an escalation
of rhetoric, but some North Korea experts such as Robert Carlin, a former CIA and State Department analyst who took part in past negotiations, read Pyongyang’s statement about developing a “plan” to fire missiles toward Guam as a signal
that North Korea was moving to
de-escalate tensions.

Carlin, a visiting scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford, said that Pyongyang’s subsequent decision to wait and gauge Washington’s response before launching missiles toward Guam was a positive sign. In an Aug. 15 piece for the blog 38 North, Carlin wrote that this is “exactly how the North moves back from the edge of a cliff.”

Having broken the tension, it would “not be unusual for North Korea to pivot to diplomacy,” he wrote.

Tillerson also noted in his Aug. 22 news conference that Pyongyang had not conducted a missile launch or provocative act since the UN Security Council adopted a resolution imposing addition sanctions on the country—an observation that was overtaken by events a week later. The resolution, adopted unanimously Aug. 5, was a response to North Korea’s ICBM tests. The resolution contained new restrictions, such as an export ban for North Korean coal, iron, seafood and lead, particularly affecting vital trade with China and Russia.

Ahead of Tillerson’s Aug. 22 news conference, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Russian and Chinese entities for supporting North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said it is “unacceptable for individuals and companies in China, Russia, and elsewhere” to enable North Korea to generate income for its nuclear and missile programs. Additional designations targeted foreign entities that use North Korean workers, which is a source of income for Pyongyang.

Tillerson’s approach of pairing sanctions pressure with diplomatic overtures seems to have support from key cabinet officials, such as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. In a joint op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 13, Tillerson and Mattis wrote that “diplomacy is our preferred means of changing North Korea’s course of action” but those efforts are backed by military options.

The military option, particularly the viability of preventive strikes targeting North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities, is increasingly dismissed as ineffective and likely to lead to a larger conflict with catastrophic consequences. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, former supreme allied commander of NATO, wrote in a commentary for CBNC on Aug. 10 that to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear and missile program, there is “no military option short of general warfare in Korea,” which would likely result in millions of casualties.

That is known within the White House, as Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon said in an indiscreet Aug. 16 interview with the editor of The American Prospect magazine. “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it,” he was quoted as saying. “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”

Alongside Tillerson’s diplomatic overtures, the United States is likely to continue pressuring North Korea with additional sanctions.

The U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises underway tested North Korea’s nascent restraint and may have contributed to North Korea’s decision to conduct the Aug. 29 launch. On Aug. 17, North Korea had called on Washington to refrain from “extremely dangerous actions around the Korean peninsula” and deploying “huge nuclear strategic equipment.”

The United States and South Korea began joint military exercises Aug. 22. The United States does not have nuclear weapons stationed on South Korean soil, but nuclear-capable bombers have participated in past exercises. Pyongyang views so-called decapitation drills, which are military training for targeting North Korea’s leadership, as particularly confrontational.

North Korea has said it would agree to a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing if the United States suspends joint military exercises with South Korea.

The United States may not be able to front-load the agenda with discussions of denuclearization, which North Korea publicly rejects because it views nuclear weapons as ensuring the survival of its regime. Still, halting additional progress on missiles and nuclear warheads through a test moratorium would be a positive step to prevent qualitative improvements derived through testing.

Putting a suspension or roll-back of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises on the table in exchange does not undermine U.S. commitments to its allies and can be quickly ramped back up if North Korea abandons the moratorium. There also is precedent for this type of deal. Washington scaled back exercises in the 1990s and successfully negotiated a deal with North Korea that halted the country’s production of plutonium for nuclear weapons for nearly a decade.

If both sides are able to stick to a “freeze for freeze” deal, that could open up space to talk about a more comprehensive agreement that includes additional limits and a roll-back of North Korea’s nuclear program.

South Korea Seeks to Extend Missile Range 

South Korea raised the possibility of extending the permitted range of its ballistic missiles during the June summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington.

A South Korean official, speaking to Arms Control Today on Aug. 16 on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that Seoul is hoping to open talks on the subject, but would not provide details on the range extension that South Korea is requesting.

This is not the first time South Korea has sought to extend the permitted range of its missiles, which is limited under agreements with the United States. In October 2012, South Korea announced it had reached an agreement with the United States to extend the range of its ballistic missiles to 800 kilometers with a 500-kilogram payload, an increase both countries said was necessary to counter the growing threat posed by North Korean ballistic missiles. (See ACT, November 2012.)

South Korea is currently testing a ballistic missile, the Hyunmoo-2, capable of traveling 800 kilometers, but has not deployed the system. After a June test, officials said a few more tests are required before the missile will be ready. When deployed, South Korea will be able to target any site in North Korea from anywhere in its own territory, so the rationale for an additional range extension is unclear.

Prior to the 2012 agreement, South Korea was limited by a 2001 agreement that restricted its missiles to a 300-kilometer range with a 500-kilogram payload. That was an increase from the 180-kilometer limit that South Korea initially accepted in a 1979 missile technology accord with the United States.—KELSEY DAVENPORT 

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