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"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
North Korea

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

MTCR Plenary Discusses Challenges

Trump, Kim Make Nuclear Crisis Personal


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

 

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

Urgent Need to De-escalate Tensions Between Washington and Pyongyang

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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


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 

U.S., North Korea Jockey Over Missile Tests

Moon Reverses THAAD Decision


By Kingston Reif
September 2017

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for temporarily installing additional elements of a controversial missile defense system following North Korea’s second long-range missile test on July 28, reversing his prior decision to suspend deployment pending a thorough environmental review.

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched from the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska in Kodiak on July 11. In the test, the THAAD weapon system successfully intercepted an air-launched intermediate-range ballistic missile target. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense Missile Defense Agency)“President Moon sees North Korea’s missile threat with that much urgency,” a senior South Korean official told reporters on July 29 when asked about Moon’s decision to proceed with the deployment of four additional U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) launchers. “We’re trying to seek procedural legitimacy through the environmental impact assessment, yet feel the need to act fast on the situation that’s unfolding.”

China, which has long objected to the deployment of the THAAD system in South Korea, expressed concern about Moon’s reversal. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the decision “regretable” following a meeting with his South Korean counterpart on Aug. 6.

South Korea decided to deploy the anti-missile system in July 2016 under President Park Geun-hye to enhance the country’s defenses against North Korea. (See ACT, September 2016.) Moon was elected president in May following a corruption scandal that led to Park’s impeachment in late 2016.

The U.S. military declared the system in South Korea operational in early May, just days before the South Korean election. The initial deployment consisted of two launchers and an associated radar. Four other launchers were also brought to South Korea, but were not made operational.

The mobile, ground-based THAAD system is designed to defend against short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles during their terminal, or end, phase of flight. A THAAD battery typically consists of six launchers, 48 to 72 interceptor missiles, a radar, a fire control and communications system, and other support equipment.

After taking office May 10, Moon said he had not been informed of the presence of the additional four launchers on South Korean soil for weeks and ordered an investigation into why the South Korean Defense Ministry withheld this information. During his election campaign, Moon had been critical of his predecessor’s decision to accept the THAAD system without parliamentary approval, arguing that the decision on whether to deploy should be made by the incoming administration after public discussion and debate. (See ACT, July/August 2017.)

Following his election, Moon stressed that he did not intend to reverse the deployment of the two launchers and radar, but said he would make a final decision about the fate of the system after the comprehensive environmental review. Many South Korean analysts viewed the review as an attempt by Moon to buy time to persuade China and vocal domestic opposition to the THAAD system in South Korea to accept the deployment.

But North Korea conducted its second successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), designated the Hwasong-14, on July 28, prompting Moon to complete the installation of the additional launchers.

Separately, the THAAD system successfully intercepted and destroyed a mock target having the range of an intermediate-range ballistic missile for the first time in a test July 11. In the test, a THAAD system located at Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska detected, tracked, and intercepted a ballistic missile target air-launched by a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport aircraft.

The THAAD system has completed successfully all of the 15 flight and interception tests conducted since 2006, according to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. 

Although the THAAD battery deployed in South Korea is designed to protect the country against North Korean short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, the Defense Department deployed a battery to Guam in 2013 to protect the U.S. territory, home to a major U.S. Air Force bomber base, against intermediate-range missile threats.

In an Aug. 10 statement released through the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea said that it was completing plans to test four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missiles that would “hit the waters 30 to 40 kilometers away from Guam.”

KCNA announced on Aug. 15 that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had reviewed the plan and would “watch a little more” the behavior of the United States before deciding whether to proceed with the launch.

The United States warned that any North Korean missile launched at U.S. territory could result in war between the two countries. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said at a Aug. 17 press briefing in Washington that if North Korea fires a missile toward “the territory of Japan, Guam, [the] United States, [or] Korea, we would take immediate, specific actions to take it down.”

Moon Reverses THAAD Decision

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North Korea’s ICBM Presents ‘Global Threat’


July/August 2017
By Kelsey Davenport

North Korea crossed a technical and political threshold with the successful test of its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which experts assess could target parts of the United States.

The development raises the stakes as North Korea demonstrates advances in its nuclear and missile capabilities in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and other international efforts. The July 4 test occurred just days after U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korea President Moon Jae-in, meeting on June 30 at the White House, issued a joint statement that called on North Korea to refrain from provocative actions and pledged cooperation to achieve denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un celebrates the successful July 4 test of the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile in a photo from the official Korean Central News Agency. (Photo credit: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called the test “another brilliant victory of the Korean people in their struggle against the U.S.-led imperialists,” according to the government-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Kim was cited as saying that his country “would neither put its nukes and ballistic rockets on the table of negotiations…nor flinch even an inch from the road of bolstering the nuclear force chosen by itself unless the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat to [North Korea] are definitely terminated.”

The two-stage missile, designated the Hwasong-14, was tested at a lofted trajectory and splashed down in the Sea of Japan about 930 kilometers from the launch site. John Schilling, an aerospace engineer and analyst for the website 38 North, said in a July 6 press call that the missile’s range, if flown at a standard trajectory and in an eastward direction that takes advantage of the earth’s rotation, could be 7,000 to 8,000 kilometers.

That puts the Hwasong-14’s capability well beyond the 5,500 kilometer threshold for an ICBM and would allow North Korea to target Alaska (5,800 kilometers) and Hawaii (7,400 kilometers). Schilling said it is possible that North Korea could make performance improvements to extend the range to between 9,000 and 9,500 kilometers, which would cover the U.S. West Coast. Striking the U.S. East Coast would require a three-stage ICBM, he said.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said that the range of the missile and its mobile launch platform were North Korean capabilities that the United States had not seen previously. North Korea’s ICBM capability still considered limited because Pyongyang has not shown a successful re-entry vehicle nor the ability to fit a warhead onto the missile, he said.

In a July 5 statement, KCNA said that the ICBM can carry a “large-sized heavy nuclear warhead.” Schilling said that, in the near term, North Korea could use a basic type of re-entry vehicle called a blunt body that is less accurate but easier to engineer than newer types. Despite North Korea’s potential ability to mate a warhead with the ICBM, Schilling noted that the missile would be unreliable, particularly if launched under the time pressures of combat conditions.

The ICBM test was widely condemned by the international community as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting North Korean ballistic missile activity. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on July 4 that global action is required to stop the “global threat” posed by North Korea.

At a UN Security Council meeting July 5, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the United States is working on a resolution that “raises the international response in a way that is proportionate to North Korea’s new escalation.” Without providing details, she said that the international community can cut off “major sources” of hard currency, restrict oil for military programs, and increase maritime restrictions for North Korea.

China and Russia issued a joint statement condemning the test and urging the United States along with North Korea and all other states to “refrain from provocative actions.”

China and Russia also proposed a deal in which North Korea freezes missile and nuclear testing in exchange for the United States suspending military exercises with South Korea, reprising a Chinese initiative that the United States rejected in March. North Korea made a similar “freeze for freeze” proposal in January 2015 that Washington turned down as “inappropriately” linking U.S. defense exercises and North Korea’s prohibited nuclear and missile activities. (See ACT, March 2015.)—KELSEY DAVENPORT

North Korea’s ICBM Presents ‘Global Threat’

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