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North Korea

North Korea: Obama’s Prime Nonproliferation Failure

North Korea is the biggest blemish on President Barack Obama’s nonproliferation record.

December 2016

By Mark Fitzpatrick

North Korea is the biggest blemish on President Barack Obama’s nonproliferation record. Pyongyang’s four nuclear tests and more than 50 missile and rocket launches during the past eight years have given it a capacity to rain nuclear warheads on its regional adversaries and a good start to be able soon to reach the U.S. homeland. 

A photo from North Korea’s official news agency shows military personnel and others participating in a rally September 13 at Kim Il-Sung Square in Pyongyang to celebrate the country’s fifth underground nuclear test explosion. (Photo credit: KNS/AFP/Getty Images)

Early in Obama’s term of office, North Korea displayed a uranium-enrichment program to complement its plutonium production. For ways to deliver nuclear weapons, it successfully tested submarine-launched systems; intermediate-range, road-mobile Musudan missiles; and satellite-launch rockets that employ technologies useful for intercontinental-range missiles. Nuclear armament became etched in the country’s constitution and posture. Pyongyang now insists it will never give up its nuclear-armed status. The six-party talks that once showed promise of a path to dismantling the nuclear program are dead, the parties not having met since before Obama took office. 

A failed North Korea policy is not unique to Obama. His predecessor, President George W. Bush, saw arguably worse breakthroughs by Pyongyang, with a quadrupling of separated plutonium holdings and its first nuclear test. North Korea fixed its nuclear path well before Obama’s presidency and met his offer of an open hand with a three-stage rocket launch and nuclear test within his first four months in office. Obama’s commendable effort to halt the strategic weapons development, via the 2012 Leap Day deal that promised a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests as well as enrichment, was a bust. Within a few weeks, the North’s new young leader, Kim Jong Un, ordered the testing of a space rocket as his diplomats improbably claimed that this was not covered by the agreement. Kim’s duplicity sapped Obama’s will to risk any more political capital on engagement, although there were some quiet efforts that went unrequited.

The administration no longer uses the term “strategic patience,” but it is an apt moniker for a policy of holding to the demand that North Korea return to the goal of denuclearization as a condition for talks. Instead, the Obama team loaded its eggs in the sanctions basket, finally this year ratcheting the pressure up to the level of the biting penalties that had been imposed on Iran. It is too early to judge these sanctions a failure. In Iran’s case, harsh sanctions were in place for a year and a half before Tehran agreed to serious negotiations. It will likely take longer for North Korea, given its greater insularity and Chinese lifeline. Would that the tough measures had been imposed earlier.

The Obama team can boast success in maintaining an international consensus in dealing with North Korea. Unlike under the previous administration, Seoul and Tokyo have seen eye to eye with Washington on the issue. Peace on the Korean peninsula has been preserved, as has UN Security Council unity, with China and Russia reluctantly agreeing to the tougher sanctions. Spotty Chinese implementation has improved. This autumn, the United States adeptly coordinated secondary sanctions on Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Company Ltd., a major Chinese supplier to North Korea. Beijing itself targeted the firm with a criminal investigation. 

If President Donald Trump is able to roll back North Korea’s nuclear program, it will be due in part to the groundwork Obama laid. Alternatively, if the threat increases, the blame will be shared by successive administrations. The North Korean case may prove the adage that if a country is absolutely determined to acquire nuclear weapons, it will. Whether it will be allowed to keep them will be the test for the incoming administration. 

Mark Fitzpatrick is executive director of International Institute for Strategic Studies-Americas, and head of the IISS Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Programme.

Trump Reassures South Korea on Security

South Korean President Park Guen-hye reported that she received an assurance from President-elect Donald Trump that the United States will be “steadfast and strong” in its security alliance with South Korea. 

December 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

South Korean President Park Guen-hye reported that she received an assurance from President-elect Donald Trump that the United States will be “steadfast and strong” in its security alliance with South Korea. 

Park said in a Nov. 10 statement that she spoke with Trump the day after his election and raised the issue of North Korean nuclear weapons advances as the “greatest threat” that both nations face. “We are with you all the way, and we will not waver,” he said, according to the South Korean account of the 10-minute phone conversation. 

South Korean sailors wave South Korean and U.S. flags as the aircraft carrier USS George Washington arrives in Busan for a port visit on July 11, 2014. (Photo credit: Mass Comm. Spec. 1st Class Frank L. Andrews/U.S. Navy)North Korea has violated UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting nuclear and ballistic missile tests over two dozen times this year through November. Experts advise that North Korea will need to be a priority for the new administration, as Pyongyang continues to advance its ballistic missile capabilities and expand its stockpile of fissile material for nuclear weapons. 

North Korea conducted two underground nuclear test explosions this year, and a number of experts and officials from South Korea and the United States assess that Pyongyang could fit a nuclear warhead on a medium-range ballistic missile. (See ACT, October 2016; January/February 2016.)

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security adviser, told a group of South Korean officials on Nov. 18 that North Korea would be a top priority for the Trump administration. 

Trump has yet to give details on how he will approach North Korea. On the campaign trail in June, he suggested he would be willing to personally negotiate with leader Kim Jong Un over North Korea’s nuclear program. A few months earlier on a CBS news broadcast, Trump called Kim a “bad dude” and said that he would increase economic pressure on China “to make that guy disappear in one form or another.” 

 Trump’s assurance to Park that the United States will be steadfast and strong in its security alliance with Seoul marks a shift in his thinking during the campaign. At various times, Trump raised the prospect of removing U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula, saying South Korea was not paying enough of the costs for U.S. troops stationed there, and suggested that South Korea and Japan may need to develop their own nuclear weapons rather than relying on the United States for security.

South Korea currently pays about half of the costs of housing more than 28,000 U.S. troops on the peninsula, but Trump has argued that Seoul should pay a greater share of the expense. 

The United States used to keep nuclear weapons in South Korea, but removed them in 1991. South Korea and Japan are protected by U.S. nuclear weapons as part of Washington’s extended deterrence.

Pyongyang has remained relatively silent on Trump’s election, although a week after the voting, North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) implied that Park was using the U.S. election and the “Trump emergency system” to divert attention from the scandal surrounding her own presidency. 

Protesters are calling on Park to resign after information came to light that she allowed a friend to edit speeches and access sensitive information. 

A report submitted by South Korea’s unification ministry on Nov. 14 said that Seoul will continue its policy of sanctions and pressure on North Korea during the Trump administration. 

 The Obama administration’s policy included increasing pressure on North Korea through sanctions and engaging in talks with North Korea only after Pyongyang takes steps toward denuclearization. 

KCNA issued a release on Nov. 8 that characterized the Obama administration as a “total failure” and stated that President Barack Obama’s plan to “stifle” North Korea pushed Pyongyang to “bolster its nuclear force.”

IAEA Condemns North Korea’s Actions

Pyongyang’s defiance tops the issues International Atomic Energy Agency’s annual meeting.

November 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

Member states of the Inter-national Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) passed several resolutions at the organization’s yearly meeting, including one that condemns North Korea’s nuclear activities, but did not vote on a controversial resolution singling out Israel’s nuclear program. 

The IAEA’s 60th General Conference was held Sept. 26-30 in Vienna. 

Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, addresses delegates September 26 at the 60th IAEA General Conference in Vienna. (Photo credit: Dean Calma/IAEA)The agency’s resolution on North Korea was adopted unanimously Sept. 30. It reaffirmed that North Korea cannot have the status of a nuclear-weapon state under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and called on Pyongyang to implement comprehensive safeguards and resolve all outstanding issues that have emerged since agency inspectors were last granted access to North Korea’s nuclear facilities in 2009. 

North Korea joined the IAEA in 1974, but withdrew in 1994. The agency has not been able to conduct safeguards activities since then, although inspectors had limited periodic access through 2009.

Laura Holgate, U.S. representative to the IAEA, said in a statement on Sept. 30 that the resolution is “strong, resolute, and unequivocal” and underscores that North Korea could “not harbor any illusions that its illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons will achieve legitimacy in the eyes of the international community.” 

Holgate said that enhanced pressure on North Korea will remain essential to compel Pyongyang to “correct its course.” 

In June, the Arab member states of the IAEA made a request to put Israel’s nuclear capabilities on the agenda, but unlike past years did not introduce a resolution on the subject during the conference. 

Zeev Snir, head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, said in his opening statement at the meeting that Israel welcomed the decision to refrain from putting forward a draft resolution but regretted the Arab Group’s decision to include the topic on the agenda for discussions, saying it leads to “politicized, irrelevant discussions.” 

Holgate said the United States welcomed the decision by the Arab states and that the resolution singling out Israel was “not an appropriate item” for the conference.

In the last decade, the resolution has passed once, in 2009, and was not put forward in 2011 and 2012. It failed to pass in 2010, 2013, and 2014.

The member states did approve a resolution on Sept. 29 on the application of safeguards in the Middle East. The measure was approved 122-0, with six abstentions, including the United States. Explaining the U.S. position, Holgate said that efforts to advance toward the creation of a Middle Eastern zone free of weapons of mass destruction have been pursued at IAEA general conferences “without seeking consensus among states in the region” and that this approach undermines trust. 

The resolution calls on all states in the Middle East to accede to the NPT and accept full-scope IAEA safeguards on their nuclear activities. It also calls on states in the region to take measures toward supporting a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

The resolution does not specifically single out Israel, but Israel is the only Middle Eastern country not party to the NPT. Israel is suspected of having a nuclear arsenal of about 80 warheads, with enough material for up to 200 weapons, although it has never officially acknowledged possessing such arms or demonstrated its capability through a declared nuclear test.

The conference also passed resolutions relating to the agency’s budget, nuclear security work, and technical cooperation. It approved three new applications for IAEA membership for Gambia, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

UN Struggles Over North Korea’s Actions

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

November 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost Cause

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Debate Provides Opportunity to Discuss North Korea

Oct. 9 marks both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s second presidential debate and the 10th anniversary of North Korea’s first nuclear test. This serendipitous timing should push each candidate to present a clear plan of action to confront North Korea’s rapid nuclear development. To date, Clinton has avoided making policy recommendations about North Korea and Trump has provided a handful of troubling remarks. North Korea’s most recent nuclear test Sept. 9 , its fifth thus far, took place only eight months after its last Jan. 6. The explosive yield from the September test was greater than 10...

Interview with The Hankyoreh (Seoul)

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

UNSC Test Ban Initiative: Reinforcing The Existing Norm Against Nuclear Testing



North Korea’s nuclear weapon test explosion September 9 underscores the need to reaffirm the existing global norm against nuclear testing and early entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.


Volume 8, Issue 5, September 9, 2016

Diplomats at the UN Security Council (UNSC) are engaged in consultations on a proposal from the United States for a council resolution designed to reinforce the existing global norm against nuclear weapons testing established by the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The resolution would be complemented by a separate political statement from the council's five permanent members (P5) further asserting their support for the object and purpose of the treaty.

North Korea is the only country to test nuclear weapons in the 21st century. All other nuclear powers have voluntarily enacted testing moratoria. The effort is all the more vital in the wake of North Korea’s fifth nuclear weapon test explosion September 9.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) in Vienna reports that preliminary data from more than two dozen of the seismic stations that are part of their International Monitoring System confirm that the seismic event is in the 5.1 magnitude range, is at very shallow depth, and is in the immediate vicinity of North Korea's Pyunggye-ri test site.

Barring unforeseen diplomatic disputes, the UNSC resolution and the P5 statement will likely be approved later this month at UN headquarters in New York.

The Testing Taboo

As President Bill Clinton said when he became the first world leader to sign the treaty on Sept. 24, 1996: "The signature of the world’s declared nuclear powers … along with the vast majority of its other nations will immediately create an international norm against nuclear testing, even before the treaty enters into force.” 

Since then, 183 states have become CTBT signatories and a robust, international monitoring system has been established that can effectively detect and deter clandestine nuclear testing anywhere in the world. The CTBT has near universal support.

Only North Korea has conducted nuclear test explosions in this century.

However, the door to further nuclear testing by North Korea and possibly other countries remains ajar. There are still eight key states—including the United States—that must still ratify the treaty in order to trigger its formal entry into force.

Until then, it is clearly in the interests of the United States and the international community to strengthen the taboo against nuclear testing and the work of the CTBTO to maintain and operate the global monitoring system and international data center established to verify compliance with the treaty.

What the UNSC Resolution and P5 Statement Would and Would Not Do

According to the State Department, the initiative would not establish new binding legal limitations on nuclear testing. The proposed UNSC resolution and P5 statement are:

  • “… intended to reinforce global support for the CTBT and its verification system” and “stigmatize those that continue to test and to act in ways contrary to the de facto norm of international behavior;” and are
  • “… in no way a substitute for early entry into force of the treaty.”

The proposed P5 statement on the CTBT would reaffirm the support of the five major nuclear powers for the treaty and clarify that “a nuclear test explosion or any other nuclear explosion would violate the object and purpose of the CTBT.

Such a statement would give public expression to an existing obligation by the United States, as a signatory to the CTBT that seeks ratification and entry into force, not to take any action that would defeat the object or purpose of the treaty, which is to halt nuclear explosive tests.

The Misplaced Concerns of Some Senators

Unfortunately, some Republicans in the Senate have mistakenly chosen to interpret this common sense initiative as an effort to circumvent the U.S. Senate’s constitutional role by promoting ratification of the CTBT through the United Nations.

In reality, presidents do not circumvent the U.S. Constitution by seeking support for treaties at the United Nations; they have done this many times in the past without usurping the Senate’s prerogatives for advice and consent. The resolution would, as UN Security Council Resolution 1887 (2009), annual UN General Assembly resolutions, and national statements at the bi-annual Article XIV Conferences on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the CTBT have already done before, exhort states to take the steps necessary to ratify the treaty so the treaty can enter into force.

Nevertheless, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) convened a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee September 7 to examine the issue.

On September 8, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and 32 other senators threatened U.S. funding for the seismic monitoring stations that detected the North Korean test the next day. (Photo: U.S. Senate)

In a letter to President Obama dated August 12 and in the hearing, Corker expressed concern about the language in the proposed P5 statement “expressing the view that a nuclear test would violate the object and purpose of the CTBT.” He suggested that this “… could trigger a limitation on the ability of future administrations to conduct nuclear test explosions.” 

In a letter to the White House published September 8, a group of 33 Republican senators went much further, threatening that: “If you decide to pursue a Security Council Resolution that accepts the imposition of international obligations the Senate has explicitly rejected, we would make every effort to prevent the authorization or appropriation” of the

These arguments rest on two incorrect assertions:

  1. The George W. Bush administration’s decision not to pursue the Senate’s consent to the CTBT’s ratification has, in effect, constituted a permanent repudiation of the CTBT even though the United States did not formally notify the depository; and
  2. The Bush administration’s position on the CTBT reflected a shared understanding between the legislative and executive branches. Corker erroneously suggested in his August 12 letter that: “The planned U.N. effort would reverse course on that shared understanding between the Senate and Executive Branch.

These assertions are incorrect for several reasons:

  • Sometimes administrations pursue the ratification of treaties negotiated by their predecessors, and sometimes they don’t. For example, the Geneva Protocol banning the use of asphyxiating gases remained on the Senate Calendar for 50 years until the Senate responded to the strong urgings of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford to consent to its ratification. The fact that their predecessors did not seek the Senate’s consent did not constitute formal repudiation of the Geneva Protocol, any more than the Bush administration’s lack of interest in the CTBT did.
  • Political statements of intent regarding treaties do not formally release the United States from its Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties Article XVIII obligation “not to take actions that would defeat the object or purpose” of a treaty Washington has signed. When the Bush administration wanted to formally release the United States from the legal obligations established when President Clinton signed the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court and the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, they did so by formally notifying the depositories. This was not done vis-a-vis the CTBT.
  • Ever since the Oct. 13, 1999, vote on the CTBT in the Senate, the treaty remains before the Senate. The Senate has not voted to discharge the treaty and send it back to the executive branch. The executive branch does not have the right to unilaterally withdraw from the Senate a treaty that is still formally before the Senate. In other words, there has never been any shared understanding that the CTBT would not be reconsidered. As Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) said Oct. 13, 1999: “Treaties never die, even when defeated and returned to the Executive Calendar of the Senate.”
  • Even if political statements by the executive branch during the Bush years provided a sufficient legal basis for releasing the United States from its obligation as a signatory not to take actions that would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty, the Obama administration’s many statements of support for the CTBT and its intention to seek and obtain ratification recommitted the United States to its obligations as a treaty signatory.

There is no technical need or military requirement for the resumption of U.S. nuclear testing. If, however, a U.S. president did seek to resume nuclear explosive testing, he/she would need to formally notify the depository that the supreme national interests of the United States require such an action and that the United States no longer intends to seek ratification of the treaty. This would be the case even were there not a P5 political statement expressing the view of the leaders of the P5 about what action(s) would violate the object and purpose of the CTBT. 

Reality Check

In response to the questions about the administration’s UNSC initiative on the test ban, Secretary of State John Kerry sent a letter September 7 to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He stressed that the initiative on the test ban will not establish any new binding legal limitations on nuclear testing and “will not cite Chapter VII of the UN Charter or impose Chapter VII obligations.”

It will,” Kerry writes, “be a nonbinding resolution that advances our interests by affirming the existing nuclear testing moratoria, while highlighting support for the CTBT and its verification regime.

Kerry underscored that the proposed P5 statement will give public expression to an existing U.S. (and British, Chinese, French, and Russian) commitment not to test. The United States, as a signatory state that seeks to ratify the CTBT, is obligated under customary international law not to take any action that would “defeat the object or purpose of the treaty,” which is to halt “any nuclear weapon test explosion and any other nuclear test explosion.”

Overall, the resolution and the P5 statement would strengthen the barriers against testing in the years ahead, encourage action by CTBT holdout states to sign and ratify, and reinforce support for the treaty’s nearly complete International Monitoring System to detect and deter clandestine testing.

As ranking member of the committee Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) explained in his opening statement at the September 7 hearing:

“We do not need nuclear active testing to have our deterrent stockpile. It’s the countries that are trying to develop a stronger capacity in nuclear weapons that could benefit by active nuclear testing. It’s those countries that we don’t want to test. It is in our national security interest that they don’t test. Therefore, as I look at this, if we are capable of putting more pressure on those countries not to test, it’s in our national security interest.”

Furthermore, North Korea’s nuclear test should underscore why it is irresponsible for some senators to threaten to cut off funding for the CTBTO’s international monitoring system out of misplaced and overwrought concerns that efforts to strengthen global support for the existing norm against nuclear testing would infringe upon their role in the treaty ratification process.

The New Senate Should Take Another Serious Look at the Treaty

Lost in the legal back-and-forth about executive and legislative branch authorities is the fact that the Senate has not taken a serious look at the CTBT for well over a decade.

Much of the skepticism that is expressed by some Republicans is based on outdated information and misconceptions about nuclear testing and the test ban treaty.

Much has changed since the Senate last examined the CTBT in 1999 and rejected the treaty after a brief and highly partisan debate that centered on questions about the then-unproven stockpile stewardship program and then-unfinished global test ban monitoring system.

A decade and a half later, those programs are fully functioning and have been proven effective. Today, the three U.S. nuclear weapons lab directors report that they are in a better position to maintain the arsenal than they were during the era of nuclear weapons test explosions. No ally or foe questions the lethal power of the U.S. arsenal. All U.S. allies want Washington to ratify the CTBT.

As former Secretary of State George Shultz has said, “Republican senators might have been right voting against [the CTBT] some years ago, but they would be right voting for it now.”

Bringing the CTBT back to the Senate for another vote requires a lengthy, intensive educational and outreach campaign by the executive branch to present the new information, answer detailed questions, and dispel misconceptions about the treaty. But the process of reconsideration should begin—and soon, with the new president and Senate.

Until such time as the U.S. ratifies and the CTBT enters into force, it is common sense U.S. policy to strengthen the barriers against nuclear testing by others.

—DARYL G. KIMBALL, Executive Director

Country Resources:

Statement on North Korea's Fifth Nuclear Test by Daryl Kimball and Kelsey Davenport

Fifth North Korean nuclear test is alarming and cause for action to freeze its programs and reinforce global testing taboo—Statement by Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball and Director for Nonproliferation Policy Kelsey Davenport, 5am GMT, September 9, 2016.

North Korea Shifts on Denuclearization

North Korea issued a statement redefining denuclearization, but new U.S. sanctions likely closed off any opportunity to test Pyongyang’s intentions, according to experts.

September 2016

By Kelsey Davenport

North Korea has publicly redefined its denuclearization policy, a move that some experts say may have been intended as an overture to resume nuclear negotiations until the U.S. decision to sanction the North Korean leadership likely closed off any opportunity for new talks.

A July 6 statement by a spokesman for the North Korean government said that “the denuclearization being called for by [North Korea] is the denuclearization of the whole Korean peninsula and this includes the dismantlement of nukes in South Korea and its vicinity.”

A man in Seoul, South Korea, watches a news report September 15, 2015, on North Korea’s declaration that it had resumed normal operations at the Yongbyon nuclear complex and that the nation is improving the “quality and quantity” of its nuclear arsenal. [Photo credit: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images]North Korea is estimated to possess approximately six to eight plutonium-based warheads. South Korea does not have nuclear weapons, and the last U.S. tactical nuclear weapons deployed in South Korea were withdrawn in 1991. 

Robert Carlin, a former U.S. State Department senior policy adviser to the special ambassador for talks with North Korea, said the statement marked a change from North Korea’s past characterizations of denuclearization, which stated that Pyongyang would give up its nuclear weapons only when countries such as the United States disarm.

Carlin, speaking at a July 13 press briefing hosted by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said that the new position, which called only for denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, is more practical and “clearly and very deliberately” lays out a definition of denuclearization similar to North Korea’s position in the 1990s, when the two Koreas signed a joint denuclearization agreement for the Korean peninsula. 

Yet, just hours after Pyongyang’s statement, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and several senior officials because of human rights violations. This was the first time that the United States directly targeted the North Korean leader. 

Adam Szubin, acting undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, said that action was taken to highlight Washington’s “condemnation of this regime’s abuses and our determination to see them stopped.” 

The sanctions imposed by the United States are a “dialogue killer,” said Joseph DeThomas, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, at the July 13 press briefing. Sanctioning Kim was a “major step” because states do not take lightly such a decision against a foreign leader, and it is unlikely that he would have been targeted personally if the United States was interested in negotiations at that time, DeThomas said. 

Pyongyang responded July 11 by saying in its state-run central news agency that it would cut off communication with the United States after Washington “impaired the dignity” of North Korea’s leadership by imposing sanctions. 

North Korea and the United States do not have diplomatic relations, but communicate via the so-called New York channel at the United Nations. North Korea said it cut off the channel after the United States refused to drop the sanctions. 

When asked about North Korea’s decision, State Department spokesman John Kirby said July 11 that the United States does not comment on the details of diplomatic exchanges, but he called on North Korea to “refrain from actions and rhetoric that only further raise tensions in the region.”

North Korea’s Conditions

In its July 6 statement, North Korea cited five specific demands for achieving denuclearization on the peninsula: public disclosure of U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea, removal and verification that such weapons are not present on U.S. bases in South Korea, U.S. guarantees that it will not redeploy nuclear weapons in South Korea, U.S. assurances that it will not threaten or conduct a nuclear strike on North Korea, and withdrawal from South Korea of U.S. troops authorized to use nuclear weapons. 

North Korea said it would take “corresponding measures” if the United States satisfies its conditions. 

By invoking the names of past leaders Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung in the statement, Carlin said North Korea was signaling that this position comes from the highest authority and that Kim was putting himself behind denuclearization. 

Carlin said that there are clear similarities between these points and the 1992 joint denuclearization declaration between North Korea and South Korea and that the United States has met or generally agreed to meet the first four of the five North Korean demands. It is difficult to tell if North Korea’s offer will be completely abandoned or remain available for consideration after Pyongyang’s outrage about the sanctions dies down, Carlin said. 

IAEA Safeguards Report

Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), last month completed his yearly report on the application of IAEA safeguards in North Korea for the agency’s General Conference and Board of Governors meetings.

IAEA inspectors have not been in North Korea since 2009, but the agency continues to monitor Pyongyang’s nuclear activities through such means as satellite imagery and submits a report on any developments ahead of the IAEA General Conference, which is scheduled for Sept. 26-30.

According to the Aug. 19 report, there were no indications that the reactor at Yongbyon was operating from mid-October to early December 2015. The report noted that this time period “is sufficient for the reactor to have been de-fuelled and subsequently re-fuelled.” 

North Korea shut down the reactor in 2007, but restarted it in 2013. In the past, North Korea separated plutonium from the spent reactor fuel to provide fissile material for its nuclear warheads. 

The IAEA report also said that, from early 2016 to July 2016, there were “multiple indications consistent with the Radiochemical Laboratory’s operation.” 

The Radiochemical Laboratory was used in the past to reprocess spent fuel from the reactor at Yongbyon. If a full load of spent fuel from the reactor was reprocessed, it could yield enough separated plutonium for two to four nuclear warheads. 

The IAEA report called on North Korea to cooperate with the agency and resume full implementation of its safeguards agreement.

The Complex and Increasingly Dangerous Nuclear Weapons Geometry of Asia


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


By Greg Thielmann
July 2016

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

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

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


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