The ICAS Lectures

No. 2003-0509-DEK

North Korean Issues:
Weapons of Mass Destruction and Ballistic Missiles

Dale E. Klein

ICAS Spring Symposium &
Humanity, Peace and Security
May 9, 2003 12:00 PM - 5:45 PM.
U.S. Senate Dirksen Office Building Room 106
Capitol Hill
Washington, D. C.

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

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Biographic Sketch & Links: Dale E. Klein

North Korean Issues: Weapons of Mass Destruction and Ballistic Missiles

Dale E. Klein

I would like to extend my sincerest appreciation for the gracious invitation to speak at the Institute for Corean-American Studies’ Spring Symposium. It is a pleasure to be here. All of the speakers that have assembled here today have addressed the complex political, sociological, and economic issues facing the global community with regards to the current North Korean situation. I would like to focus my remarks on the nature of the challenge we face with North Korea’s programs of concern.

Gandhi once said:

"Be the change you want to see in the world"

The power of this statement captures the ideal of the human struggle and highlights the duty of free nations to promote liberty around the world. The United States seeks to be the catalyst for promoting political and economic freedom, seeking not the conquest of societies or plunder of riches, but the manifestation of guiding principles that govern mankind: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. It is with a firm understanding of our founding principles that we seek to resolve the conflicts around the world with cooperation from the global community.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program poses a serious threat to the United States and our allies, and undermines regional stability and challenges the international nonproliferation regime.

North Korea’s covert program to produce enriched uranium for nuclear weapons and actions to restart nuclear facilities at Yongbyon to produce plutonium present the world with another danger: the possibility that this desperate regime --the world’s foremost proliferator- could sell plutonium, enriched uranium, or even nuclear weapons to rogue states and terrorist organizations.

Responsible nations must work together to prevent this outcome.

Responsible nations must work together to protect the integrity of international nonproliferation regimes.

Because this is an issue affecting the interest of many states, the United States will not engage in bilateral talks with North Korea or negotiate a bilateral agreement on its nuclear weapons program.

Earlier this year Director Tenet of the Central Intelligence Agency highlighted the threat North Korea represents to the region in his February 2003 report to Congress. In his report Tenet stated:
"... it appears that Kim Chong-il’s attempts this past year to parlay the North’s nuclear weapons program into political leverage suggest he is trying to negotiate a fundamentally different relationship with Washington -- one that implicitly tolerates the North’s nuclear weapons program. Although Kim presumably calculates the North’s aid, trade, and investment climate will never improve in the face of U. S. sanctions and perceived hostility, he is equally committed to retaining and enlarging his nuclear weapons stockpiles." (1)
Three previous U. S. administrations from both parties had attempted to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem, only to see their efforts scuttled by North Korean non- compliance.

In 1985, the Reagan administration negotiated the North Korean’s signature to the Non- Proliferation Treaty and an agreement to allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors into the country to verify compliance with its provisions. The Reagan administration felt they had resolved the impasse in providing for a nuclear-free North Korea. However, the North Koreans stated that their adherence to these agreements was contingent on the removal of U. S. tactical nuclear weapons from the peninsula.

Therefore, in 1991, President George H. W. Bush, our forty-first President, urged the North to comply with their declaration. In 1992, the North Koreans had concluded their agreement by declaring seven nuclear sites and agreed to allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to verify their compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Bush administration believed that they had taken another step forward in resolving the North Korean nuclear dilemma. However, the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors announced that they had identified discrepancies and asked for entrance into additional sites, which the North Koreans responded to by threatening to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Clinton administration was able to persuade the North Koreans to suspend their decision to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1993 and subsequently sent former President Jimmy Carter to North Korea to negotiate a compromise. In 1994, the Agreed Framework was signed by both the North Koreans and the United States. The Framework called for the suspension of operations of their graphite moderated reactors and associated facilities. In exchange, two light water reactors, with a total generating capacity of 2,000 megawatts, would be built along with the shipment of approximately 500,000 tons of heavy oil annually to assist in North Korea’s energy needs. The Agreed Framework was hailed as the solution to the North Korean nuclear situation.

The current nuclear standoff was highlighted in October 2002 when Assistant Secretary of State Kelly confronted North Korea with U. S. concerns that North Korea was pursuing a covert uranium enrichment program. North Korea acknowledged they had such a program. Within weeks after the revelation to Secretary Kelly the administration announced a suspension of oil shipments provided for under the 1994 Agreed Framework if the nuclear program was not stopped immediately. North Korea accusing the U. S. of twisting the meaning and context of its statement on a nuclear program stated that it would reactivate its nuclear facilities given the U. S. decision to suspend fuel oil shipments. In December 2002, North Korea announced it was resuming operation of nuclear facilities at its Yongbyon complex, and removed IAEA seals and cameras and expelled inspectors. It later announced its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty.

The U. S. will not provide incentives for North Korea to return to compliance with agreements it ahs violated or in response to threats and blackmail. The U. S. seeks the complete, verifiable, and irreversible end of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

In the last few minutes, I have focused this discussion on the diplomatic maneuvering that has gone on with regards to the North Korean nuclear program. However, I believe it might be helpful to those unfamiliar with the process to discuss the methods used in creating nuclear material to be used in a weapon. Essentially there are two types of fuel which can be used to manufacture a nuclear weapon, Uranium 235 and Plutonium 239. Both of these isotopes have to be generated in sufficient quantity and purity to permit the large release of energy characteristic of a nuclear device. Natural uranium is comprised of less than 1% isotope 235. Weapons grade uranium requires a large fraction, but not 100% of the uranium to be isotope 235. The enrichment of natural Uranium to weapons grade Uranium is commonly accomplished by one of two methods:
  • First, through gaseous diffusion, which relies on a porous barrier to Separate isotopes of different weight;

  • Second, using gas centrifuges in which rotating cylinders produce a gravitational separation of isotopes.
It is believed that the North Korean’s program for Uranium enrichment uses gas centrifuges. Uranium-238, the more common and heavier isotope, is propelled to the outside of a spinning cylinder while Uranium-235, the lighter isotope containing 92 protons and only 143 neutrons, remains in the center. This requires high quality steel or aluminum to make the cylinders within the centrifuge. According to a 2001 CIA report to Congress, North Korea had attempted to obtain "centrifuge-related materials in large quantities to support a uranium enrichment program." U. S. officials suspect that North Korea has been importing steel for this use. There are three suspected sites where North Korea conducted uranium enrichment tests as part of its nuclear program.

Let me make a point about why the highly enriched uranium issue is such a concern. Not only is it irresponsible that North Korea pursued this option in violation of their agreement to suspend work on nuclear weapons, there is a technical concern as well. The construction of a nuclear weapon from highly enriched uranium is technically easier than a nuclear weapon using weapons grade plutonium. The nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima that enabled the end of WWII was a highly enriched uranium device. It had never been tested. The physics of this type of device and the subsequent construction is such that there was a very high confidence in its performance. Therefore, there is a major concern about rogue nations, such as North Korea, possessing highly enriched uranium.

While uranium enrichment is one way to produce a nuclear weapon, the reprocessing of fuel rods to produce weapons grade plutonium is an alternative method that the North Koreans may already be engaged in. When the 5 Megawatt Yongbyon nuclear reactor was reactivated in December 2002, U. S. officials believed it was capable of producing perhaps enough for 1 nuclear weapon a year. To put this capability into perspective, North Korea’s unfinished 50 Megawatt reactor could potentially produce many kilograms of weapons grade plutonium a year, or, under ideal circumstances enough for 11 nuclear weapons annually. The incomplete 200 Megawatt reactor would have four times that capacity, enough to supply North Korea with sufficient weapons grade plutonium, again under ideal conditions, to produce 44 weapons a year. In plutonium reprocessing plants, Pu-239 is chemically separated from spent nuclear fuel rods.

The reprocessing of this fuel entails chemically treating the fuel rod in such a way that the unused uranium and plutonium is separated from other radioactive fission products. Theoretically, the extracted uranium can then be recycled through an enrichment facility, while some of the recovered plutonium could be used in nuclear fuel. Simply stated, it is not an easy process as it takes numerous steps to achieve the desired end-state.

It is estimated that North Korea currently has 8,000 nuclear fuel rods stored at Yongbyon, enough for 4-6 nuclear weapons, which could be transferred to its plutonium reprocessing plant to be recycled into fissile material. Several nuclear weapons, in addition to what North Korea may already possess, could be produced from this recovered plutonium.

The North Korean conundrum presented to the United States also includes the threat of chemical, biological and ballistic missile programs.

There is little doubt that North Korea has a long-standing chemical warfare program. Adhering to its practice of flouting international norms, North Korea has refused to become a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention. There are some industrial facilities in the country that have the capability to produce bulk quantities of chemical agents. Chemicals such as nerve, blister, choking, and blood agents are believed to be stockpiled within the country, with some chemical stockpile estimates from several hundred to as high as 2,500 tons. North Korean military forces also frequently train in chemical-defense operations, including emergency procedures and the use of gas masks. North Korea is capable of delivering chemical agents via missile warheads, artillery, aircraft, and assorted unconventional means.

The United States also believes that North Korea has an active biological weapons program. We believe North Korea has developed, produced, and may have weaponized biological weapons in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention, which North Korea signed in 1987. Since the 1960s, North Korea has been developing and operating a biological weapons program. Currently, it is suspected of possessing munitions- production infrastructure to weaponize agents such as anthrax, cholera, and plague.

North Korea has a robust indigenous ballistic missile program that includes hundreds of short and medium range deployed missiles, many that are capable of reaching up to 1,300 kilometers and three-stage Taepo Dong long-range-ballistic missiles capable of reaching over 1,500 kilometers.

In August 1998, North Korea tested the Taepo Dong-1 missile, demonstrating its ability to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) using multiple stages. While the three-stage Taepo Dong-1 has the potential to deliver a light payload to the United States, it would do so with little accuracy. However, the Taepo Dong-2 missile is capable of delivering several hundred kilograms of payload 4,000-6,000 kilometers, which could potentially reach Alaska. A three-stage variant of this same missile could deliver a similar payload anywhere in the United States, making it a prime candidate for possible ICBM use. Unfortunately, North Korea has threatened to renew missile flight testing. Ina 2003 report, Director of CIA Tenet stated that North Korea also continues to export complete ballistic missiles and production capabilities along with related raw materials, components, and expertise. Profits from these sales help Pyongyang to support its missile and other WMD development programs, and in turn generate new products to offer to its customers.

North Korea is the world’s foremost proliferator of missiles and missile technology. North Korea’s willingness to sell complete systems and components has enabled other states to acquire longer-range capabilities. North Korea has also sold No Dong medium range missiles to Iran and is believed to have transferred ballistic missile technology to Iran and several other Middle Eastern countries. The interception by Spanish special operations forces of a Yemen-bound freighter carrying Scud missiles clandestinely stowed beneath bags of cement highlights growing concerns about the threat of ballistic missile proliferation. In addition to its most recent attempt to deliver over a dozen Scud missiles to another Middle Eastern country, North Korea is also suspected of cooperating in missile and nuclear weapons technology with Pakistan. In addition to ending proliferation of ballistic missile technology the U. S. expects North Korea to abide by its voluntary moratorium on flight tests of Long Range Ballistic Missiles.

The choices of the North Korean leadership have also led to tremendous suffering among its people. While the government focuses on military spending, with more than 30% of its economic output goes toward military expenditure, North Korea’s citizens are chronically malnourished. Only massive international food aid has helped avoid catastrophic starvation in the past. The North Korean leadership is struggling to feed, equip, and train its 1.2 million man armed forces. In addition to suspected missile sales, recent press releases have highlighted possible North Korean involvement in the recent attempted smuggling of heroin into Australia. A 4,500-ton North Korean owned freighter has been moored in Sydney Harbour while investigators search for additional evidence in the case. Although the intent to distribute 50 kg of heroin has not been traced to the North Korean government, the detention of a Korean Worker’s party member among the crew has raised suspicion among members of the Australian government. This is some of the recent evidence indicating that drug smuggling is another source of income for the regime.

The North Korean problem presents the United States with the opportunity to engage the region’s powers in a peaceful resolution of the current situation. President Bush has repeatedly said that we seek a peaceful, diplomatic end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The 2002 U. S. National Security Strategy, in addressing this Tenet, states:
"Concerned nations must remain actively engaged in critical regional disputes to avoid explosive escalation and minimize human suffering ... when violence erupts and states falter, the United States will work with friends and partners to alleviate suffering and restore stability."
Consistent with this strategy the United States is currently engaged with China, Russia, Japan, and the Republic of Korea in resolving the situation. U. S. Secretary of State Powell emphasized three key issues in a speech at the U. S. Asia Pacific Council Symposium on April 24th. First, that Pyongyang’s possible possession of nuclear weapons is a multinational problem. Second, that North Korea should not fear denuclearization. And lastly, threatening behavior will not be rewarded by the international community.

The world and the United States are presented with a complex problem. This is not a new problem, but rather part of an ongoing pattern of disingenuous behavior by the North Korean government.

In closing, I wish to restate that the United States seeks the complete, verifiable, and irreversible end of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and will continue to work on a multilateral basis to achieve this outcome. This will be a major challenge based on a long history of deception and lack of integrity by North Korea. It will take effort by many people and organizations, including ICAS to solve the North Korea problem.

Thank you.

(1) "The Worldwide Threat in 2003: Evolving Dangers in a Complex World" Prepared Remarks for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

This page last updated 5/20/2003 jdb

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