North Korea and weapons of mass destruction

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Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Location of Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Nuclear program start date1957
First nuclear weapon testOctober 9, 2006
Last nuclear testFebruary 12, 2013
Largest yield test6~40 kt
(The yield is disputed. The North-Korean government never announced the exact yield.[1])
Total tests3, possibly 5[2][3]
Current stockpile12-27 nuclear weapons equivalents (ISIS mid-range estimate)[4]
Maximum missile range4,000 km (BM25 Musudan)
NPT signatoryYes, but withdrew in 2003
 
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"Nuclear program of North Korea" redirects here. For its nuclear power program, see Nuclear power in North Korea.
Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Location of Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Nuclear program start date1957
First nuclear weapon testOctober 9, 2006
Last nuclear testFebruary 12, 2013
Largest yield test6~40 kt
(The yield is disputed. The North-Korean government never announced the exact yield.[1])
Total tests3, possibly 5[2][3]
Current stockpile12-27 nuclear weapons equivalents (ISIS mid-range estimate)[4]
Maximum missile range4,000 km (BM25 Musudan)
NPT signatoryYes, but withdrew in 2003

North Korea (officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea or DPRK) declared in 2009 that it had developed a nuclear weapon, and probably possesses a small stockpile of relatively simple nuclear weapons. North Korea may also have a chemical and/or biological weapons capability.[5] Since 2003, North Korea is no longer a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

On October 9, 2006, North Korea announced it had successfully conducted its first nuclear test. An underground explosion was detected, its yield was estimated as less than a kiloton, and some radioactive output was detected.[6][7][8]

On January 6, 2007, the North Korean government further confirmed that it had nuclear weapons.[9]

In April 2009, reports surfaced that North Korea has become a "fully fledged nuclear power", an opinion shared by IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei.[10] On May 25, 2009, North Korea conducted a second nuclear test, resulting in an explosion estimated to be between 2 and 7 kilotons.[11] The 2009 test, like the 2006 test, is believed to have occurred at Mantapsan, Kilju County, in the north-eastern part of North Korea.[12]

On February 11, 2013, the U.S. Geological Survey detected a magnitude 5.1 seismic disturbance,[13] reported to be a third underground nuclear test.[14] North Korea has officially reported it as a successful nuclear test with a lighter warhead that delivers more force than before, but has not revealed the exact yield. Multiple South Korean sources estimate the yield at 6-9 kilotons, while the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources estimates the yield at 40 kilotons.[15][16][17]

History[edit]

The nuclear program can be traced back to about 1962, when North Korea committed itself to what it called "all-fortressization", which was the beginning of the hyper-militarized North Korea of today.[18] In 1963 North Korea asked the Soviet Union for help in developing nuclear weapons, but was refused. However, instead the Soviet Union agreed to help North Korea develop a peaceful nuclear energy program, including the training of nuclear scientists. Later, China, after its nuclear tests, similarly rejected North Korean requests for help with developing nuclear weapons.[19]

Soviet specialists took part in the construction of the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center[20] and began construction of an IRT-2000 research reactor in 1963, which became operational in 1965 and was upgraded to 8 MW in 1974.[21] In 1979 North Korea indigenously began to build in Yongbyon a second research reactor, an ore processing plant and a fuel rod fabrication plant.[22]

North Korea's nuclear weapons program dates back to the 1980s. Focusing on practical uses of nuclear energy and the completion of a nuclear weapon development system, North Korea began to operate facilities for uranium fabrication, conversion, and conducted high-explosive detonation tests.[18] In 1985 North Korea ratified the NPT, but did not conclude the required safeguards agreement with the IAEA until 1992. In early 1993, while verifying North Korea's initial declaration, the IAEA concluded that there was strong evidence this declaration was incomplete. When North Korea refused the requested special inspection, the IAEA reported its non-compliance to the UN Security Council. In 1993, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT, but suspended that withdrawal before it took effect.[23]

Under the 1994 Agreed Framework, the U.S. government agreed to facilitate the supply of two light water reactors to North Korea in exchange for North Korean disarmament.[24][25] Such reactors are considered "more proliferation-resistant than North Korea's graphite-moderated reactors",[26] but not "proliferation proof".[27] Implementation of the Agreed Framework floundered, and in 2002 the Agreed Framework fell apart, with each side blaming the other for its failure. By 2002, Pakistan had admitted that North Korea had gained access to Pakistan's nuclear technology in the late 1990s.[28] Based on evidence from Pakistan, Libya, and multiple confessions from North Korea itself, the United States accused North Korea of non-compliance and halted oil shipments; North Korea later claimed its public confession of guilt had been deliberately misconstrued. By the end of 2002, the Agreed Framework was officially dead.

In 2003, North Korea again announced its withdrawal from the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty.[23] In 2005, It admitted to having nuclear weapons but vowed to close the nuclear program.[29][30]

On March 17, 2007, North Korea told delegates at international nuclear talks that it is preparing to shut down its main nuclear facility. The agreement was reached following a series of six-party talks, involving North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the United States begun in 2003. According to the agreement, a list of its nuclear programs will be submitted and the nuclear facility will be disabled in exchange for fuel aid and normalization talks with the United States and Japan.[31] This was delayed from April due to a dispute with the United States over Banco Delta Asia, but on July 14, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors confirmed the shutdown of North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear reactor and consequently North Korea began to receive aid.[32] This agreement fell apart in 2009, following a North Korean missile test.

In February 2012, North Korea announced that it would suspend uranium enrichment at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center and not conduct any further tests of nuclear weapons while productive negotiations involving the United States continue. This agreement included a moratorium on long-range missiles tests. Additionally, North Korea agreed to allow IAEA inspectors to monitor operations at Yongbyon. The United States reaffirmed that it had no hostile intent toward the DPRK and was prepared to improve bilateral relationships, and agreed to ship humanitarian food aid to North Korea.[33][34][35] The United States called the move "important, if limited", but said it would proceed cautiously and that talks would resume only after North Korea made steps toward fulfilling its promise.[33] However, after North Korea conducted a long-range missile test in April 2012, the United States decided not to proceed with the food aid.[36]

Nuclear weapons[edit]

Overview[edit]

North Korea had been suspected of maintaining a clandestine nuclear weapons development program since the early 1980s when it constructed a plutonium-producing Magnox nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. Various diplomatic means had been used by the international community to attempt to limit North Korea's nuclear program to peaceful power generation and to encourage North Korea to participate in international treaties.

In May 1992, North Korea's first inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) uncovered discrepancies suggesting that North Korea had reprocessed more plutonium than declared. IAEA requested access to additional information and access to two nuclear waste sites at Yongbyon.[23][37][38] North Korea rejected the IAEA request and announced on March 12, 1993, an intention to withdraw from the NPT.[23]

In 1994, North Korea pledged, under the "Agreed Framework" with the United States, to freeze its plutonium programs and dismantle all its nuclear weapons programs in return for several kinds of assistance, including construction of two modern nuclear power plants powered by light-water reactors.

However, by 2002, the United States believed that North Korea was pursuing both uranium enrichment technology and plutonium reprocessing technologies in defiance of the Agreed Framework. North Korea reportedly told American diplomats in private that they were in possession of nuclear weapons, citing American failures to uphold their own end of the "Agreed Framework" as a motivating force. North Korea later "clarified" that it did not possess weapons yet, but that it had "a right" to possess them, despite the Agreed Framework. In late 2002 and early 2003, North Korea began to take steps to eject International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors while re-routing spent fuel rods for plutonium reprocessing for weapons purposes. As late as the end of 2003, North Korea claimed that it would freeze its nuclear program in exchange for additional American concessions, but a final agreement was not reached. North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003.

On October 9, 2006, North Korea demonstrated its nuclear capabilities with its first underground nuclear test, detonating a plutonium based device[39] and the estimated yield was 0.2-1 kiloton.[8] The test was conducted at P'unggye-yok, and U.S. intelligence officials later announced that analysis of radioactive debris in air samples collected a few days after the test confirmed that the blast had taken place.[39] The United Nations Security Council condemned the test in Resolution 1874.

On January 6, 2007, the North Korean government further confirmed that it had nuclear weapons.[9]

In February 2007, following the six-party talks disarmament process, Pyongyang agreed to shut down its main nuclear reactor.[40] On October 8, 2008, IAEA inspectors were forbidden by the North Korean government to conduct further inspections of the site.[41]

USGS image of the earthquake caused by the nuclear test.

On May 25, 2009, North Korea conducted its second underground nuclear test. The U.S. Geological Survey calculated its origin in proximity of the site of the first nuclear test. The test was more powerful than the previous test, estimated at 2 to 7 kilotons.[11] The same day, a successful short range missile test was also conducted.[39][42]

On April 25, 2009, the North Korean government announced that the country's nuclear facilities had been reactivated,[43] and that spent fuel reprocessing for arms-grade plutonium has been restored.[44]

Fissile Material Production[edit]

Plutonium Facilities[edit]

5 MWe experimental reactor at Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center

North Korea's plutonium-based nuclear reactors are located at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, about 90 km north of Pyongyang.

In 1989, the 5MWe reactor was shut down for a period of seventy to a hundred days. In this time it is estimated that up to fifteen kilograms of plutonium could have been extracted. In 1994, North Korea unloaded its reactors again. The IAEA had these under full surveillance until later being denied the ability to observe North Korean power plants.[50] Under normal operation, the reactor can produce about 6 kg of plutonium per year although the reactor would need to be shut down and the fuel rods extracted to begin the plutonium separation process. Hence, plutonium separation stages alternate with plutonium production stages. Reprocessing (also known as separation) is known to have taken place in 2003 for the first core and 2005 for the second core.

On March 12, 1993, North Korea said that it planned to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and refused to allow IAEA inspectors access to its nuclear sites. By 1994, the United States believed that North Korea had enough reprocessed plutonium to produce about 10 bombs with the amount of plutonium increasing.[55] Faced with diplomatic pressure after UN Security Council Resolution 825 and the threat of American military air strikes against the reactor, North Korea agreed to dismantle its plutonium program as part of the Agreed Framework in which South Korea and the United States would provide North Korea with light water reactors and fuel oil until those reactors could be completed.

Because the light water reactors would require enriched uranium to be imported from outside North Korea, the amount of reactor fuel and waste could be more easily tracked, making it more difficult to divert nuclear waste to be reprocessed into plutonium. However, the Agreed Framework was mired in difficulties, with each side blaming the other for the delays in implementation; as a result, the light water reactors were never finished. In late 2002, after fuel aid was suspended, North Korea returned to using its old reactors.

In 2006, there were eight sites identified as potential test explosion sites for current (and future) tests according to a statement by the South Korean Parliament. These sites are distinguished from a number of other nuclear materials production facilities in that they are thought to be most closely identified with a military, or potentially military purpose:[56]

1. Hamgyong Bukdo (North Hamgyong) Province – 2 Sites:

2. Chagangdo Province – 1 Site: Kanggyesi – Production center of North Korea's advanced equipment and munitions since 1956. Also, extensive intelligence of highly advanced underground facility.

3. Pyongan Bukdo (North Pyongan) Province – 4 Sites:

4. Pyongan Namdo (South Pyongan) Province – 1 Site: Pyongsungsi – Location of National Science Academy and extensive underground facility whose purpose is not known.

Highly Enriched Uranium Program[edit]

North Korea possesses uranium mines containing an estimated 4 million tons of high grade uranium ore.[57]

Prime minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan allegedly, through Pakistan's former top scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, supplied key data, stored in CDs, on uranium enrichment and information to North Korea in exchange for missile technology around 1990–1996, according to U.S. intelligence officials. President Pervez Musharraf and Prime minister Shaukat Aziz acknowledged in 2005 that Khan had provided centrifuges and their designs to North Korea.[58] In May 2008, Khan, who had previously confessed to supplying the data on his own initiative, retracted his confession, claiming that the Pakistan Government forced him to be a "scapegoat". He also claimed that North Korea's nuclear program was well advanced before his visits to North Korea.[59]

Highly enriched uranium (HEU) program was publicized in October 2002 when the United States asked North Korean officials about the program.[60] Under the Agreed Framework, North Korea explicitly agreed to freeze plutonium programs (specifically, its "graphite moderated reactors and related facilities"). The agreement also committed North Korea to implement the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, in which both Koreas committed not to have enrichment or reprocessing facilities. The United States argued North Korea violated its commitment not to have enrichment facilities.

In December 2002, claiming North Korean non-compliance, the United States persuaded the KEDO Board to suspend fuel oil shipments, which led to the end of the Agreed Framework. North Korea responded by announcing plans to reactivate a dormant nuclear fuel processing program and power plant north of Pyongyang. North Korea soon thereafter expelled United Nations inspectors and announced a unilateral "withdrawl" from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In 2007, a Bush administration official assessed that, while there was still a "high confidence" that North Korea acquired materials that could be used in a "production-scale" uranium program, there is only a "mid-confidence" level such a production-scale uranium (rather than merely plutonium) program exists.[61][62]

Stockpile Estimates and Projections[edit]

ISIS[edit]

For 2013, the Institute for Science and International Security gives a mid-range estimate of 12 to 27 "nuclear weapon equivalents", including plutonium and uranium stockpiles. By 2016, North Korea is projected to have 14 to 48 nuclear weapon equivalents. (For uranium weapons, each weapon is assumed to contain 20 kilograms of weapon-grade uranium.)[4]

FAS[edit]

As of 2012, the Federation of American Scientists estimates North Korea has fewer than 10 plutonium warheads.[63]

SIPRI[edit]

As of January 2013, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates North Korea has 6 to 8 warheads.[64]

Biological and chemical weapons[edit]

North Korea acceded to the Biological Weapons Convention in 1987, and the Geneva Protocol on January 4, 1989, but has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The U.S. Department of Defense believes North Korea probably has a chemical weapons program and is likely to possess a stockpile of weapons.[5] The United States believes that North Korea maintains a biological weapons capability and infrastructure, and has the munitions production capacity to deploy biological agents if it chose to do so.[65]

North Korea reportedly acquired the technology necessary to produce tabun and mustard gas as early as the 1950s.[66] Since 1989 North Korea has been believed to have the capability to indigenously produce nerve, blister, choking and blood chemical agents in bulk.[citation needed] Furthermore, North Korea has spent substantial resources in defensive measures such as extensive training in the use of gas masks, suits, detectors and decontamination systems for both the civilian populace and the military.

North Korea maintains at least eight industrial facilities that are capable of creating biochemical weaponry.[citation needed] The United States estimates North Korea’s likely stockpile of chemical weaponry from at least a few hundred tons, to at most a few thousand tons.[67]

In 2009 the International Crisis Group reported that the consensus expert view was that North Korea had a stockpile of about 2,500 to 5,000 tonnes of chemical weapons, including mustard gas, sarin (GB) and other nerve agents.[68] The South Korean government also estimated the stockpile as about 2,500 to 5,000 tonnes in 2010.[65]

North Korea may have also began the production of binary agents. Binary agents are toxic only when the two chemicals (normally physically separated) are combined. By creating binary agents, North Korea can increase their safety when handling hazardous material.[67] North Korean military units conduct regular nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) training exercises in a chemical environment. North Korean chemical and biological warfare units are equipped with decontamination and detection equipment.[67] In 2010, the Omaha World-Herald reported that North Korea has chemical weapons which could cause millions of casualties in South Korea, where gas masks are only provided to the military and top government officials.[69]

Delivery systems[edit]

History[edit]

In the 1960s, DPRK first received shipments of short-range ballistic missiles from its main ally, the Soviet Union. The first weapons of this kind to be delivered were the tactical FROG-series.[70] In the late 1970s or early 1980s, the DPRK received several longer range Scud-B missiles from Egypt (which in turn received those missiles from the USSR, Bulgaria and Poland). The USSR had refused to supply Scuds to North Korea.[70] A local production basis was established, and the first modified copy was named Hwasong-5. With time, more advanced types of missiles were developed. Eventually North Korea equipped itself with ballistic missiles, capable of reaching Japan. In the 1990s, North Korea sold medium-sized nuclear capable missiles to Pakistan in a deal facilitated by China.[71]

Testing[edit]

Early 2000s[edit]

North Korea's ability to deliver weapons of mass destruction to a hypothetical target is somewhat limited by its missile technology. As of 2005, North Korea's total range with its Nodong missiles estimated as 900 km with a 1,000 kg payload,[70] enough to reach South Korea, and parts of Japan, Russia and China. It is not known if this missile is capable of carrying the nuclear weapons North Korea may have developed.

The BM25 Musudan is a North Korean designed intermediate-range ballistic missile with range capabilities of up to 1,550 miles (2,490 km), and could carry a nuclear warhead. As of 2010, Western sources had no indication that the missile system had ever been tested, or was operational.[72][73] North Korea has also developed the Taepodong-1 missile, which has a range of 2,500 km, but it is unlikely to have been deployed.[70]

With the development of the Taepodong-2 missile, with an expected range of 5,000–6,000 km,[74] North Korea could hypothetically deliver a warhead to almost all countries in Southeast Asia, as well as the western side of North America. The Taepodong-2 missile was unsuccessfully tested on July 4, 2006. U.S. intelligence estimates that the weapon will not be operational for another 11 years. The Taepodong-2 could theoretically hit the western United States and other U.S. interests in the Western hemisphere. The current model of the Taepodong-2 could not carry nuclear warheads to the United States. Former CIA director George Tenet has claimed that, with a light payload, Taepodong-2 could reach western parts of Continental United States, though with low accuracy.[citation needed] A few Taepodong-2 missiles may exist, but launch procedures are lengthy and visible.[70]

2009[edit]

On April 5, 2009, North Korea launched the Unha-2 space booster (allegedly based on the long-range Taepodong-2). Although the launch was more successful than the 2006 test, the third stage still failed to separate properly. The UN Security Council condemned the launch as a violation of previous Security Council resolutions.[75]

This means North Korea may be able to develop/deploy mobile ICBMs, which can survive a U.S. first strike, within 7–10 years.[76]

On July 2, 2009, North Korea test fired a series of at least four surface-to-ship cruise missiles into the Sea of Japan (East Sea). Two days later, on July 4, they proceeded to test fire a further seven Scud-type ballistic missiles into the same sea.[77] The tests are seen by world powers as a symbol of defiance to the United Nations set over North Korea after their nuclear test on May 25, 2009.[78] These launches come only a week after U.S. President Barack Obama extended U.S. economic sanctions against North Korea.[79] This is also a response to the UN sanctions that were imposed in June 2009, after Pyongyang's nuclear test in May 2009, as well as the new UN resolution that any nation can inspect a North Korean vessel that the investigating nation believes is carrying weaponry.[79] It has been suggested that the test firing of missiles is an act of defiance against the United States national holiday, Independence Day.[77]

Japan Ministry of Defense's analyst Takesada points out that North Korea's desire of unification is similar to North Vietnam, and warns of the possibility of North Korea's compulsory merger with South Korea by threats of nuclear weapons, taking advantage of any possible decrease in the U.S. military presence in South Korea, after North Korea deploys several hundred mobile ICBMs aimed at the United States.[80]

Delivery Systems[edit]

Estimated maximum range of some North Korean missiles [81]

There is evidence that North Korea has been able to miniaturize a nuclear warhead for use on a ballistic missile.[82] Re-entry technology to protect the warheads en route to their targets is lacking.[83] The April 2012 display of missiles purporting to be ICBMs were declared fakes by Western analysts, and indicated North Korea was a long way from having a credible ICBM.[84] In December 2012, North Korea placed a satellite into orbit for the first time.

Successfully tested[edit]

Untested / failed[edit]

Exports related to ballistic missile technology[edit]

In April 2009 the United Nations named the Korea Mining and Development Trading Corporation (aka KOMID) as North Korea's primary arms dealer and main exporter of equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons. The UN lists KOMID as based in Central District Pyongyang.[91] However it also has offices in Beijing and sales offices worldwide which facilitate weapons sales and seek new customers for North Korean weapons.[92]

KOMID has sold missile technology to Iran[93] and has done deals for missile related technology with the Taiwanese.[94] KOMID representatives were also involved in a North Korean deal to mass-produce Kornet anti-tank guided missiles for Syria[95] and KOMID has also been responsible for the sale of equipment, including missile technologies, gunboats, and multiple rocket artilleries, worth a total of over $100 million, to Africa, South America, and the Middle East.[96]

North Korea's military has also used the company Hap Heng to sell weapons overseas. Hap Heng was based in Macau in the 1990s to handle sales of weapons and missile and nuclear technology to nations such as Pakistan and Iran. Pakistan's medium-range ballistic missile, the Ghauri, is considered to be a copy of North Korea's Rodong 1. Even in 1999, intelligence sources said North Korea had sold missile components to Iran.[97] Listed directors of Hap Heng include Kim Song in and Ko Myong Hun.[98] Ko Myong Hun is now a listed diplomat in Beijing[99] and may be involved in the work of KOMID.[100]

A UN sanctions committee report stated that North Korea operates an international smuggling network for nuclear and ballistic missile technology, including to Burma, Syria, and Iran.[101]

Export partners[edit]

Many countries have bought North Korean ballistic missiles or received assistance from North Korea to establish local missile production.

 Pakistan
North Korean entities continued to provide assistance to Pakistan's ballistic missile program during the first half of 1999 in return for nuclear weapons technology.[5] Such assistance is critical for Islamabad's efforts to produce ballistic missiles. In April 1998, Pakistan flight-tested the Ghauri MRBM, which is based on North Korea's Nodong missile. Also in April 1998, the United States imposed sanctions against Pakistani and North Korean entities for their role in transferring Missile Technology Control Regime Category I ballistic missile-related technology.[102]
 Egypt
Egypt has received technologies and assistance for making both the Hwasong-5 and Hwasong-6, and may have as well provided guidance systems or information on longer-range missiles to North Korea from its Condor program.
 Iran
Iran was one of the first countries to buy North Korean missiles. Iran has established local production for the Hwasong-5 (Shahab-1), Hwasong-6 (Shahab-2) and the Rodong-1 (Shahab-3). Also possesses some 19 land-based BM25 Musudan missiles, according to a leaked, classified U.S. State Department cable,[103] although Iran has never displayed the missiles causing some U.S. intelligence officials to doubt the missiles were transferred to Iran.[72]
 Libya
Libya during the reign of Muammar Gaddafi had been known to receive technological assistance, blueprints and missile parts from North Korea.[104]
 Syria
Syria originally obtained the SCUD-B from North Korea. North Korea may have assisted Syria in development of the SCUD-C and/or the SCUD-D. As of 2013, Syria relies on foreign assistance from multiple countries, including North Korea, for advanced missile components and technologies.[105]
 United Arab Emirates
25 Hwasong-5s purchased from North Korea in 1989. The Military of the United Arab Emirates were not satisfied with the quality of the missiles, and they were kept in storage.[106]
 Vietnam
Acquired Hwasong-5/6 missiles in 1998.
 Yemen
Known to have bought Hwasong-5 missiles from the DPRK in the 1990s—a total of 15 missiles, 15 TELs with 15 HE warheads.[107]

Rejection by a potential export partner[edit]

 Nigeria
In January 2004, the Nigerian government announced that North Korea agreed to sell its missile technology, but a month later Nigeria rejected the agreement under U.S. pressure.[108]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]