DPRK Briefing Book: Foreword of ‘Verifying North Korean Nuclear Disarmament – A Technical Analysis’

DPRK Briefing Book: Foreword of ‘Verifying North Korean Nuclear Disarmament – A Technical Analysis’

DPRK Briefing Book: Foreword of ‘Verifying North Korean Nuclear Disarmament – A Technical Analysis’

Peter Hayes and Jon Wolfsthal
Working Paper No. 38, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace & Nautilus Institute
June 2003

The nuclear Crisis on the Korean Peninsula continues to pose the most serious security threat to U.S. interests and friends in East Asia. North Korea’s nuclear activities include both an active plutonium production capability and a still-under-construction uranium enrichment capability. This program presents a critical security challenge for the United States, countries in East Asia, and, through North Korea’s potential to sell nuclear materials abroad, the entire world. All of the states engaged with North Korea agree that the goal of international efforts should be the complete elimination of North Korea’s nuclear program and the firm establishment of a non-nuclear Korean peninsula. To achieve this worthy goal, both political and technical agreements will need to be negotiated and implemented to ensure that any commitments are sustainable and reliable. On the technical side of this equation, at the very least, there are viable options for verifying a complete freeze and dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear facilities and its nuclear capabilities.

Of its two programs, North Korea’s plutonium infrastructure is the more advanced and may already have yielded enough separated plutonium to produce one or two nuclear weapons. In addition, enough plutonium for the production of five or six nuclear weapons also exists in (or was recently released from) spent fuel discharged from North Korea’s nuclear reactor in 1994. Key to any moves to refreeze North Korea’s weapons program is the reintroduction of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or another source to determine the current state of this spent fuel and North Korea’s nuclear facilities. The facts found on the ground will determine what initial steps are required to implement a verified freeze on North Korea’s plutonium program. Any agreement aimed at eliminating North Korea’s nuclear potential, however, will also have to deal effectively with questions about its past production and set an established and observable timetable for the elimination of existing facilities and the removal of all plutonium or plutonium-bearing materials out of the country.

North Korea’s uranium enrichment program is still under development and is thought to be at least two years from beginning the production of significant amounts of nuclear weapons-usable materials . Given the nature of North Korea’s secrecy and the technical realities associated with centrifuge-based enrichment facilities, a high degree of uncertainty will surround any agreement by North Korea to abandon this technology. Even now, the location of North Korea’s enrichment site is not publicly known. A negotiated agreement will require not only an intrusive nature of geographic transparency by North Korea, permitting inspectors access to highly sensitive and secret facilities, but also an unprecedented degree of programmatic transparency, including procurement efforts and financial information.

In reviewing these issues, it is clear that any agreement to ensure the end of North Korea’s nuclear potential will require an unparalleled level of transparency and verification. A critical contribution to this effort would be the acceptance by North Korea of the Strengthened Safeguards System developed and implemented by the IAEA or a system with similar rights and standards for verification and transparency. These measures–which include everything from comprehensive safeguards at declared facilities to full special inspection rights to environmental monitoring and more–would be extremely useful in developing a system within North Korea that can build confidence that all nuclear weapons–related activities have ceased. These programs can be implemented by the IAEA, another group, or in cooperation with several organizations, and they are the key to success in international efforts to ensure the full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

The measures outlined above and explored in the papers provided in the Briefing Book Tab papers are not sufficient to overcome the North Korean nuclear threat. In particular, the potential for nuclear exports from North Korea during any realistic “dismantlement” period requires that North Korea not only declare its enrichment acquisition and programs but also provide considerable information about clandestine networks involving narco-criminal syndicates and transnational terrorists. Breaking any current or future link between North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and terrorists is crucial to achieving security for the United States, its allies and friends, and even some of its adversaries–all of whom are threatened by the prospect of North Korean nuclear exports.

Monitoring and verifying a nuclear freeze and phased dismantlement is the right place to begin, however.

Peter Hayes Executive Director Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability

Jon B. Wolfsthal Deputy Director and Associate Non-Proliferation Project Carnegie Endowment for International Peace