North Korea and weapons of mass destruction

North Korea and weapons
of mass destruction
North Korea and weapons of mass destruction


  • North Korean missile tests:
    • 1993
    • 1998
    • 2006
  • 2006 nuclear test


  • Taepodong-1
  • Taepodong-2

See also

  • Musudan-ri
  • Ryanggang explosion
  • Yongbyon
  • Korean People's Army

North Korea claims to possess nuclear weapons, and the CIA asserts that it has a substantial arsenal of chemical weapons. North Korea, a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty before withdrawing in 2003, cited the failure of the United States to fulfill its end of the Agreed Framework, a 1994 agreement between the states to limit North Korea's nuclear ambitions, begin normalization of relations, and help North Korea supply some energy needs through nuclear reactors.

The world community left the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) world of nuclear weapons at the end of the Cold War, only to enter the Terror world with rogue nations and terrorists groups eager to possess and use nuclear weapons. North Korea stands at the forefront of rogue nations seeking nuclear weapons and delivery systems along with Iran. The world community has been taking a unified stance, demanding a dismantling of nuclear programs in both nations. Six party talks have been conducted, including Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, and the United States, with a measure of success to date. North Korea, although weakened by famine, drought, a lack of resources, and foreign reserves, still has the capacity to build and use nuclear weapons.


North Korea declared in 2009 that it had developed a nuclear weapon, and possessed a small stockpile of relatively simple nuclear weapons. North Korea may also have chemical weapon and/or biological weapons capability. The United Nations responded to North Korea's ongoing missile and nuclear development with a variety of sanctions.

Nuclear weapons


Korea has been a divided country since 1945, after Korea's liberation from Japan at the end of World War II. The Korean War began with North Korea's invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950, and continues under truce to this day. The United States rejected North Korea's call for bilateral talks concerning a non-aggression pact, calling for six-party talks that include the People's Republic of China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea. The United States pointed out North Korea's violation of prior bilateral agreements while North Korea has insisted on them, leading to a diplomatic stalemate.

On November 19, 2006, North Korea’s Minju Joson newspaper accused South Korea of building up arms to attack the North, claiming that "the South Korean military is openly clamoring that the development and introduction of new weapons are to target the North." Pyongyang accused South Korea of conspiring with the United States to attack the isolated and impoverished state, an accusation made frequently by the North and routinely denied by the U.S.[1]

Chronology of events


Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center

Concern focuses around two reactors at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, both of them small power stations using Magnox techniques. The smaller (5 MWe) reached completion in 1986, and has since produced possibly 8,000 spent fuel elements. Construction of the larger plant (50 MWe) commenced in 1984, but as of 2003 still stood incomplete. North Koreans constructed that larger plant based on the declassified blueprints of the Calder Hall power reactors used to produce plutonium for the UK nuclear weapons program. The smaller plant produces enough material to build one new bomb per year. Small amounts of plutonium could have been produced in a Russian-supplied IRT-2000 heavy water–moderated research reactor completed in 1967, although safeguards violations at the plant have never been reported.

On March 12, 1993, North Korea said that it planned to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), refusing to allow inspectors access to its nuclear sites. By 1994, the United States believed that North Korea had enough reprocessed plutonium to produce about ten bombs, with the amount of plutonium increasing. Faced with diplomatic pressure 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 imported enriched uranium, the United States could easily track the amount of reactor fuel and waste, increasing North Korea's difficulty of diverting nuclear waste for plutonium reprocessing. With bureaucratic red tape and political obstacles from North Korea, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), established to advance the implementation of the Agreed Framework, had failed to build the promised light water reactors. North Korea charged that the United States failed to uphold their end of the agreement by providing energy aid, and in late 2002, North Korea returned to using its old reactors.

Enriched uranium

With the abandonment of its plutonium program, United States officials charged North Korea with beginning an enriched uranium program. Pakistan, through Abdul Qadeer Khan, supplied key technology and information to North Korea in exchange for missile technology around 1997, according to U.S. intelligence officials. Pakistani President Pervez Musharaf acknowledged in 2005, that Khan had provided centrifuges and their designs to North Korea.[2] The media publicized that program in October 2002, when North Korean officials admitted to the United States restarting the uranium enrichment program.[3] 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, committing both Koreas to abandon enrichment or reprocessing facilities. The United States called North Korea on the violation of its commitment to abandon enrichment facilities.

In December 2002, the KEDO Board followed through on threats to suspend fuel oil shipments in response to North Korea's violation, leading North Korea to the end of the Agreed Framework and announce plans to reactivate a dormant nuclear fuel processing program and power plant north of Pyongyang. North Korea soon thereafter expelled United Nations inspectors and withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

North Korea-United States relations

U.S. President George W. Bush's strategy with North Korea and Iran, the other nations named as a member of the "Axis of Evil" following the September 11, 2001 attacks differed from that against Saddam's Iraq. The United States officials sought diplomatic pressure with China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, joining to persuade North Korea to abandon it's nuclear ambitions. Although not ruling out military action as a last resort, the United States ruled immediate military action out. North Korea, maintaining one of the largest standing armies in the world, and positioned to inflict enormous initial damage on the South, made the military option one of extreme last resort. The last resort would come with North Korea close to producing nuclear weapons. North Korea possession of nuclear weapons, as with Iran, would upset the balance of power. During the standoff between the USSR and the U.S. during the Cold War, a rational approach prevailed in the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) world. With North Korea and Iran, international policy thinkers doubt either nation would stop at the thought of total annihilation.

As North Korea further inflamed American ire evidence of state-sponsored drug smuggling, money laundering, and wide scale counterfeiting. Diplomatic efforts at resolving the North Korean situation complicated by the differing goals and interests of the nations of the region. While none of the parties desire a North Korea with nuclear weapons, Japan and South Korea, especially, express concern about North Korean counter-strikes following possible military action against North Korea. The People's Republic of China and South Korea also worry about the economic and social consequences should this situation cause the North Korean government to collapse.

Nuclear deterrence

Some scholars and analysts have argued that North Korea has been using nuclear weapons primarily as a political tool, particularly to bring the U.S. to the table to begin reestablishing normal relations and end the long-standing economic embargo against North Korea. That argument contends that the threat of nuclear weapons has been the only North Korean policy that has brought the United States into negotiations on their terms. In a lecture in 1993, Bruce Cummings asserted that, based on information gathered by the CIA, the activity around the Yongbyon facility may have been done expressly to draw the attention of U.S. satellites. He also pointed out that the CIA had not claimed North Korea had nuclear weapons, but that they had enough material to create such weapons should they choose to do so.

North Korea’s energy supply has been deteriorating since the 1990s, when Russia and China abandoned their communist commitment. North Korea, once a darling of the Soviet and Chinese communist powers, became an embarrassment. As Russia and China turned toward a free enterprise approach toward domestic and international economy, they sought to ween North Korea from their dependence upon their aid, especially Russian oil. That, coupled with a lack of foreign reserves to purchase oil on the open market, left North Korea in an energy crisis.

Although North Korea possesses an insignificant indigenous nuclear power capacity, the two light-water moderated plants, if built, would be an important source of electricity in a nation with scarce resources. Although couched in a derisive statement, Donald Rumsfeld demonstrated the severe lack of electricity for the entire nation in a photograph released in October 2006.[4] Many parties have a vested interest in the claim that North Korea has nuclear weapons.

Leading politicians in Japan have called for discussion on removing [[Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution]] prohibiting a standing army beyond national security forces in light of North Korea's provocative missile tests in the Sea of Japan and noncompliance with ending nuclear weapons development. The United States has followed a bipartisan foreign policy war on terror, committed to take the war with terrorist groups and nations to the source rather than wait for terrorist attacks on home soil, since the September 11, 2001 attacks. Although the Iraq War has been hotly debated in the United States, neither the Democrat's nor the Republicans seek abandoning that foreign policy principle. The United States recently reduced its forces in South Korea from 40,000 to 30,000 troops in a commitment to turn over full defense of South Korea to the South Korean military. The reality of taking the lead in their own defense has sobered South Korean politicians of all parities to take the North Korean treat seriously, prompting an increased criticism of the Sunshine Policy.

On March 17, 2007, North Korea announced at international nuclear talks of preparing to shut down its main nuclear facility. The concession followed a series of six-party talks, involving North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the United States, began in 2003. On July 14, IAEA inspectors confirmed the shutdown of North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear reactor.[5]

Nuclear tests

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

On May 25, 2009, North Korea conducted a second nuclear test, resulting in an explosion estimated to be between 2 and 7 kilotons.[8] The 2009 test, like the 2006 test, is believed to have occurred at Mantapsan, Kilju County, in the north-eastern part of North Korea.[9]

On February 11, 2013, the U.S. Geological Survey detected a magnitude 5.1 seismic disturbance.[10] 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 estimated the yield at 40 kilotons (later revised to 14kT).[11]

On January 6, 2016 in Korea, the United States Geological Survey detected a magnitude 5.1 seismic disturbance,[12] reported to be a fourth underground nuclear test.[13] North Korea claimed that this test involved a hydrogen bomb. This claim has not been verified. Within hours, many nations and organizations had condemned the test.[14] Expert U.S. analysts do not believe that a hydrogen bomb was detonated. Seismic data collected so far suggests a 6-9 kiloton yield and that magnitude is not consistent with the power that would be generated by a hydrogen bomb explosion. "What we're speculating is they tried to do a boosted nuclear device, which is an atomic bomb that has a little bit of hydrogen, an isotope in it called tritium," said Joseph Cirincione, president of the global security firm Ploughshares Fund.[15]

On February 7, 2016, roughly a month after the alleged hydrogen bomb test, North Korea claimed to have put a satellite into orbit around the Earth. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe had warned the North to not launch the rocket, and if it did and the rocket violated Japanese territory, it would be shot down. Nevertheless, North Korea launched the rocket anyway, claiming the satellite was purely intended for peaceful, scientific purposes. Several nations, including the United States, Japan, and South Korea, have criticized the launch, and despite North Korean claims that the rocket was for peaceful purposes, it has been heavily criticized as an attempt to perform an ICBM test under the guise of a peaceful satellite launch. China also criticized the launch, however urged "the relevant parties" to "refrain from taking actions that may further escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula".[16]

A fifth nuclear test occurred on September 9, 2016. This test yield is considered the highest among all five tests thus far, surpassing its previous record in 2013.

Biological and chemical weapons

North Korea acceded to the Biological Weapons Convention in 1987, and the Geneva Protocol on January 4, 1989, but refused to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention. Intelligence reports suggest that North Korea possesses a substantial arsenal of chemical weapons, reportedly acquiring the technology to produce tabun and mustard gas as early as the 1950s, and now possesses a full arsenal of nerve agents and other advanced varieties, with the means to launch them in artillery shells. North Korea has expended considerable resources on equipping its army with chemical-protection equipment.

Delivery systems

North Korea's missile technology limits its ability to deliver weapons of mass destruction to targets. As of 2005, North Korea's No Dong missiles travel 1,300 km, able to reach South Korea, Japan, and parts of Russia and China, but not the United States or Europe although the missile's capacity to carry nuclear weapons has been questioned. BM-25, a North Korean designed long-range ballistic missile with range capabilities of up to 1,550 miles (2493 km), has the potential of carrying a nuclear warhead. North Korea has been developing the Taepodong-1 missile with a range of 2,000 km. With the Taepodong-2 missile in development, North Korea soon will have a missile with an expected range of 5,000-6,000 km.[17] With this North Korea could deliver a warhead to all countries in Southeast Asia, parts of Alaska, and the continental United States. The North Koreans tested Taepodong-2 missile on July 4, 2005, unsuccessfully. United States intelligence estimates that the weapon take eleven years to become operational, although that production time could shorten. The Taepodong-2 could hit the western United States as well as other nations the Western hemisphere. The current model of the Taepodong-2 lacks the capacity to carry nuclear warheads to the United States.

Estimated maximum range of some North Korean missiles

There is evidence that North Korea has been able to miniaturize a nuclear warhead for use on a ballistic missile.[18] An 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.[19] Various North Korean rocket tests continued into the 2010s, for example in 2013, in 2014, and in 2016. North Korea performed no tests of medium-range missiles sufficiently powerful to reach Japan in 2015, but South Korea's Yonhap news agency believes that at least one missile fired during North Korea's March 2016 missile tests is likely a medium-range Rodong missile.[20] North Korea appeared to launch a missile test from a submarine on April 23, 2016; while the missile only traveled 30 km, one U.S. analyst noted that "North Korea's sub launch capability has gone from a joke to something very serious".[21] An August 2016 North Korean missile test of a Rodong missile that flew 1,000 kilometers (620 mi) landed about 250 kilometers (160 mi) west of Japan's Oga Peninsula, in international waters but inside Japan's exclusive economic zone, prompting Japan to condemn the "unforgivable act of violence toward Japan's security".[22][23]

As of 2016, North Korea is known to have approximately 300 Rodong missiles whose maximum range is 800 miles.[23]


  1. APEC calls on N. Korea to end nuclear initiative The Associated Press, November 19, 2006. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  2. Khan 'gave N Korea centrifuges' BBC, August 24, 2005. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  3. N Korea 'admits nuclear programme' BBC News, October 17, 2002. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  4. North Korea might now have The Bomb, but it doesn't have much electricity Daily Mail, October 13, 2006. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  5. UN confirms N Korea nuclear halt BBC, July 16, 2007. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  6. Robert Burns and Anne Gearan, U.S.: Test Points to N. Korea Nuke Blast The Associated Press, October 13, 2006. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  7. Wm. Robert Johnston, North Korea's first nuclear test October 21, 2006. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  8. Vitaly Fedchenko, North Korea's Nuclear test Explosion SIPRI Fact Sheet, December 2009. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  9. North Korea's new nuclear test raises universal condemnation NPSGlobal Foundation, May 25, 2009. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  10. M 5.1 Nuclear Explosion - 24km ENE of Sungjibaegam, North Korea USGS, February 11, 2013. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  11. Choi He-suk, Estimates differ on size of N.K. blast The Korea Herald, February 14, 2013. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  12. M5.1 - 21km ENE of Sungjibaegam, North Korea USGS, January 6, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  13. North Korea claims fully successful hydrogen bomb test Russia Today, January 5, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  14. N Korean nuclear test condemned as intolerable provocation Channel News Asia, January 6, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  15. Robert Windrem,North Korea Likely Lying About Hydrogen Bomb Test, Experts Say NBC News, January 6, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  16. North Korea fires long-range rocket despite warnings BBC News, February 7, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  17. North Korea warned about missile BBC News, June 18, 2006. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  18. Mark B. Schneider, Does North Korea Have a Missile-Deliverable Nuclear Weapon? The Heritage Foundation, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  19. Eric Talmadge, Analysts say North Korea's new missiles are fakes The Independent, April 26, 2012. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  20. Jack Kim and Ju-min Park, Defiant North Korea fires ballistic missile into sea, Japan protests Reuters, March 19, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  21. Don Melvin and Jim Sciutto, North Korea launches missile from submarine CNN, April 23, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  22. Choe Sang-Hun, North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile Into Waters Off Japan The New York Times, August 2, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Japan: North Korea missile launch an "unforgivable act of violence" CBS News, July 27, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2016.


  • Scobell, Andrew and John M. Sanford. North Korea's Military Threat Pyongyang's Conventional Forces, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Ballistic Missiles. Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2007. ISBN 978-1584872863
  • United States. Regional Implications of the Changing Nuclear Equation on the Korean Peninsula Hearing Before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, One Hundred Eighth Congress, first session, March 12, 2003. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 2003. ISBN 978-0160704888
  • United States. WMD Developments on the Korean Peninsula Hearing Before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, One Hundred Eighth Congress, first session, February 4, 2003. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 2003. ISBN 978-0160701924.
  • United States. Drugs, Counterfeiting, and Weapons Proliferation the North Korean Connection: Hearing Before the Financial Management, the Budget, and International Security Subcommittee of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate, One Hundred Eighth Congress, first session, May 20, 2003. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 2003. ISBN 978-0160709210

External links

All links retrieved October 13, 2016.


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