mead berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn bayles
Unpleasant Truths
North Korea Crisis Is Even Worse Than It Looks

Surprise! New imagery suggests that North Korea has even more nuclear fuel than commonly thought. Reuters:

Thermal images of North Korea’s main nuclear site show Pyongyang may have reprocessed more plutonium than previously thought that can be used to enlarge its nuclear weapons stockpile, a U.S. think tank said on Friday.

The analysis by 38 North, a Washington-based North Korean monitoring project, was based on satellite images of the radiochemical laboratory at the Yongbyon nuclear plant from September until the end of June, amid rising international concerns over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

The think tank said images of the uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon could also indicate operation of centrifuges that could be used to increase North Korea’s stock of enriched uranium, its other source of bomb fuel.

In addition to the extra supplies of uranium and plutonium, 38 North observed an increase in thermal activity over an Experimental Light Water Reactor, which could also be cause for concern.

Estimates vary on how many nuclear bombs Pyongyang actually has—anywhere from 6 to 30, depending on whom you ask, and possibly more given the latest revelations. Discerning the exact status of North Korea’s nuclear program is always an inexact science, but the data here from the enrichment sites (which are much harder to conceal than the delivery systems) suggests that the program has, if anything, been underestimated.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration’s options to deal with the threat remain as poor and limited as ever. Rumor has it that Trump may introduce more secondary sanctions next week, in an attempt to squeeze Chinese businesses that have aided Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Perhaps that will help slow its further growth—but barring a miracle, it is hard to see how North Korea’s nuclear genie can ever be put back into the bottle.

Features Icon
show comments
  • FriendlyGoat

    This is one of those things where we increasingly notice there are hard limits to the presumed infallibility of Trumpism Talk. Spare us the inevitable “Obama should have fixed it”. We have been at war with North Korea through Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon , Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump. None of those could find the path to “knock it out and be done”.

    • Matt_Thullen

      True to an extent, but forcefully dealing with a nuclear armed North Korea that has working ballistic missiles is going to be exponentially more difficult than dealing with a North Korea limited to conventional weapons. North Korea really started their nuclear program in the 1990’s, so the blame can be laid at the feet of Clinton, Bush and Obama.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Yes, nuclear armed is harder. I do not know why Clinton and Bush and Obama could not be swayed by their most hawkish advisors to take military action——-or—–maybe we do know. It’s hard to sell preemptive aggression abroad and it’s hard to sell wars of unpredictable outcome at home. And then, Seoul has always been sitting where it sits with millions of people in range of conventional weapons.

        • ——————————

          It’s all about Seoul and the rest of SK….

          • Frustrated Entreprenuer

            SK in 1994 did not want war, do Clinton potential strike was a no go I have read.

            Bush in the next crisis was focused on the Iraq invasion, and did not want to play the blackmail game. And SK had no interest in the US upsetting NK. End result was US did not engage.

            My guess on what will happen:

            Huge increase in anti missile defense research and deployments.

            US will continue to try applying pressure to China.

            China does not want NK to collapse, so will say the right things to make US happy and continue a lifeline to NK.

            NK will continue threats to very Jacksonian President…

            What I wish would happen is China allow NK refugees to SK. This might get rapid changes from NK. Or they just electrify more if the border fence.

      • D4x

        adding to the feet of Clinton42 and Obama44: the hands of Wendy Sherman. She did so well with NorK, she got promoted to the de-nuke Iran JCPOA. Iran relies on NorK for nuclear and ballistic tech and personnel.

    • rheddles

      Clinton was the first to publicly know they were working on nukes. Clinton should have fixed it. But he was on the ChiCom’s payroll. Ask Bernie Schwartz.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Or maybe he was being chased from pillar to post by Gingrich with the handy-dandy gossip of Linda Tripp. One never knows what can derail a presidency from the more-important stuff. But, in 2001, we got what everybody on that side wanted in George W. Bush—-and what happened with DPRK? Oops, those pesky realities hit again.

        • rheddles

          The pesky reality is that it happened on Clinton’s watch. He kicked the can down the road and set the precedent. If you’re comparing him to Bush regarding Korea and China, you’re setting the bar pretty low. They’ve all stunk and I doubt Trump will do better, but at least he’s trying.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Part of the problem of us trying to assess who is “trying” or not is that most of what any of them have “tried” is necessarily classified. Truth of the matter is—–we are largely blind to real efforts.

  • Unelected Leader

    The options aren’t limited! Guys, you know better. Trump could address both houses (coupled with tweets of course to reiterate it) explaining the situation and why [something] is going to be done. It’s not difficult to understand, and it can be done in less than 10 minutes. I’ll show you.

    He could give a brief history of the Kim regime, how it was installed by Stalin, how it invaded SK with Stalins blessing to start the Korean War, and how it has been supported by the CCP ever since they interceded to help the Kim regime during the war. Move on to the 50s-60s with the first nuclear reactor and reprocessing plant. Major increase in CCP support in the 80s and 90s – direct policy of Jiang Zemin (bill cigar clintons friend no less). That’s when the nuclear program and ballistic missile programs really picked up.

    Explain how Clinton, W., and Obama failed to act. Six party talks were just the CCP and Kim regime stalling for time and ended in catastrophic failure. “The can has been kicked down the road by three administrations, and I’m out of road” he should say.

    The regime launches missiles from Chinese TELs and is supported primarily by the CCP till this day. The CCP has deliberately misled the US into believing it wanted to undo this mistake on their part. They have not. It has been a lie. Therefore, we are implementing major sanctions on ALL Chinese SOEs, banks, and the web of individuals associated with china helping NK skirt sanctions for many years. Don’t want to hear CNBC and the hedge fund manager cry and whine like little girls over losing whatever incremental access they were getting. Shouldn’t be operating in China anyway until the act is cleaned up.

    • KremlinKryptonite

      He should absolutely do all of that, and he should adopt the Kennedy cuba doctrine as it pertains to North Korea – any nuclear missile fired from NK at the US or allies will be considered an attack by the PLARF as well, and require a retaliatory response upon them. Same way any nuclear missile from Cuba was going to be regarded as an attack by the Soviet SRF.
      This kind of major doctrinal shift would not be without precedent since it is established fact that Russia and china have and do support the Kim regime, have and do hold immense power over the Kim regime, and more importantly that they supply nuclear and ballistic missile tech.

      • Unelected Leader

        That’s why I always read your comments. That is an excellent idea. If trump did that I’d be kissing the computer screen and jumping for joy.

        • KremlinKryptonite

          Well thanks, buddy. But it’s not my original idea. I mean it is, however, it is shared by many officers I know in Navy intelligence and some people I work with here at the embassy in Seoul. My wife’s friend is the daughter of a major figure in Korea’s foreign ministry, and her father has also thought of such a response. He told me this nearly three years ago when I ran the idea past him.

          The genius of it, of course, is that it negates the usefulness of NK nukes to extract concessions at the same time as it reduces the need to consider surgical strikes to almost zero.

          • TPAJAX

            That is a great idea! Get WRM or one of these guys to write about it and send it to Mattis and Bannon!

          • KremlinKryptonite

            Well that’s not necessary. As I said, many have already thought about it, and are thinking about it. Trump probably hasn’t thought of such a thing. In fact, I’d stake my life that he hasn’t, yet he does have people around him who almost certainly have. It would be a substantial and correct thing to do.

          • D4x

            You might want to save staking your life on anything Trump to something more certain that he has not thought of. POTUS is a lot smarter than the caricature. I believe he has gotten up to speed since that Nuclear Triad question in one of the debates.

          • KremlinKryptonite

            Nah I’d stake my life on it. But that’s all fine and well because most people wouldn’t know about that, would they?

      • Simon Gunson

        You are entirely missing the point. North Korea is neither afraid of, nor intimidated by nuclear retaliation. They have developed their nuclear capability and missile capability in the full knowledge that they will someday have a nuclear war. The biggest folly is to believe that a well dug in enemy can be defeated in a single first strike, or for that matter that NK can be engaged militarily without massive consequences on mainland USA

        • KremlinKryptonite

          The great thing about adopting a Kennedy-Cuba doctrine for North Korea is that you don’t have to worry about it very much anymore, if you did at all before. Those who bear the lions share of responsibility and who hold the reins around the Kim the regime-the supporters and enablers in Beijing-will respond, however begrudgingly, in a similar fashion as khrushchev and the inmates of the Kremlin did out of necessity.
          In fact, the CCP has more clout over the Kim regime than the Kremlin ever had over the Castros.

          • Suzy Dixon

            That is a really great idea. It’s especially important because North Korea isn’t an island that can be blockaded to at least stop new weapons and materials. China and Russia share land borders with it, so absent an attack on one of them or all three them then a major doctrinal shift to make it an all-stakes game for them is the best way.

  • Arkeygeezer

    ” ….. it is hard to see how North Korea’s nuclear genie can ever be put back into the bottle.”
    The simple answer is that it won’t. Not anymore than Pakistan, India, or Iran. Given a nuclear capability, the only defense is to defend against the delivery systems. Militarily, that means antimissile defense.

    Our best bet is to wage economic war against the NORKS.

    President Trump is doing that in addition to mounting an antimissile defense.

    Pretty dumb, Huh?

  • james westmoreland

    It sure would be nice not to have the ads/ videos in the upper right hand corner that cannot be closed and make it difficult to read content.

    • D4x

      If you use IE browser, go to Tools -Manage Add-Ons to disable your Ad Blocker. Sorry TAI!

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service