2003 November 11 Tuesday
CIA: North Korea Has Validated Working Nuclear Weapons

The CIA says North Korea has working nukes. The CIA presented this assessment as a response to questions raised at a hearing of Congress on 2003 February 11. The assessment is part of a document entitled "Questions for the Record from the Worldwide Threat Hearing" and was provided in an unclassified response in August 2003 to the US Senate Intelligence Committee. The relevant section is in a document now on the Federation of American Scientists website and is found on page 19 of this PDF file.

We assess that North Korea has produced one or two simple fission-type nuclear weapons and has validated the designs without conducting yield-producing nuclear tests. Press reports indicate North Korea has been conducting nuclear-weapons related high explosive tests since the 1980s in order to validate its weapons design(s). With such tests, we assess North Korea would not require nuclear tests to validate simple fission weapons.

There is no information to suggest that North Korea has conducted a successful nuclear test to date.

The North's admission to US officials last year that it is pursuing an uranium enrichment program and public statements asserting the right to have nuclear weapons suggest the Kim Chong-il regime is prepared to further escalate tensions and heighten regional fears in a bid to press Washington to negotiate with Pyongyang on its terms. If North Korea decided to escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula, conducting a nuclear test would be one option. A test would demonstrate to the world the North's status as a nuclear-capable state and signal Kim's perception that building a nuclear stockpile will strengthen his regime's international standing and security posture.


A North Korean decision to conduct a nuclear test would entail risks for Pyongyang of precipitating an international backlash and further isolation. Pyongyang at this point appears to view ambiguity regarding its nuclear capabilities as providing a tactical advantage.

The FAS provides some background on where this assessment comes from.

That CIA assessment, which slightly amplifies past public statements, appears in a new set of intelligence agency replies to "questions for the record" (QFRs) submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee following this year's annual hearing on the "worldwide threat."

Such QFRs are often overlooked because they are provided to Congress months after the hearing that prompted them, and they are made public months after that. But given the relative sparsity of unclassified intelligence threat assessments, they are usually worth reading.

North Korea may have the ability to deliver these nuclear weapons.

David Albright, a physicist who is president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said the CIA statement suggested a belief the North had already "weaponized" a nuclear device that could be dropped from a plane or delivered by missile.

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and CIA do not expect North Korea to collapse from within.

In their political analyses, the American intelligence agencies said the government of Kim Jong Il appears unlikely to crumble from within, although they differed on who would succeed Kim if he died.

Well, given that South Korea and China are propping it up and the United States is not trying all that hard to reach the North Korean people with information about the outside world this seems a reasonable assessment. Why the Bush Administration doesn't try much harder to reach the North Koreans with information about the outside world is beyond me. Also, I would be very curious to know by what political calculations the Bushies have reached the conclusion that it is not worth trying to lean on the South Koreans and Chinese to cut off aid to North Korea.

The United States does not now have a strategy for dealing with the developing threat from North Korea that has a good chance of succeeding. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is rapidly becoming a dead letter. China and South Korea are protecting the North Korean regime.

South Korea seems intent upon continuing with its appeasement strategy come what may. The biggest unknown in how the events with North Korea will play out is the thinking of China's top leaders. Are the Chinese changing their minds about their support for North Korea?

Writing for Japan Today Devon Rowcliffe sees North Korean-Chinese ties as being in jeopardy.

In January of this year, when Pyongyang withdrew from the non-proliferation treaty, Beijing sent a senior official to the North to scorn the country, and briefly stopped oil shipments in February. Energy shipments were again suspended in March in an effort to push North Korea into multilateral talks with the U.S.

By contrast, writing for Asian Times Jaewoo Choo sees North Korea-China ties as firm.

However, what we should not overlook is the true purpose of Wu's visit to North Korea. There were many other agendas at the meeting. This can be inferred from the composition of Wu's delegation, and from the statement he made at the conclusion of his meeting with Kim. The delegation comprised no fewer than seven vice-ministerial officials ranging from political and foreign affairs to economic and defense ministers.

My guess is that it is wishful thinking to believe that China will firmly intervene to either take away North Korea's nuclear weapons or to bring down the regime. If the Chinese leaders do decide based on their own internal deliberations to intervene then it is possible they will eliminate the threat posed by North Korea. But it seems unreasonable to expect this and US policy can not count on it.

Since North-South trade on the Korean peninsula is rapidly rising the economic pressure on North Korea may be getting no more intense and may actually be lifting. If the US was to organize a complete embargo on trade and aid to North Korea from all countries other than China and South Korea then the US might be able to apply enough pressure to bring down the Pyongyang regime. But as South Korea trade with the North increases the potential impact of an embargo by other countries will gradually decline. Bush Administration policy makers will find the policy tools at their disposal will become weaker with time. The Bushies look set to fail in their policy toward North Korea and may already have passed beyond the point where success is possible. North Korea seems likely to continue to be a source of nuclear weapons technology for Middle Eastern governments and could potentially become a source nuclear weapons materials and perhaps even complete working bombs.

Update: For a good latest collection of links to recent goings-on related to North Korea see Robert "Marmot" Koehler's Winds of Change Eyes On Korea post. Robert also has his own blog Marmot's Hole which he writes from deep within enemy territory of Kwangju South Korea.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 November 11 11:40 AM  Korea

The Marmot said at November 13, 2003 5:20 AM:

Thanks for the shout-out. And boy, you have no idea just how "deep" in enemy territory I am - only in the Gaza Strip will you find deeper anti-Americanism than in Kwangju.

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