An AUMF Against the Islamic State, and More from CRS

Ongoing U.S. military action against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria lacks any specific authorization from Congress.  A comparative analysis of various proposals for Congress to enact an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the Islamic State is provided in an updated report from the Congressional Research Service.

“Although the Obama Administration has claimed 2001 AUMF and 2002 AUMF authority for its recent and future actions against the Islamic State, these claims have been subject to debate,” the report said.

“Some contend that the Administration’s actions against the IS also fall outside the President’s Article II powers. Concerned with Congress’s constitutional role in the exercise of the war power, perceived presidential overreach in that area of constitutional powers, and the President’s expansion of the use of military force in Iraq and Syria, several Members of Congress have expressed the view that continued use of military force against the Islamic State requires congressional authorization. Members have differed on whether such authorization is needed, given existing authorities, or whether such a measure should be enacted.”

“This report focuses on the several proposals for a new AUMF specifically targeting the Islamic State made during the 113th and 114th Congresses. It includes a brief review of existing authorities and AUMFs, as well as a discussion of issues related to various provisions included in existing and proposed AUMFs that both authorize and limit presidential use of military force.”  See A New Authorization for Use of Military Force Against the Islamic State: Issues and Current Proposals, January 15, 2016.

Other new and newly updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

North Korea: Legislative Basis for U.S. Economic Sanctions, updated January 14, 2016

North Korea: A Comparison of S. 1747, S. 2144, and H.R. 757, January 15, 2016

North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation, updated January 15, 2016

Department of Homeland Security Appropriations: FY2016, updated January 14, 2016

Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Compliance with International Obligations, updated January 14, 2016

Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons, updated January 14, 2016

North Korea’s Fourth Nuclear Test: What Does it Mean?

PANMUNJOM, SOUTH KOREA - MARCH 26: A North Korean soldier looks through binoculars to survey across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas March 26 2003 at Panmunjom, South Korea. North Korea pulled out of regular military meetings with U.S.-led United Nations Command March 26, 2003. North Korea accuses the U.S. of preparing for an invasion by holding military exercises with the South Korean army. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

By Charles D. Ferguson

North Korea’s boast on January 5 about having detonated a “hydrogen bomb,” the colloquial name for a thermonuclear explosive, seems highly hyperbolic due to the relatively low estimated explosive yield, as inferred from the reported seismic magnitude of about 4.8 (a small- to moderately-sized event). More important, I think the Korean Central News Agency’s rationale for the test deserves attention and makes logical sense from North Korea’s perspective. That statement was: “This test is a measure for self-defense the D.P.R.K. has taken to firmly protect the sovereignty of the country and the vital right of the nation from the ever-growing nuclear threat and blackmail by the U.S.-led hostile forces and to reliably safeguard the peace on the Korean Peninsula and regional security.” (D.P.R.K. stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the official name for North Korea.)

Having been to North Korea twice (November 2000 and November 2011) and having talked to both political and technical people there, I believe that they are sincere when they say that they believe that the United States has a hostile policy toward their country. After all, the Korean War has yet to be officially ended with a peace treaty. The United States and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) conduct annual war games that have appeared threatening to the North while the United States and the ROK say that they perform these military exercises to be prepared to defend against or deter a potential war with North Korea. Clearly, there is more than enough fear on both sides of the Demilitarized Zone on the Korean Peninsula.

Aside from posturing and signaling to the United States, South Korea, and Japan, a North Korean claim of a genuine hydrogen bomb (even if it is not yet ready for prime time) is cause for concern from a military standpoint because of the higher explosive yields from such weapons. But almost all of the recent news stories, experts’ analyses, and the statements from the White House and South Korea have discounted this claim.

How Does a Boosted Fission Bomb Work?

Instead, at best, the stories and articles suggest that North Korea may have tested a boosted fission device. Such a device would use a fission chain reaction of fissile material, such as plutonium or highly enriched uranium, to then fuse the heavy hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium, which would have been injected just before detonation into the hollow core of the bomb. While the fusion reaction does somewhat increase the explosive yield, the main purpose of this reaction is to release lots of neutrons that would then cause many additional fission reactions.

Does this mean that the explosive yield of the bomb would be dramatically increased due to these additional fission reactions? The answer is yes, if there was a comparable amount of fissile material, as in a non-boosted fission bomb. But the answer is no, if there was much less fissile material than in a non-boosted fission bomb. In both cases, the overall use of fissile material is much more efficient in a boosted device than in a non-boosted device in that a greater portion or percentage of fissile material is fissioned in a boosted device. This increased efficiency is also due to the fact that the additional neutrons are very high energy and will rapidly cause the additional fission reactions before the bomb blows itself apart within microseconds.

In the case where North Korea does not need to produce a much bigger explosive yield per bomb, but is content with low to moderate yields, it can make much more efficient use of its available fissile material (with a stockpile estimated at a dozen to a few dozen bombs’ worth of material) and have much lower weight bombs. This is the key to understanding why a boosted fission bomb is a serious military concern. It is more apt to fit on ballistic missiles. The lighter the payload (warhead), the farther a ballistic missile with a given amount of thrust can carry the bomb to a target.

From a Military Standpoint: Cause for Concern?

So, in my opinion, a boosted fission bomb is even more cause for immediate concern than a thermonuclear bomb. (A thermonuclear “hydrogen” bomb would have the additional technical complication of a fusion fuel stage ignited by a boosted fission bomb. If North Korea eventually develops a true thermonuclear bomb, this type of bomb could, with further development, also likely be made to fit on a ballistic missile.) A boosted fission bomb alone, however, would mean that North Korea is well on its way to making nuclear bombs that are small enough and lightweight enough to fit on ballistic missiles.

If true, North Korea would have nuclear weapons that would provide real military utility. North Korea would not need high yield nuclear explosives to pose a real military nuclear threat because cities such as Seoul and Tokyo cover wide areas and would thus be easy targets even with relatively inaccurate missiles. But the most important point is that the nuclear weapon has to be light enough to be carried by a missile for a long enough distance to reach these and other targets such as the United States by using a long-range missile. In contrast, if North Korea only had large size and heavy weight nuclear bombs, it would have significant difficulty in delivering such weapons to targets, unless it tried to smuggle these unwieldy bombs into South Korea or Japan.

Setting the Record Straight on Recent Reporting

Obviously, the uncertainty about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is considerable, and we may never fully find out what was really tested a few days ago, despite the planes that the U.S. has been flying near North Korea to detect any leakage of radioactive elements or other physical evidence from the test site.

Nonetheless, I think it is worthwhile to point out that some confusion has been afoot in several news stories. I have read in a number of press reports that there is doubt as to whether North Korea could produce the tritium that would be needed for a boosted fission device. In September of last year, David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini of the Institute for Science and International Security published a report that the 5 MWe gas-graphite reactor at Yongbyon is “not an ideal producer of isotopes, it can be used in this way.” They noted, “As part of the renovation of the reactor, North Korean technicians reportedly installed (or renovated) irradiation channels in the core. These channels would be used to make various types of isotopes, potentially for civilian or military purposes.”[1] They further observed that tritium could be produced in such irradiation channels, although there is not conclusive evidence of this production.

The New York Times further sowed some confusion by solely mentioning that tritium is used for boosting, but neglected to mention deuterium. The deuterium and tritium fusion reaction is the “easiest” fusion reaction to ignite while still very challenging to do.[2] The Times also gave the impression that boosting was just about increasing the explosive yield but did not discuss the important point about boosting the efficient use of fissile material so as to substantially decrease the overall weight of the bomb.

None other than Dr. Hans Bethe, leader of the Theoretical Division at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project and a founder of FAS, stated in a May 28, 1952 memorandum that “by the middle of 1948, [Dr. Edward] Teller had invented the booster, in which a fission bomb initiates a thermonuclear reaction in a moderate volume of a mixture of T [tritium] and D [deuterium], … [and a test in Nevada] demonstrated the practical usefulness of the booster for small-diameter implosion weapons.”[3] Note that “small-diameter” in this context implies that this weapon would be suitable for ballistic missiles.

Just a day before the nuclear test, Joseph Bermudez published an essay for the non-governmental website 38 North (affiliated with the US-Korea Institute at the School for Advanced International Studies) about North Korea’s ballistic missile submarine program. He assessed: “Reports of a North Korean ‘ejection’ test of the Bukkeukseong-1 (Polaris-1, KN-11) submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on December 21, 2015, appear to be supported by new commercial satellite imagery of the Sinpo South Shipyard. This imagery also indicates that despite reports of a failed test in late November 2015 North Korea is continuing to actively pursue its SLBM development program.”[4] A boosted fission device test (if such took place on January 5) would dovetail with the ballistic missile submarine program.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I will conclude by underscoring that the United States will have to work even harder to reassure allies such as Japan and South Korea. Early last year, I wrote a paper that describes how relatively easily South Korea could make nuclear weapons while urging that the United States needs to prevent this from happening. As Prof. Martin Hellman of Stanford University and a member of FAS’s Board of Experts has written in a recent blog: “As distasteful as the Kim Jong-un regime is, we need to learn how to live with it, rather than continue vainly trying to make it collapse. As Dr. [Siegfried] Hecker [former Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory] points out, that latter approach has given us an unstable nation with a nuclear arsenal. Insanity has been defined as repeating the same mistake over and over again, but expecting a different outcome. Isn’t it time we tried a new experiment?”

[1] David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini, “Update on North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Site,” Institute for Science and International Security, Imagery Brief, September 15, 2015, http://www.isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/Update_on_North_Koreas_Yongbyon_Nuclear_Site_September15_2015_Final.pdf

[2] “Did North Korea Detonate a Hydrogen Bomb? Here’s What We Know,” New York Times, January 6, 2016.

[3] Hans A. Bethe, “Memorandum on the History of Thermonuclear Program,” May 28. 1952, (Assembled on 5/12/90 from 3 different versions by Chuck Hansen, Editor, Swords of Armageddon), available at http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/nuclear/bethe-52.htm

[4] Joseph S. Bermudez, Jr., “North Korea’s Ballistic Missile Submarine Program: Full Steam Ahead,” 38 North, January 5, 2016, http://38north.org/2016/01/sinpo010516/

Nuclear Modernization Briefings at the NPT Conference in New York

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Last week I was in New York to brief two panels at the Third Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (phew).

The first panel was on “Current Status of Rebuilding and Modernizing the United States Warheads and Nuclear Weapons Complex,” an NGO side event organized on May 1st by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). While describing the U.S. programs, I got permission from the organizers to cover the modernization programs of all the nuclear-armed states. Quite a mouthful but it puts the U.S. efforts better in context and shows that nuclear weapon modernization is global challenge for the NPT.

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The second panel was on “The Future of the B61: Perspectives From the United States and Europe.” This GNO side event was organized by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation on May 2nd. In my briefing I focused on providing factual information about the status and details of the B61 life-extension program, which more than a simple life-extension will produce the first guided, standoff nuclear bomb in the U.S. inventory, and significantly enhance NATO’s nuclear posture in Europe.

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The two NGO side events were two of dozens organized by NGOs, in addition to the more official side events organized by governments and international organizations.

The 2014 PREPCOM is also the event where the United States last week disclosed that the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile has only shrunk by 309 warheads since 2009, far less than what many people had anticipated given Barack Obama’s speeches about “dramatic” and “bold” reductions and promises to “put an end to Cold War thinking.”

Yet in disclosing the size and history of its nuclear weapons stockpile and how many nuclear warheads have been dismantled each year, the United States has done something that no other nuclear-armed state has ever done, but all of them should do. Without such transparency, modernizations create mistrust, rumors, exaggerations, and worst-case planning that fuel larger-than-necessary defense spending and undermine everyone’s security.

For the 185 non-nuclear weapon states that have signed on to the NPT and renounced nuclear weapons in return of the promise made by the five nuclear-weapons states party to the treaty (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States) “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at early date and to nuclear disarmament,” endless modernization of the nuclear forces by those same five nuclear weapons-states obviously calls into question their intension to fulfill the promise they made 45 years ago. Some of the nuclear modernizations underway are officially described as intended to operate into the 2080s – further into the future than the NPT and the nuclear era have lasted so far.

Download two briefings listed above: briefing 1 | briefing 2

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Air Force Intelligence Report Provides Snapshot of Nuclear Missiles

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Click to download full report

By Hans M. Kristensen

The U.S. Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) has published its long-awaited update to the Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat report, one of the few remaining public (yet sanitized) U.S. intelligence assessment of the world nuclear (and other) forces.

Previous years’ reports have been reviewed and made available by FAS (here, here, and here), and the new update contains several important developments – and some surprises.

Most important to the immediate debate about further U.S.-Russian reductions of nuclear forces, the new report provides an almost direct rebuttal of recent allegations that Russia is violating the INF Treaty by developing an Intermediate-range ballistic missile: “Neither Russia nor the United States produce or retain any MRBM or IRBM systems because they are banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty, which entered into force in 1988.”

Another new development is a significant number of new conventional short-range ballistic missiles being deployed or developed by China.

Finally, several of the nuclear weapons systems listed in a recent U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command briefing are not included in the NASIC report at all. This casts doubt on the credibility of the AFGSC briefing and creates confusion about what the U.S. Intelligence Community has actually concluded.  Continue reading

Air Force Briefing Shows Nuclear Modernizations But Ignores US and UK Programs

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Click to view large version. Full briefing is here.

By Hans M. Kristensen

China and North Korea are developing nuclear-capable cruise missiles, according to U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC).

The new Chinese and North Korean systems appear on a slide in a Command Briefing that shows nuclear modernizations in eight of the world’s nine nuclear weapons states (Israel is not shown).

The Chinese missile is the CJ-20 air-launched cruise missile for delivery by the H-6 bomber. The North Korean missile is the KN-09 coastal-defense cruise missile. These weapons would, if for real, be important additions to the nuclear arsenals in Asia.

At the same time, a closer look at the characterization used for nuclear modernizations in the various countries shows generalizations, inconsistencies and mistakes that raise questions about the quality of the intelligence used for the briefing.

Moreover, the omission from the slide of any U.S. and British modernizations is highly misleading and glosses over past, current, and planned modernizations in those countries.

For some, the briefing is a sales pitch to get Congress to fund new U.S. nuclear weapons.

Overall, however, the rampant nuclear modernizations shown on the slide underscore the urgent need for the international community to increase its pressure on the nuclear weapon states to curtail their nuclear programs. And it calls upon the Obama administration to reenergize its efforts to reduce the numbers and role of nuclear weapons. Continue reading

Better Understanding North Korea: Q&A with Seven East Asian Experts, Part 2

North Korea flag nuclearEditor’s Note: This is the second of two postings of a Q&A conducted primarily by the Federation of American Scientists regarding the current situation on the Korean Peninsula. Developed and edited by Charles P. BlairMark Jansson, and Devin H. Ellis, the authors’ responses have not been edited; all views expressed by these subject-matter experts are their own. Please note that additional terms are used to refer to North Korea and South Korea, i.e., the DPRK and ROK respectively.

Researchers from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) asked seven individuals who are experts in East Asia about the the recent escalation in tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Is North Korea’s recent success with its nuclear test and satellite launch evidence that it is maturing? Is there trepidation in Japan over the perceived threat of North Korea attacking Japan with a nuclear weapon? Has North Korea mastered re-entry vehicle (RV) technology?  Is there any plausible way to de-nuclearize North Korea?

This is the second part of the Q&A, featuring Dr. Yousaf Butt, Dr. Jacques Hymans and Ms. Masako Toki. Read the first part here. Continue reading

Better Understanding North Korea: Q&A with Seven East Asian Experts, Part 1

North Korea flag nuclearEditor’s Note: This is the first of two postings of a Q&A conducted primarily by the Federation of American Scientists regarding the current situation on the Korean Peninsula. Developed and edited by Charles P. Blair, Mark Jansson, and Devin H. Ellis, the authors’ responses have not been edited; all views expressed by these subject-matter experts are their own. Please note that additional terms are used to refer to North Korea and South Korea, i.e., the DPRK and ROK respectively.

Researchers from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) asked seven individuals who are experts in East Asia about the the recent escalation in tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Is North Korea serious about their threats and are we on the brink of war? What influence does China exert over DPRK, and what influence is China wiling to exert over the DPRK? How does the increase in tension affect South Korean President Park Guen-he’s political agenda?

This is the first part of the Q&A featuring Dr. Ted Galen Carpenter, Dr. Balbina Hwang, Ms. Duyeon Kim and Dr. Leon Sigal. Read part two here.

Continue reading

When the Boomers Went to South Korea

There are not many public pictures showing the U.S. ballistic missile submarine visits to South Korea. This one apparently shows the USS John Marshall (SSBN-611) in Chinhae in 1979. The submarine carried 16 Polaris A3 missiles with a total of 48 200-kt warheads.

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Back in the late-1970s, U.S. nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines suddenly started conducting port visits to South Korea. For a few years the boomers arrived at a steady rate, almost every month, sometimes 2-3 visits per month. Then, in 1981, the visits stopped and the boomers haven’t been back since.

At the time the visits began, the United States also had several hundred nuclear weapons deployed on land in South Korea, but the submarine visits apparently were needed to further demonstrate that the United States was prepared to defend the south against an attack from the north.

After North Korea’s nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, shelling of South Korean territory and the sinking of one of its warships, there have been reports recently that an increasing number of South Koreans want the United States to deploy nuclear weapons in South Korea again, after the last such weapons were withdrawn in 1991. They think it is necessary to deter North Korea.

Some analysts have even suggested that the United States should develop an improved nuclear earth penetrator to better threaten North Korean deeply buried targets, an idea that was previously proposed the Bush administration but rejected by Congress. Continue reading

Missile Watch – February 2010

Missile Watch
A publication of the FAS Arms Sales Monitoring Project
Vol. 3, Issue 1
February 2010
Editor: Matt Schroeder
Contributing Author: Matt Buongiorno
Graphics: Alexis Paige

Contents:

Global Overview

Afghanistan: No recent discoveries of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles in insurgent arms caches
Eritrea: UN slaps arms embargo on major missile proliferator
Iraq: Fewer public reports of seized shoulder-fired missiles in Iraq, but MANPADS still a threat
Ireland: Alleged plot to shoot down a police helicopter may have involved surface-to-air missile
Myanmar: 300 shoulder-fired missiles in insurgent arsenal, claims Thai Colonel
North Korea: North Korean arms shipment included MANPADS, Thai report confirms
Peru: Igla missiles stolen from Peruvian military arsenals, claims alleged trafficker
Spain: Failed assassination attempts underscore the risks for terrorists of relying on black market missiles
United States: Congress to receive DHS report on anti-missile systems for commercial airliners in February
United States: Documents from trial of the “Prince of Marbella” reveal little about his access to shoulder-fired missiles
United States: No new international MANPADS sales since 1999
Venezuela: U.S. receives “assurances” from Russia regarding controls on shoulder-fired missiles sold to Venezuela, but questions remain

Additional News & Resources

About Missile Watch

About the Authors

Continue reading

North Korea: FAS Says We Have Nukes!

By Hans M. Kristensen

North Korea’s news agency – Korean Central News Agency – apparently has issued a statement saying that “The Federation of American Scientists of the United States has confirmed (North) Korea as a nuclear weapon state.” According to a report in the Korea Herald, the statement said a FAS publication issued in November listed North Korea as among the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons.

It’s certainly curious that they would need our reaffirmation, but after two nuclear tests we feel it is safe to call North Korea a nuclear weapon state. However, the agency left out that our assessment comes with a huge caveat:

“We are not aware of credible information on how North Korea has weaponized its nuclear weapons capability, much less where those weapons are stored. We also take note that a recent U.S. Air Force intelligence report did not list any of North Korea’s ballistic missiles as nuclear-capable.”

In other words, two experimental nuclear test explosions don’t make a nuclear arsenal. That requires deliverable nuclear weapons, which we haven’t seen any signs of yet. Perhaps the next statement could explain what capability North Korea actually has to deliver nuclear weapons.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.