In an extraordinarily brief statement, the Director of the National Intelligence Office announced that the United States has confirmed that North Korea’s large explosion last week was nuclear. How do they know and why did it take them so long to confirm?
Last Sunday, North Korea apparently tested a nuclear explosive. The “apparently” is needed because the explosion was so small—by nuclear standards—that some have speculated that it may have been a large conventional explosion. What is the technical significance of the test, what does it mean, and what should we do now?
There is no question that the political and security implications of the test are huge and almost entirely negative. The technical implications are more mixed; the technical significance of the test is somewhat less than meets the eye.
A decision to trim a tree in the Korean demilitarized zone in 1976 escalated into a threat to use nuclear weapons. After a fatal skirmish between U.S. and North Korean border guards, U.S. forces in the region were placed on heightened alert (DEFCON 3) and nuclear forces were deployed to signal preparations for an attack on North Korea. The North Koreans did not interfere with the tree trimming again, so the threat must have worked, the Pentagon concluded.
Thirty years later, North Korea has probably developed nuclear weapons and is trying to develop long-range ballistic missiles to threaten you-know-who, and the United States has ventured into a multi-billion dollar effort to build a missile defense system and a “New Triad” to better dissuade, deter, and defeat North Korea and other “rogue” states.
So, did the threat work?
The “tree-trimming incident,” as the U.S.-North Korean scuffle has come to be known, and other examples of using nuclear threats are described in the article “Nuclear Threats Then And Now” in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
The French magazine Défense Nationale asked me to submit an article about the new U.S. National Military Strategy published by the Bush administration in March 2006 and how it relates to the so-called preemption doctrine announced by the administration in 2002. The article is included in the July 2006 issue which focuses on the nuclear deterrence debate following the announcement by French president Jacques Chiraq in January that France has adjusted its nuclear posture to target regional adversaries armed with weapons of mass destruction. The magazine is published by the Committee for National Defence Studies, an independent research institution which includes several retired generals and admirals from the French military.
A Written Declaration presented in the European Parliament calls for the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe by the end of 2006. The Declaration has until December 10 to gather support from at least half of the Parliament’s 732 members to be adopted and formally submitted to the US government. The initiative comes as Russia refused last week to discuss tactical nuclear weapons with the United States. Most European want the US to withdraw its remaining nuclear weapons from Europe.
Background report: U.S. Nuclear Weapons In Europe
The Air Force has published a new report about the threat from ballistic and cruise missiles. The new report, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat, presents the Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s (NASIC) assessment of current and emerging weapon systems deployed or under development by Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Syria and others.
Among the news in the report is a different and higher estimate for China’s future nuclear arsenal than was presented in the previous NASIC report from 2003. Whereas the previous assessment stated that China in 15 years will have 75-100 warheads on ICBMs capable of reaching the United States, the 2006 report states that this number will be “well over 100” warheads. NASIC also believes that a new Chinese cruise missile under development will have nuclear capability.
Also new is that NASIC reports that the Indian Agni I ballistic missile has not yet been deployed despite claims by the Indian government that the weapon was “inducted” into the Indian Army in 2004. Contrary to claims made by some media and experts, the NASIC report states that the Indian Bramos cruise missile does not have a nuclear capability. The Babur cruise missile under development by Pakistan, however, is assessed to have a nuclear capability.
A copy of the report, which was published in March 2006 and recently obtained by the Federation of American Scientists, is available in full along with previous versions here.
Almost 70 percent of people in European countries that currently store U.S. nuclear weapons want a Europe free of nuclear weapons, according to an opinion poll published by Greenpeace International. In contrast, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested in an interview with Der Spiegel last November that the Europeans want to keep U.S. nuclear weapons.
Question: “Do You Want Europe to be Free of Nuclear Weapons or Not?”
Background: U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe
Deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in Turkey was brought up in a debate in the Turkish Parliament today by Turkey’s former Ambassador to the United States, Sukru Elekdag. According to an article in the Turkish paper Hürriyet, Elekdag called attention to a report, US Nuclear Weapons In Europe, which asserts that the U.S. Air Force stores 90 nuclear bombs at the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey.
The report was published one year ago, but the initiative by Elekdag, who represents the Republican People’s Party (CHP), is the first time the findings have been brought before the Tuskish Parliament. The Tuskish debate follows calls last year in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands for a withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from Europe, something NATO and the Pentagon have rejected. Elekdag pointed out that nuclear weapons were removed from Greece only a few years ago and that Turkey’s continued allowance of U.S. nuclear bombs at Incirlik is hard to explain to Muslim and Arab neighbors.
In a whopper 231-page report published today, the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission presented 60 specific recommendations for how to move the nonproliferation and disarmament agenda forward.
The recommendations are familiar to anyone involved in these matters over the past 50 years: reduce the danger of nuclear arsenals; prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; outlaw weapons of mass destruction; etc.
The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission (WMDC) was established in 2003 by the Swedish Government acting on a proposal by then United Nations Under-Secretary-General Jayantha Dhanapala to present realistic proposals aimed at the greatest possible reduction of the dangers of weapons of mass destruction. The Commission is chaired by Hans Blix, the former Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), and includes among others William J. Perry, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Jayantha Dhanapala, the former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, and Alexei G. Arbatov of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Been to Moscow lately? If you have, it’s impossible not to notice how commercial the city has become. New automobiles clog the wide boulevards and the air reeks with exhaust. Conspicuous consumption is now an ingrained part of life. Despite the staggering rift between rich and poor in Russia as a whole, Moscow has more billionaires than any other city in the world. Although still an emerging economy, Russia has been sailing along on profits made in the oil and gas industries, inspiring Russia’s leaders to reassert to the world that their nation is still a nuclear superpower.
Times are better in Russia than in the 1990s, when the ruble collapsed, and violent crime ran wild. President Putin is leading his country towards joining the global economy in an autocratic — but effective – fashion. Putin has wisely courted Western industry, and has secured Russia’s place as head of the G8. He also agreed to reduce Russia’s overall nuclear warhead count, but has at the same time stabilized the budgets for ROSATOM’s nuclear weapons programs. While not flaunting Moscow-style material wealth, Russia’s nuclear designers at the closed cities are now at least receiving their paychecks. And they’ve been busy building a new generation of warheads: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11179135/site/newsweek/from/ET/