By: Denise Simon | Founders Code
The United States and South Korea do military drills often and Kim Jung Un was well aware of those planned stating the drills were a rehearsal for an invasion. Further, North Korea has canceled talks with South Korea. The Kim regime is making yet another demand stating the United States must be careful about deliberations and the summit itself due to the ‘ruckus’ over the drills.
This all comes from the conclusion of the meeting that North Korea has with China.
That nuclear test site that North Korea has declared inoperable and where media has been invited to see the dismantling of the site and tunnels may not be the only site and no one is speaking of other sites but should be. Why? Well Iran refuses to declared PMD (possible military dimension) sites that are part of the nuclear development plan. Since Iran and North Korea have long collaborated on nuclear programs, it stands to reason North Korea has other sites as well.
Ahead of the April 27 inter-Korean summit, NGA published a separate assessment that North Korea had started dismantling significant components and structures associated with nuclear test observation at Punggye-ri.
The North’s decision not only came before Kim Jong-un’s first meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at Panmunjom, but also before the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit meeting, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.
Satellite imagery published by 38 North on Monday, May 14, provides open source corroboration of significant changes near the northern, western, and southern portals leading into the underground tunnel network that composes the Punggye-ri test site.
North Korea watchers Jeffrey Lewis and Dave Schmerler of the Monterey Institute of International Studies have also observed the dismantling of structures around the Punggye-ri test site. Lewis and his team created a 3D model offering an impression of the horizontal tunnel network at the Punggye-ri test site.
North Korea’s work to dismantle structures at the test site comes ahead of its announced intention to invite journalists and experts from China, Russia, South Korea, the United States, and the United Kingdom to observe the site’s dismantlement between May 23 and May 25.
A report published over the weekend by the country’s outward-facing state media, the Korean Central News Agency, said that the event would be to “ensure transparency of discontinuance of the nuclear test (sic).” U.S. President Donald Trump called Kim’s move a “very smart and gracious gesture” in a tweet.
The same report specified the process for the site’s disabling, which would include the collapsing of tunnels — presumably with explosives — and the removal of observation and research facilities. U.S. intelligence assessments suggest that much of the latter work will have been completed prior to the arrival of foreign observers.
The DIA and NGA assessments leave open the possibility that North Korea’s planned modifications to the test site next week could significantly extend the period of time necessary to restore Punggye-ri to a usable state.
Following Kim’s announcement that the Punggye-ri site will be shut down, international observers, including the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization’s (CTBTO) executive secretary, Lassina Zerbo, welcomed the announcement. Kim has not specified whether the CTBTO will be invited to verify the closure of the nuclear test site.
North Korea is the only country known to have conducted full-yield tests of nuclear weapons in the 21st century. Kim Jong-un has not expressed an interest in signing the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, which has yet to enter into force.
With six nuclear tests, North Korea likely has a useful set of data that it can use to continue refining its nuclear weapons designs. The U.S. intelligence community has, with consensus, determined as of mid-2017 that North Korea is capable of mounting compact nuclear weapons atop its larger ballistic missiles, including its intercontinental-range ballistic missiles that threaten the continental United States.
In the same report to the Workers’ Party of Korea’s 7th Central Committee where Kim first acknowledged that Punggye-ri’s mission had come to an end, that North Korean leader, for the first time, publicly acknowledged that North Korea had conducted sub-critical nuclear weapons testing.
North Korea has not made any concessions on its sub-critical testing program, which will likely continue at its Nuclear Weapons Institute. Continued sub-critical testing would allow North Korea to maintain its existing weapons and refine their performance.
RCD: With the location and date of the forthcoming summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong‑un now fixed, speculation has turned to what sort of agreement might be achievable. US National Security Advisor John Bolton recently suggested that the ‘Libyan model’ of nuclear disarmament—from 2003–2004—might offer a framework that could be applied to North Korea in 2018.
The suggestion received what might kindly be called a mixed reception, not least because the North Koreans believe that Muammar al-Qaddafi was a fool to abandon his nuclear program. Still, I’d like to explore the Libyan case here because it offers one of the few examples of ‘denuclearisation’ that we have.
True, the two cases are markedly dissimilar: Libya, unlike North Korea, had made relatively little progress towards nuclear weapons when its leadership took the strategic decision to abandon the program. The Libyans had no nuclear weapons. Yes, they had a small number of centrifuges—some still in their original packing—and a quantity of uranium hexafluoride (the feedstock for a centrifuge enrichment cascade).
More ominously, they had a nuclear weapon design, apparently obtained from the A.Q. Khan network—although some Libyans claimed that the design was a ‘bonus’ intended as a reward for their other purchases.
But when US officials appeared before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in early 2004 to talk about the disarmament effort, senators were at least as interested in the detailed picture of the nuclear black market that the Libyan program revealed as they were in the program itself. While a raft of fascinating material about the program had suddenly spilled forth, it was the procurement trail, stretching from Libya to Pakistan and Malaysia, that the committee chairman, Senator Richard Lugar, referred to as ‘the treasure trove’.
While North Korea’s current indigenous capabilities are far stronger than Libya’s were 15 years ago, one suspects there would be similar interest in Washington today about Pyongyang’s proliferation links.
Further, there are some aspects of the Libyan model that the current US administration might want to replicate in any deal with North Korea. Two of those aspects concern access and relocation. US and British experts were given extraordinary access to the Libyan weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program. See the statements made in 2004 by Paula DeSutter, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance, to two congressional committees (here and here) and, separately, in an interview with Arms Control Today:
The Libyans said, ‘We are no longer going to have a nuclear weapons program.’ They invited the United States and the United Kingdom in. They gave the United States and the United Kingdom access to all facilities that we requested to see. They were willing to permit any tests that we wanted to conduct. They were willing to have their centrifuge program removed … They have been very forthcoming.
In the chemical weapons area, we assisted them in drafting their declaration to the OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons]. They had the OPCW technical secretariat come in. On one occasion they said, ‘You know, we really hadn’t told the others that came before, but there are some other munitions we need to show you.’ They took us to a facility that we almost certainly would not have been able to identify independently and showed us the unfilled munitions there. That is transparency. That is the kind of access that we are given when a country has made a strategic commitment. They volunteer information.
Some sources suggest that the procedure was not quite as straightforward as that passage of text implies. William Tobey, for example, argues that Libyan commitment and transparency varied on a day-to-day basis, at least in the early months. (See Tobey’s five-part series in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5, and his 2017 assessment of intelligence and policy cooperation in the Libyan disarmament case.)
It was because of that variability that the Americans wanted to relocate key parts of the WMD program quickly. The most proliferation-sensitive parts of the program—equipment and documents—were airlifted to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The nuclear weapon design documents, revealed to the Americans on 20 January, were flown out of the country two days later.
During the night of 25–26 January 2004, an American C-17, its insignia painted over, landed at an air base near Tripoli, loaded its cargo—including advanced centrifuge rotors, five Scud‑C missile guidance sets and two tons of uranium hexafluoride—and took off again. Later, in March 2004, another 1,000 tons of materials and equipment were loaded aboard a US ship, the Industrial Challenger, its insignia again painted over, and taken to America.
Is that what President Trump is going to propose to Kim Jong‑un? Media sources say that the US has asked North Korea to ‘discard’ the data from its nuclear weapon development program and allow its nuclear scientists to emigrate. Of course, the manner—and direction—in which that data might be discarded is a non-trivial issue.
And emigration would, of course, be a humane solution to an intractable problem: that even after the weapons are gone and the data has been discarded, the knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles will still exist in the minds of North Korea’s scientists. I don’t imagine, though, that Washington wants those scientists heading to the Middle East. Russia and China might be acceptable destinations. People say that Tennessee is nice this time of year.
As was the case with the Libyan deal, the US is also arguing that this is an opportunity for North Korea to abandon not merely its nuclear program, but all of its WMD. Still, nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles seem likely to be the core of any deal.
On ballistic missiles, a key US objective in 2003–2004 was to ensure that Libya’s missile program was compliant with the thresholds set out in the Missile Technology Control Regime—namely, that its missiles were limited in their range to a maximum of 300 kilometres and in their payload to a maximum of 500 kilograms.
In short, the Libyan model sets high standards in relation to the exposure of proliferation linkages; provision of access to sites, personnel and materials; relocation of key items; and acceptance of international standards on WMD. Can an agreement with Pyongyang meet those standards? Frankly, it seems unlikely.
The Libyan model, after all, had one driver that might not be equally compelling in the North Korean case: the strategic commitment by the leadership to put aside WMD. Because of that commitment, the model unfolded quickly and the verification hurdles proved surmountable.
A similar level of strategic commitment on Kim Jong‑un’s part is what the Americans are hoping to find in Singapore on 12 June. The Trump administration is certainly signallingthat this is their desired approach.