By Hui Zhang
Senior Research Associate, Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School
On February 12, 2013, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test, and a number of seismic stations around the world detected the event. Before and after the test, there has been much anticipation in the media that we might learn through off-site sampling analysis whether North Korea exploded plutonium bomb like it did in the in 2006 and 2009 tests, or a new device using highly enriched uranium (HEU).
Indeed, many experts have suggested that the test was an HEU explosion. North Korea has only a small supply of plutonium—material that it had stopped producing by 2008—and had more recently demonstrated an operational capability to enrich uranium, which would support a much larger arsenal of weapons given North Korea’s huge deposits of natural uranium. Without a doubt, confirming the type of nuclear weapon it tested is highly desirable. However, the seismic signals are useless in this regard. The question is, then, can the off-site environmental sampling analysis distinguish a plutonium explosion from a HEU explosion? Read more
Joseph S. Nye
By Joseph S. Nye
The death of Kim Jong Il may gradually unlock change in North Korea, but the process is unlikely to be smooth or quick. In 2010, Kim promoted his 20s-something son Kim Jong Eun to be a four star general and spent the last year trying to bolster his standing among top party and military leaders. Whether Kim Jong Il will posthumously succeed in consolidating an oxymoronic communist monarchy is unlikely, but the succession politics of the last year were marked by two dangerous bellicose events – the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel and the shelling of a South Korean island. Read more
By Graham Allison
This week’s announcement that North Korea has become the chair of the UN Conference on Disarmament should become the peg for euthanizing this body, giving it the burial it deserves, and getting real about the current state of global nuclear disorder.
The international community’s acceptance of this absurdity is appropriately incomprehensible to observers who take nuclear dangers seriously. Supporters of multilateral initiatives and the establishment of international organizations to address international challenges that states cannot possibly solve by acting alone should also take this as an occasion for reflecting about what UN efforts such as the Conference on Disarmament contribute, or fail to contribute, to international problem-solving. In three decades, what meaningful actions has this body taken to reduce nuclear dangers? Read more
By William H. Tobey
William H. Tobey
Res ipsa loquitur, the thing speaks for itself, a doctrine of common law on negligence, and a fair response to North Korea temporarily assuming the presidency of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.
A nation led by a brutal and dynastic dictator, who enslaves, impoverishes, and starves his people, which has cheated on or broken off every important arms control agreement it has committed to, which ships dangerous nuclear and ballistic missile technology to reckless regimes in unstable parts of the world, now leads the United Nations Conference on Disarmament. Pyongyang obviously feels no shame, but ears should redden in all other capitals committed to international peace and security for allowing this to happen. Res ipsa loquitur–negligence indeed.
William H. Tobey is a senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center. Prior to his appointment at the Center, he was Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration where he managed the U.S. government’s largest program to prevent nuclear proliferation and terrorism.