Tag Archives: North Korea

International Monitoring of North Korea’s 2016 Nuclear Test

E-International Relations, February 5, 2016

Arun Vishwanathan, Assistant Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies

E-IRThe Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) or North Korea conducted a nuclear test on January 6, 2016. The recent test takes the count of nuclear tests conducted by North Korea to a total of four with previous tests in October 2006, May 2009 and February 2013. Following the January 2016 test, North Korea released a statement claiming that it had tested a small H-bomb or thermonuclear bomb. The North Korea test resulted in widespread global condemnation led by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the United States, China, South Korea and Japan. However, subsequent differences over measures to curb the expanding North Korean nuclear and missile arsenal and over imposition of economic sanctions have evoked what Ralph Cossa describes as a sense of déjà-vu.

Rather than dwell on the best possible manner to deal with Pyongyang, this article will focus on the expanding capabilities of the Preparatory Commission of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO)’s International Monitoring System (IMS) to successfully detect even a fairly small nuclear test in any part of the globe with a high degree of probability

To read the complete article click here

Interview: Planned North Korean Satellite Launch

Busan FM Radio, February 5, 2016

Arun Vishwanathan, Assistant Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies

BusanFMDr. Arun Vishwanathan, Assistant Professor, ISSSP, NIAS was interviewed by Busan FM, South Korea for their live morning show “Morning Wave In Busan” on February 5, 2016. The interview dwelt on the planned North Korea’s missile and launch vehicle capabilities and on the planned  launch of an Earth Observation (EO) satellite and its implications for DPRK’s long-range missile capabilities.

The entire interview can be heard here

Maharashtra Times – Aftermath of North Korea’s Nuclear Test

Maharashtra Times, January 17, 2016

Arun Vishwanathan, Assistant Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies

Maharastra TimesDr. Arun Vishwanathan wrote an op-ed article in Maharashtra Times on the recent (Jan 6, 2016) North Korean nuclear test. The article analysed the whether the North Korean claim that they had tested a thermonuclear weapon was plausible. It also discussed North Korean and Pakistani nuclear and missile linkages and its implications for India. 

To read the complete article click here

Rising Powers Respond to North Korean Hydrogen Bomb Test

Rising Powers Initiative, George Washington University, January 14, 2016

Rising Powers InitiativeThe Rising Powers Initiative at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University (GWU) quotes the recent ISSSP, NIAS Report by Arun Vishwanathan, S. Chandrashekar, LV Krishnan and Lalitha Sundaresan analysing the North Korean 2016 nuclear test. The GWU  Policy alert is a round up of how South Korea, China, Japan, India, Russia and Brazil responded to the North Korean nuclear test. The article mentions the link between the Pakistani and North Korean missile and nuclear programme that the ISSSP report had raised and how these developments are a concern for India. 

To read the complete ISSSP Report click here

To read the complete GWU article click here

The Logic of North Korea’s Nuclear Ambitions

Council on Foreign Relations, January 12, 2016

CFRThe Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) quotes the recent ISSSP Report by Arun Vishwanathan, S. Chandrashekar, LV Krishnan and Lalitha Sundaresan analysing the North Korean 2016 nuclear test. The CFR article is an interview of Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow, Amy Nelson. The article mentions the link between the Pakistani and North Korean missile and nuclear programme that the ISSSP Report had raised. It also states the conclusion that the DPRK test in all likelihood might have been a fission and not a fusion device.

To read the complete ISSSP Report click here

To read the complete CFR article click here


No radiation from N. Korea’s test yet detected in China, ROK

NK News, January 13, 2016

NKNewsThe recent ISSSP Report by Arun Vishwanathan, S. Chandrashekar, LV Krishnan and Lalitha Sundaresan analysing the North Korean 2016 nuclear test was quoted by NK News in a story entitled “No radiation from N. Korea’s test yet detected in China, ROK.” The story analysed whether radionuclide monitoring will be able to confirm or deny whether North Korea tested a thermonuclear device on January 6, 2016.

To read the complete ISSSP Report click here

To read the complete article click here

North Korea’s 2016 Nuclear Test: An Analysis

North Korea’s 2016 Nuclear Test: An Analysis

Authors: Arun Vishwanathan, S. Chandrashekar, L.V. Krishnan and Lalitha Sundaresan

To read the complete report click here

To cite: Arun Vishwanathan, S. Chandrashekar, L.V. Krishnan and Lalitha Sundaresan. North Korea’s 2016 Nuclear Test: An Analysis. ISSSP Report No. 1-2016. Bangalore: International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, January 10, 2016 available at http://isssp.in/north-koreas-2016-nuclear-test-an-analysis/

DPRK Nuclear Test Report CoverOn January 6, 2016, two days short of Kim JongUn’s birthday, the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (DPRK) conducted its fourth nuclear test. The test took place at 10:30 AM Local Time (01:30:00 UTC). An analysis of the seismic data from the test, clearly points to the fact that the earthquake (with a magnitude of 4.85 on the Richter scale) was the result of a nuclear test and not due to a natural earthquake. North Korea released a statement following the test which claimed that it had conducted a nuclear test and had exploded its first H-bomb.

North Korea has conducted four nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2016. the first test in October 2006 with a yield of ~1kT was a fizzle. This was followed by the second test in May 2009. Though there are differences over the exact yield of the test with estimates ranging from 2.4 kT to 5 kT it is considered to be a success. The third test in February 2013 had a yield around 10 kT.

It has been estimated that the four North Korean tests were conducted in the same area. Thus, it can safely be assumed that the overall geology in the area will be similar. This is an important fact which will allow for the comparison of the seismic signals of this test with those of the earlier tests.

Given the similarities in the seismic signatures of the 2013 and 2016 tests, it would be logical to conclude that the yield of the 2013 and the 2016 nuclear tests will be close to each other. While seismic data confirms that a nuclear device was tested, additional evidence is needed to confirm that it was a thermonuclear device.

While expert opinion around the world seems to be veering towards the view that the 2016 test was indeed that of a fission device, from a purely technical point of view one cannot rule out the possibility that the test was that of a small thermonuclear device. Radionuclide Monitoring is the smoking gun which establishes beyond all doubt that a nuclear weapon was tested and enables an analysis of the nature of the weapon tested.

Can North Korean missiles reach the United States?

Regardless of the type of the nuclear device tested, the very fact that North Korea conducted a successful nuclear test is dangerous. With four nuclear tests, Pyongyang is moving towards the capability to successfully miniaturize a nuclear warhead which would be deliverable by long-range nuclear missiles. If so, can North Korea target their main perceived enemy, the United States?

In this context it is important to take a closer look at the North Korea’s successful launch of a remote sensing satellite and placing it in a sun-synchronous orbit on December 12, 2012 on the Unha launch vehicle.

Though the North Korean Unha is designed as a space launcher, it can be suitably modified into a ballistic missile. Trajectory analysis using the NIAS trajectory modelling software – Quo Vadis – shows that a due North East launch of the Unha from a suitable location with a 1000kg payload (sufficient to carry a nuclear warhead) can reach all of Alaska and some parts of northern Canada. 

Click here to download KMZ file for 1000kg payload and Azimuth of 25 degrees.

Based on NIAS Quo Vadis Trajectory Simulation for 1000kg Payload, Azimuth 25 degrees

Based on NIAS Quo Vadis Trajectory Simulation Software for 1000kg Payload, Azimuth 25 degrees

With further reduction of the mass of the payload to say 800kg and launching at an Azimuth of 40 degrees, a North Korean ballistic missile will just be able to reach parts of western coast of the continental United States including the states of Washington, Oregon and northern parts of California.

Click here to download KMZ file for 800kg payload and Azimuth of 40 degrees.

Quo Vadis Trajectory Simulation for 800kg Payload, Azimuth 40 degrees

Based on NIAS Quo Vadis Trajectory Simulation Software for 800kg Payload, Azimuth 40 degrees

International Implications of the North Korean Test

The test is an indicator that Beijing does not have complete control over the actions of its North Korean ally. China would also be obviously concerned about a nuclear neighbor whose behavior is difficult to manage. Given this situation China would have doubts about North Korea’s role as a friendly buffer state between China and US dominated South Korea. This development would strengthen the US position vis-à-vis the China-Korea-US dynamic.

Implications of the North Korean Test for India

Though North Korea is geographically far away from India its growing nuclear weapon capabilities are of direct concern. This arises largely because of the close coupling of the Pakistani and North Korean missile and nuclear weapons programmes. There is no doubt that the Ghauri missile is a copy of the North Korean Nodong missile.

There is also evidence that Pakistani nuclear scientists have visited North Korea and had discussions with them.

Pakistan had tested nuclear devices in 1998. All of them were Uranium based devices which are more difficult to miniaturize. Though Pakistan has a major Plutonium based weapons development programme for miniaturization, the fact that it has not tested a Plutonium based device does not lend credibility to its miniaturization claims.

In light of the links between North Korea and Pakistan it is likely that the North Korean Plutonium based tests serve as surrogate tests for the Pakistani miniaturization drive. This has direct security implications for India.

About the Authors

Arun Vishwanathan is Assistant Professor in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS, Bangalore. He can be reached at arun_summerhll[at]yahoo.com

S. Chandrashekar is is JRD Tata Chair Professor in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS, Bangalore. He can be reached at chandrashekar.schandra[at]gmail.com

L.V. Krishnan retired as Director of Safety Research and Health Physics Programmes at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research at Kalpakkam in 1997. He is Adjunct Faculty, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies. He can be contacted at krishnan97[at]gmail[dot]com

Lalitha Sundaresan is is Visiting Professor in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, NIAS, Bangalore. She can be reached at chandrashekar.schandra[at]gmail.com

Negotiating with DPRK: Lessons from the Past

ISSSP Reflections No. 32, December 4, 2015

Author: Kaveri Ashok
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After the July 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, DPRK remains the most vexing nuclear proliferation issue before the international community. With the North Korean regime getting increasingly dependent on its ever expanding nuclear weapons programme for survival, disarmament of the Korean peninsula is rendered a faraway goal. This article attempts to understand how negotiations and dialogue, in combination with policy of diplomatic isolation and sanctions shaped North Korea’s nuclear arsenal as it stands today.

The Early Years

Although North Korea had acceded to the NPT in 1985, the safeguards agreement came into effect 7 years later in April 1992, after the landmark North-South Joint Declaration on the Denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. According to its initial declaration to IAEA, North Korea had 7 sites and 90g of plutonium, subject to IAEA verification. Discrepancies were recorded by the inspectors in DPRK’s declaration. It was evident from the IAEA inspections that the spent fuel from the 5MW Magnox reactor (supplied by the Soviet Union and commissioned in 1985) was reprocessed as many as 3-4 times which meant there was definitely an additional stash of undeclared plutonium.

Kim and GeneralsSecondly, satellite images showed progressive concealment of facilities, which were believed to be an additional waste storage facility and possibly 2 underground test sites. IAEA, unhappy with the North Korean non-cooperation, upped the ante by requesting a special inspection, which was refused by the DPRK. Towards the end of 1993, North Korea announced a full replacement of the core of the Yongbyon reactor (8000 spent fuel rods) for potential storage and reprocessing. It was not clear whether an earlier core was removed and reprocessed, and the amount of plutonium stockpiled could not be estimated. However, the CIA estimates that around 12 kg Pu had been separated by North Korea by late 1993. This was met by a resolution from the IAEA board to cut back technical cooperation on civilian applications of nuclear technology. As its cooperation with IAEA kept diminishing, North Korea relinquished its IAEA membership and announced that it was withdrawing from the NPT.

NPT Imbroglio and the Agreed Framework

Hereon, just a day before the withdrawal from NPT came into effect, DPRK began the bilateral negotiations with the Unites States. Perceiving this as the first serious nuclear crisis, the Clinton administration directly negotiated with Pyongyang on an ad-hoc, one-of-a-kind, ‘Action for Action’ deal in June 1994, which came to be known as the Agreed Framework. The deal obligated North Korea to freeze operations of its existing nuclear programme including the 5MW reactor at Yongbyon, the reprocessing facility and two new facilities which were under construction. In compensation, North Korea would be offered two 1000MW proliferation resistant LWRs, along with crude oil supplies to meet the energy demand until the reactors went critical. Although, the deal received much criticism, mainly because it limited the scope of IAEA verification, it successfully stalled the development of the DPRK’s nuclear program for 8 years.

During the latter half of the 90’s, Pyongyang tested a long-range rocket and followed it up with a missile test moratorium. It also stepped up its missile and nuclear related trade which resulted in several sanctions from the US and the United Nations. DPRK however, kept its HEU weapons option open by clandestinely pursuing centrifuge technologies. Nevertheless, not in technical violation of Agreed Framework, North Korea retained an edge by keeping its spent fuel under international safeguards and not producing more plutonium.

Bush Administration

The Agreed Framework was terminated by the Bush administration in 2002 on account of North Korea’s clandestine uranium enrichment programme. The US and its allies halted supplies of fuel oil, thereby attempting to pressurise the DPRK to change tack. North Korea reacted by restarting the Yongbyon reactor, reprocessing facility, expelling the IAEA inspectors from the country and withdrawing from the NPT. Soon after, North Korea also announced the end of its last remaining non-proliferation pact, the 1992 North South Joint declaration of Denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. In spite of the IAEA’s requests there was no collective condemnation by the Security Council. With China pushing for a diplomatic resolution, the Six Party talks, a long-running series of multilateral negotiations, involving Japan, South Korea and Russia, began in August 2003.

The talks were largely deadlocked with the US hardliners pushing back and requiring North Korea to dismantle its nuclear facilities in a way that would prevent any restart of fuel cycle operations, and withholding international aid and promised reactors until North Korea had taken ‘major verifiable’ steps. With the IAEA ousted from the country, North Korea reprocessed the stored spent fuel, separated plutonium and pursued nuclear weapons during this time.

In February 2005, the North Korean foreign ministry issued a statement that the country possessed nuclear weapons. During the fourth round of negotiations of the Six-Party talks in September 2005, a Joint Statement was agreed to and signed. It was a diluted version of the Agreed Framework, wherein North Korea promised concessions in its nuclear development in exchange for aid and energy assistance, but with no specific timetable or even a complete roadmap. Nevertheless, it was a step in the positive direction.

First Nuclear Test

However, for the second time during the Bush administration, another deal was effectively killed when the US froze North Korean assets of 25Million USD on accounts of money laundering and counterfeiting. In retaliation, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test on October 09, 2006 with an estimated yield of 1kT. Although the success of the test was widely debated owing to its low yield, the possibility of Pyongyang skipping ahead directly to compact warheads was also discussed.

In April 2007, the US unfroze the North Korean assets and in response the Yongbyon reactor was shut down as confirmed by IAEA. As the Six- party talks reconvened, North Korea agreed once again to suspend its plutonium production. In a symbolic gesture, the 60 ft. tall cooling tower at Yongbyon site was demolished in the presence of international diplomats and media. However, it accelerated its uranium centrifuge programme and proliferation activities abroad. In spite of international sanctions and surveillance, DPRK covertly shipped uranium hexafluoride (essential for enrichment) to Libya and was found to have built a plutonium production reactor based on the Yongbyon design in Syria. In 2009, North Korea was estimated to have five nuclear weapons.

The six party negotiations continued until spring of 2009, when North Korea tested its longest range missile, Unha-3, under the pretext of a satellite launch. The newly elected Obama administration called it a provocation and the Security Council issued a resolution condemning North Korea for the launch. North Korea declared in April 2009, that it would no longer take part in the Six-party talks.

The Second Nuclear Test

On May 25, 2009 North Korea conducted its second nuclear test “on a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology of its control.” The Obama administration, only four months into its term, froze the relationship. The next day North Korea fired three missiles into the Sea of Japan declaring that it was “fully ready for battle” against the US. The uranium enrichment programme was developed enough to be revealed to a special team from the US in November 2010. The well-developed facility, housing 2000 centrifuges, in Yongbyon, the site of maximum international attention, evidenced a clear likelihood that North Korea could have been pursuing an enrichment facility before 2009 and that it may have built other enrichment facilities elsewhere in the country. Pyongyang’s move to augment their limited plutonium production of at most one bomb’s worth of plutonium per year with enriched uranium was a game changer. It became more difficult to assess North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. Unlike the reactor production of plutonium, centrifuges are easy to hide. North Korea was then believed to possess enough fuel for 6 to 12 nuclear weapons.

Third Generation Assumes Power

After Kim Jong Un took over the leadership, the “Leap Day Deal” was worked out between Washington and Pyongyang in February 2012. Once again, North Korea agreed to suspend operations at its Yongbyon uranium enrichment plant, invite IAEA inspectors to monitor the suspension, and implement moratoriums on nuclear and long-range missile tests. And the United States said that it would provide North Korea 240,000 metric tons of food aid under strict monitoring. However, the deal broke down when North Korea launched a long-range rocket in April 2012, violating the agreement. Since this last attempt at diplomacy, the US position has been that Pyongyang must take steps towards denuclearisation before any dialogue can begin and that it can focus only on complete nuclear disarmament rather than limiting the programme.

As noted by Siegfried Hecker in his most recent article, Nuclear expansion has been continuingjong-rocket swiftly ever since. One year later, in 2013, North Korea successfully launched a satellite on the Unha3 long range rocket; a third nuclear test was conducted in February 2013; construction of an experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) continuing apace; fuel fabrication facility as well as the
Uranium centrifuge plant expanding enormously; the Sohae rocket launch site has been constructed and there are indications of testing the engine of the KN-08 ICBM. All this has happened in the absence of any diplomatic engagement— which could have delayed, if not reversed, these advances. However, nuclear exports to traditional customers (Libya, Syria and Iraq) seem to have stopped due to the crisis in the region and Iran acceding to the nuclear deal.

Taking Stock

As of 2014 end, the DPRK was estimated to be having a stock of 30-34 kg of separated plutonium (average 32 kg), exclusively from the reprocessing of spent fuel rods from the Yongbyon reactor. The construction of the Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) is still underway. In his recent report on North Korea, David Albright contemplates an alternate route to plutonium with the ELWR. If the reactor is for civilian use then the fuel needed would be low enriched uranium (3-4%) and reactor-grade plutonium (unsuitable for weapons) will be recovered. On the other hand, if the reactor has to be used to recover weapons-grade plutonium, the fuel rods will be enriched uranium (10-20%) along with a blanket/ target of either depleted or natural uranium, which would get converted into weapons grade Plutonium. Although the fuel fabrication would require major modifications to the existing Radiochemical Laboratory, with this design, North Korea could produce up to 20 kg of weapons grade Plutonium per year in an efficient and sustained fashion.

An estimate of the HEU stockpile is difficult to arrive at, because of uncertainties in the number of centrifuge plants, their efficiencies etc. A rough estimate is that Pyongyang likely has 12 nuclear weapons with an annual manufacturing capacity of possibly 4-6 bombs.

There is also a tendency to see nuclear tests with comparatively small yields as failures rather than an ambitious attempt to skip the simple fission device tests directly to miniaturized warhead tests. However, historically countries have largely gone for simple fission devices (>15kT) in their first test(s) as small yields are difficult to master in the early phase of the weapons programme. Chinese physicist Li Bin brings out an alternative storyline” in his Bulletin of Atomic Scientists article, wherein he argues that the only way Pyongyang could have chosen a 4kT design yield would be if they had illicit access to a working model developed by a nuclear weapon state during the cold war. Regardless of whether they received external assistance, the possibility that Pyongyang moves closer to miniaturizing a warhead becomes increasingly probable with each successive test. North Korea does not yet possess a combat-ready ICBM, and will not, until it conducts sufficient testing. It is however an increasingly attainable outcome, considering North Korea’s consistent commitment to technology advancement through thick and thin. Tests, regardless of its degree of success, provide them with necessary data as to pursue their ambitions. Thus, the case for dissuading North Korea from any more tests becomes of paramount importance.

In Conclusion

In all likelihood, Pyongyang did not have a nuclear weapon when it walked out of the NPT in 2003, and today possesses a nuclear arsenal of roughly 12 nuclear weapons possibly fuelled by both HEU and Plutonium. To paraphrase the concern raised by former IAEA Director General ElBaradei– the case of North Korea thus far gives out a very dangerous message that the more rapid the proliferation, the better the chances of retaining the programme, and if not rapid enough, it  will be open to counter-proliferation efforts, as in the case of Iraq and Syria.

Current reality suggests that barring in a radical situation such as regime change chances of North Korea giving up its nuclear programme are very scanty. The fact that Pyongyang regards its nuclear arsenal central to its regime survival, rather than a bargaining chip makes the situation more challenging. There is also the risk of sale of technology to non-state actors by North Korea in exchange for hard currency. Given the circumstance, the oft-heard argument for not engaging with DPRK that negotiating with the regime is seen as legitimizing its nuclear programme seems illogical. A step-by-step creative diplomatic approach to stop DPRK from further tests and to stall further modification at this rather critical point is definitely more desirable than to focus on a denuclearized Korean peninsula.

About the Author

Ms Kaveri Ashok is Junior Research Fellow at ISSSP, NIAS. She can be reached at kaveriashok[at]outlook[dot]com

China’s DPRK Conundrum

CLAWS Web Article, April 1, 2015

Suparna Banerjee, Junior Research Fellow, ISSSP, NIAS

Screen Shot 2014-12-30 at 12.15.03 pmChina has been a long term ally of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Lately, the relation has suffered a jolt owing to the latter’s persistent test of  nuclear weapons despite reluctance from China. However, China cannot ignore DPRK’s strategic significance. Furthermore, DPRK has diversified its relations recently such as with Russia. This adds to the growing complexities in the bilateral relations between DPRK and China. The article analyses China’s foreign policy towards DPRK and assesses how Beijing will deal with Pyongyang, in light of the growing tensions.

To read the complete article click here

North Korea’s Cyber Capability- A ‘Magic Weapon’

CLAWS Web Article, January 21, 2015

Suparna Banerjee, Junior Research Fellow, ISSSP, NIAS

CLAWSThe recent cyber attack on SONY Entertainments has once again thrown open a number of questions without satisfactory answers regarding North Korea’s cyber capability. It is quite a handy weapon for the pariah state to inflict serious damage without much of an effort. The article highlights the preparations that go behind the designing of the cyber potential of DPRK.

To read the complete article click here
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