COMMENT Iran, North Korea as proliferation epicenters
By Joseph R DeTrani
The Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1970, comprised of 190 countries, called for the five Nuclear Weapons States (US, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom) to pursue nuclear disarmament while mandating that the Non-Nuclear Weapons States forego acquiring nuclear weapons and pursue peaceful uses of nuclear energy with, when requested, the assistance of the Nuclear Weapons States.
The eight states recognized as having nuclear weapons include India, Pakistan and North Korea, and experts speculate that Israel is a ninth. Five countries - United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China - are nuclear-weapon states under the terms of the NPT, whereas India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel are not NPT members. North Korea was a member but quit in 2003 when it expelled International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitors from the plutonium facility in Yongbyon and commenced the reprocessing of over 8,000 spent fuel rods originally stored in a cooling pond. This step was in line with the 1994 Agreed Framework that committed North Korea to halt
activities at Yongbyon in return for the provision of heavy fuel until the US completed construction of two 1000 mega-watt Light Water Reactors at Kumho, North Korea.
Since 2003, North Korea has pursued an aggressive nuclear weapons program. Although the six-party talks commenced in August 2003 and succeeded in September 2005 in securing an agreement from North Korea to dismantle all of their nuclear programs, in return for security assurances, economic assistance and eventual provision of Light Water Reactors, North Korea has enhanced its nuclear weapons programs and further developed its missile capabilities.
According to media reports, North Korea has enough plutonium for six to 12 nuclear weapons and an active uranium enrichment program for nuclear weapons. The three nuclear tests North Korea conducted, the last in February 2013, were all successful, with progressively higher yields. Their missile programs also have progressed, with a successful satellite launch in December 2012 and progress on a solid fuel, mobile ICBM with significant reach. Indeed, during the last two years, with the new leader, Kim Jong-eun, relations with North Korea have been tense, with threats of nuclear war emanating from Pyongyang.
The US and the other four countries (China, Russia, Japan and South Korea) engaged with North Korea in the six-party process continue to pursue a peaceful resolution to the nuclear issue with North Korea. To date, they have not been successful.
North Korea has made it clear that it is not prepared to relinquish nuclear weapons; that it wants to be recognized as a nuclear weapons state. The US and others tell North Koreans that this will not happen; that if North Korea does not want to be an isolated, pariah state, it will have to give up nuclear weapons and, in return, receive the security assurances, economic aid and the other benefits it would receive as a peaceful, non-nuclear weapons state. Efforts to date have failed. North Korea continues to build greater nuclear and missile capabilities, despite protestations from the US, China and others.
But this is not just an issue for the US and the other countries involved in the six-party talks. North Korea's nuclear program is a regional and international issue, requiring the attention and assistance of all countries; certainly those who are members of the NPT.
The sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council on North Korea for nuclear tests and missile launches should be comprehensively enforced by all countries in the international community to insure that North Korea understands further consequences will ensue if it attempts to proliferate weapons, missiles and related technology.
If this happened, the elites would not receive the luxury goods they have been accustomed to and would not be permitted to sell missiles and missile parts previously sold for revenue purposes. Conversely, if North Korea was prepared to abide by the September 2005 (denuclearization) Joint Statement, all countries and financial institutions should be prepared to assist in providing North Korea with economic assistance and investment opportunities.
If North Korea continues to retain and build more nuclear weapons, it will be a matter of time before Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and others in the region seek their own nuclear weapons. There will be a nuclear arms race in the region, with the introduction of more nuclear weapons and fissile materials. The prospect of some of these weapons and nuclear materials falling into the hands of non-state actors will be a real threat to all countries in the region.
Iran's relationship with North Korea continues to be an issue of concern. According to media reports, a significant amount of Iran's missile programs came from North Korea. Although there's no smoking gun implicating North Korea with Iran's nuclear program, the fact is that Iran has its own significant nuclear infrastructure.
The IAEA, going back to the 1980s, consistently has had problems with the lack of transparency into Iran's nuclear programs. The nuclear facility in Natanz, in 2002, and the facility in Fodor, in 2013, were facilities reluctantly declared to the IAEA. According to the IAEA, there are about 19,000 centrifuges in these facilities, capable of enriching uranium to weapons grade purity of over 90%. The Arak plutonium facility, approaching completion, would give Iran another path to nuclear weapons.
The IAEA's past concerns about these facilities, and about Iran's High Explosive test sites and their pursuit of weaponization are issues that must be resolved during ongoing negotiations. A robust Monitoring and Verification protocol should be an integral part of any negotiated agreement with Iran, to insure that nuclear programs there are for peaceful purposes, as claimed.
If Iran acquires the capability to fabricate nuclear weapons, there would be a significant and dangerous nuclear arms race in the region. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and others would pursue their own programs. As with North Korea in East Asia, this would introduce more nuclear weapons and fissile materials into the region, some of which could get into the hands of non-state actors committed to using these weapons/materials for destructive purposes.
For these obvious reasons, it is necessary to succeed in these negotiations with Iran. It is necessary to insure that Iran does not have the ability to pursue a nuclear weapons program. This is a regional and international community responsibility and thus all countries should support those sanctions currently imposed on Iran by the UN Failure to implement these sanctions would permit Iran to think that they can rebuff the IAEA by eluding sanctions while pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. This scenario would be a disaster for the region.
In short, the international community has to succeed with North Korea and convince Pyongyang that it is in its interests to dismantle all of their nuclear programs. Failure to do so will prove to be a disaster for East Asia and the region. And failure to get Iran to cease its pursuit of nuclear weapons will be another disaster, this time for the Middle East.
If we are not successful with these two countries, it would be the beginning of the end of the NPT.
Joseph R DeTrani was the Special Envoy for Six Party Talks with North Korea from 2003-2006. He was the ODNI Mission Manager for North Korea from 2006-2010 and until 2012, the Director of the National Counterproliferation Center. He is currently the President of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, a nonprofit. The views are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any government department or agency.