How to Answer North Korea's Revived Nuclear Program

Roles for the U.S., China, and the UN

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North Korea appears to have revived its secret uranium enrichment program, which it has operated on and off for twenty years despite crippling international economic sanctions, with a new enrichment facility. It's unclear whether North Korea is seeking to expand its modest nuclear arsenal; to shore up domestic support for dictator Kim Jong-Il and his 26 year-old son, Kim Jong-Un, who will succeed him; or simply to extract concessions from the international community. Here's what we know and what it means.

  • Built Since 2009, Likely With International Help  The New York Times' David Sanger reports, "American officials know that the plant did not exist in April 2009, when the last Americans and international inspectors were thrown out of the country. The speed with which it was built strongly suggests that the impoverished, isolated country, which tested its first nuclear device in 2006, had foreign help and evaded strict new United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed to punish its rejection of international controls."
  • They Wanted Us to See It  Arms Control Wonk's Jeffrey Lewis writes, "The location is fascinating. We all thought it would be some secret tunnel under a mountain. Instead, the North Koreans just installed them in plain sight and invited [U.S. nuclear scientist] Hecker over for tea." Other writers also note that North Korea clearly wanted to advertise its program to the U.S., although it's not yet clear why.
  • Obama Should Expand Engagement with North Korea  The Arms Control Association's Daryl Kimball pushes for the U.S. to relax its long-held containment strategy. "History shows that punitive sanctions and stern lectures will not by themselves halt North Korea’s nuclear activities or force the collapse of the already-isolated regime. As he has done with his policy toward Iran, Obama must reject the false ideology that dialogue with adversaries is a reward for bad behavior. ... Obama should authorize official and non-official direct talks with senior North Korean officials to gather facts, and resolve differences regarding the implementation of the Six-Party agreement."
  • U.S. Must Push for 'Regime Change'  The Wall Street Journal insists on "regime change," though they do not specific if this would require an invasion. "The purpose is transparently to frighten the West into concluding that there is no alternative to paying off Pyongyang, lest it sell a bomb to al Qaeda or Iran. A far better policy would be a united international effort to further isolate the Kim dynasty with a goal of regime change. Only changing the government will end the North's nuclear threat and liberate its citizens from that prison state."
  • This Is The Tip of the Iceberg  The Institute for Science and International Security's David Albright and Paul Brennan write, "A centrifuge plant does not exist in a vacuum. It is still unknown where North Korea researches, develops, and manufactures centrifuges. ... To outfit a plant with 2,000 centrifuges this quickly suggests that this may not be the first gas centrifuge plant that North Korea has built. It is possible that North Korea built another plant previously and either transferred it to Yongbyon or simply built another one based on its experience of bringing the first, perhaps smaller, one into operation."
  • For China, Opportunity to Check U.S. Influence  Hot Air's Allahpundit writes, "One would think that an arms race in the Far East touched off by new North Korean proliferation would be enough of a threat to 'regional stability' to get China to rein in its client state, but maybe the Chinese are calculating that a little instability serves the greater good of expanding their own regional influence by proxy. Their grumbling about U.S. interference in east Asia has gotten louder this year; since they’re the only international actor with any real leverage over North Korea, this new bit of nuclear blackmail by the NorKs gives them leverage over us too insofar as it forces us to seek their help to keep Kim in check."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.