nuclear proliferation

Iran, North Korea Nuclear Threat Update

Two nations are rapidly climbing America’s nuclear threat board these days:

Iran and North Korea.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has been doing a lot of saber-rattling since I last blogged about the Communist state last month. At that time, I asked:

So what kind of timeframe are we talking about here before North Korea has an ICBM capable of reaching and hitting the continental U.S.?

Based on expert opinion, it could just be 4 short years.

And how does America know North Korea’s intentions are to target it with nuclear weapons? Ju-min Park and Choonsik Yoo reported on the Reuters’ website last Thursday:

North Korea said on Thursday it would carry out further rocket launches and a nuclear test that would target the United States, dramatically stepping up its threats against a country it called its “sworn enemy”…

“We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States,” North Korea’s National Defence Commission said, according to state news agency KCNA.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

Park and Yoo added:

North Korea is not believed to have the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting the continental United States, although its December launch showed it had the capacity to deliver a rocket that could travel 10,000 km (6,200 miles), potentially putting San Francisco in range, according to an intelligence assessment by South Korea.

And then there’s the Islamic Republic of Iran. According to former top U.S. diplomat Henry Kissinger last week, a crisis involving a nuclear-armed Iran looks to be a good possibility. From the BBC website Thursday:

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has warned that a crisis involving a nuclear Iran is in the “foreseeable future”.

The Nobel Peace laureate, 89, was speaking about prospects in the Middle East at the World Economic Forum.

He said nuclear proliferation in the region triggered by an armed Iran would increase the chances of an atomic war – “a turning point in human history”.

Kissinger, who served as Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford, explained his concerns in more detail. From the piece:

The consequences of Tehran’s programme, he said, would be that other countries in the region would also want nuclear arms.

“The danger is that we could be reaching a point where nuclear weapons would become almost conventional, and there will be the possibility of a nuclear conflict at some point… that would be a turning point in human history,” he said.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

The nuclear Pandora’s Box has indeed been opened.

By Christopher E. Hill, Editor
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)

Sources:

Park, Ju-min and Yoo, Choonsik. “North Korea to target U.S. with nuclear, rocket tests.” Reuters. 24 Jan. 2013. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/24/us-korea-north-nuclear-idUSBRE90N03I20130124). 27 Jan. 2013.

“Davos 2013: Kissinger says Iran nuclear crisis close.” BBC. 24 Jan. 2013. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21177535). 27 Jan. 2013.

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Nuclear Material On The Loose

“The Obama administration is warning that the danger of a terrorist attack with nuclear weapons is increasing, but U.S. officials say the claim is not based on new intelligence and questioned whether the threat is being overstated.”

-Washington Times, April 14, 2010

I don’t agree with President Obama on a number of things, but here’s one we do see eye-to-eye on:

The threat posed by nuclear terrorism.

Consider recent events in the former Soviet Union. Desmond Butler of the Associated Press reported back on December 9:

Despite years of effort and hundreds of millions of dollars spent in the fight against the illicit sale of nuclear contraband, the black market remains active in the countries around the former Soviet Union. The radioactive materials, mostly left over from the Cold War, include nuclear bomb-grade uranium and plutonium, and dirty-bomb isotopes like cesium and iridium.

The extent of the black market is unknown, but a steady stream of attempted sales of radioactive materials in recent years suggests smugglers have sometimes crossed borders undetected. Since the formation of a special nuclear police unit in 2005 with U.S. help and funding, 15 investigations have been launched in Georgia and dozens of people arrested.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

And what of the years between 1991 (Georgian independence) and 2005? I shudder to think how much radioactive material might have found their way across the Georgian border and into the hands of the bad guys during those 14 years.

According to the piece, highly-enriched uranium has also recently been seized from smugglers in Moldova, another former Soviet republic.

From the Council on Foreign Relations website:

There have been no confirmed reports of missing or stolen former-Soviet nuclear weapons, but there is ample evidence of a significant black market in nuclear materials. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported more than a hundred nuclear smuggling incidents since 1993, eighteen of which involved highly enriched uranium, the key ingredient in an atomic bomb and the most dangerous product on the nuclear black market.

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

That portion of the CFR website was last updated in January 2006.

While the Council said there have been no confirmed reports of missing or stolen nuclear weapons, the same can’t be said of nuclear material. Butler added:

Russia maintains that it has secured its radioactive material — including bomb-grade uranium and plutonium — and that Georgia has exaggerated the risk because of political tension with Moscow. But while the vast majority of the former Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal and radioactive material has been secured, U.S. officials say that some material in the region remains loose.

“Without a doubt, we are aware and have been over the last several years that not all nuclear material is accounted for,” says Simon Limage, deputy assistant secretary for non-proliferation programs at the U.S. State Department. “It is true that a portion that we are concerned about continues to be outside of regulatory control.”

(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)

“U.S. officials say that some material in the region remains loose.”

If smuggling is taking place and the whereabouts of the nuclear material is unknown, I wonder if the above shouldn’t be changed to “some material from the region remains loose?”

Since illegal aliens and drugs routinely manage to find their way into the United States, it requires no stretch of the mind to envision nuclear material for a terrorist weapon also being smuggled in.

Butler’s incredibly-informative piece be read on the Yahoo! News website here.

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Friday, December 21st, 2012 Crime, Europe, Public Safety, Terrorism No Comments

4 Years Until North Korea Has ICBM That Can Reach Continental United States?

As if Iranian nuclear weapons weren’t already a worry for us (and more so Israel), now the North Koreans are one step closer to having an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the continental United States. Jack Kim and Mayumi Negishi reported on the Reuters website this morning:

North Korea successfully launched a rocket on Wednesday, boosting the credentials of its new leader and stepping up the threat the isolated and impoverished state poses to opponents.

The rocket, which North Korea says put a weather satellite into orbit, has been labeled by the United States, South Korea and Japan as a test of technology that could one day deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting targets as far away as the continental United States.

According to Kim and Negishi, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) verified the North Koreans’ claims.

And here’s something that’s particularly worrisome- if it’s true. From the article:

U.S. intelligence has linked North Korea with missile shipments to Iran. Newspapers in Japan and South Korea have reported that Iranian observers were in the North for the launch, something Iran has denied.

Great. Just great.

So what kind of timeframe are we talking about here before North Korea has an ICBM capable of reaching and hitting the continental U.S.?

Well, Elisabeth Bumiller and David Sanger reported on The New York Times website back on January 11, 2001:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned Tuesday that North Korea was within five years of being able to strike the continental United States with an intercontinental ballistic missile, and said that, combined with its expanding nuclear program, the country “is becoming a direct threat to the United States.”

Mr. Gates is a former director of the C.I.A., and his statement, officials said, reflected both a new assessment by American intelligence officials and his own concern that Washington had consistently underestimated the pace at which the North was developing nuclear and missile technologies.

Considering that statement was made almost a year ago, it could be only 4 years before North Korea is able to hit the continental U.S. via a nuclear-armed missile.

From an AFP piece this morning:

“This launch certainly bolsters their credibility when they say that they have missiles that can strike the United States,” said James Schoff, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“It’s harder to wave that off after a successful test like this,” said Schoff, a former Pentagon official.

It looks to me that the United States is most likely looking at a nuclear-armed Iran and an ICBM-armed North Korea down the road.

Sources:

Kim, Jack and Negishi, Mayumi. “North Korea launches rocket, raising nuclear arms stakes.” Reuters. 12 Dec. 2012. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/12/us-korea-north-rocket-idUSBRE8BB02K20121212). 12 Dec. 2012.

Bumiller, Elisabeth and Sanger, David E. “Gates Warns of North Korea Missile Threat to U.S.” The New York Times. 11 Jan. 2011. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/12/world/asia/12military.html?_r=0). 12 Dec. 2012.

“North Korea rocket raises nuclear stakes, poses threat to US: Analysts.” Agence France-Presse. 12 Dec. 2012. (http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/asia/story/n-korea-rocket-raises-nuclear-stakes-analysts-20121212). 12 Dec. 2012.

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Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 Asia, Foreign Policy, Middle East, Public Safety, Technology 2 Comments

Iran, North Korea Push On With Their Nuclear Programs

September 1995. Loyola University of Chicago, Rogers Park campus. My graduate school classmates and I are busy one autumn evening randomly-drawing names of notable political scientists to interview for a class project. I pick Alexander George out of Stanford University (was fantastic and insightful to talk to, by the way). My classmate and good friend Allison ends up with Graham T. Allison out of Harvard. I have no idea at that time how much Dr. Allison, now director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, would eventually contribute to my future knowledge about- and concern over- the threat of nuclear terrorism to America. The author of Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastropheicon, which was selected by The New York Times as one of the “100 most notable books of 2004” and is now in its third printing, had this to say about the danger in a 2007 debate (also noted in my “About” page):

This debate asks how likely is it that terrorists will explode a nuclear bomb and devastate a great American metropolis. In the judgment of former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, the likelihood of a single nuclear bomb exploding in a single city is greater today than at the height of the Cold War. Nuclear Terrorism states my own judgment that, on the current trend line, the chances of a nuclear terrorist attack in the next decade are greater than 50 percent. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry has expressed his own view that Nuclear Terrorism underestimates the risk.

From the technical side, Richard Garwin, a designer of the hydrogen bomb who Enrico Fermi once called, “the only true genius I had ever met,” told Congress in March that he estimated a “20 percent per year probability with American cities and European cities included” of “a nuclear explosion—not just a contamination, dirty bomb—a nuclear explosion.” My Harvard colleague Matthew Bunn has created a probability model in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science that estimates the probability of a nuclear terrorist attack over a ten-year period to be 29 percent—identical to the average estimate from a poll of security experts commissioned by Senator Richard Lugar in 2005.

“The chances of a nuclear terrorist attack in the next decade are greater than 50 percent.” And Dr. Allison said this in 2007. I’ll have to check with the Harvard professor and administrator to see if he still believes this is the case in light of the progress being claimed by the Obama administration in the “War on Terror.” But based on recent reports about advancements in the nuclear programs of both Iran and North Korea, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still sticking to his guns here.

Concerning Iran, the Associated Press reported Wednesday:

Iran will step up its uranium enrichment program by sharply increasing the number of centrifuges used to make nuclear fuel, a senior official said Wednesday, in direct defiance of Western demands.

The statement by Iran’s nuclear chief, Fereidoun Abbasi, is likely to escalate tensions…

“Despite sanctions, we will most likely see a substantial increase in the number of centrifuge machines this year. We will continue enrichment with intensity,” Abbasi was quoted by state TV as saying Wednesday. The Iranian calendar year ends on March 20.

His remarks came days after the U.N. agency said Iran is about to double its output of higher enriched uranium at its fortified Fordo underground facility. That could move Iran closer to weapons capability.

Anyone out there still think the Islamic Republic of Iran won’t be getting a nuclear weapon short of a military conflict?

I wonder if the Iranians will be televising the parade from downtown Tehran when that happens?

As for the North Koreans? Reuters’ Fredrik Dahl reported Thursday:

North Korea has made further progress in the construction of a new atomic reactor, the U.N. nuclear chief reported on Thursday, a facility that may extend the country’s capacity to produce material for nuclear bombs.

Pyongyang “has continued construction of the light water reactor and largely completed work on the exterior of the main buildings,” Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said…

North Korea says it needs nuclear power to provide electricity, but has also boasted of its nuclear deterrence capability and has traded nuclear technology with Syria, Libya and probably Pakistan.

At the end of summer, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was already thought to have 23 nuclear weapons in their arsenal.

The world was already a dangerous place, but grows even more so in our time. Especially as it concerns nuclear proliferation.

Sources:

“Iran nuclear chief: Uranium enrichment to be stepped up with new centrifuges, reactor.” Associated Press. 28 Nov. 2012. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iran-nuclear-chief-enrichment-to-move-ahead-with-intensity/2012/11/28/98834224-3965-11e2-9258-ac7c78d5c680_story.html). 30 Nov. 2012.

Dahl, Fredrik. “North Korea pushing ahead with new nuclear reactor: IAEA.” Reuters. 29 Nov. 2012. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/29/us-korea-north-nuclear-idUSBRE8AS0OT20121129). 30 Nov. 2012.

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Christopher E. Hill, Editor
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