[Documents menu] Documents menu

North Korea Set to Test Nukes

Opinion by Tim Kennedy, Arab News, Al Jazeerah, 28 July 2003

WASHINGTON, 28 July 2003—American arms specialists with expertise in North Korea’s nuclear program predict Pyongyang will soon test an atomic weapon, possibly detonating the nuclear device aboard a cargo ship off the coast of Japan.

Kenneth Quinones, a former US State Department arms negotiator, told a Japanese newspaper last week that North Korea had enough plutonium to make several nuclear weapons and that the Stalinist state could test one of its atomic weapons by the end of the year.

Quinone, a former North Korea affairs specialist and intelligence officer, now directs the Korea program at the International Center, a Washington research organization. Quinones said American intelligences officials warned that North Korea’s nuclear program is moving ahead very quickly.

Basically, this means North Korea’s reprocessing (of plutonium from spent nuclear fuel) is almost finished, or has finished. This means North Korea now has enough plutonium to make six to 10 nuclear weapons, says Quinones.

Last week, the CIA revised an earlier intelligence estimate about North Korea’s nuclear program, saying it now believes Pyongyang has already begun reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods into weapons-grade plutonium. The CIA thinks North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il has abandoned past commitments to freeze his nuclear weapons program.

While serving in the US State Department, Quinones was involved in US talks with North Korea that led to a 1994 agreement that froze its nuclear program in exchange for light-water reactors for power generation and heavy fuel aid. However, last fall relations between Washington and Pyongyang soured over North Koreas nuclear ambitions, resulting in Kim Jong Il’s announcement that he had unilaterally voided the agreement and that his country fully intended to develop nuclear weapons.

Quinones fears that President George W. Bush’s unwillingness to directly negotiate with North Korea virtually compels Kim Jong Il to test his nuclear weapons:

If North Korea wants to use its nuclear weapon as negotiating leverage, they must test it, he says. If the test works, they want us to know. Why? (Because) they want to frighten us. To make us negotiate with them.

Suzanne Scholte, a Washington foreign policy expert, also believes North Korea is working aggressively to develop and proliferate weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear arms. As president of the Defense Forum Foundation, a Washington-based foreign policy think tank, Scholte has spent the past ten years monitoring North Korea.

This is a regime that terrorizes its own people by denying them any human rights and jailing whole families if just one family member tries to exercise a human right, says Scholte. It does not surprise me that the regime wants the capability to terrorize their neighbors as well. I am sure we will see more pronouncements by North Korea about their nuclear capabilities in their on-going effort to try to get financial aid from the free world in exchange for their promise to stop developing nuclear weapons.

Unlike Quinones—who arranged cash payments and other forms of US support to North Korea in return for its promise to suspend its nuclear ambitions—Scholte believes President George W. Bush should simultaneously promote human rights in North Korea while pressing the nuclear issue.

We should be aggressively reaching out to the North Korean people, says Scholte. This could be done through increased radio broadcasts, delivering food aid by air to the regions of the country that Kim Jong Il has blocked from any food deliveries, setting up refugee camps for those who have fled, calling for free elections in North Korea, and working with defectors to help develop plans for building a free and democratic North Korea.

According to Quinones, the only thing standing in the way of North Korea testing a nuclear weapon is finding a suitable delivery system. He says the relative ignorance of Pyongyang’s nuclear scientists ensures the weapon will be too large and heavy to fit inside the warhead of a ballistic missile.

It is impossible for North Korea to have nuclear warheads. The technology is too sophisticated. They do not have that technology. However, it is possible to deliver a large nuclear weapon using a ship, says Quinones. The more I talked to my friends, the more I realized that it is possible for North Korea to have a nuclear weapon by December, Quinones warns. There is nothing to stop North Korea from doing this.