There Is A Solution To North Korea
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The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) has ramped up both its missile and its nuclear weapons capabilities. We need to talk directly with them before they effectively couple them together.
It’s not like we don’t know what to do about North Korea, a country that calls itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It’s just that we keep doing the wrong thing and then hope it will work this time.
Since this is one definition of insanity, it’s no wonder our policy keeps failing. We need to wake up and do what nuclear and diplomatic experts have been trying to tell us for decades:
– drop our foolish requirement of preconditions in order to even start talking with North Korea
– drop our fantasy of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea
– drop our preoccupation with their intercontinental ballistic missile program; nuclear is the real concern
– assure Kim Jong Un of his regime’s security, meaning we will not seek regime change, since that is what this is all about
For starters, we might want to heed the words of the world’s most knowledgeable nuclear weapons expert, Dr. Siegfried Hecker. Director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1986 to 1997 and now at Stanford, Hecker is the nuclear scientist who has most visited and inspected the North Korean nuclear facilities.
‘Kim is a tyrant, but I don’t believe he is crazy or suicidal. I believe he is deterrable,’ says Hecker. ‘3 Kims and 6 U.S. Presidents later, diplomacy can still solve the North Korea crisis.’
During the Korean War, we stopped North Korea from conquering the entire peninsula, and pledged to defend South Korea against future attack with our nuclear umbrella and by stationing thousands of troops there. From North Korea’s perspective, the Korean War never ended.
Ever since 1953, North Korea’s foreign policy and national identity has been obsessed with the threat of war with America. In order to deter us from invading, they’ve held South Korea hostage with a million troops and massive artillery staged right on the border. And they’re constantly improving their military capabilities, specifically to include nuclear weapons.
North Korea witnessed what happened to Saddam Hussein in 2003 and Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. Both dictators had nuclear weapons programs and we convinced both to give them up. Both were subsequently toppled when the United States decided they were threats. And died ignominious deaths.
Kim Jong Un, and his father before him, took those lessons to heart and concluded that the United States cannot be trusted not to invade them. The best way Kim can ensure that he doesn’t share Saddam and Muammar’s fates is to be able to hit America with a nuclear warhead.
Therefore, it is insane to think North Korea will ever completely and irreversibly denuclearize. In the modern age, nothing is irreversible anyway, even if you have to start from scratch. The knowledge and technology are out there. But we can get Kim to back off quite a bit and ratchet down the threat in the next few years before he can actually reach the U.S. mainland with an effective nuclear-tipped missile.
Unfortunately, we have not acted like we understand this. The United States has over 60 years of evidence that deterrence works, but instead of deterrence and containment that worked for Soviet Russia, and China under Mao Tse-Tung, we’ve abandoned reason for old fashioned sabre-rattling…with nukes.
The present Administration has taken this to a new level of rhetorical bluster that didn’t exist under previous Administrations, threatening to rain ‘fire and fury’ upon North Korea if it continues to threaten the United States.
‘They’re responding to our threats, it’s tit-for-tat,’ says Dave Kang, Director of the Korean Studies Institute at the University of Southern California. ‘Our [North Korean] policies are designed precisely to provoke the outcome we’re trying to avoid.’
We’d better get serious. The latest nuclear test by Kim produced a fairly large yield of about 100 kilotons (equivalent to 100 thousand tons of TNT), more than five times the size of the Fat Man that we dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. The U.S. Geological Survey says the blast produced a 6.3 magnitude earthquake, ten times the size of their previous tests.
North Korea claims it was a true fusion-type hydrogen bomb, but it was probably a hydrogen-boosted fission bomb. Which is bad enough.
Fission bombs use a neutron to split uranium-235 or plutonium-239. One split produces about 3 new neutrons, that go on to split three more atoms, that produce 9 more neutrons, then split 27…81…boom! In a microsecond, trillions upon trillions of splits occur. The pressure and heat of all those pieces flying apart is extreme.
However, in a normal fission bomb only a fraction of the U or Pu is split before the coreexplosively disassembles, stopping the reactions.
Boosting uses hydrogen gas composed of the isotopes of tritium and deuterium injected into a cavity in the fission fuel. The fissioning (or splitting) of U-235 or Pu-239 causes fusion of the hydrogen that releases a lot more high-energy neutrons that fission a lot more of the U or Pu before the core disintegrates. The fusion doesn’t add much power itself, but makes the fissioning more efficient, yielding many times more power than an unboosted fission bomb.
Whether North Korea’s latest bomb test was a true hydrogen fusion bomb, or a hydrogen-boosted fission bomb, it doesn’t much matter, says Hecker. Kim is creating a substantial nuclear arsenal.
However, an actual hydrogen bomb would put them in the elite company of the P-5 states, the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, and France, and would definitely increase Pyongyang’s leverage should it ever come back to the negotiating table.
There are other players as well. North Korea sits between China and South Korea. China has conflicted desires – not wanting a united Korean peninsula, not wanting a nuclear DPRK, and not wanting regime change that would flood China with millions of refugees. South Korea doesn’t want to be invaded.
Talking directly with Pyongyang is just the start. Just a step to determine what might be a sane future without inadvertently crossing some red line that neither of us knows exists.
But we will not succeed unless we address the real issue with this regime – Kim’s survival.
And we need to start talking.
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