After a month of U.S. pleading, China and Russia reluctantly agreed to more United Nations sanctions, punishing North Korea for illegal nuclear and missile tests on Jan. 6 and Feb. 7 — performed despite already being under U.N. sanctions for a decade, since 2006.
It’s time for a paradigm shift in thinking about the threat from nuclear missile proliferation.
Sanctions will not work because Russia and China are helping North Korea’s nuclear missile program, accelerating capabilities to threaten the United States, a process that might be termed “hyperproliferation”:
Supposedly, North Korea has evolved crude Scud missiles into much more sophisticated medium-range Nodong missiles, intercontinental missiles and the Unha-3 space rocket that orbits satellites. This mainstream view sounds increasingly preposterous.
Reportedly, according to U.S. Strategic Command, North Korea’s Unha-3, which orbited their first satellite in 2012, is much more sophisticated than expected: “First-stage debris fished out of the Yellow Sea after the December 2012 launch came with a surprise as it showed that the Unha vehicle was more advanced than previously believed, employing modern aluminum alloys and showing much thinner tank walls than expected. Also, the first stage was outfitted with four vernier engines with a gimbal, contrary to previous reports that showed the first stage to be stabilized through the use of simpler jet vanes.”
North Korea tries concealing the design of its missiles by launching out of schedule and, during the February 2016 launch of Unha-3, rigging the spent first stage to self-destruct, according to U.S. Strategic Command. This highly sophisticated denial operation should be prohibitively risky for the supposedly primitive North Koreans.
Russia sold to North Korea, supposedly for scrap, a dozen Golf-class missile submarines and a nuclear capable SS-N-6 missile. Unthinkable a few years ago, North Korea is now developing a fleet of nuclear missile submarines.
Russian generals told the Congressional EMP Commission in 2004 that the design for Russia’s Super-EMP weapon “accidentally” leaked to North Korea, that there had been “brain drain” of Russian scientists to North Korea, and that the North could probably test a super-EMP warhead “in a few years,” a prediction that apparently came true in 2006. A single super-EMP warhead could blackout North America for months or years, and kill millions.
North Korea’s two satellites orbit on a trajectory identical to that planned for a Soviet-era secret weapon called the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System. North Korea’s KSM-3 and KSM-4 satellites, like the Russian FOBS, orbit on the optimum trajectory to make a surprise attack, and at the optimum altitude to generate an EMP field over the 48 contiguous United States.
North Korea’s transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) for mobile Nodong medium-range missiles is the TEL from Russia’s SS-20 missile, banned by the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
According to “Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea” (2015) a recent Defense Department report, North Korea’s TEL for its KN-08 mobile intercontinental ballistic missile is from China. The only nations in the world with mobile ICBMs are Russia, China and North Korea — not even the United States has mobile ICBMs.
Mainstream thinking is that North Korea, and other nuclear-missile-aspirant nations, rely on home-grown capabilities to develop missiles and nuclear weapons. Consequently, the mainstream consistently low-balls nuclear missile threats.
For example, most analysts estimate North Korea has 10 to 20 crude A-bombs, based on the Yongbyon nuclear reactor’s plutonium production, and assuming that backward North Korea must have conservative bomb designs, using 5 to 8 kilograms of plutonium in each weapon. This ignores that North Korea is known to have a clandestine nuclear weapons program, probably mostly underground, using uranium centrifuges and perhaps other technologies unknown to us.
The mainstream view also ignores that North Korea is obviously getting help from Russia and China.
If North Korea has more sophisticated bomb designs, using smaller amounts of plutonium for example, some analysts estimate North Korea could have over 100 nuclear weapons. This estimate is consistent with North Korea’s nuclear test program, which has conducted four overt nuclear tests with reportedly a fifth test planned. Is it really plausible — if North Korea has only 10 to 20 A-bombs — that they would expend on testing up to half their scarce weapons?
The mainstream underestimated the nuclear sophistication of North Korea as recently as Jan. 6 when, with few exceptions, experts claimed North Korea could not have tested an H-bomb. Only a few reported on Jan. 28 that the Department of Defense changed its mind — that new evidence indicated, as headlined by CNN “North Korea Might Have Tested Components Of A Hydrogen Bomb.”
The mainstream doesn’t like to talk about the fact that no plutonium or uranium (A-bomb fuels) have been detected from North Korean tests, but traces of tritium (H-bomb fuel) have been found.
Some of the implications of hyperproliferation are that Russia and China are part of the problem, not part of the solution; that hyperproliferation by these actors is a weapon in the New Cold War; and that we should reassess the nuclear missile threat from other nations of concern — including Pakistan and Iran.
• Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security and served in the Congressional EMP Commission, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee and the CIA. This commentary article appeared March 4, 2016 in The Washington Times.
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