Having Tested One Nuclear Device this Month, What Might North Korea Do for an Encore?

February 16th, 2013

By Dan Miller

More tests, probably, in partnership with Iran. Meanwhile, the U.S. and her allies want to limit North Korea’s access to gold while increasing Iran’s access, making them even happier sellers and buyers.


On January 30th, I posted an article on North Korea’s Nukes and the Ferocious Kim Jong-un. I noted North Korea’s statement that its anticipated nuclear test (conducted soon thereafter on February 12) would be “targeted at the United States” and suggested that the nature of that targeting would continue to be nuclear as well as missile cooperation with Iran. That is consistent with their cooperation agreement of last September.

The two countries will cooperate in research, student exchanges and joint laboratories, and in the fields of information technology, engineering, biotechnology, renewable energy, the environment, sustainable development of agriculture and food technology, the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) reported. …

North Korea has had close ties with Iran. Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables from 2010 showed that U.S. officials believe Iran has acquired ballistic missile parts from North Korea.

North Korea and Iran have long cooperated in their nuclear work and it appears quite likely that Iranian technicians were present for the February 12th test.

The Jerusalem Post, citing experts, reported the North Korean test may have been conducted to help Iran avoid international inspections and that Iranian scientists may have been present at the blast site.

Speaking to the Post, Alon Levkowitz — coordinator of Bar-Ilan University’s Asian Studies Program and a member of the BESA Center for Strategic Studies — noted North Korea’s progress both in nuclear weapons capability and intercontinental ballistic missile research.

“The most disturbing question is whether the Iranians are using North Korea as a backdoor plan for their own nuclear program,” he told the Post. “The Iranians didn’t carry out a nuclear test in Iran, but they may have done so in North Korea.” (Emphasis added.)

He said while there is no official information, “Iran may have bypassed inspections via North Korea” and if true, it would be “a very worrying development.”

Levkowitz was quoted as saying several indicators pointed to Iranian scientists being present during the North’s previous nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

He said it had not yet been determined whether North Korea used plutonium or enriched uranium for the Tuesday test but the use of enriched uranium would suggest increased cooperation with Iran.

“There is regular cooperation, since the 1980s, between North Korea and Iran. North Korea also helped set up a plutonium nuclear facility in Syria, which was bombed by Israel in 2007, according to foreign sources,” he said. (Emphasis added.)

Iran and North Korea have also helped each other with missile development, and it is contended here that North Korea’s successful December 12th missile launch involved their joint efforts.

We know North Korea and Iran have worked together in missile design. Vick says the evidence can be seen by comparing the North Korean Nodong missile with Iran’s Shahab missile.

“In every detail, right down to the re-entry vehicles, Nodong-A is the Shahab-3,” he says. “The technology is being transferred in both directions, and I think that’s what’s going on in the nuclear technology, too.” (Emphasis added.)

This cooperation may well have contributed to the success of this week’s rocket launch.

Theodore Postol, a missile expert at MIT, says the third stage of the North Korean rocket launched this week looks like a comparable stage in a rocket designed by the Iranians.

“They were able to collaborate with equipment given to them or sent to them from North Korea, and at the same time do a lot of the research and engineering development needed to build this upper stage,” Postol says.

What this means, Postol thinks, is that this week’s North Korean rocket was actually a joint production between North Korean and Iranian engineers.

Are we and our allies intent upon self-emasculation?

ChainsawAccording to this article,

The West plans to offer to ease sanctions barring trade in gold and other precious metals with Iran in return for Iranian steps to shut down the Fordow uranium enrichment plant, officials told the Reuters news agency on Friday.

Iran’s Fordow Uranium enrichment plant may, or may not, already have ceased operation due to an underground explosion which may, or may not, have been the result of an attack or an internal malfunction.

The officials said the offer will be presented to Iran at upcoming talks with world powers on February 26 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. They acknowledged that it represents a relatively modest update to proposals that the six major powers put forward last year. …

The group, which includes Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States and is known as the P5+1, wants Iran to do more to prove that its nuclear program is for only non-military purposes and to permit wider UN inspections.

The core of the new offer, according to Reuters, revises last year’s demand that Iran stop producing higher-grade uranium, ship any stockpiles out of the country and close down its underground enrichment facility at Fordow, near the city of Qom. …

The added inducement for Iran in the new offer is to suspend sanctions on trade in gold and precious metals, something that could be used as part of barter transactions that might allow Iran to circumvent increasingly tight financial sanctions. (Emphasis added.)

Obama Clinton and Muslim BrotherhoodMeanwhile, the European Union hopes to impose additional sanctions on North Korea

to curb trade in gold and diamonds and crack down on financial links in protest at Pyongyang’s recent rocket launch and nuclear bomb test, EU diplomats said on Friday.

Diplomats have agreed on a new list of sanctions which will be formally approved by EU foreign ministers on Monday.

fu-manchuDrying up North Korea’s already limited access to gold and diamonds, while increasing Iran’s access to gold and other precious metals, seems like a plan devised by the Insidious Dr. Fu Man-chu if not by Iran’s Supreme Leader himself.  Or maybe someone else, better even than Yente the Matchmaker, devised it. Iran and North Korea seem to be the perfect match and both are probably ecstatic over the prospects.

Neville ChamberlainWith increased access to gold and other precious metals Iran could, in addition to continuing to share nuclear weapon and missile technology, reduce or even cease Uranium enrichment and instead buy enriched Uranium from its partners in North Korea — made even more hungry for gold and other money substitutes by EU sanctions. With such money substitutes otherwise put in shorter supply, and with Iran getting an abundance, North Korea might well be happy to give Iran a really good deal. Beyond permitting President Obama to appear Neville Chamberlain-like to waive a piece of paper and grandly proclaim that his unsurpassed wisdom has once again given us the blessings of “Peace in Our Time,” I can find no benefits to the United States or to her diminishing numbers of allies.

North Korea is nearly ready for another nuke test. China won’t stop it.

According to this article dated February 15th,

North Korea has told its key ally, China, that it is prepared to stage one or even two more nuclear tests this year in an effort to force the United States into diplomatic talks with Pyongyang, said a source with direct knowledge of the message.

Further tests could also be accompanied this year by another rocket launch, said the source who has direct access to the top levels of government in both Beijing and Pyongyang.

The isolated regime conducted its third nuclear test on Tuesday, drawing global condemnation and a stern warning from the United States that it was a threat and a provocation.

“It’s all ready. A fourth and fifth nuclear test and a rocket launch could be conducted soon, possibly this year,” the source said, adding that the fourth nuclear test would be much larger than the third at an equivalent of 10 kilotons of TNT. …

North Korea worked to ready its nuclear test site, about 100 km (60 miles) from its border with China, throughout last year, according to commercially available satellite imagery. The images show that it may have already prepared for at least one more test, beyond Tuesday’s subterranean explosion.

“Based on satellite imagery that showed there were the same activities in two tunnels, they have one tunnel left after the latest test,” said Kune Y. Suh, a nuclear engineering professor at Seoul National University in South Korea.

Analysis of satellite imagery released on Friday by specialist North Korea website 38North showed activity at a rocket site that appeared to indicate it was being prepared for an upcoming launch.

China is offended.  So what? With a partner like Iran — which shares North Korea’s nuclear and missile goals and has little interest beyond benefiting to the maximum extent possible from the successes that China appears to want to prevent  — how badly does North Korea still need her subservient and therefore degrading relationship with China? Might North Korea be more comfortable with another rogue nation, a status from the appearance of which China has for the most part sought to evolve? What will China do to North Korea?

The third apparently successful North Korean nuke test “came despite strong warnings against any such action from Beijing, its major diplomatic and economic benefactor.” China even joined the U.N. Security Council “in strongly condemning the North Korean action. It also summoned the North Korean ambassador in Beijing and protested sternly against the test.”

It seems likely that by conducting the recent test over Chinese objections North Korea was testing the new Chinese leadership. Here’s an interesting cultural twist:

“In effect, it is testing China’s new paramount leader, Xi Jinping. Will he cooperate with Washington in tightening sanctions and withdraw material and political benefits to Kim Jong Un? Or will Xi accommodate to a new status quo?”

Beijing’s leadership will have to grapple with these questions during the current Chinese New Year holiday – and this itself may put North Korea in a bad light.

“In the world of diplomacy, little things do matter and conducting the test during the Chinese New Year will be viewed by Beijing as extremely insulting, and perhaps will lead them to take quiet punitive but temporary measures,” said Victor Cha, a former White House director of Asia policy. (Emphasis added.) …

China’s inability to dissuade North Korea from carrying through with the nuclear test reveals Beijing’s limited influence over Pyongyang’s actions “in unusually stark terms,” said Suzanne DiMaggio, New York-based Asia Society’s Vice President of Global Policy Programs.

“Bluntly put, North Korea’s new young leader Kim Jong Un has embarrassed China’s leadership with this latest provocation,” she said.

“Beijing will likely stop short of imposing any unilateral sanctions or cutting back on aid, but this test leaves China little choice but to support stronger international sanctions,” she said.

Surely, North Korea is aware of the significance of the Chinese New Year.

Atomic-BombProbably remote, but as the situation seems to be developing it is not beyond speculation that North Korea may eventually try to nuke Seoul or another South Korean population center. That would upset China more than the recent test. North Korea seems extraordinarily unlikely to “bomb” China — except with hordes of “undocumented immigrants” flocking across their common border when life becomes unbearable even for long suffering North Korean peasants. That is one of China’s biggest concerns and the principal reason it does not clamp down on the Kim Regime as only it could. Increased instability in North Korea could well lead to such an invasion — a more immediate problem for China than North Korean nukes — so China can’t contribute unnecessarily to it by imposing any sanctions likely to accelerate it. She will also probably continue to furnish banned luxury goods, as she has in the past. To clamp down on stuff the Kim Regime needs to keep underlings (perhaps including Kim Jong-un himself?) satisfied would make the Kim Regency even less receptive to Chinese guidance.

In Iran, we seem to be tacking away from prevention and into the jaws of containment. England and our other allies did that in response to Herr Hitler’s demands for just a little (and then just a little more) lebensraum. Will we take the same tack with North Korea? If we do, will we even have the barest scintilla of reliable information on the basis of which to proceed? I doubt it.  As I have written many times before, North Korea is a black hole into which much information about our intentions and abilities falls but from which very little information about her intentions and abilities escapes. Cultural differences render our otherwise merely dubious interpretations of what we think we may have learned unreliable.

(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)

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