Experts Say North Korea Probably Has Nuclear, Chemical Weapons

WASHINGTON — North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction remain the subject of speculation, guesswork and rough estimates, but the secretive nation has probably developed both nuclear and chemical weapons, according to a panel of experts who spoke here Friday at a forum sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (see GSN, Nov. 10 and related story, today).

North Korea has commonly exaggerated or lied about its capabilities, but “a lot points to a small nuclear arsenal,” said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security. He said North Korea could enrich uranium in gas centrifuges without Western intelligence agencies detecting the activity “unless North Korea admits to this program or there is a defector.”

“I would say that there is considerable uncertainty,” said panel member John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org. Pike, who provided a briefing on North Korean missile development, said that North Korea observers can draw some conclusions from available information but must realize how much is still unknown.

“You can sort of bound the uncertainty. … The focus of the presentations was intended to differentiate between what we know, and what we know we don’t know,” Pike told Global Security Newswire.

Western observers believe that North Korea has researched biological weapons and weaponized chemical agents, but beyond that “there is uncertainty,” said Elisa Harris, a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies. International assessments of North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons capability vary widely, but experts generally agree that North Korea has a biological weapons research program and chemical weapons efforts that are “probably more advanced” because Pyongyang started research and development in the late 1960s. 

“I don’t think there’s much uncertainty about North Korea’s ability to weaponize [chemical agents],” she said, but “there is uncertainty about the size of the stockpile.”

Over the weekend, the CIA announced publicly that it believes North Korea has developed working nuclear weapons and does not need to test them. The intelligence agency submitted a letter to Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the head of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, outlining the CIA belief that North Korea probably has “one or two simple fission-type nuclear weapons.”

Pike criticized the CIA report for not acknowledging the limitations of U.S. intelligence on North Korea.

“I thought that a lot of that stuff on North Korea was fairly worthless … because it was so clear,” he said.

Pike said that he assumes North Korea has developed as many as eight nuclear weapons, but he said that the CIA report should have focused on the “range of uncertainty.”

“We’ve seen that with Iraq, where the politicians stripped out all the caveats. Iraq was open book compared to North Korea,” he said.

November 11, 2003
About

WASHINGTON — North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction remain the subject of speculation, guesswork and rough estimates, but the secretive nation has probably developed both nuclear and chemical weapons, according to a panel of experts who spoke here Friday at a forum sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (see GSN, Nov. 10 and related story, today).

Countries