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Nuclear Disarmament North Korea

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Nuclear Disarmament North Korea

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Arsenal and Missile Types

North Korea is a Non-NPT State with a Nuclear Weapons Arsenal

Size

  • Estimated arsenal: 20-60 warheads based on fissile material production
  • First claimed to have nuclear weapons on 10 February 2005
  • Conducted first nuclear test 3 October 2006

Key Delivery Systems

The Defense Intelligence Agency assessed in July 2017 that North Korea had achieved the ability to miniaturize its nuclear weapons to fit on a missile.

Ballistic Missiles with Potential Nuclear Capability

In September 2016, North Korea claimed it had successfully built a warhead that could fit on a missile.

  • Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs): Hwasong-14, Hwasong-15, Hwasong-16, Taepodong-2
  • Intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs): Hwasong-10, Hwasong-12
  • Medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs): Pukguksong-2, Hwasong-7, Hwasong-9
  • Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs): Pukguksong-3, Pukguksong-4, Pukguksong-5

North Korea has also claimed to have tested cruise missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads.

Capabilities and Development

Nuclear Testing

  • Conducted six underground nuclear tests: 2006, 2009, 2013, two in 2016, and 2017
  • Highest explosive yield: 100-370 kilotons (kT) in September 2017 test
  • Announced a self-imposed nuclear testing moratorium in April 2018
  • Continues conducting tests of delivery systems, including ICBMs, IRBMs, SRBMs, SLBMs, and various

Military Fissile Material Stockpile (estimated)

  • Weapons-grade plutonium: Estimated stockpile of 20-48kg
  • Highly-enriched uranium: Estimated stockpile of 600-950 kg by the end of 2020, but estimates are uncertain
  • In July 2018, open-source analysis revealed a possible second covert uranium enrichment plant in Kangson

Commitments & Policies

Disarmament Commitments

  • Acceded to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1985, announced withdrawal from the NPT in 2003, the only withdrawal in NPT history
  • State party to the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT), has not signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)
  • No formal commitments to disarmament

Nuclear Weapons Policies

  • North Korea repeatedly violated the NPT from its accession in 1985 until its withdrawal in 2003.
  • North and South Korea signed the 1992 Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, in which both states agreed not to “test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons.” On 23 January 2013, North Korea formally voided the 1992 Joint Declaration with South Korea.
  • In 2018, North Korea and the United States jointly stated, “Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

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Glossary

Fissile material
Fissile material: A type of fissionable material capable of sustaining a chain reaction by undergoing fission upon the absorption of low-energy (or thermal) neutrons. Uranium-235, Plutonium-239, and Uranium-233 are the most prominently discussed fissile materials for peaceful and nuclear weapons purposes.
Ballistic missile
A delivery vehicle powered by a liquid or solid fueled rocket that primarily travels in a ballistic (free-fall) trajectory.  The flight of a ballistic missile includes three phases: 1) boost phase, where the rocket generates thrust to launch the missile into flight; 2) midcourse phase, where the missile coasts in an arc under the influence of gravity; and 3) terminal phase, in which the missile descends towards its target.  Ballistic missiles can be characterized by three key parameters - range, payload, and Circular Error Probable (CEP), or targeting precision.  Ballistic missiles are primarily intended for use against ground targets.
Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)
Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM): A ballistic missile with a range greater than 5,500 km. See entry for ballistic missile.
Submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM)
SLBM: A ballistic missile that is carried on and launched from a submarine.
Cruise missile
An unmanned self-propelled guided vehicle that sustains flight through aerodynamic lift for most of its flight path. There are subsonic and supersonic cruise missiles currently deployed in conventional and nuclear arsenals, while conventional hypersonic cruise missiles are currently in development. These can be launched from the air, submarines, or the ground. Although they carry smaller payloads, travel at slower speeds, and cover lesser ranges than ballistic missiles, cruise missiles can be programmed to travel along customized flight paths and to evade missile defense systems.
Kiloton
Kiloton: A term used to quantify the energy of a nuclear explosion that is equivalent to the explosion of 1,000 tons of trinitrotoluene (TNT) conventional explosive.
Fissile material
Fissile material: A type of fissionable material capable of sustaining a chain reaction by undergoing fission upon the absorption of low-energy (or thermal) neutrons. Uranium-235, Plutonium-239, and Uranium-233 are the most prominently discussed fissile materials for peaceful and nuclear weapons purposes.
Weapons-grade material
Weapons-grade material: Refers to the nuclear materials that are most suitable for the manufacture of nuclear weapons, e.g., uranium (U) enriched to 90 percent U-235 or plutonium (Pu) that is primarily composed of Pu-239 and contains less than 7% Pu-240. Crude nuclear weapons (i.e., improvised nuclear devices), could be fabricated from lower-grade materials.
Plutonium (Pu)
Plutonium (Pu): A transuranic element with atomic number 94, produced when uranium is irradiated in a reactor. It is used primarily in nuclear weapons and, along with uranium, in mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel. Plutonium-239, a fissile isotope, is the most suitable isotope for use in nuclear weapons.
Highly enriched uranium (HEU)
Highly enriched uranium (HEU): Refers to uranium with a concentration of more than 20% of the isotope U-235. Achieved via the process of enrichment. See entry for enriched uranium.
Enriched uranium
Enriched uranium: Uranium with an increased concentration of the isotope U-235, relative to natural uranium. Natural uranium contains 0.7 percent U-235, whereas nuclear weapons typically require uranium enriched to very high levels (see the definitions for “highly enriched uranium” and “weapons-grade”). Nuclear power plant fuel typically uses uranium enriched to 3 to 5 percent U-235, material that is not sufficiently enriched to be used for nuclear weapons.
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)
The NPT: Signed in 1968, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is the most widely adhered-to international security agreement. The “three pillars” of the NPT are nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Article VI of the NPT commits states possessing nuclear weapons to negotiate in good faith toward halting the arms race and the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. The Treaty stipulates that non-nuclear-weapon states will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons, and will accept International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards on their nuclear activities, while nuclear weapon states commit not to transfer nuclear weapons to other states. All states have a right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and should assist one another in its development. The NPT provides for conferences of member states to review treaty implementation at five-year intervals. Initially of a 25-year duration, the NPT was extended indefinitely in 1995. For additional information, see the NPT.
Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT)
The PTBT: Also known as the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT), the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water prohibits nuclear weapons tests "or any other nuclear explosion" in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water. While the treaty does not ban tests underground, it does prohibit nuclear explosions in this environment if they cause "radioactive debris to be present outside the territorial limits of the State under whose jurisdiction or control" the explosions were conducted. The treaty is of unlimited duration. For additional information, see the PTBT.
Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)
The CTBT: Opened for signature in 1996 at the UN General Assembly, the CTBT prohibits all nuclear testing if it enters into force. The treaty establishes the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to ensure the implementation of its provisions and verify compliance through a global monitoring system upon entry into force. Pending the treaty’s entry into force, the Preparatory Commission of the CTBTO is charged with establishing the International Monitoring System (IMS) and promoting treaty ratifications. CTBT entry into force is contingent on ratification by 44 Annex II states. For additional information, see the CTBT.
Disarmament
Though there is no agreed-upon legal definition of what disarmament entails within the context of international agreements, a general definition is the process of reducing the quantity and/or capabilities of military weapons and/or military forces.
Deployment
The positioning of military forces – conventional and/or nuclear – in conjunction with military planning.

Sources

  1. “N. Korea Withdraws from Nuclear Pact,” BBC News, January 10, 2003, www.bbc.co.uk.
  2. “North Korea: What we know about its missile and nuclear programme,” BBC News, last updated March 24, 2022, www.bbc.com.
  3. “North Korea Nuclear Timeline Fast Facts,” CNN, last updated March 28, 2022, www.cnn.com.
  4. Kelsey Davenport, “Chronology of U.S.-North Korean Nuclear and Missile Diplomacy,” Arms Control Association, last reviewed April 2022, www.armscontrol.org. David Fischer, “The DPRK’s Violation of Its NPT Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA,” excerpt from History of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, 1997, www.iaea.org.
  5. Siegfried S. Hecker, “Estimating North Korea’s Nuclear Stockpiles: An Interview with Siegfried Hecker” 38North, April 30, 2021, www.38north.org.
  6. “Inventory of International Nonproliferation Organizations and Regimes,” James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, www.nonproliferation.org.
  7. Seiyeon Ji and Victor Cha, “Making sense of North Korea’s recent ICBM and (possible) nuclear tests,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May 27, 2022, https://thebulletin.org.
  8. “Joint Statement of President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the Singapore Summit,” The White House, June 12, 2018, www.whitehouse.gov.
  9. Daryl Kimball and Xiaodon Liang, “The Six-Party Talks at a Glance,” Arms Control Association, updated May 2012, www.armscontrol.org.
  10. Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “North Korean nuclear weapons, 2021,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July 21, 2021, www.tandfonline.com.
  11. Mary Beth D. Nikitin, “North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons and Missile Programs,” Congressional Research Service, updated April 8, 2022, https://sgp.fas.org.
  12. Ankit Panda, “Exclusive: Revealing Kangson, North Korea’s First Covert Uranium Enrichment Site,” The Diplomat, July 13, 2018, https://thediplomat.com.
  13. David E. Sanger, “North Koreans Say They Tested Nuclear Device,” New York Times, October 9, 2006, www.nytimes.com. Choe Sang-Hun, “‘We No Longer Need’ Nuclear or Missile Tests, North Korean Leader Says,” New York Times, April 20, 2018, www.nytimes.com.
  14. Robert A. Wampler, “North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: The Declassified U.S. Records,” National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book, No. 87, April 25, 2003, www.gwu.edu.
  15. Josh Smith and Joori Roh, “North Korea says it practiced firing nuclear-capable cruise missiles,” Reuters, October 13, 2022, www.reuters.com.

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