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North Korea’s nuclear summitry [What Think Tanks are thinking]

04-06-2018

The US President, Donald Trump, and North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, are preparing for a high-stakes summit on the latter country’s nuclear programme, following Trump’s decision on 1 June to revive the meeting after having cancelled it the previous week. At the summit, due to take place on 12 June in Singapore, Trump is expected to press for denuclearisation of North Korea in exchange for easing economic sanctions and, possibly some aid. The main sticking point lies on the meaning the two countries ...

The US President, Donald Trump, and North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, are preparing for a high-stakes summit on the latter country’s nuclear programme, following Trump’s decision on 1 June to revive the meeting after having cancelled it the previous week. At the summit, due to take place on 12 June in Singapore, Trump is expected to press for denuclearisation of North Korea in exchange for easing economic sanctions and, possibly some aid. The main sticking point lies on the meaning the two countries attribute to the word 'denuclearisation'. Pyongyang, after years of isolation, is engaged in an unprecedented series of high-level meetings with South Korea, China and Russia. This note offers links to reports and commentaries from some major international think-tanks and research institutes on the North Korean nuclear programme. More reports on the topic can be found in a previous edition of ‘What Think Tanks are thinking’, published in September 2017. Credit photo: © jpldesigns / Fotolia

United States' nuclear weapons policy: New priorities, new challenges

08-12-2017

The United States is the world's second largest nuclear power, coming close behind Russia. Together the two states account for 93 % of the world's nuclear weapons. Since the end of the Cold War, the US has followed a policy of reducing its nuclear arsenal, while maintaining a nuclear triad. Under President Obama, it embarked on an intense nuclear modernisation programme, while making commitments towards nuclear non-proliferation and – as a long-term goal – nuclear disarmament. President Donald Trump ...

The United States is the world's second largest nuclear power, coming close behind Russia. Together the two states account for 93 % of the world's nuclear weapons. Since the end of the Cold War, the US has followed a policy of reducing its nuclear arsenal, while maintaining a nuclear triad. Under President Obama, it embarked on an intense nuclear modernisation programme, while making commitments towards nuclear non-proliferation and – as a long-term goal – nuclear disarmament. President Donald Trump took office in January 2017 with the promise to discontinue the previous administration's policy priorities. This is reflected in the current realignment of the US nuclear weapons policy. The new administration aims to expand US nuclear capabilities, is sceptical of international arms-control agreements, and has a more determinant stance on non-proliferation. President Trump has criticised the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and consequently decertified the multilateral Iran nuclear deal in October 2017. The President has also characterised the bilateral New START Treaty, limiting the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons between the US and Russia, as 'a one-sided deal'. The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), a landmark nuclear arms control treaty between the US and the former USSR, seems to be in limbo, and nuclear proliferation efforts in North Korea have sparked a war of words between Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un. The ongoing Nuclear Posture Review, together with the coming passage of the annual defence policy bill in Congress, the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2018, have the potential to provoke shifts in US nuclear policy.

The EU, Middle East and North Africa [What Think Tanks are thinking]

06-10-2017

Developments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) pose a growing challenge for the European Union. Many countries in the region face war, political turmoil and popular anger, due to the impact of poverty in generating instability, migration and, in some cases, terrorism. The EU wants to contribute to stability in MENA through instruments such as the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Union for the Mediterranean, but there are calls for the EU to play an even more active role in the region ...

Developments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) pose a growing challenge for the European Union. Many countries in the region face war, political turmoil and popular anger, due to the impact of poverty in generating instability, migration and, in some cases, terrorism. The EU wants to contribute to stability in MENA through instruments such as the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Union for the Mediterranean, but there are calls for the EU to play an even more active role in the region. This note offers links to recent commentaries and reports by major international think tanks on EU-MENA relations and the general problems found within the region and some specific countries.

Understanding nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles

28-09-2017

Nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles need to be understood if the risks and challenges they entail are to be grasped. This understanding starts with two processes discovered in the last century – nuclear fission and nuclear fusion – that have the ability to release a significant quantity of energy from a very limited amount of matter. On the one hand, these reactions can be used to produce energy. Controlled nuclear fission is the process on which nuclear power plants are based. Nuclear fusion, ...

Nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles need to be understood if the risks and challenges they entail are to be grasped. This understanding starts with two processes discovered in the last century – nuclear fission and nuclear fusion – that have the ability to release a significant quantity of energy from a very limited amount of matter. On the one hand, these reactions can be used to produce energy. Controlled nuclear fission is the process on which nuclear power plants are based. Nuclear fusion, meanwhile, requires the ability to control a reaction that occurs at temperatures of millions of degrees. The control of nuclear fusion for energy production is the objective of the ITER project. On the other hand, uncontrolled nuclear fission and fusion reactions can be used to design nuclear weapons whose destructive power is far greater than traditional weapons. The first atomic bombs were produced and used during World War Two and based on nuclear fission. Since then, the design of nuclear weapons has been modified to include nuclear fusion reactions, leading to a sharp increase in the yield of nuclear bombs. The development of nuclear weapons requires mastery of technologies for the production of nuclear fuels (enriched uranium and plutonium), making access to these weapons limited. Advances in the production and design of nuclear weapons have made them smaller and suitable for mounting in the warheads of ballistic missiles. These missiles, whose functioning is similar to space rockets, can deliver their charge at a very long range (up to 15 000 km for intercontinental ballistic missiles).

North Korea [What Think Tanks are thinking]

22-09-2017

North Korea has stepped up its nuclear plans with the underground detonation of a hydrogen bomb and tests of its first suspected Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), moves perceived as a major threat to global security. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on 19 September, US President Donald Trump threatened to 'totally destroy' North Korea if the United States is forced to defend itself or its allies against that country. The isolated communist regime of Kim Jong-un has continued ...

North Korea has stepped up its nuclear plans with the underground detonation of a hydrogen bomb and tests of its first suspected Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), moves perceived as a major threat to global security. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on 19 September, US President Donald Trump threatened to 'totally destroy' North Korea if the United States is forced to defend itself or its allies against that country. The isolated communist regime of Kim Jong-un has continued its nuclear programme, despite repeated rounds of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and diplomatic efforts to diffuse the conflict.

North Korea: Possible scenarios

12-09-2017

On 3 September 2017, North Korea conducted a sixth nuclear test, its most powerful yet, claiming to have successfully tested a miniaturised hydrogen bomb that would fit in an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The North Korean crisis, which has a long history, has now the potential to develop into a large-scale conflict affecting a large variety of actors across the globe. Pyongyang has become a global threat combining increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons and missiles programmes that ...

On 3 September 2017, North Korea conducted a sixth nuclear test, its most powerful yet, claiming to have successfully tested a miniaturised hydrogen bomb that would fit in an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The North Korean crisis, which has a long history, has now the potential to develop into a large-scale conflict affecting a large variety of actors across the globe. Pyongyang has become a global threat combining increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons and missiles programmes that could strike the USA and even Europe. This has been made possible by the international community's lack of a common strategy and Chinese support for the North Korean regime. All the while, this 'hermit kingdom', which a 2014 United Nations (UN) report accused of crimes against humanity, has continued to feed its traditional anti-American rhetoric and has succeeded in taking its devastating human rights record off the international agenda. As the international community tries to resolve the current crisis, analysts have identified a number of possible scenarios: reinforcing international sanctions to push Pyongyang to the table to negotiate an agreement to renounce its nuclear programme in exchange for economic support and a guarantee of not being attacked; performing a pre-emptive strike against its nuclear sites, undergoing the risk of retaliation against Seoul; and assenting to North Korea's demand to be recognised as a de facto nuclear power and to conclude the peace treaty that was never signed at the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War ─ which ultimately is Kim's real goal and the reason for this escalation.

Nuclear Proliferation in North East Asia

23-03-2017

The nuclear dimension of the crisis in the Korean peninsula has been compounded since the end of the Cold war, particularly since the North Korean regime announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in January 2003. The nuclear and ballistic programmes of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) have dangerously improved since the beginning of the decade and seem to have accelerated since 2014 in spite of the continuous strengthening of the international sanctions ...

The nuclear dimension of the crisis in the Korean peninsula has been compounded since the end of the Cold war, particularly since the North Korean regime announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in January 2003. The nuclear and ballistic programmes of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) have dangerously improved since the beginning of the decade and seem to have accelerated since 2014 in spite of the continuous strengthening of the international sanctions regime against Pyongyang’s Weapons of Mass Destruction programmes. Accordingly, tensions have risen dramatically in the Korean peninsula. In the current context, the resumption of the six-party talks – deadlocked since the spring of 2007 - remains very hypothetical. It is clearly dependent on a change of attitude on Pyongyang’s part, something hardly predictable. Even if ‘strategic patience’ towards North Korea has been challenged for some time, it may be that there is no better alternative to this policy. Comprehensively conceived, it should be understood as a strong policy of containment of the North Korean nuclear crisis in order to make possible the return of Pyongyang to negotiations. As a subsidiary issue, it could be asked whether the EU could play a renewed role as regards to nuclear and ballistic proliferation in North East Asia.

Údar seachtarach

Benjamin HAUTECOUVERTURE (Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique - FRS, Paris, France)

A Nuclear Ban Treaty: Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations

13-01-2017

On 23 December 2016, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed a resolution on taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, thus paving the way for a conference in 2017 to ‘negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination’. The adoption of the resolution has been hailed as historic by supporters of an initiative that has gained ground in the last few years to rid the world of the most destructive weapon known to humankind ...

On 23 December 2016, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed a resolution on taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, thus paving the way for a conference in 2017 to ‘negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination’. The adoption of the resolution has been hailed as historic by supporters of an initiative that has gained ground in the last few years to rid the world of the most destructive weapon known to humankind. Opponents of a ‘ban treaty’ argue that the deterrence provided by nuclear weapons is essential to maintain the existing global order, and the official nuclear-weapon states have mostly indicated that they will not participate in the conference. The majority of United Nations member states voted in favour of the resolution, but five nuclear-armed states and all but four NATO members voted against it. EU Member States, most of which are members of NATO, have taken different positions on the prospect of a nuclear weapons ban, with some supporting it, but most against. The European Parliament welcomed the convening of a conference in 2017 to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, noting that this would reinforce the non-proliferation and disarmament objectives and obligations contained in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and help to create the conditions for global security and a world without nuclear weapons. In a resolution adopted on 27 October 2016, the European Parliament invited the EU Member States to support the convening of such a conference in 2017 and ‘to participate constructively in its proceedings’.

New sanctions against North Korea: The challenges of implementation and China

05-07-2016

In January 2016, North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test, exposing the inability of UN sanctions to prevent the reclusive regime from gradually enhancing its ballistic missile capabilities and miniaturising a nuclear warhead. Despite China's past principled reluctance to agree to UN economic sanctions against its military ally, and its selective implementation of the previous sanctions scheme, which has been widely perceived as the major cause of its ineffectiveness, in March 2016 China endorsed ...

In January 2016, North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test, exposing the inability of UN sanctions to prevent the reclusive regime from gradually enhancing its ballistic missile capabilities and miniaturising a nuclear warhead. Despite China's past principled reluctance to agree to UN economic sanctions against its military ally, and its selective implementation of the previous sanctions scheme, which has been widely perceived as the major cause of its ineffectiveness, in March 2016 China endorsed UN Security Council resolution 2270(2016). The latter expands significantly the scope of previous sanctions against North Korea. China's frustration at its lack of leverage over North Korea to prevent it from further escalating regional tensions, combined with the response from Japan, South Korea and the United States, has compelled it to endorse tougher sanctions against North Korea as a means of bringing it back to the negotiation table. However, China has emphasised that stiffer sanctions alone will not be a panacea for the Korean Peninsula's denuclearisation. China plays a vital role in ensuring a meaningful impact of the newly adopted sanctions, given its intense economic relations with North Korea. A consensus between China and the USA on a common approach to North Korea which accommodates their conflicting geostrategic interests would be crucial for engaging North Korea. But given the latter's staunch insistence on its status as a nuclear-armed state, prospects are grim for a resumption of the stalled Six Party Talks to replicate – under much more complex circumstances – what was achieved with Iran in 2015.

North Korea: Seventh Party Congress Enshrines Nuclear Ambitions but Says Little about Economic Reform

02-06-2016

The Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) held its Seventh Congress, the first since 1980, from 6 to 9 May 2016. In theory, the Congress is the highest deliberative body of the only governing party of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The Congress yielded relatively modest results, with no real breakthrough, apart from establishing the 'defensive' nuclear deterrence concept. Kim Jong-un’s position as North Korea's supreme leader was fully formalised and now seems to be stronger than ever. ...

The Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) held its Seventh Congress, the first since 1980, from 6 to 9 May 2016. In theory, the Congress is the highest deliberative body of the only governing party of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The Congress yielded relatively modest results, with no real breakthrough, apart from establishing the 'defensive' nuclear deterrence concept. Kim Jong-un’s position as North Korea's supreme leader was fully formalised and now seems to be stronger than ever. The Party is likely to gain further power at the expense of the military. Nuclear deterrence is now firmly enshrined in the Party's statutes as well as the country’s constitution. Pyongyang has made clear that no nuclear deal is possible unless the US and its allies accept North Korea as a 'nuclear state'. Despite its propaganda announcements, North Korea is not ready to modernise its sclerotic economy. While some cautious developments cannot be ruled out, the regime's open criticism of the Chinese economic model suggest that any reforms would be limited and very probably inconclusive.

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