A nuclear power's act of proliferation
Accounts by controversial scientist assert China gave Pakistan enough enriched uranium in '82 to make 2 bombs

By R. Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 13, 2009 

In 1982, a Pakistani military C-130 left the western Chinese city of Urumqi with a highly unusual cargo: enough weapons-grade uranium for two atomic bombs, according to accounts written by the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, and provided to The Washington Post.

The uranium transfer in five stainless-steel boxes was part of a broad-ranging, secret nuclear deal approved years earlier by Mao Zedong and Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that culminated in an exceptional, deliberate act of proliferation by a nuclear power, according to the accounts by Khan, who is under house arrest in Pakistan.

U.S. officials say they have known about the transfer for decades and once privately confronted the Chinese -- who denied it -- but have never raised the issue in public or sought to impose direct sanctions on China for it. President Obama, who said in April that "the world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons," plans to discuss nuclear proliferation issues while visiting Beijing on Tuesday.

According to Khan, the uranium cargo came with a blueprint for a simple weapon that China had already tested, supplying a virtual do-it-yourself kit that significantly speeded Pakistan's bomb effort. The transfer also started a chain of proliferation: U.S. officials worry that Khan later shared related Chinese design information with Iran; in 2003, Libya confirmed obtaining it from Khan's clandestine network.

China's refusal to acknowledge the transfer and the unwillingness of the United States to confront the Chinese publicly demonstrate how difficult it is to counter nuclear proliferation. Although U.S. officials say China is now much more attuned to proliferation dangers, it has demonstrated less enthusiasm than the United States for imposing sanctions on Iran over its nuclear efforts, a position Obama wants to discuss.

Although Chinese officials have for a quarter-century denied helping any nation attain a nuclear capability, current and former U.S. officials say Khan's accounts confirm the U.S. intelligence community's long-held conclusion that China provided such assistance.

"Upon my personal request, the Chinese Minister . . . had gifted us 50 kg [kilograms] of weapon-grade enriched uranium, enough for two weapons," Khan wrote in a previously undisclosed 11-page narrative of the Pakistani bomb program that he prepared after his January 2004 detention for unauthorized nuclear commerce.

"The Chinese gave us drawings of the nuclear weapon, gave us kg50 enriched uranium," he said in a separate account sent to his wife several months earlier.

China's Foreign Ministry last week declined to address Khan's specific assertions, but it said that as a member of the global Non-Proliferation Treaty since 1992, "China strictly adheres to the international duty of prevention of proliferation it shoulders and strongly opposes . . . proliferation of nuclear weapons in any forms."

Asked why the U.S. government has never publicly confronted China over the uranium transfer, State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said, "The United States has worked diligently and made progress with China over the past 25 years. As to what was or wasn't done during the Reagan administration, I can't say."

Khan's exploits have been described in multiple books and public reports since British and U.S. intelligence services unmasked the deeds in 2003. But his own narratives -- not yet seen by U.S. officials -- provide fresh details about China's aid to Pakistan and its reciprocal export to China of sensitive uranium-enrichment technology.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington declined to comment for this article. Pakistan has never allowed the U.S. government to question Khan or other top Pakistani officials directly, prompting Congress to demand in legislation approved in September that future aid be withheld until Obama certifies that Pakistan has provided "relevant information from or direct access to Pakistani nationals" involved in past nuclear commerce.

Insider vs. government

The Post obtained Khan's detailed accounts from Simon Henderson, a former journalist at the Financial Times who is now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and who has maintained correspondence with Khan. In a first-person account about his contacts with Khan in the Sept. 20 edition of the London Sunday Times, Henderson disclosed several excerpts from one of the documents.

Henderson said he agreed to The Post's request for a copy of that letter and other documents and narratives written by Khan because he believes an accurate understanding of Pakistan's nuclear history is relevant for U.S. policymaking. The Post independently confirmed the authenticity of the material; it also corroborated much of the content through interviews in Pakistan and other countries.

Although Khan disputes various assertions by book authors, the narratives are particularly at odds with Pakistan's official statements that he exported nuclear secrets as a rogue agent and implicated only former government officials who are no longer living. Instead, he repeatedly states that top politicians and military officers were immersed in the country's foreign nuclear dealings.

Khan has complained to friends that his movements and contacts are being unjustly controlled by the government, whose bidding he did -- providing a potential motive for his disclosures.

Overall, the narratives portray his deeds as a form of sustained, high-tech international horse-trading, in which Khan and a series of top generals successfully leveraged his access to Europe's best centrifuge technology in the 1980s to obtain financial assistance or technical advice from foreign governments that wanted to advance their own efforts.

"The speed of our work and our achievements surprised our worst enemies and adversaries and the West stood helplessly by to see a Third World nation, unable even to produce bicycle chains or sewing needles, mastering the most advanced nuclear technology in the shortest possible span of time," Khan boasts in the 11-page narrative he wrote for Pakistani intelligence officials about his dealings with foreigners while head of a key nuclear research laboratory.

Exchanges with Beijing

According to one of the documents, a five-page summary by Khan of his government's dealmaking with China, the terms of the nuclear exchange were set in a mid-1976 conversation between Mao and Bhutto. Two years earlier, neighboring India had tested its first nuclear bomb, provoking Khan -- a metallurgist working at a Dutch centrifuge manufacturer -- to offer his services to Bhutto.

Khan said he and two other Pakistani officials -- including then-Foreign Secretary Agha Shahi, since deceased -- worked out the details when they traveled to Beijing later that year for Mao's funeral. Over several days, Khan said, he briefed three top Chinese nuclear weapons officials -- Liu Wei, Li Jue and Jiang Shengjie -- on how the European-designed centrifuges could swiftly aid China's lagging uranium-enrichment program. China's Foreign Ministry did not respond to questions about the officials' roles.

"Chinese experts started coming regularly to learn the whole technology" from Pakistan, Khan states, staying in a guesthouse built for them at his centrifuge research center. Pakistani experts were dispatched to Hanzhong in central China, where they helped "put up a centrifuge plant," Khan said in an account he gave to his wife after coming under government pressure. "We sent 135 C-130 plane loads of machines, inverters, valves, flow meters, pressure gauges," he wrote. "Our teams stayed there for weeks to help and their teams stayed here for weeks at a time."

In return, China sent Pakistan 15 tons of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), a feedstock for Pakistan's centrifuges that Khan's colleagues were having difficulty producing on their own. Khan said the gas enabled the laboratory to begin producing bomb-grade uranium in 1982. Chinese scientists helped the Pakistanis solve other nuclear weapons challenges, but as their competence rose, so did the fear of top Pakistani officials that Israel or India might preemptively strike key nuclear sites.

Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, the nation's military ruler, "was worried," Khan said, and so he and a Pakistani general who helped oversee the nation's nuclear laboratories were dispatched to Beijing with a request in mid-1982 to borrow enough bomb-grade uranium for a few weapons.

After winning Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's approval, Khan, the general and two others flew aboard a Pakistani C-130 to Urumqi. Khan says they enjoyed barbecued lamb while waiting for the Chinese military to pack the small uranium bricks into lead-lined boxes, 10 single-kilogram ingots to a box, for the flight to Islamabad, Pakistan's capital.

According to Khan's account, however, Pakistan's nuclear scientists kept the Chinese material in storage until 1985, by which time the Pakistanis had made a few bombs with their own uranium. Khan said he got Zia's approval to ask the Chinese whether they wanted their high-enriched uranium back. After a few days, they responded "that the HEU loaned earlier was now to be considered as a gift . . . in gratitude" for Pakistani help, Khan said.

He said the laboratory promptly fabricated hemispheres for two weapons and added them to Pakistan's arsenal. Khan's view was that none of this violated the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, because neither nation had signed it at the time and neither had sought to use its capability "against any country in particular." He also wrote that subsequent international protests reeked of hypocrisy because of foreign assistance to nuclear weapons programs in Britain, Israel and South Africa.

U.S. unaware of progress

The United States was suspicious of Pakistani-Chinese collaboration through this period. Officials knew that China treasured its relationship with Pakistan because both worried about India; they also knew that China viewed Western nuclear policies as discriminatory and that some Chinese politicians had favored the spread of nuclear arms as a path to stability.

But U.S. officials were ignorant about key elements of the cooperation as it unfolded, according to current and former officials and classified documents.

China is "not in favor of a Pakistani nuclear explosive program, and I don't think they are doing anything to help it," a top State Department official reported in a secret briefing in 1979, three years after the Bhutto-Mao deal was struck. A secret State Department report in 1983 said Washington was aware that Pakistan had requested China's help, but "we do not know what the present status of the cooperation is," according to a declassified copy.

Meanwhile, Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang promised at a White House dinner in January 1984: "We do not engage in nuclear proliferation ourselves, nor do we help other countries develop nuclear weapons." A nearly identical statement was made by China in a major summary of its nonproliferation policies in 2003 and on many occasions in between.

Fred McGoldrick, a senior State Department nonproliferation official in the Reagan and Clinton administrations, recalls that the United States learned in the 1980s about the Chinese bomb-design and uranium transfers. "We did confront them, and they denied it," he said. Since then, the connection has been confirmed by particles on nuclear-related materials from Pakistan, many of which have characteristic Chinese bomb program "signatures," other officials say.

Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said that except for the instance described by Khan, "we are not aware of cases where a nuclear weapon state has transferred HEU to a non-nuclear country for military use." McGoldrick also said he is aware of "nothing like it" in the history of nuclear weapons proliferation. But he said nothing has ever been said publicly because "this is diplomacy; you don't do that sort of thing . . . if you want them to change their behavior."

Warrick reported from Islamabad. Staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington and Beijing bureau assistant Wang Juan contributed to this report.

JULY 11, 2009...4:31 PM

URGENT: India Pays Baitullah Mehsud To Attack Pakistan’s Nuclear Sites, Plan Deployed

The Indians working with their allies in the Karzai government have designed a foolproof plan to attack Pakistani nuclear sites using hired terrorists. They think they can pull it off and permanently damage Pakistan’s standing internationally and hasten calls for denuclearizing Pakistan. Any attack on Pakistani nuclear sites in the coming days will be taken as a declaration of war by India and will be dealt with equal force. There should not be confusion on this.



Special weapons facilities in Pakistan Source:



Tuesday, 7 July 2009.



ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—India has paid terrorist leader Baitullah Mehsud and his well armed and trained terrorist army around U.S. $ 25 million to mount a spectacular attack on a major Pakistani nuclear site. A special force of around 500 recruits has been assembled and trained to mount the operation that is supposed to shock the world. The purpose is to create an event that will create a global media scare and convince the world of the need for military intervention in Pakistan. Another objective is to neutralize voices of reason within the U.S. government that believe Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is secure.


The bulk of the terrorists in the special 500-strong force put together by Mehsud have been trained inside Afghanistan by trainers suspected of having links to the Indian intelligence. Although most of the recruits are expected to be Pakistanis from Mehsud’s tribe, an unknown number of Afghan and Indian elements with special operations training have been inserted in the Mehsud group in order to ensure the success of this high profile operation.


It is not clear when this plan was conceived and whether the 500-strong force divided into crack teams to carry out the attack(s) is ready. But Pakistani officials are taking no chances. The nation’s security setup is on high alert. As for the nuclear installations, the managers of Pakistan’s strategic arsenal maintain unrestricted universal operability to fulfill the arsenal’s role as a deterrent. For them, no day is a normal day.


But this latest disclosure of a plan to attack the nuclear sites has raised alarm bells, to say the least.

A rough sketch of the plan and how the attack(s) are expected to unfold goes as follows:


1. A team or several teams of terrorists attack one or more Pakistani nuclear sites and attempt to enter the facilities.

2. Within each crack team only a small core is supposed to be equipped with modern communications equipment, special operations gear, and modern weapons; highly trained to exact maximum damage.

3. Where possible, the terrorists plan to break in and hold the fort, a la Mumbai attacks, in order to generate maximum media coverage and embarrassment for the Pakistanis.

4. The international media, and especially the main American and British news outlets, turn this into a global crisis, comparable to the Bay of Pigs in 1962.

5. The event generates enough pressure to justify an ‘international demand’ to neutralize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and force Pakistanis to accept ‘international’ supervision.

6. Depending on the aftermath, and after a few days or weeks, a small nuclear weapon is used somewhere, maybe against the US military or NATO bases in Afghanistan since it would be difficult to do it anywhere else, in order to confirm that the Afghan Taliban or generally the ‘Islamic extremists’ managed to steal a weapon from the earlier attack(s) on Pakistani sites.


This last point is critical. According to the available information, the mysterious disappearance of a senior Indian nuclear scientist and his subsequent death in May is linked to at least some parts of this plan. The scientist, Mr. Lokanathan Mahalingam, 47, had access to Indian’s sensitive nuclear information and worked at the prestigious Kaiga Atomic Power Station in the southern Indian state Karnataka, close to Project Seabird, a major Indian military base. His disappearance received limited coverage in the Indian media and there was almost a blackout on the circumstances surrounding how his dead body was found in a lake. The media in the U.S. and Britain also ignored the story . It is believed that Mr. Mahalingam was either involved in or had some knowledge about the planning for securing a small nuclear weapon that would leave no fingerprints, to put it this way, in order to execute the idea in paragraph 6 above.


The Indians have been working on this scenario for some time now.


On 16 May, the Israeli security website Debka under a story titled, ‘Singh warns Obama: Pakistan is lost,’ reported the following:


“India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has told President Obama that nuclear sites in Pakistan’s restive frontier province are “already partly” in the hands of Islamic extremists.”


The Times of India, reporting the story , complained about “Washington’s misplaced confidence in, and [careless] approach towards, Pakistan’s nuclear assets,” and grumbled that “Pakistan is ramping up its nuclear arsenal even as the rest of the world is scaling it down.”


The Indian interest is obvious. But so is the Israeli interest. It is quite revealing that the story was broken by a news outlet known in international circles for its links to the Israeli government.


Official circles in Washington, including the White House, the State Department, Pentagon and CIA are cognizant of a history of cooperation between India and Israel in security issues. India’s security establishment is largely focused on Pakistan and on controlling Kashmir where the population is fighting the Indian military. At least in one incident, during the limited Pakistan-India war in 1999, the Israelis directly intervened to help the battered Indian army overturn a tactical victory by Pakistani and Kashmiri fighters.


As recently as two days ago, Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and an Obama adviser known for his strong anti-Pakistan views, wrote an article published at the Brookings Institute website that demonstrates how far the anti-Pakistan lobby is willing to go to prove that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is not safe.


In Mr. Riedel’s case, he went as far as lying.


He used a recent terrorist attack on a bus carrying employees of KRL, a Pakistani nuclear facility, to say that Pakistani nuclear sites are already under attack. What he conveniently ignored is that the said bus was in fact traveling through a densely populated part of the city and not anywhere near any nuclear site. The bus most probably became a target of opportunity because it carried a plate indicating it was a government vehicle.


Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement quoted by an Israeli source which was widely reported and never denied by the Indians, the Israelis or the Americans, was not the first to promote the alarmist and the unreal scenario of Pakistani nuclear weapons getting into the wrong hands. Mr. Singh came on record during an interview with CNN in 2005 to say this:


“I am worried about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear assets should President Pervez Musharraf be replaced, since there is always the danger of Islamic militants seizing power and taking control of the country’s nuclear assets.”


There is little question that influential parts of the Indian government are involved in exporting terrorism into Pakistan from bases inside Afghanistan. Attempts to incite ethnic unrest in Pakistan’s southwest were traced by investigators to Indians in Afghanistan. Pakistani investigators reached the same conclusion with some of the evidence found in northwest Pakistan where terrorists are killing Pakistanis. And now there are reports of an impending attack on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities using Baitullah Mehsud.


The Indians and those who are supporting them should be under no illusions. Any attack on Pakistani nuclear facilities in the coming days will be construed as a declaration of war by India against Pakistan. Knowing of Mehsud’s previous contacts with Indians and with Karzai’s people, any miscalculated attempt by his terrorists will not be seen as anything less than a direct Indian attack. In this case, Pakistan will consider itself in a state of war, and retaliate accordingly. There should not be any confusion on this.’s-nuclear-sites-plan-deployed/


Pakistan's n-assets may fall into terrorist hands: US report

Arun KumarThu, May 28 09:05 AM

Washington, May 28 (IANS) Chronic political instability in Pakistan and the current offensive against the Taliban has raised fears that Islamabad's strategic nuclear assets could be obtained by terrorists or used by elements in the Pakistani government, US lawmakers have been told.

While US and Pakistani officials have expressed confidence in controls over Pakistan's nuclear weapons, continued instability in the country could impact these safeguards, according to a new US Congressional Research Report on 'Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons: Proliferation and Security Issues.'

'Some observers fear radical takeover of a government that possesses a nuclear bomb, or proliferation by radical sympathisers within Pakistan's nuclear complex in case of a breakdown of controls,' says the report prepared by two non-proliferation experts for US lawmakers.

Pakistan, which already has a nuclear arsenal of about 60 nuclear warheads, continues fissile material production for weapons, and is adding to its weapons production facilities and delivery vehicles, notes the report by Paul K. Kerr and Mary Beth Nikitin.

Pakistan does not have a stated nuclear policy, but its 'minimum credible deterrent' is thought to be primarily a deterrent to Indian military action, the report suggests.

Pakistan reportedly stores its warheads unassembled with the fissile core separate from non-nuclear explosives, and these are stored separately from their delivery vehicles.

Command and control structures have been dramatically overhauled since Sep 11, 2001 terror attacks and export controls and personnel security programmes have been put in place since the 2004 revelations about Pakistan's notorious nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan's international proliferation network, the report said.

Pakistani and some US officials argue that Islamabad has taken a number of steps to prevent further proliferation of nuclear-related technologies and materials and improve its nuclear security, the report says.

'A number of important initiatives such as strengthened export control laws, improved personnel security, and international nuclear security cooperation programmes have improved the security situation in recent years,' the

experts said.

But 'Instability in Pakistan has called the extent and durability of these reforms into question,' they noted.

Members of Congress have also expressed concerns regarding the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons and related material with Richard Lugar, top Republican of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee favouring use of 'the cooperative threat reduction tools in Pakistan to help with the security of nuclear, biological, and chemical materials and weapons in the country.'

The North Korean Nuclear Test and Geopolitical Reality

May 26, 2009 | 2337 GMT

By Nathan Hughes

North Korea tested a nuclear device for the second time in two and a half years May 25. Although North Korea’s nuclear weapons program continues to be a work in progress, the event is inherently significant. North Korea has carried out the only two nuclear detonations the world has seen in the 21st century. (The most recent tests prior to that were the spate of tests by India and Pakistan in 1998.)

Details continue to emerge through the analysis of seismographic and other data, and speculation about the precise nature of the atomic device that Pyongyang may now posses carries on, making this a good moment to examine the underlying reality of nuclear weapons. Examining their history, and the lessons that can be drawn from that history, will help us understand what it will really mean if North Korea does indeed join the nuclear club.

Nuclear Weapons in the 20th Century

Even before an atomic bomb was first detonated on July 16, 1945, both the scientists and engineers of the Manhattan Project and the U.S. military struggled with the implications of the science that they pursued. But ultimately, they were driven by a profound sense of urgency to complete the program in time to affect the outcome of the war, meaning understanding the implications of the atomic bomb was largely a luxury that would have to wait. Even after World War II ended, the frantic pace of the Cold War kept pushing weapons development forward at a break-neck pace. This meant that in their early days, atomic weapons were probably more advanced than the understanding of their moral and practical utility.

But the promise of nuclear weapons was immense. If appropriate delivery systems could be designed and built, and armed with more powerful nuclear warheads, a nation could continually threaten another country’s very means of existence: its people, industry, military installations and governmental institutions. Battlefield or tactical nuclear weapons would make the massing of military formations suicidal — or so military planners once thought. What seemed clear early on was that nuclear weapons had fundamentally changed everything. War was thought to have been made obsolete, simply too dangerous and too destructive to contemplate. Some of the most brilliant minds of the Manhattan Project talked of how atomic weapons made world government necessary.

But perhaps the most surprising aspect of the advent of the nuclear age is how little actually changed. Great power competition continued apace (despite a new, bilateral dynamic). The Soviets blockaded Berlin for nearly a year starting in 1948, in defiance of what was then the world’s sole nuclear power: the United States. Likewise, the United States refused to use nuclear weapons in the Korean War (despite the pleas of Gen. Douglas MacArthur) even as Chinese divisions surged across the Yalu River, overwhelming U.S., South Korean and allied forces and driving them back south, reversing the rapid gains of late 1950.

Again and again, the situations nuclear weapons were supposed to deter occurred. The military realities they would supposedly shift simply persisted. Thus, the United States lost in Vietnam. The Syrians and the Egyptians invaded Israel in 1973 (despite knowing that the Israelis had acquired nuclear weapons by that point). The Soviet Union lost in Afghanistan. India and Pakistan went to war in 1999 — and nearly went to war twice after that. In none of these cases was it judged appropriate to risk employing nuclear weapons — nor was it clear what utility they might have.

Enduring Geopolitical Stability

Wars of immense risk are born of desperation. In World War II, both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan took immense geostrategic gambles — and lost — but knowingly took the risk because of untenable geopolitical circumstances. By comparison, the postwar United States and Soviet Union were geopolitically secure. Washington had come into its own as a global power secured by the buffer of two oceans, while Moscow enjoyed the greatest strategic depth it had ever known.

The U.S.-Soviet competition was, of course, intense, from the nuclear arms race to the space race to countless proxy wars. Yet underlying it was a fear that the other side would engage in a war that was on its face irrational. Western Europe promised the Soviet Union immense material wealth but would likely have been impossible to subdue. (Why should a Soviet leader expect to succeed where Napoleon and Hitler had failed?) Even without nuclear weapons in the calculus, the cost to the Soviets was too great, and fears of the Soviet invasion of Europe along the North European Plain were overblown. The desperation that caused Germany to seek control over Europe twice in the first half of the 20th century simply did not characterize either the Soviet or U.S. geopolitical position even without nuclear weapons in play. It was within this context that the concept of mutually assured destruction emerged — the idea that each side would possess sufficient retaliatory capability to inflict a devastating “second strike” in the event of even a surprise nuclear attack.

Through it all, the metrics of nuclear warfare became more intricate. Throw weights and penetration rates were calculated and recalculated. Targets were assigned and reassigned. A single city would begin to have multiple target points, each with multiple strategic warheads allocated to its destruction. Theorists and strategists would talk of successful scenarios for first strikes. But only in the Cuban Missile Crisis did the two sides really threaten one another’s fundamental national interests. There were certainly other moments when the world inched toward the nuclear brink. But each time, the global system found its balance, and there was little cause or incentive for political leaders on either side of the Iron Curtain to so fundamentally alter the status quo as to risk direct military confrontation — much less nuclear war.

So through it all, the world carried on, its fundamental dynamics unchanged by the ever-present threat of nuclear war. Indeed, history has shown that once a country has acquired nuclear weapons, the weapons fail to have any real impact on the country’s regional standing or pursuit of power in the international system.

Thus, not only were nuclear weapons never used in even desperate combat situations, their acquisition failed to entail any meaningful shift in geopolitical position. Even as the United Kingdom acquired nuclear weapons in the 1950s, its colonial empire crumbled. The Soviet Union was behaving aggressively all along its periphery before it acquired nuclear weapons. And the Soviet Union had the largest nuclear arsenal in the world when it collapsed — not only despite its arsenal, but in part because the economic burden of creating and maintaining it was unsustainable. Today, nuclear-armed France and non-nuclear armed Germany vie for dominance on the Continent with no regard for France’s small nuclear arsenal.

The Intersection of Weapons, Strategy and Politics

This August will mark 64 years since any nation used a nuclear weapon in combat. What was supposed to be the ultimate weapon has proved too risky and too inappropriate as a weapon ever to see the light of day again. Though nuclear weapons certainly played a role in the strategic calculus of the Cold War, they had no relation to a military strategy that anyone could seriously contemplate. Militaries, of course, had war plans and scenarios and target sets. But outside this world of role-play Armageddon, neither side was about to precipitate a global nuclear war.

Clausewitz long ago detailed the inescapable connection between national political objectives and military force and strategy. Under this thinking, if nuclear weapons had no relation to practical military strategy, then they were necessarily disconnected (at least in the Clausewitzian sense) from — and could not be integrated with — national and political objectives in a coherent fashion. True to the theory, despite ebbs and flows in the nuclear arms race, for 64 years, no one has found a good reason to detonate a nuclear bomb.

By this line of reasoning, STRATFOR is not suggesting that complete nuclear disarmament — or “getting to zero” — is either possible or likely. The nuclear genie can never be put back in the bottle. The idea that the world could ever remain nuclear-free is untenable. The potential for clandestine and crash nuclear programs will remain a reality of the international system, and the world’s nuclear powers are unlikely ever to trust the rest of the system enough to completely surrender their own strategic deterrents.

Legacy, Peer and Bargaining Programs

The countries in the world today with nuclear weapons programs can be divided into three main categories.

  • Legacy Programs: This category comprises countries like the United Kingdom and France that maintain small arsenals even after the end of the threat they acquired them for; in this case, to stave off a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. In the last few years, both London and Paris have decided to sustain their small arsenals in some form for the foreseeable future. This category is also important for highlighting the unlikelihood that a country will surrender its weapons after it has acquired them (the only exceptions being South Africa and several Soviet Republics that repatriated their weapons back to Russia after the Soviet collapse).
  • Peer Programs: The original peer program belonged to the Soviet Union, which aggressively and ruthlessly pursued a nuclear weapons capacity following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 because its peer competitor, the United States, had them. The Pakistani and Indian nuclear programs also can be understood as peer programs.
  • Bargaining Programs: These programs are about the threat of developing nuclear weapons, a strategy that involves quite a bit of tightrope walking to make the threat of acquiring nuclear weapons appear real and credible while at the same time not making it appear so urgent as to require military intervention. Pyongyang pioneered this strategy, and has wielded it deftly over the years. As North Korea continues to progress with its efforts, however, it will shift from a bargaining chip to an actual program — one it will be unlikely to surrender once it acquires weapons, like London and Paris. Iran also falls into this category, though it could also progress to a more substantial program if it gets far enough along. Though parts of its program are indeed clandestine, other parts are actually highly publicized and celebrated as milestones, both to continue to highlight progress internationally and for purposes of domestic consumption. Indeed, manipulating the international community with a nuclear weapon — or even a civilian nuclear program — has proved to be a rare instance of the utility of nuclear weapons beyond simple deterrence.

The Challenges of a Nuclear Weapons Program

Pursuing a nuclear weapons program is not without its risks. Another important distinction is that between a crude nuclear device and an actual weapon. The former requires only that a country demonstrate the capability to initiate an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction, creating a rather large hole in the ground. That device may be crude, fragile or otherwise temperamental. But this does not automatically imply the capability to mount a rugged and reliable nuclear warhead on a delivery vehicle and send it flying to the other side of the earth. In other words, it does not immediately translate into a meaningful deterrent.

For that, a ruggedized, reliable nuclear weapon must be mated with some manner of reliable delivery vehicle to have real military meaning. After the end of World War II, the B-29’s limited range and the few nuclear weapons the United States had on hand meant that its vaunted nuclear arsenal was initially extremely difficult to bring to bear against the Soviet heartland. The United States would spend untold resources to overcome this obstacle in the decade that followed.

The modern nuclear weapon is not just a product of physics, but of decades of design work and full-scale nuclear testing. It combines expertise not just in nuclear physics, but materials science, rocketry, missile guidance and the like. A nuclear device does not come easy. A nuclear weapon is one of the most advanced syntheses of complex technologies ever achieved by man.

Many dangers exist for an aspiring nuclear power. Many of the facilities associated with a clandestine nuclear weapons program are large, fixed and complex. They are vulnerable to airstrikes — as Syria found in 2007. (And though history shows that nuclear weapons are unlikely to be employed, it is still in the interests of other powers to deny that capability to a potential adversary.)

The history of proliferation shows that few countries actually ever decide to pursue nuclear weapons. Obtaining them requires immense investment (and the more clandestine the attempt, the more costly the program becomes), and the ability to focus and coordinate a major national undertaking over time. It is not something a leader like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez could decide to pursue on a whim. A national government must have cohesion over the long span of time necessary to go from the foundations of a weapons program to a meaningful deterrent capability.

The Exceptions

In addition to this sustained commitment must be the willingness to be suspected by the international community and endure pariah status and isolation — in and of themselves significant risks for even moderately integrated economies. One must also have reasonable means of deterring a pre-emptive strike by a competing power. A Venezuelan weapons program is therefore unlikely because the United States would act decisively the moment one was discovered, and there is little Venezuela could do to deter such action.

North Korea, on the other hand, has held downtown Seoul (just across the demilitarized zone) at risk for generations with one of the highest concentrations of deployed artillery, artillery rockets and short-range ballistic missiles on the planet. From the outside, Pyongyang is perceived as unpredictable enough that any potential pre-emptive strike on its nuclear facilities is too risky not because of some newfound nuclear capability, but because of Pyongyang’s capability to turn the South Korean capital city into a proverbial “sea of fire” via conventional means. A nuclear North Korea, the world has now seen, is not sufficient alone to risk renewed war on the Korean Peninsula.

Iran is similarly defended. It can threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz, to launch a barrage of medium-range ballistic missiles at Israel, and to use its proxies in Lebanon and elsewhere to respond with a new campaign of artillery rocket fire, guerrilla warfare and terrorism. But the biggest deterrent to a strike on Iran is Tehran’s ability to seriously interfere in ongoing U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan — efforts already tenuous enough without direct Iranian opposition.

In other words, some other deterrent (be it conventional or unconventional) against attack is a prerequisite for a nuclear program, since powerful potential adversaries can otherwise move to halt such efforts. North Korea and Iran have such deterrents. Most other countries widely considered major proliferation dangers — Iraq before 2003, Syria or Venezuela, for example — do not. And that fundamental deterrent remains in place after the country acquires nuclear weapons.

In short, no one was going to invade North Korea — or even launch limited military strikes against it — before its first nuclear test in 2006. And no one will do so now, nor will they do so after its next test. So North Korea – with or without nuclear weapons – remains secure from invasion. With or without nuclear weapons, North Korea remains a pariah state, isolated from the international community. And with or without them, the world will go on.

The Global Nuclear Dynamic

Despite how frantic the pace of nuclear proliferation may seem at the moment, the true pace of the global nuclear dynamic is slowing profoundly. With the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty already effectively in place (though it has not been ratified), the pace of nuclear weapons development has already slowed and stabilized dramatically. The world’s current nuclear powers are reliant to some degree on the generation of weapons that were validated and certified before testing was banned. They are currently working toward weapons and force structures that will provide them with a stable, sustainable deterrent for the foreseeable future rooted largely in this pre-existing weapons architecture.

New additions to the nuclear club are always cause for concern. But though North Korea’s nuclear program continues apace, it hardly threatens to shift underlying geopolitical realities. It may encourage the United States to retain a slightly larger arsenal to reassure Japan and South Korea about the credibility of its nuclear umbrella. It also could encourage Tokyo and Seoul to pursue their own weapons. But none of these shifts, though significant, is likely to alter the defining military, economic and political dynamics of the region fundamentally.

Nuclear arms are better understood as an insurance policy, one that no potential aggressor has any intention of steering afoul of. Without practical military or political use, they remain held in reserve — where in all likelihood they will remain for the foreseeable future.

North Korea’s Nuclear Test: Another Fizzle?

Federation of American Scientists: North Korea's Nuclear Test

May 25, 2009

CTBTO’s initial findings on the DPRK’s 2009 announced nuclear test.

http://www. Comparison of the initial estimations of the origin of the 2006 and the 2009 announced DPRK nuclear tests.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Korean Central News Agency reportedly has announced that North Korea “successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of measures to bolster its nuclear deterrent for self-defense.”  Several news media reported that the Russian Ministry of Defense estimating the test had a yield of approximately 10 to 20 kilotons.

Yet the preliminary seismic data published by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows that the test had a seismic magnitude of 4.7, only slightly more powerful than the 4.3 of the 2006 test.

Was it another fizzle? We’ll have to wait for more analysis of the seismic data, but so far the early news media reports about a “Hiroshima-size” nuclear explosion seem to be overblown.

12 Responses to “North Korea’s Nuclear Test: Another Fizzle?”

1.      David M. Says:
May 25th, 2009 at 12:02 pm

The Richter scale is logarithmic, so wouldn’t this blast be 2.5 times more powerful than the previous?

Reply: Yes, the test seems to have been more powerful than the previous, but the initial reports of 10-20 kilotons seem to have been too high. In either case, the higher yield suggests they have made some progress. HK

2.      Jim Says:
May 25th, 2009 at 11:32 pm

[Edited] A layman question: How much yield does the weapon have to have in order for it to destroy most of Seoul or Tokyo?

Reply: To destroy “most” of those cities, the weapon would need to have a yield of several kilotons. The Hiroshima bomb was 15 kilotons and the Nagasaki bomb 21 kilotons. Yet even a one-kiloton bomb could kill people in an area of about one square mile and partially destroy a much larger area. You can experiment with yield and blast effects on our nuclear blast simulator (although it only has US cities). HK

3.      Mark Nelson Says:
May 25th, 2009 at 11:58 pm

Since Russia is next door, I would assume their border with North Korea is lined with an array of sophisticated seismological equipment, and that due to their close proximity they may have human intelligence sources within North Korea also. So I would tend to think the Russians would have access to the best set of data for evaluating the yield of this most recent DPRK test.

Reply: One would think so. However, in terms of seismic stations, accurate data doesn’t require close proximity to the event. CTBTO reported that 23 primary and 16 auxiliary seismic stations registered the North Korean test. The closest IMS station to the event was at Ussuriysk, Russia, and the furthest in Texas, USA – halfway around the world. A map of these stations is available here. HK

4.      Andrew Says:
May 26th, 2009 at 6:12 am

The Richter scale is logarithmic but the scale measures shaking not energy released. A rough estimate using the CTBTO’s figures from the difference in earthquake magnitudes from 2006 (4.1) and 2009 (4.52) would be an energy difference of about 4.25 times larger. The USGS figures differ in earthquake magnitude from CTBTO’s but the difference between the two events is the same so the estimate of increased yield would be about the same. Russia’s early estimate of the 2006 event yield was 5-15kT which was also considered an overestimate so this early yield figure could also be misleading. One theory is that these figures are taken from North Korean warnings to China/Russia and are therefore deliberately vague/misleading. If later estimates of yield for the 2006 event, of about 1kT, are more realistic it suggests this later event is around the 5kT level, which is still perhaps interestingly small for a first generation device.

5.      Christian Packmann Says:
May 26th, 2009 at 6:43 am

Could the NK devices be intentional fizzles? I.e., you design a 30kt device, cripple the design so that you predict a 4kt fizzle, the test gives a ~4kt fizzle, so you’re pretty certain to have a working 30kt design? I find it hard to believe that NK couldn’t get a working design going (assuming they’re testing simple fissions devices and don’t try to hop to fusion immediately) with modern technology and computer simulations. After all, the first plutonium bombs were designed 64 years ago with only marginal computer assist, and simple uranium designs are pretty much a no-brainer.

Reply: Apparently (fortunately) it is a great deal harder to design a nuclear warhead than people normally assume. A two-stage thermonuclear weapon is even more complicated. Simple uranium gun-type designs are easier than implosion warheads, but North Korea went the plutonium way. HK

6.      Vegas Says:
May 26th, 2009 at 8:05 am

The UNSC sanctions seem to have only bolstered the North Korean resolve to test/gain nuclear materials. Will there be a revival of the Six-Party Talks, or is that scenario dead in the water?

7.      Jan Galkowski Says:
May 26th, 2009 at 9:28 am

[Edited] Richter measures are misleading. Energy leaked from large explosions — including nuclear detonations — are a characteristic of natural sources, so Body Wave Magnitude (Mb) derived from short-period P waves is used to characterize it. If Mb is the body wave magnitude, an approximate yield in Kilotons is exp(Mb-4). Another estimate can be obtained from the Surface Moment, Ms, as exp(Ms-2) [See: Zhu, EASA-130, "Seismology and Nuclear Explosions"]. The particular coupling the North Korean test site presents makes estimates of magnitude depend upon raypaths and their takeoff bearing, especially in this locale. [See: Hong, Tae-Kyung; Baag, Chang-Eob; Choi, Hoseon; Sheen, Dong-Hoon, "Regional seismic observations of the 9 October 2006 underground nuclear explosion in North Korea and the influence of crustal structure on regional phases"]. This may be why CTBTO is being cautious. However, national interests probably know a great deal more already. If it was a stronger detonation, is it possible that North Korea simply replicated the October 2006 test, this time somewhat more successfully?

Reply: Thanks for providing these references. As for replicating the 2006 test, yes, apart from the many things we don’t know - the intention, the designs, the results of the air samples - I agree that the 2009 test could have been a re-run of the 2006 test. HK

8.      JohnA Says:
May 26th, 2009 at 12:44 pm

[Edited] This is a very serious wake-up call that should no longer be ignored. According to the EMP Commission, a Hiroshima sized nuclear-High-altitude Electro Magnetic Pulse weapon detonated at 250 miles above the mid-U.S. via a missile, could destroy the U.S.’s entire high-tech-based society’s devices and most of the high-tech continental military devices. We would return to the pre-electric agrarian society of 1752. In this case only 30 million lives could be supported by this agriculture and 270 million lives would expire from starvation and/or disease after one year. It currently takes a year or more to replace a few hundred large transformers for the world power grid-imagine if tens of thousands are destroyed in the U.S. alone. We are totally dependent on the power grid and other critical infrastructures that depend upon the power grid to sustain life and they are all currently totally unprotected against EMP. At perhaps 80 miles in altitude, a missile detonation above our East Coast from a submarine or freighter could take out perhaps 70% of the U.S. power grid and our key governmental and economic infrastructures. We need to harden the power grid immediately and then move on to hardening the other critical infrastructures.

Reply: But we’ve lived under that potential threat since the Soviet Union deployed its first nuclear ballistic missile. There were even U.S. governments that believed we could “win” a nuclear war. So why is one single North Korean hypothetical (remember, they don’t have the capability to bring a nuclear warhead to detonation 250 miles above the United States) suddenly so vital that it requires hardening the power grid “harden the power grid immediately and then move on to hardening the other critical infrastructures”? HK

9.      AmberG Says:
May 26th, 2009 at 12:56 pm

The use of the term “slightly more powerful” ( 4.7 vs 4.3 ) is a bit peculiar. As some one mentioned, the scale is logarithmic (in Amplitude - In terms of energy it is 3/2 power of amplitude), so a difference of 0.4 (4.7-4.3) translates to about a factor of 4! (not “slightly more powerful” )… Actually this ratio could be as high as 6 if you make allowance that, say 4.74 would still be written as 4.7.

Reply: I guess, if they’re going from essentially no yield to a little yield. But the point I was trying to make was that the alleged 10-20 kilotons was a long way away from what the seismic data suggested. North Korea has made progress, but it was not a “Hiroshima-size” explosion. So far the statements made by others seem to support that conclusion. HK

10.  3.1415 Says:
May 26th, 2009 at 3:06 pm

The Dear Leader is enjoying his spotlight. He will get the bomb to work sooner or later at this rate. There is really no military solution to this problem. And the diplomatic solution will not work either, because everyone of the 6 parties has different agenda. China does not want NK to fail and let the Americans go beyond 38th parallel, neither does Russia. Japan and SK might want to go nuclear, but the Americans won’t let them. Any concession from the US would weaken Obama’s position and will not change the Dear Leader’s determination to be a nuclear state, declared or otherwise. The Korean War never really stopped; an armstice was called. Maybe it is time for China and US to go back to the negotiation table to finish the business. Not very pleasant, but what is the alternative? The six party talk has four parties too many.

11.  JohnA Says:
May 26th, 2009 at 10:22 pm

To HK on EMP Threat:
The sad fact is that during the Cold War we were all potentially expendable in the U.S. during a nuclear exchange. We were advised to build our own shelters and stock our own goods for survival and to duck and cover in public places and schools. There were some community shelters with stocked goods.

HEMP E1 & E2 effects were details in a full nuclear exchange. However, we did not know about HEMP E3 effect until 1994 when a Russian scientist told us about it and its destructive effects in a conference. We did not know because we tested over water in 1962 and the Soviets tested over land and suffered consequences to their electrical grids and devices. This is likely why they signed the above-ground Test Ban Treaty-because we did not know about E3 and they did.

In the Soviet Union, both the strategic weapons and critical infrastructures were protected against HEMP. Also, nuclear shelters existed in all major cities for the elites as is also the case in China-including the brand new one in Shanghai.

We did not know the Soviets/Russians had a super HEMP weapon until 2004 when Russian generals hired by the EMP Commission told us of its existance. It delivers 200,000 volts/meter at the center of the detonation line-of-sight. We protected our strategic weapons and facilities to 50,000 volts/meter during the Cold War and up to today. Therefore, we are totally unprotected. A HEMP weapon is the perfect asymmetric weapon for a rogue state/terror group to destroy the U.S. Also, we would never know who did it. The Russian’s said this in 1999 when the head of the Russian Duma threatened us with such a HEMP attack over the Kosovo negotiations. Both Iran and North Korea have tested HEMP trajectories-Iran from submarines and NK over Japan. Next question?

12.  IVAN Says:
May 27th, 2009 at 2:42 am

Mr. Kristensen, I will ask you straight-what is the possibility of nuclear war in world by rate from 1 to 10?My rate is 9.What is yours?