Tuesday, October 21, 2003

DOES NORTH KOREA ACTUALLY HAVE NUKES? What a silly question. Of course it does, right? How many times have we heard the CIA estimate that the DPRK had enough nuclear material to make one to two weapons before the 1994 Agreed Framework? Now, with clandestine uranium enrichment programs, IAEA-inspector-free plutonium facilities, emissions of krypton gas, there should be no doubt, right? Well, the apparent exaggerations of the intelligence community when it came to Iraq should be sufficient to give one pause. Add to this David Sanger's concise summary of the issue in the New York Times. According to Sanger, what does the IAEA say about the DPRK?
The International Atomic Energy Agency, in a series of confidential briefings, has taken a middle view: It has told Asian governments that North Korea has probably produced enough plutonium to make two new nuclear weapons, according to officials who took notes on the briefings.

"When you add up the evidence, we have every reason to believe they've made two new weapons," a senior Asian official said. That would be in addition to the one or two that the C.I.A. has said the North probably made in the early 1990's.

However . . .
American officials caution that the international agency reached its estimates by reinterpreting data from the United States, South Korea and other nations.

The international estimate concerned fuel and did not assess whether the North could convert it into a working bomb. North Korea has never tested a nuclear weapon.

And here's the kicker:
The C.I.A. assessment that North Korea built two bombs a decade ago appears to assume that the country had mastered the technology, but the basis for the conclusion is unclear.

So, based on estimates from the same organization that convinced most Americans, Republican and Democrat, that Iraq was brimming with WMD's, the DPRK may have some nuclear fuel and may be able to convert this fuel into weapons. But Sanger's conclusion is well warranted:
What it all adds up to is that no one knows for certain how big the North's arsenal is.
Or whether North Korea has an arsenal at all.

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