Skip to main content

3 ways to thwart N. Korea nukes

By Michael Green and Zack Cooper
updated 3:10 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
A North Korean soldier patrols the bank of the Yalu River, which separates the North Korean town of Sinuiju from the Chinese border town of Dandong, on Saturday, April 26. A recent <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/17/world/asia/north-korea-un-report/index.html'>United Nations report</a> described a brutal North Korean state "that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world." A North Korean soldier patrols the bank of the Yalu River, which separates the North Korean town of Sinuiju from the Chinese border town of Dandong, on Saturday, April 26. A recent United Nations report described a brutal North Korean state "that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world."
HIDE CAPTION
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
Kim Jong Un and North Korea's military
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • North Korea may launch nuclear test to coincide with Obama's visit to South Korea
  • Writers: If it's a more serious provocation, it could signal an uptick in nuclear capability
  • They say strong U.N. sanctions necessary to stop a possible march toward nukes
  • Writers: U.S. must strengthen ties with S. Korea and Japan and build up its deterrent system

Editor's note: Michael Green is senior vice president for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an associate professor at Georgetown University. Zack Cooper is a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a doctoral candidate at Princeton University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.

(CNN) -- News reports indicate that North Korea may be preparing for a nuclear test, potentially scheduled to coincide with President Obama's visit to South Korea this week.

The North Korean foreign minister warned Tuesday that Obama's trip could "escalate confrontation and bring the dark clouds of a nuclear arms race," prompting speculation that the impulsive young leader of the North, Kim Jong Un, is again crying out for attention.

Typically, experts and government officials refer to these outbursts and nuclear or missile tests as "provocations," which are followed by sanctions, tensions and -- it is hoped -- a return to diplomacy. But by now, it should be obvious that while North Korean behavior appears cyclical ("there they go again"), Pyongyang is on a clear, linear path to developing nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them on target in Japan and eventually the United States.

Michael J. Green
Michael J. Green
Zack Cooper
Zack Cooper

North Korea's third and most recent nuclear test, in February 2013, used a relatively small 6- to 9-kiloton plutonium-based nuclear warhead, according to the South Korea Ministry of Defense, roughly half the yield of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

If North Korea's new test is substantially larger, it will demonstrate that Pyongyang either has mastered the warhead design challenges of plutonium-based weapons or has covertly enriched uranium.

If it is the former case, North Korea will more easily be able to miniaturize its nuclear warhead technology for mating with ballistic missiles. If the latter case, North Korea will probably demonstrate the ability to covertly stockpile large amounts of fissile material, since highly enriched uranium facilities can be more easily hidden underground and North Korea has plenty of uranium mines to obtain the necessary fuel.

Either way, a "new form" of North Korean nuclear test would signal a substantial increase in the country's nuclear capabilities and not just another provocation requiring a short-term punishment from the international community.

North Korea nuclear test 'quite likely'
See baby photos of Kim Jong Un
South: N. Korea prepping for nuclear test

The United States and its allies and partners would no doubt seek to place additional sanctions on North Korea through the United Nations, if such a test were to occur. However, given current tensions with Russia, as well as Chinese concern about North Korean stability, it is unlikely that the U.N. Security Council would approve substantial new sanctions. Yet, deterring North Korea is critical. What more could be done?

First, if the United States cannot win substantial new sanctions at the U.N., it should take additional steps in concert with South Korea, Japan and other allies and partners to squeeze the North's ability to import or export dangerous materials related to their missile and nuclear programs.

Additional sanctions should target North Korean use of international banks to conduct illicit activities. Although some of these institutions have been targeted (most notably Banco Delta Asia in 2005), more can be done to cut North Korea off from its international financing. A coalition of like-minded states could also agree to inspect any and all ships or planes that have departed from North Korea in the previous six months. This same coalition would work together to pressure Beijing to increase inspections and cut off illicit banking activities with North Korea.

Moving China to action has usually been a challenge, but additional North Korean provocations and Kim Jong Un's execution of his uncle and China's contact in Pyongyang, Jang Song Thaek, could motivate China to take steps, particularly once it is clear that the U.S. is no longer willing to rely on the Security Council for another round of weak sanctions.

Second, the U.S. should respond to any North Korean test by increasing cooperation trilaterally with Japan and South Korea. Although South Korea-Japan relations have been at a low point, the United States has spearheaded efforts to make progress in the bilateral relationship in recent months. Obama's visit to both countries will surely touch on this issue, but a North Korean provocation could help him drive Japan and South Korea toward closer cooperation, particularly on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; missile defense; and logistics.

This would not only improve U.S.-Japan-South Korea cooperation but could also deter additional provocative actions and put pressure on Chinese leaders to restrain their North Korean ally. In December 2010, the U.S., Japan and South Korea came very close to issuing a joint collective security statement, declaring that an attack by the North on any of us would be an attack on all of us, after the North sank a South Korean vessel and shelled civilians on a South Korean-held island. That high bar could become achievable again.

Third, the United States should bolster its extended deterrent framework -- or nuclear umbrella -- in East Asia. Today, some question U.S. willpower in the face of threats in the Asia Pacific region, particularly after the uncertain U.S. responses to aggression in Syria and Ukraine. A North Korean nuclear test would require the U.S. to make unambiguous statements about the defense of our allies and follow through with demonstrations of American capability, including deployments of assets like the B-2 bomber to Guam and increased exercises with Japan and Korea.

North Korea is estimated to have enough fissile material now for between six and 12 nuclear weapons and is working hard on miniaturization and longer-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting not only Japan but someday, potentially, the United States. At this rate, it will not be long before an American president is going to ask his staff who let North Korea develop the ability to threaten the United States with impunity and why more wasn't done to stop the North.

We know that diplomacy has failed to knock the North off its goal and that a military strike would risk dangerous retaliation against Japan and Korea. But in between war and diplomacy, we have a range of options that could constrict the North's program and buy us time until the threat can be removed peacefully through diplomacy or collapse of the onerous regime in Pyongyang.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 5:53 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 7:05 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT