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
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, center, tours a frontline military unit, in this image released July 16 by state run North Korean Central News Agency. 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." North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, center, tours a frontline military unit, in this image released July 16 by state run North Korean Central News Agency. 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
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
46
47
48
>
>>
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 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT