The crisis has passed—north korea nuclear weapons essay now. But to stop the nuclear threat for good, the president will need to negotiate.
The Friday Cover is POLITICO Magazine’s email of the week’s best, delivered to your inbox every Friday morning. By signing up you agree to receive email newsletters or alerts from POLITICO. You can unsubscribe at any time. Now that the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula has been at least temporarily defused thanks to Kim Jong Un’s announcement that he would wait and see before launching missiles toward Guam—despite ominous North Korean propaganda as the U. South Korea launch their latest joint military exercises—it’s time to step back and ask ourselves the big questions about just how useful our approach to North Korea’s nuclear program has been so far. My answer: Not very useful at all.
During the past 15 years, North Korea first built the bomb and then expanded it to a nuclear arsenal that threatens the region, while Washington has continued to deny reality with its call for complete denuclearization. Which is why it’s time to take a long and serious look at the next option: talking with North Korea. Secretaries Jim Mattis and Rex Tillerson earlier this month served to lower tensions by stating that the United States was still pursuing peaceful denuclearization, it does not introduce any new elements that could bring the two sides closer to ending the nuclear crisis. So—how can we make real progress? It is misplaced and dangerous. Instead, Trump administration officials should talk with Pyongyang, face to face, without any preconditions, to avert what I consider the greatest North Korean nuclear threat—that of stumbling into an inadvertent nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, which may lead to hundreds of thousands deaths including thousands of American citizens.
What’s more, there’s a lot to indicate that North Korea isn’t close enough to developing ICBM-capable missiles to strike the United States even if it wanted to. The panic over North Korea’s missiles was elevated recently when leaked classified U. 60 nuclear weapons in its arsenal. But I don’t concur with those estimates.
Based on my 50 years of experience with nuclear technologies and nuclear weapons, combined with what I saw and learned during my seven visits to North Korea beginning in 2004, I don’t believe Pyongyang has yet mastered the key elements of delivering a nuclear-tipped ICBM to the continental United States. Moreover, the nuclear warhead that must be mounted on the missile is the least developed and least tested part of North Korea’s nuclear ICBM ambitions. It must survive the extreme temperatures and mechanical stresses involved during launch, flight and re-entry into the atmosphere. It must detonate above the target by design, not accidentally explode on launch or burn up during reentry. More missile tests are needed that mirror real ICBM conditions to permit measurements that more accurately define the extreme conditions that the delicate materials such as plutonium, highly enriched uranium and chemical high explosives experience inside the warheads. It is much simpler to detonate a nuclear device in an underground tunnel under controlled conditions than to simulate all of the conditions a warhead experiences on the way to its target.