RUSSIA DOES NOT NEED A NUCLEAR NORTH KOREA


09.10.06
MOSCOW. (Daniil Kobyakov for RIA Novosti)

Logic and common sense tell us that what North Korea has detonated was not a nuclear bomb but an explosive device. Experts say detonating a nuclear bomb calls for higher technologies, which North Korea is unlikely to have. It probably used conventional explosives to imitate a nuclear blast.
According to Pyongyang, the explosion amounted to 500 kilotons of TNT (though Russian experts assess it at 5-15 kilotons), which may mean that it was an aborted explosion of a very big nuclear device.
In my view, it will take North Korea several years to create the bomb. It may opt for a plutonium project, which would take longer, or a uranium program, but this calls for having a certain amount of highly enriched Uranium 235.
Unfortunately, we do not know which technology North Korea has, but in the past it was an active player on the global black market of nuclear technologies, and could have acquired modern uranium enrichment technologies from Pakistan. Therefore, it could have advanced in uranium enrichment further than some experts think.
Russia, the Untied States, Japan, China and South Korea have national nuclear test verification technologies. There is also a global monitoring network, which developed during the Cold War and after the signing of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban treaty. Seismic stations can also be used to analyze radionuclide emissions.
All these elements have been employed to analyze the situation after the purported nuclear explosion in North Korea, but it will take several weeks to arrive at reliable conclusions.
What next? This is a deadlock situation: the international community must do something to prevent a repetition of these events, but has used almost all conceivable measures against North Korea. The country has been isolated from the rest of the world, and applying continuous pressure to the point of armed interference would be counterproductive.
In my view, the international community must do something, but remember that Pyongyang may have nuclear weapons. It should clearly outline the border North Korea must not cross, and somehow indicate that Pyongyang only stands to lose by persisting with its nuclear program.
On the other hand, we should approach the problem systemically, with due regard for the precepts of non-proliferation. Most importantly, the alleged North Korean nuclear test should not produce the domino effect in the region and the world, so that other countries do not use the Korean test to justify their own nuclear programs, and do not try to acquire or create nuclear weapons to protect themselves against North Korea.
Russia also wants the U.S. and Japan to show restraint to prevent using this precedent to spur the arms race, fan regional tensions, deploy ballistic missile defense systems, or create new nuclear weapons. The international community and the six countries involved in the talks with North Korea should coordinate their positions. North Korea has always cleverly played on contradictions, and any unwise step now may provoke an unpredictable response, giving Pyongyang room for maneuver, a pretext for blackmail, and a chance for political bargaining.
The U.S. is the key player with whom North Korea tried to talk directly, although Americans themselves are largely responsible for provoking Pyongyang into such rash actions. The U.S. included North Korea in the “axis of evil”, took a number of steps provoking confrontation, and further “offended” it by invading Iraq.
In this situation, Washington should make a tactical concession, possibly by issuing a security guarantee, or taking other measures to alleviate tensions on the peninsula, but only in response to North Korea’s reciprocal steps concerning its nuclear program.
The North Korean nuclear test has also delivered a political blow to China, which is Pyongyang’s closest ally for political and economic reasons. This is why China’s position has been so harsh.
Russia is a neutral participant in the six-country talks. The blast, which took place in close proximity to Russia’s territory, is problematic for security reasons. Potentially, Russia may have one more nuclear neighbor.
The worst part is that the North Korean nuclear test can destabilize the situation in the region and undermine the non-proliferation regime.
However, Russia must protect its national interests, and, therefore, it should advocate a balanced and restrained attitude to the Korean blunder. North Korea is a problem in itself, and Russia does not need an escalation, an inadequate U.S. and Japanese response, or a nuclear North Korea.

Daniil Kobyakov is Information Projects Director, Global Partnership Project Coordinator, at the PIR Center for Policy Studies in Russia. -0-