The primary issue that is being negotiated with North Korea is its nuclear weapons and the missiles they might be mounted on for attacks on the United States and its allies, South Korea and Japan. A meaningful agreement will have to include many technical issues.
Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo are not nuclear or rocket scientists, nor can we expect most politicians to be. But the technical facts are no less difficult to learn than the economics. (Oops! They get that wrong, too. I will push forward anyway.) Pundits commenting on the negotiations and people who simply want to understand may find this list useful. Read More
The OPCW concluded that the chemical agent used on the Skripals in Salisbury, England was “concluded that the chemical substance found was of high purity, persistent and resistant to weather conditions.”
Nuclear weapons programs come with costs: financial, reputational, and the potential for being made a target by other nuclear powers. There is also an opportunity cost in diverting smart scientists, engineers, and managers from work that might produce improvement to people’s daily lives and the economy.
Leaders understand that there are costs. In starting his nuclear weapons program in the 1970s, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan declared “’We will eat grass, even go hungry, but we will get [a nuclear weapon] of our own.”
The Iranian documents presented by Benjamin Netanyahu yielded one new piece of information: That Iran planned an arsenal of only five rather small (10 kiloton yield) warheads. Likewise, Kim Jong Un has declared his arsenal complete after what seems a rather sketchy set of tests. Read More
South Korea reports that Kim Jong Un has offered to close North Korea’s nuclear test site at Punggye-Ri in May. He says he will invite US and South Korean experts to examine the site before its demolition to see that it is still usable.
There have been very definite statements from experts outside North Korea that the site may or may not be usable. We don’t have access to the site, so we must surmise the situation from overhead photos, seismic traces, and experience at other test sites.
The yield of the most recent test was very large, perhaps 250 kilotons. It’s hard to estimate the yields of North Korean nuclear tests because we don’t know enough about the geology of the test site. It was followed by three seismic events of 4.6, 3.5, and 2.9 magnitude, which were not tests. Read More