North Korea confirmed on Tuesday that it had conducted its third, long-threatened nuclear test. The test, which was detected by multiple nations and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty headquarters in Vienna, has not been independently confirmed yet. While North Korea’s previous two nuclear tests were plutonium based, experts believe that this test may mark the first uranium-based bomb the country has tested.
From the White House
A swift and thorough condemnation from the White House criticizes North Korea for threatening stability in the region, isolating and impoverishing its people, and increasing the risk of nuclear proliferation. “The danger posed by North Korea’s threatening activities warrants further swift and credible action by the international community”.
Not Another One
North Korea has told its key ally, China, that it is prepared to stage one or even two more nuclear tests this year in an effort to force the United States into diplomatic talks. China, which quickly denounced North Korea’s third nuclear test, has expressed that it may be willing to sign onto U.N. sanctions against its neighbor. Future nuclear tests would likely enflame this already fragile relationship, as they are likely to be much stronger than the previous three tests. There is also a strong likelihood that North Korea will continue to conduct missile tests throughout the year, another action that has enraged the international community.
Iran said that it was converting some of its enriched uranium into reactor fuel. Later this month, Iranian negotiators are to meet in Kazakhstan with representatives of P5+1.With negotiations quickly approaching, Iran has tried to diminish international concern about its nuclear program by converting its enriched uranium to reactor fuel, making it very difficult for this fuel to be converted again into fuel for nuclear weapons. The IAEA has said that the possibilities of visiting the Parchin site looks unlikely, a key aspect of these talks that may affect their uncertain outcomes.
Atomic Kingdom: If Iran builds the bomb, will Saudi Arabia be next? The Center for New American Security has released a report that disavows the likelihood that Saudi Arabia would react to a nuclear-armed Iran with its own nuclear arsenal. The report stresses that Saudi Arabia is too concerned about its international standing, specifically with the United States, and its nuclearization would result in a damaging of these ties and possible sanctions against it. Instead, the report proposes that the Saudi Arabian leadership would instead strengthen its conventional defenses while improving its civilian nuclear capabilities.
On February 19th the Brookings Institution held a discussion titled “Iran’s Nuclear Program: Is a Peaceful Solution Possible?” Former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, founder of The Iran Project and Brookings Senior Fellow Kenneth Pollack made up the panel, while Tamara Cofman Wittes, the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy provided opening remarks and moderated the discussion. The panel discussed the upcoming P5+1 talks and possible outcomes of the negotiations. Both panelists foresee a comprehensive solution unlikely from the talks, but believe that strides can still be made in building trust between the U.S. and Iran.
State of the Union
The U.S. will continue “to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons.” President Obama reaffirmed his country’s commitment to nuclear nonproliferation during his first State of the Union since being reelected. He has said in the past that the best way to achieve nonproliferation is for the U.S. and Russia, who together account for 90% of all nuclear weapons, to reduce their arsenals to appropriate levels. Rejecting the Cold War numbers, Obama’s administration has favored a reduction of the nuclear arsenal to the levels proposed by the New START Treaty and perhaps even below to approximately 1,000 nuclear warheads.
21st Cent. Nuclear Policy
There are major obstacles ahead, including a reluctant Russia, obstinate regimes in Iran and North Korea, a deep-rooted nuclear bureaucracy and a fiercely combative political opposition. The U.S. foreign policy towards nuclear threats has largely been security based. Ensuring that prevention and containment of nuclear countries such as North Korea and Iran must occur more rapidly and effectively than it has in the past. With Russia, the U.S. must continue where New START left off, and carry on with denuclearization, a process that would save billions of dollars and increase national security. Nuclear reductions through negotiations with Russia make strategic and economic sense, writes Ploughshares Fund president Joe Cirincione in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The president’s plan represents the mainstream of America’s security thinking today. It is likely to command broad public, military and, eventually, congressional support,” he concludes.
Ratify the CTBT
In a recent op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune, former Ambassador Thomas Graham calls for the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. He cites the main benefits as “reinforcing the global taboo against testing, U.S. action on the treaty would increase global pressure on North Korea, contain the nuclear weapons capabilities of China and create a new barrier in the way of a possible Iranian nuclear bomb”. The U.S. has not tested a nuclear weapon in over twenty years, yet the Senate has not ratified the treaty. After President Obama’s call for the U.S. to continue leading disarmament and nonproliferation efforts, Ambassador Graham cites the CTBT ratification as the first step to taking this leadership mantle.