Iran Deal Falls Apart

Is the Iran Nuclear Deal in Trouble Again?
Ellen Laipson Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a bill imposing new sanctions on Iran and Russia. Even if the bill makes it through the legislative process to become law, it should not derail the 2015 agreement that curtails Iran’s nuclear activities. But more intangible factors, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent comments on the Iranian regime, could do harm to the agreement’s durability.
The sustainability of the Iran nuclear agreement, one of former President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy achievements, has been in doubt since Donald Trump’s presidential election. On the campaign, Trump mocked the agreement and suggested that he might walk away from it once in office. Instead, his administration has launched a policy review on Iran that might lead to a call for canceling or revising the agreement. In the meantime, the U.S. government has kept it in place.
The administration has turned its focus to all the other things about Iran that are incompatible with U.S. interests: its role in various regional conflicts, including the recent escalation of its military involvement in Syria; its support for Hezbollah and other nonstate actors that use terrorism; its ballistic missile program; and its poor human rights record at home, including its mistreatment of dual-national Iranian-Americans. So far, the discussion about new sanctions has addressed these nonnuclear problems, and therefore does not technically undermine the U.S. commitment to the nuclear agreement.
In the bill it passed last week, the Senate targeted the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which would be treated as a terrorist organization; sanctioned any businesses engaged in Iran’s ballistic missile program; and proposed new measures to enforce the arms embargo against Iran more effectively. In a rare show of bipartisan unity, the bill passed by a vote of 98-2, suggesting that Democrats were comfortable with this tough approach to Iran and did not weigh heavily its possible impact on Iran’s continued commitment to the nuclear deal.
In truth, the driver for the bill was not Iran, but Russia. What’s more, the bill was most notable for being a strong assertion of the Senate’s role in foreign policy formulation, and a possible repudiation of the Trump team’s ambivalence toward Russia. The president’s desire to find ways to work with Moscow, and his seeming indifference to the strong possibility that Russia interfered with the U.S. elections, are at odds with sentiment on Capitol Hill that sees Russia almost entirely in adversarial terms. So Congress is beginning to press hard for a tougher approach, and the president will have to consider similar entreaties from his national security advisers. But he may choose to sit on this sanctions legislation if it makes it to his desk.
The Iranians will likely use even the prospect of new sanctions as a sign that America is not a reliable partner. Former Secretary of State John Kerry has worried about the impact new sanctions would have on the re-elected team of President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who shepherded the deal through on the Iranian side. If they are weakened politically, support for the agreement could begin to unravel in Iran, which could in turn strengthen the hand of skeptics in the U.S.
Members of the foreign policy community who, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, saw the agreement as a net positive for nonproliferation—and as a potential new beginning in U.S.-Iran relations—are working to defend its merits. Last week, the Atlantic Council released a series of short papers to update the story and address potential risks to the survivability of the deal. I contributed an essay, but wish to call attention to others in the series.
Does Tillerson understand that taunting Iran’s leaders may not actually serve American interests in the short to medium term?
Former Treasury Department official Elizabeth Rosenberg argues that new sanctions, if targeted properly, will not undermine the nuclear agreement. She makes the case, essentially, that those in favor of taking a harder line on Tehran can have their cake and eat it too: Washington can preserve the benefits of the nuclear agreement, which, after all, provides more than a decade of significant restraint on Iran’s nuclear activities, yet still pursue a tough-minded policy toward Iran for all its regional activities deemed to be destabilizing.
Several other essays—from former White House official Laura Holgate, former Ambassador Tom Pickering and nuclear expert Kelsey Davenport—offer some creative and ambitious ideas that would expand the impact of the nuclear agreement by making it a new global standard. In so doing, it would advance nonproliferation goals, and even provide Iran additional incentives to sustain the commitments in the deal beyond their current deadlines.
The greater danger to the durability of the agreement is more intangible, and can be found in the intended and unintended signals that the Trump administration transmits in its chaotic approach to national security. Last week, Tillerson reintroduced the threat of regime change as a U.S. objective when he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Washington would “work toward support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government.” Without further elaboration, the statement could be seen as a bureaucratic compromise, allowing Tillerson to hint at regime change without making it explicit. It nevertheless prompted an angry response from Iran’s foreign minister and could rile up the political debate in Tehran.
In the end, Iran, which has more at stake in maintaining the agreement, will have to have the discipline to prevent the current uptick in rhetoric from driving a policy change. Every previous American president since the 1979 revolution has considered how to persuade or pressure Iran to engage more productively with the international community. All have eventually concluded that any change in Iran’s political system will have to come from within. Until that happens, the U.S. must pursue its interests with the revolutionary regime still in power.
Does Tillerson understand that taunting Iran’s leaders may not actually serve American interests in the short to medium term? Or does he hope that Iran will rise to the bait and the administration will be vindicated in its dark view of it? That outcome would raise the dangers and costs to the U.S. immeasurably.
Ellen Laipson served as president and chief executive officer of the Stimson Center from 2002 to October 2015. She now is president emeritus and distinguished fellow. Her WPR column, Measured Response, appears every Tuesday.

Creating The South Korean Nuclear Horn

Yo gap News Agency 
SEOUL, March 5 (Yonhap) — The possibility of the United States redeploying tactical nuclear weapons on South Korean soil to counter North Korea’s evolving military threat is expected to fuel a fresh debate on national defense, sources said Sunday.
The debate comes as the weekend issue of the New York Times reported that in the most recent meeting of U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security deputies, discussion took place on the option of basing tactical nukes on the Korean Peninsula.
The news outlet said the exchange of views occurred last week at the Situation Room, with aides pointing out such a act will send a “dramatic warning” to the North.
This marks the first time that the tactical nuke issue has been brought up by policymakers in the new administration and is drawing considerable attention, local observers said.
Washington had removed all tactical weapons from the Northeast Asian country in September 1991 after the U.S. called for a reduction in its nuclear arsenal.
More recently, with the escalation of North Korea’s nuclear threat, there have been calls by some in the country to bring back U.S. nukes or for South Korea to acquire its own nuclear weapons technology.
Since 2006, the North has conducted five underground nuclear test and fired off large number of ballistic missiles that has caused considerable jitters in South Korea as well as in the United States.
“With Washington seemingly raising the matter for review, it may be inevitable that some sort of discussion will take place going forward,” an official source, who declined to be identified, said.
Unlike strategic nuclear weapons, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and those fired off from submarines and dropped by bombers, tactical nukes usually have a small yield warhead of under 20 kilotons that only affects certain battlefields.
These nuclear weapons can be delivered by field artillery and even small bombs and missiles, with the military saying that the United States has forward deployed 180 such weapons in some North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries like Germany and Turkey as of 2015.
Related to the possible talks on tactical nukes, a weapons expert claimed that such a deployment will allow Seoul to maintain nuclear parity with the North and can allow the country to engage in disarmament talks on a more equal basis.
“Since South Korea will have nukes on its soil, it can better engage in negotiations with the North,” the source said.
On the other hand, there are quite a few in the country that are against any deployment. Those opposed said any move in that direction could actually give legitimacy to North Korea’s nuclear program and make it that much harder to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions.
They said a more plausible approach would be to deploy more U.S. strategic asset like bombers and stealth fighters on a rotational basis on the Korean Peninsula. This, they argued, will send a clear message to the North that its nuclear threats won’t work, without fueling overt confrontation.

South Korea Will Become A Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Would South Korea Really Go Nuclear?

Since Donald Trump won the presidential election last month, concerns over a nuclear South Korea have intensified. Although President-elect Trump reassured President Park Geun-hye of the U.S. security commitment to South Korea, a strong fear of abandonment has arisen in South Korea in light of Trump’s campaign statements. When South Korea feared U.S. disengagement from Asia in the early 1970s, it responded by attempting to develop nuclear weapons. Today, the prospect of a nuclear South Korea, unthinkable since the 1970s, is more real than ever. The recent impeachment of Park by the National Assembly earlier this month adds to uncertainty for South Korea’s security policies. Could the next administration pursue nuclear weapons as a result of these fears?
The answer will heavily depend on whether the Trump administration reaffirms the strength of the U.S.-South Korea alliance. Otherwise, it is anyone’s guess what the policies of the next president will be, which could include “going nuclear.”
Until recently, calls for nuclear armament were considered extremist in South Korean political discourse. However, public support for nuclear armament is growing in South Korea due to North Korea’s nuclear provocations. In a recent Gallup Korea poll, 58 percent supported nuclear armament. If the U.S. security guarantee is not credible in the minds of South Koreans, and nuclear armament is the only way to defend South Korea’s security from North Korea, a nuclear option will seem even more appealing to the public.
Such public sentiment would affect the upcoming presidential election. Presidential candidates could appeal to populist sentiment and promise pursuit of nuclear weapons. At the minimum, they may pledge to acquire the ability to produce nuclear fissile materials (enriched uranium or plutonium) so that South Korea could minimize a future timetable for developing nuclear weapons. This would be a major blow to U.S. nonproliferation policy.
As long as the U.S. security guarantee is intact, nuclear proliferation in South Korea is not a rational choice, as the costs and risks seem to far outweigh the benefits. The security risks would be substantial. Should South Korea decide to go nuclear, the United States would withdraw its security guarantee, while South Korea would require several years to acquire a functional nuclear arsenal. Unless Seoul could manage a covert nuclear weapons program, fooling its closest ally and the rest of the world, which seems highly unlikely given rigorous International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections over its nuclear facilities, going nuclear would in fact decease South Korea’s security rather than strengthening it.
The economic costs of nuclear armament are no less substantial. If South Korea’s fear of abandonment escalates under a Trump administration and the country reveals new nuclear weapons capabilities, the UN Security Council would impose economic sanctions on South Korea, which would damage the country’s highly trade-dependent economy. Electricity production, 40 percent of which derives from nuclear energy, would also be disrupted. South Korea imports a large portion of its nuclear fuel from the United States to operate its 25 nuclear reactors. The U.S.-South Korea civil nuclear agreement bans the use of U.S.-origin materials for military purposes. The breach of the agreement would lead to a suspension of U.S. export of nuclear fuels to South Korea. It would be difficult for South Korea to purchase enriched uranium from other suppliers, too, since international nuclear export control regimes, such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group, prohibit transferring nuclear materials to states that develop nuclear weapons in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty. The suspension of the nuclear fuel supply would cause economic and social distress in this already energy-starved country.
Despite the negative consequences to pursuing a nuclear weapons program, the current political environment in South Korea, combined with Trump’s tough campaign rhetoric about the future of the U.S.-South Korea alliance, means that decades-old policies could shift radically overnight. How Trump values America’s security role in East Asia will strongly impact the next South Korean administration’s decision to challenge North Korea with nuclear weapons development of its own.
Lami Kim is a research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University and a lecturer at Boston College.

The South Korean Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

U.S. nuclear attack submarine deployed forward in S. Korea
The USS nuclear submarine (SSN) Louisville (6,300 tons), the U.S. Navy’s Los Angeles-class attack submarine, entered the South Korean port city of Jinhae in South Gyeongsang Province on Thursday, it was confirmed on Friday. The arrival of the U.S. submarine in the South is believed to be a measure taken to help deter North Korea’s possible provocation taking advantage of a political crisis in the wake of President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment in the South.
“The USS Louisville will carry out diverse military exchange activities with the South Korean Navy, including joint anti-submarine drills, during its visit to South Korea,” Seoul’s defense ministry source said. The U.S. Navy said forward deployment of the Louisville is a regular visit as part of military operation in the Asia-Pacific region. However, many analysts say that the visit is a military measure taken to prepare for North Korea’s possible surprise attack on South Korea by taking advantage of chaotic political situation in the South after Park’s impeachment.
“The military authorities of South Korea and the U.S. are paying attention to the unleashing of a flurry of threats by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during his recent inspection visits to fortresses around northwest islands,” a source in the South Korean military said. “(The Louisville’s deployment in South Korea) will be a strong warning to Kim Jong Un to never make ill-advised judgment (to launch an attack).”
Earlier, as Kim Jong Un intensified his threat to attack the South around the day of the North’s foundation day (September 9) when Pyongyang conducted a nuclear test, Washington sortied a string of B-1B Lancer supersonic strategic bomber fleets to South Korea from the Anderson Air Force Base in Guam in succession to stage armed protest against Pyongyang. It is the first time since then that Washington has deployed forward a nuclear attack submarine to South Korea.
With about 130 crew members on board, the Louisville is armed with dozens of submarine-to-ground Tomahawk missiles, which are capable of making precision strikes at a target within a range of two to three meters from 2,500 kilometers away, as well as the submarine-to-battleship Harpoon missile, and the MK 48-heavy weight torpedoes.
“If the Louisville fires a Tomahawk missile at waters in the South Sea, it can make precision attack at Kim Jong Un’s office in Pyongyang,” a source in the South Korean Navy said. “The North will naturally feel heavy burden just with the Louisville’s deployment in South Korea.”
The US SSN Louisville was deployed in the Red Sea, some 14,000 kilometers from the U.S. mainland in “Operation Desert Storm” during the Gulf War in 1991, and the Iraq War in 2003, and carried out missions in which it fired Tomahawk missiles to destroy key targets including Iraq’s communications network, and Saddam Hussain’s palace.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military authority is reportedly set to put in place all possible measures to maintain strong South Korea-U.S. joint defense readiness irrespective of President Park’s impeachment. “If North Korea conducts a nuclear test or fires a long-range missile, or launches local provocations, the U.S. will instantly deploy strategic weapons including nuclear bombers and aircraft carrier fleets to South Korea to counter,” a source in the U.S. Forces Korea said.
Sang-Ho Yun

Why North Korea is not a Nuclear Horn

Dec 9, 2016 10:13 AM EST
The official said it appears that North Korea can mount a nuclear warhead on a missile, but may not have the re-entry capabilities for a strategic strike. That would include the ability of the weapon to get back through the atmosphere without burning up and the ability to hit the intended target. The official said North Korea continues to try and overcome those limitations.
The Pentagon continues to revise its contingency plans regarding a North Korean strike, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity. The military routinely develops plans for all threat possibilities.
“It is the threat that keeps me awake at night,” the official said, “primarily because we don’t know what the dear leader in North Korea really is after. Truthfully, they have the capability, right now, to be able to deliver a nuclear weapon. They’re just not sure about re-entry and that’s why they continue to test their systems.”
U.S. officials have steadily expanded their assessments of Pyongyang’s nuclear abilities. Adm. William Gortney, then-head of U.S. Northern Command, said in March that Pyongyang may have figured out how to make a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a long-range missile.
Under Kim Jong Un, who rose to power following his father’s death in 2011, North Korea has seen steady progress in its nuclear and missile programs, including two nuclear tests this year.
The country recently claimed a series of technical breakthroughs in its goal of developing a long-range nuclear missile capable of reaching the continental United States.
North Korea is now “fully equipped with nuclear attack capability,” leader Kim announced proudly after the August launch of a submarine-launched missile.
He was exaggerating, but the strings of tests indicate that North Korea may have medium-range missiles capable of striking American military bases in the Pacific in the next couple years, experts say. Some believe Pyongyang may be able to hit the western United States as early as 2020.
South Korean defense officials say North Korea doesn’t yet have such a weapon, but some civilian experts have said they believe the North has the technology to mount warheads on shorter-range Rodong and Scud missiles that can strike South Korea and Japan.
“I think that they’re struggling with getting the (intercontinental ballistic missile) program up and operational,” U.S. Gen. Vincent Brooks, the head of U.S. forces in Korea, said in Senate hearings earlier this year. But “over time, I believe we’re going to see them acquire these capabilities if they’re not stopped.”
“So we are in a very tenuous situation, with not a lot of leverage, not a lot of initiative in terms of negotiations,” the official who briefed Pentagon reporters said Thursday. “As you might imagine we’re preparing for contingency operations at the degree we need to.”

Korea Prepared To Nuke The US (Daniel 7)

Pyongyang has conducted a series of missile launches in the wake of its fourth nuclear test in January, despite international condemnation.
Experts have concluded North Korea is able to make nuclear warheads small enough to arm Scud missiles, but it is unclear if they can put weapons on larger rockets which travel further and can deploy warheads from space.
The defence official said: “Truthfully, they have the capability right now to be able to deliver a nuclear weapon, they are just not sure about re-entry, that’s why they continue to test their systems out there.”He added that he believed North Korea can already “mate” a missile with a warhead.
The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system will be operational within 10 months, according to the Pentagon, and has sparked strong objections from China and Russia.
Kim Jong-Un inspects the tip of a warhead after a simulated test earlier this year © Reuters Kim Jong-Un inspects the tip of a warhead after a simulated test earlier this year Pyongyang’s continued nuclear testing has generated concern in the US military, and the Pentagon has devised contingency plans to try and halt its atomic capabilities.
The official added: “It is the threat that keeps me awake at night.
“You’ve heard other senior leaders say the same thing, primarily because we don’t know what the ‘Dear Leader’ in North Korea really is after.”

Trump is Ready to Confront Korea

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s national security adviser says North Korea’s nuclear program would be given a high priority under the new administration, a South Korean official who held talks with him said on Saturday.
Michael Flynn, one of Trump’s closest advisers, also said he would work to strengthen the U.S. alliance with South Korea, calling the relationship “vital,” the South’s deputy presidential national security adviser Cho Tae-yong was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.
Cho was leading a South Korean delegation to the United States to meet with key advisers to the president-elect to discuss the two countries’ response to the North’s pursuit of nuclear weapons in defiance of international sanctions.
Cho spoke to South Korean reporters in Washington following the meeting with Flynn, Yonhap said.
Flynn is a retired Army lieutenant general and a military intelligence veteran of three decades who has championed Trump’s promises to take a more aggressive approach to terrorism. His appointment as national security adviser this week does not require Senate confirmation.
The North conducted its fourth and fifth nuclear tests this year under young leader Kim Jong Un, who has vowed to build a nuclear arsenal and ballistic missiles to deliver them.
The U.N. Security Council has held discussions to adopt a toughened new sanctions resolution following the North’s Sept. 9 nuclear blast.
U.S. President Barack Obama has been criticized by Congressional Republicans that his policy of “strategic patience” was a failure and that he must make full use of sanctions authorities given to him by Congress.
Trump pledged his commitment to defend South Korea under an existing security alliance during a phone call with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Yonhap said last week.
Trump had suggested during the election campaign he would be willing to withdraw U.S. military stationed in South Korea unless Seoul paid a greater share of the cost of the deployment. There are about 28,500 U.S. troops based in South Korea in combined defense against North Korea.
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US Prepares For Next Korean Launch

Kirk Spitzer | USA TODAY6 hours ago
TOKYO — Among the pressing issues facing President-elect Donald Trump when he takes office on Inauguration Day will be North Korea’s rogue nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs — and a crisis might not wait that long.
North Korea has carried out two nuclear weapons tests and dozens of missile tests and launches this year in defiance of U.N. sanctions. Although not all the missile tests have been successful, the North has made significant advances in developing nuclear weapons and the technology needed to mount them to long-range missiles.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said last week it was closely monitoring moves by the North Korean military at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site and other possible missile-launching sites and is prepared to respond to any provocative acts, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported.
North Korea is preparing more launches, and it has also been continuously showing eagerness about nuclear tests and miniaturization of nuclear warheads,” Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said recently in Tokyo.
North Korea’s leaders have often timed weapons tests or other provocative actions to key dates and events at home or overseas as a way of drawing attention to its demands.
About 36,000 U.S. and Japanese troops and hundreds of aircraft and warships took part in a major exercise held every two years that ended Friday in and around Japan and the western Pacific that was pegged, at least in part, to ballistic missile defense.
In a statement released last month, U.S. Forces-Japan said training scenarios for the exercise will include “integrated air and missile defense and ballistic missile defense in order to keep pace with the growing ballistic missile threat in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.”
North Korea’s advances in nuclear weapons and missile technology make defense planners “nervous and alarmed,” said Narushige Michishita, director of the security and international studies program at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.
He said the most recent nuclear test, in September, showed North Korea is capable of building a weapon equivalent in power to the atomic bomb used at Hiroshima in World War II.
North Korea has at least 12, and perhaps as many as 20, functional nuclear weapons and is likely to have an arsenal of 50 to 100 nuclear weapons within the next five years, Michishita said.
North Korea has 200 to 320 medium-range Nodong ballistic missiles that can reach major cities in Japan, along with key U.S. military bases there. The longer-range Musudan missile could threaten U.S. bases in Guam and Alaska. North Korea is developing two other missile variants with range to strike parts of the continental USA.
National Intelligence Director James Clapper said last month that persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program is a “lost cause.”
North Korea has been under international sanctions since its first nuclear weapons test in 2006. The reclusive country has conducted five tests altogether, including what it described as a powerful “hydrogen bomb” in January. U.S. experts were skeptical of that claim.
South Korea and Japan held a second round of talks in Seoul on Nov. 9 — and more are needed — to discuss a long-delayed intelligence-sharing pact that would allow the two U.S. allies to share information on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs and other potential threats.

Korea Shows The Scarlet Woman A Show of Force

Clay Dillow, special to 8 Hours Ago
The United States and South Korea will stay on high alert today after receiving reports that North Korea may test fire an intermediate-range ballistic missile during the U.S. presidential election. According to military officials, Pyongyang may want to send a message to the new U.S. president that it will not give up its nuclear and missile development programs.
The Musudan, or BM-35 missile, has an estimated range of 3,500 kilometers, which is enough to allow it to target the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, an island with key strategic assets for U.S. forces.
Though Western security analysts know very little for certain about the missile test expected as Americans line up at the polls, arms-control experts and North Korea watchers can agree one thing is likely: A small group of Iranian observers will be there to witness the latest demonstration of North Korean ballistic missile technology.
The cozy military relationship between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Iran no longer receives the attention it did two decades ago, when the two countries actively exchanged ballistic missile technology and know-how. But the relationship may be pulled back into focus as the next U.S. presidential administration attempts to manage a tenuous rapprochement with Tehran at the same time North Korea dials up its nuclear and ballistic missile provocations.
Little exists in the way of hard evidence suggesting the two countries are currently co-developing ballistic missiles or exchanging critical nuclear technologies, experts say. However, Iranian scientists and military officers have reportedly observed most of North Korea’s major missile and nuclear tests over the past 20 years.
“There’s no really good evidence that they cooperate on nuclear issues,” says Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California. “But given the scale of the cooperation we’ve seen on the missile side, would it shock me? No, it would not shock me.”
Military bedfellows
Security ties between North Korea and Iran reach back at least as far as the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, when North Korea supplied Iran with hundreds of Soviet-designed Scud-B and Scud-C ballistic missiles during the latter half of the decade and into the early 1990s. Iran renamed its Scuds Shahab-1 and Shahab-2, respectively, and its engineers began tinkering with the technology under an indigenous ballistic missile technology program.
North Korea also supplied Iran with its own medium-range No-dong missile, a scaled-up adaptation of Scud technology with an estimated 1,500-kilometer — or roughly 930-mile — range first flown by North Korea in 1993. Iran dubbed its No-dong derivatives Shahab-3 and developed several variants that remain in Iran’s arsenal, including one with a reported range of roughly 1,900 kilometers, or nearly 1,200 miles. (Pakistan also received Scud technology from North Korea around this time, renaming its missile variants Ghauri.)
In the latter half of the 1990s, the concrete ties between the various Scud-based ballistic missile technology programs of North Korea, Pakistan and Iran become less clear. “In a historical sense, the North Koreans provided a lot of liquid fuel missile technology and missiles to a lot of folks, including the Pakistanis and the Iranians,” says Tom Karako, a senior fellow and director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The early Shahab missiles and the Ghauris in Pakistan were basically North Korean Scuds with different paint jobs — literally — transferred from North Korea to those countries. Later these countries got their own liquid- and solid-fueled technologies up and running on their own,” he said.
In other words, from the late 1990s onward, Iran and North Korea continued to develop their ballistic missile technologies, though exactly how much co-development or technology exchange has occurred between the two remains unclear. “Pyongyang and Tehran may share test data on a limited basis and perhaps trade conceptual ideas,” Michael Elleman, an expert on Iran’s ballistic missile program and senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Middle East office, wrote in post 38 North, a North Korea analysis website hosted by the U.S. Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, in September. “But there is little evidence to indicate the two regimes are engaged in deep missile-related collaboration, or pursuing joint-development programs.”
Not all experts agree strictly with that characterization, however. Lewis points to similarities not only between North Korean and Iranian Scud derivatives like the No-dong and Shahab but also similar design choices, incorporated into the two countries’ space launch rockets and the migration of design concepts and components from one country to the other. One such instance of technology transfer allegedly came to light earlier this year when North Korea tested a new rocket engine incorporating Iranian technology. In response, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned individuals associated with Iran’s ballistic missile program, Lewis notes. “We know that there’s a pretty robust collaboration,” he says. “We see the cooperation right up until this day.”
Iran-North Korea nexus
What exactly this means for the future of the U.S.-Iran nuclear accord and international efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile provocations is unclear. North Korea has conducted nine ballistic missile launches and two nuclear tests this year, but heightened tensions between the DPRK and its neighbors, as well as the United States, have taken a backseat to more outwardly visible national security issues, like the campaign against the Islamic State and Russian military provocations in Syria and Eastern Europe. One of those ballistic missile tests of an extended-range No-dong missile took place just prior to the final U.S. presidential debate in October, but neither the test nor North Korea registered within the debate as a pressing national security issue.
“I think in the public consciousness, it has registered — I think people are more aware now than they were in the past — but in the political circles, it’s not getting the attention it should,” says Jenny Town, assistant director of the US-Korea Institute and managing editor of 38 North. “I think part of that is because there are no easy answers.”
Nor is there an abundance of smoking guns. “I think these days anything that looks like sanctions violations when it comes to North Korea is going to cause some kind of crackdown,” Town says. But while it’s relatively easy to flag the transport and exchange of whole missile systems or dual-use technologies, both Iran and North Korea are independently far enough along in their respective missile and nuclear programs that such wholesale movement of technologies and systems isn’t necessary. Instead, whatever transfers may be taking place are likely of knowledge and data or of components and parts — pieces of the technology puzzle that are far more difficult to monitor.
Nonetheless, North Korea is drawing closer to developing working long-range intercontinental ballistic missile technology that could potentially reach the mainland United States, and its nuclear program continues to progress toward a miniaturized device capable of launching aboard land- or submarine-based ballistic missiles. In August, North Korea tested just such a submarine-launched missile for the first time. It also successfully tested its intermediate-range Musudan missile in June, though two subsequent tests in October failed. Some analysts have floated the idea that one or both of those subsequent failures may not have been Musudan missiles at all, but tests of a North Korean ICBM known as the KN-08.
Though North Korean long-range ICBM technology has yet to prove itself in tests, the technology continues to progress, raising the prospect that the isolated nation could offer the technology to one of its few friends in exchange for necessary missile expertise, nuclear know-how, cash or some combination of the three.
“What confidence do we have that North Korea, for the right amount of cash, wouldn’t sell just about anything?” Karako says. “The answer to that is: just about none. There’s just about nothing that they won’t sell. I don’t think we have any reason to be confident about the North Koreans being self-constrained.”
That could push the Iran/North Korea military relationship back to the fore as Washington eases sanctions and economic constraints on one party while ratcheting up pressure on the other. While North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, proved by comparison a more predictable and measured leader, the younger Kim has demonstrated a stubborn resolve to push ahead with efforts to develop a North Korean intercontinental nuclear missile capability.
“On the North Korean side, it’s pretty disturbing, based just on their actions alone, on things we don’t have to speculate about,” Karako says. “This is something that could come to a head far sooner than anyone would like.”
— By Clay Dillow, special to

More Activity With The Korean Nuclear Horn

By Elizabeth Shim Contact the Author
Nov. 4, 2016 at 10:49 PM
Writing for 38 North, a Johns Hopkins University website dedicated to North Korea issues, analyst Jack Liu says evidence from satellite images indicate both the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and the Sohae Satellite Launching Station are not quite showing signs of a looming test.
Punggye-ri is displaying signs of activity at the North Portal, the site of Pyongyang’s Sept. 9 nuclear test, but the purpose of the activity “remains unclear,” Liu writes.
Reasons for the work include post-test data collection to closing the portal in preparation for North Korea’s next nuclear test.
Imagery shows mining carts and movement of material that is either “crushed rock or sand” that could be used to seal the tunnel, according to the analysis.
Liu added North Korea could still try to conduct tests at the West and South Portals.
The Sohae Satellite Launching Station, meanwhile, has shown very little activity indicating another North Korea rocket test.
Pyongyang fired an earth-observation satellite from the site in February.
According to Liu, the launch pad appears to be clear, and other movements suggest either a preparation for another engine test or a cleaning after the previous test.
The site has remained largely inactive in October, the analyst states.