[LETTERS to the editor]The North’s plutonium, our top priorityThe global media is abuzz with speculation over North Korea’s alleged nuclear export to Syria after the United States government addressed the issue in the U.S. Congress.
The Bush administration has been trying to brush the issue aside and move forward with the six-party talks aimed to dismantle the North’s nuclear programs.
But the U.S. Congress is less willing to let it go and consider it just a bygone, meaning there will be more political hubbub and bumpy roads until Washington can remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and lift sanctions under the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act.
And it is uncertain how public opinion in the United States will turn out down the road and affect the six-party talks as well.
But let me get this straight.
North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in January 2003 and has not rejoined the treaty since. This means if North Korea, by any chance, exported nuclear technology to Syria after that date, the country technically has little to be criticized about — although Syria, a current NPT member, should still be held accountable for nuclear importation.
Even if it is true that the North helped Syria construct nuclear facilities, that does not pose any imminent threat to global security and the international community still has some time to churn out possible diplomatic responses and solutions.
Syria’s nuclear facility, which had been under construction, has been bombed to rubble; even if the country has one such facility, it would take months and years for the country to extract plutonium from a nuclear reactor [which it would need to make nuclear weapons].
So a more constructive solution for now is to ensure that nuclear proliferation does not occur — rather than taking issue with past behavior.
Indeed, North Korea has repeatedly emphasized that it has never proliferated its nuclear technologies to anywhere in the world and will not do so in the future.
What’s more significant now is the amount of plutonium the North has produced, since the material is directly used to produce nuclear weapons.
The communist country is known to have produced 30 to 50 kilograms of plutonium so far, which can manufacture as few as five or up to 10 nuclear weapons.
This is the core of the problem we face and this is why we should permanently shut down Yongbyon, the North’s key nuclear reactor facility, as soon as possible.
Kang Jung-min, Science Fellow,
Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University