Jeffrey Lewis38 North

The US-Korea Institute at SAIS has a new blog, with the swell name 38 North. (That’s the latitude longitude line that established the division of Korea.)

I’ve got an article (How AQ Khan Helped Distort America’s DPRK Policy) that applies the themes I described in my post, Leaks and Motives of AQ Khan, and applies them to North Korea. (See also Josh Pollack’s post, The Media, Generals, & Passion of AQ Khan).

Ah, more winning friends and influencing people.

But what is spectacular about 38 North is that James Church is a contributor. Church is the pseudonym of the author of the fabulous Inspector O novels. Church has a post on Six Party Talks that contains this exchange:

We were both quiet for a few moments. Finally, O broke the silence. “Why are you stuck in the mud again?”

“Me?”

“You know what I mean. Your people are hip deep in a swamp of their own making. Things should have been moving six months ago on the diplomatic front. Last August the door was wide open when Clinton came to dinner. It was as clear as day that the stars in Pyongyang were aligned. Instead, for the past six months, all we hear about is strategic patience. You don’t want to play that game, believe me. We may not have much, but patience we have by the bucketful.”

“You can’t wait forever.”

“We don’t have to wait forever. We only have to wait until November.”

“You on the RNC mailing list or something?”

“No, but I watch Wolf News.”

“Fox. And you do?”

“The Propaganda and Agitation Department has started using it as a teaching tool, part of our new opening policy. They record it on CDs and hand them out during training sessions.”

Comments

  1. B (History)

    no rss feed?

  2. Chad (History)

    Interesting article – good to see a blog on North Korea like that too.

  3. Simon Henderson (History)

    Jeffrey,
    I have just sent the following to 38 North, responding to your article there on the Washington Post, North Korea and A Q Khan:
    Jeffrey Lewis’s analysis is flawed. At no point in the December 28, 2009, Washington Post story do Jeff Smith and Joby Warrick say the bombs A Q Khan saw in North Korea contained plutonium. There is, at least, the logical possibility that they were HEU bombs. In an article in the Sunday Times of London on August 24, 2008, I wrote that “[North Korea] is already sitting on a stockpile of highly enriched uranium courtesy of Stalin, the Soviet leader.”

    Links to this article, along with others I have written in recent years, as well as the Washington Post articles, can be accessed at:
    http://washingtoninstitute.org/templateC11.php?CID=524

    Jeffrey Lewis already knows of this webpage. I had urged him, offline, to read carefully what I had written in the past when he wrote on armscontrolwonk.com that he was writing a longer piece about the Washington Post story on North Korea.

  4. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    My response, posted at 38 North, is reproduced below (with slight editing).

    Mr. Henderson:

    Your note strikes an odd tone.

    I did read your article carefully, but I see no reason to accept your unsourced assertion that “It is already sitting on a stockpile of highly enriched uranium courtesy of Sta-lin, the Soviet leader.”

    Indeed, I think you are in error.

    The general understanding is that Soviet-North Korean cooperation began in 1959, six years after Stalin’s death. (See: Georgiyy Kaurov’s detailed history, “A Technical History of Soviet-North Korean nuclear relations,” in The North Korean Nuclear Program.)

    In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union provided 42 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (36 and 80 percent U235) in fuel assemblies for the 8 MWth IRT reactor at Yongbyon. I see no reason to doubt David Albright’s description that this “fuel contains 36 and 80 percent enriched uranium. In total, about 40 kilograms of HEU are in the irradiated fuel. North Korea is not believed to have any fresh HEU fuel. The reactor earlier also received a supply of 10 percent enriched uranium fuel, which is also irradiated.” (Whether plutonium from this reactor may have made its way into the North Korean stockpile is a more interesting question.)

    Claiming that, to the contrary, North Korea has a previously undisclosed stockpile of weapons-grade HEU dating to the 1950s and sufficient for three nuclear devices requires offering a warrant.

    So, what is the evidentiary basis of this remarkable claim?

    Is this yet another of Khan’s assertions in these documents? If so, this further undermines his credibility and demonstrates the need to place these documents in the public record to allow others to examine their contents.

  5. Simon Henderson (History)

    Jeffrey,
    Firstly, I like your little joke suggesting I spell the former Soviet leader’s name as Sta-lin, but you should perhaps explain that’s the way it happens to be rendered on the London Times website. It didn’t appear that way in the print edition of the article.
    Secondly, yes, the claim is from the 11-page statement A Q Khan made in March 2004 to the Pakistani authorities.
    Thirdly, as Jeff Smith of the Washington Post has already intimated on this blog, it is his/my intention to place these documents on the public record when the Post has finished its reporting. He asked me not to share these documents until he had published his final story and I am adhering to that agreement.
    Fourthly, this level of disclosure will set new standards to which I hope future writers will feel obliged to adher.
    Fifthly, since you have now read the August 2008 Sunday Times article, you will notice that I write in it of Pakistan’s supply of an enrichment plant to China: “Beijing needed the plant not for bombs but to fuel its nuclear power plants.”
    Sixthly, despite this clear statement and no words to the contrary in either my later Sunday Times piece of September 20, 2009, nor the long Washington Post story of November 13, 2009, David Albright wrote in his long (and vituperative) December 9, 2009, ISIS report “Self-Serving Leaks from the A Q Khan Circle” that “Khan reportedly claims that he helped China modernise its production of bomb-grade uranium.”
    Seventhly, I am still puzzling over why David Albright, whose report you have praised on your blog, criticized both myself and Jeff Smith and Joby Warrick for reporting something which we did not.
    Eighthly, I recognize that I can be criticized for what I write or say. But I take exception to being criticized for things I didn’t say or write.

    Simon Henderson

  6. shaheen

    A friendly note. This very useful exchange is what we readers of (and contributors to) ACW having come to expect. But I detect an slight undertone of brushed egos in this controversy. Namely, would someone please explain to me why David Albright seems to believe that he has to have the final word on any AQK related matters? Please do not let him become another Scott Ritter (which would be ironic, considering what Ritter says about Albright), and please, do not let the debate on nuclear proliferation become as acrimonious, entrenched, ad-hominem and virulent as the debate on global warming. We’re not at that point yet, but it could come.

  7. james

    I can’t follow the blog in Google Reader if it doesn’t have an rss feed, so I created one: http://www.diffbot.com/api/rss/http://www.38north.org/

  8. Harry Lime (History)

    Fantastic, another site I should, but won’t get around to reading – except on wet holiday weekends, of course.

    Re your article Jeffrey and the comment that, “Even were North Korea to use a very aggressive design that utilized just 4 kg—as Pyongyang claimed in its Six Party Talks declaration”. Whilst it’s true that 4 kg has been bandied about as the amount of Pu used in the 2006 test, I’m not aware that the North Korean’s have mentioned this figure themselves – Kyodo reported the June 2008 declaration as stating that only 2 kg was used. This relatively low figure was met with a large degree of scepticism but, to my knowledge, is the only figure previously directly attributed to the declaration.

    James closed his piece on the June 2008 declaration with the question come plea “I wonder if the declaration will be made public… Anyone want to leak it to the Wonk?”. Well, did they – are you quoting from a reliable source?

  9. George William Herbert (History)

    As I posted on 38 North –

    One of the complex and confusing technical issues for NK and other potential or active proliferators with both U and Pu programs is that composite pits, with both U and Pu used, are quite feasible. A levitated pit, with an outer layer of reflector and U and inner core of Pu, is an easy design win. You use far less material than with a pure U device, and even a little Plutonium at the core where neutron density is highest is advantageous for performance.

    Confounding all this is Pu quality (Pu-240 levels) and possible reuse of HEU from research reactors, with some level of fission daughter products.

    It’s entirely possible that the problem with NK’s first test was predetonation due to low grade fissile materials, rather than a design or fabrication defect in the bomb itself. Further processing of fissile materials, either lower burnup Pu or using isotropic separation techniques on Pu, and chemical cleanup of irradiated HEU, can push one away from predetonation risks. As can letting the fissile materials sit and decay a bit. As can boosting, if employed successfully.

    2 kg for a pure Pu bomb is as far as I can tell from sources and simulations a figure of fiction. 2 kg in a composite core is entirely credible.

  10. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Harry Lime:

    I just made a mistake. I forgot the North Koreans said 2 kilograms since no one believes it. I am pretty sure the lower bound for US estimates is 4 kilograms.

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