North Korea: The Little Nation that Could and Would


“  The world may end up under a Sword of Damocles on a tightrope over the abyss”

                                                    -Andrei A Gromyko

As bold and aggressive as ever, the rogue nation-state of North Korea (DPRK) has become a regional destabilizing force creating international fears and serious concerns; and possibly bringing smaller nuclear capable nations, as well as major superpowers onto the raw and delicate edges of nuclear brinkmanship and into a potential nuclear fray.

While the DPRK has always stressed military might and superiority and has amassed an impressive inventory of conventional weapons and an expansive army (practically all of its GNP goes into its military program) ;it has become obsessed with the development of unconventional weaponry, including the extensive research, development ,production   and storage of biological, chemical and ,of course ,nuclear weapons  and ballistic  delivery systems.

Not to discount the DPRK ‘s stockpile of toxic and biological warfare agents, however, much of the nation’s military efforts have been focusing on the development, deployment and delivery of a nuclear arsenal.

The origins of the DPRK’s nuclear weapons program began as early as the 1950’s as a response to the potential nuclear threat posed by the United States. This was reinforced by the fact that our ally South Korea was pursuing its own nuclear program.

Moreover, Pyongyang’s desire was influenced by the Cold war environment which prevailed at the time, and the fact that both Moscow and Washington were providing the “peaceful atom” as non-proliferative nuclear technology to its allies.

Despite this fact, many, if not all nations during the post-World War II climate and embroiled in Cold War were devoted to converting any nuclear “plowshare” into a devastating nuclear Sword of Damocles. North Korea was not about to “miss the boat” on an opportunity to conduct nuclear weapons related research which eventually could lead to its very first “weapon of mass devastation “.

In 1956, Pyongyang signed two agreements with Moscow which committed the former Soviet Union to lend its assistance to the DPRK’s quest for the ultimate weapon. Similar documents were drafted and agreed to in China three years later.

In addition, North Korean scientists were able to study their craft at a nuclear research institute in Moscow, and in 1959 Moscow once again pledged its support for the DPRK’s pursuit of nuclear know-how by entering into a treaty to provide technical assistance to establish a research center in Pyongyang.

In 1964, Kim Il Sung proclaimed the “Three Revolutionary Forces of Unification “and the Soviet- North Korean alliance formed a nuclear research center at Yongbyon. A small “research reactor” soon followed within a year which became operational in in the mid –to late 1960s, probably around 1965 or 1967.

While seemingly the leadership of the DPRK was   bent on obtaining a nuclear weapon at the onset, was the decision to aggressively pursue a nuclear weapons program was very likely made in the mid-1950s.

By the 1970s, Pyongyang renewed its efforts to develop its nuclear program under the impetus of efforts by Seoul to develop its own indigenous nuclear weapons program.

While South Korea was persuaded by the United States to end its nuclear program in exchange for ironclad security guarantees, including protection from under the U.S. “nuclear umbrella”.

As another move in the perilous game of nuclear brinkmanship, Kim Il Sung reportedly requested neighboring China’s help in establishing North Korea’s indigenous nuclear weapons program as well as protecting North Korea under the Chinese nuclear umbrella.

Beijing accommodated the dictator’s request by providing training for Pyongyang scientists and technicians and allegedly facilitating the transfer of nuclear technology to the tinier, but dangerous totalitarian nation.

It has been estimated that by 1974, the DPRK modernized and upgraded the Soviet research reactor. In the mid-1970s, North Korea reportedly negotiated with the Soviet Union over the purchase of additional nuclear reactors and North Korean scientists continued to train at Soviet research institutes.

The early 1980s saw an intensified effort by North Korea to develop nuclear weapons along with a domestically designed reactor at Yongbyon. It was during this time that a Soviet graphite reactor began operating. The construction of the first experimental 5 MWe reactor began in 1980, and the reactor first went critical in 1986. The development of larger Magnox reactors soon followed.

The 5 MWe experimental reactor operated intermittently until 1994 when it was shut down in accordance with the U.S. -North Korea Agreed Framework.

Concurrently, in the 1980s, Pyongyang began construction of a 200 megawatt (MWe) nuclear reactor and nuclear reprocessing facilities at Taechon and Yongbyon, respectively, and conducted high explosive detonation tests.

The Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center is North Korea’s major nuclear facility and is located in the county of Nyongbyon in North Pyong’an Province, about 90 km north of Pyongyang and is of immense interest to the international security and intelligence community.

During the mid-1980s, as the Cold War continued to rage and the heightened fear and anxiety of nuclear war reached crescendo levels, the United States began to take notice and develop increased vigilance regarding the increasing activity of North Korea’s nuclear program.

U.S. analysts realized that the reactor design and disposition suggested that Pyongyang was pursuing nuclear weapons development.  The reactor was not connected to any power grid thus discounting the possibility of nuclear power based electricity generation and the reactor’s design was derived from European models that were capable of producing optimal amounts of plutonium.

On December 12,1985, North Korea became a signatory on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) apparently because Moscow offered to provide four reactors to to Pyongyang but only on the condition that it first signed the treaty. However, these reactors never were delivered.

For the following three years, North Korea stalled over an agreement for inspections of its nuclear facilities.

In 1986, a 20-megawatt thermal reactor near Yongbyon began operating. Of particular concern was the establishment of a plutonium reprocessing facility at Yongbyon which has allegedly been producing plutonium since 1989.

In February 1992, North Korea reached an inspection agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and 4 months later began permitting inspections. The inspections identified significant inconsistencies with the answers and documentation provided to the IAEA by the DPRK and set off a flurry of concern about what North Korea was doing secretly. The major concern was that North Korea had reprocessed considerably more plutonium than it officially claimed.

In March 1993 Pyongyang announced it was withdrawing from the NPT.

After some diplomatic negotiations via the United Nations and former President Jimmy Carter (a nuclear engineer by training and a former nuclear Navy officer), acting as an unofficial envoy sanctioned by the Clinton administration, Kim Il Sung promised Carter that North Korea would freeze its nuclear program and permit IAEA inspectors to remain in the country, provided the U.S. agreed to discussing the provision of light water reactors (LWRs) to the DPRK.

Ultimately, the DPRK would pull out of the NPT. In fact, since 2003, North Korea is no longer a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The country has come under sanctions since its brazen nuclear testing program began in 2006.

Nations across the world, as well as NATO and the UN, continue to speak out against Kim Jong Un ‘s reckless and aggressive weapons development scheme and testing.

Even China, the DPRK’s closest proponent, has issued trade sanctions such as a ban on coal imports from the nation as an effort to enact the United Nations Security Council sanctions aimed at ceasing the country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology program.

On April 15,2017, U.S. White House representative Nick Rivero was quoted saying the United States was ‘very close’ to engaging in ‘some sort’ of retaliation against North Korea.

Despite all the sanctions and promises of retaliatory actions against his country, the generational dictator, as his familial predecessors, continues the defiant tradition.

As all despots and dictators throughout history have demonstrated, logic and truth have no place in a totalitarian state. The regime of Kim Jong Un has indeed perverted logical thought and suppressed the truth. He has no fundamental respect for human rights or the sanctity of life.

In the interest of international peace and security, North Korea’s obsessive pursuit of weapons of mass devastation must come to an end … by any means necessary.

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Frank G. Rando possesses over 30 years of real world experience as a public safety professional,clinician, educator ,emergency and crisis manager ,author and consultant in the areas of tactical ,disaster and operational medicine, weapons and tactics, law enforcement /criminal investigations ,counterterrorism, hazardous materials management and emergency response ,toxicology, environmental safety and health,and health care and public health emergency management .