The creatures that remember Chernobyl

Ron Broglio writes: Radioactive, wild boar are invading towns in southern Germany. They travel in packs scavenging for food. They break through fences and roam the roads shutting down highway traffic. They take down a man in a wheelchair. Police scramble to restore order in urban centers. The boar are armed with a post-apocalyptic payload: Radioactive fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which marks its thirtieth anniversary today. By foraging on radioactive plants, the animals embody the return of a disaster many seek to repress.

After the collapse and meltdown of a reactor at Chernobyl, over a hundred thousand people were evacuated from a 30-kilometer Exclusion Zone around the nuclear power plant. Residents exposed to the ensuing radiation suffered from leukemia, thyroid cancer, and other maladies. Some 4,000 people could die from illnesses related to the accident.

In the three decades since, a range of animals have taken up residence in the Exclusion Zone. They thrive in this occasionally mutant, non-human world where radiation remains 10 to 100 times higher than is safe for human occupancy. Rare species not seen in the region for hundreds of years have returned, including the Przewalski’s horse, the European bison, the lynx, and the Eurasian brown bear. Without fear of being hunted, the animals roam the forest and the ruins of cities in what has become an eerily post-human wildlife sanctuary. [Continue reading…]


30 years after Chernobyl disaster, containment nears completion but authorities turn a blind eye to logging

The Washington Post reports: An international effort to seal the destroyed remains of the nuclear reactor that exploded in Ukraine 30 years ago is finally close to completion, and remarkably, considering the political revolution and armed conflict that have rocked the country since 2014, it’s close to being on schedule.

The completion of the New Safe Confinement, often called the “arch,” could contain the radiation from mankind’s worst nuclear catastrophe for a century, says the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which has led the project. But it will also mark a handover to Ukraine’s fractious and underfunded authorities, who are expected to tackle future waste management at their own expense.

That may not reassure Nadiya Makyrevych.

For three decades, she has been living with the consequences of Chernobyl explosion. She can recall that morning in late April 1986, and the small signs that something was wrong in the workers’ town where she lived: the tinny, metallic taste in her mouth. The way her 6-month-old daughter slept so deeply after breast-feeding. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: The road through the forest, abandoned, is at times barely discernible, covered with the debris of fallen tree limbs, vines, leaves and moss pushing up through cracks in the crumbling asphalt.

The moss is best avoided, says our guide, Artur N. Kalmykov, a young Ukrainian who has made a hobby of coming here to the exclusion zone surrounding the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, set aside in perpetuity after the catastrophe in 1986. It can be radioactive, having carried buried radiation to the surface as it grew.

Above all, he says, watch out for windblown dust, which could well be laced with deadly plutonium.

Despite the dangers — which are actually minimal these days, except when the wind is howling — and the risk of arrest, Mr. Kalmykov is at home here. “In Kiev my head is full,” he said. “Here I can relax. I could hang out in Kiev. But this is more interesting.”

What Mr. Kalmykov and fellow unofficial explorers of the Chernobyl zone, members of a peculiar subculture who are in their 20s and call themselves “the stalkers,” have found is more interesting still: vast tracts of clear-cutting in the ostensibly protected forest. [Continue reading…]


Kerry encourages Obama to visit Hiroshima

The New York Times reports: Secretary of State John Kerry attended a memorial ceremony in Hiroshima on Monday for victims of the American atomic bombing 71 years ago, becoming the highest-ranking United States administration official to visit the site of one of the most destructive acts of World War II.

The visit is likely to intensify speculation about whether President Obama will go to Hiroshima during a planned trip to Japan next month. Mr. Obama would be the first sitting American president to visit the city, a decision that would resonate deeply in Japan but would be controversial at home.

“Everyone should visit Hiroshima, and everyone means everyone,” Mr. Kerry said at a news conference on Monday in response to a question about whether Mr. Obama would go. He said that the president had been invited by Japanese officials and that he would like to visit someday, but Mr. Kerry added: “Whether or not he can come as president, I don’t know.”

Mr. Kerry spoke after he and other leading diplomats from the Group of 7 industrialized countries toured Hiroshima’s atomic bomb museum, laid flowers at a cenotaph in its Peace Memorial Park and examined the former exhibition hall that stood directly under the atomic blast and has been preserved as a skeletal monument. He called the experience “stunning” and “gut-wrenching.”

Mr. Kerry and the other officials were in the city for talks ahead of the annual Group of 7 summit meeting next month, to be hosted by Japan.

The question of how to acknowledge the nuclear attack on Hiroshima, and another on the city of Nagasaki three days later, has long troubled American diplomats. The bombings ultimately killed more than 200,000 people, most of them civilians, in a country that after the war was transformed from an enemy of the United States into one of its closest allies.

But a majority of Americans have long believed that the bombings were necessary to force Japan’s surrender and to spare American lives. [Continue reading…]

An article by Ward Wilson, published in Foreign Policy in 2013, argues, however, that Japan’s decision to surrender probably had much less to do with the effect of nuclear weapons, than with Stalin’s decision to invade.


What is a dirty bomb and how dangerous is it?

By Robert J Downes, King’s College London

The worrying news that individuals affiliated with the so-called Islamic State have undertaken hostile surveillance at a Belgian nuclear research facility has created growing speculation about the group’s nuclear ambitions.

Nuclear weapons and dirty bombs are frequently mentioned in the same breath. However, they are two distinct technologies. Understanding the differences between these weapons and the damage they can cause can ground speculation in reality – and help us work out the most likely route a terrorist organisation such as Islamic State may take in the future.

There are two types of actual nuclear weapon – fission and thermonuclear devices. Fission bombs are fuelled with fissile material such as uranium and plutonium. When detonated, the atoms in the weapon’s core split and release huge amounts of energy – producing a nuclear explosion. Thermonuclear weapons use a fission bomb to ignite special fuel, consisting of light hydrogen isotopes. These nuclei are forced together – undergoing nuclear fusion – releasing an even larger explosion.

There are no indications that a terrorist group has obtained any fissile material to date. If they could it would be possible for them to build a fission device, although this does pose a huge technical challenge. While highly engineered weapons need only a few kilograms of fissile material, a crude terrorist-built design would require far more. Thermonuclear weapons, on the other hand, are too complex for terrorist groups to develop.

An easier option for a terrorist group would be to build a dirty bomb or, technically, a radiological dispersal device. These do not rely on complex nuclear reactions. Instead, conventional explosives are used to disperse radioactive material, contaminating an area with elements such as radioactive isotopes of cobalt, caesium or americium.

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Dilip Hiro: Flashpoint for the planet

Once upon a time, if a war was going to destroy your world, it had to take place in your world. The soldiers had to land, the planes had to fly overhead, the ships had to be off the coast. No longer. Nuclear war changed that equation forever and not just because nuclear weapons could be delivered from a great distance by missile. To use a term that has become commonplace in our world when discussing commerce, the prospect of nuclear conflict has globalized war and it’s a nightmare of the first order.

In the post-Cold War world, Exhibit A in that process would certainly be the unnerving potential for a nuclear war to break out between India and Pakistan. As TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro, author most recently of The Age of Aspiration: Money, Power, and Conflict in Globalizing India, makes clear today, there is no place on the planet where a nuclear war is more imaginable. After all, those two South Asian countries have been to war with each other or on the verge of it again and again since they were split apart in 1947.

Of course, a major nuclear war between them would result in an unimaginable catastrophe in South Asia itself, with casualties estimated at up to 20 million dead from bomb blasts, fire, and the effects of radiation on the human body. And that, unfortunately, would only be the beginning. As Alan Robock and Owen Brian Toon wrote in Scientific American back in 2009, when the Indian and Pakistani arsenals were significantly smaller than they are today, any major nuclear conflagration in the region could hardly be confined to South Asia. The smoke and particulates thrown into the atmosphere from those weapons would undoubtedly bring on some version of a global “nuclear winter,” whose effects could last for at least 10 years, causing crop shortfalls and failures across the planet. The cooling and diminished sunlight (along with a loss of rainfall) would shorten growing seasons in planetary breadbaskets and produce “killing frosts in summer,” triggering declines in crop yields across the planet. Robock and Toon estimate that “around one billion people worldwide who now live on marginal food supplies would be directly threatened with starvation by a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.”

To say the least, it’s a daunting prospect at the very moment when the Obama White House has just ended the president’s final Nuclear Security Summit with fears rising that Pakistan’s new generation of small, front-line tactical nuclear weapons are “highly vulnerable to theft or misuse.” Hiro, an expert on the South Asian region, suggests just why a nuclear war is all too conceivable there and would be a catastrophe for us all. Tom Engelhardt

The most dangerous place on Earth
A nuclear Armageddon in the making in South Asia
By Dilip Hiro

Undoubtedly, for nearly two decades, the most dangerous place on Earth has been the Indian-Pakistani border in Kashmir. It’s possible that a small spark from artillery and rocket exchanges across that border might — given the known military doctrines of the two nuclear-armed neighbors — lead inexorably to an all-out nuclear conflagration.  In that case the result would be catastrophic. Besides causing the deaths of millions of Indians and Pakistanis, such a war might bring on “nuclear winter” on a planetary scale, leading to levels of suffering and death that would be beyond our comprehension.

Alarmingly, the nuclear competition between India and Pakistan has now entered a spine-chilling phase. That danger stems from Islamabad’s decision to deploy low-yield tactical nuclear arms at its forward operating military bases along its entire frontier with India to deter possible aggression by tank-led invading forces. Most ominously, the decision to fire such a nuclear-armed missile with a range of 35 to 60 miles is to rest with local commanders. This is a perilous departure from the universal practice of investing such authority in the highest official of the nation. Such a situation has no parallel in the Washington-Moscow nuclear arms race of the Cold War era.

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Obama’s nuclear security summit neglected 98 percent of the world’s bomb-ready uranium

The Intercept reports: At President Obama’s fourth and final nuclear security summit which took place last week, world leaders confronted the danger posed by nuclear terrorism — specifically, by reducing the ways that terrorists could get their hands on the uranium they would need to build a nuclear bomb.

But critics have pointed out that the summits have only focused on highly enriched uranium in civilian possession, which, according to the Department of Energy, only accounts for 2 to 3 percent of the world’s supply. That small percentage is used mostly by academics for research and medical isotope production.

The remaining 97 to 98 percent is held in military stockpiles, which the security summits have largely ignored. Countries keep the safeguards on these stockpiles secret, and military material falls outside the scope of international security agreements. [Continue reading…]


Is Belgium’s nuclear security up to scratch?

By Robert J Downes, King’s College London and Daniel Salisbury, King’s College London

Belgium’s counter-terrorism efforts are once again being called into question following the recent tragedies in Brussels. The attacks were carried out against soft targets – the public check-in area of Brussels Airport and Maelbeek metro station – but a series of unusual and suspicious occurrences were also reported at nuclear facilities in the country.

Occurring a week before a major international summit on nuclear security, these events highlight the very real threat to nuclear facilities. For Belgium, this recent episode is one item on a long list of security concerns.

The US repeatedly has voiced concerns about Belgium’s nuclear security arrangements since 2003. That year, Nizar Trabelsi, a Tunisian national and former professional footballer, planned to bomb the Belgian Kleine-Brogel airbase under the aegis of Al-Qaeda.

The airbase, which holds US nuclear weapons, has seen multiple incursions by anti-nuclear activists who have gained access to the site’s “protected area”, which surrounds hardened weapons storage bunkers.

Yet, Belgium only started using armed guards at its nuclear facilities weeks before the March 2016 attacks.

[Read more…]


Washington’s nuclear strategy doesn’t keep Europe safe — it puts everyone at risk of apocalyptic terrorism

French nuclear test "Licorne", French Polynesia, July, 1970

Jeffrey Lewis writes: In an earlier job, I ran a project that tried to outline options for what would become the 2009 Nuclear Posture Review. One of the better parts was the travel. I made a lovely visit to Brussels, where my team had a series of very high-level meetings at the European Union and NATO headquarters. There were some steak frites, a little lambic beer, and a lot of talk about nuclear weapons. And at the time, senior U.S. military officers made one thing very clear to us: The security at the bases stunk. One commander noted that the upgrades necessary to meet security requirements would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Another said his worst fear was that a group of activists would be able to get inside the shelters where the nuclear weapons are stored and use a cell phone to publish a picture of the vaults.

And then it happened. In January 2010, a group of protesters who call themselves “Bombspotters” entered Kleine Brogel.

Apparently the plan was to hang around on the tarmac of the runway and get arrested. But no one came to arrest them. So they wandered around — for either 40 minutes or an hour, the accounts differ — before walking through an open gate into an area with hardened aircraft shelters for the base’s F-16s. Eventually, as the hippies continued to wander around the shelters, security arrived.

The “security force” was one moderately annoyed-looking Belgian guy with a rifle — an unloaded rifle. The effect would only have been more comedic if he had some powdered sugar on his face and maybe a little bit of waffle stuck to his uniform.

The protestors were briefly detained but not for long. There was no panic. The mood in Belgium seemed to be something like “you crazy kids.” Not to worry, the Belgians assured their American partners, the activists weren’t anywhere near the shelters with nuclear weapons.

So, a few months later, the activists entered the base again. They helpfully sent me a little note. This time, they not only got inside the proper area, but they also got inside one of the shelters.

Security never showed up. Apparently, the base commander found out about the incursion when the rest of us did — when the activists posted a video on YouTube a day or so later. This was literally the scenario the U.S. military officer had warned us about — hippies inside a shelter with a cell phone, security nowhere to be found.

Yet still no panic.

One way to look at this is to say that the multiple and redundant security features worked. Sure, the Belgians should have caught the activists at the fence. And, sure, the hippies got inside the inner perimeter. And, sure, the shelter shouldn’t have been unlocked. But the nuclear weapons inside the shelter were still secure in a vault in the floor. A terrorist would have needed the code or a jackhammer to access the bomb itself. Even if it was only the last, or next to last, line of defense, it still worked. Another day without a nuclear holocaust. Who’s complaining?

The other way to look at it is to see that the security failures were not independent. The base had a lax security culture that makes anything possible. There were no dogs because the Belgians were too cheap to hire a dog-master. Who is to say what other security breaches might be possible? Who is to say the same people who didn’t bother to lock the gates or the shelters wouldn’t also leave a vault open? Or wouldn’t say something indiscreet, allowing a group of armed men to show up as a bomb is being moved for servicing? According to this view, you either take security seriously, or you don’t. If you don’t, you are vulnerable to systematic breakdowns that allow the seemingly impossible to happen. [Continue reading…]


ISIS: Nuclear fears and actual dangers

The latest news report ratcheting up fears about ISIS using a dirty bomb is that a security guard at a Belgian nuclear research center was murdered this week and his access badge had been stolen.

Prosecutors now see no connection to a planned terror attack and say his badge was not stolen.

The media is being hasty connecting nuclear dots that turn out not to be connected.

The New York Times reports: Experts say the most remote of the potential nuclear-related risks is that Islamic State operatives would be able to obtain highly enriched uranium. Even the danger of a dirty bomb is limited, they said, because much radioactive waste is so toxic it would likely sicken or kill the people trying to steal it.

Cheryl Rofer, a retired nuclear scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and editor of the blog Nuclear Diner, said Belgium’s Tihange nuclear plant has pressurized water reactors, inside a heavy steel vessel, reducing the danger that nuclear fuel could leak or spread. She said that the Brussels bombers’ explosive of choice, TATP, might be able to damage parts of the plant but that the damage would shut down the reactor, limiting the radiation damage.

And if terrorists did manage to shut down the reactor and reach the fuel rods, they would have to remove them with a crane to get the fuel out of them, Ms. Rofer said. And then the fuel would still be “too radioactive to go near — it would kill you quickly.” [Continue reading…]


Terror cell probe puts spotlight on nuclear concerns

The Wall Street Journal reports: Evidence unearthed in the investigation into the Islamic State cell behind the Paris and Brussels attacks has raised fresh concerns about terrorists’ efforts to get their hands on radioactive material.

Belgium’s federal prosecutor said last month that police had discovered a 10-hour videotape showing the home of a man who worked in Belgium’s “nuclear world” during a house search linked to the Paris attacks. The recording came from a surveillance camera installed in front of the man’s home, a spokesman for the prosecutor said at the time.

The same terrorist cell has been tied to Tuesday’s bloodshed at Brussels’ international airport and a subway station.

Authorities around the globe have long feared that terrorists could get nuclear material to build a so-called dirty bomb—which combines conventional explosives with radioactive materials—or launch an attack on a nuclear power plant. At the same time, Belgium’s nuclear plants, which provide the majority of the country’s electricity, have been criticized for a patchy safety record.

Just hours after the explosions in Brussels, Belgium’s nuclear safety agency, FANC, pulled nonessential staff out of the country’s two plants. Officials said the move was a standard measure when the country is at its highest threat level and they had no indication of a specific threat.

Staff members were back at work on Wednesday with strict security checks and a strong police and military presence, said Geetha Keyaert, a spokeswoman for Electrabel, a unit of France’s Engie SA, which operates Belgium’s nuclear plants. A FANC spokeswoman wouldn’t comment.

Belgium is especially vulnerable as a target because of its homegrown terror threat and the fact that its seven nuclear reactors are at least 30 years old, said Tom Sauer, a nuclear terrorism specialist at Belgium’s University of Antwerp.

Newer plants are protected against threats such as attacks by airplanes, “but in the older Belgian plants, there are still some vulnerable parts,” he said.

Belgian media reported in 2014 that a man who had left for Syria to become a foreign fighter had previously worked at one of the country’s nuclear power plants, which officials have since confirmed. “So there is visibly something wrong with the security clearances,” Mr. Sauer said.

Ms. Keyaert said that the man had regular access to a plant as a contractor before going to Syria in 2012. But while he was working there “he wasn’t radicalized yet,” she said. Unconfirmed local media reports said the man later died in Syria. [Continue reading…]


Would Trump consider launching a tactical nuclear strike against ISIS?

That was a question posed by Fred Ryan, publisher of the Washington Post, in a meeting between Donald Trump and the paper’s editorial board on Monday.

You mentioned a few minutes earlier here you’d knock out ISIS — you’ve mentioned that many times. You’ve also mentioned the risk of putting American troops in a danger area. If you could substantially reduce the risk of harm to ground troops, would you use a battlefield nuclear weapon to take out ISIS?

Trump: I don’t want to use… I don’t want to start the process of nuclear. Remember, one thing that everybody has said, I’m a counter-puncher.

Note that Trump wouldn’t rule out using nuclear weapons — he merely said he wouldn’t start the process.

Last month Reuters reported that the theft of radioactive material last year “has raised fears among Iraqi officials that it could be used as a weapon if acquired by Islamic State.”

Fears of a nuclear-armed ISIS were fueled today by Britain’s defense minister who confirmed, “this is a new and emerging threat.”

If ISIS was to use a dirty bomb, or, so to speak, start the process, Trump seems to have just strongly inferred that he would throw a “counter-punch” with a tactical nuclear strike. Indeed, maybe the existing warnings are sufficient for Trump to see a process in motion.

It’s hard to imagine a strategic blunder of greater proportions as this would subsequently be seen by friends and foes alike both as an unjustifiable use of American power (deterrence means nothing to ISIS) while also opening the door to a new age of unleashed nuclear force.

That the Trump team is oblivious to the value of refraining from using nuclear weapons became evident in December when campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson said on Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor: “What good does it do to have a good nuclear triad if you’re afraid to use it?”

Towards the end of the Post interview, Trump returned to the issue of nuclear weapons after being asked:

Do you think climate change is a real thing? Is it man… human caused?

Trump: I think there is a change in weather. I am not a great believer in man-made climate change… not a great believer. There is certainly a change in weather that goes, and if you look they had global cooling in the 1920s and now they have global warming, although now they don’t know if they have global warming. They call it all sorts of different things — now they’re using extreme weather I guess more than any other phrase. I am not — I know it hurts me with this room and I know it’s probably a killer with this room — but I am not a believer (perhaps there’s a minor effect) but I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change.

Don’t good businessmen hedge against risks, not ignore them?

Trump: Well, I just think we have much bigger risks. I mean I think we have militarily tremendous risks. I think we are at tremendous peril. I think our biggest form of “climate change” is — that we should worry about — is nuclear weapons. The biggest risk to the world to me — I mean I know that President Obama thought climate change — to me the biggest risk is nuclear weapons. That is climate change. That is a disaster. And we don’t even know where the nuclear weapons are right now. We don’t know who has them. We don’t know who is trying to get them. The biggest risk for the world and for this country is nuclear weapons — the power of nuclear weapons.

Trump’s thinking process is primitive.

As is sadly commonplace, he doesn’t understand the difference between weather and climate. He uses the language of an anti-intellectual who conspiratorially believes that terminology is designed to bamboozle the uneducated — as though scientists keep on tossing out new phrases all of which simply mean changeable weather. He thinks climate change and extreme weather are interchangeable terms.

But recognizing that as an expression climate change has an emotive yield — that its users hope to generate alarm — he uses it as he has used it before, to circle back to nuclear weapons.

Rather than convey that he truly understands the gravity of having control of a nuclear arsenal, Trump hints that he’s starting to get a tantalizing glimpse of what it might mean for him to grasp that power — and use it.

Would he launch a nuclear strike against ISIS? Trump clearly sees the maximum value in leaving the world guessing.


We still don’t really know the health hazards of a nuclear accident

By Claire Corkhill, University of Sheffield

Five years after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima and 30 years after the Chernobyl accident, scientists are still disagreeing about the impact on human health – such as how many people have got cancer as a result and how dangerous the exclusion zones currently are.

In Fukushima, residents are forbidden to permanently return to their homes within the exclusion zone. And in Ukraine the city of Pripyat, 4km from Chernobyl, still remains largely deserted. While some experts have recently said that the areas surrounding these accidents are not as dangerous as previously thought, others are concerned about the high levels of radiation remaining in plants and animals, particularly seafood.

It is true that large doses of radiation can be fatal. Marie Curie, who carried radium in her pockets, eventually died of cancer. But small doses of radiation are all around us, every day. They are measured in millisieverts (mSv). The average person in the UK receives a dose of 2.7 mSv per year (or 7.8 mSv per year if you happen to live on top of granite in Cornwall, which emits radon gas).

A transatlantic flight will give you a dose of 0.08 mSv from cosmic radiation. Even eating a humble banana will expose you to 0.001 mSv of radiation, from the tiny amount of radioactive potassium inside. But it is only really when you are exposed to annual radiation doses of more than 1,000 mSv that things start to get a bit hairy.

[Read more…]


How Obama has increased the risk of nuclear war

In January, the New York Times reported: As North Korea dug tunnels at its nuclear test site last fall, watched by American spy satellites, the Obama administration was preparing a test of its own in the Nevada desert.

A fighter jet took off with a mock version of the nation’s first precision-guided atom bomb. Adapted from an older weapon, it was designed with problems like North Korea in mind: Its computer brain and four maneuverable fins let it zero in on deeply buried targets like testing tunnels and weapon sites. And its yield, the bomb’s explosive force, can be dialed up or down depending on the target, to minimize collateral damage.

In short, while the North Koreans have been thinking big — claiming to have built a hydrogen bomb, a boast that experts dismiss as wildly exaggerated — the Energy Department and the Pentagon have been readying a line of weapons that head in the opposite direction.

The build-it-smaller approach has set off a philosophical clash among those in Washington who think about the unthinkable.

Mr. Obama has long advocated a “nuclear-free world.” His lieutenants argue that modernizing existing weapons can produce a smaller and more reliable arsenal while making their use less likely because of the threat they can pose. The changes, they say, are improvements rather than wholesale redesigns, fulfilling the president’s pledge to make no new nuclear arms.

But critics, including a number of former Obama administration officials, look at the same set of facts and see a very different future. The explosive innards of the revitalized weapons may not be entirely new, they argue, but the smaller yields and better targeting can make the arms more tempting to use — even to use first, rather than in retaliation. [Continue reading…]


Russia warns North Korea over threats of nuclear strike

The Guardian reports: Russia has warned North Korea that threats to deliver “preventive nuclear strikes” could create a legal basis for the use of military force against the country, suggesting that even Pyongyang’s few remaining friends are growing concerned about its increasingly confrontational stance.

The Russian foreign ministry statement, which follows a North Korean threat to “annihilate” the US and South Korea, also criticises Washington and Seoul for launching the largest joint military drills yet to be held on the peninsula.

“We consider it to be absolutely impermissible to make public statements containing threats to deliver some ‘preventive nuclear strikes’ against opponents,” the Russian foreign ministry said in response to North Korea’s threats.

“Pyongyang should be aware of the fact that in this way the DPRK will become fully opposed to the international community and will create international legal grounds for using military force against itself in accordance with the right of a state to self-defense enshrined in the United Nations Charter,” continued the statement, translated by Itar Tass news agency. [Continue reading…]


Flipping the script: Could peace talks help defuse North Korea?

The Associated Press reports: The new U.N. sanctions on North Korea are out and they are going to pinch Pyongyang hard. But they also beg a big question — since sanctions thus far have failed to persuade North Korea to roll over and give up its nukes, are more, but tougher, ones really the most effective way to bring the North out of its hardened Cold War bunker?

Is it time to flip the script?

China, a key broker in the North Korea denuclearization puzzle, thinks so. It wants the U.S. and North Korea to sit down for peace talks to formally end the Korean War. That idea has always been a non-starter in Washington, which insists the North must give up its nuclear ambitions first, but some U.S. experts also think it might be a viable path forward.

For sure, advocates of sitting down with a nuclear-armed North Korea are the minority camp in the United States. And even those who do support the idea generally agree sanctions can be a useful tool in pushing negotiations forward, if there is a coherent and internationally coordinated follow-up plan on where those negotiations should go.

But sanctions can also backfire, pushing an insecure and threatened regime into a more defiant, and potentially more dangerous, direction.

Pyongyang gave a hint at that possibility Friday in its first official response to the sanctions, saying the measures were an “outrageous provocation” that it “categorically rejects.” North Korea threatened to carry out countermeasures against the U.S. and other countries that supported the sanctions.

While such threats usually amount to nothing, the U.N.’s efforts to change the North’s behavior through sanctions haven’t amounted to much, either. [Continue reading…]