North Korea does have a point here

About giving up nuclear weapons:

The North\’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper rejected as groundless and unacceptable the US and South Korean condition that it agree to dismantle its nuclear weapons and suspend missile launches.

\”If the DPRK sits at a table with the US it has to be a dialogue between nuclear weapons states, not one side forcing the other to dismantle nuclear weapons,\” the newspaper said, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People\’s Republic of Korea.

The point being that it has never signed the non-proliferation treaty thus is not bound by its provisions. Iran has and therefore is. But it\’s a fairly basic idea in international law that a State is not bound by treaties that it hasn\’t signed.

25 comments on “North Korea does have a point here

  1. It’s a basicer point that it’s totally hypocritical for nuclear states to demand that others don’t develop nuclear weapons. I’d prefer a world where only sensible free countries had serious firepower but sadly that wasn’t the case even before the US, India and Pakistan and Iran went nuclear.

  2. There are two main sources of international law: treaty law and customary international law. Customary international law does not depend upon the consent of a particular nation to bind that nation.

  3. There’s no such thing as International Law. It’s a complete figment of the imagination. There’s a set of rules, engineered by the more powerful players. Whether they’re adhered to, by either set, depends on the interests & power balances of the time.
    For a thing to be called a Law it needs to apply to all equally & have mechanism of enforcement applies to all. International law is simply a stick the powerful wield over the less powerful & a veil to hide behind whilst they do so.

  4. @bis, of course it’s an invented figment of the imagination, just like constitutions and laws within countries. Just like money as well in fact.
    There’s maritime law for example. That piracy on the high seas is illegal and punishable by summary execution by any navy in the world. The fact you are out of any country’s territorial jurisdiction is not a defence. The fiction of maritime laws against piracy works because there are (sometimes) people there to enforce it. Doesn’t make it less of a fiction.

    From a utilitarian standpoint these just happen to be fictions that seems to work. Whatever the “international law” rights and wrongs of banning nukes in North Korea I am entirely at ease with NK not being entitled to have nukes, and rather ill at ease with the fact that they actually do have nukes.

  5. “…Justice, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power; while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” (Thucydides, about 2400 years ago)

    “International law” evolves steadily. Privateering used to be encouraged, now it’s forbidden. Submarines used to have to board merchant ships, check their papers and search for contraband: now they can sink without warning. It used to be a war crime to bombard undefended settlements, now it’s standard practice. We used to use mustard gas, antipersonnel land mines and cluster bombs: now we don’t. And so it goes…

    Oh, and JamesV, we’re officially only allowed to brass off pirates if they’re stupid enough to open fire first. Otherwise, their human rights require that we find a state willing to hold them and try them, but it can’t be an EU nation because they’d be able to claim asylum… the “Pirates of Somalia” problem is a large and interesting one.

  6. It actually signed the Non-proliferation treaty in 1985 and withdrew from it in 2003. Because it used IAEA resources in its nuclear program and also developed a weapons program in defiance of the treaty, it is not a free agent to possess nukes in the way that India, Israel or Pakistan are.

    Tim adds: That’s interesting, ta for that. I knew they weren’t in but not that they had been.

  7. That’s actually quite interesting. What should they do, in theory, were they to want to follow the Israeli route? Throw all the IAEA-derived tech in the sea and start again? Burn the blueprints as well? Or would they need to shoot the scientists too…?

  8. Only because that’s the traditional way for despots to, ahem, “fire” people.

    NK must be a bugger of a place to do any kind of spec ops. The challenges are orders of magnitude higher than, say, entirely hypothetically of course, Israel infiltrating Iran to blow up nuclear scientists.

  9. Well lets see would the US sit down and negotiate rationally with a non-nuclear armed state or would they just send the troops in. Iraq anyone.

    The reason why North Korea (and Iran) have developed Nukes is to make damn sure that they don’t end up like Iraq (or Checnya, Bosnia, Cold War Eastern Europe etc etc).

    Its the same reason why some resort to Terrorism, because sometimes it works. Having Nukes means people have to pay attention. I mean why else does anyone listen to the French.

  10. I have some sympathy for Iran as they have military bases of an openly hostile country with plenty of recent form in arbitrary invasions in the ME to east and west. NK really isn’t in that position and it would be amazing for the US to consider any military intervention there, other than perhaps an air strike with 100% chance of neutralising all of NK’s nuclear assets.

    They are propped up by China which, understandably, appreciates having a buffer between it and several US armoured divisions and half the United States Marine Corps. If the USA pulled out of South Korea (militarily) and gave an undertaking that Pyongyang would be erased from the map within 30 minutes of one northern soldier setting foot in the south, North Korea would likely collapse overnight.

  11. Bearing in mind that it’s extremely plausible, even perhaps likely, that Israel hoaxed the world that it had nuclear weapons for at least a couple of decades*, I take claims of proliferation with a pinch of salt. Have we any actual hard evidence that North Korea has been more successful developing nukes than missiles?

    [*It's implausible that Israel independently developed nuclear weapons by the late sixties as claimed. They either had covert help from the US such that the US might as well have just handed over blueprints or ready-made bombs, or they managed to steal the detailed plans they'd need, which would have been the greatest intelligence operation in history by a huge margin, and not the kind of thing Mossad wouldn't have publicised by now - or, the Israelis faked it. It would be a hell of a lot cheaper to have a fake programme, and as long as no-one found out, every bit as effective as the real thing. ]

  12. Dave: I thought it was common knowledge that the Israelis got nukes from the French, with a bit of help from the British?

    Apparently the Americans under Kennedy even tried to stop them, using inspections, but the Israelis managed to defeat the inspections.

  13. Dave @ #11,

    Reliable seismic traces showing 2 successful bangs (2013 & 2009) and one fissile (2006). Although it would be technically possible to use conventional explosives to simulate the seismic trace of a nuclear explosion (especially the fission-only that is what the Norks have), it would be rather hard. Probably easier actually to build a simple cannon-type big bang. If you have the fissile material. Which they do.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that they have a weaponised “bomb” – they could be using a bluk engineering structure that is simply too large for even strategic use, never mind sticking on the end of their ‘not really very good’ rockets.

  14. If the USA pulled out of South Korea (militarily) and gave an undertaking that Pyongyang would be erased from the map within 30 minutes of one northern soldier setting foot in the south, North Korea would likely collapse overnight.

    No, there’d be a war. No US president would use nuclear weapons to counter a conventional invasion. It would be political suicide, and possibly literal suicide if he wasn’t a sociopath. Pulling out and offering a guarantee didn’t work for South Vietnam, and it won’t work for South Korea. The whole reason the US has troops there is to provide a casus belli in the event of a NK invasion.

  15. …other than perhaps an air strike with 100% chance of neutralising all of NK’s nuclear assets.

    It’s not NK’s nuclear weapons that are the issue, it’s the proximity of Seoul to the border. NK has ten of thousands of conventional artillery pointed at Seoul which could reduce it to rubble within minutes, regardless of what followed. That’s what keeps the South Koreans frightened. If they had moved their capital further south, an idea that has been mooted, things would likely be different.

  16. SE>

    Blow flour through a large cave. Strike a match. It’ll easily be large enough. (Actually, I just checked. Even with complete combustion you’re going to need 25 million tonnes of flour, assuming I didn’t drop some decimals. Probably better going with coal dust, bringing the amount down to a hundred tonnes or something. Plus, of course, if North Korea had 25 million tonnes of flour, they wouldn’t need nukes.)

    Tracy>

    I’d heard that suggestion too. Does make me wonder, though, given that the normal order of things at the time was for the US to help Israel against the opposition of the French and British.

  17. A little time on Wikipedia checking figures lets me calculate this.

    The Norks first test came out at about 0.48kt, which is roughly equivalent to a 600 tonnes of ANFO – ammonia nitrate and fuel oil, both of which are I believe supplied to the Norks as aid-in-kind. (Wikipedia says ANFO is about 80% the equivalent of TNT. )

    the second test came out at 2.5kt – or 3200 tonnes of ANFO.

    The third test came out at twice that.

    When they defueled their reactors in the 80s, they should have gotten enough Pu for 2-3 fat man designs, or 6-8 more sophisticated weapons.

    I do not believe that they would use three of them for tests, because they just don’t have enough of them. They may well still work, however.

    On the other hand, using all that fertiliser and fuel aid to fake nuclear weapons tests is consistent with the fact that the country is starving and short on electrical power.

    (Ammonium nitrate: A tonne does about four hectares, or 25 tonnes per sq.km. 16,000 tonnes is not that much.)

  18. “Remind me again why it’s America’s business if North Korea invades South Korea?”

    Even if you don’t turn a hair at the thought of several hundred thousand dead allied civilians at the hands of an insane autocracy, there’s the problem that South Korea accounts for enough production of IT hardware for its destruction to put a pretty serious dent in any global economic recovery.

  19. …there’s the problem that South Korea accounts for enough production of IT hardware for its destruction to put a pretty serious dent in any global economic recovery.

    I don’t think that would even dent the effect on global oil production: almost every new-build FPSO is built in Korea, plus the lion’s share of offshore topsides, plus an awful lot of modules for onshore facilities. If the Korean yards were taken out of action, I have no idea how the oil and gas industry would manage in the short to medium term. And that would mean oil prices pushing $200 per barrel.

  20. JamesV – “I have some sympathy for Iran as they have military bases of an openly hostile country with plenty of recent form in arbitrary invasions in the ME to east and west.”

    That is like saying you sympathise with Charlie Mason because he has locks on his doors and armed guards outside.

    But then I suppose some people do.

    “They are propped up by China which, understandably, appreciates having a buffer between it and several US armoured divisions and half the United States Marine Corps.”

    Several US Armoured Divisions? The US Army does not have several armoured divisions. They are expensive. They have two in fact. Plus parts for another, say, four if they wanted to. Half the Marine Corp? What planet does this happen?

    South Korea itself is home to the Eighth Army. Which sounds impressive but it consists of one single infantry division plus some odds and sods. It is a trip wire force – designed to be wiped out in the first hours of fighting. Nothing more.

    “North Korea would likely collapse overnight.”

    Neither South Korea or China can allow that.

    11Dave – “It-s implausible that Israel independently developed nuclear weapons by the late sixties as claimed. They either had covert help from the US”

    The US bomb programme was largely the work of Jewish scientists many of whom were deeply committed Zionists who spent some years also working in Israel. Edward Teller for instance. You really think Israel needed to do much work on their own?

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