Eyes have been focused on the succession underway in North Korea, where Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s pudgy third son, appears to be being groomed for power.
But attention can also usefully be focused in another direction: North Korea’s continuing efforts to produce nuclear weapons via uranium enrichment. The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) has just produced a highly detailed new study of the subject. North Korea, its authors, David Albright and Paul Brannan, observe, “has stated it intends to build a large enrichment plant this decade, and there is no reason to doubt its intentions.”
Indeed, the report details North Korea’s extensive effort to procure supplies for centrifuge construction and other key technologies from a variety of firms in Western Europe, with Germany a focal point. China has been serving as a key transshipment point for purchases but “there is no evidence that the Chinese government is secretly approving or willfully ignoring exports to North Korea’s centrifuge program.” Rather, according to the authors, the problem is one of laxity in enforcing controls.
Such irresponsibility—if that is indeed what it is—is yet another indicator of China’s increasingly problematic role on the regional and global stage. In the absence of more effective Chinese cooperation in restricting North Korea’s nuclear efforts, we are left groping for a better response to Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
Albright and Brannan conclude that the “most effective way to end the threats posed by North Korea’s centrifuge program is through negotiations, even though that route currently looks difficult.” Although their report is exceptionally valuable, their conclusion might qualify as the understatement of the year.