News That Isn’t News

North Korea has plutonium. This is not news. North Korea has had plutonium for many years, enough for at least five or six nuclear weapons, probably more. They had it before Bill Clinton became president. From 1994 to 2003, the plutonium was stored in fuel rods in a concrete-lined pool of water in Yongbyon. In 2003, North Korea un-froze its plutonium weapons program and began working on making plutonium bombs.

The plutonium in the bombs North Korea is testing was processed since 2003. On Bush’s watch.

North Korea also has had uranium, and lots of it, for many years. In 2002 the Bush Administration stirred up an international whoop-dee-doo by claiming North Korea was processing uranium to make nuclear weapons. I do not believe there was ever any firm confirmation that NK was enriching uranium for military use and not industrial use. There is some question whether North Korea is capable of enriching uranium for military use — it takes a lot of time, energy, and technical whizbangs (such as 1,300 high-performance centrifuges) to get sufficient bomb material out of uranium. Worst-case, North Korea eventually might have made one or two uranium bombs.

In contrast to uranium, plutonium is nearly plug-and-play, so to speak. That’s why plutonium is a bigger worry than uranium. That’s why the 1994 Agreed Framework was negotiated — to get North Korea to freeze its plutonium program. And North Korea kept this agreement until the Bush Administration trashed it.

Robert Farley writes

This is utterly unsurprising; the parallel uranium program that North Korea had developed in the 1990s was never capable of producing much in the way of bomb material. This reinforces the conclusion that the key diplomatic moments came in 1994, when the North Koreans agreed to substantially scale back their nuclear ambitions in return for aid, and in 2002 when they gave up on this agreement. … [T]he Bush administration in 2002 faced two unfortunate but clearly distinguishable realities; one in which North Korea had the material required to make one or two bombs, and one in which [North Korea] had the capacity to make nearly a dozen. Because of its diplomatic ineptitude, ideological commitment, and obsession with Iraq, the administration had neither the interest in dealing with North Korea nor the capacity to carry out any threats.

For reasons explained very well and clearly in the articles linked below, North Korea’s decision to un-freeze plutonium production is entirely the fault of the Bush Administration.

The North Korea link archive:

Eric Alterman, “Blaming Success, Upholding Failure

Rachel Weise, “North Korea Nuclear Timeline

Hilzoy, “Do You Feel Safer Now?

Joe Conason, “Wagging the Big Dog

Fred Kaplan, “The Slime Talk Express

Rosa Brooks, “A Good Week for the Axis of Evil

Tom Teepen, “Bush’s newest N. Korea policy: Blame Clinton

Fred Kaplan, “Rolling Blunder

The Mahablog North Korea posts (most recent first):

Blame Everybody (But Bush)

More Bombs


Happy Talk

Bolton Lies; Righties Confused

And finally,

Blame Bush for North Korea’s Nukes

3 thoughts on “News That Isn’t News

  1. You might be interested in the article “Bush unleashes the nuclear beast” by Joseph Cirincione in the Oct. 15 Los Angeles Times. The article is still available online at the Times’ Website.

  2. I think the worst part of the whole N.K. fiasco is that it places a lot of pressure on China to keep them in check, like having a psychotic little brother with a formidable gun collection.
    Another big problem is the possibility of Japan going nuclear. Many of the asian countries eye Japan as a potental threat, they have not forgotten the atrocities Japan committed on asia’s mainland.
    At any rate, this administration seems to relish rubbing other’s noses in shit, which is their idea of foreign policy. If I could advise Mr. Bush and “bonkers Bolton” , I would tell them to have serious unilateral talks with Kim Jong RIGHT NOW. The big picture is this…. N. Korea is a “little dragon” with very sharp teeth, and a big brother who happens to “hold the note” and I ain’t talking music.Starting shit with N. Korea while conducting war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, the Phillipines, and god knows where else, will be suicidal.It is not far fetched to envision an attack on N. Korea to prompt alliances throughout Asia to come together against the U.S. in the form of economic warfare, then progress to the unthinkable.

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