The real nu­clear headache

At the sum­mit, and after, Mr. Trump must get North Korea to fully dis­close, dis­man­tle and ver­ify.

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - ED­I­TO­RI­ALS

DE­NU­CLE­ARIZA­TION? IT is a big word, and so is the chal­lenge fac­ing Pres­i­dent Trump as he heads to­ward a sum­mit with Kim Jong Un cen­tered on re­duc­ing or elim­i­nat­ing the threat of North Korea’s nu­clear weapons and mis­sile sys­tems. There’s no easy, snap-your-fin­gers recipe, and there are big traps. How do we know? Be­cause it was tried after the col­lapse of the So­viet Union, which pro­duced a host of good lessons.

A sum­mit that re­sults in head­line-grab­bing com­mit­ments may be a first and nec­es­sary step. But agree­ments will have no mean­ing if they don’t lead to ver­i­fi­able and last­ing re­sults. The ex­pe­ri­ence of the Nunn-Lu­gar pro­gram, named for then-Sens. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard G. Lu­gar (R-Ind.), who spon­sored it at the end of the Cold War, shows that de­nu­cle­ariza­tion is com­plex. It de­mands a whole chain of ac­tions and co­op­er­a­tion be­tween sus­pi­cious and hos­tile ac­tors.

For an ex­am­ple, con­sider the case of Semi­palatinsk, the So­viet nu­clear test­ing site in Kaza­khstan. After the Cold War, many of the test tun­nels were plugged. Mis­sion ac­com­plished? No. It was later dis­cov­ered that dis­carded equip­ment that in­cluded high-pu­rity plu­to­nium had been aban­doned at a lo­ca­tion known as Dege­len Mountain. The ma­te­rial and other nu­clear ma­te­ri­als were even­tu­ally cleaned up in a 17-year, $150 mil­lion ef­fort by the United States, Rus­sia and Kaza­khstan.

The point is not to give North Korea end­less time. But rev­ers­ing an arms buildup is a se­ri­ous in­dus­trial headache. It is fan­tasy to think that the North’s nu­clear weapons can just be loaded onto a cargo plane and flown away. They need to be dis­man­tled with help from the peo­ple who built them. As am­ply doc­u­mented re­cently by Siegfried Hecker, Robert Car­lin and El­liot Serbin of Stan­ford Univer­sity’s Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity and Co­op­er­a­tion, de­nu­cle­ariza­tion re­quires a mega-sized pro­duc­tion: elim­i­nat­ing the siz­able man­u­fac­tur­ing process in­volved in cre­at­ing the ura­nium, plu­to­nium and tri­tium used in weapons, as well as fac­to­ries mak­ing parts for the bombs; the del­i­cate task of dis­as­sem­bly of war­heads and se­cur­ing the re­main­ing fis­sile ma­te­rial; liq­ui­dat­ing for­ever the weapons test­ing com­plexes; elim­i­nat­ing the mis­sile pro­grams; and mak­ing sure not to over­look the de­sign bu­reaus and lab­o­ra­to­ries where it was all con­ceived, in­clud­ing some­how ac­com­mo­dat­ing the sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers.

The Cold War cleanup shows that full dis­clo­sure is crit­i­cal. Mr. Trump must de­mand that North Korea come clean about all its nu­clear pro­grams, as well as chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal weapons re­search and de­vel­op­ment. For a se­cre­tive po­lice state, this is sure to be painful. Mr. Trump must also pay at­ten­tion to the peo­ple. It is not pos­si­ble to wipe out the knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence gained by en­gi­neers and sci­en­tists; ex­tra at­ten­tion should be given to mak­ing sure they do not spread the know-how, or re­sume the work in se­cret. And ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial are iron­clad ver­i­fi­ca­tion meth­ods, so there is no for­got­ten plu­to­nium dis­cov­ered in a mountain later on.

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