Nuclear Epistemology


So, is North Korea an active nuclear threat? Despite Bush administration assurances that it is–that it has working bombs already and is on the threshold of an effective system of producing highly-enriched uranium–this long and detailed story from today's Los Angeles Times concludes that the proper answer right now is: we don't know. This article by Douglas Frantz is a hard slog, true, but it is educational about the morass of guesses and conflicting reports that feed into the shorthand conventional wisdom on foreign policy. A relevant excerpt:

Analysts said other reports within the U.S. intelligence community have been contradictory and inconclusive about North Korea's advances in both plutonium bomb-making and uranium enrichment.

To some, the wording of the CIA report [that declared North Korea "has produced one or two simple fission-type nuclear weapons"] shouted political considerations, not proof.

" 'We assess' means they concluded based upon a judgment of North Korean intent and capabilities," said Robert Gallucci, the Clinton administration's top negotiator with the North. "Those are political judgments."

A former Bush administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he suspected the recent statements were driven by politics. He described it as "a case of pleasing the bosses by telling them what they want to hear or analysts covering their backsides."