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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: Technical Issues



Mary Beth Nikitin
Specialist in Nonproliferation

This report summarizes what is known from open sources about the North Korean nuclear weapons program—including weapons-usable fissile material and warhead estimates—and assesses current developments in achieving denuclearization. Little detailed open-source information is available about the DPRK’s nuclear weapons production capabilities, warhead sophistication, the scope and success of its uranium enrichment program, or extent of its proliferation activities. In total, it is estimated that North Korea has between 30 and 50 kilograms of separated plutonium, enough for at least half a dozen nuclear weapons. While North Korea’s weapons program has been plutonium-based from the start, in the past decade, intelligence emerged pointing to a second route to a bomb using highly enriched uranium. North Korea openly acknowledged a uranium enrichment program in 2009, but has said its purpose is the production of fuel for nuclear power. In November 2010, North Korea showed visiting American experts early construction of a 100 MWT light-water reactor and a newly built gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant, both at the Yongbyon site. The North Koreans claimed the enrichment plant was operational, but this has not been independently confirmed. U.S. officials have said that it is likely other, clandestine enrichment facilities exist. A February 2012 announcement committed North Korea to moratoria on nuclear and long-range missile testing as well as uranium enrichment suspension at Yongbyon under IAEA monitoring. However, an April 2012 satellite launch, which violated UN Security Council resolutions, caused a collapse of the February agreement. A December 2012 satellite launch was met with UN Security Council condemnation. North Korea has also made policy statements asserting its nuclear weapons status: in May 2012, North Korea changed its constitution to say that it was a “nuclear-armed state.” In January 2013, North Korea said that no dialogue on denuclearization “would be possible” and it would only disarm when all the other nuclear weapon states also disarm.

Many experts believe that the prime objective of North Korea’s nuclear program is to develop a nuclear warhead that could be mounted on North Korea’s intermediate-range and long-range missiles. Miniaturization of a nuclear warhead would likely require additional nuclear and missile tests. In January 2013, a North Korean statement said that it would respond with a nuclear test “of higher level.” On February 12, 2013, the North Korean official news agency announced a “successful” underground nuclear detonation, and seismic monitoring systems measured a resulting earthquake that was 5.1 in magnitude. This is magnitude is slightly higher than past tests, but yield estimates are still uncertain. The South Korean Ministry of Defense estimated that the test yield was between 6 and 7 kilotons, while the U.S. Director of National Intelligence so far has said “approximately several kilotons.” North Korea claimed that the February 12, 2013, nuclear test was to develop a “smaller and light” warhead. At a minimum, the test would likely contribute to North Korea’s ability to develop a warhead that could be mounted on a long-range missile. It is unclear what impact a third nuclear test would have on future negotiations, but it would make their success far less likely. Observers are also waiting for evidence from test emissions that might show whether the North Koreans tested a uranium or plutonium device. This information could help determine the type and sophistication of the North Korean nuclear warhead design, about which little is known.



Date of Report: February 12, 2013
Number of Pages: 35
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Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress



Emma Chanlett-Avery 
Specialist in Asian Affairs 

Mark E. Manyin
Specialist in Asian Affairs 

William H. Cooper
Specialist in International Trade and Finance 

Ian E. Rinehart 

Analyst in Asian Affairs


Japan is a significant partner for the United States in a number of foreign policy areas, particularly in terms of security priorities, from responding to China’s rise in the region to countering threats from North Korea. The post-World War II U.S.-Japan alliance has long been an anchor of the U.S. security role in East Asia. The alliance facilitates the forward deployment of about 49,000 U.S. troops and other U.S. military assets based in Japan in the Asia-Pacific. If Japan decides to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, it will become an even more critical element in the Obama Administration’s rebalancing to Asia strategy.

Japan has struggled to find political stability in the past seven years. Since 2007, six men have been Prime Minister, including the current premier Shinzo Abe, who also held the post in 2006- 2007. His Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) returned to power in a landslide election in December 2012. The current opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) had ruled for three tumultuous years since their own watershed election victory in 2009. Japan’s leaders face daunting tasks: an increasingly assertive China, a weak economy, and rebuilding from the devastating March 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster. In recent years, opposition control of one chamber of parliament has paralyzed policymaking in Tokyo and made U.S.-Japan relations difficult to manage despite overall shared national interests. Abe is unlikely to pursue controversial initiatives before the next national elections, for the Upper House of parliament (called the Diet) in July 2013. Perhaps most significantly, the United States could become directly involved in a military conflict between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islets in the East China Sea.

Past comments and actions on controversial historical issues by Prime Minister Abe and his cabinet have raised concern that Tokyo could upset regional relations in ways that hurt U.S. interests. Abe is known as a strong nationalist, and he is now under pressure on the right from a newly formed party touting its own hawkish views on national security. Abe’s approach to issues like the so-called “comfort women” sex slaves from the World War II era, history textbooks, visits to the Yasukuni Shrine that honors Japan’s war dead, and statements on a territorial dispute with South Korea will be closely monitored by Japan’s neighbors as well as the United States.

The massive and immediate humanitarian relief provided by the United States following the March 2011 “triple disaster” bolstered the bilateral alliance, but difficult issues remain, particularly those related to the stationing of marines on Okinawa. Washington and Tokyo have agreed to relocate several thousand marines from Okinawa to Guam and other locations in the region, but the two governments have been unable to make tangible progress on implementing a 2006 agreement to relocate the controversial Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to a less densely populated location on Okinawa. In addition, the U.S. Congress has restricted funding for the realignment because of concerns and uncertainty about the cost of the realignment plans.

Japan is one of the United States’ most important economic partners. Outside of North America, it is the United States’ second-largest export market and second-largest source of imports. Japanese firms are the United States’ second-largest source of foreign direct investment, and Japanese investors are the second-largest foreign holders of U.S. treasuries, helping to finance the U.S. deficit and reduce upward pressure on U.S. interest rates. One exception was U.S. criticism over Japan’s decision in 2003 to ban imports of U.S. beef, which have since resumed, resolving one issue that could have been an obstacle to the United States agreeing to Japan’s joining the TPP.



Date of Report: January 23, 2013
Number of Pages: 33
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Thursday, February 21, 2013

U.S.-South Korea Relations



Mark E. Manyin
Specialist in Asian Affairs

Mary Beth Nikitin
Specialist in Nonproliferation

Emma Chanlett-Avery
Specialist in Asian Affairs

Ian E. Rinehart
Analyst in Asian Affairs

William H. Cooper
Specialist in International Trade and Finance


Overview 

Since late 2008, relations between the United States and South Korea (known officially as the Republic of Korea, or ROK) have been arguably at their best state in decades. Much of the current closeness between Seoul and Washington is due to the policies undertaken by President Lee Myung-bak, who will leave office at the end of February 2013. His successor, Park Geunhye, is another conservative leader who is expected to maintain strong ties to the United States. However, while the overall U.S.-South Korean relationship is expected to remain healthy under Park, she also has hinted at policy moves—particularly with respect to North Korea and civilian nuclear cooperation—that could strain bilateral ties. Members of Congress tend to be interested in South Korea-related issues because of bilateral cooperation over North Korea, the U.S.-South Korea alliance, South Korea’s growing importance in various global issues, deep bilateral economic ties, and the interests of many Korean-Americans. The 112
th Congress held over 15 hearings directly related to South and North Korea. 

Strategic Cooperation and the U.S.-ROK Alliance 


Dealing with North Korea is the dominant strategic element of the U.S.-South Korean relationship. South Korea’s growing economic, diplomatic, and military power has given Seoul a more direct and prominent role in Washington’s planning and thinking about how to deal with Pyongyang. The Obama and Lee Administrations have essentially adopted a joint approach that some labeled “strategic patience” and includes four main elements: refusing to return to nuclear talks with North Korea unless Pyongyang demonstrates that it is taking “irreversible steps” to denuclearize; gradually attempting to alter China’s strategic assessment of North Korea; tightening sanctions against North Korean entities in response to Pyongyang’s provocations; and insisting that significant multilateral and U.S. talks with North Korea be preceded by improvements in North-South Korean relations.

It remains to be seen how U.S.-South Korea cooperation on North Korea will shift under President-elect Park, who has called for a new combination of toughness and flexibility toward Pyongyang. Perhaps most notably, Park has proposed a number of confidence-building measures with Pyongyang in order to create a “new era” on the Korean Peninsula. Two key questions will be the extent to which her government will link these initiatives to progress on denuclearization, which is the United States’ top concern, and how much emphasis she will give to North Korea’s human rights record. Likewise, an issue for the Obama Administration and Members of Congress is to what extent they will support—or, not oppose—initiatives by Park to expand inter-Korean relations.

The United States maintains about 28,500 troops in the ROK. Since 2009, the two sides have accelerated steps to transform the U.S.-ROK alliance’s primary purpose from one of defending against a North Korean attack to a regional and even global partnership. Washington and Seoul have announced a “Strategic Alliance 2015” plan to relocate U.S. troops on the Peninsula and boost ROK defense capabilities. Some Members of Congress have criticized the relocation plans, and Congress has cut funds for a related initiative that would “normalize” the tours of U.S. troops in South Korea by lengthening their stays and allowing family members to accompany them. In the first half of 2013, the U.S. and South Korea are expected to negotiate a new Special Measures Agreement (SMA) that includes always-contentious discussions over how much South Korea should pay to offset the cost of stationing U.S. forces in Korea. Currently, South Korea pays for around 40%-45% of the total non-personnel stationing costs for the U.S. troop presence. 

Nuclear Cooperation Agreement 


For months, bilateral talks over a new civilian nuclear cooperation agreement have stalled. The Obama Administration would likely need to submit a new agreement for the mandatory congressional review period in late spring 2013 for it to take effect before the current agreement expires in March 2014. South Korea reportedly has requested that the new agreement include a provision that would give permission in advance for U.S.-controlled spent nuclear fuel to be reprocessed. This poses challenges for U.S. non-proliferation policy. 

Bilateral Economic Ties 


In October 2011, both chambers of Congress voted to approve legislation (H.R. 3080/P.L. 112-41) to implement the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA), the United States’ secondlargest FTA after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In 2011, two-way trade between the two countries totaled over $95 billion, making South Korea the United States’ seventh-largest trading partner. In 2011, the United States was South Korea’s third-largest trading partner, second-largest export market, and the third-largest source of imports. It was among South Korea’s largest suppliers of foreign direct investment (FDI). To date, South Korea has not shown a desire to join the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) FTA talks, despite calls for it to do so from many U.S. analysts.


Date of Report: February 5, 2013
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Monday, February 11, 2013

Maritime Territorial Disputes in East Asia: Issues for Congress



Ben Dolven
Specialist in Asian Affairs

Shirley A. Kan
Specialist in Asian Security Affairs

Mark E. Manyin
Specialist in Asian Affairs


Tensions surrounding numerous maritime territorial disputes in East Asia have become a pressing challenge for U.S. foreign policymakers. Beginning around 2005-2006, long-disputed waters in the South China Sea and, more recently, the East China Sea have become the site of increasingly aggressive behavior from nations trying to strengthen claims to disputed areas or to explore and develop offshore energy and fishery resources. Rising tensions in these waters raise a number of important issues for the 113th Congress.

The tensions have been fed by a series of aggressive actions by maritime authorities, including harassing vessels, destroying equipment, and blockading islets and shoals. The increasing frequency of such events raises the possibility of miscalculations that could lead to overt conflict at sea. It also poses complex questions about security and U.S. diplomacy in the region, and represents one of the most complicated challenges for the Obama Administration’s strategy of “rebalancing” foreign policy priorities towards the Asia-Pacific.

The territorial disputes at the heart of these tensions are decades old, and incidents between the parties to the disputes have been ongoing for many years.


  • In the South China Sea, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) makes extensive claims, including marking on its maps an ambiguous “nine dash line” that covers most of the sea, including the Spratly and Paracel island groups. These claims overlap with those of four Southeast Asian nations—Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, which themselves have claims that conflict with each other. Taiwan also makes extensive claims mirroring those of the PRC. 
  • In the East China Sea, China, Japan, and Taiwan each claim a Japan-administered island group that Japan calls the Senkakus, China the Diaoyu Islands, and Taiwan the Diaoyutai Islands. 
  • Other territorial disputes exist between Japan and South Korea in the Sea of Japan, and between China and South Korea in the Yellow Sea. 

Although the United States has no territorial claim in these waters and does not take a position on the various specific territorial disputes, it does have treaty obligations with Japan and the Philippines that could be invoked if they become involved in an active conflict with another of the claimants. It is longstanding U.S. policy that the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, which stipulates that the United States is bound to protect Japan, covers the Senkaku islets, raising the prospect that the United States could become militarily involved in a Sino-Japanese conflict over the islets. The applicability of the U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty to Philippine-claimed islands and waters in the South China Sea is less clear. This ambiguity presents a dilemma, in that the United States seeks to avoid being drawn into a potential conflict, but also seeks to support its treaty ally and deter a use of force against it.

The ability of the disputing countries, and of the United States and other parties, to manage tensions touches on numerous other U.S. interests including:

  • protecting free and unimpeded commerce along some of the world’s busiest maritime trade routes; 
  • maintaining peace and stability among maritime nations in the Asia-Pacific; 
  • encouraging rules-based regional norms that discourage coercion or the use of force; 
  • protecting the U.S. Navy’s ability to operate in these areas;
  • managing U.S. treaty alliances with nations involved in the disputes; and 
  • avoiding intimidation of U.S. companies which may seek to operate in the region. 
The 113th Congress may address East Asian maritime territorial disputes and the issues surrounding them in various ways. The Senate may consider offering its advice and consent on the United States becoming a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Congress may also choose to examine the economic and security implications of a greater U.S. military presence in disputed areas, or the merits of providing additional resources to Southeast Asian nations to monitor and police their maritime domains. It may choose to support efforts to lower tensions, including discussions between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on a Code of Conduct for parties in the South China Sea.

Date of Report: January 23, 2013
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