February 26, 2015 12:11
North Korea could build up to 100 nuclear weapons by 2020 if development continues at the current pace, an expert speculates.
Joel Wit of the website 38 North at Johns Hopkins University on Tuesday gave a seminar in Washington on the North’s potential development of nuclear weapons.
Wit presented three scenarios -- minimal, moderate and fast growth.
Minimal growth would mean the North has perhaps 20 nuclear weapons by 2020, assuming that the arsenal grows 100 percent annually even if there are no further nuclear or missile tests.
The nukes are then estimated to have an average yield of 10 kilotons. One kiloton is equivalent to 1,000 tons of TNT. The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima had a yield of 15 kilotons.
Moderate growth is based on the assumption that the regime will continue developing nuclear weapons at the current pace, so the arsenal would grow 212.5 percent to 50 nuclear arms in five years, with an average yield of 10-20 kilotons.
The regime will at this stage succeed in miniaturizing nuclear warheads so they can be mounted on ballistic missiles.
The fast growth scenario, which Wit said is the “worst case,” envisions the pace accelerating dramatically, with foreign technology and information. The arsenal would grow 525 percent to 100 nuclear weapons by 2020, with an average yield of more than 20 kilotons.
In this case, the regime could deploy tactical nuclear weapons wherever possible.
Wit also put forward three other scenarios for missile development.
The minimal development case envisions the regime no longer testing missiles but deploying cruise and ballistic missiles on ships and submarines and putting intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM), which can target many parts in Northeast Asia including Japan, on standby for emergency use.
In the consistent development scenario, the regime would develop a new submarine capable of carrying ballistic missiles and deploying IRBMs warfare ready, while ratcheting up threats against the U.S. mainland.
The maximum scenario envisages 20 to 30 IRBMs and 20 to 30 ICBMs targeting the U.S. west coast and Alaska warfare ready.
Wit, a former North Korea officer at the State Department, told the seminar, "Our fixation with when these tests happen really is not the right way to view this issue. Tests could happen. They may never happen again. If they never happen again, it doesn't mean that North Korea isn't the threat or isn't a problem."
He also called for serious look at the reality, saying, "Why does anyone think that a North Korea with 50 to 100 nuclear weapons is going to be interested in reunification with South Korea on any terms but its own? It's just not going to happen. So we need to purge our policies of fantasies and focus on reality."
Meanwhile, the Korea Institute for National Unification speculates that the North had 12 nuclear weapons in 2013 and will have 27 this year and more than 50 by late 2017.
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