web analytics

Monthly Archives: August 2015

Sokov on Russian Cruise Missiles

Arms Control Wonk | Jeffrey Lewis | 25 August 2015

I was discussing reports of a new Russian sea-launched cruise missile with my colleague, Nikolai Sokov.  He has a number of thoughts about what is going on, so I was delighted when he offered to write them up. There are a lot of really interesting things in Nikolai’s piece.

One comment — I remain undecided about the idea that the alleged Russian INF violation arises from a ground-based test of a sea-launched cruise missile. The new information, though, does seem to bolster that case, at least a bit, but my intuition is that it is a new ground-launched cruise missile.  In any event, its a discussion worth having.  And this is a really great start.

Bill Gertz, New Russian SLCM, and the True Nature of Challenge to US and NATO

Nikolai Sokov

A few days ago Bill Gertz alerted the public to a new Russian sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM), SS-N-30A, known in Russia as Kalibr. The new supersonic missile, he said, was tested last month and is ready for deployment. It could reach targets across Europe and represents a threat akin to SS-20 intermediate-range missiles, which the Soviets deployed in the late 1970s – early 1980s and which were eliminated under the 1987 INF Treaty. “A cruise missile variant also is being developed that officials said appears to violate the 1987 Intermediate­ Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty”, he added.

The disclosure is very interesting, but not particularly informative. The missile is not new – it has been in testing mode for seven years, if not longer, and is based on an even older SLCM. It is not exactly supersonic. The quote above is misleading: all versions of Kalibr are cruise missiles; Gertz probably meant a test flight from land-based launcher, which is the likely reason for the American accusation that Russia is in violation of the INF Treaty. And, although the reported capacity of Kalibrs to reach targets across Europe from submarines is a concern, he missed a significantly greater challenge stemming from the recent versions of that missile.


One Happy Kalibr Family

The history of Kalibr is complicated and designations in Russian open sources are contradictory. Here is a short, simplified version.

Kalibr is a new-generation SLCM, which is based on a Soviet long-range anti-ship SLCM known as Granat, which, in turn, was a Soviet response to the American Tomhawk (TLAM-N). After the breakup of the Soviet Union, when Russian defense industry began to actively seek foreign markets, Novator design bureau, which produced Granat, created its smaller version, which became known as Kalibr (3M-14E). The smaller size achieved two purposes: first, the new anti-ship missile had to fit into standard NATO torpedo tubes (which are shorter than the Soviet standard) and it had to have a range less than 300 km to remain under the MTCR-mandated limit (Granat had the range of 3,000 km). Reportedly, in 2006 3M-14E Kalibr missiles were sold to India.

3M-14E at MAKS-2011 exhibition

Novator did not stop there and eventually created a whole family of cruise missiles: in addition to 3M-14E, it also advertises 3M-54E and 3M-54E-1. These three missiles are part of systems known as Klub-S (for submarines), Klub-N (for ships), and Klub-M (land-based anti-ship missiles for coastal defense); Novator also offers a Club-A system for aircraft. All these missiles have the declared range below 300 km, which is natural for weapons intended for export. Designation “E” traditionally denotes the export version of weapons systems.

Part of the Kalibr family, however, is intended solely for “domestic consumption” (known as 3M14, 3M54, and 3M541) and their ranges are many times greater (some sources use the “E” designation for missiles not intended for export, which is an obvious mistake). Depending on the source, their range is either 2,600 km or 1,500 km; some hypothesize that the upper range is for missiles equipped with nuclear warheads while conventionally armed Kalibr SLCMs have the shorter range.

Kalibr 3M-54E1

All these missiles are subsonic with one important exception: the last stage of the three-stage 3M54 can accelerate to three times the speed of sound 20-40 km before the target (3M541 is a shorter, two-stage subsonic missile that has a more powerful warhead). Acceleration helps penetrate ship defenses and builds inertia to penetrate the body of the target ship. Although all these cruise missiles were initially developed as anti-ship (including basing on submarines, surface ships, and on shore for coastal defense), they have recently also been given capability against targets on land.

Kalibr missiles are designated as high-precision and can travel a complex trajectory with up to 15 turns along the path. For example, if the target ship is on the other side of an island, the missile(s) will fly around that island to reach it.


Element of Conventional Deterrence

Kalibr missiles are reported to have dual (nuclear and conventional) capability. The Russian Navy has always stubbornly insisted that it needs nuclear anti-ship missiles to balance the overwhelming power of US Navy and there is no reason to believe it will completely abandon nuclear capability; there is also no reason to believe that it has abandoned the political obligation of Russia under the 1991 Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNI) to store warheads for non-strategic nuclear weapons on shore, even though in 2004 Moscow declared that it no longer considered itself bound by PNIs.

Conventionally armed Kalibr SLCMs deserve much more attention then the “nuclear side” of the family. They fit very well the goal of reducing reliance on nuclear weapons that was proclaimed in the 2000 Military Doctrine and has been confirmed in its subsequent (2010 and 2014) versions. The value of precision-guided long-range conventional strike assets has been amply demonstrated by the United States in a series of limited wars since 1991. Unlike nuclear weapons, their conventional counterparts are usable and, if necessary can be credibly threatened against a potential opponent.

It appears that the geography of planned deployment of Kalibrs reflects the emphasis on conventional capability. They will be deployed on Project 971 (Yasen) SSNs; they will also be deployed on diesel Varshavyanka-type submarines (which are being deployed to the Baltic and the Black Seas); there are plans to arm with them Shchuka-class diesel submarines of the Northern Fleet. Certain categories of surface ships, such as the Project 1155 “large anti-submarine vessel” will also be refitted with these missiles, as well as two large heavy cruisers, including Petr Veliki and the future Project 11356M frigates. Of greatest significance perhaps is the decision to equip missile ships of the Caspian Fleet with Kalibr missiles; moreover, Caspian ships have already flight-tested them several times from different ships.

Test of Kalibr missile from Grad Sviyashsk missile cruiser in the Caspian Sea, 2013

Overall, the Northern, the Baltic, the Black Sea, and the Caspian Fleets can hold at risk wide swaths of territory in Europe and the Middle East, perhaps reaching as far as parts of the Persian Gulf region. Even assuming the range of conventional Kalibrs at 1,500 km, the reach is truly global. The vast majority of countries within that range do not have nuclear weapons of their own or US nuclear weapons in their territories. Thus, Russia cannot threaten them with nuclear SLCMs, but conventional SLCMs are a whole different ball game.

The new strategic situation goes well beyond the gloomy, but, in truth, pretty timid warnings of Bill Gertz. This is not just about Europe and perhaps not necessarily about Europe: Moscow is on the path toward breaking the US monopoly on conventional long-range precision-guided strike weapons. Kalibr is not the only class of such weapons: Moscow has already started deployment of a dual-capable Kh-101/102 air-launched cruise missile and plans to develop and deploy a liquid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile that, some reports suggest, will be primarily intended for conventional warheads (given the long and successful history of Soviet liquid-fuel ICBMs, this project will hardly encounter any challenges except financial).

Of course, large-scale deployment is still mostly plans. Development of Kalibr family systems has been completed, but deployment takes time and money; the latter is in particularly short supply these days. Thus, the security challenge should be judged as potential, but worth serious consideration. A response in kind would amount to an arms race. Arms control tools seem infinitely preferable, but that would mean breaking one of the long-standing taboos in American arms control policy – putting long-range conventional strike assets on the table. This option remains possible while Russia has not yet embarked on large-scale deployment of the new family of systems; once it has moved reasonably far along that way, it will lose interest in arms control.


Really Sneaky: The Worst Side of Kalibr

The worst news about the continuing improvement and upgrades of the Kalibr family is its new launcher. Russian missile designers apparently have imagination that is allowed to run amok. They have put a launcher with four Kalibr missiles into a standard shipping container that cross oceans by hundreds of thousands loaded onto standard commercial vessels.

Kalibr launcher in a shipping container

Available pictures show two classes of Kalibr missiles in shipping containers – the “export” (shorter) version and also the longer missiles with greater, “non-export” range. In effect, this means that any vessel carrying standard shipping containers that approaches a “country of interest” of the Kremlin could be carrying long-range cruise missiles capable of sinking ships or striking targets on land. Similarly, any part of Russian coastline that appears unprotected can all of a sudden feature anti-ship missiles brought by inconspicuous trucks in inconspicuous shipping containers.

Just imagine what Bill Gertz would have written had he known about this unorthodox basing mode…


Kalibr and the INF Treaty

Deployment of Kalibr missiles with capability to strike land targets in seas around Europe (including the Atlantic), indeed, could defy the purpose of the 1987 INF Treaty, which eliminated all land-based missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km. There is no escaping that, however. It was, after all, the United States and NATO that ensured during INF that sea- and air-launched missiles should be excluded from that Treaty. It was the United States that successfully insisted during START I talks that long-range nuclear SLCMs should be subject only to rudimentary unverifiable confidence building measures and that conventional long-range SLCMs are completely exempted from it. The tables have turned. US monopoly on these assets has lasted two decades and is now on the verge of its end. If one throws into the picture long-range ALCMs and short-range Iskander systems that reach almost the entire Poland and perhaps also a piece of Germany from Kaliningrad Oblast (a Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania), the emerging Russian conventional and potentially nuclear capability looks particularly impressive.

Kalibr has apparently affected the INF Treaty in another way – it was the likely source for the recent US accusation that Russia is in violation of that Treaty. US government has only revealed that the reason for the accusation was a test of a long-range ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM); such missiles are prohibited by the INF Treaty. Russia has denied any wrongdoing and demanded details, which the United States refused to provide (probably to avoid disclosing methods of intelligence gathering). At the center of the controversy is probably a flight-test of an R-500 short-range ground-launched cruise missile for Iskander system from Kapustin Yar range in May 2007. Even then, that test gave rise to speculations that it could have been the test of one of long-range Kalibr-family SLCMs. If the latter is the case, then the situation becomes complicated.

Under the INF Treaty, Russia has the right to flight-test SLCMs from land provided that it is conducted “at a test side from a fixed land-based launcher which is used solely for test purposes and which is distinguishable from GLCM launcher” (Article VII, paragraph 12). The test was certainly from an official test range; the launcher was without doubt not a GLCM launcher (all those were eliminated long time ago). It all boils down to two questions: was this a fixed launcher and was this a launcher that is used exclusively for flight tests?

Indeed, if the 2007 test was for one of Kalibr missiles, a controversy seems possible given the long-standing tradition of Russian defense industry to pay little attention to international agreements. In the past, that propensity created more than one head-ache for both the Foreign Ministry and the military. Is it possible that designers chose not to mess with a unique launcher for a SLCM and used the same that was later used for R-500? The public will not know until US and Russian officials move beyond the current stage of mutual recriminations and graduate to discussing technical details. In any event, it remains possible that Kalibr family had something to do with yet one more source of contention between the two countries.

Former U.S. official urges vigilance on threat of nuclear war

The Japan Times | JIJI, KYODO | August 26, 2015

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry underscored at a U.N. disarmament conference on Wednesday the need to visit Hiroshima, one of the two Japanese cities attacked by the U.S. with atomic bombs in 1945, to understand the reality of nuclear weapons.

Perry warned that competition over nuclear arms development may reignite, saying that Russia has been working to develop a new nuclear weapon.

He also said the possibility cannot be ruled out that the United States may take similar action in order to compete with Russia.

Perry said that moves to abolish nuclear weapons have been on the decline, arguing that is because people do not know or understand the destructive power of nuclear weapons. He issued a warning against a growing complacency, citing dwindling concern around the world about a potential nuclear conflict.

Perry joined the three-day U.N. conference that kicked off Wednesday in Hiroshima after attending a two-day meeting of experts on the treaty that concluded a day earlier.

On Tuesday, the Group of Eminent Persons for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty issued a declaration, calling the agreement “one of the most essential practical measures for nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.”

Perry and former British Secretary of State for Defense Des Browne were among the 10 attendees of the meeting, which was the fourth of its kind but was held for the first time in Japan.

The declaration also touched on a request by atomic bomb survivors for world leaders to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which was also devastated by an atomic bombing by the U.S. in 1945, to deepen their understanding of the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons.

Turning to North Korea, which has conducted nuclear tests three times in the past, the group called on Pyongyang to “join international community’s efforts toward nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation by refraining from conducting any further nuclear tests.”

The treaty, which aims to establish a verifiable global ban on all types of nuclear explosive tests, has been signed by 183 countries and ratified by 164.

However, for it to enter into force, it must be signed and ratified by the 44 countries with nuclear capabilities. Eight of those states — the United States, China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, North Korea, India and Pakistan — have yet to ratify it.

In the declaration, the group, established in 2013, urged the eight states “to urgently sign and ratify the treaty, without waiting for other states to do so.”

It also said that members agreed that “there is an urgency to unite the international community in support of preventing the proliferation and further development of nuclear weapons with the aim of their total elimination.”

On the sidelines of the gathering, Perry, Browne and other group members visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum that highlights the devastation in the city after an atomic bomb was dropped for the first time in human history 70 years ago.

A 78-year-old survivor, Keiko Ogura, told the members she believes they have the power to change the world with the abolition of nuclear weapons. She was 8 years old at the time of the bombing and was about 2.4 kilometers away from the epicenter.

About 210,000 are believed to have died within months of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, 1945.

Disposal beats MOX in US comparison

WNN | 21 August 2015

America is reconsidering how it will dispose of 34 tonnes of plutonium as the previous plan involving a MOX plant has been said to be twice as costly as a dilution and disposal option in a leaked Department of Energy (DOE) report.

The plutonium arises from a June 2000 nuclear weapons reduction agreement with Russia under which both countries would put 34 tonnes of plutonium beyond military use. Russia opted to use its plutonium as fuel for fast reactors generating power at Beloyarsk.

The USA, meanwhile, decided to build a mixed-oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel plant at Savannah River, where the plutonium would be mixed with uranium and made into fuel for light-water reactors. The design is similar to Areva’s Melox facility at Marcoule, but modified to handle metal plutonium ‘pits’ from US weapons and their conversion from metal to plutonium oxide. It is this part of the process that has been problematic. Construction started in 2007 with an estimated cost of $4.9 billion but work ran into serious trouble before being ‘zeroed’ in the DOE’s 2014 budget, putting development on ice.

The Union of Concerned Scientists yesterday published what it said was an unreleased DOE report that compared the cost of completing the MOX plant to other options. Use in fast reactors was considered briefly, but with this technology not readily available in the near term, the prime comparison was against a ‘dilution and disposal’ option which would see the plutonium mixed with inert materials and disposed of in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, in New Mexico.

Despite being 60% built, the MOX plant still needs some 15 years of construction work, said the leaked report, and then about three years of commissioning. Once in operation the plant would work through the plutonium over about 10 years with this 28-year program to cost $700-800 million per year – a total of $19.6-22.4 billion on top of what has already been spent. Not only is the price tag very high, but the timescale is too long: the report said this would not meet the disposal timeframe agreed with Russia.

The cost of the MOX plant could not be mitigated by income from sales of the MOX fuel because the regulatory process to gain approval to use MOX would be too burdensome for a commercial utility. The report said “it may be unlikely” that even a utility in a regulated market where fuel costs are passed on to consumers would “bear the risk of MOX fuel even if it is free”.

Dilution and disposal would cost $400 million per year, said the report, “over a similar duration” as MOX, working out at close to half the cost. Other advantages for dilution and disposal are that it requires no new facilities to be created or decommissioned after use, although the increase in WIPP disposal means “it may eventually become desirable to explore expansion of WIPP’s capacity” beyond currently legislated limits. This unique geologic disposal facility was said to be of “tremendous value to both DOE and the State of New Mexico”.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News

Use wisdom in drawing curtain on nuclear fuel cycle

The Mainichi | Editorial | August 20, 2015

With the recent reactivation of the No. 1 reactor at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, the government has moved a step ahead with a policy for maintaining nuclear power. To keep in tandem with that move, a working group of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in July began looking into measures to maintain the nuclear fuel cycle. While the move is aimed at improving the environment for nuclear power businesses amid liberalization of the electricity market, it is posing serious problems.

Under the nuclear fuel cycle, spent fuel from nuclear plants is reprocessed to extract plutonium for reuse as fuel. While the project is promoted as part of Japan’s national policy, the actual reprocessing of spent fuel is undertaken by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., a company jointly invested in by power companies. If free competition progresses in the electricity market, utilities would not be able to secure as much profit as before and some might no longer be able to support Japan Nuclear Fuel.

The ministry’s working group is considering intensifying government involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle to keep the project afloat. The group is also mulling more secure ways to raise a total of 12.6 trillion yen in operating costs for the project.

Currently, the cost for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel is tacked on to electricity bills. If the government is to step up its involvement in the project, it will need to seek public consensus over its relevance, including the additional public financial burden.

The nuclear fuel cycle has been riddled with major problems in terms of technology, safety and costs. The completion of Japan Nuclear Fuel’s reprocessing plant under construction in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, has been postponed 22 times following regular trouble. The construction cost has already tripled from the initial estimate of 760 billion yen, and could further snowball for safety and other necessary measures. The development of a fast-breeder reactor, which is supposed to act as “wheels on a car” for the nuclear fuel cycle along with the reprocessing project, has been stalled at the stage of operating the Monju prototype reactor, with no prospects for putting it into practical use. The so-called “pluthermal” project using plutonium in conventional light-water reactors is not making as much progress as expected.

There also lies a serious problem in plutonium extracted in the reprocessing of spent fuel from the viewpoint of nuclear non-proliferation. Japan currently possesses more than 47 metric tons of plutonium at home and abroad, and if the country is to produce additional plutonium that could be diverted to military use with no destination for consumption amid lowering dependence on nuclear power, the international community would only grow suspicious about such possession.

In the wake of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster, the Japan Atomic Energy Commission released an assessment showing that the direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel over the next 20 to 30 years would be equal to or more beneficial than reprocessing such fuel in terms of economic efficiency, nuclear non-proliferation and other effects. Given such estimates, the government should focus its efforts not on measures to prolong the nuclear fuel cycle but on putting forth steps to draw a curtain on the project.

If the reprocessing of spent fuel is to be terminated, Aomori Prefecture would demand that such fuel it has thus far accommodated should be brought back to where it was originally generated. Such a project termination would also cause problems to local employment and the disposal of existing plutonium. The government should rather rack its brain over how to resolve these issues.

Japan’s plutonium stockpile worries Oxford specialist

Global Post | Xinhua | August 17, 2015

NEW YORK, Aug. 17 (Xinhua) — The handling of Japan’s huge plutonium stockpile remains a challenge for the whole world, an Oxford environmental expert has warned.

When Japan marked the 70th anniversary of Nagasaki’s obliteration by a plutonium bomb on Aug. 9, its own cache of weapons-usable plutonium was more than 47 metric tons, enough to make nearly 6,000 warheads like the one that flattened the Japanese city, Dr. Peter Wynn Kirby of University of Oxford wrote in an op-ed on Monday’s New York Times.

Japan, an industrial powerhouse but poor in resources, has long depended on nuclear energy. Before the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in the wake of a massive earthquake in 2011, nearly one-third of Japan’s electricity was from nuclear power, and it had plans to increase that share to 50 percent by 2030.

Japan’s 48 standard reactors burn uranium fuel, a process that yields plutonium, a highly radioactive and extremely toxic substance.

Although these reactors were shut down after the Fukushima tragedy, Japan still stores nearly 11 tons of plutonium on its territory, with the rest in Britain and France.

Stockpiling plutonium in Japan remains hazardous given seismic instability in the country and the risk of theft by terrorists, warned Kirby.

Yet just this week, Japan put one reactor back in operation, and another four have been approved for restart by the end of fiscal year 2015.

As a byproduct of burning uranium, plutonium itself can be processed in so-called fast-breeder reactors to produce more energy. That step also yields more plutonium, and so in theory this production chain is self-sustaining — a kind of virtuous nuclear-energy cycle, noted Kirby.

“In practice, however, fast-breeder technology has been extremely difficult to implement. It is notoriously faulty and astronomically expensive, and it creates more hazardous waste,” wrote Kirby.

Many other countries that experimented with fast-breeder reactors, including the United States, had phased them out by the 1990s. But Japan continued to invest heavily in the technology, noted Kirby.

While Japan’s record with nuclear waste is abysmal, no other country has found a safe or economically sustainable way to reuse such substances, especially not plutonium, he noted.

Given Japan’s many vulnerabilities, particularly seismic activity, nuclear waste should no longer be stored in the country, he argued. “The Japanese government should pay its closest allies to take its plutonium away, permanently.”

Britain and France respectively holds 20 tons and 16 tons of Japan’s plutonium under contracts to reprocess it into usable fuel. Under current arrangements, this fuel, plus all byproducts, including plutonium, are to be sent back to Japan by 2020.

“Japan should pay, and generously, for that plutonium to stay where it is, in secure interim storage. And it should help fund the construction of secure permanent storage in Britain and France,” he said.

The Japanese government should also pay the United States to remove the nearly 11 tons of plutonium currently in Japan, he argued.

“Handling Japan’s plutonium would be a great burden for receiver countries, and Japan should pay heftily for the service. But even then the expense would likely amount to a fraction of what Japan spends on its ineffectual plutonium-energy infrastructure,” wrote the specialist.

Making Japan free of plutonium stockpile, thus preventing nuclear catastrophe as a result of earthquakes, would be in the whole world’s interest, he concluded.

Unspoken Death Toll of Fukushima: Nuclear Disaster Killing Japanese Slowly

Sputnik | Opinion | August 21, 2015



The Japanese government is still in denial and refuses to recognize the disastrous consequences of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, London-based independent consultant on radioactivity Dr. Ian Fairlie states, adding that while thousands of victims have already died, thousands more will soon pass away.

According to London-based independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment Dr. Ian Fairlie, the health toll from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe is horrific: about 12,000 workers have been exposed to high levels of radiation (some up to 250 mSv); between 2011 and 2015, about 2,000 died  from the effects of evacuations, ill-health and suicide related to the disaster; furthermore, an estimated 5,000 will most likely face lethal cancer in the future, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

What makes matters even worse, the nuclear disaster and subsequent radiation exposure lies at the root of the longer term health effects, such as cancers, strokes, CVS (cyclic vomiting syndrome) diseases, hereditary effects and many more.

Embarrassingly, “[t]he Japanese Government, its advisors, and most radiation scientists in Japan (with some honorable exceptions) minimize the risks of radiation. The official widely-observed policy is that small amounts of radiation are harmless: scientifically speaking this is untenable,” Dr. Fairlie pointed out.

The Japanese government even goes so far as to increase the public limit for radiation in Japan from 1 mSv to 20 mSv per year, while its scientists are making efforts to convince the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) to accept this enormous increase.

“This is not only unscientific, it is also unconscionable,” Dr. Fairlie stressed, adding that “there is never a safe dose, except zero dose.”

However, while the Japanese government is turning a blind eye to radiogenic late effects, the evidence “is solid”: the RERF Foundation which is based in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is observing the Japanese atomic bomb survivors and still registering nuclear radiation’s long-term effects.

“From the UNSCEAR estimate of 48,000 person Sv [the collective dose to the Japanese population from Fukushima], it can be reliably estimated (using a fatal cancer risk factor of 10% per Sv) that about 5,000 fatal cancers will occur in Japan in the future from Fukushima’s fallout,” he noted.

Dr. Fairlie added that in addition to radiation-related problems, former inhabitants of Fukushima Prefecture suffer Post-Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety disorders that apparently cause increased suicide.

The expert also pointed to the 15 percent drop in the number of live births in the prefecture in 2011, as well as higher rates of early spontaneous abortions and a 20 percent rise in the infant mortality rate in 2012.

“It is impossible not to be moved by the scale of Fukushima’s toll in terms of deaths, suicides, mental ill-health and human suffering,” the expert said.

Could North Korea Benefit from Middle East Shifts?

Pyongyang certainly has an interesting history in the region.

The Diplomat | Samuel Ramani | August 24, 2015

On July 29, 2015, a South Korean intelligence official announced that Yemeni rebels had purchased 20 Scud missiles from North Korea. These missiles were subsequently fired into Saudi Arabia, in response to Saudi aggression in Yemen. While Saudi Arabia initially believed that the missiles came from Iran, a former North Korean security official confirmed South Korean intelligence claims in an interview with the Seoul-based news agency Yonhap.

North Korea’s history of missile shipments to the Middle East is well known, with Iran, Syria and Palestine among its clients. Nevertheless, the longevity and relative consistency of the DPRK’s relationship with Yemen is striking. The Yemen-North Korea partnership is based on a combination of the DPRK’s desperate need for foreign capital and Yemen’s insatiable thirst for arms to combat instability at home.

In addition to these factors, North Korea’s recent wave of Scud missile shipments to Yemen is being triggered by Saudi Arabia’s enhanced security cooperation with South Korea. The Saudi-South Korean relationship premised on shared anti-nuclear proliferation efforts appears secure, but the diplomatic balance could change profoundly if Saudi Arabia attempts to become a nuclear power in its own right.

A Special Relationship

The Yemen-North Korea alliance was born out of South Yemen’s history of communist rule. South Yemen refused to establish diplomatic relations with South Korea until the former reunified with North Yemen in 1990. North Korea also backed South Yemen’s secession attempt in the 1994 civil war. According to a North Korean security expert who defected, the DPRK sold missiles to Yemen during the 1990s and even sent missile engineers to help strengthen Yemen’s defensive capacity.

While North Korea historically backed South Yemeni forces, North Korea attempted to thaw its relationship with President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s North Yemen-dominated regime during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Even though the Clinton administration supported Saleh’s Yemeni unity efforts in 1994, Yemen’s support for Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Gulf War deeply strained relations with the United States. North Korea sought to capitalize on this mutual discontent. Yemen was a viable market for North Korean arms at a time when the DPRK’s economy was ravaged by famine and the aftershocks of the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The DPRK-Yemen marriage of common hostility became increasingly untenable after the Bush administration re-engaged Yemen on counter-terrorism efforts following the 9/11 attacks. When Spain intercepted a ship carrying North Korean Scud missiles to Yemen in 2002, Yemen announced that it would suspend all military links with the DPRK and justified its acceptance of North Korean weapons on the grounds that it was fulfilling preexisting contracts.

North Korea’s military support for Houthi rebels in Yemen is the latest manifestation of its support for anti-American forces. The Houthis overthrew the U.S. backed government in Yemen and have received significant support from Iran.

The DPRK and Saudi Arabia have had a historically tense relationship, given Saudi Arabia’s long-standing alliance with the United States and staunch anti-communist stance during the Cold War. While Saudi Arabia and North Korea collaborated in assisting South Yemeni separatists in the 1994 civil war, Saudi support for South Yemen was solely premised on its fear that a united, stable Yemen would upset the balance of power in the Gulf. As Saudi Arabia has not recognized North Korea’s right to exist, it is unsurprising that the DPRK will seek to undercut Saudi security interests by supporting the Yemeni rebels.

Saudi-South Korean Security Cooperation

In March 2015, Saudi Arabia signed a deal with South Korea to build two smaller nuclear reactors. This move grabbed the attention of the White House, as it symbolized Saudi dissatisfaction with U.S. attempts to forge a nuclear deal with Iran. The fact that the deal coincided with North Korea’s missile shipments to Yemen and North Korea’s defiant rejection of Iran-style nuclear talks with the U.S. is therefore intriguing. Pyongyang’s extension of assistance to Yemen could be its way of retaliating against Saudi nuclear cooperation with South Korea, which will probably increase should the U.S. Congress ratify the Iran deal.

It is important to emphasize that tensions between Saudi Arabia and North Korea on the nuclear issue will hold only as long as the Saudis are seeking to contain the Iranian nuclear program by upholding non-proliferation principles. The nuclear issue could actually be a potential source of cooperation between North Korea and Saudi Arabia, should Saudi frustration with the U.S. over the Iran deal reach the point that the kingdom decides to purchase nuclear weapons for itself.

Zachary Keck outlined this scenario in a recent article for the National Interest. Keck contends that North Korea is avidly seeking out foreign capital, as evidenced by Kim Jong-Un’s massive expansion of the DPRK’s policy of sending North Korean guest workers abroad. Saudi Arabia’s energy wealth would make it an ideal patron for North Korea. Also, the Saudis do not regard the North Korean nuclear program as a threat to their own security. Therefore, they could purchase nuclear weapons from the DPRK instead of from Pakistan should Iran breach the terms of the nuclear deal.

The changing nature of the North Korea-Yemen relationship adds an additional dimension to Keck’s scenario. North Korea’s alliance with Yemen is much weaker than it was during the Cold War, as common ideological bonds have evaporated. North Korea’s ability to impact the Yemen conflict is also more limited than in past wars as it is shipping relatively ineffective Cold War-era Scud missiles. Forty percent of these missiles were shot down by the Saudi military before landing on Saudi soil.

North Korea’s ability to expand its military shipments to more sophisticated forms of weaponry is stymied by crippling UN sanctions against the DPRK regime. In light of these shortcomings, it is definitely possible that North Korea will back away from its unprofitable venture in Yemen if it is given an offer of patronage from Saudi Arabia.

Therefore, the prospect of North Korea and Saudi Arabia transforming their relationship from adversaries to partners is improbable but not impossible. Western policymakers should keep a much closer eye on North Korean conduct in the Gulf. Should Saudi-U.S. relations deteriorate further over Iran, and Saudi-Russia ties strengthen, North Korea could be the unlikeliest benefactor from its spot at the center of a truly monumental geopolitical shift.

Samuel Ramani is an MPhil student at St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford in Russian and East European Studies. He is also a journalist who is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post Politics and World Post verticals, and recently to the Kyiv Post