The Game Is Over and North Korea Has Won

The Game Is Over and North Korea Has Won, by Jeffrey Lewis.

There are really two assessments in the [Washington] Post’s report. One, dated July 28, is that the intelligence community — not just the Defense Intelligence Agency, contrary to what you may have heard — “assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles.”

The other assessment, published earlier in July, stated that North Korea had 60 nuclear weapons — higher than the estimates usually given in the press.

Put them together, though, and its pretty clear that the window for denuclearizing North Korea, by diplomacy or by force, has closed.

These judgments are front-page news, but only because we’ve been living in collective denial. Both intelligence assessments are consistent with what the North Koreans have been saying for some time …

Confimation bias at work:

A lot of people got the wrong idea after North Korea’s first nuclear test failed, and subsequent nuclear tests seemed smaller than they should be. There was a common view that the North Koreans, well, kind of sucked at making nuclear weapons. That was certainly my first impression.

But there was always another possibility, one that dawned on me gradually. According to a defector account, North Korea tried to skip right toward relatively advanced nuclear weapons that were compact enough to arm ballistic missiles and made use of relatively small amounts of plutonium. That should not have been surprising; both Iraq and Pakistan similarly skipped designing and testing a more cumbersome Fat Man-style implosion device. The disappointing yields of North Korea’s first few nuclear tests were not the result of incompetence, but ambition. So, while the world was laughing at North Korea’s first few nuclear tests, they were learning — a lot.

And then there is the issue of North Korea’s nuclear test site. North Korea tests its nuclear weapons in tunnels beneath very large mountains. When my research institute used topography data collected from space to build a 3-D model of the site, we realized that the mountains are so tall that they may be hiding how big the nuclear explosions are. Some of the “disappointments” may not have been disappointments at all, and the successes were bigger than we realized. …

Now it’s official:

The thing is, we knew all this already. Sure, sure it isn’t the same when I say it. I mean, I am just some rando living out in California. But now that someone with a tie and real job in Washington has said it, it is news. …

They win:

There is no credible military option. North Korea has some unknown number of nuclear-armed missiles, maybe 60, including ones that can reach the United States; do you really think U.S. strikes could get all of them? That not a single one would survive to land on Seoul, Tokyo, or New York? Or that U.S. missile defenses would work better than designed, intercepting not most of the missiles aimed at the United States, but every last one of them? Are you willing to be your life on that?

hat-tip Stephen Neil