N. Korea's Record on Weapons Proliferation Could North Korea be planning to sell its nuclear bomb technology? Gordon Corera, security correspondent for BBC News, talks with Alex Chadwick about the Stalinist nation's record on weapons proliferation.
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N. Korea's Record on Weapons Proliferation

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N. Korea's Record on Weapons Proliferation

N. Korea's Record on Weapons Proliferation

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This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, what's a mother to do? Two takes on Madonna's African adoption. First, North Korea nukes, and there are a couple of developments here. At the U.N., the Security Council has reached a deal on a resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea for its claimed nuclear test this week. There's a council vote scheduled for tomorrow.

At the same time, the Associated Press is quoting an unnamed U.S. intelligence official saying an air sample taken after the test shows no presence of radioactive particles. The official says the test results do not absolutely rule out a nuclear explosion. Reuters has a similar story.

Earlier, I spoke with Gordon Corera. He's security correspondent for the BBC and he's the author of a new book Shopping for Bombs, which is about nuclear proliferation. I asked him whether strategists worry more about North Korean leader Kim Jong Il using a bomb or selling one somewhere.

Mr. GORDON CORERA (BBC): As with most states, the truth is that the issue of deterrence works, that it would be pretty suicidal for any regime anywhere to use the bomb because of the fear that it itself would be destroyed. And that deterrent effect does work with North Korea, because after all, their main motivation - Kim Jong Il's main motivation - is regime survival.

And so I think the real fear is that he transfers either the bomb itself or the technology or the nuclear material to another country or to a non-state actor like a terrorist. And President Bush made that clear straight after the North Korean presumed test, when he put out a new red line saying that it would be the transfer of nuclear material - or transfer of the bomb - which would really bring tough consequences onto North Korea.

CHADWICK: How difficult would it be to get a weapon out of North Korea; that is, for the North Korean government to move a weapon somewhere, to sell one?

Mr. CORERA: Well, moving nuclear material, moving nuclear technology, moving even a weapon, isn't impossible. The North Koreans have a long trade, for instance, in missile parts and in actual missiles, in shipping them around the world. It's possible they could use those same techniques to try and move nuclear material.

We have see a kind of tightening of the noose around North Korea, an attempt to intercept more and more ships and other types of transport coming out of the country. And I think we're likely to see that intensified, partly precisely because of the fear that any kind of nuclear technology could be allowed to seep out through some of these known existing channels that North Koreans have.

CHADWICK: You know, think about it from the standpoint, though, of someone who might want to buy this weapon. Here you've got a bomb test which in many people's view would indicate that the bomb doesn't work and earlier missile tests which would demonstrate that the missiles don't work. Who would want to buy anything from the North Koreans?

Mr. CORERA: They may not want to buy necessarily a bomb itself and the North Koreans may not sell a complete bomb, because they may not have one that works yet, but there is still a lot of technology and material which can be very useful. For instance, you don't necessarily need an actual bomb. You could try and get hold of the nuclear fuel and nuclear material and in turn try and make your own much simpler bomb.

Or another possibility is you get out some of the advanced technology or designs which allow you to move your own nuclear program much further forward. Also, yes, the North Korean missile test in July didn't work, but they do have existing missiles which have been exported to other countries and do work.

CHADWICK: You know, last night I heard NPR news analyst Dan Schorr use a term I'd not heard before, the post-proliferation era. Is that where we are now and what would it mean?

Mr. CORERA: I think it's fair to say that we're at a - potentially at a tipping point at which we could move into a new era of many more nuclear states. Now, actually, if you look at the moment, there are only really two key countries which are being focused on: Iran and North Korea. Iran has a program which it says is peaceful but people believe is for the bomb. North Korea is attempting to carry out tests.

Now, the problem is that those two countries are in very unstable regions - the Middle East and East Asia - in which neighbors may well seek to follow them towards the bomb if those two countries do indeed successfully get the bomb. And so the fear is that these two countries could start kind of cascades of proliferation and that you could see in the Middle East, for instance, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, reconsider whether or not they need the bomb.

In Asia you could see Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, reconsider whether they need a nuclear deterrent. And so the fear is that because of these two key countries, we could be at a point at which the whole tide of proliferation, which has been moving relatively slowly over the last 30 years, could suddenly break and move much faster.

CHADWICK: Gordon Corera of the BBC, author of Shopping for Bombs. Gordon, thank you.

Mr. CORERA: Thank you.

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