A leading British defense institute
says North Korea could substantially enlarge its suspected nuclear arsenal later
this decade if arms control negotiations with Pyongyang fail.
The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies issued its
findings in a 120-page report.
It says solid and confirmable intelligence on North Korea's nuclear program
is virtually impossible to acquire, and no firm conclusions can be drawn.
But institute director John Chipman said North Korea could be on the brink
of a major increase in nuclear weapons production.
"In a worst case," said Mr. Chipman, "if the facilities are completed in
the next one or two years, North Korea's output of nuclear weapons could significantly
increase around mid-decade to about eight to 13 weapons every year."
Mr. Chipman says he leans toward a more conservative analysis, that it could
take North Korea until the end of this decade to finish a new reactor and a
uranium-enrichment plant needed to step up bomb production.
He says that no matter which scenario comes true, there is a lot of pressure
on diplomatic negotiations. "This analysis suggests that there is still some
time for diplomatic efforts to halt and eliminate North Korea's nuclear arsenal
while it remains limited to a handful of nuclear weapons," he said. "As time
elapses, however, a diplomatic solution could become more difficult as Pyongyang
acquires additional strategic bargaining chips."
The report says that since the early 1990s North Korea has acquired enough
plutonium to build a few nuclear weapons even if questions remain about whether
it has done so.
In the words of the report: "Given the stakes involved, the case is strong
enough that it would be imprudent to conclude that North Korea does not have