The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has an active nuclear weapons program which is of great concern to the international community. It also has the capability to enrich uranium as well as the ability to produce plutonium suitable for nuclear weapons (weapons-grade plutonium). In parallel, Pyongyang has an advanced ballistic missile program in terms of short and medium range missiles and, more recently, is trying to develop a long-range and three-stage ballistic missile. The advanced missile program in addition to that of nuclear energy are the main sources of destabilization not only at regional but also at international level.
Moreover, the general alarm has increased due to the absence of the DPRK from the main international disarmament treaties. In an unilateral act January 2003, Pyongyang withdrew from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), one of the pillars of the international system of control and limitation of nuclear weapons. It is based on the principles of disarmament, non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
The DPRK is not part of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and has not signed the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the latter founded with the objective of preventing the proliferation of ballistic missiles used for nuclear purposes.
Finally, the DPRK has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and analysts believe that North Korea has active indigenous program in this regard. Although part of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), the DPRK is suspected of maintaining a biological weapons program in violation of the treaty itself.
The nuclear program
Since the Korean War, the DPRK has repeatedly argued the need for its own nuclear weapons program as a strategy of deterrence, especially after the United States threatened the use of such weapons. Although it joined the NPT as non-nuclear state in 1985, Pyongyang decided to withdraw from the treaty in 2003, having apparently used his membership as a facade while secretly developing its own nuclear weapons program. These efforts culminated in the nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has repeatedly condemned, through a series of sanctions, the activities related to the North Korean nuclear program. The so-called Six-Party Talks between the DPRK, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States, established in 2003 to achieve a North Korea’s verifiable denuclearization, went to deadlock in April 2009. The tension continued to rise reaching its peak in March 2010 when the DPRK torpedoed a ship in South Korea causing 46 deaths and when the following November bombed the island of Yeonpyeong, which is next to the disputed maritime border.
It is believed that the DPRK has full nuclear fuel cycle capability, including uranium enrichment, although the operability of its centrifuges has not yet been demonstrated. In fact, in summer 2002, the U.S. intelligence came in possession of evidence showing the existence of technology transfers as well as of materials for the production of enriched uranium between Pakistan and the DPRK in exchange of ballistic missiles. In 2004, the international network of illicit trafficking of technology to build nuclear weapons, which involved the Pakistani rogue nuclear scientist Dr. Khan was unveiled.
Although the DPRK received a first aid from the former Soviet Union through cooperation agreements in which the latter guaranteed to the former technical assistance, the North Korean nuclear program had developed largely without significant external support. It reached full indigenous capability in the seventies.
Phases of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)  alternated with stagnation from the 1990s until today during which Pyongyang repeatedly re-activated its nuclear program.
The missile program
The DPRK has an advanced missile program, and since the collapse of the Soviet Union is among the most active exporters of ballistic missile systems, as well as of components and technologies. Although Pyongyang has previously received assistance from other countries, in particular the former Soviet Union and China, the details of all forms of external assistance remain rather vague. Given the continued interest of the DPRK in advancing its missile capabilities, its related program is noteworthy, since the test flights were relatively few. U.S. sources estimate that the DPRK has deployed more than 600 variants of the Scud missiles, about 200 missiles Nodonge and less than 50 Musudan and Taepodong missiles, while South Korean sources estimate a lower number.
Pyongyang considers its missile program both as an investment in its national security and as a means of generating revenue. The DPRK is not part neither of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) nor of the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation.
However, in 2009 the DPRK has claimed its accession to the Outer Space Treaty and to the Convention on registration of objects launched into outer space before launching the spacecraft Unha, with the effort to build international confidence. Despite this, the UNSC condemned the launch, regarded by many as a veiled attempt to test its capability to produce intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Recent developments and the cyclical pattern
The death of the “dear leader” Kim Jong-Il in December 2011 raised many questions about the impact that the succession to power could have on the North Korean nuclear program and on the resumption of Six-Party Talks. After a series of bilateral meetings with the U.S., the DPRK announced in February 2012 a moratorium covering nuclear testing, testing of long-range missiles and uranium enrichment activities in exchange of food aid. However, the U.S. withdrew their aid offer in the wake of North Korea’s April 2102 missile launch. The rocket launch on April 12 failed, with the device (based on Taepodong technologies system) crashing into the sea shortly after take off. Although Pyongyang said at the time it was putting a satellite into orbit to celebrate the centenary of the birth of founding leader Kim II-sung, the United States said the launch was a missile test in violation of UN resolutions.
As in the past, negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear program have become a cyclical pattern in which an agreement between the US and North Korea is reached in crisis, but with one country waiting for the other to act before fulfilling their own promises. There remains a deep lack of trust on both sides.
The provocative action represents a clear threat to regional security, violates international law and it is against the commitments recently assumed by Pyongyang. The failed missile launch also constitutes a source of embarrassment for the North Korean regime since it has been announced as a demonstration of the technical progress so far achieved. The UNSC has strongly condemned the launch and called for tougher penalties.
The tension between the two Koreas has risen to such an extent that Seoul has ordered the deployment of long range cruise missiles which, according to official sources, are capable of hitting any target in the DPRK. In response, North Korea warned of “unprecedented” action against South Korea.
Of concern to the international community is the recent news that sees the Security Council investigating claims on China, suspected of providing the technology for a missile launcher recently appeared during a military parade. In fact, the vehicle in question, a 16-wheel missile transporter-erector-launcher, has a strong resemblance to the one of Chinese origin. If it had supplied the technology, Beijing would have violated UN resolutions against Pyongyang passed after North Korean nuclear and missile tests in 2006 and 2009. In response, China’s foreign minister denied the violation of UN sanctions to provide North Korea with missile technology However, the attention switched back to the missiles themselves. In fact, after a careful study of images coming from that parade, Markus Schiller and Robert Schmucker, two German missile experts, published a paper suggesting those missiles fakes.  Why did North Korea attempted to launch a fake missile? According to Markus Schiller showing mock-ups at parades is a common practice. It happened during East German parades as well as in Iran or Pakistan. He added the main reasons could be: a) because real missiles are precious and could be damaged during parades; b) to change some details and drive the other side’s analysts crazy; c) to pretend that you have something that you actually don’t have.
The US President Obama and the Japanese Prime Minister Noda, after talks in Washington, warned North Korea that its “old pattern of provocation” is over. Mr. Obama added Pyongyang’s actions would only serve to deepen its isolation while Mr. Noda said that «there is a great possibility that North Koreans will conduct a third nuclear test».
Although China blocked the US and EU’s attempt to blacklist some 40 North Korean firms, very recently the UN has imposed sanctions on three North Korean state-owned companies in response to Pyongyang’s failed rocket launch last month. The three companies, named by the sanctions committee, were all involved in financing, exporting, and procuring weapons. However, the total number fell far short of the some 40 firms proposed by the West, Japan and South Korea. This is because it was opposed by China, which is the North Korea’s closest ally and biggest trading partner and, last but not least, its protector in the UNSC.
Tension on the Korean peninsula remains high after the 12 April launch. The cooling of diplomatic relations with Washington and Seoul, the condemnation of the UN and the international community together with the recent suspicions about China have turned the spotlight on Pyongyang. The destabilizing effects at regional level have had consequences even at international level by rising new questions about the impact of the new political leadership on the country’s fate.
The upcoming Chicago NATO Summit: challenges and opportunities
NATO leaders are gathering in Chicago for an important diplomatic summit hosted by President Barack Obama. In fact, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will hold meetings from 20-21 May and the venue represents the opportunity for Heads of State and Heads of Government of NATO member countries to evaluate and provide strategic direction for Alliance activities.
Amongst the topics to be discussed, the Deterrence and Defence Posture is certainly one of the most important. At the 2010 Lisbon Summit, NATO leaders endorsed the goal of creating «the conditions for
a world without nuclear weapons» and the Chicago Summit must represent the venue where NATO’S commitment in this area can concretize. In particular, NATO should include negative security assurances  (NSAs) in its declaratory policy. 
If NATO can formally give these assurances through commitments legally binding, countries having joined the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states are fully entitled not to be attacked or threatened with nuclear weapons. More generally, the range of contingencies where nuclear weapons may still play a deterrent role will be largely reduced. The process can initiate a virtuous circle which promotes nuclear disarmament, bolsters non-proliferation and reduces the need for nuclear weapons.
The DPRK has periodically asserted its need for a nuclear weapon deterrent since the Korean War. If the Chicago Summit accepts to revise the NATO declaratory policy by formally adopting NSAs, this would further reduce the strategic importance for possessing nuclear weapons. Furthermore, this process can potentially persuade the new leadership to gradually give up its nuclear weapon program and take steps to rejoin the NPT.
Based on the IAEA Safeguard Agreements signed in 1992, the DPRK gave an initial statement about the facilities and nuclear materials and guaranteed access to agency inspectors to verify the completeness and correctness of such statements.
M. SCHILLER - R. SCHMUCKER, The Assumed KN-8 Technology. Addendum to the 18 April 2012 Paper A Dog and Pony Show, 26 April 2012.
Namely assurances not to use nuclear weapons against countries which have renounced such weapons.
C. TREZZA, NATO Must Change Declaratory policy in Chicago, European Leadership for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation. 3 May 2012,http://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/nato-must-change-declaratory-po....