North Korea probably couldn't totally get rid of its nukes until years after Trump is out of office

  • It could take up to 15 years for North Korea to be fully denuclearized, according to one of the leading experts on the rogue state’s nuclear capabilities.
  • This presents a significant obstacle to the Trump administration’s desire to see “rapid denuclearization.”
  • Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear scientist at Stanford University, has issued a report outlining what he and his colleagues feel is a more realistic approach to the denuclearization of North Korea.
  • Hecker’s approach would essentially see the US manage the risks posed by North Korea’s nuclear program while not rushing the rogue state in a way that would make it feel threatened.

It could take up to 15 years for North Korea to be fully denuclearized, according to one of the leading experts on the rogue state’s nuclear capabilities, which presents a significant obstacle to the Trump administration’s desire to see “rapid denuclearization.”

Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear scientist at Stanford University who has served as a top adviser to the federal government on these issues, issued a report on Monday outlining what he and his colleagues feel is a more realistic approach to the denuclearization of North Korea.

Hecker, who has toured North Korea’s nuclear complex several times and is the only American scientist who has seen its uranium enrichment facility, believes the White House should temper its expectations and embrace a plan that sees denuclearization occur in phases to accommodate the technical and political obstacles that will inevitably come up.

Initially, Hecker said the US should push for North Korea to dismantle the more dangerous aspects of its nuclear program.

“Our study of [North Korea’s] nuclear program identifies the most important initial steps to take toward denuclearization: no nuclear tests, no intermediate or long-range missile tests, no more production of [plutonium and highly enriched uranium], and no export of nuclear weapons, materials, or tech,” Hecker said in a tweet on Tuesday.

It’s ‘unimaginable’ North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will accept ‘immediate, complete denuclearization’

Hecker also said it’s “unimaginable” that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will accept “immediate, complete denuclearization,” especially because this route doesn’t give North Korea many assurances about its safety.

“The phased approach may be acceptable to Kim Jong Un and allow the United States to to reduce the greatest risks first and address the manageable risks over time,” he added.

In a separate tweet, Hecker said North Korea’s recent step of demolishing its primary nuclear test site was a “good step” forward in this regard, though some are still sceptical as to whether the site is truly unusable.

Hecker’s blueprint for denuclearization would essentially see the US manage the risks posed by North Korea’s nuclear program while not rushing the rogue state in a way that would make it feel threatened.

If such an approach was adopted, it would mean North Korea is not totally denuclearized until years after President Donald Trump is out of the White House, even if he’s elected for a second term.

But the Trump administration may not heed Hecker’s recommendations, given the president and his advisers seem impatient to see a Korean Peninsula without nuclear weapons.

‘The model that we have laid forth is a rapid denuclearization’

Trump signalled that he’s open to a “phase-in” approach during a recent interview with Fox News, adding, “it would have to be a rapid phase-in but I’d like to see it done at one time.” The president has acknowledged there are “physical” obstacles to expedient disarmament, but has maintained he wants the process to occur quickly.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed the president in recent testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“The model that we have laid forth is a rapid denuclearization, total and complete, that won’t be extended over time,” Pompeo said.

Trump is tentatively set to meet with Kim in Singapore on June 12, though there’s been a significant amount of back and forth over whether the summit will actually occur. Even if the meeting does happen, there’s no guarantee North Korea will actually agree to full denuclearization.

As Hecker noted, the North Korean government doesn’t have many incentives to rapidly rid itself of nukes. It has pursued these weapons as a means of achieving international legitimacy and to guarantee its safety, enduring harsh economic sanctions and frequent threats from the global community along the way.

In this context, Kim and his government could be far more open to an agreement with the US that involves gradual denuclearization. This would help it maintain its status while giving it a sense of security.

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