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tv   Washington Journal David Wright Discusses North Koreas Nuclear Program  CSPAN  August 10, 2017 8:03am-8:34am EDT

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at 10: 30 a.m. eastern, senator elizabeth warren and the head of the naacp speak at the conference. later, former vice president al chomba join us for coverage of the conference on c-span. >> [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] "- >> "washington journal continues. host: david wright, senior scientist for the union of concerned scientists, joins us to talk about north korea's nuclear capability. the military said that within days, we could offer up a strike plan to kim jong in that could come close to the u.s. territory of guam. details you make of the that the north korean military put in this plan, what they released yesterday? like the seems to me
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kind of thing that you would say if you are trying to sort of up the ante. if you want it to say, look, we have these missiles, have the range, and we could reach guam -- how could we send the message that we're willing to threaten guam without specifically threatening to destroy it? that is sort of the way i read it, upping the ante on what kind of threats you might make. host: in this report, they said they had the capability to fire off four intermediate range missiles that would be fired east and over japan before landing about 18 to 25 miles off the coast of the tiny island of guam. when it comes to these intermediate range missiles, what are they talking about, and what is the power that could be on these missiles? guest: in may, was other test launch a missile. way theyched it in a
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have launched other missiles recently in tests, which is trying to fly it on a highly lofted trajectory, shooting it almost straight up. it goes very high incomes back down in the sea of japan. if you look at the height it reached and use that to calculate what range it would have, he clearly has the range to reach guam. , athe missile capability least in principle, is there. we do not know how reliable it is or how many they have, but we have seen them test something that could reach guam. we still do not know a lot about their nuclear warheads. i think there is a growing they probably either have a nuclear warhead that is small enough to put on a weapon like this or are close to doing it. so i think we are looking at something that is a lot more credible than it was even six months ago. host: why don't we know about their capabilities?
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guest: it is difficult to know in terms of nuclear weapons and is wee see in this case have indications that they have conducted underground nuclear tests. we know that north korea has conducted five of those. seismic when these go off, it shakes the ground, and you can pick that up with the same kind of instruments that pick up earthquakes. then you can try to look backwards to figure out how strong the explosion was. so we know that they have something that worked in the test that probably has a yield something like a bomb that the united states used it hiroshima at the end of world war ii. but we do not know how big or how rugged that is, but we know they have something that would explode. but we do not know whether they could put it on a ballistic missile and deliver it that way. were do we know how they able to get this capability? what sort of resources did they need, do they have? guest: one thing that is worth
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remembering is that nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles have been around for a long time , so it is fairly old technology. the hardest part with nuclear , thens is the plutonium sort of core of the weapons. north korea worked with the soviet union back in the 1980's to develop a small research reactor, and that gave them a start on developing plutonium. from, probably with help pakistan, they started developing the capability to enrich uranium for these weapons. we know from the fact they have done these tests that they have some of this material he read people are still trying to sort through the data and do estimates to figure out how much they might have. estimates go anywhere from a couple dozen, enough material for a couple dozen weapons, to i think 60 was the number we so recently.
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host: what do you make of the report that came out from the military yesterday and the trajectory of these missiles and , over japanould fly on the way to guam, and doesn't that make them more susceptible to being destroyed -- and does that make them more susceptible to being destroyed, does that capability exist? guest: two possibilities for missile attempts. there is a ship-based system the u.s. has been developing with japan, and i think that is the system people have talked about as these missiles flew over japan -- good one of these interceptors try to intercept it? i have not looked at this in detail. i think we can probably get a shot at it. the other possibility is there is a ground based interceptor in guam they could try and shoot down these missiles as they approach guam. the problem with both of these
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is they are still relatively early in the development phase. some have done quite well in test situations, but people really do not know how well these are working under a surprise attack, a real-world situation. again, this is the kind of scenario that people built these systems to deal with, but people really do not know what the probability is you could actually shoot something down. host: when did the u.s. began this antimissile system? how much money have we put toward it, and what is the technology? guest: there are several diverse systems. the u.s. started the ground-based system that can in 1980's. it has devolved various times since then. our estimate is on that system, we probably spent $30 billion to $40 billion, and that is one of the system's not doing very well, even in test situations, only intercepting about half the time.
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the ship-based system in japan is somewhat more recent but uses basically the same technology. the idea is, if there is a launch, you have radars and satellites that detect the launch and tried to give you a trajectory, telling you where the miscible be in the future, and then an interceptor, essentially a missile in itself, vehicle, and that has a telescope on it, tries to find the object in space, and then physically runs into it. it is not a matter of going up and trying to explode, you try to guide the kill vehicle to physically hit the warhead and destroy it. so it is a very difficult thing to do. at these very high speed's, if you are off by a meter, you miss. that is part of the reason it has taken a lot of time and effort, and it is still not a
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trusted system. david wright is a senior scientist at the union of concerned scientists, which was founded in 1969 at the massachusetts institute of technology. it is based in cambridge, massachusetts. the founding documents says it was formed to initiate critical and continuing examination of government policy in areas where science and technology are actual and potential significance. emphasis away from military technology, looking at environmental problems. calling from blackstone, massachusetts, a democrat. good morning to you. caller: i have a question and a comment, and good morning. my first comment is i think the president should let haley's deal time to work.
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if it gives all these countries come to fulfill their duty, giving things away from north korea, it might work. also, it is hard to work on a diplomatic solution when the president still has not filled diplomatic positions in that area. hiredtrump, we have someone who has no qualifications for president. and the majority of americans knew it in did not vote for him. host: david wright, what about sanctions and the impact of them ? some have been in place already. has it is slowed down north korea? do you think the latest round, ushered in by nikki haley at the u.n., could it do more? couldn't stop them or slow them down? guest: you know, i think the most interesting thing about the vote was that it was unanimously and it shows there was a lot of global support for dealing with
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the north korean issue. unfortunately, i do not think the sanctions themselves can solve this problem. in part, we have seen sanctions in the past, and north korea has gone to a point where they now have long-range missiles and nuclear weapons, so it seems to me the biggest thing the sanctions can do is to try and pressure north korea to sit down for talks to try and lower the temperature on the situation right now. my biggest concern right now is once you get in a crisis situation were both sides are sort of upping the ante and actions are being taken, you can stumble into a problem with, either by accident or miscalculation or misinterpretation of events, you can start something that could be disastrous. my hope is that increased sanctions, along with efforts by russia and china and the united states, could help to cool things down and get talks started between the countries. host: a call from illinois,
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republican. caller: good morning. thank you for your discussion about missile-defense. , was wondering, in that area how big a strike can we , fiveplate handling missiles, 20 missiles? in addition, if somebody did greatomagnetic pulse, how an area of the united states would that cover? have we done any hardening of our electric transformers? in addition, from an offensive point of view, can we do an emp over north korea without involving half of china, japan, south korea? thank you. pulse electromagnetic
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is something people worry about. if you detonate a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere above a city, for example, it will create a strong electromagnetic shock and can burn out electronics. under certain conditions, this can cover a very large area. some estimates say large parts of the united states. not know is how much hardening has been done against some of that. consumer lot of electronics and the like that would be burned out. my understanding is that the pulse from a nuclear weapon like this, the timescale would be too short to destroy transformers and things like that, electric grids. so i think that would not be a problem. but the last point is interesting to do if you were trying to do that over north korea, you simply would not be able to control the area it covered.
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i think you would wreak havoc in some of north korea's neighbors. host: david wright, you talked about china and russia responding. the "wall street journal" editorial board this morning says that the president is speaking to china when he made those "fire and fury" comments. how could china and russia stop this from escalating? and what side with evian? china, all, certainly, situation i know better, is not happy about the fact that north korea is threatening to destabilize the region. it has its own concerns about what might happen if north korea its first concern is stability in the region. -- whathink north korea i think china could do in the case of north korea is to try and put some pressure on it to agree to talks.
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it has some leverage, not clear exactly how much. the problem is i think the united states and china see the issue very differently. what the united states would like to see, it appears, is that china would essentially strangle north korea by cutting off oil and cutting off all trade answer to force north korea to its knees. what we have learned from our chinese colleagues is that china things that that is a problem with instability, that you do not know what would happen in a case where north korea was put in that position. they look at north korea and see themselves back in the 1960's and 1970's when the world was sanctioning them, trying to keep them from developing a nuclear program. they were determined to continue the development of those weapons despite the sanctions, and they believe the same is true with north korea. therefore trying to strangle, and a sense, is probably not likely to work.
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i think they are willing to try korea to theorth table, but i think they see this as, ultimately, an issue between north korea and the united states and believe the main everts to solve it have to come from the u.s. and north korea. host: a call from new orleans, democrat. and thankod morning, you for taking my call. thank you for c-span. sir, bravo. 100%. we need more science right now than ever. i believe the weapon you are talking about was started way back with what they called scud missiles, and i don't believe it will ever be accurate because it has to maintain such a close point. as you just said, if it is one meter off, it misses it.
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if it misses it -- it is a nuclear weapon. planettion is, can the sustain anything that, if a nuclear attack happens, even in korea, as far away from here as it is, with the repercussion of the nuclear cloud have any effect on the united states? god help us, i hope we never get in that position. but we're dealing with a nut that does not believe in science. old, and for the first time in my life, i get up every morning scared that tomorrow is not going to happen. host: david wright? guest: well, there are two issues people are concerned about. weaponsyou use nuclear sort of anywhere and it created
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nuclear fallout high in the atmosphere, that cloud would be carried around the world. whenw that in the 1960's countries were still testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere. you remember that there was a lot of concern at that point about low level radiation being snow, forwn with example, found in mother's milk. there is a concern about that. the other interesting thing people have looked at more recently is going back to the concept of nuclear winter. in particular, there are some researchers who have looked at andxchange between india pakistan of maybe 50 nuclear weapons, and looking at if you had cities burning, how much soot that would put in the atmosphere. enoughot can block out sunlight to reduce global temperatures for a decade. it can start to wreak havoc with food production and health
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around the world. from that localized nuclear attack, you could have something like 2 billion people around the world die from the consequences. it is a very interesting point that people tend to think of these things happening someplace else, but they could have global ramifications. host: david wright, the president yesterday on twitter talked about the u.s. nuclear arsenal. he said that my first order as president was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. it is now more powerful than ever before. the u.s.u characterize nuclear arsenal? guest: let me start my saying the president's statement actually is not true. he had a statement early on -- early on, he ordered a nuclear posture review, which means the pentagon will get together and look at the weapons and figure out what needs to be done.
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actuallyng has happened from that. so the idea that somehow modernization has taken place in the six months since he has been in office just is not true. there has been a lot of discussion about the fact that the u.s. arsenal is somehow not modern, is somehow falling apart, is behind were the russians are. that is simply not true. there are ongoing modernization efforts to rebuild and refurbished nuclear weapons. the bombers, the missiles, things that carried him. -- things they carry them. so i do not understand the thought that somehow the u.s. arsenal is falling apart. you ask anybody in the pentagon if they would be willing to trade the u.s. arsenal, for example, for the russian arsenal, it would be an absolute no. "the walle showing street journal," noting russia's
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arsenal. but it is not quantity, it is quality? guest: when you're talking about that many nuclear warheads, a couple hundred really does not matter much. the other thing to keep in mind is those are total arsenals both sides. so the ones that are actually deployed on systems that could and there are ones that could be stored, once being stored and waiting to be delivered. if you look in the numbers actually in the fields ready to be launched, those are down around 1600 both sides. obamaeaty that president negotiated and signed in 2011 put a cap on that and puts an stringent verification measures so that both sides know were each side is. not a concern about being surprised or taken advantage of because of the
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verification measures. host: the headline -- u.s. is overhauling its nuclear arsenal, responding to president trump's tweet, noting the overhaul again under the obama administration when it agreed with republicans in 2010, that the administration would undertake this deal to modernize the arsenal. it is intended to replace all three legs of what is known as the nuclear triad, bombers in the air, submarines at sea, and intercontinental ballistic missiles on alert in underground silos. it includes the development of new air launch cruise missiles. problems is ifhe you look at the cost estimates for doing that, it is astronomic , more than $1 trillion over the next 30 years of doing these upgrades. essentially everybody agrees the money simply is not going to be
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there. so we're looking at, and a couple years, people looking at this issue and making hard decisions about what is really needed and what is not. brunswick,to, maryland, independent. caller: good morning. yeah, i think people here in this country live in a bubble. --ause what we're doing [indiscernible] president trump wants to go to another war, although everybody knows there is no money. 16 years in syria and afghanistan, wasting money, making money. but if we want to fix something, we are going to fix it in months, days. look at syria. look at libya. and we have no money, not even for social security. it is a problem we have to fix here in the house in the united states.
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we have to fix our problems before we go somewhere else and try to spend money. host: ok, david wright, when it comes to the technology that north korea has, is it capable reaching theiles mainland of the united states? guest: if you look at the most 28,nt test they had on july those missiles definitely, based on that test, have the ability to reach major cities in the united states. that is a change. previously, we saw that north korea could likely reach alaska but not the lower 48, and that appears to have changed. host: what does that mean, david wright? guest: you know, those of us who have watched the missile program for a long time have been warning that under a business as usual scenario, north korea was continuing to increase the range of its missiles. i have been arguing since the
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clinton administration that there ought to be efforts to try and stop the development of ichnology, partly for reasons said before, this is relatively old technology and people know how to solve the problems and know how to make it work. where ank we're sort of lot of us feared we would be many years ago, and i think now the issue is how to deal with the fact that you have got a country like north korea that has a lot of animosity with the united states and, in principle, has the ability to reach of us with a long-range missile and nuclear weapon. i think that is going to take some deep thought about how you deal with a world where that is true. host: what about how we respond and new technology, like cyber sabotage --is that possible? are we capable of that? guest: with things like cyber, you do not have a lot of confidence. you know there are things you would like to attack.
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it is hard to know exactly whether it will work like you expected and reach the systems you wanted it to. it is similar to the problem that people have talked about with trying to do a military attack on north korea, preempted military attack, which i assume would be with high accuracy conventional weapons rather than nuclear weapons. the problem is we simply do not know where all of north korea's military systems are. they have a lot of underground facilities and bunkers and things like that. so if you do not know where they all are and you do not know that you have the probability to take them all out, there is the concern that what you would actually do by such a strike is as opposedconflict to preempting one. host: sue in louisiana on the line for democrats. caller: i guess i was wondering, if north korea has already tested missiles going up towards japan, south korea is
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right there with 30,000 soldiers . japan has probably 100,000 soldiers. why would he want to go all the way to guam? i think he is a faker. i think he is not going to do a darn thing. i think his missiles are going to be empty. i think he is just a lot of rhetoric. he cannot go towards south korea affect that would him. if he goes towards japan, everything that goes west would go towards him anyway. i think he is puffing a lot of smoke. host: let's get a response from david wright. guest: unfortunately, i do not agree with you. the reason he is interested in guam is that, following some of the statements that north korea made, the united states flew nuclear capable bombers over the korean peninsula, and those are based on guam. so there is a u.s. base on guam
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that i think is, to him, very a u.s. military foothold in the area that he could attack without attacking major cities in south korea or japan. i think that was the rationale. host: what are you watching for next as the president makes his koreats and north responds late yesterday? what are you watching for? guest: we are hearing different sorts of statements coming out of the white house. on the one hand, we hear secretary of defense matus talk about the fact that there is no good military option. secretary tillerson is talking about the fact we are not looking for regime change, leaving the door open to discussion, and then we have president trump making statements that seem at odds with those. so is president from viewing this as negotiations, starting off with a hard-line condition and in moderating to the middle? i think what we're looking for
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is eating some sense of where the center of gravity is within the administration for trying to deal with this issue. host: david, senior scientist with the union of concerned scientists. you can go to their website or follow them on twitter. thank you very much, mr. wright. appreciate the conversation. we're going to take a short break. when we come at, and new government report on climate is feeling the u.s. the effects of u.s. activity changing the climate. later on, "wired" magazine reporter tom simon night will be here to talk about artificial intelligence in the workplace. saturday beginning at 6:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv, robert o'hara talks about
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