Sig Hecker on Nuclear North Korea

Henry Hirshland
June 23, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017

US Involvement in North Korea's Nuclear Weapons Program

Fig. 1: Nuclear North Korea. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The North Korean nuclear weapons program, and the United States' involvement in the program, has had a volatile history with significant conflict. The United States has failed to prevent the growth of North Korea's program after decades of broken policy, primarily from the Bush administration and the Clinton administration. The Bush administration violated the terms of the Clinton administration's 1994 "Agreed Framework" that was put in place to initially freeze, and eventually disassemble North Korea's nuclear program. [1] Yet, after walking away from this agreement, the Bush administration proved unready to handle consequences of their actions, as they prompted North Korea to resume their nuclear weapons program. [1] The Obama administration was unwilling to speak directly with North Korea in order to negotiate terms surrounding North Korea's nuclear program, insisting that steps toward denuclearization ought to be the first course of action before starting any talks. Yet, this strategy too proved to be unsuccessful, and the North Korean nuclear arsenal has continued growing. [1] As the Trump administration has just entered Washington, it is critical they develop an approach to this topic that will lead to North Korea's denuclearization to reduce this current threat.

Hecker Background

I would like to introduce the opinions voiced by Sig Hecker in terms of how Trump ought to address this issue. But first, I would like to give some background as to who Dr. Hecker is. Dr. Hecker is internationally respected as an expert in global threat reduction, nuclear security, and plutonium science. [2] Hecker was a co-director of the Center of International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) for 5 years between 2007-2012. While there, his research focused primarily on reducing risks of nuclear terrorism in addition to nuclear India, Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea. [2] Hecker has traveled to North Korea several times over the past 10 years, and has watched, in person, as North Korea has grown its nuclear arsenal from just a few weapons to over a dozen warheads. [3] While North Korea has also been greatly advancing their missile technologies as well, Hecker notes that they still are unable to reach the United States with a nuclear missile, and claims they will likely be unable to do so for another 5 years. [3] Yet, the fact that they can reach South Korea, Japan, and even pacific regions of the US is reason to consider the current circumstances a nuclear crisis that ought to be addressed. Further, Hecker insists that North Korea's nuclear arsenal is one of the United States' greatest security threats. [1]

Hecker's Proposed Approach

After decades of unsuccessful attempts to deal with North Korea and its nuclear weapons program, Hecker states that it is in our best interest for the Trump administration to begin talking with North Korea in efforts to limit this rising threat. [1] Hecker emphasized that talking to Pyongyang is not any sort of concession, or sign of defeat. Instead, it is a necessary step in establishing communication to prevent a nuclear catastrophe. [1] While talking is important, listening is equally important. By seeing what North Korea has to say, valuable insight may be offered to help Washington learn more about the nature of this security threat. In essence, opening up this discussion will likely prove to provide valuable insight that will help us better strategize how to approach this situation.

© Henry Hirshland. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] S. Hecker, "The US Must Talk to North Korea," New York Times, 12 Jan 17.

[2] C. Clark, "Sig Hecker To Address Nuclear North Korea, Moderated By Valerie Plame Thursday," Los Alamos Daily Post, 22 Feb 17.

[3] Welna, "Rex Tillerson Says 'All Options Are on the Table' with North Korea," Delaware Public Media, 17 Mar 17.