Lost in Transition? Nork’s Nuclear Command and Control

At the Christian Science Monitor, Howard LaFranchi writes: “The death of Kim Jong-il has disrupted an American plan to encourage North Korea to curb its nuclear arsenal, and the uncertainties surrounding the ‘dear leader’s’ replacement mean US officials have little choice for now but to sit tight.”

It seems that:

Last week, US officials were negotiating with North Korean officials over a plan that tentatively called for the US to send a substantial amount of food assistance to North Korea. … In return, Pyongyang would have agreed to suspend its uranium-enrichment program, reopen its Yongbyon nuclear facility to international nuclear inspectors, and suspend any further nuclear or missile tests. The accord would have reportedly opened the door to resumption of negotiations on North Korea’s denuclearization that collapsed in 2008. … But several key issues … had still not been finalized when word came of Kim’s death.

Worse

… as Kim’s replacement and youngest son, Kim Jong-un, tries to establish himself in his father’s place, it will likely be … potentially tense and surprise-laden months – before the North Korean leadership will be ready to reengage diplomatically, many North Asian analysts say.

What’s especially troublesome is how little the West knows about the command and control system for North Korea’s nuclear weapons. As Elaine Grossman reports for Global Security Newswire:

“I don’t think anyone really knows,” [said] Joel Wit, a visiting fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies’ U.S.-Korea Institute. … “But my impression is that their command and control of those weapons is extremely tight and centralized.” … Longtime nuclear command-and-control expert Bruce Blair [said] “I am confident that the son [Kim Jong-un] … cannot wield nuclear weapons unilaterally.”

Meanwhile, by way of damning with faint solace (emphasis added)

One expert source said. … “I’ve had some glimpses into their command and control. Their security for [nuclear] fuel rods is very strict … involving armed guards and secure storage.”

As opposed to what? Unarmed guards and unlocked doors?