December 13, 2012

After Years of Conflicted Reporting, AP Reporter Claims North Korea ‘Already Has a Nuclear Weapons Arsenal’

The word games in the press, especially at the Associated Press, concerning North Korea’s nuclear capabilities are head-spinning.

In a June 16, 2009 dispatch, Ben Feller’s story at the AP carried the following headline at the Huffington Post: “Obama, Lee: We Won’t Allow North Korea To Have Nuclear Weapons” (“Lee” is Lee Myung-bak, then and still President of South Korea). Yet Feller’s first paragraph referred to the North as a “nuclear-armed nation.” If you’re “armed,” doesn’t that mean you have a “weapon”? Additionally, a CNN report on the same day mentioned that President Obama would not be “allowing North Korea to develop nuclear weapons,” though the country has claimed possession of them since early 2005. An exercise in excuse-making at the AP Wednesday evening by Bradley Klapper only adds to the confusion (bolds are mine throughout this post):


The Obama administration is drawing no “red line” for North Korea after a successful long-range rocket test, tempering the public condemnation to avoid raising tensions or possibly rewarding the reclusive communist nation with too much time in the global spotlight.

The U.S. has told the world that it won’t tolerate Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons or Syria’s use of chemical stockpiles on rebels. North Korea, in some ways, is a trickier case.

The U.S. wants to forcefully condemn what it believes is a “highly provocative act,” and that was the first public reaction from the White House late Tuesday. But it also is mindful of the turmoil on the Korean peninsula and treading carefully, offering no threat of military action or unspecified “consequences” associated with other hot spots.

Just two years ago, the North allegedly torpedoed a South Korean warship and shelled a South Korean island. Some 50 South Koreans died in the attacks that brought the peninsula to the brink of war.

North Korea already has the deterrent of a nuclear weapons arsenal. The U.S. is bound to protect next-door South Korea from any attack, but has no desire now for a military conflict.

Raising the rhetoric can even serve as a reward for seeking attention to a government that starves its own citizens while seeking to leverage any military advance it makes into much-needed aid.

So now the North has a “nuclear arsenal”? Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by “arsenal.” The Federation of American Scientists claims that the North has fewer than ten nuclear weapons, none of which are “operational” and all of which are “nondeployed.” Though obviously dangerous, that doesn’t seem like an “arsenal” (“a collection or supply of weapons or munitions,” implying near immediate availability) to me. It seems like Bradley Klapper described the North’s nukes as an “arsenal” to assist in excusing the Obama administration’s inaction.

It would also appear that the only thing preventing the North from using its “arsenal” is its ability to create reliable missiles. An AP report today by Foster Klug and Matthew Pennington, which at the time of this post was not available at the AP national site, claims that “North Korea is years away from developing reliable missiles”? I’m sure “experts” were saying the same thing about the North’s possession of “weapons” in the early part of last decade.

Klapper’s use of the word “allegedly” in connection with the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship further undermines the credibility of his report. As CNN reported in September 2010:

South Korea’s final report on the March sinking of the warship Cheonan reaffirms that a North Korean torpedo sent the ship to the bottom of the Yellow Sea, killing 46 sailors.

The full report, released Monday and based on an investigation conducted by South Korean, U.S., Swedish, British and Australian officials, offers new details to back up May’s preliminary report on the incident.

“The ROK Navy ship Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo attack while conducting a normal mission in the vicinity of Baengnyeong Island at 09:22 p.m. on March 26, 2010,” the English-version of the report says in its conclusion, according to a Korea Times report.

What about “reaffirms” in a report on which five nations signed off does Klapper not understand?

As to the “nuclear weapons” issue, sure looks to me like that press went to a lot of trouble in 2009 to make it appear to those who don’t follow the news closely that North Korea didn’t have nuclear weapons already. Yet it’s currently using that very “arsenal” which supposedly didn’t exist three years ago as an excuse why the Obama administration doesn’t want to do anything about the North’s most recent missile experiment. Even if all of this isn’t deliberately designed to confuse those who don’t follow things closely, that’s the effect.

Cross-posted at


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