Hecker seeks change in N. Korean nuclear policy

Feb. 16, 2011, 2:04 a.m.

Last spring, Martin Hellman, professor emeritus of electrical engineering, organized a public lecture series titled “Defusing the Nuclear Threat,” with the goal of educating the campus community about the risks associated with nuclear weapons.

The lectures were held at Hewlett Training Center and attracted 50 to 200 attendees each. Most of those lecture-goers, however, came from off-campus.

Hecker seeks change in N. Korean nuclear policy
Management science and engineering professor Siegfried Hecker called for changes in U.S. policy toward North Korea's nuclear ambitions. (IAN GARCIA-DOTY/The Stanford Daily)

“It was hard to get students out from the dorms to the teaching center,” Hellman said, “so if the students won’t come to the mountain, we’ll bring to the mountain to the students.”

The solution? Bring the speakers to the dorm, Hellman said.

That’s what happened Tuesday night when Siegfried Hecker, co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and professor of management science and engineering, spoke at Florence Moore Hall’s lounge. Hecker was the first speaker in a three-part series that addresses possible ways of eliminating the threat of nuclear weapons.

Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, focused his talk on what actions the United States could take to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program.

He provided a brief history of the diplomatic relations between the two countries, and described his most recent trip to North Korea, which received significant media attention last November when Hecker returned with news that the country had built a state-of-the-art uranium enrichment facility.

“It was shockingly modern,” Hecker said. “Everything else I had seen in North Korea’s nuclear facilities looked like [it was built in the] sixties, Russian-style or forties, fifties American-style. But this thing was modern.”

Prior to the trip, he suspected North Korea had performed uranium enrichment, but estimated that the country would only have a dozen centrifuges. He ended up seeing 2,000.

“It literally blew my mind,” Hecker said.

However, he emphasized that this was not a discovery, as it has been portrayed in the press, but rather the culmination of six years of relationship building.

Hecker has visited North Korea every year since 2004.

“It wasn’t a shot in the dark that we discovered; it came from six previous visits,” he said. “We had paved the way with them. They trusted us to tell the truth, to report those observations truthfully. And we did.”

Hecker also showed pictures from his previous visits — a girl standing by a kiosk, adults walking down the street carrying cell phones — in hopes of dispelling common misconceptions about North Korea.

Hecker indicated that the real threat behind North Korea’s nuclear program isn’t necessarily a nuclear attack, but an accidental mishap or the export of this technology to another country.

Instead of pushing for complete denuclearization of the North, an approach the U.S. has taken in the past, he suggested that we work to improve our relationship with the country through a plan he called “three no’s for one yes.”

During his visits, Hecker believed North Korea would agree to not build any more bombs, not improve any of the bombs they currently have and not export any more nuclear technology. In return, the U.S. would be obligated to address the fundamental insecurities in the country.

“Unless we understand North Korea more broadly, and not just through the typical U.S. nuclear lenses, then we are never going to be able to roll back and solve the North Korea nuclear program,” he said.

But Hecker saw hope for a bright future. This hope, he said, came in the form of a boy wearing a baseball cap turned backwards.

“He’s probably about 11 years old,” Hecker said. “Do you think when he’s 21 years old they are going to keep him from everything like they are people from now? There’s no way.”

Even though yesterday’s event was held in a dorm, there was still a strong showing of non-students.

“I must say in the five years I’ve been here at Stanford, it seemed to be that the students keep getting younger every year,” Hecker said. “I must say, tonight is a bit of an exception.”

The lecture series will continue next Tuesday when Barton Bernstein, professor emeritus of history, will discuss the meaning of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the Florence Moore lounge at 7:30 p.m.

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