US President Donald Trump yesterday confirmed he would meet with North Korea’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, “within weeks” in Vietnam for more talks about “denuclearisation”. But the threat posed by the reclusive nation’s nuclear weapons has largely overshadowed the one posed by biological weapons – with experts admitting there is little way of knowing whether Kim is trying to develop them, or already has them in his arsenal. Joshua Pollack, who co-authored a report on the subject, North Korea’s International Scientific Collaborations: Their Scope, Scale, and Potential Dual-Use and Military Significance, for the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in December, told Express.co.uk: “Nobody knows for sure.
The problem is biological weapons programmes are very covert in nature and very hard to document
“The problem is biological weapons programmes are very covert in nature and very hard to document, unless there is an accidental release, as happened in the Soviet Union in 1979.”
Mr Pollack’s report highlights several areas of potential concern, suggesting North Korean scholars were working on projects involving organisms in the genus bacillus, specifically bacillus subtilis and bacillus thuringiensis, both of which are related to Bacillus anthracis, the anthrax bacterium.
While he stressed there was no actual proof North Korea was developing such biological weapons, he added: “It does raise questions about their potential use and the international community does need to do more to make sure that North Korea complies with the Biological Weapons Convention of which it is a member.
“America seems to come and go on this issue.
Determining for sure whether North Korea has biological weapons is problematic
“They have not had a consistent line on this.
“I don’t know if this will be taken up by President Trump either.”
In an article written for the 38 North website, which offers expect analysis of North Korean affairs, prior to the confirmation of the summit, John Parchinini, a senior international policy analyst and the former director of the Intelligence Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, said: “North Korea has publicly stated that it is a member of the Biological Weapons Convention when challenged about its biological weapons capabilities and has asserted that it ‘does not develop, produce and stockpile chemical weapons and opposes chemical weapons themselves,’ reflecting at least some acknowledgment that these are taboo weapons.
“Until there is greater transparency, however, on the regime’s dual-use facilities, its claims will be suspect.
Donald Trump with Kim Jong-un at their last summit in Singapore
“A few attempts to further transparency into North Korea’s biological activities could contribute to the goal of gaining more insight on whether it is complying with the terms of the BWC.
“If they have a clandestine biological program, such efforts may cause them to halt or dismantle it. As to whether and to what extent North Korea has a clandestine biological weapons program we will not know unless there is more transparency.
“Without more insight, the US and its allies may risk repeating some of the mistakes made about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.”
Speaking after the Mr Trump’s summit, Mr Parachini added: “It’s hard to know what’s being discussed but there needs to be some modest steps that build confidence in this area.
Some experts claim North Korea has stockpiled the deadly anthrax bacterium
“One of the problems is that North Korea has not been engaging with people behind the scenes – they only want to talk to Donald Trump or Mike Pompeo.”
He warned even if North Korea were to agree to give up its weapons programme and did acknowledge the existence of biological and chemical weapons, dismantling such facilities would take “years”.
Writing for The Diplomat website in November, Sungku Jang, a fellow with the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, was significantly more bullish in his assessment, claiming: “If Washington and Seoul are able to attain North Korean concessions on denuclearisation, but do not deal with Pyongyang’s BW and CW in the same process, North Korea will still be able to threaten South Korea with capabilities that are nearly as destructive as nuclear weapons.
“North Korea has 13 different types of biological weapons such as anthrax and smallpox, which it can weaponise within 10 days.
“According to a report by the Korea Institute for National Unification, North Korea has the ability to make a ton of anthrax in a year.
“Anthrax has a greater than 80 percent fatality rate, with 50 percent of afflicted people dying within two days.
“A mere 200 pounds of anthrax can kill around three million people.”