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Siegfried Hecker shares nuclear insights in new book

30-plus years of experience, including visits to North Korean facilities, inform a discussion of nuclear policy, opportunities, and consequences.

North Korea remains a puzzle to Americans.

How did this country—one of the most isolated in the world and in the policy cross hairs of every U.S. administration during the past 30 years—progress from zero nuclear weapons in 2001 to a threatening arsenal of perhaps 50 such weapons in 2021?

MS&E Professor Emeritus Siegfried Hecker brings readers literally inside the North Korean nuclear program, by sharing what he saw and heard in his visits to North Korea from 2004 to 2010, in his new book Hinge Points: An Inside Look at North Korea’s Nuclear Program (Stanford University Press, 2023). In the book, Prof. Hecker goes beyond the technical details—which are described in plain English from his on-the-ground experience at the North's nuclear center at Yongbyon—to put the nuclear program in context of decades of fateful foreign policy decisions in Pyongyang and Washington.

Prof. Hecker describes these decisions as "hinge points," and he traces the consequences of opportunities missed by both sides. The result has been that successive U.S. administrations have been unable to prevent the North, with the weakest of hands, from becoming one of only three countries in the world that might target the United States with nuclear weapons.

His marrying of the technical with the diplomatic is well informed by Prof. Hecker’s interactions with North Korean and U.S. officials over many years, while his years of working with Russian, Chinese, Indian, and Pakistani nuclear officials have given him an unmatched breadth of experience from which to view and interpret the thinking and perspective of the North Koreans.

Hinge Points is available from Stanford University Press.