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Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism
North Korea

Recommendations for U.S.-Korea Policy

Recommendations for U.S.-Korea Policy

Tensions between North Korea and the United States have soared since October 2002, when the Bush administration revealed that North Korea had begun a clandestine program to develop enriched uranium. Pyongyang has withdrawn from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and moved to restart a plutonium reactor frozen under the 1994 Agreed Framework with Washington.

In response, the Center for International Policy and the Center for East Asian Studies of the University of Chicago assembled a bipartisan Task Force on U.S.-Korea policy that in March proposed a series of recommendations for handling the crisis. Selig S. Harrison, director of the Asia Program at the CIP, chaired the task force. Excerpts of the report follow, and the full text is available at http://www.ciponline.org.

Resolving the Nuclear Crisis

The United States should pursue a three-stage bilateral negotiating strategy to achieve the verifiable dismantlement of North Korean nuclear capabilities, while supporting a multilateral diplomatic process addressed to economic as well as security issues in Korea.


  • In the opening stage of its bilateral diplomacy, the United States should offer to negotiate directly with North Korea on all issues of concern to both sides, including the dismantlement of its nuclear weapons capabilities, its food and energy needs, and the full normalization of political and economic relations, provided that North Korea pledge not to reprocess the irradiated fuel rods that have been monitored by IAEA inspectors under the 1994 Agreed Framework and to permit the return of the recently-expelled inspectors to resume their monitoring. North Korea would agree to honor this pledge for the duration of bilateral negotiations.
  • By prearrangement, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Foreign Minister Paik Nain Soon would then make a joint declaration in Washington or Pyongyang. North Korea would pledge in this declaration to negotiate the verified dismantlement of all aspects of its nuclear capabilities. Both sides would pledge that they would not use force against the other during negotiations on dismantlement, and that, upon the successful conclusion of dismantlement, they would categorically rule out the use of force against each other thereafter. The North would reaffirm its 1991 non-aggression commitment to the South. The United States would also pledge to respect North Korean sovereignty and not to hinder its economic development.
  • In the second stage, the two sides would initiate substantive negotiations in which progress toward denuclearization would be linked to U.S. steps that address North Korean concerns.

    For example, the United States could offer to resume the monthly oil shipments that were promised under the Agreed Framework and suspended last December and provide a first installment of conventional energy assistance, provided that North Korea take steps to re-freeze the Yongbyon reactor, freeze its uranium enrichment program, declare where its enrichment facilities are located, invite U.S. inspectors to verify the freeze and account for the material it is known to have imported for the enrichment program, especially aluminum tubing.

  • Critical but secondary U.S. negotiating objectives could be a North Korean declaration detailing where it has procured its enrichment equipment and technology and a pledge to stop all foreign procurement, including dual-use items, related to enrichment. In return, the United States could expand conventional energy assistance.

  • In the third stage, the United States would press for the permanent dismantlement of uranium enrichment capabilities, offering the economic incentives necessary to make this possible.
  • The United States should use the Agreed Framework in its existing form as a starting point in negotiating denuclearization with North Korea while, at the same time, renegotiating some provisions and adding new ones. For example, re-freezing the Yongbyon and Taechon reactors and the resumption of oil shipments would be a reversion to existing provisions that have been suspended since the uranium enrichment program was revealed last October. So would a North Korean commitment not to reprocess the irradiated fuel rods at Yongbyon. It is desirable to keep the Agreed Framework in force in order to retain the legitimacy of provisions advantageous to the United States, such as North Korea’s commitment in Article One, Section Three, not to reprocess the fuel rods, to ship them out of the country and to dismantle all plutonium related facilities coincident with completion of the two light water reactors promised under the accord.

As the next recommendation spells out, Article One, Section One should be renegotiated to provide for one reactor, not two, and new arrangements should be made for conventional energy assistance in place of the electricity that would have been generated by the second reactor.


The priority given in this recommendation to stopping the reprocessing of the plutonium fuel rods reflects the fact that reprocessing would make possible the production of four to six nuclear weapons within six to eight months. Similarly, restarting the Yongbyon reactor and completing the construction of the two reactors at Taechon covered by the Agreed Framework would make possible the eventual production of 30 nuclear weapons per year. These are clearly established facts. By contrast, the C.I.A does not foresee an operational North Korean capability for making weapons-grade enriched uranium before “mid-decade.”

There is an important precedent for making substantive negotiations conditional on a North Korea pledge not to reprocess the Yongbyon fuel rods and to readmit the IAEA inspectors to verify this pledge. In June 1994, Jimmy Carter, after obtaining Kim II Sung’s commitment to negotiate a nuclear freeze, persuaded him to initiate an immediate freeze that was to remain in effect pending formal negotiations and to permit IAEA inspectors to remain in Yongbyon to verify the freeze.

This is what gave President [Bill] Clinton the political cover necessary to conclude the Agreed Framework. Similarly, it should be sufficient for the Bush administration to obtain a commitment not to reprocess the fuel rods as a precondition for substantive dialogue. Insisting on the full dismantlement of North Korean nuclear capabilities as a precondition is unrealistic and could well goad North Korea into carrying out its threats to proceed with nuclear weapons development.


  • To reinforce U.S.-North Korean negotiations, or as an alternative if bilateral dialogue founders, a seven-nation conference should be convened in Brussels with the European Union as host on the topic, “Security and Economic Development in Korea” (The European Union, the United States, South Korea, North Korea, China, Russia and Japan). It would have five purposes: to give the United States a face-saving way to resume bilateral negotiations with North Korea; to give international status to any bilateral U.S.-North Korean agreements; to draw North Korea into denuclearization commitments made to the participating states as a group, thus strengthening any undertakings it gives to the United States; to provide security guarantees to North Korea by the other participating states that would help to make meaningful denuclearization acceptable to the North; and to plan economic aid initiatives by the other participating states that would make the benefits of denuclearization greater in North Korean eyes than the risks.
  • Working groups on economic and security issues could meet in advance to develop specific proposals for consideration at the conference, such as natural gas pipelines and other energy projects urgently desired by the North and the Korean nuclear-free zone proposal mentioned earlier.


Russia’s offer to host a multilateral conference has received a cool U.S. reception. South Korea, as an interested party, would not be acceptable as a host to the North, and Japan, as the former colonial ruler of Korea, would be unacceptable to both the North and the South. The European Union, by contrast, would be acceptable to all parties, including North Korea, which has been cultivating E.U. ties.

On January 29, the European Parliament called on the European Commission to convene “in the late spring or early summer seven-nation talks about the situation in the Korean peninsula, focusing on economic, security and nuclear disarmament issues.”

North Korea would be likely to join in such a conference only if it is preceded or accompanied by bilateral dialogue with the United States. Even then, it would be a reluctant participant, but it is likely to agree if attractive economic incentives emerge in pre-conference working groups.

Renegotiating the Agreed Framework

The Agreed Framework should be renegotiated to provide for the construction of one light water reactor, not two, and the substitution of conventional energy alternatives for the electricity that would have been supplied by the second reactor.

  • North Korea would have to reaffirm its commitment to other existing provisions of the accord, under which it must dismantle its frozen nuclear facilities coincident with the completion of the reactor project. In addition, North Korea would have to accept new provisions that would end its effort to produce enriched uranium under adequate verification, and would have to go beyond existing provisions that require International Atomic Energy Agency inspections to determine how much fissile material had been accumulated before 1994. The Bush Administration wants these inspections to begin immediately, much sooner than the Agreed Framework requires. North Korea would be likely to accept such accelerated inspections if the schedule of inspections is linked to progress in the construction of the reactor.
  • In return, the United States could drop its opposition to projected gas pipelines from Siberia or Sakhalin that would go through North Korea to the South; encourage multilateral assistance for gas-fired power stations, transmission grids and fertilizer factories along the pipeline route, and support interim KEDO energy aid to the North pending completion of the reactor and the pipeline.
  • Russia would be invited to join KEDO in recognition of its long collaboration with North Korea in civilian nuclear technology and its potential role as a supplier of natural gas to Korea.


North Korea and South Korea alike oppose a revision of the 1994 accord in which both nuclear reactors would be abandoned in favor of conventional energy alternatives, for reasons discussed below. But both might well agree to reduce the KEDO commitment to one reactor, instead of two, if that would keep the nuclear agreement on track.

For the Bush Administration, inducing North Korea to accept one reactor instead of two, together with strengthened nuclear inspections, could be presented in the United States as a political victory, partially vindicating Republican charges that Clinton gave North Korea too much in the 1994 accord, on terms that were not tough enough.

For Pyongyang, to get at least one of the reactors up and running is a political imperative if only because the Agreed Framework bore the personal imprint of the late President Kim II Sung and of Kim Jong II. Equally important, since Japan and South Korea both have large civilian nuclear programs. North Korea regards nuclear power as a technological status symbol. Like Tokyo and Seoul, Pyongyang wants nuclear power in its energy mix to reduce dependence on petroleum.

In the case of South Korea, support for the KEDO program comes in part from the fact that funding for the first reactor has already been secured from the National Assembly, in part from vested interests with a stake in contracts to build the reactors. The South had already spent some $800 million on the reactors by the end of 2002, and South Korean companies had lined up contracts totaling another $2.3 billion for the construction work ahead. Still, half a loaf would be better than none, and the money spent by the South has gone, so far, only to the infrastructure at the site and to the first reactor.

South Korea likes the KEDO project because it is confident that the reactors will someday belong to a unified Korea. By contrast, Japan made its $1 billion commitment to KEDO grudgingly and has dragged its feet in meeting its obligations. In Japanese eyes. North Korea cannot be trusted to observe nuclear safety standards, and Tokyo fears another Chernobyl in Japan’s backyard. Since Tokyo has already spent $400 million on the project, it is reluctant to see it scrapped entirely, but like Seoul might accept a compromise limiting the project to one reactor.

American support for a gas pipeline from Sakhalin through North Korea to the South is necessary because Exxon-Mobil, a U.S. firm, is the principal partner in the Sakhalin seabed gas concession involved and would not build the pipeline in the face of White House opposition.

Resuming Missile Negotiations

The United States should resume negotiations with North Korea to end both the further development of missile capabilities that could threaten the United States and the export of its missiles, missile technology and missile components to other states. Priority should be given first to extending the North Korean moratorium on missile testing in effect since September, 1999; next, to stopping missile exports; and finally, to negotiating a permanent end to the testing, production and deployment of all missiles with a range over an agreed threshold, with adequate verification.

In addition to multiyear U.S. food aid, energy aid and other economic incentives for a missile agreement, the United States should support multilateral financial aid to develop new industries that would provide employment for the workers displaced from existing missile factories, together with U.S. aid drawing on the experience of the Nunn-Lugar program in Russia.


Extending the moratorium on missile flight testing should be the most urgent U.S. objective in missile negotiations because the moratorium caps North Korean missile capabilities at present levels and such testing is easily verified by U.S. satellites.

During negotiations in 1999 and 2000, the United States made significant progress in missile negotiations with North Korea, and North Korean officials have since signaled their readiness to pick up these negotiations where they left off in the context of an overall improvement in U.S.-North Korean negotiations.

The most hopeful progress was made in negotiations on missile exports. North Korea had offered to stop all exports of missiles, technology and components if agreement could be reached on the amount and form of U.S. compensation for the losses that a cessation of exports would entail. North Korea agreed that compensation would not have to be in cash, as previously demanded, but in kind. Discussion on the amount and form were underway when negotiations were interrupted at the end of the Clinton Administration.

Hopeful progress was also made on banning the testing, production and deployment of missiles. North Korea had proposed a ban covering all missiles with a range over 500 kilometers (300 miles). The United States had insisted on a shorter range, 300 kilometers, combined with a 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) payload. This is the limitation specified in the Missile Technology Control Regime. Although agreement had not been reached on this issue, North Korean negotiators said that it could be resolved in a Clinton-Kim Jong II summit. On compensation, agreement had been reached in principle that the United States would sponsor arrangements with Russia, China and the European Union for launching long-range North Korean satellites equipped solely for scientific research.

A ban on the flight testing of missiles can be verified by U.S. satellites. More intrusive verification procedures would be required to verify the end of the sale and production of missiles and components. Some of these could draw on experience under the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The verification regime was not seriously addressed in the 1999-2000 negotiations.

Previous negotiations also did not seriously address limiting or ending the deployment of the existing Nodong and Scud missiles that are now capable of reaching Japan and South Korea.

Ending the Korean War

Half a century after the end of the Korean War, it is time for the United States to conclude peace agreements with the other two parties to the 1953 Armistice Agreement, North Korea and China, provided that North Korea agrees to conclude a separate agreement with South Korea, which did not sign the Armistice. The United States should reconsider its position that it was not a signatory to the Armistice, and South Korea should reconsider its position that it does have legal status as a signatory.


A formal end to the state of war now existing is a necessary precondition for the reduction of tensions through conventional arms control negotiations. The U.S. position that it was not a signatory is untenable. Although General Mark W. Clark did identify himself in the Armistice agreement as Commander-in-Chief of the UN Command, his role as head of the UN Command was a mere extension of his position as the ranking commander of all U.S. forces in Korea and of the U.S.-South Korean Combined Forces Command. The Command was from its inception multilateral in name only. As Trygvie Lie, UN Secretary General during the Korean War, spelled out in his memoirs, successive U.S. commanders of the UN Command insisted on unfettered control over military operations, and in subsequent years even the cosmetic trappings of multilateral control have been progressively reduced.

The South Korean position that it has legal status as a signatory is based on two fallacious arguments.

The first is that even though Syngman Rhee attempted to subvert the Armistice and the South refused to sign it, Rhee later agreed to abide by its provisions. This is fallacious because Rhee’s commitment to honor the agreement was made only to the United States, not to North Korea.

The second argument is that since General Clark, in signing the Armistice, identified himself as Commander-in-Chief of the United Nations Command, South Korea, as one of the countries fighting under him, should thus be treated as a signatory. But 15 other countries also fought under the UN Command. In any case, General Clark’s role as head of the UN Command was a mere extension of his position as the ranking commander of all U.S. forces in Korea and of the U.S.-South Korean Combined Forces Command.

Operational control by the United States over South Korean forces in time of war understandably leads North Korea to regard the United States as its main enemy, necessitating a bilateral peace agreement with the United States in order to bring the war to an end.

Replacing the Armistice Machinery

The Military Armistice Commission set up in 1953 should be replaced with new peacekeeping machinery, together with companion steps to dissolve the United Nations Command.

The United States should explore the October 9, 1998, North Korean proposal for the creation of a Mutual Security Assurance Commission in place of the Military Armistice Commission and the U.N. Command, consisting of U.S., South Korean and North Korean generals. The United States should condition its participation in such a trilateral commission on North Korean agreement to activate the bilateral North-South joint Military Commission envisaged in the 1992 North-South “Basic Agreement.”


Both the Military Armistice Commission and the U.N. Command are obsolete vestiges of an adversarial cold war relationship between the United States and North Korea Their continuance would be incompatible with a peace agreement and with the normalization of relations between the two countries that the Task Force supports.

A trilateral commission would be appropriate because all three countries have forces on the ground in Korea and a U.S. general presides over the U.S.-South Korean Combined Forces Command and would have operational control over South Korean forces in wartime. At the same time, the United States cannot speak for South Korea. Thus, issues relating only to South Korean and North Korean forces would be addressed in the Joint North-South Military Commission. The new Mutual Security Commission would deal with all issues involving U.S. forces in Korea, and would oversee arms control and tension reduction proposals involving both the United States and South Korea.

The dissolution of the U.N. Command would have no military impact, since it has had no military functions for more than two decades. In 1978, when the United States and South Korea created the Combined Forces Command, the U.N. Command formally transferred its authority to the new command. The same U.S. general commands both the Combined Forces Command and the UN Command, but he wears his UN hat only when participating in meetings of the Military Armistice Commission. The U.S.-South Korea Mutual Security Treaty would continue to provide an umbrella for the U.S. military presence when the UN Command is dismantled.

Lowering the U.S. Military Profile

Before opposition to the U.S. military presence reaches serious proportions and leads to significant pressures for disengagement, the United States should defuse this opposition by lowering the U.S. military profile in South Korea and offering to make changes in the size, character and location of U.S. deployments. Such changes could be made either through unilateral U.S.-South Korean action or in return for the pullback of forward-deployed North Korean forces as part of the broad process of North-South and North Korean-U.S. rapprochement envisaged in the report.

Unless and until a verifiable denuclearization agreement is reached with North Korea, the U.S. nuclear umbrella over South Korea should remain in force.

The Task Force urges consideration of a structural change in the U.S.-South Korean military relationship designed to show greater sensitivity to South Korean sovereignty and to keep pace with progress in improving North-South, and North Korean-U.S. relations. In place of the tightly- integrated U.S.-South Korean Combined Forces Command, the United States and South Korea should move toward a command structure that provides South Korean forces with increasingly greater autonomy, including the eventual return of wartime operational control. Many aspects of the U.S.-Japan model, in which two separate operational structures are linked on a cooperative basis, could be adapted to Korea in the context of declining North-South tensions and reciprocal pullbacks from the DMZ. To make such a looser command structure workable, South Korea should commit the resources needed to modernize its command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities with U.S. assistance.

The goal of the United States should be to move from its present “tripwire” role, in which U.S. forces are automatically drawn into any new Korean conflict, to a new role in which it would have greater flexibility in deciding whether to participate in any given conflict situation.


South Korean military forces and defense industries have acquired increasing technological sophistication with U.S. help at a cumulative cost to the United States that has included $7 billion in grant military aid and $12 billion in U.S.-subsidized military sales. The well-trained, well-equipped South Korean forces are now capable of bearing the brunt of any North Korean attack, with U.S. forces in a supportive role. Faced with assuming the principal responsibility for financing and conducting its own defense, South Korea will have an increased incentive for finding a modus vivendi with the North.

Application of the U.S.-Japan model to the revision of the U.S.-South Korean command structure would not be possible in the context of the existing configuration of opposing forces at the DMZ and the attendant stress on time-sensitive and fully-coordinated operations. However, a shift to this model could be studied in preparation for its introduction as tensions decline.

President Kim Dae Jung’s national security adviser, Lim Dong Won, has proposed a 60-mile North-South “Offensive Weapon-Free Zone” in which tanks, mechanized infantry, armored troop carriers and self-propelled artillery would be barred, including artillery using chemical or biological warfare agents. Given the fact that Seoul is closer to the DMZ than Pyongyang, North Korea would have to pull back further than Seoul.

This proposal could be part of broader arms control negotiations that could include other tension-reduction initiatives. In negotiating a mutual pullback zone, the United States could propose that both sides be required to deploy all of their artillery in the open, everywhere in their respective territories, to facilitate inspection and to maximize the warning time that the South would have in the event of an attack in violation of the accord.

For North and South alike, it would be costly to relocate their forces in order to create a mutual pullback zone. As a U.S. Institute of Peace Working Group has observed, “[I]nternational financial support will be necessary to cover certain costs associated with a Korean arms reduction process, including mutual troop and equipment reductions and repositioning.”

Pyongyang: The Case for Nonproliferation With Teeth

Henry Sokolski

After two decades of covert and overt nuclear weapons activities, North Korea now has the United States and its allies in a tight spot. The reasons why, however, have less to do with what nuclear provocations it might attempt after having violated and withdrawn from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) than what, if anything, the world is prepared to do about it. Further mischief following Pyongyang’s April Beijing warning that it might test or export its nuclear weapons might be unavoidable; inaction against Pyongyang’s shredding of the NPT, however, is not.1

So far, the Bush administration has rejected the idea of attacking North Korea’s nuclear facilities. At the same time, President George W. Bush has made it clear that Pyongyang must not be rewarded for its proliferation even as he has kept the door open to diplomatic solutions. More than merely avoiding bombing or bribing, though, will be needed to curb international and east Asian proliferation. In addition, the United States and its allies will have to cut off illicit flows of hard currency to North Korea’s military, which is using this money to finance improvements in its strategic weaponry. Also, to block North Korea and other proliferators from possibly exporting weapons of mass destruction, the UN Security Council needs to toughen the international rules against proliferation, starting with a ban on countries deploying nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons outside of their borders.2 Although establishing such restraints will be challenging, it will be far easier to tackle now—using the war against Iraq and the crisis in North Korea as reasons—than trying to manage the large and unruly crowd of weapons states that otherwise will arise if we fail to act.

What Is at Stake

Having withdrawn from the NPT and insisted that it has a right to develop strategic weaponry, Pyongyang could fire missiles over Japan, test a nuclear weapon, or make ever larger amounts of nuclear-weapon material. If Pyongyang were to take any of these steps, it would surely be provocative. Yet, none of these threats, or blocking them, is as critical to assuring international security as holding North Korea accountable for its earlier violations of the NPT. If Pyongyang is properly taken to task on this score, officials in Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Algeria, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Russia, and China will reconsider proliferation actions they might otherwise take. But if Pyongyang’s violations prior to its NPT withdrawal are ignored or rewarded,3 many of these states will conclude that proliferation pays or that, at least, if they acquire or help others get strategic weapons, they will not be penalized.

Recent developments in Iran and Iraq, moreover, will only fortify this conclusion. As Pyongyang recently argued, Iraq made a fatal error in allowing intrusive inspections.4 Would not countries be in a better position to deal with hostile states if they instead developed nuclear capabilities that could bring them within weeks of a large arsenal of weapons, as Pyongyang and Tehran will soon be able to do?

If enough countries decide the answer is yes, an unprecedented round of proliferation is in store. North Korea and Iran could produce scores of bombs. Japan and China could make thousands. Taiwan and South Korea, who have already tried to obtain nuclear weapons at least once, might try again. Saudi Arabia—reported to have bankrolled Pakistan’s program—might counter Iran’s increased nuclear ambiguity by asking Islamabad for help. In fact, so long as Pakistan retains so-called control of the nuclear weapons it might station on Saudi soil, Riyadh can claim it is in compliance with the NPT.5 Egyptian security experts, meanwhile, are also openly discussing the need to acquire a nuclear weapons option. Noting how little the United States has done to counter North Korea, India, or Pakistan, they are fully supportive of the Egyptian energy minister’s plans to emulate Syria’s announced scheme to build a nuclear desalinization plant with Russian help.6

In addition, Libya, according to Israel, is developing a weapons program with Iraqi nuclear scientists’ help.7 Then there is Algeria—a country that a decade ago was caught building a large covert research reactor in a remote, heavily defended desert location.8 Finally, Turkey has made it clear that it expects NATO and the European Union to back Turkey’s security vigorously (with sanctions against Iran and explicit nuclear guarantees for Turkey if need be) if Iran continues its proliferation activities, as expected. Whether or not Ankara will draw nearer to Israel and seek nuclear cooperative ties with it if Europe rebuffs Turkey, as Europe has done in the past, remains unclear.9

Would any of these states actually give nuclear help to groups such as al Qaeda or Hamas? One has to hope the answer is no. Still, there is good reason to fear that several of these states, once they were suspected of having or actually acquired nuclear arms, would be more inclined to give terrorist organizations safe harbor since, unlike Afghanistan, they would then have the nuclear insurance needed to keep the United States and its allies at bay.

The result, 10-15 years hence, would be a world crowded not only with hostile, suspected nuclear states but also with nuclearized friends—who, when the United States needed their help, would tend, like France, to go their own way. Rather than stability, this world would foment more diplomatic and military intrigue than any bureaucracy could ever hope to reign in—a global l914, spring-loaded to go nuclear.

This is a future worth avoiding and helps explain why North Korea’s violation of the NPT demands attention now. The question is how.

Don’t Bomb, Don’t Grovel

The two most frequently discussed options for addressing Pyongyang’s nuclear misdeeds are either striking its nuclear facilities or giving it the mutual nonaggression pact and the reestablishment of the Agreed Framework it is demanding in exchange for a pledge of some form of nuclear self-restraint. Each option is simple enough. Each has its backers. Neither, however, should be pursued.

Certainly, targeting North Korea’s known bomb-making facilities makes no sense. It not only risks a more frightening North Korean counterstrike against South Korea’s own reactors but also a complete breakdown of our security relations with Tokyo and Seoul. Bombing what we can target also leaves Pyongyang with what we cannot—one or more covert bombs and a set of hidden uranium-weapons plants that could provide the material for several more bombs a year.

On the other hand, giving Pyongyang the mutual nonaggression pact it craves—one that would recognize and treat it as the United States’ equal—would only confirm to the world’s nuclear wannabes, starting with Iran, that going nuclear wins you what you want. Pyongyang, after all, is not just pleading out of fear. It hopes that if it can make Washington formally agree that North Korea is no longer a military threat, South Korean support for stationing U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula will implode and Pyongyang’s hand in negotiating the terms of Korean unification would be strengthened.

Nuclear inspections might sound appealing, but in North Korea, where the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has hardly gone much further than its first inspections in l992, they would have far less of a chance at success than what the IAEA and other UN inspectors with UNSCOM and UNMOVIC might have achieved over the last three decades in Iraq. Put aside that Pyongyang has publicly rejected the idea of ever allowing the IAEA to complete the inspections it was blocked from carrying out more than a decade ago. Ignore that North Korea has scorned Iraq for having committed the grave error of submitting itself to intrusive UN inspections.10 Gloss over the United States’ lack of information about the location of its uranium-bomb-making facilities or weapons plutonium. The fact is that, unless Pyongyang has a major change of heart and gives up its tyrannical ambitions to unify the peninsula under its military control, there is no way to be sure that it has surrendered all of its hidden nuclear assets. Although we must demand that Pyongyang accept intrusive IAEA inspections, we must also recognize that without a North Korea eager to prove that it is out of the bomb-making business, inspections will never find what they must to force Pyongyang to disarm.11

What, then, should we do? Pyongyang might make more nuclear weapons.12 It may export its nuclear capabilities; North Koreans recently were sighted at Iran’s uranium-enrichment plants.13 It might fire nuclear-capable rockets over its neighbors. All of these threats are real. None, however, is worth jeopardizing the U.S. alliances with Japan and South Korea, which is exactly what the United States will risk if it starts a war that is unwinnable without them. Each of the threats, moreover, can be mitigated if the United States and its friends act now to rein in Pyongyang.

How? First, the United States must continue to protect its troops and allies. Second, the United States must stop helping the North Korean military. In February, Japan’s foreign minister pleaded with the United Nations to do more to block Pyongyang’s illicit drug exports to Japan. This trade, which violates international strictures against selling drugs, is conducted entirely by North Korea’s military and annually nets it several hundred million dollars in hard currency. Pyongyang spends a good portion of this money to acquire foreign parts and technology that it still needs to complete its two unfinished military reactors, its uranium-bomb plants, and its long-range missiles. North Korea’s share of the Japanese illicit drug market is estimated to be approaching 50 percent.14

Meanwhile, there are Seoul’s cash transfers. Hyundai, South Korea’s most subsidized entity and the largest corporate sponsor of Seoul’s “sunshine” policy, is reported to have funneled $1.68 billion directly to Pyongyang. North Korea, in turn, has used this cash to feed its modernizing military.15 Like lax anti-drug enforcement, letting these cash payoffs continue is not only cynical, it is dangerous.

The United States, unfortunately, is culpable as well. It is helping North Korea construct two large power reactors. Each of these plants is capable of making more than 50 bombs worth of near weapons-grade plutonium in the first 15 months of operation.16 President Bill Clinton promised these reactors in 1994 to persuade North Korea to comply with the NPT. Earlier this year, North Korea withdrew from the treaty and was condemned by the IAEA’s Board of Governors for violating it. Yet, construction of the reactors and the sharing of nuclear technology—all useful to train the next generation of North Korean bomb makers—continues.

Washington’s diplomats, still anxious to reach some agreement with Pyongyang, want to retain the option of completing these plants. The result is growing suspicion abroad that Washington is less interested in enforcing the NPT than in finding a way to paper over its nuclear differences with Pyongyang.

As with Iraq, which defied the NPT and now is banned from receiving so-called peaceful nuclear technology, Pyongyang’s nuclear cheating should also disqualify it from possessing nuclear reactors. The White House, however, has yet to announce publicly that it is unwilling to waive the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, which forbids the United States from giving nuclear goods to NPT violators. Encouraged by this silence, South Korea and Japan continue to build the reactors, hoping that Washington might still ship the U.S. parts and technology needed to finish them.17

What else helps Pyongyang modernize its military power base? Counterfeiting, skimming from gambling operations in Japan, and selling ballistic missiles and related technology to whoever will buy them. Together, these rackets earn its military hundreds of millions of dollars a year.18 Improved law enforcement in the region, with assistance from the United States, like-minded countries, and the United Nations could help curb this trade, as would passage of proposed and pending measures in Japan.

These steps, of course, will not eliminate the North Korean nuclear threat. Nor can they entirely preclude Pyongyang from making additional fissile material for nuclear weapons or selling its nuclear capabilities. But they should alert other would-be bomb makers—who have already misread the U.S. silence and are now chomping at the bit—that there is a price for violating the NPT and no reward for going nuclear.

These steps also do not rule out the possibility of diplomacy and negotiations. But they will take certain things off the table—nonaggression pacts and reactors—that should not be there. At the same time, acting on these measures now should make it easier to insist, as the United States must, that North Korea be deprived of any new benefits until it proves to the IAEA and the world that it is entirely out of the bomb-making business. Finally, if Pyongyang continues to misbehave, implementing these measures should put the United States and its allies in a much better position to garner broader support to do more—something paying tribute or attacking militarily now would all but rule out.

A Nonproliferation Regime With Teeth

Pursuing these measures against Pyongyang should help make it clear that violating the NPT bears a price. None, however, will be sufficient to check North Korea if it decides to export its nuclear capabilities. Against this possibility, nothing less than an international interdiction effort against Pyongyang will do. Unfortunately, convincing China and Russia to join in singling out Pyongyang might not be easy.

This recommends a different strategy, one that is country-neutral but has enforcement mechanisms. Instead of targeting countries, this approach would ban dangerous proliferation activities. Unlike existing proliferation limits, however, this one would actually authorize states to act to assure adherence.

Such a regime should first focus on what everyone ought to agree should be banned: the deployment of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons outside of one’s borders. Such a ban would be hard to argue against. North Korea, after all, is not the only country that needs minding. Iran, for instance, has announced it wants to share its nuclear capabilities. It also is unclear what, if any, of his chemical arsenal Saddam Hussein might have redeployed to other countries for safekeeping.19

To address these concerns, the UN Security Council should authorize states to board and inspect any vessel or vehicle if there is reason to believe they are carrying weapons of mass destruction. This should be done with the permission of the country of origin or the flag carrier nation if possible, but without it if not. Like Great Britain and its interdiction of the slave trade in the l800s, the United Nations must make it clear that redeploying weapons of mass destruction to other states is too reprehensible to allow the perpetrators of such actions the protection of international law.

Assuming UN agreement could be reached on this limited ban, other dangerous items, such as the unique ingredients needed to make chemical and nuclear weapons, might be added. But initially, the proposal should not be burdened with such issues. The debate over just a nuclear weapons redeployment ban would be large enough.

Should past arms deployments, such as the U.S. stationing of nuclear weapons in Germany, be reversed? If foreign deployment of chemical, nuclear, or biological weapons is banned, should countries still be allowed to share the means to make such weapons? How should the lines be drawn between safe and dangerous weapons-related activities and materials? Is it sensible to allow states such as Iran to acquire all the so-called civilian facilities necessary to arrive within weeks of having a large arsenal of nuclear weapons? Is it reasonable to ask other countries to forgo acquiring weapons of mass destruction unless the states that have them reduce their own security reliance on them? How far might regime change in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea go to obviate other states’ will to proliferate?

All of these questions and more are sure to be raised by a proposal to toughen existing nonproliferation rules. The United States and its friends, however, should welcome such debate. Indeed, if the final outcome of taking North Korea’s violation of the NPT seriously is to reopen these issues and finally put teeth into the weapons restraints that international security requires, the tight spot Pyongyang now has the United States and its allies in will only serve to assure that Washington and its friends avoid much bigger crises later.


1. See, Glenn Kessler, “N. Korea Says It Has Nuclear Arms: At Talks with U.S. Pyongyang Threatens ‘Demonstration’ or Export of Weapon,” The Washington Post, April 25, 2003, p. A1.

2. Although conventions on chemical and biological weapons already prohibit states from producing or stockpiling chemical or biological weapons, at least 20 countries are believed to possess such weapons, including states that have signed one or both of the conventions.

3. Pyongyang has a sovereign right to withdraw from the NPT. It is still liable, however, for any violations committed before its withdrawal.

4. Howard French, “North Korea Says Its Arms Will Deter U.S. Attack,” The New York Times, April 7, 2003.

5. The NPT (see articles I and II) allows countries to accept nuclear weapons on their soil (as NATO and Warsaw Pact countries did from the United States and Russia, respectively) so long as they stay under the control of the nation that redeployed them. A nonweapons member to the NPT can even accept such “controlled” weapons from states (e.g., Pakistan) that are not members of the NPT. This point has not been lost on either the Pakistanis or Saudis. See Patrick Clawson, “Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East: Who Is Next After Iran?” A presentation at The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, April 2003, available at http://www.npec-web.org/project/clawson; Richard Russell, “A Saudi Nuclear Option?” Survival, 43, no. 2 (Summer 2001), p. 75; Global Security.org, “Saudi Arabia Special Weapons,” available at http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/saudi/; Anthony H. Cordesman, “The Evolving Threat from Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East,” hosted by the U.S. State Department.

6. Emily Landau, “Egypt’s Nuclear Dilemma,” Strategic Assessment, 5, no. 3 (November 2002); Andrew Jack and Stephan Fiddler, “Russia in Talks to Build Syrian Nuclear Reactor,” Financial Times, January 15, 2003; Yotam Feldner, “Egypt Rethinks Its Nuclear Program, Parts I, II, and III,” MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis Series (l18, 119, and 120), January 17 and 22, 2003.

7. Ross Dunn, “Libya Leads Arab Race for Nuclear Bomb—Sharon,” Sydney Morning Herald, September 6, 2002.

8. David Albright and Corey Hinderstein, “Algeria: Big Deal in the Desert,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 57, no. 3 (May/June 2001), pp. 45-52; M. Gonzales and J. M. Laraya, “Spanish Intelligence Warns of Algerian Nuclear Potential,” El Pais, August 23, l998, available at http://www.fas.org/news/algeria/fbis-tac-98-235.htm.

9. See Clawson, “Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East.”

10. Sang-Hun Choe, “North Korea Views to Prohibit UN Inspections,” Associated Press, April 12, 2003; BBC, “North Korea Rejects Nuclear Checks,” December 4, 2002.

11. Nautilus Institute’s April 11, 2003, reprint of three reports from the Korean Central News Agency and Nodong Sinmun, “Military-First Ideology Is and Ever Victorious Invincible Banner for Our Era’s Cause of Independence,” available at http://www.nautilus.org/pub/ftp/napsnet/special_reports/MilitaryFirstDPRK.txt.

12. “Beyond the Agreed Framework: The DPRK’s Projected Atomic Bomb Making Capabilities, 2002-2009,” available at www.npec-web.org/pages/fissile.htm.

13. Glenn Kessler, “Group Alleges New Nuclear Site in Iran,” The Washington Post, February 20, 2003, p. A31; Joby Warrick and Glenn Kessler, “Iran’s Nuclear Program Speeds Ahead,” The Washington Post, March 10, 2003, p. A1.

14. Mari Yamasuchi, “North Korea Plying Its Drugs in Japan,” Associated Press, March 4, 2003, reprinted in The Washington Times, March 14, 2003. See also Jamie Tarabay, “Australia Charges N. Korean Ship’s Crew in Drug Case, The Washington Post, April 22, 2003, p. A15; Jay Solomon, “Heroin Busts Point to Source of Funds for North Koreans,” The Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2003, p. A1.

15. Jay Solomon and Hae Won Choi, “How Hyundai’s Quest for Ties to North Korea Worked to Its Detriment,” The Asian Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2003, p. A1.

16. “The Special Problem of the Beginning-of-Life and End-of-Life Fuel Discharges” in Verifying the Agreed Framework, Michael May, ed., (Lawrence Livermore, CA: Center for Global Security Research, April 2001), pp. 49-50, 64-65. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory estimated that 330 kilograms of more than 80 percent plutonium 239 would be produced during the first 15 months of normal operation of a 1-gigawatt light-water reactor.

17. Seoul’s and Tokyo’s commercial motivations to continue construction of the reactors include redemption of more than $3 billion in public bond offerings, Korean corporate welfare, and a desire to demonstrate Korea Electric Power Company’s ability to build and export reactors to less-developed nations.

18. Matthew Engel, “Drugs and Forgery Sustain North Korean Economy,” The Guardian, January 20, 2003; Daniel Cooney, “Many North Korea Exports Go to Black Market,” Associated Press, April 11, 2003; Nicholas Eberstadt, “A Turn of the Screw,” Time Asia, February 28, 2003.

19. “Syria’s Role: Fierce Words, Tied Hands,” The Economist, April 5, 2003, p. 28.


Henry Sokolski is executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington, D.C., and author of The Best of Intentions: America’s Campaign Against Strategic Weapons Proliferation (Praeger, 2001).


Steering Between Red Lines: A South Korean View

Haksoon Paik

South Koreans have worried for months that a war between the United States and North Korea was imminent, awaiting only the conclusion of the U.S.-led military campaign against Iraq. They have asked what South Korea can do to avert a war and obtain a peaceful and negotiated resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem. Most urgently, they have asked what should be done to initiate a dialogue and prevent North Korea or the United States from crossing red lines—taking steps that will prompt the other side to retaliate strongly, including the use of military force.

So, even though Seoul was disappointed to be excluded, there was widespread relief in South Korea when the United States and North Korea sat down to talks hosted by China April 23-25. The trilateral talks in Beijing turned out to be half success and half failure. North Korea “set forth a bold new proposal” for the settlement of the nuclear issue1 but admitted that it had nuclear arms and claimed to have nearly completed reprocessing plutonium from more than 8,000 spent fuel rods at Yongbyon.2

Emotions in South Korea have shifted as people have learned more about what went on in talks: from disappointment over North Korea’s admission of its nuclear arsenal and reprocessing claims3 to a more positive outlook after North Korea’s offers and demands in the Beijing talks were disclosed. These developments indicate the difficult nature of the problem and how discouraging and time-consuming it will be to try to end the nuclear standoff, with brief periods of hope interspersed with much longer episodes of mistrust and confrontation. They also indicate that the new South Korean government will face problems gathering accurate intelligence as well as policy challenges in shaping its approach to Pyongyang.

This article will explain South Korea’s objectives in dealing with the North Korean nuclear problem and the domestic and external constraints Seoul faces in achieving its policy objectives. It will also examine what Pyongyang has offered and demanded in the Beijing trilateral talks and the hurdles that lie ahead for the South Korean government on the path toward a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Finally, policy recommendations for the South Korean, U.S., and North Korean governments are proposed.

South Korea’s Objectives

South Korea’s objectives in dealing with the North Korean nuclear problem are to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and to secure a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. The new Roh government has put forth three principles in dealing with the North Korean nuclear problem: zero tolerance for North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, a peaceful resolution of the situation through dialogue, and South Korea’s active role in solving it.4

A more immediate and specific goal for South Korea has been to prevent North Korea and the United States from crossing each other’s red lines. The United States and South Korea have not officially specified what actions would constitute such a step in order to maintain flexibility in responding to contingencies. South Korean and U.S. officials, however, have indicated that North Korea would cross the line if it begins reprocessing plutonium from spent fuel rods at the radiochemical laboratory in Yongbyon. Plutonium reprocessing would mean North Korea has clearly decided to develop nuclear weapons, because it is an activity that serves no purpose in its civilian nuclear power generation. In addition, if North Korea were to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal, it would almost certainly trigger a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia, undermining the fundamental security interests of South Korea, Japan, the United States, China, and Russia.

The United States, on the other hand, will cross North Korea’s red line if it places UN sanctions or additional sanctions of its own on North Korea. Such a step would likely provoke a drastic reaction from Pyongyang: the North Korean crisis is at root an economic crisis, and North Korea has repeatedly declared that it would regard any sanctions as an act of war, voiding the armistice treaty that has been the foundation of maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula since the end of the Korean War.5

To be sure, the likelihood of a war in Korea is quite slim.6 For President Roh, however, avoiding such a conflict has become almost an obsession; he has refused to contemplate or even give lip service to the possibility of war on the Korean Peninsula. His behavior appears to have been based on two strategic calculations. First, that the United States cannot override the South Korean government’s opposition to a war in Korea, and secondly, that a refusal even to consider a war will most effectively prevent a conflict from breaking out.

In this vein, it is noteworthy that Roh explained his decision to dispatch South Korean military engineering and medical units to help the U.S.-led war efforts in Iraq by saying that “extending help to the United States in time of adversity and solidifying Korea-U.S. relations” is “far more helpful to resolving the North Korean nuclear problem peacefully.”7

Domestic Constraints

The South Korean government faces a serious domestic division over how to deal with North Korea and the nuclear problem. This division has much to do with political and ideological fault lines within South Korea and even Roh’s own political base. These divisions reflect different views of how to balance the importance of inter-Korean relations against relations between South Korea and the United States.

Those internal political and ideological divisions most recently surfaced in an unprecedented National Assembly debate on a resolution authorizing the dispatch of engineering and medical troops to Iraq. The vote was 179 in favor of the dispatch and 68 against, with 9 abstentions.8 Particularly noteworthy was that almost half of the legislators of the governing Millennium Democratic Party who were present voted against the resolution, despite a personal appeal from Roh. The president had to rely for most of his support on the conservative opposition Grand National Party, which strongly supported the measure.

The fact that this vote did not fall strictly along traditional party lines indicates that Roh faces a complex and tricky future in trying to steer between U.S. demands and his own political base when it comes to North Korea. He also faces pressures from civic groups that aided him in his recent election. South Koreans’ national pride, amply demonstrated during and since the presidential election last year,9 tends to defy what they see as unjust and unfair foreign intervention, including heavy-handed policies by the United States toward North Korea, and will constrain the scope of Roh’s actions in a serious way. At the same time, South and North Korea are fundamentally competing authorities in a divided Korea, engaged in a rivalry for the loyalty of the Korean people.

In addition to the difficulty of obtaining a national consensus on how to strike a balance between inter-Korean national cooperation and the South Korean-U.S. alliance, a more serious problem is the lack of communication between those who uphold nationalistic ideas of inter-Korean cooperation and those who advocate a South Korean-U.S. alliance in dealing with North Korea.

North Korea’s confusing behavior has complicated the problem further. Although it demanded that Seoul give inter-Korean cooperation greater emphasis than cooperation with the United States, North Korea blocked South Korea from participating in the aforementioned multilateral dialogue to be held in Beijing.10  North Korea then followed this rebuke to Seoul the next day by requesting food and fertilizer assistance from South Korea.11 North Korea’s self-contradictory and cold water-throwing behavior of this kind poses an additional challenge for Roh in conducting his North Korea policy and nuclear diplomacy.

External Constraints

There are several external constraints for the South Korean government in dealing with the North Korean nuclear problem. First, North Korea lacks trust in the United States, particularly after President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” statement in his 2002 State of the Union address, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and last year’s U.S. national strategy document calling for efforts to change regimes if necessary to remove weapons of mass destruction from rogue states.

That was not only the bit of Bush rhetoric that rankled Pyongyang. For instance, Bush’s declaration to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that he “loathed” North Korean leader Kim Jong Il12 indicates that it will not be easy for Bush to develop a working relationship with Kim even if dialogue begins between Washington and Pyongyang for a peaceful and diplomatic resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem.

North Korea has also grown more distrustful of South Korea’s handling of inter-Korean relations, as demonstrated by its decisions to postpone the North-South Korean ministers’ talks until late April and exclude South Korea from the multilateral dialogue to be held in Beijing.

At the same time, the United States’ complete lack of trust in North Korea also represents a serious constraint for Seoul. North Korea violated the 1994 Agreed Framework, withdrew from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and even admitted in the Beijing talks that it possessed nuclear weapons and was completing the process of extracting weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel rods. Whatever the explanation, these actions have strengthened U.S. distrust in North Korea and emboldened hardliners opposed to negotiations.13

Meanwhile, in order for Seoul’s views to receive more credence in the United States, South Korea will have to overcome continued U.S. concerns about Roh. The South Korean president’s image in Washington has improved greatly since his decision to dispatch military units to Iraq, but Roh does not only have to convince U.S. government officials. He also faces pressure from international investors worried about war and U.S-South Korean tensions. Only five years after a major financial crisis battered the South Korean economy, Roh is deeply concerned that a worsening of the nuclear standoff, let alone a military confrontation, will sap the strength of the South Korean economy.

Taken together, the pressure from government and business circles in the United States is encouraging Roh to pursue policies to tamp down the crisis and soothe strains with Washington. In this regard, the first summit meeting between Roh and Bush to be held in mid-May 2003 will be a crucial opportunity for both leaders to dispel any remaining doubts.

The Beijing Talks

North Korea appears to have offered “a new bold proposal” that included a nonaggression pledge from the United States, normalization of relations between the two countries, and U.S. support for North Korean economic cooperation with South Korea and Japan. The North Korean proposal also called for compensation for the electricity loss incurred from the long-delayed construction of two light-water reactors (LWRs) called for under the 1994 Agreed Framework and the delivery of the reactors to North Korea as soon as possible. It is important to note that Pyongyang appears to have dropped the demand that the nonaggression pledge take the form of a treaty and has not demanded a new economic assistance package.

In return, North Korea would agree to dismantle its nuclear facilities and have the United States verify that it had done so. Pyongyang said that such a deal could also include suspending tests and exports of long-range ballistic missiles.

North Korea’s offer addresses all of the basic concerns and demands of the United States regarding the North Korean nuclear and missile problems. North Korea’s proposal represents a reasonable compromise that could lead to a comprehensive give-and-take and a resolution of the nuclear crisis.


The South Korean government has preferred to deal with the North Korean nuclear problem outside the UN Security Council. Seoul believes that North Korea is resistant to any discussion of the North Korean nuclear problem at the United Nations, given that North Korea believes UN discussions of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction encouraged the U.S. invasion of that country.14 So, the Roh government has proposed to work in such a way that tension would be diffused and war averted in Korea without involving the United Nations and without provoking North Korea. The multilateral format of dialogue held in Beijing caters to South Korea’s preference to solve the North Korean nuclear crisis outside the United Nations.

It appears, however, that the hurdles the South Korean government has to overcome in solving the North Korean nuclear crisis lie on both the domestic and external fronts: how to minimize domestic criticism for not having stood against or resolutely punished North Korea’s effort to develop nuclear weapons; how to make North Korea include South Korea and ensure its participation in future dialogue and negotiations at the earliest possible time; how to goad China and the United States into heeding South Korea’s interests; how to ensure that decisions reached at the end of the negotiations fairly share the burden; and above all, how to ensure that North Korea destroys its nuclear weapons and reverses its reprocessing of plutonium from the spent fuel rods (if North Korea had done so as was indicated in the April 18, 2003 statement15) or how to prevent it from reprocessing.

Another obstacle is U.S. opposition to South Korea taking a mediation role with North Korea rather than giving the straightforward support that the United States has come to expect from its ally. The Roh government has tried to ease this concern by emphasizing that South Korea is trying to contribute proactively to solving matters of common security for the common good of the United States and South Korea.

Finally, some segments in the South Korean political and civil societies, mostly conservative presses and opposition politicians, tend to echo the arguments and demands of the neoconservative elements in the United States. This reflects the political and ideological division in South Korean society, but it could also unintentionally serve the purpose of raising tension on the Korean Peninsula.

Policy Suggestions

The dialogue and negotiations for a peaceful and diplomatic resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem has now become a more complex and time-consuming process after the unsuccessful multilateral talks in Beijing. The problems involved, including the lack of trust between the two countries, are complicated and deep-rooted, and there are other important pending issues to be solved between the United States and North Korea besides the nuclear issue. In addition, an increase in the number of the states involved in negotiations will make talks more complicated.

A wide range of policy options and instruments should be considered for a comprehensive solution of the North Korean nuclear problem, but a few suggestions should be considered by the South Korean, U.S., and North Korean governments.

First, the United States should treat North Korea’s demands and offers at the Beijing talks very positively and put forth its own demands and offers in the same constructive spirit. In addition, South Korea should encourage both the United States and North Korea to proactively accommodate each other’s demands and offers.

Second, North Korea must give up its nuclear bombs and must not reprocess plutonium from the spent fuel rods and test fire long-range ballistic missiles, however bumpy the path of negotiations lying ahead might be. If North Korea has developed nuclear weapons, it must dismantle them. If North Korea has already reprocessed plutonium, it must agree to transfer it to a third country under IAEA supervision. All these should be accomplished through good-faith negotiations that take into account the security concerns of all of the countries involved.

Third, the United States and South Korea should jointly make clear that they will not tolerate North Korea possessing nuclear bombs or reprocessing plutonium. If North Korea does not cooperate in giving them up, it should be given an unequivocal warning that such an act would demonstrate that North Korea is abandoning efforts to improve its relationship with the outside world, hastening its own collapse. The United States should also start preparing a series of contingency measures in order to avoid a worst-case scenario.

Fourth, Washington should refrain from imposing additional sanctions of any kind on Pyongyang before exhausting non-sanction options. South Korea should make sure that any sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council or by the United States be preceded by substantial dialogue between the United States and North Korea. Sanctions will end any chance of dialogue and will not be easy to revoke once applied.

Fifth, the United States should accept that, even though the U.S.-North Korea dialogue might take place within a multilateral framework, bilateral discussions must take center stage. North Korea should not continue to exclude South Korea from participating in the multilateral dialogue, however, and South Korea should make clear that if its participation in a future dialogue is not guaranteed at the earliest possible time, its cooperation will be limited because of domestic political reasons.

Finally, South Korea and the United States should each establish a special North Korea policy coordinator. An individual of high caliber with proven negotiation experience should be appointed and given comprehensive negotiating power. Policy coordination between South Korea, the United States, and Japan is needed more than ever for a successful resolution of the nuclear crisis.


1. “DPRK Foreign Ministry spokesman on U.S. attitude toward DPRK-U.S. talks,” Korean Central News Agency, April 25, 2003.

2. Kessler, Glenn. “N. Korea Says It Has Nuclear Arms,” The Washington Post, April 25, 2003, p. A1.

3. David E. Sanger, “North Korea Says It Now Possesses Nuclear Arsenal,” The New York Times, April 24, 2003.

4. “Explanation of the Peace and Prosperity Policy,” Ministry of Unification, Republic of Korea, March 10, 2003.

5. “Spokesman for Panmunjom Mission of Korean People’s Army Issues Statement,” Korean Central News Agency, Feb. 19, 2003; “South Korean ‘National Assembly’s’ Argument about ‘Sanctions’ Failed,” Korean Central News Agency, April 7, 2003.

6. There are several reasons for this. On the U.S. side, President George W. Bush does not appear to want to take politically foolish measures to further split public opinion at home and estrange friends and allies abroad after the war in Iraq. Nor does he seem to want to have another war with North Korea, whose geopolitical environment and topography are vastly different from those of Iraq. It is also clear that several U.S. Army divisions will have to be tied to Iraq for a considerable period of time. Furthermore, Bush has to have an economic recovery at home more than anything else for his re-election next year. On the other hand, North Korea has begun to accommodate new developments in international politics. A military confrontation with the United States would mean a beginning of the collapse of the North Korean regime. Against this backdrop, North Korea decided to accept a multilateral format of dialogue, which the United States has demanded. The April 18 announcement on reprocessing plutonium is yet to be confirmed.

7. Address by President Roh Moo-hyun at the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, April 2, 2003.

8. Minutes No. 1 of the Plenary Session of the 238th National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, April 2, 2003.

9. Roh Moo-hyun’s victory in the presidential election in December 2002 was seen to symbolize a rebirth of national pride in South Korea. South Koreans chose Roh as their leader in an effort to continue national reconciliation with North Korea, show support for a negotiated resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem, and stop perceived unfair U.S. treatment of the Korean people, as was demonstrated in the huge candlelight protest against two girls’ death by a U.S. armored vehicle in June 2002. In contrast, his contester, Lee Hoi-chang of the Grand National Party, was viewed as pro-American during the presidential campaign.

10. Yonhap News Agency, April 16, 2003.

11. Yonhap News Agency, April 17, 2003.

12. Bob Woodward, Bush at War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), p. 340.

13. David E. Sanger, “Administration Divided Over North Korea,” The New York Times, April 21, 2003, p. A15.

14. “Statement of Foreign Ministry Spokesman Blasts U.N. Security Council’s Discussion of Korean Nuclear Issue,” Korean Central News Agency, April 7, 2003.

15. As of April 25, 2003, there is not enough evidence that North Korea has been reprocessing plutonium except the country’s announcement to that effect.

Haksoon Paik is director of the Inter-Korean Relations Studies Program at the Sejong Institute in Korea, an independent think tank devoted to the research of security, unification, and foreign policy issues for the development of South Korea’s national strategy.


Top Administration Official Comments on Bush's North Korea Policy; United States, North Korea Set to Meet Later This Month



For Immediate Release: April 16, 2003

Press Contacts: Daryl Kimball, (202) 277-3478 or Paul Kerr, (202) 463-8270 x102

(Washington, D.C.): In a possible breakthrough, the United States, North Korea, and China will hold direct talks in Beijing later this month to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear program, according to press reports today. The months-long crisis began when the United States stated in October that North Korea admitted to a covert nuclear weapons program and has deteriorated to the point that North Korea announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in January. Pyongyang is now on the verge of being able to resume the separation of plutonium for building nuclear weapons. The announcement of the trilateral talks is clearly a positive development, but it leaves many unanswered questions about the substance of proposals from each side, and whether they can lead to a verifiable dismantlement of Pyongyang's suspected nuclear weapons program and enhanced security in the region.

During an April 15 interview with Arms Control Today, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton described several salient elements of the Bush administration's North Korea policy.

Bolton stated that the United States has no preconditions for multilateral talks, but the administration expects the "complete verified dismantlement of the North Korean nuclear weapons program" before bilateral talks can proceed.

When asked about the administration's verification proposals, Bolton explained that the administration is discussing the matter internally and does not "have a final package at the moment."

Bolton further indicated that the Bush administration is considering reviving a comprehensive political and economic package vis-à-vis North Korea if it dismantles its nuclear program. He said, "I think it's a possibility, but as I said-as was the case in October- they have to have the dismantlement of the nuclear weapons program before that becomes possible."

Bolton also stated that the administration has not specified any particular actions that would trigger punitive actions against North Korea, saying "we haven't declared anything to be a red line." North Korea may be preparing to reprocess spent fuel rods on its territory, which could yield enough material for five or six nuclear weapons in roughly six months.

The entire interview is available on the Arms Control Association's Web site at http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2003_05/bolton_may03.asp.

Excerpts from the Bolton interview will also appear in the upcoming May issue of Arms Control Today, which will also present perspectives and proposals on how to address the North Korean nuclear crisis, including:

  • Michael Swaine of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Alan Romberg of the Henry L. Stimson Center on how negotiations between the United States and North Korea can resolve the crisis.
  • Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center on why penalizing North Korea for its pursuit of nuclear weapons is important to discourage additional countries from illicitly trying to acquire nuclear weapons.
  • Bates Gill and Andrew Thompson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies on China's perspective and future role in resolving the crisis.
  • Matake Kimiya of Japan's National Defense Academy on Japanese attitudes toward North Korea and the potential effects of the crisis on Japan's defense posture.
  • Haksoon Paik of South Korea's Sejong Institute on Seoul's effort to find a middle ground between Washington and Pyongyang.


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North Korea’s Uranium Program Moving Ahead, Kelly Says

Paul Kerr

North Korea’s suspected uranium-enrichment program is “not so far behind” its plutonium-based nuclear program in its capacity to produce nuclear weapons-grade material, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly testified in a March 12 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

Kelly said the uranium-enrichment program could produce fissile material in “probably…months and not years.” This assertion differs somewhat from earlier U.S. government estimates. A February 27 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report cites a December 2002 CIA statement that Pyongyang’s uranium-enrichment program “likely” could produce a nuclear weapon in 2004, apparently supporting Kelly’s claim. Previous reports have indicated that North Korea is building an enrichment plant—with the ability to produce enough fissile material for at least two nuclear weapons per year—that could be operational by mid-decade.

Kelly’s testimony came shortly after the Bush administration’s February 27 announcement that North Korea had restarted a small nuclear reactor that had been frozen by the 1994 Agreed Framework. (See ACT, March 2003.) That reactor could produce approximately one bomb’s worth of plutonium per year, according to the CRS report.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons activities were supposed to have been halted by the 1994 Agreed Framework, under which North Korea agreed to shut down its plutonium-based nuclear facilities, including the reactor, a fuel-rod fabrication plant, a reprocessing plant, and two partially completed larger reactors. In return, the United States agreed to provide two proliferation-resistant reactors and supply North Korea with 500,000 metric tonnes of heating oil each year while the reactors were under construction.

Last October, however, Kelly said North Korea admitted to a U.S. delegation that it was pursuing an illicit uranium-enrichment program in violation of its commitments under the Agreed Framework and other international nuclear nonproliferation commitments. (See ACT, November 2002.)

North Korea’s admission of an enrichment program prompted the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization—the U.S.-led international consortium responsible for implementing the Agreed Framework—to announce in November that it would suspend fuel oil deliveries to North Korea.

In response, North Korea announced in December that it would restart the plutonium-based reactor to produce electricity. During the following weeks, North Korea removed seals and monitoring equipment from its nuclear facilities and ordered IAEA inspectors, who had been charged with monitoring the freeze, out of the country. On January 10, Pyongyang announced that it was withdrawing from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The withdrawal clause of the NPT, however, requires states to give 90 days’ notice before officially withdrawing.

North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT has prompted fears that Pyongyang would begin to reprocess spent fuel rods stored at the reactor site, although North Korea has said it has no plans to produce nuclear weapons. In a March 18 interview with International Wire Services, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that there was no indication that Pyongyang has begun reprocessing the fuel rods.

North Korea could extract enough plutonium for four to six nuclear weapons if it reprocesses the rods, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage testified in February. Kelly stated in his March 12 testimony that North Korea could do this within approximately six months after beginning reprocessing.

A State Department official interviewed March 24 reiterated the administration’s position that reprocessing would be a matter of “grave concern” to the administration, but the official did not elaborate.

Although North Korea currently possesses the fissile material for a nuclear weapon, it remains unclear whether the country has constructed one. Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet stated that North Korea “probably” has “one or two plutonium-based devices” during a February 12 hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. A State Department official was more definite in a January interview, saying that North Korea has already produced these weapons. (See ACT, January/February 2003.)

Missile Test

Meanwhile, it is unclear whether North Korea will continue to adhere to its moratorium on testing long-range missiles. North Korea conducted a missile test March 10—its second in less than a month. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said in a March 10 statement that the missile was a “land to sea cruise missile” that is not covered by the moratorium. The missile tested last month was of a similar type and also did not violate the moratorium, he said.

North Korea denied that it is planning any long-range missile tests in a March 17 statement from the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), but Pyongyang asserted in a March 19 KCNA statement that it has the “sovereign right” to have a “peaceful” missile program. Pyongyang agreed to extend indefinitely its moratorium on missile testing during a September 17 summit between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

It is unclear what effect Japan’s March 28 launch of two spy satellites will have on North Korea’s missile test moratorium. Earlier in March, North Korea said Japan’s plans to launch a satellite threatened its security, and, in response, Pyongyang threatened to break its moratorium on testing long-range missiles if Japan launched a satellite, according to a March 18 KCNA report. Shortly after the satellites were launched, Japanese Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Hatsuhisa Takashima rejected North Korea’s criticism. “[W]e have been making it very clear that this launch of the information-gathering satellite system is not a hostile action, nor does it pose a threat to anybody,” he said in a March 28 press briefing.

U.S. Policy

Washington’s position that a resolution to the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program should be negotiated through a multilateral forum remains unchanged. Fleischer reiterated in a March 19 statement that the administration’s policies “focus on working in a multilateral fashion with…other nations involved” to achieve a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue, although he added that “all options are on the table,” which could include military force.

Kelly said in March 12 testimony that the administration will engage in direct discussions with Pyongyang, but “in a multilateral context,” although he added that Washington is not “ruling out” engaging in bilateral talks. Kelly also stated that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) must be involved in any verification agreement.

Powell suggested in a March 6 Senate Appropriations Committee hearing that Washington is engaged in some behind-the-scenes diplomacy to “get a multilateral dialogue started,” but no multilateral talks have been announced.

North Korea continues to reject multilateral talks and the involvement of the IAEA, arguing in a March 11 KCNA statement that the United States has threatened its security and is trying to “evade its responsibility” for the current crisis.

North Korea continues to call for bilateral negotiations with the United States to resolve the dispute over its nuclear programs and other security issues. The country has said it would consider a U.S.-North Korea verification agreement but not international inspections. North Korea also continued to call on the United States to “conclude a non-aggression treaty” and reiterated charges that the United States is planning to attack North Korea, citing recent U.S. military exercises with South Korea and the addition of some U.S. military forces in the region.

Although Washington has rejected Pyongyang’s demand for a treaty, the Bush administration has repeatedly said that it has no plans to attack North Korea, and Kelly referred to several bilateral U.S. security guarantees in his March 12 testimony as “precedent” for similar future agreements.

Kelly argued March 12 that North Korea’s refusal to engage in multilateral discussions is not Pyongyang’s “final position,” adding that Pyongyang might accept such discussions because it does not want to remain isolated from the world community.

Kelly also asserted that multilateral talks are necessary because North Korea’s actions affect many countries and because such talks will be more effective than bilateral negotiations. Kelly stated March 12 that the bilateral nature of the Agreed Framework made it easier for the North to “abrogate” the agreement. A State Department official interviewed March 24 said North Korea would incur greater costs if it breaks a multilateral agreement, because such an action would affect Pyongyang’s relationship with many countries. Although the Agreed Framework is a bilateral agreement, it obligates North Korea to accept full IAEA safeguards when a “significant portion” of the reactor project is complete.

Kelly also repeated in his March 12 testimony that the administration will not “dole out rewards to…North Korea to live up to its existing obligations” but will consider a “bold approach” to take “economic and political steps” to help North Korea and move the bilateral relationship “towards normalcy” if Pyongyang dismantles its nuclear programs.

Since June 2001, the Bush administration has linked meetings with Pyongyang to discuss missiles and nuclear weapons with other issues, including conventional forces, terrorism sponsorship, and the government’s human rights record.

Washington also continues to argue that North Korea is engaging in provocative behavior in order to blackmail the United States. The State Department official cited Pyongyang’s demand for a nonaggression treaty as evidence of blackmail in a March 24 interview and asserted that North Korea would demand further concessions before it would “live up” to commitments it has already made.

North Korea repeated its claim that it is not engaged in blackmail or asking for a “reward” from the United States in a March 4 KCNA statement, but it wants a guarantee that the United States will not “stifle” Pyongyang “by military force.”

UN Action Stalled

Meanwhile, there has been little movement in U.S. attempts to put pressure on North Korea through the UN Security Council. The IAEA reported the matter to the council when it adopted a resolution February 12 declaring Pyongyang in “further non-compliance” with its obligations under the NPT. The board decided to report the matter to the UN Security Council, in accordance with agency mandates.

A U.S. official interviewed March 24 said that the United States was working with the permanent five members of the Security Council to get draft language approved for a Security Council president’s statement condemning North Korea’s actions and calling for Pyongyang to come back into compliance with its international nonproliferation obligations. China, however, has not been willing to “engage” the other members of the Security Council in drafting the statement, he said.

The official also said that Washington might try to overcome China’s reluctance by sharing the draft language with the rest of the Security Council in an attempt to gain their approval in the hope that Beijing will then go along. China’s approval is essential because such a statement requires consensus from the entire Security Council, he said.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan stated in a March 13 press conference that U.S.-North Korean dialogue is “key” and that Security Council involvement is not “appropriate” at this time.

Several other key countries continue to have reservations about the administration’s approach. Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Georgy Mamedov said in a March 17 interview with the ITAR-Tass news agency that a settlement of the North Korea issue should “include a bilateral dialogue” between Washington and Pyongyang, “supplemented” by a multilateral dialogue.

South Korea also supports a peaceful solution to the crisis, and South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-Kwan stated that Washington should show “more willingness to settle substantial issues” with North Korea, the Associated Press reported March 12.

Takashima expressed somewhat stronger support for the U.S. position in a March 22 statement, arguing that military action is not yet “appropriate” and that the matter “can be resolved diplomatically.”

North Korea’s suspected uranium-enrichment program is “not so far behind” its plutonium-based nuclear program in its capacity to produce nuclear weapons-grade material...

Confronting Ambiguity: How to Handle North Korea's Nuclear Program

Phillip C. Saunders

There are growing divisions over how to deal with North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. For South Korean political leaders, Washington’s unwillingness to negotiate directly with Pyongyang is a barrier to a deal that could resolve the current nuclear crisis peacefully—a view that is shared by Russia, China, and Japan. U.S. officials, on the other hand, are skeptical that a negotiated deal would permanently eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile capabilities, and they believe that pressure and a multilateral dialogue are needed to avoid rewarding North Korea’s bad behavior. As President George W. Bush vowed in his State of the Union address, “A merica and the world will not be blackmailed.”

These contrasting approaches rest largely on differing assessments of North Korea’s objectives. North Korea maintains that it is not out to blackmail anyone, but one of the principal challenges in resolving the current crisis is evaluating Pyongyang’s true intentions. Do North Korean leaders view nuclear weapons as a means of forcibly reunifying the Korean Peninsula? Have they decided that nuclear weapons are essential to the regime’s survival, making a negotiated deal impossible? Or is the nuclear weapons program a bargaining chip that North Korea is prepared to trade away for the right price? These questions are hard to answer. One problem is that reliable information about the internal dynamics of North Korean decision-making is scarce. A second problem is that North Korean leaders have strong incentives to conceal their true intentions in order to maximize their bargaining power and to minimize international reactions to their nuclear weapons program.

The difficulty of assessing North Korean intentions was demonstrated during the negotiation of the 1994 Agreed Framework, under which North Korea froze its nuclear weapons program in exchange for heavy-fuel oil and two light-water reactors. The Agreed Framework capped North Korea’s ability to produce plutonium, but it did not answer the question of whether North Korea already had enough plutonium to make nuclear weapons. A key North Korean objective in the negotiations appeared to be to maintain ambiguity about its nuclear status for as long as possible to maximize its bargaining power. That is why North Korean negotiators rebuffed U.S. demands for immediate special inspections. If inspections revealed that North Korea did not have enough plutonium for nuclear weapons, the United States would take North Korea less seriously, reducing Pyongyang’s negotiating leverage. Conversely, if inspections revealed that North Korea already had sufficient plutonium to build weapons, the United States might not agree to a deal. Ultimately, the Agreed Framework required special inspections that would determine North Korea’s nuclear history before key components of the two nuclear reactors would be delivered. This compromise allowed North Korea to maintain ambiguity about its nuclear capabilities—and bargaining leverage over the United States—for an additional eight years.1

The current crisis began in October 2002, when U.S. officials confronted North Korea with evidence of a uranium-enrichment program, which is a second path to the development of nuclear weapons. North Korean officials reportedly admitted the existence of a nuclear weapons program and began a series of steps to pressure the United States to negotiate with them, despite the U.S. government’s insistence that it would not “reward bad behavior” with concessions. As the crisis has escalated, the Bush administration has continued to refuse to negotiate directly with North Korea until it dismantles its uranium-enrichment program. The United States has tried to mobilize international pressure against the North and to find a multilateral forum for talks that would include the major countries in East Asia.

North Korea says it wants U.S. recognition of North Korea’s sovereignty, security assurances, and no hindrance of the North’s economic development. North Korean officials have stated that, despite their withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), North Korea does not intend to produce nuclear weapons “at this time.” But it is still unclear whether the North Korean uranium-enrichment program should be interpreted as evidence that North Korea intended to cheat on the Agreed Framework all along, that it was hedging against the possible collapse of the framework, or that it sought new negotiating leverage once the framework began to erode.2

The difficulty of accurately assessing North Korea’s nuclear intentions greatly complicates the task of formulating a coordinated and effective policy response. If North Korean leaders are determined to pursue a nuclear weapons capability, then the policy objective must be to find a way to stop them or at least to mitigate the damage North Korean nuclear weapons would do to East Asian security and to the nuclear nonproliferation regime. However, if North Korean leaders are willing to abandon their nuclear weapons program in exchange for security assurances and economic assistance, then the goal should be to craft a verifiable deal that will remove their weapons capability. Disagreements about the motives behind North Korean actions have caused serious splits on Korea policy within the Bush administration and between the United States and its Asian allies and other regional actors such as China and Russia.

Competing Assessments

Serious divisions on Korea policy were evident within the Bush administration soon after it took office. Some administration officials wanted to support South Korean President Kim Dae-jung’s “sunshine policy” by continuing the missile negotiations with North Korea that began late in the Clinton administration. This position reflected a belief that North Korean leaders might be willing to trade away important military capabilities for the right price. Other officials favored withdrawing from the Agreed Framework and adopting a tougher policy focused on the goal of regime change. This position was based on assumptions that North Korean leaders could not be trusted to adhere to agreements and would never give up their nuclear capabilities. These splits were revealed publicly in March 2001, when Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that the United States was prepared to resume missile talks with North Korea, only to be contradicted the next day by Bush.3

The administration’s subsequent North Korea policy review took four months, largely because of infighting between administration hard- and soft-liners.4 It considered a range of options, including withdrawal from the Agreed Framework, but ultimately recommended “improved implementation” of the Agreed Framework coupled with efforts to negotiate a comprehensive deal with North Korea that would also address its missile development programs, missile exports, and conventional force deployments.5 “Improved implementation” referred to efforts to pressure North Korea into accepting accelerated International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of its nuclear facilities. The stated goal was to prevent delays in the construction of the light-water reactors, but the inspections were also intended to remove ambiguity about North Korean nuclear capabilities.

The period from June 2001 until October 2002 was marked by intermittent diplomatic contacts between the United States and North Korea, punctuated by threats, insults, and military incidents.6 The Bush administration proclaimed its willingness to meet with North Korea “any time, any place, without preconditions,” but efforts to begin serious talks were repeatedly undercut by leaks and statements from administration hawks. As the Bush administration responded to the September 11 terrorist attacks by emphasizing a nexus between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, hard-liners pushed for a tougher Korea policy.

Bush’s 2002 State of the Union speech labeled North Korea a member of an “axis of evil” threatening the United States. Although State Department officials continued to proclaim a willingness to talk with North Korea, excerpts from the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review revealed that the Pentagon was making contingency plans for possible nuclear attacks against seven countries, including North Korea. A steady stream of leaks suggested that North Korea was the next target after Iraq.7 These developments formed the backdrop for Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly’s fateful October 2002 visit to Pyongyang.

Differing assessments of North Korean intentions have also caused rifts with U.S. allies and with China and Russia. The Bush administration has made formal efforts to coordinate North Korea policy with South Korea and Japan through high-level visits and regular meetings of the Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Group. Yet, these efforts have done little to resolve fundamentally different assessments of North Korean intentions and conflicting views about appropriate policy responses.

Although South Korea and Japan are concerned about the potential threat from North Korean weapons of mass destruction, most Korean and Japanese analysts believe the North’s objective is to negotiate a deal with the United States that includes security guarantees, improved political and economic relations, and financial assistance.8 While the United States views North Korean nuclear and missile programs as a major threat, South Korea appears relatively calm—partly because many South Koreans do not believe the North will use these weapons against them.

South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China all view the U.S. reluctance to negotiate directly with North Korea as at least a contributing cause of the current nuclear crisis. Although these countries support the goal of a Korean Peninsula that remains free of nuclear weapons, they are skeptical that the Bush administration’s approach of mobilizing international pressure and refusing to negotiate directly with North Korea will produce positive results. They worry that efforts to back Pyongyang into a corner may lead to unpredictable and dangerous behavior that could cause a military conflict.9

Conflicting signals from the Bush administration have confused U.S. allies and have often undercut South Korean and Japanese initiatives toward the North. For example, President Kim Dae-jung called upon the United States to “seize the opportunity” to negotiate with North Korea during his March 2001 visit to Washington, only to be embarrassed when Bush stated at a joint press conference that he did not trust Kim Jong Il.10 Many South Koreans have speculated that the Bush administration’s mixed signals were intended to derail the South’s “sunshine policy” and impede movement toward reunification—sentiments that have contributed to growing anti-American attitudes and increasing tensions in bilateral relations.

Differing assessments about whether North Korea would adhere to a negotiated deal are a principal cause of U.S. and South Korean disagreements about how to deal with North Korea. However, policy disputes also reflect Seoul’s desire for gradual political evolution of the North Korean regime in order to make the costs of reunification manageable—a goal that conflicts with the desire of some Bush administration officials to try to force the collapse of the North Korean regime.

Possible Intentions

Which of these approaches is correct depends, in large part, on what North Korea wants. Five scenarios should be considered in assessing North Korea’s nuclear intentions:

1. North Korean leaders have decided that nuclear weapons are essential to their security.

This scenario argues that North Korean leaders feel threatened by superior U.S. military capabilities and by U.S. talk about regime change and pre-emptive strikes. North Korean leaders may have concluded that nuclear weapons are the only way to guarantee regime survival in the face of such threats. (This scenario is consistent with U.S. intelligence assessments that North Korea produced one or two nuclear weapons in the mid-to late 1990s.)

If this is the case, there is probably no peaceful settlement that can stop or roll back the North Korean nuclear weapons program unless North Korean leaders change their minds. The United States, South Korea, Japan, and China must either take military action to destroy North Korean nuclear facilities and stockpiles or learn to live with North Korean nuclear weapons by relying on deterrence and missile defenses. North Korea’s pursuit of multiple pathways to nuclear weapons and efforts to develop long-range ballistic missiles indicates that the regime has devoted considerable resources to developing deliverable nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, North Korea has passed up a number of opportunities to accelerate its nuclear and missile programs. If North Korea had not signed the Agreed Framework, it could have continued operation of its research reactor, completed construction on its 50-megawatt and 200-megawatt reactors, and reprocessed the spent fuel to produce plutonium. By now, the regime could have had enough fissile material for at least 150-200 nuclear weapons. North Korea also declared a unilateral moratorium on flight tests of long-range missiles. This restraint appears inconsistent with a decision that operational, deliverable nuclear weapons are essential for North Korean security—unless North Korean leaders feel that one or two nuclear weapons are enough to deter a U.S. attack.

2. North Korean leaders are willing to negotiate their nuclear and missile programs away for a deal that guarantees their security and sovereignty.

This scenario argues that North Korean leaders feel threatened by superior U.S. military capabilities and by U.S. efforts to keep the North Korean regime isolated economically and politically. North Korea has pursued nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to create the leverage necessary to build a new relationship with the United States that will ensure the regime’s survival and create a better environment for economic reforms.

Evidence for this scenario includes repeated statements by North Korean leaders about their willingness to negotiate deals with the United States to restrict their nuclear and missile capabilities and to curb missile exports. The Agreed Framework, the missile flight-test moratorium, and talks with the Clinton administration about a missile deal are indicators of North Korea’s willingness to limit its military capabilities.

From this perspective, North Korea’s efforts to develop a highly enriched uranium capability are attempts to develop a new bargaining chip to trade for economic and security concessions. It is even possible that these efforts were intended to be discovered by the United States in order to be bargained away. (North Korea’s previous success in persuading the United States to increase food aid in exchange for inspecting a suspect nuclear facility at Kumchang-ri—which turned out to have no nuclear equipment—suggests that a nuclear bluff is a possibility.)

On the other hand, the United States, Japan, South Korea, and China would all like to see North Korea pursue significant economic and political reforms. The door to better relations that would support North Korean economic reforms is wide open, but North Korea has been reluctant to walk through it. Security threats are arguably unnecessary to achieve better relations and may in fact undercut efforts to improve relations and prospects for economic cooperation. (North Korea’s demonstrated willingness to cheat on international agreements would also make a future deal very difficult to negotiate because of the damage done to U.S. trust.)

3. North Korean leaders want both nuclear weapons (as an ultimate security guarantee) and better relations with the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

Under this scenario, North Korean leaders have sought to keep their options open by pursuing nuclear and missile programs while simultaneously seeking better relations with the United States, Japan, and South Korea. One possibility is that North Korean leaders view their nuclear and missile programs as a hedge in case they are unable to negotiate a lasting agreement with the United States that will assure the security of their regime. If the United States puts an offer on the table that will guarantee regime survival, then North Korea would be willing to give up its nuclear and missile programs. If the United States does not deliver an acceptable deal, then North Korea will proceed to develop an operational force of missiles armed with nuclear weapons.

Another possibility is that North Korean leaders planned to cheat all along. Agreements to restrict nuclear and missile programs and exports were intended to gain monetary benefits and to buy time until North Korea could develop an operational nuclear weapons capability. Alternatively, North Korean leaders may believe that the United States, Japan, and South Korea are willing to overlook a small, ambiguous North Korean nuclear weapons capability and improve relations anyway. South Korea’s “sunshine policy” and Japan’s recent efforts to move toward normalization of diplomatic relations despite concerns about North Korean missiles provide some support for this belief.

Both the hedge scenario and the cheat scenario explain some aspects of North Korea’s behavior, such as the relatively small scale of its nuclear weapons program, its willingness to accept temporary limits on the size of its nuclear arsenal (while pursuing efforts to develop more advanced capabilities), and its eagerness to reach out to the United States, Japan, and (to a lesser extent) South Korea. These scenarios suggest that North Korean leaders either miscalculated the negative international response to their nuclear brinkmanship and cheating or feel that the negative consequences can be overcome once an agreement is in place.

4. North Korean leaders/factions disagree about whether nuclear weapons or a negotiated agreement with the United States is the best way to achieve security.

This scenario views inconsistent North Korean behavior as the product of the shifting strength of different domestic political factions. One faction, centered on the military, may feel that nuclear weapons are essential to North Korean security; another may feel that a negotiated agreement offers more security. Each faction has some ability to undertake international actions independently of the other.

This scenario could explain why North Korea sometimes acts cooperatively to seek agreements and sometimes behaves in a bellicose manner to undercut negotiations. It also offers a potential explanation for why North Korea has pursued a uranium-enrichment program. As some of the promised benefits of the Agreed Framework (such as provision of the reactors and progress toward normalization of relations with the United States) were delayed, the balance of power in Pyongyang may have shifted away from engagement and toward efforts to develop nuclear weapons to ensure North Korea’s security. (Alternatively, earlier North Korean efforts to acquire uranium-enrichment technology and production equipment from Pakistan would suggest a decision to cheat on the Agreed Framework or to hedge against the possibility of its collapse.)

Although this explanation can explain uncoordinated and inconsistent North Korean behavior, North Korea’s negotiating style sometimes emphasizes careful efforts to control the atmospherics of a negotiation and to maximize pressure on a negotiating partner through carefully coordinated actions and statements. This kind of control is difficult to explain with a factional model. It is also important to note that dealing with a changing balance of power between factions in Pyongyang could make it hard (or impossible) to get a negotiated deal that would last.

5. North Korean leaders seek nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to enable offensive actions against South Korea.

The preceding scenarios all assume that the primary objective for North Korean leaders is defensive: ensuring the survival of the current regime. An alternative assumption is that North Korean leaders view nuclear weapons as a useful offensive tool for achieving their long-stated objective of unification on their own terms. The U.S. military alliance with South Korea is one of the main obstacles to forced reunification. This scenario emphasizes the potential value of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles that can hold U.S. territory at risk in order to prevent the United States from intervening in response to a North Korean invasion or military coercion of the South. This scenario has been raised repeatedly by missile defense advocates, who argue that a rogue state might use a nuclear-armed missile capability to deter the United States. from intervening in a conflict. U.S. freedom of action, they say, could be maintained only through missile defenses.11

This scenario is consistent with other aspects of North Korea’s military doctrine and force deployments. Most North Korean military units are located close to the demilitarized zone and are positioned and trained to undertake offensive operations. North Korean chemical and biological weapons capabilities, massive artillery bombardments, and special operations forces could be used to support an invasion of the South. From this perspective, North Korea’s professed interest in negotiating an agreement to give up its missile and nuclear capabilities might be intended to mask its efforts to acquire useable capabilities. Alternatively, North Korea may hope to drive wedges between South Korea and the United States that weaken or dissolve their alliance. (South Korean statements that Seoul should play the role of “mediator” between Pyongyang and Washington suggest that a wedge strategy might be having some success.)

The difficulty with this argument is that North Korea’s ability to mount a successful invasion of the South has eroded as its economy has imploded.12 South Korea has continued to modernize its military and improve its training, while North Korea has not imported major new weapons systems in more than a decade. The North Korean military suffers from shortages of spare parts for its imported weapons systems, and limited supplies of fuel have impeded training. If North Korea’s objective was to invade the South, it would probably have made efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and long-range missiles much more quickly, rather than freezing key elements of its plutonium production capability and issuing a unilateral freeze on missile flight testing. Although this scenario cannot be ruled out, the principal “evidence” for it is that a nuclear-weapon capability could theoretically deter the United States.

Dealing With Uncertainty

Each of these five scenarios explains some aspects of North Korean behavior. Unfortunately, it is hard to tell which is correct. If nuclear weapons are intended to enable offensive military options, then North Korean officials are likely to use deceptive measures to hide their intentions. If they have decided that nuclear weapons are necessary for their survival, then creating the impression that U.S. aggression forced them into a weapons program may improve their international image. (North Korea has had some success in persuading Asian governments that U.S. intransigence is largely to blame for the current crisis.) On the other hand, even if North Korea is prepared to negotiate away its nuclear weapons capabilities, it still has incentives to appear reluctant and bellicose—even unpredictable—in order to strike the best possible bargain.13

U.S. policymakers have tried to devise policy approaches that address the difficulty of judging North Korean intentions. The policy review conducted by former Secretary of Defense William Perry in 1998 and 1999 called for a two-path strategy in order to test North Korean intentions. Perry recommended offering North Korea a choice between the alternatives of deeper engagement and improved relations with the United States or continued hostility and enhanced containment. “By incorporating two paths, the strategy devised in the review avoids any dependence on conjectures regarding [North Korean] intentions or behavior and neither seeks, nor depends upon for its success, a transformation of [North Korea’s] internal system.”14 The difficulty with this approach is that the key criterion for judging whether or not North Korea is following the path of engagement—Pyongyang’s willingness to give up its weapons of mass destruction programs in a verifiable way—requires North Korea to give up its most important piece of negotiating leverage at the beginning of the process.

The Agreed Framework attempted to work around this problem by structuring the agreement as a series of reciprocal steps that would eventually produce transparency about North Korea’s nuclear history. However, delays in reactor construction and the erosion of political support for the Agreed Framework in the United States meant that important aspects of the agreement, such as improved U.S. economic and political relations with North Korea, were not fully implemented. The Perry policy review envisioned a similar “step-by-step and reciprocal” process as a means of surmounting this problem, but this approach was never fully put into practice.

The United States needs to approach the current crisis with a strategy that acknowledges its inability to know North Korean intentions. Given that any of the five scenarios above could be correct, U.S. strategy should seek to test North Korean intentions without compromising U.S. security interests. At this stage in the crisis, the United States basically has four options: using military force to attack North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure, mobilizing international pressure against North Korea, waiting North Korea out, and negotiating. Military strikes appear to have been ruled out because of their inability to destroy any current North Korean nuclear weapons or plutonium stocks, strong opposition from U.S. allies and other countries in the region, and North Korea’s ability to retaliate and cause severe damage to South Korea.15 The current U.S. policy is to orchestrate international pressure to force North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. This approach is unlikely to succeed because key countries, such as China and South Korea, do not want to back North Korea into a corner and cause it either to collapse or lash out militarily. A third approach is to wait North Korea out in the hopes that the regime will moderate its demands and agree to multilateral negotiations on U.S. terms. This appears to be the de facto U.S. position, at least for the duration of a potential war in Iraq. The fourth option is to accept North Korea’s demands for bilateral negotiations with the United States and try to reach an agreement that advances U.S. interests.

The current stalemate will not last indefinitely. If no agreement is reached, North Korea is likely to reprocess its spent fuel rods and acquire sufficient plutonium for another four to six nuclear weapons. Once the reprocessing is complete (in four to six months), the United States would lose the option of military strikes against this material. With sufficient material for five to eight nuclear weapons, North Korea would have new options, including nuclear testing, possible operational deployment of nuclear weapons, and selling weapons-grade fissile material. Moreover, North Korean leaders are highly unlikely to wait passively for international pressure or domestic economic problems to cause their regime to collapse. Instead, they would use provocative actions to escalate the crisis in order to increase the pressure on the United States to make a deal.

The Bush administration’s current policy has significant costs. In addition to allowing North Korea to improve its nuclear weapons capabilities, U.S. policy has created serious strains in alliances with South Korea and Japan and in relations with China and Russia.16 The U.S. refusal to negotiate, not North Korean actions, is being blamed for the escalation of the crisis. If the United States continues on this course, North Korea is likely to deploy nuclear weapons overtly, with serious negative consequences for regional stability and for the nuclear nonproliferation regime. U.S. intransigence would be blamed for this outcome, and the United States would face a worse situation with even less support.

Given this alternative, it makes sense to explore whether a negotiated deal is possible. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, negotiations would have some immediate political value. First, the United States should insist on a verifiable freeze on North Korean reprocessing activity during negotiations. This would halt North Korea’s movement toward an increased nuclear weapons capability and buy time. In return, the United States would pledge not to attack North Korea during the negotiations, a concession that the Bush administration has already offered without getting anything in return. Second, negotiations would ease growing splits between the United States and its allies, making it easier to forge a united policy toward North Korea. If negotiations failed to reach an acceptable and verifiable agreement, the United States would be better positioned to win international support for a tougher approach. Third, negotiations would reduce North Korea’s ability to escalate the crisis, allowing the United States to seize the initiative and focus attention on North Korean weapons of mass destruction and ways of verifying an agreement. They would also reduce the possibility of a North Korean military provocation in the midst of a war in Iraq. On balance, negotiations hold more promise for achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapons free Korean Peninsula.

Negotiating an acceptable agreement will not be easy. The fact that North Korea violated the Agreed Framework and its other nuclear nonproliferation commitments means that the United States and other parties to a possible new agreement will require stringent measures to verify North Korean compliance. But paradoxically, domestic suspicion of North Korean intentions may make it easier for U.S. negotiators to insist upon strong verification measures as a necessary condition for an agreement. This is especially true if congressional support is needed to finance an agreement. It will be difficult to craft a verifiable agreement that can test North Korean intentions. But even if negotiations fail, the United States will be in a better position for having tried.


The author would like to thank Daniel Pinkston, Clay Moltz, Jing-dong Yuan, and Stephanie Lieggi for helpful comments on earlier drafts.

1. See David Albright and Kevin O’Neill, eds., Solving the North Korean Nuclear Puzzle (Washington, D.C.: ISIS Press, 2000); Center for Nonproliferation Studies North Korea Country Profile, forthcoming at www.nti.org/e_research/e1_nkorea_profile.html.

2. The date that North Korea started and/or intensified its uranium enrichment program is critical evidence of North Korea’s motivations. Unfortunately the open-source evidence is insufficient to indicate the precise start date. For estimates of the start date, see Seymour M. Hersh, “The Cold Test: What the Administration Knew About Pakistan and the North Korean Nuclear Program,” The New Yorker, January 27, 2003; Gaurav Kampani, “Second Tier Proliferation: The Case of Pakistan and North Korea,” The Nonproliferation Review, Fall/Winter 2002, pp. 107-116. For an analysis of motivations for the North Korean program, see Joel S. Wit, “A Strategy for Defusing the North Korean Nuclear Crisis,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2003, pp. 6-10.

3. See Sebastian Harnisch, “U.S.-North Korean Relations Under the Bush Administration,” Asian Survey, November/December 2002, pp. 863-874.

4. Steven Mufson, “U.S. Will Resume Talks With North Korea,” The Washington Post, June 7, 2001, p. A1.

5. See James A. Kelly, “United States Policy in East Asia and the Pacific: Challenges and Priorities,” Testimony before the Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific, June 12, 2001.

6. See the chronology of key events in U.S.-Korean relations and analysis by Donald G. Gross in the CSIS Pacific Forum’s E-journal Comparative Connections at www.csis.organization/pacforc/cc0101Qus_skorea.html.

7. See the remarks of an American intelligence official cited in Hersh, “The Cold Test.”

8. Notable exceptions include some prominent analysts and officials in the Japanese and South Korean defense communities.

9. This possibility, which North Korean statements have emphasized, may also be an effort by Pyongyang to develop leverage for negotiations.

10. Steven Mufson, “Seoul’s Kim Presses for U.S. Role,” The Washington Post, March 9, 2001, p. A22.

11. See Keith B. Payne, Deterrence in the Second Nuclear Age (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996).

12. Michael O’Hanlon, “Stopping a North Korean Invasion: Why Defending South Korea Is Easier Than the Pentagon Thinks,” International Security, Spring 1998, pp. 135-170.

13. See Scott Snyder, Negotiating on the Edge: North Korea’s Negotiating Behavior (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace, 1999); Chuck Downs, Over the Line: North Korea’s Negotiating Strategy (Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 1999).

14. William Perry, Review of United States Policy Toward North Korea: Findings and Recommendations (Washington, D.C.: State Department, October 12, 1999).

15. For an analysis of U.S. military options, see Phillip C. Saunders, “Military Options for Dealing With North Korea’s Nuclear Program,” Center for Nonproliferation Studies Web Report, January 27, 2003 at www.cns.miis.edu/research/korea/dprkmil.htm.

16. Howard W. French, “U.S. Approach on North Korea Strains Alliances in Asia,” The New York Times, February 24, 2003.

Phillip C. Saunders is director of the East Asian Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies.

North Korea Restarts Reactor; IAEA Sends Resolution to UN

Paul Kerr

Further escalating the crisis over its suspected nuclear weapons activities, North Korea has restarted a small nuclear reactor that had been frozen by the 1994 Agreed Framework, U.S. officials confirmed February 27. The move came two weeks after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found North Korea in “further non-compliance” with its obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and referred the matter to the UN Security Council.

The five-megawatt reactor can produce approximately one bomb’s worth of plutonium each year, according to a November 27 report by the Congressional Research Service. Although the reactor poses no immediate threat, restarting it is the most aggressive step that Pyongyang has taken since the crisis began in October, when it allegedly admitted to a U.S. delegation that it was pursuing an illicit uranium-enrichment program.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons activities were supposed to have been halted by the 1994 Agreed Framework, under which North Korea agreed to shut down its nuclear facilities, including the reactor, a fuel-rod fabrication plant, a reprocessing plant, and two partially completed larger reactors. In return the United States agreed to provide two proliferation-resistant reactors and supply North Korea with 500,000 metric tons of heating oil each year while the reactors were under construction.

But in response to North Korea’s alleged admission of a program to enrich uranium, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, the U.S.-led international consortium responsible for implementing the Agreed Framework, announced in November that it would suspend fuel oil deliveries to North Korea.

North Korea then announced in December it was restarting the reactor to produce electricity. During the next few weeks, North Korea removed seals and monitoring equipment from its nuclear facilities and ordered IAEA inspectors, who had been charged with monitoring the freeze, out of the country. On January 10, Pyongyang further inflamed the increasingly tense situation by announcing that it was withdrawing from the NPT.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said February 27 that North Korea’s decision to restart the reactor was “another one of these provocative steps in the wrong direction that I think demonstrates that North Korea’s commitments and promises are consistently violated.”

Returning February 25 from a trip to Asia, Secretary of State Colin Powell had told reporters that North Korea had not yet begun to move spent fuel rods stored at the reactor site to the reprocessing facility, and Boucher indicated that that remained the case. Powell’s deputy Richard Armitage told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 4 that reprocessing the rods could yield enough plutonium for four to six weapons. Powell said during a February 24 press conference in Beijing that the United States would “view any move by North Korea” to reprocess spent fuel or produce nuclear weapons “seriously.”

North Korea said in a February 14 program on the state-owned Pyongyang Korean Central Broadcasting Station that it withdrew from the treaty and decided to reactivate its nuclear facilities in response to U.S. actions, repeating charges that Washington violated the Agreed Framework and threatened North Korea with nuclear weapons. (See ACT, January/February 2003.)

Pyongyang also alleges that the United States is threatening to invade North Korea and impose a blockade. A North Korean army spokesman said February 18 that North Korea would “abandon its commitment” to the 1953 Armistice Agreement signed at the end of the Korean War if the United States imposes a blockade, according to a report from the state-owned Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). A State Department official would not say in a February 25 interview if the Bush administration is considering such a measure.

North Korea also signaled that it might not adhere to its moratorium on testing long-range missiles, which it extended indefinitely during a September 17 summit between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. North Korea’s ambassador to China Choe Jin Su said that Pyongyang believes it “cannot go along with the self-imposed missile moratorium any longer,” according to a January 12 Los Angeles Times article.

North Korea did test a missile February 24, but it was not one covered by the moratorium. During a February 25 press conference in Seoul, Powell called the test of the short-range, surface-to-surface naval missile “innocuous” and said that Washington had had advance information that it might happen.

Washington vs. Pyongyang

Pyongyang insists that it is not blackmailing the international community or trying to gain concessions with its nuclear program, saying in a February 19 KCNA statement that it wants an end to U.S. “military threats” as well as efforts to “hamstring” its economic development efforts—an apparent reference to U.S. efforts to increase multilateral pressure on the regime. North Korea says that the reactor will produce electricity and that it has no intention of building nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang also continues to call for Washington to negotiate a “legally-binding non-aggression treaty.” North Korea had appeared to soften its demand for a treaty following its withdrawal from the NPT, but KCNA reported January 25 that Pyongyang wanted an agreement ratified by Congress because it does not trust the Bush administration’s assurances of nonaggression. A February 20 KCNA statement indicated that North Korea is willing “to clear the US of its security concern” if the United States concludes such a treaty and “does not stand in the way of [North Korea’s] economic development.”

In a February 25 statement, Powell reiterated that the United States has no intention of invading North Korea but added that military force is an “option that is always available.” He added that Washington might “document such a statement” but would not sign a nonaggression treaty.

U.S. officials have expressed differing views about North Korea’s intentions. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said February 25 that North Korea is “engaged in brinksmanship…to get rewards by the international community.”

In contrast, CIA Director George Tenet argued in a February 12 hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee that North Korea “is trying to negotiate a fundamentally different relationship with us…that implicitly tolerates…[its] nuclear weapons program.” Pyongyang is “committed to retaining and enlarging its nuclear weapons stockpile,” he added. Armitage expressed concern during his February 4 testimony that North Korea could sell its weapons.

Powell said February 23 that the Bush administration will not negotiate with North Korea but that it will discuss with Pyongyang “how it can address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear weapons program.” Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly said in a February 13 hearing before a House international relations subcommittee that North Korea must dismantle both its enriched uranium and plutonium-based nuclear weapons programs, cooperate with the IAEA, and “come into compliance with the NPT and its Safeguards Agreement.”

Powell said February 25 that the United States wants any talks with Pyongyang to take place in a multilateral setting, arguing that North Korea’s nuclear program affects many countries. No talks have been scheduled, but Powell suggested that Washington is communicating with North Korea via informal channels and that such channels may be used in the future. Powell did not say whether the United States would engage in bilateral discussions with Pyongyang if multilateral talks began.

A spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a January 25 KCNA statement that Pyongyang will not participate “in any form” of multilateral talks, insisting that only the United States can solve the problem because its policies created the current situation. North Korea has continued to characterize U.S. attempts at multilateral solutions as containment. A February 18 KCNA statement dismissed the U.S. position on dialogue as a “farce” and a “tactic to cover up its intent to ignite a war of aggression.”

Kelly said in his February 13 testimony that the Bush administration stands “ready to build a different…relationship” with North Korea, including taking “political and economic steps,” if it fulfills its disarmament requirements. Powell suggested in his February 13 testimony that the United States would likely address North Korea’s energy needs if a new relationship materializes.

Since June 2001, the Bush administration has linked meetings with Pyongyang to discuss missiles and nuclear weapons with other issues, including conventional forces and the country’s human rights record. Powell indicated this is still the case during a February 13 House Budget Committee hearing.

The IAEA Acts

Responding to North Korea’s rejection of two previous IAEA resolutions, the agency’s Board of Governors adopted a resolution February 12 declaring Pyongyang in “further non-compliance” with its obligations under the NPT. The board decided to report the matter to the UN Security Council, in accordance with agency mandates.

The two previous resolutions, adopted in November and January, called for Pyongyang to provide details about its reported uranium-enrichment program, as well as reverse its recent decisions to expel IAEA monitors, remove monitoring equipment and seals from nuclear facilities, and withdraw from the NPT. (See ACT, January/February 2003.)

The new IAEA resolution “stresses” the board’s “support” for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. According to a February 19 UN press statement, the Security Council referred the matter to its group of experts, who are to study the resolution and make recommendations to the council.

A State Department official said in a February 25 interview that Washington is consulting with allies about future Security Council action, adding that it is “too soon to speculate” about specific measures. Fleischer explained in a February 12 statement that the council’s options ranged from a statement condemning North Korea’s actions to imposing economic sanctions.

The IAEA board voted 31-0 to adopt the resolution, with Russia and Cuba abstaining. Fleischer expressed the Bush administration’s approval, calling the resolution a “clear indication that the international community will not accept a North Korea nuclear weapons program.”

U.S. allies, however, continued to resist the administration’s approach, arguing that Washington should soon engage in bilateral talks with Pyongyang. A February 17 statement from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the IAEA referral decision “a premature and counterproductive step.” The statement added, however, that Moscow had been “prepared to support the…resolution” if a “direct dialogue” were established between Washington and Pyongyang.

Newly installed South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun condemned North Korea’s nuclear activities during his February 25 inauguration speech, but he emphasized that the North Korean nuclear issue “should be resolved peacefully through dialogue,” according to a February 25 Channel NewsAsia report.

Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan stated February 24 that China wants the Bush administration to “begin dialogue as equals” with North Korea, according to a February 24 Xinhua News Agency article.

Hatsuhisa Takashima, press secretary for Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a February 21 statement that Tokyo’s priority is to “maintain unity and solidarity” among Japan, the United States, and South Korea, adding that the issue should be “addressed with good care and caution.”

Further escalating the crisis over its suspected nuclear weapons activities, North Korea has restarted a small nuclear reactor that had been frozen by the 1994 Agreed Framework, U.S. officials confirmed February 27. 

Former U.S. Government Official on North Korea Details Strategy for Defusing Current Crisis



For Immediate Release: January 15, 2003

Press Contact: Peter Scoblic at (202) 463-8270 x108

(Washington, D.C.): Joel S. Wit, a former U.S. government official who served as coordinator for the 1994 U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework that froze North Korea’s plutonium-based nuclear weapons program, writes in the latest issue of "Arms Control Today" that diplomacy, not isolation, will
prevent the ongoing standoff with North Korea from worsening and provide a solution to the crisis.

Noting that the Bush administration appears to be in “disarray” on how to deal with North Korea’s ejection of international arms inspectors and moves to restart its nuclear reactor, Wit argues that diplomacy is the “linchpin” to fastening a multifaceted approach to end North Korea’s dangerous moves
that imperil regional security.

Wit, now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, writes that the diplomatic effort should pursue three goals: stopping the ongoing slide toward confrontation; verifiably ending North
Korea’s recently revealed and illicit effort to build nuclear weapons through uranium enrichment; and creating a process through which North Korea will permanently end its bid to become a nuclear power, relax military tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and improve U.S.-North Korean relations.

Wit recommends seven steps that the Bush administration should take to accomplish these goals.

  • Place a single American official in charge of U.S. policy toward North Korea.
  • Continue implementing the 1994 Agreed Framework. Construction of light-water reactors in North Korea should not stop and North Korea should permit limited inspections. North Korea should also refrain from reprocessing its stored spent-fuel rods and restarting its reactor.
  • Win international backing to make clear that a peaceful agreement must be reached to halt North Korea’s treaty-breaking activities or it will suffer economic and political consequences.
  • Reaffirm that the United States respects North Korean sovereignty and will not attack the country.
  • Initiate talks, ideally through the International Atomic Energy Agency, to verifiably end North Korea’s uranium enrichment program.
  • Pledge a resumption of heavy-fuel oil deliveries to North Korea once it is evident that the uranium enrichment program is being dismantled.
  • Engage in broad negotiations with North Korea to improve bilateral relations.

Joel Wit can be contacted directly at (202) 887-0200. The full text of Wit’s article, “A Strategy for Defusing the North Korean Crisis,” is available at http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2003_01-02/wit_janfeb03.asp. Additional information on North Korea, including a recent article by Leon V. Sigal on North Korea’s strategy, a
comprehensive timeline, and background information on the Agreed Framework and North Korea’s ballistic missile program can be found at http://www.armscontrol.org/country/northkorea/.


# # #

The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies. Established in 1971,the Association publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.

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Countering The 'Axis of Evil': Assessing Bush Administration Policies Toward Iran, Iraq, and North Korea



Monday, January 13, 2003
Panel Discussion
10:30 A.M. - 11:45 A.M.

At the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC


The Arms Control Association's annual membership meeting and luncheon were held Monday, January 13, 2003 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC.

The Panelists:

Daryl Kimball: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. If you could find your seats, please, we are going to get started. For those of you who have coats to deal with, there is a coatroom in the back.

Thank you very much for coming this morning and for coming to this briefing on countering the so-called "axis of evil," assessing the Bush administration's policies toward Iran, Iraq, and North Korea.

I'm Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association. We're a private, nonpartisan organization that has, for the last three decades, dedicated itself to education about arms control, promotion of effective arms control policies to make America and the world safer.

We've organized this briefing this morning, I think, at a very, very interesting time. We are here to assess how the United States and the international community can most effectively address the urgent chemical, biological, and nuclear proliferation challenges in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, and how the actions of these three states are influenced by regional security issues and by United States policies.

Before I introduce our panel of experts who are going to address each of these states, let me begin by making a few remarks to frame our discussion and to raise some issues that I hope the panelists will cover.

As you will recall, 40 years ago the Cuban missile crisis and the prospect of dozens of nuclear weapon states drove U.S. leaders-Democratic and Republican-to pursue arms control strategies to manage the dangerous nuclear, chemical, and biological arms competition with the Soviet Union, and also to stop the dangerous spread of weapons of mass destruction to new states.

In the last decade, the bedrock of that effort that emerged out of that period-the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty-has been under tremendous stress as the recognized nuclear-weapon states have not fulfilled their nuclear disarmament commitments and as states such as India, Pakistan, and Israel have maintained and advanced their nuclear weapons programs with relative impunity.

At the same time, a new wave of nuclear proliferation and chemical and biological weapons proliferation has erupted, particularly concerning Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. How the United States and the United Nations respond to these immediate challenges will profoundly affect American credibility, the future of the nonproliferation regime, and the future security of millions of people in the United States and around the globe.

In many ways, the security debate surrounding these cases right now has been shaped by last year's State of the Union address by President Bush in which he prominently labeled Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as part of an axis of evil that is supporting terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. The president is to be commended for focusing attention on the ongoing threat of nuclear, chemical, and biological proliferation and missile proliferation from these dangerous states, but I would say that his administration's gratuitous name calling and its allergy to multilateral diplomatic and arms control strategies, and its strong rhetorical emphasis on coercive pre-emption, including the possible use of nuclear weapons to defeat chem and bio threats, has complicated the United States' task in addressing these proliferation problems, particularly in North Korea, where recently, as we all know, North Korea has unfrozen its plutonium facilities and declared that it will leave the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty-I would say a reflection of the failure of the administration's approach toward North Korea in the last couple of years.

And though the recent announcement by the United States that it will resume talks or is willing to talk with North Korea and Governor Bill Richardson's mediation efforts is a good sign that provides some hope, there are many, many obstacles that lie ahead.

With Iraq, of course, we are on the verge of a war to deal with its weapons of mass destruction capabilities. After leaning toward unilateral military action this summer, the president did respond to domestic and international opinion and criticism and sought a new and stronger UN Security Council resolution aimed at returning UN inspectors to Iraq under a stronger mandate, with better tools and greater cooperation. But as the process continues, it's not clear whether Iraq will continue to comply with Resolution 1441-if it is, some would say-whether inspectors will find positive evidence that Iraq maintains WMD, or whether the United States will or should pursue an invasion without such evidence and without Security Council backing.

In Iran, President Bush has all but given up on establishing a dialog with Iran's reformists and seems to be resting hopes on cutting off nuclear cooperation from Russia, which continues to this day, and we now have new, fresh news reports that suggest that Iran might be building secret nuclear facilities, facilities that the IAEA will soon be inspecting. So a year after the president's "axis of evil" speech, it's clear that blunt talk and practical accomplishments are not quite the same thing.

To help us explore how U.S. policy can better address these proliferation challenges, we have three expert panelists, and I'm going to briefly introduce each one, and then we're going to hear from them, and then we're going to take questions from the audience.

First we'll hear from Michael Eisenstadt. He's senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy where he specializes in Arab, Israeli, and Persian Gulf security affairs. He is going to provide us with his perspective on Iran's WMD capabilities and motivations, the impact of administration policies, and the challenges to address in the near future.

Following him, we will hear from Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a very active writer and commentator on a wide range of issues. Michael will provide his assessment of Iraq's nuclear ambitions, chemical and biological weapons capabilities, and the differing threats these weapons pose as well as whether military action against Iraq is justified under the current circumstances that we have.

Finally we'll hear from Joel Wit, who has been very busy in the last few days. We're happy to have him with us here today. He is senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He served for 15 years in the Department of State in various positions; most recently and most relevant to our session today as the coordinator for the 1994 U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework, and was responsible for implementation of that agreement. And Joel has also authored a comprehensive article on the current North Korean crisis in the most recent issue of Arms Control Today, and there will be copies of that article outside as you leave when the panel session is over.

So following their comments, we'll take questions. The floor is yours, Michael.

Michael Eisenstadt: Thank you, Daryl, and thanks to the Arms Control Association for inviting me here today to talk about Iran.

If Iraq is a crisis at our doorstep and North Korea is a crisis we keep kicking down the road, then Iran, I believe, could well turn out to be the crisis just around the bend in the road. This is not only because Iran is the example par excellence of a state that supports terrorist groups with global reach and it possesses weapons of mass destruction. To paraphrase from President Bush's last State of the Union address, it is also because Iran may, within just a few years, be standing at the nuclear threshold, either through its own clandestine efforts or as a result of the emergence of North Korea as a supplier of nuclear technology and, perhaps in the near future, nuclear weapons.

In the past 10 to 15 years, Iran's missile and WMD programs have been plagued by numerous problems and delays. These continue. As a result, progress in these programs has generally been slow and incremental, though in the nuclear arena, recent revelations about heretofore unknown nuclear facilities hint at greater progress than previously appreciated.

With regard to ballistic missiles, during the tenure of President Bush, Iran has continued to expand its family of strategic rockets, tested its first solid fuel short-range ballistic missile, the Fateh 110, in May 2001, and conducted its fifth test flight of the Shahab 3 medium-range ballistic missile in July of 2002. This last flight test was reportedly a failure, indicating that Iran is still encountering problems with the Shahab 3, and most of the speculation circles around the engines, and reportedly, Iran has acquired additional engines from North Korea to put in the indigenously produced airframes. Despite these problems, the Shahab 3 has probably been introduced into operational service in small numbers.

Iran's missile programs continue to benefit from assistance from Russia, China and North Korea. Iran is also involved in a Chinese-led consortium to produce a civilian earth-imagining satellite. This could eventually abet long-standing Iranian ambitions to build a military reconnaissance satellite of their own.

In the nuclear arena, the Bushehr 1 reactor may finally be completed in the next year or so. According to Russian press reports, Iran may take delivery of reactor fuel from Russia by the end of this year or early next year, so the status of efforts to conclude an agreement on the return of reactor fuel to Russia for reprocessing remains uncertain. And as an aside, I would say the Russians, under U.S. pressure, have stated that the fuel will not be shipped to Iran until such an agreement is signed.

Delays have, however, dogged the nuclear program from its inception, and additional delays during the final stages of construction or teething problems during the break-in period are likely to arise, further delaying start-up of the reactor.

On the other hand, the successful completion of Bushehr 1 could pave the way for the construction of additional reactors at Bushehr and Ahvaz and eventually result in the production of prodigious quantities of plutonium in the form of spent fuel sitting in cooling pools awaiting shipment back to Russia. In a protracted crisis or a war, the temptation to divert the spent fuel in order to separate the plutonium and use it for proscribed purposes could be overwhelming.

Iran is also apparently constructing a number of fuel-cycle-related facilities, including a heavy water production plant at Arak and a uranium-enrichment facility of some sort, and the speculation centers around the gas centrifuge plant at Natanz.

The existence of these facilities, which was first revealed publicly last August and confirmed by U.S. government officials last December, raises troubling questions. If there is a heavy-water-production plant, where is the heavy-water-moderated reactor, and if there is a gas-centrifuge plant, where is the uranium-conversion facility? And are there other such facilities in Iran, and what else do we not know about Iran's nuclear program?

Finally, Iran continues its cooperation with other proliferators. In the past, it has cooperated with Syria on its missile program, and there have been reports in the past year that Iran has been providing support for Libya's missile program, in particular, the production of Scud-type missiles in Libya. And according to a report by an authoritative Israeli journalist, this year North Korea has been engaged with Iran in building a gas-centrifuge-enrichment plant, though it's unclear what the article is referring to-whether this is a small lab or a pilot-scale plant, or perhaps the aforementioned plant at Natanz, which reportedly is very large.

Given past close cooperation between North Korea and Iran in the missile arena and recent reports of cooperation in the nuclear arena, one must seriously consider the possible transfer of nuclear material or weapons from North Korea to Iran following start-up of the reactor at Yongbyon, if it occurs.

Now with regard to U.S. policy toward Iran, thus far the Bush administration's nonproliferation policy toward Iran has been marked more by continuity than change over the policies of its predecessors. The U.S. continues to rely on policy instruments that have in the past yielded some notable successes, such as political pressure, export controls, interdiction operations and sanctions, to disrupt and delay Iranian proliferation efforts. Moreover, the U.S. continues to hold formal nonproliferation consultations with Russia regarding the latter's missile and nuclear-related technology transfers to Iran, though with no more success than past efforts by the Clinton administration.

There are, however, hints of possible changes in store, which can be found in the emphasis on pre-emption in the speeches of President Bush and in various U.S. government strategy documents published since September 11. More on that in a minute.

Be that as it may, there has been a dramatic, albeit largely unheralded change in overall U.S. policy toward Iran. At various times in the past, the U.S. has sought to bolster moderates or reformers against their conservative rivals and has sought to alter Iranian policy concerning various issues of concern to the U.S.

Today it is doing none of the above. Rather it is encouraging the Iranian people in their struggle to change the Iranian political system. The U.S. is pursuing regime change in both Iraq and in Iran, though the means to the end in each case are very different. And just to give you a flavor of how much has changed in about the past decade, what I'd like to do is read to you some passages from Martin Indyk's original dual containment speech, which was given in 1993; in particular, the sections having to do with Iran, and then I would like to read excerpts from a speech given by Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad, who is a senior national security council official who is responsible for U.S. policy toward Iran, so you could see the contrast.

Now in Indyk's original speech, which was given as I said in 1993, and which in many ways was a template and really set the tone for U.S. policy for nearly a decade after that, he identified what he called a five-part challenge to the United States in terms of Iranian policy, which was problematic for us, and he talked about Iran being the formal state sponsor of terrorism and assassination, their efforts to thwart peace talks between Israel and the Arabs, Iran's efforts to subvert governments that are friendly to the U.S., their efforts to acquire offensive weapons-conventional weapons, that is, and their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

He then goes on to say, and I quote, "I should emphasize that the Clinton administration is not opposed to Islamic government in Iran. Rather we are firmly opposed to these specific aspects of the Iranian regime's behavior as well as its abuse of the human rights of the Iranian people. We will not normalize relations with Iran until and unless Iran's policies change across the board. We are willing to listen to what Iran has to say, provided that it comes through authoritative channels."

Now the talk-Khalilzad's speech, which was given in August of this year. He starts off by saying that the United States is pursuing a dual-track policy toward Iran, based, quote, unquote, "on moral clarity." One, tell the world specifically what is destructive and unacceptable about Iran's behavior: sponsorship of terror and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and repression of the clearly expressed desires of the Iranian people for freedom and democracy; two, while laying out a positive vision of partnership and support for the Iranian people.

What's interesting is that the emphasis is not on changing the behavior, but I think policymakers have come to the conclusion, after a decade of trying, that there is probably not a lot we can do to change its behavior, and that's I think why-where we get to or why we are looking at regime change, in addition to the fact that I would also mention that conditions in Iran are considered by many specialists on the country to be ripe for-or may in the near future be ripe for change, and provide a congenial environment for U.S. efforts to encourage an evolution of the system there.

Further on, he states that U.S. policy is not to impose change on Iran, but to support the Iranian people in their quest to decide their own destiny. Our policy is not about Khatami or Khamenei, reform or hardline. It is about supporting those who want freedom, human rights, democracy, and economic and educational opportunity for themselves and their fellow countrymen and women.

The U.S. government's vision for a future of Iran, however, is unclear. Exactly what a post-clerical regime would look like is not spelled out in U.S. policy documents, nor are the implications of regime change for proliferation. As best we can tell, Iranian motivations to proliferate are not specific to the current regime. The Shah wanted the bomb, so do the mullahs, and whoever follows him is likely to follow suit. Moreover, support for these efforts, to the degree that these matters are discussed and debated in Iran-which for the most part they are not, as far as I could tell-comes from across the political spectrum. For many Iranians, the issues of WMD, the country's military power, is not a partisan political issue but a matter of national pride and national security. There is therefore no reason to believe that political change will necessarily lead to changes in Iran's proliferation policies.

That is not to say, however, that proliferation by Iran is inevitable or that a regime change will not create new opportunities to deal with Iran's proliferation. A deal with a new regime may be do-able if Iran's nuclear capabilities are still relatively immature and if the new regime can be convinced that by acquiring the bomb, it will pay a high price in terms of its other vital or key interests, such as its ability to attract foreign investment, to resuscitate the economy, and to improve its relations with the United States.

At the very least, even if a deal with the new regimes proves untenable or unworkable, a new regime that eschews the use of terrorism and the pursuit of an aggressively anti-Israel foreign policy would be easier for the United States to deal with, and in this way, the U.S. might at least be able to mitigate the consequences of a nuclear Iran if and when it happens.

That change in Iran will occur seems certain. When change will occur is unclear. Accordingly, the U.S. has to consider the possibility that the current regime may be around for a number of more years, that relations with Iran might get worse before they get better, and that Iran might acquire the bomb before it's increasing beleaguered, conservative clerical leadership can be removed from power.

Now where does this lead us in the future with regard to policy recommendations? First, because the current regime in Tehran might be around for awhile, the U.S. needs to continue with its policy of delaying Iran's efforts to acquire missiles and WMD through arm twisting, arms control, and sanctions in order to buy time for political change in Tehran and for the U.S. and its allies to strengthen their defense against missiles and WMD.

At the same time, Washington must continue seeking ways to curtail Russian assistance to Iran's missile and WMD programs and strengthen safeguards on ongoing activities, and the U.S. should continue to urge the IAEA and its allies to press Iran to adopt the additional protocol under the IAEA 93+2 program.

Second, the U.S. must seek to leverage regime change successes in Afghanistan and, perhaps in the near future, Iraq, by ensuring stability and successful political transitions in both countries in order to encourage and embolden those seeking political change in Iran. We should likewise use these military successes to bolster (unintelligible) capability vis a vis Iran.

Third, the U.S. government needs to seriously and systematically contemplate the risks and benefits of pre-emptive action against Iran's nuclear infrastructure, if it isn't doing so already.

Now again, this is not an imminent threat or imminent necessity, but it's something that might have to be considered down the road. In considering U.S. options regarding pre-emption, the United States will need to balance the imperative of preventing an Iranian nuclear breakout against the imperative not to squander the reservoir of pro-American goodwill among the Iranian people or to derail the positive evolutionary trajectory of the Iranian political by a reckless act that could discredit Westward-leaning Iranians and generate a popular backlash against the United States. Perhaps the only way to square the circle is through covert action so that the U.S. can preserve at least a thin veneer of deniability.

Finally, North Korea must be part of the solution. North Korea must not be allowed to become an exporter of nuclear technology, materials, or weapons, for then, should Tehran's own efforts to acquire nuclear weapons fail or be thwarted to the U.S., it might have the option of buying from the North Koreans. For these reasons, the coming year is likely to be a fateful year, a year of decisions that will influence the future of nuclear proliferation in East Asia and the Middle East for many years to come.

Thank you.


Kimball: We'll move on to our other Michael-Michael O'Hanlon.

Michael O'Hanlon: Thanks, Daryl. It's a treat to be here. I'm, I think, the least specialist on my assigned topic talking about the most over-analyzed issue of the three, so I'll try to make up for that by being brief, and the overall theme of my short remarks is that I'm becoming a reluctant supporter of the administration's apparent proclivity now to go to war to overthrow Saddam. I'm not a major proponent of this, but even given the evidence available now, I would not personally fall on my sword to oppose this war. I'm going to give you my reasons why in just a second. I hope there will be clearer evidence, however, that will allow those of us who are in my sort of shoes to feel more comfortable advocating one way or another whatever decision is made. We would like to have that final convincing piece of evidence if we have to go to war, and we'd like most of all to still figure out how not to go to war. I think there's some small chance of that, but the chance is pretty tiny. So let me explain how I get to this nuanced position of being willing to support the president's apparent decision to go to war without being a major proponent of it myself.

There's pro and con, clearly, for any decision about going to war to overthrow Saddam, and I'm going to focus primarily on the WMD aspect of this question. I'm not going to get into questions of estimating casualties in a war or this or that, but focusing primarily on the WMD issue.

If you want to argue against war, you can say that, listen, Saddam has chemical and biological weapons. He is denying that he does, but we all know he almost certainly does, but big deal. He's had them for a quarter century, he's generally been deterrable in his use of those weapons when we've made it clear that we care a lot about whether or not he does. He probably does not have smallpox; there is some worry that he might -- these longstanding ties to certain Soviet-era scientists, but there's, to my mind-and others in this room may know this question much better-to my mind, not a convincing enough stream of data or circumstantial reports to lend a lot of credence to this worry, so chances are he has sort of a garden variety arsenal of chemical and biological agents, and what's the big deal. Granted, it's a big deal in the 1980s if you're an Iranian or a Kurd, but at this point in time, Saddam is not going to be able to use those weapons, even against those populations, without almost certainly incurring a major international response, and he won't use them against us out of the blue based on the track record. So that's one argument that says let containment work, let sleeping dogs lie.

Another argument would be that even if you're worried that the nuclear question is a different sort of issue and that a Saddam Hussein with nuclear weapons might become emboldened to again attack his neighbors, or again become aggressive in the region, or again threaten Israel, believing that those weapons gave him some measure of protection or regime survival insurance because we would surely not dare go after him if he had a nuke, just as we apparently don't dare go after the North Koreans because-perhaps Saddam's thinking is that their nuclear program gives them some insurance. Even if that's your worry, that this possible Iraqi acquisition of a nuclear capability is something that would radically change the whole situation and make Saddam less deterrable, it appears that he's not making much progress toward nuclear weapons. The recent discussion about why he was trying to buy aluminum tubes last summer seems to suggest that, one, he didn't get them-which is the most important fact of all; and two, he may not have been trying to get them for a nuclear program in any case.

So if you look at the evidence of how far he's come, granted, as [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld says, we don't know what we don't know, but what we do know is actually a fair amount on the nuclear issue, and it tends to be pretty reassuring. Of course Saddam Hussein hasn't given up his desire for nuclear weapons. No one in his right mind is going to argue that Saddam has reformed himself in some fundamental way. The question is not his intention so much here as his capability or his progress toward a future capability, and there the evidence suggests there isn't much progress. And moreover, the evidence suggests that inspectors can actually do a fairly good job of keeping a nuclear program from getting started because, unlike chemical and biological programs, nuclear issues, nuclear programs, even if they are basement-bomb-style technologies, they're pretty elaborate, pretty sophisticated, and fixed technology. It's hard to put these things into an 18-wheeler and move them around the country or to somehow make it look like they are a hospital laboratory one day and producing illicit weaponry the next day.

So the kinds of worries we have about chemical and biological production in Iraq probably are not nearly as serious for the nuclear question. There is a very good chance that especially now, with inspectors inside of Iraq, we can be pretty confident Saddam is not making any progress toward a nuclear capability. So you put all this together and the WMD argument doesn't seem all that compelling for war, and it looks like deterrence and containment can continue to work here pretty well.

A couple more quick points sort of arguing against war and then I'll get to the case for why I'm not quite so confident as these considerations may sound or make me sound.

Saddam has generally been deterrable, as I mentioned earlier, and certainly when we have made it clear what we oppose and which actions of his we would take counteraction against, he has tended to be deterrable, and this is not just in regard to the last few years, but even in 1994 he thought about testing Bill Clinton, moving some brigades south toward Kuwait, and we responded with Operation Vigiliant Warrior, and he backed down. There are a number of other situations. He hasn't used WMD since the late 1980s, he didn't use WMD against us in Desert Storm, he hasn't attacked our allies in the region since Desert Storm, and so it looks like he is deterrable, that for the most part he values his own neck more than he does willy-nilly aggression or adventurism.

Another argument is that he doesn't seem to have any major ties to al Qaeda, and this is something where Donald Rumsfeld again has tried to make a mountain out of a molehill. There may be a tie we don't yet know about, and some of these occasional passings through Baghdad by one al Qaeda operative or another may really just be the tip of the iceberg, but from what we can tell, there has been no material Iraqi collaboration in any major anti-Western terrorism since the attempted assassination of President Bush in 1993. That's the bottom-line view of the U.S. intelligence community last I was able to ascertain, and that suggests that the links between Saddam and al Qaeda, if they exist at all, are very tenuous, very limited, and really have to do as much as anything with the fact that some of these terrorist organization do have joint and multiple memberships, and sometimes there may be sort of a-almost a circumstantial or accidental contact, but it doesn't seem to be advanced to the point of material collaboration. That could be false, but based on the evidence that I've seen, that's the best assessment.

Finally, Richard Betts just wrote a very good article in Foreign Affairs talking about the risk to the homeland of possible Iraqi response to any American invasion, and that suggests that-it's sort of a different sort of argument against war, but it suggests that to the extent Saddam does have WMD today, chemical and biological agents in particular, the overall logic of the situation suggests that leaving him alone is the better course of action and the one that's more likely to produce our best security because going after him changes the whole logic of deterrence. He no longer has reasons to hold back; he has reasons to threaten, certainly, and perhaps even carry out terrorist action against Western or American targets, and that, too, argues against war.

That's the overall argument. It's mostly an argument about containment and deterrence, but it has also got that little asterisk at the end, the Richards Betts argument about how we maybe should be a little bit nervous that if we upset the apple cart, Saddam will no longer be deterred the way he has been.

Moving now quickly-in a talk that I promised would be brief-to arguments for using force, let me go quickly down the list because these are all familiar to everyone in this room.

First of all, Saddam may have only limited links to al Qaeda, if any, but he has enough links to other terrorist organizations, and there are enough sort of occasional contacts with al Qaeda that you have to be a little bit worried. And you combine that with the attempted assassination of former President Bush in 1993, and you recognize in Saddam a certain over-developed sense of vengeance and a certain willingness, perhaps, to go after people if he thinks he can get away with it. If he can convince himself there's a chance he'll get away with a vengeance attack against the United States, his own personal track record, specifically the '93 attempted assassination, suggests that we'd better be a little more worried than some proponents of containment and deterrence are.

And here I think that Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer went a little too far in their Foreign Policy article of recent times suggesting that deterrence was relatively airtight. I think you have to take the '93 attempted assassination into serious account when you're trying to understand Saddam's mentality, and granted, maybe it was just one aberrant example, but can you imagine if it had succeeded? What if he had actually carried out that attack successfully? And there is little doubt any more about the fact that Iraqi intelligence was behind that attempt and their real clear goal was to kill the former president. What does that tell us about Saddam's deterrability?

We also have to be a little bit nervous that Saddam passed up $150 to $200 billion in oil revenue in order to hang on to weapons that he probably could have manufactured again in the future if he had just let us come in, inspect, eliminate them, set up some long-term monitoring, and then found a way to produce a little bit on the side here and there. He probably could have had his cake and eat it too. Somehow his desire or attachment to these WMD capabilities was so great that he was willing to forego perhaps $200 billion now in oil revenue to thwart the international community's efforts and his own obligations to disarm. That has to make you a little bit worried, too, about where he is coming from.

Finally, his own track record-he has used WMD in the past, so there is clearly a stronger argument for going after someone who has already done this than just the average person who is holding WMD as sort of a deterrent of last resort. For Saddam it's clearly not a weapon of last resort. It's also not a weapon of first resort, and so he's not in the category, perhaps, of al Qaeda. He would clearly recognize that there are different qualities to these weapons, and if he uses them, he's running risks above and beyond the use of other weapons, but he has used them before.

And the whole integrity of the UN system, to some extent, is at stake here, and I think on this point President Bush is correct, that the idea that Saddam could be required to give up his WMD and not do it for a decade should be of concern to all of us who care about nonproliferation, not just because it's one more country keeping it's WMD stocks, but because it suggests the international community, even in this extreme case, was unable or unwilling to back up its demands with enough action to produce the results that were required.

And the December 7 declaration by Saddam in this regard has to be seen for what it is. [Secretary of State] Colin Powell-who many of us in this room, I suspect, see as the most pragmatic, moderate, reasonable, thoughtful member of this administration's senior foreign policy team-nonetheless was scathing in his assessment of the December 7 declaration. The polite way to describe it is incomplete. The blunt way to describe it is a bunch of lies, and I subscribe to the latter more than the former.

Right now that declaration is not a sufficient basis for doing inspections in Iraq. He told us nothing about weapons of mass destruction that he almost certainly has, and people in this room, again, are familiar with the evidence, but it's not just U.S. evidence; it's a whole body of UN-accumulated evidence throughout the 1990s about precursor chemicals and growth media and all sorts of things that Saddam imported and never could account for.

Now you can believe if you want to that they spilled them off in some hole in the ground near Baghdad and just forgot to write it down. That's the sort of thing you have to believe multiple times over to believe that Saddam really has no weapons of mass destruction today, and if we let him get away with small lies right now, even as we have nearly 100,000 American troops in the Persian Gulf, what's going to happen in a year or two once that troop presence can no longer be maintained at that level, and perhaps George Bush is no longer president, and the whole international consensus in favor of action has eroded? What's going to happen to the WMD elimination and inspection process at that time?

So I come reluctantly to believing that something has to give. It's not good enough to just sort of play this process out indefinitely, and therefore, while I still hope for more clear evidence before we have to make a decision on war, I would be prepared to support the administration even today should it make that decision-let's say after the January 27 report by the UN inspection teams to the UN Security Council.

My overall preference-and I'll finish on this point-is still that we can convince Saddam, with the threat now of 100,000 American forces soon to be in the region and pushing 150,000 by February, that under those circumstances he will finally see the light-that we are serious, that he'd better not try to split the international community too much because at some point we'll do it with a small coalition, if necessary, and without a second resolution, if necessary-and he'll see the light and realize he's got to take some action to come clean on his WMD holdings.

If that is finally his decision, I think he has to take irreversible action at that time-not simply admit to a few little holdings here and there, but actually produce and come clean on most of the weaponry we know he had and allow us to destroy it quickly-the chemical and biological stocks and production capabilities. If we can still produce that outcome this winter and eliminate these stocks, then I think as an arms controller and as a believer in trying to resolve this problem, if possible, without force, that we could be satisfied. But otherwise, my bottom line is we're in a tough position here, and the overall ledger is pretty mixed, but given the UN demands on Saddam, given the history of 12 years of resolutions, and given his blatant lies on December 7, I am in the reluctant position of having a hard time seeing how we can avoid war unless we get a fundamental change in his behavior from this point on.

Thanks a lot.

Kimball: Thank you, Michael.


Kimball: Joel Wit, the floor is yours. Are you going to stay there?

Joel Wit: Yes, I think I'll just stay here and talk a little. Thanks, Daryl.

Michael mentioned that Iraq is over-analyzed, and I think North Korea is rapidly overtaking Iraq as being over-analyzed, so I'm not sure if I'm going to have a lot new to say, particularly since I see in the audience there are some of our Korean colleagues from the embassy who have heard a lot of this before, and people like John Steinbruner, who participated in discussion groups on this. But let me just try to give you kind of a brief overview of the situation today in terms of North Korea's programs, the U.S. administration's policies, and maybe what we should be doing next.

I think it's fair to say that we stand now at the threshold of North Korea becoming a growing nuclear power for everyone to see. And let me just briefly go through what their programs are just so you have a sense of where they are at the moment.

There are three components to North Korea's nuclear program. The first is, as everyone knows, it has a very well developed plutonium production program that was frozen by the 1994 agreement and now probably will restart within the next month or two. Initially that program will churn out small amounts of plutonium, at least until the end of 2004, but at that point, if North Korea resumes construction of two larger reactors, their production may start ramping up to a point where they will be able to produce about 250 kilograms of plutonium a year, and depending on how much they use for a bomb, that could be as much as 35 to 40 nuclear weapons a year.

The second component of their program is the one we've heard a lot about recently, and that's this secret uranium-enrichment program they've had. It's much smaller, as far as we know; the information is very sketchy about it. It's not clear where it's located, although I'm sure that there are some sites that are suspected. The best we can tell, this program started in the late 1990s as a research and development effort. If you go back to that time period, there are press reports of North Korea looking to acquire equipment for uranium-enrichment overseas, and there were also press reports about contacts with Pakistan.

According to more recent information, this program took off in 2001, the first year of the Bush administration, when Pyongyang started to buy large amounts of material to build a production facility. And as best as I can tell from the press, the estimates are that it will be completed in one to three years, which is a pretty broad range of uncertainty, and when it is done, it will be able to produce enough enriched uranium for one to two bombs by mid-decade.

The third component of the program is the weaponization effort. Once again, as far as we can tell, North Korea has been trying to produce a weapons design for at least 15 years, if not longer, and the reason I say that is we know that in the late 1980s North Korea conducted high explosives tests at its nuclear facilities, and there are also press reports more recently, in the late 1990s, of more high-explosive tests-maybe not at those facilities, but at other places.

Still, it's not clear whether North Korea can actually build a bomb, although some of us would probably give them the benefit of the doubt after all this time. The 1993 intelligence estimate, which is cited in the press so often, said that there was a better-than-even chance that North Korea had one to two nuclear weapons, but there were no smoking guns that led the intelligence community to that conclusion, and it was the most controversial part of the estimate.

The nonproliferation and security implications are, of course, quite clear. On the first count, having a hostile North Korea in the middle of Northeast Asia with a growing nuclear weapons arsenal right next door to two major U.S. allies-Japan and South Korea-and also with 37,000 American troops across the DMZ [demilitarized zone] is not a good situation, and it's really amazing that the administration could say publicly that this really doesn't matter, it's not a big deal.

I'm not sure whether this development would trigger South Korea and Japan to acquire nuclear weapons, but it would certainly set off a new political dynamic in the region, and, at the very least, it would trigger a debate in both of those countries about whether they should re-evaluate their defense posture, and I'm almost certain there will be other military countermeasures that will follow, including possibly a stepped-up effort for theater missile defense.

On the second count, the proliferation risks-once again they are fairly obvious. Aside from the negative impact on the nonproliferation treaty, it's quite possible that North Korea could send plutonium to other countries or even sell it to terrorists, although I think that is still something of a stretch for the North Koreans. But this link between North Korea and countries like Iran, I think, is very interesting, and North Korea would be the only game in town in terms of being able to supply technology and material to these other countries.

Michael is taking his watch away, so I need to see how much-(audio break, tape change)-policy been and why? Well, I think the answer is pretty clear. The administration's policy has been not only ineffective, but I would say very ineffective. The fact is the Bush administration has never had a policy toward North Korea. There have always been deep splits in the administration about how to deal with the North, and those splits have never been resolved. And those deep splits are between what my colleague, Bob Einhorn, has called the far right, the near right, and the center.

The far right in the administration wants North Korea to go away. They want them to collapse. So they see North Korea building nuclear weapons as an avenue to getting what they want. And the theory is that if North Korea builds nuclear weapons, everyone will band against them, isolate them, and then they will collapse. Well, it's a nice idea, and it has a certain logic to it, but I think it's pretty risky, particularly if North Korea doesn't collapse. And in the past, North Korea has, of course, confounded many predictions that it was about to go away. The near right-extremely leery about talking to North Korea under any circumstances, and particularly the current circumstances where we would seem to be succumbing to blackmail-I'm not sure if they really know what to do about the situation. The center, well, it's an endangered species in this administration, and I think that the center at least realizes that at this point we have no choice but to sit down and talk to North Korea and maybe even cut a deal with them.

These splits have been manifested in a number of different ways, if you look back over the past two years of U.S. policy, and I'll just briefly mention a few of them.

The initial policy review that was conducted during the first half of 2000 never resolved anything. It just papered over the differences and actually came to a conclusion only because the South Korean foreign minister was about to visit the United States in June 2001. The second manifestation has been the administration's inability to engage North Korea over the next year, in spite of statements that it would meet anywhere, anytime, and in spite of periodic feelers from Pyongyang that it would like to talk to the United States. The third manifestation has been periodic hostile statements about North Korea by administration officials and the president himself. The fourth one, [Assistant Secretary of State James] Kelly's visit to North Korea in October, which essentially threw the gauntlet on the table in terms of dealing with North Korea's uranium-enrichment program; it was not a problem-solving approach, and I think that is the reason why the meeting ended so badly. And finally, and most obviously, these splits are reflected in the administration's current approach, which, as far as I can tell, consists of no negotiations, no economic sanctions, and no military measures, but we would be willing to talk, not negotiate, and provide incentives to Pyongyang after it unilaterally quickly dismantles its uranium-enrichment program.

The other, I think, really major manifestation of this mismanagement has been the deterioration of relations with South Korea, which in the past has been our closest ally in dealing with the North. Now, to be fair, South Korea is undergoing a number of dynamic domestic changes that would make it difficult for any administration to deal with Seoul. But nevertheless, I think the administration's track record in U.S.-South Korean relations is particularly bad. It got off on the wrong foot from the very beginning with [South Korean] President Kim's visit to Washington in 2001, and it really hasn't recovered since then. It's made no secret of its distaste for his policies-his Sunshine Policy toward the North-and it's made no secret of its hope that a more conservative candidate would be elected president. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened.

In short, the United States, in this administration, has maneuvered itself into a position that every U.S. government official in the past has realized must be avoided at all costs when dealing with South Korea, and that is that it looks like we are sacrificing South Korean interests for our own interests. That creates an enormous amount of tension between our two countries.

This close relationship, and the deterioration of it, I think in part accounts for why we're in such a bind now, because in order to take tough measures against North Korea, such as seeking sanctions or even considering some military steps, we need South Korean support. We don't have that now, and indeed, what we have is a South Korean effort to mediate between the United States and North Korea, and that's something that most of us thought we would never see in our lifetime.

For the moment, I'll just skip over the other regional players, but needless to say, the others are not going to pull our bacon out of the fire. In spite of what the administration says publicly, China, Russia, and others are not going to support the current U.S. approach. So the third question I was asked to answer is, what should the U.S. and allies now do to curb proliferation dangers? Someone told me-I haven't read the Wall Street Journal today-but someone said that there was an op-ed or an article or an editorial that's in there that said the best way to deal with the North is to deal with Iraq first, and that will send a message to the North Koreans. Well, you know, I would submit that's probably one of the worst ways to deal with North Korea. It's not quite as bad as some of the other trial balloons I've seen floated, like encouraging Japan to become a nuclear-weapon state or withdrawing U.S. troops from South Korea, but it probably ranks third behind those two.

The fact is there are a couple of problems with that approach. First of all, we can't wait that long. We are not determining the pace of events here. I think it's very clear to most of us-and maybe not to some in the administration-but to most of us that North Korea is determining the pace of events. And the next event will be when North Korea actually restarts some of the nuclear facilities that it has said it will restart, particularly its reprocessing plant. That could come in February or March. So time is not on our side. But secondly, there is no substitute for a real policy here. You know, we're not going to find a magic bullet by waiting until after we deal with Iraq, or by doing these other crazy things. We need a real policy for dealing with North Korea, and unfortunately we've dug a very deep hole for ourselves.

As far as I can tell, the only way to recover our footing at this point is to sit down with North Korea and hold a true dialogue with them on what it will take to stop the current crisis. And I'm not advocating that we should sit down and negotiate and, you know, that's all we should be doing, but negotiations, sitting down with Pyongyang, are key to being able to regenerate our ability to take some of these tougher measures. We can't move forward very far in the United Nations without the support of other countries like South Korea, China, and Russia, and yet we are not going to get that support without starting some sort of dialogue with North Korea and demonstrating that it may be them, not us, who are intransigent. We can't get support for maybe taking military steps-and I'm not talking about pre-emptive strikes; I'm talking about other steps short of that-we can't get support for that from South Korea unless we demonstrate that we've tried to negotiate. So it's key that we move into this negotiations phase and also start to regenerate these other two tracks that I'm talking about.

Immediately I think what we need to do is to seek a freeze on the current situation on both sides; no more steps that will make it get worse until we can sit down and talk. The other thing we need to do-and this is purely from the U.S. angle-is I think the U.S. seriously needs to consider appointing a Korea czar. We've heard this idea before, and indeed the Clinton administration did it at the end of the administration when it appointed [former Defense Secretary William] Perry. I think this administration is desperately in need of someone, some senior American, with enough prestige and influence to pull our policy together.

And it's not only to deal with the current crisis, but the fact is-and this will be my last point-the fact is that I think there is a 50-50 chance that even if we take this approach we can't resolve the situation. It may be-and none of us know for sure-but it may be that North Korea has already decided that it's going to move forward no matter what, and that its public statements that it's interested in negotiating may just be a smokescreen for moving forward with their nuclear weapons program. If that's the case, I think the czar is still important because in the aftermath of that, when it becomes apparent to everyone that North Korea is moving forward no matter what, there's going to be a lot of serious work that needs to be done between the United States-certainly first and foremost between the United States and its regional allies, South Korea and Japan.

So I'll stop there. I think my 15 minutes are up.

Mr. Kimball: Thank you very much for your presentation. We'll move to the questions. Actually, before we do, if someone has a large SUV outside illegally parked, it's going to soon be pre-empted by the D.C. police.

So let's move to the floor and questions. Miles Pomper, and then we'll go to John and others.

Question: You mentioned military measures other than pre-emption. Can you give us some examples of that?

Wit: I see all my South Korean colleagues are poised to write this down (chuckles), but the fact is this is no mystery. During the 1994 crisis, in fact, the United States took a number of military steps to prepare for whatever contingencies might take place if the crisis deteriorated. A lot of those steps had to do with ensuring the readiness of U.S. forces on the peninsula and in the region, as well as moving some additional forces to the Korean Peninsula in the guise of modernization programs, which in fact were supposed to happen but which were accelerated at that time.

So there is a broad range of steps that you can take without provoking a North Korean response, and that was very critical. The North Koreans knew that we were taking these steps, yet they were not major enough to provoke some sort of military response on their part. And it's just a way of communicating to them that we're serious. Right now, I can't see how they would think we were serious about anything. We've said no sanctions, we've said no military measures; we're not going to negotiate. I mean, if I was sitting in Pyongyang I would [think] that, you know, the United States is pretty confused about what it's going to do, and I may use this opportunity to kind of run for the door and start building more weapons.

Question: Do you think it was a mistake to take the military option off the table?

Wit: I don't want to be too unfair here. I think the fact is that without South Korean support, it's very difficult to take some of these steps. And unfortunately we've mismanaged our relationship with South Korea so much that it's going to be very hard to regenerate these possibilities.

Kimball: John Rhinelander.

Question: Let me ask a question for each of these sequentially, and that's on what I would call the U.S. decision-making process, or absence of it.

I'd like to hear your views in terms of the involvement of the president and the involvement of the vice president in each area, kind of from inauguration date forward, because I see in some cases there has been, at least recently, I think, a well-coordinated one (off mike)-a total absence of what we used think as a process. But I would like to get the views of each of you in the areas you've addressed today.

Kimball: Gentlemen, if you can try to answer that-it may not be possible. (Chuckles.)

Eisenstadt: Sitting where I sit, the process is rather opaque, so it's really hard for me to make a judgment. All I'll say is this though: I think in the Middle East, the administration has been heavily preoccupied with planning for Iraq, and recently-well, it's receding into the past now, the efforts to manage the Arab-Israeli-the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Despite that, I think it's interesting to see that the administration did unveil a new policy toward Iran, despite its preoccupation with these other issues. And this was, as I read to you before, a dramatic departure from past policy. But, again, I think our ability to get there will have to be deferred until after a war with Iraq, although I think for a lot of people in this administration, war in Iraq is seen as a facilitator for achievement of our policy objectives in Iran-if you will, a necessary condition-or at least successful regime change in Iraq and the creation of a transition toward a broad-based representative government and eventual democratization there for many people in this administration is seen as a facilitator for achieving our policy objectives in Iran.

I can't talk about the process, but I can say that-I'll just throw out this prediction: just as after the 1991 Gulf War, the profile of Iran grew dramatically after the defeat of Iraq in Desert Storm. I believe that after, barring a quagmire in Iraq, we'll see Iran's profile rise dramatically, and that will be quite possibly the next major issue in the Middle East after Iraq. But I can't really speak to the process and the role of the president and V.P.-I'm sorry.

O'Hanlon: This is just a guess, but I think in short the story on Iraq is that after September 11, the hardliners in the administration succeeded in putting Iraq on the policy agenda on a very high position, right after al Qaeda. And, clearly, during the summer of 2002, you heard [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and Vice President Dick Cheney all very clear in their desire to go to war promptly at a time when the president, you know, was subjecting himself to parody by saying things like, my Iraq policy is they've got to get serious-now watch this drive. And we all remember that golf course episode; he didn't quite seem to have his mind on the issue. Meanwhile, Cheney is out giving speeches about how inspections can't work, and Rumsfeld is alleging major ties between al Qaeda and Saddam.

And so in the summer, the hardliners had not only won in elevating Iraq high as the policy issue, they seemed to be foreshadowing an eventual decision to go quickly to war. And then I think, in a very historically important situation and set of events, Powell and Bush put the hardliners in their place. And I think the hardliners flat-out lost, at least on the tactics of how to address the Iraq situation, and created the entire U.S. process ultimately leading up to UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which gave Saddam a way out of this if he had been smart enough to choose it. And unfortunately, from my point of view, he didn't choose it. The way to choose it was to 'fess up on the chemical and biological stuff in his December 7 declaration. And maybe Saddam thought this administration was going to find a way to go to war against him no matter what he said and decided to do, so you might as well not admit to previous crimes, but I think he made a fundamentally incorrect decision.

Nonetheless, I think Powell and Bush told Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld, we're doing this through the UN, which means focusing on the WMD and giving Saddam the final, clear chance to avoid war, should he want it. Now, again, at this point I don't know what Cheney's role will be because now we're into sort of act four. If act one was getting the issue high on the agenda, act two was the summer set of speeches, act three was Powell and Bush going through the UN, now we're into act four. We're in this murky area where Saddam did not come clean the way he should have, and yet there is no smoking gun and the inspections are working sort of visibly on the surface okay. We're back in a tough position from a policy point of view, and maybe Cheney will now win act four the way he won, or seemed to win, act one and then lost his momentum by act three.

That's the way I would sum it up. It's obviously all speculative, and I can't do nearly as good of a job as Bob Woodward, so I probably should just pass, but that's how I would sum it up.

Kimball: Who's in charge, Joel?

Wit: Oh, boy. You know, it's very interesting. I think we've all read periodic public blurbs from the president about how he feels about [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Il, and I can't quite figure out where these have come from, but he seems occasionally to blurt out how much he hates Kim Jong Il. I mean, he called him a pygmy once and, you know, other statements like that, which, you know, I think we could all agree that North Korea is an awful place, but I'm not sure how that plays into the decision-making process, except I think it gives you a flavor for, you know, what it might be like sitting in a principals committee meeting talking about North Korea.

I have friends in the State Department who have told me that the interagency papers are really fascinating because, you know, they of course read the North Korean party newspaper, and you've heard about it in the press recently; all the shrill statements about the United States. And my friends say, well, you know, the administration's interagency papers sound like the North Korean party newspaper, except from the opposite vantage point.

I mean, what we're talking about here, I think, is a decision-making process that is colored, to a large degree, by these very ideological thoughts, and at times is dragged back into reality, it seems to me, not just by the current crisis but also by our need to deal with South Korea and our alliance relationship with South Korea. And I'm pretty sure that centrists in the administration use that as a way of banging the right and the far right over the head about how the U.S. needs to change its position. I'm not sure whether ultimately that will work or not, but it seems to be the only lifeline that the center people have at the moment.

Kimball: All right. We'll take a couple more questions. Greg, please.

Question: I've been especially struck lately that using the term "weapons of mass destruction" will ultimately lead to confusion rather than clarity, and I'm afraid Michael Eisenstadt has given me another example in a statement he made about Iran, and I want to deconstruct a little bit.

For Iran, developing WMD is a matter of pride and national security. If I'm not mistaken, Ayatollah Khomeini said that nuclear weapons were immoral. The Iranians developed chemical weapons very reluctantly in response to continual usage by Iraq against them. So I would assume that for CW and BW-and I'm not knowledgeable about what kind of BW Iran has-it is a matter of national security and not national pride. And I assume from your statement that you're really talking about nuclear weapons, but I wonder if you could break that down, without asking you to publish a matrix, which WMD are you talking about, and (off mike)?

Eisenstadt: Yeah, I think you raise some valid points there, but I would say I think nuclear weapons most of all, you know, have the greatest psychological cache. And clearly this is what separates the big boys-or the men from the boys internationally. So I think, from the point of view of national pride at least, nuclear weapons are probably the most important, but the fact is those are not capabilities that they have right now. And right now their capabilities are limited, at least as far as we know, and their capabilities are limited to chemical and biological weapons.

The idea, though, you know, the reason I use the term WMD, it's because I'm not sure that people in Iran-there isn't, as far as I can tell, a sophisticated public debate on these issues. You know, people tend to be focused more on the issues of day-to-day survival and the economy and social and political conditions in the country. I think in general, you know, the category of WMD can be subsumed under the larger category of national strength, and most Iranians want to have a strong country in order to preserve their independence, in order to ensure that Iranian national interests are preserved, and to the degree that chem and bio, or in the future, nuclear weapons, are seen as key to ensuring the country's national security, Iranians, I think, of all political stripes will support the country's pursuit of WMD even though they are also signatories to every major arms control agreement.

Now, this poses a dilemma for some people of a certain political stripe in Iran. For the conservatives, who are not so much interested in relations with the Western world and Iran's integration into the international community and who see the Islamic world as more Iran's natural milieu, they're not so concerned about the impact of the violation of arms control treaties, although I think they recognize it's important to go forward with these programs in a certain way in order to minimize unnecessary costs to Iran.

But for those Iranians who do want Iran to be integrated into the community of nations, who want to improve the economy and want to attract foreign investment, they have a dilemma, because on the one hand they want Iran to be strong, and WMD writ large, nuclear weapons in particular, are the fastest way to that route for them, given their economic circumstances. On the other hand, they realize if they go down that route and violate their arms control obligations, it could be at the price of attracting foreign investment and fixing the economy and improving relations with the outside world.

Again, you know, I gave kind of a wave-top assessment here. If you go down one level further, things are more complicated. I would say that, you know, the differences among Iranians on these issues provide policy opportunities for us in the future. But, you know, the bottom line is I think national pride is extremely important in the context of Iran, and the power of Iranian nationalism cannot and should not be underrated. I subscribe to a number of Iranian news groups, and it comes through on the e-mails-you know, when you have debates about, you know, the Persian versus Arab Gulf, and you know on any number of issues you could raise you could see how it's a factor.

So I would not underrate the importance of national pride with regard to the full range of WMD, especially nukes, but they don't have nukes now, so CBW is important in that context.

Kimball: Admiral Turner-and we'll take one more question.

Question: Michael O'Hanlon, I wonder if we're being realistic with expecting Saddam Hussein to comply completely with 1441 right off the bat. In our culture, we make an agreement, and we try to live up to it exactly. This (unintelligible) a Middle Eastern desire. Isn't this a negotiation in which the UN made the first move-1441? Saddam Hussein made the second move with much greater compliance than he did in 1991 in terms of letting the inspectors in and so on. The third move comes on January 20 when Blix goes back to Iraq-and who knows what Saddam may put on the table? And then the fourth move will be the UN response to that.

I mean, are we not asking too much from a Middle Eastern mentality to say, I'm going to come totally clean in one sweep here? You bargain this thing down the line. Don't we have a chance of getting a reasonable deal out of this in the long term?

Kimball: That's a good question. If I could just add one question to that, which is that in your case for possible military action you cited the importance of maintaining the integrity of the UN system, the international rule of law. What would it do to the UN system, the international rule of law, if the United States decides to take military action, absent positive evidence from the inspectors that there has been a violation of 1441?

O'Hanlon: Well, two good questions. Admiral Turner, it seems to me that we do have to force this issue within roughly, say, a year. I think Rumsfeld, again, is up to his ways, and he's trying to force the issue this winter by making troop deployment at such a high level that we can't sustain them very long. And I question just how much internal dialogue led to that consensus decision; of how much really Powell has to understand that too, as do you, as do other people who know the military well. But somehow this seems to be getting a little bit ahead of the game. I'd rather keep the numbers in sort of the 50,000 to 75,000 range until we've made a decision. But if you were to do that, and walk back a little from what Rumsfeld's doing in the way of a buildup, I think you have maybe a year.

I'm not sure you have a lot more than that-maybe you wouldn't disagree, I don't know-but it seems to me you do have to take advantage of the fact that we have forced this to the top of the policy agenda, and it won't stay there naturally unless we do something about this, and once we do something about it, it's fairly short order.

I'm not sure Saddam is behaving fundamentally better than he did in 1991. In the early years, it seems to me, he did not impede inspectors very much; he just hoped we wouldn't find anything. And for a while that strategy worked. Then we did start to find things, and he let us find whatever we found-it didn't help-and then his son-in-law defected-you know the history better than I.

But, in any case, all he's doing now is letting us walk around in places that have no illicit weaponry inside of them. That's not a great concession on his part. My real worry is over time, if we seem uncommitted to resolving this, at some point he'll start to thwart the inspectors, put conditions on their movement, and that will give his nuclear scientists more confidence they can begin a nuclear program. That's my real worry. If he keeps the few chemical and biological agents for a long time, I don't really care that much-you can live with that and deter that-but to the extent he can weaken the inspection process over time and then ultimately start a nuclear program, that is worse. So I think we have to push this within the next year and a half or so-maybe not this winter.

In terms of international law, again, here I'll take the point that right now our case is-I think the case is convincing. But it's convincing to me; it's not convincing to most of the world. And part of what international law is is a body of well-accepted judgments and principles. And, so to the extent that you can make the case in sort of a lawyerly point-by-point manner-and I think you can-international law should not be seriously impeded. And I don't believe 1441 really requires a second resolution. It certainly requires a second debate, but I think we can again argue that we don't have to have a second resolution to go to war.

On the other hand, international law is partly about politics and partly about consensus and partly about international public opinion. And in that sense, if we have to go to war based on current evidence, we are in a bit of a pickle. So it's going to be-there will be some strengthening elements and some weakening elements if we have to go to war under current circumstances.

Kimball: All right. One last question, sir, and if the panelists can keep their answers brief, that would be helpful.

Question: James Rosen, McClatchy Newspapers. There has been talk on and off for the last six to eight months about the timing of a war in Iraq, with all sorts of constraints that are mentioned. Some of them, Mr. O'Hanlon, you just mentioned-(off mike) and so forth. People talk a lot about climate and weapons.

The question for either you or any of the panelists is, do you believe that there are absolute constraints of any sort on the timing of a war happening late winter, early spring? In other words, is there an absolute last deadline, beyond which if it doesn't happen, then we're into a waiting period? And if so, what do you think the constraints are?

O'Hanlon: I'll give a quick start, and anybody else can follow-up. First of all, if you could fight at night, you could fight any time. The desert cools enough at night that-at least in Iraq and Baghdad-it's in the 70s even in July, at night. So if you wear chemical protective gear and you can fight at night, you'd be okay. The problem is, of course, that we can't always dictate the length of tactical engagements. And if you want to make sure that most of your fighting occurs when the temperature is in the 70s because you think you have to be in chemical protective gear, you really have to finish this thing by sometime in April. By mid-April, average daily highs in Baghdad are 85; by early May they're 90; by mid-May they're 95. And I think you have to work under the assumption that we're going to have to wear chemical protective gear and that we're sometimes going to have to fight in the heat of the day.

So based on that set of arguments, I would say you want to either have this war, if you have to have it at all, in March-primarily in March of 2003, or wait until next fall and winter and do it in 2004. But I personally would say that even though we certainly can win the war anytime of year, the difficulty of fighting with chemical protective suits will go up astronomically. We may have to make that terrible choice of whether we want to fight without chemical protective gear or wear our troops down in the space of 15 to 20 or 30 minutes while they are wearing it during the summer.

Kimball: All right. Thank you.

Yes, Stanley? Please.

Question: Just one more question. On the inspection, we apparently haven't given Blix much of our classified information. From today's Times, I gathered that the French and the Russians are indicating that they want to have some of our (off mike) before they act. How do you see that playing out? Have we really hard data? Will we produce it? And if we don't appear to, then what do you see at the result?

O'Hanlon: It's a tough question, and maybe I want to, again, invite others who may want to comment on this as well. My sense is we don't have a smoking gun at any site because if we did we would have already either bombed it or produced that evidence in the course of making our case for war earlier. So I think what we have is places we're highly suspicious about that you might want to send inspectors to, but even there it's going to take some luck, good or bad, depending on your perspective, to find anything. And I think all we have, again, is the set of-we've watched a lot going on there; we know where trucks are coming in and out at different hours, we know where there is more electricity usage than there probably would otherwise be, based on certain data about those facilities. We have reasons to be suspicious about a number of places. We have some defector reports that the Iraqis moved things around, so whatever the defectors knew a year ago may no longer be true.

My guess is we don't have hard data, and I think it's not going to provide a clear answer in the end unless we get awfully lucky.

Kimball: We're going to have to stop there. This conversation is obviously incomplete, and there are more developments that we will see in the days and weeks ahead. I want to thank everyone for coming. Please thank our panelists for their presentations. (Applause.) And for those of you who are joining us upstairs for the luncheon with Congressman John Spratt, please move upstairs, either the elevators or the stairs, register outside, and we'll look forward to seeing you there in a few minutes.

(End of panel discussion.)

ACA Panel Discussion

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Arms Control Association Calls on White House to Pursue North Korean Disarmament Through Pragmatic Engagement



For Immediate Release: January 3, 2003

Press Contacts: Daryl Kimball, (202) 277-3478 or Paul Kerr, (202) 463-8270 x102

(Washington, D.C.): A decade ago, North Korea challenged the nuclear nonproliferation regime by pursuing nuclear weapons in violation of its treaty commitments. Pyongyang is once again breaking its commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as well as the 1994 Agreed Framework,
which defused the earlier crisis.

North Korea’s provocative expulsion this week of international arms inspectors and preparations to resume operation of its nuclear reactor, along with its related facilities, is a more serious and urgent proliferation threat than that posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities, particularly since international arms inspectors are now working in Iraq. The North Korean situation demands a concerted and immediate diplomatic initiative led by the United States in coordination with other countries in the region.

Because pre-emptive military action against North Korea would likely lead to a devastating conventional war, and since a nuclear-armed North Korea would undermine regional security, the Bush administration must engage in tough, direct diplomacy with Pyongyang. For two years, the Bush administration has failed to engage in meaningful talks with North Korea on steps to implement earlier denuclearization agreements and to permanently and verifiably end North Korea’s ballistic missile program.

Complicating matters, the Bush administration stoked North Korean fears that it might be the target of a pre-emptive strike when President Bush named it part of an “axis of evil” and when the Pentagon released its Nuclear Posture Review which listed a war with North Korea as one of the contingencies that the United States must be prepared to possibly use nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang has cited these actions as evidence that the United States has reneged on its 1994 pledge to pursue normalized relations and to refrain from threatening the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea. Although the Bush administration has recently said that it has no intention of attacking North Korea, the administration has sent inconsistent signals to Pyongyang.

Time is not on our side. The longer the Bush administration refuses to engage in direct, formal, high-level discussions with North Korea, the closer North Korea will move toward building a nuclear arsenal. North Korea, which may already have enough plutonium for two bombs, could separate additional plutonium for six bombs in six months.

Bush officials say they will not give in to “blackmail” by agreeing to negotiate with North Korea. Such an approach is based on the misconception that nuclear proliferation is inevitable and that it is fruitless to engage with North Korea to change its behavior. However, talking to the regime in Pyongyang is anything but acquiescence. By talking with North Korea, as the United States has done in the past and as South Korea and Japan are doing now, the United States would make it clear that it will not accept the entrance of a ninth state to the nuclear weapons club and that it is genuinely interested in seeking practical solutions to prevent such an outcome. Furthermore, only through preventative diplomacy and new, verifiable arms control measures, can the United States and the international community develop the tools by which we can ensure that North Korea does not again violate its disarmament commitments.

Refusing to talk with North Korea may be morally satisfying, but it will only make a bad situation worse. Since the United States announced North Korea’s admission that it has been pursuing uranium-enrichment capabilities, the leaders in Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo decided to cut off heavy fuel oil shipments to the North that were promised under the 1994 Agreed Framework. Further attempts at isolation will likely provoke more destabilizing actions on the part of the Pyongyang regime, such as withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

North Korea’s continued, unchecked pursuit of nuclear weapons will create a highly dangerous situation that could spiral out of control and jeopardize regional and world security. Unfortunately, the Bush administration’s high-handed approach has helped contribute to the crisis and leaves it with no meaningful way to prevent North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Rather than hope that further economic isolation will persuade North Korea to refrain from acquiring nuclear weapons, the White House should encourage International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) member states and the United Nations Security Council to call upon North Korea to end its nuclear weapons related activity. At the same time, the White House should initiate direct discussions with Pyongyang on issues of concern. Congressional leaders, such as Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN) and John Kerry (D-MA), and U.S. allies in Seoul and Tokyo agree on the need to engage in talks that produce new, verifiable agreements that can defuse the present crisis and eliminate the North’s nuclear capabilities.

The U.S. approach in these talks should be to link further energy assistance and aid to North Korea to visible evidence that the country’s recently revealed uranium-enrichment activities have ended and that it agrees to allow IAEA inspectors to verify that it is not trying to build nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, the United States and its allies should offer practical proposals, such as formal nonaggression pledges, that could persuade the Pyongyang regime to roll back its nuclear and missile programs.


# # #

The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies. Established in 1971,the Association publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.

Statement by Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball

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