"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
North Korea

U.S. Stops Then Releases Shipment of N. Korean missiles

Paul Kerr

Spanish and U.S. forces intercepted and searched a ship December 9 carrying a shipment of Scud missiles and related cargo from North Korea to Yemen. The United States, however, said it lacked the necessary legal authority to seize the cargo and decided to allow the shipment to be delivered.

The ship, named the So San, was unflagged, and its “name and the indications of nationality…were obscured,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said December 11. Spain’s defense minister, Federico Trillo, said that two Spanish naval vessels stopped the ship in the Arabian Sea on December 9, according to a December 11 Spanish media report. He added that Spanish naval personnel boarded and searched the vessel, which was carrying a concealed shipment of 15 complete Scud missiles, 15 warheads, and missile fuel. U.S. naval forces also participated in the search, according to a December 11 statement from Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Spain stopped the ship at the request of the United States, according to Boucher. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer explained December 11 that Washington possessed intelligence that the ship was carrying missiles to the Middle East. The United States had been tracking the ship since shortly after it left port in North Korea, Fleischer added, and was concerned “about where its ultimate destination might have been,” apparently a reference to Iraq.

The incident occurred shortly before the Bush administration publicly issued its National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction. (See ACT, January/February 2003.) The document lists interdicting and preventing the flow of weapons materials and technology as part of the U.S. counterproliferation strategy.

Boucher said that the Spanish ship conducted the boarding because “it was at the right place at the right time.” Spain contributes naval assets to U.S. Central Command—whose area of responsibility includes the Arabian Sea—in support of U.S. military efforts against terrorism, according to a June 14 Defense Department fact sheet.

Yemen protested the ship’s seizure in a December 11 letter to the United States, saying that it had purchased the missiles for defensive purposes, according to a December 11 report from Saba, Yemen’s official news agency. Yemen promised that the missiles would not be transferred to a third party, the letter added.

The ship was released after a series of phone conversations between Vice President Dick Cheney and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, as well as Powell and Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qurbi, according to Boucher. Boucher acknowledged the assurances in Yemen’s letter and added that Yemen had informed Washington that it would no longer purchase missiles from North Korea. The missiles arrived in Yemen December 14, Saba reported December 15.

Fleischer said that the United States had the authority to stop the ship because it was unflagged but that Washington decided to release the ship because it lacked “clear authority to seize the shipment.” Fleischer also suggested that Yemen’s status as an ally in anti-terrorism efforts was an important factor in the decision, saying that Yemen “does not provide a threat to the United States.”

The transfer of missiles, however, raised concerns about Yemen’s relationship with North Korea. Pyongyang’s sales of missiles and related components have long been a source of concern to the United States. Powell called North Korea “one of the great proliferators on the face of the Earth” in his December 11 statement.

The Scud purchase also called into question Yemen’s previous commitments to stop purchasing missiles from Pyongyang. Boucher said in his December 11 statement that Yemen had committed to ending its missile purchases in 2001 and again this past August, after the United States imposed sanctions on a North Korean corporation and the North Korean government for transferring missile technology to Yemen. (See ACT, September 2002.) Yemen stated in its December 11 letter that this most recent shipment was made to fulfill contracts “concluded very long ago”—prior to its commitments to Washington.

When asked about the possibility of sanctioning Yemen, Boucher indicated that Washington chose to waive sanctions this past August, which “otherwise would have been imposed,” because of Yemen’s assistance in combating terrorism and its agreement to end missile purchases from Pyongyang. He added that these waivers would likely “continue to apply.”

The North Korean Foreign Ministry condemned the interdiction of the ship in a December 13 statement cited by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, referring to the naval action as “unpardonable piracy that wantonly encroached upon the sovereignty” of North Korea.

Fleischer suggested that the incident might prompt the United States to strengthen international controls on the transfer of missile technology, although he did not provide additional details. The United States is a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime and in November signed the International Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation. (See ACT, January/February 2003.) Neither Yemen nor North Korea are members of either regime, both of which attempt to control the proliferation of missile technology.

Spanish and U.S. forces intercepted and searched a ship December 9 carrying a shipment of Scud missiles and related cargo from North Korea to Yemen. 

A Strategy for Defusing the North Korean Nuclear Crisis

Joel S. Wit

The recent revelation that North Korea has a uranium-enrichment program has triggered a mounting crisis. It has forced the Bush administration to seriously consider its policy on the Korean Peninsula at the worst possible moment—as it is gearing up for a possible conflict in Iraq. And it has placed in serious doubt the continuation of the 1994 U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework. That arrangement not only ended the North’s large-scale plutonium production program, but served as a firm political foundation for the fitful rapprochement between North Korea, the United States, South Korea, and Japan during the past decade.

According to publicly available information, North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program is anywhere from one to three years away from actually producing bomb-making material. Whether North Korea has a workable weapons design is unclear. Perhaps even more important, however, is North Korea’s larger plutonium-production program, which was frozen by the Agreed Framework but may now be restarted. Using fuel rods in storage at the Yongbyon nuclear facility, that program could produce five nuclear weapons’ worth of plutonium in about six months. If North Korea restarted its five-megawatt reactor, it could produce enough plutonium for three more weapons in two years. In that time, it could also finish a partially completed 50-megawatt reactor that was shut down by the Agreed Framework, providing another 10 weapons’ worth of material each year. Once a larger reactor at Taechon is completed, production would grow even further.

The seriousness of the situation is growing. After Pyongyang announced its uranium-enrichment program the United States suspended heavy-fuel oil deliveries provided for under the 1994 agreement. At first, North Korea responded simply by suspending visits by inspectors to plants using the fuel from those deliveries. But North Korea then escalated the crisis by announcing that the freeze on activities at its nuclear facilities had ended and by expelling inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) who were monitoring activities at those sites. The next significant milestone in restarting the nuclear program could come as early as February, when North Korea could begin separating plutonium from the spent fuel rods now in storage.

Faced with this crisis, which is in part of its own making, the Bush administration has been unable to craft an effective response. Such a response would avert a confrontation with North Korea; solve the mounting nuclear problem; maintain solidarity with close allies in the region, particularly South Korea; and build credibility with other key players, such as China and Russia. Formulating and carrying out this kind of strategy will be difficult, particularly for a divided administration in which some are ideologically opposed to engaging a member of the “axis of evil,” but it is not impossible.

N. Korea’s Motivations, Next Moves

Press reports indicate that North Korea’s interest in uranium-enrichment began during the last years of the Clinton administration. In fact, it seems reasonable to assume that North Korea was trying to leave itself options in case the Agreed Framework failed and the security situation on the peninsula took a turn for the worse. This “hedging strategy” may have also included a broad-based research and development effort and further work on weaponization of any unsafeguarded plutonium that Pyongyang possessed.

North Korea’s plutonium-based program started as a serious effort to develop nuclear weapons in the 1960s. But by the late 1980s, after the disintegration of North Korea’s closest ally, the Soviet Union, it may have been subordinated to a broader North Korean objective: to ensure regime survival through developing better relations with the United States on terms advantageous to Pyongyang. That was one of North Korea’s goals in negotiating the Agreed Framework, which not only provided the North with fuel and light-water reactors but also called for Washington and Pyongyang to move toward normalizing relations.

Nevertheless, even after the signing of the 1994 Agreed Framework, any serious North Korean decision-maker would want to have options in case the agreement failed and his country’s security was once again threatened. One option would be to restart the nuclear weapons program, coupled with a more advanced missile effort, possibly for use in delivery of weapons of mass destruction. A second option would be to seek a new diplomatic arrangement to ensure regime survival, with the enrichment program as another bargaining chip.

A hedging strategy probably appeared thoroughly justified to Pyongyang. North Korea had concerns from the very beginning that relations with the United States might sour. Those concerns were reflected in the 1994 agreement, structured at Pyongyang’s insistence so that it would not have to give up the plutonium-based nuclear program until near the end of a long process during which the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) would build two new nuclear reactors and provide yearly shipments of heavy-fuel oil. Hedging might also have been part of an internal bargain with elements, such as the North Korean military, that were skeptical of an arms control agreement with the United States. Events through most of the decade seemed to validate these concerns: relations with South Korea remained rocky until the June 2000 North-South summit, the United States seemed distracted by other foreign policy problems, and the construction of the critical KEDO reactors fell far behind schedule.

The Bush administration’s failure during its first year to respond to Pyongyang’s diplomatic feelers combined with Washington’s periodic hostile statements, may have further reinforced the North’s perceived need for a hedging strategy. The North’s claim that the administration’s hostile policy caused it to pursue a uranium-enrichment program are disingenuous. The North was clearly pursuing this program before President George W. Bush took office in 2001. Nevertheless, there is reason to believe the uranium-enrichment program may have accelerated that year. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, North Korea began seeking centrifuge-related materials in large quantities in 2001. Pyongyang also “obtained equipment suitable for use in uranium feed and withdrawal systems.” Therefore, it is possible that Pyongyang made the decision to move from research and development to building a production facility sometime in 2001 as it felt increasingly threatened by the Bush administration’s hostility.

There is certainly precedent for this kind of reaction. In March 1993, Kim Jong Il announced Pyongyang’s intention to withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in response to what he viewed as a deteriorating international situation in which Washington was using concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program to isolate his regime. Without this sudden move, Kim may have thought that his continued leadership might have been threatened. The announcement was meant to demonstrate Pyongyang’s toughness and perhaps also to start Pyongyang down the path to becoming a declared nuclear-weapon state. Whether it was also intended to drag the United States to the negotiating table was unclear, but the North did eventually agree to talks. However, Pyongyang was not willing to reach a deal at all costs. If North Korea had calculated that Washington was not serious about discussions, it probably would have withdrawn from the NPT.

Today, Pyongyang may be driven by many of the same motivations. Its response to the recent disclosure of a covert uranium-enrichment program has been designed to make sure Washington understood that North Korea will not be turned into another Iraq—a motivation that has driven its leadership since the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Its bold defiance may also be a first step in an unfolding strategy of trying to negotiate a solution to the current situation—a solution that will avoid a crisis while reinforcing efforts to ensure regime survival. But, if it judges that diplomacy will not work, North Korea may be perfectly willing to build up its nuclear arsenal and then try to return to the negotiating table in a stronger position.

Although its tactics could backfire, North Korea has probably calculated that the risk is acceptable. The obvious danger is that the North’s moves will provoke a harsh reaction from the United States and the international community, threatening its survival, particularly given the North’s continuing economic problems. But for the North Koreans, national security comes first, economic reform and prosperity second. Moreover, they have probably calculated that the reaction will be rhetorically harsh but bearable—at least in the near term. South Korea can be counted on as a voice of moderation as can Russia, whose lukewarm reaction to the current situation stands in contrast to 1993 when it firmly supported the United States. Finally, China’s reaction has been entirely predictable, voicing support for a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula while urging a peaceful solution. Pyongyang probably judges China will not use its political and economic leverage against it if the North plays its cards right.

If the potential danger remains manageable, then the current situation presents Pyongyang with a number of interesting opportunities. Not only can it explore the possibility of reaching a diplomatic solution or going nuclear and then returning to the negotiating table; Pyongyang can also use the current tensions to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul. That has been a standard North Korean tactic which, while causing periodic tensions between the two allies, has ultimately proven unsuccessful in the past. But the North may calculate that it could prove particularly effective today given the wave of anti-Americanism in South Korea and the Bush administration’s rocky relations with Seoul. Certainly, the emergence of a South Korean effort to “mediate” in the dispute between Washington and Pyongyang is a sign of serious discord between the two allies. Moreover, recent calls by some conservatives in the United States to withdraw U.S. troops from the South in response to this rocky relationship may open new horizons for Pyongyang that it had contemplated only in its wildest dreams.

Exactly where Pyongyang is headed over the next few months remains unclear, perhaps even to the North Koreans. A buildup of the North’s nuclear stockpile may not be preordained, particularly if diplomatic initiatives by other countries gather steam. Pyongyang can certainly be counted on to ratchet up tensions if doing so suits its purposes, even during negotiations. In 1993 and 1994, Pyongyang repeatedly threatened to unload its five-megawatt reactor—a step that would have brought it one step closer to reprocessing—in an attempt to soften up the U.S. negotiating position. Today, North Korea might threaten to reprocess the spent fuel currently in the storage pond.

In the meantime, it seems that Pyongyang may restart its five-megawatt reactor and its reprocessing plant as early as February. Restarting the reprocessing plant is a particularly serious step since it would allow North Korea to reprocess the rods currently in the spent fuel pond. North Korea could begin churning out one bomb’s worth of material one month after restart and five bombs’ worth before early summer. Moreover, any new plutonium that North Korea produces will be spirited away to some unknown location, making a diplomatic end to its nuclear program even more complicated. Pyongyang could use a number of other potential tools to heighten tensions and escalate the crisis as well. Its announced withdrawal from the NPT is the first shoe to drop. Others might include declaring an end to the moratorium on missile flight tests or even conducting missile tests. From a North Korean perspective, the power of these steps will only increase as the United States moves toward war with Iraq.
The Bush Administration

Whatever Pyongyang’s motivations, the Bush administration faces a serious problem. Entering office profoundly skeptical of the Clinton administration’s efforts to engage North Korea, it now must devise a strategy for dealing with a nuclear crisis whose outcome could have profound implications for the international nonproliferation regime and stability in Northeast Asia. Failure to prevent North Korea from building a growing nuclear weapons stockpile would not only be a setback for arms control and American leadership in the region but could also create pressures in countries such as South Korea and Japan to follow suit and start their own nuclear weapons programs.

Although North Korea must shoulder much of the blame for the current situation, the Bush administration is also at fault. During the last year of the Clinton administration, the United States launched an initiative specifically designed to deal with troubling North Korean nuclear activities, including uranium-enrichment and weaponization of plutonium. That initiative consisted of two components.

First, Washington engaged Pyongyang in three rounds of “nuclear negotiations” in 2000 to promote greater transparency. The objective was to build on the successful 1999 inspection of the suspected Kumchang-ni nuclear site to establish a more extensive regime for dealing with potential problems. Although U.S. negotiators were distracted by the need to deal with North Korea’s missile program—another priority—the October 2000 joint communiqué issued after Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok’s visit to Washington emphasized the need for greater nuclear transparency. U.S. officials believed these negotiations, if played out, could have been successful provided the relationship between the two countries had continued to improve. A trip by President Bill Clinton to Pyongyang would have helped to build up leverage that the United States could have used to end North Korea’s nuclear activities.

Second, the Clinton administration wanted to revise the Agreed Framework. The basic plan was to substitute conventional power plants, which could be built sooner, for one of the two light-water reactors to be provided under the arrangement. In return, North Korea would have to speed up the imposition of IAEA full-scope safeguards, the shipment of its spent fuel to another country, and the dismantlement of its graphite-moderated nuclear facilities. The acceleration of the inspections was particularly critical, not only for determining how much plutonium Pyongyang had produced before the 1994 crisis but also for uncovering other nuclear activities. Unfortunately, the proposal ran aground because of opposition from South Korea President Kim Dae-jung’s government.

Upon entering office, the Bush administration—aware of these potential problems with Pyongyang—understandably focused on reviewing U.S. policy toward North Korea. After the review, the administration demanded accelerated IAEA inspections but dropped the effort to substitute conventional power for nuclear power and negotiations on transparency. Despite protestations that it would meet with the North Koreans “anywhere, anytime,” the administration was in such bureaucratic disarray and its ideological objections to dealing with Pyongyang were so strong that Washington did little if anything to get talks started. The disembodied objective of accelerating IAEA inspections fell far short of a concerted and comprehensive effort to prevent a potential nuclear problem.

The Bush administration has only recently begun to come to grips with the current situation. Its initial response—to seek diplomatic support from key regional players and the international community—was easy, predictable, and logical. That was precisely the approach the Clinton administration took in 1993 when Pyongyang announced its intention to withdraw from the NPT. Likewise, the results of these first steps have been predictable. Both South Korea and Japan, while making tough public statements, have told the administration that they prefer a diplomatic solution. The initial Chinese reaction to the current crisis was to resurrect almost the exact same language used after the North Korean action in 1993: Beijing emphasized its interest in a non-nuclear peninsula while advocating a peaceful resolution of the problem. Finally, Russia has also tread a fine line between pressuring Pyongyang and calling on Washington to start a dialogue with the North Koreans.

The Bush administration’s demand that North Korea dismantle its uranium-enrichment program before any dialogue can resume was also predictable. Once again, the administration adopted a position similar to that taken by the United States in 1992-1993 when Washington insisted that North Korea meet its international safeguards obligations before any dialogue between the two countries could take place. This approach reflected a long-standing position taken by Republicans during the Clinton administration that the United States should not “negotiate” with North Korea in response to its bad behavior. The Bush administration also felt that such a tough approach makes perfect sense in the context of an international effort to build pressure on Pyongyang just as it initially did in the case of Iraq.

The problem is that, having “rounded up the usual suspects,” the Bush administration must now decide what to do next. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Washington is in disarray. One camp, consisting chiefly of Secretary of State Colin Powell, seems to favor “talk” but not “negotiation.” Administration hard-liners favor “tailored containment.” That approach would make it easier for Washington to isolate Pyongyang and secure its collapse, but it would also allow North Korea to produce a growing stockpile of bomb-making material and weapons. That raises some questions: What happens if the North survives isolation or other countries eventually decide they have to live with a nuclear North Korea? Even if it worked, the cure might be worse than the disease for the North’s neighbors—the collapse of North Korea would present a political, economic, and social nightmare. Pundits outside U.S. government have advocated even more outlandish solutions, such as encouraging Japan to acquire nuclear weapons as a means of putting pressure on China or withdrawing U.S. troops from the peninsula unless the South follows our lead.

Complicating matters even further, the United States has to cope with a less favorable international and regional environment than either the first Bush or the Clinton administrations did. First, neither faced the prospect of a simultaneous confrontation in Iraq, which would absorb military and diplomatic resources that might have been brought to bear on the peninsula and in the UN. Second, Northeast Asia is different today than it was a decade ago. North Korea has developed better ties with South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia, making it more difficult for the United States to marshal support for tough measures that, even under the best of circumstances, would be hard to secure. Moreover, the administration has aggravated the situation by fostering the perception, if not the reality, that it has been uninterested in dialogue with Pyongyang—indeed, it has been occasionally provocative.

Perhaps the most obvious, unintended manifestation of the administration’s policy is South Korea’s effort to “mediate” the crisis, a development that would have been inconceivable in the past. Seoul’s overture is the result of many factors, including the administration’s mismanagement of relations with Kim Dae-jung and its failed bet that a more conservative candidate would win the recent South Korean election. But Washington has also proven itself unable to recognize that, no matter what government is in office, Seoul wants the United States to resolve any crisis with Pyongyang diplomatically. The reason is simple: in the event of any conflict, South Korea would suffer enormous destruction. As one U.S. analyst commented during the 1994 crisis, underneath the surface in Seoul, there exists a vast reservoir of potential resentment that the United States will sacrifice South Korean interests for its own. The Bush administration seems to have successfully if inadvertently tapped that reservoir.

The results of the January Trilateral Coordination Group (TCOG) meeting between the United States, Japan, and South Korea offer some hope that U.S. policy is beginning to change in response to this difficult situation. The U.S. decision to talk to North Korea—seemingly without preconditions—is a small step in the right direction. Importantly, this shows that Bush administration policy may not be written in stone and that it could evolve in response to the views of America’s close allies, particularly South Korea. Further evolution is possible if senior decision-makers pay more attention to this increasingly difficult problem; the TCOG meeting might have forced that level of attention. On the other hand, if the administration took this small step because North Korea was distracting it from the situation in Iraq, then the evolution of its North Korea policy may cease if the Iraqi problem is solved.

Seven Steps to Solve the Crisis

Given these factors—the escalating crisis, the administration’s ideological rigidity, and the difficult regional and international environment—will it be possible for the United States to devise a strategy for dealing with what may be a burgeoning crisis? Assuming North Korea has not already decided to produce more nuclear material or weapons, it will be difficult, but not impossible.

First, Washington must put itself back in a position where it can use all of the policy tools at its disposal. Talks with North Korea, which may or may not entail giving the North something in return, are one such tool. The administration will have to abandon the notion that negotiations reward North Korea or else find a proxy for engaging Pyongyang. A second tool is tough diplomatic measures, such as economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council. The administration seems interested in this track but has undercut its chances of success—until recently—by refusing to pursue dialogue with Pyongyang—a step that would have placated other regional actors. Finally, the administration has ruled out military measures, in part because an attack on North Korea would be too risky, but also because it understands that the current, poor relationship with Seoul rules out such steps. The Clinton administration considered such an attack in 1994 and was, in fact, quietly building up U.S. forces on the peninsula. Military action should remain an option, if only to convince the North that the United States remains serious.

Diplomacy will be the linchpin that enables Washington to bring all of these tools to bear in the current crisis, but the United States faces three challenges. First, it must stop the slide toward confrontation as both sides slowly suspend the Agreed Framework. Second, it must secure the verifiable dismantlement of North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program. Third, once equilibrium has been restored, the United States must re-establish a process designed to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, reduce military tensions on the peninsula, and improve bilateral economic and political relations. This course of action would allow Washington to move beyond the Agreed Framework—not just return it to the status quo ante. If negotiations fail, Washington will have built up diplomatic capital it can draw on to secure support for tough diplomatic steps in the United Nations or perhaps for military measures, such as strengthening U.S. forces in the Pacific or Korea.

To accomplish these goals, the Bush administration should take seven steps:

Appoint a Korea Czar: America’s Korea policy is in desperate need of constant, high-level management, not periodic discussions by senior officials who are preoccupied with Iraq. The current disarray is a sure-fire sign that policy is drifting. To correct this situation, the administration should appoint as its Korea czar a prominent American who has political stature, experience, and authority. The czar would forge a strategy for peaceful resolution of the growing crisis with Pyongyang in close cooperation with South Korea, Japan, and other important actors such as China and Russia. The United States has resorted to such a device before, appointing former Secretary of Defense William Perry to a similar job in 1998 in the wake of North Korea’s long-range missile test and the discovery that Pyongyang might have a secret nuclear facility. That crisis was much less urgent than the one we are facing today.

Freeze the Free Fall: North Korea and the United States must halt the slow-motion suspension of the Agreed Framework. The United States, South Korea, and Japan should continue work on the light-water reactors while the North pledges not to reprocess the spent fuel rods in the Yongbyon storage pond; not to restart its five-megawatt reactor; and to allow limited inspections of its spent fuel rods to certify they remain in place. This initial step could be taken through an intermediary or through U.S. contacts with North Korean diplomats stationed at the UN.

Be Prepared to Back Up Rhetoric With Action: The administration needs to send a clear message that failure to reach agreement will trigger international action. Rhetoric must be backed up with action, including securing the support of other permanent members of the Security Council. Washington should push the Security Council to issue a statement or resolution finding fault with North Korea but calling for peaceful resolution of the matter. This would be seen as a shot across Pyongyang’s bow, warning of possible sanctions to come. Timing will be important; a resolution should precede diplomatic contact with North Korea so as not to disrupt the dialogue and to signal that failure of the talks could trigger tougher action. It may be a while before the administration can raise the possibility of military action with close allies, but building up diplomatic capital over time may make it an option.

Reassure North Korea: To restore the diplomatic track, the United States may have to provide Pyongyang with a face-saving device. In addition to its own commitments and public statements, the administration might reaffirm previous U.S. pledges not to use force against North Korea and to respect Pyongyang’s national sovereignty. Such pledges, which echo principles already in the UN Charter, are included in the June 1993 U.S.-North Korea Joint Declaration, issued when North Korea suspended its decision to withdraw from the NPT, and the October 2000 declaration, reached when Vice Marshal Jo visited Washington. The White House or senior administration officials could make this confirmation in an official letter to the North Koreans. A second step, perhaps as negotiations progress on verifiable dismantlement, would be to convene a six-party meeting with the United States, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, and North Korea to affirm these same principles multilaterally.

End the Uranium-Enrichment Program: Dismantling North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program will require talks. From the American perspective, those talks would ideally be conducted by the IAEA, which may have to implement any agreement on nuclear material, but whether Pyongyang will agree is unclear since its relations with the IAEA are even worse than they are with Washington. Moreover, although the United States might use the IAEA to avoid direct negotiations with Pyongyang, the Bush administration, if past experience is any guide, may not trust the agency to impose tough enough measures. In any case, North Korea must first freeze construction of any uranium-related facilities and disclose their location, as well as that of any related equipment. The United States should try to confirm Pyongyang’s declarations about its program by gathering data from countries that assisted North Korea’s efforts, such as Pakistan, China, and Russia. But the main objective will be to secure North Korean agreement to a program of inspections based on previous experience in dismantling uranium-enrichment programs, such as in South Africa and Iraq. Reaching agreement and implementing such a program, which is likely to be intrusive, will be difficult and could be a significant hurdle in resuming rapprochement on the peninsula.

Resume Heavy-Fuel Oil Deliveries: Since KEDO suspended fuel deliveries in response to the disclosure of North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program, the United States should support their resumption as it becomes possible to verify that the program is being dismantled. Deliveries could either be gradually phased in as milestones in the dismantlement program are reached or resumed all at once after the whole process has been finished.

Negotiate a New Bilateral Agreement: Ideally, once the current crisis is reversed, the administration should sit down with North Korea to negotiate a broad new arrangement to put the two countries back on the path toward improved relations. Given the current crisis, the top priority for such an agreement should be verifying the end of North Korea’s nuclear weapons-related activities through IAEA inspections, removing North Korea’s spent fuel, and dismantling its plutonium-based programs. What Washington will have to pledge in return is unclear. Once North Korea becomes a member of the NPT in good standing, it will be protected by U.S. negative security assurances, further easing Pyongyang’s concerns. But perhaps the United States might also work with South Korea and Japan to accelerate energy assistance—for example, by substituting conventional assistance for one of the KEDO power plants. Both South Korea and Japan could play a further critical role in reinforcing U.S. efforts by providing assistance through their own bilateral dialogues with the North.

The Bush administration has recently taken a small but positive step in trying to resolve the nuclear crisis by agreeing to talk with Pyongyang. Hopefully, this process of evolution in U.S. policy will continue. These seven recommendations provide a reasonable approach that could defuse the dangerous situation the United States now faces.

Joel S. Wit, a senior fellow in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, served as the State Department coordinator for the 1994 U.S.-North Korean Agreed Framework.

North Korea Quits NPT, Says It Will Restart Nuclear Facilities

Paul Kerr

In a provocative decision, North Korea announced December 12 that it was restarting nuclear facilities that had been frozen since 1994, and it ordered international monitors to leave the country. As international concern grew that Pyongyang was resuming its nuclear weapons program, North Korea announced January 10 that it was immediately withdrawing from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

In response to North Korea’s actions, the Bush administration’s policy has been shifting. After initially refusing to meet officially with North Korea, Washington is now saying that it is open to talks but not formal negotiations.

North Korea’s nuclear facilities—a small, plutonium-producing reactor, a fuel-rod fabrication plant, a reprocessing plant, and two partially completed larger reactors—had been frozen by the 1994 Agreed Framework with the United States. That agreement was concluded after a tense standoff following the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) discovery that Pyongyang had been diverting spent fuel from the reactor for a nuclear weapons program.

Under the Agreed Framework, the United States agreed to provide two proliferation-resistant reactors and to supply 500,000 metric tons of heating oil each year to North Korea while the reactors were under construction. The IAEA was charged with monitoring the freeze on North Korea’s nuclear facilities.

The United States and the IAEA have expressed concern about the consequences of North Korea reviving its nuclear facilities. A November 27 Congressional Research Service report states that the reactor could produce a sufficient amount of plutonium for one bomb annually, and the CIA states in a 2002 report to Congress that the spent fuel rods “contain enough plutonium for several more weapons.”

Whether North Korea already possesses nuclear weapons is unclear. A State Department official interviewed January 3 said that the U.S. intelligence community believes North Korea has already produced one or two nuclear weapons from plutonium produced before the Agreed Framework. But publicly the CIA says only that Pyongyang “has produced enough plutonium” for one or two weapons.

The Freeze Ends

The crisis started in October when, after being confronted by a U.S. delegation, North Korea allegedly admitted that it had a uranium-enrichment program in violation of several agreements meant to prevent Pyongyang from developing nuclear weapons. However, North Korea has denied it said this. A November 27 Korean Central Broadcasting Station broadcast cited by Agence France-Presse termed the U.S. charge a “fabrication,” adding that it actually told the U.S. delegation that it is “entitled to possess nuclear weapons if the United States violates their nuclear agreement.”

In response, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), the U.S.-led consortium responsible for implementing the Agreed Framework, announced November 14 that it would suspend fuel oil deliveries to North Korea.

The situation escalated when Pyongyang sent a December 12 letter to Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, stating that North Korea had decided to resume operations of the facilities governed by the Agreed Framework. The letter requested that the agency remove seals and monitoring equipment, which are used to ensure compliance with the agreement, from all the facilities.

Through the country’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), a North Korean spokesman said December 12 that it was restarting the reactor in order to generate electricity and indicated that the United States had violated the Agreed Framework. It cited the KEDO decision and the fact that President George W. Bush had called North Korea part of an “axis of evil.” The spokesman also accused Washington of targeting North Korea for a “preemptive nuclear attack.”

In September, the Bush administration released a report which emphasizes pre-emptively attacking countries developing weapons of mass destruction. It explicitly mentions North Korea. In addition, a leaked version of the Bush administration’s January 2002 classified Nuclear Posture Review lists North Korea as a country against which the United States should be prepared to use nuclear weapons, but it does not mention pre-emptive nuclear strikes. The Agreed Framework requires the United States to “provide formal assurances to [North Korea] against the threat or use of nuclear weapons.”

In a December 12 letter, ElBaradei asked Pyongyang not to remove the agency’s equipment, but December 14 North Korea replied that the freeze was a matter between the United States and North Korea and “not pursuant to any agreement” with the IAEA. The letter stated that North Korea would take unilateral action to remove seals and monitoring cameras if the IAEA did not act.

North Korea proceeded to make good on its threat. Between December 22 and 24, it cut all seals and disrupted surveillance equipment on the reactor, its spent fuel pond, the fuel reprocessing plant, and the “nuclear scrap” and equipment at the fuel fabrication plant, according to a December 30 IAEA report. IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said in a December 26 Agence France-Presse article that North Korea has begun moving fresh fuel rods into the reactor. According to the IAEA report, North Korea has said it will restart its reactor in one to two months.

Then, on December 27, Pyongyang ordered the IAEA inspectors out of the country. When ElBaradei protested in a letter that day, North Korea simply reiterated its demand. The IAEA inspectors left the country December 31, according to the IAEA Web site.

On January 10, North Korea increased tensions by announcing its withdrawal from the NPT. Its statement, however, says that Pyongyang has “no intention to produce nuclear weapons…at this stage.” Although the NPT requires a three month’s notice if a party is to withdraw, North Korea says its withdrawal is immediate. North Korea withdrew from the treaty in 1993 but suspended its withdrawal just before it was to take effect after reaching an agreement with the United States.

U.S. Reaction

In its December 12 statement, North Korea said that any decision to “refreeze” the facilities depends “entirely…on the attitude” of the United States, but Washington’s response has been in flux and remains unclear.

Initially, the United States maintained it would not engage in formal talks or negotiate with North Korea until it agreed to give up its prohibited nuclear programs. But a meeting of the Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Group (TCOG)—a consultative body consisting of the United States, Japan, and South Korea—produced a statement January 7 saying the United States is now “willing to talk to North Korea about how it will meet its obligations to the international community.” The statement emphasizes, however, that Washington “will not provide quid pro quos to North Korea to live up to its existing obligations.”

Pyongyang has not responded to the U.S. offer for talks, a State Department official said in a January 9 interview.

The TCOG statement also repeated that Washington “has no intention of invading” North Korea. U.S. officials have reiterated several times Bush’s 2002 statement in Seoul saying that Washington has no intention of attacking North Korea. Its inclusion in a written statement, however, is widely viewed as a more formal commitment.

North Korea has continued to call on the United States to sign a “non-aggression treaty” with Pyongyang in order to resolve the current situation. North Korea’s statement announcing its withdrawal from the NPT, however, suggested a softening in this position. It indicated that it might halt its nuclear activities if the United States “drops its hostile policy to stifle” North Korea—language suggesting that North Korea might want KEDO to resume fuel oil shipments.

The State Department official would not clarify what the United States would ask of North Korea or what form any talks would take. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said in a January 8 statement that the renewal of fuel oil shipments or a nonaggression pact would not be part of discussions.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in a January 7 press briefing that Washington expects Pyongyang to dismantle its uranium-enrichment program. However, the State Department official would not discuss the U.S. position on North Korea’s decision to restart its frozen reactor, except to say that North Korea should not be producing nuclear weapons.

It is unclear under what conditions Washington would agree to negotiate with Pyongyang. Boucher stated January 3 that North Korea must “verifiably and visibly dismantle” its nuclear programs before Washington will enter into negotiations, but a White House official interviewed January 6 would not say what the United States would do if North Korea complies with its demands. State Department and White House officials’ statements after the TCOG meeting did not clarify the issue.

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. Boucher said in his January 7 statement that these issues are still “on the table and…need to be addressed in the context of any improvement in relations.”

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, however, suggested in a January 9 Washington Post interview that there might be room for negotiation with North Korea, saying, “that’s what diplomacy is about” when asked about prospects for meeting North Korea’s request for a nonaggression pact.

Boucher said in a December 13 statement that Washington was talking with “other governments” about ways to “bring diplomatic pressure” on North Korea. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said December 30 that the United States would not necessarily apply sanctions. The “pressure” comes from Pyongyang being forced to forego the benefits of future diplomatic and economic engagement with the international community, according to a State Department official in a January 3 interview.

International Reaction

Meanwhile, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution January 6 condemning North Korea’s decision to restart its nuclear reactor and related facilities in violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework. The resolution “deplores” North Korea’s action “in the strongest terms” and calls on Pyongyang to meet “immediately, as a first step” with IAEA officials. It also calls on North Korea to re-establish the seals and monitoring equipment it dismantled, to comply fully with agency safeguards, to clarify details about its reported uranium-enrichment program, and to allow the agency to verify that all its nuclear material is “declared and…subject to safeguards.”

ElBaradei said during a January 6 interview on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer that North Korea must respond to the IAEA within weeks. If the country fails to do so, the IAEA will report the matter to the UN Security Council, he said. Boucher said January 6, however, that it is unclear whether the council will become involved.

Pyongyang condemned the IAEA resolution when it announced its withdrawal from the NPT, calling it a “grave encroachment upon [its] sovereignty.”

The IAEA had already adopted a resolution November 29 that called upon North Korea to “clarify” its “reported uranium-enrichment program.” North Korea rejected the resolution, saying the IAEA’s position is biased in favor of the United States.

Although the international community unanimously condemned Pyongyang’s actions, there was less agreement on a solution. Most U.S. allies have come out in favor of dialogue with North Korea. South Korean President Kim Dae-jung argued against isolating North Korea or placing economic sanctions on them, Reuters reported December 30. South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun expressed a similar view the next day, according to a December 31 AFX News report.

Japan has strongly condemned North Korea’s actions, but its Foreign Ministry said in a January 7 statement that “direct channels” are still open between Tokyo and Pyongyang. The two countries had agreed in September to hold normalization talks, but the talks have been stalled since late October over North Korea’s weapons program and its earlier kidnappings of Japanese citizens.

Although the TCOG statement says that Pyongyang’s “relations with the…international community hinge” on its compliance with the statement’s disarmament demands, it also highlights the value of Japan and South Korea’s bilateral dialogues with Pyongyang, referring to them as “important channels to resolve issues of bilateral concern.”

Russia and China have said they favor dialogue between the relevant parties, although both have criticized North Korea’s decision to resume operations at its nuclear facilities.

A January 5 statement from KCNA warned against the involvement of other countries, saying that “the situation on the Korean Peninsula will be pushed to a phase of crisis” if they join with Washington in putting pressure on North Korea.

In a provocative decision, North Korea announced December 12 that it was restarting nuclear facilities that had been frozen since 1994, and it ordered international monitors to leave the country.

Beyond the 'Axis of Evil'

Daryl G. Kimball

In response to the rapidly worsening crisis surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, the George W. Bush administration has quietly reversed itself and agreed to restart direct talks with Pyongyang—and none too soon. Recently, North Korea has said it would unfreeze its plutonium facilities and withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The shift in the administration’s strategy, along with South Korea’s mediation offer, provides a stronger basis for a peaceful solution to end North Korea’s defiant and dangerous bid to become the world’s ninth nuclear-weapon state.

The Bush policy adjustment follows the failure of the administration’s attempts to coerce Pyongyang to implement its denuclearization commitments and threatening punitive economic measures if it does not. Upon its arrival in office, the Bush administration abandoned its predecessor’s policy of engagement, which had produced important, if limited, success in freezing Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile activities. In early 2002, Bush also stoked North Korean security fears by naming it as one of three “axis of evil” states subject to the administration’s policy of pre-emption.

Following the Bush administration’s announcement that North Korea admitted it was pursuing prohibited uranium-enrichment capabilities in October, the White House organized a strong response, including cutting off heavy-fuel oil shipments. But the situation worsened as the United States stubbornly refused to talk with the North until it verifiably ended the uranium work. Not surprisingly, Pyongyang has reopened its more advanced plutonium-based nuclear weapons facilities and expelled international inspectors.

As of now, it is estimated that North Korea could—in less than six months—separate enough plutonium for six bombs. If North Korea builds nuclear weapons, a dangerous nuclear action-reaction cycle involving Japan, South Korea, and China would likely ensue. In addition, given Pyongyang’s propensity to proliferate dangerous weapons technology, that nuclear material could very well be sold to terrorists or other states seeking nuclear weapons.

Caught between North Korea’s brinksmanship and the absence of effective U.S. leadership, South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun has launched an important initiative to restart direct talks with Pyongyang and to develop a formula for a new agreement to end the crisis. Seoul is reportedly suggesting that if Pyongyang ends its nuclear weapons work and readmits international inspectors, Washington should offer a formal pledge of nonaggression and resume heavy-fuel oil supplies.

The initiative, and growing bipartisan congressional pressure for talks with the North, might help the White House move beyond its failed “axis of evil” policy and give North Korea a face-saving opportunity to cease its reckless defiance of international nuclear nonproliferation norms.

In line with this approach, Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul issued a strong yet positive joint communiqué on January 7. It forcefully calls upon North Korea to eliminate its nuclear weapons program and fully comply with its nonproliferation commitments. It also endorses direct dialogue with the North. In contrast to the U.S. stance on Iraq’s suspected weapons of mass destruction, the statement also says the United States “poses no threat and has no intention of invading North Korea.”

Although the White House is now willing to talk to North Korea, it has wisely stressed that it will not give way on the bottom line: the North must end its nuclear weapons work and comply with international nonproliferation norms. To compel North Korean compliance, however, Washington must also fulfill its earlier promises. As the South Korean formula suggests, Bush should formally reaffirm earlier U.S. security pledges and resume support for oil and economic assistance pledged under the 1994 Agreed Framework, which defused a similar nuclear showdown a decade ago.

Although the U.S. policy adjustment offers hope, many obstacles lie ahead. North Korea might continue to miscalculate and accelerate work to separate plutonium for weapons. Even as Washington focuses on the search for suspected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it cannot afford to wait to begin talks to halt North Korea’s known and more advanced nuclear bomb program. At risk is East Asian security, U.S. credibility, and the future of global nuclear nonproliferation efforts.

Tough rhetoric and finger pointing will seldom produce nonproliferation results, especially if the United States itself wields the nuclear-weapons stick. With a little help from our allies, the administration may have finally hit upon a strategy that can end the current crisis, or at least avoid making it worse.

Confusing Ends and Means: The Doctrine of Coercive Pre-emption

John Steinbruner

In a speech at West Point last June, in a more formal statement of national security strategy submitted to Congress in September, and in a White House document published in December, President George W. Bush has proclaimed what appears to be a new security doctrine. Reduced to its essentials, the doctrine suggests that the United States will henceforth attack adversaries to prevent them not only from using but also from acquiring the technologies associated with weapons of mass destruction. If it were systematically implemented, this doctrine would represent a major redirection of policy and a radical revision of established international security rules.

The Bush administration evidently intends to make Iraq the first test case, but the doctrine also has direct implications for the two other countries—North Korea and Iran—that the president has named as members of an “axis of evil.” The doctrine is backed by the unprecedented degree of military superiority the United States has acquired. It has also been accompanied by repudiation of prominent agreements that have long been pillars of international regulation—most notably the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In that context, the announced doctrine projects an assertive form of American nationalism that is sure to inspire considerable animosity—and not just among potential adversaries. Signs of an international backlash are already evident to those who are willing to look for them—in the recent elections in South Korea and in Germany, for example.

In attempting to understand the significance of this development, it is important to remember that blunt talk and practical accomplishment are not the same thing. The president’s inherently provocative pronouncements will force deliberation and reaction throughout the world. The eventual consequences of Bush’s declared doctrine will be shaped by compelling interests and competing principles that his pronouncements only dimly acknowledged. When those are considered, as eventually they must be, the importance of cooperatively establishing greater control over mass destruction technologies will overpower the impulse to attack alleged rogues pre-emptively. The idea of using decisive force against implacable evil may be emotionally satisfying, but it is hardly the basis for responsible policy against today’s most likely threats. Pre-emptive actions are the result of policy failures, not the triumph of superior virtue or strategic reason.

The Vital Importance of Legitimacy

The central problem with the Bush administration’s doctrine is that it fundamentally confuses ends and means. Obviously, the aspiration to prevent warfare is intrinsically legitimate and increasingly important. It is also much better to pre-empt the conditions that generate violence than to prevail in a process of countervailing destruction. The question has to do with the methods that are used to accomplish these purposes. The Bush doctrine of pre-emption apparently proposes to rely primarily on coercive power, that is, to initiate violence in order to prevent it, and it appears to neglect and indeed to disdain international legal restraint. In the judgment of much of the world, that formula is more likely to generate violence than to contain it. Civilized security policy is primarily a matter of establishing and preserving a viable rule of law, and the use of coercive power is subordinate to that objective for very practical reasons. Coercion alone is too inefficient and too ineffective to provide adequate protection. Most of normal life depends on consensual rules, so they are necessarily the foundation of security.

A related problem with the Bush administration’s doctrine concerns the scale and character of threat. Before and during the Cold War, security policy was primarily concerned with territorial aggression on a continental scale and with massive destruction by remote bombardment. Preparations for missions of that magnitude would have to be very extensive, readily observable, and centrally organized. Now, threats of primary concern are smaller in scale; much more readily concealed; and, potentially at least, more widely distributed and more diffusely organized. The legitimacy and effectiveness of pre-emptive action depends a great deal on the type of threat to which it is applied.

The most broadly accepted form of pre-emption would be directed against an observably imminent threat of conventional invasion. The prohibition on territorial aggression and the right to defend against it are the most solidly established international legal standards. It is plausible to believe that World War II and the 1991 Persian Gulf War could both have been prevented had timely pre-emption been undertaken. In October 1994, the United States and the United Kingdom successfully reversed a second Iraqi mobilization against Kuwait by credibly threatening a pre-emptive attack, and their actions were backed by a UN Security Council resolution. In any currently foreseeable situation of that sort in which the United States is seriously engaged, the doctrine is likely to be successfully applied. The Bush administration documents cite this established application but attempt to extend it to circumstances where the perceived threat is neither large nor imminent. They do not explain how they will determine aggressive intent before it is demonstrated in deeds or how they will prevent errors of judgment that would make the enacted punishment outweigh the anticipated threat.

Pre-emption against the threat of massive nuclear attack was seriously considered when U.S. and Russian forces were first being formed. Indeed, today U.S. and Russian nuclear forces remain configured to attack enemy nuclear forces in the hopes of destroying them before they can be launched—an operational inclination that could be extremely dangerous during a crisis. It is so difficult, however, to execute a first strike that destroys all enemy weapons—and to be certain that you have that capability—that pre-emption has never been a responsible option for nuclear self-defense. It has also been recognized that a systematic effort to acquire that level of military ability and psychological confidence would lead to destructive competition between potential adversaries (i.e., an arms race). The ABM Treaty and associated offensive force limitation treaties were devised to prevent that from happening.

Bush’s new strategic pronouncements reopen this issue with a new twist. They assert the right to use coercive force against the acquisition of mass destruction weapons and imply that mass destruction weapons might themselves be used for this purpose. That form of pre-emption, traditionally termed preventive war, might well succeed if practiced against a smaller adversary early enough in the cycle of weapons development. It sets an inherently discriminatory and implicitly imperial standard, however, that has no chance of ever being broadly accepted, and in forfeiting legitimacy it promises to incite an interminable process of clandestine retribution. When resistance is widely considered justified, even socially mandatory, coercive pre-emption against all forms of clandestine retribution becomes infeasible, as is evident in the many current instances of active civil conflict.

Over the past decade, the United States and the international community have been repeatedly entangled in instances of civil conflict that could not be resolved by the direct combatants and the nominally responsible sovereign authority. There is as yet no settled interpretation of this experience, but the outlines of an intervention doctrine with pre-emptive implications are nonetheless visible. Interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo generated a reluctant and belated but ultimately acknowledged understanding that sustained violence in those areas would pose an intolerably dangerous threat to the surrounding region. UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which authorizes an indefinite international occupation of Kosovo, asserts an international interest in basic standards of legal order that overrides the traditional prerogatives of sovereignty. In retrospect, it is apparent that these interventions could have been more successful and less costly had they been undertaken earlier than they were. Similarly, it is now widely believed that a forceful intervention could have and should have halted the 1994 genocide in Rwanda well before more than half a million people had been slaughtered and millions more driven from their homes.

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, it has been widely recognized that a sustained breakdown of legal order anywhere in the world would provide an organizational base for global terrorism and that forceful intervention to establish basic civil order is justified. The U.S. assault on Afghanistan was generally accepted under that understanding. The implication is that situations of that sort demand pre-emptive correction, but repeated instances would have to be authorized by the international community as a whole for reasons of general interest. Despite September 11, the United States will not be conceded exclusive responsibility for determining the circumstances under which pre-emptive intervention is required to restore civil order, and it does not have the capacity to assert that prerogative against widespread resistance.

Coercive pre-emption against terrorists and terrorist organizations is presumed to be legitimate, as dramatically demonstrated by an incident in Yemen on November 3. On that day, the CIA used an unmanned aerial vehicle to fire a missile at a car traveling in a remote area of the country, killing all five of the vehicle’s occupants. One of them was said to be a key al Qaeda figure, and that assertion was generally accepted as valid justification for the attack. There was no public protest from the Yemeni government, which was apparently consulted in advance but not otherwise involved in the operation. The precedent is nonetheless inherently contentious. The Yemeni operation was in effect a summary execution with no semblance of legal due process—no disputable presentation of evidence, no equivalent of an impartial judge or jury. If repeated often enough, that type of action will assuredly generate incidents that exceed the bounds of accepted justification and will incite recrimination. One cannot defend legal order by violating its central principles. One cannot fight terrorism by actions that are themselves terrorist in character. In fact, terrorism’s strategic purpose is to exploit the target’s natural impulse to respond in kind—to provoke a decisively stronger opponent into reactions that damage and discredit it.

Practical Judgments

Whether ultimately wise or not, coercive pre-emption against Iraq is obviously an imminent possibility. Saddam Hussein’s regime has so indicted itself that due process concerns are not likely to be a significant restraint. The legitimacy of denying Iraq access to mass destruction technology is established in UN resolutions, and a substantial part of the world would apparently acquiesce to a U.S. military campaign dedicated to that purpose. No one doubts the United States’ ability to undertake such a campaign. The major question is whether an attack perceived to be designed for the broader notion of “regime change” would trigger a cascading political reaction sufficiently adverse to discredit pre-emption as a doctrine. If so, that might take some time to recognize.

Even a decisive and enduring success in Iraq would not establish coercive pre-emption against programs to build weapons of mass destruction as a general principle. The international community cannot categorically deny the right of North Korea, Iran, or any other country to nuclear weapons. As non-nuclear-weapon states under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, both North Korea and Iran committed themselves not to exercise their inherent right, but that did not take away the right itself or the associated right to acquire fissile material. North Korea can legally withdraw from the treaty as it stated it did January 10. In the current diplomatic crisis concerning its uranium-enrichment program, North Korea has cited that right, and in its evident reluctance to apply the doctrine of coercive pre-emption the Bush administration has so far implicitly conceded it.

The categorical prohibition on the offensive application of biotechnology formulated in the 1925 Geneva Protocol and in the Biological Weapons Convention is more plausibly considered a inviolable standard. Although the United States has accused some 13 countries, including North Korea and Iran, of having illegal offensive programs, none of them admits to that allegation, and no country currently claims either the right to biological weapons or the possession of them. All countries, however, assertively and legitimately proclaim the right to conduct biomedical research, and most of them actively do it. The United States cannot restrict that right by simplistically labeling a country “evil.”

In addition to having to concede that states have the right to pursue nuclear and biological technology—an admission that undermines the justification for coercive pre-emption—the United States will have to acknowledge that its capability to pre-emptively attack North Korea and Iran is more questionable than its ability to attack Iraq. Since the U.S. military operates within a network of foreign basing rights and access agreements that require consent from the host governments, it would be difficult to organize a pre-emptive attack that did not enjoy general approval. The bottom line is that the United States needs not merely permissive acquiescence but active collaboration of most major countries in order to deal with emerging security problems that cannot be addressed by military force of any sort.

The most urgent of these problems is the management of biotechnology. Fundamental understanding of basic life processes emerging out of a global biomedical research community is enabling extremely powerful applications, both therapeutic and destructive. The eradication of some devastating diseases is becoming feasible as is the deliberate creation of yet more devastating ones. In general, the prospective benefits and the potential dangers are both greater than is the case for any of the other technologies that carry the “mass destruction” label.

The pattern of development is also distinctive. Biotechnology is the product of a worldwide research enterprise operating through open literature primarily for public health purposes. Dedicated weapons projects are a small part of the whole picture and are not the major source of scientific development. The momentum and diffusion of the research base makes it infeasible for any country to appropriate this technology for its exclusive use or to control the flow of information. Current attempts to impose such controls in the hopes of frustrating bioterrorists are unlikely to succeed. Moreover, since biomedical facilities need not be large and do not have inherently identifying features—unlike nuclear facilities—it is more difficult to fathom their activities through satellite imagery and other means.

The relentless implication is that the deliberately destructive use of biotechnology is a threat to all human societies of a scope and magnitude greater than any other. That threat could be developed and delivered by clandestine means, and current national security methods cannot provide adequate protection no matter how they might be elaborated. Under prevailing circumstances of access, it would be impossible to identify and disable all dedicated terrorists and rogues before they have accomplished nefarious deeds, and it would be foolish to attempt to do so by national military operations. A campaign of that sort conducted by the United States under the doctrine of coercive pre-emption is more likely to stimulate the destructive application of biotechnology than to prevent it.

The only reasonable hope is to establish comprehensive oversight procedures within the scientific community robust enough to make dangerous research far more difficult to conceal and simultaneously to organize the research process so that protective applications of biotechnology outpace any destructive ones that might evade oversight. An arrangement of that sort would require intimate, equitable collaboration on a global basis without exception. Impossible as that kind of cooperation might seem given current attitudes, it will be considered, and probably attempted, as the nature of the threat from biotechnology is absorbed. The process of deliberation will impose a major amendment on the doctrine of coercive pre-emption.

The management of fissile material presents a similar imperative in somewhat weaker form. It is technically feasible for terrorists or rogues to use nuclear explosives to wreck devastating havoc with small operations that could be successfully concealed and would therefore evade coercive pre-emption. Doing so is inherently more difficult than using biotechnology to cause damage because the scale of activity required to produce fissile material is far more difficult to conceal and access controls over material already produced are far more developed. Current national standards of accounting and physical security for fissile material are not impermeable, however, and they could be substantially improved by establishing a common international arrangement. The problems involved are more political than technical in character. If the confrontational policies forged during the Cold War were transcended in fact as well as in rhetoric, more robust protection of fissile material could be achieved, but that would assuredly require very convincing restriction on the doctrine of coercive pre-emption. No country will subject its fissile material to international accounting if it believes that coercive pre-emption is a serious possibility.


In the end, the Bush administration’s doctrinal pronouncements may prove to be a transient political exercise of little enduring significance or possibly a useful threat with exclusive application to the Iraq situation. They also might spark major international disputes and eventual adjustment. However it turns out, the central contention—that pre-emptive attack can prevent the acquisition of mass destruction technology—is not realistic and does not provide a responsible basis for protecting the United States or anyone else. Preventive action against potentially unmanageable threats is indeed an increasingly vital security interest, but that cannot be accomplished by coercive methods. It will require the systematic exchange of sensitive monitoring information for mutual protection, and arrangements of that sort cannot be established while one party is wielding a confrontational threat against the others. If coercive pre-emption is to be done at all, it must be done by the international community as a whole for common benefit, not by the United States alone for its own exclusive purposes. The confusion of ends and means presented in the Bush administration’s documents will have to be corrected. That is a direct responsibility of the U.S. political system in which the rest of the world has a very substantial stake.

John Steinbruner is director of the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland.


KEDO Suspends Oil Shipments to North Korea

December 2002

By Paul Kerr

The Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) announced November 14 that it would suspend heavy-fuel oil deliveries to North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s October acknowledgement that it has a uranium-enrichment program, which could be used in making nuclear weapons.

The announcement, made following a meeting in New York of KEDO’s Executive Board members, says that future oil deliveries will be suspended, “beginning with the December shipment,” and will be resumed only if Pyongyang takes “concrete and credible actions to dismantle completely its highly-enriched uranium program.” The European Union (EU), the United States, Japan, and South Korea make up the Executive Board. The last scheduled oil shipment reached North Korea November 18, according to a KEDO official interviewed November 20.

The Executive Board statement describes its members’ policy toward North Korea, stating that North Korea’s ongoing “dialogues” with the EU, South Korea, and Japan “serve as important channels to resolve bilateral and international concerns.” It also states that future negotiations with KEDO members “hinge on the complete and permanent elimination of its nuclear weapons programs” and that “other KEDO activities with North Korea will be reviewed,” an apparent reference to the nuclear reactors KEDO is constructing in the country.

The statement also condemns North Korea’s “pursuit of a nuclear weapons program,” stating that it “threatens regional and international security and undermines the international nonproliferation regime.” The United States revealed October 16 that North Korea admitted to having a uranium-enrichment program during an October 4 meeting with Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly. (See ACT, November 2002.) Such a program would violate several accords that prohibit North Korea from developing or possessing nuclear weapons.

In response to KEDO’s decision, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said November 21 that halting the fuel shipments violates the 1994 Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea, adding that the United States is responsible for the agreement’s “collapse,” according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). The spokesman argued that the United States has failed to live up to its commitments under the agreement. It is not clear whether the Agreed Framework remains in force, although neither North Korea nor the United States has said it will unilaterally abrogate the accord.

North Korea and the United States concluded the agreement in October 1994 after a tense standoff following the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) discovery that Pyongyang had been diverting spent fuel from its graphite-moderated nuclear reactors for a nuclear weapons program. The Agreed Framework halted North Korea’s plutonium-based nuclear weapons program by freezing the reactors and providing for the removal, storage, and monitoring of the reactors’ spent fuel. In exchange for freezing the plutonium program, the agreement required the United States to set up KEDO to provide proliferation-resistant reactors and supply 500,000 metric tons of heating oil each year to North Korea while the reactors were under construction. The first reactor was originally scheduled to be completed by 2003, but construction has fallen behind schedule, and the reactor is not expected to be finished before 2008, barring further delays.

The framework was dealt a serious blow by the news of North Korea’s uranium program. In a November 19 press conference that provided new details about his meetings with the North Koreans, Kelly said that he had told Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Guan on October 3 that the United States possessed information about the program. When asked to describe the intelligence he presented to the North Koreans, however, Kelly said that he did not “confront” North Korea with actual evidence supporting his claim. On October 4, according to Kelly, North Korean First Vice Minister Kang Suk Ju acknowledged that North Korea had a uranium-enrichment program.

Since Kelly’s trip to North Korea and U.S. statements that North Korea admitted to a nuclear weapons program, there has been confusion in media reports and government statements regarding exactly what North Korea said. Kelly stated in response to questions about North Korea’s exact statement that Kang “definitely admitted that North Korea was pursuing a uranium- enrichment program.”

However, Don Oberdorfer, a journalist who visited the North after the October 16 revelations, stated November 14 that Pyongyang might not have made such a stark admission. According to Oberdorfer, North Korean officials informed him that an October 25 KCNA statement contains the exact words Kang used during his meeting with Kelly, which the United States interpreted as an admission of a uranium-enrichment program. The relevant portion of that statement reads, “The D.P.R.K. made itself very clear…that the D.P.R.K. was entitled to possess not only nuclear weapon but any type of weapon more powerful than that so as to defend its sovereignty and right to existence.”

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei has written to the North Korean government requesting a clarification of the status of its uranium-enrichment program. Pyongyang has yet to reply, he said during a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace conference November 14. The IAEA Board of Governors will meet in Vienna November 28 and, according to sources, Washington is pressing other members to support a resolution condemning North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program.

Next Steps

President George W. Bush praised KEDO’s decision to halt fuel shipments in a November 15 statement. He added that Washington had planned to engage North Korea but that its nuclear weapons program has made that impossible. No final decisions have been made on other aspects of North Korea policy, according to a November 19 statement from State Department spokesman Philip Reeker.

The KEDO Executive Board will meet again in December “to look at next steps,” according to Reeker. Washington is not “in any rush to make decisions on all aspects” of the agreement, Kelly said in a November 19 statement.

Bush indicated in the November 15 statement that Washington “hopes for a different future with North Korea” and reiterated that the “United States has no intention of invading North Korea,” a statement he made earlier this year in Seoul. Pyongyang reacted by arguing that “there is no reason whatsoever for [the United States] not to give legal assurances of non-aggression” to North Korea and reiterated its call for Washington to sign a nonaggression treaty, according to a November 21 KCNA report. Pyongyang maintains that the United States has adopted an aggressive posture, citing Bush’s inclusion of North Korea as a member of the “axis of evil” during his January 2002 State of the Union address, as well as what it referred to as a U.S. “plan for a pre-emptive nuclear attack.”

A September report outlining the U.S. National Security Strategy emphasizes pre-emptive action to counter threats from countries developing weapons of mass destruction. (See ACT, October 2002.) The report explicitly mentions North Korea. Additionally, a leaked version of the Bush administration’s January 2002 classified Nuclear Posture Review lists North Korea as a country against which the United States should be prepared to use nuclear weapons, although it does not mention pre-emptive nuclear strikes. The Agreed Framework requires the United States to “provide formal assurances to the D.P.R.K., against the threat or use of nuclear weapons.”

U.S. allies signaled their support for a peaceful solution to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. France’s Foreign Ministry praised the KEDO decision in a November 15 statement, saying that it “implies cohesive action by the international community.” The statement also indicated that Paris will “revisit” its “position on KEDO activities” if North Korea dismantles its nuclear program. South Korean President Kim Dae-jung came out against using economic sanctions to increase pressure on Pyongyang, arguing that they could exacerbate the crisis, according to a November 20 Korea Times article.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin indicated his support for the Agreed Framework and his preference for a negotiated solution to North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program in a November 20 statement, according to the official Chinese Xinhua news agency.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko expressed concern in a November 18 statement about North Korea’s nuclear program but admonished the United States and other countries supporting KEDO “to show restraint and to continue to fulfill the international commitments assumed in full.”

Missile Moratorium in Jeopardy

While KEDO members attempted to sort out their North Korea policy in the wake of the apparent nuclear weapons admissions, diplomacy between Japan and North Korea appeared to be at an impasse, and North Korea threatened to end its moratorium on testing missiles. According to a November 5 KCNA report, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman stated that Pyongyang “should reconsider the moratorium” if talks on normalizing relations with Tokyo do not achieve progress.

According to the North Korea-Japan Pyongyang Declaration, signed during a September 17 summit between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, North Korea announced it would indefinitely extend its moratorium on testing long-range missiles. Additionally, both countries agreed to hold normalization talks. However, Koizumi indicated in an October 26 joint statement with Kim Dae-jung and Bush that relations could not be normalized without resolution of the issues raised by Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programs. North Korean-Japanese talks held in Kuala Lumpur October 29-30 ended without an agreement, because Pyongyang would not agree to Japan’s conditions, arguing that Tokyo’s stance contradicts its agreement under the September 17 declaration.

Japanese Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Hatsuhisa Takashima said November 19 that further normalization talks will not be scheduled until North Korea gives a “sincere and meaningful response” to questions raised about Pyongyang’s nuclear program and kidnapping of Japanese citizens. It is unclear as to when future talks on security issues will be held.

KEDO Suspends Oil Shipments to North Korea

North Korea Is No Iraq: Pyongyang's Negotiating Strategy

Leon V. Sigal

The revelation that North Korea is buying equipment useful for enriching uranium has led many in Washington to conclude that North Korea, like Iraq, is again making nuclear weapons and that the appropriate response is to punish it for brazenly breaking its commitments. Both the assessment and the policy that flows from it are wrong.

North Korea is no Iraq. It wants to improve relations with the United States and says it is ready to give up its nuclear, missile, and other weapons programs in return.

Pyongyang’s declared willingness to satisfy all U.S. security concerns is worth probing in direct talks. More coercive alternatives—economic sanctions and military force—are not viable without allied support. Yet, the Bush administration, long aware of North Korea’s ongoing nuclear and missile activities, has shown little interest in negotiating.

Recognizing that, both Japan and South Korea have refused to confront North Korea and instead have moved to engage it. Hard-line unilateralists in the Bush administration and Congress oppose such engagement. As they continue to get their way, they are putting the United States on a collision course with its allies, undermining political support for the alliance in South Korea and Japan and jeopardizing the U.S. troop presence in both countries.

The United States rightly wants to stop North Korea from acquiring nuclear arms; prevent it from developing, testing, deploying and selling any more ballistic missiles; get rid of its biological and chemical weapons; and assure that, whatever happens internally in North Korea, the artillery Pyongyang has emplaced within range of Seoul is never fired in anger.

To achieve its aims, Washington has to understand that Pyongyang is seeking an end to its hostile relationship with the United States. When Washington fails to reciprocate, Pyongyang retaliates by breaking its pledges in a desperate effort to get Washington to cooperate.

Tit-for-Tat to End Enmity

In the late 1980s, then-North Korean leader Kim Il Sung decided he had no better way to provide for his country’s security than to end its lifelong enmity with the United States, South Korea, and Japan. He reached out to all three, but in the early 1990s, the first Bush administration, determined to put a stop to Pyongyang’s nuclear arming before easing its isolation, worked to block closer South Korean and Japanese ties with the North. Concluding that Washington held the key to open doors to Seoul and Tokyo, Pyongyang engaged seriously with Seoul and Tokyo in the ensuing decade only when it was convinced Washington was cooperating.

Pyongyang also decided to trade in its nuclear arms program in return for an end to enmity. At the same time, it kept its nuclear option open as leverage on Washington to live up to its end of the bargain—initially by delaying international inspections to determine how much plutonium it reprocessed before 1992.

That trade became the basis of the October 1994 Agreed Framework, whereby the North agreed to freeze and eventually dismantle its nuclear arms program in return for two new light-water reactors (LWRs) for generating nuclear power, an interim supply of heavy-fuel oil, some relaxation of U.S. economic sanctions, and—above all to North Korea—gradual improvement of relations. The accord stopped a nuclear program that had already produced five or six bombs’ worth of plutonium then lying in a cooling pond in Yongbyon and that by now would have been capable of reprocessing 30 bombs’ worth of plutonium a year.

In halting Pyongyang’s plutonium program, Washington got what it most wanted up front, but it did not live up to its end of the bargain. When Republicans won control of Congress in elections just a week later, unilateralists in the Republican Party denounced the deal as appeasement. Unwilling to challenge Congress, the Clinton administration shrank from implementation. Construction of the first replacement reactor was slow to begin—it was supposed to be ready by 2003 but is three years behind schedule—and the heavy-fuel oil was not always delivered on schedule. Above all, Washington did little to improve political relations with Pyongyang.

When the United States was slow to fulfill the terms of the 1994 accord, North Korea threatened to break it. In February 1997, Pyongyang began warning it would no longer be bound by the accord if Washington failed to uphold it. That played into growing suspicions in the U.S. intelligence community that an underground site at Kumchang-ni might be nuclear related. In late April 1998, the North stopped canning the plutonium-laden spent fuel at Yongbyon, and it threatened to reopen the reactor at Yongbyon for maintenance. Its decision to acquire equipment for enriching uranium probably dates back to this time.

Had North Korea wanted to break the 1994 accord, it could have resumed reprocessing. It did not. Instead, Pyongyang resolved to try again to end enmity, this time using its missiles as inducement. On June 16, 1998, Pyongyang publicly offered to negotiate an end to its development as well as export of ballistic missiles. Development meant not only tests but also production of missiles for testing. Pyongyang also warned that, if the United States was unwilling to declare an end to enmity, it would keep testing missiles—a threat it carried out on August 31, when it launched a three-stage rocket in an unsuccessful attempt to put a satellite into orbit.

Pyongyang’s bargaining tactics led many to conclude that it was engaging in blackmail in an attempt to obtain economic aid without giving up anything in return. It was not. It was playing tit-for-tat, cooperating whenever Washington cooperated and retaliating when Washington reneged, in an effort to end enmity.

On the Road to Reconciliation

The 1998 missile test prompted a policy review in Washington conducted by former Defense Secretary William Perry, who concluded that “the urgent focus of U.S. policy toward the D.P.R.K. [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] must be to end its nuclear weapons and long-range missile-related activities.” In May 1999, Perry traveled to North Korea where he affirmed that the United States was ready to negotiate in earnest again and this time make good on its promises. Prior to Perry’s trip, North Korea let the canning of spent fuel at Yongbyon be completed. It also allowed visits to the Kumchang-ni site by U.S. inspectors, who found it was not nuclear related.

The Perry policy paid off that September when Pyongyang agreed to suspend its test-launching of missiles while negotiations proceeded. In return, Washington promised to end sanctions under the Trading with the Enemy Act, a pledge it was slow to carry out.

Meanwhile, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who had played a pivotal part in putting Washington back on the road to reconciliation with Pyongyang, was quietly arranging a summit meeting with North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il—a meeting the Clinton administration had helped make possible by showing its readiness to cooperate. In anticipation of high-level talks in Washington proposed by Perry, it had handed North Korea a draft communiqué in January 2000 declaring an end to enmity.

At their June 2000 summit meeting, the South and North pledged to reconcile, an irreversible step toward ending a half-century of internecine conflict. By reaching accommodation, the one-time foes would be realigning relations in all of Northeast Asia and opening the way to regional cooperation on security.

As soon as the summit ended, the Clinton administration carried out its promise to end sanctions under the Trading with the Enemy Act. Pyongyang also wanted Washington to end sanctions under U.S. antiterrorism laws. Instead, in a joint statement issued October 6, the North renounced terrorism, and both sides “underscored their commitment to support the international legal regime combating international terrorism and to cooperate with each other in taking effective measures to fight terrorism,” specifically, “to exchange information regarding international terrorism.”

These steps prompted Kim Jong Il to send his second-in-command, Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok, to Washington October 9, 2000. A joint communiqué issued October 12 read, “Neither government would have hostile intent toward the other.” In plain English, we are not enemies.

This declared end to enmity opened the way to a missile deal. Within two weeks, in talks with then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Pyongyang, Kim Jong Il offered to end exports of all missile technology, including those in existing contracts, and to freeze testing, production, and deployment of all missiles with a range of 300 miles or more. That covered the Nodong; the Taepo Dong-1 and 2; and, arguably, the Scud-C. In return, the United States offered to arrange for the launch of two or three satellites a year. The North said it would accept compensation in kind, not cash, to replace revenue forgone by halting its missile exports. Though it did not say so at the time, Washington was prepared to arrange for $200-300 million a year in investment and aid.1

To turn the freeze into a verifiable ban, significant issues remained to be explored and resolved: “elimination” of North Korea’s missiles, on-site monitoring to verify the cessation of missile production and deployment (what negotiators called “transparency” and “confidence-building measures on missiles”), and extending the freeze to all missiles capable of a range of more than 180 miles, the standard set by the Missile Technology Control Regime.

The October 12 joint communiqué alluded to one way to verify the accord. “The sides agreed on the desirability of greater transparency in carrying out their respective obligations under the Agreed Framework,” it reads. “In this regard, they noted the value of the access which removed U.S. concerns about the underground site at Kumchang-ni.” North Korea had allowed U.S. inspectors to visit the site twice and even proposed permanent monitoring at the site in the form of a joint venture. Such transparency was needed at other suspect nuclear sites in the North, as well as for verification of a missile ban.

Above all, North Korea wanted President Bill Clinton to come to Pyongyang to seal the missile deal and place his imprimatur on the October 9 pledge, thereby consummating North Korea’s 10-year campaign to end enmity with the United States. Why would North Korea give up nuclear arms and missiles, never mind its artillery threat to Seoul, if the United States remained its foe?

Reconciliation Derailed

President Clinton decided not to travel to North Korea, and without his commitment to go, negotiations with the North stalled. On June 17, 2002, Clinton said as much to the Council on Foreign Relations: “We were very close to ending the North Korean missile program in the year 2000. I believe if I had been willing to go there, we would have ended it.”

Instead of picking up the ball where Bill Clinton dropped it, George W. Bush moved the goalposts when he assumed the presidency in 2001. In so doing, he picked a fight with ally South Korea. The White House broke with Kim Dae-jung in March 2001 by publicly repudiating Kim’s policy of reconciliation and privately discouraging the South from concluding a peace agreement with the North or providing it with electricity. Bush also disparaged Kim Jong Il, not a diplomatic way to address someone who had just offered to stop making and selling missiles.

After completing a review of policy toward North Korea, the Bush administration reneged on past U.S. commitments and reinterpreted agreements with the North unilaterally. First, it did not reaffirm the October 12, 2000, U.S.-North Korea pledge of no “hostile intent”—a pledge it would repudiate the next year when it labeled North Korea a member of the “axis of evil.” Second, the White House announced June 6, 2001, that it would seek “improved implementation” of the 1994 Agreed Framework—in effect, reinterpreting it to require prompt nuclear inspections without offering anything in return. Third, the administration wanted the North to adopt “a less threatening conventional military posture,” which Pyongyang believes it cannot do without reciprocity by Washington and Seoul, given its military inferiority. The White House also decided that, as a matter of policy, progress toward an agreement on missiles would depend on progress on other issues of concern. That assured no progress across the board.

In response to the June 6 White House statement, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman on June 18 called on Washington to implement “the provisions of the D.P.R.K.-U.S. Agreed Framework and the D.P.R.K.-U.S. joint communiqué as agreed upon.” The North followed that up June 28 with the hint of a deal: it linked a U.S. demand for nuclear inspections with its own demand for electricity, which it sees as compensation for the delay in providing the first reactor promised under the Agreed Framework. At the same time, however, the North warned of tit-for-tat: “If no measure is taken for the compensation for the loss of electricity, the D.P.R.K. can no longer keep its nuclear activities in a state of freeze and implement the Agreed Framework.”2

Grinding Axes

Then came September 11. The next day, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman voiced regret and reiterated North Korea’s opposition to all forms of terrorism. On September 15, the head of a delegation from Pyongyang, arriving in Seoul for ministerial talks, also expressed regret. A senior Foreign Ministry official handed Sweden’s chargé in Pyongyang a note for the United States expressing condolences about the September 11 attacks—a signal of willingness to cooperate on terrorism.

Far from cooperating on terrorism or anything else, the Bush administration sounded like it was spoiling for a fight. Instead of reaffirming the declaration of no “hostile intent,” Bush repudiated it in his 2002 State of the Union address, when he said, referring to North Korea, “States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.” He went on:

By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference could be catastrophic.

What began as the purple prose of speechwriters soon became administration policy—and not just toward Iraq. On May 6, in a reference that drew little public attention, Undersecretary of State John Bolton accused North Korea as well as Iraq of having “covert nuclear programs, in violation of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty [NPT].” Bolton’s statement was followed June 1 by Bush’s announcement of a new doctrine for combating states that are developing weapons of mass destruction by waging preventive war—without allies, without United Nations sanction, in violation of international law. “We cannot put our faith in the word of tyrants who solemnly sign nonproliferation treaties, and then systematically break them,” he declared. “We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.”

Even though it was aware of North Korea’s ongoing nuclear and missile activities, the Bush administration made no effort to enter into negotiations. The administration had long said it would meet “anytime, anywhere,” but Pyongyang’s willingness to resume talks, conveyed to South Korean special envoy Lim Dong-won in early April 2002, caught it unprepared—mired in an internal struggle over whom to send and what negotiating position to take. On April 30, the administration offered dates for a resumption, but the ongoing internal struggle led it to seek a postponement. It cited the deadly July 2 naval clash between North and South Korea as a reason to postpone talks proposed for July 10-12 in Pyongyang, withdrawing the offer before North Korea had the chance to respond. Even after Secretary of State Colin Powell’s brief chat with Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Forum on July 31, Washington did not offer to set a date for the start of talks.

Meanwhile, hard-liners were trying to undermine the Agreed Framework, the basis for negotiations. Some Republicans in Congress had long pressed to halt heavy-fuel oil deliveries and reactor construction and abandon the Agreed Framework altogether. Taking a more moderate tone, the administration opted not to certify North Korea’s compliance with the accord, a requirement under U.S. law, while at the same time saying it would continue to abide by the accord’s provisions.

Some administration officials wanted to go further and accuse North Korea of “anticipatory breach” of the accord—on the grounds it had not allowed inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to determine how much reprocessing of plutonium it had done before 1991. A case could be made that the North has not permitted inspections that are mandated by the accord, for instance, at the isotope production laboratory at Yongbyon. But the inspections demanded by some Bush officials, however desirable, were not required by the text of the Agreed Framework, which reads: “When a significant portion of the LWR project is completed, but before delivery of key nuclear components, the D.P.R.K. will come into full compliance with its safeguards agreement with the IAEA.” Nothing in the negotiating record obliges the North to act sooner.3

Pyongyang’s New Tack

Some hard-liners in the Bush administration claim its tough stance brought North Korea to seek accommodation with South Korea and Japan, but they’ve got it backward: it led Seoul and Tokyo to improve relations with Pyongyang in order to head off a crisis.

Pyongyang opened the way. Convinced it was getting nowhere with Washington, Pyongyang changed course in September 2001 and resumed ministerial-level talks with Seoul to implement agreements reached in the June 2000 summit. In secret talks in Beijing around the same time, North Korea began tiptoeing toward a resumption of normalization talks with Japan as well. This marked an important shift for Pyongyang, which for the past decade had engaged seriously with Seoul and Tokyo only when it was convinced that Washington was cooperating as well. It had finally concluded that the path to reconciliation with Washington runs through Seoul and Tokyo. It was also reducing the risk of renewed confrontation with Washington by persuading Seoul and Tokyo it was ready to deal.

Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi’s September 17 summit meeting with Kim Jong Il was clear evidence of this. After the Bush administration spurned talks with Pyongyang, Tokyo tired of waiting for Washington. On February 18, less than three weeks after the “axis of evil” speech, Koizumi, with Bush at his side, said at a press conference in Tokyo, “Japan, through cooperation and coordination with the U.S. and Korea, would like to work on normalization of relations with North Korea.” Pyongyang did not take long to respond. It revived Red Cross talks and pledged to resume its search for the missing persons that Tokyo suspected it had kidnapped two decades ago.

Yet, it came as a shock to some when Koizumi announced August 30 that he would hold a summit meeting in Pyongyang. On the eve of the summit, in a written response to questions from Kyodo News Service, Kim Jong Il said that the time had come to “liquidate the past.” Japan had to “apologize sincerely” for its World War II occupation and “the issue of compensation must be correctly resolved.” Left unsaid was that he was about to acknowledge the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea. An end to “abnormal relations,” Kim said, “will also dissipate the security concerns of the Japanese people.”4

The September 17 communiqué produced by the summit put security at the top of the agenda for Japan’s dialogue with North Korea. “In step with the normalization of their relations,” they agreed to hold parallel talks on “issues relating [to] security.” These talks would “underscore the importance of building a structure of cooperative relations” in Northeast Asia—a possible sign of Pyongyang’s support for Tokyo’s formula of six-party talks—and, in a joint signal to Washington, “promote dialogue among the countries concerned as regards all security matters including nuclear and missile issues.” North Korea committed itself to an indefinite extension of its moratorium on missile test launches. Whether Pyongyang also indicated willingness to eliminate its Nodong and longer-range missiles is not yet known.

The communiqué committed Tokyo and Pyongyang to resume normalization talks in October and “exert all efforts to establish diplomatic ties at an early date.” These talks would address economic assistance to the North, “including grants in aid, low-interest long-term loans and humanitarian aid through international organizations” and “loans and credits through the International Cooperation Bank of Japan.”

For Japan to act on its own was unprecedented. Since the start of the Cold War, it had deferred to the United States on security matters. Knowing North Korea wanted direct negotiations with the United States, Japan tried to coax Washington into engaging.

Unilateralists in Washington might have wanted to impede North Korea-Japan rapprochement, but others close to the president recognized that failure to re-engage could put the U.S. military presence in play in Japanese politics by alienating supporters of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and strengthening the hand of right-wingers who insist “Japan can say no” to the United States and look after its own security unbound by the alliance.

These concerns at last led the administration to hold the first substantive high-level talks with North Korea since November 2000. However, when the United States sent an emissary to Pyongyang for talks, the administration was in no mood to negotiate. Tokyo continues to push the United States toward engagement, and failing that, it may try to broker a deal between Washington and Pyongyang.

Tit-for-Tat on Enrichment

Having moved to accommodate Seoul and Tokyo, Pyongyang was ready for nuclear tit-for-tat with Washington when U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly arrived October 3. A day after Kelly had confronted him with evidence of the country’s covert nuclear program, North Korean negotiator Kang Sok Ju acknowledged its existence. The admission was at once a threat to develop nuclear arms and an offer to stop. Kelly made it clear Washington did not want further talks; the North had to stop, or else.

“Program” has a range of meanings from seeking to acquire gas centrifuges and other matériel usable for enrichment to having produced quantities of highly enriched uranium. U.S. intelligence is said to have proof that the North succeeded in obtaining some gas centrifuges from Pakistan and “was trying to acquire large amounts of high-strength aluminum” to make more—from Japan, of all places. U.S. intelligence says it “recently learned that the North is contructing a plant that could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for two or more nuclear weapons per year when fully operational, which could be as soon as mid-decade.” That leaves plenty of time to negotiate a verifiable end to the program.

The stunning revelation confirmed the worst suspicions of some, that North Korea had intended to dupe the United States all along by substituting a covert nuclear program for the one it allowed to be frozen. That contention does not seem plausible. After all, if North Korea had been determined to acquire nuclear arms early in the 1990s, it could have done so by shutting down its reactor at Yongbyon anytime between 1991 and 1994, removing the spent nuclear fuel, and reprocessing it to extract plutonium, then refueling the reactor to generate more plutonium. It could also have completed two more reactors then under construction. By now, it could have generated enough plutonium for more than 100 nuclear weapons. Why give up a Barry Bonds for a player to be named? And if North Korea was trying uranium enrichment because it was easier to hide, then why acknowledge that fact in talks with Kelly?

Two other interpretations seem more tenable. One is that after 1997 the North began hedging against U.S. failure to live up to the Agreed Framework but is now prepared to trade in that hedge. Another is that it is playing tit-for-tat to induce the United States to end enmity. These explanations seem to fit the data disclosed by U.S. intelligence, which dates the first enrichment activity back to 1998. After 2000, activity picks up again in highly visible ways. In other words, after North Korea warned of retaliation for what it called U.S. failure to live up to the Agreed Framework in 1997, it decided to shop for gas centrifuges for enriching uranium. It gave new impetus to the effort in 2001 and 2002 when the Bush administration’s hostility became apparent. It would be useful to know whether U.S. intelligence detected any attempted purchases in 2000 when Washington was being cooperative.

Either way, Pyongyang keeps signaling its desire for a deal with Washington—and not just on nuclear and missile issues. In a June 10 speech to the Asia Society, Powell set out a four-point agenda for talks: “First, the North must get out of the proliferation business and eliminate long-range missiles that threaten other countries.” Second, “it must make a much more serious effort to provide for its suffering citizens.” Third, “the North needs to move toward a less threatening conventional military posture” and “live up to its past pledges to implement basic confidence-building measures with the South.” “Finally, North Korea must come into full compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards that it agreed to when it signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.” In reply, Pyongyang accepted Powell’s agenda, suggesting a new or revised Agreed Framework to accommodate it. It also moved to set up a military hotline in the context of constructing a rail link to the South.

On August 29, Bolton gave a much-ballyhooed speech in Seoul. The North, he said, has “an active program” of chemical weapons; has “one of the most robust bioweapons programs on earth” and “is in stark violation of the Biological Weapons Convention”; is “the world’s foremost peddler of ballistic missile-related equipment, components, materials, and technical expertise”; and “has not begun to allow inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency to complete all of their required tasks. Many doubt that North Korea ever intends to comply fully with its NPT obligations.”

On August 31, 2002, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman recited all of Bolton’s concerns and said, “The D.P.R.K. clarified more than once that if the U.S. has a willingness to drop its hostile policy toward the D.P.R.K., it will have dialogue with the U.S. to clear the U.S. of its worries over its security.” It was putting biological, chemical, and conventional arms on the negotiating table—once the nuclear and missile deals are done. On October 20, Kim Young Nam, president of the Supreme People’s Assembly and titular chief of state, reiterated the August 31 formula in talks with Jeong Se-hyun, South Korea’s unification minister: “If the United States is willing to drop its hostile policy toward us, we are prepared to deal with various security concerns through dialogue.”5

In the talks with Kelly, Kang Sok Ju put the North’s covert nuclear program on the negotiating table. By Kelly’s own account, Kang laid out the terms of trade in general terms only. He asked for assurances the United States would not attack the North, would sign a peace agreement or declare an end to enmity, and would respect its sovereignty.6 A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman put the terms somewhat differently on October 25. North Korea, he said, “was ready to seek a negotiated settlement of this issue on the following three conditions: firstly, if the United States recognizes the D.P.R.K.’s sovereignty; secondly, if it assures the D.P.R.K. of nonaggression; and thirdly, if the United States does not hinder the economic development of the D.P.R.K.” He spoke of “a nonaggression treaty” between the two.

Already aware of the enrichment program, Seoul and Tokyo had moved to engage Pyongyang in diplomatic give-and-take. They have not been driven off course. After Kelly briefed them on his talks, Seoul went ahead with ministerial talks, and Tokyo moved up the date for resumption of normalization talks with the North. “I have decided to resume negotiations,” Koizumi said October 18, “because I judged that taking the first major step of moving from an adversarial relationship to a cooperative one would be in the best interests of Japan.” During his summit meeting with Kim Jong Il, he added, “I discerned their intention to seek a comprehensive promotion of talks on a number of issues, such as nuclear weapons development and other national security issues.”7 A high-ranking Foreign Ministry official explained Japan’s decision to Asahi Shimbun this way: “We cannot afford to have North Korea leave the negotiating table. If the United States takes a more hard-line stance, we have to mollify North Korea. The negotiations have definitely become much harder.”8

In its ongoing talks with South Korea and its responses to the Powell agenda, the Bolton list of concerns, and the Kelly accusation, North Korea has now said it is prepared to negotiate with the United States on all of Washington’s security concerns. Early in November, North Korean ambassador to the United Nations Han Song Ryol spelled that out for anyone who had missed the point. “Everything will be negotiable,” he said, including inspections of the enrichment program and shutting it down. “Our government will resolve all U.S. security concerns through the talks if your government has a will to end its hostile policy.”9

Negotiating a Way Out

Diplomatic give-and-take with North Korea could satisfy U.S. nuclear and other security concerns without a replay of the 1994 nuclear crisis. Then, like now, the United States had three options: impose sanctions, which were rightly deemed unlikely to be effective in curbing the North’s nuclear program; attack the nuclear sites at Yongbyon, which was not certain to eliminate all the nuclear material and sites in the North but certain to raise a political storm in the South; or negotiate. By refusing to negotiate, the administration might leave itself with no other option than to live with a nuclear-arming North.

The 1994 Agreed Framework is a basis for negotiating further inspections of nuclear activity by the North. Although the accord does not explicitly refer to uranium enrichment, it does say, “The D.P.R.K. will consistently take steps to implement the North-South Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” It thereby incorporates the obligation under that declaration “not to possess facilities for reprocessing or enrichment” without providing for verification. The visits to the suspect site at Kumchang-ni under the Agreed Framework are useful precedents for that.

In a test of wills, North Korea does not lack leverage; it has yet to renounce the Agreed Framework, throw out the IAEA inspectors, reopen the plutonium-filled casks, or restart its Yongbyon reactor. Instead of trying to compel rightly reluctant allies to ratchet up the pressure on Pyongyang, President Bush needs to ask himself: Is the world’s only superpower tough enough to sit down and negotiate in earnest with North Korea?

U.S. hard-liners may want to use Pyongyang’s “confession” to punish the North, but the crime-and-punishment approach has never worked before, and there is no reason to believe that it will work now. Sooner or later, every administration since Ronald Reagan’s has given diplomatic give-and-take a try. Let’s hope this one does not have to undermine its alliances or go back to the brink of war before doing so.


The author would like to thank the Carnegie Corporation and the Ploughshares Fund for their generous support.

1. Michael R. Gordon, “How Politics Sank Accord on Missiles With North Korea,” The New York Times, March 6, 2001, p. A1.
2. These two statements and others issued by North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesmen can be found at www.kcna.co.jp.
3. Robert Gallucci, An ACA Press Conference, “Progress and Challenges in Denuclearizing North Korea,” Arms Control Today, May 2002, p. 16-17.
4. “N. Korea’s Kim Eyes Better Ties, Ready to Visit Japan,” Kyodo News, September 14, 2002.
5. Jay Shim, “N.K. Ready to Resolve Nuclear Crisis Thru Dialogue: Kim YN,” Korea Times, October 21, 2002.
6. Doug Struck, “Nuclear Program Not Negotiable, U.S. Told North Korea,” The Washington Post, October 20, 2002, p. A18.
7. “Suddenly, Japan Has a Lot on Its Plate,” Asahi Shimbun, October 19, 2002.
8. Tetsuya Hakoda, “Analysis: North Korea Plays Wild Card,” Asahi Shimbun, October 18, 2002.
9. Philip Shenon, “North Korea Says Nuclear Program Can Be Negotiated,” The New York Times, November 3, 2002, p. A1.

Leon V. Sigal is director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project
at the Social Science Research Council.

North Korea Admits Secret Nuclear Weapons Program

November 2002

By Paul Kerr

North Korea revealed that it has a clandestine nuclear weapons program during an early October meeting with a high-ranking U.S. official. The admission, which the United States made public October 16, indicates that Pyongyang has violated several key nonproliferation agreements, raising concern worldwide.

North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Suk Ju admitted that Pyongyang has a uranium-enrichment program during October 3-5 meetings with a U.S. delegation after Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly confronted him with intelligence data proving the program’s existence, Kelly stated during an October 19 press conference in Seoul.

The intelligence included evidence that Pyongyang was purchasing material for use in a gas centrifuge program that could enrich uranium for use in nuclear weapons, according to Bush administration officials. Various press reports have cited Russia, China, and Pakistan as potential suppliers. All three governments have denied any role.

The status of the program is unclear. Kelly said during the Seoul press conference that the enrichment program is “several years old,” but Bush administration officials have reported to Congress and allies that North Korea’s program still appears to be in its “early stages” and would take a relatively long time to produce enough weapons-grade material for a nuclear device. It is unclear how much time that is.

Kelly stated that North Korea’s nuclear program violates “its commitments” under several international agreements: the Agreed Framework, the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Pyongyang’s safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the Joint North-South Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

The United States and North Korea concluded the Agreed Framework in October 1994, ending a standoff resulting from the IAEA’s discovery that Pyongyang was diverting plutonium from its graphite-moderated nuclear reactors for use in nuclear weapons. The Agreed Framework requires North Korea to “freeze its graphite-moderated reactors and related facilities,” thereby ending its plutonium-based nuclear weapons program.

In exchange for shutting down its reactors, the United States agreed to provide North Korea with two proliferation-resistant light-water reactors (LWR), to create an international consortium called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) to build them, and to provide shipments of heavy fuel oil in the interim. The first reactor was originally scheduled to be completed by 2003, but construction has fallen behind schedule, and the reactor is not expected to be finished before 2008, barring further delays.

The Agreed Framework requires North Korea to accept full IAEA safeguards when “a significant portion of the LWR project is completed”—a milestone that is approximately three years away. Under those safeguards, Pyongyang must declare the existence of any nuclear facilities and allow the IAEA to inspect them.

The Agreed Framework does not specifically mention uranium-enrichment, a different method of obtaining fissile material for nuclear weapons, but it does require North Korea to remain a party to the NPT, under which non-nuclear-weapon states agree “not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” The framework also says that North Korea “will consistently take steps to implement” the 1992 Joint Declaration, which states that “South and North Korea shall not possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities.”

The Agreed Framework has been controversial, with some Republicans, including President George W. Bush, questioning whether the United States can trust North Korea. The Bush administration refused last March to certify that North Korea was fully complying with the agreement, a congressionally mandated condition for KEDO to receive U.S. funding. Bush waived the certification requirement, however, allowing funding to continue. Then, in August the United States asked North Korea to allow immediate IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities, although they are not required by the Agreed Framework at this time.

Meanwhile, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said in September that the agency has not been able to verify that Pyongyang “has declared all the nuclear material that is subject to Agency safeguards.” U.S. intelligence estimates that North Korea separated enough plutonium for at least one, and possibly two, nuclear weapons before signing the Agreed Framework. Other spent fuel produced before the Agreed Framework is under IAEA safeguards, but if North Korea decided to reprocess it, the country could recover enough plutonium in six months for approximately six nuclear devices.

The current and future status of the Agreed Framework is unclear. Kelly said during the October 19 press conference that North Korean officials “declared that they considered the Agreed Framework to be nullified” when he met with them. Regarding the agreement, he added that “we haven’t made any decisions since we were informed it was nullified.” In an October 20 interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Secretary of State Colin Powell repeated that Pyongyang had declared the agreement “nullified,” but he would not say that it was “dead.” Powell explained that Washington had to consult with its allies before deciding on the framework’s future.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said October 25 that past U.S. actions had already invalidated the Agreed Framework, citing reactor construction delays, U.S. economic sanctions, and U.S. threats of pre-emptive attack against North Korea, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The Agreed Framework requires the United States to “provide formal assurances to the DPRK [North Korea], against the threat or use of nuclear weapons.” Recent U.S. reports and statements have reportedly raised concerns in North Korea that the United States might consider a nuclear pre-emptive strike on the country, although the United States has not directly threatened North Korea. (See ACT, October 2002.) For example, a leaked version of the Bush administration’s January 2002 classified Nuclear Posture Review lists North Korea as a country against which the United States should be prepared to use nuclear weapons if necessary.

KEDO’s work continues despite North Korea’s admission, according to a KEDO spokesman, but it is unclear what decisions the United States, South Korea, Japan, and the European Atomic Energy Community—KEDO’s executive board members—will make in the near future. KEDO’s most recent shipment of fuel oil arrived in North Korea October 18, according to a State Department official interviewed October 30.

International Response

President Bush, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung issued a joint statement October 26 during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, saying that the uranium enrichment program violates Pyongyang’s nuclear agreements. The statement also calls upon Pyongyang to “dismantle” the program “in a prompt and verifiable manner and to come into full compliance with all its international commitments.”

The declaration stresses the three countries’ desires for a peaceful resolution to the nuclear issue. The declaration also indicates that both Japan and South Korea intend to continue their bilateral engagement efforts with Pyongyang but that “North Korea’s relations with the international community…rest on…prompt and visible” dismantlement of its uranium-enrichment program.

On October 29 and 30, Japan and North Korea held normalization talks in Kuala Lumpur that covered a variety of issues, including North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, according to a Japanese Foreign Ministry statement. In the October 26 joint statement, Koizumi indicated that relations could not be normalized without resolution of Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programs, but the talks ended without an agreement on the programs, according to an October 30 BBC report.

South Korea has also continued its engagement efforts with the North. The two governments held interministerial talks October 19-22 in Pyongyang. According to a KCNA October 23 statement, the two sides agreed to “make joint efforts to ensure peace and security on the Korean Peninsula” and “to seek negotiated settlement of…the nuclear issue.” The next meeting is to be held in mid-January 2003, KCNA reported.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Jiang Zemin stated after an October 25 meeting with Bush in Texas that Beijing and Washington would “work together to ensure a peaceful resolution” to the North Korea nuclear problem, adding that China is a “supporter of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.”

Russia called for talks between Washington and Pyongyang and for both sides “to renounce the policy of mutual threats and military pressure,” emphasizing the importance of adherence to the NPT and “implementation” of the Agreed Framework “by all concerned parties,” according to an October 25 statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry.

What Next?

Pyongyang has proposed that the United States conclude a nonaggression treaty with North Korea in order to resolve the dispute. An October 27 KCNA statement says that Washington should negotiate such a treaty, which would include a guarantee that the United States will not use nuclear weapons against North Korea, “if the U.S. truly wants the settlement of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula.” North Korea “will be ready to clear the U.S. of its security concerns” if the United States does so, according to the statement.

North Korea also proposed further engagement with the United States to discuss its nuclear program during the October 3-5 meeting. When asked during the Seoul press conference if, in exchange for discussions about ending the enrichment program, Pyongyang had requested U.S. diplomatic recognition and guarantees that the United States would not attack North Korea, Kelly stated that North Korea had suggested “measures…generally along those lines” but that North Korea must dismantle the program before any discussions could take place.

Powell stated at an October 26 press conference during the APEC meeting that Washington has “no plans…for a meeting” with North Korea and that the United States would not negotiate for the dismantlement of the uranium enrichment program. He added that the “international community” agreed that applying “political” and “diplomatic” pressure on Pyongyang was the best course of action, but he did not elaborate.

Powell also stated that “we have no intention of invading North Korea or taking hostile action against North Korea”—a promise Bush made earlier this year in Seoul. Powell also restated Washington’s policy of requiring discussions about missile development and proliferation, nuclear issues, human rights abuses, and North Korea’s conventional forces in order for negotiations to begin. Kelly also articulated this position during the meeting in Pyongyang, Powell said.

Pyongyang’s admission occurred against a backdrop of what appeared to be increased engagement between North Korea and the United States. Kelly is the highest-level U.S. official to visit Pyongyang since Secretary of State Madeleine Albright did so in October 2000. The United States had also sent Jack Pritchard, State Department special envoy for negotiations with North Korea, to the August 7 KEDO ceremony in North Korea marking the pouring of the concrete foundation for the first LWR that the United States agreed to provide under the Agreed Framework. (See ACT, September 2002.) And North Korea had pledged to indefinitely extend its moratorium on testing long-range missiles—a top U.S. security concern. (See ACT, October 2002.)

The Bush administration’s decision to seek a peaceful resolution with North Korea contrasts with its position on Iraq, where it has threatened to use military force to overthrow the government in Baghdad because of its weapons of mass destruction programs.

North Korea Admits Secret Nuclear Weapons Program

Disarmament Through Diplomacy

November 2002

By Daryl G. Kimball

A decade ago, North Korea challenged the nuclear nonproliferation regime by pursuing nuclear weapons technologies in violation of its treaty commitments, and it has recently admitted that it has resumed work to produce materials for nuclear bombs. Now, as then, the most effective way to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program is pragmatic diplomacy and engagement rather than confrontation and isolation.

In 1992, international inspectors discovered that North Korea was separating plutonium to build weapons in violation of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The resulting showdown—one of the most dangerous since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis—was defused only after tough negotiations led to a 1994 deal known as the Agreed Framework. For nearly 10 years, through this agreement Pyongyang has halted its plutonium-based weapons program in exchange for energy supplies. The deal has also spurred talks on other regional security issues.

Last month, North Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Suk Ju admitted to U.S. officials that North Korea has sought materials and technologies to produce enriched uranium. Although North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program creates new dangers, it appears to be still in its early stages. The same cannot be said if North Korea were to unfreeze its plutonium program. Consequently, as the United States seeks to address this latest crisis, it can ill-afford to “nullify” the Agreed Framework in a pique of self-righteous anger.

Without the Agreed Framework, or a revised agreement, the North would be able to recover and separate enough plutonium for approximately six weapons within six months. Just as importantly, the Agreed Framework creates a lever for intrusive inspections of North Korea’s nuclear facilities. Such inspections are necessary to verify that Pyongyang’s plutonium and uranium-enrichment programs are fully dismantled.

Unfortunately, the George W. Bush administration has become hostage to its own tough line on North Korea and has been itching to scrap the Agreed Framework for months. Even though U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly knew for more than a year that the North was seeking supplies for uranium enrichment and that it was transferring missile technology to states such as Pakistan, the Bush administration failed to meet with leaders of the North Korean regime until last month.

Complicating matters, President Bush stoked North Korean fears that it might be the target of a pre-emptive strike when he named it part of an “axis of evil” and approved contingency plans for using nuclear weapons against the North in the event of war. Pyongyang has cited these policies as evidence that the United States has reneged on its 1994 pledge to pursue normalized relations and not to threaten the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea.

The Bush administration has wisely vowed to seek a peaceful solution to the crisis. However, the administration has said that North Korea must dismantle its uranium-enrichment program before the United States will engage in additional discussions. Worse still, some hardline administration officials and members of Congress are now lobbying Bush to declare the entire Agreed Framework “dead,” isolate North Korea economically, and beef up U.S. military capabilities in the region.

South Korean and Japanese leaders, on the other hand, have refused to go along. They say it is unrealistic to expect that Pyongyang will respond to non-negotiable demands and have cautioned Washington not to make a bad situation worse.

They are right. The 1994 Agreed Framework, though shaken, remains an indispensable part of achieving peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. A precipitous termination of the Framework is ultimately self-defeating. Instead, Bush should link further energy assistance to North Korea to visible evidence that North Korea’s uranium-enrichment activities have ended. Meanwhile, the United States and its allies should continue discussions on practical proposals—such as formal nonaggression pledges—that could roll back North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

A nuclear-armed North Korea would pose a grave security threat and would severely undermine the global nonproliferation regime, creating pressure on Seoul and Tokyo to acquire nuclear weapons. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il must understand that this scenario is unacceptable. Over the next few weeks, President Bush must carefully pursue a path that avoids such an outcome.

With North Korea, as with Iraq, achieving verifiable disarmament and avoiding a devastating war requires U.S. diplomacy and effective international weapons inspections.

A decade ago, North Korea challenged the nuclear nonproliferation...

Analysis and Resources on North Korea and the Agreed Framework



For Immediate Release: October 17, 2002

Press Contacts: Daryl Kimball, (202) 463-8270 x107 or Paul Kerr, (202) 463-8270 x102

(Washington, D.C.): The Bush administration said last night that North Korea has admitted to covertly pursuing nuclear weapons, thereby violating its commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 to not develop nuclear weapons and under the 1994 Agreed Framework to work toward a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. According to the Bush administration, North Korea has further claimed it was "nullifying" the Agreed Framework, which was negotiated by the United States in response to Pyongyang's 1993 announcement that it intended to withdraw from the NPT.

Much remains unclear about how advanced the covert North Korean nuclear weapons program is and the future of the Agreed Framework, but the Arms Control Association has resources available on North Korea, the Agreed Framework, and the NPT to help inform reporting and debate on this important subject. An exhaustive list of fact sheets, monthly reporting, feature articles by outside experts, and transcripts of past Association press conferences is available at the ACA Web site, www.armscontrol.org/country/northkorea/.

Key resources include:


The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies.

# # #

Media Advisory

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:


Subscribe to RSS - North Korea