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Sunday, May 23, 2010

North Korea Nuclear and Missile Issues

Sunday, May 23, 2010 - 0 Comments

With the Six-Party Talks just concluding in Beijing, it certainly is a good time to discuss North Korea. We are fortunate indeed that, as always, the Institute for Corean-American Studies is focusing Washington’s attention on a grave matter that concerns both Americans and America’s friends in South Korea and Japan.

When reviewing the new agreement that came out of the Six-Party Talks, it is important to keep in mind that the most important issue on the table is not how much oil we give to North Korea. The most important issue is-just what ICAS have identified—how to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.

That is what the Six-Party Talks have been all about. The world began scrambling last night to figure out if all participants, especially Kim Jong-II, would accept the new agreement, and indeed whether it will be effective.

From what I have heard so far, I am disappointed. It looks like too much was given away or punted down the road. We appear to be providing significant rewards for minimal compliance and leaving the important issues to future negotiations and to working groups that may or may not be able to resolve them. This makes any follow-on negotiations key, if the United States is insisted on getting more assurances and concessions on certain points.

Unfortunately, all of this is painfully familiar. We’ve been here before, literally.

Just six and a half years ago, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stood here and delivered a major address on the outcome of her visit to Pyongyang. She talked about the progress the Clinton Administration had made in dealing with North Korea. She chronicled how the North had violated its obligations to the International Atomic Energy Agency; how it had been actively developing nuclear weapons, and how Washington had engaged in “vigorous diplomacy” to get to the Agreed Farmework of 1994—which, as you know, was when the North agreed to freeze production of plutonium at Yongbyon and Taechon in exchange for energy and other concessions.

Time proved that our best hopes and the best efforts of our best negotiators then were wrong. Or perhaps I should say half-wrong. Without the Agreed Framework, we might well be dealing with a North Korea holding dozens of nuclear bombs.

Yet the Agreed Framework did not solve the bigger problem. It simply constrained it. It kicked the big can of denuclearization down the road, deferring its resolution.

And so it remains the central issue we face today.

Time will tell if this new agreement contains the keys to locking up the North’s nuclear programs. A lot is being assumed. North Korea to this point has not been willing to give up its uranium-based nuclear weapons program, and based on recent statements and actions, it is still doubtful that Pyongyang would give up its plutonium program.

Biological and Chemical Weapons of North Korea

North Korea acceded to the Biological Weapons Convention in 1987, and the Geneva Protocol on January 4, 1989, but has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention. The country is believed to possess a substantial arsenal of chemical weapons. It reportedly acquired the technology necessary to produce tabun and mustard gas as early as the 1950s, and now possesses a full arsenal of nerve agents and other advanced varieties, with the means to launch them in artillery shells North Korea has expended considerable resources on equipping its army with chemical-protection equipment. South Korea, however, has not felt the need to take such measures.

North Korea using its Nuclear Program as Political Tools

Nuclear deterrence

Some scholars and analysts have argued that North Korea is using nuclear weapons primarily as a political tool, particularly to bring the U. S. to the table to begin re-establishing normal relations and end the long-standing economic embargo against North Korea. A key point of this agreement is the observation that the threat of nuclear weapons is the only thing that has brought the U. S. into serious negotiations. In a lecture in 1993, Bruce Cummings asserted that, based on information gathered by the CIA, the activity around the Yongbyon facility may have been done expressly to draw the attention of U. S. satellites. The also pointed out that the CIA had not claimed North Korea had nuclear weapons, but that they had enough material to create such weapons should they choose to do so. North Korea’s energy supply has been deteriorating since the 1990s. Although North Korea’s indigenous nuclear power capacity is insignificant, the two light-water moderated plants, if built, would be an important source of electricity in a nation with scarce resources. Although couched in a derisive statement, Donald Rumsfeld demonstrated the severe lack of electricity for the entire nation in a photograph released in October 2006. Another factor in this argument is that many parties have a vested interest in the claim that North Korea has nuclear weapons. For North Korea, it has been a bargaining tool for opening diplomatic discussions and receiving aid. The Grand National Party, currently the opposition party in South Korea, has made their disagreement with the Sunshine police a major political wedge. Leading politicians in Japan have openly expressed a desire to remove Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, and the threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea feeds into the perceived need for a larger standing army and defense force. The Bush administration in the United States has also made the threat of terrorism the central focus of foreign policy since the September 11, 2001 attacks. The U. S. maintains a force of nearly 40,000 troops in South Korea, the second largest in East Asia that would likely have to be curtailed if the political situation changed significantly in Korea, something expected to negatively affect the U. S. sphere of influence in the region.

On March 17, 2007, North Korea told delegates at international nuclear talks that it is preparing to shut down its main nuclear facility. The agreement was reached following a series of six-party talks, involving North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the U. S, begun in 2003. According to the agreement, a list of its nuclear programs will be submitted and the nuclear facility will be disabled in exchange for fuel aid and normalization talks with the U. S. and Japan. This had been delayed from April due to a dispute with the United States over Banco Delta Asia, but on July 14, IAEA inspectors confirm the shutdown of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reactor.

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