Written evidence submitted by Dr Tat Yan
Kong, Senior Lecturer in Politics, School of Oriental and African
SECURITY AND STABILITY OF THE KOREAN PENINSULA:
THE NORTH KOREAN NUCLEAR ISSUE
PART 1. THE
1.1 Since 1992, North Korea has been under
international pressure to relinquish its nuclear weapons programme
and to allow international inspection of its facilities. The first
crisis (1992-94) almost led to military conflict but was resolved
by the Geneva Framework Agreement (GFA) of October 1994. The GFA
unwound in late 2002 when North Korean negotiators allegedly informed
their US counterparts of the existence of another nuclear weapons
programme. The US halted oil delivery supplies agreed under the
GFA in December 2002. In response, North Korea declared that it
was no longer obligated by the terms of the GFA, and took a series
of actions to that effect in early 2003. These included: removal
of IAEA (International Atomic Energy Authority) safety seals and
inspectors; restarting its nuclear reactor and the reprocessing
of spent fuel; announcing its intention to withdraw from the Non
Proliferation Treaty; and declaring its right to produce and export
weapons of mass destruction.
1.2 To bridge the gap between North Korea
and the US, a series of Six Party Talks (SPT) have been held in
Beijing since August 2003 (involving the US, North and South Korea,
China, Russia and Japan). At the fourth round of talks in September
2005, an agreed statement of principles was issued but implementation
of the details and other disagreements led to another standoff
between North Korea and the US.
1.3 The aim of this paper is to explain
the nature of the problem, discuss possible solutions and illuminate
North Korea's survival strategy in a post-communist world. This
submission is a based on academic analyses and discussions rather
than first hand observation of North Korea. As such, it should
be read in conjunction with direct knowledge available from members
of the diplomatic and business community based in the country.
PART 2. THE
Direct inspections, estimates and North Korea's
own statements all point to the existence of a nuclear weapons
programme. Only a weapons test can confirm the existence of weapons.
2.1 An IAEA inspection team which visited
North Korea's small reactor (5 megawatt) at Yongbyon in 1992 found
a discrepancy between the declared amount of spent nuclear fuel
and the estimated amount based on the capacity of the reactor
and its length of service. The "missing" amount of spent
fuel (plutonium) was believed to have been sufficient for the
manufacture of 1-2 nuclear weapons. The declared amount (8,000
fuel rods) was stored and sealed by the IAEA in 1994 under the
GFA. The IAEA seals and inspectors were removed by North Korea
in January 2003 when the GFA broke down. If processed, North Korea
could now have up to six nuclear weapons (on the estimation that
it takes 8 kilogrammes of plutonium to make one weapon). A high
level US team from Los Alamos invited by the North Koreans in
2004 mentioned that they observed processes consistent with weapons
manufacture, but without measuring equipment, they were unable
to verify. Two much larger reactors (of 50 and 200 megawatts)
were started in 1984. If completed, they could yield enough plutonium
for the production of 4-13 weapons per year. It is also possible
that North Korea could also have obtained smuggled plutonium from
Russia during the 1990s.
2.2 Apart from the plutonium-based programmes
above, North Korea is suspected of having developed a programme
based on Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) located at another site.
A US inspection team visited suspect areas in 1999 (in return
for food aid) but found nothing. It was North Korea's alleged
admission (that North Korea denies making) to the existence of
this programme that finally derailed the GFA in October 2002.
On the other hand, revelations from the Pakistani nuclear programme
indicate that Pakistan exchanged HEU technology for North Korean
missile technology. North Korea itself has talked about possessing
a "nuclear deterrent" in August 2003, and from September
2004 onwards it started talking about "nuclear weapons".
Finally, the production of nuclear weapons is within the capability
of a country of North Korea's standard of scientific knowledge.
2.3 North Korea possesses various short
and medium range missiles capable of striking South Korea and
Japan. These include old Soviet Scud B/Cs (3-600 km), Nodong (1,300
km). In August 1998, it test-fired a long-range missile, the Taepodong-1
(2,500 km). Although the test was somewhat unsuccessful (the satellite
failed to achieve orbit), the fact that it flew over Japan caused
consternation there, and renewed US security concerns. In 1999,
North Korea announced a moratorium on missile testing (see below).
Although North Korea is still years away from developing an inter-continental
ballistic missile (15,000 km), it possesses the capability to
make further progress in this area. The export of missiles (mainly
ageing Scuds) to the Middle East earns around $500 million per
2.4 These estimates come with reservations.
The subject is not one that is open to direct research, and for
North Korea in particular, information sources are limited. Most
of the information used by academics, policy think-tanks, and
even the IAEA emanate from two sources, namely the US Central
Intelligence Agency and South Korea's National Intelligence Service.
In terms of total military capability, North Korea is minuscule
compared with South Korea (its total GDP is only 3% of South Korea's).
North Korea is militarily far inferior to South Korea, even without
including the US. North Korea's 1961 defence treaties with the
USSR/Russia and China have lapsed, whereas South Korea's treaty
with the US remains active.
PART 3. FROM
CRISIS 1992 TO
The current situation represents the latest
of a series of crises linked to North Korea's emergence as a potential
nuclear power in the early 1990s.
3.1 The first crisis arose from North Korea's
refusal to permit thorough IAEA inspection of its nuclear facility
at Yongbyon (60 miles north of Pyongyang) and withdrawal from
the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) it had signed in 1985. Military
conflict was narrowly averted by former US President Jimmy Carter's
informal diplomatic visit to Pyongyang in June 1994. Carter brokered
a deal which eventually became the Geneva Framework Agreement
of 17 October 1994. The central features of the GFA were:
North Korea would allow inspectors
to return and suspend operation of its 5 mw reactor and reprocessing
activities at Yongbyon. But special inspections would be postponed
until the completion of two replacement light water reactors.
North Korea would halt the construction
(began 1984) of two larger reactors at Yongbyon (50 mw) and Taechon
North Korea would receive two light
water reactors (LWRs) (capable of generating 2,000 mw of electricity
but less suitable for military use) to be built at Sinpo. The
project would be financed by the Korean Peninsula Energy Development
Corporation (KEDO), an international consortium consisting of
the US, South Korea, Japan and the EU to the tune of US$4-5 billion
(funded 70% by South Korea). The consortium would compensate North
Korea for lost transmission capacity with 500,000 metric tons
of heavy oil a year (from the US) until the completion of the
LWRs by the target date of 2003 (which in 1997 was changed to
North Korea and the US would open
liaison offices in each other's capital as initial steps towards
US economic sanctions towards would
be selectively relaxed.
North Korea would implement the December
1991 North-South Denuclearisation Accord with the South and resume
3.2 The GFA left a number of loopholes.
The plutonium North Korea was suspected to have removed from the
Yongbyon reactor before the introduction of the IAEA seals in
1994 (sufficient for 1-2 nuclear weapons) was never accounted
for. The two more powerful reactors under construction were frozen
rather than dismantled. The GFA provided for the storage rather
than removal of the 8,000 spent fuel rods. There was also suspicion
that secret programmes existed at other sites. The cost of dismantling
the 5 mw, 50 mw and 200 mw reactors was another consideration.
The latter two would cost $500 million, the 5 mw one even more.
Besides these technical problems, the principle of "special
inspection" (ie intrusive inspection) was unacceptable to
North Korea. North Korea interpreted the GFA narrowly as applying
specifically to the programmes mentioned. The US view was that
other programmes not specifically covered under the GFA would
still be bound by IAEA principles (violation of which would invalidate
3.3 North Korea's test firing of a ballistic
missile in 1998 prompted US Congressional hearings into North
Korea chaired by former Defence Secretary William Perry in 1999.
The Perry Report of 1999 recommended a strategy "comprehensive
engagement" whereby North Korean security threats would be
eliminated through a series of reciprocal actions, Perry also
provided for (but did not spell out the details of) the use of
coercive sanctions if incentives failed. The first tangible effect
was the Berlin Agreement of 1999, under which North Korea agreed
to suspend ballistic missile testing (which was very costly anyway).
It opened the way for reciprocal visits by Vice Marshal Cho Myong-Rok
and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2000. Coinciding
with the heads of state summit between the two Koreas in June
2000, this represented the high point of the engagement strategy.
3.4 Influential officials of the new Bush
administration regarded the GFA and South Korean engagement diplomacy
(Sunshine Policy) as rewards for North Korean blackmail. Others
thought the GFA helped limit if not eliminate plutonium production.
In June 2001, under the guidance of the Armitage Report, the US
declared that it would continue to abide by the GFA as long as
North Korea did the same. But the Armitage Report also called
for a "broad agenda" of discussion to include improved
implementation of GFA, tighter verification ("complete, verifiable
and irreversible disarmament" or CVID) of North Korean missile
development, and conventional military reductions. The US was
vague about what North Korea would receive in return. North Korea
viewed the Bush administration as demanding more without offering
anything in return. On the other hand, the US viewed North Korea
to be intrinsically untrustworthy owing to the nature of its regime,
a view intensified after September 11, and reflected in President
Bush's Axis of Evil speech of February 2002.
PART 4. SIGNIFICANCE
The NKNP is a critical issue for the international
politics of the region and beyond.
4.1 The NKNP tests the credibility of the
1968 NPT and its inspection regime. Thus far, three states have
openly defied the NPT by "weaponisation" (India, Pakistan)
or by not signing the agreement (Israel). North Korean nuclearisation
would further weaken the NPT regime by sending out encouraging
signals to other would-be violators. North Korea is a particularly
important case given its geo-political position located between
nuclear weapons powers (US, Russia, China) and advanced industrial
powers with nuclear capabilities (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan).
It could encourage new nuclear weapons states in a region with
active historical and territorial disputes.
4.2 The danger of nuclear weapons also emanates
from the nature of the possessor. North Korea represents an example
of a crisis state, mired in a deep economic crisis and governed
by a very harsh and distinctive communist autocracy. This link
between domestic repression and international untrustworthiness
is central to the thinking of the Bush administration. The North
Korean regime is guided by a theory legitimising the use of military
force. It has a proven record of using military provocations,
terrorism, kidnapping and assassination in its conflict with South
Korea. It also relies on smuggling, counterfeiting and arms transfers
to unstable regions as sources of foreign exchange. The possession
of nuclear weapons by such a lawless and desperate regime is viewed
by the Bush administration as an unacceptable threat to the security
of the region and beyond.
4.3 The fact that North Korea has not started
any major conflict since the 1953 Korean War armistice, however,
indicates that the South Korean-US military alliance is an adequate
deterrent to direct aggression. It is indicative that the leaders
of North Korea are rationally calculating. Pessimists, however,
argue that the possession of nuclear weapons will make it rational
for North Korea to consider certain aggressive options:
4.3.1 The diminishing prospects for
the North Korean regime means that it may well be tempted to become
more aggressive militarily because the status quo is highly unsatisfactory,
with little hope of reversal (just as diminishing horizons made
Japan attack the US against the odds in 1941). This represents
the "preventive war" scenario.
4.3.2 North Korea could also use nuclear
weapons as part of a strategy of "coercive bargaining".
Instead of waging war, the North Korean regime provokes crises
and incidents that antagonise the US and South Korea, but which
they are unwilling to punish for fear of escalation into full-blown
war. The result is that a new round of crisis resolution talks
begins, enabling North Korea to gain new economic concessions.
The launching of a medium range missile in 1998 can be interpreted
in this light, as can the revelation of the HEU programme in 2002.
PART 5. SOLUTIONS
5.1 All the governments of the region support
the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula but differ over the
means. It is for the purpose of reaching a consensus on the means
that four rounds of the Six Party Talks (involving North and South
Korea, US, China, Russia and Japan) have been held in Beijing
since August 2003. In spite of the difficulties (see below), multilateral
engagement represents the surest diplomatic path to progress in
the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue. Peaceful resolution
of the North Korean case also has relevance for strategies of
coping with other potential nuclear states such as Iran.
5.2 Unilateralism does not work for either
North Korea or the US, the two main protagonists in the crisis.
North Korea cannot guarantee its own security unilaterally through
developing nuclear weapons. The programme makes the possibility
of some form of sanction more likely since the other five parties
all oppose the nuclearisation of Korea. It also slows down the
economic integration that North Korea desperately needs to arrest
its economic decline. Unilateralism does not work for the US either
given the impracticality of military or economic sanctions without
multilateral support from North Korea's neighbours. North Korea
thus poses a serious problem for the unilateralist Bush Doctrine
(which asserts that it is both strategically and morally right
for the US to take pre-emptive military actions against potentially
threatening non-liberal-democratic states).
5.3 Bilateral engagement will not work at
the present time. The background of hostility and blame (who "cheated"
on the GFA) makes direct, two party negotiations between North
Korea and the US impossible (especially for the US). For North
Korea, bilateral talks means superpower acceptance of their status,
the very signal the US wants to avoid sending (to be seen rewarding
cheating and brinkmanship).
5.4 Multilateral engagement in the form
of the SPT represents the most practical diplomatic pathway to
an eventual solution:
It satisfies both liberal and hawkish
strands of thinking in the US. For the liberals, it would be a
chance to demonstrate their optimism that North Korea responds
to incentives, that it can be steered towards denuclearisation
and gradual reform. For hardliners, the North Korean regime is
intrinsically aggressive but multilateral engagement will allow
its true nature to be revealed. By exhausting the diplomatic channels
first, such "hawk engagement" would enable the US to
build a coalition for sanctions. In fact the twin track approach
of engagement first, but sanctions if engagement fails, is common
to both the late Clinton and early Bush administrations (Perry
Report 1999, Armitage Report 2001).
Since it resents being "represented"
by powers such as China or Russia, North Korea's preference is
for bilateral talks with the US. A multilateral forum allows for
such direct talks without being labelled as such given US sensitivities.
The interests of the other regional
stakeholders are represented. These stakeholders share a common
interest in avoiding the two extremes of North Korean possession
of nuclear weapons and US coercive action. Thus they exert a moderating
5.5 At the fourth round of SPT talks, an
agreed six-point declaration was announced (19 September 2005).
The declaration consisted of the following main points:
North Korea accepted the principle
of verifiable denuclearisation.
The US would refrain from attacking
North Korea or reintroducing nuclear weapons to South Korea.
North Korea affirmed that it has
the right to use nuclear energy peacefully.
North Korea and US and Japan should
seek to normalise diplomatic relations.
The five powers would provide energy
assistance to North Korea;
The international provision of a
substitute LWR to North Korea would be the subject of further
5.6 Implementation of the agreed points
would be based on the reciprocal principles of "commitment
for commitment, action for action". The implementation of
the declaration soon ran into problems. On the very next day,
North Korea insisted upon the delivery of a LWR as the condition
of any denuclearisation. Alleged North Korean money laundering
activities also brought a tightening of US economic sanctions.
Talks have not resumed as a result.
PART 6. UNDERLYING
6.1 The current standoff reveals the presence
of deep obstacles to the resolution of the North Korean nuclear
issue. The core dilemma is whether North Korea trusts the US to
allow its regime to survive after denuclearisation, and whether
the US administration is prepared to recognise (thereby guarantee
the survival of) a regime that it genuinely considers "evil"
(and by extension, dangerous).
6.2 If it is to be consistent with the logic
of "hawk engagement", the US should take the initiative
of offering security and other incentives to test North Korea's
sincerity. But the changed context after 9-11 makes this a difficult
course. First, it portrays the US as weak and provides encouragement
to other would-be nuclear proliferators. Second, opinion within
the administration does not favour compromise with "evil".
6.3 The representation of North Korea as
"evil" can be self-fulfilling. By treating North Korea
in accordance with this image, the US administration fuels confrontational
North Korean behaviour, which is then used to justify the initial
representation. North Korea is also trapped in a mentality that
fuels confrontation and stalemate (believing that the US only
responds to threats). Those who emphasise this dimension therefore
attribute blame to both sides in the making of the crisis.
6.4 North Korea does not have the facilitating
advantages enjoyed by Libya and Ukraine, both recent examples
of successful denuclearisation. Libya demonstrates how an authoritarian
family-dominated regime can give up its nuclear ambitions and
improve relations with the US. Unlike North Korea, however, Libya
possessed a nuclear programme rather than suspected nuclear
weapons. Even though the US bombed Libya in 1986, there is no
parallel with the history of mutual animosity and military build
up (including US nuclear deployments in South Korea, 1957-91)
characteristic of US-North Korean relations. The prospect of access
to Libyan oil by US companies also facilitated reconciliation.
Ukraine had hundreds of weapons, which it dismantled in return
for a three-power security guarantee. Having experienced a transition
from communism and embarked on the path of economic reform, weapon
possession was not an instrument of regime survival for Ukraine
as for North Korea.
PART 7. THE
The EU does not have geographical proximity
to, or military presence on the Korean Peninsula. Neither does
it have deep historical-cultural roots with Korea (as it does
with say, Cuba). The EU's role in affecting the nuclear issue
can only be indirect. Through diplomatic exchange, investment,
humanitarian and development assistance, the EU can ease human
suffering and help to reduce North Korea's diplomatic isolation.
The EU's political and economic role in North Korea is useful
(alleviating North Korea's plight) but not central like
that of China or South Korea (ensuring survival). North Korea
favours EU aid and investment but the EU is not central to resolving
their dual dilemmas of insecurity and foreign exchange shortage.
As such the EU does not possess any serious levers of influence
with North Korea. Iraq has shown that the EU cannot restrain the
US either. Since the onset of the current crisis, the EU has followed
the US position (in calling for CVID etc). The EU is not in any
position to participate in the SPT or other direct negotiations
regarding the nuclear issue. North Korea (accurately) perceives
the solution to its chronic security and economic problems to
depend on recognition by the US. North Korea will look to the
EU to diversify its future sources of foreign investment, but
this will only be after the difficult task of reconciliation
with the US has been accomplished.
PART 8. THE
8.1 The features that make North Korea so
anomalous to the outside observer (family-centred leadership,
and centralisation of economics and power) are not so anomalous
when viewed from a Korean historical perspective. Familial networks
pervade in all walks of South Korean life as well. The monarchical
status of the ruler and the dynastic transfer of power in North
Korea are fully consistent with the pre-communist forms of political
authority (Japanese emperor system 1910-45, Korean dynasties before
1910). The centralised war economy emphasising heavy industry
also characterised Japanese-ruled Korea. Thus many "Stalinist"
features of North Korea owe their origin as much to the militarised
Japanese empire (with which Kim Il-Song was highly familiar) as
to Soviet or Chinese communism. From this historical perspective,
the populace is capable of enduring enormous privation in the
face of perceived external threat.
8.2 The resilience of the regime is bolstered
by other organisational and geo-political factors:
8.2.1 Famine from 1995 led to the collapse
of the public food distribution system that had been a pillar
of governmental control. In response to the emergency (including
mass foraging for food), the authority and prestige of the military
were enhanced. Since 1995, the regime's motto has been "songun
chongchi" ("military-first politics") and the
leader Kim Jong-Il is known formally by the title of Chairman
of the National Defence Commission. So long as the military's
standing is high and it remains adequately resourced, it can be
counted on to defend the regime. Here, the North Korean leaders
have learned from the contrasting experiences of China (loyal
military) and Eastern Europe (indifferent military) in 1989.
8.2.2 Since the defeat of the pro-Chinese
and pro-Soviet factions in the mid-1950s by Kim Il-Song's national
communist faction, Juche (autonomy) has been the legitimising
principle of the North Korean regime. Juche means the elimination
of foreign influences from North Korea's domestic politics. Practically
this means national sovereignty and the continuation of the rule
of the Kim family. This ideology of resisting foreign encroachment
and sacrifice for the leader has been deeply embedded in the psyche
of military and the society at large for the past 50 years. The
nuclear standoff with the US since 2002 reinforces the sense of
siege and national pride (at being able to defy the world's sole
superpower). The famine and economic hardships of the 1990 are
described in as an "arduous march" in pursuit of military
8.2.3 Interests of North Korea's neighbours
are best served by regime modification rather than regime change.
Driven by concerns about refugees, civil war and even a general
war, China and South Korea, have provided considerable amounts
of aid since the start of the North Korean famine. Up to 80% of
North Korea's energy needs are supplied by China. This sensitivity
helps to account for Chinese and South Korean reluctance to support
US calls for punitive sanctions. Like the US, these neighbours
also favour denuclearisation but not at the price of regime collapse.
There are also other forces at work here. The Chinese government
views the US as partially responsible for the crisis and finds
US-led interventions threatening. Democratic South Korea has seen
the rise of a new generation that is more critical of the US and
less dedicated to reunification, a combination advantageous to
a North Korean regime desperate just to survive.
8.2.4 Economic liberalisation and political
authoritarianism can be compatible. China and Vietnam shows how
once tightly controlled communist regimes can soften their control
over society without democratising. China also shows how an authoritarian
regime may accommodate new social forces generated by market reform
without the ruling party losing its leading role. Modernisation,
nationalism and Asian values have become the new justifications
for the regime. Since 1999, the North Korean economy has ceased
to contract and cautious economic reforms have been implemented.
These reforms are also accompanied by slogans about nationalism.
The principle of "military-first politics" may well
be used to justify very painful reform measures once considered
impossible under socialism (such as the shutdown of failing plants).
North Korea has expressed admiration for the military dictatorships
that transformed South Korea between 1961 and 1987.
PART 9. CONCLUSION
9.1 Initially developed to compensate for
security fears raised by the first Gulf War and by the loss of
the Soviet military guarantee, the North Korean regime has wielded
the nuclear weapons programme as a bargaining counter that will
only be relinquished in exchange for comprehensive guarantees
of security and access to international economic opportunities.
The nuclear weapons programme is the North Korean leadership's
trump card in its quest for survival. It will not be given up
9.2 The best option for resolution lies
in a negotiated deal consisting of reciprocal actions that
achieve denuclearisation by assuaging North Korean security and
economic concerns. It represents the superior option (in the
sense of alleviating human misery, maximising economic development
in North Korea, while contributing to arms control in the region)
compared with the alternatives of coercive sanctions (military,
economic) and deliberate neglect. Intrinsic resilience and Chinese
aid means that the North Korean regime will not implode (as in
Romania). If ignored, North Korea will continue to force the nuclear
issue onto the international agenda.
9.3 The perpetuation of the North Korean
regime in the exchange envisaged above presents dilemmas for western
Can North Korea be trusted? North
Korea did not develop nuclear weapons during the era of Soviet
military guarantee. Thus credible multilateral security guarantees
can offset North Korea's need for nuclear weapons.
Is guarantee of such a regime morally
acceptable? A negotiated solution provides the best opportunity
for lifting the North Korean population out of desperate poverty
and for war avoidance. In the long term, trade, investment and
cultural exchange will provide the conditions for the emergence
of a more liberal society, even if this is not the intention of
the regime. China, Vietnam and Cuba are indicative of how economic
integration precipitates unintended change within deeply entrenched
communist regimes. The dramatic transition in US-North Korean
between the Carter and Albright visits (1994-2000) demonstrates
the potential for reconciliation between the two adversaries.
Note. This evidence draws from many published
sources. These have not been cited for reasons of space but can
be made available on request.
Dr Tat Yan Kong
School of Oriental and African Studies
13 April 2006