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Date: 2009-05-09 23:42
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(The Korean translation of this article is published on 「Korea Defense Review」 vol. 161, pp.12-14, May 2009.
If you want to read the Korean translation, you can read it through Digital Book. Click to read. )


Mahendra Prakash

The UNSC and IAEA’s intervention in North Korea and US’s policies has been
a major issue since the North Korea has withdrawn it from the NPT.
Hypothetically, North Korea would not destabilize its weapon policy based on
nuclear technology in future. It is has become challenge for the concerned
members of Six Party Talks to finalize the North Korean nuclear issue.  

North Korea, being in East Asian region, has become threat for the peace of the region by possessing nuclear technology for military use. The nuclear policy of North Korea is severe matter of concern for the region. In 1995, the ‘military first’ was declared by the current leader Kim Jon Il for North Korea as the main notion. Since then North Korean has developed and tested many missiles as well as tested the nuclear weapon in 2006.

The North Korean involvement in the arm race presently, laid in its history after the World War II. After the war, Korea was divided into North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK) and South Korea (Republic of Korea, ROK) during the previous years of Cold War. Korea partitioned along the 38th parallel, with the north under Soviet occupation and the south under the occupation of other allied countries. Consequently, in the North Korea, a Soviet pattern socialist regime was established and in the South Korea, on Western pattern republic was established. The Korean War (1950-1953), broke out when the North Korea invaded the South Korea, though neither side gained much territory as a result. Nowadays, the Korean peninsula remains divided, the Korean Demilitarized Zone being the legal border between the two sovereign states.

North Korean attempt to obtain nuclear weapons and become militarily self reliant was due to the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 and the expectation of US-Japan-South Korea alliance following the 1965 establishment of diplomatic relations between the South Korea and Japan. The US presence in the East Asia with the alliance of US-Japan-South Korea in 1965 further compelled the North Korean leaders to obtain nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

Moreover, in the 1980s, focusing on practical uses of nuclear energy and the completion of a nuclear weapon development system, North Korea began to operate facilities for uranium fabrication and conversion. It began construction of a 200 MWe nuclear reactor and nuclear reprocessing facilities in Taechon and Yongbyon respectively, and conducted weapon tests. In 1985, under immense international pressure, Pyongyang acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear (NPT). However, the North Korea refused to sign a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an obligation being party to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.

The major development has been occurred in the beginning of 1990s, one of the first steps to go with NPT safeguards is for the IAEA to verify the initial stocks of uranium and plutonium and to ensure that all the nuclear material in the country has been declared for peaceful use. On 30 January 1992, North Korea signed a nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA that was planned in 1985 with the provisions of NPT. While undertaking this work in 1992, IAEA officials found inconsistency, which indicated that the reprocessing plant had been used more often than the North Korea had declared, and came out with report that the North Korea could have weapons grade plutonium. After refusing, the demand in February 1993 of the IAEA to inspect the nuclear reactor sites the country announced later on 12 March to withdraw from the NPT. In April 1993, the IAEA Board concluded that the North Korea was in non-compliance with its safeguards obligations and reported to the UN Security Council. In June 1993, the North Korea announced that it has no intention on its withdrawal from the NPT, nonetheless, subsequently claimed a special status with respect to its safeguards obligations. This plan was later rejected by IAEA.

In May 1993, the test fire of missiles over Sea of Japan by North Korea emerged as the main concern related to the Weapons of Mass Destruction developed by North Korea and leads into the debate of East Asian security. In 1994, US observed that North Korea had enough reprocessed plutonium to produce nuclear warheads. Intense diplomatic pressure and the threat of US military air strikes against the reactor, North Korea agreed to stop its plutonium program as part of the ‘agreed framework•’ in which, South Korea and the US would provide the light water reactors and fuel oil to it. The Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) was setup by Japan, the US and South Korea in March 1995, based on ‘agreed framework’ between the US and North Korea. With the aim to finance and supply of light water reactors and other alternatives of energy, in return to North Korea for immobilize its operation and construction of graphite-moderated reactors.

North Korea had ignored the ‘agreed framework’ provisions, started its weapon policies, moreover, tested Taepodang-1 missile, which flew over Japan into Pacific Ocean. This test has changed the dynamics of East Asian security and cooperation. Because of the test, Japan refused to sign an agreement on sharing the cost of providing safer nuclear reactors to North Korea. Later, it came into notice that North Korea was involved into the plutonium enrichment program in October 2002, in response to this act, the KEDO demanded from North Korea to stop all such activities by stopping the construction of light water nuclear reactor in December 2003. In a meanwhile in January 2003, the North Korea has withdrawn from the NPT due the planned ‘six party talks’ related to its nuclear weapon policies, which began in Aug 2003 and halted nuclear light water reactor assistance by the US.

In July 2006, North Korea tested its advance long-range missiles, Nodong-2, Taepodang-2 and Scud missiles as a part of the regular military exercise and self-defense. However, this turned into serious implications for the East Asian, the stock markets were shaken by the launches in the region, with concerns that this could lead to a future conflict in the East Asia and Southeast Asian region. Crude oil prices have also increased since the missile tests were fired by North Korea. In October 2006, it was announced by the North Korea that it has tested the nuclear weapon successfully in the round five and after phase one of the ‘six party talks’.

For a peaceful resolution to the security concerns in East Asia, due to the North Korean nuclear weapons policy, the ‘six-party talks’ started. There has been a series of meetings with six participating states: the People’s Republic of China; the South Korea, the North Korea, the US, the Russia and the Japan. These talks were a result of North Korea withdrawal from the NPT in 2003. Apparent gains following the fourth and fifth rounds were reversed by outside events. Six rounds of talks from 2003 to 2007 produced little net progress, when North Korea agreed to shut down its nuclear facilities in exchange for fuel aid and steps towards the normalization of relations with US and Japan.

The security concern in East Asian region is important to solve as early as possible. The Japan’s dependent on the US due its permanent security ally, it cannot go beyond its Article 9, which prohibits the militarization in any forms. China and South Korea have the other issues with Japan that are pending and unsolved. Japan-Russia has the island issues that have not made any progress for the solution of the problem.

The progress after the ‘six party talks’ have not yet achieved much as it should be. In October 2007, the North Korea agreed to end its nuclear program in exchange for aid and started to disable the Yongbyon plant, however it is very slow. In May 2008, North Korea handed over around 19,000 pages of documents to the United States detailing production records of its nuclear policy. In June, Pyongyang also handed over the much awaited declaration as agreed in the ‘six party talks’ after the six months delay and imploded the cooling tower of the Yongbyon nuclear plant. North Korea accused the US and other member countries involved in ‘six party talks’, for not cooperating in the energy requirements for it. This led to slow down the disablement process of nuclear weapon policy by the North Korea.

In the region, the North Korean activities of developing nuclear weapon and missile tests are the serious issue that could not be undermined in the days to come. This is really a matter of security threat in the East Asia and destabilizing peace in the region. The North Korean nuclear issue has led the relations of both the Koreans on stake.

As far as the security is concerned in the East Asian region; the People’s Republic of China, South Korea and Japan have showed their concern over the North Korean nuclear policy and hunted for the ‘peace’ in the region. In an advance move, the US has removed to the North Korea from its terrorist list on the assurance that the country wished to verify denuclearization and allow atomic experts to take samples and carry out forensic tests at every of its declared nuclear facilities and undeclared sites. In addition, in the late December 2008, US led international efforts (six countries) to disarm the North Korean nuclear ambitions failed to produce significant results. However, on 27 January 2009 it was noticed in the news media that North Korea is having some intention and respect for the negotiations on nuclear disarmament.

Lastly, it may be opined that the only possibility is remaining to force the North Korea to destabilize its nuclear program properly through the intense bargain and conditional bilateral talks with US under the new President Barack Obama and next round of ‘six party talks’ in near future.   

•   ‘Agreed Framework’ was signed on 21 October 1994 between the US and the North Korea.  The objectives were to replace the indigenous nuclear reactor with a light water reactor and    enhance cooperation between both the countries.

Selected References:

1.  CIA Fact Book, North Korea, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ks.html#Econ.
2.  Six Round, Second Phase, 18 December 2006, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2006-12/18/content_5503201.html.
3.  US Confirms Nuclear Claims, New York Times, 16 October 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/16/world/asia/17koreacnd.html.
4.  Hill, Chritopher, R. (2007), Statements- “North Korea and the Current Status of Six-Party Agreement”, House Foreign Affairs Committee, US.
5.  Zissis, Carin (28 June 2008), “The Six Party Talks on North Korea Nuclear Program”, US: The Council of Foreign Relations.
6.  Alford, Peter (27 August 2008), “North Korea Halts Nuclear Disablement Program”, The Australian, North Korea Destroyed Nuclear Reactor Tower, CNN, 27 June 2007.
7.  SKorea welcomes NKorea’s denuclearization pledge, http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2009/01/28/asia/AS-Koreas-Nuclear.php.
8.  Richardson, Michael, North Korean crisis heating up, Japan Times, 27 January 2009.
9.  Heon, Lee Jong, North Korea Defiant on Nuclear Disarmament, http://www.upiasia.com/Security/2008/12/30/north_korea_defiant_on_nuclear_disarmament/5250/.

School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi-110067
Email: mahendraprakash@gmail.com

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