Events on the Korean Peninsula

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Intro to NK Nuclear Issue

  • North Korea nuclear weapons issue refers to the course of events following the secret development of nuclear weapons by North Korea. In the early 90s, it was revealed that the North Korea had attempted to develop nuclear weapons (1st North Korea nuclear crisis). In 1995, North Korea agreed, after a year of negotiations with the U.S. to halt the development of nuclear weapons in exchange for light-water reactors to solve its energy problem, effectively putting an end to the 1st crisis. However, North Korea resumed its nuclear development program later on, only to be discovered by the U.S. again, leading to the 2nd North Korea nuclear crisis. The gravity of the crisis became apparent following the visit to Pyongyang made in October 2002 by U.S. Assistant Secretary. of State James Kelly, during which North Korean authorities allegedly admitted to having resumed a uranium-based nuclear program. North Korea claims that the U.S. violated the Geneva Agreement first by delaying the construction of the light-water reactors, while the U.S. stresses the fact that North Korea continued its nuclear program even after the Agreement was announced.
  • The first and foremost reason is to ensure the security of North Korea regime. In general, North Korea regards the U.S. with fear. The U.S. is also watchful of North Korea in connection to its support for terrorist activities, for which reason Washington has slapped economic sanctions on Pyongyang. Having seen the outcomes of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, North Korea presumes that it is the next target on the U.S. hit list. Therefore, North Korea is striving to develop nuclear weapons in the hopes that this would deter the U.S. from taking military action. The second reason is that the possession of nuclear weapons lends North Korea a more advantageous position in negotiations. The security of the North Korea regime can be achieved purely through the improvement of relations with the U.S. It is the view of North Korea that its possession of nuclear weapons will strengthen U.S. motivation to improve relations with North Korea. That is, the North Korea believes that its nuclear program is an effective way to bring the U.S. to the negotiation table, as well as a safeguard measure. It seems to believe that, in addition to the security of its regime, it will also be able to acquire economic benefits such as various aid programs. Therefore, one can say that North Korea is pursuing its nuclear program as a vital part of its key national agenda.
  • The first reason the U.S. intends to deter North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, while the second is to remove the threat posed to the U.S. The concept of nuclear non-proliferation has recently been expanded to include WMD (weapons of mass destruction). Following the 9.11 attacks and the priority attached to the ‘war on terror’, the prevention of WMD proliferation has become an important issue in the U.S. national security agenda. That is, the potential destruction that would be inflicted in the event of a terrorist attack using nuclear or chemical/biological weapons has made WMD proliferation the greatest perceived threat to U.S. national security. The acquisition of nuclear weapons by the North Korea, which the U.S. has already dubbed a terror-sponsoring nation, is therefore regarded by Washington as an unacceptable security threat of the utmost urgency. Moreover, with North Korea continually striving to improve its missiles, equipping them with longer ranges and the ability to carry nuclear or chemical/biological weapons, the threat as perceived by the U.S. is made even greater.
  • In 1993, amid suspicions that it was attempting to develop nuclear weapons, North Korea withdrew from the NPT (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty), sparking the 1st North Korea Nuclear Crisis. The crisis, after nearly reaching the brink of war in June of 1994, came to an end following the October 1994 Geneva Agreement announced by North Korea and the U.S. North Korea had signed a safeguards agreement with the IAEA in the January of 1992. As stipulated in the agreement, the IAEA conducted six inspections in North Korea and discovered sufficient evidence to believe that several kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium had been extracted, in stark contrast to a report North Korea submitted to the IAEA, stating that only 90 grams of the material had been extracted. This result prompted the IAEA to request a special inspection, at which North Korea withdrew from the NPT as an act of protest. Almost a full year of fruitless negotiations passed, with the crisis peaking in June 1994, when it nearly reached the brink of war. Talks resumed following a dramatic visit by former U.S. President Carter, who held talks with North Korea President Kim Il-sung. U.S.-NK negotiations led to the Geneva Agreement in October of 1994 negotiated by U.S. ambassador Robert Gallucci and North Korea Vice Foreign Minister Kang Suk-ju. The agreement, which stipulated that North Korea suspend its nuclear program in exchange for fuel oil ang two light-water reactors, effectively concluded the 1st North Korea nuclear crisis.
  • This is the bilateral agreement between the U.S. and North Korea that brought about the resolution of the 1st North Korea nuclear crisis sparked by North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT in 1993. The agreement was reached on the 21st of October, 1994 by U.S. and North Korea delegations headed by Ambassador Robert Gallucci and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kang Suk-ju. The Agreement focuses on North Korea’s suspension of its nuclear program in exchange for the provision of light-water reactors. While the Geneva Agreement stressed the suspension of North Korea’s nuclear program, it also provided a general framework of U.S.-NK relations as a means to realize this goal. The terms of the Geneva Agreement can be summarized as follows:

    ① Provision of Light-water Reactors - The U.S. will provide North Korea with a 2000MWe-capacity light-water reactor power plant, as well as providing an annual 500,000 tons of crude oil for heating and power generation until the construction of the plant is complete. In exchange, North Korea shall halt operation of its graphite-moderated reactors and related facilities (nuclear facilities at Yongbyon), and dismantle them upon completion of the light-water reactor plant.

    ② Normalization of U.S.-NK Political and Economic Relations ? Within three months of the signing of the Agreement, the two parties shall ease trade and investment barriers, including those concerning communication and financial transactions. In addition, both parties shall open a liaison office in the other’s capital city, and re-establish these offices as embassies depending on the progress of the terms of the Agreement.

    ③ Denuclearization and Peace of the Korean Peninsula ? The U.S. shall not use nor threaten the use of nuclear force against nor threaten North Korea, while North Korea must enact measures to realize the denuclearization of the peninsula in accordance with the North-South Joint Declaration.

    ④ Cooperation to Strengthen the NPT Regime ? North Korea shall remain a party to the NPT, and shall accept nuclear inspections by the IAEA immediately following the signing of the ‘Light-water Reactor Provision Pact’.

    In accordance with the terms of the Geneva Agreement, KEDO (Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization) was established and construction of the light-water reactors began at the Kumho site. However, the Geneva Agreement was effectively annulled following the visit to North Korea by U.S. Assistant Sec. of State James Kelly in 2003, during which North Korea admitted upon persistent inquiry by Kelly to having pursued a secret nuclear weapons development program. The U.S. claims that North Korea has violated the Geneva Agreement by continuing its development of nuclear weapons even after the Agreement, while North Korea claims that the U.S., through its failure to construct a light-water reactor by the year 2003 as had been promised, caused 2 Million kilowatts of power loss on the part of North Korea and violated the Agreement. Such developments gave rise to the 2nd North Korea nuclear crisis.
  • The Yongbyon nuclear facilities are the center of North Korea research on nuclear energy. The Nuclear Energy Research Center and nuclear-reactor plants which started operation in 1986 are located in Yongbyon. The 5Mw-capacity nuclear reactors in Yongbyon, which had received extensive media coverage in connection to North Korea nuclear weapons issue, employ the graphite moderation method and are fueled by natural uranium. Because weapons-grade plutonium can be easily extracted from these facilities, their suspension was stipulated in the Geneva Agreement. Facilities designated for suspension include the aforementioned 5Mw-capacity graphite-moderated reactors, the 50Mw and 200Mw-capacity reactors in Taechon (under construction), reprocessing facilities, and nuclear-fuel factories.
  • KEDO is an international consortium established on March 10, 1995 with the aim of constructing two light-water reactors to be provided by the U.S. in exchange for the suspension of the two North Korea graphite-moderated reactors, in accordance with the terms of the Geneva Agreement. Its headquarters are located in New York City, and member nations include South Korea, the U.S., Japan, the U.K., Australia, Canada, Brunei, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, and Germany. It consists of the General Board, the Executive Board (which includes ROK, U.S., and Japanese representatives; votes are unanimous), and the Secretariat (each Deputy Executive Director is of U.S., Korean, and Japanese nationality, respectively). U.S. corporations also participate to lend technical and legal consultation for the light-water reactors. Although the basic objective of KEDO is to provide North Korea with light-water reactors, it is also in charge of providing alternate energy sources (crude oil), processing nuclear fuel rods, and disassembling current North Korea nuclear facilities. KEDO is to disband once the light-water reactors have been provided. Construction of the light-water reactor site at Shinpo, South Hamgyung Province started on the 19th of August, 1997. KEPCO (Korea Electric Power Co.) was contracted to carry out the construction, playing a central role in building the reactors. However, the 2nd North Korea nuclear crisis has halted all construction.
  • The 2nd North Korea nuclear crisis refers to the course of events directly following the admittance by North Korea of its secret nuclear weapons development program and the concurrent nullification of the Geneva Agreement, bringing North Korea nuclear weapons issue back to its starting-point. North Korea had long been suspected of pursuing a secret nuclear program. On-site inspections held by the U.S. at Kumchangri, where secret underground nuclear facilities were believed to be located, suggested that the truth was in fact otherwise. However, the visit to Pyongyang by U.S. Assistant Sec. of State James Kelly in 2002 led to North Korea’s supposed private admittance to its secret nuclear program. North Korea’s nuclear program again became a major issue in the international community. The crisis became full-blown after several relation-eroding measures, including KEDO’s suspension of crude oil transfers and North Korea’s extraction of nuclear fuel rods, led to North Korea’s announcement of its withdrawal from the NPT (January 10th, 2003). Six-party talks (ROK, North Korea, U.S., Japan, China, and Russia) were presented as a framework to overcome the crisis, and the first round of the talks was held between the 27th and the 29th of August, 2003 in Beijing. The six-party talks have been continuing intermittently ever since.

    2002. 10. 3 ~ 5 North Korea supposedly admits in private to the U.S. to its HEU (highly-enriched uranium) program
    2002. 11.14 KEDO announces halt of crude oil transfers to North Korea
    2002. 1 ~ 2. 21 North Korea prepares to resume operation of nuclear facilities (seals removed from nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel factories, and radiochemistry laboratories)
    2003. 1. 10 North Korea announces withdrawal from NPT
    2003. 8. 27 ~ 29 1st Round of six-party talks
    2003. 10. 2 North Korea announces that 8,000 nuclear fuel rods had been reprocessed
    2004. 2. 25 ~ 28 2nd Round of six-party talks
    2004. 6. 23 ~ 26 3rd Round of six-party talks
    2005. 2. 10 North Korea announces its possession of nuclear weapons and indefinite withdrawal from the six-party talks (announced by North Korea Foreign Ministry)
    2005. 7. 26 ~ 29 4th Round of six-party talks
  • The six-party talks are a multilateral framework of negotiations, aimed at defusing the 2nd North Korea nuclear crisis. This setup contrasts with the bilateral U.S.-NK talks that had concluded the 1st North Korea nuclear crisis. In the second crisis, North Korea insisted on bilateral talks; but the U.S. was reluctant to engage in direct negotiations with North Korea, citing the lack of credibility caused by North Korea’s secret pursuit of its nuclear program even after the announcement of the Geneva Agreement. Therefore, a multilateral setup was devised as an alternative. While it is a positive factor for the U.S., North Korea and four other nations to work together to overcome North Korea’s credibility problem, the six-party talks have been criticized for inability to produce concrete results through intensive negotiations. Deputy minister-level officials of each nation are appointed as delegation chiefs, while delegation vice-chiefs (director-level) work to draw up specific proposals through working-level meetings.