THE FAILURE OF THE AGREED FRAMEWORK
Early in his first term in office,
President Clinton grappled with North Korea's renegade nuclear
weapons program. After many months of tedious negotiations, the
first U.S.-North Korea political agreement was signed in October
1994. This Agreed Framework marked a sharp break with the
established policy that had governed relations with North Korea for
decades. With the signing of this Framework, the United States
entered a major agreement with Pyongyang that did not include the
South. Such direct political ties had been a key North Korean
diplomatic goal for years.
the Agreed Framework, the Administration offered improved trade and
political ties that eventually would end the U.S. economic embargo
on the North and lead to the beginning of formal diplomatic
relations. But more important, for the first time the United States
pledged economic aid to the North, including $50 million per year
for fuel oil and the construction of two nuclear reactors valued at
about $5 billion. Together with a consortium of about a dozen
nations, the United States is raising funds to support this
process, although Seoul pledged to pick up most of the tab. This
approach was justified by the Administration because it would
promote greater North-South economic interaction and increase the
chances of an eventual peaceful unification.
United States has given or pledged nearly $500 million in various
kinds of aid to North Korea, including food assistance, fuel
shipments, funds to secure the North's weapons-grade nuclear
material, and money for the right to search for the remains of U.S.
soldiers lost in the North during the Korean War. Other countries
have given substantial amounts of aid as well.
North Korea's economy is in a downward
spiral. Successive years of backward socialist agricultural
policies have combined with bad weather to cause widespread
starvation in some areas. The Pyongyang regime refuses to implement
desperately needed economic reforms, even ones that would affect
its political control only slightly. The aid the regime receives
from abroad allows it to feed politically loyal subjects and fund a
massive million-man military force. Meanwhile, although there is
little reliable information on the North's internal situation, some
estimates place North Korean deaths from starvation at around
300,000 over the past five years.
Clinton Administration hailed the Agreed Framework as an historic
opportunity to end the state of war that has smoldered on the
Peninsula since the 1953 Korean War cease-fire. Yet concerns are
mounting that the North could explode into war or that political
instability could lead to a violent collapse of its regime. The
Administration's initial hope of guiding the North into a "soft
landing" appears improbable at best.
Agreed Framework clearly has failed to achieve its intended goals.
North Korea has not suspended its nuclear program, has not sought
reconciliation with the South, and now poses new threats to the
world in the form of its long-range ballistic missiles.
Failure #1: The Agreed Framework provides
no assurance that North Korea has suspended its nuclear
return for assistance, the North agreed to freeze its current
nuclear program, preventing it from processing any more
weapons-grade plutonium than it already has. This freeze was to be
monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Today,
the Clinton Administration proclaims that the nuclear threat has
been checked, but there are noteworthy caveats. Washington backed
down from its earlier demand that the North provide a full
accounting of its enriched plutonium stockpile. Inspection of
storage sites, which the North is obliged to allow under other
international treaty obligations, is delayed for years to come.
result, the North already may have assembled nuclear bombs in
secret. Senior Clinton Administration officials have admitted this
publicly. The nuclear deal in the Framework offered much-needed
economic support to the North, but it also allowed Pyongyang to
keep its nuclear card for years to come. And though Pyongyang
technically is obliged to allow for full nuclear transparency just
before completion of the two reactors, the construction project may
take 10 years or more to complete.
1998 report, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) stressed that
the IAEA had "identified several problems affecting its ability to
determine whether North Korea is complying fully with...aspects of
the nuclear freeze." For example, the
North "has not allowed the IAEA to implement required safeguard
measures on the liquid nuclear waste tanks" at the Yongbyon nuclear
facility. The report found that "the Agreed Framework allows North
Korea to continue operating certain nuclear facilities not covered
by the freeze." It also noted that a December 1996 cable from the
U.S. Department of State had expressed "deep concern about whether
North Korea will fulfill critical components of the Agreed
Further undermining the Agreed Framework's
credibility is a 1996 GAO study which found that the North's
existing power grid or infrastructure is not nearly capable of
distributing the power that will be generated by the new reactors.
The report quotes State Department sources as saying that upgrading
this grid will cost about $750 million, which is considered
a very conservative estimate. The United States and its allies
refuse to pay for this enormous project, and given North Korea's
economic crisis, it is certain that Pyongyang will not soon be in a
position to pay for it. According to the GAO report, "North Korea
could exert pressure on others to pay for the grid."
Failure #2: The Agreed Framework has not
reduced North Korea's threats and use of extortion.
Administration's failure to insist that North Korea fulfill its
part of the Agreed Framework has allowed the North to extort
additional money from the West. North Korea's extortion tactics,
for example, were evident in the confrontation surrounding the
suspected nuclear site at Kumchang-ri. When the existence of the
large underground facility was publicized last August, it quickly
provoked congressional criticism of the purported nuclear "freeze,"
forcing the Administration to insist on inspections of the site.
The North initially demanded $300 million in exchange for the
inspections. In the end, Pyongyang received most of what it
demanded. The latest U.S. shipment of food assistance to the
North--pledged just weeks before the March 16 Administration and
Pyongyang Joint Press Statement on the Kumchang-ri issue--is valued
at nearly $200 million.
announcing the inspection agreement, Secretary Madeleine Albright
proclaimed that the North had agreed to "multiple site visits" by
U.S. officials at Kumchang-ri. But it soon became
clear that the United States had secured only an invitation to
conduct a single inspection in May 1999. A two-month delay ensued
before the U.S. team inspected the site. It is reasonable to
question the Administration's failure to secure immediate
inspections. By May, the North certainly would have had time to
sanitize the site. The next "multiple" inspection will not take
place until May 2000.
March 18 commentary in the Choongang Ilbo, a daily newspaper in
Seoul, described the deal as follows:
effect, North Korea traded a cave for gifts equivalent to a third
of its annual trade.... The US came away with nothing, not even
face [emphasis added].... The US backed away big time, too,
from its original refusal to pay any compensation to the North. The
US-North Korea agreement, to be sure, contains no mention of
compensation, but nobody is fooled by that. The agreement is a
straight forward exchange of assistance for visits. Meanwhile, of
course, North Korea has carted away any evidence at Kumchang-ri and
US "visits" are unlikely to turn up anything.
May 18, a 15-member U.S. inspection team arrived in Pyongyang and
conducted a weeklong inspection of the site. On June 25, the
Administration announced that the underground complex was empty.
The State Department contended that "Kumchang-ri does not violate
the 1994 U.S.-DPRK Agreed Framework." The department,
however, left open a gray area by stating that the site is not
suitable for "a [fuel] reprocessing plant." It also admitted that
the U.S. could not rule out the possibility that the site was
intended for other nuclear-related uses. Coming four years after
the North agreed to freeze its nuclear weapons program, the
Kumchang-ri affair underscores the opinion of many that the North
had no intention of actually freezing the program.
Failure #3: The Agreed Framework did not
promote effective North-South dialogue.
Section III of the Agreed Framework
stipulates that "The DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea]
will consistently take steps to implement the North-South Joint
Declaration on Denuclearization" and "will engage in North-South
dialogue, as this Agreed Framework will help create an atmosphere
that promotes such dialogue." The Clinton
Administration's attempts to coax Pyongyang to the bargaining table
with the South have been a slow and torturous process. The North,
mired in a staggering economic crisis, repeatedly has demanded
massive commitments of food aid from the United States and Seoul as
a precondition of negotiations. Seoul, Washington, and the
international community have provided enormous amounts of
humanitarian assistance already. Yet Pyongyang consistently refuses
to engage Seoul in political dialogue--violating the promise it
made in writing more than four years ago in Geneva.
March 17, 1999, the North made clear yet again its deliberate
violation of Section III. Radio Pyongyang reportedly demanded that
the South stop "toadying" to foreign powers, rescind the National
Security Law that prohibits pro-North Korean activities in the
South, and guarantee complete freedom of action in the South's
unification movement. The North indicated that these were absolute
conditions that must be met before North-South dialogue can begin.
Pyongyang's demands reportedly were restated in the North Korean
Communist Party newspaper on June 9. This attitude violates both
the spirit and the letter of the Agreed Framework and could be
considered grounds for the United States to abandon its commitments
under the agreement.
Failure #4: The Agreed Framework has not
reduced North Korea's growing military threats.
discussed above, the failure of the Framework to assure the full
suspension of the North's nuclear program is highlighted by the
fact that the North's military threat has grown more ominous since
the agreement was signed. Instead of devoting resources to feeding
its starving people, Pyongyang is spending funds to build ICBMs.
Its test flight of the Taepo Dong-1 missile directly over Japan
last August shocked that island nation. The missile has an
estimated range of at least 1,200 miles. Within several years, the
North may field a new version of the Taepo Dong that could carry a
nuclear, chemical, or biological warhead to the United States.
Moreover, North Korea is one of the
world's most prolific sellers of missile technology to rogue
nations. In 1996, Pyongyang sold Scud mobile missile launchers to
Iran. Soon afterward, the North may have sold its 600-mile-range
Nodong missile to Iran and Pakistan, both of which tested missiles
almost identical to the Nodong in 1998. There are suspicions that
the Taepo Dong or its essential technology already may be on the
way to Pakistan.
Since 1997, the Clinton Administration has
engaged in dialogue with Pyongyang to try to curb the North's
missile program. North Korea's contempt for this effort was made
clear when U.S. congressional staff members visited Pyongyang in
August 1998 and were told by a senior official that North Korea's
missile sales would be suspended in return for $500 million in U.S.
aid per year.
North Korea also continues its provocative
military action against South Korea on a regular basis. On June 7,
the North sent fishing ships and gunboats into South Korean
territorial waters. The standoff continued until June 15, when
South Korean ships returned the fire of the North Korean vessels
and sank a torpedo ship. Moreover, there are frequent news reports
of infiltration into the South by the North's commandos and agents.
One such mission in September 1996 led to violence when mechanical
troubles forced the commando-carrying submarine's crew and North
Korean troops who were aboard to flee into the South. Ensuing
battles resulted in the deaths of 16 South Koreans and all but two
of the 26 North Koreans.
TIME TO REFRAME THE AGREED FRAMEWORK
failures of the 1994 Agreed Framework point to the need for the
Clinton Administration to revise its policies toward North Korea.
The Administration has only been successful in enticing Pyongyang
to engage in talks by offering a multibillion-dollar energy
infrastructure construction project, with pledges of additional
limited aid and political ties. Now the United States and other
nations are responding to the North's severe economic crisis with
Although Pyongyang openly admits to its
economic woes and publicly appeals for international support, it
continues aggressive actions and abstains from substantive direct
talks with the South in an effort to extract maximum concessions
from the United States and its allies. But this is a futile game.
Meeting the North's needs requires much more than Washington and
Seoul are willing to provide. Massive aid to a nation that poses a
clear and present military threat is hardly an acceptable option.
As the North continues its slide toward economic collapse, it
should expect only limited aid under the current circumstances.
Even its multibillion-dollar bonanza in nuclear reactors will not
materialize for years.
The Package Deal.
A crucial principle that Washington must reintroduce in its
dealings with Pyongyang is reciprocity: Rewards will only follow
concessions from the North that lead to peace. This principle has
been lost since the signing of the Agreed Framework.
During talks with the North in 1993 and
1994, U.S. policymakers spoke of a "package deal" under which
Pyongyang would reap substantial rewards for giving up its nuclear
weapons ambitions and pursuing a lasting peace on the Peninsula.
The key to this proposal was real linkage between North Korea's
actions and rewards.
Heritage Foundation, among others, supported this approach at the
time, and called for a generous trade and aid package from the
United States, South Korea, Japan, and other concerned parties in
return for Pyongyang's cooperation. Instead, the Clinton
Administration put forth a scheme for power plant construction.
What the North desperately needs is financial assistance and
economic reform, not the prospect of enhanced electric power
capabilities 10 years from now. What the United States urgently
needs is an unambiguous end to the North's nuclear threat and rapid
tension reduction in Korea.
Continued North Korean belligerence toward the South has caused
great frustration in Congress, which is asked to appropriate
hundreds of millions of dollars to support the Administration's
North Korea policies.
last year, in approving the Administration's request for the annual
funding of its North Korea policy, Congress stipulated certain
conditions. For example, the White House is required to certify
that the North has frozen its nuclear program, that it will end its
aggressive missile development program, and that it will stop
stonewalling talks with the South. The Administration is also
required to conduct a review of its current policies. Former
Secretary of Defense William Perry, who was selected to lead this
assessment, has indicated that the findings will be publicized in
the meantime, congressional support for current Administration
policies is eroding. On June 9, Perry presented an interim report
to Representative Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), chairman of the House
International Relations Committee. On the same day, Gilman issued a
strong statement criticizing the Administration for moving ahead
with "quiet diplomatic initiatives with North Korea without the
close consultation with Congress that last year's legislation
Representative Gilman was alluding to a
new policy initiative about which Congress had yet to be consulted.
What this new initiative entails has not been made public, but
presumably the policy will be announced by the White House in the
very near future. Gilman accused the Administration of undermining
development of "a bipartisan policy which would be supported by the
Congress and the White House."
June 9, Representative Gilman also announced his intention to move
forward with the North Korea Threat Reduction Act of 1999
(H.R.1835), which would impose a new reciprocity requirement on
future funding of the Administration's North Korea policy
initiatives. U.S. food assistance would be approved only after
assurances that the aid would not be diverted to North Korea's
military. U.S. trade embargo measures would remain in place until
the North abandons its missile program. The bill also would
establish stiff requirements that the North prove its adherence to
its nuclear freeze pledge.
Current Administration policies toward
North Korea should be changed to reflect the critical goals sought
by these requirements. Although this change would require careful
diplomacy with Pyongyang, there are no legal barriers to such
action. In October 1996, the GAO reported to Congress that the
Agreed Framework is not legally binding or enforceable under either
U.S. or international law. The GAO quoted
State Department officials as admitting that the deal was
structured in this manner since "the United States wanted the
flexibility to respond to North Korea's policies and actions."
a clear record of failure and growing opposition in Congress to its
increasingly expensive North Korea policy, the Clinton
Administration should move quickly to formulate new policy
initiatives. In close consultation with Seoul, Washington should
take the following steps:
- Promote discussions with South Korea,
Japan, and other concerned nations on a substantial package of
trade and aid offers for North Korea.
This package should be large enough to entice the North to
cooperate while meeting the needs of most North Koreans. For
example, a significant portion of the billions of dollars pledged
for the decade-long reactor construction project should be used now
as leverage in negotiating with the North. Serious consideration
should be given to scrapping the light-water nuclear reactor
project in favor of a more practical and viable approach to solving
the North's energy needs, such as the construction of conventional
non-nuclear power generating facilities. These facilities are not
only less expensive to build, but also more appropriate given the
state of the North's energy distribution infrastructure. The
non-binding nature of the Agreed Framework permits the United
States and its allies to drop the nuclear reactor commitment.
- Make future aid to North Korea dependent
on real concessions.
In return for the new package of assistance, the Administration
should call on the North to reduce military tensions, to abandon
its ICBM program, and to resume the peace talks with the South. A
new package of aid, which North Korea desperately needs, must be
conditioned on the North's termination of its ballistic missile
development and proliferation efforts. North Korean missiles could
soon be capable of reaching the United States, and Pyongyang's
trafficking in missile technology is allowing rogue states to pose
a growing threat to their adversaries. Sales to Iran pose a threat,
for example, to Israel.
In addition, the North must engage in
serious, high-level peace talks with Seoul. The baseline for
those talks should be the Basic Agreements ratified by the North
and South Korean governments in 1992. Long ignored by the Clinton
Administration, these pacts were negotiated by the prime ministers
of the two sides and outline specific and practical steps toward
easing political and military tensions, including expansion of
North-South trade, citizen exchanges, a pullback of troops from
both sides of the border, and phased reductions in armaments and
troops. Pyongyang should be pressed to initiate market-oriented
reforms, starting with its agricultural sector.
forming a "peace corps" for North Korea.
As part of this package deal, and with the goal of sparking
systemic North Korean reforms, Seoul and its allies should consider
creating a "peace corps" type of program for North Korea. The North
has an enormous need for social and economic infrastructure
revitalization, beginning with its agricultural sector. A
consortium of concerned and interested nations should offer
technical assistance in areas ranging from farming to health care,
telecommunications, transportation, electric power generation, and
business. A "peace corps" organization could ensure that future
assistance helps the people of North Korea and is not siphoned off
by the North Korean government or military.
- Appoint a
senior U.S. negotiator as a special envoy to Pyongyang to oversee
these policy adjustments and to coordinate policy among the United
States, South Korea, Japan, and other concerned nations.
The United States and Seoul will have to move decisively to "sell"
this new arrangement to Pyongyang. A high-level envoy is necessary
to convince North Korean leaders that the package deal serves the
interests of all parties concerned and that the resolve of Seoul
and its allies to end the threat to peace posed by Pyongyang's
military machine is solid.
Cold War has ended, and North Korea no longer has China and the
Soviet Union standing ready to support its military aggression
toward the South. But even as its economy crumbles, the North poses
a daily threat to the security of South Korea, as well as to the
interests of the United States and Seoul's other allies. It is past
time for these allies to offer reasonable incentives to Pyongyang
and at the same time press the North for substantive efforts and
rapid progress toward peace and stability on the Korean
Formulating and successfully implementing
policies will take time, perhaps months, but the alternatives are
less attractive. The Administration's policies have done little
more than preserve the status quo. This approach does not go far
enough in promoting critical national security interests. The
current meager amounts of assistance flowing into North Korea will
neither stop its economic free-fall nor convince Pyongyang to take
deliberate steps to achieve confidence building and tension
Supplying appropriate and strictly
conditioned assistance to the North now could expedite the quest
for peace. It also could ease the suffering of the North Korean
people and promote necessary economic reforms. This, in turn, could
make the eventual reunification of the Koreas less complex and less
Daryl M. Plunk is a
former Senior Fellow in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage