October 18, 2002 | Backgrounder on Asia
North Korea's admission that it has been conducting a major clandestine nuclear weapons development program for the past several years was no surprise to the Bush Administration and others who have long deemed the North Korean regime as untrustworthy. While Pyongyang may have been trying to strengthen its negotiating position to extract concessions from the United States, Washington and its allies must respond with strength and clarity to North Korea's violations of its anti-nuclear agreements.
The Bush Administration must now coordinate with South Korea and Japan to institute a combination of security measures, economic sanctions and inducements, and a strong diplomatic effort to persuade North Korea to meet its international treaty obligations, cease its nuclear weapons development, and take a series of steps to improve security on the peninsula.
Those who have claimed that Kim Jong-il has made an effort to bring North Korea out of its self-imposed isolation have consistently accused the Bush Administration of being unnecessarily "hard-line" toward North Korea. Some in the United States and South Korea have blamed President Bush for the lack of progress in the dialogue between North and South Korea.
Critics of the Administration's policy have often cited the 1994 Geneva Accords, or Agreed Framework, as evidence of North Korea's "good behavior." The Agreed Framework, signed by the Clinton Administration in October 1994, called for North Korea to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for two civilian light-water nuclear reactors (LWR).
Now that North Korea has confirmed that it has violated its United Nations treaties, as well as its agreements with the United States, Japan, and South Korea, it should be clear that President Bush was justified in his insistence on reciprocity and verification in these treaties and that North Korea, not the United States, is responsible for the demise of the Agreed Framework. In addition to violating the Geneva Accords, North Korea's development of nuclear weapons also violates a number of other international agreements, including the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, the Joint Declaration on Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards agreement.
To defuse the current crisis, America and its allies, Japan and South Korea, should issue a series of requirements for North Korea that are linked with viable near-term and long-term diplomatic and military responses.
The United States must take immediate precautionary action to protect the 37,000 American soldiers deployed near North Korea, as well as U.S. allies in the region, from the threat of nuclear, chemical, biological, or terrorist attack. Furthermore, the United States and its allies must insist that North Korea take verifiable steps to scale down its bellicose military and strategic posture in the region.
Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul should end all food and fuel aid to North Korea immediately and encourage Russia and China to do the same until North Korea responds to diplomatic initiatives. The United States must deal with the security and humanitarian concerns holistically; both issues play a part in a North Korean strategy designed to limit the options of the United States and its allies and effectively deter the United States militarily. Washington's approach should include strong measures, including economic sanctions and diplomatic approaches, avoiding conflict if at all possible, to protect U.S. national interests and preserve the peace and security in Asia.
Without a permanent resolution, Kim Jong-Il will continue to blackmail the world with the threat of crises in order to maintain his control of the regime. The United States must not allow North Korea to repeat the strategy of blackmailing the allies for handouts that it used during the 1994 nuclear standoff.
Should North Korea refuse to scale down its bellicose military and strategic posture, the United States, in conjunction with its allies, must be ready to adopt a muscular policy that is commensurate with the urgency of the current security dilemma. This policy should also be carefully coordinated with China and Russia, which border North Korea. Beijing and Moscow have an interest in facilitating a diplomatic solution and have urged North Korea to make efforts to open its economy and integrate into the world system.
In 1994, the Clinton Administration seriously considered undertaking selective military attacks on North Korean nuclear facilities. The United States and its allies in the region may have to consider this kind of option again if its near-term strategy fails.
The thrust of the U.S. policy, however, should be to retain its military capacity; institute strong economic sanctions, urging Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea to do the same; and continue muscular diplomacy. North Korea is most likely seeking to renegotiate to meet its needs for energy and food.
--Balbina Y. Hwang is Policy Analyst for Northeast Asia in the Asian Studies Center, Larry M. Wortzel, Ph.D, is Director of the Asian Studies Center, and Baker Spring is F. M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.