North Korea and the End of the Agreed Framework

Report China

North Korea and the End of the Agreed Framework

October 18, 2002 7 min read

Authors: Baker Spring, Balbina Hwang and Larry Wortzel

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.

North Korea's Violations

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.

What North Korea Must Do

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.

  • Meet its international treaty obligations regarding nuclear non-proliferation. North Korea is in violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework (from which Pyongyang has now withdrawn), the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) that it signed in 1985, the IAEA's safeguards agreement, and the 1992 Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The United States must insist that North Korea quickly return to compliance with its existing treaties. This will entail a complete declaration of the North Korean nuclear program and unrestricted IAEA-sponsored inspections regime, similar that which the United States is seeking for Iraq.
  • Terminate its biological and chemical weapons program. North Korea should commit to terminating its biological and chemical weapons programs and allow special inspection regimes, again modeled on those that the United States is now seeking for Iraq.
  • Curtail its missile program and end its missile sales. North Korea has been selling ballistic missiles to countries throughout the world, including Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan. This must stop.
  • Renounce terrorism. North Korea has been on the State Department's list of states that sponsor terrorism since 1988 for, among other things, ordering agents to blow up a South Korean airliner in 1987, killing 115 civilians; selling arms to known terrorist groups including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka and the United Wa State Army in Burma; and harboring the Red Army members who hijacked a Japanese Airlines plane. North Korea should take the steps necessary to allow its removal from the State Department list. Specifically, North Korea must formally denounce terrorism, hand over the Red Army hijackers, and sign the necessary international conventions against terrorism.
  • Reposition its conventional forces. North Korea has over 1.1 million active duty personnel. It has a reserve force of 6 million. The air force has 1,700 aircraft. The navy has 800 ships. The army has over 12,000 artillery pieces. Currently, 70 percent of its military forces are deployed within 90 miles of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that serves as a buffer between North and South Korea. North Korea should withdraw significant portions of its conventional forces from areas in the vicinity of the DMZ.
  • Adopt confidence-building measures. North Korea's million-man military is deployed in an aggressive posture and routinely conducts large-scale training exercises. Its military exercises and the deployment of its forces should have greater transparency. North Korea should allow inspections modeled on the confidence-building measures agreements adopted for Europe in 1986 under the Helsinki process.

Diplomatic and Military Steps

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.

Meanwhile, the United States and its allies should put muscle behind the diplomatic and economic measures they take. Specifically, they should:

  • Ensure interoperability among U.S. and South Korean forces;
  • Improve force protection capabilities against potential conventional, chemical, or biological attacks on the 37,000 U.S. forces deployed in South Korea;
  • Deploy the Patriot PAC-3 missile defense system to South Korea as soon as possible and undertake a crash program to deploy Navy ships with the Standard Missile II Block IV and upgraded Aegis weapons system to the region to provide a boost-phase missile defense capability;
  • Return the United States to a policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence of nuclear weapons among its forces; and
  • Add U.S. forces to the existing presence in South Korea as necessary.


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.


Baker Spring
Baker Spring

Former Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy

Balbina Hwang
Balbina Hwang

Former Senior Policy Analyst

Larry Wortzel
Larry Wortzel

Adjunct Research Professor at the U.S. Army War College