Ways to Solve North Korean Nuclear Problems

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T
he
CONFERENCE ON NORTH KOREA


North Korea, Multilateralism, and the Future of the Peninsula





Session

5


In Search of a Way Out:

North Korea

s Choice and Strategic Responses




Ways to Solve North Korean

Nuclear Problems




Kang Choi

Associate Rese
arch Fellow,

Korea Institute for Defense Analyses



November
2
0
-
2
1,
2003

Ruby Room (1
st

Floor), The Shilla

Hotel

Seoul,

Korea




Draft. Not for Citation


1

Ways to Solve North Korean Nuclear Problems


Kang CHOI

Korea Institute for Defense Analyses



I. Introduction


When the first
meeting of the Six
-
Party Talks was concluded without any agreement or
joint statement
1
, everybody became very skeptical about the future of the Six
-
Party
Talks and began to think of another nuclear crisis over the Korean Peninsula. Since
then, diplomatic a
ctivities, including bilateral consultation and coordination through
various channels and venues, have been actively pursued to solve the problem in a
peaceful manner. Due to such efforts, compared to the situation right after the meeting,
the current situ
ation seems not so
pessimistic

and there is still chance to solve the
problem through negotiation.


More specifically, in recent days, we have seen some flexibility from both the U.S. and
North Korea. While it remains to the basic principle
2
, the U.S. has

shown its intention
to provide an acceptable form of security guarantee toward North Korea. In response,
unlike its previous position

U.S
-
North Korean bi
-
lateral agreement on North Korean
regime security, North Korea has shown some interest in considering

a multilateral
form of security guarantee. And, except its verbal threats, North Korea has not taken
any concrete action, which might have brought
her

closer to being nuclear power.
3


Despite such positive development, the outcome of the Six Party Talks i
s so much
unpredictable due to given diverging positions of the participating countries with
consensus on nuclear
-
free Korean Peninsula. The key issue is whether North Korea
would accept

complete, verifiable, and irreversible elimination of their nuclear



1

After the conclusion of the first meeting of Six Party talks, Chinese official announced unilaterally its
evaluation of the meeting: recognition of the usefulness of the Six Party talks; confirmation on the
peaceful resolution of North

Korean nuclear problem; and determination to continue the Six Party
Talks.

2

Most recently President Bush reconfirmed that if North Korea announced its intention to dismantle
nuclear programs, the U.S. would provide what North Korea demanded

security guar
antee of the
current North Korean regime.

3

On October 2, 2003, spokesperson of North Korean Foreign Ministry issued a statement that North
Korea has completed the reprocessing of spent fuel rods. But it is not verifiable whether North Korea
has actually d
one reprocessing or not.

Draft. Not for Citation


2

weapons programs


in exchange for security guarantee of the regime.
4

In order to
assess such possibility, it is necessary to review North Korea

s intentions and to
estimate North Korea

s
nuclear

capabilities.



II. Estimate of North Korea

s Nuclear Capabil
ities


There are two nuclear programs of North Korea: the one
--

plutonium
-
based nuclear
program
--
has been kept frozen
until recent days
by the Agreed Framework of 1994,
and the other
--
uranium
-
based nuclear program
--
was

discovered

and admitted
, but
suspecte
d for some years.


Plutonium
-
based Nuclear Program and the Agreed Framework


North Korea joined the NPT in December 1985. But it delayed the signing of IAEA
safeguard agreement until January 1992. From May 1992 to February 1993, IAEA
carried out its ad hoc

inspection for 6 times. North Korea reported that it had extracted
approximately 90 gram of Plutonium for one time. But IAEA found discrepancies
between North Korea's initial report and its estimates of amount of extracted Plutonium
and number of extracti
on acquired by the inspection. Thus IAEA demanded North
Korea to accept the inspection of two unreported facilities
,

which might be related to
Plutonium extraction. But North Korea rejected IAEA's demand for inspection by
criticizing IAEA's demands as chal
lenges against North Korea's safety and sovereignty.
And, on March 10, 1993, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT. About a
week later, the U.S. and North Korea resumed their working
-
level talks in Beijing. A
series of meetings at various level

and venues took place for one and a half year until
they reached an agreement on October 21, 1994: that is, the Agreed Framework which
stopped North Korea's plutonium
-
based nuclear program.


The Agreed Framework is neither a treaty nor a legally binding c
ontract. Its purpose is
to facilitate the progress between the United States and North Korea through
implementing a series of quid pro quo agreements. With the signing of the Agreed
Framework, both sides agreed to cooperate to replace North Korea's two exi
sting



4

North Korea has been demanding the follow: a) stopping of hostile policy toward North Korea; b)
conclusion of peace treaty, or non
-
aggression treaty between the U.S. and North Korea; c)
establishment of full diplomatic relations
between the two; d) lifting up of economic sanction; and e)
provision of heavy fuel oil, completion of LWRs and compensation for the delay of the construction.

Draft. Not for Citation


3

graphite moderated reactors and the two under construction with two light
-
water
reactor (LWR) power plants. Additionally, agreements were made to provide 500,000
metric tons of heavy fuel oil (HFO) annually until the first LWR became operational,
mov
e toward full normalization of political and economic relations, and work together
for peace and security on a nuclear
-
free Korean peninsula. It is rather comprehensive
in nature.



While the Agreed Framework is eight year old, the LWR project is still man
y years from
completion due to various reasons such as long debate and negotiation over the
reactor type, submarine incident in East Sea, habitual delay of HFO provision due to
funding resistance from the U.S. Congress, discovery of suspicious sites
--
Kumch
angri,
and the delay of talks between IAEA and North Korea over the inspection, the
suitability of LWR. The most important issue, from North Korea's perspective, the
normalization of its relations with the U.S., has not been addressed.


Despite s
ome

flaws
and unresolved pending issues, until the revelation of clandestine

(or alternate) nuclear program of North Korea, the AF was believed to have frozen
North Korea's nuclear program.
Since December 2002,

North Korea has taken a series
of actions, which violat
es all the accord in the AF: eliminating the seals, stopping
operation of monitoring cameras, expelling IAEA inspectors, announcing the withdrawal
from the NPT, resumption of the operation of 5MW reactor, and claiming the
completion of reprocessing of spen
t fuel rods.



If North Korea has completed the reprocessing of spent fuel rods, it is estimated that
North Korea would acquire 7 kg of Pu in a year, and shall be able to extract substantial
amount of weapon
-
grade Pu to make one nuclear weapon per year. If

North Korea
completed the construction of 50 MWe and 200 MWe reactors in two or three years
and those reactors became operational, North Korea would be able to acquire 132kg
and 410kg of Pu from each reactor.


In addition, it is reported that North Korea

has staged more than 100 times high
-
explosive tests, which can be considered as one of precursors for weaponization and
miniaturization. If left
unchecked
, nuclear
-
armed North Korea would become a grave
reality.


Draft. Not for Citation


4

Alternate Nuclear Program: Uranium Enrichm
ent Program


A
ccording to press, it is assumed that North Korea may have stepped up its uranium
enrichment program during the last years of the Clinton administration circa mid
-
1998.
Even before that time, the U.S. suspected that North Korea was interested

in uranium
enrichment technology. Reports beginning in the late 1980s indicated that Pyongyang
might be trying to acquire technology overseas related to uranium enrichment. But
none of those reports seemed a serious cause for concern. However, in the late

1990s,
suspicion grew over the North Korean connection to Pakistan that may have yielded
important information on uranium enrichment technology
--
gas centrifugal separation
method
--
in return for Pyongyang's assistance in building ballistic missiles. U.S.
i
ntelligence seems to have acquired convincing information this summer that
Pyongyang was indeed conducting a uranium enrichment program, probably North
Korea's attempt to import high intensity aluminum. But the exact status of the program
is not known. Onl
y what we know is the existence of the program.


Why did North Korea step up alternate nuclear program in the late 1990s? North Korea
might have feared the collapse of the AF,
which

could have important negative
consequences for North Korea's security. Fro
m the beginning of the AF, North Korea
was suspicious of the U.S. commitment of carrying out the terms of arrangement. The
situation in and around the Korean Peninsula began to deteriorate. North Korean
submarine intrusion of September 1996 led Seoul to de
lay the construction of reactor.
With the inauguration of the Kim Dae
-
jung administration in February 1998, South
Korea began to unfold its new approach toward North Korea, known as "Sunshine
Policy." But North Korea was very suspicious of South Korea's in
tention and perceived
"sunshine policy" as 'horse of troy,' which intended to bring changes and reform to
North Korea. Until the June 2000 South
-
North summit, relations between the two
Koreas continued to be rocky due to several incidents such as another s
ubmarine
intrusion in June 1998, frogman intrusion in July 1998, spy boat incidents in August,
and Taepodong missile test
-
fire in August. These all resulted in public resistance to
funding the LWR project.


In the meantime, in the U.S., the d
e
bate over the

KEDO began to suffice. First issue
was "power grid problem": that is, North Korea's power grid is too small and old to
safely operate the KEDO reactors. For proper operation of the LWRs, major overhauling
and re
-
construction of power grid are required. Bu
t, neither KEDO nor North Korea has
Draft. Not for Citation


5

fund to do it. Thus the first issue raised the second issue: that is, replacement of one
LWR with thermo power plants with the early implementation of IAEA inspection. Third,
reliability of LWR
--
proliferation
-
averse
--
was

questioned since LWR could produce fissile
material for weapons development. With the inauguration of the Bush administration,
the U.S. has taken very tough and offensive position toward North Korea by depicting
North Korea as an 'axis of evil.' All combi
ned together, there was a growing concern in
the U.S. over the suitability and acceptability of delivering LWR to North Korea. Thus it
is possible to speculate that North Korea began to worry about the failure of the AF,
that it needed to have a fallback p
osition in case of
the
failure of the AF.


From North Korea's perspective, uranium enrichment program would appear to serve
two purposes: military and political/diplomatic purposes. Nuclear programs would serve
military objective by compensating changing m
ilitary balance between South and North
Korea. While North Korea still possesses conventional military superiority over South
Korea, as time goes by, such conventional superiority cannot last long due to
weakening economic and scientific bases of its own.
Thus it is very much likely to
change favoring South Korea. To maintain military advantage over South Korea, it
needs to have asymmetrical weapons. But such military objectives could be
subordinated to large political/diplomatic objective, if the latter co
uld guarantee regime
security.


Alternate nuclear programs would possibly serve political and diplomatic purpose. We
can call it a "shock therapy," which we can find in North Korea's behavior

in March
1993 with its announcement of withdrawal from the NPT.
North Korea's admission can
serve two purposes. First, the admission was designed to demonstrate North Korea's
toughness in response to Washington's 'high
-
handed and arrogant attitude' toward
North Korea. Second, Pyongyang is interested in negotiating a so
lution to the current
situation, a solution that will avoid crisis while, at the same time, reinforcing efforts to
ensure regime survival, by opening up talks and developing better relations with the
U.S., maybe peace treaty with the U.S., from a better ba
rgaining position. In addition,
North Korea might have calculated that the current situation is different from that of
1993

since i
t has better relations

with the South

and its external relations are also
better. It has restored its traditional friendly re
lations with China and Russia. The
resumption of normalization talks has just begun. Thus others would balance the
toughness of the U.S. out. Second may be 'Iraq' factor: that is, North Korea would be
in a better bargaining position now than later, after t
he resolution of Iraq problem. The
Draft. Not for Citation


6

U.S. would not be able to concentrate on North Korea while taking care of Iraq.



In a word, North Korea's development is a kind of hedging designed to ensure regime
survival. And its admission of uranium enrichment prog
ram resembles its previous
behavior of 1993. It may be a reflection of North Korea's desire to cut a best deal it
can. And for that purpose, there are various ways for North Korea to increase pressure
upon the outside world after its initial action.



III.

Speculation on North Korea's Motivations


Why does North Korea pursue nuclear weapons programs? Are they for regime
security? Are they for negotiation purpose without really going nuclear? There are at
least three reasons, or motivations, behind North Kor
ean nuclear weapons programs:
political, military, and economic motivation.


Politically, the acquisition of nuclear weapons can consolidate Chairman Kim Jong
-
il

s
power base by enhancing his political prestige; that is, by completing nuclear weapons
progr
ams, which have their origin from Kim Il
-
Sung era
5
. Kim Il
-
Sung died in 1994 and
left nuclear weapons programs unfinished. Chairman Kim Jong
-
il, unlike his father, has
relatively

weak domestic political background and prestige. But acquiring nuclear
weapon
s could be considered as a positive factor for enhancing his political prestige
and influence

realization of

Great and Powerful Nation


under Kim Jong
-
il leadership.


Externally, nuclear option can be viewed as a tool to make a breakthrough in U.S.
-
North
Korea and Japan
-
North Korea relations, as it did in the past. International
isolation of North Korea has deepened since the end of the Cold War. It needs to break
out of such isolation. Without nuclear options, North Korea cannot get international
communit
y

s attention, especially the U.S. and Japan. North Korea may have learned
lessons from Pakistan. From June 2000 until January 2001, North Korea was quite
active in their external activities. However, with the inauguration of the Bush
administration in the

U.S., which has quite different
perspective

and approach from the
previous Clinton administration, North Korea

s diplomatic, rather conciliatory, overture
began to face many obstacles. And North Korea was not able to approach Japan due to



5

Since 1956, North Korea has sent 20
-
30 nuclear specialists to the Soviet Union for training an
d
education. From the late 1980s, North Korea heightened up its efforts in acquiring nuclear weapons.

Draft. Not for Citation


7

the pending issu
es such as abductees, missile, and spy boat. In the meantime, North
Korea

s traditional relations with China and Russia began to change with the
emergence of new leadership with more practical mindset in both countries. As it did in
the early 1990s, nuclea
r options could have appealed to North Korean leadership as a
means to breakthrough the impasse. In addition, due to the progress made in inter
-
Korean relations during the Kim Dae
-
Jung administration, to a certain degree, North
Korea could neutralize the e
xternal pressure by keeping South Korea as a hostage or
buffer.


From military standpoint, nuclear options are very much appealing. Or course, North
Korea still has military advantage over the South, especially in the area of artillery,
surprise attack and

rear area infiltration. However, North Korea

s military advantage
can be neutralized by South Korea

s force improvement program and maintenance of
the ROK
-
US combined defense posture.
6

If, being backed up by economic growth,
South Korea continued its defe
nse reform and force improvement programs and the
U.S. improved combat capabilities of the USFK, North Korea

s conventional military
advantage over the South would diminish. Military power is the only reliable means
North Korea possesses and
manipulates

to
ward outside world. Thus it cannot afford to
loose such valuable means. Given the status of North Korean economy, it is not
possible for North Korea to squeeze further resources for conventional force
improvement. So WMD, including nuclear weapons, is very

much appealing as a way to
keep its valuable military leverage into the future.


Economic reasons are also behind nuclear weapons programs. North Korea is
experiencing three types of economic crisis: food shortage, energy shortage, and hard
currency shor
tage. Except recent a couple of years, North Korean economy has
recorded negative growth rate, average about minus 3.5% per year for ten years.


Due to natural disasters such as flood and drought, outdated irrigation system, loosing
topsoil, and lack of se
ed and fertilizer, North Korea cannot produce food enough to
feed their own people.
7

It is estimated that North Korea

s annual production of grain is
about 3.5 to 3.8 metric tons. Outside world have been providing food assistance to
North Korea average amo
unt is about 1 million ton. Without such assistance, North
Korea cannot feed its own people. Food rationing system also collapsed. As a way to



6

The USFK has announced its force improvement plan worth $10 billion. And the 2
nd

Infantry Division

s
firepower is estimated equivalent to 10 North Kore
an divisions.

7

It is estimated that 6 million metric ton of grain is required per year.

Draft. Not for Citation


8

solve the problem, North Korean authority allows farmer

s market.



IV
. Possible Responses to North Korean Nucle
ar Programs


From South Korean standpoint, North Korea cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear
weapons. If North Korea went nuclear, unification would become a distant dream.
North Korean nuclear weapons would allow it to pursue more
aggressive

policy
vis
-
à
-
v
is

South Korea and become more resistant to inter
-
Korean reconciliation by
strengthening its bargaining position. And it would also intensify inter
-
Korean rivalry:
i.e., continuation of the Cold War confrontation and conflict. Furthermore, South Korea
woul
d loose its initiative in inter
-
Korean relations. Inter
-
Korean relations will become
internationalized and there will be little room for South Korea to take the initiative. In
the same venue, South Korea

s dependency upon the U.S. extended deterrence will
become more visible, and balanced alliance relations will be further distanced.


Militarily, North Korean nuclear weapons will fundamentally change military
configuration of South Korea. South Korea

s conventional arms cannot match North
Korea

s asymmetric
al threats, and thus it will easily become subject to North Korean
threats
8
. If we take into account North Korea

s risk
-
taking behavior, it is possible to say
that the situation on the Korean Peninsula will become very unstable and crisis
-
prone.
While bein
g forced to spend more resources for defense, South Korea shall never be
able to overcome such military deficiency.


From economic and social perspective, very unstable situation would definitely
discourage foreign investment and security anxiety will rise

in Korea. South Korea will
be forced to spend more resources in defense. Many other things shall be sacrificed for
the sake of national security.


To avoid such situation, what and how should we do? We can think of the following
options: military strike;
containment; and negotiated diplomatic solution.


Military Options
: This was once considered in 1994 under the Clinton Administration.
Surgical air strike, or limited use of force such as SOF to eliminate
nuclear weapons
programs
, would seem to fit in with

the Bush administration's public pronouncement



8

Scope of North Korea

s military option will become wider if North Korea acquired nuclear weapons.

Draft. Not for Citation


9

on its national security strategy
--
preemption. However, in the case of North Korea,
rhetoric has little to do with reality. First, to make such an option valid, we need much
more information about
North Korea
n nuclear weapons programs, especially
the ANP.
While we have information on Pu
-
based programs, w
e don't know the exact location
and specifics of facilities related to ANP. Second, it is quite possible that North Korea
must have its facilities in deep unde
rground protection. Thus they can survive air strike.
Third, North Korea might attack South Korea, not the U.S., for retaliation, either full
-
scale or limited
-
scale. To prevent North Korea's aggression, it is necessary for the U.S.
to deploy additional mil
itary assets to South Korea. Such moves may result in spiral
escalation of tensions and bring social and economic anarchy to South Korea, possibly
Japan also. Or, hopefully, such preparatory gradual military moves (i.e., FDOs : Flexible
Deterrence Options)

may bring North Korea down to its knees. Military option may
eliminate the currently existing nuclear program. But, as we have seen in Iraq, danger
of proliferation may come back later, due to the possession of knowledge and expertise
by North Korea.


Con
tainment
: We would seek to quarantine, or squeeze, North Korea with the
objective of forcing Pyongyang to accede to demands that its nuclear program be
verifiably dismantled. Initially, we can isolate North Korea diplomatically by cutting off
contacts with

North Korea, then we can bring that issue to international bodies such as
IAEA, and U.N. for adoption of statement or resolution on North Korea's nuclear
program. This would further increase international pressure upon North Korea by
creating internationa
l consensus. Next steps can be more visible. Economic sanctions
would be introduced. No economic interaction with North Korea, including inter
-
Korean
economic cooperation, shall be allowed. Implementation of the AF may
come

a halt.
And, we must bolster mil
itary posture to cope with North Korea's military threat, maybe
nuclear
--
living with nuclear
-
armed North Korea.


To the level of international condemnation and international isolation, consensus could
be maintained. But, beyond that step, it would become d
ifficult to sustain international
coalition.
While they fully recognize the gravity of the problem,
South Korea and Japan

want the nuclear problem to be resolved peacefully, without creating crisis or
confrontation. Even if South Korea and Japan accepted m
ore visible containment
options based principle of reciprocity, neither China nor Russia would support such an
approach. Without Chinese and Russian cooperation, containment cannot be effective.
Both countries still urge peaceful resolution and will contin
ue to maintain such posture.

Draft. Not for Citation


10


Containment can be effective only if North Korea will sit still and do nothing in
response. On the contrary, containment could trigger an overt, not clandestine, nuclear
program in North Korea. Thus containment will not serve

our goal
--
prevention of
nuclear proliferation. And it will make the security situation on the Korean Peninsula
more dangerous and complicated

(possibly arms races in the region)
.

Containment
could trigger the collapse of North Korea. Isolating and squeezi
ng North Korea will
increase the possibility of regime collapse. But it is uncertain whether regime collapse
would serve national interests of South Korea and other regional countries.


Dialogue or Diplomatic Approach
:
Initially, t
he United States
did not
consider

dialogue until North Korea dismantle
d

nuclear program.

But with the consultation
with the concerned parties, the U.S. decided to take part in the Six Party Talks. North
Korea has also changed its position

direct bi
-
lateral talks with the U.S. The

key issue
is how to combine different positions and demands of the participating countries. It is
not an easy task. It is rather challenging. Continuation of dialogue may serve one
purpose: that is, prevention of crisis. But it may delay the resolution an
d, in the
process, it is possible for us to loose consensus and to face new problems. Especially, it
may create a favorable condition for North Korea to manipulate one against another.
And it also might create a false sense or expectation of the resolution
. In a word,
dialogue
is useful, but it

is not sufficient. It is a rather long process.


Combined approach
: Combination of the second and third option would serve our
purpose of preventing nuclear proliferation and war. If we stick to the current
squeezin
g strategy
--
that is, "first dismantle, then talk," North Korea would increase
pressure gradually, or rapidly, upon the others by playing various cards in its hands.
Dialogue can buy us time to cope with North Korean cards and is likely to enable us to
cont
rol the pace of development. To make such dialogue workable, some measures of
incentives and dis
-
incentives Korea can be further introduced. North Korea needs
various external assistance
s

from food to energy. Such assistance must be utilized in
solving the

current crisis. Furthermore, such external assistance, if structured properly,
would bring and foster changes in North Korea. It will be a rather long process.
Patience and consist
e
ncy are required in following that path.


V. Conclusion


Draft. Not for Citation


11

North Korea nucle
ar problems are very serious challenge not only to South Korea, but
also to the international community by challenging and undermining the founding spirit
of non
-
proliferation regimes. Taking into account of North Korea

s incentives in
acquiring nuclear we
apons, North Korea is not likely to give up the programs easily. As
it did, North Korea will try to maintain strategic ambiguity of nuclear weapons
programs. From North Korean perspective, the most desirable form of resolution is

Pakistan
-
style.


From Sou
th Korean perspective, that is the worst case. In order to
avoid such case, we must maintain consensus among the other five participating
countries. Any disagreement among the other five countries would be very
advantageous to North Korea. So, the first pr
inciple we should abide by is the creation
and maintenance of consensus among the five countries. Second, there must be a
balance between dialogue and pressure. We should not exclude one option over the
others. It is not wise to constrain the scope of resp
onses in advance. It would be more
desirable to have tailored responses to North Korean behavior. The principle of
reciprocity must be respected. We should use our leverage over North Korea carefully
and skillfully. South Korea needs to control pace and sc
ope of inter
-
Korean economic
and social cooperation accordingly. Third, we should focus on North Korea

s deed, not
word. Only when North Korea behaves as a responsible member of international
community, we can respect North Korea

s concerns. Especially, wh
en North Korea
provides concrete evidence of elimination of its nuclear weapons programs through
extensive inspection, we can provide what North Korea needs most. Fifth, not least, we
should encourage North Korea

s policy change, geared toward system chang
es of North
Korea.