United States Dilemma towards North Korea
A dying nation with nuclear capabilities
The United States has been presented a dilemma towards its foreign policy with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). North Korea’s alleged launch of a new Taepo-Dong I missile on August 31, 1998 has heightened American worries and escalated an already tense situation with North Korea. The United States response towards this new missile, which could possibly be able to reach the edges of both Alaska and Hawaii , will be a factor in its decision on whether or not to continue to finance support towards North Korea.
New sanctions could mean the collapse of a weak North Korean economy. Already on the brink of economic and political collapse, the loss of U.S. and KEDO aid could push them over the edge and into political ruin.
One major factor involved in the foreign policy decision is the collapse of North Korea. It could mean one of three things: Implosion (collapse of the state), explosion (war with South Korea) or absorption (reform and reunification).
In May 1997, acting Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, stated, “One of the things that worries us most is an implosion internally.” The result of an implosion, the collapse of the state, would be hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to China and South Korea. China has already begun stepping up troops at the North Korean border to halt the flow of refugees should this happen. South Korea would possibly use force to deter refugees to the south.
Another factor here is the humanitarian influences. Massive floods, droughts and typhoons since 1995 have forced North Korea to accept international food aid. Widespread famine has reportedly killed hundreds of thousands of people. This acceptance is contrary to the North Korean government’s policy of “juche” or self-reliance . It is feared that the government of North Korea is diverting scarce food sources from the civilian sector to its military, even at a time of humanitarian crisis .
A third factor is the general flow of our foreign policy towards North Korea. Since 1994, we have been implementing constructive engagement with North Korea. The Agreed Framework was a barter system where the United States would provide economic and food aid to North Korea. North Korea would cease production of nuclear weapons and they would make other concessions as well. Congress has recently called for the end to this. In a plenary session on September 18, the US Congress adopted a resolution, H.J. RES. 83, to call on President Clinton to stop implementing the U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework reached in Geneva, 1994 . On September 17, Congress also passed a resolution to cut funding to KEDO. The State Department feels that constructive engagement is still the answer. Secretary of State press briefer James P. Rubin said, “We believe that if we can’t fulfill our part of the agreement, it will be much, much harder to convince the North Koreans to fulfill their pat of the agreement. ” This highlights differences within the U.S. government that may effect the outcome.
Another factor is the North Korea military presence in northeast Asia. With increases technology in SCUD missiles and new longer range missiles being developed, North Korea is a source of instability in its region. It is one of the last Marxist regimes. Unlike the other communist countries’ peaceful exit from the international scene, North Korea could strike out in desperation as they try to hold on to power as they slip out. North Korean military implications are important in two ways 1) the exporting and sales of missiles and technology abroad; and 2) the domestic stockpiling of troops and weapons along the De-Militarized zone. These two factors will effect the United States foreign policy to North Korea.
The United States has held virtually no relations with North Korea since the end of the Korean War. In response to the Korean War, the United States Government established severe economic sanctions towards N. Korea under the Trading with the Enemy Act in 1950. These sanctions and additional sanctions from the West caused North Korea to fall behind technologically to its neighbor, South Korea over time. Kim Il –sung dominated most political and governmental affairs since the Korean War. Both as premier and president, Kim continued to press for the reunification of Korea (under the Korean Workers’ Party rule of course). Domestically, he transformed Korea into one of the most repressive and strictly regimented societies in the world. The Korean Workers’ Party dominated all aspects of life; police forces were also used to suppress the slightest dissent or opposition . In doing this Kim terrorized his own people and thus failed to produce adequate quantities of food and consumer goods for them.
Nearly one quarter or one third of the North Korean budget has been based on the military. Much trade involved the export of military goods such as missiles. North Korea began producing advanced missile systems in 1984. They have also been producing chemical and biological weapons since the 1960’s. This coupled with their exporting of missile systems to Iran, Syria and Egypt provided sufficient grounds for the United States to ignore relations with them. The United States also feared another Korean War. If we began to bolster the military there and to begin to take more action in the east Pacific, North Korea could become unsecured and launch an attack on South Korea.
North Korea became a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty in 1985. Although a party to it, they did not finalize a safeguard agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency until 1992, thereby becoming a full member. During the late eighties the N. Korea government worked to advance and distribute its missile systems. The United States was worried by this but continued their quarantine of them. The IAEA continued to inspect the nuclear program and take stock.
The year 1994 started a tension point between the U.S. and N. Korea. North Korea had been under constant watch by the United Nations and the United States due to their experimentation with nuclear energy. The International Atomic Energy Agency, who had been the main group responsible for observing and keeping track of North Korean nuclear progress, reported that it had become impossible to determine whether nuclear fuel had been diverted from nuclear reactors near the city of Yongbyon. Any ‘misplaced’ atomic fuel could possibly be used to produce plutonium, the basis for nuclear weapons. The volatile and hostile nature of the North Korean government could use nuclear weapons to a maximum advantage for terror. This gave grounds for the United Nation to impose sanctions towards North Korea. President Clinton and the United States pressed for the sanctions. The North Korean government responded by threatening to declare war. In response to the situation, Former-President Jimmy Carter met with Kim Il-Sung in mid-June and helped to ease the growing tension. His negotiations were cut short by the death of the Korean leader in early July. But the talks resumed and on October 21, 1994, after much talking, the United States and North Korea agreed to sign the “Agreed Framework.” In this, North Korea pledged to:
1. Freeze operations at, or cease construction of, all of these reactors and cease operating the Yongbyon reprocessing plant, with the freeze to be verified by the IAEA;
2. Not separate plutonium from the spent fuel removed from the 5-Mwe reactor in May 1994 (the status of the fuel to be monitored by the IAEA.
3. Ship the spent fuel out of North Korea; and
4. Thereafter dismantle all facilities of nuclear proliferation concern. In exchange, North Korea will be provided with two less proliferation-prone light-water reactors (LWRs) and a number of other energy-related inducements as well as security assurances.
This gave way for better relations between the United States and North Korea. President Clinton took positive steps by signing an executive order in January 1995 to reduce some sanctions towards North Korea by allowing private US firms to sell foodstuffs to them at market prices. The international community sought to further be involved in North Korea’s new developments. On March 5, 1995, the United States, Japan, and South Korea formed a multinational consortium, called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), to supply North Korea with the two promised light water reactors from the Agreed Framework. This group would become the liaison between Washington and North Korea. It is the principle agent in implementing the Agreed Framework of 1994. One of KEDO’s first breakthroughs came on December 15, 1995 when they and North Korea signed a Supply Agreement for the actual financing and supply of the reactors.
1996 started a year of ups and downs in the US-North Korean relationship. In April, the two countries held a two-day talk discussing the North Korean ballistic missile program. The United States wanted North Korea to stop development of long range missiles and missile exports. In exchange, the US would lift additional sanctions that were imposed on DPRK. May saw these talks go sour as North Korea failed to comply and the US imposed additional sanctions.
Things turned even worse for North Korea when on September 18, 1996, a North Korean reconnaissance submarine was discovered grounded off of South Korea’s coast. Its crew had reportedly gone to shore and killed South Koreans while conducting a limited form of guerrilla warfare South Korea called for a limited halt on KEDO implementation of the Agreed Framework until the North issued an apology. Japan and The United States agreed, putting significant pressure on the North Korean government until December 29 of that year when a formal apology was administered. Clinton issued a statement saying, “ I am pleased that Pyongyang has pledged to prevent the recurrence of such an incident and has expressed its willingness to work with others for durable peace and stability on the peninsula.” The situation was resolved. The next day the US rewarded them by approving a license sought by Cargill, Inc., a US firm, to negotiate a commercial deal to sell N. Korea up to 500,000 tons of grain.
1997 was no exception to the struggle between North Korea and the members of KEDO. When the Taiwan Power Co. announced it would ship 200,000 barrels of low-level nuclear waste to Pyongsan, the United States and Japan fiercely protested fearing that the waste would be used as a source from which the N. Koreans could extract plutonium. The North Koreans were still wary of the United States. Washington pressured the Taiwan Power Co. and the North Korean government until they agreed to postpone shipments until further times. KEDO went along as planned.
Domestically, North Koreas economy was collapsing; massive floods and typhoons from 1995 destroyed many areas of food production and cause widespread famine and disease. Production ground down to a minimum. This put large amounts of pressure on a government that still stressed self-sufficiency.
The launching of Pakistan’s first nuclear weapon in April 1998 caused many in the US chagrin. The source of the missiles and technology transfer that they applied to the weapon was also a source irritation: North Korea. The United States condemned this. Sanctions were again applied as the US became aware of transfers made from the North Korean Mining Development Corporation. Since the North Korean economy is state run the sanctions applied to the government and forbade any arms or arms technology sales to them.
This leads us up to August 31, 1998 when the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea launched what appeared to be a missile test of their newest missile, the Taepo-Dong I.
In the next few days after the August 31 launch, the world, especially the members of KEDO were in shock. They raced to find out just what it was that the N. Koreans had launched with their new missile. The fact they had developed the new missile was of concern as well. Its new long-range capabilities would be sought after on the international arms market. Older ties with Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, and Syria could bud new agreements that would spread the use of these missiles outward into Asia and the Middle East.
The US denounced N. Korea’s government for the lack of them to notify Washington of the launch. Our surprise turned into a month of ups and downs with the State Department and the Defense Department, and Congress. Congress wanted US involvement in North Korea to halt (anything above the liaison office level) due to the failed cooperation with nuclear inspection on part of the North Korean government. The North Korean nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, near Pyongyang, has long been a target of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has complained about Pyongyang’s “uncooperative attitudes” towards nuclear inspection. The House stresses that nuclear inspections should be thorough and complete and the IAEA inspectors should have the freedom to conduct any and all inspections that it deems necessary to fully account for the stocks of plutonium and other nuclear materials in North Korea. The House also attempted to pass a resolution on September 17, 1998 that would kill KEDO funding in 1999. The State Department replied to Congress stating that KEDO was vital to US interests on the Korean Peninsula as a foundation for stability. Without US funding in whole, the United States’ portion of the Agreed Framework would not be able to be carried out completely.
Charles Kartman, the Special Envoy for the Korean Peace Process and the U.S. Representative to KEDO (from the State Department) testified before the House International Relations Committee on September 24 defending the United States’ interests in North Korea through KEDO. He verified that the Agreed Framework “also provides a means to engage North Korea on other key concerns as terrorism, MIA remains and missile activities.” The State Department basically stated that through constructive engagement with KEDO, we could open new doors to negotiations with military and economic ideals. He also cited the benefits of the use of United States humanitarian aid towards North Korea as an enhancer of relations.
The Department of Defense’s news briefing on September 8, 1998 seemed to be pessimistic towards the North Korean’s claims of the purpose of the launch; to place a North Korean satellite in orbit. At that time SPACECOM had not observed any new object in orbit around the earth that could comply with the North Korean’s claims. Also no radio transmissions were picked up from the frequency in which the North Koreans claimed their satellite was transmitting. The Defense Department seemed rather amused at the notion of a North Korean attack on any troops abroad. Kenneth Bacon, a DOD representative and briefer stated, “I think any country that would contemplate using weapons to attack United States troops abroad would have to expect a very swift and decisive, maybe even massive, response. I’m sure the North Korean’s are aware of that. If they’re not, they should be aware of it now.”
James Rubin followed up on this with a State Department briefing the next day. He reflected the notion that they were still assessing data on the launch. He also reported progress on talks that were currently taking place in New York concerning the Agreed Framework and the DPRK’s nuclear program. These Four Party Talks (Japan, United States, South Korea and North Korea) had been taking place since the beginnings of KEDO. Another was to take place at the beginning of October. In the briefing, however, Mr. Rubin stated, “We have no illusions about dealing the North Korean government, and we do not trust North Korea.” A reporter later asked Rubin whether or not he was aware that a South Korean spokesperson said that S. Korea, Japan and the US had reached a consensus that the missile was a failed satellite launch. Rubin again stated that the US was still looking at all possibilities and that additional launches should not be repeated. He also stated that KEDO would attempt to proceed with the implementation of the Agreed Framework.
Talks resumed on October 1 about United States doubts in the North Korean missile programs. James Rubin praised the resumption of the talks. He also reiterated the point that the United States was very interested and worried about the North Korean missile programs and exports. The new technological advance could spark an arms race in missiles in the region. Rubin also stated in this briefing that the United States does believe that the August 31st incident was a failed satellite launch attempt.
CNN reports, however, show that little progress was made. The talks, held behind closed doors in Geneva, gave way to North Korea demanding the immediate removal of 37,000 U.S. troops from South Korea. Washington reportedly rejected this .
Recent developments in North Korea have been focused mainly on the massive famine that is plaguing the country. With North Korea only able to produce two-thirds of the minimum supply of food it needs, it has been reported that thousands of people are dying of hunger and diseases. A CNN report on November 9, 1998 stated that the North Korean government asked the United States for cash as a condition of allowing an American mission visit to Pyongyang for talks on a suspected underground nuclear site. Spokesman James Rubin responded to this, “And given that kind of posture (referring to the offer of money for visitation rights), it’s why we don’t expect to see this resolved, because we don’t intend to pay money to see whether they are living up to their expectations under the Agreed Framework.” Access to two disputed underground sites that are reported to be nuclear development sites is a key point in the US arguments. Latest reports do show that the United States has sent 300,000 tons of grain to North Korea through the World Food Program. Hopes are that the humanitarian aid will help inspire North Korea to cooperate.
Decision Options Towards North Korea
The United States is presented with a difficult situation in North Korea. The country falls deeper into depression and famine each day. Undoubtedly, if funds were diverted from the military into agricultural assistance, the situation would be eased. This is unlikely seeing that military exports account for such a significant portion of foreign revenue. Therefore, several options are presented to us:
1.) Increasing United States leadership responsibilities and bolstering the military presence in the Pacific. Also, cutting off all aid to N. Korea and letting them “sweat it out”. U.S. public support would be instrumental in this.
2.) The United States should utilize constructive engagement to gain more influence. Tools for this would be KEDO and humanitarian aid that could be directly sent and distributed by the United States.
3.) Do nothing. By doing nothing we can let the North Korean government destroy itself. Our involvement may be what is keeping the government in power.
4.) Military invasion of North Korea. Take control of their economy and let Korea unite into one nation.
These options are all viable, but perhaps not realistic solutions to the North Korean problem. For instance, a military invasion of North Korea, while some in the government may want it is not acceptable. The Department of State would not support this option either seeing their extensive efforts already in place. Domestic would generally be unsupportive, and support in Congress appears almost obsolete. Public opinion abroad might turn overwhelmingly anti-American and the United States would be could be forced with a coalition of Asian states against it. Also this would not back the United States’ morally righteous opinion of itself. Therefore, we can conclude that this option is neither achievable nor realistic.
Option three, doing nothing, is also a viable solution. Could it happen though? The United States may already have too many interests and groundwork laid in North Korea to simply take everything aback and cut off all support. Again, public opinion comes into play. The media would exploit this decision as mean and cruel. That in turn would put pressure on the ‘public servants’ who run the government. They might be compelled to alter the decision. This would not be a very humanitarian option and might conflict with the president’s seemingly more idealistic foreign policy. The Department of Defense also would not be keen on the idea seeing it would give the North Koreans an opportunity to mobilize its resources, perhaps even develop nuclear weapons. Therefore, this is also not a realistic option.
Option two seems more realistic. It also seems to be the current foreign policy being used on North Korea as dictated by the State Department. The State Department has the task of overseeing the implementation of the Agreed Framework of 1994. They can use KEDO and the Agreed Framework to put pressure on the North Korean government to make concessions and reforms. This would be a peaceful process that would only require time and cooperation from most of the legislative and executive branches of the government. It would also require adequate help from Japan and South Korea. China might be a wild card to throw into this as well. They could help the North Koreans restructure their system away from a command economy and provide leadership in relations with the United States and the United Nations.
Charles Kartman stated in his address to the House International Relations Committee, “Through engagement, in 1994 we concluded with the DPRK the Agreed Framework to deal with the DPRK’s nuclear program.” He also stated, “Although it is a difficult task we are convinced that we can achieve our objectives best by carefully engaging the North Korean regime, not by isolating it.” This clearly shows the entire State Departments views towards North Korea: constructive engagement. In response to the missile test of August 31, 1998, we can observe that the United States is responding to this point of view as if it were not really important in the grand scheme of dealings with North Korea, although it should not be repeated. Notice that no extremely harsh measures were imposed against North Korea for this. Implementation of KEDO went along as planned.
Kartman’s statements above can illustrate that the basis of this decision is deeply rooted in the Agreed Framework and the precedent that was started with it. The strength of this argument lies in the fact that North Korea has not developed any nuclear weapons (that we know of at this time) and that engagement resolved a crisis in 1994. The weaknesses of this argument are that it gives too much leeway to North Korea in terms of what happened August 31. Was that actually a satellite launch or was it a test for their new missile for potential buyers elsewhere? We still do not know what is contained in the two underground sites that they hold and we are still unsure of where all of the nuclear products have gone. This system is based on a level of trust and the assumption that North Korea will play by the rules. In a pre-production copy of a report to Congress, the Committee to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States stated that development of the Taepo-Dong 2 is currently taking place. Our knowledge of their ability to use this weapon may be very short before the actual launching. This missile is thought to have a long enough range to target most military bases in Alaska as well as an area from Phoenix, Arizona to Madison, Wisconsin. This could be used to target the United States and other countries with nuclear weapons that could be developed away from the watchful eyes of the United States.
The fourth option of the United States would be to increase military pressure on the North Korean government by taking a strong leadership role in the International Community. Richard V. Allen, an analyst for the Heritage Foundation, wrote an essay on Ten Steps to Address North Korea’s Nuclear Threat. The general scheme of the document is the basis for this argument. The United States must be ready militarily for a backlash from the North Korean government. The United States should lead the allied coalition for a strong policy against North Korea. They need to stop funding and technology transfers coming from other countries, especially Japan, China and Russia. Koreans in Japan send as much as one billion dollars a year in aid to North Korea. If this is cut off, we can effectively use sanctions against North Korea. Korea uses much of this money to buy oil from China, who supplies up to 75% of North Korea’s imported oil. China is also suspected to be a principle supplier of technology information to North Korea. The United States should also make sure to let it be known to China and Russia that sanctions are sanctions and the United States expects them to be followed. Non-compliance consequences could be set up to prompt a more pro-US trade relation between those countries and North Korea. US forces should be deployed to counter any North Korean attack on South Korea or its neighbors. If the North Korean government collapses, it might lash out militarily as it goes, leaving behind a war-zone in the wake of its destruction. The launch of the missile on August 31 only goes to bolster this argument, the worse off the people become, the better equipped the government becomes militarily and the more desperate they become.
Public support in the United States would be essential to the implementation of this. That could determine partisan support in congress. That support would be greatly needed to fully implement this. Only a total conviction would be fully effective. It could not be half-asked. The pressure built on North Korea would hopefully force it to comply with United States’ demands and maybe even collaborate with South Korea over some issues of migration and maybe even unification.
The weakness of this position is that it is so complex. The end result can only be achieved by a full commitment. Past United States history has shown that since Vietnam the country is very reluctant to go to war unless we are sure to win (Persian Gulf), also the Nixon Doctrine may be used in retaliation to U.S. increased military presence in Asia. Vietnam will be used as an example and the media may turn the situation sour. This might also lead North Korea to desperation in their anticipation of a U.S. attack. They could attack South Korea, hoping to gain territory to be used for bargaining. Also the volatile nature of the North Korean government lends another hand to this issue. What will the North Korean’s reaction be when the United States withdraws from the Agreed Framework 0f 1994? It is currently unpredictable.
Many factors must go into the United States’ foreign policy decision about North Korea. There are many long term and short term complications that one must consider. Unification is an enormous factor. It is generally thought that there is a sense of manifest destiny on the Korean peninsula. But Korean unification could be costly and painful. Estimates are that the cost could amount to something like $800 billion over ten years. This is based upon the assumption that a German model will be used with heavy expenditures on social welfare and environmental cleansing. That is a long-term implication of policy. Both options one and two work to achieve this but through different ways.
The best solution in my opinion is option number one. I agree with the slightly more idealistic option. It warrants a peaceful solution that would perhaps ease the North and South into unification over a long, extended period of time. The increase of troops in option two could serve to undermine security on the Korean Peninsula. “Reducing an adversary’s security can reduce the state’s own security in a way—by increasing the value the adversary places on expansion, thereby making it harder to deter.” The United States’ buildup of military on the Korean Peninsula could serve to make the North Korean’s believe that we intend them for offensive use.
The first option also seems better to me because is has proven successful in a number of ways so far. While the North Koreans are still building missiles, they are not building nuclear warheads to arm them with. The non-proliferation aspects of this option work. The IAEA is monitoring the nuclear reactors there effectively. Although things are not quite what we desire, cooperation is being used to benefit all. North Korea will greatly benefit from the two new energy reactors and the world will benefit from them not becoming a nuclear power.
North Korea still will remain a threat to peace and stability in northeast Asia. We can only attempt to deal with them as we did with South Africa. Hopefully, the recent domestic problems will fuel dissent among the North Koreans and perhaps there will be an overthrow of the government (although unlikely at this time).
Economically, it is more beneficial to aid them. We appear to the world community to promote economic welfare and humanitarian aid while we establish closer links to our partners in KEDO. North Korea could ease into the unification process by working together with the South to build the new power plants. The people working together might inspire a new age to the Korean Peninsula and might push the people of North Korea to want reform. The Four-Party Peace Talks might yield progress yet, although when will progress come about is another question. This option is the long and tedious process of negotiation, testing each other’s will and making concessions towards progress.
This seems to be the logical choice in light of public opinion today and the growing anti-war trend in world politics. A change could be made however in the nature of the aid that is being given to North Korea in the form of food. Instead of going through International groups, the United States should take the initiative to give and distribute the aid themselves. If United States workers got contracts to ship and distribute the food aid, it might possibly help the situation. It would do this by improving relations on the grass roots level. It might help settle anti-United States feelings that are running high in Korea.
Stronger leadership is another pre-requisite for a change in the current situation The United States must be resolute in its dealings with North Korea. Without strong leadership, partisan politics could restrain the implementation of KEDO and other vital resources to the Korean Peace Process. KEDO can not survive without funding from the United States government. Congress must appropriate the money as it sees fit. It will be the job of the leader to convince Congress and the whole nation that this is the right option.
The United States’ dilemma towards North Korea was heightened by the August 31, 1998 launch of the new missile. The incident tightened an already tight operation. The United States responded to it in two different manners. Domestically, people including Congress wanted to cut funding seeing that the process wasn’t going anywhere. Whereas the State Department and some choice institutions believe that the process of constructive engagement is the best way to achieve progress.
Historically it seems that our ‘quarantine’ of North Korea only led to a near disaster in 1994. The engagement worked here and produced an agreement that still binds the four parties involved. While there have been bumps in the road, it seems that things are progressing. Unfortunately the famine and widespread poverty in North Korea dampens the situation and requires food aid that would otherwise not be diverted there. This catastrophe might even heighten the situation to the point where North Korea is willing to negotiate in more favor of United States interests. This could come in exchange for a clause to the Agreed Framework whereby food is included in drop-offs of oil and parts for the reactors. This scenario is still tense, with each side attempting to play out the situation to the best of their advantage.
I do believe that the best foreign policy option to pursue in light of the situation is the current one; building ties through engagement. It might not produce the desired result to all, but it will keep North Korea from nuclear power and it will provide them with a basis to build—the power plants.
The United States future with North Korea may appear doubtful, but one should not lose hope. I predict that the North Korean government will collapse or lose power in the next twenty years. They will go out with a brief flash, and then havoc. The reunification process will have already begun by then—made more possible by joint North-South Korean workers working on the power plants. But just as Russia tumbled into depression even after Gorbachav’s attempts at turning the economy into a market economy, Korea’s new economy will also. But I predict that it could grow after that and come to join the ranks of the Asian Tigers in the distant future. When looking at this situation, it appears ominous. We must maintain a narrow margin of hope and build upon it. The North Korean problem will not solve itself. We must be strong and resolute and go through with our policy to the end, whether it be bitter or sweet.
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