Negotiating an End to North Korea's Missile-Making

By Sigal, Leon V. | Arms Control Today, June 2000 | Go to article overview

Negotiating an End to North Korea's Missile-Making


Sigal, Leon V., Arms Control Today


To negotiate an end to North Korea's missile threat, the United States and the D.P.R.K. need to set political relations on a new course by declaring an end to enmity.

In the debate over national missile defense, threatmongers are hyping the missile menace from so-called rogue states to justify spending $60 billion on defenses. Exhibit A for missile defense proponents has been North Korea. But the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K.) has refrained from testing a ballistic missile capable of reaching the continental United States, and even worst-case estimates put it a decade away from deploying one. Long before that, Washington could negotiate a ban on development, production, and export of Pyongyang's medium- and longerrange missiles-a less risky way to counter the threat than unproven missile defenses.

In a major stride toward such a ban, North Korea agreed last September to suspend testing while missile talks proceed. It was expected to send a high-level representative to Washington to conduct the talks, assuring equally high-level attention in the U.S. government. In return, the United States announced on September 17 that it would ease its decades-long economic embargo on North Korea.

North Korea has kept its end of the bargain; there has been no untoward activity at its missile test sites since September. The United States has been slow to reciprocate but is now committed to relaxing sanctions soon. Until it does, however, North Korea's high-level representative will not come to Washington, and lowerlevel nuclear and missile talks are likely to go nowhere fast.

A summit meeting between South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong II, scheduled for June 12-14 in Pyongyang, could improve prospects for a negotiated end to the North's medium- and longer-range missile program. So could normalization talks between Japan and North Korea, resumed this year after an almost eight-year lapse.

Both Tokyo and Seoul recognize that an end to adversarial relations with Pyongyang is the best way to halt proliferation and improve security in Northeast Asia, but that lesson has riot yet been absorbed in much of Washington. U.S. policy-makers must ask themselves why North Korea would move to disarm if the United States remains intent on treating it like a foe.

To negotiate an end to North Korea's missile threat, the United States and the D.P.R.K. need to set political relations on a new course by declaring an end to enmity. As a practical step toward that end, the United States should call off its economic embargo now. In return, the D.P R.K. would agree in writing to a formal moratorium on missile testing as a first step toward a comprehensive ban.

Pyongyang's Missile Game

Most experts assume North Korea is racing headlong to develop long-range missiles, but if Pyongyang had wanted missiles worth deploying or selling, it should have been perfecting the No Dong, Taepo Dong-1, and Taepo Dong-2 with repeated testing. Instead, it has conducted just two medium- or longer-range missile tests in the past decade-one of the No Dong on May 29,1993, and another of the Taepo Dong-1 on August 31,1998-both of them failures.

North Korea's restraint is just one sign of its interest in a diplomatic resolution of the missile issue. Since 1992 it has expressed its willingness to stop exporting missiles, for a price. In October 1992, Israel took up a North Korean invitation to open talks in Pyongyang. In January 1993, the director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Eitan Bentsur, made an offer of diplomatic relations and hundreds of millions of dollars of investment and technical assistance in mining and agriculture as inducements for North Korea to halt its missile exports to Iran, Pakistan, and others. But Israel broke off negotiations at the insistence of the United States, which wanted to keep pressure on Pyongyang to force it to give up its nuclear weapons program. …

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