North Korea and the Nuclear Threat

By Shuja, Sharif | Contemporary Review, May 2003 | Go to article overview

North Korea and the Nuclear Threat


Shuja, Sharif, Contemporary Review


Following the war in Iraq, Pyongyang announced it was prepared for talks with the US in any form. This second part in our series details the developing nuclear crisis in North Korea.

NORTH Korea was condemned by President Bush in his January 19, 2002 'State of the Union' address because it has 'a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction while starving its citizens'. States like North Korea (DPRK), Iran and Iraq, the President said, 'constitute an axis of evil' and 'threaten the peace of the world'. A few months ago Prime Minister Blair told Parliament that Britain and the US may have to confront North Korea after Iraq.

Although North Korea is very poor and relatively small, it has the fourth largest army in the world, more than one million soldiers, and has developed and tested ballistic missiles. And for some time it has been secretly developing a nuclear weapons programme which it admitted to in October 2002.

The discovery that North Korea has this active nuclear weapons programme in violation of both its 1994 agreement with the US and its signature on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is a problem for the US and its regional allies, South Korea and Japan. North Korea's announcement on January 10, 2003 that it intends to withdraw from the NPT will have serious implications for international arms control. The nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula also raises questions about the US commitment to the NPT (see Contemporary Review April, 2003).

President Bush scrapped the 1994 nuclear deal arranged by the Clinton Administration and stopped US shipments of fuel oil to North Korea. The US also urged Japan and South Korea to pressure Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons plans. The Bush Administration announced that it would not negotiate anything with North Korea until it does abandon those plans.

North Korea has declared that the Bush Administration's 'axis of evil' charge amounts to a 'declaration of war' that threatens North Korea's existence. North Korea also says that differences can be negotiated. If the US ends its 'hostile policy' and does not hinder North Korea's economic development, they say, 'our government will resolve all US security concerns through the talks'. The US has maintained economic sanctions against North Korea.

The Bush Administration's response to North Korea is very different from its response to Iraq, another nation Bush has included in his 'axis of evil'. The President had repeatedly threatened that if Iraq does not eliminate its weapons of mass destruction, the US would attack Iraq pre-emptively. President Bush has now done that successfully and North Korea started to change its belligerent tone within days of Sadam's statue coming down in Baghdad. But while the evidence of a nuclear weapons programme in North Korea is far stronger than in Iraq, the US is not threatening an attack on that country. Instead, it is working for a diplomatic solution.

Among the major reasons for this contrasting approach are:

* North Korea has an army of close to a million soldiers near its border with South Korea, an important US ally.

* North Korean forces are within artillery range of the South Korean capital Seoul, only 30 miles away.

* The North Korean army of one million soldiers also threatens the 37,000 US troops in South Korea.

* North Korea's ballistic missile programme probably has the capacity to strike another US ally in the region, Japan.

With a crisis developing between North Korea and the US, President Bush announced a major change in US policy. On January 14, 2003, he said that if North Korea abandoned its nuclear weapons programme, the US would consider providing it with economic and energy aid and, in time, offer diplomatic and security agreements.

The North Korean officials have recently told an Australian delegation their overriding fear is that the US will push for a 'regime change', once it has finished with Iraq. …

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