Broken Promises

By Eichensehr, Kristen | Harvard International Review, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Broken Promises


Eichensehr, Kristen, Harvard International Review


North Korea's Waiting Game

In 1994, North Korea shocked the world by agreeing to freeze its nuclear-weapons program and dismantle its existing nuclear facilities.

This occurred less than a year after North Korea threatened to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and refused to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its nuclear facilities. In an attempt to secure nuclear reactors for energy production and to persuade the United States to ease its economic sanctions, North Korea signed a treaty with the United States that became known as the Agreed Frame-work. The United States promised to supply North Korea with enough oil to meet its energy needs until two proliferation-resistant light-water nuclear reactors could be constructed. The energy from these reactors would permanently make up for the energy lost by shutting down a proliferation-prone nuclear reactor already operating in North Korea.

Seven years after the deal was inked, North Korea still suffers under economic sanctions and has not yet received the nuclear reactors it was promised. Even though, in the interim, North Korea has shown no intention of using its minimal plutonium resources for the creation of weapons and has not once restarted the old nuclear reactor or its associated processing facility, the United States continues to question the sincerity of the North Korean government. After desperately attempting to reclaim US attention, making concessions stretching well beyond the 1994 agreement, North Korea is running out of options.

And it is tired of waiting. In 1998, four years after shutting down its nuclear reactor, North Korea resumed construction at a suspected underground nuclear facility at Kumchangri, and in August of the same year, North Korean Premier Kim Jong II drew fire from the international community for testing a Taepo Dong-I missile over Japan in a failed attempt to launch a satellite into orbit. With a floundering economy and worsening domestic conditions, these actions seemed designed to grab the world's attention, to extract aid from the United States, and to spur the United States into fulfilling its standing promises.

However, North Korea's ability to secure a reactor is not so certain. After the 1998 actions failed to expedite the construction of the reactors, North Korea showed its desperation once again by making numerous voluntary concessions beyond the 1994 Agreed Framework. In June 2000, North Korea announced a moratorium on its long-range missile tests, and the following month, during talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, it offered to halt its long-range missile development program in exchange for Western assistance in launching nonstrategic satellites. In a more general attempt to curry US favor, North Korea accepted a partial reconciliation with South Korea by allowing family members to cross the demarcation line to visit relatives not seen in years. The waning days of the Clinton administration brought the possibility of a US presidential visit to North Korea and the signing of an accord that would have indefinitely halted North Korea's long-range missile development and nuclear-weapons research in exchan ge for Western oil and satellite-launching assistance. However, in the turmoil following the US presidential election, the Clinton administration turned its attention to domestic concerns and neglected to solidify a comprehensive accord with North Korea. …

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