Korean Endgame: A Strategy for Reunification and U.S. Disengagement

By Selig S. Harrison | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 17
The North Korean Response

THE SHIFTING North Korean response to the U.S. nuclear challenge has reflected a broad search for security that embraces economic as well as military priorities. As this search has evolved, Pyongyang has been flexible in adapting to changing circumstances, signaling clearly that it would be willing to give up the development of nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems if its security can be assured without them.

When Moscow refused their 1963 request for help in developing a military nuclear program, North Korean scientists attempted to prepare for one on their own, drawing on the Soviet technology supplied for their civilian nuclear energy effort and the Scud missile know-how acquired through Soviet military aid. But when the cold war ended, Pyongyang quickly changed course. Faced with the cutoff of Soviet and Chinese subsidies and new opportunities to reach an accommodation with its adversaries, North Korea has used its nuclear and missile programs as bargaining chips in its continuing effort to normalize relations with the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

Like any good negotiator, Pyongyang did not put all of its chips on the table at once. Some have been held in reserve for future use in negotiating the terms of normalization and of related security assurances. Thus, in its 1994 nuclear freeze agreement with Washington and its 1999 missile-testing moratorium, North Korea did not relinquish the option of resuming its nuclear and missile programs. The freeze agreement envisions the eventual dismantling of all nuclear facilities with potential relevance to a weapons program, but only if the United States fully normalizes relations and joins in unspecified steps to achieve a “nuclear-free Korea,” including “formal U.S. assurances to the D.P.R.K. against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the United States.” Similarly, Pyongyang has offered to end the testing, production, and deployment of missiles, but only as part of nuclear and conventional arms-control agreements providing for basic changes in the U.S. military posture toward Korea.

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