Is North Korea serious about cooperation to reach a nuclear disarmament deal?
The handover of seven boxes of documents are a first step towards such a deal, but the U.S. cannot be certain of serious North Korean intentions unless a full and comprehensive declaration is delivered.
North Korea taking the initiative to clear out U.S. concern about its plutonium program can be seen as the first major step forward to a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula since October 2006. Then relations to the U.S. worsened when North Korea announced the successful test of a nuclear explosive device1 and declared itself a nuclear power2. Prior to that in July 2006 the launch of seven ballistic missiles containing one of intercontinental range had been executed. Thereafter a UN resolution implemented trade sanctions and required all member states to prevent the transfer of nuclear missile technology to North Korea.3 This had been the most critical time in UN-North Korean relations since the secretly run nuclear program came to light in 2002. The fact that North Korea is on the U.S. terror list of Terrorism supporting suspected countries adds much to that critical situation. The tension between the U.S. and North Korea relaxed not until the Six-Party-Talks4 in February 2007 when the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula had been decided.5 Here North Korea agreed to shut down its nuclear facilities and to allow IAEA6 personnel to monitor and verify these actions. In an additional agreement of October 3 of the same year, North Korea agreed to disassemble its core facilities at Yongbyon until December 31.7 Giving the U.S. files about its nuclear program was the first effort of North Korea to follow the Joint Statement. It can be seen as a major success in the aim for containment of North Korean nuclear efforts. Since 2002 the conflict about nuclear material belonging to North Korea smoldered. It could not be solved by several Six-Party-Talks and resulted in a nuclear test on the Korean Peninsula. Granting the U.S. insight to its nuclear program for the first time North Korea made one step towards U.S. requirements on its own account. In contrast to North Koreas former reluctance to keep an agreement, especially the NPT8, is likely to have changed in an attempt for integration in extended Western financial aid and food programs.
Although the document could be seen as a good step towards denuclearization the material is too thin to be persuasive. Diplomat Sung Kim who received the documents said that they are not enough and he expects a full report to come later on.9 Kim outlined a full declarations is still a U.S. requirement but he left open when it is due to come. Due to the fact that all the documents are written in Korean the translation would take months to be completed. Thereafter the documents are prepared for commencing the evaluation. A first report on what are the contents of the actual material could not be expected by January 2008. Then the change of administration would prolong an adequate reaction to the evaluated material. Sean I. McCormack outlined that verification of the seriousness of North Korean nuclear activities is still the most important precondition of a nuclear pact with the U.S.
But here the main problem arises. The documents can be seen as just one third of a declaration of all of North Koreas nuclear activities. They say nothing about a uranium program and the involvement in the proliferation of nuclear material.10 A North Korean uranium program could enable them, beside a friendly use in power plants, to produce nuclear material for use in weapon systems. They already launched seven missiles in 2006 so the intention of a uranium or plutonium program is clear. The uranium program is a major problem especially because North Korea concentrated to inform the U.S. only about its plutonium efforts and leaves other nuclear activities unnoticed. North Korea’s delay in providing information and granting access to their nuclear facilities must be seen as another strategy to gain time for several other actions to get in the possession of nuclear weaponry.
Another problematic area is the proliferation of nuclear material to other countries, especially those on the terror list. North Korea is still accused of supporting Syria in building up a nuclear reactor.11 The proliferation of nuclear material to possible terrorism supporting countries could sabotage the war on terror to a great amount. Due to the fact that North Korea owns the fitting missile technology, proliferation is even more dangerous.
The six-party agreement compels North Korea to sign a declaration about giving up its plutonium program and to acknowledge U.S. concerns about its suspected uranium enrichment and proliferation activities on the other.12 As we have seen this agreement to which the documents are a mere first step towards it, is insufficient itself. The disclosure of the plutonium program is an unrestricted requirement. But without an insurance of no other intentions in gaining nuclear weaponry the declaration would be too one sided. From this point of view speaking of cooperation would be palliating. North Korea must be suspected to gain time and obviously the resources to enlarge its armory by nuclear weapons. It would be even more a threat to the free world and prolong the war on terror.
1 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs: Background Note: North Korea, February 2008. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2792.htm, 05/15/2007.
2 The Washington Post: U.S. Flexibility Credited in Nuclear Deal With N. Korea, February 14, 2007. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/13/AR2007021300130.html, 05/19/2008.
3 Background Note: North Korea.
4 Including: The U.S. of America, Russia, Japan, China, South Korea and North Korea.
5 The Washington Post: Joint Statement: Six-Party-Talks in N. Korea Disarmament, February 13, 2007. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp- dyn/content/article/2007/02/13/AR2007021300508.html, 05/19/2008.
6 International Atomic Energy Agency.
7 Background Note: North Korea.
8 Non-Proliferation Treaty, joined by North Korea as a non-nuclear weapons state in 1985, had been broken when North Koreas uranium enrichment program had been discovered in 2002.
9 The Washington Post: North Korean nuclear documents may not be enough, May 13, 2008.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/13/AR2008051301044.html, 05/15/2008.
10 The New York Times: North Korea Gives U.S. Files on Plutonium Efforts, May 9, 2008http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/09/world/asia/09diplo.html?_r=1&fta=y&oref=slogin, 05/15/2008.
11 The Washington Post: U.S. says N. Korea to cooperate on nuclear checks, May 14, 2008.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/13/AR2008051301201.html, 05/15/2008.