2005 September 19 Monday
Surprise Deal On North Korean Nuclear Weapons Development

North Korea has agreed to nuclear disarmament.

BEIJING, Sept. 19 - North Korea agreed to end its nuclear weapons program this morning in return for security, economic and energy benefits, potentially easing tensions with the United States after a three-year standoff over the country's efforts to build atomic bombs.

North Korea claims they will allow verification of the disassembly of their nuclear weapons.

The key passage confirmed Pyongyang's commitment to disassemble its nuclear weapons program—and the weapons themselves—in a "verifiable" way. It also expressed North Korea's willingness to return to the international agreements it pulled out of in 2002 when it acknowledged its nuclear program, specifically the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and safeguards outlined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In exchange, The United States offered energy aid and the possibility of diplomatic relations, confirmed that it does not intend to invade North Korea, and agreed to a step-by-step approach to disarmament. Previously, the U.S. had insisted that Pyongyang surrender it's nukes completely before the country received any aid.

China, Russia, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, and the United States are all parties to this agreeement. After failure to reach agreement in the previous three rounds of the six party talks I find the agreement reached in the fourth round as quite surprising. However, a looming famine in North Korea might have helped clinch the deal.

The deal comes in wake of a statement by the World Food Program, which has said North Korea is headed toward the worst humanitarian food crisis since the mid-1990s when an estimated 1 million North Koreans died. WFP now predicts 6.5 million North Koreans desperately need food aid.

While there was cause for some celebration when the six-party statement was made public, observers say the follow-up talks in November could prove difficult. Details have always been a stumbling block when it comes to negotiations with North Korea. Kim Jong-il has a tendency to up the ante, depending on the situation, though North Korea's desire to get out of the world's doghouse in light of its impending food shortage should be incentive for the isolated state to build the joint statement into a more concrete pact.

Will the North Koreans backslide on the agreement once they have lots of food and fuel courtesy of the other parties to the agreement? Or will the deal assure a big enough on-going bribe to keep the Kim Jong Il satisfied?

The effect on possible nuclear proliferation in other countries is important to consider.

South Korea reaffirms it will not deploy nuclear weapons and that it has no such arms.

Think about that. If North Korea doesn't continue to possess nuclear weapons then the incentive for South Korea or Japan to go nuclear becomes much less. That helps the position of China. It also weakens the position of Taiwan. In my view Taiwan's best hope for maintaining independence is to develop a nuclear weapons capability. As China's total economy surpasses the US economy and as China's military becomes much stronger Taiwan's security position will become impossible for Taiwan to defend. China will have too many economic strings to pull and clear military superiority.

Taiwan would have a much easier time going nuclear if East Asia went into a general regional nuclear arms race. If Japan went nuclear then China would have much more reason to hesitate over whether to attack Taiwan or whether to seize islands that both Japan and China claim. If Japan went nuclear and North Korea continued to build up a nuclear capability then other countries would be far less likely to economically retaliate against Taiwan for going nuclear. So this deal, if it sticks, is bad news for Taiwan.

South Korea cites their electricity bribe offer as a key element in making the deal happen.

South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young cited his nation’s offer of two million kilowatts of electric power to the North, first made in July, along with Washington’s pledge to normalize relations with Pyongyang as key to the outcome.

Washington’s flexibility in moving “to normalize North Korea-U.S. relations can be viewed as an achievement of the Bush administration,” Chung said in Seoul, according to the state Yonhap news agency.

Well bless their bribing and appeasing hearts.

George W. Bush says that we still have to see if the North Koreans will really follow through on the deal.

"They have said, in principle, that they will abandon their weapons programs. And what we have said is, 'Great. That's a wonderful step forward. But now we've got to verify whether or not that happens'," Bush said to reporters after a Cabinet meeting.

"The question is, over time, will all parties adhere to the agreement?"

That's the most important question. Can bribery and appeasement buy off the Hermit Kingdom? A modest proposal for the South Koreans: Offer Kim Jong Il a supply of very attractive hookers if he will adhere to the deal.

Update: The need for the hookers offer quickly becomes apparent. North Korea is already demanding a light water reactor before it will disarm.

``We will return to the NPT and sign the safeguards agreement with the IAEA and comply with it immediately upon the U.S. provision of LWRs, a basis of confidence-building to us,'' the North's Foreign Ministry said in the statement, carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

``The U.S. should not even dream of the issue of (North Korea's) dismantlement of its nuclear deterrent before providing LWRs,'' the North said.

The South Koreans are passing this off as a typical North Korean negotiating tactic.

South Korea, which has been lobbying hard on North Korea's behalf, sought to downplay the North's latest demand. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lee Kyu-hyung, portrayed it as an attempt by Pyongyang to enhance its bargaining leverage when the talks resume in November.

"We assume that North Korea tries to demand at the maximum level," he said. " We believe the issue shall be discussed specifically at the forthcoming round of six-party talks."

But Mr. Lee also says Seoul's willingness to support peaceful nuclear energy use by North Korea depends on Pyongyang first rejoining the Non-Proliferation Treaty and bringing U.N. inspectors back.

Any bets on whether this agreement will fall through?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 September 19 10:42 AM  Korea

Hugh Angell said at September 19, 2005 2:04 PM:

I like this deal. It looks to me as South Korea will pay the Danegeld and the US merely
promises to not attack North Korea ( as if we were in a position to anyway) and 'normalize'
relations. No surrender there.

As to Taiwan and a regional nuclear arms race I don't see how that benefits anyone. China
wants the 'return' of Taiwan ( leaving aside for the moment the merits of their claim) not
incinerate it. As you note the growing power of China means they have a number of options
short of a full scale war at their disposal. In fact an invasion is probably the least
likely Chinese approach for, were their invasion force to be repulsed, it could cause the
collapse of the regime.

Looking at the logistics of putting a large enough force together, sailing it 100 miles
across the Taiwan straits and there meeting a fully alert and prepared Taiwanese military
the attempt would be at least as risky as D-Day and probably more so for Taiwan has no
other fronts to cover. It is an island with only one potential foe. Everything they have
could be concentrated on the invasion beaches and they have a robust military themselves.
With a population of 22 million the Taiwanese could put about 2 millon men under arms and
thus would actually be able to outnumber even the PLA on the invasion beaches. Not a very
inviting scenario if you are a Chinese General charged with the task.

Where China to threaten Taiwan with nuclear weapons any rational sympathy for their claim
to simply be restoring Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan would vanish. One does not 'nuke'
a renegade province. The political and economic damage would be huge and thus I can't
envision China ever doing such a thing.

So what might China do? Well economic pressure. Declaring a maritime exclusion zone around
Taiwan would cripple Taiwan's trade. What nation is going to risk sending its commercial
ships into a Chinese naval blockade. One reason Taiwan desperately wants submarines and
why China is just as determined to block their acquisition. Would the US send the 7th fleet
out to break a Chinese blockade. Problematic. We don't even allow our carriers to transit
international waters through the Taiwan straits since China made a big issue out if a few
years ago. The only thing that restrains China from forcing the issue now is that Taiwan
has not made any moves toward independance and that the Chinese military could not enforce
a blockade should the US Navy and Air Force decide to escort commercial shipping and air
traffic into Taiwan. Were the Chinese to announce a blockade and have the US ( and Japan?)
announce we would not respect it then the regime faces the prospect of either backing
down, sallying forth against the 7th fleet or threatening armageddon. Once again all three
scenarios threaten the continued existance of the current regime so none are likely
especially as US Navy, Air and nuclear forces are so clearly dominant over those of China.

China, OTOH can afford to patient as long as Taiwan respects Pekings limits. We can afford
to be patient too in the hope that rising living standards and increasing contacts with
the democratic world will give rise to a more democratic China.

So I give a huge thumbs up to the North Korean deal IF it works out. In fact we may owe
the North's capitulation to high oil prices. As a international beggar state and with
the US no longer furnishing Pyongyang oil the only way North Korea was going to get any
oil was to get someone to give it to them. It appears China was not willing to furnish
them any so we owe China some credit here and if that is the case for it would be the
first time China has done something constructive internationally in my memory. Rather
than ginning up nationalistic anger at Japan for WW2 war crimes, it appears the economic
doves in Peking may have gotten the upper hand, at least on this issue. The Chinese now
have huge trade relations with South Korea and whatever value North Korea had as Chinese
catspaw have to be weighed against that and the effects the North Korean menace has had
on Japanese domestic opinion. The Chinese must have been alarmed at Junichiro Koizumi's
landslide electoral victory and how US/Japanese defense cooperation has grown as Japan
becomes more assertive on the international scene. If the Chinese goal is to reduce US
influence in North Asia keeping a nuclear armed lunatic in Pyongyang was having the exact
opposite affect. So maybe they decided it is time to get disarm their madman. Who knows
they may have decided it is time to get rid of North Korea altogether and see if that
won't pry South Korea out of the US defense perimeter.

Stephen said at September 19, 2005 3:50 PM:

Why do people continue to believe that NK has nukes?

(1) If they had developed them they'd have exploded one in a test;
(2) Imagine how much a test shot would improve NK's bargaining hand with Washington;
(3) If they were even close to developing a nuke, Chinese troops would be massing at the border.

My guess is that we've been taken for suckers yet again and NK will be back to do another shakedown in the not too distant future.

Ned said at September 20, 2005 6:31 AM:

Excellent analysis. Some additional thoughts....

China clearly played a major role in NK's decision to abandon nuclear weapons development. The PRC is the one foreign power with real influence in Pyongyang and doesn't need to threaten invasion to make it felt. If NK were to develop nuclear weapons, SK, Japan and even Taiwan might follow. This is clearly against China's interests. The PRC already has three nuclear-armed neighbors (Russia, India and Pakistan) and doesn't want any more. China is also probably reconciled to eventual Korean reunification under SK leadership and would prefer the newly reunified Korean state to be nonnuclear.

The Taiwan issue is murky at this point. The PRC clearly wants Taiwan back. Part of this may be emotional, but I suspect the presence of an authentic Chinese democracy 50 miles offshore may frighten the rulers in Beijing. Who knows - it might be catching? I do not think the PRC will make any military moves against Taiwan anytime soon unless Taiwan is foolish enough to declare independence, in which case, all bets are off. The US probably has influence here and should use it. China realizes that a military action against Taiwan would be frought with danger. The Chinese armed forces have absolutely no experience with amphibious warfare. The Taiwanese have powerful military forces at their disposal and have had over fifty years to harden their island against attack. They might prevail against a Chinese invasion even if the US did nothing more than resupply. If the US decided to throw some carrier battle groups and submarines into the fray, the Chinese would almost certainly be crushed. Such loss of face might lead to regime change in Beijing. Such a move would also greatly accelerate Japanese rearmament and might cause that country to go nuclear.

Back to the original NK question. Bush's policy toward NK was clearly different from Clinton's. Do you think Bush deserves any credit here, or was he just lucky?

Mark Amerman said at September 21, 2005 3:50 PM:



Taiwan was treated as hostile occupied territory for nearly all the
years Beijing (the Ching Dynasty) ruled it. There was always a large
military garrison. The soldiers were rotated every three years
to prevent relationships forming with the locals.

On average there was a minor rebellion every one and half years,
and a major rebellion every three years. Three times the inhabitants,
armed with little more than sharpened bamboo sticks, nearly succeeded
in driving the government off the island.

By deliberate policy the people of Taiwan were kept as illiterate,
as poor, and as undeveloped as possible. One could own an advanced
device, such as a metal pan, only with government permission. It was
a crime to carry a bamboo stick and to own many things that would
be considered quite normal on the mainland.

The first road was only built in the 1870s -- after over 200 years
of Ching dynasty rule.

Of course, probably fewer than one in a million on the mainland know
this history. Mostly, what happened in the past doesn't really matter.

Jorge D.C. said at September 27, 2005 12:56 AM:

The Chinese economy is the ultimate house of cards. They are heading for a depression worse than Japan and with serious civil unrest. Do not listen to "the experts" on Asian economics. The experts never make a habit of predicting the deep economic troughs that non-transparent societies must by their very nature cycle through. Their analysis is always either happy talk, cheerleading, or paranoid delusion.

Let's review. Asian nations lack 1) government transparency 2) corporate transparency 3) the rule of law in general 4) patent protection enforcement specifically.

Asian states, when not autocratic, are proportional representation democracies which is an utterly bogus form of government in the long run.

It is impossible to move from economic parasite status without dealing with these shortcomings. This is the once and future dilemna for Japan and all the rest.

Quite frankly, the great threat to Western economic supremacy is immigration and its resulting un-whitening of the population which results directly in a decline in transparency at all levels of society. And "model minority" Asian immigration into the West is hardly a cure no matter what the triumphalist morons at GNXP say.

Jorge D.C. said at September 27, 2005 1:04 AM:

Sorry I clipped some of my copy & paste: Past is prologue. Look for China's international ambitions to be severely hampered. Client states like NK will be left in the lurch.

Jack said at September 27, 2005 7:56 PM:

One of the great things about American debate is how solely focussed you are on your own interests and cock-sure superiority there is little room left for the grey areas that dominate the rest of the worlds space.

The issue of N.Korea suddenly becomes a debate on the China military threat and how effectively the supreme US millitary might will crush it.
Perhaps you might pause to look at the NK problem from a different perspective and all the rivalries and different interests that present themselves in the 6-party group. everyone has options given any potential outcome save for one and that is where the US millitary is scared most. One can safely say the greatest rivalry in Asia is Japan -Korea and a united Korea scares the pants out of the Japanese most of all and the US too, as it is inevitablely going to be closer to the Chinese side given that the US has given its undisputed favour to Japan.

Only a fool believes that Japn could not declare itself a nuclear power tomorrow if forced to; others conveniently forget the great millitary alliance of the 80's - 'The Three Pariahs (Israel, South Africa and Taiwan) - and the shred informations on nuclear programs - and it is also concievable that Taiwan has both the technological and millitary capacity to become a 'nuclear state' at the drop of the hat.

My 2 euro cents

Bob Badour said at September 27, 2005 9:41 PM:


As a Canadian, I wonder what makes you think any interests but US interests matter? Are you suggesting the US should ignore its interests?

Jorge D.C. said at September 29, 2005 4:17 PM:

The issue of N.Korea suddenly becomes a debate on the China military threat

This is entirely reasonable. N Korea is not a geopolitical concern without the Chinese. For all intents and purposes N Korea is a sock puppet on a ChiCom fist - but they are given just enough rope for Beijing to claim "we can't control them".

Jack said at September 30, 2005 9:50 AM:

For all intents and purposes N Korea is a sock puppet on a ChiCom fist?

Wrong! Jorge D.C.

Get the cobwebs of 1950's bias out of your head.
2005 - a different ballgame!

You guys in DC should all know that the regime in Pyonyang gets much of its funding from Japan - both directly and indirectly (it is indeed a most 'special relationship') as even the Jap. gov't knows it needs the underworld and drug runners to support the regime.

Bottom line - its well known the Chinese have a grievance against the Japanese but it pales agianst that which Korea bears. Hence Japanese efforts at all costs to delay a re-unified Korea, which is being championed at US sanction.

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