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North Korea and weapons of mass destruction

North Korea has been attempting to obtain nuclear weapons since the late 1970s. The crisis returned to the headlines in 2002 after North Korea was named as a member of the "Axis of Evil" by United States President George W. Bush and after Pyongyang revealed that it had been running a clandestine nuclear weapons program in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the 1994 U.S.–North Korea nuclear pact.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty mentions five "Nuclear Weapons States" (NWS), which are allowed under the treaty to possess nuclear weapons. None other among the 188 countries that signed the treaty are allowed to have nuclear weapons programs. The five NWS happen to be the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely the United States, Russia, the People's Republic of China, France, and the United Kingdom. Other countries with nuclear weapons, none of which has signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, are India, Pakistan and Israel.

Although North Korea signed the U.S.–North Korea nuclear pact 1994, Kim Duk Hong , one of the regime's most senior defectors, says that North Korea resumed the development of its nuclear weapon program as soon as the treaty was signed. Hong also stated that North Korea gained much of its expertise from Pakistan, and that only the death of Kim Jong Il and the destruction of his regime will stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. [1]


North Korea's perspective

Korea has been a divided country since 1948, and North Korea and South Korea are still officially at war. The tens of thousands of heavily armed US soldiers maintained at the Korean Demilitarized Zone are regarded by North Korea as an occupying army.

The US has rejected recent North Korean calls for a non-aggression pact. A document leaked in March 2001 showed that the US was willing to use nuclear weapons against North Korea. Despite its insistence that other countries may not obtain nuclear weapons, the US maintains the world's largest nuclear-weapons program and is the only country ever to have used such weapons in battle.

In light of these facts, North Korea feels that its nuclear-weapons program is a valuable deterrent against aggression by the US.


Concern focuses around two reactors at Yongbyon, both of them small power stations using Magnox technology. The smaller (5MWe) was completed in 1986 and has since produced possibly 8,000 spent fuel elements. Construction of the larger plant (50MWe) commenced in 1984 but in 2003 was still incomplete. This larger plant is based on the declassified blueprints of the Calder Hall power reactors used to produce plutonium for the UK nuclear weapons program.

It has also been suggested that small amounts of plutonium could have been produced in a Russian-supplied IRT-2000 heavy-water moderated research reactor completed in 1967, but there are no recorded safeguards violations with respect to this plant.

On March 12, 1993, North Korea said that it planned to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and refused to allow inspectors access to its nuclear sites. By 1994, the United States believed that North Korea had enough reprocessed plutonium to produce about 10 bombs with the amount of plutonium increasing. Faced with diplomatic pressure and the threat of American military airstrikes against the reactor, North Korea agreed to dismantle its plutonium program as part of the Agreed Framework in which South Korea and the United States would provide North Korea with light water reactors and fuel oil until those reactors could be completed. Because the light water reactors would require enriched uranium to be imported from outside North Korea, the amount of reactor fuel and waste could be more easily tracked making it more difficult to divert nuclear waste to be reprocessed into plutonium.

Enriched uranium

However, with the abandonment of its plutonium program, North Korea secretly began a program to build a bomb based on enriched uranium. Pakistan, a nuclear-capable country, supplied key technology and information to North Korea in exchange for missiles to use in the India-Pakistan conflict around 1997, according to U.S. intelligence officials. This program was publicized in October 2002 when the United States asked about the program to North Korean officials and to the surprise of the United States, the North Korean officials admitted the existence of the program.

In October 2002, North Korea admitted to running a clandestine nuclear weapons program, according to U.S. sources [2]. This was widely seen as a violation of both the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the 1994 U.S.-North Korea nuclear pact signed during the Clinton administration. North Korean officials stated that the reactivation of their weapon of mass destruction program was in response to "imperialist threats" (presumably the United States). The United States proceeded to stop shipments of fuel oil under the Agreed Framework.

In late December 2002 North Korea expelled United Nations weapons inspectors, and announced plans to reactivate a dormant nuclear fuel processing laboratory and power plant north of Pyongyang, if the United States did not agree to a non invasion pact. This nuclear reactor is thought by U.S. officials to be the source for plutonium for two previously produced atomic bombs.

Even though U.S. President George W. Bush had named North Korea as part of an "Axis of Evil" following the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks, U.S. officials stated that the United States was not planning any immediate military action. This was seen by many as contrary to the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive military action aimed at preventing rogue nations and groups from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. (See: George W. Bush administration policy toward North Korea and U.S. plan to invade Iraq)

Diplomatic efforts at resolving the North Korean situation are complicated by the different goals and interests of the nations of the region. While none of the parties desire a North Korea with nuclear weapons, South Korea and Japan are very concerned about North Korean counterstrikes in case of military action against Korea. The People's Republic of China and South Korea are also very worried about the economic and social consequences should this situation cause the North Korean government to collapse.

Chronology of events

On January 10, 2003, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

On January 23, 2003, North Korea and South Korea agree to find peaceful solution to nuclear crisis.

On January 27, 2003, former U.S. President Bill Clinton urged the Bush government to sign a non-aggression pact with North Korea, at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He argued that poverty was driving it to sell missiles and bombs, being its cash crop. The United States should "give them a nonaggression pact if they want that, because we'd never attack them unless they did something that violated that pact anyway."

Officials from the United States stated on February 26, 2003 that North Korea had reactivated a reactor at its main nuclear complex.

In a continuing show of force, armed North Korean fighter aircraft intercepted and may have targeted a United States reconnaissance aircraft over International Waters in the Sea of Japan on March 2, 2003. That was the first such interception since April 1969 when a North Korean jet shot down a United States Navy surveillance airplane, killing all 31 crewmen aboard.

On March 6, 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld revealed that the United States is considering completely withdrawing U.S. troops from South Korea.

On April 24, 2003, the United States, People's Republic of China, and North Korea met in Beijing for trilateral discussions about North Korea's nuclear weapons program. No resolution was reached, and tensions remain high. The United States has raised the spectre of sanctions against North Korea due to Pyongyang's brinkmanship. In the past, North Korea has said that international sanctions would constitute a "declaration of war."

On April 27, 2003, South Korea sent a delegation to Pyongyang pushing the North to end its nuclear weapons program.

On May 12, 2003, North Korea declared the 1992 accord with South Korea nullified, which agreed to keep the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons, citing U.S. hostility as a threat to its soverignty. [3] S. Korea responded on May 14 that since the U.S. has continued to proceed with its promise to build two nuclear reactors in the North, the accord is still effective. The South's announcement came as its president Roh Moo-hyun met with George W. Bush in Washington DC to discuss a common approach to North's pursuit of nuclear weapons. [4]

On August 6, 2003, North Korea and Iran plan to form an alliance to develop long-range ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. Under the plan, North Korea will transport missile parts to Iran for assembly at a plant near Tehran, Iran.

On August 28, 2003, North Korea announced that it is in possession of nuclear weapons, has the means to deliver them, and will soon be carrying out a nuclear test to demonstrate this capability.

In August 2004, United States intelligence officials and non-governmental experts concluded that diplomatic efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons to Iran and North Korea have failed to slow their weapons development programs. [5]

On September 28, 2004, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su-hon told the UN General Assembly that "hostile policy" of the United States was responsible for the nuclear standoff. At a news conference after his address, Choe said his country had converted 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods into weapons. South Korean officials have estimated that this quantity of rods is sufficient to create up to eight nuclear weapons.[6]

Biological and Chemical Weapons

North Korea acceded to the Biological Weapons Convention in 1987, the Geneva Protocol on January 4, 1989, but has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention.

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Last updated: 01-24-2005 03:11:18