North Korea: No Celebration

The State Department is ordering balloons and streamers: North Korea has agreed to give up its nukes. But the party is 13 years too late: North Korea said it wouldn’t build those nukes in 1994.

Never mind the details, U.S. diplomats scoff; the “dialogue” between the U.S. and the North never has been better. Under the agreement the countries signed in February of this year—and are just getting around to now—North Korea has promised to disclose and dismantle all its nuclear facilities. In return, the U.S. will remove North Korea from its list of states that sponsor terrorism and lift the corresponding economic sanctions, which ban the North from receiving low-interest loans from the World Bank.

Still, Kim Jong Il may be crossing his fingers behind his back—and if he is, they must be starting to chafe. The U.S. should not take North Korea on its word, considering the North’s proclivity towards breaking promises.

Consider the history: Pledging to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, the North signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1985, yet it didn’t allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into the country until 1992. When inspectors demanded greater access to the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, the communist leadership blustered that the IAEA was the U.S.’s poodle and kicked inspectors out of the country.

Despite the North’s past transgressions, the recent February deal seems to be a knockoff of the Agreed Framework, North Korea’s most famous broken promise. Signed in 1994, the Agreed Framework called for the North to halt its nuclear research in exchange for heavy oil and two light-water reactors from the U.S. In October 2002, however, a North Korean delegation admitted to its U.S. counterpart that the North had been secretly enriching uranium for years, even while the U.S. had been sending oil and building reactors. Now, the February deal once again offers North Korea economic aid for a promise it’s already broken.

The flurry of futile deals leads some Americans to believe that the U.S. should just ignore North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Who cares, they grumble, if Kim Jong Il buys himself a new toy? The problem is that Kim Jong Il shares his toys—with other rogue states. Pakistan, Libya, and Syria are among the countries that have bought missiles from the North.

Most troubling, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a Paris-based Iranian protest group, alleges that North Korea is sharing nuclear technology with Iran. Kim Jong Il equips rogue states with weapons and nuclear know-how, both of which may potentially fall into terrorists’ hands.

Focusing on the threat that North Korea poses to the U.S.—its potential to produce nuclear weapons—the State Department should aim toward the true goal: not to freeze the North’s nuclear facilities, but to eliminate them. John R. Bolton, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., lists a set of requirements that the U.S. should impose on the North for accepting the February deal: “no-notice inspections, a full range of sensors and sampling, unrestricted interviews and document reviews.” The IAEA lacks the resources to inspect North Korea thoroughly, so U.S. inspectors should ensure full compliance.

Moreover, the U.S. should use this opportunity to improve international cooperation over the North Korean issue. In August, Indiana Senator Richard G. Lugar and former Georgia Senator Sam A. Nunn suggested in a Wall Street Journal editorial that the U.S. extend the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program into North Korea. Operating out of the Defense Department, the program secures and dismantles nuclear weapons left over from the Cold War that are lying in Russia and the former Soviet Union states. Senators Lugar and Nunn propose that Nunn-Lugar inspectors from Russia and the U.S. run a similar program in North Korea. Putting more high-quality inspectors on the ground in North Korea will help hold the North to higher inspection standards.

Finally, the U.S. should hold off on lifting economic sanctions until after North Korea has disarmed. Just weeks after the U.S. and the North started talks over implementing the February agreement, the North Korean government announced that it was no longer on the U.S.’s list of states that sponsor terrorism. The State Department rightly rejected the announcement and reaffirmed that it would not remove the North from the list until after it had started dismantling its nuclear facilities. The State Department should continue to demand verification so that Kim Jong Il doesn’t swindle the U.S. again.

Overall, the February deal seems to be a victory for the Bush administration, which critics have derided as a kettle of war hawks. Still, given the North’s history, the U.S. should beef up inspection teams, insist on tough inspection standards, and reward the North only after it has shown good behavior. Otherwise, the February deal will end up in Kim Jong Il’s trash bin, right above the Agreed Framework—and the blueprints for his nukes.

Brian J. Bolduc ’10, a Crimson editorial editor, lives in Winthrop House.