Centre for Research on Globalisation
Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation

The Nuclear Frame-up of North Korea

by Gregory Elich

www.globalresearch.ca    4 July 2003

The URL of this article is: http://globalresearch.ca/articles/ELI307A.html

This article is an expanded version of a text published by the CRG in December 2002 under the title Targeting North Korea

For all the ballyhoo surrounding the North Korean admission of a nuclear weapons program in meetings with U.S. officials, one salient fact has been overlooked. It never happened. Western news reports repeated endlessly the claims that North Korean officials admitted to a nuclear weapons program in an October 2002 meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly and again during an April 2003 meeting, yet no evidence was presented other than Kelly’s assertions. On this matter, the word of the Bush Administration was accepted as sufficient evidence – the same Bush Administration that has consistently lied about every issue. Citing the issue of a North Korea nuclear weapons program, the Bush Administration deliberately set about creating an international crisis on the Korean peninsula, eventually compelling North Korea to engage in a desperate bluff in hopes of ensuring its survival. To fully understand what took place during that those ill fated meetings and the mounting confrontation between the two nations it is necessary to view events in the broader historical context of U.S.-North Korean relations. This context is also important for explaining why the Bush Administration wanted a crisis, using the nuclear issue as a pretext for imposing punitive economic and political measures aimed at bringing about the collapse of North Korea.

To the Brink of War and Back

The conflict in U.S.-North Korean relations over the nuclear issue first arose on January 26, 1993, when President Clinton announced that the U.S. military would conduct war games in South Korea. This was followed the next month by the news that some of the nuclear weapons previously targeted on the Soviet Union would be redirected at North Korea. By March, massive Team Spirit war games involving bombers, cruise missiles and naval vessels were underway. Interpreting this as a provocation, North Korea responded by signalling that it would withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but talks with U.S. officials in June 1993 led to North Korea rescinding its announcement. New difficulties soon arose when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) insisted on inspecting undeclared nuclear sites in North Korea, something the agency had never demanded from any other nation. This demand came at the instigation of U.S. officials, who had been pressing the IAEA to engage in more intrusive and wide-ranging inspections, hoping to turn up a pretext for applying pressure on North Korea and to expand opportunities for gathering intelligence. It was at this time also that North Korea discovered that IAEA inspectors were passing intelligence on to American officials. (1) Encouraged by emotive news reports whipping up reaction, the Clinton Administration charged that plutonium extracted from North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility was being utilized in the development of nuclear weapons. In November of that year, President Clinton appeared on Meet the Press, insisting that "North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear bomb." No evidence for the accusation was presented, but it achieved wide acceptance by dint of repetition.

By 1994, talks between the United States and North Korea had broken off, and the U.S. was exerting pressure on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions. In June 1994, the U.S. formally submitted a draft resolution in the UN on graduated sanctions, while behind the scenes the Clinton Administration had already decided on war. Defense Secretary William Perry and Assistant Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter "spent much of the first half of 1994 preparing for war on the Korean peninsula." According to Perry and Carter, "we readied a detailed plan to attack the Yongbyon facility with precision-guided bombs. We were highly confident that it could be destroyed without causing a meltdown that would release radioactivity into the air." Whether or not a release of radioactivity could have been avoided, the attack would surely have triggered far greater devastation. Perry and Carter anticipated that North Korea would respond by, as they termed it, "lashing out," or to put it more accurately, fighting back against U.S. aggression. "In the event of a North Korean attack," they believed, "U.S. forces, working side by side with the South Korean army and using bases in Japan, would quickly destroy the North Korean army and the North Korean regime. But unlike Desert Storm, which was waged in the Arabian Desert, the combat in another Korean War would take place in Seoul’s crowded suburbs." Perry and Carter admitted that "the price would be heavy, estimating that "thousands of U.S. troops and tens of thousands of South Korean troops would be killed, and millions of refugees would crowd the highways. North Korean losses would be even higher. The intensity of combat would be greater than any the world has witnessed since the last Korean War." Note the failure to mention how many civilians might have perished in that war. It should be recalled that 4 million Koreans lost their lives in the Korean War of 1950-1953, and a new war waged with modern weapons held the potential of sowing death on a massive scale. The hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of ordinary Koreans who would have lost their lives concerned the Clinton Administration not at all. (2)

South Korean President Kim Young-Sam wasn’t as indifferent to the sacrifice of Korean lives as U.S. officials were. "At that time the situation was really dangerous," he recalled. "The Clinton government was preparing for war," with an aircraft carrier off the coast and U.S. warships planning a naval bombardment. As American forces amassed for an assault, Kim warned U.S. Ambassador James Laney that another war would turn all of Korea into a bloodbath and that South Korea would not move "even a single soldier" in support of a U.S. war. Kim then phoned President Clinton and argued with him for 32 minutes. "I told him there would be no inter-Korean war while I was president," Kim said. "Clinton tried to persuade me to change my mind, but I criticized the United States for planning to stage a war with the North on our land." Finally Clinton relented, but he considered South Korean opposition only a temporary setback and planning for war continued apace. (3)

No diplomatic initiatives were issued from the American side, and talks had broken off. Alarmed at the drift towards war, former President Jimmy Carter chose to personally intervene, flying to Pyongyang on an unofficial mission to open negotiations. According to Carter, in their first meeting together, North Korean President Kim Il-Sung "was willing to freeze their nuclear program during the talks and to consider a permanent freeze if their aged reactors could be replaced with modern and safer ones." President Kim also requested a guarantee from the U.S. not to attack his country with nuclear weapons. That evening Carter phoned the White House, interrupting a council of war then in session. Carter passed along the news that President Kim had agreed to a freeze to be monitored by the IAEA and to engage in negotiations with the U.S. on a final resolution of the issue. Knowing that the White House might be inclined to ignore the prospect of a negotiated settlement, Carter told them that he had arranged for a CNN film crew to transmit a live broadcast immediately following the phone call in which he would announce the outcome of the day’s meeting. When the news of Carter’s intention was passed to others at the White House council of war, they reacted with indignation. Tuning to CNN, Clinton Administration officials were aghast as they watched Carter announcing, "The commitment I have received is that all aspects of North Korea’s nuclear program would be resolved through good-faith talks." Carter went on to indicate that under the circumstances, proceeding with the imposition of sanctions would be a mistake. "Nothing should be done to exacerbate the situation now. The reason I came over here was to try to prevent an irreconcilable mistake." Furious at the scuttling of their war, Clinton Administration officials were left with no other option than to respond to the proffered diplomatic opening. They chose to do so by immediately placing additional demands on North Korea and insisting on proceeding with efforts to win UN approval for the imposition of sanctions. Further negotiations the next day between Carter and President Kim Il-Sung resulted in North Korea agreeing not to reprocess their spent fuel, deflating the last excuse grasped by the U.S. side for spurning a diplomatic solution. A State Department official later reflected, "The shocking thing about the Carter visit wasn’t that people were disappointed that someone was going. It was that when he got the freeze, people here were crestfallen." (4) According to another official in the State Department at the time, "It went down to the wire. The American people will never know how close we were to war. Had [North Korea] not accepted, we had 50,000 troops on the [border]. We were hell-bent about stopping them." (5)

Official negotiations between the two sides opened on July 8, 1994 in Geneva, and led to the signing of the Agreed Framework on October 21. Under terms of the agreement, North Korea was obligated to freeze its graphite-moderated reactor at Yongbyon and halt construction of two more reactors. The freeze was to be monitored by the IAEA. North Korea was also required to dispose of the spent fuel from the Yongbyon reactor "in a safe manner that does not involve reprocessing." In return, the United States agreed to "undertake to make arrangements for the provision" to North Korea of a light water reactor (LWR) project "with a total generating capacity of approximately 2,000 MW(e) by a target date of 2003." An international consortium would be organized under the leadership of the U.S. to finance and supply the project. Light water reactors do not hold the same potential as graphite-moderated reactors for the production of plutonium that can be reprocessed for use in the development of nuclear weapons. As an interim measure, while the light water reactors were under construction the United States was obligated to supply North Korea annually with half a million tons of "heavy oil for heating and electricity production." (6) The oil shipments were intended to serve as partial compensation to North Korea for being forced to abandon efforts to meet its energy needs.

Faced with a dire energy shortage, the Agreed Framework in effect obliged North Korea to forgo economic recovery until the light water reactors would be completed. Once the light water reactors would become operational, they would be capable of generating far more power than the graphite-moderated reactors that North Korea was compelled to freeze. While the energy shortage in North Korea continued to worsen under the press of U.S. sanctions and a series of natural disasters, the U.S. deliberately delayed construction of the new reactors. Although the 1994 Agreed Framework obligated the consortium to complete construction of both light water reactors by 2003, years passed without any action other than building the infrastructure needed to support the construction project. The U.S. calculated that North Korea would not long survive its economic difficulties, and that if construction of the reactors could be delayed long enough, they need never be built. Newly elected President Bush openly expressed his disdain for the 1994 Agreed Framework, and it was only in August 2002 that cement was finally poured for the foundation of the first reactor, at Kumho on the eastern coast. At a minimum, eight years would be required to complete the project, ensuring that at best North Korea would receive relief for its power shortage 16 years after signing the Agreed Framework.

"Upon conclusion of the supply contract for the provision of the LWR project," reads the Agreed Framework, "ad hoc and routine inspections will resume…with respect to the facilities not subject to the freeze." Inspections of the closed plutonium facilities had continued regularly since 1994, but the more widespread and intrusive inspection program that the U.S. desired could not be implemented under the agreement until completion of the LWR supply contract. The U.S. was not inclined to wait. It wanted those inspections now. At the ceremony marking the laying of the foundation for the first plant, James Pritchard, American delegate to the consortium, insisted that North Korea immediately allow an expanded inspection program. (7)

Nuclear Threat

The commitment to complete construction of the light water reactors by 2003 wasn’t the only provision of the Agreed Framework flouted by the U.S. Article 2 called for a "move toward full normalization of political and economic relations," and Article 3 clearly stated, "The U.S. will provide formal assurances to the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – North Korea], against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the U.S." (8) Despite those commitments, the U.S. never abandoned its aggressive nuclear posture towards the DPRK. Less than four years after signing the 1994 Geneva agreement, in the spring of 1998, U.S. warplanes based at the Seymour Johnson Air Base in North Carolina conducted a mock exercise to simulate a long-range mission to drop nuclear bombs on North Korea. Aircraft from the 4th Fighter Wing carrying concrete dummy bombs intended to represent B61 nuclear bombs flew to the Avon Park Bombing Range in Florida, where they dropped their loads. According to Brigadier General Randall K. Bigum, "We simulated fighting a war in Korea, using a Korean scenario" that "simulated a decision by the National Command Authority about considering using nuclear weapons… We identified aircraft, crews, and weapons loaders to load up tactical nuclear weapons onto our aircraft. When that phase was terminated, the last phase of the exercise, the employment phase, began. It required us to fly those airplanes down to a range in Florida and drop a concrete blivet. The blivet has the same aerodynamic shape as a bomb, but is full of concrete." (9)

President George W. Bush was no more disposed to respect Article 3 of the Agreed Framework than was his predecessor. During his State of the Union address on January 29, 2002, President Bush singled out North Korea along with Iraq and Iran as belonging to his ludicrous concept of an "axis of evil," accusing North Korea of "arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction." (10) Officials in North Korea were not blind. They could see Bush preparing to wage a war of aggression against Iraq, first on the list of so-called "evil" nations. It was no mystery which nation was second. Less than three months after his State of the Union address, President Bush ordered the Pentagon to develop plans for a more flexible policy in the use of nuclear weapons, authorizing their use in three potential scenarios. Henceforth nuclear weapons could be employed in "retaliation for attack with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons" and "against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack," an apparent reference to North Korean underground industrial and military facilities. A third category called for nuclear attack "in the event of surprising military developments," a phrase vague enough to allow open-ended interpretation. The policy directed the Pentagon to be prepared to use nuclear weapons against seven countries: Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya and Syria. (11)

The North Koreans had ample cause to fear such aggressive posturing, based on bitter memories of their last experience at the hands of the U.S. military during the 1950-3 Korean War. In the first year of the Korean War, on November 5, General Douglas MacArthur ordered the destruction of "every means of communication, every installation, factory, city and village" in an area stretching from the Yalu River to the battle line. The first city to be levelled was Sinuiju, and U.S. warplanes soon began to employ napalm during bombing raids against civilian targets. Over 2,300 gallons of napalm were dropped on Pyongyang in one raid alone, in July 1952. Mass fire bombings systematically wiped out one town after another and U.S. planes also targeted power stations and irrigation dams that supported rice fields. As irrigation dams were destroyed, villages downstream were swept away in the resulting floods, inflicting enormous death and destruction. At various times during the war, the U.S. even considered using tactical nuclear weapons. Hungarian correspondent Tibor Meray witnessed the "destruction and horrible things committed by the American forces. Everything which moved in North Korea was a military target, peasants in the fields were often machine gunned by pilots" motivated solely by what seemed to him amusement. Meray saw "complete devastation between the Yalu River and the capital" of North Korea. There were "no more cities in North Korea," he reported. Every city Meray passed through "was a collection of chimneys. I don’t know why houses collapsed and chimneys did not, but I went through a city of 200,000 inhabitants and I saw thousands of chimneys and that was all." U.S. General William Dean, taken prisoner during the war, remembered being amazed at the sight of the city of Huichon. "The city I’d seen before – two storied buildings, a prominent main street – wasn’t there anymore," while "most of the towns were just rubble or snowy open spaces where buildings had been." All of these towns, he said, "once full of people, were unoccupied shells. The villagers lived in entirely new temporary villages, hidden in canyons." American troops and U.S.-installed South Korean President Syngman Rhee’s forces executed civilians in North Korea on a mass scale. As U.S. soldiers were pushed out of North Korea by advancing Chinese and North Korean troops, they deliberately destroyed everything in their path. The war diary of the 24th Infantry Division relates, "Razing of villages along our withdrawal routes and destruction of food staples became the order of the day." Virtually no house was left standing, remembers a Chinese soldier, and the region was filled with homeless people during the winter of 1950-1 when temperatures dropped to 40 F below zero. According to U.S. General Curtis LeMay, "We burned down just about every city in North and South Korea both," and "we killed off over a million civilian Koreans and drove several million more from their homes." During the war, North Korea coped with such terror tactics by building underground factories and housing on a large scale. (12) North Korean concerns over U.S. threats are routinely dismissed as over-sensitivity, but such a view can only be sustained by ignorance of the history of the Korean War. The North Koreans haven’t forgotten the experience, building many post-war factories and military facilities underground. As targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack, such underground facilities fall into the second category of targets the Bush Administration identifies as justifying the use of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Frame-up and Imperial Arrogance

Once President Bush took office, he promptly broke off contacts between the U.S. and North Korea. Nearly a year and a half passed before the Bush Administration notified North Korea that it would send Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly to discuss a resumption of dialogue. Eagerly awaiting what was expected to be a diplomatic discussion leading towards regular dialogue, North Korean delegates were shocked during the October 3-5, 2002 meetings to find that Kelly had a different task in mind. At no time during the meetings was Kelly willing to discuss a resumption of relations. Instead, Kelly opened the first meeting by ignoring the usual protocol of greetings; blunting saying that he had not come to negotiate. Kelly then accused North Korea of violating the terms of the Agreed Framework by conducting a secret uranium enrichment program to develop nuclear weapons. Furthermore, he added, there could be no dialogue between the two nations until this program was disbanded. According to the North Koreans, Kelly was "very rude" and presented his demands in an "extremely threatening and arrogant manner." North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Kye-Kwan was "stunned" by Kelly’s display of arrogance. During the first coffee break Kim communicated Kelly’s statements to top ranking officials. When the meeting resumed, Kelly continued his attack, accusing North Korea of "human rights violations." The North Koreans felt that Kelly "behaved as though he was some sort of investigator who came here to check if we were willing to accept U.S. demands and move accordingly or not." The North Korean delegates were particularly upset when Kelly delivered an ultimatum: either they give up their non-existent nuclear weapons program or the U.S. would end contact. Worse yet, Kelly warned that the U.S. would force a halt to burgeoning North Korean relations with Japan and South Korea. The North Korean delegation countered Kelly’s demands with the suggestion that they would discuss settling U.S. security concerns if the Bush Administration would renounce its hostile policy towards the DPRK. The first day’s meeting was followed by an all-night session attended by top-ranking North Korean officials. (13)

If the Bush Administration had calculated that its one-size-fits-all diplomatic approach of pressure and bullying would work with the DPRK, then it had seriously miscalculated. Fiercely independent, North Korea bases its political philosophy on what it calls ‘juche sasang’ – the ideology of self-reliance. Rather than bend to threats, the North Korean delegation responded predictably with an assertion of pride. During the second day of meetings, First Deputy Foreign Minister Kang Sok-Ju told Kelly that if the U.S. continued to threaten the DPRK, then it was entitled to have nuclear weapons to ensure its security. This was not an admission of a nuclear weapons program. Kang was sending the U.S. a message that North Korea would not be pushed around and that if the Bush Administration’s nuclear threats continued, then the DPRK would consider taking measures in self-defense. It was in fact North Korea’s right to do so, a right ensured by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Article X of the treaty stipulates, "Each party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country." Clearly, North Korea faced just such a threat from the U.S. Oh Sung-Chul of the DPRK Foreign Ministry affirmed, " I clearly say that we denied from the start their allegations of a nuclear weapons program using enriched uranium." (14) According to North Korean state television, "We just explained our basic position that we are entitled to possess nuclear weapons if the United States violates their nuclear agreement and forces the country into a nuclear war. However, the Bush Administration made use of this to argue that we are developing nuclear weapons. Such a fabrication will not be accepted." While emphasizing its right to pursue development of nuclear weapons if pressed too hard, the North Koreans preferred a diplomatic solution and repeatedly asked for assurance from the U.S. that it would cease its threats. The North Korean delegation offered to negotiate a resolution of the nuclear issue with the U.S. based on three conditions: 1) that the U.S. recognize the sovereignty of the DPRK; 2) that the U.S. not impose punitive economic measures; and 3) that the U.S. provide assurance that it would not attack North Korea. The North Koreans were painfully aware both of the Bush Administration’s hostile intent towards them, as well as U.S. plans to invade Iraq. Their concerns were brushed aside by the U.S. delegation, which used the nuclear accusation to push its demand that Western inspectors be permitted to roam at will throughout North Korea. (15) From the standpoint of the Bush Administration, such inspections promised several potential benefits. The inspection process might turn up something which the U.S. could usefully misrepresent, providing a pretext for military action or threats. As with UN inspectors in Iraq until 1998 and European monitors in Kosovo before the NATO war, the process could double as an intelligence-gathering mission, aiding the U.S. military in planning future military operations. And finally, an intrusive inspection program would provide a foot in the door for Western meddling in the DPRK, leading to further demands and pressure on the North Koreans to allow other forms of interference.

The Bush Administration surely knew that the North Koreans would not grovel, and Kelly’s performance therefore was probably intended to sever relations and allow the U.S. to withdraw from its commitments under the 1994 Agreed Framework. Following the October meetings Kelly returned to Seoul, where he announced that he had communicated to North Korean officials "our serious concerns and raised the implications of North Korean conduct," but that there were "no decisions on additional meetings at this time nor did either side expect any." At that point, nothing was mentioned about a North Korean nuclear weapons program. (16) The next day, the North Koreans went public with their own reaction to the failed meetings, pointing out that "the U.S. Bush Administration is continuing to pursue – instead of dialogue – a hard-line hostile policy of trying to dominate us with strength and high-handedness." (17) Twelve days passed after the end of the meeting before the U.S. suddenly proclaimed that the North Korean delegation had admitted to conducting a secret nuclear weapons program. The Bush Administration had apparently determined that it could best achieve its goal of isolating North Korea by twisting Kang’s words. A compliant press could be counted on to parrot the accusation as if it was fact, and there was little risk that a reporter would inquire about evidence. It was an expectation that was not disappointed.

Outside the U.S., not everyone bought the story. The South Korean Defense Ministry questioned the assertion that North Korea had already built plutonium nuclear weapons and pointed out that these bombs – "if they exist, would weigh between 2 and 3 tons because of lack of technology to make them lighter." The weight of such weapons would exceed the delivery capability of North Korea’s missiles and bombers. (18) Russian military analysts concluded that North Korea lacked the "military and economic potential" to produce nuclear weapons and that the "existing military potential of the DPRK is quite definitely of a defensive nature." (19) U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton visited Russia and presented evidence backing the American accusation of a North Korean nuclear weapons program, hoping to persuade the Russians to support the application of pressure on North Korea. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov was distinctly unimpressed with the quality of such evidence, stating that "the Russian side has not yet received any convincing evidence of the existence of such a program." (20) South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-Hyun suspected that the U.S. was not being entirely honest. "I am afraid that Kang Sok-Ju’s remarks were quoted without their full context." Lim Dong-Won, South Korean Presidential Advisor for Security and Unification, commented that the timing was suspicious. "The U.S. notified us of the secret program in August [2002], when Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi planned to visit Pyongyang and the two Koreas embarked on reconnection of railways and roads." (21) Adding to the suspicion concerning the timing of the announcement was the expectation that it would have an effect on the South Korean presidential election scheduled to take place two months later, on December 19.

Opening Salvos in the Anti-DPRK Campaign

Once the press was filled with the contrived story of a nuclear weapons program, the propaganda groundwork was laid for diplomatic efforts to isolate and pressure North Korea. James Kelly met with Chinese and South Korean officials, revealing afterwards that the U.S. was working to apply "maximum international pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons ambition." That the U.S. intended to abrogate the 1994 Agreed Framework was indicated by Kelly’s assertion that the U.S. would not consider a diplomatic resolution such as the one in 1994. Bush was determined to kill the agreement, and U.S. officials visiting Japan and South Korea pushed for shutting down the project to build light water reactors. While Kelly was meeting with Asian leaders, Undersecretary of State John Bolton travelled to Russia, France and Great Britain hoping to win support for the isolation of North Korea. Although their efforts to persuade foreign officials to agree to an economic embargo against North Korea failed to bear fruit, they planned to persist. "This is going to take some time," admitted one American official, "because a lot of countries have different equities with the North Koreans." In addition to an end to the non-existent nuclear weapons program, U.S. officials also called for "verification," by which they meant intrusive inspections throughout North Korea. But that was not all. "This time," one American official insisted, "we must also address other problems – missile transfer, the conventional forces the North has, and the abominable way it treats its people." All code words for what would in reality be an endless series of demands and pressure intended to lead to toppling the government of North Korea. "We control [North Korea’s] hopes for the future, and we can hold those hopes hostage," a high-ranking State Department official threatened. (22)

In October 2002, President Bush upped the ante by issuing a classified executive order granting U.S. special forces authority to operate clandestinely in nations with which the U.S. is not at war and to destroy "arms supply lines" to terrorists and the three nations comprising the so-called axis of evil. The targets of U.S. covert military operations could include arms and scientific equipment that the U.S. judged might potentially serve a dual use for the manufacture of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Since the U.S. had for years denied permission for Iraq to import urgently needed medical equipment based on just such a claim of dual use, Bush’s executive order would permit covert military operations against a wide variety of firms engaging in normal trade with designated enemy nations. (23)

The furor caused by the U.S. accusation would not die down, and North Korea was caught in a bind. It could not abandon a nuclear weapons program that it did not have. U.S. demands were perfectly crafted to prevent a diplomatic solution, enabling the U.S. to implement any hostile tactic it chose. The Foreign Ministry of the DPRK issued a statement pointing out that the Bush Administration had listed North Korea as a member of an "axis of evil" and a potential nuclear target. "Its reckless political, economic and military pressure is most seriously threatening the DPRK’s right to existence, creating a grave situation on the Korean peninsula." For that reason, the statement continued, North Korea had told Kelly that it was "entitled to possess not only nuclear weapons but any type of weapons more powerful than that so as to defend its sovereignty and right to existence from the ever-growing nuclear threat by the U.S." For the North Koreans, Kelly’s belligerent behavior during the October meetings offended their expectation that they be treated with respect. According to the Foreign Ministry statement, the North Korean delegation had insisted that it had the right to develop nuclear weapons if it chose because it was "left with no other proper answer to the U.S. behaving so arrogantly and impertinently. The DPRK has neither need nor duty to explain something to the U.S. seeking to attack it." The Foreign Ministry concluded by calling for a "non-aggression treaty between the DPRK and the U.S." With such a treaty, it said, North Korea would address American security concerns. (24)

It was clearly apparent that North Korea had its own security concerns. In its case the concerns were based on a real threat, not an imagined one. It was the U.S. that had threatened North Korea with nuclear weapons, not the other way around. It was the U.S. that was imposing an economic embargo on North Korea, and it was the U.S. that had repeatedly demonstrated it would bomb or invade whoever it chose, as it did with Libya, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq once again. A disinterested observer might conclude that not only was North Korea entitled to develop nuclear weapons, but for the sake of its survival it should do so. But that is not what the North Koreans had in mind. The assertion of that right was an expression of resentment at U.S. arrogance. North Korea took umbrage at being lectured in an overbearing manner about a non-existent nuclear weapons program by a representative of the nation that was threatening it with nuclear weapons. What North Korea truly desired was the mere assurance that the U.S. would not launch a war of aggression against it.

By early November 2002, North Korea had softened its position, dropping the demand for a non-aggression treaty as a pre-condition for negotiations. "Everything is negotiable," said the North Korean ambassador to the UN, Han Song-Ryol. "There must be a continuing dialogue. If both sides sit together, the matter can be resolved peacefully and quickly." Predictably, Washington immediately rebuffed the offer, as White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer responded, "North Korea knows what it needs to do. It needs to dismantle its nuclear program and honor its treaty obligations. It’s not a question of talking. It’s a question of action." (25) As long as the Bush Administration maintained its rigid adherence to the demand that North Korea dismantle a nuclear program it did not have, it could continue to avoid diplomacy.

Putting the Energy Squeeze on North Korea

The U.S. took a tough stance at the meeting of the Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Group in Tokyo on November 9-10, 2002, pressing for the ship carrying the November allotment of heavy oil to North Korea to be turned around. South Korea and Japan opposed this demand, arguing that the program to ship heavy oil should continue "because its cancellation will only aggravate the situation," but Washington continued to advocate not only a halt to oil shipments but also to construction of the light water reactors. The U.S. also called for a readjustment of the Agreed Framework. Unable to come to agreement, the three nations decided to defer a decision until they met again on November 14 at the executive board meeting of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), the consortium responsible for construction of the light water reactors in North Korea. (26)

The night before the KEDO meeting was scheduled to open, President Bush met with his national security advisors and made a unilateral decision that oil shipments to North Korea would cease starting in December, thereby excluding the involvement of South Korea and Japan from the decision. Allowing the November shipment to proceed was his only concession to their concerns. South Korea had argued that shipments should continue at least through to the final shipment for the year, in January. Presented with a fait accompli by Washington, South Korea and Japan felt they had no option other than to fall in line. The executive board meeting of KEDO issued a statement announcing the suspension of oil deliveries. "Future shipments will depend on North Korea’s concrete and credible actions to dismantle completely its highly enriched program," it said. "In this light other KEDO activities with North Korea will be reviewed." An official from South Korea’s Unification Ministry admitted afterwards that by acquiescing to the "U.S. hard-line position," KEDO’s position would hurt North-South relations. "We had hoped for more moderate measures," he said. The decision by KEDO drew a sharp response from North Korea. "We believe it is time to make clear who is truly responsible for breaking the Geneva Pact. KEDO by ending its oil supply has cheated against its earlier pledge to provide substitute energy for production and heat. It was the only provision among the four that was being implemented accordingly." For the U.S., halting oil deliveries in December would have the merit of inflicting hardship on the North Korean people when the oil was needed most – during the cold winter months. American officials regarded the decision as only an opening move in a campaign to squeeze North Korea. The U.S. also planned to tighten sanctions against North Korea by pressuring other nations to withhold trade credits from North Korea. "We are going to contain and isolate them," a senior U.S. official announced with relish. (27)

The delivery of heavy oil to North Korea was indeed the sole provision of the Agreed Framework honored by the U.S. The U.S. had for years intentionally delayed construction of the two light water reactors which the Agreed Framework specified would both have "a target date of 2003." Furthermore, while the agreement called for "both sides to reduce barriers to trade and investment," the U.S. chose instead to maintain an economic embargo against North Korea. The U.S. was also obliged by the Agreed Framework to "provide formal assurances to the DPRK against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the U.S." (28) Not only did it fail to do so, but U.S. military policy specifically called for the possible use of nuclear weapons against North Korea in the event of conflict. By the time the U.S. had abandoned the last provision of the Agreed Framework that it had not yet violated, North Korea was still honoring the agreement in full.

In the editorial pages of Western newspapers, U.S. obligations under the Agreed Framework have been portrayed as an overgenerous gift, in which North Korea gave up nothing. In fact, the case was nearly the opposite. Although funding of the light water reactor project would come primarily from South Korea and Japan, the agreement between KEDO and the DPRK required North Korea to "repay KEDO for each LWR plant in equal, semiannual installments, free of interest, over a 20-year term." While the terms were generous, this was not a gift, and a North Korea that was invariably strapped for foreign exchange due to sanctions could be expected to have difficulty in paying for the reactors. According to the agreement, if North Korea failed to "pay the full amount of a financial obligation on or before the payment date," then it would be assessed a penalty at a rate equal to generally available commercial loan rates plus 2 to 3 percent. Furthermore, 30 days after partial or non-payment, KEDO could "declare all or part of" any financial obligations "to be immediately due and payable." In the worst case scenario, a single late or missed payment could result in the demand for immediate payment of the total cost of the reactors. It should perhaps also be noted that, like the Agreed Framework, the KEDO agreement stipulates that "KEDO shall develop a delivery schedule for the LWR project aimed at achieving a completion date of 2003." Not surprisingly, no penalty is specified in the agreement for late delivery of the reactors. (29) Labor for construction of the reactors was to be provided primarily by North Korean workers, but when the DPRK insisted that its workers be paid fair wages, KEDO responded by bringing in 700 Uzbek workers willing to accept low wages until, as the executive director of KEDO put it, "Pyongyang realizes the error of its ways." (30)

For the DPRK, the Agreed Framework meant several years of sacrifice and hardship, compelling it to freeze construction of its graphite-moderated reactors that would have supplied urgently needed electrical power. Since the agreement had essentially forced North Korea to put economic recovery on hold until completion of the light water reactors, the U.S. could ensure that the North Korean economy would remain hobbled as long as it delayed construction. Another unfortunate aspect of the agreement for North Korea was that its graphite-moderated reactors could rely on its sizable natural deposits of uranium, whereas light water reactors would have to depend on the import of nuclear fuel from hostile Western nations that could shut off the supply at any time. (31)

The demise of the Soviet Union and the loss of trading partners in Eastern Europe had a devastating impact on North Korea, which saw its economy contract by 30 percent in the five years following 1991. Lacking any reserves of oil or natural gas, North Korea must rely entirely on imports. While the Soviet Union had furnished North Korea with oil at subsidized rates, post-Soviet Russia would supply oil only at commercial market rates. By 1993, fuel imported from Russia stood at only 10 percent of its level three years earlier, and that amount continued to shrink. Because of sanctions, North Korea’s lack of access to credit and foreign exchange meant that it could no longer import sufficient quantities of oil. By 1996, total oil imports had plunged to only 40 percent of the 1990 level. Maintenance of North Korea’s rapidly aging electrical infrastructure required spare parts that could no longer be obtained at subsidized prices. Worse yet, sanctions meant that purchasing spare parts was difficult at best and often impossible at any price. The energy shortage had a rippling effect throughout the economy, causing factories and manufacturing plants to shut down. By 2000, the various sectors of industrial output stood at 11 to 30 percent of their 1990 levels. In the six years following 1990, road freight fell 70 percent and rail by 60 percent, placing further burdens on the manufacturing sector. North Korea has substantial deposits of coal and this resource provided over two thirds of its energy in the early 1990s. Unfortunately, many mines were forced to shut down because of floods later in the decade, as well as due to a shortage of spare parts and electricity to power mining equipment and lights. Out of 62 major power plants, 20 are thermal, primarily based on coal, while the remaining 42 are hydroelectric plants. Flood damage and droughts reduced the level of electrical power generated at hydroelectric plants in 1996 to only 38 percent of the 1990 level. By the end of the 1990s the total supply of commercial energy in the DPRK had plunged by as much as two-thirds. (32) Clearly, the addition of nuclear power to the energy mix was an urgent task; one that North Korea was forced to abandon in 1994 under threat of war by the United States.

The annual supply of 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil by the United States accounted for only two percent of North Korea’s total energy and 8 percent of its fuel supply, according to the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainable Development. South Korean sources place the percentage of energy supply higher, at 15 percent. The heavy fuel oil was supplied in the form of liquid coal, which North Korea used primarily to fire its thermal power plants. The sulfur content in liquid coal, however, has the unfortunate effect of corroding boiler tubes eventually making them inoperable, so the net impact of the heavy fuel oil on production is questionable. The shipments of heavy fuel oil acquired a disproportionate importance during the winter months when rivers and reservoirs feeding hydroelectric plants freeze over. The freeze generally lasts until March, followed by a dry period before the hydroelectric plants can resume operation. It is during that time that North Korea is particularly dependent on its thermal plants. Cutting off the supply of heavy fuel oil, pointed out Peter Hayes of the Nautilus Institute, "as winter arrives basically means that people who are sick, old, tired, will now be even colder, and will, at the margin, be slightly more likely to die from being sick or actually freezing to death in hospitals and homes." (33) "The power shortage in North Korea is already severe," noted Kim Kyoung-Sool of the Korea Energy Economics Institute in South Korea. "Factories are operating on a rotational basis and even government officials have held talks by candlelight in a top-class hotel. One or two months of delay might be okay, but a complete suspension of the oil deliveries would be a fatal blow." (34)

By halting deliveries of heavy fuel oil precisely at the onset of winter, the U.S. had coldly calculated to further its political objectives by inflicting harm on the people of North Korea. Already U.S. sanctions had brought the North Korean economy to its knees, forcing plants to close and production to grind to a halt. Without the light water reactors it had been promised by 2003 and constrained by sanctions, there was no possibility for North Korea to produce the energy that it needed. Black outs are a frequent occurrence in North Korea, and the entire nation is blanketed in darkness at night. Throughout the winter, buildings managed with little or no heat. "It is a vicious downward cycle," pointed out Timothy Savage of the Nautilus Institute. "Everything that North Korea has is decrepit, and they don’t have the electricity to make spare parts to fix it. This is not like rural Africa. North Korea was completely electrified. It is not like they were never part of the modern world. They were kicked out of the modern world." (35) Nothing so clearly illustrates the magnitude of the U.S.-imposed catastrophe as NASA photographs taken of the Earth at night. Lights abound in South Korea, China and Japan. In the midst of this panoply of light sits an area of near total darkness. That is North Korea. (36) Referring to those same NASA photographs, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld arrogantly concluded that the victim was to blame. "It’s a tragedy what’s being done in that country," he said. It only requires a change of one word for Rumsfield’s sentence to accurately portray U.S. policy: It’s a tragedy what’s being done to that country.

Disasters, Natural and Man Made

The energy shortfall also had a parlous effect on the food supply in North Korea. The shortage of electricity inevitably limited productivity at fertilizer factories. Before 1990 North Korea was able to meet most of its fertilizer needs through its own production, accounting for 600,000 to 800,000 tons per year. As a result of the energy crisis, since 1995 North Korean fertilizer production totals less than 100,000 tons per year. The lack of foreign exchange has meant that little additional fertilizer could be imported. Several plants have closed down entirely or operate at reduced levels due to lack of energy and spare parts. The precipitous drop in coal production was another contributing factor to the decline, as fertilizer plants depend on coal both for energy and for chemical feedstock. Furthermore, the transportation of the 1.5 to 2 million tons of coal required to match old production levels is simply an impossibility given the lack of fuel. Due to the shortfall in fertilizer production, agricultural operations operate at only 20 to 30 percent of their previous levels of land fertilization - the most significant factor in diminishing crop yields.

Prior to 1990, North Korean agriculture was heavily mechanized, but the energy crisis has wrought a painful transformation. The nation’s agricultural equipment is primarily powered by diesel fuel, which is in particularly short supply, resulting in a 70 to 80 percent reduction in the use of tractors and other machinery. A UN mission visiting North Korea in 1998 found that a "significant proportion of the motorized agricultural equipment is out of service due either to having reached the end of its service life, or due to lack of vital spare parts." Furthermore, "even if the entire machinery park could rapidly be brought back into service, the equipment could still not be operated unless it also became possible to restore adequate fuel supplies." Inevitably, agriculture in North Korea has become more labor and animal intensive, further reducing yields. The UN mission reported that "the entire rice crop is being managed this year employing only hand labor or animals, apart from an initial primary tillage operation," and "the entire maize crop is being produced employing only hand labor or draught animals." Irrigation depends on electricity to power water pumps. Rice in particular is affected, as it requires extensive irrigation. More than half of irrigation pumping occurs during the month of May, requiring levels of electrical power that simply cannot be provided under current circumstances. Startlingly, the demand for irrigation pumping exceeds one third of the total power capacity in North Korea, and this percentage may be much higher in some pockets. According to the 1998 UN mission, "The unreliable water supply is mainly due to unreliable pumping, which is mainly caused by an unreliable electricity supply." An examination of the records at three major pumping stations "indicated that they had suffered an average of nearly 600 power failures per year, over 2300 hours per year with no power," and that the "frequent power failures result in considerable waste of water." In all, the mission concluded, "the shortfall in water available to the crops is estimated to be about a quarter of the total requirement." The lack of electricity affected other aspects of agricultural production as well, including food processing. Rural transportation is increasingly based on foot and animal cart traffic, shortening the amount of time available to farmers for agricultural production. (37)

Compounding its sorrows, North Korea was buffeted by a series of ruinous natural disasters over the course of several years. Huge swathes of farmland were ruined as floods in 1995 and 1996 swept away topsoil from elevated areas and deposited silt and sand on farmland at lower levels. In the first year of floods, over 400,000 hectares [1 hectare = 2.471 acres] of farmland were destroyed just as crops were due to be harvested, leaving over five million people homeless according to North Korean sources. In all, floods caused $15 billion damage in the first year alone, as more than half of North Korea’s harvest was swept away. It was the worst flood to hit Korea in a century. Flooding also destroyed many irrigation dams and canals, resulting in a reduction in crop yields the following year. By the end of 1996, over 90,000 hectares of rice paddy land lay buried under sand and debris deposited by floodwaters, and the lack of fuel meant that recovery of the land was a daunting endeavor. Flooding also impaired the energy supply as several coal mines, including many of those along the coast producing the best quality coal, filled with water. Electric transmission lines were damaged by the floods, as were turbines in hydroelectric plants. In 1996, floods hit North Korea for the second year in a row, wiping out 20 percent of the harvest. Before it could recover from these devastating blows, North Korea endured a severe drought in 1997 that destroyed 70 percent of the maize crop. That same year a tidal wave overwhelmed a dike along North Korea’s western coast, deluging hundreds of thousands of hectares of rice fields and destroying over 700,000 tons of rice. Calamities continued to pound North Korea, as drought struck again in 2000. Drought was followed in August and September of the same year by another disaster, when typhoons and heavy storms swept across North Korea, causing landslides and wiping out 29,000 homes. According to the Red Cross, the storms wrought the worst damage in 30 years, slashing roads and railways and demolishing 1,930 bridges. But there was more to come. In 2001, this beleaguered nation experienced the longest drought in recorded Korean history, as 10 percent of its crops withered and yields in remaining areas fell by well over half. As the drought wore on, the roots of rice plants rotted and reservoirs dried up, resulting in hydroelectric plants shutting down. A correspondent for the Kyodo News Agency claimed that the drought had caused the worst water shortage in one thousand years. Cha Du-Hyok, chief manager of the Takan cooperative farm reported, "There was a continued drought during the rice planting season and the seedlings withered. We had to plant rice three times. Yet we did not finish one-third of the paddies planned for rice planting. The rice output is on the decline. There were seven to eight tons of rice per hectare of paddies ten years ago. Production was down to one to two tons in recent years with the output totalling 500 kilograms in the worst time. We need pumps to get water, but the pumps need electricity and we don’t have electric power." Yet another tidal wave accompanied by storms struck in October 2001, inundating thousands of hectares of rice fields and wiping out much of the stored food in the province of Kangwon. Eighty-one people were reported killed by the storms and 27 missing. It was an astonishing progression of destruction for a nation that was already hurting from U.S. sanctions. Inevitably, the combination of incredible natural disasters and an economic embargo resulted in starvation and malnutrition for millions of people. (38)

No nation could emerge from such catastrophes unscathed, and North Korea was no exception. The overall food deficit exceeded one million tons in every year since 1995. Although North Korea is beginning to recover from the natural disasters, the situation is still difficult, particularly for the urban population which must devote 75 to 85 percent of its earnings for the purchase of food. In 2002, normal rainfall raised water volume in the nation’s irrigation reservoirs to 59 percent of normal capacity, still well below required levels. The terrain of North Korea is primarily mountainous, and only 20 percent of its total land area is suitable for agriculture. Furthermore, many areas of the country lack enough frost-free days to permit double cropping. Consequently, it is essential that North Korean farmers have greater access to fertilizer, pesticides, spare parts and fuel in order to boost productivity levels, all impossible as long as the U.S. continues to impose sanctions. Although the government was able to substantially increase the level of food rations in 2002, this still provided less than half of the minimum daily energy requirements. Closing this deficit is particularly difficult for workers in the industrial north and northeast, where there is less produce available at local markets and the urban land is less hospitable for growing food on plots of land, as is done in cities in other regions. (39)

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 13.2 million people in North Korea are now malnourished. The World Food Program (WFP) has worked to alleviate the suffering of the North Korean people, providing a total of 2 million metric tons of food aid since 1995 valued at $500 million. Food aid is targeted at children, the elderly and pregnant and nursing mothers. The WFP is also involved in the renovation and operation of 18 local food factories. (40) Dwindling donations compelled the WFP to announce in September 2002 that it would be halting distribution of food to three million people and that without additional pledges an additional 1.5 million people would soon be dropped from the program. "Such across-the-board cutbacks would cause acute suffering on a massive scale," warned Rick Corsino, WFP Country Director for the DPRK. "As we head into the harsh North Korean winter, those affected will find it very difficult to cope. The tragedy is that the people most at risk stand to bear the entire burden. They are already on the edge." Japan, which accounted for more than half of the funding for the WFP’s operations in the DPRK in 2001, chose not to contribute anything in 2002. Another factor contributing to the evaporation of funding was publicity which drew donations to Afghanistan at the expense of other areas. "From our point of view, things have not been this grim for quite a while," said WFP spokesman Gerald Bourke. "The needs are huge. And the danger of a major food crisis, if we don’t get what we asked for, is considerable." On December 3, 2002, the World Food Program issued an appeal for $201 million to fund its program in the DPRK for 2003, warning that without additional funding it might be compelled to close down entirely its operation in North Korea. (41)

Sensing opportunity, the Bush Administration responded almost immediately to the appeal by the WFP. On December 6, Washington announced that it would cease donating to the program unless the DPRK allowed monitors for the 13 percent of recipients who live in areas where Western monitors are not currently permitted. Additional conditions specified that any donations would be contingent on availability of U.S. food stocks and consideration of competing food needs in other countries. In effect, the announcement was a message that the U.S. would no longer provide support to the WFP’s operations in the DPRK. Only Italy and the European Union responded to WFP’s appeal. "We only have firm commitments for 35,000 tons," said WFP spokesman Gerald Bourke. Agricultural consultant Tom McCarthy, who often visits North Korea, commented, "Nobody has ever denied that most of the food aid has gone to vulnerable populations. The U.S. appears ready to politicize food aid." Japan also remained firm in its rejection of aid. "Japan is not considering anything whatsoever," stated Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe. (42)

The impact of the U.S. cutoff of food was felt almost immediately. After the World Food Program was forced to close the first of its food processing plants when donations of maize ran dry, WFP official Anahit Sadoyan said, "Since November [2002], the situation has steadily deteriorated. It is now very dramatic, very depressing. It is hurting the children the most. They shouldn’t suffer because of the political situation." The already dire situation in the industrial northeast continued to deteriorate. According to one aid worker, "The situation in the northeast is worse than the Horn of Africa or Chechnya. I have never seen children suffering so badly from malnutrition. The growth of children has been stunted to such a degree that eleven-year-olds look like six-year-olds. Generations of North Koreans will be mentally retarded." (43) By using food as a weapon, the Bush Administration could adopt a false pose of innocence, while deflecting blame onto the victim. "Let me talk about North Korea," shouted President Bush during a rather revealing discussion with journalist Bob Woodward in August 2002. "I loathe [North Korean President] Kim Jong-Il. I’ve got a visceral reaction to this guy because he is starving his people. They tell me, we don’t need to move too fast [against North Korea] because the financial burdens on people will be so immense if we try to – if this guy were to topple. Who would take care of – I just don’t buy that." (44)

A March 2003 shipment of just under 40,000 tons of food aid from the European Union provided a brief respite, but fell well short of satisfying the 1.1 million ton shortfall in North Korea’s rice production. South Korea stepped into the breach, pledging to furnish 400,000 tons of rice in the form of a loan repayable over a 20 year period at one percent interest. South Korea also provided 200,000 tons of fertilizer, which was expected to boost rice production in North Korea by nearly half a million tons. (45)

A Crucial Election

As the South Korean presidential election drew nearer, the Bush Administration’s favored candidate, Lee Hoi-Chang, trailed slightly in the polls. In a last ditch effort to sway the election in his favor, Washington pulled off a display of pure theater. Over the course of several weeks the U.S. had followed the progress of the Sosan, a North Korean ship bound for the Middle East. With the election just days away, U.S. military officers asked the Spanish navy to intercept the vessel. On December 9, a Spanish ship closed on the Sosan and fired across her bow. When the Sosan refused to yield, the Spanish ship pulled aside, its crew shooting at the Sosan and forcing it to stop. Spanish sharpshooters fired at the Sosan’s cables, severing them to clear the way for boarding from the air. Helicopters sped to the scene and as they hovered over the Sosan, commandos rappelled down to its deck, while other commandos boarded from a speedboat. "After occupying an engine room and the steering house," Kang Chol-Ryong, captain of the Sosan, later reported, "they fired thousands of large and small-caliber bullets, thus seriously threatening the lives of crewmen and putting the ship under their complete control. They even kicked sailors and beat them with rifle butts." The commandos "bound and tied 18 of our sailors," Kang recalled, and the captives were taken to a Spanish warship and later transferred to an American vessel. In all, Kang said, "Five wire ropes, other materials and shackles were destroyed. Other rooms were very seriously damaged." The commandos searched the cabins and robbed the North Korean sailors of valuables. A fleet of U.S. warships soon swarmed around the Sosan after 15 scud missiles were found aboard. "I never tried to hide the missiles," Kang said, "They were regularly stored under cover plates. It is not good to place them in the open." The missiles were destined for Yemen, which complained about the seizure, saying that they had been legally purchased. Not wishing to antagonize Yemen, an ally it was counting on in its war on terrorism, Washington allowed the Sosan to continue on its way. "We have no choice but to obey international law," admitted White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. Had Yemen not been an ally, the U.S. would have disregarded international law, which forbids the seizure of ships. (46)

For North Korea, the export of missiles was virtually its sole avenue for raising foreign exchange. The Bush Administration adopted a pose of outrage in regard to North Korean missile exports, an ironic position given that the U.S. accounts for 45 percent of the global arms trade. "It just seems as if they want to protect their territory from up-comers like North Korea," pointed out Bruce Campbell of the Ottawa-based Center for Policy Alternatives. "It’s a double standard. It’s about proprietary rights rather than outrage about what’s actually being sold." Richard Sanders, coordinator of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade, said the U.S. position was "mind-boggling. The U.S. sells the world’s largest volume of weapons to more countries than anybody else, they have 1.5 million troops stationed around the world, they spend more than $500 billion a year on the military budget," and "they just fought a war against Afghanistan and they are ready to bomb Iraq. I guess it’s not the kind of irony you laugh at." Interestingly enough, if the U.S. truly was concerned about North Korean weapons exports, it could have responded to the North Korean agreement late in 2000 to freeze its medium and long range missile program and to cease exporting missiles and cancel existing contracts. But lame duck President Clinton was wary of travelling to Pyongyang to close the deal for fear of criticism from conservative quarters, passing that responsibility to incoming President Bush, who had no intention of discussing any issue with North Korea. (47)

According to a Blue House (South Korean presidential) spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, "We are in no position to comment on this event, but in view of the fact that North Korea has been exporting missiles for some time, it is not clear why the U.S. has taken a strong-arm issue at this point in time." The spokesman refuted U.S. claims that it had notified South Korean president Kim Dae Jung in advance of the seizure. (48) Timed just days before the South Korean presidential election, the seizure can only be viewed as opportunistic. Countervailing the effect of the U.S. effort to swing the vote in favor of the conservative Lee Hoi-Chang was the widespread shock engendered by the acquittal by a U.S. military court in November of two American soldiers stationed in South Korea. Five months earlier, two 14 year old girls walking alongside a road on their way to a birthday party were crushed to death by the soldiers’ 50-ton mine-sweeper as it sped through a Seoul suburban neighborhood. The acquittals served as a lightening rod for Korean anger at years of abuses by U.S. servicemen, and mass protests erupted throughout South Korea demanding a revision to the agreement governing the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed there.

South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung, whose term was expiring, had staked his reputation on improving relations between the two Koreas, in what he termed the "Sunshine policy." Lee Hoi-Chang belonged to the opposition Grand National Party, which viewed the Sunshine policy with considerable skepticism, and he vowed to take a hard line against North Korea if elected. President Bush was saving his harshest actions for the post-election period, banking on a victory by Lee who would offer more enthusiastic support for punitive measures against North Korea. His opponent, Roh Moo-Hyun belonged to the ruling Millennium Democratic Party, and was committed to continuing the Sunshine policy. As one U.S. analyst pointed out well before the election, "Washington may as well wait out the next four months and cut a fresh deal with the incoming government in Seoul." A South Korean analyst commented on a pre-election visit by a delegation of the Grand National Party (GNP) to Washington. "I am quite sure that the GNP delegation’s message to the Bush administration officials would have been ‘Don’t rock the boat’," and that any significant actions would hurt Lee in the presidential race." Lee not only favored a tough stance on North Korea, but he further endeared himself to the Bush Administration by advocating a major privatization program. In contrast, the U.S. was uneasy with Roh’s background as a labor lawyer during the 1980s defending student and labor activists arrested by the U.S.-backed military government. During the election campaign Roh warned, "If those powers which desire a Cold War gain power in this presidential election, the state of affairs on the Korean peninsula will return to the former condition of powerful nations controlling the peninsula." (49) Roh furthermore vowed that "if the U.S. and North Korea start a war, we will stop it." To the consternation of Washington, when the votes were tallied from the December 19 election, the progressive Roh emerged victorious, promising to work with both the U.S. and North Korea. "We must have dialogue with the North and with the U.S.," he announced. "In this way we must make sure that the North-U.S. dispute does not escalate into a war. Now the Republic of Korea must take a central role. We cannot have a war." "This is a pro-Korea vote," observed Donald Gregg, chairman of the Korea Society in New York. "Koreans are riding a crest of self-confidence, and they have decided that the most important thing for them is the other half of their country." It may well have been the most important election in Korean history, an assertion of the right of Koreans to determine their own future and to play a central role in resolving the U.S.-North Korea dispute. The outcome of the election dashed the hopes of the Bush Administration, which had counted on gaining an ally who would support a more aggressive policy. "There is a real sense of mourning here," revealed one American military official commenting on the election result. (50)

Escalating Conflict

Far from seeking to assuage North Korean fears, on December 10, 2002 the Bush Administration released a new strategy document calling for preemptive military and covert action against nations possessing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. In a secret annex to the report, North Korea was listed among the nations the strategy was aimed at. High priority was given to stopping shipments of weapons components both into and out of the borders of target nations, and the document reemphasized the U.S. commitment to regard the use of nuclear weapons as a viable option in any conflict. "The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force – including through resort to all of our options – to the use of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] against the United States, our forces abroad, and friends and allies." According to an unnamed U.S. official, the classified portion of the document was built on the premise that "traditional nonproliferation has failed, and now we’re going into active interdiction. Active interdiction is physical – it’s disruption, it’s destruction in any form, whether kinetic or cyber." Another official illustrated the new plan by giving an example of a ship relying on the Philippines as a transshipment point for special weapons intended for Libya, one of the nations the document places in the same category as North Korea. "We’re going to interdict or destroy or disrupt that shipment or, during the transloading process, it is going to mysteriously disappear." (51)

To the North Koreans, the latest strategic document was yet another slap in the face, and they were no longer inclined to play a passive role. The United States had violated every single provision of the Agreed Framework and was clearly aiming to freeze and starve the DPRK into submission. While work on the light water reactors officially continued, it was obvious to all that the West had no intention of allowing the project to reach completion. Already on October 24, 2002 the European Union Parliament voted to cancel its contribution of $20 million to the project for 2003, and the U.S. lobbied other members of KEDO to shut down construction of the reactors. "It is extremely unlikely that both light water reactors will be produced," noted Robert Einhorn of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Nobody will announce the actual pulling of the plug because that would only encourage a North Korean provocation in response." (52) At an unofficial meeting of KEDO in early February 2003, it was decided to postpone the purchase of parts and materials needed to continue construction of the light water reactors and to slow down the pace of construction. In essence the decision froze the project, but KEDO agreed to refrain from publicly announcing its decision. The construction project was to be quietly killed. (53) At a meeting of KEDO’s Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Group on June 13, 2003, U.S. officials announced that the scheduled provision of a reactor drain tank and other components to the project in August would not take place unless North Korea signed a protocol obligating it to pay compensation to U.S. corporations for any losses due to accidents. The U.S. flatly refused to provide water supply tanks and suggested that the project be killed in August. Furthermore, U.S. officials proposed to start negotiating an end to KEDO itself. Both South Korea and Japan objected to the U.S. proposals. A high-ranking South Korean official commented later, "As the United States is demanding a halt, we’re finding it more difficult to say that the project should continue." The official said that South Korea wants the project to continue, "even at a minimum level of construction, like ground hardening," but that the U.S. "wants to cease all work." (54)

Two days after the Bush Administration unveiled its latest strategic document, North Korea announced its intention to resume construction and operation of its graphite-moderated reactors. A statement issued by the DPRK Foreign Ministry stated, "The supply of heavy oil to the DPRK was neither aid nor cooperation but the U.S. obligation to make up for the loss of electricity in return for the freeze of nuclear power plants under operation and construction. The U.S. actual abandonment of its obligation has caused the DPRK’s production of electricity to suffer a loss right now. Whether the DPRK refreezes its nuclear facilities or not entirely depends on the attitude of the U.S." (55) The announcement came as music to the ears of the Bush Administration, knowing that it had successfully forced the North Korean hand. "The South Korean government doesn’t like to say so in public, but they blame the Americans for what is happening," revealed Moon Chung-In, a specialist on North Korea at Yonsei University. "The Bush Administration has created a situation where the North Koreans are pushed into a corner. And their bad behavior becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that allows the Bush Administration to say, ‘I told you so’." Suh Dae-Sook, a North Korea expert at the University of Hawaii, felt that the North Korean announcement was an attempt to bring Washington into negotiations. "I guess they are ready to negotiate," he said. "This is the only weapon they have or alternative they have." (56)

It was the moment President Bush was waiting for. Within days he ordered the U.S. military to deploy the first 10 missiles of a missile defense system at Fort Greeley, Alaska by 2004 and an additional 10 missiles at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California by 2005. Included in the deployment are six radars, bringing the initial cost to $30 billion. Plans call for the anti-missile defense shield to eventually encompass 250 missiles, 15 radars and as many as 30 satellites. The move followed Washington’s abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty early in 2002, and the Bush Administration sensed that this was the right moment to launch the program, expecting that the media uproar over North Korea would silence criticism. (57) Critics of the anti-missile program who argue that tests have not shown the concept to work miss the point. The anti-missile program will work very effectively at funnelling hundreds of billions of dollars to defense contractors. A secondary advantage of the anti-missile program is its propaganda value, helping to alleviate concerns by presenting the appearance of invulnerability. Such an image could assist U.S. officials in winning public support if they ever choose to attack a well-armed nation such as China.

For North Korea, the situation was simply untenable. North Korean officials correctly gauged that KEDO had no intention of completing work on the light water reactors, and they resented the expectation that they were obligated to continue adhering to the terms of the Agreed Framework while the other party failed to honor even one provision. While doing so, it would be the North Korean people who would continue to freeze and starve. In Pyongyang, a spokesman for the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland issued a statement saying that the resumption of work at the graphite-moderated reactors was intended "to make up for the loss of electricity caused by the U.S. unilateral halt to the supply of heavy oil." Furthermore, he added, under the Agreed Framework, "we only suffered a big loss of electricity and the resultant damage done to the economy. If our nuclear facilities should be faulted, then all the nuclear power plants in other regions and countries should be called into question. It is preposterous to assert that our nuclear power bases pose a threat while nuclear power plants in other regions and countries raise no problems." (58) The situation was desperate even before the cutoff of heavy oil, and the slow death of the light water reactor project meant that it was an urgent task for North Korea to develop its own nuclear power plants. "Obviously they have a huge energy crisis," pointed out one aid worker who frequently works in North Korea. "You drive through the countryside there after dark, through huge cities beyond Pyongyang, and you don’t see a bulb." (59) The North Korean response was predictable, given its proclivity to respond in kind: negotiating when approached diplomatically and presenting a firm stand when threatened or bullied.

Once it had withdrawn from the Agreed Framework, North Korea proceeded to remove seals and IAEA monitoring equipment from its plants at Yongbyon, taping over the lenses of monitoring cameras, and requesting that IAEA monitoring personnel depart by the end of December 2002. The flood of misinformation regarding North Korea’s resumption of nuclear power development was limitless. The 5-megawatt research reactor at Yongbyon can generate 20-25 megawatts of thermal power. It is repeatedly pointed out that this reactor is incapable of providing a meaningful source of power for energy-starved North Korea. What this oft-repeated claim ignores is what the North Koreans say they intend. According to Ri Je-Son, Director General of the [North Korean] General Department of Atomic Energy Agency, North Korea "will resume once suspended construction of the atomic energy power plants and will embark on preparation to operate the radiochemical laboratory as a preparatory step to secure safe storage of large quantities of spent-fuel rods that would come out once these power plants are in operation. It is for this sake that we will soon be prepared for the operation of the radiochemical laboratory." (60) At Yongbyon, North Korea is primarily interested in resuming operation of the radiochemical laboratory and storage facility for fuel rods, in preparation for completion of construction projects at unfinished nuclear plants. In addition to the 5-MW reactor, there is also a 50-MW reactor at Yongbyon, which will require at least one year for construction to be completed. In addition, North Korea plans to resume construction of its 200-MW reactor at Taechon, capable of generating 800-MW of thermal power. That project is estimated to take two years to finish. There is no immediate relief for North Korea’s energy deficit, but it is hoped that completion of the two reactors will help boost the energy supply in the relatively near future.

Another dubious claim is that North Korea stands poised to develop nuclear weapons. Several South Korean officials point out that the removal of seals from the Yongbyon facilities does not necessarily indicate that North Korea will reprocess stored fuel and that it is uncertain whether the rods are even capable of being reprocessed into weapons-grade material. South Korean nuclear experts also say that even if North Korea resumes operations at its 5-MW reactor in Yongbyon, it would be over a year before waste fuel rods could be extracted. The reactor would have to run at full power 75 percent of the time for four years in order to produce enough plutonium for a single nuclear weapon. (61) Furthermore, once the Yongbyon facility eventually produces a sufficient quantity of plutonium, North Korea would be incapable of converting it to military purposes. That process, pointed out a spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Nuclear Energy, requires "large production facilities which the country lacks." (62) Russian nuclear safety analyst Sergei Kazenov reported that "converting peaceful atoms to military use is a special problem" and that "North Korea lacks the necessary components, including the detonating systems and some others." Aleksandr Rumyantsev, Russia’s Minister of Atomic Energy, concurred. "The industrial creation of military nuclear materials is a complicated process and North Korea so far cannot afford it." Furthermore, he added, North Korea is "industrially underdeveloped." (63) The world public is being fed a lie by U.S. officials, who aim to keep North Korea’s economy hobbled by sanctions and deny it the right to develop energy sources, and hope thereby to bring about the collapse of North Korea.

As was its right under Article X, on January 10, 2003, North Korea gave notice that it would withdraw from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The move was prompted by IAEA resolutions singling out North Korea for condemnation while ignoring the role played by the U.S. in the making of the crisis. It was felt also that the IAEA had consistently been acting as a tool for carrying out U.S. policy, and in fact, the organization’s actions and statements matched precisely U.S. recommendations. Not long after the announcement, North Korean delegate Kim Ryong-Song reassured South Korean officials at high-level talks in Seoul. "Although we have withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," he said, "we have no intention of producing nuclear weapons at this stage," and his nation’s nuclear efforts would be confined to "peaceful purposes." (64)

The U.S. approached countries in the region and urged them to sever or reduce economic relations with North Korea. In a policy they called "tailored containment," U.S. officials hoped to pressure other nations into imposing an economic blockade. "It is a lot about putting political stress and economic stress," said one American official. (65) The North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs again urged the U.S. to engage in dialogue. "It is quite self-evident that dialogue is impossible without sitting face to face and a peaceful settlement of the issue would be unthinkable without dialogue." (66) While North Korea called for bilateral negotiations with the U.S., the Bush Administration firmly hewed to the line that it would only accept a multilateral format and that North Korea must first eliminate its non-existent nuclear weapons program before talks could be initiated. When it was reported to President Bush that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had suggested before Congress that direct negotiations may need to be considered, Bush’s reaction was said to be "off-the-wall angry." A meeting was hastily arranged where administration officials were instructed by the president that any public mention of direct discussion with North Korea was forbidden. (67) The Bush Administration envisioned a multilateral format as a way of isolating North Korea, or as National Security advisor Condoleezza Rice put it, to "bring maximum pressure," so that "the North Koreans know that there is no way out." (68) Despite persistent efforts, American officials failed to find other nations willing to back their belligerent approach. The U.S. brought the issue before the UN Security Council on April 9, 2003 expecting it to issue a statement which would lead to the imposition of sanctions against North Korea. American attempts to inflame the situation met with rejection by China and Russia, which maintained that the issue could only be solved through political dialogue. (69) The U.S. considered this only a temporary setback though, and in June it drafted a statement condemning North Korea and pressed for its acceptance by the UN Security Council. As before, Russia and China preferred diplomacy to the language of threats. (70)

On March 2, 2003, a U.S. RC-135 electronic spy plane flying off the coast of North Korea was confronted by four North Korean MiGs, forcing it to terminate its mission and turn back. According to U.S. officials, the plane had been flying in international waters, 150 miles off the coast, but it seems unlikely given North Korea’s fuel shortage that it would send four jets on such a long flight. For that matter, several U.S. spy flights took place directly over North Korean territory, so it seems dubious that such flights would be ignored while a spy plane flying over international waters would be tailed. (71) It is possible that the Bush Administration may have been hoping to provoke an incident in order to provide a pretext for the imposition of UN sanctions. The month before the incident, Rumsfeld ordered 12 B-52 bombers and 12 B-1 bombers to Guam, within striking range of North Korea. (72) Throughout the month of February, U.S. spy planes conducted a total of 180 flights in the region. According to North Korea, from February 21 through the end of the month, an RC-135 plane flew over territorial waters between the Musudan and Hodo peninsulas, and on February 26, an EP-3 electronic spy plane flew directly over North Korea. The following day, a U-2 plane approached within 30 kilometers of North Korean territory. (73) Immediately after the incident, President Bush announced that if diplomatic efforts to isolate and pressure North Korea failed, then "they’ll have to work militarily." (74) Despite a one week pause after the confrontation, the number of espionage flights actually increased in March, for a total of 222. Once again, North Korean airspace was repeatedly violated by the spy planes, including multiple flights over North Korean islands on March 11 and 13 and again on March 24 and 27 and yet again on the 28th. (75) It appeared that the U.S. was attempting to force a response.

As with Iraq long before the U.S. finally launched its invasion, conflicting messages emerged from the White House regarding military action, but it should be remembered that in the end it is the military option that generally prevails. As long as the Bush Administration continues to reject diplomacy, the danger of war remains high. One Asian expert recently said that not one of the senior U.S. officials he met with would rule out military action against North Korea. (76) Richard Perle of the Pentagon Defense Policy Board advisory panel claims that "the danger to be brought upon us by North Korea’s nuclear development is so great that it will result in a quarantine of unprecedented comprehensiveness," and that the military option "should not be eliminated in dealing with North Korea." (77) The first open indication that military force was contemplated occurred on December 23, 2002, when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared in answer to a question about North Korea, "We are capable of fighting two major regional conflicts. We’re capable of winning decisively in one and swiftly in the case of the other. And let there be no doubt about it." (78) President Bush himself hinted that the U.S. might consider "nondiplomatic" actions against North Korea (79). On March 26, 2003, former Senator George McGovern warned that after finishing off Iraq, the Bush Administration intended to invade North Korea and Iran. "Even now, these wars are being planned by the current administration. I’m positive, based on conversations with people close to the White House, that plans are in place for the next invasions." (80) According to an American intelligence official who was involved in high-level meetings at the White House, public utterances by the Bush Administration about seeking a diplomatic solution should not be taken too seriously. Behind the scenes a quite different picture is unfolding. Referring to North Korean President Kim Jong-Il, the intelligence official said, "Bush and Cheney want that guy’s head on a platter. Don’t be distracted by all this talk about negotiations. There will be negotiations, but they have a plan, and they are going to get this guy after Iraq." (81)

Russia reacted with dismay at Washington’s reckless posturing. Deputy Foreign Minister Georgi Mamedov said, "The expression ‘axis of evil’ is very unfortunate, even inflammatory… Imagine what it’s like for a small state to be told that it’s virtually part of the biblical forces of evil, which are to be fought to the point of total destruction. The countries included in the ‘axis of evil’ are unlikely to remain passive." Mamedov rejected the U.S. approach. "Using North Korea’s difficult economic situation to blackmail it is counterproductive and dangerous." (82) Another Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Alexander Losyukov agreed, stating, "You cannot achieve anything through accusations, pressure or tight demands, not to mention threats. That will only make it worse." (83)

Avoiding Diplomacy

Given the intransigence of the Bush Administration, North Korea sought to breach the impasse with a new offer. A spokesman for the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on April 12, 2003, "If the U.S. is ready to make a bold switchover in its Korea policy for a settlement of the nuclear issue, the DPRK will not stick to any particular dialogue format. The solution to the issue depends on what is the real intention of the U.S." (84) This concession enabled Chinese diplomats to persuade the Bush Administration to agree to meet North Korean negotiators for trilateral talks in Beijing. It was hoped that the meeting would lead to a series of negotiations. Such hopes proved illusive, however, as the Bush Administration viewed the talks as an opportunity to close the door on any possibility of a negotiated settlement. Months before the April meeting, an Administration official said that the U.S. would "draw a line in the sand, which means we’ll talk, but the conversation will consist of us screaming at them to dismantle" nuclear programs. (85)

The meeting opened on April 23, 2003 in the shadow of Washington’s invasion of Iraq. Members of the American delegation were instructed beforehand not to negotiate. (86) James Kelly led the American delegation, and his orders were not to respond to the presentation given by Ri Gun, the head of the North Korean delegation, nor to engage in discussion with him. (87)

On the first day of talks, all three delegations presented their positions. China expressed its desire for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and encouraged both parties to negotiate their differences. North Korea proposed a three-stage plan for resolving the conflict. In the first phase, it was suggested that the U.S. would resume shipments of heavy fuel oil to North Korea and that there be no further delays in the construction of the light water reactors. According to minutes taken at the meeting, North Korea would "announce its intention to abandon its nuclear development program." In the second stage, North Korea would freeze activity at its nuclear facilities and allow the return of inspectors. In exchange, the United States would sign a non-aggression treaty with the DPRK and compensate it for delays in the construction of the light-water reactors. The final step would establish full diplomatic relations between the two nations, an end to sanctions and the removal of North Korea from the U.S. State Department’s list of states designated as sponsors of terrorism. The U.S. would also pledge to North Korea that economic assistance would be provided by South Korea and Japan or through international lending institutions. North Korea promised to cease all nuclear programs in this stage, abandon its nuclear facilities, terminate its test missile launches and halt the export of missiles. According to a diplomatic source, "They were serious about pursuing negotiations, although the dialogue was arranged after a long cooling-off period." (88)

For the U.S. delegation, the proposal was a non-starter. Although the proposal was viewed as overly advantageous for North Korea, given an open attitude by the Bush Administration, it could have provided a basis for discussion and negotiation. "The U.S. side delivered its position that the ongoing talks are not for negotiations," a diplomatic source revealed. "The North Korean side refrained from strongly reacting to the U.S. position." (89) Kelly strongly urged North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program in a verifiable manner that included inspections as a prerequisite for negotiations. Ri Gun responded that North Korea would accept such an arrangement if the U.S. would commit to a non-aggression agreement. Kelly then lectured the North Korean delegation in a demeaning manner, accusing its nation of human rights abuses. The U.S. delegation did not respond to the proposal put forth by the North Koreans, nor did it offer an opening for discussion. (90)

At the end of the day, China announced that the meeting had been an encouraging beginning. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration was loudly proclaiming a very different message. U.S. officials claimed that during a break in the proceedings, while delegation members were chatting in the hallway, Ri Gun approached Kelly and pulled him aside for a private talk. According to one version of the story, Ri confessed that North Korea possessed nuclear weapons, adding, "We can’t dismantle them. It’s up to you whether we do a physical demonstration or transfer of them." In the second version of the story, after Ri’s confession, he says, "Now what are you going to do about it?" (91)

Predictably, the story was uncritically trumpeted by every Western media outlet. U.S. officials self-righteously spoke of North Korean blackmail and threats. Chinese officials were dismayed when Kelly flatly refused to continue direct talks. Instead, on the second day the two sides met separately with the Chinese delegation, and on the final day separate wrap-up discussions followed by a brief closing meeting brought the proceedings to an abrupt and early end. Chinese officials urged Kelly to meet Ri and continue discussions, but this request was promptly nixed by National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. (92)

Although it is not precisely clear what took place in that hallway, there is ample cause for skepticism. It is difficult to believe that Ri would seek out the most hostile member of the American delegation, the very same individual who six months before had deliberately derailed the October meeting, and then announce that North Korea had nuclear weapons. Such a pronouncement would be a gift to the Bush Administration, which had made it clear that it sought regime change in the DPRK. Furthermore, it strains credulity to imagine that Ri would challenge the U.S. to do something about that, in effect, daring the U.S. to impose sanctions or bomb. Is it credible that North Korea would negotiate seriously throughout the day and then throw everything out the window with reckless comments made during a break? Liu Jianchao, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said afterwards, "According to my knowledge, the DPRK has not made such a statement." (93) How convenient that unlike the October meeting, when such claims could be easily refuted, this time the incident was said to have occurred during a break, out of earshot of witnesses. Yet, there were two witnesses who did hear the conversation and they both denied that Ri made any of the comments that were attributed to him by the American side. According to both witnesses, Ri said that North Korea might react to any provocative U.S. measures by "taking physical actions," a vague enough comment that Kelly was only too happy to willfully misinterpret or twist. Higher-ranking North Korean officials later confirmed that Ri never said his nation possessed nuclear weapons. (94)

Oddly, the DPRK remained publicly mum on the issue. Apparently North Korean officials were uncertain as to how to respond. The Bush Administration clearly used the fabricated story as a pretext for taking a harder line. On the other hand, the invasion and occupation of Iraq was fresh on everyone’s minds, and some officials may have felt that it was preferable that the U.S. remained unsure as to whether or not North Korea possessed a nuclear deterrent. In the month following the conclusion of talks, the only public reference was an April 30 report by KCNA, the North Korean news agency, in which it said the U.S. asserted that the DPRK had "made a bomb-like statement at the talks." Such a claim was "illogical" and "cannot be construed otherwise than as a mean trick to justify" the Bush Administration’s efforts "to prevent talks from making progress and slander the DPRK which has approached the talks from a sincere stand and attitude." (95)

Russian specialists once again felt compelled to point out the obvious; that North Korea was incapable of developing an arsenal of nuclear weapons. Evgenity Kozhokin, Director of the Institute for Strategic Studies, remarked, "The DPRK’s present technical prowess and economic strength are not yet up to the level of developing nuclear weapons. First, it lacks qualified personnel in nuclear physics. Second, it does not have supercomputers for designing tests. Third, it will be very difficult to master nuclear explosion technology without any nuclear tests. In the past dozen years or so, the United States has all the while been monitoring the DPRK’s nuclear science research programs through various means of espionage and up until now, there has been little evidence to show that the DPRK has achieved progress in the area of nuclear weapon development." (96) This analysis was confirmed by Vladimir Belous of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences. "It is impossible to make nuclear arms or vehicles of their delivery without field testing. In the meantime seismic equipment and space monitoring means have registered no such tests in North Korea. Creation of nuclear arms in stealth is impossible." Belous concluded that "North Korea’s economic, technical and research potential will not let it acquire nuclear capability in the foreseeable future." (97)

Immediately following the aborted April meeting, the Bush Administration set about formulating a plan to impose a selective naval blockade against North Korea. Tagged "Cuba Lite," in a reference to the 1963 blockade against Cuba, the plan fell short of a total blockade, which would be an act of war under international law. A high-ranking Pentagon official explained that ships ostensibly suspected of carrying nuclear materials would be routinely interdicted and seized. Ships hauling missiles may also be targeted under the plan. "It is a kind of Cuba Lite strategy," he said. "It wouldn’t be a total blockade. International shipping would not necessarily be blocked from going in to North Korea, but the passage of North Korean shipping would be contingent on what we knew was being carried. We have the ability to track anything going in or out of North Korean waters." Pentagon officials also prepared a plan to bomb the nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, although such an action would initially take a back seat to non-military means efforts at bringing down the government of North Korea. As one official in the Bush Administration put it, "We’ve got a decision and we’re going to do it." (98) At a June meeting held in Madrid, the U.S. met with officials from ten other nations who agreed to participate in a plan to interdict and seize North Korean ships whenever requested to do so by the U.S. The intent would be to smother North Korea’s trade in missiles and dry up an important source of foreign currency. (99)

South Korean National Security Advisor Ra Jong-Yil visited Washington soon after the April meeting, hoping to encourage a resumption of dialogue. According to a South Korean official, Ra "asked four key U.S. Administration officials to resume talks as soon as possible…but they said they are still at the stage of inter-agency consultations and an outcome is not likely to be seen any time soon." Eager to see the process back on track, South Korean officials asked the U.S. "through various channels" to resume negotiations," but their requests were repeatedly rebuffed. (100) President Roh visited the U.S. in May 2003 and held talks with President Bush and other officials. Responding to pressure from South Korean business interests, who were fearful that an anti-U.S. position would drive away Western investors, Roh had steadily moderated his position since his inauguration. Furthermore, Moody’s attempt to lower the credit rating of South Korea in response to an independent foreign policy threatened to wreak economic havoc. Roh agreed to Washington’s request to send construction and medical detachments in support of the invasion of Iraq, most likely based on the premise that by doing so he would help build good will with the Bush Administration which he could draw upon later when dealing with North Korea. During his visit to the U.S., Roh exhibited an overly conciliatory position towards the Bush Administration, adopting some of its rhetoric and positions. North Korea miscalculated and chose the moment of Roh’s visit to stir the pot by withdrawing from the 1992 pact with South Korea that pledged a nuclear-free peninsula. This action only drove Roh closer to the U.S. position. Roh avoided discussing with U.S. officials such potentially contentious issues as sanctions, blockades and military strikes, focusing on establishing good terms. Although it remains to be seen whether or not the Bush Administration will respond by considering South Korean concerns before mounting more aggressive actions, there seems little prospect for that. Following talks at the White House, Presidents Bush and Roh issued a joint statement declaring "their strong commitment to work for the complete, verifiable and irreversible elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program through peaceful means based on international cooperation." While this statement appeared to reflect Roh’s desire for a peaceful resolution, the joint statement also included a phrase that adhered to the position of the Bush Administration. It was also noted "that increased threats to peace and stability on the peninsula would require consideration of further steps." (101)

There were indications earlier on the day of the meeting that the Bush Administration’s commitment to a peaceful solution was not a given. "The President never takes his options off the table in any circumstances," warned Condoleeza Rice. "No one should be willing to give in to the kind of blackmail that the North Koreans have been practicing on the world for a number of years now. Especially not the United States." (102) Such comments could only be viewed in an ironic light by nations such as North Korea and others that are the routine object of U.S. threats and demands.

At best, U.S. diplomatic efforts could be termed desultory or disinterested, in stark contrast to determined adverse economic measures and military preparations. At a two-day meeting between U.S. and South Korean military officials, it was decided that American forces based at the demilitarized zone and most of those based in Seoul would be re-stationed farther south. "The essence of what we’re trying to do is to make sure that the forces we have here on the peninsula can respond quickly and immediately," Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz announced afterwards. The re-deployment is in line with newly developed plans for war in Korea, which call for U.S. and South Korean forces to circumvent the demilitarized zone and strike directly at Pyongyang. "This is Kim Jong-Il’s worst nightmare," commented one American official. According to the plan, in the first hour of a war, U.S. forces would also begin to "take down" North Korean frontline forces. (103) In order to effectively carry out such a plan, it was first necessary to identify the location of underground military facilities in North Korea. From late 2002 through early 2003, a U.S. Defense Department team stationed in South Korea and Japan conducted a geological survey of North Korea, ostensibly to investigate "mineral resources." However, it is more plausible that the Defense Department was engaged in mapping the extensive underground military installations in North Korea in support of military planning rather than in determining what mineral resources North Korea might possess. (104) In testimony before the House Committee on International Relations on June 4, 2003, Under Secretary of State John Bolton said that the Bush Administration aimed "ultimately not just to prevent the spread of WMD [weapons of mass destruction], but also to eliminate or "roll back" such weapons." Bolton declared that "the United States and its allies must be willing to deploy more robust techniques, such as economic sanctions; interdiction and seizure… and as the case of Iraq demonstrates, preemptive military force where required. The pursuit of WMD and ballistic missile delivery systems cannot be cost free." Bolton then warned, "In short, if the language of persuasion fails, these states must see and feel the logic of adverse consequences. Moreover, the logic of adverse consequences must fall not only on the states aspiring to possess these weapons, but on the states supplying them as well." (105)

The U.S. was intent upon pursuing every avenue to strangle North Korea and topple its government. It clearly harbored no interest in diplomacy, preferring instead to apply pressure and threats. Even international law was no impediment, as had been demonstrated by the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Disturbingly, the Bush Administration’s public accusations of a North Korean nuclear weapons program mirrored its claims that Iraq still possessed biological and chemical weapons long after it had disposed of them. Such accusations appeared a prelude to war. Lacking an ongoing diplomatic process, North Korea feared that without a different approach it would meet the same fate as Iraq. Given such considerations, North Korea decided to instill a measure of uncertainty in U.S. leaders. A U.S. Congressional delegation visiting the DPRK in early June claimed that North Korean officials told them that they had nuclear weapons, intended to build more, and had nearly completing reprocessing 8,000 nuclear fuel rods at Yongbyon. Rep. Curt Weldon, who led the delegation, said that the position taken by North Korean officials was that "the only option open to them, given their inclusion in the ‘Axis of Evil’ and U.S. refusal to engage in bilateral discussions ‘is to strengthen and possess deterrent capability and we are putting that into action…" A North Korean official pointed out, "We are not blackmailing or intimidating the U.S. side. We are not in a position to blackmail the U.S. – the only superpower. Our purpose in having a deterrent is related to the war in Iraq. This is also related to statements by the hawks within the U.S. Administration. Our lesson learned is that if we don’t have nuclear deterrent, we cannot defend ourselves." Weldon said his delegation was also told that the nuclear program was "only for deterrence and not being pursued to seek economic aid – that ‘we only wish to be left alone.’" (106)

On June 9, 2003, North Korea went public for the first time with this new approach. A report by the North Korean news agency declared that "if the U.S. keeps threatening the DPRK with nukes instead of abandoning its hostile policy toward Pyongyang, the DPRK will have no option but to build up a nuclear deterrent force." Nine days later, a spokesman for the DPRK Foreign Ministry announced that his country "will put further spurs to increasing its nuclear deterrent force for self-defense." (107)

Assuming that Rep. Weldon accurately portrayed what his delegation was told, then it appears that North Korea was engaging in a grand bluff. Not only did North Korea lack the capability of completing the development of nuclear weapons, but the evidence indicated that it had not reprocessed the 8,000 nuclear fuel rods in Yongbyon either. On April 30, 2003, U.S. satellite photographs revealed smoke emanating from the radiochemical laboratory at Yongbyon. However, neither of the two major indications of reprocessing activities was seen. No emission of krypton was detected, nor were thermal emissions. South Korean officials noted that smoke from the facility therefore appeared to be "more like a threatening maneuver by Pyongyang than a genuine start of reprocessing fuel rods." (108) "The possibility of North Korea’s possession of nuclear arms has been stated on many occasions by U.S. intelligence authorities," said South Korean President Roh in June 2003. "But the Korean intelligence organization has no compelling evidence to prove these claims." (109) The status of a nuclear program in North Korea is uncertain. North Korea’s public utterances in June 2003 suggest the possibility of a research program and that a decision was made to accelerate the pace of a nascent weapons program in response to its vulnerability to military attack. However, such a program would hold little prospect of success, let alone within the time frame needed to deter an attack by the U.S. It is questionable whether a nuclear weapons program even exists, and the scale of any effort is clearly exaggerated. North Korean leaders noted that Iraq’s compliance with weapons inspections failed to check U.S. belligerence, nor did its protestations of having disposed of its biological and chemical weapons forestall invasion. No level of cooperation or diplomacy would dissuade the Bush Administration from resorting to violence. North Korea played the only hand it felt it had, hoping to instill doubt in U.S. leaders about the extent of its ability to defend itself. This bluff was an act of desperation by an impoverished nation in response to threats by a hostile super-power. It may also have been a miscalculation, handing the Bush Administration a pretext for turning the screws tighter on North Korea.

The U.S. will never honor the terms of the Agreed Framework, regardless of what approach North Korea takes. The best option for North Korea is to avoid inflaming the situation and rely on the desire of South Korea, China and Russia for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Without obstruction by the U.S., an alternative plan for providing energy assistance under South Korean aegis may be feasible, involving support from Russia and China. Nor does the U.S. have an interest in a diplomatic settlement. As long as the U.S. opposes a solution, only Koreans can reach an accord. Koreans have already demonstrated that no difficulties are insurmountable when there is good will and sincerity. Substantial progress between the two Koreas has already taken place, as they have successfully worked together to re-link roads and railways, despite U.S. interference in the demining process. Construction of a gigantic industrial complex for South Korean firms in the North Korean province of Kaesong, 45 miles north of Seoul has been launched. Regardless of how the U.S.-North Korea dispute is resolved, it is the Korean people who will be affected, and it is the Korean people who should be at the center of finding a solution. Only the Korean people can stop the Bush Administration from unleashing another war in Korea. Jeon Hyun-Joon of the Korean Institute of National Unification expressed the sentiments of many in South Korea when he said, "Both North Korea and the United States are playing a hard game of tug-of-war practically calling for an appropriate third party to mediate the struggle. Who can better play that part than South Korea?" (110)


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  36. http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap020810.html http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/image/0208/earthlights02_dmsp_big.jpg http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/image/9907/asia_dmsp_big.gif
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  104. "U.S. Researching N. Korea’s Geological Structure," Japan Today, May 21, 2003.
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