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North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program

North Korea has been in the forefront of the news as of late due in part to their Nuclear Weapons program. Their efforts to develop nuclear weapons has been an ongoing concern worldwide for some time now and tensions increased internationally after they conducted multiple tests in the recent years. What is North Korea’s real intentions in regard to their nuclear weapons program? In order for us to better understand North Korea’s intentions, it is important to take a look at the timeline of their nuclear weapons programs progression and the negotiations known as the six party talks; from this one can see that their intentions are based off of their financial hardships and famine.

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North Korea’s attempt toward the acquisition of nuclear technology dates back as early as 1959. It was at this time that they signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with the Soviet Union. This agreement was aimed at the development of nuclear energy technology and by 1983 the North Korean nuclear weapons program had been started (Ahn Web). In 1968, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NTP) was drafted by the USSR and the United States and submitted for United Nations members to sign (Clemens Jr. Web). During the late 1980’s North Korea had developed a state of economic decline. This was due in part to the Soviet Union’s economic and political changes, in which they had stopped providing financial aid to North Korea (Ahn Web). Do to this economic hardship North Korea decided to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1985 (North Korea Nuclear Timeline Web). However, between 1989 and 1991, it had become suspect that North Korea had been pursuing nuclear activities by extracting plutonium from its research reactor at Yongbyon. These suspected activities led to the first North Korean nuclear crisis which lasted from 1993–1994” (Ahn Web). The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was sent in to investigate what was believed to be unregistered nuclear waste dumping facilities, but North Korea was not cooperative with that request. However, when the West agreed to assist North Korea through economic aid and the lifting of economic sanctions it seemed that the crisis had come to an end (Ahn Web). Just another example of how North Korea intentions stem around the economic hardships that the country faces. In 1994, North Korea and the United States had come to an agreement that North Korea would freeze and eventually dismantle its old nuclear reactors. In exchange, they would be provided international aid to build two new light-water nuclear reactors (North Korea Nuclear Timeline Web). North Korea was in dire need of the extensive economic aid that the West would provide. During the 1990’s North Korea’s economic recession continued its downward spiral. By May of 1994, famine had become wide spread throughout the country. Many believed that the nuclear program was a tool used by North Korea’s leader to divert the public’s focus away from the economic problems and famine and refocus it on the United States and the IAEA (Ahn Web). This way the North Korean leader could point the blame for the hardships of the people toward one enemy and away from himself.

In January of 2003, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) (North Korea Nuclear Timeline Web). This withdrawal is what lead to negotiations that are known as the Six Party Talk. These talks involved six states, the United States, North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia. The purpose of these talks was to try to persuade North Korea to dismantle its nuclear capabilities. It was believed that with the right amount of pressure and incentives that North Korea would cease their nuclear proliferation endeavors and be convinced to dismantle its nuclear capabilities (Habib Web).  North Korea was continuing to have economic issues and their primary intent seemed to steam around the need for economic aid. These negotiations would take place from 2003 until 2009 and were comprised of six rounds of talks. In the first round of talks which occurred in August 2003, North Korea called for normalization of relations. They wanted a non-aggression pact from the United States otherwise they would not dismantle their nuclear program. However, the United States declined this request (Liang Web). When the second rounds of talks began in February 2004, they appeared to be off to a good start. North Korea put a deal on the tale to destroy its nuclear weapons program if they could continue to develop peaceful nuclear energy programs. This was an agreeable compromise for China and Russia. However, the United States, Japan, and South Korea were not in agreement. They did not want North Korea to have access to nuclear capabilities (Liang Web). Looking back on North Korea’s past it is understandable that this would be a concern, because they have not kept deals that they had made in the past. For instance, when they had signed the nonproliferation treaty then secretly continued to pursue nuclear weapons development. In the third round of talks, in June of 2004, the United States stepped up with a proposal. In this proposal, they called for North Korea’s to dismantle its nuclear program. It stated that North Korea would be given a three month period to prepare to freeze its program, after which they would be required to provide record of activities proving that activities had stopped and that the program had been dismantled (Liang Web). This proposal did not go anywhere.

The fourth round of talks did not get off to a good start. The United States Presidential election put negotiations on hold for a while followed by North Korea declared that they were now in possession of nuclear weapons. North Korea then declared that they were no longer interested in continuing the six party talks. But, they would eventually be convinced to return to negotiations when the US agreed to recognized them as a sovereign state. The turning point for North Korea to rejoin the talks would be when the US stated that they did not have any intentions of invading North Korea (Liang Web). On September 19, 2005, there appeared to be headway on the negotiations front with North Korea’s agreement to abandon their quest for nuclear weapons program and allow the IAEA back in for inspections in exchange for the normalization of relations with the US and Japan as well as economic aid (Bajoria Web). Again, we see that economic aid has made its appearance once again. However, North Korea wanted to continue their nuclear energy program. They agreed to rejoin the NPT, as well as to allow inspections from the IAEA (Liang Web).

By the time the fifth rounds of talks began, in November of 2005, tensions were high and the climate of negotiations had deteriorated. The US had placed sanctions against North Korea and the froze the assets the state held in the Banco Delta Asia of Macau (Liang Web). North Korea had again boycotted the six party talks. They decided to do a show of power in an attempt to send a to the US to unfreeze North Korea’s assets. This is when North Korea begun to conducting missile and nuclear testing (Habib Web). The United Nation passed resolution 1718 in October of 2006 on North Korea calling for an immediate stop to their testing and the nuclear program to be abandoned. They urged North Korea to return to the six party talks. Talks resumed in February 2007 and there appeared to be an agreement amongst the six parties. North Korea would dismantle its nuclear program and the Us and Japan would to work toward normalization with North Korea. The agreement included the that all parties would work toward providing north Korea with the acquisition of heavy fuel (Liang Web).

The sixth round of talks did not start off well. The US had not released the funds in the Banco Delta Asia of Macau and the North Korean delegate walked out of negotiations. Although talks would continue in September and October of 2007 after the IAEA confirmed that the nuclear facility at Yongbyon and the parties continued their talks about supplying heavy oil (Liang Web). Just as talks were looking like there was progress they began to falter yet again. North Korea was not happy with samples being collected at their Yongbyon facility and claimed that no such agreement had been made. In April 2009, North Korea test launched a modified Taepo Dong-2 three-stage rocket. An obvious disregard to the agreements made in other rounds of talks. On April 14th 2009, North Korea announced that they would no longer be part of the six party talks and that any agreement that had been made in previous talks were null and void. Many have called for the talks to continue, but to no avail (Liang Web). There seems to be a stalemate at this time. We can see that North Korea has no intentions to dismantle their Nuclear weapons program any time soon. For them it is their bargaining chip. The use of fear of attack as a means of getting what they want, what they need.

It is apparent that North Korea has been in search of Nuclear technology for many years. Their motives behind this search come to light when one takes a look at the history behind it. A deeper look into time line of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the event that occurred during the six party talks, shows that North Korea’s declining economic situation has been a key player in their quest for nuclear weapons capabilities. There desperate need for economic aid has led them toward a road where they believe the fear of a nuclear attack is the only way for them to obtain the much needed assistance that they need.

Works Cited

Ahn, Mun Suk. “What Is the Root Cause of the North Korean Nuclear Program?.” Asian Affairs: An American Review, vol. 38, no. 4, Oct. 2011, pp. 175-187. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00927678.2011.604287.

Bajoria, Jayshree, and Beina Xu. “The Six Party Talks on North Korea’s Nuclear Program.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, 30 Sept. 2013, www.cfr.org/backgrounder/six-party-talks-north-koreas-nuclear-program.

Habib, Benjamin. “North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Programme and the Maintenance of the Songun System.” Pacific Review, vol. 24, no. 1, Mar. 2011, pp. 43-64. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/09512748.2011.554992.

Clemens Jr., Walter C. “North Korea’s Quest for Nuclear Weapons: New Historical Evidence.” Journal of East Asian Studies, vol. 10, no. 1, Jan-Apr2010, pp. 127-154. EBSCOhost, ccco.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=48647386&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

“North Korea Nuclear Timeline Fast Facts.” CNN, Cable News Network, 4 Sept. 2017, www.cnn.com/2013/10/29/world/asia/north-korea-nuclear-timeline—fast-facts/index.html.

Liang, Xiaodon. “Fact Sheets & Briefs.” The Six-Party Talks at a Glance, Arms Control Association, 18 July 2017, www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/6partytalks.

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