North Korea Issue

Nuclear weapons offer us nothing but a balance of terror, and a balance of terror is still terror. George Wald


A high-level South Korean delegation will fly to North Korea this week to discuss arrangements for an inter-Korean summit


  • North Korea was formed in 1948 after the end of the Second World War.
  • It has little communication with the outside world and is still under communist rule.
  • The state controls the flow of information inside and with the outside world.
  • North Korea was part of the NPT, but after President Bush designated it as a “rogue state” it pulled out of the treaty and intensified its nuclear programme.

Nuclear tests carried out by North Korea:

  • North Korea is developing nuclear weapons as a defense against countries like USA which according to North Korea is attempting a regime change. This fear is founded in the assassination of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi after he gave up his nuclear programme.
  • Around late 1970s, North Korea started its missile development programme using Scud-B from the Soviet Union and a Launchpad from Egypt.
  • Over the years it test fired short range, medium range and intercontinental ballistic missile like Hwasong 12, Musudan, Hwasong 14 and Hwasong 15.
  • Experts believe that North Korea is now close to developing the capability to target U.S.
  • It is believed that North Korea also tested a Hydrogen bomb. In response to this, US, UN and EU imposed sanctions.

Present Stand of North Korea:

  • Kim Jong-un has declared a “Byungjin policy” whose objective is to simultaneously pursue a powerful nuclear deterrent and economic growth.
  • North Korea said that it no longer needed to test nuclear bombs or intercontinental ballistic missiles as it has developed nuclear deterrent capability.
  • Instead it would focus on economic development and peace.

Earlier initiatives:

  • 1994 Agreed Framework: Was made after North Korea threatened to withdraw from Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. This was negated by the Bush Administration in 2002 after it designated North Korea as an “axis of evil” and a rogue state.
  • Six Party Talks: Started in 2004. A joint statement was agreed upon in 2005. North Korea had agreed to denuclearize provided there were security guarantees. The talks collapsed when US imposed new sanctions. It was only after this that North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006.


Changed circumstance which might lead to the successful denuclearization:

  • North Korea has developed its nuclear capabilities. It now has the capacity to even strike USA.
  • The countries in the immediate neighborhood-South Korea, Japan and China are pressurizing US and other stakeholders to successfully negotiate a deal with North Korea. Last two times there was no such pressure on USA.
  • Weakening hegemony of USA:The prolonged war in Afghanistan, crisis in the Middle Eastetc. shows that unlike earlier, the US is not able to enforce its dictates on the other countries.
  • Rise of China:It is widely believed, that North Korea has been continuing its nuclear programme despite the sanctions imposed by US, UN and EU because of China’s support.

Reactions and expectation of different countries:

  • North Korea:Is looking for regime legitimacy and regime security, removal of sanctions, reduced dependence on China, normal relations with the US and Japan, and financial assistance from them.
  • US:Wants complete, verifiable and irreversible disarmament but North Korea was not willing to this precondition for talks, so US softened its stance and has settled for “credible steps” by North Korea towards denuclearization.
  • China:Wants to make sure that it is at the center stage of the negotiations. China proposed a “freeze for freeze” strategy according to which US should stop military exercises with South Korea in return for North Korea stopping its nuclear and missile testing.

China is also using North Korea as a leverage against increasing US presence in the Pacific Ocean.

  • South Korea:It expects denuclearization of the peninsula, friendly ties with its neighbor and limited American presence for security.
  • Russia: Prevention of a nuclear war.


  • Nuclear Security:There is a possibility that the nuclear weapons developed by North Korea would fall into the hands of terrorists who have no accountability.
  • Increased presence of USA in Southeast Asia:Increased militarization of the region might lead to escalation of conflicts.
  • US pulling out of major commitments including the Iran nuclear deal would reduce the credibility of any future deal with US.
  • The lives of ordinary citizens have been affected due to the sanctions and its negative impact on the economy.
  • Human Rights issue being eclipsed by Korean Issue
  • Major nuclear weapons modernization programme has started in US and Russia.
  • Decreased trust deficit among East Asian Countries.

Recent Developments:

Panmunjom Summit:

  • Confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear free Korean Peninsula.
  • Gives assurance that military action against on the Korean peninsula will not happen anytime soon or ever.
  • Made a commitment to end the conflict between the two countries and resolve their differences through talks in a peaceful manner.
  • Called for future meetings with USA and also China if possible.
  • Agreed on holding “reunion programs” on August 15th, the day they got independence from Japan, to let the families divided by war and the border reunite
  • Both the countries would commit to ending propaganda broadcasts.
  • Would hold regular military meetings.
  • Turn the demilitarized Zone into a “Peace Zone”
  • Steps to increase direct inter-Korean exchanges and dialogues starting right from the lower level politicians to the topmost level.
  • Set up a communications office in Kaesong in North Korea.

Criticism of the Panmunjom declaration

  • The commitment to denuclearization is similar to previous declarations.
  • South Korea has not mentioned how it would fulfil its end of the commitment. It just said it would closely cooperate with the United States and the international community on the issue.
  • No mention of human rights issues
  • No proposals for joint economic projects.


US North Korea Meet in Singapore

  • The 1953 Armistice Agreement should be replaced with a permanent peace treaty for better US-North Korea ties.
  • US has to guarantee security of regime for Kim for smoother ties.
  • Disarmament would take time and commitment.
  • US announced the suspension of joint military exercise with South Korea.
  • North Korea hinted that it would dismantle a major missile engine testing site.


  • No indication of how the denuclearization will be carried out.
  • No deadline for denuclearization
  • No mention of China.
  • No talks of establishing formal diplomatic ties.

Impact on India

  • Once sanctions are removed would be able to conduct business with North Korea.
  • Would remove the threat of nuclear proliferation to India’s hostile neighbors.
  • India has always urged nuclear restraint and universal disarmament.

Way Forward:

  • Priority should be to normalize ties between North Korea and important countries. All other issues would fall in place.
  • More solidarity building measures like the one in Winter Olympics where both the countries appeared under the same flag in the opening ceremony is required.
  • The main reason behind North Korea increasing its nuclear arsenal is the perceived threat of US. A summit should be held among the Pacific nations to determine the role and boundaries of USA in the region.
  • More emphasis should be given to the human rights issues and steps should be taken to alleviate the sufferings of people in North Korea.
  • US must establish beyond doubt that it would not pull out of the deal in the future unless there are very compelling reasons to do so.
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