NORTH KOREAN TIMELINE….I’ve been struggling

NORTH KOREAN TIMELINE….I’ve been struggling to figure out the basic timeline for the whole North Korean mess. No conclusions or policy recommendations, just the basic facts, and I think I have it:

  • 1994: North Korea is about to start production of plutonium. The result is a treaty that shuts down their plutonium reactor in exchange for a light water reactor provided by the U.S., plus some interim shipments of food and oil.

  • 1998: North Korea purchases uranium enrichment technology from Pakistan.

  • October 2002: The U.S. presses North Korea about its uranium program, and Korea presses back by revealing that back in 1994 it already had enough plutonium for two bombs. We just didn’t know it (and they didn’t tell us).

  • December 2002: North Korea throws out the IAEA inspectors and restarts their plutonium reactor. However, they are still years away from successfully enriching uranium.

The reason I’m curious about this is that I’m trying to figure out whether or not North Korea actually broke their treaty with us. The relevant document is the 1994 Agreed Framework, which has specific language about shutting down the plutonium reactors but only very general language about “denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula: both parties will “take steps,” they will “work together,” and they will “create an atmosphere.” In other words, nothing.

Then there’s the non-nuclear part of the agreement:

II. The two sides will move toward full normalization of political and economic relations.

1) Within three months of the date of this Document, both sides will reduce barriers to trade and investment, including restrictions on telecommunications services and financial transactions.

2) Each side will open a liaison office in the other’s capital following resolution of consular and other technical issues through expert level discussions.

3) As progress is made on issues of concern to each side, the U.S. and DPRK will upgrade bilateral relations to the Ambassadorial level.

In the end, none of this stuff happened. Both sides blame the other.

So what’s the deal here? I’m no more eager for the North Koreans to have nuclear bombs than anyone, which is why I favor negotiation with them. Overall, I think the chance of negotiating away their nuclear capability is worth the risk of setting a bad example.

But my real question is this: do we have a leg to stand on when we claim that they “violated our trust”? This is a rather nebulous charge, after all, and a more pointed question is whether the North Koreans actually broke any treaties with us prior to the U.S. visit in October. A “plain text” reading of the Agreed Framework suggests that they didn’t.

I’m open to comments about this.

UPDATE: Sebastian Holsclaw writes that by building nuclear bombs the North Koreans violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty (which was also mentioned in the Agreed Framework). Thus, they have violated their treaty agreements with us.

On another subject, Kevin Batcho points me to a post on his blog Beyond the Wasteland where he quotes a report showing that the original plutonium production was done between 1987-1991. In other words, during the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations. Nothing was done at the time and Clinton inherited the problem in 1994.

More later.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation