North Korea and Non-Proliferation: A Conversation with Selig Harrison

 Q:  What has brought about the current crisis with North Korea? SSH: The present crisis was brought on by a combination of factors.

 Q:  What has brought about the current crisis with North Korea?


SSH: The present crisis was brought on by a combination of factors. The first and most important is the fact that North Korea is an orphan of the Cold War.  It lost its Russian and Chinese petroleum subsidies in the early 1990s. That precipitated an economic crisis that is continuing. The second factor is that the Clinton Administration actually did not carry out most of the agreement . . .  So the pressures to return to a nuclear program had become great in the first four years after the Agreed Framework was concluded. Therefore, when Pakistan came along and said, "We can't pay you for missiles in cash, or fertilizer or wheat anymore like we used to, but we'll pay you in uranium technology", the hawks in North Korea persuaded the doves that this was in their national interest.  The third reason we are in the present crisis is that when the Bush Administration took over, they moved to a posture which is incompatible with the provisions of the 1994 Agreement (Article 3, Section 1) where the United States was supposed to provide formal pledges not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against North Korea.  The Nuclear Posture Review, with its specific reference to North Korea, and then the September 20th release of the National Security Strategy, led to a North Korean reaction.


Q: Yet the Nuclear Posture Review and the National Security Strategy are post-2000 developments, but, according to you, they went out and got weapons from Pakistan in 1998.  Doesn't that mean that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) was pretty much dead in the water prior to the arrival of the Bush Administration?


A:  Well, there's a difference between seeking to acquire a nuclear option and actually developing nuclear weapons. That's why I did not say that the Bush Administration's posture was the only reason why this is all happening, but that was what got matters to a head-precipitating the explosion, if you will-because it gave the hawks their final resolution.  

We tend to think of the North Korean regime as monolithic, Kim Il-jong as the all-powerful absolute ruler-though his father was-but he is not. That's really the name of the game: the military took over in a bloodless military coup after the death of Kim Il-sung, and while we can't say that they run everything, it's a very interesting partnership.  They need Kim Il-jong up front because he is the link with the "revered father"-nevertheless, the armed forces are much stronger than they were before in the councils of the Workers' Party.  They really think North Korea should have a nuclear deterrent for their own security, regardless of any agreements.  So I would say that North Korea certainly violated the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and its commitments under Article 3, section 2 of the Agreed Framework by going into this deal with Pakistan. . . . For two years North Korea has been working on its uranium program, but we don't know how far they really are. They need a deal, and I believe that although we won't really know whether they're prepared to liquidate their nuclear program until we've tested them, my own view is that they are ready if we're prepared to pay the right price


Q: This sounds like blackmail.

A:  The concept of blackmail, it seems to me, is inappropriate. Blackmail in the dictionary is extortion by intimidation.  The North Koreans feel that we intimidate them with our large nuclear posture. 

Let's not forget that Jimmy Carter was able to get the North Koreans to blink.  First, they agreed to start the freeze provisionally before there were formal intergovernmental negotiations, and if there wasn't, they would call off the freeze, and when there was a formal agreement, it would become a permanent freeze. Now, that's often forgotten-they blinked first.

Now, I think both sides have to do things that take the gun away from the head of the other, and it has to be done simultaneously, or almost simultaneously, in an orchestrated way. What North Korea has to do is to pledge that it will not reprocess the spent fuel rods at Yongbyon.  Now, we have seen satellite photos of trucks moving away from the reactor-we don't know whether they're carrying fuel rods-but North Korea has to say "we won't reprocess the fuel rods and we will let the IAEA inspectors come back to monitor them." That's all we can ask them to do, realistically. If we get them to do that, it will be a significant thing.  It has to be tied, however, with something else--perhaps a joint declaration by Secretary Powell and Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun of North Korea in which we would make a contingent pledge not to attack North Korea with force of any kind.   I say "contingent" because we can't just give a blanket pledge at a time when their nuclear program has not been destroyed. For the duration of the negotiations with the U.S., they would not reprocess the plutonium and we would be committed not to attack them.  When the dismantling is agreed upon, it takes place with verification.  Then the agreement not to use force would become a permanent, binding commitment-but only when they dismantle to our satisfaction. That joint declaration has to say that we respect North Korea's sovereignty, and that we will not hinder its economic development.  We will come to terms with the fact that this repressive, repugnant regime is there, that the best way to get rid of it is to open it up to the outside world and that in order to do that, we have to deal with the situation that exists now in order move them in that direction.