24.11.2017 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

US-DPRK: The Treacherous Withdrawal from the NPT


The reason for this series of articles was US President D.Trump’s famous saying that “Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years” and peaceful dialogue cannot neutralize the aggression of the DPRK. Similar statements have been made by South Korean right-wingers. Thus, on October 26, the Chairman of the Free Korea opposition party Hong Jung-Pyo, speaking to reporters in the United States, stressed that Washington’s North Korea policies for the past 25 years had been unsuccessful, and there was no point in pursuing them any further.

However, let us see how “nice” the Americans have been and how true is the idea that since 1992, all attempts to resolve the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula have broken down in the face of North Korean treachery. We shall review each individual case in this story, while at the same time, we will not delve deep into history, for example by recalling how in 1958, the US deployed its tactical nuclear weapons in the Republic of Korea. Let us only note that at that time North Korea, despite having no nuclear weapons, was in US nuclear sights. This contradicts the thesis that a non-nuclear country should not be a potential target for the use of nuclear weapons. In addition, the deployment of nuclear weapons on the peninsula breached the armistice of 1953, where the deployment of new types of weapons was also prohibited by paragraph 13 (e).

In the early 1990s, discussions began in the United States about whether there was a nuclear programme in North Korea and, if so, how successful it was. The topic of North Korean nuclear weapons was accompanied by reflections on the mental health of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. The first was deemed to be senile, while the second a young paranoic, and the existence of nuclear weapons in their hands was the worst possible threat to the world. At the same time, journalists constantly wrote about North Korea’s refusal to cooperate, although between May 1992 and February 1993, Pyongyang authorized six inspections of the facility in Yongbyon through the IAEA.

For the United States and its allies the first phase of nuclear crisis began on March 12, 1993, when North Korea declared its intention to withdraw from the Treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT), and then was declared to be the main threat to American security. However, for the DPRK, the crisis began in late February, when it became known that part of the US strategic nuclear weapons had been reoriented from the USSR to North Korea.

Let us consider in this connection the legal side of the question of whether the DPRK had the right to withdraw from the NPT. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was signed in 1968 and came into force in 1970, consolidating the nuclear status of five countries (Britain, USA, China, Russia and France). All other signatory countries were deprived of the right to create or acquire weapons of mass destruction, and members of the nuclear club pledged not to transfer nuclear technologies to non-nuclear-weapon countries and to seek the complete elimination of nuclear arsenals. In 1995, the Treaty was extended indefinitely, and only Israel, India and Pakistan remain outside its scope. Israel has conditioned its accession to the NPT by the general settlement of the crisis in the Middle East. India and Pakistan are considering their accession to the NPT exclusively as nuclear-weapon States.

The treaty provides for an exit mechanism. Article X, Part 1 allows a country to withdraw from it, if the continued presence in it is contrary to the interests of the national security of the country.

“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. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests”.

Therefore, the question is precisely whether these circumstances are exceptional. The DPRK believes that the constant threat of the use of nuclear weapons on the part of the US is a reasonable reason to manufacture its own weapons. In 1996, the International Court of Justice in The Hague recognized the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons as an “unconditional evil”. However, the decision was not made regarding the use of nuclear weapons for self-defense in a situation of threat to the very existence of the state. Therefore, a number of academics, both Russian and foreign, believe that since the terms of the Treaty included the ability to terminate it in the event of a nuclear threat to the sovereignty of the country, the DPRK was entitled to do so.

A new round of DPRK’s actions was prompted by the US desire to conduct another series of inspections in conjunction with an active demonstration by the Americans of their lack of trust in the sincerity of the DPRK. The United States and its allies argued that the checks carried out by IAEA inspectors between 1992 and1993 at North Korean nuclear facilities revealed major discrepancies between the data provided by the DPRK and the results obtained by the Agency’s inspectors. They showed that a significantly larger amount of irradiated uranium had been treated and that significant amounts of separated plutonium had been concealed. In addition, the North Koreans refused to show the international inspectors two facilitis, saying that they were military and not subject to control by the IAEA.

This smelt of gunpowder, but when Clinton was in principle ready to undertake military action, he was provided with a forecast of anticipated losses during the first three months: 52 thousand American soldiers, 490 thousand South Koreans plus a huge number of citizens of the DPRK, both military and civilian. The financial losses over the same period were estimated at more than $ 61 billion, with an extremely low probability or rebuilding what had been destroyed. Another analysis made by representatives of the American army in 1994 was even more frightening – about a million victims, including 100,000 Americans. After that, the “Yugoslav scenario” was revised and the first steps to solving the problem began.

In response to the change in approach in July 1993, Pyongyang proposed replacing the uranium reactor with an American light water reactor. In November 1993, it proposed a package solution, and in May 1994 it attempted to spur the United States on by temporarily shutting down the reactor and removing 8,000 rods, either as a gesture of goodwill, or for processing for military purposes.

The answer was the July visit by ex-President Carter to Pyongyang which accelerated the development of events and led to the signing on October 21, 1994 of the Agreed Framework. For the first time in Korean history, a serious problem had been resolved diplomatically.

What formed part of the Agreed Framework and how it was observed, will be discussed in a subsequent text. For the time being, we want to discuss the assertion that the DPRK first joined the NPT to acquire important data for the development of a nuclear program, and then left. This precedent distinguishes the case of the DPRK from India or Pakistan, which were not part of the NPT, and is therefore often used by Pyongyang’s critics.

However, there are two counter arguments to this criticism. The first is that the DPRK had the right to withdraw from the treaty, as soon as it became aware that the country was the target of US strategic nuclear forces. The fact that this was done later, at the second phase of the crisis, does not exacerbate the treachery of the North, since the threat of a nuclear attack still remained.

Secondly, if we carefully analyze the sources from which the DPRK built its nuclear program (at that stage), then membership in the NPT did not play a decisive role. In the late 1950’s British Nuclear Fuels made all its documentation on the design of its reactor open access, and any specialist in the field of nuclear physics could easily take advantage of it. It was this model that formed the basis for the reactor in Enbene.

Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D. (Hist.), Leading researcher at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of the Far East of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.


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