1. North Korean Nuclear Issues - Gordon Flake.doc - UN-ROK

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1. North Korean Nuclear Issues - Gordon Flake.doc - UN-ROK Powered By Docstoc


                              L. Gordon Flake

                          Executive Director
               The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation

                        DRAFT Paper presented before

                    The 10th ROK-UN Joint Conference on
                   Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Issues

          “The Past and Future of Disarmament and Non-Proliferation”
                 Jeju, Republic of Korea, November 7-8, 2011

During the course of a joint press conference with President Lee Myung Bak at the Blue House in
Seoul in November of 2011 President Obama was asked about the prospects for the Six Party Talks.
He responded that “…there will be an appropriate time and place to reenter into six-party talks. But
we have to see a seriousness of purpose by the North Koreans in order to spend the extraordinary
time and energy that’s involved in these talks.”1 Despite considerable pressure from China and
Russia on North Korea, several facilitating meetings between North and South Korean officials, the
two rounds of exploratory talks between the United States and North Korea in July and October of
2011there appears to be little evidence that U.S. officials are convinced that North Korea is serious
enough about the talks to justify the investment of the “extraordinary time and effort to which
President Obama referred.       Just prior to the October 24 & 25 meeting between U.S. and DPRK
officials in Geneva, State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner provided some additional
detail: “We want to see if North Korea is indeed prepared to take steps to fulfill its commitments
under the 2005 joint statement of the Six-Party Talks, and we want to see it take steps toward
denuclearization. I’m not going to give specifics on what those steps are, but what we want to see is
a seriousness of purpose. We’re not going to, as we’ve said many times, reward North Korea just for
returning to the table, nor give them anything new for actions they’ve agreed to take. But we want to
see, as I said, signs that they are committed to moving the process forward.”2

In praising the talks in Geneva as “positive and generally constructive,” U.S. Special Representative
for North Korea Policy Ambassador Stephen Bosworth’s benedictory expression of confidence
“…that with continued effort on both sides we can reach a reasonable basis of departure for formal
negotiations for a return to the Six-Party process”3 was hardly the breakthrough that some has
hoped for and others had feared. While there has been no official report on the content of this
most recent round of talks, the consensus among close observers is that negotiations foundered on
the unwillingness or perhaps inability of the DPRK negotiating team to discuss the question of
North Korea’s uranium enrichment facility. After the events of 2010, the North Korean uranium
enrichment program is unquestionably a key indicator of North Korean intentions and thus worthy
of particular focus.


The Demise of Ambiguity and Revelation of the DPRK Uranium Enrichment Program4

Nearly one year ago on November 23, 2010 the world was shocked by live televised images of South
Korean civilians fleeing their homes as columns of smoked streamed skyward from Yeonpyeong
Island in the wake of an artillery barrage from North Korea. The attack marked the first such
shelling since the conclusion of 1953 Truce which ended open hostilities in the Korean War and
dramatically increased tensions on the Korean peninsula. As dramatic as this attack was, in the long
run, however, it was likely not the most dangerous or the most significant development on the
Korean Peninsula in November.

In the early weeks of November, North Korea hosted back-to-back two separate private delegations
from the United States and allowed both delegations to travel to Yongbyon, the central site of North
Korea’s much disputed nuclear ambitions. The first delegation observed construction of a new
facility which was later confirmed to be a new relatively small scale light water nuclear reactor.
This development alone would have been of concern, but paled in comparison with the gravity of
the DPRK’s decision to show the second delegation, led by noted U.S. nuclear scientist Siegfried
Hecker, what appeared to be a modern and highly developed uranium enrichment facility complete
with some 2,000 centrifuges in six separate cascades and a control room that Dr. Hecker described
as “astonishingly modern.” Shortly thereafter, on November 30 2010, North Korea’s Central News
agency publicly acknowledged the program stating that “The construction of light water reactor is
brisk in the DPRK and a modern factory for uranium enrichment equipped with thousands of
centrifuges is operating to supply fuel to them.”5

Although there have been accusations, suspicions, and growing evidence of a North Korean
uranium enrichment program for the more than a decade, with the events and statement of last
November the proverbial cat is now out of the bag and the already complex challenge of responding
to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions has becoming dramatically more complex. Just as North

 An early draft of portions of this paper were prepared for the March 10, 2010 “4th USIP-KINU
Washington Workshop: How Can We Move Forward with North Korea?” but not released

Korea’s October 2006 and May 2009 nuclear tests fundamentally altered the parameters of the
possible across a broad range of strategies for dealing with North Korea, revelations regarding
North Korea’s uranium enrichment facility mean that program is now firmly and openly on the table
and of a necessity intertwined with and already tortured history of declarations, inspections,
inducements and sanctions. This was evidenced just last month in the October 2011 exploratory
talks in Geneva where the DPRK’s failure or inability6 to discuss the uranium enrichment program
was apparently interpreted as evidence of a lack of “seriousness of purpose.”

A long expected surprise: Understanding the history of North Korea’s uranium enrichment

As with many such dealings with North Korea, the surprise regarding the November revelations of a
uranium enrichment facility had more to do with the timing and unambiguous nature of the
revelation and more importantly the apparent level of progress and sophistication.           Suffice it to say
there has long ceased to be any doubt that North Korea at least had a “procurement effort” related
to a gas centrifuge program.

Although there was evidence of North Korea interest in such a program as early as the 1980s, by the
early 1990s there was a vigorous debate about the scope, scale and capabilities of the North Korean
program. There is little to be gained here by delving into the highly politicized debate during the
first term of the Bush Administration regarding evidence of a North Korea program, whether or not
DPRK officials admitted to such a program in October 2002 meetings with then Assistant Secretary
of State James Kelly, or the subsequent public casting of dispersion on U.S. claims in the wake of
discredited similar claims in Iraq. Suffice it to say both concerns and doubts about the North Korea
program persisted right up until November of 2010.          Ironically, the Institute for Science and
International Security published a comprehensive assessment entitled “Taking Stock: North Korea’s
Uranium Enrichment Program” on October 8, 2010, just a month before the dramatic revelations at
Yongbyon and concluded, “the procurement data do not contain consistent numbers of procured

 If press reports are to believed, the second day of talks on October 25, 2011 were truncated because lead DPRK
negotiator Kim Gyegwan did not have instructions from Pyongyang allowing him to discuss the uranium enrichment

items that would indicate the construction of a 3,000 centrifuge plant, large enough to produce
enough weapon-grade uranium for about two nuclear weapons per year.”7

Impact upon the six party talks and the prospects for a negotiated settlement of North
Korea’s nuclear issue.

From the moment the North Korean uranium enrichment program was confirmed, the prospects
for a peaceful negotiated settlement of North Korea's nuclear issue dropped precipitously and the
bar for what must necessarily be required of North Korea was correspondingly raised.

The key factor here is the differing characteristics of alternate paths to developing a nuclear
weapons. Without getting into technical details, the pathway to a plutonium-based nuclear weapon,
has in some ways been easier to monitor and control than a pathway based on enriching uranium.
This has been the case for nearly 20 years as United States and the international community have
sought to monitor and freeze North Korea's graphite nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. By monitoring
the reactor, the related materials, and the adjacent reprocessing facility, it was possible for the
international community to have a reasonable level of confidence that the North Korean plutonium-
based nuclear program was frozen or at least significantly slowed. While the technical requirements
for this approach were relatively less sophisticated and thus easier for North Korea to master, the
large scale physical requirements made the program easier to detect and monitor. In contrast, the
upfront technical requirements for a uranium-based nuclear weapons development program are
considerably more daunting. However, once overcome, the small size and easily concealed nature of
centrifuges mean that it is almost impossible to have any confidence that a uranium-based nuclear
weapons program has been curtailed.

Even prior to the revelation of North Korea's uranium enrichment program. There was deep
resistance in Washington to pursue what had become business as usual in negotiations regarding
North Korea's nuclear program. Following the collapse of the 1994 Geneva agreed framework, and
the breakdown of the six party talks, including the ultimate failure to see through the February 13,
2007 implementation agreement, there was already deep resistance in Washington to “buying same
horse” twice, thrice, or many times over depending on how you count it.

However, even if it was buying the same horse twice, at least with plutonium reactor at Yongbyon it
was clear that what you were buying. There was a clear, relatively tangible benefit to be gained by
freezing, disabling or dismantling Yongbyon reactor. By freezing the reactor at Yongbyon, the U.S.
could at least have some confidence that its freezing realtime production of addition fissile material.
Not so with the new uranium enrichment facility in Yongbyon. While North Korea has given
absolutely no indication that it would ever be willing to freeze or shut down its new apparently high-
tech facility, the relative benefit of shutting down that singular facility is far less clear that would be
the benefit from shutting down the Yongbyon reaction. Put simply there it would be very difficult
to have any degree of assurance that freezing the uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon would
mean the halt of enrichment activity in North Korea. Given the small scale and relatively
undetectable nature of gas centrifuges they could be concealed in thousand of locations throughout
North Korea. It was be the height of irresponsibility to assume that North Korea’s sole enrichment
facility was out in the relative open of Yongbyon and now revealed to the West. Here then is where
the bar has been raised. It would impossible to obtain a reasonable level of confidence that North
Korea had stopped uranium enrichment absent unfettered challenge inspections and open
cooperation from North Korean authorities….both of which are inconceivable in the current
environment. The refusal/ inability of DPRK negotiators to even table the issue of the uranium
enrichment program thus further undermines the very rationale for such talks.

One possible positive development related to the November revelations is that questions
surrounding the North Korean uranium enrichment program are now firmly placed in the context
of the September 19, 2005 joint statement of the six party and of other related UN Security Council
actions, statements and sanctions. While it may seem arcane, there is some cause for optimism and
arguable progress in how the issue was framed in the joint statement issue by President Obama and
Chinese President Hu Jin Tao at the conclusion of their January summit. While there was but a
single paragraph’s reference to Korea in that statement, it contained both a clear reference to the
uranium enrichment facility and the broader strategic context”

      The United States and China agreed on the critical importance of maintaining peace
      and stability on the Korean Peninsula as underscored by the Joint Statement of

         September 19, 2005 and relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. Both sides
         expressed concern over heightened tensions on the Peninsula triggered by recent
         developments. The two sides noted their continuing efforts to cooperate closely on
         matters concerning the Peninsula. The United States and China emphasized the
         importance of an improvement in North-South relations and agreed that sincere and
         constructive inter-Korean dialogue is an essential step. Agreeing on the crucial
         importance of denuclearization of the Peninsula in order to preserve peace and
         stability in Northeast Asia, the United States and China reiterated the need for
         concrete and effective steps to achieve the goal of denuclearization and for full
         implementation of the other commitments made in the September 19, 2005 Joint
         Statement of the Six-Party Talks. In this context, the United States and China
         expressed concern regarding the DPRK’s claimed uranium enrichment program. Both
         sides oppose all activities inconsistent with the 2005 Joint Statement and relevant
         international obligations and commitments. The two sides called for the necessary
         steps that would allow for early resumption of the Six-Party Talks process to address
         this and other relevant issues.8

Of note, in this short statement, the September 19, 2005, joint statement of the Six-Party Talks was
mentioned three times. Such a reference to an obscure unimplemented agreement of talks that
increasingly appeared defunct may seem a bit odd. However, one of the fundamental challenges of
dealing with North Korea has been its frequent and continued assertion that it is a nuclear power
and must be dealt with as such. When North Korea makes vague references to its support of
denuclearization, its definition of denuclearization should be clarified and challenged. The apparent
North Korean interpretation is that, as a nuclear power and an equal with the United States and the
other nuclear powers in the world, it is willing to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean
Peninsula, including the removal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, the end of the U.S.-ROK alliance, and
overall global disarmament of other nuclear powers’ positions. This interpretation understandably
is not acceptable to the United States, China, any other member of the Six-Party Talks, or ostensibly
any other signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) from which North Korea is the
only country in history to withdraw. As such, a clear reference to the September 19, 2005, joint

8 the and

statement in which North Korea committed to “abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing
nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear
Weapons and to IAEA safeguards”9 helps set a clear definition of what the U.S. and China now
jointly mean when we refer to “denuclearization” including the denuclearization of the Korean
peninsula. Related to this is the question of the parameter of the Six-Party Talks. With the
September 19 joint statement the Six-Party Talks are now more than format, but also have function
and content. Given that in the joint statement “the Six Parties unanimously reaffirmed that the goal
of the Six-Party Talks is the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful
manner,” by focusing upon this joint statement the U.S. and China once again jointly defined the
parameters of -- and indirectly a core requirement for -- the resumption of the Six-party Talks. Also
of note, the January 19, 2011, Obama-Hu joint statement also placed U.S. and Chinese “concern
regarding the DPRK’s claimed uranium enrichment program” clearly in the context of the
September 19, 2005 joint statement.

Although the question may be academic since at least in the short term it is difficult to imagine a
resumption of the Six-Party talks, there is an issue of bandwidth related to such talks. In the past,
progress in negotiations have been limited to the relatively narrow focus on the Yongbyon facility
and each effort to expand the negotiations either in geographic or substantive scope have invariably
led to a breakdown in the process. As such, the now necessary inclusion of and uranium enrichment
program into that process is an obvious and ongoing obstacle to the resumption of the six party

Assessing North Korea’s strategy and intentions

One of the fundamental challenges of any effort to prevent the development and spread of nuclear
weapons is the dual use of nuclear technologies for energy. This is just as true for North Korea as it
is for Iran or even for countries of less seldom considered to be likely to seek a nuclear weapons
capacity.     For the first few decades of North Korea’s dealings with the international community on
its nuclear program, from its coerced joining of the NPT in 1985 and subsequent signing of a
nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA in 1992, North Korea strongly rejected any suggestion
that it had plans or even ambitions to develop nuclear weapons. Just denials coupled with ambiguity

about actual North Korea activities and capabilities were essential to the negotiations including the
landmark October 21, 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework.              At least until 2003 or perhaps even later
North Korea continued to claim that its nuclear activities were strictly limited to attempts to
produced energy for a country that sorely needed electricity.

While the date of North Korea debutante as a nuclear aspirant, can be debated, the question of
intentions it was settled by the nuclear test of October 9, 2006 and reinforced by a second nuclear
test on May 25, 2009. Yet, it is important to note that the newly confirmed uranium enrichment
facility was presented to both Dr. Hecker and in the KCNA solely in the context of North Korea’s
energy needs. The KCNA announcement proclaimed….“The construction of light water reactor is
brisk in the DPRK and a modern factory for uranium enrichment equipped with thousands of
centrifuges is operating to supply fuel to them. The development of nuclear energy for peaceful
purposes to meet the need for electricity will be stepped up in the future.”10

While there are there are few enterprises as fraught with peril as attempting to interpret North
Korean intentions, it is worth attempting to understand North Korea’s strategy in how and when it
presents its nuclear program. The easiest course is to take North Korea at face value. It has
legitimate energy needs and also a domestic political mandate to be seen as a technologically
advanced nation. Hence, following the collapse of the KEDO project, it should not be surprising
that North Korea seeks to develop its own light water nuclear reactors allegedly using its “own”
technology and a related fuel production capacity source using indigenous sources of energy.
At the same time, North Korea’s intention to be recognized as a legitimate nuclear power means
that even an activities that have a legitimate use in energy production are useful in that they directly
challenge the growing body of international sanctions and agreements designed to thwart North
Korea’s nuclear weapons aspirations. In short, they seek international legitimacy an acceptance for
a uranium enrichment program as a way of rendering void their past commitments in the six party
talks and as a way of avoiding existing sanctions tied to their nuclear program.

Reactions in South Korea


For the first decade after the normalization of ROK-China relations, despite the occasional trade
dispute and controversies over history, South Korean public and political views of China remained
remarkably favorable. This view was in part a product of successful Chinese diplomacy, but also
related to increasing South Korean confidence of their perceived growing influence in Beijing,
particularly in relationship to North Korea. That said, the events of 2010 have proven to be a
dramatic shock to ROK-Chinese relations.      China’s refusal to even consider the evidence regarding
the tragic sinking of the Cheonan in March followed by its very public backing of Kim Jong Il in the
months that followed, shattered the notion that South Korea’s political and economic ties with
Beijing might convince China to be more considerate of ROK interests on the peninsula. The
Chinese response to the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November further reinforced this
perception. Yet hear again, it is perhaps the Chinese unwillingness to directly challenge the North
on its uranium enrichment program which may have the more significant impact on South Korea in
the long run.

China’s apparent decision to block consideration of let alone action on the recently revealed North
Korean uranium enrichment program in the United Nations even sparked some debate within South
Korea about the South’s own nuclear option. In early 2011 this debate included discussion both of
the need for an indigenous South Korean nuclear weapons program and the possibility of the
reintroduction of U.S. nuclear weapons to the peninsula. While neither are likely, the debate itself is
in part a consequence of our collective failure to date to stem or turn back the North Korean
nuclear program.

Given the fact that South Korea is even now preparing to host the next Nuclear Security Summit
March of 2012 and is in the early stages of negotiating a revised nuclear cooperation agreement with
the United States, the revelations regarding North Korea’s uranium enrichment program come at a
sensitive time.

China’s Dilemma: uranium enrichment, the United Nations and a litmus test

Despite what appears to have been some progress during the January 2011 summit as discussed
above, there was at the same time some frustration at China's refusal to allow the UN Security
Council to take up the question of the North Korea uranium enrichment program. Few analysts

realistically expected China to abandon its erstwhile North Korean ally or to be proactive in putting
major pressure on Pyongyang. However, at a minimum it is reasonable to expect China to
recalibrate its position to make sure that it recognizes that in the process of trying to avoid collapse
in North Korea, its approach to North Korea is actually increasing the risk of conflict and the
likelihood of the further advancement of North Korea's nuclear program. At this point the key
contribution China could make toward helping break the cycle of North Korean provocations
would be to simply stop shielding North Korea from the consequences of its actions. In no small
part, the current cycle of North Korean provocations has been abetted by, if not encouraged by,
apparently unconditional support from China.

Unfortunately, at least in the short run, events surrounding the “Arab Spring” appear to have stoked
China’s anxiety about its own stability and thus reinforced the most conservative elements and
tendencies in Chinese decision making apparatus. Whatever possibility of a Chinese recalibration
that may have existed in late December or early January have likely been set back. While the U.S.
appeared to hope that the Chinese willingness to include a reference to the uranium enrichment
program in the Obama-Hu joint statement was an indication of things to come, it now appears that
may be the high water mark and as far as China will be willing to go. Unfortunately for China,
however, the U.S. focus on the uranium enrichment program is unlikely to wane and with that focus
there is a risk that China will be seen once again as being more part of the problem than the
solution.   Some U.S. officials have already begun to hint privately that cooperation on an issue as
clear-cut as the uranium enrichment program could become a litmus test for U.S.-China cooperation
on a broader range of issues.


Like it or not, with the confirmation of North Korea’s uranium enrichment program, another layer
has been added to the Gordian knot of negotiations with North Korea. The most fundamental
impact of this revelation is that North Korea’s nuclear program cannot be seriously addressed
absent proactive North Korean cooperation. While the Libyan example of proactive cooperation in
the process of abandoning national nuclear ambitions remains a positive development in the broader
field of arms control and disarmament, the graphic end of the Qaddafi regime has almost certainly
made this Libyan model all the more poisonous to North Korea.

There is room to question whether or not the United States is prepared to invest the “extraordinarily
time and energy” which President Obama rightly associates with any negotiation with North Korea.
The last two rounds of bilateral “exploratory talks” appear to have been primarily tactical in nature
to demonstrate clearly to China and Russia that the United States is not the obstacle to the return to
negotiations and to ensure that in the event that Pyongyang returns to a more provocative or
escalatory trajectory, that its supporters in Beijing and Moscow will not so easily be able to lay the
blame for such actions on U.S. intransigence. At the same time, North Korea’s own participation in
these exploration talks was also likely tactical born of a desire to at least appear to be responsive to
Chinese and Russian entities and at the same time to seek opportunities to secure much needed food
aid. Either way, for either side to move forward, last years’ revelation of a uranium enrichment
program in North Korea has tightened and focused the definition of “seriousness of purpose.”


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