274 THE KOREAN JOURNAL OF DEFENSE ANALYSIS
Arms Control and Great-power Interests
in the Korean Peninsula
The end of the Cold War has led to the conclusion that Korea must
be next. Arms control will not be easy in Korea, but nor will it be
as difficult as many observers fear. Arms control in Korea could
become an agenda item for a conference on security and cooperation
in the Asia-Pacific.
The revised strategic and economic priorities of the great powers
involved in Northeast Asia, especially China and the USSR, are a
positive force for the reduction of tension in the region and hence
in Korea. There has been an enormous improvement in relations
amongst China, the USSR and the US. Threat perceptions have
dissipated. Sino/Soviet rapprochement has matched Sino/US and
US/Soviet detente. Japan has relatively good relations with China and
the US and there is prospect of improving its relations with the USSR.
Not only do the great powers talk to each other, but they are acting,
albeit informally, as a concert of powers who agree on the need to
ease tension and improve the atmosphere for arms control and
confidence building on the Korean peninsula.
These developments have reduced North Korea’s options. Taken
together with the weakness of the North Korean economy, South
Korea’s confident economic and strategic outlook and the strength of
a constant US/ROK military relationship, North Korea is being forced
to change. The changes may seem small from the outside and
perhaps they will not go far enough quickly enough. However,
parallels of a collapsed regime like those in Eastern Europe may be
premature. There does seem to be some new thinking taking place
inside North Korea. Pyongyang is primarily concerned with the survival
of an obsolete socialist system in the face of growing domestic and
external pressures. In consequence, the use of force to reunify Korea
has now probably been all but ruled out.
While North Korea is looking for new options to break out of what
has clearly become an untenable position, some analysts have
concluded that this may prompt North Korea to develop nuclear
weapons. Such a course may be part of the hidden agenda of
unknown elements in North Korea. If confirmed, it would be very
destabilizing for the region. There is therefore strong incentive for the
USSR, the US, China and Japan to work together to solve the problem
of North Korea’s insecurity. The aim of other regional countries,
including Australia, should be to recognize North Korea’s predicament,
albeit a largely self-created one, and work to encourage stability and
transparency on the Korean peninsula while simultaneously
encouraging confidence in Pyongyang about the benefits of change
and of joining the rest of the Asia-Pacific community. This will be
difficult in view of the rigidities that have been built into North Korean
politics over the last 40 years. There would however appear to be
few alternatives other than to work with the existing leadership in
Arms Control and Great-power Interests
in the Korean Peninsula
When we discussed arms control issues with North Korean officials
in Pyongyang last year’ their constant refrain was that the ongoing
confrontation, tension and division of the Korean peninsula was a great
tragedy and that the North Korean government therefore attached
great importance to disarmament and peace. The objective, they said,
was to turn the Korean peninsula into a peaceful land, free of nuclear
weapons, free of tension and free of foreign military forces.
Previously announced measures were reiterated, including:
a. a balance of power to be achieved through a program of
progressive arms reductions down to 100,000 on either side
of the demilitarized zone;z
b. reductions in, and the eventual withdrawal of, US military
forces, including all nuclear weapons;
1. As part of a delegation from the Australian National University I visited Pyongyang
in April 1990. We had discussions with researchers in the Academy of Juche
Science (including the Director, Kim Duk Su and Professor Kim Myong U), the
Institute of Disarmament and Peace (Director of the Department of Peace
Studies, Song Hwa Sop), the Ministry for Peaceful Unification (Counsellor Jong
Yong Chun), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, (Deputy Director of the No. 2
Department of the Asia Bureau, Lim Guk Jong) and with Hwang Jong Jop,
Secretary of the Workers Party Committee of Korea.
2. This was first put forward by North Korea on July 23, 1987. For details see
”Dialogue with North Korea,” report on a seminar on Tension Reduction in Korea
sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Washington:
1989), Appendix B, p. 47.
156 THE KOREAN JOURNAL OF DEFENSE ANALYSIS
c. both North and South to inform each other about arms
reduction proposals and make them public to the world;
d. turning the demilitarized zone into a peace zone patrolled by
personnel from the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission
e. convening of multilateral talks on arms reductions in Korea
between North and South Korea, the US and member states
of the NNSC;3 and
f. verification of reductions to be carried out by members of the
NNSC or other acceptable members of the international
These proposals were based on North Korea’s belief that
reunification should be achieved in an independent, democratic and
peaceful way on the basis of a confederation in which the two halves
There would be
of Korea preserved their different social s y ~ t e m s . ~
two regional governments and both would work towards an eventually
unified republic. It was stated that the social, economic and political
differences between North and South were too great for an immediate
union and that therefore coexistence in a confederation was the only
We were told, frequently, that North Korea did not have and was
not developing nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and that it had
no intention of invading the South. In this context responsibility for
a fourth tunnel allegedly dug by North Korea was denied. They said
it was probably an old one and that if North Korea was truly preparing
to attack the South, then this and other tunnels would have reached
well south of the demilitarized zone.
North Korea, it was claimed, was not strong enough and did not
have the numbers to attack the South. The South in contrast was
perceived to have well-equipped and well-trained armed forces that
were backed up by the United States. ROK and US military equipment
was stated to be the best in the world, an observation that has no
doubt been reinforced by lessons from the Gulf war. North Korea
therefore had little choice other than to opt for arms control and
disarmament measures. It was suffering from a labor shortage and the
3. NNSC member states are Poland, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and Sweden.
4. This is set out in “Dialogue with North Korea,” Appendix C, p. 51.
GARY KLINTWORTH 157
burden of heavy defense expenditure. It wanted the situation in the
peninsula to follow the international trend towards peace and
The End of the Cold War and Korea
It is widely forecast that the Korean peninsula will succumb to the
influences of the end of the Cold War. Improved relations between
China, Japan, the USSR and the United States, normalized relations
between Seoul and Moscow, talks between Washington and
Pyongyang, the increased role of the United Nations and talks leading
to arms control and disarmament generally are expected to have a
positive effect on North and South Korea.
A divided Korea is seen as the last unchanged relic of the Cold
War,’ although encouraging signs are seen that the Cold War may
be beginning to melt in Korea too.6
While there is change in the attitudes of Seoul, Moscow, Beijing,
Tokyo, and Washington towards each other, however, it is less certain
that there has been any meaningful change inside Pyongyang. A
closed society makes it easier for Pyongyang to ignore and resist
change. However, several North Korean officials admitted that
socialism had serious shortcomings in economic production and stated
that North Korea would have to adapt its domestic and foreign policies
to match the new realities.’
For great change has indeed occurred all around North Korea and
inside those countries it once regarded as its close allies.
For example, South Korea has now normalized its relations with the
Soviet Union, has the equivalent of an embassy in Beijing and has
diplomatic relations with all East European countries. South Korea has
meanwhile retained its close security links with the United States, and
since the Asian Games in 1986 and since the Seoul Olympics in
1988 its fortunes have improved dramatically, both economically and
5. Japan would consider its Northern Territory dispute with the Soviet Union as
an equally important leftover from the Cold War.
6. According to Edward A. Olsen, “Ending the Cold War in Korea,” The Journal
of East Asian Affairs, Vol. IV, No. 1 (Winter6pring 1990), p. 23.
7 . Discussions with various North Korean officials, Pyongyang, April 1990.
158 THE KOREAN JOURNAL OF DEFENSE ANALYSIS
diplomatically. South Korea’s confident strategic outlook is reflected
in a more flexible attitude towards the North. President Roh Tae Woo’s
Nordpolitik, announced on July 7, 1988, aims at drawing the North
into the Asia-Pacific community and encouraging other countries like
Japan, Australia, Taiwan, the Philippines and the United States to open
up their relations with Pyongyang.
The Military Situation in Korea
The Korean peninsula is regarded as the world’s last remaining
flashpoint with a concentration of opposing military forces unparalleled
in the Asia-Pacific region. North Korea’s armed forces of about one
million are stationed along or beneath a narrow, demilitarized zone
(five km wide by 250 km long). On the other side are South Korean
armed forces numbering 750,000. The South Korean capital, Seoul,
which accounts for 30% of the South Korea’s population and 50%
of its GNP, is only 40 km south of the demilitarized zone and within
eight minutes of take-off by North Korean combat aircraft.*
For Pyongyang, it is the United States that threatens a surprise
attack against the North and it is the United States and South Korea
jointly that present a forward-based offensive posture near the
demilitarized zone. According to North Korean official^,^ South Korea
is constantly upgrading the quality and quantity of its air, naval and
ground attack weaponry. From the North Korean perspective, the
annual US-ROK “Team Spirit” military exercise is a preparation for an
assault on Pyongyang. The 1991 exercise was described as “a test
war, a preliminary war, to launch a first strike attack on the north”
using “huge forces from the US mainland and the Pacific” and tactical
On the other hand, the US and South Korean assessment is that
North Korea is poised for a classic blitzkrieg across the demilitarized
zone towards Seoul using heavy fire power, armor and mechanized
8. The ROK Ministry of National Defense, Defense White Paper 1989, English
edition (Seoul: KIDA, 1990), p. 27.
9. Discussions, Pyongyang, April 1990.
10. The Pyongyang Times, February 9, 1991, p. 6.
GARY KLINTWORTH 159
units and a 100,000-man commando force to drop in by helicopter
behind South Korean defenses.” There were reports that North Korea
had prepositioned military supplies in hardened underground sites near
the demilitarized zone, trained special river-crossing units and
deployed new mechanized army brigades near Kaesong to the west
of Panmunjom.12American assessments concluded that North Korean
forces were so deployed in forward assembly areas that they were
ready to strike at such short notice that warning time was as low as
four hours.13 The North Koreans were thus perceived to be “perched
on the starting blocks with a capability to surge and scramble in a
In recent years North Korean capabilities have been augmented by
Soviet MiG-29 aircraft as well as FROG (range 55-72 km) and Scud-
6 (range 300 km) surface-to-surface missiles. There were reports in
June 1990 that North Korea was improving its SCUD-6s with longer
range, more accurate guidance systems and more powerful
warheads.15 North Korea is alleged to have a CBW program with
research and production facilities established since the early 1960s. l6
A nuclear-weapons program has been identified with the nuclear
research facility established at Yongbyon with Soviet assistance in
If North Korea attacked the South, North Korean forces would run
into the US 2nd Infantry Division and a USAF division with 8 4 combat
aircraft. American involvement, as a consequence of this so-called
tripwire arrangement, would be instant. Article 111 of the 1954 ROK-US
11. ROK Defense White Paper 7989.
12. South China Morning Post, November 15, 1986.
13. Larry A. Niksch, “The Military Balance on the Korean Peninsula,” Korea and
World Affairs, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Summer 1986), p. 262.
14. Admiral Sylvester R. Foley, Jr., Armed Forces Journal, August 1984, p. 94.
15. “North Korea’s Bailistic Missiles Have US Worried,” The Washington Times, June
4, 1990; and Joseph S. Bermudez, “New Developments in North Korean Missile
Program,” Jane’s Soviet Intelligence Review, August 1990. p. 343.
16. ROK Defense White Paper 7989, p. 80.
160 THE KOREAN JOURNAL OF DEFENSE ANALYSIS
Mutual Defense Treaty of October 1, 1953,17 and the 1982 US Joint
Chiefs of Staff Posture Statement means that several hundred USAF,
Marine and carrier-based aircraft in the Pacific, as well as B-52
bombers from Guam could be committed to action in Korea.
Contingency plans envisage the immediate use of nuclear-capable
Lance short range missiles already based in South Korea.
The US response, given its Persian Gulf experience, would be
massively destructive of North Korea’s infrastructure, cities and
military capabilities. Pyongyang is very conscious of this risk-it has
in other words been successfully deterred.
An Australian Connection?
It is unlikely that the allied participants in the Korean War would
easily themselves to be sucked back into another war. However, given
the increased role of the United Nations in responding to aggression
in the Persian Gulf, it may not be such a remote possibility. In addition.
Australia and fifteen other states involved in the Korean War signed
a declaration on July 27, 1953, to the effect that “in the event of
a renewal of armed attack from the North, the signatories should be
again united and prompt to resist.” Japan might become involved, as
it was in 1950-53.
Need for Arms Control
The two halves of Korea need safeguards against the disaster of
a war which would devastate both sides and possibly suck in external
forces. Many countries have a vested interest in successful arms
control measures on the Korean peninsula.
Can arms control measures work in Korea? The peninsula is the
one place in East Asia where European-style confidence-building
17. “Each party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of
the Parties, or in territories now under their respective administrative
control...would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it
would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional
GARY KLlNlWORTH 161
measures and arms control talks have great relevance, according to
Richard H. Solomon. North Korean officials have expressed aware-
ness of the significance of European-style arms control negotiations
for the Korean penin~ula.’~ South Korean officials are actively
exploring the lessons from Europe.20Alexei Arbatov, Director of the
Soviet Institute of US and Canadian Affairs, has made the same
Arms control on the Korean peninsula would free resources
presently spent on arms to build a new Korean economy that could
compete with-or complement-Japan and take advantage of new
economic opportunities in post-Cold War Northeast Asia. South
Korean ambitions to become the second most important industrial and
technological power in Asia22would receive a boost if the two Koreas
could pool their resources. That presupposes an end to the present
confrontation, arms control and confidence-building measures, and
steps towards reunification.
The reunification issue however is one of the biggest obstacles to
arms control on the peninsula. The two are closely interwoven: arms
control means a step toward reunification, yet not even the shape of
the table for discussions on reunification can be agreed upon, let
alone the terms for creating one Korea.
The ingrained distrust and suspicion that has existed between the
two Korean regimes for over 40 years has been reinforced by the
18. Richard H. Solomon, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific
Affairs, “Asian Security in the 1990s: Integration in Economics; Diversity in
Defense,” address to the University of California, San Diego, October 30, 1990.
19. Discussions, Pyongyang, April 1990.
20. Yonhap, Seoul, August 28, 1990, in FBIS, East Asia Daily Report, August 20,
1990, p. 39.
21. Alexei G. Arbatov, paper on arms control on the Korean peninsula from the
perspective of the superpowers in Seoul in August 1990: ibid. He also
presented his view on the relevance of the European precedent in a paper
”Pacific Trigonometry: Organizing Security in the Far East” for the workshop
“Cooperative Security in the Pacific,” Honolulu, November 19-21 , 1990.
22. See Karl Moskowitz, President of Korea Strategy Associates Inc., “What If They
Were One?” Far Eastern Economic Review, 22 June 1989.
162 THE KOREAN JOURNAL OF DEFENSE ANALYSIS
insecurity of the North and a catalogue of incidents, accidents,
misperceptions, tunnel-digging, assassination attempts and the like.
The basic problem is rivalry for power in a small land between two
quite different socio-political systems. Only one can survive.
The Great-power Factor
Until recently the situation in the Korean peninsula was complicated
by the interests of the great powers. China felt threatened by US
bases in South Korea and elsewhere in the Western Pacific. China
therefore maintained a close “lips and teeth” relationship with North
Korea, as well as with North Vietnam, during the 50s, the 60s and
the early 70s. In the 1960s China simultaneously feared encirclement
by the Soviet Union.23China saw the USSR as a socialist-imperialist
power, on the offensive and seeking bases on China’s periphery. This
perception of threat from the USSR strengthened China’s inclination
to stick closely by North Korea. Soviet rivalry with China in turn
strengthened North Korea’s leverage. The Soviet Union signed a
Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance with North
Korea on July 1, 1961. China signed a Treaty of Friendship,
Cooperation and Mutual Assistance with North Korea on July 11,
Moscow’s perception of being encircled by hostile forces
comprising China, Japan, the US and South Korea in the Pacific and
by NATO in Europe led Moscow to value a close alliance with
Pyongyang. Even up to the mid-80s, the Soviet Union was prepared
to supply North Korea with new tanks, anti-aircraft and long range
artillery, modern combat aircraft and various missile ~ y s t e m s . ’ ~
return, the Soviet Union gained access to North Korean ports at
Wonsan and Chongjin and overflight rights for intelligence collection
by Tu-95 Bear/D naval reconnaissance aircraft.
However, North Korea’s relatively favorable strategic circumstances
began to change rapidly after the deaths of Mao Zedong and Leonid
23. For a discussion see Gary Klintworth, China’s Modernisation and the Strategic
lrnplications for the Asia-Pacific Region (Canberra: AGPS, 1989).
24. ROK Defense White Paper 1989.
GARY KLINWORTH 163
Brezhnev. North Korea’s only allies reassessed their strategic and
national economic priorities.
First, China normalized relations with the US over the decade of
the 1970s. China gradually came around to accept the US presence
in South Korea as a significant contribution to regional stability.
Washington and Beijing came to see that they had a shared strategic
interest in preventing war in Korea. China began to share the same
strategic interest with the USSR during the process of Sino-Soviet
rapprochement that culminated in the Gorbachev-Deng summit in May
North Korea’s ability to exercise strategic leverage between China
and the USSR was thus diminished. Improved relations between
Mikhail Gorbachev’s USSR and the US completed the circle around
North Korea, forcing it to become less inflexible in considering
solutions to the division of Korea. North Kores gave up the military
For the Soviet Union, North Korea now has little strategic value.
It has instead become an ideological embarrassment and an economic
burden that the Soviet Union would like to unload. Gorbachev’s Asia-
Pacific diplomacy was handicapped by close exclusive ties with
Pyongyang. The priorities of the Soviet Union are normalized relations
with China, Japan and South Korea. It was no surprise, therefore, that
the USSR chose to normalize relations with South Korea in September
The Soviet Union nonetheless still feels obliged to protect North
Korea’s basic interests. As Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister lgor
Rogachev remarked during the Roh Tae Woo-Mikhail Gorbachev
summit in Moscow in December 1990, “the Soviet Union would do
everything possible to retain good relations between the Soviet Union
and North Korea,” despite the development of ties between the Soviet
Union and South Korea.26The Soviet Union still has a security treaty
with Pyongyang and it is still the main source of modern arms for the
25. For a detailed discussion see Gary Klintworth, “Gorbachev’s China Diplomacy,”
in Rarnesh Thakur and Carlyle A. Thayer, eds., The Soviet Union as an Asian
Pacific Power-Implications of Gorbachev’s 1 986 Vladivostok Initiative (Boulder
and London: Westview, 1987).
2 6 . Tass, December 14, 1990.
164 THE KOREAN JOURNAL OF DEFENSE ANALYSIS
As the only Northeast Asian power with diplomatic relations with
the two Koreas, the Soviet Union is in a good position to play a role
as mediator and promote arms control negotiations. The Soviet Union
supports Pyongyang’s position on mutual cuts in military forces, the
withdrawal of US military forces and the denuclearization of the
peninsula. The Soviet Union has an interest in promoting stability on
the Korean peninsula as Soviet Presidential Council Member Vadim
Medvedev said in Seoul: “a full scale settlement of the Korean
peninsula is most crucial for guaranteeing peace, security and
cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.”27 Medvedev was however
careful to link this proposal to the North Korean demand that US
military forces and US tactical nuclear weapons should be withdrawn
from the peninsula.28
The Soviet Union claims to have exerted economic pressure on
North Korea to adopt a more orthodox approach to foreign policy. It
temporarily suspended nuclear fuel deliveries to the controversial
North Korean nuclear plant at Yongbyon in order to get Pyongyang
to agree to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection^.^^
It also suspended the supply of parts and the transfer of modern
weapons technology in an effort to push Pyongyang towards ending
its closed door policies and accepting the reality of a South
It has noted with approval North Korea’s unilateral renunciation of
testing, manufacture, import and deployment of nuclear weapons in
its territory and a ban on their transit through its territory, airspace
Post-Mao China also finds its alliance with North Korea more of a
hindrance than a benefit. China has adjusted its strategic outlook to
27. Han-Kyoreh Shinmun, Seoul, November 23, 1990, in FBIS, East Asia Daily
Report, November 29, 1990, p. 27.
29. Alexei V. Zagorsky, Center for Japanese and Pacific Studies, Institute of World
Economy and International Relations, Moscow, “Challenges to the Soviet Pacific
Policy: The Japanese and Korean Cases,“ paper presented to the workshop
“Cooperative Security in the Pacific,” Honolulu, November 19-21, 1990.
30. Joong-ang llbo. Seoul, August 15, 1990, in FBIS,East Asia Daily Report, August
16, 1990, p. 20.
31. See for example Mikhail L. Titarenko, “The Soviet Concept of Security and
Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region,” Journal of Northeast Asian Studies, Vol.
VII, No. 1 (Spring 1988), p. 62.
GARY KLINTWORTH 165
match its new relationships with the great powers and its role as a
Permanent Member of the UN Security Council. China has made it
clear to Pyongyang that it will not support the North if it attacks the
South.32 Its vital economic interests are in trade and economic
cooperation with East Asian powerhouses like South Korea.
China and Korea are natural trading partners one day apart by ship
across the Yellow Sea. China is already South Korea’s fifth largest
trading partner and some of South Korea’s biggest multinationals such
as Kia, Hyundai, Samsung and Daewoo have set up joint ventures in
China’s Northeast. As Shandong’s Governor Jiang Chunyun remarked,
“the geography is obvious to everyone.”33
The Soviet Union and South Korea have been struck by the same
vision. They signed agreements on scientific and technological
cooperation, including peaceful uses for nuclear energy, and the
encouragement and protection of trade, joint ventures and taxation
during President Roh Tae Woo’s meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in
Moscow in December 1990.j4 Hyundai is a partner in the Svetlaya
Joint Venture to process and export wood products from the Soviet
Far East using ethnic Russian-Korean labor. It is looking at several
other resource projects. So too are Samsung and Daew00.~~
Like the Soviet Union, China sees its regional strategic interests
as best served by encouraging reform in North Korea, helping North
Korea relax its hostility to the outside world and discussing tension
reduction measures for the Korean peninsula with the US, the USSR
and North and South Korea.
However, China has little interest in seeing a unified powerful
Korean state on its borders. Given a choice, it would prefer a divided
Korea for the same reason that it wanted Vietnam to remain divided:
China would rather not share its borders with strongly independent
neighbors. The United States and Japan may have the same prefer-
ence though for different reasons.
North Korea meanwhile has nowhere to go.
32. According to remarks made by Zhang Xiangshan of the PRC’s International
Liaison Department reported in Yorniuri Shirnbun, Tokyo, June 25, 1884, p. 2.
33. South China Morning Post, July 21, 1988.
34. Tass, December 14, 1990.
35. South China Morning Post, October 1, 1990.
166 THE KOREAN JOURNAL OF DEFENSE ANALYSIS
Major Powers Involvement in Another Korean War Unlikely
Conflict in Korea involving the major powers is highly unlikely given
the degree of strategic consultation between China and the US, the
US and the USSR and China and the USSR. It might be said that
the USSR, the US and China have already implemented informal arms
control measures in Korea in an effort to avoid misunderstandings that
could lead to the risk of increased military tension.36The United States
has been consulting with the USSR, Japan, China and South Korea
on the dangers of nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula.37
China is reported to have made clear to the United States that it will
not support North Korea except in the event that the latter is first
attacked.38The USSR has acted with restraint in the quality and
quantity of combat aircraft that it has been willing to provide North
Korea (for example, it only supplied 1 4 MiG-29 aircraft), and it has
ceased joint naval exercises with North The United States
meanwhile reduced the scale of the Team Spirit military exercise in
1990 and again in 1991.
Cornered Dogs Bite
Nonetheless, the danger, real or imagined, is of an irrational regime
in Pyongyang deciding to go south anyway on the principle that
cornered dogs bite, as one of China’s leading experts on North Korea
remarked.40This concern underlines the need for a mechanism to
ease military tension, enhance mutual understanding and contribute to
an atmosphere conducive to peace on the peninsula.
36. Thomas L. Wilborn, “Arms Control and ROK Relations with the DPRK,” The
Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, Vol. II, No. 2 (Winter 1990), pp. 128, 133.
37. Desaix Anderson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific
Affairs, testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asian and
Pacific Affairs, July 25, 1990, in “USIS Wireless File” July 25, 1990.
38. Sankei Shimbun, reported by South China Morning Post, January 8 , 1988.
39. Dong-A llbo, Seoul, November 26, 1990, in FBIS, East Asia Daily Report,
November 26, 1990, p. 17. Whether this is a result of a cooling in Soviet-North
Korean relations or an effort by the USSR and North Korea to match the scaling
down of Team Spirit 1990 and 1991 is unclear.
40. Quoted by John Curtis Perry, “Dateline North Korea: A Communist Holdout,”
Foreign Policy, Number 80 (Fall 1990), pp. 172, 173.
GARY KLINTWORTH 167
The uncertainties about North Korea stem in part from the
prospective leadership succession in Pyongyang. Preparations by Kim
II Sung, aged 79, to be succeeded by his son, Kim Jong II, aged
49, appear to have encountered some opposition by elements in the
army and the b u r e a ~ c r a c y ,although it has been suggested that
those who showed dissatisfaction have been eliminated.42 An ill-
prepared leadership change in the midst of great domestic difficulty
and unremitting external pressures could prompt a preemptive move
by conservative elements or by the new generation of technocrats
impatient for change in North
Arms Control Proposals
Both North and South Korea have made numerous proposals for
arms control since 1945. North Korea made over 200 arms control
proposals since 1945 while South Korea has made over 50. Most
proposals have been flawed because of the ulterior propaganda
motives suspected by one side of the other, or they were not aimed
at realistic arms control
The arms control proposals from the North boil down to withdrawal
of US forces from the South, denuclearization of the peninsula,
reductions in the size of the regular armies of both sides to 100,000
each and conclusion of a North Korea-US peace North
Korean proposals, in their many variations, are regarded by the South
and by the US. as subterfuges intended only to weaken, isolate and
divide the South and accomplish the goal of a reunified Korea
controlled by the North. For example, North Korea’s call for phased
41. Kong Dan Oh, Leadership Change in North Korean Politics (Santa Monica: Rand,
1988), p. 3 9 ff.
42. Dae-Sook Suh, “Changes in North Korea and Inter-Korean Relations,” Korea and
World Affairs, Vol. XIV, No. 4 (Winter 1990), pp. 610, 612.
43. A similar leadership crisis in China in 1971 over the Lin Biao affair had
implications for China’s relations with the US and the USSR.
44. Song, Dae-Sung, “Arms Control in the Korean Peninsula,” UN International Year
of Peace Seminar, May 16-1 7, 1986, Institute of International Peace Studies,
Kyung Hee University, Korea.
45. Young C. Kim, “The Politics of Arms Control in Korea,” The Korean Journal of
Defense Analysis, Vol. I, No. 1 (Summer 1989), p. 113.
168 THE KOREAN JOURNAL OF DEFENSE ANALYSIS
reductions of troops down to 100,000 on each side would appear
to require the North to make the biggest cuts, given that it has the
larger regular army. South Korea however has long argued that
previously announced reductions by the North are simply a matter of
soldiers shelving rifles for shovels, a move that could easily be
reversed, and that the North has large numbers of reservists. South
Korea therefore has proposed instead that the North simply reduce
its forces down to the same size as the South, i.e. 750,000.
For its part, North Korean officials said that while they had an open
mind they were as yet skeptical of US proposals to withdraw 7,000
US military personnel in South Korea by 1993 with more to follow
in 1993-95 and a third stage in 1996. It had been made clear by
Washington, they said, that the first withdrawals were for financial
reasons only, that the troops would be non-combatants, that US
military capabilities in the South would not be affected and that the
United States intended to keep a military presence in South Korea
in the long term. The North Koreans said that if the US wanted to
demonstrate its sincerity about arms control and disarmament on the
peninsula it should reduce its combat forces. “If it did so, we would
appreciate it,” said Song Hwa Sop of the Institute of Disarmament and
The proposals from the South are essentially the conclusion of a
non-aggression pact between the North and the South, renunciation
of the use of military force and exchanges in the cultural, economic
and humanitarian spheres aimed at easing tension and building
confidence between the two halves of Korea. The North claims that
this approach is too gradual and that it will only perpetuate the division
Many observers conclude that the prospects for formal negotiated
agreements on arms controls between North and South Korea are
gloomy because there is such profound mutual distrust between North
and South Korean and foreign analysts alike tend to be
skeptical of North Korean motives and question the ability of Kim II
46. Interview with Song Hwa Sop, Director of the Department of Peace Studies,
Institute of Disarmament and Peace, Pyongyang, April 24, 1990.
4 7 . See for example Jong-Mahn Hong, “Korean Arms Control: Ideal and Reality,”
Korea and World Affairs, Vol. XII, No. 3 (Fall 1988), p. 485.
GARY KLINTWORTH 169
Sung’s North Korea to contemplate fundamental change.48 In their
view change in North Korea and genuine arms control negotiations
will not be forthcoming until there is a new North Korean leadership.
This is a reasonable prognosis given the course of events in other
North Korea however claims to be quite unlike Romania or China
or the USSR. North Korean leaders believe they have developed a
unique Korean socialist model. Centered on Kim II Sung’s leadership
and the juche ideology, they claim to be confident of avoiding the
pitfalls encountered by neighboring China, Romania and other east
European socialist states. In their view, China and Romania failed to
mesh the aspirations of the leadership with the expectations of the
people and permitted a proliferation of inequalities and corruption.
North Korea’s Kim-It-Sungism on the other hand, starts with the tenet
that people are of primary importance. The people of North Korea
seem to respect Kim II Sung, which is not surprising given Pyong-
yang’s exclusive control over education, the media and everyday life.
It could be dangerous simply to wait for the collapse of the
Pyongyang leadership. There could be missed opportunities.
Prospects for Arms Control
There has been a significant easing in the threat perceptions among
the major powers to the point where they are almost acting as a
concert of like-minded great powers, at least insofar as Korea is
concerned. Second, South Korea is less paranoid about the North.
And third, North Koreans, including Kim II Sung, now realize that North
Korea cannot invade the South and that merely to survive, North Korea
must undergo reform. These fundamental changes will inevitably
contribute to a better atmosphere in which to progress arms control
talks on the Korean peninsula. According to President Roh Tae Woo,
they were part of a tidal wave of change sweeping the world that
48. For example, Dae-Sook Suh, “Changes in North Korea;” and James Cotton,
“North Korean Isolation and the Prospects for National Unification,” The Korean
Journal of Defense Analysis, Vol. II, No. 2 (Winter 1990), p. 153.
170 THE KOREAN JOURNAL OF DEFENSE ANALYSIS
made it impossible for North Korea to resist.49The North Koreans we
met in Pyongyang in 1990 implicitly acknowledged this fact.
Initial arms control agreements can probably be easily reached on
such matters as prior notification of military exercises, the use of
hotlines between headquarters, the exchange of military observers,
the cessation of propaganda broadcasts and the exercise of simple
courtesies in the demilitarized zone. Unilateral arms control initiatives
such as the further scaling down of the Team Spirit exercises could
Arms control makes sense for North Korea. The cost of maintaining
the world’s fifth largest regular army of around one million by one of
the poorest and smallest economies in the world has exhausted North
Korea. Just as the USSR was stretched to breaking point trying to
match the US and its allies militarily, North Korea has suffered the
same fate vis-a-vis South Korea. North Korea has a GDP of about US$
47 billion, external debts of about US$ five billion, stagnant foreign
trade, and a population of 23 millions. The South in contrast has a
population of 4 4 millions, a GDP of US$1 71 billion and is one of the
most dynamic economies of East Asia.50
Furthermore, the military balance already favors the South. North
Korea may have twice the reserves, a slightly larger regular army and
twice the number of APCs, tanks and artillery pieces and more aircraft
than the South. But the South has technological superiority, which as
the Gulf War demonstrated, is a vital factor on the battlefield. The
South also has economic and strategic superiority.
Arms control will not be easy in Korea. But the international situation
will ensure that discussions per se will continue in one forum or
another and this in itself will be conducive to confidence building and
dialogue between North and South Korea.
An essential precondition for the North-South process to begin-the
dialogue between the major powers-has already been achieved.
Another important milestone has been reached with the opening up
of ties between South Korea and North Korea’s allies, the USSR and
China. The next step should see Japan and the United States open
up their exchanges with the North. This is happening, gradually. Japan
49. South China Morning Post, October 2 , 1990.
50. Figures from IISS, The Military Balance 1990-1991 (London: Brassey’s, 1990).
GARY KLINTWORTH 171
has commenced visits by officials to North Korea beginning with
former Deputy Prime Minister Shin Kanemaru’s visit in September
1990. Since December 1988, the US has conducted a dialogue with
Pyongyang officials through its embassy in Beijing. It has also
approved academic exchanges such as the Carnegie Endowment
symposium on “Tension Reduction in Korea” held in Washington in
May 1989.51 North Korea has responded with various initiatives
including the return of American MIA remains in May 1990.
Arms control in Korea could be one of the agenda items for a
regional conference on cooperative security in the Asia-Pacific region
that has been raised by several countries. A Canadian proposal
envisages a North Pacific conference on security and cooperation
involving Canada, the US, Japan, the USSR, China and North and
South The Australian Foreign Minister Senator Gareth Evans
suggested in July 1990 that a Conference on Security and
Cooperation in Asia could be developed as an institutional framework
to address intractable security issues that exist in Asia.53The USSR
had a similar concept in mind in its proposal for a regional forum to
discuss security and cooperation in the A s i a - P a c i f i ~ . ~ ~ Soviet
Union has already obtained South Korean agreement for a conference
in Vladivostok in 1993 to discuss peace and security in Northeast
Asia with the participation of the USSR, the US, China, Japan, and
North and South
The Nuclear Shadow
The lack of options for Kim 1Sung and the large imbalance between
the North and the South may be one reason why North Korea is
looking at nuclear weapons. Not only would the hint of nuclear
weapons be a bargaining chip to negotiate for a nuclear-free Korean
51. “Dialogue with North Korea.”
52. Canadian Minister for External Affairs, Mr. Joe Clark, speech to the UN General
Assembly, September 26, 1990.
53. Senator Gareth Evans, speech, “Australia’s Asian Future,” July 19, 1990.
54. Titarenko, “The Soviet Concept,’’ p. 55.
5 5 . Tass, December 15, 1990.
172 THE KOREAN JOURNAL OF DEFENSE ANALYSIS
peninsula, it could enable North Korea eventually to reduce its military
manpower and cut defense expenditure.
Pyongyang signed the Nuclear Non-ProliferationTreaty in December
1985 but has refused to sign the IAEA safeguards agreement
permitting inspection of its facilitiess6
The possibility of nuclear proliferation on the peninsula is of major
security concern to the US, the USSR, Japan and China. Such a
development, if confirmed, could prompt the South to launch a
preemptive strike, or to follow suit. The prospect of a spiralling nuclear
arms race on the Korean peninsula is a prospect that Andrew Mack
concludes would be “profoundly depressing” and “extremely
destabilizing for the Asia-Pacific region.”57 A nuclear arms race in
Korea would intensify already bitter feelings of hostility and suspicion,
making conflict resolution more difficult and crises more likely.58 It
could also add to pressure on Japan to change its non-war constitution
and its non-nuclear stance.
Pyongyang’s position is that it will immediately sign the IAEA
safeguards accord provided the US agrees to withdraw its nuclear
weapons from the peninsula and refrains from threatening the North
with such weapons. The issue is unresolved, says Pyongyang,
because of the “stubborn refusal of the US to accept this demand
to turn the Korean peninsula into a nuclear free zone.”59 Vice Foreign
Minister Chin In Chol suggested that a legally binding assurance by
the United States on the non-first use of nuclear weapons on the
peninsula might be acceptable, as distinct from the withdrawal of US
nuclear weapons, but that in any event North Korea was prepared
to negotiate the issue with the United States.60
Chin In Chol may have been responding to a statement by US
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Solomon that the United States
could say without reservation that it posed no nuclear threat to North
56. Naewoe Tongshin, Seoul, June 2 2 , 1990, in FBIS, East Asia Daily Report,
August 16, 1990, p. 20.
57. Andrew Mack, “Is Pyongyang the Next Proliferator?” Pacific Research, Vol. 3 ,
No. 1 (February 1990), p. 7.
59. Vice Foreign Minister Chin In Chol, in talks with Japanese officials, Pyongyang,
January 30, 1991, reported in The Pyongyang Times, February 2 , 1991.
GARY KLINTWORTH 173
Korea.61If so, it would suggest North Korea is less intransigent than
many have suggested.
North Korea has of course publicly denied possession of or any
intention to develop a nuclear bomb. The same message was repeated
to us several times, that is, that North Korea is firmly opposed to the
proliferation of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula. North Korea
wanted nuclear power for peaceful purposes because it was short of
electricity. Nuclear weapons were regarded as a stupid and
unnecessarily provocative move for an economy as weak as North
Korea’s. The analogy the North Koreans drew was with building
pyramids-they had no useful purpose. Besides, they said, even if
North Korea could afford to build one or two bombs, it could never
match the capability of the United States to devastate the North more
thoroughly and more permanently than it did during the Korean War.
Building nuclear weapons, said several North Koreans, was contrary
to North Korea’s vital economic and strategic interests, particularly at
a time when the United States was talking about a reduction in its
military presence in the South. Why give them an excuse to linger
on? Besides, the US did not need a thousand nuclear weapons to
deal with North Korea when only few would suffice to deter-the rest
were there for reasons which had little validity in the era of detente
between the great powers.
The North Koreans did not however deny the suggestion that a
degree of calculated ambiguity over a nuclear weapons program could
help North Korea in arms control negotiations with the United States.
The US View
As Andrew Mack points out,62 although the United States has
refused to countenance such linkage, it may nonetheless be
interested in separate arms control talks with North Korea. It could
seek to reduce its nuclear weapons stockpile in the South in exchange
61. Quoted in Leonard S. Spector and Jacqueline R. Smith, “North Korea: The Next
Nuclear Nightmare?” Arms Control Today, Vol. 21, No. 2 (March 1991), p. 13.
62. Andrew Mack, “New Nuclear Dangers,” Pacific Research, Vol. 3, No. 2 (May
174 THE KOREAN JOURNAL OF DEFENSE ANALYSIS
for reductions in what the United States perceives to be North Korea’s
offensively oriented conventional military force capabilities.
The United States is however cautious about arms control measures
in the North Pacific leading to a diminution of its Pacific naval capability
and a gap in its chain of military facilities in the Western Pacific, the
first link of which lies in South Korea. While the US has considered
arms control talks with North Korea about the Korean peninsula per
se, such steps that it has taken, such as inviting North Korea to send
observers to the annual US-ROK Team Spirit military exercises, have
been relatively minor.
In the US view, bilateral dialogue between North and South Korea
will be the principal forum for reducing tensions on the peninsula and
moving towards reunification, although external powers could play an
important primary role in reducing tension, and strengthening mutual
confidence, transparency and predictability.
The merging interests of the US, China, the Soviet Union and South
Korea in arms control and stability on the Korean peninsula are clear.
China and the USSR are formally North Korea’s only allies. But clearly
they are attracted to the economic potential of the South as an
essential stepping stone for increasing their own participation in the
broader Pacific economic community.
Relations between most countries on the Pacific rim are becoming
increasingly relaxed. Tension and insecurity is being eroded by
improved Soviet-US and Sino-Soviet relations. There are prospects for
a breakthrough, of sorts, in Soviet-Japanese relations. Additionally,
there is a growing regional dynamic centered on economic, technical
and scientific cooperation, regular multilateral exchanges and the
peaceful resolution of old disputes.
North Korea is now looking for new options to break out of what
has clearly become an untenable position.
The catalyst for change in North Korea is coming from a new
generation of English- or Japanese-speaking technocrats. They have
travelled overseas and have a relatively broad world view, but as yet
they lack strong domestic political influence.
GARY KLINTWORTH 175
They appreciate the mounting pressures faced by North Korea.
They acknowledge that North Korea has a foreign image problem, a
debt problem, a succession problem, a faltering economy, a heavy
defense burden and a declining military capability. They see as
unavoidable facts the threat of American nuclear retaliation and North
Korea’s reliance on impoverished allies. They know that South Korea
has made impressive economic and diplomatic progress and that its
confidence has grown in inverse proportion to that of the North. They
interpret the Seoul Olympics of 1988 and Roh Tae Woo’s meeting
with Mikhail Gorbachev in the United States last year as confirmation
of South Korea’s ascendancy and the widening gap between the North
and the South.
These officials appreciate the need for reform. Indeed they admit
frankly that if North Korea is to survive in a technology-based
interdependent global system in the 199Os, it must change the
conduct of its internal and external policies.
They say however that North Korea can only introduce gradual
policy changes in the context of its existing social and political system.
Account also has to be taken of North Korea’s strategic
circumstances, usually described in terms of a little North Korea
surrounded on all sides by big powers. If the country’s internal
harmony was to be preserved and if it was to avoid being swallowed
by predatory neighbors, they said there could be no sudden policy
reversals. Moreover, North Korea’s ruling elite needed to be
convinced of the advantages of change. Reassurances had to be
given to overcome the prejudices of the militarists and party
This meant that the task would be difficult and could only proceed
on a step-by-step basis.
Such steps immediately run into the myths, rigidities and insecurities
that have been built into North Korean politics and diplomacy over the
last forty years. The difficulty is to change North Korea without
appearing to question the basic ideology of autarchic self-reliance
constructed about the personality of Kim II Sung. The results so
176 THE KOREAN JOURNAL OF DEFENSE ANALYSIS
far have been rather limited although the North Korean people claim
that even these represent very important signs of change.63
One important change that precedes other more recent
developments is the redefinition of North Korea’s defense priorities.
North Korea has adopted a policy of avoiding any action that might
provoke a US or South Korean military response. North Korean
officials say it is no good hating the Americans all the time and that
Pyongyang must look to the future. They have proposed arms
reduction talks and confidence building measures to the Americans.
They have suggested an end to loudspeaker broadcasts in the
demilitarized zone. North Korea, they admit, might have built tunnels
under the demilitarized zone in the past but it was no longer doing so.
North Korea has tried to rationalize its armed forces. It has improved
their mechanization and mobility and prepositioned supplies closer to
the demilitarized zone so as to bolster its defenses while using less.
Those soldiers thus freed have been sent them off to build roads,
canals, reservoirs, power stations, bridges, airfields, hotels, apart-
ments and other civilian infrastructure.
North Korea has concurrently paid close attention to the
development of light industries in China’s special economic zones. It
63. For instance, there is a joint venture law and a Ministry of Joint Venture Industry.
There is increased worker-management dialogue. The director of a factory can
appeal against centrally imposed planning targets. Workers can earn cash
bonuses, prizes, medals and red ribbons for improved productivity. Private
enterprise pedal-cycles are available for hire at the railway station; the women
riding them (most hard work in North Korea seems to be done by women) can
earn up to four or five times the average monthly salary of around 80 won. The
role of individualism and materialism in complementing North Korea’s socialist
economy is recognized. Private entrepreneurs (again, mostly women) can peddle
food and drinks on the sidewalks. Their vegetables are considered to be of a
better quality than those available in the government shops. North Korea is
becoming a cash economy and there are plans to introduce charges to offset
the cost of subsidized services like heating, rent, water and electricity. Crisp
new banknotes are replacing the former coupon system, and interest is paid
on savings accounts (1-2% for ordinary workers; 3-5% for term deposits).
People can win cash prizes (enough to buy a television set) in state lotteries.
Apart from movement in strategic areas like Changjin, Hamhung and Panmunjom
and the northern areas where defense industries are located, restrictions on
internal travel elsewhere in the country have been relaxed and, of significance,
the ban on bicycles has been or is about to be lifted. Facilities for tourists are
being developed at beach and mountain resorts. There is a new Korea
International Travel Agency. Buddhist temples and Christian churches are being
GARY KLINTWORTH 177
has begun to switch output from its defense industries to meet the
demand for bicycles, toys, computers, recorders and basic consumer
durables that are presently unavailable in North Korea’s few
Pyongyang’s preoccupation is much less with nuclear weapons and
more with foreign trade and coming to terms with the outside world.
Nuclear weapons are clearly not a rational policy choice for North
Korea. The country, we were told, was intent on a new foreign policy.
It was not a matter of North Korea breaking out of its isolation. It was
a change, so we were advised, that was better expressed as North
Korea implementing a much stronger foreign policy than hitherto.
Change in North Korea seems inevitable. Whether it will be as
tempestuous as in China and Eastern Europe will depend on the
extent to which Kim I Sung is prepared to introduce radical change
and how smoothly the leadership succession issue is handled. North
Korea is without doubt in a sensitive transition stage. It will need
careful handling by the major powers in Northeast Asia, notably China
and the USSR. They have however already indicated that they are
conscious of the Pyongyang problem and will try to balance their
bilateral economic interests in South Korea with the need to avoid
forcing North Korea into too tight a corner. Both China and the USSR
seem fully aware that a North Korea that remains beleaguered
and bewildered i a recipe for continued mistrust, tension and
The aim of other regional countries, including Japan and Australia
should be to recognize North Korea’s predicament, albeit a self-
created one, and work to preserve stability in the Korean peninsula
while simultaneously encouraging confidence in Pyongyang about the
benefits of change and joining the rest of the Asia-Pacific community.