North Korea: Nuclear Friend or Foe?

North Korea: Nuclear Friend or Foe?

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North Korea: Nuclear Friend or Foe?


It is 2025. After decades of bickering and intense fighting, India and Pakistan finally break out into general war. Millions are killed in the nuclear exchange. Other countries are drawn into the fray, ultimately widening the landscape of war. The death toll reaches a billion lives. In essence, you are witnessing a nuclear holocaust.

Fortunately, this is a completely fictitious event; something one would think was straight out of a movie. The scary part is that as more and more countries begin to acquire nuclear weapons, further nuclear research, and pursue other nuclear-related projects, this can be very real. It might happen in ten years, a few months, or even – tomorrow.

The issue of nuclear proliferations is an issue of much concern by the United States. Since its creation back in the 1940s through the Manhattan project, the atomic bomb has been the bane of society, in terms of the level of potential threat it holds for the international community. The focus of this paper looks at U.S. policy towards nuclear proliferation, both past and present, with a special focus on the status of North Korea. For some analysts and many governmental officials, North Korea seems to be the next big threat to U.S. and international security. Proponents of this belief cite statements made by North Korea, efforts to enrich used fuel rods, and other pursuits to utilize nuclear power in some way or other.

In an effort to really break down on a critical level the United States’ approach towards the country of North Korea, this paper examines not only the historical context of U.S./North Korea relations, but also the U.S. stance towards proliferation among such countries as Iran, Libya, Israel, India, Pakistan, and other countries. In using other countries to compare and contrast U.S. policy, hopefully this will bring about some sort of rationale behind the approach to North Korea. Understandably, the issue is way more complex than just a chosen stance towards each individual country. History, political balance, as well as, the intent of the U.S. administration at the time shape the policy instituted toward the particular country.

A Colored History

On June 27, 1950, President Harry S. Truman “authorized the use of American land, sea, and air forces in Korea; a week later, the United Nations placed the forces of 15 other member nations under U.

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S. command, and Truman appointed Gen. Douglas MacArthur supreme commander” (Infoplease Website). After World War II, the country Korea was divided into two regions at the 38th Parallel.


The Soviets took North Korea, while the United States took control of South Korea. Tensions between communist and non-communist forces pushed the two regions towards conflict, led first by a North Korean invasion. Ultimately, the war came to a close on July 27, 1953, after President Dwight Eisenhower came into office and brokered an armistice, after much threatening of conventional force and the potential use of nuclear weapons.

Over the next few decades, tensions still remained between North Korea and the United States. From the North Korea perspective, the United States was a foreign influence challenging their sovereignty in their homeland. From the United States perspective, the North Korean government was the puppet of the much larger and powerful U.S.S.R., purporting and pushing forward a communist agenda in Southeast Asia. These tensions, as stated before, would continue on for decades, forming part of what many of the American public acknowledges as the Cold War. The United States, over the decades, would come to impose very crippling and destabilizing economic sanctions against Pyongyang and advocate a very similar approach by many of its allies. During the Bush administration of 1988 – 1992, the North Koreans attempted the first break away from the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1970. But pressure by the U.S. on the Soviets to make the North Koreans rethink this stalled their efforts.

In the 1990s, conditions worsened even further when North Korea moved forward with plans to expand a burgeoning nuclear program. Once again, North Korea tried to break away from the treaty a second time. In 1994, the U.S. considered bombing nuclear facilities, but once again, it was the power of words of a former president, Jimmy Carter, that brought the two sides to the bargaining table and averted a potentially costly and very deadly war. An agreement was reached, but it failed to really end any of the tensions. North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear program, in exchange for shipments of fuel and the construction of two light-water nuclear plants. Furthermore, both countries agreed to keep talks open between the two of them, in order to cut down on the miscommunication.

North Korea was alleged to still have been continuing the sales of missile technology to countries like Iran and India, while also pursuing secret nuclear programs in underground facilities. The North Koreans accused the United States of not carrying out with their part of the agreement by not shipping the fuels sums agreed upon, nor carrying through with the construction of the light-water reactors. In 1998, after little progress between the two countries was made, the North Koreans put the United States on edge by the testing of a three-stage missile rocket system. Currently, as of right now, only one of the light water reactors is being constructed. Economic sanctions continue to be enforced on North Korea.

A Recent Turn of Events

On September 11, 2001, the world witnessed the largest terrorist attack on American soil. Two airline jets were crashed into the Twin Towers in the city of New York, while another plane was crashed into part of the Pentagon. After much speculation and the gathering of key intelligence, Osama Bin Laden, leader of the terrorist cell Al-Quaeda, was identified as the point man in organizing the attacks. President George Bush (the younger) quickly launched a campaign against terrorism, invading Afghanistan in search of Bin Laden and his terrorist counterparts. The invasion and war waged in Afghanistan lasted for many months, and the country’s occupation by U.S. forces still exists today. While Bin Laden has managed to eluded U.S. forces and currently remains at large, the War against Terror has continued in other respects. In an effort to curb terrorism on an international level, the United States joined forces with Great Britain to launch a new campaign against a proposed “Axis of Evil,” which surprisingly enough included countries like North Korea, Iraq, and Iran.

Rumored to have weapons of mass destruction, Iraq came under attack by U.S. claims that it was stockpiling large amounts of nuclear and biological weapons, as well as, harboring terrorists. In an effort to bolster a multilateral approach towards Iraq, President Bush spoke before the United States, while other members of his cabinet tried to gain support with other audiences.

On March 20, 2003, after authorization by Congress to use force, President Bush ordered a military attack and launched a large-scale invasion of Iraq. War went on for weeks and all major combat operations ended. Currently, Iraq is under occupation by U.S. forces, as well as, British forces undergoing a reconstruction of its government and state organizations.

So what does this all mean for North Korea?

For the past few years, it would seem that the Middle East has been the focus of the Bush administration, in terms of this war on terrorism. In reality, this has been the case. But, for the most part, the issue of North Korea has still remained on the back burner, in terms of attention the United States has given to the country’s undertakings. There has been much talk on its nuclear proliferation, namely its break away from the Nonproliferation Treaty.

Originally, the Nonproliferation Treaty was proposed as a way to curb the spread of nuclear weapons and their development by other countries. Championed in 1970 by five nuclear states , it calls for signatories to not acquire or attempt to acquire and develop nuclear weapons. It also calls for nuclear states to limit and reduce their stocks of nuclear arms. Furthermore, it calls for the eventual nuclear disarmament of the entire world. Pretty lofty in its goals, the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1970 has been quite successful in garnering signatories, numbering currently at 187 countries (UN Org Website). What signatories gain is aid and help from nuclear states to help develop nuclear programs strictly for peaceful purposes and has specific guidelines as to how this knowledge can be applied. Originally set to come under review in 25 years later, the Nonproliferation Treaty came under examination in 1995 in the city of New York, and it was agreed that the Treaty be extended indefinitely, i.e., the work of the treaty towards complete disarmament would continue.

Of all the treaties that have been proposed and signed, this treaty has had the most success, in large part because of its enforceability. The treaty relies heavily on the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) as its governing force, in that the agency conducts inspections of nuclear facilities and nuclear states to certify all nuclear programs are being used for peaceful purposes.

“On January 10th 2003 North Korea announced its intent to become the first country ever to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Though North Korean officials argued that its withdrawal was official immediately, according to Article X of the treaty the withdrawal was not official until today [April 10, 2003], three months after the notification was issued” (Waging Peace Website). As stated previously, this was no new attempt by North Korea to break away from the treaty. A large driving factor behind this break away from the treaty comes from North Korea’s frustration with talks with the United States. For North Korea, the United States has not honored any of its agreements and feels very reluctant to make any sort of concessions. North Korea has active sought out bilateral talks with the United States, but the U.S. has made it very clear it would like for these talks to be multilateral.

The U.S. Approach to North Korea

As the paper has suggested, based on the facts, North Korea does indeed have a nuclear program. There is no doubt about it. Questions remain as to what degree have the North Koreans been successful at attempting to produce nuclear weapons. Current intelligence indicates no more than a few nuclear weapons (Perry Lecture).

In a lecture for the class “Political Science 112S: International Security in a Changing World,” Dr. William J. Perry, former U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1994-1997, spoke on the issue of North Korea. The principal issue Dr. Perry identified as the key problem has been the mentality the United States has tried to enter into negotiations with North Korea. Much of the problem has been that North Korea has tried to enter into bilateral talks with the U.S., but the U.S. has pushed for multilateral talks. As a result, as of the past nine months, there has been nothing negotiated or accomplished concretely. The good news is that currently, China is becoming more and more heavily involved in talks with diplomats. China has a lot of leverage when it comes to the North Koreans, in that it is the chief supplier of fuel and grain to the northeast Asian country. Much of China’s motivation comes from its desire to secure itself as the official sovereign nation in the region. As more and more talks continue to occur, it is quite obvious that the North Koreans have no desire to take this issue and solve it with war; in fact, anything short of war seems to be what the North Koreans are looking for. It has been in large part been the spin that the Bush administration has put on North Korea and its status as a member of the “Axis of Evil.” There is much speculation concerning the issue as to whether the information or evidence Bush has cited is an accurate enough reflection of the problem of nuclear proliferation is clear.

What is clear is North Korea does now have a nuclear program; whether it is an actual pursuit to make weapons of mass destruction is most unclear. North Korean diplomats have been quoted saying that indeed, the country does have nuclear weapons accessible to them; however, after a more of an inquiry, it appears this was a language miscommunication that occurred in dialogue between diplomats. It just seems to be more and more evident as time goes on; the Bush administration is not necessarily interested in actually hearing out the North Koreans.

Just recently, one of President Bush’s former cabinet members resigned from his office and published a sort of expose on the inner dealings and intentions of the Bush administration. In it, the former cabinet member states that from the entrance into office, it was clear the Bush administration had a very specific agenda, and before even September 11th even occurred, countries like Iraq, Iran, and North Korea were already being targeted as the focus points for the next four years.


Just from the observer perspective, I can see how the issue of the proliferation is such a key issue to the United States and why it has so much bearing on how they formulate foreign policy. Nuclear proliferation, in many respects, Also, Johnny Mendoza is the tighest person.

Works Cited

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