In January 1993, when International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors were rejected by North Korea with the threat that the North Koreans would process spent nuclear fuel rods into plutonium – a crucial ingredient of nuclear weaponry.The scare was that even while the threat of North Korea could easily be extinguished by the combined militaries of the United States and South Korea, North Korea had the capacity to launch several bombs into nearby South Korea.
After North Korea’s withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in March 1993, which was later suspended in June 1993, President Jimmy Carter alleviated tensions when he, under the permission of President Clinton, met with North Korean President Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea in June 1994 to negotiate three matters. First, North Korea would cease its nuclear program; second, North Korea would again permit IAEA inspectors to assure all spent nuclear fuels were depleted and not processed into nuclear weapons; and third, North Korea would maintain relations with South Korea. Bilateral relations were upheld, and President Clinton assured North Korea the U.S. would pose no military threat to them. The promotion of peace on the Korean Peninsula was then largely considered a success.
Now, current leader Kim Jong-Il claims to have “weaponized” all of its 8,000 plutonium rods, has withdrawn from the NPT (again) and North Korea has just successfully tested underground nuclear weaponry and sent waves of outrage across the world. What went wrong between 1994 and 2006? We need to realize this situation does not entirely pin North Korea as the villain; America may also share fault behind the current situation in North Korea.
While several factors exist for the current situation, poor diplomacy is the start-off point in the discussion. According to CNN, while Carter’s promotion of peace in Eastern Asia was originally considered to be diplomacy, North Korea now considers any increased pressure by the United States in reaction to its nuclear tests as “a declaration of war.”
Beginning in 2002, President George W. Bush branded North Korea as part of the axis of evil, threatened military action, ended the shipments of fuel oil and the construction of nuclear power plants, and refused to consider further bilateral talks, according to an Oct. 9 article of The New York Times. The article also states the North Korean spokesmen seemed convinced the new American position posed a serious danger to North Korea and its political regime.
Additionally, Washington has pledged no direct talks with North Korea, which excludes the option of bilateral negotiations, according to The Times. Former U.S. Secretary of State Jim Baker, in regard to potentially starting any indirect, “under-the-table” talks with North Korea, said, “it’s not appeasement to talk to your enemies.”
In addition to the lack of communication, hefty financial sanctions don’t seem to be having much success either. The current strategy of “no, really – this time we’re really going to levy sanctions” has proved ineffective time and time again in the United Nations, and will only make North Korea more sensitive of its nuclear project.
North Korea is relatively excluded from the global community, and is exercising what any proud nation would. Not only is it impervious in its unwavering declination of external pressures from the U.S. and other key global players, but it is also aware of China’s and South Korea’s reluctance to do anything more than be upset. More than likely, North Korea is convinced it is permanently excluded from the international community and its existence threatened; in such a case, what nation would not attempt to maintain their own autonomy and national pride, even if such actions strike against a global consensus?
The only difference between this decade and the last is while the U.S. and South Korea still have the capacity to completely overtake North Korea, North Korea is now much more dangerous and much more heavily-armed. We should take North Korea more seriously.
Matt Buongiorno is a freshman political science major from Arlington. His column appears every Friday.