by Selig S. Harrison
North Korea is often accused of dishonoring the commitments it makes in negotiations. However, in North Korean eyes, it is the U.S. that has failed to live up to its promises. This is the main reason why military hard-liners have been able to take control of North Korean foreign policy in the past six months and justify an increasingly provocative series of nuclear and missile tests in internal policy debates.
Kim Jong-il’s failing health and his reduced work schedule have made it easier for the hard-liners to consolidate control. Their strength is rooted in a cavalier U.S. disregard of its commitments that has vindicated their opposition to the 1994 Agreed Framework and the 2007 six-party denuclearization agreement.
For nearly eight years, from June, 1994, to December, 2002, the moderates in North Korea led by First Deputy Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju prevailed, and North Korea suspended its nuclear weapons program over the bitter protests of the hard-liners. In return, North Korea was promised two light water reactors as a token of U.S. readiness for normal relations. The reactors were never built, however, despite large South Korean and Japanese financial outlays. The Bush Administration not only abrogated the Agreed Framework, but dissolved the Korean Energy Development Organization (KEDO) and bludgeoned South Korea into approval in order to leave no doubt that the U.S. had repudiated its commitment.
Despite this, the moderates were able to get Kim Jong-il to support the six-party process with help from China and to disable the Yongbyon reactor. In return, the six parties pledge of 600,000 tons of oil. Although Japan, angered by the U.S. decision to remove North Korea from its List of Terrorist States, refused to provide its share, 200,000 tons, and the moderates were once again discredited….
… Progress towards denuclearization would require U.S. steps to assure North Korea that it will not be the victim of a nuclear attack. In Article Three, Section One of the Agreed Framework, the U.S. pledged that it “will provide formal assurances against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the U.S.” simultaneous with complete denuclearization. Pyongyang is likely to insist on a reaffirmation of this pledge. Realistically, if the U.S. is unwilling to give up the option of using nuclear weapons against North Korea, it will be necessary to live with a nuclear-armed North Korea while maintaining adequate U.S. deterrent forces in the Pacific.
In my view, in the event of another war with North Korea resulting from efforts to enforce the U.N. sanctions, it is Japan that North Korea would attack, not South Korea. Some of the hard-line generals in the National Defense Commission, I learned on my January visit to Pyongyang, were outraged at Kim Jong-il’s apology to Prime Minister Koizumi in 2002 and have alarmed moderates in the regime with their swaggering confidence that North Korea could win a war with Japan.