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North Korea Withdraws From the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, January 2003
In October 2002, North Korea announced it was restarting its nuclear programs, breaking a 1994 agreement to forego nuclear ambitions in exchange for the construction of two safer lightwater nuclear power reactors and shipments of oil from the U.S.
- The Washington D.C.-based Center for Defense Information (CDI) noted that the U.S. had failed to abide by its obligations to North Korea in a previous agreement. “Pyongyang is justifying this move,” CDI said, “with the fact that the US stopped supplying the country with fuel for thermal power plants as it was obligated to do under a previous agreement between these two countries”.
- The BBC reported (January 10, 2003), North Korea felt that “the US has not kept to its side of the Agreed Framework, as the construction of the lightwater reactors—due to be completed in 2003—is now years behind schedule.”
- The U.S. stopped shipments of oil to North Korea.
- North Korea started to ask the U.N’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to begin to stop its operations. Eventually inspectors from the monitoring group from the IAEA were expelled, while North Korea maintained that it was only developing civilian uses of nuclear technology.
- However, some experts fear that this will allow the development of nuclear weapons.
Amidst all these revelations, in January 2003 North Korea announced that its withdrawal from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).
While all of this had been received with a mixture of concern, shock and anger, some have pointed out that perhaps it should not be so surprising. For example, as highlighted above, and elsewhere on this web site, for many years, controversial and aggressive policies of more powerful states may be perceived by smaller ones as threatening, and may urge them to consider various military options themselves, risking an arms race and regional insecurity.
Annotating George Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Speech, and his comments on Iraq, the Institute for Public Accuracy highlights a number of questionable assertions that highlight a very different view of North Korea’s agenda (the annotations are indented and preceded by the analysts name):
On the Korean Peninsula, an oppressive regime rules a people living in fear and starvation. Throughout the 1990s, the United States relied on a negotiated framework to keep North Korea from gaining nuclear weapons. We now know that that regime was deceiving the world and developing those weapons all along.
And today the North Korean regime is using its nuclear program to incite fear and seek concessions.
America and the world will not be blackmailed.
[Rahul] Mahajan: “North Korea kept its commitments under the ‘Agreed Framework’ for years while the United States systematically violated its own. One of the primary requirements is that ‘The U.S. will provide formal assurances to the DPRK, against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the U.S.’—which emphasizes once again that North Korea’s concern in this crisis is self-defense, not plans to attack the United States, Japan, or South Korea. Not only did the United States never make this elementary commitment (international opinion and international law universally recognize that nuclear attack is fundamentally illegitimate), it has leaked plans that involve targeting North Korea for such an attack. Another component of the agreement was the delivery by the United States of a light-water reactor project by 2003. The United States presumably never had any intention of doing so and had made negligible progress toward such a goal in 8 years, even before the crisis flared up. North Korea’s recent violation of its own commitments is hardly surprising, given that U.S. conduct made the agreement meaningless.”
[Stephen] Zunes: “Indications are that North Korea kept its commitment during the 1990s but ceased its cooperation only recently. It is widely believed that North Korea decided to renege on its agreement as a direct result of last year’s State of the Union address, when President Bush declared North Korea to be part of an ‘axis of evil’ along with Iraq and Iran. Seeing the United States prepare to invade Iraq and increase its bellicose rhetoric against Iran and themselves, the North Koreans apparently decided that they needed to create a credible deterrent in case they were next. They have offered to end their nuclear program in return for a guarantee that the United States will not invade them.”
— Responses to Bush’s 2003 "State of the Union" Address, Institute for Public Accuracy, January 30, 2003
Daniel Plesch, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies in London comments on how U.S. President George Bush and his Administration’s aggressive policies in the recent past have not provided reason for nations like North Korea to think about more peaceful options, and is worth quoting at length:
North Korea has decided to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, invoking its legal right to do so.
The move increases international tension and the risk of Japan reconsidering its position on nuclear weapons.
But it is in line with the new approach to global security adopted by the Bush administration.
President George W Bush has either withdrawn from or expressed his opposition to implementing a number of key global arms control agreements.
- the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty;
- the Biological Weapons Convention;
- the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
- and the process of strategic arms reductions with Russia.
The treaty signed with Russia - the Sort Treaty - is a treaty without content and has no operative provisions.
At the same time as withdrawing from these treaties, the Bush administration initially withdrew from the political process with North Korea designed by former President Bill Clinton, and which had rolled back but not entirely removed North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
[By branding North Korea as part of an Axis of Evil], a decision that that country interpreted as tantamount to a declaration of war … the North Korean regime would appear to have nothing to lose in building a weapon that the West has long declared as having a deterrent effect.
… [The Bush Administration’s] own rhetoric and policies of pre-emptive strikes—perhaps with nuclear weapons—encourage other states to assume that they live in a world of nuclear anarchy and to act accordingly.
President Bush’s policy has swept away the achievements of decades in building global controls on the worst of weapons and replaced an effective policy with nothing more than bombast.
— Daniel Plesch, Viewpoint: N Korea follows Bush’s lead, BBC, January 10, 2003 (Emphasis Added)