International Security Studies

Events

The Six Party Talks and the Shifting Dynamics in Northeast Asia

May 15, 2007 // 12:00pm1:00pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Asia Program

This meeting, jointly sponsored by the Center's Division of International Security Studies and Asia Program and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was another in the ongoing Nonproliferation Forum series.

In February 2007, four months after North Korea tested a nuclear weapon, the Six-Party Talks on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula yielded an agreement under which North Korea agreed to close its nuclear facility at Yongbyon in return for economic and diplomatic incentives. Michael Green, the former senior official on the Bush administration's National Security Council responsible for East Asia, offered his assessment of the new accord against the unpromising backdrop of U.S. efforts over fifteen years to end Pyongyang's nuclear program.

Green argued that the Pyongyang regime is not waiting for some perfectly formulated proposal from Washington. The history of U.S. negotiations with North Korea is "littered with well-constructed agreements that went nowhere." The "bottom line" is that North Korea has been pursuing a nuclear weapons capability for decades, and that like the Chinese leadership, Kim Il Sung, North Korea's "Great Leader" and his son Kim Jong Il, the "Dear Leader," have regarded nuclear weapons as a deterrent that would ensure regime security. In this critical respect, the focus on divisions within U.S. administrations between "engagers, hawkish engagers, and regime-changers" is "beside the point."

Green noted that past agreements with North Korea, such as the Agreed Framework of October 1994 and the September 2005 statement of principles, had broken down over conflicting interpretations of their terms by the United States and North Korea. Persisting impasses have delayed their implementation and eroded political support. An equally fundamental threat to the diplomatic track has been North Korean cheating. In October 2002, U.S. negotiators confronted their North Korean counterparts with the charge that the North was pursuing a parallel uranium enrichment program (covertly obtained through the Pakistani black market network of A.Q. Khan) in contravention of the Agreed Framework. But in confronting the North Koreans on the uranium enrichment process and terminating the Agreed Framework, Green acknowledged that the Bush administration had inadequately prepared for Pyongyang's response – unfreezing their plutonium program and obtaining the fissile material for additional weapons.

Another persisting problem for Washington has been the difficulty of coordinating policy with the other members of the Six-Party Talks – China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia – who for too long were inclined to let the United States address the nuclear challenge as a bilateral issue with North Korea. China, which was shocked and angered by the North Korean nuclear test, took a surprisingly strong stand in the UN Security Council deliberations last fall that yielded the first significant multilateral sanctions on the Pyongyang regime.

Green concluded with the paradox that while North Korea does not negotiate under pressure, it also does not negotiate without pressure. The February 2007 agreement provides a basis for moving forward, but the U.S. approach must combine diplomacy with coercive economic pressure. But even if such coercive pressure can be mounted, a favorable outcome is not assured. North Korea wants to be another Pakistan, an acknowledged nuclear weapons state. In recent history, states, such as Ukraine and South Africa, have given up nuclear weapons to reintegrate into the international system. In this case, however, North Korea wants to maintain a nuclear arsenal as the guarantor of regime survival and to avoid the threatening political contagion that integration with the outside world would bring.


Robert Litwak
Division of International Security Studies

Experts & Staff

  • Robert S. Litwak // Vice President for Scholars and Academic Relations and Director, International Security Studies
  • Tonya Boyce // Program Assistant, International Security Studies

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