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Centre for Research on Globalisation
Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation
Targeting North Korea
by Gregory Elich
globalresearch.ca , 31 December/ décembre 2002
For all the ballyhoo surrounding the North Korean admission of a nuclear weapons program, one salient fact has been overlooked. It never happened. No North Korean official ever made such a statement. Western news reports repeated endlessly the claim that a North Korean official admitted to a nuclear weapons program in an October meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly. No evidence was presented other than the Kelly’s assertion. On this matter, the word of the Bush Administration was accepted as sufficient evidence – the same Bush Administration that has consistently lied about virtually every issue. But on North Korea its word was sufficient evidence. If North Korea did not confess to a nuclear weapons program, then what really happened during that ill-fated October meeting? To understand what took place in October and the resulting confrontation, events must be viewed in the broader context of U.S.-North Korean relations and the nuclear issue. This context is also important for explaining why the Bush Administration would deliberately mislead the world public, using the nuclear issue as a pretext for imposing economic and political measures in an attempt to bring about the collapse of North Korea.
To the Brink of War and Back
The conflict in U.S.-North Korean relations over the nuclear issue first arose on January 26, 1993, when President Clinton announced that the U.S military would conduct war games in South Korea. This was followed the next month by the news that some of the nuclear weapons previously targeted on the Soviet Union would be redirected at North Korea. By March, the massive Team Spirit war games involving bombers, cruise missiles and naval vessels were underway. Interpreting this as a provocation, North Korea responded by signalling that it would withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). However, talks with U.S. officials in June 1993 led to North Korea rescinding its stated intention to depart from the NPT. But new difficulties soon arose when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) insisted on inspecting undeclared nuclear sites in North Korea, something the agency had never demanded from any other nation. The demand came at the instigation of U.S. officials, who had been pressing the IAEA to engage in more intrusive and wide-ranging inspections, hoping to turn up a pretext for applying pressure on North Korea and to expand opportunities for gathering intelligence. At this time, North Korea discovered that IAEA inspectors at declared nuclear sites in North Korea were passing intelligence to American officials. (1) Encouraged by news reports whipping up emotional responses, the Clinton Administration charged that plutonium extracted from North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility was being utilized in the development of nuclear weapons. No evidence for the accusation presented, but it achieved wide acceptance by dint of repetition.
In November of that year, President Clinton appeared on "Meet the Press," insisting that "North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear bomb." By 1994, talks between the U.S. and North Korea had broken off, and the United States was exerting pressure on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions. In June 1994, the U.S. formally submitted a draft resolution in the UN on graduated sanctions, but behind the scenes the Clinton Administration had already decided on war. Defense Secretary William Perry and Assistant Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter "spent much of the first half of 1994 preparing for war on the Korean peninsula." According to Perry and Carter, "we readied a detailed plan to attack the Yongbyon facility with precision-guided bombs. We were highly confident that it could be destroyed without causing a meltdown that would release radioactivity into the air." It seems highly dubious that a release of radioactivity could have been avoided, but the attack was likely to trigger far greater devastation. Perry and Carter anticipated that North Korea would respond by, as they put it, "lashing out," or to put it more accurately, fighting back against U.S. aggression. "In the event of a North Korean attack," they said, "U.S. forces, working side by side with the South Korean army and using bases in Japan, would quickly destroy the North Korean army and the North Korean regime. But unlike Desert Storm, which was waged in the Arabian Desert, the combat in another Korean War would take place in Seoul’s crowded suburbs." Perry and Carter admit that "the price would be heavy, estimating that "thousands of U.S. troops and tens of thousands of South Korean troops would be killed, and millions of refugees would crowd the highways. North Korean losses would be even higher. The intensity of combat would be greater than any the world has witnessed since the last Korean War." Note the failure to mention how many civilians might perish in their war. It should be recalled that 4 million Koreans lost their lives in the Korean War of 1950-1953, and that a new war with modern weapons held the potential of sowing death on a massive scale. The hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of ordinary Koreans who would have lost their lives concerned the Clinton Administration not at all. (2)
South Korean President Kim Young-Sam wasn’t as indifferent to the sacrifice of Korean lives as U.S. officials were. "At that time the situation was really dangerous," he recalls. "The Clinton government was preparing for war," with an aircraft carrier off the coast and U.S. warships planning a naval bombardment. As American forces amassed for an assault, Kim warned U.S. Ambassador James Laney that another war would turn all of Korea into a bloodbath and that South Korea would not move "even a single soldier" in support of the U.S. war. Kim then phoned President Clinton and argued with him for 32 minutes. "I told him there would be no inter-Korean war while I was president," Kim said. "Clinton tried to persuade me to change my mind, but I criticized the United States for planning to stage a war with the North on our land." Finally, Clinton relented, but he considered South Korean opposition only a temporary setback, and U.S. officials continued to plan for war. (3)
No diplomatic initiatives were issued from the American side, and talks had broken off. Alarmed at the drift towards war, former President Jimmy Carter chose to personally intervene, flying to Pyongyang on an unofficial mission to open negotiations. According to Carter, in their first meeting together, North Korean President Kim Il-Sung "was willing to freeze their nuclear program during the talks and to consider a permanent freeze if their aged reactors could be replaced with modern and safer ones." President Kim also requested a guarantee from the U.S. not to attack his country with nuclear weapons. That evening Carter phoned the White House, interrupting a council of war then in session. Carter passed along the news that President Kim had agreed to a freeze to be monitored by the IAEA and to engage in negotiations with the U.S. on a final resolution of the issue. Knowing that the White House might be inclined to ignore the prospect of a negotiated settlement, Carter told them that he had arranged for a CNN film crew to transmit a live broadcast immediately after the phone call in which he would announce the outcome of the day’s meeting. When the news of Carter’s intention was passed to others in the White House council of war, they reacted with indignation. Tuning to CNN, Clinton Administration officials were aghast as they saw Carter announcing, "The commitment I have received is that all aspects of North Korea’s nuclear program would be resolved through good-faith talks." Carter went on to indicate that under the circumstances, proceeding with the imposition of sanctions would be a mistake. "Nothing should be done to exacerbate the situation now. The reason I came over here was to try to prevent an irreconcilable mistake." Furious at the scuttling of their war, Clinton Administration officials were left with no option but to respond to the diplomatic opening. They chose to do so by immediately placing additional demands on North Korea and insisting on proceeding with efforts to win UN approval for the imposition of sanctions. Further negotiations the following day between Carter and President Kim Il-Sung resulted in North Korea agreeing not to reprocess their spent fuel, deflating the last excuse by the U.S. side for rejecting a diplomatic solution. A State Department official later reflected, "The shocking thing about the Carter visit wasn’t that people were disappointed that someone was going. It was that when he got the freeze, people here were crestfallen." (4) According to another official in the State Department at the time, "It went down to the wire. The American people will never know how close we were to war. Had [North Korea] not accepted, we had 50,000 troops on the [border]. We were hell-bent about stopping them." (5)
Official negotiations between the two sides opened on July 8, 1994 in Geneva, and led to the signing of the Agreed Framework on October 21. Under terms of the agreement, North Korea was obligated to freeze its graphite-moderated reactor at Yongbyon and halt construction of two more reactors. The freeze was to be monitored by the IAEA. North Korea was also required to dispose of the spent fuel from the Yongbyon reactor "in a safe manner that does not involve reprocessing." In return, the United States agreed to "undertake to make arrangements for the provision" to North Korea of a light water reactor (LWR) project "with a total generating capacity of approximately 2,000 MW(e) by a target date of 2003." An international consortium would be organized under the leadership of the U.S. to finance and supply the project. Light water reactors do not hold the same potential as graphite-moderated reactors for the production of plutonium that can be reprocessed for use in the development of nuclear weapons. As an interim measure, while the light water reactors were under construction the United States was obligated to supply North Korea annually with half a million tons of "heavy oil for heating and electricity production." (6) The oil shipments were intended to serve as partial compensation to North Korea for being forced to abandon efforts to meet its energy needs.
Faced with a dire energy shortage, the Agreed Framework in effect obliged North Korea to forgo economic recovery until the light water reactors would be completed. Once the light water reactors would become operational, they would be capable of generating far more power than the graphite-moderated reactors that North Korea was compelled to freeze. While the energy shortage in North Korea continued to worsen under the press of U.S. sanctions and a series of natural disasters, the U.S. deliberately delayed construction of the new reactors. Although the 1994 Agreed Framework obligated the consortium to complete construction of both light water reactors by 2003, years passed without any action other than building the infrastructure needed to support the construction project. The U.S. calculated that North Korea would not long survive its economic difficulties, and that if construction of the reactors could be delayed long enough, they need never be built. Newly elected President Bush openly expressed his disdain for the 1994 Agreed Framework. It was only in August 2002 that cement was finally poured for the foundation of the first reactor, at Kumho on the eastern coast. At a minimum, eight years would be required to complete the project, ensuring that at best North Korea would receive relief for its energy shortage 16 years after signing the Agreed Framework.
"Upon conclusion of the supply contract for the provision of the LWR project," reads the Agreed Framework, "ad hoc and routine inspections will resume…with respect to the facilities not subject to the freeze." Inspections of the closed plutonium facilities had continued regularly since 1994, but the more widespread and intrusive inspection program that the U.S. desired could not be implemented under the agreement until completion of the LWR supply contract. The U.S. was not inclined to wait. It wanted those inspections now. At the ceremony marking the laying of the foundation for the first plant, James Pritchard, American delegate to the consortium, insisted that North Korea must immediately allow an expanded inspection program. (7)
The commitment to complete construction of the light water reactors by 2003 wasn’t the only provision flouted by the U.S. Article 2 called for a "move toward full normalization of political and economic relations," and Article 3 clearly stated, "The U.S. will provide formal assurances to the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – North Korea], against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the U.S." (8) Despite those commitments, the U.S. never abandoned its aggressive nuclear posture in relation to the DPRK. Less than four years after signing the 1994 Geneva agreement, in the spring of 1998, U.S. warplanes based at the Seymour Johnson Air Base in North Carolina conducted a mock exercise to simulate a long-range mission to drop nuclear bombs on North Korea. Aircraft from the 4th Fighter Wing carrying concrete dummy bombs intended to represent B61 nuclear bombs flew to the Avon Park Bombing Range in Florida, where they dropped their loads. According to Brigadier General Randall K. Bigum, "We simulated fighting a war in Korea, using a Korean scenario" that "simulated a decision by the National Command Authority about considering using nuclear weapons… We identified aircraft, crews, and weapons loaders to load up tactical nuclear weapons onto our aircraft. When that phase was terminated, the last phase of the exercise, the employment phase, began. It required us to fly those airplanes down to a range in Florida and drop a concrete blivet. The blivet has the same aerodynamic shape as a bomb, but is full of concrete." (9)
President George W. Bush was no more disposed to respect Article 3 of the Agreed Framework than was his predecessor. During his State of the Union address on January 29, 2002, President Bush singled out North Korea along with Iraq and Iran as belonging to his ludicrous concept of an "axis of evil," accusing North Korea of "arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction." (10) Officials in North Korea were not blind. They could see Bush preparing to wage a war of aggression against Iraq, first on the list of so-called "evil" nations. It was no mystery which nation was second. Less than three months later, the Bush Administration ordered the Pentagon to develop plans for a more flexible policy in the use of nuclear weapons, authorizing their use in three potential scenarios. Henceforth nuclear weapons could be employed in "retaliation for attack with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons" and "against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack," an apparent reference to North Korean underground industrial and military facilities. A third category called for nuclear attack "in the event of surprising military developments," a phrase vague enough to allow open-ended interpretation. The policy directed the Pentagon to be prepared to use nuclear weapons against seven countries: Russia, China, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya and Syria. (11)
The North Koreans had ample cause to fear such aggressive posturing, based on bitter memories of their last experience with the US military during the 1950-3 Korean War. In the first year of that war, on November 5, 1950, General Douglas MacArthur ordered the destruction of "every means of communication, every installation, factory, city and village" in an area stretching from the Yalu River to the battle line. The first city to be levelled was Sinuiju, and napalm soon began to be employed during bombing raids against civilians. Over 2,300 gallons of napalm were dropped on Pyongyang in one raid alone, in July 1952. Mass fire bombings systematically wiped out one town after another, and US planes also targeted power stations and irrigation dams that supported rice fields. As irrigation dams were destroyed, villages downstream were swept away in the resulting floods, inflicting enormous death and destruction. At various times during the war, the US even considered use of tactical nuclear weapons. Hungarian correspondent Tibor Meray witnessed the "destruction and horrible things committed by the American forces. Everything which moved in North Korea was a military target, peasants in the fields were often machine gunned by pilots" motivated by what seemed to him amusement. Meray saw "complete devastation between the Yalu River and the capital" of North Korea. There were "no more cities in North Korea," he reported. Every city Meray passed through "was a collection of chimneys. I don’t know why houses collapsed and chimneys did not, but I went through a city of 200,000 inhabitants and I saw thousands of chimneys and that was all." General William Dean, taken prisoner during the war, remembered being amazed at the sight of the city of Huichon. "The city I’d seen before – two storied buildings, a prominent main street – wasn’t there anymore," while "most of the towns were just rubble or snowy open spaces where buildings had been." All of these towns, he said, "once full of people, were unoccupied shells. The villagers lived in entirely new temporary villages, hidden in canyons." Executions of civilians occurred on a mass scale, both by American troops and by U.S.-installed South Korean President Syngman Rhee’s forces. As U.S. soldiers were pushed out of North Korea by advancing Chinese and North Korean troops, they deliberately destroyed everything in their path. The war diary of the 24th Infantry Division relates, "Razing of villages along our withdrawal routes and destruction of food staples became the order of the day." A Chinese soldier remembers that virtually no house was left standing and that the region was filled with homeless people during the winter of 1950-1 when temperatures dropped to 40 below zero. According to General Curtis LeMay, "We burned down just about every city in North and South Korea both," and "we killed off over a million civilian Koreans and drove several million more from their homes." During the war, North Korean responded to such terror tactics by building underground factories and housing on a large scale. (12) North Korean concerns over U.S. threats are routinely dismissed as over-sensitivity, but such a view can only be sustained by ignorance of the history of the Korean War. The North Koreans haven’t forgotten the experience, building many post-war factories and military facilities underground. It should be pointed out that such underground facilities fall into the second category of targets the Bush Administration identifies as justifying the use of nuclear weapons: targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack.
Nuclear Frame-up and Imperial Arrogance
Once President Bush took office, he promptly broke off contacts between the U.S. and North Korea. Nearly a year and a half passed before the Bush Administration notified North Korea that it would send Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly to discuss a resumption of dialogue. Eagerly awaiting what was expected to be a diplomatic discussion leading towards regular dialogue, North Korean delegates were shocked during the October 3-5, 2002 meetings to find that Kelly had a different task in mind. At no time during the meetings was Kelly willing to discuss the resumption of relations. Instead, Kelly led off the first meeting by ignoring the usual protocol of greetings, blunting saying that he had not come to negotiate. Kelly then accused North Korea of violating the terms of the Agreed Framework by conducting a secret uranium enrichment program to develop nuclear weapons. Furthermore, he added, there could be no dialogue between the two nations until this program was disbanded. According to the North Koreans, Kelly was "very rude" and presented his demands in an "extremely threatening and arrogant manner." North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Kye-Kwan was "stunned" by Kelly’s display of arrogance. During the first coffee break Kim communicated Kelly’s statements to top ranking officials. When the meeting resumed, Kelly continued his attack, accusing North Korea of "human rights violations." The North Koreans felt that Kelly "behaved as though he was some sort of investigator who came here to check if we were willing to accept U.S. demands and move accordingly or not." The North Korean delegates were particularly upset when Kelly delivered an ultimatum: either they give up their non-existent nuclear weapons program or the U.S. would end contact. Worse yet, Kelly warned that the U.S. would force a halt to burgeoning North Korean relations with Japan and South Korea. The North Korean delegation countered Kelly’s demands with the suggestion that they would discuss settling US security concerns if the Bush Administration would renounce its hostile policy towards the DPRK. The first day’s meeting was followed by an all-night session among top-ranking North Korean officials. (13)
If the Bush Administration had calculated that its one-size-fits-all diplomatic approach of pressure and bullying would work with the DPRK, then it had seriously miscalculated. Fiercely independent, North Korea bases its political philosophy on what it calls ‘juche sasang’ – the ideology of self-reliance. Rather than bend to threats, the North Korean delegation responded predictably with an assertion of pride. During the second day of meetings, First Deputy Foreign Minister Kang Sok-Ju told Kelly that the DPRK was entitled to have nuclear weapons to ensure its security if the U.S. continued threatening it. This was not an admission of a nuclear weapons program. Kang was sending the U.S. a message that North Korea could not be pushed around and that if the Bush Administration’s nuclear threats continued, then the DPRK would consider taking measures in self-defense. It was in fact their right to do so, a right ensured by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Article X of the treaty stipulates that "Each party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country." Clearly, North Korea faces just such a threat from the U.S. According to North Korean state television, "We just explained out basic position that we are entitled to possess nuclear weapons if the United States violates their nuclear agreement and forces the country into a nuclear war. However, the Bush Administration made use of this to argue that we are developing nuclear weapons. Such a fabrication will not be accepted." While emphasizing its right to pursue development of nuclear weapons if pressed too hard, the North Koreans preferred a diplomatic solution and repeatedly asked for assurance that the US would cease its threats. The North Korean delegation offered to negotiate a resolution of the nuclear issue with the U.S. based on three conditions: 1) that the U.S. recognize the sovereignty of the DPRK; 2) that the U.S. not impose punitive economic measures; and 3) that the U.S. provide assurance that it would not attack North Korea. The North Koreans were painfully aware of the hostile intent of the Bush Administration as well as its plans to invade Iraq. Their concerns were brushed aside by the U.S. delegation, which used the nuclear accusation to push its demand that Western inspectors be permitted to roam at will throughout North Korea. (14) From the standpoint of the Bush Administration, such inspections promised several potential benefits. The inspection process might turn up something which the U.S. could usefully misrepresent, providing a pretext for military action or threats. As with UN inspectors in Iraq until 1998 and European monitors in Kosovo before the NATO war, the process could double as an intelligence-gathering mission, aiding the U.S. military in planning future military operations. And finally, an intrusive inspection program would provide a foot in the door for Western meddling in the DPRK, leading to further demands and pressure on the North Koreans to allow other forms of interference.
The Bush Administration surely knew that the North Koreans would not grovel, and Kelly’s performance therefore was probably intended to sever relations and allow the U.S. to withdraw from its commitments under the 1994 Agreed Framework. Following the meetings Kelly returned to Seoul, where he announced that he had communicated to North Korean officials "our serious concerns and raised the implications of North Korean conduct," but that there were "no decisions on additional meetings at this time nor did either side expect any." Nothing was mentioned about a North Korean nuclear weapons program. (15) The next day, the North Koreans went public with their own reaction to the failed meetings, pointing out that "the U.S. Bush Administration is continuing to pursue – instead of dialogue – a hard-line hostile policy of trying to dominate us with strength and high-handedness." (16) Twelve days passed after the end of the meeting before the U.S. suddenly proclaimed that the North Korean delegation had admitted to conducting a secret nuclear weapons program. The Bush Administration had apparently determined that it could best achieve its goal of isolating North Korea by twisting Kang’s words. A compliant press could be counted on to parrot the accusation as if it was fact, and there was little risk that a reporter would inquire about evidence. It was an expectation that was not disappointed.
Outside the U.S., not everyone bought the story. The South Korean Defense Ministry questioned the assertion that North Korea had already built plutonium nuclear weapons and pointed out that these bombs – "if they exist, would weigh between 2 and 3 tons because of lack of technology to make them lighter." The weight of such weapons would exceed the delivery capability of North Korea’s missiles and bombers. (17) Russian military analysts concluded that North Korea lacks the "military and economic potential" to produce nuclear weapons and that the "existing military potential of the DPRK is quite definitely of defensive nature." (18) U.S. Undersecretary John Bolton visited Russia and presented U.S. evidence of the North Korean nuclear weapons program, hoping to persuade the Russians to back American pressure on North Korea. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov was distinctly unimpressed with the quality of such evidence, stating that "the Russian side has not yet received any convincing evidence of the existence of such a program." (19) South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-Hyun suspected that the U.S. was not being entirely honest. "I am afraid that Kang Sok-Ju’s remarks were quoted without their full context." Lim Dong-Won, South Korean Presidential Advisor for Security and Unification, commented that the timing was suspicious. "The U.S. notified us of the secret program in August, when Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi planned to visit Pyongyang and the two Koreas embarked on reconnection of railways and roads." (20) There was an added reason for suspicion about the timing of the announcement, which was sure to have an effect on the South Korean presidential election scheduled to take place on December 19.
Opening Salvos in the Anti-DPRK Campaign
Once the press was filled with the contrived story of a nuclear arms program, the propaganda groundwork was laid for diplomatic efforts to isolate and pressure North Korea. James Kelly met with Chinese and South Korean officials, revealing afterwards that the U.S. was working to apply "maximum international pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons ambition." That the U.S. intended to abrogate the 1994 Agreed Framework was indicated by Kelly’s assertion that the U.S. would not consider a diplomatic resolution such as the one in 1994. Bush was determined to kill the agreement, and U.S. officials visiting Japan and South Korea pushed for shutting down the project to build light water reactors. While Kelly was meeting with Asian leaders, U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton travelled to Russia, France and Great Britain hoping to win support for the isolation of North Korea. While Kelly and Bolton’s efforts to persuade foreign officials to agree to an economic embargo against North Korea failed to bear fruit, they planned to persist. "This is going to take some time," admitted one American official, "because a lot of countries have different equities with the North Koreans." In addition to an end to the non-existent nuclear weapons program, U.S. officials also called for "verification," by which they meant intrusive inspections in North Korea. But that was not all. "This time," one American official insisted, "we must also address other problems – missile transfer, the conventional forces the North has, and the abominable way it treats its people." All code words for what would in reality be an endless series of demands and pressure intended to lead to toppling the government of North Korea. "We control [North Korea’s] hopes for the future, and we can hold those hopes hostage," a high-ranking State Department official threatened. (21)
In October 2002, President Bush upped the ante by issuing a classified executive order granting U.S. special forces authority to operate clandestinely in nations with which the U.S. is not at war and to destroy "arms supply lines" to terrorists and the three nations comprising the so-called axis of evil. The targets of U.S. covert military operations could include both arms and scientific equipment that the U.S. judged might potentially serve a dual use for the manufacture of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. As the U.S. has for years denied permission for Iraq to import medical equipment based on questionable claims of potential dual use, the executive order could permit covert military operations against a wide variety of firms engaging in normal trade with Iran, Iraq and North Korea. (22)
The furor caused by the U.S. accusation would not die down, and North Korea was caught in a bind. It could not abandon a nuclear weapons program that it did not have. U.S. demands were perfectly crafted to prevent a diplomatic solution, enabling the U.S. to implement any hostile tactic it chose. The Foreign Ministry of the DPRK issued a statement pointing out that the Bush Administration had listed North Korea as a member of an "axis of evil" and a potential nuclear target. "Its reckless political, economic and military pressure is most seriously threatening the DPRK’s right to existence, creating a grave situation on the Korean peninsula." For that reason, the statement continued, North Korea had told Kelly that it was "entitled to possess not only nuclear weapons but any type of weapons more powerful than that so as to defend its sovereignty and right to existence from the ever-growing nuclear threat by the U.S." For the North Koreans, Kelly’s belligerent behavior during the October meetings offended their expectation that they be treated with respect. According to the Foreign Ministry statement, the North Korean delegation had insisted that it had the right to develop nuclear weapons if it chose because it was "left with no other proper answer to the U.S. behaving so arrogantly and impertinently. The DPRK has neither need nor duty to explain something to the U.S. seeking to attack it." The Foreign Ministry concluded by calling for a "non-aggression treaty between the DPRK and the U.S." With such a treaty, it said, North Korea would clear American security concerns. (23)
It was clearly apparent that North Korea had its own security concerns. In its case the concerns were based on a real threat, not an imagined one. It was the U.S. that had threatened North Korea with nuclear weapons, not the other way around. It was the U.S. that was imposing an economic embargo on North Korea, and it was the U.S. that had repeatedly demonstrated it would bomb or invade whoever it chose, as it did with Libya, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. A disinterested observer might conclude that not only was North Korea entitled to develop nuclear weapons, but for the sake of its survival it should do so. But that is not what the North Koreans had in mind. The assertion of that right was an expression of resentment at being treated as a naughty child being scolded by an angry parent. North Korea resented being lectured in an arrogant manner about a non-existent nuclear weapons program by a representative of the nation that was threatening it with nuclear weapons. What North Korea truly desired was the mere assurance that the U.S. would not launch a war of aggression against it.
By early November, North Korea had softened its stance, dropping the demand for a non-aggression treaty as a pre-condition for negotiations. "Everything is negotiable," said the North Korean ambassador to the UN, Han Song-Ryol. "There must be a continuing dialogue. If both sides sit together, the matter can be resolved peacefully and quickly." Predictably, Washington immediately rebuffed the offer, as White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer responded, "North Korea knows what it needs to do. It needs to dismantle its nuclear program and honor its treaty obligations. It’s not a question of talking. It’s a question of action." (24) As long as the Bush Administration could maintain its rigid adherence to the demand that North Korean dismantle a nuclear program it did not have, it could continue to avoid diplomacy.
Putting the Energy Squeeze on North Korea
The U.S. took a tough stance at the meeting of the Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Group in Tokyo on November 9-10, 2002, pressing for the ship carrying the November allotment of heavy oil to North Korea to be turned around. South Korea and Japan opposed this demand, arguing that the program to ship heavy oil should continue "because its cancellation will only aggravate the situation." Washington took an aggressive stance, advocating not only a halt to oil shipments but also to construction of the light water reactors. The U.S. also called for a readjustment to the Agreed Framework. Unable to come to agreement, the three nations decided to defer a decision until they met again on November 14 at the executive board meeting of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO). KEDO is the consortium responsible for construction of the light water reactors in North Korea. (25)
The night before the KEDO meeting was to open, President Bush met with his national security advisors and made a unilateral decision that oil shipments to North Korea would cease starting in December, thereby excluding the involvement of South Korea and Japan from the decision. Allowing the November shipment to proceed was his only concession to their concerns. South Korea had argued that shipments should continue at least through to the final shipment for the year, in January. Presented with a fait accompli by Washington, South Korea and Japan felt they had no other option than to fall in line. The executive board meeting of KEDO issued a statement announcing the suspension of oil deliveries. "Future shipments will depend on North Korea’s concrete and credible actions to dismantle completely its highly enriched program," it said. "In this light other KEDO activities with North Korea will be reviewed." An official from South Korea’s Unification Ministry admitted afterwards that by acquiescing to the "U.S. hard-line position," KEDO’s position would hurt North-South relations. "We had hoped for more moderate measures," he said. The decision by KEDO drew a sharp response from North Korea. "We believe it is time to make clear who is truly responsible for breaking the Geneva Pact. KEDO by ending its oil supply has cheated against its earlier pledge to provide substitute energy for production and heat. It was the only provision among the four that was being implemented accordingly." For the U.S., halting oil deliveries in December would have the merit of inflicting hardship on the North Korean people when the oil was needed most – during the cold winter months. American officials regarded the decision as only an opening move in a campaign to squeeze North Korea. The U.S. also planned to tighten sanctions against North Korea by pressuring other nations to withhold trade credits from North Korea. "We are going to contain and isolate them," a senior U.S. official announced with relish. (26)
The delivery of heavy oil to North Korea was indeed the sole provision of the Agreed Framework honored by the U.S. The U.S. had for years intentionally delayed construction of the two light water reactors which the Agreed Framework specified would both have "a target date of 2003." Furthermore, while the agreement called for "both sides to reduce barriers to trade and investment," the U.S. chose instead to maintain an economic embargo against North Korea. The U.S. was also obliged by the Agreed Framework to "provide formal assurances to the DPRK against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the U.S." (27) Not only did it fail to do so, but U.S. military policy specifically called for the possible use of nuclear weapons against North Korea in the event of conflict. By the time the U.S. had abandoned the last provision of the Agreed Framework that it had not violated, North Korea was still honoring the agreement in full.
In the editorial pages of Western newspapers, U.S. obligations under the Agreed Framework have been portrayed as an overgenerous gift, in which North Korea gave up nothing. In fact, the case was nearly the opposite. Although funding of the light water reactor project would come primarily from South Korea and Japan, the agreement between KEDO and the DPRK required North Korea to "repay KEDO for each LWR plant in equal, semiannual installments, free of interest, over a 20-year term." While the terms were generous, this was not a gift, and a North Korea that was invariably strapped for foreign exchange due to sanctions might be expected to have difficulty in paying for the reactors. According to the agreement, if North Korea failed to "pay the full amount of a financial obligation on or before the payment date," then it would be assessed a penalty at a rate equal to generally available commercial loan rates plus 2 to 3 percent. Furthermore, 30 days after partial or non-payment, KEDO could "declare all or part of" any financial obligations "to be immediately due and payable." In the worst case scenario, a single late or missed payment could result in the demand for immediate payment of the total cost of the reactors. It should perhaps also be noted that, like the Agreed Framework, the KEDO agreement stipulates that "KEDO shall develop a delivery schedule for the LWR project aimed at achieving a completion date of 2003." Not surprisingly, no penalty is specified in the agreement for late delivery of the reactors. (28) Labor for construction of the reactors was to be provided primarily by North Korean workers, but when the DPRK insisted that its workers be paid fair wages, KEDO responded by bringing in 700 Uzbek workers willing to accept low wages until, as the executive director of KEDO put it, "Pyongyang realizes the error of its ways." (29)
For the DPRK, the Agreed Framework meant several years of sacrifice and hardship, compelling it to freeze construction of its graphite-moderated reactors that would have supplied urgently needed electrical power. Since the agreement had essentially forced North Korea to put economic recovery on hold until completion of the light water reactors, the U.S. could ensure that the North Korean economy would remain hobbled as long as it delayed construction. Another unfortunate aspect of the agreement for North Korea was that its graphite-moderated reactors could rely on its sizable natural deposits of uranium, whereas light water reactors would have to depend on the import of nuclear fuel from hostile Western nations that could shut off the supply at any time. (30)
The demise of the Soviet Union and the loss of trading partners in Eastern Europe had a devastating impact on North Korea, which saw its economy contract by 30 percent in the five years following 1991. Lacking any reserves of oil or natural gas, North Korea must rely entirely on imports to meet its oil needs. While the Soviet Union had furnished North Korea with oil at subsidized rates, post-Soviet Russia would supply oil only at commercial market rates. By 1993, fuel imported from Russia stood at only 10 percent of its level three years earlier, and that amount continued to shrink. Because of sanctions, North Korea’s lack of access to credit and foreign exchange meant that it could no longer import sufficient quantities of oil. By 1996, total oil imports had plunged to only 40 percent of the 1990 level. Maintenance of North Korea’s rapidly aging electrical infrastructure required spare parts that could no longer be obtained at subsidized prices. Worse yet, sanctions meant that purchasing spare parts was difficult at best and often impossible at any price. The energy shortage had a rippling effect throughout the economy, causing factories and manufacturing plants to shut down. By 2000, the various sectors of industrial output stood at 11 to 30 percent of their 1990 levels. In the six years following 1990, road freight fell 70 percent and rail by 60 percent, placing further burdens on the manufacturing sector. North Korea has substantial deposits of coal and this resource provided over two thirds of its energy in the early 1990s. Unfortunately, many mines were forced to shut down because of floods later in the decade, as well as due to a shortage of spare parts and electricity to power mining equipment and lights. Out of 62 major power plants, 20 are thermal, primarily based on coal, while the remaining 42 are hydroelectric plants. Flood damage and droughts reduced the level of electrical power generated at hydroelectric plants in 1996 to only 38 percent of the 1990 level. By the end of the 1990s the total supply of commercial energy in the DPRK had plunged by as much as two-thirds. (31) Clearly, the addition of nuclear power to the energy mix was an urgent task; one that North Korea was forced to abandon in 1994 under threat of war by the United States.
The annual supply of 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil by the United States accounted for only two percent of North Korea’s total energy and 8 percent of its fuel supply, according to the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainable Development. South Koran sources place the percentage of energy supply higher, at 15 percent. The heavy fuel oil was supplied in the form of liquid coal, which North Korea used primarily to fire its thermal power plants. The sulfur content in liquid coal, however, has the unfortunate effect of corroding boiler tubes eventually making them inoperable, so the net impact of the heavy fuel oil on production is questionable. The shipments of heavy fuel oil acquired a disproportionate importance during the winter months when rivers and reservoirs feeding hydroelectric plants freeze over. The freeze generally lasts until March, followed by a dry period before the hydroelectric plants can resume operation. It is during that time that North Korea is particularly dependent on its thermal plants. Cutting off the supply of heavy fuel oil, points out Peter Hayes of the Nautilus Institute, "as winter arrives basically means that people who are sick, old, tired, will now be even colder, and will, at the margin, be slightly more likely to die from being sick or actually freezing to death in hospitals and homes." (32) "The power shortage in North Korea is already severe," notes Kim Kyoung-Sool of the Korea Energy Economics Institute in South Korea. "Factories are operating on a rotational basis and even government officials have held talks by candlelight in a top-class hotel. One or two months of delay might be okay, but a complete suspension of the oil deliveries would be a fatal blow." (33)
By halting deliveries of heavy fuel oil precisely at the onset of winter, the U.S. had coldly calculated to further its political objectives by inflicting harm on the people of North Korea. Already U.S. sanctions had brought the North Korean economy to its knees, forcing plants to close and production to grind to a halt. Without the light water reactors it had been promised by 2003 and constrained by sanctions, there was no possibility for North Korea to produce the energy that it needed. Black outs are a frequent occurrence in North Korea, and the entire nation is blanketed in darkness at night. Throughout the winter, buildings must manage with little or no heat. Nothing so clearly illustrates the magnitude of the U.S.-imposed catastrophe as NASA photographs taken of the Earth at night. Lights abound in South Korea, China and Japan. In the midst of this panoply of light sits an area of near total darkness. That is North Korea. (34) Referring to those same NASA photographs, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld arrogantly concluded that the victim was to blame. "It’s a tragedy what’s being done in that country," he said. It only requires a change of one word for Rumsfield’s sentence to accurately portray U.S. policy: It’s a tragedy what’s being done to that country.
Disasters, Natural and Man Made
The energy shortfall also had a parlous effect on the food supply in North Korea. The shortage of electricity inevitably limited productivity at fertilizer factories. Before 1990 North Korea was able to meet most of its fertilizer needs through its own production, accounting for 600,000 to 800,000 tons per year. As a result of the energy crisis, since 1995 North Korean fertilizer production totals less than 100,000 tons per year. The lack of foreign exchange has meant that little additional fertilizer could be imported. Several plants have closed down entirely or operate at reduced levels due to lack of energy and spare parts. The precipitous drop in coal production was another contributing factor to the decline, as fertilizer plants depend on coal both for energy and for chemical feedstock. Furthermore, the transportation of the 1.5. to 2.0 tons of coal required to match old production levels is simply an impossibility given the lack of fuel. Due to the shortfall in fertilizer production, agricultural operations operate at only 20 to 30 percent of their previous levels of land fertilization - the most significant factor in diminishing crop yields.
Prior to 1990, North Korean agriculture was heavily mechanized, but the energy crisis has wrought a painful transformation. The nation’s agricultural equipment is primarily powered by diesel fuel, which is in particularly short supply, resulting in a 70 to 80 percent reduction in the use of tractors and other machinery. A UN mission visiting North Korea in 1998 found that a "significant proportion of the motorized agricultural equipment is out of service due either to having reached the end of its service life, or due to lack of vital spare parts." Furthermore, "even if the entire machinery park could rapidly be brought back into service, the equipment could still not be operated unless it also became possible to restore adequate fuel supplies." Inevitably, agriculture in North Korea has become more labor and animal intensive, further reducing yields. The UN mission reported that "the entire rice crop is being managed this year employing only hand labor or animals, apart from an initial primary tillage operation," and "the entire maize crop is being produced employing only hand labor or draught animals." Irrigation depends on electricity to power water pumps. Rice in particular is affected, as it requires extensive irrigation. More than half of irrigation pumping occurs during the month of May, requiring levels of electrical power that simply cannot be provided under current circumstances. Startlingly, the demand for irrigation pumping exceeds one third of the total power capacity in North Korea, and this percentage may be much higher in some pockets. According to the 19
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