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An Analysis of the North Korean Weapons Crisis

Since the Cold War the United States has been forced to take a proactive approach to relations with nuclear capable countries. Recent administrations have had to contend with economic challenges, a rapidly changing social and political climate, and the War on Terrorism. However, nuclear capable countries have continued to be a matter of priority in national security. In the post Cold War era the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also known as the DPRK or North Korea, has been the most vocal about their nuclear capabilities and their willingness to use them.

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A History of United States, North Korean Relations

An Analysis of the North Korean Weapons Crisis

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In 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea. War raged until 1953 when a ceasefire was called, though no formal peace treaty was written or observed (Freedman, 2018). In the years to follow the DPRK, functioned as a “Stalinist satellite state” (Eberstadt, 2018) before breaking away from the USSR and adopting their own unique brand of totalitarianism, Juche, or national self-reliance (CIA, n.d) under the leadership of the Korean Worker’s Party and Kim Il-Sung (Funk and Wagnalls, 2017). The Juche ideology has led to extreme political and geographic isolation, oppression of the country’s citizens to include widespread famine and lack of general provision, as well as political and military tension between the DPRK and South Korea, China, and the United States.

In the 1980’s the administration of President Ronald Reagan became concerned with the DPRK’s desire to become nuclear capable. During Reagan’s administration Il-Sung, who is still referred to as the Great Leader by citizens of the DPRK, despite this death “established foundation for the facilities and expertise required for nuclear weapons” (Hecker, 2017). At the close of the Cold War the DPRK and South Korea signed the Joint Declaration of the Korean Peninsula, in which both countries “agreed that neither would test, manufacture, produce, receive possess, store, deploy, or use nuclear weapons” (Hecker, 2017). Despite the very intentional and exhaustive language of the Joint Declaration, it was largely disregarded, as evidenced by satellite images that were leaked to the South Korean media suggesting that the North was still pursuing nuclear capabilities. This led to talks under the administration of President George H.W. Bush, who left office with the possibility of diplomatic relations with a nuclear capable DPRK (Hecker, 2017).

Tension between the U.S. and the DPRK escalated early in the administration of President Bill Clinton when the DPRK threated to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty when the International Atomic Energy Agency found evidence of cheating on a 1992 visit to a facility in Yongbyong and called for additional inspections. Later, the unloading of reactor fuel nearly resulted in war between the two countries, until Former President Jimmy Carter stepped in to facilitate diplomatic talks. In October of 1994 in Geneva, Switzerland the Agreed Framework was signed in which the DPRK agreed to give up “indigenous nuclear reactor program for the promise of two modern electricity producing nuclear reactors to be supplied by the U.S., South Korea, and Japan” (Hecker, 2017). Despite the Agreed Framework, the relationship between the U.S. and the DPRK during the Clinton administration was markedly tense with suspicions running high. During this time Il-Sung died and his son, Kim Jung-Il, took over control of the country. Jung-Il was suspected of pursuing centrifuge technologies as an alternative to plutonium and fired a long-range missile over Japan in 1998, causing an international incident that required the involvement of then Secretary of Defense William Perry (Hecker, 2017).

The administration of George W. Bush began in this atmosphere, and President Bush brought with him several members of his national security team that did not approve of the Agreed Framework. Taking a more aggressive approach than the previous administrations the Bush administration took the position that the DPRK could have no nuclear weapons and that the U.S. would participate in limited diplomacy. Furthermore, in the 2002 State of the Union Address President Bush declared that the DPRK was a part of the Axis of Evil, and upon verifying that Jong-Il was pursuing uranium enrichment, the Bush administration claimed that the DPRK had violated the Agreed Framework (Hecker, 2017).

The DPRK conducted another long-range missile test shortly after President Barack Obama took office, and later completed a successful nuclear test. This activity gave the United Nations no choice but to impose sanctions on North Korea, after which diplomacy was terminated and inspectors were no longer authorized access to facilities or information (Hecker, 2017).

From President Reagan to President Obama the level of diplomacy between the U.S. and the DPRK ebbed and flowed as president’s and Kim’s changed, economic challenges arose and different threats to the United States drew American attention. After 9/11 America was forced to admit that an attack on American soil, something theoretical for generations, was possible and the unpredictability of the Kim’s became an increasingly looming concern. Additionally, time and circumstance had allowed the world to see a short distance behind the heavy curtain surrounding the DPRK. In addition to the instability of the government, the DPRK’s human rights violations had stacked to toppling since the foundation for their nuclearization had been laid.

Relations Under the Trump Administration

When Donald Trump was elected President of the United States in 2016 some may have speculated that the U.S. now had a leader of equal unpredictability as the DPRK. How the two leaders would interact was questionable and almost half way through President Trump’s turn the relationship with Jung-Un has seemingly gone from one end of the spectrum to the other.

President Trump’s first major interaction with North Korea was not over nuclear weapons, but over a college student. In 2016 Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who had been accused of undermining the regime by removing a propaganda poster from its place on the wall of his Pyongyang hotel, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in a North Korean prison camp. In 2017 it was discovered that Warmbier was unconscious. After a long and convoluted exchange between the American and North Korean governments, Warmbier was brought back to the U.S. He died shortly after his return. In the wake of over a year of trauma dating from Warmbier’s arrest and culminating in his death, Warmbier’s parents were extremely vocal in their pursuit of justice for their son. They claimed that the state Otto was in clearly attested to the fact that Otto had been, at least, beaten while being imprisoned and, at worst, murdered (Clark, 2018). Trump was a proponent of this narrative, going as far as to Tweet a response to an interview of the Warmbier with the affirmation that Warmbier had been “tortured beyond belief by North Korea” (Trump, 2017), though doctors stated that there was no evidence that Otto was tortured at all (Clark, 2018).

Whether President Trump was misinformed, negligent, or truly believes that Warmbier was subjected to torture during this time in the DPRK remains unclear. Trump and Jung-Un engaged in a war of words for the remainder of 2017 and into 2018, until March when members of the South Korean government notified Trump, and then the rest of the world, that Trump and Jung-Un would meet face to face (Fifield, et. al. 2018).

Though the summit was delayed, the two eventually met in Singapore, and the meeting changed Trump’s narrative on North Korea and Kim Jung-Un significantly. Trump came away claiming that he trusted Jung-Un and that a nuclear threat no longer existed (Eberstadt, 2018). This is a far cry from the narrative that President Trump was seemingly accepting and certainly propagating in the wake of Warmbier’s death. It is a shocking change in position considering that during the Singapore Summit Jung-Un gave no account for his country’s nuclear arsenal nor did he concede to the U.S.’s former stance “complete verifiable irreversible denuclearization” be required, rather changing the verbiage to include “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” (Eberstadt, 2018), a significant change that implies nominal commitment to the denuclearization, but does not commit North Korea to any practical steps. Trump, however, stopped joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises, repeating the North Korean narrative that they were war games that were provocative (Eberstadt, 2018).

The role of South Korea in U.S./DPRK relations is undeniable. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is the son of North Korean refugees and ran his presidential campaign on a platform of reconciliation. He made headway in April when he and Jung-Un met at the Demilitarized Zone, each leader crossing into the opposite country momentarily before sitting down to a meeting where they signed the Panmjon Declaration, “a commitment to forge lasting peace” by way of rebuilding rail and roadways between the two countries, opening a permanent liaison office in the city of Gaesong, organizing civic and sports exchanges, and reuniting separated families (Shorrock, 2018). Moon himself has had two additional meetings with Jung-Un this year and has pushed for more (Berlinger, et. al., 2018). He’s also embraced his role as the intermediary between the DPRK and the US to secure his own country’s position, and to aid in the reunification of the peninsula (Freedman, 2018).

An Analysis

The state of the relationship between the U.S. and North Korea is currently predicated on two highly unpredictable men. It’s likely that Jung-Un is, at least to a point, motivated by insecurity. He views his ability to threaten mainland U.S. as his best play to avoid American aggression, he is sure to understand that to act on nuclear abilities would result in an aggressive response. Still, he is willing to use the threat of nuclear war to avoid a fate like that of Hussein or Bin Laden.

For his part, President Trump began his term with a philosophy like former Presidents Obama and Bush; one of heavy sanctions and threat of military action as an answer to Jung-Un’s threats. He has, however, seemingly changed his philosophy 180 degrees since the Singapore Summit, even though no ground was gained by the U.S. and none noticeably conceded by the DPRK.

Moreover, even though President Trump has declared that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat, he has failed to address the fact that North Korea is not a threat just in nuclearization, but in several other ways as well. Trump was not far off when he declared North Korea a state party in state sponsored terrorism, as they are a “WMD merchant for Iran, Syria, Hezzbollah, Hamas” (Eberstadt, 2018), as well being culpable in the kidnapping of foreigners, cybercrime, and if their role in the assassination of Jung-Un’s half brother is to be believed, have access to chemical weapons as well (Eberstadt, 2018).

Underscoring these threats is the oppression of the North Korean people who have suffered greatly under the Kim regime. While it is commonly acknowledged that the citizens of the DPRK suffer from malnutrition, forced labor, and varying forms of government-imposed manipulation, the degree to which these things are true have scarcely been acknowledged by Trump in a manner likely to impact the welfare of the people.

One of a million examples of the state of affairs in North Korea is the case of a soldier who defected in 2017. Fleeing in line of sight of his fellow soldiers, the defector was shot several times. When he was evaluated and treated at a South Korean hospital doctors discovered that he had several large parasites in his system and had Hepatitis B, both likely results of antiquated farming practices in the country, such as the common use of human fertilizer. Furthermore, a study done by South Korea’s Danook University College of Medicine in 2015 evaluated 169 defectors and found that 7 of 17 females who provided stool samples had similar parasites, and 1 in 10 defectors had Hepatitis B (Lee, Westcott, 2017). The Dankook study provides evidence that the soldier’s state of health, which likely played a large part in motivating his defection, is not uncommon.

In considering diplomacy with Jung-Un, the other threats posed by North Korea, to the larger world and especially to their own citizens, cannot be considered matter of secondary importance. Whether the end game for Jung-Un and Trump is a denuclearized DPRK or a DPRK that is nuclearized and stabilized, North Korea’s political associations, illegal activities, and mostly importantly, the provision and freedom of their own people must be addressed. Conclusion

Since their break with the Soviet Union, the DPRK has sought to become nuclearized. They have achieved their goal and have used their nuclear capabilities as a means of staving off U.S. aggression, though it has caused a great deal of devastation by way of diplomacy and sanctions. Through three generations of the Kim Dynasty and a handful of American presidents the level of diplomacy versus aggression between the two countries has ebbed and flowed.

Most recently, President Trump has embraced a level of diplomacy with North Korea that is unprecedented in modern history. While striving to secure a stabilized Korean peninsula, whether the two countries are reunified, is certainly desirable, several aspects of North Korean practice remain unaddressed. President Trump would be wise to address these issues, clearly, before rushing into decreased sanctions or alliance with North Korea.

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An Analysis of the North Korean Weapons Crisis
Artscolumbia
Artscolumbia
Since the Cold War the United States has been forced to take a proactive approach to relations with nuclear capable countries. Recent administrations have had to contend with economic challenges, a rapidly changing social and political climate, and the War on Terrorism. However, nuclear capable countries have continued to be a matter of priority in national security. In the post Cold War era the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also known as the DPRK or North Korea, has been the most voc
2022-02-20 01:44:35
An Analysis of the North Korean Weapons Crisis
$ 13.900 2018-12-31
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