Why The U.S. Won't Accept a 'Freeze' on North Korean Nukes

A commentary by Andrei Lankov
China's top negotiator on the North Korean nuclear issue Wu Dawei (L) being greeted by a North Korean official upon his arrival at Pyongyang airport, Aug. 26, 2013. Wu is China's chief negotiator to the six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons drive.

In recent days, North Korea has been expressing interest in the Six-Party Talks and various other multilateral conferences while its media simultaneously emphasize that the country will never give up its nuclear weapons. This appears very contradictory, especially if you remember that the basic goal of the Six-Party Talks is the denuclearization of North Korea.

Looks can be deceiving, however, and the country’s stand is actually not that contradictory at all.

North Korea does not desire denuclearization. Rather, the country desires a treaty, similar to the one signed in 1994, that will freeze its own nuclear program on the condition it will get sufficient compensation from the U.S. and the international community.

Of course, once such a treaty is concluded, North Korea will continue to keep the nuclear weapons it has already produced and will maintain facilities that could produce even more nuclear weapons.

In the long term, it may be possible that the U.S. and the international community could accept such a treaty. That being said, there are three reasons why a treaty like that has little chance of becoming a reality any time soon, and why U.S. policymakers believe it would go against their interests.

Dangerous precedent

First, U.S. policymakers believe that even if North Korea does not develop any more nuclear weapons, the U.S. would be giving in to blackmail and would allow the country to maintain its current stockpile.

Over the past few decades, there have been several countries like North Korea that have developed nuclear weapons, including South Africa, Pakistan, India, and Israel. However, these countries never signed the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires signatories to abandon nuclear-weapons development.

North Korea signed this treaty but ended up violating it. As a result, the U.S. government believes that giving money to North Korea could set a dangerous precedent that would lead to nuclear proliferation.

Second, the U.S. government does not trust North Korea. North Korea promised to freeze its nuclear development in 1994 but continued to secretly produce enriched uranium. In 2012, the country promised not to launch a long-range missile, but then announced two weeks later that it would go ahead with the launch anyway.

Ultimately, U.S. experts and diplomats believe that trusting North Korea is foolish because they know that the country breaks promises and violates treaties whenever it likes.

Political concerns

Third, U.S. domestic policies could also become a problem. President Obama is now receiving very sharp criticism from Republicans in Congress. The Republican Party has traditionally supported hard-line foreign policies, and this is why they are criticizing the president’s moderate policy.

In this situation, the Obama administration could severely damage its position if it makes an agreement unfavorable to the U.S.

Ultimately, while it may be possible in the long term to reach an agreement to freeze North Korea’s nuclear program, currently it does not seem very likely that the U.S. would accept such an agreement.

Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, is a Russian historian, North Korea expert, and regular RFA contributor.

Translated by Robert Lauler.


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