Russian View on the North Korean Nuclear Problem

On October 9, 2006, Pyongyang conducted an underground nuclear test. The force of the nuclear explosion was equivalent to merely 400 to 500 tons of TNT  due to this fact, the test cannot be seen as a success. Nevertheless, the blast has had the utmost negative effect on security both on the Korean peninsula and North-East Asia, as well as the world over because nuclear weapon proliferation may possibly spin out of control.

The DPRK has virtually become a ninth nuclear state, aside from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Israel, India and Pakistan. Meanwhile, no less than 11other "threshold" nuclear states are standing in line, many of which are being involved or might be involved in regional conflicts. This being so, the outbreak of a local nuclear war seems to be inevitable in future. For this reason that Seoul called right away for an immediate discussion of the North Korean nuclear test issue at the UN Security Council. This motion was supported by Washington that called the nuclear test a "provocative act" and demanded adopting, under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, a relevant resolution that shall provide for introducing various sanctions against the DPRK. Beijing called upon Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks and simultaneously began to build two- to four-meter high concrete barriers on the border with the DPRK. As for Japan, it promised to sever all contacts with North Korea and deny it humanitarian assistance. Nor did Russia stay away from the issue. Russia made a statement that this kind of step by Pyongyang is undermining the nuclear non-proliferation regime and provoking a nuclear arms race in the region of North-East Asia.

Since the DPRK's nuclear test conducted in defiance of the international community's opinion was of provocative character, on October 14, 2006,  the UN Security Council adopted Resolution № 1718, which condemned the North Korean nuclear explosion as "a clear threat to international peace and security" and demanded that Pyongyang not conduct further nuclear tests or launch ballistic missiles, and should"abandon all nuclear weapons and the existing  nuclear programs, and all other programs for development of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles."

Before discussing the nuclear problem, it's necessary to understand the mindset of today's North Korea.  From the beginning of the 1990s, the country's leaders began to diverge from Marxist-Leninist ideology.  They began to return to values of Confucianism and national traditions, particularly, a cult of their ancestors.  The fundamental new legitimacy of the People's Democratic Republic of Korea became the thesis that it is a continuation of the ancient Korean nation.  It                       strengthened Kim Jong-II`s power and reinforced political stability, which neither starvation nor economic crisis in the second half of the 1990s could shake.

The new leader apparently chose a Chinese route founded on gradual economic reform under tight government control.  Since July, 2002 North Korea sharply reduced the sphere of action of its card-distribution systems and raised workers salaries 15-20 times.  Enterprises are now making use of various forms of material stimulation. Agricultural products procurement prices were increased and cooperative farms members opportunities to engage in individual work activities were expanded.  Limited currency convertibility was adopted and foreign circulation allowed.       

After the first Inter-Korean Summit in history occurred in Pyongyang in June 2000, the relationship between both Koreas improved significantly.  In the end of 2002, Pyongyang sanctioned the joint creation of the Kaesong industrial park and Keumgang Mountains zone of tourism.  Both countries intend to join their national railroads and connect it with the trans-Siberian railroad.

One of the key problems of North Korea's economy is its deficiency of electricity.  The only way that the country will be able to independently provide for its own energy needs is by atomic energy.  For example, due to limited exports of North Korean goods, purchasing Russian electricity or energy resources for conventional power stations is only possible on account of free deliveries.

A different economic problem involves limited foreign direct investment. Though European Union established diplomatic relations with North Korea in 2002 and contours of relation normalization with Tokyo were drafted, and likewise with Washington, however, under pressure from the United States, all of the world's international financial institutions are refusing to provide Pyongyang with credit.  Therefore, an exceptionally important role is played by investment from China and South Korea.

Today's North Korea lives in "wartime conditions".  One in five of every working-age man serves in the army, and 30 - 50% of the economy is consumed by "defense" needs.  The seriousness of the food and commodity problems began to be felt immediately after the break up of the Soviet Union, which rendered all-round support to North Korea, particularly with annual provisions of 200,000 tones of fertilizer and the primary bulk of its petroleum products.  In the mid 1990s, famine struck North Korea leading to, by American estimates, the deaths of 1 to 2 million people.  The victims could have been even more if it wouldn't have been for large-scale aid from the international community.

The foreign policy position of North Korea remains extremely complicated.  Formally, the Korean War is not over.  North Korea does not have diplomatic relations with its southern neighbor, the United States, or Japan.  Influential conservative circles of South Korea sharply criticize the Pyongyang regime.  The Republican administration of the United States put North Korea in the ranks of an "axe of evil",  "outpost of tyranny", included in the list for a preventative nuclear attack targets and warned of use of force possibility.  The unsettled question of kidnapped Japanese by the North Korean regime disturbs the normalizing of mutual relations with Tokyo.  All of this, including the development of a nuclear weapons program in the 60s and 70s in South Korea, pushed the North Korean leadership to create their own nuclear weapons.

North Korea has a sufficient quantity of natural uranium for the development of atomic energy (more than 4 million are suitable for industrial development).  In the 50s and 60s, with the help of the USSR and Communist China, a scientific-experimental base for atomic industry was developed in North Korea.

In 1974 North Korea entered the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with the goal of gaining broad access to materials necessary for creating the infrastructure of a nuclear energy complex.  At the same time, it made request to Peking to help for creating a nuclear weapon.

North Korea, in the 1980s, completed the creation of its closed nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining in Pakchon and Pyongsan special laboratories in the university of Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang, a plant for creating fuel rods and storage facility, a 5 megawatt research nuclear reactor (for the dual-purpose of generating electricity and weapons-grade plutonium), and also a radio-chemistry laboratory at the Institute of Radio-Chemistry (for separating plutonium from spent nuclear fuel) at the atomic science-research center in Yongbyon.

In the very beginning, it was planned to create atomic weapons from plutonium but due to a weak technical base, a plutonium means appeared difficult to realize for North Korea.  It is possible that Pyongyang later initiated a uranium-based program (which America accused it of in October of 2002).  This most likely was begun with centrifuges purchased in Pakistan.  However, again, significant economic and technical resources were required.

In the past ten years leading world powers tried repeatedly to stop work on the North Korean nuclear weapons program - fundamentally by bi-lateral negotiations.  In the beginning, the leading role in solving this long-standing problem was played by the Soviet Union.  In the 1980s, it demanded North Korea to sign the NPT as an obligatory condition for its help in developing atomic energy.  Only after this did Moscow assemble a research gas-graphite nuclear reactor in Yongbyon. 

The United States actively engaged this region after the breakup of the Soviet Union. 

In October 1994 Pyongyang and Washington signed the Agreed Framework whereby the former would halt its nuclear program, and the latter would, free of charge, deliver 500 thousand tons of black oil to Northern Korea annually and also promote improved diplomatic and economic attitudes with an external world.

According to the Agreed Framework, the United States planned to build an atomic power station in North Korea by 2003 consisting of two light-water nuclear reactors with a combined capacity of 2000 MW.  North Korea would disassemble their graphite reactor, which could have been used for producing plutonium.  By this time, Pyongyang had undertaken renewed efforts to meet the requirements outlined in its agreement with the IAEA.  During the period of the Agreed Framework, the IAEA did not have the right to conduct inspections, considerably reducing the international community's potential.

In March 1995, South Korea, Japan, and the United States founded the international consortium "The Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization" (КЕDО), calling to unite efforts on construction of a nuclear power plant in North Korea.  Later, the European Union also collaborated with the consortium.  In 1997, work has begun on the construction of a nuclear power station in the North-Korean area of Shinpo.

The Agreed Framework provided for the improvement and normalization of relations between Washington and Pyongyang. The Republicans Party, coming to power in the United States in 2001, has considerably toughened the position.  They consider North Korea the most totalitarian and "repressive" state in the world. In fact, America took the course of refusing the previous administration agreement.  In October 2002 North Korea was accused of having a secret uranium enrichment program and demanded IAEA inspections. In November 2002, the committee of IAEA managing directors warned North Korea about its inadmissibility infringement of its international obligations.  In response, Pyongyang declared a renewal of its military nuclear program and suggested IAEA inspectors to leave the country. On January 10, 2003 Pyongyang made the official statement concerning the withdrawal from the NPT. In April of the same year, North Korea declared its intention to create a nuclear weapon.  In May, it unilaterally withdrew from the 1992 agreement with South Korea declaring the Korean peninsula a denuclearized zone.

Gradually, the initiative of carrying out of multilateral negotiations passed to China, with Russia taking a more active position.

In January of 2003, right after North Korea's exit from the NPT and under the conditions of U.S. refusal from dialogue, the special envoy of the President of the Russian Federation, Alexander Losyukov, delivered to Pyongyang and Washington (and then to other interested parties) offers for a package solution of the North Korean nuclear problem.  It provided for maintenance of the denuclearized status of the Korean peninsula, observance of the NPT, and performance by all parties of the obligations stipulated by the Agreed Framework and other international contracts.  In Russia's opinion, bilateral and multilateral dialogue should lead to granting North Korea guarantees of security, and also to a renewal of humanitarian and economic programs.  Aspiring to finish with a mutual distrust of the USA and Northern Korea, Moscow has offered that the countries involved in the settlement, North Korean neighbors (Russia, China, South Korea, and Japan), strictly coordinate and control the undertaken steps.  On the basis of Russia's offer, Pyongyang formulated its own proposal for the problem settlement.  Under Pyongyang initiative, the number of participants of the subsequent negotiations has grown to six: Russia, North Korea, South Korea, the USA, China, and Japan. The first round of such six-party talks passed in August of 2003.  At the time of this writing, six rounds of discussions have taken place.

During the second stage of the fourth round of six-party talks (September 13-19th,  2005), the United States softened its position and agreed to provide North Korea with energy resources in exchange for terminating its military nuclear program, designating an intention to consider the possibility to provide the light-water reactor to North Korea in appropriate time. In addition, the USA confirmed that it does not have its nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula and also stated that it has no intention of attacking the DPRK and making an incursion into its territory with the use of nuclear or conventional weapons. For North Korea's part, it has promised to return to the NPT, to admit IAEA inspectors onto the sites of nuclear projects, and to arrange for improved relations with the U.S. and Japan.  All of this found expression in the adopted "Joint statement at the fourth round of the six-party talks on solution to the nuclear problem of  the Korean peninsula".

Unfortunately, after that the negotiations on a solution to the North Korean nuclear problem ground to a halt again until February, 2007. One of the reasons behind it was that at the end of  2005, under pressure from Washington that charged Pyongyang with money laundering and spreading counterfeit dollars, nearly $25 million' worth of North Korean accounts with Banco Delta Asia in China's special administrative region of Macao (Aoemen) were frozen. It is only during the concluding third stage of the fifth round of the six-party talks that came to an end on February 13, 2007, that a final document was adopted on the implementation of the first stage of nuclear disarmament on the Korean peninsula. Under the document, North Korea committed itself to close down and seal up a research gas-graphite nuclear reactor in Yongbyon, and allow IAEA inspectors into the country in exchange for economic aid and other concessions. In particular, the USA agreed to release the above-mentioned North Korean blocked bank accounts. This problem was solved only at the end of June, 2007 when North Korean financial assets entered to DPRK through Russian Far Eastern Commercial Bank.

After that negotiations on the North Korean nuclear problem conducted in a complicated way, too. Nevertheless, during the second stage of the sixth round of six-sided negotiations (September 27-30th, 2007) which held in Beijing it was adopted "Second-Phase Actions for Implementation of the September 2005 Joint Statement". According to this agreement DPRK obliged to disable the gas-graphite nuclear reactor, the plutonium reprocessing plant, and the nuclear fuel rod fabrication facility at Yongbyon by December 31, 2007. The USA had to send group of experts to DPRK to make the necessary preparations for the dismantlementof its nuclear facilities. Besides, Pyongyang agreed to provide a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs by year's end and made a commitment to not take part in the proliferation of nuclear materials, technology, and expertise to third countries. It was declared that DPRK and Japan will make efforts to normalize diplomatic relations and solve the issues as soon as possible. In accordance with the agreement Pyongyang was promised deliveries of 950,000 tons of heavy fuel oil including 100,000 tons of it that had already been delivered as an economic aid.

DPRK provided the declaration of its plutonium program just toward summer of 2007 and entirely denied both the existence of its uranium enrichment program and nuclear cooperation with Syria. However, based on tactical considerations Washington concentrated on the intermediate compromise: getting all information on plutonium program for aims to shut it down. In addition the  USA disregarded the unsettled question of kidnapped Japanese by the North Korean regime in 1970-1980s and didn't demand DPRK to provide more complete declaration of its nuclear programs. Nevertheless, Americans achieved powerful success. In June the cooling tower of gas-graphite nuclear reactor at Yongbyon was detonated. In October Washington agreed to remove North Korea from its list of countries sponsoring terrorism in exchange for the full control over North Korea's nuclear programme.

Therefore, the USA, China, Russia, Republic of Korea and Japan made significant efforts for the North Korean nuclear problem solution. Unfortunately, they are not arrived yet. And the reasons behind it are hard line of Pyongyang and uncoordinated other participants of six-sided negotiations toward DPRK. It would like to believe that all six-sided parties take into account their mistakes.

In this connection Russian Federation is an integral part of six-party talks, due to the fact that it has good relations with both Seoul and Pyongyang. Russia is vitally interested in a rapprochement between both Korean states on the basis of the policy of peaceful coexistence, seeing as the ultimate goal their unification, for instance, on a confederative basis. In the latter half of the 1980s it was the USSR that provided conditions for the voluntary unification of two German states. The experience accumulated over that period, and making it possible subsequently to resolve most complicated problems related to the demarcation of borders of several post-Soviet states with China and to shape on this basis a new system of international security within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization - all of this offers Russia, as a successor to the Soviet Union, unique opportunities for helping resolve similar problems on the Korean peninsula. It is especially topical as Moscow has a stronger role now in the international arena.

Source: Marina Evseeva, Senior Student (Fourth Course of Studies in the Field of International Relations) of the Institute for World Politics, State University of Human Sciences in Moscow.