"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."

– Joseph Biden, Jr.
January 28, 2004
Confronting Ambiguity: How to Handle North Korea's Nuclear Program

Phillip C. Saunders

There are growing divisions over how to deal with North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. For South Korean political leaders, Washington’s unwillingness to negotiate directly with Pyongyang is a barrier to a deal that could resolve the current nuclear crisis peacefully—a view that is shared by Russia, China, and Japan. U.S. officials, on the other hand, are skeptical that a negotiated deal would permanently eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile capabilities, and they believe that pressure and a multilateral dialogue are needed to avoid rewarding North Korea’s bad behavior. As President George W. Bush vowed in his State of the Union address, “A merica and the world will not be blackmailed.”

These contrasting approaches rest largely on differing assessments of North Korea’s objectives. North Korea maintains that it is not out to blackmail anyone, but one of the principal challenges in resolving the current crisis is evaluating Pyongyang’s true intentions. Do North Korean leaders view nuclear weapons as a means of forcibly reunifying the Korean Peninsula? Have they decided that nuclear weapons are essential to the regime’s survival, making a negotiated deal impossible? Or is the nuclear weapons program a bargaining chip that North Korea is prepared to trade away for the right price? These questions are hard to answer. One problem is that reliable information about the internal dynamics of North Korean decision-making is scarce. A second problem is that North Korean leaders have strong incentives to conceal their true intentions in order to maximize their bargaining power and to minimize international reactions to their nuclear weapons program.

The difficulty of assessing North Korean intentions was demonstrated during the negotiation of the 1994 Agreed Framework, under which North Korea froze its nuclear weapons program in exchange for heavy-fuel oil and two light-water reactors. The Agreed Framework capped North Korea’s ability to produce plutonium, but it did not answer the question of whether North Korea already had enough plutonium to make nuclear weapons. A key North Korean objective in the negotiations appeared to be to maintain ambiguity about its nuclear status for as long as possible to maximize its bargaining power. That is why North Korean negotiators rebuffed U.S. demands for immediate special inspections. If inspections revealed that North Korea did not have enough plutonium for nuclear weapons, the United States would take North Korea less seriously, reducing Pyongyang’s negotiating leverage. Conversely, if inspections revealed that North Korea already had sufficient plutonium to build weapons, the United States might not agree to a deal. Ultimately, the Agreed Framework required special inspections that would determine North Korea’s nuclear history before key components of the two nuclear reactors would be delivered. This compromise allowed North Korea to maintain ambiguity about its nuclear capabilities—and bargaining leverage over the United States—for an additional eight years.1

The current crisis began in October 2002, when U.S. officials confronted North Korea with evidence of a uranium-enrichment program, which is a second path to the development of nuclear weapons. North Korean officials reportedly admitted the existence of a nuclear weapons program and began a series of steps to pressure the United States to negotiate with them, despite the U.S. government’s insistence that it would not “reward bad behavior” with concessions. As the crisis has escalated, the Bush administration has continued to refuse to negotiate directly with North Korea until it dismantles its uranium-enrichment program. The United States has tried to mobilize international pressure against the North and to find a multilateral forum for talks that would include the major countries in East Asia.

North Korea says it wants U.S. recognition of North Korea’s sovereignty, security assurances, and no hindrance of the North’s economic development. North Korean officials have stated that, despite their withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), North Korea does not intend to produce nuclear weapons “at this time.” But it is still unclear whether the North Korean uranium-enrichment program should be interpreted as evidence that North Korea intended to cheat on the Agreed Framework all along, that it was hedging against the possible collapse of the framework, or that it sought new negotiating leverage once the framework began to erode.2

The difficulty of accurately assessing North Korea’s nuclear intentions greatly complicates the task of formulating a coordinated and effective policy response. If North Korean leaders are determined to pursue a nuclear weapons capability, then the policy objective must be to find a way to stop them or at least to mitigate the damage North Korean nuclear weapons would do to East Asian security and to the nuclear nonproliferation regime. However, if North Korean leaders are willing to abandon their nuclear weapons program in exchange for security assurances and economic assistance, then the goal should be to craft a verifiable deal that will remove their weapons capability. Disagreements about the motives behind North Korean actions have caused serious splits on Korea policy within the Bush administration and between the United States and its Asian allies and other regional actors such as China and Russia.

Competing Assessments

Serious divisions on Korea policy were evident within the Bush administration soon after it took office. Some administration officials wanted to support South Korean President Kim Dae-jung’s “sunshine policy” by continuing the missile negotiations with North Korea that began late in the Clinton administration. This position reflected a belief that North Korean leaders might be willing to trade away important military capabilities for the right price. Other officials favored withdrawing from the Agreed Framework and adopting a tougher policy focused on the goal of regime change. This position was based on assumptions that North Korean leaders could not be trusted to adhere to agreements and would never give up their nuclear capabilities. These splits were revealed publicly in March 2001, when Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that the United States was prepared to resume missile talks with North Korea, only to be contradicted the next day by Bush.3

The administration’s subsequent North Korea policy review took four months, largely because of infighting between administration hard- and soft-liners.4 It considered a range of options, including withdrawal from the Agreed Framework, but ultimately recommended “improved implementation” of the Agreed Framework coupled with efforts to negotiate a comprehensive deal with North Korea that would also address its missile development programs, missile exports, and conventional force deployments.5 “Improved implementation” referred to efforts to pressure North Korea into accepting accelerated International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of its nuclear facilities. The stated goal was to prevent delays in the construction of the light-water reactors, but the inspections were also intended to remove ambiguity about North Korean nuclear capabilities.

The period from June 2001 until October 2002 was marked by intermittent diplomatic contacts between the United States and North Korea, punctuated by threats, insults, and military incidents.6 The Bush administration proclaimed its willingness to meet with North Korea “any time, any place, without preconditions,” but efforts to begin serious talks were repeatedly undercut by leaks and statements from administration hawks. As the Bush administration responded to the September 11 terrorist attacks by emphasizing a nexus between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, hard-liners pushed for a tougher Korea policy.

Bush’s 2002 State of the Union speech labeled North Korea a member of an “axis of evil” threatening the United States. Although State Department officials continued to proclaim a willingness to talk with North Korea, excerpts from the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review revealed that the Pentagon was making contingency plans for possible nuclear attacks against seven countries, including North Korea. A steady stream of leaks suggested that North Korea was the next target after Iraq.7 These developments formed the backdrop for Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly’s fateful October 2002 visit to Pyongyang.

Differing assessments of North Korean intentions have also caused rifts with U.S. allies and with China and Russia. The Bush administration has made formal efforts to coordinate North Korea policy with South Korea and Japan through high-level visits and regular meetings of the Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Group. Yet, these efforts have done little to resolve fundamentally different assessments of North Korean intentions and conflicting views about appropriate policy responses.

Although South Korea and Japan are concerned about the potential threat from North Korean weapons of mass destruction, most Korean and Japanese analysts believe the North’s objective is to negotiate a deal with the United States that includes security guarantees, improved political and economic relations, and financial assistance.8 While the United States views North Korean nuclear and missile programs as a major threat, South Korea appears relatively calm—partly because many South Koreans do not believe the North will use these weapons against them.

South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China all view the U.S. reluctance to negotiate directly with North Korea as at least a contributing cause of the current nuclear crisis. Although these countries support the goal of a Korean Peninsula that remains free of nuclear weapons, they are skeptical that the Bush administration’s approach of mobilizing international pressure and refusing to negotiate directly with North Korea will produce positive results. They worry that efforts to back Pyongyang into a corner may lead to unpredictable and dangerous behavior that could cause a military conflict.9

Conflicting signals from the Bush administration have confused U.S. allies and have often undercut South Korean and Japanese initiatives toward the North. For example, President Kim Dae-jung called upon the United States to “seize the opportunity” to negotiate with North Korea during his March 2001 visit to Washington, only to be embarrassed when Bush stated at a joint press conference that he did not trust Kim Jong Il.10 Many South Koreans have speculated that the Bush administration’s mixed signals were intended to derail the South’s “sunshine policy” and impede movement toward reunification—sentiments that have contributed to growing anti-American attitudes and increasing tensions in bilateral relations.

Differing assessments about whether North Korea would adhere to a negotiated deal are a principal cause of U.S. and South Korean disagreements about how to deal with North Korea. However, policy disputes also reflect Seoul’s desire for gradual political evolution of the North Korean regime in order to make the costs of reunification manageable—a goal that conflicts with the desire of some Bush administration officials to try to force the collapse of the North Korean regime.

Possible Intentions

Which of these approaches is correct depends, in large part, on what North Korea wants. Five scenarios should be considered in assessing North Korea’s nuclear intentions:

1. North Korean leaders have decided that nuclear weapons are essential to their security.

This scenario argues that North Korean leaders feel threatened by superior U.S. military capabilities and by U.S. talk about regime change and pre-emptive strikes. North Korean leaders may have concluded that nuclear weapons are the only way to guarantee regime survival in the face of such threats. (This scenario is consistent with U.S. intelligence assessments that North Korea produced one or two nuclear weapons in the mid-to late 1990s.)

If this is the case, there is probably no peaceful settlement that can stop or roll back the North Korean nuclear weapons program unless North Korean leaders change their minds. The United States, South Korea, Japan, and China must either take military action to destroy North Korean nuclear facilities and stockpiles or learn to live with North Korean nuclear weapons by relying on deterrence and missile defenses. North Korea’s pursuit of multiple pathways to nuclear weapons and efforts to develop long-range ballistic missiles indicates that the regime has devoted considerable resources to developing deliverable nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, North Korea has passed up a number of opportunities to accelerate its nuclear and missile programs. If North Korea had not signed the Agreed Framework, it could have continued operation of its research reactor, completed construction on its 50-megawatt and 200-megawatt reactors, and reprocessed the spent fuel to produce plutonium. By now, the regime could have had enough fissile material for at least 150-200 nuclear weapons. North Korea also declared a unilateral moratorium on flight tests of long-range missiles. This restraint appears inconsistent with a decision that operational, deliverable nuclear weapons are essential for North Korean security—unless North Korean leaders feel that one or two nuclear weapons are enough to deter a U.S. attack.

2. North Korean leaders are willing to negotiate their nuclear and missile programs away for a deal that guarantees their security and sovereignty.

This scenario argues that North Korean leaders feel threatened by superior U.S. military capabilities and by U.S. efforts to keep the North Korean regime isolated economically and politically. North Korea has pursued nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to create the leverage necessary to build a new relationship with the United States that will ensure the regime’s survival and create a better environment for economic reforms.

Evidence for this scenario includes repeated statements by North Korean leaders about their willingness to negotiate deals with the United States to restrict their nuclear and missile capabilities and to curb missile exports. The Agreed Framework, the missile flight-test moratorium, and talks with the Clinton administration about a missile deal are indicators of North Korea’s willingness to limit its military capabilities.

From this perspective, North Korea’s efforts to develop a highly enriched uranium capability are attempts to develop a new bargaining chip to trade for economic and security concessions. It is even possible that these efforts were intended to be discovered by the United States in order to be bargained away. (North Korea’s previous success in persuading the United States to increase food aid in exchange for inspecting a suspect nuclear facility at Kumchang-ri—which turned out to have no nuclear equipment—suggests that a nuclear bluff is a possibility.)

On the other hand, the United States, Japan, South Korea, and China would all like to see North Korea pursue significant economic and political reforms. The door to better relations that would support North Korean economic reforms is wide open, but North Korea has been reluctant to walk through it. Security threats are arguably unnecessary to achieve better relations and may in fact undercut efforts to improve relations and prospects for economic cooperation. (North Korea’s demonstrated willingness to cheat on international agreements would also make a future deal very difficult to negotiate because of the damage done to U.S. trust.)

3. North Korean leaders want both nuclear weapons (as an ultimate security guarantee) and better relations with the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

Under this scenario, North Korean leaders have sought to keep their options open by pursuing nuclear and missile programs while simultaneously seeking better relations with the United States, Japan, and South Korea. One possibility is that North Korean leaders view their nuclear and missile programs as a hedge in case they are unable to negotiate a lasting agreement with the United States that will assure the security of their regime. If the United States puts an offer on the table that will guarantee regime survival, then North Korea would be willing to give up its nuclear and missile programs. If the United States does not deliver an acceptable deal, then North Korea will proceed to develop an operational force of missiles armed with nuclear weapons.

Another possibility is that North Korean leaders planned to cheat all along. Agreements to restrict nuclear and missile programs and exports were intended to gain monetary benefits and to buy time until North Korea could develop an operational nuclear weapons capability. Alternatively, North Korean leaders may believe that the United States, Japan, and South Korea are willing to overlook a small, ambiguous North Korean nuclear weapons capability and improve relations anyway. South Korea’s “sunshine policy” and Japan’s recent efforts to move toward normalization of diplomatic relations despite concerns about North Korean missiles provide some support for this belief.

Both the hedge scenario and the cheat scenario explain some aspects of North Korea’s behavior, such as the relatively small scale of its nuclear weapons program, its willingness to accept temporary limits on the size of its nuclear arsenal (while pursuing efforts to develop more advanced capabilities), and its eagerness to reach out to the United States, Japan, and (to a lesser extent) South Korea. These scenarios suggest that North Korean leaders either miscalculated the negative international response to their nuclear brinkmanship and cheating or feel that the negative consequences can be overcome once an agreement is in place.

4. North Korean leaders/factions disagree about whether nuclear weapons or a negotiated agreement with the United States is the best way to achieve security.

This scenario views inconsistent North Korean behavior as the product of the shifting strength of different domestic political factions. One faction, centered on the military, may feel that nuclear weapons are essential to North Korean security; another may feel that a negotiated agreement offers more security. Each faction has some ability to undertake international actions independently of the other.

This scenario could explain why North Korea sometimes acts cooperatively to seek agreements and sometimes behaves in a bellicose manner to undercut negotiations. It also offers a potential explanation for why North Korea has pursued a uranium-enrichment program. As some of the promised benefits of the Agreed Framework (such as provision of the reactors and progress toward normalization of relations with the United States) were delayed, the balance of power in Pyongyang may have shifted away from engagement and toward efforts to develop nuclear weapons to ensure North Korea’s security. (Alternatively, earlier North Korean efforts to acquire uranium-enrichment technology and production equipment from Pakistan would suggest a decision to cheat on the Agreed Framework or to hedge against the possibility of its collapse.)

Although this explanation can explain uncoordinated and inconsistent North Korean behavior, North Korea’s negotiating style sometimes emphasizes careful efforts to control the atmospherics of a negotiation and to maximize pressure on a negotiating partner through carefully coordinated actions and statements. This kind of control is difficult to explain with a factional model. It is also important to note that dealing with a changing balance of power between factions in Pyongyang could make it hard (or impossible) to get a negotiated deal that would last.

5. North Korean leaders seek nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to enable offensive actions against South Korea.

The preceding scenarios all assume that the primary objective for North Korean leaders is defensive: ensuring the survival of the current regime. An alternative assumption is that North Korean leaders view nuclear weapons as a useful offensive tool for achieving their long-stated objective of unification on their own terms. The U.S. military alliance with South Korea is one of the main obstacles to forced reunification. This scenario emphasizes the potential value of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles that can hold U.S. territory at risk in order to prevent the United States from intervening in response to a North Korean invasion or military coercion of the South. This scenario has been raised repeatedly by missile defense advocates, who argue that a rogue state might use a nuclear-armed missile capability to deter the United States. from intervening in a conflict. U.S. freedom of action, they say, could be maintained only through missile defenses.11

This scenario is consistent with other aspects of North Korea’s military doctrine and force deployments. Most North Korean military units are located close to the demilitarized zone and are positioned and trained to undertake offensive operations. North Korean chemical and biological weapons capabilities, massive artillery bombardments, and special operations forces could be used to support an invasion of the South. From this perspective, North Korea’s professed interest in negotiating an agreement to give up its missile and nuclear capabilities might be intended to mask its efforts to acquire useable capabilities. Alternatively, North Korea may hope to drive wedges between South Korea and the United States that weaken or dissolve their alliance. (South Korean statements that Seoul should play the role of “mediator” between Pyongyang and Washington suggest that a wedge strategy might be having some success.)

The difficulty with this argument is that North Korea’s ability to mount a successful invasion of the South has eroded as its economy has imploded.12 South Korea has continued to modernize its military and improve its training, while North Korea has not imported major new weapons systems in more than a decade. The North Korean military suffers from shortages of spare parts for its imported weapons systems, and limited supplies of fuel have impeded training. If North Korea’s objective was to invade the South, it would probably have made efforts to acquire nuclear weapons and long-range missiles much more quickly, rather than freezing key elements of its plutonium production capability and issuing a unilateral freeze on missile flight testing. Although this scenario cannot be ruled out, the principal “evidence” for it is that a nuclear-weapon capability could theoretically deter the United States.

Dealing With Uncertainty

Each of these five scenarios explains some aspects of North Korean behavior. Unfortunately, it is hard to tell which is correct. If nuclear weapons are intended to enable offensive military options, then North Korean officials are likely to use deceptive measures to hide their intentions. If they have decided that nuclear weapons are necessary for their survival, then creating the impression that U.S. aggression forced them into a weapons program may improve their international image. (North Korea has had some success in persuading Asian governments that U.S. intransigence is largely to blame for the current crisis.) On the other hand, even if North Korea is prepared to negotiate away its nuclear weapons capabilities, it still has incentives to appear reluctant and bellicose—even unpredictable—in order to strike the best possible bargain.13

U.S. policymakers have tried to devise policy approaches that address the difficulty of judging North Korean intentions. The policy review conducted by former Secretary of Defense William Perry in 1998 and 1999 called for a two-path strategy in order to test North Korean intentions. Perry recommended offering North Korea a choice between the alternatives of deeper engagement and improved relations with the United States or continued hostility and enhanced containment. “By incorporating two paths, the strategy devised in the review avoids any dependence on conjectures regarding [North Korean] intentions or behavior and neither seeks, nor depends upon for its success, a transformation of [North Korea’s] internal system.”14 The difficulty with this approach is that the key criterion for judging whether or not North Korea is following the path of engagement—Pyongyang’s willingness to give up its weapons of mass destruction programs in a verifiable way—requires North Korea to give up its most important piece of negotiating leverage at the beginning of the process.

The Agreed Framework attempted to work around this problem by structuring the agreement as a series of reciprocal steps that would eventually produce transparency about North Korea’s nuclear history. However, delays in reactor construction and the erosion of political support for the Agreed Framework in the United States meant that important aspects of the agreement, such as improved U.S. economic and political relations with North Korea, were not fully implemented. The Perry policy review envisioned a similar “step-by-step and reciprocal” process as a means of surmounting this problem, but this approach was never fully put into practice.

The United States needs to approach the current crisis with a strategy that acknowledges its inability to know North Korean intentions. Given that any of the five scenarios above could be correct, U.S. strategy should seek to test North Korean intentions without compromising U.S. security interests. At this stage in the crisis, the United States basically has four options: using military force to attack North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure, mobilizing international pressure against North Korea, waiting North Korea out, and negotiating. Military strikes appear to have been ruled out because of their inability to destroy any current North Korean nuclear weapons or plutonium stocks, strong opposition from U.S. allies and other countries in the region, and North Korea’s ability to retaliate and cause severe damage to South Korea.15 The current U.S. policy is to orchestrate international pressure to force North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. This approach is unlikely to succeed because key countries, such as China and South Korea, do not want to back North Korea into a corner and cause it either to collapse or lash out militarily. A third approach is to wait North Korea out in the hopes that the regime will moderate its demands and agree to multilateral negotiations on U.S. terms. This appears to be the de facto U.S. position, at least for the duration of a potential war in Iraq. The fourth option is to accept North Korea’s demands for bilateral negotiations with the United States and try to reach an agreement that advances U.S. interests.

The current stalemate will not last indefinitely. If no agreement is reached, North Korea is likely to reprocess its spent fuel rods and acquire sufficient plutonium for another four to six nuclear weapons. Once the reprocessing is complete (in four to six months), the United States would lose the option of military strikes against this material. With sufficient material for five to eight nuclear weapons, North Korea would have new options, including nuclear testing, possible operational deployment of nuclear weapons, and selling weapons-grade fissile material. Moreover, North Korean leaders are highly unlikely to wait passively for international pressure or domestic economic problems to cause their regime to collapse. Instead, they would use provocative actions to escalate the crisis in order to increase the pressure on the United States to make a deal.

The Bush administration’s current policy has significant costs. In addition to allowing North Korea to improve its nuclear weapons capabilities, U.S. policy has created serious strains in alliances with South Korea and Japan and in relations with China and Russia.16 The U.S. refusal to negotiate, not North Korean actions, is being blamed for the escalation of the crisis. If the United States continues on this course, North Korea is likely to deploy nuclear weapons overtly, with serious negative consequences for regional stability and for the nuclear nonproliferation regime. U.S. intransigence would be blamed for this outcome, and the United States would face a worse situation with even less support.

Given this alternative, it makes sense to explore whether a negotiated deal is possible. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, negotiations would have some immediate political value. First, the United States should insist on a verifiable freeze on North Korean reprocessing activity during negotiations. This would halt North Korea’s movement toward an increased nuclear weapons capability and buy time. In return, the United States would pledge not to attack North Korea during the negotiations, a concession that the Bush administration has already offered without getting anything in return. Second, negotiations would ease growing splits between the United States and its allies, making it easier to forge a united policy toward North Korea. If negotiations failed to reach an acceptable and verifiable agreement, the United States would be better positioned to win international support for a tougher approach. Third, negotiations would reduce North Korea’s ability to escalate the crisis, allowing the United States to seize the initiative and focus attention on North Korean weapons of mass destruction and ways of verifying an agreement. They would also reduce the possibility of a North Korean military provocation in the midst of a war in Iraq. On balance, negotiations hold more promise for achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapons free Korean Peninsula.

Negotiating an acceptable agreement will not be easy. The fact that North Korea violated the Agreed Framework and its other nuclear nonproliferation commitments means that the United States and other parties to a possible new agreement will require stringent measures to verify North Korean compliance. But paradoxically, domestic suspicion of North Korean intentions may make it easier for U.S. negotiators to insist upon strong verification measures as a necessary condition for an agreement. This is especially true if congressional support is needed to finance an agreement. It will be difficult to craft a verifiable agreement that can test North Korean intentions. But even if negotiations fail, the United States will be in a better position for having tried.


The author would like to thank Daniel Pinkston, Clay Moltz, Jing-dong Yuan, and Stephanie Lieggi for helpful comments on earlier drafts.

1. See David Albright and Kevin O’Neill, eds., Solving the North Korean Nuclear Puzzle (Washington, D.C.: ISIS Press, 2000); Center for Nonproliferation Studies North Korea Country Profile, forthcoming at www.nti.org/e_research/e1_nkorea_profile.html.

2. The date that North Korea started and/or intensified its uranium enrichment program is critical evidence of North Korea’s motivations. Unfortunately the open-source evidence is insufficient to indicate the precise start date. For estimates of the start date, see Seymour M. Hersh, “The Cold Test: What the Administration Knew About Pakistan and the North Korean Nuclear Program,” The New Yorker, January 27, 2003; Gaurav Kampani, “Second Tier Proliferation: The Case of Pakistan and North Korea,” The Nonproliferation Review, Fall/Winter 2002, pp. 107-116. For an analysis of motivations for the North Korean program, see Joel S. Wit, “A Strategy for Defusing the North Korean Nuclear Crisis,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2003, pp. 6-10.

3. See Sebastian Harnisch, “U.S.-North Korean Relations Under the Bush Administration,” Asian Survey, November/December 2002, pp. 863-874.

4. Steven Mufson, “U.S. Will Resume Talks With North Korea,” The Washington Post, June 7, 2001, p. A1.

5. See James A. Kelly, “United States Policy in East Asia and the Pacific: Challenges and Priorities,” Testimony before the Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific, June 12, 2001.

6. See the chronology of key events in U.S.-Korean relations and analysis by Donald G. Gross in the CSIS Pacific Forum’s E-journal Comparative Connections at www.csis.organization/pacforc/cc0101Qus_skorea.html.

7. See the remarks of an American intelligence official cited in Hersh, “The Cold Test.”

8. Notable exceptions include some prominent analysts and officials in the Japanese and South Korean defense communities.

9. This possibility, which North Korean statements have emphasized, may also be an effort by Pyongyang to develop leverage for negotiations.

10. Steven Mufson, “Seoul’s Kim Presses for U.S. Role,” The Washington Post, March 9, 2001, p. A22.

11. See Keith B. Payne, Deterrence in the Second Nuclear Age (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996).

12. Michael O’Hanlon, “Stopping a North Korean Invasion: Why Defending South Korea Is Easier Than the Pentagon Thinks,” International Security, Spring 1998, pp. 135-170.

13. See Scott Snyder, Negotiating on the Edge: North Korea’s Negotiating Behavior (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace, 1999); Chuck Downs, Over the Line: North Korea’s Negotiating Strategy (Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 1999).

14. William Perry, Review of United States Policy Toward North Korea: Findings and Recommendations (Washington, D.C.: State Department, October 12, 1999).

15. For an analysis of U.S. military options, see Phillip C. Saunders, “Military Options for Dealing With North Korea’s Nuclear Program,” Center for Nonproliferation Studies Web Report, January 27, 2003 at www.cns.miis.edu/research/korea/dprkmil.htm.

16. Howard W. French, “U.S. Approach on North Korea Strains Alliances in Asia,” The New York Times, February 24, 2003.

Phillip C. Saunders is director of the East Asian Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies.