Recommendations for U.S.-Korea Policy

Recommendations for U.S.-Korea Policy

Tensions between North Korea and the United States have soared since October 2002, when the Bush administration revealed that North Korea had begun a clandestine program to develop enriched uranium. Pyongyang has withdrawn from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and moved to restart a plutonium reactor frozen under the 1994 Agreed Framework with Washington.

In response, the Center for International Policy and the Center for East Asian Studies of the University of Chicago assembled a bipartisan Task Force on U.S.-Korea policy that in March proposed a series of recommendations for handling the crisis. Selig S. Harrison, director of the Asia Program at the CIP, chaired the task force. Excerpts of the report follow, and the full text is available at

Resolving the Nuclear Crisis

The United States should pursue a three-stage bilateral negotiating strategy to achieve the verifiable dismantlement of North Korean nuclear capabilities, while supporting a multilateral diplomatic process addressed to economic as well as security issues in Korea.


  • In the opening stage of its bilateral diplomacy, the United States should offer to negotiate directly with North Korea on all issues of concern to both sides, including the dismantlement of its nuclear weapons capabilities, its food and energy needs, and the full normalization of political and economic relations, provided that North Korea pledge not to reprocess the irradiated fuel rods that have been monitored by IAEA inspectors under the 1994 Agreed Framework and to permit the return of the recently-expelled inspectors to resume their monitoring. North Korea would agree to honor this pledge for the duration of bilateral negotiations.
  • By prearrangement, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Foreign Minister Paik Nain Soon would then make a joint declaration in Washington or Pyongyang. North Korea would pledge in this declaration to negotiate the verified dismantlement of all aspects of its nuclear capabilities. Both sides would pledge that they would not use force against the other during negotiations on dismantlement, and that, upon the successful conclusion of dismantlement, they would categorically rule out the use of force against each other thereafter. The North would reaffirm its 1991 non-aggression commitment to the South. The United States would also pledge to respect North Korean sovereignty and not to hinder its economic development.
  • In the second stage, the two sides would initiate substantive negotiations in which progress toward denuclearization would be linked to U.S. steps that address North Korean concerns.

    For example, the United States could offer to resume the monthly oil shipments that were promised under the Agreed Framework and suspended last December and provide a first installment of conventional energy assistance, provided that North Korea take steps to re-freeze the Yongbyon reactor, freeze its uranium enrichment program, declare where its enrichment facilities are located, invite U.S. inspectors to verify the freeze and account for the material it is known to have imported for the enrichment program, especially aluminum tubing.

  • Critical but secondary U.S. negotiating objectives could be a North Korean declaration detailing where it has procured its enrichment equipment and technology and a pledge to stop all foreign procurement, including dual-use items, related to enrichment. In return, the United States could expand conventional energy assistance.

  • In the third stage, the United States would press for the permanent dismantlement of uranium enrichment capabilities, offering the economic incentives necessary to make this possible.
  • The United States should use the Agreed Framework in its existing form as a starting point in negotiating denuclearization with North Korea while, at the same time, renegotiating some provisions and adding new ones. For example, re-freezing the Yongbyon and Taechon reactors and the resumption of oil shipments would be a reversion to existing provisions that have been suspended since the uranium enrichment program was revealed last October. So would a North Korean commitment not to reprocess the irradiated fuel rods at Yongbyon. It is desirable to keep the Agreed Framework in force in order to retain the legitimacy of provisions advantageous to the United States, such as North Korea’s commitment in Article One, Section Three, not to reprocess the fuel rods, to ship them out of the country and to dismantle all plutonium related facilities coincident with completion of the two light water reactors promised under the accord.

As the next recommendation spells out, Article One, Section One should be renegotiated to provide for one reactor, not two, and new arrangements should be made for conventional energy assistance in place of the electricity that would have been generated by the second reactor.


The priority given in this recommendation to stopping the reprocessing of the plutonium fuel rods reflects the fact that reprocessing would make possible the production of four to six nuclear weapons within six to eight months. Similarly, restarting the Yongbyon reactor and completing the construction of the two reactors at Taechon covered by the Agreed Framework would make possible the eventual production of 30 nuclear weapons per year. These are clearly established facts. By contrast, the C.I.A does not foresee an operational North Korean capability for making weapons-grade enriched uranium before “mid-decade.”

There is an important precedent for making substantive negotiations conditional on a North Korea pledge not to reprocess the Yongbyon fuel rods and to readmit the IAEA inspectors to verify this pledge. In June 1994, Jimmy Carter, after obtaining Kim II Sung’s commitment to negotiate a nuclear freeze, persuaded him to initiate an immediate freeze that was to remain in effect pending formal negotiations and to permit IAEA inspectors to remain in Yongbyon to verify the freeze.

This is what gave President [Bill] Clinton the political cover necessary to conclude the Agreed Framework. Similarly, it should be sufficient for the Bush administration to obtain a commitment not to reprocess the fuel rods as a precondition for substantive dialogue. Insisting on the full dismantlement of North Korean nuclear capabilities as a precondition is unrealistic and could well goad North Korea into carrying out its threats to proceed with nuclear weapons development.


  • To reinforce U.S.-North Korean negotiations, or as an alternative if bilateral dialogue founders, a seven-nation conference should be convened in Brussels with the European Union as host on the topic, “Security and Economic Development in Korea” (The European Union, the United States, South Korea, North Korea, China, Russia and Japan). It would have five purposes: to give the United States a face-saving way to resume bilateral negotiations with North Korea; to give international status to any bilateral U.S.-North Korean agreements; to draw North Korea into denuclearization commitments made to the participating states as a group, thus strengthening any undertakings it gives to the United States; to provide security guarantees to North Korea by the other participating states that would help to make meaningful denuclearization acceptable to the North; and to plan economic aid initiatives by the other participating states that would make the benefits of denuclearization greater in North Korean eyes than the risks.
  • Working groups on economic and security issues could meet in advance to develop specific proposals for consideration at the conference, such as natural gas pipelines and other energy projects urgently desired by the North and the Korean nuclear-free zone proposal mentioned earlier.


Russia’s offer to host a multilateral conference has received a cool U.S. reception. South Korea, as an interested party, would not be acceptable as a host to the North, and Japan, as the former colonial ruler of Korea, would be unacceptable to both the North and the South. The European Union, by contrast, would be acceptable to all parties, including North Korea, which has been cultivating E.U. ties.

On January 29, the European Parliament called on the European Commission to convene “in the late spring or early summer seven-nation talks about the situation in the Korean peninsula, focusing on economic, security and nuclear disarmament issues.”

North Korea would be likely to join in such a conference only if it is preceded or accompanied by bilateral dialogue with the United States. Even then, it would be a reluctant participant, but it is likely to agree if attractive economic incentives emerge in pre-conference working groups.

Renegotiating the Agreed Framework

The Agreed Framework should be renegotiated to provide for the construction of one light water reactor, not two, and the substitution of conventional energy alternatives for the electricity that would have been supplied by the second reactor.

  • North Korea would have to reaffirm its commitment to other existing provisions of the accord, under which it must dismantle its frozen nuclear facilities coincident with the completion of the reactor project. In addition, North Korea would have to accept new provisions that would end its effort to produce enriched uranium under adequate verification, and would have to go beyond existing provisions that require International Atomic Energy Agency inspections to determine how much fissile material had been accumulated before 1994. The Bush Administration wants these inspections to begin immediately, much sooner than the Agreed Framework requires. North Korea would be likely to accept such accelerated inspections if the schedule of inspections is linked to progress in the construction of the reactor.
  • In return, the United States could drop its opposition to projected gas pipelines from Siberia or Sakhalin that would go through North Korea to the South; encourage multilateral assistance for gas-fired power stations, transmission grids and fertilizer factories along the pipeline route, and support interim KEDO energy aid to the North pending completion of the reactor and the pipeline.
  • Russia would be invited to join KEDO in recognition of its long collaboration with North Korea in civilian nuclear technology and its potential role as a supplier of natural gas to Korea.


North Korea and South Korea alike oppose a revision of the 1994 accord in which both nuclear reactors would be abandoned in favor of conventional energy alternatives, for reasons discussed below. But both might well agree to reduce the KEDO commitment to one reactor, instead of two, if that would keep the nuclear agreement on track.

For the Bush Administration, inducing North Korea to accept one reactor instead of two, together with strengthened nuclear inspections, could be presented in the United States as a political victory, partially vindicating Republican charges that Clinton gave North Korea too much in the 1994 accord, on terms that were not tough enough.

For Pyongyang, to get at least one of the reactors up and running is a political imperative if only because the Agreed Framework bore the personal imprint of the late President Kim II Sung and of Kim Jong II. Equally important, since Japan and South Korea both have large civilian nuclear programs. North Korea regards nuclear power as a technological status symbol. Like Tokyo and Seoul, Pyongyang wants nuclear power in its energy mix to reduce dependence on petroleum.

In the case of South Korea, support for the KEDO program comes in part from the fact that funding for the first reactor has already been secured from the National Assembly, in part from vested interests with a stake in contracts to build the reactors. The South had already spent some $800 million on the reactors by the end of 2002, and South Korean companies had lined up contracts totaling another $2.3 billion for the construction work ahead. Still, half a loaf would be better than none, and the money spent by the South has gone, so far, only to the infrastructure at the site and to the first reactor.

South Korea likes the KEDO project because it is confident that the reactors will someday belong to a unified Korea. By contrast, Japan made its $1 billion commitment to KEDO grudgingly and has dragged its feet in meeting its obligations. In Japanese eyes. North Korea cannot be trusted to observe nuclear safety standards, and Tokyo fears another Chernobyl in Japan’s backyard. Since Tokyo has already spent $400 million on the project, it is reluctant to see it scrapped entirely, but like Seoul might accept a compromise limiting the project to one reactor.

American support for a gas pipeline from Sakhalin through North Korea to the South is necessary because Exxon-Mobil, a U.S. firm, is the principal partner in the Sakhalin seabed gas concession involved and would not build the pipeline in the face of White House opposition.

Resuming Missile Negotiations

The United States should resume negotiations with North Korea to end both the further development of missile capabilities that could threaten the United States and the export of its missiles, missile technology and missile components to other states. Priority should be given first to extending the North Korean moratorium on missile testing in effect since September, 1999; next, to stopping missile exports; and finally, to negotiating a permanent end to the testing, production and deployment of all missiles with a range over an agreed threshold, with adequate verification.

In addition to multiyear U.S. food aid, energy aid and other economic incentives for a missile agreement, the United States should support multilateral financial aid to develop new industries that would provide employment for the workers displaced from existing missile factories, together with U.S. aid drawing on the experience of the Nunn-Lugar program in Russia.


Extending the moratorium on missile flight testing should be the most urgent U.S. objective in missile negotiations because the moratorium caps North Korean missile capabilities at present levels and such testing is easily verified by U.S. satellites.

During negotiations in 1999 and 2000, the United States made significant progress in missile negotiations with North Korea, and North Korean officials have since signaled their readiness to pick up these negotiations where they left off in the context of an overall improvement in U.S.-North Korean negotiations.

The most hopeful progress was made in negotiations on missile exports. North Korea had offered to stop all exports of missiles, technology and components if agreement could be reached on the amount and form of U.S. compensation for the losses that a cessation of exports would entail. North Korea agreed that compensation would not have to be in cash, as previously demanded, but in kind. Discussion on the amount and form were underway when negotiations were interrupted at the end of the Clinton Administration.

Hopeful progress was also made on banning the testing, production and deployment of missiles. North Korea had proposed a ban covering all missiles with a range over 500 kilometers (300 miles). The United States had insisted on a shorter range, 300 kilometers, combined with a 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) payload. This is the limitation specified in the Missile Technology Control Regime. Although agreement had not been reached on this issue, North Korean negotiators said that it could be resolved in a Clinton-Kim Jong II summit. On compensation, agreement had been reached in principle that the United States would sponsor arrangements with Russia, China and the European Union for launching long-range North Korean satellites equipped solely for scientific research.

A ban on the flight testing of missiles can be verified by U.S. satellites. More intrusive verification procedures would be required to verify the end of the sale and production of missiles and components. Some of these could draw on experience under the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The verification regime was not seriously addressed in the 1999-2000 negotiations.

Previous negotiations also did not seriously address limiting or ending the deployment of the existing Nodong and Scud missiles that are now capable of reaching Japan and South Korea.

Ending the Korean War

Half a century after the end of the Korean War, it is time for the United States to conclude peace agreements with the other two parties to the 1953 Armistice Agreement, North Korea and China, provided that North Korea agrees to conclude a separate agreement with South Korea, which did not sign the Armistice. The United States should reconsider its position that it was not a signatory to the Armistice, and South Korea should reconsider its position that it does have legal status as a signatory.


A formal end to the state of war now existing is a necessary precondition for the reduction of tensions through conventional arms control negotiations. The U.S. position that it was not a signatory is untenable. Although General Mark W. Clark did identify himself in the Armistice agreement as Commander-in-Chief of the UN Command, his role as head of the UN Command was a mere extension of his position as the ranking commander of all U.S. forces in Korea and of the U.S.-South Korean Combined Forces Command. The Command was from its inception multilateral in name only. As Trygvie Lie, UN Secretary General during the Korean War, spelled out in his memoirs, successive U.S. commanders of the UN Command insisted on unfettered control over military operations, and in subsequent years even the cosmetic trappings of multilateral control have been progressively reduced.

The South Korean position that it has legal status as a signatory is based on two fallacious arguments.

The first is that even though Syngman Rhee attempted to subvert the Armistice and the South refused to sign it, Rhee later agreed to abide by its provisions. This is fallacious because Rhee’s commitment to honor the agreement was made only to the United States, not to North Korea.

The second argument is that since General Clark, in signing the Armistice, identified himself as Commander-in-Chief of the United Nations Command, South Korea, as one of the countries fighting under him, should thus be treated as a signatory. But 15 other countries also fought under the UN Command. In any case, General Clark’s role as head of the UN Command was a mere extension of his position as the ranking commander of all U.S. forces in Korea and of the U.S.-South Korean Combined Forces Command.

Operational control by the United States over South Korean forces in time of war understandably leads North Korea to regard the United States as its main enemy, necessitating a bilateral peace agreement with the United States in order to bring the war to an end.

Replacing the Armistice Machinery

The Military Armistice Commission set up in 1953 should be replaced with new peacekeeping machinery, together with companion steps to dissolve the United Nations Command.

The United States should explore the October 9, 1998, North Korean proposal for the creation of a Mutual Security Assurance Commission in place of the Military Armistice Commission and the U.N. Command, consisting of U.S., South Korean and North Korean generals. The United States should condition its participation in such a trilateral commission on North Korean agreement to activate the bilateral North-South joint Military Commission envisaged in the 1992 North-South “Basic Agreement.”


Both the Military Armistice Commission and the U.N. Command are obsolete vestiges of an adversarial cold war relationship between the United States and North Korea Their continuance would be incompatible with a peace agreement and with the normalization of relations between the two countries that the Task Force supports.

A trilateral commission would be appropriate because all three countries have forces on the ground in Korea and a U.S. general presides over the U.S.-South Korean Combined Forces Command and would have operational control over South Korean forces in wartime. At the same time, the United States cannot speak for South Korea. Thus, issues relating only to South Korean and North Korean forces would be addressed in the Joint North-South Military Commission. The new Mutual Security Commission would deal with all issues involving U.S. forces in Korea, and would oversee arms control and tension reduction proposals involving both the United States and South Korea.

The dissolution of the U.N. Command would have no military impact, since it has had no military functions for more than two decades. In 1978, when the United States and South Korea created the Combined Forces Command, the U.N. Command formally transferred its authority to the new command. The same U.S. general commands both the Combined Forces Command and the UN Command, but he wears his UN hat only when participating in meetings of the Military Armistice Commission. The U.S.-South Korea Mutual Security Treaty would continue to provide an umbrella for the U.S. military presence when the UN Command is dismantled.

Lowering the U.S. Military Profile

Before opposition to the U.S. military presence reaches serious proportions and leads to significant pressures for disengagement, the United States should defuse this opposition by lowering the U.S. military profile in South Korea and offering to make changes in the size, character and location of U.S. deployments. Such changes could be made either through unilateral U.S.-South Korean action or in return for the pullback of forward-deployed North Korean forces as part of the broad process of North-South and North Korean-U.S. rapprochement envisaged in the report.

Unless and until a verifiable denuclearization agreement is reached with North Korea, the U.S. nuclear umbrella over South Korea should remain in force.

The Task Force urges consideration of a structural change in the U.S.-South Korean military relationship designed to show greater sensitivity to South Korean sovereignty and to keep pace with progress in improving North-South, and North Korean-U.S. relations. In place of the tightly- integrated U.S.-South Korean Combined Forces Command, the United States and South Korea should move toward a command structure that provides South Korean forces with increasingly greater autonomy, including the eventual return of wartime operational control. Many aspects of the U.S.-Japan model, in which two separate operational structures are linked on a cooperative basis, could be adapted to Korea in the context of declining North-South tensions and reciprocal pullbacks from the DMZ. To make such a looser command structure workable, South Korea should commit the resources needed to modernize its command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities with U.S. assistance.

The goal of the United States should be to move from its present “tripwire” role, in which U.S. forces are automatically drawn into any new Korean conflict, to a new role in which it would have greater flexibility in deciding whether to participate in any given conflict situation.


South Korean military forces and defense industries have acquired increasing technological sophistication with U.S. help at a cumulative cost to the United States that has included $7 billion in grant military aid and $12 billion in U.S.-subsidized military sales. The well-trained, well-equipped South Korean forces are now capable of bearing the brunt of any North Korean attack, with U.S. forces in a supportive role. Faced with assuming the principal responsibility for financing and conducting its own defense, South Korea will have an increased incentive for finding a modus vivendi with the North.

Application of the U.S.-Japan model to the revision of the U.S.-South Korean command structure would not be possible in the context of the existing configuration of opposing forces at the DMZ and the attendant stress on time-sensitive and fully-coordinated operations. However, a shift to this model could be studied in preparation for its introduction as tensions decline.

President Kim Dae Jung’s national security adviser, Lim Dong Won, has proposed a 60-mile North-South “Offensive Weapon-Free Zone” in which tanks, mechanized infantry, armored troop carriers and self-propelled artillery would be barred, including artillery using chemical or biological warfare agents. Given the fact that Seoul is closer to the DMZ than Pyongyang, North Korea would have to pull back further than Seoul.

This proposal could be part of broader arms control negotiations that could include other tension-reduction initiatives. In negotiating a mutual pullback zone, the United States could propose that both sides be required to deploy all of their artillery in the open, everywhere in their respective territories, to facilitate inspection and to maximize the warning time that the South would have in the event of an attack in violation of the accord.

For North and South alike, it would be costly to relocate their forces in order to create a mutual pullback zone. As a U.S. Institute of Peace Working Group has observed, “[I]nternational financial support will be necessary to cover certain costs associated with a Korean arms reduction process, including mutual troop and equipment reductions and repositioning.”