North Korea's nuclear weapons program has moved back to the front
pages with the unprecedented acknowledgement by North Korea during
talks this week in Beijing that the North has developed nuclear
weapons. News of this revelation came as Assistant Secretary of
State for East Asian Affairs James A. Kelly was preparing to leave
Beijing for consultations in Seoul, and leaves the future of the
talks uncertain and the threat of a potential escalation in tensions
on the peninsula high. This is but the latest step in a simmering
crisis that began with the admission by North Korea, after being
confronted with hard evidence by Assistant Secretary Kelly in October
2002, that it has been pursuing in secret a nuclear weapons program
in violation of the Agreed Framework of 1994 and its adherence to
the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Pyongyang's subsequent actions
in asserting the right to possess nuclear weapons, breaking the
seals on its nuclear reactor put there by the International Atomic
Energy Agency, withdrawing from the NPT and the expulsion of IAEA
inspectors from the Yongbyon nuclear facilities, have kept the crisis
simmering, and laid the basis for reported splits within the Bush
administration over the best strategy for dealing with Pyongyang.
Seemingly replaying debates marking the lead-up to the war with
Iraq, newspaper analyses portray the State Department under Secretary
of State Colin Powell pressing for diplomacy and efforts to reassure
the North Koreans that the U.S. was not seeking regime change, while
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has reportedly called for joining
with Beijing to push for removal of the North Korean regime. (Note
For the moment, diplomacy seems to have the upper hand, with
a focus on Washington and Pyongyang first trying to feel out the
other's positions in the Beijing talks. Incipient brinksmanship
combined with uncertainties about what the North has done, much
less intends to do, has so far marked the DPRK's actions, as seen
in reports that Pyongyang had encountered problems in restarting
its nuclear reprocessing facility, and the confusion over the
correct English translation of a statement on the North Korean
official website, which the North Koreans originally translated
to announce the successful reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel
rods, only to be revised a day later to say the country was "successfully
going forward to reprocess work." (Note 2)
To contribute to public understanding about this potential crisis
and its historical roots, The National Security Archive is releasing
the first in a planned series of Electronic Briefing Books on
U.S. policies toward the Korean Peninsula. The subject of this
first briefing book is U.S. intelligence and policy regarding
North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Compared to what is available
on Iraq and other suspected proliferating governments, there is
a serious lack of declassified documents on this issue that can
help the public and scholars understand and analyze the historical
development of U.S. policies on the North Korean nuclear program,
though there is a wealth of public data available on the Internet
(see below for a selective list of
these sites). The documents described below are a selection of
both declassified and publicly released intelligence assessments,
policy statements and reports on the North Korean nuclear program.
Other documents provide a fascinating window on the policies pursued
by the Reagan and first Bush administrations in addressing this
issue, and the way in which both diplomatic and ideological crosscurrents
have complicated or hampered U.S. efforts.
The declassified intelligence documents show the evolution of
intelligence concern about the North Korean nuclear program. Initial
identification of the program by the CIA in the early 1980s was
not immediately followed by concern that North Korea was seeking
to develop nuclear weapons (see "A
"). By the mid-1980s, CIA
analysis discussed not only the components of the nuclear program,
but the potential that North Korea would, indeed, seek to develop
nuclear weapons. However, the CIA did note the energy-production
rationale for the program and the lack of evidence that the North
was actually planning to joint the nuclear club. The concerns
raised by this intelligence prompted U.S. efforts to secure cooperation
from Moscow and Beijing, as well as Western supplier nations,
in refusing to provide North Korea with materials needed for its
nuclear program (see the ca. January 5,
1985 Department of State Briefing Paper). By the very
late 1980s, however, the rapid expansion of the North Korean program
was the subject of several analyses. These intelligence assessments
should be viewed along with those available on a number of the
websites cited below which provide testimony by various Directors
of Central Intelligence on the North Korean nuclear threat. These
analyses must also be read with an understanding of the uncertainties
and ambiguities that surround any effort to assess the capabilities
and intentions of such a secretive regime as North Korea's. (Note
Controversy and the Chinese Role
Other documents shed light on the internal policy deliberations
and debates that have marked prior administrations' efforts to
address the threat posed by the North Korean nuclear program.
An excerpt from an interview with Charles
W. Freeman, a long-time State Department China hand who
was deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing during
the Reagan years, centers on Freeman's recollections about a still-born
step toward opening direct talks with North Korea that might have
emerged from a surprising Chinese offer during the first Reagan
administration to broker such discussions. This initiative was
effectively killed, according to Freeman, by the determined opposition
of Paul Wolfowitz, who was then Assistant Secretary of State for
East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Freeman speculates that Wolfowitz's
hostility to the initiative was rooted in part in the latter's
ideological suspicion of any Chinese initiative and his concerns
over adverse reactions from the Republican right-wing to such
talks (see pp. 430-431 of the excerpt). Wolfowitz's reputed role
as the intellectual driving-force behind the hard-line positions
taken by the Defense Department on Iraq, North Korea and other
members of the "Axis of Evil" suggests that long-standing
debates continue to be waged in the current administration.
Two documents provide insight into how the first Bush administration
faced the North Korean nuclear issue, suggesting that more collegiality
marked relations between Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon at that
time than now. A briefing paper
for Under Secretary of State Reginald Bartholomew's trip to Beijing
in the summer of 1991 outlines the concerns of the State Department
over the growing evidence that Pyongyang was continuing to pursue
a nuclear weapons capability in violation of its NPT commitments.
As with the current Bush administration, the senior Bush's State
Department sought Beijing's cooperation in pressing North Korea
to live up to its commitments and avoid taking steps that could
destabilize the Korean peninsula and the entire East Asia region.
The November 18, 1991 cable from
Secretary of State James Baker to Secretary of Defense (and now
Vice President) Richard Cheney provides a fascinating inside view
of U.S. diplomacy on North Korea, especially when one is aware
of the larger framework of U.S. diplomacy that shaped Baker's
comments, as well as the role played by policy-makers in the current
Bush II administration. As Baker was returning from his Asian
trip and Cheney was preparing to head to Korea for security consultations
with Seoul, a number of diplomatic initiatives aimed at addressing
the security situation on the Korean peninsula were in play. (Note
4) At the time, South and North Korea were engaged in delicate
parallel negotiations aimed at agreements on reconciliation between
the two countries and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
U.S. policy was coming to give priority to denuclearization as
a prerequisite to reconciliation, and in line with this goal,
had put heavy pressure on South Korean President Roh Tae Woo,
personally applied by then Undersecretary of Defense for Policy
(and current Deputy Secretary of Defense) Paul Wolfowitz during
the summer of 1991, to accept a joint ban with the North on nuclear
reprocessing. Then, the decision by the Bush administration in
October 1991 to withdraw its nuclear weapons from South Korea
as part of a worldwide drawdown of U.S. tactical nuclear deployments
was a key step towards denuclearizing the peninsula. For his part,
President Roh wanted to take the lead in negotiations with the
North, and was opposed to any U.S. direct contacts with Pyongyang,
which Baker in this cable seemed open to considering, if only
to clarify the U.S. position.
Other diplomatic currents involved Tokyo and Beijing. Seoul
had been very unhappy with the free-lance diplomacy of the Japanese
political dealmaker Shin Kanemaru, who had visited North Korea
in September 1991 and discussed with Kim Il Sung normalization
of ties between their two countries, an act the very possibility
of which could upset Roh's complex diplomatic pas-de-deux with
the North. (see Paragraph 4 of the cable). As the result of Seoul's
pressure on the Japanese government, Kanemaru was brought back
on the reservation and Tokyo's position was brought into line
with that of South Korea and the U.S. (see Paragraph 7) If Seoul
was concerned to keep Japan out of the diplomatic mix, Baker and
the U.S. seemed to feel that Beijing had a more positive role
to play, if done discretely (see Paragraph 8) This estimation
(or over-estimation in the views of some) of Beijing's leverage
on Pyongyang is echoed in current administration views on how
to handle the recent North Korean nuclear crisis-in-waiting.
The final, and key in Baker's view, role was that of the U.S.
As he noted to Cheney, Seoul had to realize that it could not
bring North Korea to agreement on the denuclearization of the
peninsula alone. [See paragraph 6] Other U.S. military moves in
connection with its force levels in South Korea also needed to
be choreographed so as to support U.S. diplomatic efforts in all
these capitals. As Baker summed up the situation,
The US remains key to orchestrating international pressures
on their [i.e. South Korea's] behalf. In my mind, this also
means that while we need to be sensitive to South Korea's
concerns, they need to appreciate that our security commitments
and interests give us a big say, too. [Paragraph 6]
Note: The following documents are in PDF
You will need to download and install the free Adobe
Acrobat Reader to view.
Document 1: [CIA], North Korea:
Nuclear Reactor, July 9, 1982.
This brief article, possibly from the National Intelligence Daily,
notes that a new nuclear research reactor is being built at the
Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center. The article also notes the similarity
of the new reactor to North Korea's other reactor, the training
and skills of North Korean nuclear physicists, and the implications
if the reactor is being built with or without Soviet assistance.
Document 2: CIA, A 10-Year Projection
of Possible Events of Nuclear Proliferation Concern,
The redacted version of this 25-page paper contains a brief section
on North Korea, which notes that "we have no basis for believing
that the North Koreans have either the facilities or materials
necessary to develop and test nuclear weapons."
Document 3: Interview with Charles
W. Freeman, excerpted from China Confidential: American Diplomats
and Sino-American Relations, 1945-1996, compiled and edited
with introduction and conclusion by Nancy Bernkopf Tucker (Columbia
University Press, New York, 2001) [used by permission of Professor
This excerpt from an interview with State Department China hand
Charles W. Freeman, who was deputy chief of mission at the U.S.
embassy in Beijing during the Reagan administration, discusses
as fascinating and little known proposal from the Chinese in the
early 1980s to promote direct talks between the United States
and North Korea. According to Freeman, during Secretary of Defense
Caspar Weinberger's visit to Beijing in the summer of 1983, Deng
Xiaoping proposed a meeting in Beijing between the South and North
Koreans, with the U.S. in attendance and hosted by China. This
important initiative, which Freeman said the Chinese Foreign Ministry
confirmed, was killed by then Assistant Secretary of State for
East Asian and Pacific Affairs Paul Wolfowitz (and Deputy Secretary
of Defense in the present Bush administration), who accused the
U.S. embassy of "having put words into Deng's mouth."
According to Freeman, Wolfowitz was instrumental again in the
spring of 1984 in reversing Secretary of State George Shultz's
agreement during Reagan's visit to China to such a four-power
meeting. As Freeman characterized the Chinese proposal, it was
a "pretty creative and useful suggestion," which ran
aground on ideological shoals within the Reagan administration.
Document 4: CIA, East Asia Brief,
April 20, 1984.
This brief contains reporting and speculation concerning the
new North Korean reactor - noting the construction of a cooling
tower, while estimating the type of reactor and fuel source involved.
It also gives an estimate of when the reactor will be completed.
Document 5: Department of State
Briefing Paper, ca. January 5, 1985
This briefing paper, apparently prepared for Secretary of State
George Shultz's meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko
in Geneva, notes the U.S. concern over North Korea's construction
of a nuclear reactor that could produce weapons-grade plutonium,
and U.S. efforts to secure cooperation from Moscow and Beijing
in denying Pyongyang sensitive nuclear materials.
Document 6: CIA, East Asia Brief,
December 27, 1985.
The only non-redacted portion of the substantive portion of this
document notes a TASS report that the Soviet Union will be helping
North Korea to build the reactor. It suggests that North Korea's
accession to the NPT was the Soviet price.
Document 7: CIA, North Korea:
Potential for Nuclear Weapon Development, September 1986.
This 45-page study examines various factors influencing North
Korea's ability to develop nuclear weapons. Among the issues addressed
are the time required for North Korea to develop nuclear weapons,
the background of the nuclear program, reprocessing, nonnuclear
aspects of weapons development (e.g., high-explosive development),
and delivery systems.
Document 8: CIA, North Korea's
Nuclear Efforts, April 28, 1987.
This brief (4 pp.) analysis provides an update of the status
of the North Korean nuclear program, and links the program primarily
to an attempt to improve its economy by creating an additional
capacity to produce energy. The analysis also provides background
on the program, considers the potential for developing nuclear
weapons, and examines the relationship between the reactor, the
NPT, and the Soviet Union.
Document 9: CIA, NORTH KOREA: Delaying Safeguards Agreement,
May 28, 1987.
This brief note, apparently from the National Intelligence
Daily, notes that North Korea "has been slow in complying
with provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty
also noted that "there is no indication that North Korea
has an active nuclear weapons program."
Document 10: CIA, North Korea's
Expanding Nuclear Efforts, May 3, 1988.
This paper updates the analysis of April 1987, noting the background
of the North Korean effort, the construction of the reactor (and
details about its nature), and the existence of a major hydroelectric
power project in southwestern North Korea. While noting the role
the reactor can play in addressing North Korea's energy problems
it also observes that "the new
reactor raises some
Document 11: CIA, North Korea's
Expanding Nuclear Efforts, May 26, 1988.
This paper is substantially the same in content as the May 3
Document 12: CIA, Nuclear Proliferation
Survey: The Next Generation, November 1988.
After redaction, the only information that remains about the
North Korean nuclear program is one short paragraph, which notes
development of a nuclear capability for undetermined use and foot-dragging
on safeguards negotiations.
Document 13: CIA, NORTH KOREA:
Nuclear Program of Proliferation Concern, March 22, 1989.
This brief report begins with the statement that "North
Korea is rapidly expanding its nuclear-related activities."
In redacted form, it provides some basic information about the
Yongbyon reactor and North Korea's interaction with the International
Atomic Energy Agency.
Document 14: FBIS/CIA, Trends,
August 9, 1989.
This one page report notes North Korea's public denial that it
is developing a nuclear weapons capability and provides details
on the statement made by that country's news agency.
Document 15: Department of State
Talking Points Paper for Under Secretary of State Bartholomew's
China Trip, ca. 30 May 1991. Subject: North Korean Nuclear
Program (For China) [FOIA-Declassified 2002]
This talking points paper, prepared for Under Secretary of State
Reginald Bartholomew's trip to China in 1991, summarizes the U.S.
concerns about Pyongyang's failure to carry out its obligations
under the NPT and the evidence that the Yongbyon Nuclear Research
Center will be able to produce plutonium, leading to a North Korean
nuclear weapon by the mid-1990s. The U.S. approach that Bartholomew
was to present to the Chinese leaders stressed the preference
for a "broadly based, concerted international consensus"
as providing the best hope for bringing North Korea into compliance
with its NPT obligations. The U.S. position also opposed any linkage
between U.S. security arrangements in South Korea and North Korea's
obligation to carry out its IAEA safeguards agreement. Bartholomew
was to urge the Chinese to continue to raise these issues with
the DPRK and press Pyongyang to meet their NPT commitments.
Document 16: Department of State,
Cable, Secretary of State James Baker to Secretary of Defense
Richard Cheney, 18 November 1991. Subject: Dealing with the
North Korean Nuclear Problem; Impressions from My Asia Trip.
This cable provides Secretary of State Baker's views on the positions
being taken in Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo on dealing with the problem
of the DPRK nuclear program. (See also the introductory essay
for more on this cable.) It is marked by a clear sense of the
interplay of different perspectives and concerns motivating the
three governments, as well as the need for a coordinated U.S.-Japanese-Chinese-Soviet
approach to placing pressure on the DPRK to implement an IAEA
safeguards regime and to working out in parallel with the ROK
a joint North-South commitment to forego nuclear reprocessing
capabilities. As Baker summed up the approach of the first Bush
administration, "we are starting to build the basis for a
parallel strategy of coordinating diplomatic pressures on the
North--combined with ROK initiatives through the North-South talks--and
our defense reassurances to Seoul."
Document 17: International Atomic
Energy Agency, Agreed Framework of 21 October 1994 Between
the United States of America and the Democratic People's Republic
of Korea, November 2, 1994.
This information circular contains the text of the agreed framework,
under which, inter alia, the DPRK agreed to freeze its
graphite-moderated reactors and related facilities (which could
be used to produce weapons grade plutonium) in exchange for U.S.-led
provision of light-water reactors and other economic/energy benefits.
Document 18: IAEA, The DPRK's
Violation of its NPT Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, 1997.
This is an excerpt from the 1997 History of the International
Atomic Energy Agency. It reviews some of the interaction between
the DPRK and IAEA, the terms of the agreed framework, and North
Korean violation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
Document 19: Robert D. Walpole,
National Intelligence Officer for Strategic and Nuclear Programs,
North Korea's Taepo Dong Launch and Some Implications on the
Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, December 8,
This report contains information on the August 31, 1998 Taepo
Dong 1 launch and its implications, the controversial 1998 national
intelligence estimate on the ballistic missile threat to the United
Document 20: William J. Perry, Review
of United States Policy Toward North Korea: Findings and Recommendations,
October 12, 1999.
Former Secretary of Defense William Perry headed a North Korea
policy review team, tasked in November 1998 by President Clinton
with conducting an extensive review of U.S. relations with the
DPRK. The team's report focused on the assessment of the security
situation on the Korean Peninsula, the perspective of regional
actors, alternative policies, and offered an overall strategy
Document 21: U.S. House of Representatives,
North Korea Advisory Group, Report to the Speaker, November
The report, prepared by a group of Republican congressman for
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, addressed the question "Does
North Korea pose a greater threat to U.S. national security than
it did five years ago?" Its conclusions included the observation
that "There is significant evidence that undeclared nuclear
weapons development activity continues."
Document 22: CIA, Untitled, November
This one page assessment was provided to Congress. It reports
CIA conclusions with regard to possible North Korean possession
of nuclear weapons, the consequences of a collapse in the 1994
agreed framework, as well as the North Korea's uranium-enrichment
Document 23: International Atomic
Energy Agency, Report by the Director General on the Implementation
of the NPT Safeguards Agreement Between the Agency and the Democratic
People's Republic of Korea, November 29, 2002.
This report notes the Board of Governors' "extreme concern"
with "recent reports of an unsafeguarded DPRK uranium enrichment
programme." It also "deplores the DPRK's repeated public
statements that it is entitled to possess nuclear weapons"
and urges North Korea to "give up any nuclear weapons programme."
Document 24: Larry A. Niksch, CRS,
North Korea's Nuclear Weapons Program, February 27, 2003.
This is the most recent iteration of a frequently updated unclassified
analysis of the DPRK's nuclear weapons program, produced by the
Congressional Research Service. The paper examines North Korean
action since October 2002, Bush administration policy, the state
of the DPRK nuclear program, and a number of issues related to
the Agreed Framework.
Links to Selected Online Resources on the North Korean Nuclear
1) Monterey Institute of International Studies, Center for Nonproliferation
Studies, North Korea Special Collection: http://cns.miis.edu/research/korea/index.htm
2) Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Korean Peninsula
- Carnegie Resources: http://www.ceip.org/files/nonprolif/countries/country.asp?ID=5&country=korea
3) IAEA DPRK Website: http://www.iaea.org/worldatom/Press/Focus/IaeaDprk/index.shtml
4) Arms Control Association, Country Resources - North Korea
5) Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) Source Documents: http://www.nti.org/e_research/e8_sourcedocs.html
1. See David E. Sanger, "North Korea Says
It Now Possesses Nuclear Arsenal," The New York Times,
April 25, 2003; David E. Sanger, "Administration Divided
over North Korea," The New York Times, April 21, 2003;
and Glenn Kessler, "State-Defense Policy Rivalry Intensifying,"
The Washington Post, April 22, 2003.
2. See Glenn Kessler and Walter Pincus, "N.
Korea Stymied On Plutonium Work: Reprocessing Lab Called Antiquated,"
The Washington Post, March 20, 2003; and Don Kirk, "North
Korea Revises Web Report on Fuel Rods," The New York Times,
April 21, 2003 (accessed on the New York Times webpage
April 22, 2003]
3. See for example Leon V. Sigal, Disarming
Strangers: Nuclear Diplomacy with North Korea, Princeton University
Press, 1998, pp. 90 passim for a detailed discussion of these
issues in connection with the November 1993 National Intelligence
Estimate that concluded North Korea already had one or two nuclear
4. For a detailed analysis of U.S. diplomacy
regarding the North Korean nuclear program (which this discussion
draws upon), see Sigal, Disarming Strangers: Nuclear Diplomacy
with North Korea.