U.S. strategic interests on Korean peninsula

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea this week called on the U.S. to negotiate a nonaggression pact between the two nations, saying it is the only way to avoid war. The statement was the latest in a series of DPRK initiatives in an attempt to normalize relations with Washington.

'The only way to prevent a catastrophic crisis of a war on the Korean peninsula is to conclude a nonagression treaty between North Korea and the U.S. at an early date,' the government newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said in a Dec. 16 report.

Why did George W. Bush include the DPRK in his fictional 'axis of evil' analogy? In a phrase, it’s because of U.S. plans for a strategic missile defense system.

The DPRK has been yearning to strengthen its economy that has been constrained by international regulations disallowing economic aid from U.S.-controlled multilateral financial institutions. Pyongyang was hoping the 1994 U.S. – DPRK Agreed Framework would facilitate this. Under the agreement, the United States lowered trade and economic barriers along with guaranteeing that two 1,000 megawatt light water reactors (LWR) would be built by 2003. For the United States, the purpose of the agreement was to decrease the likelihood North Korea would create nuclear weapons with nuclear waste created by its graphite-moderated nuclear reactors. Graphite-moderated nuclear reactors contain a plutonium reactor, which, like enriched uranium, can be used to make nuclear weapons; it is more difficult to convert LWR waste into weapons-grade material.

Contrary to the agreement, construction of the LWRs is far behind schedule. The first reactor is not expected to reach completion until at least 2008 if there are no further delays, even though the 1994 agreement specified that both reactors would be built by 2003. The holdup has prompted North Korea to take bold actions hoping to keep the project on target. The first such action took place in 1998 when North Korea test fired a Taepo-Dong-1 missile which resulted in the project being even further delayed. But this action did not directly violate the agreement. Even as recently as February 2002, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that North Korea has so far 'stay[ed] within the agreement.' Despite this, the construction of the LWRs remained behind schedule. The recent admission by North Korea of enriching uranium may be another attempt to force the United States to hasten the production of the LWRs. The DPRK has further reason to doubt U.S. sincerity in living up to the Agreed Framework. It came as a surprise to North Korea when they were labeled as part of the 'axis of evil,' a term used to justify possible U.S. military action. By admitting to a nuclear weapons program, North Korea may be hoping to initiate new negotiations. The DPRK could possibly offer to give up their bomb program if the U.S. lives up to its commitments of normalizing ties, releasing aid, and allowing North Korea access to international financial institutions.

The Bush administration may not be interested in removing North Korea from the threat list. A perceived North Korean threat is necessary to justify building the Theater Missile Defense (TMD) system, intended to counter China’s growing military and political power. With China’s economy growing at seven percent, it is only a matter of time before it dwarfs Japan in power and strategic influence. This worries sectors of Japan’s government, especially the military establishment, and also concerns the Bush administration, who do not want to see U.S. regional power and economic interests threatened by China. Since neither the U.S. nor Japan are willing to admit to building the new missile system to counteract a 'Beijing threat,' The DPRK is currently being used as the primary reason for creating the TMD in Japan.

In addition to the TMD, the U.S. is also discussing the implementation of the Navy Theater Wide Defense (NTWD) system that could be installed on U.S. and Japanese Aegis warships. These mobile missile defense systems could severely weaken China’s military threat and reduce Beijing’s political clout. China is concerned that its ballistic missiles, pointed at Taipei to prevent their independence, could be rendered ineffective by a NTWD protecting Taiwan. While official recognition of China’s threat to the U.S. would cause unwanted political ramifications, the touting of North Korea as a public threat provides a convenient justification for the development of both these new missile defense systems.



Much of the information in this article comes from a report by The Power and Interest News Report (PINR), an analysis-based publication that seeks to, as objectively as possible, provide insight into various conflicts, regions and points of interest around the globe. To see the full report go to www.pinr.com