Why This Time is Different: The North Korea Crisis and New Zealand’s Interests

Author: Steff, R.
Published in National Security Journal, 09 April 2020

arrangement was secured through the Agreed Framework between the United States of America and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, signed on 21 October 1994.26  Tensions continued to surface throughout the decade, with the US imposing sanctions on the North for continued proliferation activity, and the North launching a three-stage Taepodong-1 missile with a 1,500 to 2,000 km range in 1998, revealing that it was continuing to progress its missile programme.27 Meanwhile, from 1994 to 2002, the DPRK facilities at Yongbyon remained frozen and five rounds of talks occurred between North Korea and the US on missile proliferation issues. Despite promising diplomatic progress that included an official trip to Pyongyang by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2000, the arrival of the George W. Bush administration brought this phase of diplomacy to a halt when it initiated a review of US policy on North Korea. Then, following a report by the CIA, the administration declared that Pyongyang had violated its obligations under the NPT, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and joint South Korea-North Korea Declaration on Denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.28 In January 2002 President Bush included North Korea in a so-called ‘axis of evil’ along- side Iraq and Iran. According to the Bush administration, these three ‘rogue states’ were “arming to threaten the peace of the world” and could require pre-emptive military action (what became known as the Bush Doctrine) to forcibly disarm.29

On 10 January 2003, North Korea stated that it was withdrawing from the NPT, becoming the first state to pull out of the treaty.30 Against the backdrop of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, diplomacy with North Korea was revived through the Six Party Talks (SPT) that included the US, North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia. Yet DPRK nuclear efforts continued. In February 2005, it declared that it had successfully manufactured nuclear weapons “for self-defense to cope with the Bush administration’s policy of isolating and crushing the DPRK,”31` and on 9 October 2006 it conducted its first nuclear weapons test.32 Meanwhile China, Pyongyang’s only ‘ally’, became increasingly concerned over the North’s behaviour, supporting for the first time UNSC Resolution 1695 in July 2006 which condemned North Korea’s missile tests,33 and supported the October 2006 UNSC Resolution 1718 condeming the nuclear test.34

Diplomacy over North Korea remained stillborn for much of the Obama presidency – which claimed to be pursuing a strategy of ‘strategic patience’ vis-à-vis the North.35 It was during Obama’s second term that the North appeared to be pursuing a full nuclear breakout, seeking to acquire both a credible nuclear weapons capability (a second nu- clear test took place in May 2009), as well as weapons delivery systems. These efforts by the DPRK were influenced by the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who, despite agreeing to give up the nation’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and being welcomed back into the ranks of the international community, was killed by US and NATO supported rebels in 2011. North Korea would cite the Libyan episode as justifying why it needed its own nuclear deterrent to prevent US aggression.36