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North Korea

Introduction:Identified as part of the “Axis of Evil” in 2002 by US President George W. Bush, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, remains a source of proliferation concern today. In January 2003, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found it in non-compliance with its safeguards agreements in 2000. In February 2005, the DPRK government publicly claimed for the first time that it possesses nuclear weapons. In 2006, 2009, and 2013 North Korea conducted nuclear tests.

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Due to the extremely closed nature of the North Korean state, exact information on its nuclear capabilities is not available. As of 2014, it is believed that North Korea possesses six to eight nuclear weapons. In 2010, North Korea unveiled a centrifuge facility, but its ability to produce highly-enriched uranium for weapons remains unclear. In August 2013, North Korea restarted the Yongbyon heavy-water reactor it used in the past to extract plutonium for its nuclear warheads.

Numerous multilateral and bilateral efforts to engage North Korea diplomatically in response to its nuclear weapons program have remained largely fruitless. North Korea joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1985 and concluded its safeguards agreement with the IAEA after much delay in April 1992. In 1994, North Korea announced its intention to withdraw from the NPT. Bilateral negotiations initiated by the United States diffused the crisis and resulted in the Agreed Framework of 1994. Under this agreement, North Korea froze its plutonium program for almost a decade and allowed for IAEA verification of the freeze. However, neither the US nor North Korea was fully satisfied with the agreement reached and the Agreed Framework subsequently collapsed after President Bush came into office in 2001.North Korea subsequently withdrew from the NPT under Article X in 2003.

North Korea’s ballistic missile program is based on short and medium-range missiles. North Korea’s role as a leading exporter of ballistic missiles poses another reason for concern. It has sold missile technologies based on the Taepo Dong system to Egypt, Iran, Libya, Pakistan and Syria.

Renewed efforts to diplomatically resolve the crisis surrounding the North Korean nuclear program have been made through the Six-Party talks that started in August 2003, which include China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Russia and the United States. Negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear program have become a cyclical pattern in which an agreement between the US and North Korea is reached in crisis, but with one country waiting for the other to act before fulfilling their own promises. An agreement had been reached at the end of 2005, but then North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006. After improvements in the relations between the DPRK and the US in 2007-2008, North Korea conducted another nuclear test in 2009. In 2011, the country claimed it was ready to resume Six-Party talks without preconditions. After the death of the former Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Il in December 2011 the DPRK announced a moratorium on nuclear tests and uranium enrichment in exchange of food aid from the US on February 29, 2012. In 2013, North Korea tested a nuclear test, posing a new challenge for the United States in its efforts to keep the country from becoming a full-fledged nuclear power.

In a speech on March 3, 2015, I Su Yong, North Korean Foreign Minister said his country had the power to deter an “ever-increasing nuclear threat” by the US with a pre-emptive strike if necessary.

On April 24, 2014, the Republic of the Marshall Islands filed a lawsuit against North Korea at the International Court of Justice for violation of customary international law regarding the obligation to negotiate for an end to the nuclear arms race and for nuclear disarmament. The case is expected to last into at least 2016.


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