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North Korea Nuclear Crisis
February 1993 - June 1994

The nuclear challenge from North Korea in 1993 and 1994 focused on halting of the existing North Korean nuclear program, which by June 1994 was poised to leap forward in its production of weapons-grade plutonium.

In late 1991 North and South Korea signed an Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-aggression, Exchanges and Cooperation and the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The Joint Declaration called for a bilateral nuclear inspection regime to verify the denuclearization of the peninsula and in 1991 George Bush pulled American tactical nuclear weapons off the Korean Peninsula. The Declaration, which came into force on 19 February 1992, states that the two sides "shall not test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deployor use nuclear weapons," and that they "shall not possess nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities." When North Korean Deputy Prime Minister Kim Tal-Hyon visited South Korea for economic talks in July 1992, President Roh Tae Woo announced that full North-South Economic Cooperation would not be possible without resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue. There was little progress toward the establishment of an inspection regime, and dialogue between the South and North stalled in the fall of 1992.

Pyongyang finally signed the accord with the IAEA in 1992. The North's agreement to accept The North's agreement to accept IAEA safeguards initiated a series of IAEA inspections of North Korea's nuclear facilities. This promising development was halted by the North's refusal to allow special inspections of two unreported facilities suspected of holding nuclear waste. Ignoring the South-North Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, North Korea refused IAEA inspections and operated nuclear reprocessing facilities, making the world suspicious of its nuclear intentions.

On February 10, 1993, North Korea refused to permit the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to conduct special inspections, as permitted under the terms of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), of two undeclared nuclear-related sites to clarify discrepancies related to North Korea's nuclear program, and on March 12, 1993, North Korea announced its intention to withdraw from the NPT effective on June 12, 1993, due to the insistence of the IAEA on exercising inspection rights under the NPT.

On April 1, 1993, the IAEA declared North Korea to be in noncompliance with the NPT; on April 2, 1993, the IAEA voted to refer North Korean violations of the Treaty to the United Nations Security Council; and on April 7, 1993, the IAEA issued a formal censure on North Korea for its noncompliance with the NPT, the first censure in the history of the IAEA. On May 11, 1993, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution asking North Korea to allow IAEA inspections under the NPT, and on May 12, 1993, North Korea rejected the request of the United Nations Security Council and subsequently impeded or refused access to any of its sites by IAEA inspectors.

The North's threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) brought North-South progress to an abrupt halt. Tensions ran high on the Korean Peninsula as the confrontation between North Korea and the United States deepened. The US objective was to bring North Korea back into full compliance with its NPT obligations and to restart talks with the Republic of Korea aimed at a denuclearized Korean peninsula. On June 2, 1993, the United States and North Korea initiated a series of meetings in New York to discuss the impasse in nuclear site inspections, which continued until January 4, 1994, when Under Secretary of State Lynn Davis announced that North Korea had agreed to inspections of seven declared nuclear-related sites.

However, by April 1994 diplomatic efforts reached an impasse. The North Koreans did not permit the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to conduct essential activities during its recent inspection. As a result, the Agency was unable to certify that the North is not diverting or producing nuclear material for non-peaceful purposes, and the Agency's Board of Governors passed a resolution referring this matter to the UN Security Council. The North also broken off negotiations with the South on exchanging envoys to discuss the nuclear issue.

The United States and South Korea offered to suspend the Team Spirit '94 military exercise on the premise that North Korea would full implement the IAEA inspection and exchange envoys with the South to discuss the nuclear issue. Subsequently, no Team Spirit exercises have been held since 1993. The North Korean response to first Team Spirit exercise in 1976 was the proximate source of the "tree-cutting" incident that led to Operation Paul Bunyan.

Tensions increased following the incursion into North Korean airspace in December 1994 of a small US helicopter that had lost its way in bad weather. It had been shot down, killing one of the two crew members; the other was released after negotiations that produced a US statement of "regret."

In March 1994 the United States and South Korea agreed to deploy Patriot missiles to South Korea in response to the threat posed by North Korea's ballistic missles. 11th Air Defense Artillery "Imperial" Brigade soldiers of the 2-7 ADA (re-designated as 5-52 ADA) rapidly deployed to the Republic of Korea in response to rising tensions over North Korea's nuclear program. Later in 1994 the 1st Battalion the 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment deployed to the Korean theater to relieve 2-7 ADA in the Tactical Ballistic Missile Defense of the peninsula. As 1-43 ADA began their plans to move the entire battalion to the Republic of Korea, the battallion synchronized its deployment with 2-7 ADA's return, providing the Republic of Korea, for the first time in history, a permanent basing of the Patriot missile system. Patriot Batteries of the 1st Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment were deployed at Kunsun and Suwon.

US Army Pacific units, III Corps Headquarters, Fort Hood, Texas, and individual augmentees participated in the command post Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration (RSOI) Exercise in Korea. The purpose of the joint and combined exercise was to train Combined Forces Command and subordinate commands, United States Forces Korea staff and components, and ROK-US logistics organizations and staffs on the reception, staging, onward movement and integration of units from the United States in an emergency deployment in defense of South Korea. RSOI, first conducted in April 1994, became an annual exercise thereafter.

North Korea threatened to go to war if sanctions were imposed by the international community. In Mid-May 1994 US Defense Secretary Perry noted that "The North Koreans have stated that they would consider the imposition of sanctions to be equivalent to a declaration of war. ... We may believe, and I do believe, that this is rhetoric on their part, but we cannot act on that belief. We have to act on the prudent assumption that there will be some increase in the risk of war if we go to a sanction regime."

On 24 May 1994 Senator John McCain urged a number of additional military steps for the United States to prepare for such a contingency occur well ahead of any anticipated military action. First, increase the readiness and alert posture of U.S. and South Korean forces; second, deploy to South Korea additional troops from the United States; third, deploy additional fighter aircraft squadrons and Apache helicopters to South Korea; fourth, deploy a carrier battle group to the area; fifth, preposition bombers and tankers in the region; sixth, preposition stocks in South Korea; since, again, significant lack of strategic lift precludes the timely sustainment of our forces during the crisis; seventh, enhance intelligence collection and sharing with South Korea, focusing increased intelligence assets, both satellites and aircraft systems, in the theater; eighth, enhance South Korean defenses with Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), counter-artillery radars, and precision-guided munitions; and ninth, neither American and South Korean forces nor the population of Seoul have effective defenses against a chemical or biological attack from the North.

Senator McCain and others suggested that the United States must consider taking stronger measures should further efforts fail to persuade North Korea to end the crisis. Advocates of military did not call for an immediate resort to offensive military actions immediately, but rather suggested that the imposition of sanctions should be attempted, and that the necessary improvements to readiness should be effected. Strikes using high-performance aircraft would be required to eliminate these facilities, since they are so heavily reinforced and cruise missiles would not be effective. Because of heavy air defenses around these facilities, the risk to American pilots would be considerable. Although air or cruise missile strikes on North Korea's nuclear facilities would not completely destroy their nuclear program, they could damage it severely over both the near and long term.

Extensive bombing of the reactor or reprocessing plant could cause the release of nuclear radiation which might be carried by prevailing winds to South Korea. Precision targeting could effectively damage the capabilities of both facilities without requiring that they be reduced to rubble, and with little or no radiation release. While it would be preferable to strike the reactor while it was not operational, even if it was fully refueled and has been restarted, the radiation release would be minimal with a new fuel load. Strikes could be targeted in such a way as to cause the building to collapse in on itself without seriously damaging any fuel rods in the core.

If no spent fuel rods were moved to the reprocessing facility, it could be hit without risk of a radiation release. Even if a small number have been stored there, a precision strike on the building, designed to disrupt future operations for some period of time, would not result in a significant release of radiation. With precision targeting, a hit could be designed to cause the building to collapse in on itself with virtually no radiation release.

Less difficult options--if also less effective against North Korea's near-term threat--would be strikes against North Korea's huge new 250 megawatt reactor which was scheduled to become operational by the end of the year, another even larger reactor which will be operational in 1996, and an associated reprocessing plant that will begin operations in about 6 months. Since these facilities were not on-line, and have no nuclear fuel on site at this time, there would be no risk of radiation release.

The objective of the strikes would be to irreparably damage the facilities and surrounding support structures, including power plants. High-performance aircraft or Tomahawk cruise missile strikes targeted on these three facilities might effectively eliminate North Korea's planned expansion of their nuclear program. Cruise missiles would eliminate the direct risk of death or capture of any American pilots.

Throughout the crisis, the United States sought to avoid escalation to a military conflict that might once again involve Chinese military intervention. According to published reports in 1994, under the the China-North Korea Friendship Treaty signed in 1961, China formulated plans to support North Korea by sending ground troops between 50,000 and 75,000 soldiers--who belong to the three divisions of the 39th Shenyang Military District Army stationed in Dalian--as well as approximately 10,000 rapid deployment troops of the Jinan Military District to the latter. However China reportedly would send its troops to North Korea only if North Korea is cornered as a result of an invasion by the United States and South Korea, and that if North Korea invades South Korea, China would not directly provide military support to North Korea, except for spare parts or ammunition for the Chinese-made weapons North Korea currently possesses.

After a period of high tension brought on by failure to resolve the nuclear issue, and Security Council discussion of UN sanctions against the DPRK, former President Carter's visit to Pyongyang in June 1994 helped to defuse tensions and resulted in renewed South-North talks. A third round of talks between the US and the DPRK opened in Geneva on July 8, 1994. However, the sudden death of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung on July 8, 1994 halted plans for a first ever South-North presidential summit and led to another period of inter-Korean animosity. The talks were resumed in August. Finally, an Agreed Framework was signed between the US and North Korea in Geneva on 21 October 1994, capping the on-and-off bilateral negotiations which altogether had lasted for more than a year and a half.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:23:14 Zulu