Verify, Verify and Verify Again Any Deal with North Korea
Brad Glosserman (Director of Research, Pacific Forum, CSIS, Hawaii)
(This article originally appeared in the May 15, 2003 issue of South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and is reproduced here with permission from the publisher)
Any solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis will ultimately be a grand bargain with military, economic, political and diplomatic components. Fashioning that deal will require aggressive and creative thinking. The lack of trust in North Korea and its lack of trust in all other governments means verification measures will be extremely important - as well as extremely difficult to create.
One option - a Korean peninsula nuclear verification regime - was tabled last week at a meeting of nuclear energy experts from the Asia-Pacific region. The meeting was part of the Council for Security Co-operation in the Asia Pacific, a network of think-tanks that Pacific Forum CSIS helped found a decade ago.
Its Nuclear Energy Experts Group focuses on questions and problems surrounding the nuclear energy industry in the Asia-Pacific, and has visited facilities across the region. We met in Las Vegas because it is close to the Yucca Mountain high-level waste repository, where the US government will house spent nuclear fuel and other highly radioactive waste.
The group's mandate covers nuclear energy issues, and non-proliferation concerns in particular. The verification proposal fits that agenda. The proposal, by John Olsen, a scientist at the Co-operative Monitoring Centre of Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, is designed to bring all concerned countries into the effort to ensure the Korean peninsula remains nuclear-free.
The security of North Korea's neighbours is affected by its nuclear programme. All countries have interests in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which could be fatally compromised by a breakout. The two Koreas promised to refrain from developing nuclear weapons in their 1992 Joint Declaration.
Dr Olsen anticipates the establishment of a multilateral institution to verify denuclearisation of the peninsula, to make sure nuclear materials are not used to produce weapons, and to implement safeguards (in conjunction with the International Atomic Energy Agency). A multilateral regime makes sense: it would give all concerned countries a reason to work for its success and could defuse North Korean fears that it is intended only for them.
A multilateral framework is also in order since any "grand bargain" with North Korea will have to address economic issues and provide energy supplies to the country. The bulk of that aid will come from its neighbours. Finally, a key component of any deal will be security guarantees for North Korea. Bringing other countries into that process should allay its fears and make those guarantees more credible in the long run.
Would other countries be willing to join the effort? They should be. They would all benefit from increased stability and security on the peninsula. China, Russia and Japan would have some say in regional security issues. They worry that a bilateral US-North Korean deal would minimise their influence.
In addition, it would provide a regular forum for North-South discussions in security matters, something which has been lacking.
Dr Olsen's proposal envisions the regime taking on other security-related issues, such as ballistic missiles or conventional forces. I think its expertise would be better used sticking to nuclear-energy-related issues. It could become the core of an institution that deals with the region's problem of nuclear waste. An estimated 29,370 tonnes of spent fuel accumulated in Asia from 1960 to 2000; a further 21,000 tonnes will be created this decade.
The expertise in nuclear matters accumulated by the verification regime should be used to handle the region's radioactive waste problems. After all, a key assignment will be to dispose of North Korea's spent fuel. The process of constructing and running the regime will help build confidence among governments and nuclear authorities, essential to its success - and ultimately stabilise the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia.