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The Chronicle of North Korea’s Nuclear Power and Diplomacy Research Paper

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Updated: Oct 15th, 2019


The war against nuclear weapons developed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK remains a delicate and sensitive issue in diplomatic relations between DPRK and other countries around the world. With several nations opposed to the nuclear development program, DPRK has gone through a series of steps and encountered countless challenges in its quest to produce and develop nuclear weapons.

This has led to international conferences and treaties aimed at limiting the progress and chances of North Korea becoming a nuclear power threat to the rest of the world in future (Wampler, 2003). With all these efforts, research indicates that the country’s leadership has had a deaf ear on the calls and maintained their development programs to-date.

In this regard, this research focuses on the historical progress of nuclear strategy in North Korea and how North Korea’s foreign diplomacy and Nuclear affected each other. Of special significance is the nuclear development in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, encompassing both its on-table and under-table activities.

The research furthers synthesizes how DPRK’s pursuit of Nuclear weapons has affected its relationship with countries like the United States, Japan, China, South Korea and other European and Asian states throughout history. Lastly, the paper analyzes the Six-Party talk in terms of its successes and failures with special focus on the current status of the nuclear development program in North Korea.

Nuclear weapons

These are highly lethal armaments with the highest known potential of destruction in the world. This ability emanates from fusion and fission reactions which take place in nuclear reactors. Although it later gained its use in the mid 20th century, nuclear weapons breakthrough were made in early 1930s and later applied by several countries during the Cold War.

It is believed that the first fission weapons were developed by the union between the United States, Canada and Britain as a way of counteracting the threat that was being posed by Nazi German bomb scheme during Cold War (World Nuclear Association, 2011). After some of the bombs were dropped on Japan in 1945, the Soviet Union began its development of the Hydrogen bomb.

The U.S and Soviet Union acquired nuclear weapons, which were used during the Cold War. Since then several countries, totaling to nine have acquired these weapons and their proliferation remains a global security threat. Moreover, of substance, controversy and great attention is the nuclear development in DPRK.

North Korea and Nuclear weapons

North Korea is an isolated and relatively small country in Asia but it has remained in the limelight for decades with regard to nuclear power exploration and development of weapons. Its thirst for nuclear weapons has sparked chilly relationships with countries like the United States and South Korea, having been criticized and highly condemned for the manner in which it handles human rights issues. DPRK government is considered to be quite secretive and its borders are highly guarded and sheltered.

North Korea was created after the Second World War, when the DPRK declared its independence in the year 1948 (Kimball, 2011). Early 1950s witnessed the Korean War when DPRK invaded the South after their declaration of sovereignty. The war claimed more than two million Koreans and came to a halt after a peace agreement that was reached in 1953.

Nuclear development in DPRK

It is believed that North Korea, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korean has nurtured its interest in nuclear power and weapons since 1950s. Although there are no known operating nuclear reactors in the country, there are massive development programs which have remained part of the epicenter of global nuclear power threats (Wampler, 2003).

While others argue that North Korea developed its nuclear plants and weapons decades ago, the following segments summarize some of the steps which DPRK has undergone to achieve its current global ranking in nuclear matters.

Chronology of events

DPRK’s nuclear program began in mid 20th century, precisely 1950s during the reign of Kim il-Sung, a time when most scientists from North Korea received practical training in the Soviet Union (Moltz & Mansourov, 2000). As a way of exploring atomic energy, these scientists were trained in high-energy physics and radiochemistry among other science subjects.

During this time, the two countries, North Korea and the Soviet Union maintained peaceful bilateral relationships that were aimed at fostering their exploration of nuclear power. This relationship was formerly cemented in 1959 by the signing of an inter-governmental agreement based on cooperation within the field of nuclear science.

As a result, a series of joint-nuclear activities followed like the signing of the “Series 9559”, contracts and ratification of contracts which allowed construction of a mega nuclear research center that was referred to as the “Furniture Factory” and extensive training of the North Korean labor force (Kimball, 2011).

Besides in the Soviet Union, other North Koreans received training and education in China and East Germany. Major nuclear power events began unfolding in early 1960s when North Korea officially launched its nuclear development program in Yongbyon. This location was approximately sixty miles north of Pyongyang.

Even though North Korea established its nuclear development program, its ties with the Soviet Union remained right as the latter continued to supply the former with nuclear reactor fuel and technical support for years. For instance, these efforts were boosted when the Soviet Union donated a 2 MW IRT-2000 reactor to North Korea in 1965 in support of the Yongbyon project (Niksch, 2010).

Notably, most of the construction and experimental structure in DPRK was accomplished with enormous assistance and technical involvement of the Soviet Union experts. They participated in the construction of the Yongbyon research center and supplied the country with IRT-2M fuel-type which contained close to 36% and 80% uranium enrichment. Nevertheless, the center is currently used in the manufacture of iodine-131 which is used in cancer treatment (Wampler, 2003).

Expansion after 60s

With established research institutions, laboratories and chairs across North Korea, the country focused on the expansion of nuclear technology. However, the primary objective of this initiative was to explore the use of nuclear energy and consider several ways of tapping from the sector to advance the country’s economy.

During a delegates congress that was held in October 1970 and 1980, many emphasized on the need of constructing nuclear plants on large scale in order to serve as alternative sources of electrical energy (Niksch, 2010).

Similarly, North Korean leaders quickly adopted the idea since no oil had been explored in the country and the looming crisis of compensating nationwide power shortages with options like thermal and hydroelectric energy. Consequently, the unclear development idea received full support to establish the nuclear energy sector based on gas-graphite reactors given that the country had enough uranium and graphite deposits (Kimball, 2011).

In 1970s, DPRK concentrated on nuclear fuel cycle which mainly consisted of refining, fabrication and conversion. The year 1974 saw North Korean experts transform the Soviet IRT-2M into a modern reactor which resembled those in other countries like USSR, giving it a total of eight megawatts and becoming 80% fuel enriched economy.

This achievement was followed by the construction of the 5 MWe research reactor, famously known as the “second reactor”. At its completion, DPRK agreed for the inspection of the reactor by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1977, a project that was jointly done by the USSR (Kim, 2010).

It has been argued that the 1980s period was a significant time in the history of DPRK’s nuclear development program. It completed developing a weapon system and began running several facilities which targeted fabrication and conversion of uranium. Having experienced success developments, North Korea established a 200 MWe reactor and other high technology facilities in Yongbyon and Taechon towns.

This was followed by explosive nuclear tests which caught the attention of the United States. In 1985, the U.S intelligence reported evidence of a secret nuclear reactor in North Korea, although the installation of the plant had been known by the IAEA for close to eight years.

With pressure from all over the world, Pyongyang ratified the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) but failed to accede to a safeguards treaty with the IAEA despite its membership and legal obligation to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons. With their triggered attention, the United States observed a possibility of having a structure in Yongbyon which could be used in the separation of nuclear fuel to obtain plutonium (Albright & Hinderstein, 2006).

Relationship with South Korea

After the Korean War that was experienced in 1950s, President Roh Tae Woo of South Korea saw the need of strengthening North-South relationship through trade, exchanges, international contact and family reunifications. He affirmed his stance in a UN General Assembly, offering to have dialogue with North Korea over security matters.

This was the first time since the countries bloodily fought. The first meeting that was held in response to Roh’s proposal was in the year 1989. Another fruitful meeting was held in Seoul in 1990, comprising of eight prime ministers from different countries. This bred the “basic agreement” and the “joint declaration” which had a lot of significance. As such, the two sides agreed reconciliation, cooperation, nonaggression and exchanges (Stratford, 2005).

The Joint Declaration that was signed by the two countries in 1991 recommended bilateral inspection of nuclear weapons, a move that was aimed at confirming the denuclearization of the Peninsula as it was stipulated in the signed agreement. The declaration outlawed the manufacture, storage, processing or usage of any form of enrichment facilities (Kim, 2010).

The Joint Nuclear Control Commission (JNCC) was established to oversee the inspection process and in early 1992, DPRK ratified the nuclear safeguards agreement as demanded by the IAEA and as a fulfillment of the pledge it made in 1985.

This authorized IAEA’s inspections in mid 1992 although JNCC meetings did not agree on the agenda of having an inspection team which had been established bilaterally. As a result, President Roh Tae declared that their economic cooperation with the North could not work until the nuclear was resolved by the two parties (Stratford, 2005).

Denuclearization pledges

Kim Jong-il signed a U.S-North Korea framework that was aimed at ending the construction of nuclear power reactors in exchange of two water reactors that were considered lighter and less lethal. The construction of the proposed reactors began in 1997 before it was suspended in the 2003.

Moreover, the Six-Party Talks which were held in September 2005 saw North Korea agree to abandon its nuclear program and revisit the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Additionally, DPRK submitted to IAEA inspections and it was awarded fuel aid by the international community. This path was taken by North Korea to mend its relationships with countries like Japan and the United States.

In mid 2008, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea appeared committed to the denuclearization agreement when it announced to end its nuclear activities and handed the declaration to China in June 2008. DPRK went ahead to destroy its cooling tower at Yongbyon. Despite the shutdown of its nuclear reactors, explosive tests witnessed in 2006 and 2009 questioned the commitment of North Korea towards the denuclearization pledge (Kim, 2010).

There have also been efforts by North Korea to have the 1953 ceasefire between the two sides being replaced with a peaceful agreement as news reports indicated that Pyongyang was still obeying the denuclearization agreement. Due to the tension between North and South, China called for the Six-Party Talks to chat the way forward.

However, the call was rejected by the United States, South Korea and Japan in December 2010 who held that there was need for the improvement of North-South relationship before constructive dialogue could take place (Stratford, 2005). In the year 2011, many leaders from North Korea, Russia and China favored the resumption of the Six-Party Talks.

Relationship with the United States

The United States remains a major player in the debate surrounding North Korea’s nuclear development project and the denuclearization plan. The U.S government agreed to aid the construction of two water reactors after DPRK acceded to the denuclearization agreement of 1994 (Albright & Hinderstein, 2006). In other words, America considered the reactors more proliferation resistant compared to the nuclear reactors consuming graphite.

Although President Bush considered North Korea as a perpetrator of terrorism, no military action was taken against it after the 911 attack on New York City. On the other hand, some U.S officials believed that the 1994 agreement was flawed and that America was not willing to sign any other agreement that would only benefit Pyongyang (CNN, 2003). The United States has recently been seen committed to reviving multilateral discussions to find a lasting solution in North Korea.

The relationship between America and North Korea has further been strained by wide allegations which linked the government of North Korea with counterfeiting, drug smuggling and widespread money-laundering (Nitikin, 2010). It is however worth noting that resolving the North Korean situation remains a tuff task due to the individual interests of the nations from the region.

While some nations support nuclear enrichment in North Korea, other players like South Korea and Japan are concerned with counter-strikes that are likely to be carried out by North Korea as a result of a likely military action (Niksch, 2006). China and South Korea are further concerned with the severe impact likely to be witnessed in the event that action is taken against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Six-Party talks

These discussions refer to a series of meetings and forums, which were held with a sole aim of finding a solution for the controversies surrounding North Korea’s nuclear program. These meetings were held in various countries like the United States, Republic of China, South Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the State of Japan and Russia.

The main event which triggered these discussions was the decision taken by North Korea in 2003 to pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (Niksch, 2006). Several obstacles were encountered during the meetings as many of the achievements which were realized in early meetings were reversed as phases of meetings took place. As a result, little progress was registered in five meetings that took place between 2003 and 2007.

Notable success was however realized in the third part of the fifth round when DPRK leadership agreed to shutdown nuclear stations. Moreover, North Korea demanded fuel support and looked forward to mending its broken relationship with Japan and the United States. Even though this was expected to last and serve as the basic foundation for future developments, it was short lived. DPRK responded furiously to the UNSC’s Presidential Statement in April 2009, which had criticized its unsuccessful satellite launch (Niksch, 2006).

DPRK threatened to pull out of the talks and recommence its initial nuclear enrichment plan. According to DPRK, this move would promote its nuclear deterrent in the region. In addition, North Korea expelled all the international nuclear inspectors who had been mandated by the IAEA to ascertain the situation of nuclear status of the country (Moltz & Mansourov, 2000).

Before the commencement of the third round of the talks, Wang Yi, Chinese Foreign Minister noted that several achievements had been realized since the talks began. According to Wang, the talks had formed the basis for the realization of Korean Peninsula that was free from nuclear weapons threat (Nitikin, 2010).

Secondly, Mr. Wang noted that six-party talks had established a mechanism through which the North Korean stalemate could be resolved in a more peaceful and amicable way. He argued that the process would allow unearthing issues that would ultimately lead to peace.

Through a coordinate approach, the talks allowed verbal and action-oriented solutions. Although these were considered as successes, the greatest challenge and failure of the Six-Party talks is that it failed to stop DPRK from pursuing its nuclear interests (Stratford, 2005). Despite their progress, nuclear explosion tests have been witnessed by in North Korea, raising concerns over the workability of the talks.


The issue of nuclear power and enrichment remains a major concern with regard to global security. It is true that the issue of nuclear proliferation in North Korea is intertwined with several elements that need to be addressed in finding an amicable solution. From the chronology of events above, the issues have led to strained relationships between DPRK and other countries like the United States, Japan South Korea and Russia among others.

As these parties aim at ensuring that North Korea adheres to the denuclearization pledge, it is clearer than not that individual interests also hinder the success of the process (Niksch, 2010). Some countries feel that DPRK would become a threat if allowed to pursue its course while others affirm that the denuclearization is necessary for peaceful and smooth multilateral associations.

In analyzing this issue, it is also paramount to echo the efforts and progress realized by the Six-Party talks. Although full success has not been achieved, significant steps were reached in making DPRK acknowledge the need of having a denuclearized state. Above all, the issue has to be handled with diplomacy, underscoring the destructive nature of nuclear weapons and the countless merits of having harmonic international relationships among states.


Albright, D., and Hinderstein C., 2006 . United States Institute of Peace. Web.

CNN, 2003 Timeline: North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. CNN World, Nov. 28, 2011. Web.

Kim, S., 2010 North Korea’s nuclear strategy and the interface between International and Domestic politics. Asian perspective 34 (1): 49-85.

Kimball, D., 2011 . Arms Control Association. Web.

Moltz, J., and Mansourov A., 2000 The North Korean nuclear program: security, strategy, and new perspectives from Russia. London: Routledge.

Niksch, L., 2006 North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program. CRS Report for Congress. Web.

Niksch, L., 2010 North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Development and Diplomacy. Darby, Pennsylvania: DIANE Publishing.

Nitikin, M., 2010. North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: Technical Issues. Darby, Pennsylvania: DIANE Publishing.

Stratford, J., 2005 Strategic Culture and the North Korean Nuclear Crisis: Conceptual Challenges and Policy Opportunities. Security Challenges 1 (1): 123-133.

Wampler, R., 2003 . The National Security Achieve. Web.

World Nuclear Association, 2011 . World Nuclear Association. Web.

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