Monday, September 19, 2005

Possible Accord Reached With North Korea

The word out of Beijing is that an agreement was reached overnight with North Korea over that nation's nuclear weapons program. (Reuters: N.Korea accord reached, but so far just words). According to the agreement, North Korea will eliminate its nuclear weapons and its weapons program in exchange for oil, energy aid, and security guarantees. Of greater significance, though, is a major compromise on the part of the US and Japan that allows North Korea to maintain a civilian nuclear energy program.

Lest we become overly jubilant at news of an accord, let us keep in mind we've been here before. Agreements with North Korea were obtained in the past, and as we've seen, they have used those agreements to shroud the covert development of nuclear weapons technology. For last night's accord to have any chance of success, stringent monitoring of all aspects of North Korea's nuclear energy program will be required. North Korea must forever remain under a very high powered microscope, as they've already demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to adhere to their agreements.

China, South Korea, and Russia argued in favor of North Korea's ability to maintain a civilian nuclear energy program. Given the energy crisis that has always plagued the North, and the scarcity of any oil surplus that could be diverted to North Korea, it is certainly a valid argument. Not permitting a civilian energy program would further drain our own oil reserves and would almost certainly keep North Korea in the dark - literally. The real challenge, however, will be in ensuring that North Korea does not maintain a nuclear weapons program under the guise of civilian energy. Personally, I do not trust China, South Korea or Russia to monitor and enforce that restriction.

So at present, it would appear that the crisis on the Korean peninsula is diminishing. It is not over, however, and it will not end until the North has demonstrably dismantled its nuclear weapons and destroyed its weapons research facilities. I, for one, am skeptical that we will see both of those happen.


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