Jeffrey LewisNorth Korea and Our Nuclear Umbrella

A couple of news outlets have mentioned that North Korea demanded the United States withdraw the “nuclear umbrella” extended to South Korea.

Bloomberg cited Xinhua, which was citing Yonhap. Here is the quote from Yonhap:

The top North Korean negotiator, Kim Kye-gwan, … demanded the removal of a US nuclear umbrella for South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

“Our goal is to get rid of US nuclear threats for us and make the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons,” one meeting source quoted Kim as saying. “It is necessary that the US should promise to end its hostility and ensure a peaceful coexistence with our country in legal forms and with a system.”

[The on-line version lacks the quote, but it appears in lexis-nexis.]

The issue here is that North Korea refuses to accept US assurances that we withdrew nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1991.

The official North Korean position is that the nuclear weapons are still there and that their withdrawal can be confirmed through verification.


The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times sent reporters to a briefing on progress in the talks, held by the US Embassy in Beijing, where a senior US official suggested North Korea would not “push the issue so hard that it prevents” an agreement on denuclearization.” “I don’t see us having a problem in terms of defining denuclearization,” the Los Angeles Times quoted the official as saying.

Instead the real issues appear to be (1) sequencing the steps in whatever agreement can reached and (2) where the Chinese found a Beijing baker who makes cheesecake.

There seems to be evidence of progress, including one-on-one US-North Korea meetings and several impending draft proposals.

Stay tuned.


  1. Stephen Young (History)

    How very interesting, though sadly the North Koreans seem to be going about it the wrong way. They SHOULD seek a commitment for the US to end its nuclear umbrella for South Korea. Complaining about US tac nukes in the South, however, certainly seems a bad tactic.

    DPRK inspections of South Korea would certainly seem an equitable trade for the inspections of the DPRK that are certain to be included in any regime denuclearizing the North.

    Second, the 1991 withdrawal was the right thing to do, but in 20/20 hindsight one now of course would want to have gotten something for it.

  2. EARL (History)

    It seems to me, and perhaps the DPRK, that with Japan and the plethora of US bases about, nukes are never more than a wistful thought away. Perchance a more robust trade of nukes for divisions would be a good way to go. Mostly the north needs engagement, some outside contacts before it implodes…..

  3. Stygius (History)

    Why should this be a sticking point? The US should just nod and smile, and agree to the demand in exchange for their denuclearization. Our not having nukes on the peninsular will just make compliance instantaneous.