Jeffrey LewisWhat Ever Happened to CVID?

Jofi Joseph asks that churlish question, and a few others, in a Defense News (subscription only) op-ed about Six Party talks:

The oft-repeated mantra for U.S. diplomats in 2003 and 2004 was this magical phrase: complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement, or CVID. In other words, any final agreement must encompass not only North Korea’s known plutonium reprocessing program, but also the secret uranium enrichment program initiated in the late 1990s. Moreover, in contrast to the Agreed Framework, a nuclear freeze was not on the table this time. The United States insisted North Korea dismantle its nuclear capability to ensure that disarmament was irreversible.

Nonetheless, the Statement of Principles calls into question two of the three key adjectives. The operative phrase says North Korea is “committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.” For the U.S. side, this means irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s plutonium-based weapon program and its uranium enrichment program, even if Pyongyang claims this was only for civilian purposes. Yet these same words can be read in a different light. First, the use of the term “abandon” has different connotations than “dismantle.” North Korea may well insist on the preservation of a nascent nuclear capability, if only for bargaining leverage.

Second, whatever “existing nuclear programs” means, North Korea has never formally admitted to the existence of a uranium enrichment program. Without such a confession, North Korea can retain a virtual nuclear capability and the U.S. will forever be seeking to prove a negative.


  1. James (History)

    The joint statement may not include CIVD, but the U.S. position from Hill states:

    “all nuclear weapons will be comprehensively declared and completely, verifiably and irreversibly eliminated, and will not be reconstituted in the future.”