Jeffrey LewisNORKs Delisted

The Bush Administration has removed North Korea from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror, following precisely the provisional delisting scenario I outlined on the blog a couple of weeks ago.

I must say, I am rather proud to note “you read it here first” — on September 23. and September 28, Arms Control Wonk explained how this would all work.

Glenn Kessler had the story first, as far as I can tell. He’s been all over it the past few weeks and doesn’t disappoint with a solid description of the package:

Officials declined to release the text of the agreement but said North Korea had bent on two key points: potential access to facilities not included in Pyongyang’s nuclear declaration and permission for inspectors to take environmental samples. North Korea also dropped objections to Japanese and South Korean participation in the inspections, officials said.

The text uses vague terms for some of the purported concessions — it does not explicitly mention the taking of samples, for example — but the State Department’s assertions rest on a number of oral agreements, sources familiar with the document said. Rice instructed diplomats last week to obtain greater clarity from North Korea on some of the oral understandings before she signed off on the deal.

Note the use of “potential” to qualify access to non-declared facilities. The crux of the deal, as Helene Cooper explains, is to pursue a “plutonium first” approach regarding verification:

In the most significant part of the accord announced Saturday, North Korea agreed to a verification plan that would allow United States inspectors access to its main declared nuclear compound, at Yongbyon; international inspectors have worked at the site on and off for years. But the deal puts off decisions on the thorniest verification issue: what would happen if international experts suspected the North was hiding other nuclear weapons facilities, particularly those related to uranium enrichment.

Jay Solomon in the Wall Street Journal suggests North Korea agreed to some mechanism to address HEU and Syria. But the scope of inspections appears limited to declared facilities, with any investigation of the UEP or Syria addressed, for now, with interviews: “[S]enior U.S. officials said Pyongyang also approved outside inspections of all declared nuclear sites inside North Korea, as well as the scientific sampling of air, soil and other elements that could gauge the extent of the North’s production of fissile materials,” Solomon writes, “Pyongyang also agreed to allow the U.S. and international community to interview key North Korean nuclear scientists and to verify the country’s alleged efforts to produce fissile materials using highly enriched uranium, as well as to assist third countries in the development of their nuclear programs.”

Also, Kessler notes that the agreement is oral, rather than written. My guess is that is because the Chinese are (or, at least were) holding the text of the agreement pending delisting.


  1. JS Narins (History)

    Does it disturb anyone else that we are delisting them from the terrorist watchlist for activities related to their nuclear program?

    Maybe we should have a separate “nuclear proliferators” list?

  2. JS Narins (History)

    A tip of that hat to Whatever It Is, I’m Against It for first pointing out to me the disconnect I just mentioned.

  3. anon (History)

    I was particularly interested in the point made in the Wash Post article that Paula DeSutter’s office was intentionally kept in the dark as this deal was completed. And she is now defending John Bolton’s rant against the deal. Sometimes you’ve just got to keep the nuts out of the mix….

  4. Bohdi (History)

    Victor Cha defends the deal in today’s WaPo. See today’s WSJ editorial and Bolton oped for the opposing view. Cha’s last paragraph is telling. “…if North Korea keeps its word” it will be a yard gained. So, the best spin that Chris Hill, et al can put on this deal is that we’ll inch forward, but only if North Korea keeps its word?! Sign me up!

  5. nuc free korea (History)

    Of course this deal is the best of a bad situation. Given that NK has managed to cobble together a minimum nuclear capability (is that the minimum means of deterrence?), they have forced the world to take notice. Now we have a deal that is better than the alternative, allowing NK to keep what they have and continue to improve it. Those that believe a better deal is out there need to think about this realistically. NK has barely any reason to stay at the table, let alone give up hard-won capabilities. Even sane nations don’t give up national power without equal compensation (put the US’s name in place of NK and see what you get). The real kick in the pants comes when inpsections occur, we already know NK will stonewall those or at least delay so that we end up looking at empty tunnels again. Mutual consent means NK will not give consent as the deal calls for in inspecting undeclared facilities. The alternative is what? Nothing short of military action will achieve a better deal, NK is so poor now that it is largely immune to sanctions or other forms of pressure and has a can live without it attitude about incentives. As Hill has mentioned quite often talking is better than not talking (did you hear that McCain?) and is more likely to lead to progress. Certainly Bush can be blamed for the events of 2002 and the resulting large increase in NK’s plutonium inventory, but Hill has largely stopped all that and gotten it under control. Now we are left with worrying about existential threats, which can be ignored if we choose to. Certainly, with Yongbyon shut down we can now concentrate on finding the Uranium.

  6. Yossi

    In order to understand US/NK negotiations it’s useful to have the concept of absolute control. This concept is best explained by analogy to its related concept, absolute deterrence.

    Deterrence is the state where B wouldn’t attack A because he’s vary of the consequences. Absolute deterrence is when B doesn’t dare to retaliate or take revenge for an attack by A unless it’s a full scale invasion and he has no choice left.

    Absolute control is similar to absolute deterrence but in the political arena, not the military.

    A state trying to achieve absolute deterrence over another would consider retaliation as a loss of its deterring power and will try to re-establish it by actual or threatened aggression.

    A classical example is the launchings of home made rockets from Gaza to Israel. It was mostly motivated by revenge as Israel hunted down with UAVs hundreds of Hamas activists. After each “targeted assassination” came a rocket attack against Israeli civilians that was interpreted as terrorist. Israel refused Hamas requests for a cease fire saying they must stop firing rockets first. The Israelis maintained the hunting is a necessary measure against the rockets and denied it may be the cause. After years of human misery on both sides a cease fire was negotiated with the help of Egypt and now the Israelis don’t hunt Hamas activists and Hamas don’t fire rockets. In this case the attempt to achieve absolute deterrence without having the required military backing led to an unnecessary long stalemate.

    The US/NK negotiations are an example of striving for absolute control, again without enough backing of hard and soft power and with the same result, stalemate. When NK seems to get weaker the US raises new demands, however the NK doesn’t surrender in spite of its terrible economic state (partly caused by US sanctions).

    By the way, there is a mathematical tool used in economics and biology that given two related phenomena can identify which one is the cause and which is the effect. It’s the old cross-correlation used with pre-whitening of the time sequence data. This tool could be used in the Gaza case as it’s easier to quantify, e.g. take the time sequence of number of rockets fired per day against the sequence of number of Hamas activists killed per day. Of course this is very rough as a rocket damage is not constant and Hamas activists don’t have the same status.

    In the case of US/NK negotiations such a simple quantitative analysis is not possible and we must resort to historical analysis, a much more subjective discipline.

  7. Yossi

    Sorry, a correction to my previous post: absolute control should be changed to absolute dominance.