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A selective nuclear policy


The resumption of North Korea’s largest fissile material production reactor, after operations were ceased in December 2018, has sparked speculation about its real and symbolic significance. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has underlined that the restart of activity in Yongbyon constitutes a violation of UN Security Council resolutions.


GS-II: International relations (Important political developments in the international stage,

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. History of the Nuclear policy regarding North Korea
  2. Concerns regarding the deal and North Korea
  3. Way Forward
  4. Back to the Basics: Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Vienna Talks
  5. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
  6. Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

History of the Nuclear policy regarding North Korea

  • The reactor at the Yongbyon complex has been central to the North Korean reprocessing of spent fuel rods to generate plutonium, besides the production of highly enriched uranium for the development of atomic bombs. However, observers also point to the diversification of the country’s nuclear weapons and missile programmes to covert locations over time.
  • The 1994 Agreed Framework – an executive agreement signed by President Bill Clinton, required North Korea to freeze all nuclear activity and allow inspection of its military sites in return for the construction of two light water reactors. The accord broke down in 2002.
  • In June 2008, in order to buttress its denuclearisation commitment to the U.S. and four other countries, North Korea blew up the cooling tower at the Yongbyon complex. However, this move did not ease the concerns of critics, either regarding the plutonium stockpile the regime had amassed or its engagement in secretive nuclear proliferation. But it nevertheless led former U.S. President George W. Bush to ease some sanctions against North Korea.
  • More controversial was Washington’s decision to revoke the designation of “state sponsor of terrorism”. North Korea was placed on the terrorism list after the 1987 bombing of a South Korean airplane.
  • A few months after blowing up the cooling tower in 2008, North Korea barred IAEA inspectors access to its reprocessing plant in the Yongbyon complex and eventually expelled them.
  • In 2010 American scientist Siegfried Hecker confirmed accounts that North Korea had rapidly built a uranium enrichment plant at Yongbyon.
  • In the aftermath of the first U.S.–North Korea summit meeting in Singapore and the two inter-Korean summits, the Yongbyon reactor’s operations were ceased in December 2018.
  • The second inter-Korean summit resulted in a joint statement that indicated North Korean willingness to pursue the permanent dismantlement of the nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, depending upon corresponding measures from the United States.
  • At the Hanoi summit in 2019, North Korea offered to dismantle this reactor, alongside other facilities at the Yongbyon complex, in exchange for a large sanctions-relief package covering most of the measures adopted by the UN Security Council against the country’s economy in 2016 and 2017.

Concerns regarding the deal and North Korea

  • The gas-graphite reactor at Yongbyon has long been the focal point of U.S. and international diplomatic efforts to constrain North Korea’s nuclear program.
  • In a recent development, North Korea’s five-megawatt electrical reactor at its Yongbyon complex appears to be back up and running.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has underlined that the restart of activity constitutes a violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
  • As North Korea’s nuclear programme is opaque, it partly accounts for the current confusion over the motives behind the restart of the reactor.
  • The Biden administration has adopted a pragmatic path of declaring its readiness to resume negotiations with North Korea.
  • Meanwhile, Mr. Kim (Supreme Leader of North Korea since 2011) has rejected all such propositions until he can win concrete relief from sanctions, especially those relating to raw materials exports.

Way Forward

  • The Biden administration should treat this reactor’s restart with the seriousness it deserves.
  • Apart from the punitive impact of such measures on an impoverished people, the prolonged stand-off over North Korea reinforces the hollowness of the doctrine of deterrence.
  • It raises questions if proliferation can ever be prevented just because nuclear weapons states want to perpetuate their dominance.
  • A morally superior alternative is the UN treaty on the complete abolition of atomic arms, whose deliberations were boycotted by all nuclear weapons states.

Back to the Basics: Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Vienna Talks

  • The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal or Iran deal, is an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program reached in Vienna on 14 July 2015, between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States—plus Germany) together with the European Union.
  • Under this framework Iran agreed tentatively to accept restrictions on its nuclear program, all of which would last for at least a decade and some longer, and to submit to an increased intensity of international inspections under a framework deal.
  • The final agreement is based upon (and buttresses) “the rules-based nonproliferation regime created by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and including especially the IAEA safeguards system”.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an international organization that seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and to inhibit its use for any military purpose, including nuclear weapons.
  • The IAEA was established as an autonomous organization in 1957, and even though it is established as an autonomous organization the IAEA reports to both the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council.
  • The IAEA has its headquarters in Vienna, Austria.
  • The IAEA serves as an intergovernmental forum for scientific and technical co-operation in the peaceful use of nuclear technology and nuclear power worldwide.
  • The programs of the IAEA encourage the development of the peaceful applications of nuclear energy, science and technology, provide international safeguards against misuse of nuclear technology and nuclear materials, and promote nuclear safety (including radiation protection) and nuclear security standards and their implementation.

Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

  • The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, is an international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament
  • The NPT is often seen to be based on a central bargain: “the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons and the NPT nuclear-weapon states in exchange agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals.”
  • The treaty defines nuclear-weapon states as those that have built and tested a nuclear explosive device before 1 January 1967; these are the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China.
  • Four other states are known or believed to possess nuclear weapons: India, Pakistan, and North Korea have openly tested and declared that they possess nuclear weapons, while Israel is deliberately ambiguous regarding its nuclear weapons status.
  • The Treaty has 189 States Parties, which is the largest number of any arms control agreement.
  • However, India, Israel and Pakistan have not signed the NPT.
  • North Korea announced its withdrawal in 2003, and further announced that it had conducted an underground nuclear explosion in 2006 and 2009.

-Source: The Hindu

June 2024