Can You Help Prevent Another Korean War?

By Martin E. Hellman

Underlying the current risk of war with North Korea is the common misconception that diplomacy with North Korea has not worked in the past, so it will not work now. Secretary of State Tillerson has cautioned that “North Korea must earn its way back to the table.” In truth, diplomacy has a far better track record of containing that nation’s nuclear weapons than have threats and sanctions.

Our major nuclear deal with North Korea, known as the 1994 Agreed Framework (AF), stopped North Korea’s plutonium production–the most dangerous part of its nuclear weapons program–dead in its tracks until President Bush effectively tore up that agreement eight years later in 2002 by stopping shipments of fuel oil that it required. Those shipments are often portrayed as “nuclear blackmail,” but in reality a very different story was playing out.

Critics depict the AF as an abject failure because North Korea now has nuclear weapons, but North Korea did not do its first nuclear test until 2006, four years after we ended the agreement and it regained access to its plutonium stockpile.

Under the AF, North Korea also stopped construction of two large nuclear reactors that were nearing completion and that together would have made enough plutonium for 50 warheads a year. The US promised to replace those reactors with two more proliferation-resistant reactors and until the replacement reactors were completed, supply the North with fuel oil to make up for the energy that their original reactors would have produced.

North Korea stopped construction of the original reactors and the US never completed the replacement reactors,  In fact, the original reactors had corroded so badly from exposure to the elements over eight years that they had to be abandoned. Instead of roughly 50 years of energy and plutonium that North Korea would have received without the AF, the country got less than 10 years of energy from US fuel oil shipments and no plutonium. Is it any wonder that the North Korean government is hesitant to negotiate with the US, especially since the current American position is that the talks have to be about its unilateral nuclear disarmament? The US says the talks must be about “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” but that is the same as North Korea’s unilateral nuclear disarmament. How would the US respond to talks had about denuclearization of North America?

Why did the US walk away from the AF? Because North Korea was caught covertly enriching uranium. While this violated the spirit of the agreement, it was not a technical violation since neither the word “uranium” nor the word “enrichment” appears anywhere in the AF. And, as noted, the US too had violated the AF.

You can help reduce the risk of a second Korean War by contacting your representative and senators, emailing them a copy of this blog post, and asking them to support legislation that requires Congressional approval for a first strike against North Korea. It is time that Congress reclaim its constitutionally mandated check on the president’s ability to wage war solely on his own say-so. The bills are H.R. 4140, S. 2016, and S. 2047. Whether or not they are passed, an outpouring of support will show that the American people are serious about giving diplomacy a chance.

And who knows? It just might work. A similar citizen call-in campaign played a key role in the ratification of the New START nuclear arms control treaty. Back in September 2010, the treaty was bottled up in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia held a swing vote that could go either way. 600 constituents called his office in the three days before the committee vote; Isakson got off the fence and voted to bring the Treaty to a floor vote. While 600 phone calls in three days make a major impression on a senator, 600 people are only 0.006 percent of Georgia’s population. Who says you can’t help prevent another Korean War?

This is a personal opinion, not the position or opinion of the Marconi Society.