North Korean Decision-Making Processes Regarding the Nuclear Issue

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Recommended Citation

Alexandre Y. Mansourov, "North Korean Decision-Making Processes Regarding the Nuclear Issue", Global Problem Solving, May 31, 1994,

North Korean Decision-Making Processes Regarding the Nuclear Issue

Prepared by Alexandre Y. Mansourov M.Phil,

Center for Korean Research at Columbia University, New York

for the Northeast Asia Peace and Security Network

managed by Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainable Development

May 1994


 Is North Korean behavior on the triple-track negotiations with 
the United States, the ROK, and the IAEA concerning a notorious 
nuclear issue strategic or erratic? Are the moves that North 
Korea makes in this respect based on a calculus of its national 
interests, and if yes, who this calculus and how? Or are these 
decisions driven by domestic politics, and if yes, what are these 
internal political dynamics and how are these related to the 
North Korean foreign policymaking? Or is Pyongyang behavior 
totally erratic, and based on some blind passions and paranoia of 
its leaders and their followers, obscure standard-operating 
procedures of its obsolete decision-making apparatus, and a bunch 
of misperceptions and misunderstanding about the world around it? 
In sum, does North Korea have a nuclear game plan, what are its 
modalities, who draws its outlines, who implement it and how, and 
what may account for any discrepancies, if there are any? These 
are the issues I intend to address in this paper.

Who Draws the Nuclear Game Plan in Pyongyang? 

 The end of global East-West confrontation in 1991 opened new 
opportunities and posed new challenges on the Korean peninsula: a 
long-time uneasy peaceful coexistence of two belligerent Korean 
states may soon either end up with reunification of Korea or 
degenerate into a heated nuclear arms race between North and 
South and in the Northeast Asian region as a whole. Many argue 
that it is for Pyongyang to make this choice. To be prepared for 
any contingency, one needs to know what the true intentions of 
the DPRK leadership are, where policy initiatives come from, who 
and how formulates North Korean priorities, and what accounts for 
variation between policy guidelines and their implementation.

The evidence strongly suggests that it is the Great Leader Kim Il 
Sung himself who originally conceived and set forth the North 
Korean nuclear program (1). Though throughout decades its actual 
progress has been determined mainly by technical and 
technological developments and availability of financing, its 
practical utility was defined by political considerations. There 
is little doubt in my mind that as long as the DPRK was under the 
nuclear umbrella of the then-USSR and had credible guarantees of 
its national security from its Soviet and Chinese allies, Kim Il 
Sung did not contemplate using the nuclear program for any other 
purpose but the officially stated peaceful generation of atomic 
energy (2). 

However, today quite a different set of nuclear intentions is 
attributed to the Great Leader. In particular, there is reason to 
believe that sometime in 1990, or maybe even in 1989, after 
consultations with his Defense Minister O Jin-u and Science 
Advisor Yi Sung-gi President Kim ordered the Ministry of Atomic 
Energy Industry to study the issues related to the possible 
military applications of the North Korean nuclear program. 
Consequently, later in 1990, the MAEI personnel extracted some 
plutonium from damaged fuel rods installed at the experimental 5-
MWt 1986 nuclear reactor (3). It was this incident that led the 
US and South Korean intelligence communities in 1992 to conclude 
on the basis of the IAEA nuclear inspection results that the odds 
were better than even that Pyongyang might have already produced 
enough plutonium to build one and perhaps two A-bombs. 

These developments led to growing speculation about Pyongyang's 
nuclear ambitions, and since late 1991 scholars and policymakers 
in the West and in East Asia have been pondering possible motives 
for such a dramatic shift in the North Korean nuclear policy. On 
the one hand, Dr. Donald Zagoria provides an excellent summary of 
very rational exogenous motives linked to changing security 
environment around the DPRK that may have influenced Kim Il 
Sung's decision. These are: 1) the "pariah state" syndrome 
(overnight the DPRK lost its major security allies, and hence had 
to defend itself by all means of its own); 2) the need to 
maintain the balance of forces on the Korean peninsula: the DPRK 
was faced with adversaries armed with nuclear weapons, therefore 
it had to develop its own nukes in order to balance this threat; 
3) enhanced security through nuclear deterrence; 4) "low price 
tag": once nuclear weapons have been developed, they become 
relatively cheap, much cheaper than conventional arms; 5) 
"nuclear card": Pyongyang could draw international attention to 
its domestic problems and acquire some diplomatic and political 
clout in order to negotiate economic and political concessions 
from the West. In other words, if nuclear bomb is a "perfect 
weapon for the poor outcasts," Pyongyang is said to be the best 
fit for it. 

On the other hand, Dr. Kongdan Oh at RAND stresses endogenous 
motives related to the following domestic factors: First, North 
Korean leaders try to avoid as much as possible forfeiting the 
sunk costs of the nuclear program: it is too expensive an 
acquisition to be easily abandoned (4). Secondly, these "family 
jewels" are seen by the Great Leader as guarantees of the 
continuity of the Kim dynasty as the heir apparent Kim, Jr. 
consolidates his grip on power. Finally, nobody in Pyongyang 
wants to lose face and be seen as yielding to outside pressures, 
which may undermine their positions in domestic politics.

Setting aside the question of their validity, these analyses are, 
admittedly, deductive, somewhat speculative in their origins, and 
static by nature. Their main shortcomings are twofold. First, 
while accounting for some apparent reasons, they stop short of 
identifying the sources of emergence of a "new strategic 
thinking" in the North Korean nuclear policy sometime in the 
early 1990s. In particular, they do not account for the evolution 
in the official Pyongyang line on the nuclear issue: from the 
adamant denial of having anything to do with the nuclear program 
(until 1990) to the recognition of its existence and emphasis on 
its exclusively peaceful nature (1991) to a "neither deny nor 
confirm" policy on the military aspect of its nuclear program 
(from mid-1992 on). Secondly, given the fact that the above-
mentioned strategic and domestic concerns and priorities are more 
or less constant over time, they fail to explain considerable 
vacillations in the North Korean behavior in its nuclear 
negotiations with the IAEA and the international community - from 
intimate cooperation in the first nine months of 1992 to growing 
bickering over the scope and character of the IAEA inspections 
during five months thereafter to outright defection from the non-
proliferation regime in March-May 1993 to the reluctant return to 
the negotiating table with the US and the IAEA in mid-1993 to 
more than eager and almost euphorical midnight run to a "package 
deal" in late 1993 - early 1994 to another collapse of all the 
agreements made in Vienna and New York on February 15 and 25, 
1994 respectively and a new escalation of war rhetoric on the 
Korean peninsula. What is going on here? Clearly, the knowledge 
of Pyongyang's strategic intentions alone, whatever they are, 
does not help a lot in accounting for its day-to-day negotiating 

As for the sources of policy initiatives, some evidence points at 
rather non-traditional developments in the foreign policymaking 
process in the DPRK recently. First of all, it is the rise of the 
Institute of Peace and Disarmament as the principal think tank 
formulating new foreign policy approaches and proposing new 
policy implementation ideas. This is an elitist establishment 
research institution generously funded and relatively free to 
discuss in confidential memos any foreign policy issues of the 
day. Its senior research personnel is in part educated abroad, 
has access to all the information about the external world, 
widely travels overseas and often floats trial balloons regarding 
future North Korean positions, advises the WPK and different 
bureaucracies that are in charge of foreign affairs, as well as 
usually participates in the DPRK delegations at almost all 
international conferences and talks as experts. The fact that it 
is not formally part of the state or party apparatus allows it to 
stay above parochial organizational interests and to claim 
implicitly that it can discuss the national interests of the 
country. In sum, the IPD appears to perform a function remotely 
resembling the one played by the Moscow-based IMEMO under Mr. 

Indeed, once the security environment around the DPRK 
dramatically changed in 1991 (North Korea lost its Moscow ally 
and principal donor, its estrangement from the Peking ally was 
growing in parallel, and, hence, it was basically left in its 
defense all by itself facing the US nuclear shield and sword in 
South Korea), strategic thinking in Pyongyang was forced to 
change. Analysts at the Institute of Peace and Disarmament in 
their confidential memos began to urge the International 
Department of the WPK to adopt a new strategic posture vis-a-vis 
the international community. Their proposals included: 1) 
normalization of relations and diversification and improvement of 
economic ties with the West through cooperating with the IAEA, 
establishing diplomatic relations with Japan and in the long-run 
with the United States; 2) engaging the ROK in comprehensive 
security, political, economic, and cultural dialogue; and 3) 
adopting a new policy stance on the nuclear issue. Instead of 
adamant denial of the existence of a nuclear program, which was 
characteristic of all the prior years, they urged the WPK leaders 
to admit its indigenous origins as an achievement of socialist 
construction, to stress its peaceful purposes aimed at solving 
the energy problem, and to seek cooperation with the IAEA in 
order to alleviate international fears. 

Secondly, most analysts are aware that North Korea has a highly 
compartmentalized institutional structure. As Dr. Linton puts it, 
"North Korean society often evokes the image of a bicycle wheel 
with thin spokes radiating out from a small hub at the center and 
extending all the way out to a narrow rim." There appear to be 
relatively few formal lateral connections between the "spokes." 
So on the one hand, the DPRK bureacracy has a clear chain of 
command and a concentrated leadership structure; but on the other 
hand, decisions do not come quickly and easily or in the most 
efficient form because of lack of consultations across the 
bureaucratic lines. Rigid hierarchical vertical subordination 
blocks any horizontal coordination of policy.

However, as far as the nuclear issue is concerned, almost nothing 
was written about the recent cracks, shifts of decisionmaking 
authority, and relocation of resources and responsibilities in 
the North Korean state and party bureaucracy, which seem to be an 
adaptive response of the state to changing external demands. 
Until early 1992 when it was still a no-priority question, all 
the issues related to the NPT were handled by the MOFA Department 
for Treaties and Laws and the General Department of the MAEI. As 
the nuclear issue was brought into the limelight and Pyongyang 
became heavily engaged in negotiations and inspections with the 
IAEA, it was handed to the MOFA International Organizations 
Department, with direct political guidance being provided by the 
International Department of the WPK CC. The more politicized, 
intrusive and contentious the IAEA inspections became in 1992-
1993, the higher the level of consideration was given to 
decisions on their modalities in Pyongyang, including the Great 
Leader himself. 

Furthermore, later on, issue linkages advocated by the United 
States at its talks with the DPRK representatives in New York and 
Geneva, i.e. to resume North-South dialogue and open its nuclear 
sites for the IAEA inspections simulatenuously as preconditions 
for the third round of the US-DPRK high-level talks, literally 
forced North Koreans to reorganize part of its foreign policy-
related bureaucratic apparatus in a way that attempts to break 
through this tight compartmentalization in order to be able to 
deal with the issues under consideration in a coordinated and 
expeditious manner. Institutionally, it is not a surprise that 
there was no entity in MOFA or any other ministry to deal with 
the United States. It is the Committee for the Peaceful 
Reunification of Fatherland and the Reunification Policy 
Committee of the Supreme People's Assembly, both headed by Mr. 
Yun Gi-bok who protects his turf as hard as he can, that are in 
charge of the North-South dialogue. The IAEA-related questions 
are to be handled by the MAEI and MOFA International 
Organizations Department. The International Department of the WPK 
CC seems to have failed to perform the policy coordination 
function because its personnel and resources were 
disproportionately oriented on the Soviet Union and China, which 
were rapidly losing diplomatic significance for the North Korean 
nuclear and security problems, and it simply did not have 
expertise to handle the nuclear and US-related issues. 

From late 1991 on, not only did Pyongyang have to find somebody 
and to establish some entity to deal with the US, but also it had 
to set up some new coordinating mechanisms within its foreign 
policy bureaucracy to be able to draft and negotiate in tandem 
and jointly implement policies mutually agreed upon. Apparently, 
it was not easy because of the bureaucratic inertia and 
resistance from the ID of the WPK CC, North Korean-style turf 
battles, ideological reservations, and personal ambitions. 
However, in the fall of 1993, the word got out that Kim Il Sung 
appointed three "policy steering teams" - a US-oriented group 
headed by Mr. Kim Yong Sun in charge of all the IAEA-related 
matters and the DPRK-US relations. The intra-Korean relations 
lobby seems to have managed to keep the North-South dialogue 
separated from all other interests and concerns, and it will be 
President Kim's younger brother Mr. Kim Yong-ju who will head the 
ROK-oriented team. Lastly, the "Japan team" is reported to be 
headed by the newly elected Vice-President of the DPRK Mr. Kim 
Ryung-sik, a Japanese Korean, former deputy head of the "Chosun 

Thirdly, as the foreign policy problems continued to mount in 
1991-1992, with crippling North Korean alliances and growing 
pressures from the West on the nuclear issue, President Kim Il 
Sung who always was in charge of strategic foreign policy-making 
reportedly became more and more interested in day-to-day tactical 
issues as well. As a result, the stature of a person responsible 
for formulating foreign policy proposals within the WPK, Director 
of the International Department of the Central Committee Mr. Kim 
Yong-sun, grew considerably. In May 1990, he was promoted to the 
Member and Secretary of the WPK Central Committee (international 
affairs). In April 1992, as a recognition of his success in 
having the United States cancel 1992 "Team Spirit" and other 
progress at the talks with the West, he was promoted to the 
Alternate Member of the Politburo of the WPK (international 
affairs). Concommitently, not only did he get frequent access to 
the Great Leader and his son, but given his extensive ties with 
the Institute of Peace and Disarmament, he was exposed to new 
ideas himself and did not hesitate to urge foreign policy 
innovations to both leaders by-passing traditional bureaucratic 
channels of decision-making.

However, this kind of high visibility and frequent access to the 
Great Leader is tricky and may prove fatal in domestic politics 
of North Korea. For a North Korean politician, it is a high risk, 
high stakes gamble to be assigned to handle the nuclear 
negotiations and the DPRK-US relations. For as these talks 
proceed, the American side tends to sort out its North Korean 
negotiating partners into "moderates" and "conservatives", 
"softliners" and "hardliners", and demand that all the contacts 
be channelled through those in Pyongyang whom they perceive as 
falling into the category of "progressive reformists," even 
despite official DPRK hierarchy. Obviously, at this moment 
nothing worse can happen to the regime insider in Pyongyang than 
to be labelled as a "pragmatic reformer" by the enemy, and to be 
subjected to this kind of attempts to be drawn into the anti-
regime limelight; which usually results in charges of the "state 
treason and counter-revolutionary activities." On the other hand, 
whenever these talks stall and tensions mount, those politicians 
who are in charge of dealing with the IAEA and the US get blamed 
for the lack of competence, skills, etc. and often are 
transferred to other jobs. In sum, given the highly unpredictable 
nature and high stakes of the DPRK nuclear game with the 
international community, it is tantamount to political suicide 
for a North Korean party politician to be appointed for this job 

Paradoxically, since high-rank party officials try to avoid these 
assignments by all means, despite its enormous significance, the 
job is basically left to the state bureaucrats from the MOFA and 
MAEI. However, given the nature of their institutional position, 
the latter are not entitled to make strategic or even tactical 
decisions by themselves. Therefore, their approach to the 
nuclear-related issues is very cautious and piece-meal. They do 
not have either authority or reputation to introduce or promote 
policy changes. So the North Korean nuclear policy evolves in a 
slow incremental way within the parameters set forth by the Great 
Leader at the CPC. Although let me stress that this does not mean 
that bureaucrats receive orders from Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il 
on every petty issue involved. This is not necessary, because 
they have already mindsets which make them very sensitive to 
political opinions: while formulating policies, they are driven 
not only by their past negotiating experience and policy agenda 
but also by their anticipation of possible political reaction at 
the top.

Fourthly, although there is almost no official information on the 
meetings of the Central People's Committee, sometimes it is 
compared to the Meiji-period "Genro", Council of the Elderly 
Rulers, and is reported to rival the institutional position of 
the Politburo of the WPK in the North Korean power structure. 
Especially, its role, albeit somewhat enigmatic, is always of 
paramount importance in forging strategic consensus among the top 
national leadership in Pyongyang, including top military brass, 
security officials, and political leaders, on matters related to 
national security issues and regime survival. The Great Leader is 
said to prefer to rely on the CPC's apparatus and his old 
comrades in arms, most of whom are members of the CPC, as well as 
his personel Bodyguard Service rather than on the much younger 
Politburo Secretariat or the Administrative Council. One could 
argue that after Kim Jong Il secured the first vice- chairmanship 
of the National Defense Committee of the CPC in May 1990 and its 
chairmanship in April 1992, he was more inclined to use the CPC 
rather than the Politburo, Administrative Council, and various 
state bureaucracies in promoting his policies, while still 
relying on his power base at the WPK Central Committee. 
Evidently, it was the narrow circle of the CPC members where the 
issues related to the DPRK nuclear program were considered, and 
where Pyongyang's nuclear strategy was adopted and amended. 
Correspondingly, the more institutionalized Kim Jong Il's 
position became within the CPC in 1990-1993 the more respect and 
authority his views on the nuclear issue commanded. It was at the 
9th-term 7th session of the Central People's Committee held on 
March 11, 1993 that the decision to withdraw from the NPT was 
debated and made; and the next day Kim Jong Il announced it on 
the behalf of the CPC.

Briefly speaking, by late 1991 there had emerged a set of new 
policy ideas advocated by the IPD, institutional changes within 
the foreign policy bureaucracy were under way, new access to the 
nexus of power had been opened by the promotion of Mr. Kim Yong-
sun to the WPK CC's Secretariat, and new source of decision-
making authority had been provided by the elevation of Kim Jong 
Il to the chairmanship of the key body in charge of formulating 
the DPRK's nuclear policy, i.e. the CPC's NDC. In early 1991, 
after some prodding by Kim Yong- sun and upon Kim Jong Il's 
insistence, these new proposals caught Kim Il Sung's attention. 
After emotional consideration at a number of meetings with 
members of the Central People's Committee President Kim blessed 
the new course sometime in late 1991. 

There are two extreme views on the Great Leader's involvement in 
making these strategic decisions. One opinion holds that he is 
totally "out of the loop", whereas the other contends the 
opposite that the entire country from top to bottom breathes, 
eats, and sleeps at Kim Il Sung's whim and command. Neither is 
true. Scores of foreign delegations, including those from the 
United States, which have visited Pyongyang since 1991, testify 
that President Kim despite his age not only is in full control of 
his faculties and the country but also has a firm grip on the 
issues related to the nuclear problem. Conversely, talks with 
foreign visitors, in particular with his long-time friend Prince 
Norodom Sihanuk known for his pragmatism and realpolitik 
mentality, US Congressmen who like to shoot from the hip the 
American concerns, and the Japanese businessmen wary of further 
involvement in the North Korean economy because of lingering 
clouds of political instability, provide an indispensible check 
with reality for him. On the other hand, time and again we 
witness that policy innovations are adopted in the DPRK only 
after some consensus-building process has taken place at the 
level of the Central People's Committee, and not by the Great 
Leader alone. Moreover, as Dr. Steven Linton who visited the DPRK 
nine times in the past three years argues "while impossible to 
quantify with precision, public opinion is a factor in policies 
adopted by the DPRK leadership... and that when there is a change 
of policy the DPRK government must explain it to their population 
in a way that is palatable". I would add that usually it is done 
through the state-controlled news media and internal news 
releases, as well as during the consideration and approval of a 
new policy line by the Supreme People's Assembly, which performs 
more a function of informing the population about major changes 
in policy rather than as a policymaking institution.

In sum, this radical shift in the North Korean nuclear policy 
from moral indignation at "groundless accusations of us 
developing nuclear weapons by malicious imperialists" to a more 
open, pragmatic, and more sustainable policy of "neither confirm 
nor deny" regarding the military aspects of its nuclear program 
(which basically was mimicking the then US policy on nuclear 
weapons in South Korea) should be seen as a result of a new 
strategic consensus that formed among the top leadership in 
Pyongyang around the ideas proposed by a non-traditional 
analytical source, i.e. the IPD backed by the International 
Department of the WPK CC, and was blessed by President Kim, and 
was made palatable to the broad public opinion.

Psychodynamics of the nuclear play

 However, new foreign policy priorities and corresponding 
intellectual and institutional developments alone are not 
sufficient in explaining the dynamics of the nuclear policy 
making in the DPRK. Psychological perceptions and appearances 
seem to matter as much in Pyongyang as they do in Washington. In 
particular, the changing perception of threat to the survival of 
the regime plays an extremely important role determining the 
tactics and modalities of the North Korean negotiating behavior.  

According to the juch'e tenets, voluntary isolation is good 
because self-reliance underpins national security. However, 
forced abandonment is judged to be bad because it leaves North 
Korea alone contrary to its will, and the regime will have to 
struggle for survival on its own. In the same vein, mutual 
dependence is seen in a positive way because North Korea retains 
control over its decisions and can attend to its sensitivities 
and vulnerabilities. Entrapment is feared because it forces 
Pyongyang to lose face, leaves the impression that it is bullied 
into submission, and puts the regime stability to test. These 
distinctions are subtle but, nevertheless, very real in 
psychological terms and in policymaking processes. For external 
security is tightly linked to the survival of the Kim Il Sung 
regime, or as Paul Bracken at Yale put it succinctly, "a threat 
of implosion is linked with a threat of explosion in North 

My hypothesis is that when a perception of threat to the national 
security and hence to the survival of the domestic regime 
increases, the feelings of entrapment are exacerbated; which 
leads North Koreans to stall cooperation with the IAEA, the 
United States, and the ROK. Conversely, when a perception of 
threat to the national security and hence regime survival is 
declining, feelings of abandonment by the international community 
grow; which leads Pyongyang to make more concessions to the IAEA, 
to talk business with the US and South Korea, and to scale down 
their belligerent rhetoric so that to avoid it. In other words, 
North Korea does not want to be abandoned but it does not want to 
be entrapped either - quite reasonable desires, aren't they ? 
Hence, such a gyrating pattern in its negotiating behavior.

What may cause these fluctuations in the perception of threat to 
the regime survival ? I would argue that these factors include: 
1) the top two leaders' health; 2) challenges to Kim Jong Il's 
succession bid, legitimacy problem, and transfer of charisma; 3) 
regime performance in managing the economy; and 4) politics of 

First, in the short term, if the Great Leader's or Dear Leader's 
health deteriorates (the recent rumors about the son's failing 
health made me question who will outlive whom), the threat 
perception will rise, exacerbating the fear of entrapment, which 
is likely to lead to Pyongyang's intermittent defections at the 
nuclear game. 

Secondly, in the medium-term, if political challenges to Kim Jong 
Il's succession mount, or he continues to face the legitimacy 
problem, the regime's threat perception is sure to be enhanced. 
As Kim Jong Il is faced with growing latent pressures from his 
domestic critics and opponents, he is likely to feel increasingly 
entrapped and besieged; which may cause him to turn to some kind 
of reckless behavior, including on the nuclear issue. 

Also, it is worth mentioning that every time the United States 
and the ROK hold the "Team Spirit" joint military exercises or 
escalate military buildup in South Korea, the North Korean 
military seems to get an upper hand vis-a-vis the civilian elites 
in strategic and tactical decision-making on the foreign policy 
issues, including the nuclear one. Even after Kim Jong Il was 
appointed the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the KNA in December 
1992, top North Korean generals still get direct and preferential 
access to President Kim in emergency situations. Consequently, 
any new "defensive measures" by the US in the South are likely to 
exacerbate the military paranoia and fears of entrapment in 
Pyongyang; which tends to result in the DPRK stonewalling or 
cancelling the talks with the IAEA, the ROK, and the US again and 

Thirdly, also in the medium-term, if the economy continues to 
stagnate at its current bottom-low level or deteriorates further, 
the political elite in Pyongyang is likely to become increasingly 
frustrated at the state bureaucracy for its inability to handle 
the economic situation "right", which may lead to attempts to 
reorganize or reform the latter, which in turn may provoke 
greater bureaucratic resistance to change. This schism is likely 
to induce splits within the state and party bureaucracy on how to 
proceed further, which may lead to growing reevaluation of 
domestic economic and ideological orthodoxy and reassessment of 
threats posed to the regime by the external world. Therefore, the 
threat perception is likely to decline, which should increase the 
fears of abandonment, and, hence, lead to greater North Korean 
cooperation with the IAEA, US, Japan, and the ROK. 

Fourthly, in the long run, insofar as political transition from 
an exclusive totalitarian regime based on communist ideology, 
dictatorial one man - one party rule, and no political pluralism 
to an inclusive hard-type bureaucratic authoritarian regime based 
on market-oriented modernizing, nationalistic, and populist 
appeals, advocated by a new breed of enlighted pragmatists in 
Pyongyang, proceeds in a smooth and peaceful way without mass 
political mobilization and social upheavals, the regime threat 
perception is likely to decline; which will fuel the fears of 
abandonment, and consequently, will force North Koreans to 
cooperate more eagerly and fully with the international community 
and the IAEA. 

To sum up, from the point of view of compelling domestic factors, 
theoretically, the best hope for successful resolution of the 
nuclear issue, paradoxically, seems to lie in good and lasting 
health of both the father and son, a smooth succession of 
leadership, with Kim Il Sung's charisma being fully transfered to 
his son, North Korea's peaceful and rapid transition to a new 
regime type amidst continuing sluggish economic performance. 

How do these predictions bear out in reality? Let's consider 
several key decision moments over the past three years in the 
nuclear diplomacy of the DPRK. First of all, I think that the 
original cooperation with the IAEA - decision to sign the NSA and 
open the Yongbyun nuclear complex for the IAEA inspections - may 
be largely attributed to a somewhat declining perception of 
threat to the regime survival. Indeed, the initial shock of a 
virtual cutoff of political and economic ties with the then 
Soviet Union and deteriorating relations with the PRC was gone, 
albeit bitterness and sense of betrayal remained. After the 
breakdown of their alliance system, North Koreans felt abandoned. 
Therefore, they decided to explore new routes to security. In 
September 1991, the DPRK was admitted to the United Nations. 
Throughout 1991 and most part of 1992 the North Korean party and 
state bureaucracy (the WPK International Department, 
Administrative Council, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of 
Atomic Energy Industry, Committee for the Peaceful Reunification 
of the Fatherland) were busy trying to break new grounds with new 
counterparts. By the mid-1992, the MOFA had held already seven 
rounds of normalization talks with Japan in Beijing. 
Representatives of the Administrative Council and CPRF had held 
eight rounds of Pyongyang-Seoul talks, and North and South Korean 
prime ministers signed an "Agreement on Reconciliation, 
Nonaggression, and Exchanges and Cooperation between the South 
and the North" (December 13, 1991) and a Joint Declaration on the 
Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" (January 14, 1992). On 
January 22-29, 1992, Secretary Kim Yong-sun, held a series of 
talks in New York with Arnold Kanter, U.S. Undersecretary of 
State for political affairs, and forged a compromise agreement 
with the United States on opening the North Korean nuclear sites 
in exchange for assurances of American removal of nuclear weapons 
from South Korea and the cancellation of 1992 "Team Spirit" 
annual military exercises. Finally, Mr. Hong Gun-pyo, North 
Korean vice-minister of the Atomic Energy Industry after year-
long negotiations with Hans Blix, Director-General of the IAEA, 
signed the NSA in Vienna on January 30, 1992, and afterwards the 
IAEA conducted five ad hoc inspections of nuclear facilities at 
the Yongbyun complex in 1992 and one in February 1993. By and 
large, expectations in Pyongyang were flying really high in 1991-
1992, and North Koreans were willing to increase their overall 
cooperation with the IAEA and the international community as a 
whole even further.

Secondly, contrary to what many in the West believe, Pyongyang's 
confrontational policy of March-May 1993 was not founded in its 
reluctance to accept "special inspections" of two undeclared 
nuclear sites at Yongbyun. It was a precipitating event not the 
cause. It developed much earlier - in October-December 1992, and 
was a result of increasing threat perception to the integrity and 
stability of the regime, which spurred the fears of entrapment 
among the North Korean leaders. We may disagree about the results 
of the meetings between Mr. Kanter and Mr. Kim Yong-sun in late 
January 1992, but there is clear evidence that the North Korean 
side interpreted the compromise as a quid-pro-quo deal which set 
the modalities of all further developments: the DPRK's permanent 
entrance into the NSA and acceptance of continuous IAEA 
inspections in exchange for the US permanent cancellation of the 
"Team Spirit" and withdrawal of its nuclear threat to the DPRK. 
This was Mr. Kim Yong-sun's understanding of the "deal" he 
brought home, and this was the palatable policy that he sold to 
Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and that kept the conservatives and 
the military content and off the back of the moderates in 
Pyongyang. Thereafter, all the skirmishes with the IAEA about the 
scope, timing and regularity of inspections were considered of 
minor significance and manageable as long as the overall 
parameters of the "deal" were holding. This was due to the fact 
that a fragile domestic consensus was reached in Pyongyang that 
in order to consolidate its achievements at the talks with its 
new Western counterparts it was necessary to maintain the 
safeguards and allow the IAEA access to its already declared and 
undisputed facilities. 

However, when the United States and the ROK in their 24th annual 
Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) in Washington, D.C. agreed to 
resume the joint military exercises "Team Spirit" on October 7, 
1992, it was the "deal breaker" for many and a beginning of the 
end of many diplomatic and political careers. First, North Korea 
tried to save the game by denouncing this decision. Then it 
invoked a threat to discontinue all North-South contacts (5). 
Neither worked, instead the ROK added fuel to the fire by 
accusing the North of running a 62-member spy ring in the South 
Korean government establishment. As tensions grew, neither MOFA 
nor CPRK could contain the dispute with the ROK and the US within 
their bureaucratic realms: tentative consensus among 
conservatives and pragmatic moderates, the military and civilian 
elites was cracking rapidly. So while on the defensive, the 
politicians who were behind the "new strategic thinking" were 
compelled by their opponents to start renegotiation of the 
original domestic "pact" with aim of narrowing its scope and 
hardening its underpinnings but broadening its political support 
base. Prime Minister Yon Hyung-muk, parts of the Administrative 
Council and the WPK CC were drawn into the battle. The PM-led 
North-South dialogue seems to have been slated to fall the first 
victim of this process. On October 14, 1992, Mr. Yon expressed 
his indignation at the decision of the 24th SCM in his letter to 
his South Korean counterpart Hyun Sung-jong. On October 27, 1992, 
a joint meeting of the government, WPK, and various organizations 
adopted a resolution which threatened to call off the ongoing 
inter-Korean dialogues and demanded that the US and the ROK 
cancel their decision to resume the "Team Spirit". On October 31, 
1992, in a telephone message to his South Korean counterpart 
Prime Minister Yon Hyung-muk demanded that the ROK suspend all 
other military drills including "Hwarang" and "Foal Eagle", which 
were scheduled to take place beginning November 2 and 3, 1992, 
respectively. But all Pyongyang's concerns and demands were 
falling on deaf ears. 

As a result, domestic pressure to halt the IAEA inspections began 
to pick up steam. So, on November 3, 1992, Pyongyang issued two 
statements simultaneously, including a statement by the MOFA 
spokesman, warning of the North's boycott of future IAEA 
inspections if the "Team Spirit" is resumed, and a joint 
statement by the chairmen of the North's delegations to the N-S 
Joint Reconciliation, Military, Economic, and Social and Cultural 
Sub-Committees, announcing that the North would boycott the first 
session of the N-S joint committees scheduled at Panmunjom at 
weekly intervals from November 5, 1992. Later in November the 
inter-Korean JNCC talks stalled, and the DPRK government 
representatives in Moscow, New York, and Beijing made a number of 
statements which explicitly said that the North would boycott the 
ninth inter-Korean high-level talks scheduled for December 21-24, 
1992, unless South Korean and the US scrap their decision to 
resume "Team Spirit."  In vain.

Apparently, by early December 1992, the political consensus in 
Pyongyang that the then- Prime Minister Yon Hyung-muk, Secretary 
Kim Yong-sun and their supporters could negotiate successfully 
with the international community and keep their end of the 
bargain about the cancellation of "Team Spirit" to the hardliners 
had completely broken down. The fears of entrapment rose sharply, 
and the effectiveness and viability of the course aimed at 
cooperation with the IAEA was increasingly challenged. At the 
meetings of the CPC, reportedly, course correction was urged, and 
heads began to roll. On December 10, 1992, at the 20th plenary 
meeting of the sixth CC of the WPK a dozen of generals were 
promoted to the Central Committee membership, and recommendation 
was made to remove Mr. Yon Hyung-muk from power. The next day, at 
the fourth session of the ninth Supreme People's Assembly the 
government was reshuffled, and a new Prime Minister Kang Song-san 
was appointed, with Mr. Yon being relegated to head the Jagang 
provincial chapter of the WPK. Curiously, at that time only those 
who were in charge of the North-South dialogue suffered 
demotions. Mr. Kim Yong- sun and others responsible for the DPRK-
US contacts were allowed to make a comeback. I guess this may 
reflect a long-standing Pyongyang belief that in any case the ROK 
government was a US puppet, and it was a mistake from the very 
beginning to take the North-South talks seriously, as long as the 
DPRK-US disputes were not resolved. So while Mr. Yon was demoted, 
Mr. Kim was promoted to the alternate member of the WPK Politburo 
at the same Plenum. Besides, there was still some bleak hope in 
Pyongyang that the incoming Kim Yong Sam administration in Seoul 
can be made more cooperative by intimidation or by persuasion 
(even Kim Il Sung alluded in his 1993 New Year Address thereto).

These hopes were put to rest when on January 26, 1993 the South 
Korean Defense Ministry and the US Forces Korea announced that 
they would conduct the 17th "Team Spirit" in mid-March 1993. 
Moreover, it was announced that B-1B bombers capable of carrying 
nuclear bombs would participate in the war games. At the same 
time, the IAEA stepped up its pressure on Pyongyang to open two 
undeclared nuclear sites to its ad hoc inspections, as well as 
its insistence on its right to conduct "special inspections" 
without prior notice. What is surprising is that at this late 
stage of the game there were still people in Pyongyang who tried 
to save the situation. A 6-member North Korean parlamentary 
delegation, headed by Mr. Kim Yong-sun, hoped to participate in a 
congressional meeting scheduled for February 3-4, 1993 in 
Washington, but it was denied visas by the US Department of 
State. Ultimately, the last attempt of North Korean doves to 
avert the confrontation was undercut by the American hawks. 

From then on, every politician in North Korea realized that the 
showdown was inevitable, that it became a matter of principle for 
the Great Leader to stay the course and not to blink first. Once 
he asked his son "to do something about it," it became almost 
fatal for anybody to find oneself on the wrong side of the issue. 
I disagree with those who argue that it was Kim Jong Il who 
instigated the confrontation over the nuclear inspections in 
order to "crack over the heads of the entire elite". Yes, Kim 
Jong Il took the personal responsibility for initiating the 
showdown with the IAEA on March 12, 1993. But I believe it was 
masterminded by the risk-prone Great Leader himself, was debated 
several times at the Central People's Committee, and it reflected 
an emerging new political consensus, supported by a new coalition 
in power tilted in favor of conservative patriachs and the 
military, that the US-backed IAEA plotting and bulling must not 
stand, and that the regime survival was again at stake. Yes, 
heads rolled. But much earlier and very much later, so that from 
mid-March to late May -the peak of the confrontation -- there 
were no reports of the demolition man at work. On the opposite, 
the impression I have is that political elites jumped on the 
bandwagon of the seemingly winning course of adversarial 
engagement and most of them survived. It was only later when Kim 
Il Sung decided to ease up and come back to the negotiation table 
with the US that government and party reshuffles were resumed. 
Did Kim Jong Il use the showdown to his benefit? Of course, he 
tried to, but not by chopping away the heads and smashing the 
brains which were in scarce supply and which he needed so badly 
in time of crisis. He did it by using the occasion to boost his 
legitimacy, by showing to his potential rivals and opponents, as 
well as to the North Korean public at large, that he could also 
be tough, could stand up to external pressures, and could lead 
the country through its hardships and challenges. Did he succeed? 
I believe he did partially. Although some people believe Kim 
Junior's handling of the whole matter was simply a disaster, 
which further contributed to his reputation as a reckless and 
unreliable statesman. 

Thirdly, why did the North Koreans decide to return to the 
negotiation table with the US in May-June 1993 and eventually to 
suspend temporarily the "effectuation of withdrawal from the 
NPT"? Some explain this move from the viewpoint of strategic 
interaction, that is, that the nuclear standoff was a kind of 
game of Chicken, and Pyongyang, albeit bullish at the beginning, 
swerved first. However, if anything else 1) it was some sort of 
mutual blinking; 2) although the US did some pushing but it was 
too eager to quickly accommodate basic Pyongyang's concerns in 
order to bring it back to the NPT; and 3) later on North Korea 
did not hesitate to defect again whenever its sensitivities were 
disregarded. So since there was no tremendous external pressure 
of credible nature (like economic sanctions or threat of military 
strike) in reality, I guess the answer is mainly in the domestic 
politics and only partially in strategic interaction between the 
US and the DPRK.

In my view, having successfully suppressed the internal 
opposition to the decision to gamble on the DPRK's future status 
in the NPT, having created a new military-tilted support 
coalition for tougher policies toward the IAEA, and having 
sustained the initial shock of international outcry related 
thereto, Kim Jong Il and his supporters may have felt more secure 
by mid-May 1993 than they did in February that year when the 
nuclear-related domestic policy debate was at its peak. In a 
sense, the perception of threat to the regime survival among the 
top leadership might have declined far enough to make President 
Kim Il Sung worry about the excesses of this new policy and the 
prospects of abandonment of the DPRK by the international 
community. These fears of growing abandonment reportedly were 
also expressed at the April meetings of the Central People's 
Committee. This may be one of the reasons why Kim Il Sung is 
reported to have told his son and ordered bureaucrats around him 
to go the extra mile in order to reopen the dialogue channels 
with the US and the IAEA, and to revive the negotiating process, 
following the guidelines established in the past. He may have 
hoped that the mere engagement could alleviate these fears of 
abandonment, whereas if somehow it could produce any positive 
results then it would be only for the better.

Indeed, if one looks at the content of the agreements arrived at 
by the DPRK and US sides at the high-level talks in New York 
between the Vice-Foreign Minister of the DPRK Mr. Kang Sok-ju and 
the Assistant Secretary of State Mr. R. Gallucci on June 2-11, 
1993 at the eleventh hour before the June 12 deadline, these are 
basically limited to the reiteration of compromises reached 
eighteen months earlier at the Kim Yong-sun - Kanter talks in New 
York in January 1992. That is, the US agreed not to threaten the 
DPRK with the use of force and reiterated that it did not pose a 
nuclear threat to North Korea, while Pyongyang agreed to suspend 
"the effectuation of its withdrawal from the NPT" and to allow 
the IAEA to conduct inspections to assure the "continuity of the 
nuclear safeguards". But at the Geneva high-level talks, held the 
following month (July 14-19, 1993), both sides, represented by 
the same people, dramatically expanded the negotiating agenda and 
for the first time put on the table issues related to the future 
political and diplomatic settlement of the nuclear issue 
(including the transfer of the LWR) and normalization of their 
bilateral relations. With joint efforts, the dialogue, albeit 
lacking mutual trust and vulnerable to political manipulations on 
both sides, was put back on the right track. In August 1993, the 
IAEA inspectors went to Yongbyun to verify the continuity of the 
nuclear safeguards. In October 1993, low level DPRK-US and DPRK-
IAEA contacts were resumed in New York and in Vienna 
respectively. In late February 1994, after some pulling and 
hauling the parties signed a broadly-based agreement on the 
immediate resumption of the IAEA inspections, their timing and 
scope, and on the resumption of the North-South dialogue in 
exchange for the outright cancellation of the 1994 "Team Spirit" 
joint military exercises and the date and mandate of the third 
round of the US-DPRK high-level talks. As a guarantee against 
unilateral cheating, all steps were to be announced and taken 

Fourthly, why did the "small deal" break down?  The official line 
from Washington is as follows. Following the February 15 and 25, 
1994 accords, the IAEA 7-member team went to the DPRK to check 
the continuity of the safeguards from March 1 to March 15 of 
1994, but, upon return, declared that the North Korean 
cooperation was unsatisfactory. In addition, eight South-North 
contacts in Panmunjom failed to lead to any agreement on the 
exchange of special envoys. Therefore, the US accused the DPRK of 
intentionally violating the agreements reached in February and 
said it was no longer bound by its commitments. Instead, the IAEA 
referred the matter for resolution to the UN Security Council, 
and the latter passed a UNSC president's statement (March 31, 
1994) urging the DPRK to complete the inspections agreed upon and 
to continue to cooperate fully with the IAEA toward the 
exhaustive resolution of the nuclear issue as a whole.

From a North Korean perspective, as expressed in the DPRK MAEI 
statement of March 18, 1994, the MOFA statement of March 21, 
1994, and a statement of the North delegation to working contacts 
for the exchange of special envoys of March 21, 1994, these 
developments were another example of the "widening partiality of 
the IAEA", of the US attempts "to stifle the North Korean 
regime", and of the South Korean "deliberate attempts to put the 
brakes on the DPRK-US talks by abusing the idea of exchange of 
special envoys". 

In particular, the MAEI General Department spokesman stated that 
the DPRK fulfilled all its obligations to the IAEA under the 
February 15 agreement, i.e. it allowed the IAEA inspectors 
without hindrance to reload and service containment and 
surveillance devices, to verify physical inventories, to examine 
a number of records and documents, to verify design information, 
and to do sampling and measurement. However, the IAEA inspectors 
went beyond the agreed procedures and insisted on taking samples 
from the Input Accountability Tank contained by the IAEA seals, 
which were certified as unbroken, on gamma mapping at most of 
points instead of a few selected points agreed earlier, and on 
verification of cooling systems, which was never part of the 
agreement. In other words, Pyongyang claims that the procedures 
agreed earlier in Vienna and fully implemented by the IAEA 
inspectors were "sufficient to enable the agency to fully verify 
non-diversion of nuclear material at our nuclear facilities and 
definitely ensure the continuity of safeguards as well". In sum, 
such a divergence between what the IAEA agreed to in Vienna and 
what its inspectors really tried to do in Yongbyun, the fact that 
the IAEA bombarded Pyongyang with three telexes during the 14-day 
inspection period threatening to ask the UN for sanctions if it 
does not allow its inspectors to take extra samples, as well as 
total disregard for its "special status" as a country that "only 
temporarily suspended the effectuation of its withdrawal from the 
NPT" - all these could not but make the North Koreans feel 
cheated on and frustrated.

In the meantime, Pyongyang's frustration also grew as in 
Panmunjom South Koreans insisted in contact after contact that 
the main purpose of the exchange of special envoys be to talk 
about the nuclear issue, or Seoul would not agree to these at 
all, and then the North would not be able to tell the US that it 
fulfilled its second obligation under the February 25, 1994 
accord with Washington. In an effort to beat the March 21, 1994 
deadline and to break the impasse, at the sixth round of working 
contact on March 12, 1994 the North delegate Mr. Pak Yong-su 
dropped all the North's previous preconditions and proposed to 
sign a joint communique pledging an early exchange of envoys. But 
his South Korean counterpart Mr. Song Young-dae rejected it after 
Seoul decided to adopt a "tough reaction policy" toward Pyongyang 
at the same day.

It was a misfortune that the US hastily jumped into the fray 
without sitting it out: even before the IAEA inspection was over 
and while the South-North contacts were still under way, some of 
the key US policymakers indicated that the United States was 
likely to reconsider its promise to cancel the "Team Spirit" and 
to hold the third round of high-level US-DPRK talks. I consider 
this an ill-timed move because at that moment there were still 
bureaucrats in the DPRK MOFA, the CPRK, and the MAEI who believed 
that they still could pull it out without political interference 
and a renewed confrontation with the international community. 
However, after the US announcement the regime security and 
stability was put in question again. The military and hardliners 
in Pyongyang, who were watching closely the developments, got 
excited all at once. They began to display the growing fears of 
entrapment. As a result, the bureaucratic players were shut off 
from the policymaking process. Kim Jong Il stepped in and 
orchestrated a traditional "face-saving" exit for domestic 
consumption in North Korea, basically saying "We do not want to 
talk to you either, cheater."


 To sum up, my basic argument in this paper is as follows. As a 
rule, the general parameters of Pyongyang's policy toward the 
IAEA are considered and decided at the Central People's Committee 
meetings chaired by President Kim Il Sung and/or his son. 
Decisions are made with strategic considerations in mind and 
concern for bargaining reputation, and are not driven by passions 
or other ulterior motives. A newly powerful think tank with close 
links to the CPC, the Institute for Peace and Disarmament, has 
had a considerable intellectual input in the reformulation of the 
DPRK's nuclear strategy and providing justification for its 
negotiating behavior recently. However, there is a certain degree 
of bureaucratic autonomy on the nuclear policymaking in North 
Korea, especially as far as the activities of the Ministry of 
Atomic Energy Industry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are 

This limited bureaucratic autonomy stems from two sources. On the 
one hand, a growing inter-agency coordination and cooperation, 
ironically, imposed on a highly compartmentalized and rigidly 
hierarchical North Korean bureacracy by issue linkages advocated 
by the US negotiators, made different ministries more aware of 
the play around them and the game as a whole, expanded 
information available to them, enabled them to produce more 
realistic policy outputs when requested by the top political 
leadership, as well as allowed them to band together to press 
policy positions they deemed rational whenever they were faced 
with political challenges from the WPK CC International 
Department and other players. On the other hand, this relative 
bureaucratic autonomy regarding the North Korean tactics at the 
negotiations with the IAEA and the US stems from the fact that 
party politicians in Pyongyang consider the whole nuclear issue 
too tricky and risky for their political careers to stay close 
to. Hence, they try to stay away from it until a rallying battle 
cry is issued from the very top. This leaves bureaucrats alone to 
handle the dialogue. They have little latitude to change the 
course, except in a minor, very incremental way, however, they 
are not burdened with particularly heavy responsibilities either.  
As a result, we witness a slow piece-meal kind of evolution of 
the nuclear policy within very general parameters set forth 
previously at the top.

Furthermore, this slow policy evolution tends to be very 
sensitive to the prevailing concerns about threats to the regime 
survival and stability in Pyongyang. Whenever a perception of 
threat to the regime survival increases, the fears of entrapment 
grow, and a coalition tilted in favor of the positions advocated 
by the military and hardliners is formed. Consequently, the 
DPRK's defections mount, negotiations stall, if not totally break 
down. In contrast, whenever a threat perception declines and the 
Kim family feels more secure, they tend to experience a growing 
fear of abandonment, which leads to the redistribution of 
influence back to the civilians and pragmatic softliners. 
Consequently, the North Korea's cooperation with the IAEA 
increases, its attitude becomes more flexible and forthcoming. 

As for the future, I think the patterns of the North Korean 
behavior analyzed above will last for some time. Hence, we should 
not expect any breakthroughs in its talks with the IAEA and the 
United States beyond the parameters already established in the 
form of a so-called "package deal". The US will be well advised 
not to do anything hasty which could increase the fears of 
entrapment in Pyongyang and provoke the consolidation of the 
belligerent defense coalition that might risk total isolation or 
war in order to prolong its stay in power. Also a piece of advice 
from the scores of textbooks on the art of diplomacy is 
appropriate: if you want the accords to be implemented, make them 
as specific as possible and adhere strictly to their provisions. 
Do not change your gears at the crossroads. If you cheat 
yourself, you cannot expect full cooperation from the others, 
especially when verification is available and good will is such a 
scarce resource on both sides. 

1.  In 1955, Kim Il Sung signed an agreement with the Soviet 
Prime Minister Bulganin on scientific cooperation which contained 
provisions for the exchange of information related to nuclear 
technology and training of North Korean scientists at the Soviet 
nuclear research complex in Dubna. In August 1965, he ordered to 
import from the USSR a small 2-4 Mwt research reactor (called the 
IRT 2000). In 1986, with the Soviet assistance, the DPRK 
commissioned a 5-MWT nuclear power reactor, and later launched 
construction of a 50-Mwt nuclear reactor due in 1995 and a 200-
Mwt reactor due in 1996.

2.  It suffices to say that in September 1974, the DPRK joined 
the IAEA. In December 1985, under heavy pressure from Moscow Kim 
Il Sung agreed to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and 
reiterated peaceful purposes of the North Korean nuclear research 

3.  A Carnegie Endowment team of non-proliferation experts who 
visited the DPRK in May 1992 and had talks with Mr. Choe Chong-
sun, an official of the Ministry of the Atomic Energy Industry, 
in their report cited him as saying that North Korean nuclear 
scientists extracted spent fuel "to produce a little bit of 
plutonium for experimental purposes and to study the nuclear 
reprocessing cycle sometime in 1989-1990. Earlier at a briefing 
for the Japanese reporters visiting Pyongyang on occassion of 
President Kim Il Sung's 80th birthday, Mr. Choe made similar 
comments (cited from the New York Times, April 16, 1992, p3).         

4.  Overall, it is rumored that North Korea might have spent 
almost 10 bln US dollars on its nuclear program. For comparison, 
the size of its GNP is estimated at 23 bln dollars in 1992.

5.  Also in April 1992, he was appointed the Chairman of the 
Foreign Affairs Committee of the Supreme People's Assembly in 
order to smoothen the ratification of the NSA due in May 1992, as 
well as other pending legislation aimed at establishing "free 
trade economic zones" in the DPRK.

6. Mr. Kim Yong-sun was among those who lost his title and job in 
December 1993 apparently for his failure to solicit the kind of 
outcomes at the talks with the IAEA and the US that the father 
and son wanted.

7.  Interestingly, the defeat of the anti-Gorbachev coup in 
August 1991 in Moscow reportedly accelerated the new policy 
formation in Pyongyang.

8. On October 12, 1992 the MOFA of the DPRK issued a statement 
denouncing the ROK and the US for deciding to resume the "Team 

9.  The spokesman of the CPRF issued a statement in Pyongyang on 
October 13 that said "If the US and the South Korean authorities 
go down the road toward the intensification of tensions through 
any resumption of the joint military exercise called "Team 
Spirit", all the dialogues including the inter-Korean high-level 
talks will be deadlocked and the implementation of the North-
South agreements will be suspended" (cited from North Korea News, 
Oct. 26, 1992, No. 654, p. 4). 
Comments offered by Professor James Cotton, Political Science 
Department, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Matters of detail

p. 2: N Korea's admission that it has been running a peaceful 
nuclear program goes back long before 1990.  And Kim Il-sung has 
been quite clear in his claim (as of April 1994) that N Korea has 
no nuclear weapons program. This cannot be described as a 
'neither confirm nor deny' stance.

Institutional analysis

This is interesting, plausible, but cannot be either confirmed or 
falsified. Undoubtedly these different institutions (Institute 
for Peace and Disarmament, International Department of the WPK, 
etc) have different approaches, but different observers have 
formed sometimes different views of their roles.  Thus we have 
(p4) 'the word got out' etc on the 3 policy steering teams, which 
is taken as really being the case. How do we know?

Institutional versus psychodynamic approach

The psychodynamic approach depends upon an analogy between the 
political system and the psyche of an individual human being. But 
the institutional approach identifies different bureaucratic and 
political bodies with different agendas. The paper uses the 
former to some effect (describing, eg, the main turning points in 
N Korean policy), but relies upon the latter to identify the main 
actors and agenda setters. It also (p6) rejects the 
characterisation of N Korea as a country which breathes, eats, 
and sleeps nothing but Kim Il-sung. If the political system is at 
all like a human psyche, how can there be different agenda 

The 1992 'deal' and North Korea's nuclear weapons program

The paper suggests (p. 2) that N Korea does have a nuclear 
weapons program. The language is not clear (and thus this 
question should be addressed directly), but no other inference 
seems possible from the text. It then describes (p12) the 'quid-
pro-quo deal' struck in January 1992 between Kanter and Kim 
Young-sun, that is, that N Korea would accept full IAEA 
inspections designed to demonstrate that no weapons program 
existed, in exchange for cancellation of 'Team Spirit' and a 
withdrawal of the US nuclear threat to N Korea. The paper then 
goes on to describe the breaking of the deal, attributing the 
outcome of the US-ROK Security Consultative Committee held in 
Washington in October 1992 as crucial. We could argue about the 
details here - after all, the US and the ROK were still talking 
about the possibility of cancelling Team Spirit into the New 
Year. But reconsider the terms of the deal. If N Korea really was 
accepting full IAEA inspections, and at the same time was 
engaging in a nuclear weapons program, then sooner or later that 
program was likely to be detected, and the terms of the deal 
broken. Who was breaking it, and indeed never intended to keep 
it, but N Korea?
Mansourov's response to Dr. Cotton's comments:

General thrust

As you are well aware, whenever we, political scientists, have to 
deal with closed societies, most of our findings tend to be 
somewhat of a speculative nature.  We can only hope that years 
and years later we might get a grab on some real hard data and 
tap some primary sources, which will allow us to prove or disavow 
our present writings. But this scarcity of reliable empirical 
evidence does not mean that we should either just forget about it 
and wait until that moment will come one day in a distant future 
or be driven by some propagandistic efforts by the sides 

As for the question of falsifiability, my attitude is a little 
bit unusual, and I hope staunch positivists will forgive me. 
Namely, in evaluating the plausibility and validity of the 
arguments made about political processes in North Korea I rely on 
my "gut feeling."  I believe that most of us who studied Korean 
history, culture, politics and economics for the most part of our 
lives have developed this type of intuitive judgement capacity, 
or "gut feeling," which helps us determine whether an argument 
makes sense as far as North Korea is concerned or not. This may 
be a parochial defense against the unfalsifiability charge but so 
far my intuition has worked for me pretty well.

However, this does not mean sloppiness or lack of diligence in 
searching for the data which might be available from different 
sources.  Most of the facts I cite about the newly emerging role 
of the International Peace and Disarmament Institute, about the 
sessions of the Central People's Committee, and about the recent 
changes in the WPK Central Committee are based on the information 
I received from well-informed Russian diplomatic sources who 
cannot be identified.

On the relationship between institutional and psychodynamic 

I do not try to draw an analogy between the political system and 
the psyche of an individual human being. Nevertheless, the two 
approaches are compatible because both attempt to capture some 
patterns of regularized human behavior.  Both approaches deal 
with instances of collective or group behavior.  Although the 
difference between them is that institutionalism tends to focus 
on formal institutions like structures, organizations, and norms, 
whereas a psychodynamic approach focuses on informal patterns of 
behavior such as emotion and/or reason-driven coalitions and 
individual-based decision output.

Also, I do not agree with the view that North Korea as a country 
"breathes, eats, and sleeps nothing but Kim Il- Sung."  Not only 
is this proposition difficult to defend theoretically, but more 
empirical evidence suggests that the Pyongyang leadership is not 
a monolith united unanimously behind the Great leader and that 
North Korean public opinion is multicolored and much more 
sophisticated than such a primitive interpretation would suggest.

On the definition of the DPRK's nuclear policy

As I stated on page 3, North Korea admitted that it had a nuclear 
program a long time ago. Also on every occasion its 
representatives underscored the peaceful nature of this effort.  
However, it was only in April 1994 that President Kim Il Sung for 
the first time stated that the DPRK did not have nuclear weapons, 
which, however, did not touch upon the question whether North 
Korea had a nuclear weapons program or not and could be 
interpreted either way. That is, we have a NW program, whose 
existence we are not going to admit, but we have not produced any 
NW yet.  Or we do not have NW nor are we engaged in any 
purposeful effort to develop and build them. This is precisely 
the kind of policy which I call "neither confirm nor deny."  If 
Kim Il-Sung wants the international community to believe 
sincerely that the DPRK is not involved in a clandestine NW 
program, he will have to make a more persuasive case.

The paper does not suggest that North Korea has or does not have 
nuclear weapons or a nuclear weapons program. I simply cite 
different sources presenting different assessments of the current 
situation in order to make my own point.  That is, at present the 
issue is no longer about reality, it is about perception.  It is 
the image of North Korea and perception of potential threats it 
might present, held at the policymaking level and by the public 
opinion, rather than hard facts, which are obviously scarce, that 
seem to be fueling the crisis and driving the policy.  If this 
interpretation is correct, then the real question is how to 
influence this perception so that to avoid an escalation of 
conflict and resolve the nuclear issue peacefully and by the 
mutual accord.
Comments offered by Kongdan Oh, RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, 

This is an extremely interesting and timely paper.  The world 
talks about the secrecy of North Korean society and how difficult 
it is to understand what is going on inside its decision-making 
community. Alexandre makes a valuable contribution to this topic 
by providing challenging thoughts and many new facts.  I enjoyed 
reading it very much. The structure is clean and well-organized, 
and the flow of logic is good.  Overall, many people will benefit 
from reading this paper in terms of understanding the North 
Korean polity. 

Alexandre provides many facts and insights.  For example, he 
outlines the behind-the scene debates in the CPC. But I am 
concerned that he rarely cites his sources of information.  If 
this information is speculative, he should clearly indicate this.  
The greatest stumbling block I face in communicating with non-
North Korean experts in the U.S. decision-making community is 
that what I know (or think I know) from experience and intuition 
as a Korean scholar does not persuade my hard-core conservative 
audience, because I often cannot provide anything other than 
circumstantial evidence.  I hope Alexandre has had more luck than 
I have had in finding solid reference sources.

Alexandre suggests that North Korea's nuclear policy has evolved 
from a peaceful program to (by 1990) a strategic deterrence 
program.  While I cannot reject this possibility, I suspect that 
the origin of the North Korean nuclear program had the same 
features as the origin of such programs in more advanced nuclear 
nations.  That is, the motivation was always complex, combining 
civilian technology and energy concerns with military utility.  
The degree of emphasis may have changed over time, but it is hard 
to exclude the possibility that the North Korean leaders were 
interested in a weapons program almost from the very beginning.  
Certainly I do not see the change in rhetoric that Alexandre 
claims to find.  For years (or at least since the mid-80s), right 
up to today, North Korea has admitted having a peaceful nuclear 
program and denied having a nuclear weapons program.

The paper's conclusion is excellent. 

Response to Dr. Oh's comments:

As far as the sources of my information are concerned, most of 
the facts I cite regarding the newly emerging role of the 
International Peace and Disarmament Institute, sessions of the 
CPC, and some recent changes in the WPK CC are based on the 
information I received from a credible Russian diplomatic source 
who asked not to be identified.

My conclusion that North Korea's nuclear policy has evolved from 
a peaceful program to (by 1990-1991) a strategic deterrence 
program is partly speculative, but in part it is based on such 
circumstantial evidence as the above-mentioned information 
derived from well-informed Russian sources that I cannot cite.

As for the rhetoric, hardly could one find any reference to the 
nuclear issue in the North Korean media or official statements 
prior to 1991.  However, since then not only have I found a 
tremendous increase in the number of government statements and 
newspaper articles related to the nuclear issue but also a 
considerable elaboration of the initial North Korean position.  
Moreover, instead of ignoring or dodging the issue, as it had 
done in the past, since 1991 Pyongyang has clearly tried to 
engage the international community in the debate, whatever its 
purpose and content might be.

Comments offered by Young Whan Kihl, Political Science 
Department, Iowa State University

A. The General Impression:

 1. Alexandre Mansourov's study of "North Korean Decision-making 
Processes regarding the Nuclear Issue" impresses me as a 
carefully-planned, competently-crafted and well-executed research 
paper on an important and timely issue that carries potentially 
significant policy implications.  

 2.  The analytical framework of the paper is appropriate and 
convincing, in terms of its identifying the key decisionmakers 
(both individual and institutional), with their role 

 3.  The posing of key hypothesis, based on what Mansourov calls 
the "psychodynamics" of the elite threat perception of the 
external environment (p. 9), is also appropriate and interesting.  
Also appropriate are the posing of interesting research questions 
at the outset and surveying of the existing literature and 
expert's opinion (pp. 3-4). 

 4.  The author's evaluation of the four-fold factors, that might 
impinge upon North Korea's "gyrating pattern" in foreign policy 
and negotiation behavior (pp. 10-11), is fine but somewhat 
contrived.  Why only four factors, not five or six for that 
matter, are relevant is not clear or obvious.

 5.  The best part of the paper is an analysis of the four policy 
episodes, or what the author calls the"key decision moments," 
where the policy reversal was shown in North Korea's negotiation 
positions on its nuclear diplomacy in the last three years since 
1991 (pp. 11-17).

B. Specific Comments and Questions:

 1.  Is the "rational actor" model of decision-making which the 
author utilizes in the present study applicable to all or most of 
the foreign policy decision-making cases in North Korea, or only 
to the nuclear issue episode? Why? Why not?

 2.  Do you assume, by implication, that North Korea's decision 
process is not unique but is comparable to other political 

 3.  The role of Kim Il Sung on the nuclear issue is 
characterized both as an "initiator" of policy (as in the early 
years) and as an "arbiter" of the DPRK nuclear policy in the 
1990s.  When, and under what circumstances, does  Kim Il Sung 
choose to intervene in the policy process?  Under the crisis 
situation?  If so, how do we know when the leadership defines the 
situation as "critical?"

 4.  To what extent can we call North Korea's nuclear game plan 
one of fixed or flexible strategy?  Can we assume that there is a 
master plan of North Korea's grand strategy as well as the plan 
of tactical moves and implementation?

 5.  Please give citations, as footnotes, to your references on 
Zagoria, Oh (pages 3) and Linton (on page 5).

 6.  Fine to characterize the Institute of Peace and Disarmament 
as "think tank" (p. 4), like the IMEMO under Mr. Gorbachev.  But 
is this your speculation or is it based on tangible evidence?  If 
the latter, please give citations as footnotes.  I am especially 
intrigued by your reference to "confidential memos" that you 
refer to on page 4.

 7.  What is your evaluation and assssment of other potential 
"think tanks" in North Korea?  Do academicians and scientists in 
the Kim Il Sung University, the Academy of Sciences, the Ministry 
of Atomic Energy, the Ministry of Atomic Power Industry, etc. 
provide any input to the policymaking and implementation process? 

 8.  What is the trade-off, or potential conflict, between the 
civilian "nuclear power program" and the military "nuclear 
weapons program" in North Korea?   Is inter-bureaucratic 
coordination and rivarly a problem in North Korea, such as the 
ones existing between the Ministry of Atomic Power Industry and 
the Ministry of People's Armed Forces?

 9.  How does an interlocking membership, and arrangement, 
between the state and the party affect the ways in which the 
negotiation on nuclear diplomacy is carried out?  For instance, 
was Kim Yong-sun's style as party cadre varied from Kang Sok-ju's 
as government official because of their different status?  

 10. If the Central People's Committee is the highest decision 
body in North Korea, as you argue, what is its relationship with 
the State Administration Council, the National Defense Commision 
on the government side, and with the Workers' Party of Korea 
Central Committee and its International Division? How about its 
role vis-a-vis the parliamentary body of the Supreme People's 
Assemby?  When does the latter come to participate in the policy 
process, if at all?

 11.  What is the specific time frame of the short, medium and 
long-term references on page 10?  One, five, or ten years?

 12.  The paper will need further discussion on Kim Jong Il's 
role, lack of his role, on the nuclear controversy on page 14.

 13.  Is it conceivable that the North Korean chief delegate Pak 
Yong-su's threatening remarks at the Panmunjom meeting in March 
was "deliberate" or indeed "out of line" as Kim Il Sung stated?  
Should it not be taken as a tactical move of North Korea's grand 
strategy and game plan?

 14.  Please give more footnote references to identify the 
sources of your information.

 In conclusion, the paper shows that the author has both 
intellectual vigor and ability to sip through an array of obscure 
facts and information on North Korea.  His analysis and 
interpretation is both sound and credible.  He has written a 
first-rate, reliable and competent paper that should be read 
widely by the policy analysts and decision-makers as well as by 
the area specialists and the nuclear nonproliferation research 

Response to Dr. Kihl's comments:

1.  In this paper, I do not apply the "rational choice model," 
although I refer my readers to some research done by others (Dr. 
Kongdan Oh, Dr. Don Zagoria) along these lines. I feel that the 
"rational choice" explanations are inadequate in terms of 
accounting for the persistent vacillations in North Korean 
behavior. Hence, I resort to the institutional and psychodynamic 

Regarding all or most of other cases in the foreign policy 
decision-making in the DPRK, their explanation is obviously 
beyond the scope of this paper.  Therefore, it would be 
inappropriate for me to recommend either of these approaches.  As 
a matter of principle, I think that each case should be treated 
on its merits first, and only then could one attempt to draw some 

2.  Yes, I do assume that the nature of the North Korean 
decision-making processes, albeit a little bit complicated, 
peculiar, and not easily ascertainable, is not unique, hence 
comparable to other political systems.

3.  Excellent question!  As a matter of speculation, I believe 
that Kim Il-sung tends to intervene mainly at "critical 
junctures."  However, it is the inner circle of people around the 
Great Leader that define the situation as "critical." When do 
they tend to do so?  My guess is that struggle to define a 
situation as "critical" within the leadership opens up.  In turn, 
the latter seems to be linked with clear-cut signals (in either 
direction) that the Pyongyang elite receives from the 
international community, which, of course, each cue-taker 
interprets in his own interest and tries to exploit for his own 

4.  In this paper, I attempted to make a point that the overall 
parameters of the North Korea nuclear game plan are pretty much 
fixed and are unlikely to change dramatically unless kim Il-sung 
personally decides to reassess his vision of the DPRK's future 
(which is highly unlikely), whereas the roadmap, the speed, type 
and tactics of implementation appear to be open for negotiation 
and compromise.

5.  Regarding my reference to Dr. D. Zagoria's views, he 
expressed them in his presentation at a conference sponsored by 
the Korea Forum at Columbia University in November 1993.  
Concerning Dr. S. Linton's views, he expressed them during his 
presentation at the February 1994 Seminar on Contemporary Korean 
Affairs sponsored by the Center for Korean Research at Columbia 
University.  As far as Dr. Kongdan Oh's views are concerned, she 
expressed them at a brown bag lunch in her honor sponsored by the 
East Asian Institute at Columbia University on March 31, 1994.  I 
participated in all three events, and cited their views from my 

6.  See my answer to question 14.

7.  Yes, they do, but their relative influence varies.

8.  I do not have any "hard evidence" suggesting that there is 
inter-bureaucratic rivalry between the MAEI and the Ministry of 
People's Armed Forces.  But this does not mean that in reality 
this is not the case.  My speculative guess is that although both 
ministries work very closely on most of the components of the 
program, potential conflict between the civilian and military 
aspects of the nuclear program, presumably dealt with by the MAEI 
and MPAF respectively, might arise regarding the questions of 
budget appropriations, bureaucratic influence on the top 
political leadership at "critical junctures," as well as in 
shaping the future contours of the North Korean nuclear program 
as a whole.  Furthermore, if the international community opts to 
crack down on Pyongyang's nuclear program, its civilian aspect is 
likely to have a better chance for survival than its military 
aspect.  Hence, it is in the MAEI's interest to distance itself 
from the MPAF's intentions and efforts, whatever these may be.

9 and 10.  Excellent questions!  I will defer my answers until 
the conference.

11.  I refer to one year as a short term, three to five years as 
a medium term, and ten to fifteen years as a long term.

12.  I discuss Kim Jong-il's role in the nuclear issue in greater 
detain in another paper which I presented at a conference on the 
Future of the Korean Peninsula in the 21st Century held in July 
1993 in East Lansing, MI.  Its title is "Bringing North Korea 
Back In: A Creeping Elite Revolution?"  by and large, I stand by 
my earlier conclusions presented in that paper.

13.  I think Mr. Pak Yong-su's notorious remark was intensely 
emotional and personal.  I believe it had nothing to do with 
Kim's official line.  Rather, it reflect profound frustration 
which Mr. pak Yong-su and a seemingly dovish coalition behind him 
must have felt when they were trying to beat the March 21,1994 
deadline but were confronted with the South Korean stonewalling 
in Panmunjom.  They saw the deal collapsing and their own 
fortunes being demolished but they could do nothing to avert it.

14.  As far as the sources of my information are concerned, most 
of the facts I cite regarding the newly emerging role of the 
International Peace and Disarmament Institute, sessions of the 
CPC, and some recent changes in the WPK CC are based on the 
information I received from a credible Russian diplomatic source.

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