Are we on the brink of World War III? In the nearly six decades since the Korean War, the international community has faced the problem of the military threat from North Korea, but barely any progress has been made (“North Korea – Nuclear”). Despite multiple rounds of Six-Party Talks, different economic aids packages offered as incentives for denuclearization, and numerous sanctions, North Korea has not been deterred from developing nuclear weapons (“North Korea – Nuclear”). The “carrot and stick” approach has failed to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear activity (“North Korea – Nuclear”). In his New Year’s address, Kim Jong Un, the current dictator of North Korea, said he has “completed [North Korea’s] nuclear weapons and that the ‘entire area of the U.S. mainland is within [its] nuclear strike range’” (Schmitz). He has also warned the U.S. that he has a nuclear launch button at his desk. U.S. President Trump has responded by boasting that he has “a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and [his] Button works!” (Foster). These nuclear threats and mocking exchanges between the leaders have pushed the two countries “closer to the brink of nuclear war” than they have been in decades (Foster). It is evident that North Korea’s behavior has become increasingly bolder and more hostile, threatening the security of the U.S. and the rest of the world.
I became interested in the conflict with North Korea after reading some news articles on the subject a few years ago. It is common to hear of Americans in North Korea detained for no apparent reason. Otto Warmbier, a student from the University of Virginia, was visiting North Korea when he was arrested at the Pyongyang airport in January 2016 for taking down a propaganda poster (Saker and Shesgreen). He was convicted and sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor (Saker and Shesgreen). Warmbier suffered serious injuries during his more than seventeen months in detention in a labor camp before eventually being released by North Korea (Saker and Shesgreen). He arrived back in the U.S. in a coma, and he died shortly after his return (Saker and Shesgreen). No justification was ever given for his condition by the North Korean government (Saker and Shesgreen).
Here is a brief video about the Korean War.
At the turn of the millennium, tensions between the U.S. and North Korea was at a all-time high. In summer 2002, the Bush Administration learned of a secret North Korean highly enriched uranium (HEU) program, which broke the terms of the 1994 Agreed Framework (“North Korea – Nuclear”). In response, the U.S. suspended heavy oil shipments and halted the construction of the LWR in December 2002, according to the terms of the Agreed Framework (“North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program”). In retaliation, North Korea resumed its nuclear operations and announced its withdrawal from the NPT (“North Korea – Nuclear”). To resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, President Bush focused on “a multilateral diplomatic approach in which the dynamic was to get five regional countries in unison to persuade the North of a better path” (Cha). In August 2003, six countries (China, North Korea, South Korea, U.S., Japan, and Russia) met in Beijing to “identify a course of action to bring security and stability to the Korean Peninsula” (“Six-Party Talks”). After three unsuccessful rounds of the Six-Party Talks held between 2003-2004, the most promising breakthrough occurred in September 2005. In this fourth round, the six countries signed a Joint Statement in which North Korea would “abandon its nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid, a U.S. security guarantee, and talks over normalization of relations with the United States” (Chanlett-Avery, Rinehart, and Nikitin). Shortly after signing the agreement, the U.S. froze North Korea’s assets in a Macau-based bank which was accused of assisting North Korea in illicit transactions, holding back the talks for over a year (“Six-Party Talks”).
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Cha, Victor. The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future. Ecco, 2012.
Chanlett-Avery, Emma, et al. “North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation.” CRS, Congressional Research Service, 15 Jan. 2016, fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/R41259.pdf.
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Saker, Anne, and Deirdre Shesgreen. “Death of Student after Detention Further Strained U.S.-North Korean Relationship.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, 25 Dec. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2018.
Schattle, Hans. “Toward an Incremental Pathway to Peace on the Korean Peninsula.” East-West Center, AsiaPacific Issues, Sept. 2017, www.eastwestcenter.org/system/tdf/private/api134.pdf?file=1&type=node&id=36288.
Schladebeck, Jessica. “Coroner Report on Otto Warmbier Shows No Evidence of Torture.” NY Daily News. NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, 27 Sept. 2017. Web. 24 Mar. 2018.
Schmitz, Rob. “North Korea Warns Its Nuclear Arsenal Is A Button-Push Away.” NPR, NPR, 1 Jan. 2018, www.npr.org/2018/01/01/574932117/north-korea-warns-its-nuclear-arsenal-is-a-button-push-away.
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Yan, Holly. “What Does It Take to Get an American Released from North Korea?” CNN, Cable News Network, 13 June 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/06/13/asia/north-korea-how-to-get-americans-released/index.html.