Mechanisms for Engaging the DPRK
This undated picture, released from Korean Central News Agency on June 11, 2008, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (L) inspecting Korean People's Army unit 958 at an undisclosed location. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
So how then should the South respond? How should the United States and Japan respond? And what, if anything, should the rest of us be doing?
To answer these questions, we need briefly to review the current bilateral and multi-lateral machinery in place for managing the relationship with Pyongyang.
First and most important is the "Agreed Framework" of 1994. We sometimes forget how close the world came to war back in 1993 when the DPRK unilaterally announced its intention to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This was at a time when it had become clear to US intelligence that the North was constructing a nuclear re-processing plant capable of converting the spent rods produced by the country's Soviet supplied reactor into plutonium - the key component of a nuclear weapon. The "Agreed Framework" of July 1994 identified four specific sets of actions for both the US and the DPRK:
* the replacement of the DPRK's graphite-moderated reactors and related facilities with light-water reactor power plants and heavy fuel oil;
* DPRK re-acceptance of the NPT regime;
* a commitment by both sides to work together for peace, security and a nuclear-free Korean Peninsular; and
* a commitment to move towards full normalisation of political and economic relations.
On the first of these tasks, there is as yet no convincing evidence that the DPRK is not taking its responsibilities seriously under the Nuclear Freeze Agreement with the US. The recent US inspection visit to the suspect North Korean site at Kumchamgri provided further confirmation of general DPRK compliance.
On the American, South Korean and Japanese side, KEDO (the Korean Peninsular Energy Development Organisation) has now had sufficient funds committed to it by participating governments to deliver both the construction of the light-water reactors and heavy fuel oil consignments to the DPRK as promised.
So far so good - although this entire process came close to total derailment as a consequence of the DPRK's extraordinary decision in August last year to test its Taepodong I Ballistic missile by firing it into the Pacific Ocean across Japan. The Japanese in turn went ballistic themselves and it came very close to fracturing the political consensus necessary in Japan to support the proper execution of the KEDO program. The DPRK, of course, maintain to this day that the ballistic missile test was simply a satellite launch and that there is now hurtling through space a North Korean satellite playing revolutionary music extolling the virtues of the uniquely North Korean principle of self-reliance or "Juche". Recent reports of a possible second ballistic firing soon represent a fundamental cause for further concern.