On October 9, 2006, the North Korean government issued an announcement that it had successfully conducted a nuclear test for the first time. Both the United States Geological Survey and Japanese seismological authorities detected an earthquake with a preliminary estimated magnitude of 4.2 on the Richter scale in North Korea, corroborating some aspects of the North Korean claims.
Tensions between North and South have run high on numerous occasions since 1953. The deployment of the U.S. Army's Second Infantry Division on the Korean peninsula and the American military presence at the Korean Demilitarized Zone are publicly regarded by North Korea as an occupying army. In several areas, North Korean and American/South Korean forces operate in extreme proximity to the border, adding to tension. This tension led to the border clash in 1976, which has become known as the Axe Murder Incident.
According to newly declassified documents from the archives of former communist allies of North Korea, Pyongyang first began to pursue nuclear technology as early as 1956, though security concerns in the region and an apparent Soviet dismissal of these concerns in the early 1960s hastened the DPRK’s efforts to acquire the technology to produce nuclear weapons. In the wake of the student-led April 19 movement in 1960 that overthrew Rhee Syngman and the May 16, 1961 military coup d'état that brought General Park Jung-hee to power, North Korea sought an mutual defense treaty with the Soviet Union and China.
Yet, Soviet leaders reportedly did not even consider such a pact necessary, despite the military posture of the anti-communist Park Jung-hee regime, as long as the Soviets improved relations with the United States.
Perhaps the two most important factors in North Korea’s attempts to obtain nuclear weapons and become militarily self-reliant were the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 and the prospect of a US-Japan-ROK alliance following the 1965 establishment of diplomatic relations between the ROK and Japan. Kim Il Sung reportedly did not trust that the Soviets would live up to the conditions of the mutual defense pact and guarantee North Korea’s security since they betrayed Castro by withdrawing nuclear missiles in an effort improve relations with the United States. Indeed, as a North Korean official explained to Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin in 1965, “the Korean leaders were distrustful of the CPSU and the Soviet government, they could not count on that the Soviet government would keep the obligations related to the defense of Korea it assumed in the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, Kim Il said, and therefore they were compelled to keep an army of 700,000 and a police force of 200,000.” In explaining the cause of such mistrust, the official claimed that “the Soviet Union had betrayed Cuba at the time of the Caribbean crisis.” The prospect of a US-Japan-ROK alliance in 1965 further compelled the North Korean leaders to obtain nuclear weapons as a deterrent. Yet, as recently declassified Russian, Hungarian, and East German materials confirm, no communist governments were willing to share the technology with the North Koreans, out of fear that they would share the technology with China.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korean leaders recognized the need for a new security relationship with a major power since Pyongyang could not afford to maintain its military posture. North Korean leaders therefore sought to forge a new relationship with the United States, the only power strong enough to step into the vacuum left by the collapse of the Soviet Union. From the early 1990s, throughout the first nuclear crisis, North Korea sought a non-aggression pact with the United States.
The U.S. rejected North Korean calls for bilateral talks concerning non-aggression pact, and stated that only six-party talks that also include the People's Republic of China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea are acceptable. The American stance was that North Korea has violated prior bilateral agreements, thus such forums lacked accountability. Conversely, North Korea refused to speak in the context of six-party talks, stating that it would only accept bilateral talks with the United States. This led to a diplomatic stalemate.
On November 19 2006 North Korea’s Minju Joson newspaper accused South Korea of building up arms in order to attack the country, claiming that "the South Korean military is openly clamoring that the development and introduction of new weapons are to target the North." Pyongyang accused South Korea of conspiring with the United States to attack the isolated and impoverished state, an accusation made frequently by the North and routinely denied by the U.S.
Concern focuses around two reactors at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, both of them small power stations using Magnox techniques. The smaller (5MWe) was completed in 1986 and has since produced possibly 8,000 spent fuel elements. Construction of the 2 larger plants (50MWe in Yongbyon, and 200MWe in Taechong) commenced in 1984 but construction froze 1994 (Please refer Agreed Framework between the United States of America and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea ) and it restarted in 2005. In 2006, after the Nuclear Experiment, the DPRK was faced with diplomatic pressure and the threat of American military air strikes against the reactor, and froze the construction of larger reactor again. This larger plant is based on the declassified blueprints of the Calder Hall power reactors used to produce plutonium for the UK nuclear weapons program. The DPRK reject to demolish two larger reactors. It has also been suggested that small amounts of plutonium could have been produced in a Russian-supplied IRT-2000 heavy water–moderated research reactor completed in 1967, but there are no recorded safeguards violations with respect to this plant.
On March 12, 1993, North Korea said that it planned to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and refused to allow inspectors access to its nuclear sites. By 1994, the United States believed that North Korea had enough reprocessed plutonium to produce about 10 bombs with the amount of plutonium increasing. Faced with diplomatic pressure and the threat of American military air strikes against the reactor, North Korea agreed to dismantle its plutonium program as part of the Agreed Framework in which South Korea and the United States would provide North Korea with light water reactors and fuel oil until those reactors could be completed. Because the light water reactors would require enriched uranium to be imported from outside North Korea, the amount of reactor fuel and waste could be more easily tracked, making it more difficult to divert nuclear waste to be reprocessed into plutonium. However, with bureaucratic red tape and political obstacles from the North Korea, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), established to advance the implementation of the Agreed Framework, had failed to build the promised light water reactors because the United States failed to uphold their end of the agreement by providing energy aid, and in late 2002, North Korea returned to using its old reactors.
This program was publicized in October 2002 when the United States asked North Korean officials about the program. Under the Agreed Framework North Korea explicitly agreed to freeze plutonium programs (specifically, its "graphite moderated reactors and related facilities." The agreement also committed North Korea to implement the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, in which both Koreas committed not to have enrichment or reprocessing facilities. The United States argued North Korea violated its commitment not to have enrichment facilities.
In December 2002, the United States persuaded the KEDO Board to suspend fuel oil shipments, which led to the end of the Agreed Framework. North Korea responded by announcing plans to reactivate a dormant nuclear fuel processing program and power plant north of Pyongyang. North Korea soon thereafter expelled United Nations inspectors and withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In 2007 reports emanating from Washington suggested that the 2002 CIA reports that North Korea was developing uranium enrichment technology had overstated or misread the intelligence. U.S. officials were no longer making this a major issue in the six-party talks.
According to John Feffer, co-director of the think tank Foreign Policy in Focus,
The primary problem is that the current U.S. administration fundamentally doesn’t want an agreement with North Korea. The Bush administration considers the 1994 Agreed Framework to have been a flawed agreement. It doesn’t want be saddled with a similar agreement, for if it did sign one, it would then be open to charges of "appeasing" Pyongyang. The Vice President has summed up the approach as: "We don’t negotiate with evil, we defeat evil.
Diplomatic efforts at resolving the North Korean situation are complicated by the different goals and interests of the nations of the region. While none of the parties desire a North Korea with nuclear weapons, Japan and South Korea are especially concerned about North Korean counter-strikes following possible military action against North Korea. The People's Republic of China and South Korea are also very worried about the economic and social consequences should this situation cause the North Korean government to collapse.
In early 2000 the Zurich-based company ABB was awarded the contract to provide the design and key components for two light-water nuclear reactors to North Korea.
Further to this argument is the observation that many parties have a vested interest in the claim that North Korea has nuclear weapons. For North Korea, it has been a bargaining tool for opening diplomatic discussions. The nuclear development programme can be manipulated in exchange for foreign aid. Nuclear posturing has also been seen as a threat that could force the re-unification of the Korean peninsula. The Grand National Party, currently the ruling party in South Korea, have stated that they will not return to the Sunshine policy before North Korea gives up their nuclear weapons. South Korean newspapers have warned that North Korea's nuclear arsenal could destroy South Korea's conventional forces, and that the strategic military balance has irrevocably shifted in the aftermath of North Korea's nuclear test. Finally, the threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea has fed South Korea's perceived need for a larger standing army and defence force.
Some LDP politicians in Japan have openly expressed a desire to change Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which prohibits the use of force as a tool for resolving international disputes. This desire has become increasingly relevant given the ability of North Korea's Rodong-1 missile to strike Tokyo, and it has gained increasing support as a result. Some estimates have claimed that as many as 3 of the 200 Rodong-1 missiles currently deployed may be fitted with nuclear warheads. ISIS report 2007 . Further fears about North Korea's ability to generate weapons-grade fissile materials in its projected civilian nuclear reactors have led to the consideration of the threat posed by the entire Rodong-1 missile fleet being armed with nuclear warheads and targeted on the Japanese home islands. (The missiles are able to cover 90% of Japanese territory. Moreover, their accuracy is so poor that they are only valid delivery systems when targeted on very large military installations or cities.)
Because it is impossible to be certain of shooting down 100% of incoming ballistic missile warheads, it is preferable to ensure that the weapons cannot be manufactured in the first place. A surgical strike on the reactor generating nuclear weapons material, such as that carried out by the Israelis on the Iraqi reactor complex at Osirak (Operation Opera), may prevent later nuclear attacks, though at the risk of the action being seen as an act of war and retaliated against (albeit with conventional weaponry). Perhaps because of this, both the Clinton and Bush administrations rejected the Pentagon's recommendation favouring the pre-emptive surgical strike option. Other avenues leading to the same result have failed: during the 2006 negotiations, North Korea rejected the suggestion that it demolish its two larger reactors. Additionally, American interest in the region has waned. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Bush administration in the United States has made terrorism the central focus of its foreign policy. Although the U.S. maintains a force of 28,500 troops in South Korea (the second largest in East Asia), it is likely that that deployment would be considerably decreased if the political situation changed significantly in Korea, something expected to negatively affect the U.S. sphere of influence in the region.
On March 17, 2007, North Korea told delegates at international nuclear talks that it is preparing to shut down its main nuclear facility. The agreement was reached following a series of six-party talks, involving North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the U.S, begun in 2003. According to the agreement, a list of its nuclear programs will be submitted and the nuclear facility will be disabled in exchange for fuel aid and normalization talks with the U.S. and Japan. This had been delayed from April due to a dispute with the United States over Banco Delta Asia, but on July 14, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors confirm the shutdown of North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear reactor.
North Korea’s ability to fulfil its own energy needs has been deteriorating since the 1990s. Although North Korea's indigenous nuclear power-generating capacity is essentially insignificant, the two light-water moderated plants, if built, would be an important source of electricity in a nation with scant resources. Donald Rumsfeld (somewhat derisively) demonstrated the severe lack of electricity for the entire nation in a photograph released in October 2006.
It is not known if this missile is actually capable of carrying the nuclear weapons North Korea has so far developed. The BM-25 is a North Korean designed long-range ballistic missile with range capabilities of up to 1,550 miles (roughly 2,500 km), and could carry a nuclear warhead. North Korea has also developed the Taepodong-1 missile, which has a range of 2,000 km, but it is not yet in full deployment. With the development of the Taepodong-2 missile, with an expected range of 5,000-6,000 km, North Korea could hypothetically deliver a warhead to almost all countries in Southeast Asia, as well as the western side of North America.
The Taepodong- 2 missile was tested on July 4, 2005, unsuccessfully. U.S. intelligence estimates that the weapon will not be operational for another 11 years. The Taepodong- 2 could theoretically hit the western United States and other US interests in the Western hemisphere. The current model of the Taepodong- 2 could not carry nuclear warheads to the United States. Former CIA director George Tenet has claimed that, with a light payload, Taepodong-2 could reach western parts of Continental United States, though with low accuracy. There is also the possibility of nuclear terrorism, that is asymmetrical delivery of nuclear weapons (e.g. by smuggling into or near an American city by civilian cargo ship/plane, or on a boat to near the US coast).
In 2007 North Korea's Taepodong-X Mobile Ballistic Missile was deployed. This missile's design is based on the USSR's submarine launched R-27, and the estimated Range is 3000-4000km. It is indicated that North Korea's is developing a mobile ICBM to prevent a successful first strike.