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North Korea agrees to suspend nuclear program

February 29, 2012

North Korea announced on Wednesday that it would suspend nuclear enrichment efforts, nuclear tests, and  long-range missile tests. North Korea further agreed to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify and monitor its nuclear activities. In exchange, the US has pledged to supply North Korea with 24,000 metric tons of food aid in the form of nutritional supplements.

The Nukes of Hazard blog compares some key points in the statements issued by the US State Department and the North Korean Foreign Ministry here. The complete US press statement can be viewed here.

This agreement is an encouraging step in US efforts to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, but will it hold up? Similar agreements have been negotiated in the past, but have not stopped North Korea from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. Max Fisher considers the history of US-North Korean negotations and makes the case in The Atlantic (here) that North Korea’s Nuclear program will “be back soon enough.” He argues:

From Pyongyang’s perspective, this erratic strategy actually makes a lot of sense. North Korea doesn’t really want to use a nuclear warhead — that would spark a U.S.-led counterattack that would destroy the country almost immediately — they just want (1) to deter the U.S. from invading and (2) to blackmail the world into giving it the food and money it needs to survive. With the former, the regime buys external security, protection against an overwhelmingly hostile world. With the latter, it buys internal security, keeping North Korean society barely afloat and making individual citizens dependent on the state for survival.

And the rest of the world is complicit, playing North Korea’s game, because we don’t really have a choice.

Another explanation that accounts for the timing of these concessions emphasizes North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s need to consolidate his power and prove his ability to provide for the North Korean people. An analysis in the New York Times provides the following interpretation:

For the relatively young and inexperienced North Korean leader, the agreement could be crucial to solidifying his hold on power and the backing of the military, analysts in South Korea said. He needs to show in his early months in power that he is improving people’s lives after years of food shortages and a devastating famine.

He also came into office facing some daunting challenges laid out by his father. Kim Jong- il had declared this would be a breakout year for North Korea, when its economy would take off and the country would mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of his own father, Kim Il-sung, who is revered as the nation’s founder.

Food aid — and better international relations that could lead to economic support — are considered critical for the North to be able to stage the celebrations with the lavishness North Koreans have come to expect when their leaders are feted.

Learn more about Kim Jong-un here, here, and here.

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