The ICAS Lectures



Robert P Casey Jr.

ICAS Winter Symposium
Humanity, Peace and Security
February 13, 2008 1:00 PM -- 5:30 PM
United States House of Representatives Rayburn Office Building Room B 318
Capitol Hill, Washington DC 20515

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422


Biographic Sketch & Links: Robert P Casey Jr.


Robert P Casey Jr.

Thank you, Sang Joo, for that kind introduction. I am proud that, since 1973, the Institute for Corean-American Studies (ICAS) has been headquartered in Blue Bell, PA, right outside Philadelphia. For more than three decades, ICAS has been a pioneer in strengthening our understanding of the events occurring on the Korean Peninsula and beyond in East Asia. It is my honor to appear today at the ICAS 2008 Winter Symposium and speak to all of you on the status of North Korea's nuclear disarmament.

Last week, Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which I am a Member, on the progress to date achieved in the Six Party Talks. Without a doubt, the challenge posed by North Korea's nuclear arsenal, which has expanded exponentially over the past five years, is grave. The North Korean government, headed by the dictator, Kim Jong Il, is a paranoid regime that has demonstrated its willingness to sell anything and everything in exchange for hard currency. Its abrupt withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, its past proliferation activities, and its brazen threats in brandishing its nuclear weapons all combine to make North Korea one of the more dangerous states on the world stage today.

Today, the United States, in cooperation with South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia under the aegis of the Six Party Talks, is moving in the right direction when it comes to implementing a realistic and sober-minded policy towards North Korea's nuclear weapons program. It is my deep regret, however, that the Bush Administration took five years to conclude that pragmatic diplomatic engagement is the only effective means of containing and rolling back North Korea's nuclear arsenal.

Many in the audience today know better than I the significance of those five lost years in terms of an increased threat from North Korea and damage to the overall nuclear nonproliferation regime. Following the collapse of the Clinton Administration's Agreed Framework in the fall of 2002, North Korea proceeded to take the following actions:

  • North Korea ejected International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from its key plutonium production facilities at Yongbyon and restarted those facilities, which had otherwise laid dormant for eight years.
  • North Korea provided notice of its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the first state in the history of the NPT regime to withdraw from this agreement;
  • From 2002 through 2006, North Korea reprocessed spent fuel rods at the Yongbyon site to generate approximately 40 additional kilograms of weapons grade plutonium, sufficient fissile material for another eight to ten nuclear warheads. The U.S. intelligence community has estimated that, previous to this breakout, North Korea possessed only 10 kilograms of weapons grade plutonium, or roughly one or two nuclear weapons. In other words, the collapse of the Agreed Framework allowed North Korea to quadruple both the size of its fissile material stockpile and its number of potential nuclear warheads;
  • In the summer of 2006, North Korea ended its self-imposed moratorium on missile testing with a series of missile tests, including a failed attempt to launch its long range Taepodong 2. These ballistic missiles serve no viable purpose other than to intimidate North Korea's neighbors as they can serve as delivery vehicles for nuclear warheads;
  • Later that same year, North Korea formally entered the exclusive club of global nuclear powers by testing a nuclear weapon. Prior to this nuclear test, a North Korean nuclear weapons arsenal was only hypothetical. That is no longer the case; and the international community now faces a higher hurdle in convincing North Korea to surrender a concrete asset;
  • North Korea's nuclear weapons "breakout" raised tensions with its neighbors and sparked concerns of a proliferation cascade throughout the region. Of note, a few voices in Japan broke a long-standing taboo in that nation and initiated discussions on whether or not Tokyo should consider the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

During this time period, the self-defeating approach undertaken by the Bush Administration resulted in an America largely on the sidelines as North Korea raced to expand the size and sophistication of its nuclear weapons stockpile. The Administration could never resolve its internal divisions and decide whether or not we should engage Pyongyang or isolate it. The State Department, under Colin Powell, appeared to favor pragmatic diplomacy, but Don Rumsfeld's Pentagon and the Vice President's office advocated for regime change. The Administration sent envoys to the region for the ostensible purpose of negotiation, but then drafted their instructions in such a manner that they could do little more than repeat pre-drafted talking points.

The end result was this: a regime hostile to the United States was allowed to expand its nuclear weapons arsenal without any discernible penalty or sanction from the international community. North Korea today is in a more powerful position due to the inaction of the Bush Administration during its first six years in office.

It is this complete failure of the Administration's approach to North Korea from 2001 through 2006 which explains my support for the path of diplomatic engagement undertaken by the United States over the past eighteen months. Only by understanding the futility of other policy alternatives towards North Korea can we understand why diplomatic engagement is the preferred approach, even though it may not be a satisfactory one. The regime of Kim Jong Il is a brutal one that suppresses the North Korean people and commits human rights abuses on a massive scale. It is an odious government and its demise cannot occur a day too soon. If there was a feasible mechanism to topple the Kim Jong Il regime and replace it with a government more sensitive to the basic rights of its own people and more responsible in its international commitments, I would strongly support it.

Unfortunately, despite such fervent wishes, we must recognize that regime change in North Korea, at least in the foreseeable future, is simply not in the cards. The North Korean regime, first under the father, Kim Il Sung, and now the son, Kim Il Jong, has survived for sixty years in stark isolation and economic deprivation. A regime that has largely shut itself off from the international community cannot be easily pressured by the outside world, whether by diplomatic isolation or economic sanctions. Nor can military force serve as a feasible option to topple the North Korean regime and halt its nuclear weapons program. Simple geography explains the dilemma. Any significant use of military force would put the capital of South Korea, Seoul, in danger given Seoul's proximity to the border with North Korea and North Korea's sizable conventional artillery forces adjacent to the Demilitarized Zone.

Thus, pragmatic diplomatic engagement is the only realistic option left to the United States and the international community. That is why the Six Party Talks must be given every opportunity to succeed. I am grateful that U.S. policy, in this regard, is being steered by Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill. Assistant Secretary Hill is a dedicated public servant who spent much of the 1990s navigating the ethnic warfare that broke out in the Balkans. Today, his assignment on the Korean Peninsula presents even greater challenges and we should all applaud his patriotism and public service.

Since implementing a U-turn in North Korea policy in the latter half of 2006 and taking a serious approach to the Six Party Talks, the United States has made some critical progress. Most important, we have shut down, sealed, and begun disabling the plutonium production reactor and related facilities at the Yongbyon site. Whatever else North Korea may have done with respect to other nuclear programs and other nuclear facilities elsewhere in the country, we know that the Yongbyon complex served as the hub of North Korea's nuclear weapons efforts. We know that it is Yongbyon where up to 50 kilograms of weapons grade plutonium has been generated. We know that, based upon atmospheric readings, the nuclear weapon North Korea tested in October 2006 utilized plutonium, not enriched uranium, and the plutonium in that weapon, in all likelihood, came from Yongbyon. It is a net gain for U.S. national security that the Yongbyon complex today is in the process of being disabled so that it will never generate weapons grade plutonium again.

However, Members of Congress are fully aware that the Six Party Talks face many key challenges before we can speak confidently of North Korea's complete, verifiable, and irreversible nuclear disarmament. It is my hope that the President, who for too long refused to recognize the potential for a diplomatic agreement with North Korea to cap and roll back its nuclear weapons arsenal, does not now veer too far in the other direction and accept an agreement for agreement's sake in the final days of his Presidency. We know that the North Koreans are fierce bargainers, that they will seek compensation for every step of the process, even steps for which they have previously been rewarded. The United States must work hand in hand with its Six Party partners and hold North Korea accountable for living up to the terms of the agreement reached a year ago today.

I would urge the President, Secretary of State Rice, and Assistant Secretary of State Hill to keep the following three principles in mind to ensure that the Six Party Talks process continues to safeguard our key security interests when it comes to North Korea's eventual nuclear disarmament:

1) North Korea must fully report all past instances of nuclear proliferation, with no exceptions:

Any satisfactory resolution in the Six Party Talks must ensure that North Korea is upfront regarding what nuclear components, fissile materials, and/or technical expertise it may have shared with outside actors in past years. The United States cannot accept a situation where North Korea issues a blanket statement that all previous proliferation activities have come to an end and that the focus must now turn to the present.

In particular, the North Korean regime must come clean on what, if any, cooperation it engaged in with Syria on a potential nuclear weapons program. We are all familiar with the mysterious Israeli raid last September on what may have been a nascent nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert. We know that North Korean technicians were present in significant numbers at this site. We know that the facility, whatever it was, bore a disturbing similarity to the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. At the end of the day, it may turn out that facility was not nuclear in nature, that it served as a missile development facility or for another purpose. But the North Koreans must come clean on all they know. By all accounts, the initial declaration provided by North Korea late last year did not speak to this issue. This silence cannot continue.

2) The declaration, disablement, and dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons program must occur in a verifiable fashion:

Comprehensive and transparent verification is essential to the credibility of any final resolution of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs, facilities, and weapons. Whether the verification occurs under the aegis of the Six Party partners, the International Atomic Energy Agency, or another multilateral mechanism, it must be sufficiently thorough so that the international community retains confidence that North Korea is not engaged in any violations of its nuclear disarmament pledges. There can be no give here. The international community cannot proceed with diplomatic normalization and economic re-integration of North Korea unless it is assured that North Korea has renounced, once and for all, its nuclear weapons activities.

It is my hope that the U.S. government is proceeding with the requisite planning to ensure that, once North Korea has produced a complete declaration of its nuclear programs, facilities, and activities, and is ready to proceed to the final phase of dismantlement, we have a verification plan in place to validate those dismantlement activities. Any verification activities must take into account diplomatic necessities and minimize overly intrusive procedures where appropriate, but they cannot compromise the bottom line: Securing the confidence of North Korea's neighbors and the entire international community that Pyongyang has gotten out of the nuclear weapons business.

3) North Korea must fully account for every gram of nuclear fissile material in the country:

This final principle is one where the United States and the other Six Party Talks partners must not compromise. During my first year in the United States Senate, I have been seized by the challenge of nuclear terrorism. Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups are openly seeking to launch a nuclear weapons attack on the United States to fulfill their perverted aims. Because Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups cannot achieve the technical sophistication and production facilities required to produce nuclear fissile materials, they must purchase or steal these materials on the black market.

We know that locations like Pakistan and the former Soviet Union are the most likely targets for such plots. However, we cannot rule out that a state like North Korea, so desperate for hard currency, could one day be tempted to make a deal with a terrorist group. That is why it is so important that the Six Party partners ensure that North Korea fully accounts for every gram of fissile nuclear material produced during the course of its nuclear program.

Ladies and gentlemen, during the initial years of this Administration, the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons program was inexplicably allowed to expand exponentially without any concrete response from the United States. In the final years of his time in office, President Bush has belatedly recognized the need to engage with the North Korean regime in hard-headed multilateral diplomacy to contain and begin to roll back North Korea's nuclear weapons arsenal. The Congress must continue to play a strong oversight role to help ensure that North Korea achieves complete, verifiable, and irreversible nuclear disarmament in a manner that safeguards the security interests of the United States and our allies and partners in East Asia.

This page last updated 2/15/2008 jdb

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