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Understanding the North Korean Nuclear Issue

  • The Significance of the North Korean Nuclear Issue

    North Korea’s nuclear development is a matter of serious concern to the international community that threatens peace and security of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, as well as the international community; and undermines the foundation of the international non-proliferation regime. For more than two decades, the ROK government and relevant countries have made intensive efforts to resolve this issue.

  • History of the North Korean Nuclear Issue

    The North Korean nuclear issue got international attention when North Korea declared to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1993. Ever since, the North Korean nuclear issue has gone through a cycle of progress and regress.

    The Agreed Framework (Geneva Agreement) between the United States and North Korea was signed in 1994, which led to the freeze of North Korea’s plutonium nuclear facilities for several years. However, the agreement was broken in the end, as suspicion about the North’s nuclear development using enriched uranium was raised and North Korea restarted its plutonium nuclear facilities in 2002.

    In 2003, the Six-Party Talks was launched, involving South and North Koreas as well as the U.S., China, Japan and Russia. The Six-Party Talks achieved some progress by adopting the “Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks” on September 19, 2005; “Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement” on February 13, 2007; and “Second-Phase Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement” on October 3, 2007. However, the Six-Party Talks has been stalled since December 2008, as North Korea refused to cooperate on the verification of its nuclear material and facilities.

    North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006 and blatantly manifested its intent to possess nuclear weapons by carrying out the second nuclear test in 2009. Suspicions about the North’s uranium enrichment activities have proven to be true after it made public its related facilities at Yongbyon in 2010.

    As United States and North Korea reached a deal (the so-called “Leap Day” Deal), which specified North Korea’s pre-steps for denuclearization, the international community had high expectations about seeing progress on the denuclearization negotiation. However, North Korea broke the deal by launching a long-range missile on April 13, and on the same day the North even proclaimed itself as a nuclear weapons state in its newly-amended constitution. Since 2013, North Korea has attempted to establish its status as nuclear weapons state, despite strong opposition from the international community, through a series of measures including conducting the third nuclear test on February 12, 2013; declaring its permanent position as a nuclear weapons state on March 9; adopting the so called "Byungjin" policy of simultaneously pursuing economic development and nuclear armament on March 31; enacting a “law that consolidates the position of a nuclear weapons state for self-defense” on April 1; and stipulating the Byungjin policy in the rules of the Workers’ Party of Korea amended at the 7th Party Congress in May 2016.

    In 2016, North Korea conducted an unprecedented level of provocations: the North conducted the fourth nuclear test in January and, after only 8 months, the fifth test in September, while launching 24 ballistic missiles of all types and threatening a preemptive nuclear strike, despite the repeated warnings from the international community. In 2017 as well, North Korea has continued to escalate tensions by conducting reckless provocations in disregard of the ROK government’s sincere efforts, amid North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s assertion in his New Year’s address that North Korea is at the final stage of preparation for ICBM launch: North Korea continued provocations of all sorts until September, including its sixth nuclear test and ICBM-class ballistic missile launches, and claims to be a “nuclear-weapon state” by firing yet another ICBM-class ballistic missile on November 29, a third this year, after a nearly 70-day lull in its provocations.

  • The ROK Government’s Position and efforts to resolve the North Korean Nuclear Issue

    The international community will not accept North Korea as nuclear weapons state under any circumstances. The unified resolve of the international community to not tolerate North Korea’s repeated provocations and violations of international obligations is clearly reflected in the UN Security Council resolutions 2270(March 3, 2016), 2321(November 30, 2016), 2356(June 2, 2017), 2371 (August 5, 2017), 2375 (September 11, 2017) and 2397 (December 22, 2017) all of which imposed unprecedentedly tough sanctions on North Korea. The ROK government is committed to thoroughly implementing these UNSCRs and its unilateral sanctions measures in order to induce North Korea to take the path towards denuclearization.

    We are leaving the door open for dialogue with North Korea, while responding to North Korea’s provocations in a stern manner by continuing to implement strong sanctions and apply pressure on North Korea in coordination with the international community. As President Moon Jae-in made clear in the ‘Berlin Initiative” on July 6, if North Korea chooses the right path, the ROK government stands ready to walk with North Korea the path towards peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. Furthermore, the ROK government calls on North Korea to realize that denuclearization is the only way to guarantee its security and economic development, to make the right judgment and demonstrate its willingness to denuclearize as soon as possible.

    The ROK government, based on the rock-solid ROK-US alliance, will further strengthen various forms of multilateral cooperation, including those of ROK-U.S.-Japan, ROK-U.S.-China and ROK-Japan-China, and consolidate the coordination among five parties within the Six-Party Talks framework to bring North Korea back to the path of denuclearization.