North Korea’s nuclear development is a matter of serious concern to the international community that not only threatens peace and security of the Korean Peninsula, Northeast Asia, and the international community but also undermines the foundation of the international non-proliferation regime. For more than three decades, the ROK government and relevant countries have made intensive efforts to resolve this issue.
The North Korean nuclear issue drew international attention when North Korea announced that it would withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1993. Since then, the North Korean nuclear issue has gone through a cycle of progress and regress.
The Agreed Framework (Geneva Agreement) of 1994 between the United States and North Korea led to a freeze of North Korea’s plutonium nuclear facilities for several years. However, the agreement eventually collapsed 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 not convened since December 2008, as the parties failed to agree on the verification protocol.
Even during the Six-Party process, North Korea sought to possess nuclear weapons, conducting its first nuclear test in 2006 and the second test in 2009. Suspicions on the North’s uranium enrichment activities were brought to light after Pyongyang made public about its relevant facilities at Yongbyon in 2010.
In 2012, the international community had high expectations for progress on the denuclearization negotiation as the United States and North Korea reached a deal (the so-called “Leap Day” Deal), which specified North Korea’s pre-steps for resumption of denuclearization talks. However, the agreement collapsed as North Korea unsuccessfully launched a long-range missile on April 13, and proclaimed itself as a nuclear weapons state in its newly-amended constitution on the same day. Since 2013, North Korea sought the status of a 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; stipulating the Byungjin policy in the rules of the Workers’ Party of Korea amended at the 7th Party Congress in May 2016; and adopting the law related to "the policy of the nation's nuclear forces" on September 8.
In 2016, despite the repeated warnings from the international community, North Korea further carried out fourth nuclear test in January and, after only 8 months, the fifth test in September, while launching 24 various range of ballistic missiles threatening a preemptive nuclear strike. In 2017 as well, tensions continued to escalate as North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test and ICBM-class ballistic missile launches, and claimed to be a “nuclear-weapon state” by testing yet another ICBM-class ballistic missile on November 29, a third of the year.
In 2018, ROK, the U.S., and North Korea reached some agreements with regard to the North Korean nuclear issue through three inter-Korean Summits and the first US-North Korea Summit, and their outcome documents – the Panmunjom Declaration of 27 April, the US-North Korea Joint Statement at the Singapore Summit on 12 June and Pyongyang Joint Declaration on 19 September. However, the second US-North Korea Summit in Hanoi from 27 to 28 February in 2019 ended without any meaningful outcome, and there has been no substantive progress since in terms of the denuclearization of North Korea.
Meanwhile, to implement the objective of “advancing nuclear deterrence and strengthening defense capabilities” declared in the Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in January 2021, North Korea has been continuing its missile provocations, including hypersonic glide vehicles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). In 2022, North Korea has escalated tensions in an unprecedented manner, by launching a record number of ballistic missiles(8 ICBM included) for a calender year.
At the same time, the Director General’s report of the IAEA in August 2021 indicated that nuclear facilities in Yongbyon and other regions are under operation. Furthermore, from 2022, there have been signs of preparation for another nuclear test.
The international community will never accept North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons 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 UN Security Council Resolutions 2270 (March 2016), 2321 (November 2016), 2356 (June 2017), 2371 (August 2017), 2375 (September 2017), and 2397 (December 2017). The ROK Government will work to ensure thorough implementation of these UNSCRs and unilateral sanctions measures. Furthermore, the ROK, as a key stakeholder of the North Korean nuclear issue, will lead cooperation with international community to induce North Korea back to the path of denuclearization.
On August 15, 2022, at the National Liberation Day ceremony, President Yoon Suk-yeol proposed the Audacious Initiative for a denuclearized, peaceful and prosperous Korean Peninsula. The Audacious Initiative includes a set of corresponding measures encompassing political, economic and military aspects, to be provided in close coordination with the U.S. and the international community once North Korea embarks on the path of substantive denuclearization. The ROK government aims to establish sustainable peace through complete denuclearization of North Korea, and will pursue the denuclearization of North Korea and the establishment of a peace regime in a principled and consistent manner. In this vein, the ROK government will deter North Korea’s nuclear threats, dissuade Pyongyang’s nuclear development through sanctions and pressure, and pursue denuclearization of North Korea through dialogue and diplomacy.
The ROK government will maintain a robust ROK-U.S. combined defense posture against North Korea’s provocations, and based on the Audacious Initiative, will continue our unwavering diplomatic efforts aimed at compelling North Korea to cease further provocations and return to denuclearization talks.