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Context of 'Spring and Summer 1994: Clinton Uses Combination of Diplomacy, Military Threats to Force North Korea to Back Down from Nuclear Development'

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President Clinton gives serious consideration to launching massive military strikes against North Korea’s nuclear facility at Yongbyon. The North Koreans are preparing to remove nuclear fuel rods from the internationally monitored storage site at the facility, expel the international weapons inspectors, and withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which they had signed in 1985 (see July 1, 1968 and December 12, 1985). Clinton asks the UN to consider economic sanctions; in response, North Korea says sanctions will trigger a war. The Pentagon presents Clinton with a plan to send 50,000 US troops to South Korea, bolstering the 37,000 already in place, as well as an array of combat jets, naval vessels, combat helicopters, ground assault vehicles, and various missile and rocket systems. Clinton orders an emplacement of 250 soldiers to a logistical headquarters to manage the influx of weaponry. (In 2005, former Clinton administration officials will confirm that Clinton was quite willing to go to war with North Korea if need be.) But Clinton also extends diplomatic offerings to North Korea. He sets up a diplomatic back-channel to that nation in the form of former President Jimmy Carter, who has an informal conference with North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung. (The press portrays the Carter visit as a private venture without Clinton’s approval; later, former Clinton officials will verify that Clinton recruited Carter to go.) Some Clinton cabinet officials, particularly those who had served in the Carter administration, warn Clinton that Carter is a “loose cannon” and may well go beyond the parameters laid down by Clinton in negotiating with Kim. Vice President Gore and other senior officials urge Clinton to send Carter, believing that there is no other way to resolve the crisis. Clinton agrees with Gore. He believes that Kim has, in the words of reporter Fred Kaplan, “painted himself into a corner and needed an escape hatch—a clear path to back away from the brink without losing face, without appearing to buckle under pressure from the US government. Carter might offer that hatch.” Both sides, Kaplan will write, are correct. Carter succeeds in getting Kim to back down, and goes much farther than his instructions allow, negotiating the outline of a treaty and announcing the terms live on CNN, notifying Clinton only minutes before the news broadcast. That outline will become the Agreed Framework between the two nations (see October 21, 1994). [Washington Monthly, 5/2004; Slate, 10/11/2006]

Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, Kim Il-Sung, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Fred Kaplan, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

State Department officials, led by Undersecretary of State Jim Kelly, fly to Pyongyang, North Korea, and confront Kim Jong Il’s foreign ministry with evidence that North Korea is working on centrifuges for processing enriched uranium—a necessity for the production of nuclear weapons. The State officials are surprised when the North Koreans admit to owning such centrifuges. The new threat is not particularly imminent, as it takes years to process the amount of uranium needed for even a single atomic bomb, but the US officials are unsettled by the North Koreans’ ready admission. The North Koreans also have a supply of radioactive fuel rods from their nuclear power plant in Yongbyon; these rods could be processed into plutonium and then into atomic bombs in a matter of months. Under the so-called “Agreed Framework” (see October 21, 1994), an agreement brokered by the Clinton administration and negotiated by former President Jimmy Carter, those fuel rods are locked in a storage facility and monitored by international weapons inspectors. Unfortunately, after the US and North Korea match each other in threats and belligerence, North Korea will throw out the weapons inspectors, open the storage facility, and begin reprocessing them into bomb-grade plutonium. Instead of careful negotiations and diplomacy, the US in essence goads the volatile North Koreans into breaking the agreement and restarting their nuclear weapons program (see October 27, 2002). [Washington Monthly, 5/2004] One administration official will later call the negotiating tactics “no carrot, no stick, and no talk.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will later term the negotiating failure “catastrophic,” noting that by 2006 the North Koreans will not only have produced enough plutonium for 10 nuclear weapons, they will have tested one. Scoblic will write: “Often frustrated by their failures, their inability to rid the world of evil (see December 19, 2003), Bush officials assuaged their moral sensibilities by ‘calling evil by its name.’ Conservatives, who were fond of deriding treaties as mere pieces of paper, had actually opted for an even less forceful alternative: taunting.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 234]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Bush administration (43), Jim Kelly, J. Peter Scoblic, Kim Jong Il

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

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