The following is adapted from uggabugga.

Who is to blame?

In this New Yorker piece by Seymour Hersh, we get a timeline of events surrounding the North Korean nuclear weapons programs - and the Pakistani connection. Unfortunately, we are not told when the Bush (or Clinton) administration first knew what. All we learn is that there was a CIA report issued in June of 2002 that listed North Korean activities that began in 1997. However, there is a case that can be made that when things started to break down in 2002, the administration didn't handle the situation well.

Once again, we found that presenting the material in a table format helps understand the relationship between the events and the actors.

when who what
1980's Pakistan
  • nuclear program flourished
  • military and intelligence forces were working closely with the U.S. to repel Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
1985 North Korea
  • signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
  • opened of most of its nuclear sites to international inspection
early 1990's American intelligence
international inspectors
  • North Koreans were reprocessing more spent fuel than they had declared
  • Might have separated enough plutonium to fabricate one or two nuclear weapons
1994 North Korea Entered into an agreement with the Clinton Administration:
  • Stop the nuclear-weapons program.
  • Obtain economic aid and the construction of two light-water nuclear reactors
1994 North Korea Unknown if it had begun to build warheads
1997 North Korea Trying to produce weapons-grade uranium from natural uranium-with Pakistani technology
and later
North Korea

(As outlined in CIA
report below. Unclear
when U.S. intelligence
first knew about these

  • Economy had foundered
  • "No more money" to pay for North Korean missile support
  • Paid for missile systems in part by sharing its nuclear-weapons secrets
    • Provided data on how to build and test a uranium-triggered nuclear weapon
    • Helped North Korea conduct a series of "cold tests," simulated nuclear explosions, using natural uranium, which are necessary to determine whether a nuclear device will detonate properlyGave the North Korean intelligence service advice on from American satellites and U.S. and South Korean intelligence agents.
  • Centrifuges:
    • Sent prototypes of high-speed centrifuge machines
    • "Chopped many years off" the North Korean development process
    • With a few thousand centrifuges, could have enough fissile material to manufacture two or three warheads a year
    • Pakistani centrifuges:
      • Slim cylinders, roughly six feet in height, that could be shipped "by the hundreds"
  A. Q. Khan
Director of a Pakistani weapons-research lab
At least thirteen visits to North Korea
2001 North Korea Began to enrich uranium in significant quantities
  Pakistan There are close ties between some scientists working for the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and radical Islamic groups
~25 Sep 2001 Bush Lifted the sanctions that had been imposed on Pakistan because of its nuclear-weapons activities
Jan 2002 John Bolton
Under-Sec. of State for Arms Control
Declared that North Korea had a covert nuclear-weapons program and was in violation of the nonproliferation treaty
Feb 2002 3 members of Congress Urged Bush to withhold support for the two reactors promised to North Korea
May 2002 John Bolton Accused North Korea of failing to coöperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency
Jun 2002 CIA report:


  • Separate and contradictory estimates from C.I.A., the Pentagon, the State Department, and the Department of Energy regarding the number of warheads that North Korea might have been capable of making
  • Provided no consensus on whether or not the Pyongyang regime is actually producing them
  • Predicted that North Korea, if confronted with the evidence of unanium-enrichment program:
    • Would not risk an open break with the 1994 agreement
    • Would do nothing to violate the nonproliferation treaty
5 Jul 2002 Condoleezza Rice Letter to the congressmen:

Bush Administration would continue providing North Korea with:

  • Shipments of heavy fuel oil
  • Nuclear technology for the two promised energy-generating reactors
early Oct 2002 James A. Kelly
Assistant Sec. of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
  • Flew to Pyongyang with a large entourage for a showdown over the uranium-enrichment program
  • Kelly authorized to tell the Koreans that the U.S. had learned about the illicit uranium program
  • No room for Kelly to negotiate.
  • Scripted message:
    • Written in the N.S.C."-the National Security Council-"by hard-liners.
    • North Korea must stop the program before any negotiations could take place
  • Former intelligence official: "When it came time to confront North Korea, we had no plan, no contact-nothing to negotiate with. ... but we let it all fall apart."
Kang Suk Ju
First Vice Foreign Minister of North Korea
  • Seemed to confirm the charge when he responded by insisting upon his nation's right to develop nuclear weapons.
  • Sccused the United States of "threatening North Korea's survival"
  • Produced a list of the United States' alleged failures to meet its own obligations under the 1994 agreement
  • Offered to shut down the enrichment program in return for:
    • An American promise not to attack
    • A commitment to normalize relations
James A. Kelly Constrained by his instructions, could only re-state his brief: the North Koreans must act first
16 Oct 2002 Bush admin. Informs the public about North Korea situation, five days after Congress voted to authorize military force against Iraq
late 2002 American policy Alternated between tough talk in public-vows that the Administration wouldn't be "blackmailed," or even meet with North Korean leaders-and private efforts, through third parties, to open an indirect line of communication with Pyongyang
North Korea
  • Expelled international inspectors
  • Renounced the nonproliferation treaty
  • Threatened to begin reprocessing spent nuclear fuel
  • Insisted on direct talks with the Bush Administration
2003 North Korea Still unknown if it has begun to build warheads
early Jan 2003 Bush
  • Agreed to consider renewed American aid in return for a commitment by North Korea to abandon its nuclear program
  • Still resisting direct negotiations with the Kim Jong Il government