Nuclear Diplomacy and Disarmament

Stand-off over North Korea reinforces the hollowness of the doctrine of deterrence


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Light water reactor

Mains level : Paper 2- North Korea's nuclear program


The resumption of North Korea’s largest fissile material production reactor, has sparked speculation about its real and symbolic significance.

Background of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development

  • In 1994, Pyongyang barred IAEA access to the Yongbyon complex amid suspicions that the country was generating plutonium from spent fuel.
  • 1994 Agreed Framework, an executive agreement signed by President Bill Clinton, required Pyongyang to freeze all nuclear activity and allow inspection of its military sites in return for the construction of two light water reactors.
  • The accord broke down in 2002.
  • In June 2008, in order to express its denuclearisation commitment to the U.S. and four other countries, Pyongyang blew up the cooling tower at the Yongbyon complex.
  • A few months in 2008, Pyongyang barred IAEA inspectors access to its reprocessing plant in the Yongbyon complex and eventually expelled them the following April.
  • In November 2010 American scientist Siegfried Hecker confirmed accounts that North Korea had rapidly built a uranium enrichment plant at Yongbyon.

Why does resumption nuclear reactor matter?

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has underlined that the restart of activity in Yongbyon constitutes a violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
  • Reprocessing of fuel: The reactor at the Yongbyon complex has been central to the North Korean reprocessing of spent fuel rods to generate plutonium.
  • Enrichment of fuel: Besides the production of highly enriched uranium for the development of atomic bombs.

Way forward

  • Negotiations: The Biden administration has adopted a pragmatic path of declaring its readiness to resume negotiations with Pyongyang.
  • UN treaty on complete abolition of nuclear arms: The UN treaty on complete abolition of atomic arms, whose deliberations were boycotted by all nuclear weapons states, is the morally superior alternative.


The protracted stand-off over North Korea reinforces the hollowness of the doctrine of deterrence and begs the question whether proliferation can ever be prevented just because nuclear weapons states want to perpetuate their dominance.

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Back2Basics: IAEA

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency is the world’s central intergovernmental forum for scientific and technical co-operation in the nuclear field.
  • It works for the safe, secure and peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology, contributing to international peace and security and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
  • The IAEA was created in 1957 in response to the deep fears and expectations generated by the discoveries and diverse uses of nuclear technology.
  • The Agency’s genesis was U.S. President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” address to the General Assembly of the United Nations on 8 December 1953.

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