August 16, 2022

N. Korea’s 1980s nuclear-free rhetoric

Kim Il Sung regime fostered sympathies with 'no-nukes' stance even as scientists sought the bomb

On September 6,1986, delegates from more than 80 different countries gathered in North Korea for the three-day “Pyongyang International Conference for Denuclearization and Peace on the Korean Peninsula.” Hung on the walls of the conference hall were banners with slogans such as “Let’s turn the Korean Peninsula into a Nuclear-Free Peace Zone!” and “Support to the Peaceful and Independent Reunification of the Korean Peninsula!” At this conference, North Korean leader Kim Il Sung gave a speech in which he championed nuclear disarmament around the world. Kim Il Sung said, “As long as nuclear weapons exist on our planet, the danger of nuclear war will not disappear and mankind cannot be free from a constant nuclear threat.” At this conference, the DPRK pledged to “refrain from the testing, production, stockpiling, and introduction of nuclear weapons.” However, this was only a smokescreen.

Since the mid-1950s, Kim Il Sung had actively pursued a nuclear program. In 1956, he told the Soviet ambassador in the DPRK that he wanted North Korean scientists to acquire experience in nuclear research. Over the course of 20 years, these North Koreans acquired this experience and, in 1976, North Korean officials told the Hungarian Foreign Ministry that the DPRK was prepared for a nuclear war with the U.S and South Korea as the country had developed nuclear weapons “unaided through experimentation.” In the 1980s, the United States government discovered a third nuclear reactor in North Korea and a nuclear facility that could produce weapons-grade material.