[Interview] Former US Secretary of Defense favors “three Nos” on North Korean nukes

Posted on : 2016-10-03 15:41 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
William Perry says Bush administration’s cutting off of negotiations allowed North Korea to develop nukes
William Perry
William Perry

William Perry served as US Secretary of Defense from 1994-1997, under President Bill Clinton and was coordinator of North Korea policy. In 1999 he published "Review of United States Policy Toward North Korea: Findings and Recommendations". He recently conducted a telephone interview with the Hankyoreh’s Washington correspondent, discussing the failure of North Korea policy of President Barack Obama, with its insistence that North Korea take steps toward denuclearization before any dialogue can take place.  

Hankyoreh (Hani): North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test only eight months after the fourth test. Can we conclude that North Korea has achieved miniaturization of nuclear weapons?

William Perry (Perry): Yes. We don’t have much reliable information about what they did, but we believe that they were testing miniature versions of nuclear weapons and warheads for use on missiles 

Hani: Do you think North Korea is on the verge of posing a direct threat to United States?

Perry: No, not yet. They haven’t created ICBMs, we have no reason to believe they have ever been able to test reentry of an ICBM. On the other hand, they have the capability to fire medium-range missiles at both South Korea and Japan. That’s a very serious problem. 

Hani: Do you think North Korea nuclear issue is also dangerous from the perspective of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism?

Perry: That’s also a concern. We know that they sold nuclear weapons to Syria. We learned this 25 years later. That could be done without any prior knowledge by United States or Korea. So, we have to be concerned that they might transfer some of that technology. We don’t know the details, but you know that they have never developed their economy to cover the cost of sanctions.  

Hani: This is a very broad question, but what do you see as Pyongyang’s greatest external fears? Do you think such fears are justifiable?

Perry: I believe that North Korea has three key goals. First is the security of the Kim dynasty. Second, they want international respect. Third is improving their economy. They are willing to subordinate the third goal for the other two goals. The evidence of that is what they’ve done with nuclear weapons, despite sanctions. It’s very clear that they’ve prioritized the first two goals over improving their economy.

The North Korean regime believes correctly, that their conventional capabilities are not as good as those of South Korea and the U.S., so they compensate for this with their nuclear forces. I don’t believe that South Korea or the United States have any intention of attacking and conquering North Korea, or that the US has any intentions of a nuclear attack on North Korea.


Hani: What do you think of Bush and Obama administrations’ policies toward North Korea?

Perry: At the beginning of the Bush administration, negotiations with North Korea were already underway, the so-called Perry process. I believed then and I still believe these negotiations would have paved the way to achieving the North Korean goals of preserving their dynasty and gaining respect without pursuing nuclear weapons. The Perry process gave them permission to pursue those goals by giving up nuclear weapons. I believe it would have been successful. But in 2001 after Bush took office, the new administration abandoned these negotiations, and by the end of the Bush administration, North Korea had already developed and tested nuclear weapons.

The Obama administration has not been successful in bringing the North Korea to the negotiating table. They had a more difficult job. In 2000, we were trying to get North Korea not to develop nuclear weapons. In 2009 when Obama came into office, North Korea had already developed nuclear weapons, so the task became more difficult: to persuade them to give up these weapons.  

Hani: Do you think North Korea could use the nuclear weapons to target against South Korea?

Perry: I do not believe that North Korea is foolish enough to launch nuclear weapons at South Korea, They will use nuclear weapons to gain negotiating powers; I do not believe they’d actually use the weapons. Deterrence does work. 

Hani: Do you believe we have to start from Siegfried Hecker’s “Three Nos” proposal?

Perry: Dr. Hecker’s proposal recognizes that it is probably too late to get North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons, and that we should focus on No new weapons, No better weapons, and No transfer of technology. These goals are a good place to begin negotiations. 

Hani: Does it include the moratorium on North Korean missile testing?

Perry: This should also be a point of negotiations.  

Hani: South Korea and the US have said they will not negotiate with North Korea if North Korea doesn‘t announce denuclearization or show the sincere steps toward denuclearization. Do you think it is right direction to address the nuclear issue?

Perry: The situation is different now that North Korea has nuclear capabilities. I don’t think we have a viable strategy now. It‘s too late on the nuclear weapons program. That is not going to be reversed. All we can do now is to try to limit the damage.  

Hani: So, do you think we have to recognize North Korea as a nuclear power?

Perry: They are a nuclear power.  

Hani: Could you tell me in detail, what you meant by ‘as it is’ when you said before that we have to see North Korea as ‘as it is’, not ‘as we wish to’?

Perry: We must recognize the reality that North Korea is a nuclear power, that they are determined to maintain the Kim dynasty.  

Hani: What do you say to people who argue that North Korea is unlikely to agree to give up its program, so we should try to induce collapse of the North Korea regime, or wait for collapse?

Perry: We’ve been waiting for North Korea to collapse long time, but it didn‘t happen. I think that’s not the strategy. North Korean people seem to be willing to put up with their difficult situation. I can’t think of any reason that North Korea will collapse. 

Hani: Could you tell me your opinion about a pre-emptive strike as a way to address North Korea’s nuclear program?

Perry: No. that’s not a good idea. It’s not a practical strategy in current situation. 

Hani: As you know, the Six-Party Talks were discontinued in December of 2008. Do you see any future for the Six-Party grouping at this point?

Perry: Not as long as they proceed with the old strategy. 

Hani: What is the alternative?

Perry: I think six-party structure could be useful as long as the negotiations proceed with realistic goals, such as Dr. Hecker’s 3 Nos. 

Hani: Which candidate is better for addressing North Korea’s nuclear issue, Clinton or Trump?

Perry: I support Secretary Clinton, not just because of North Korea issue, but because of her overall foreign policy skills. 

Hani: Do you think that Clinton is a little bit hawkish/tough?

Perry: I am aware of this characterization, but I think there might be a change in strategy toward North Korea, because it has proved to be failed. 

Hani: Could you recommend about the role the South Korean government could take to address the North Korean nuclear issue?

Perry: I don’t want to comment on the role of South Korean government.

By Yi Yong-in, Washington correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

Related stories

Most viewed articles