In a recent interview, Noam Chomksy claims that the United States rejected an offer from North Korea and China that would have frozen the North Korean nuclear missile program in exchange for the United States stopping military maneuvers in the area:

Actually, there's one proposal that's ignored. I mean, you see a mention of it now and then. It's a pretty simple proposal. Remember, the goal is to get North Korea to freeze its weapons and missile systems. So one proposal is to accept their offer to do that. Sounds simple. They've made a proposal; China and North Korea proposed to freeze the North Korean missile and nuclear weapon systems and the US instantly rejected it. And you can't blame that on Trump; Obama did the same thing a couple of years ago. The same offer was presented - I think it was 2015 - the Obama administration instantly rejected it and the reason is that it calls for a quid pro quo. It says in return the US should put an end to threatening military maneuvers on North Korea's borders which happen to include under Trump sending of nuclear-capable B-52s flying right near the border.

The quote happens at 26:45 in the linked video. It's not explicit, but I believe from the quote Chomsky is implying that the same offer was made to the Trump and Obama administrations, and that both offers were rejected. Did both administrations receive and reject such an offer?

  • 32
    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. We've been fooled before, this is a deal that we couldn't verify compliance with. Apr 27, 2017 at 20:19
  • 14
    Yes, even if you would believe anything said by Chomsky, the North Koreans have a long history of not living up to agreements.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 28, 2017 at 5:22
  • @jamesqf As true as that is, the US has a longer history of that same problem (as does every government, really). May 1, 2017 at 10:22
  • As pointed out by others - "Offer?" or "credible offer?" I would view such an offer with the same skepticism that I did for claims that Clinton was credibly "offered bin Laden" by Sudan. Aug 11, 2017 at 15:19

2 Answers 2


Did both the Trump and Obama administrations receive and reject an offer of de-nuclearization?

Yes, certainly.

This is an article from The Telegraph, dated 9 March 2017, detailing fallout following the Trump administration rejection of an offer to de-nuclearize North Korea in exchange for United States and South Korea suspending military activities in the region.

This is an article from The Guardian, dated 24 April 2016, detailing the Obama administration response to the North Korean government regarding the same deal - suspension of the DPRK nuclear program in exchange for a suspension of military activities.

The military activities that are being referred to in both of these instances are known as Foal Eagle, an annual training exercise between South Korean and United States Armed Forces to demonstrate South Korean-U.S. military resolve to deter war on the Korean peninsula and to improve the combined and joint operational posture of those forces. The exercises have (with 2001 being the only exception) been going on since 1997, much to the chagrin of the North Korean government, who see the exercise as threatening, and as a provocation against the North.

Is it a big deal?

Probably not.

Does this mean that the United States and South Korea are war-mongering by refusing a deal to remove nuclear weapons? Almost certainly not. The United States has made a deal with North Korea in the past to de-nuclearize the peninsula. President Bill Clinton approved an aid package to North Korea in 1994 providing US $5bn in energy aid for the country, including two light-water nuclear reactors, in exchange for

allow[ing] full and continuous inspections of its existing nuclear sites, freeze and then later take apart some of its most important nuclear plants and ultimately ship out of the country fuel rods that could be converted into fuel for weapons...

A second aid package in 1996 provided food assistance to the country in the midst of a famine.

However, implementation the Agreed Framework was slow. A change from a Democratic to Republican controlled Congress in 1994 delayed funding for the aid package, spurred on by several Republican Senators who considered the deal appeasement. The promised LWRs would not begin construction until 1996, and serious funding would not start until 2000, well behind schedule as the initial plan was to have the reactors online by 2003.

In 2002, the aid to the North stopped, and construction of the LWRs was halted. President George W. Bush included North Korea in his Axis of Evil speech in early 2002, calling them

A regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens

While I have no concrete evidence to support or deny this claim, we do have a timeline of events that took place starting in 2002. Events of note around the year 2002 are

  • 16 October 2002 - US Announces that North Korea admitted to having a clandestine nuclear program

  • 27 November 2002 - The North accuses the US of deliberately misinterpreting its contested statement, twisting an assertion of its "right" to possess weapons into an "admission" of possession.

  • 4 December 2002 - North Korea rejects a call to open its nuclear facilities for inspection

  • 27 December 2002 - North Korea expels IAEA inspectors from the country

By 2003, it seems that the North Korean nuclear program was back in full swing, and by 9 October 2006 North Korea announced its first test of a nuclear weapon.

If we are to believe the United States (and this author makes no claims either in favor of or against this statement) the North Korean government never had any intention of holding up the end of the deal that was negotiated with the Clinton administration in 1994. This would be a huge disincentive for both the Obama and Trump administrations to be willing to acquiesce to demands or negotiate with the North Korean government since they have already reneged on a deal in the past.

When you then add in the extra fact that, when the first deal was struck in 1994, North Korea had not demonstrated nuclear capability, and as of 2017 has detonated 6 nuclear devices, it seems highly unlikely that the United States would be willing to trust the government of North Korea now.

  • "In 1994, North Korea had not demonstrated nuclear capability, and as of 2017 has detonated 6 nuclear devices." Maybe you should add some evidences that either NK or someone else has claimed that, in 1994, the nuclear researches in NK are either not for weapons, or still need more than 3 years to produce weapons. Otherwise I don't see the implication.
    – user23013
    May 2, 2017 at 14:51
  • @user23013 My point was that the metaphorical Pandora's Box had not yet been opened in 1994. Once NK had demonstrated nuclear capability, it would be harder for them to give up that capability than if they had never had the capability in the first place.
    – DenisS
    Jun 2, 2017 at 16:42

Most, if not all, US administrations have received and/or accepted similar offers, through treaties (1985-12-12, NK accedes to the NPT), directly (1994-06-15, Jimmy Carter brokers a deal to freeze NK nuclear weapons program), with third parties (2000-07-19, agreement with Russia to halt NK missile program / 2002-09-17, agreement with Japan to indefinitely extend missile testing moratorium) and a few others, including those rejected by the US or its' allies.

The thing is, every single one of those treaties, agreements or moratoriums have been torpedoed by three main issues, a base distrust between the two involved blocs of nations, the optics of what each other's activities in the region actually means, and the balance of power in the region.

The first issue is rather banal but very important, on one side you have North Korea, Russia and China; on the other the United States, Japan and South Korea. Two equally balanced blocs each composed of one big power (US, Russia), one small power (Japan, China) and their protectees (South Korea, North Korea). Neither bloc trusts the other, due to an overwhelming number of false moves and broken promises on both sides.

This distrust causes the eastern bloc to be wary of all inspections and requests made by the other side, not trusting that they will be executed in full faith but to be used as an excuse to levy sanctions or other penalties; causing them to cooperate at the minimum level possible in order not to give the other side any excuse to overreach in their conclusions.

On the other side, the western bloc sees the other side as secretive and duplicitous, expecting any and all information given to be incorrect, incomplete or an outright fabrication; causing them to demand maximum cooperation in order to receive as much direct intelligence as possible and not rely on that released by the other side.

Please note I am not making any judgement here; the fact stands that North Korea does hide information and restricts access to that which is minimally necessary for inspections, and the United States does use any inconclusive evidence to levy sanctions in order to push for deeper inspections.

As an example of this distrust, in 1992, North Korea declared some 90 grams of plutonium that, under the current agreement at the time, might be subject to inspection if used for a nuclear weapons program; however, they declared it was the result of processing defective fuel rods for a nuclear power plant; the US pushed the IAEA to nevertheless inspect said plant and imposed sanctions some 20 days later without conclusive evidence.

The second issue is more philosophical, regarding what is "defensive" and what is "offensive". As a basic rule, North Korea regards all US military action in the region as offensive and its own as defensive; the US on the other hand, regards all North Korean military actions as offensive and its own as defensive. In that sense, it would be difficult to achieve any lasting agreement when each side, according to themselves, is simply trying to arm itself against an external actor that is threatening their security.

The third, and perhaps most pertinent issue, is the balance of power. The real global impact of either North Korea scrapping all its nuclear weapons (or even disbanding its military completely) or the United States stopping all military exercises with South Korea (or even withdrawing all its personnel from the region) would be basically null. An undefended North Korea will not cause the US to immediately invade nor would an undefended South Korea cause NK to do the same, nothing would likely happen as there are bigger players at stake.

Neither Russia nor the United States can afford to destabilize the region nor enter into a war, both have large economic and trade dependencies on the nations involved; interestingly, China is the key country in this aspect, as the US would need long-term economic restructuring if it were to lose trade and manufacturing facilities with China and Russia would lose valuable oil export routes to the entire peninsula, possibly causing an economic collapse due to their dependence on oil exports.

So the balance is maintained, Russia pushes North Korea, the US pushes South Korea, and China and Japan try to strike a balance between the two sides.

In essence, North Korea has to continually make the offer and the United States has to continually reject it in order to maintain the status quo.

A few links as requested.

Chronology of U.S.-North Korean Nuclear and Missile Diplomacy -- A pretty good timeline of US NK relations

Energy Relations between Russia and China: Playing Chess with the Dragon -- China and Russia energy relationship

An Awkward Dance: China and the United States -- US China trade

U.S. Policy Toward North Korea -- North Korea policy

Lessons from the Capture of the USS Pueblo and the Shootdown of a US Navy EC-121—1968 and 1969 -- NK incidents

Hans Morgenthau and the Balance of Power in Asia -- Asia balance of power

Creating a Stable Asia: An Agenda for a U.S.-China Balance of Power -- US China balance of power


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