North Korea

Nuclear proliferation by the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) in Northeast Asia is a continuing concern for Canada and the international community. It affects international peace and security, and directly impacts our strategic and commercial interests in the region.


The DPRK engaged in nuclear energy cooperation with the former Soviet Union since the 1960s, including the completion of a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. In the 1970s and 1980s, clandestine efforts were made to divert nuclear materials from the energy program to a weapons program. The nuclear weapons program was discovered by US intelligence agencies in 1985. In response to international pressure, the DPRK joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) but a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) was not completed until 1992. In January 1993, IAEA inspectors were refused access to suspected undeclared nuclear facilities in the DPRK. The crisis worsened in March 1993 when the DPRK announced its intention to withdraw from the NPT. The US and DPRK launched meetings in Geneva in June 1993 to resolve the crisis. These talks resulted in the Agreed Framework in October 1994. The Agreed Framework, among other things, required the DPRK to freeze and later dismantle its nuclear weapons program, including its existing nuclear reactors, in exchange for fuel oil and the construction of two new nuclear reactors that were more powerful, safer and more proliferation-resistant. The DPRK also suspended its withdrawal from the NPT and permitted IAEA inspections.

In October 2002, the US reported that the DPRK admitted the existence of a clandestine uranium enrichment program for the purposes of developing nuclear weapons. In response to this violation of the Agreed Framework, the US suspended fuel oil shipments and halted construction of the new nuclear reactors. The DPRK then expelled IAEA inspectors, restarted the Yongbyon reactor and withdrew from the NPT. In April 2003, the DPRK claimed that it had developed nuclear weapons. In August, the first Six-Party Talks between the US, DPRK, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea were held with the aim of resolving the security crisis. The talks resulted in an agreement in September 2005 that would, among other things, require the DPRK to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in exchange for energy assistance and normalization of relations with the US. Shortly after the agreement is reached, the DPRK demanded a civilian nuclear reactor or it would not fulfil its side of the bargain. In November 2005, the US enacted financial sanctions on the DPRK for alleged counterfeiting of US currency. In response, the DPRK boycotted the Six Party Talks. On 9 October 2006, the DPRK conducted a nuclear weapons test. The UN Security Council passed resolution 1718, which imposed economic sanctions on the DPRK. Six Party Talks resumed in February 2007 and resulted in an agreement to implement the September 2005 agreement and end the US financial sanctions. Some progress was made in 2008 in disabling the Yongbyon nuclear facility in exchange for fuel oil and the DPRK's removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. However, following ballistic missile tests in April 2009 and the UN Security Council subsequent condemnation of the action, the DPRK withdrew from the Six-Party Talks and announced the re-activation of its nuclear facilities. On 25 May 2009, the DPRK conducted its second underground nuclear weapon test. The Prime Minister issued a statement condemning the DPRK's nuclear weapons program as "a grave threat to international security". In response to the nuclear test, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1874, which expanded the sanctions that were applied in 2006.

Canadian Policy and Activities

Canada’s ultimate aim is the denuclearization of the DPRK, and its adherence to the NPT and its Comprehensive Nuclear Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA.

In February 2001, Canada established diplomatic relations with DPRK as a means of bringing it into the international community, and promoting good governance and human rights. Following the revelations in October 2002 that the DPRK was pursuing a secret uranium enrichment program, Canada restricted bilateral relations. Canada regretted the DPRK’s withdrawal from the NPT in 2003 and urged it to re-join the regime, permit IAEA inspections and comply with its nuclear non-proliferation obligations.

In September 2005, in support of progress in the Six-Party Talks, Canada made a slight adjustment to its engagement with the DPRK to allow for small-scale, grassroots-level capacity building and training initiatives embodied in the September 2005 agreement. However, this modest revival of Canada’s engagement policy was again put on hold following the October 2006 nuclear test, reflecting Canada's unwillingness to engage with and assist the DPRK while it pursued a nuclear weapons program. Regarding the nuclear test, a monitoring station in Yellowknife that is a part of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty’s global verification system detected radionuclide particles in the atmosphere that were able to be reliably traced back to the DPRK test site, which helped confirm the nature of the explosion.

Canada has implemented our obligations under UN Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874. Nonetheless, we also recognize that restricting our engagement places limits on Canada's ability to promote Canadian values and advance long-term goals such as political reform, improved human rights, and increased regional security. The scope of Canada’s engagement will remain contingent on the continuing progress in resolving the nuclear crisis.