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What Did We Learn From KEDO?

Policy Dialogue Brief
May 2007

Today, more than 15 years since the nuclear crisis of 1992-1994, North Korea remains a pressing threat to the nuclear nonproliferation regime and to international peace and security. The six-party talk negotiations are being conducted in a multilateral setting, and any solution is thus likely to be multilateral—and, as evidenced by the September 2005 and February 2006 agreements—also involve a basic framework very similar to the 1994 US-North Korea Agreed Framework, including the phased dismantlement of nuclear weapons programs in return for political, security, and economic benefits, potentially also including the provision of light-water reactors (LWR).

Analysis of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), the organization established to oversee construction of the LWR under the 1994 agreement, is normally lumped together with evaluations of the Agreed Framework. Yet KEDO’s experience and the value of the lessons coming from day-to-day operations at its headquarters in New York and its construction site in North Korea, as well as from the thousands of hours spent both in negotiations and working closely with Pyongyang, go far beyond the boundaries of the Agreed Framework. In November 2007 the Stanley Foundation, in collaboration with the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University, convened a two-day conference entitled “What Did We Learn From KEDO?” The meeting brought together a distinguished group of experts and policy practitioners who had firsthand experience with KEDO to explore possible lessons learned from KEDO’s ten years of operation.

The KEDO experience offers important lessons-learned for multilateral institution-building. Future multilateral nonproliferation efforts, in East Asia or elsewhere, can learn from KEDO’s experience or run the risk that the same gauntlet of organizational, budgetary, and policy challenges that resulted in KEDOs demise could likewise end in the collapse of other important multilateral agreements. The implications of the KEDO experience can serve as a foundation to study multilateral institution-building both regionally in East Asia and, indeed, globally.
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