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May 08, 2005

More on North Korea
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Kevin Drum and Laura Rozen have taken up these arguments too.  So read my take and then have a look at theirs.  My bottom line is that even if we think bilateral talks are futile, they may be essential if only to convince the rest of the world that we've pulled out all the stops, and that there's no alternative to action in the the UN Security Council (not that that's any kind of panacea, but when we're out of options there's nowhere else to kick problems like this).   As long as the Russians, Chinese and others can convince themselves that nuclear impasses are partly the result of U.S. intransigence, they have an excuse to duck the issues (our faulty intelligence on Iraq and parallels that will inevitably be drawn give them another excuse that's harder to chip away at, but that's another matter).  A good part of U.S. diplomacy at the UN is methodically wresting away excuse after excuse for passivity, eventually laying bear the imperative to act.   If the "international community" still fails to move, at the very least we have a cleaner, more compelling rationale for moves made unilaterally or with ad hoc coalitions. 


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It is generally accepted that North Korea (DPRK) did halt the plutonium reactors in their nuclear power plants, but Kim Jong Il, the President of the DPRK, never really came into full compliance with the Agreed Framework and the Nuclear Nonproliferat... [Read More]

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I'm not opposed to bilateral talks, in principle, but I'm curious about the second to last sentence in the post. When have we been successful at "wresting away excuse after excuse for passivity, eventually laying bear the imperative to act"? Or to put it more precisely, when has the U.N. acted after such efforts from the U.S.? I'm not just U.N.-bashing here. I sincerely don't know. Please edify me.

We have tried bilateral talks, which is how the Clinton Administration was able to negotiate the 1994 Agreed Framework. However, even the Clinton Administration abandoned bilateral talks with North Korea in 1998 and began favoring four-way talks bringing South Korea and China. President Clinton also refused to be extorted for more treasure by Kim Jong Il in the face of the complete failure of the Agreed Framework in 1998. The Clinton Administration instead began using food aid to the DPRK as leverage against the regime, successfully I might add.

So far, the Bush Administration has been exceedingly fortunate to have learned from the previous administration. Six-way talks bringing Russia and Japan to the table is only logical, especially since Japan and North Korea continue to have significant issues that need to be resolved between them. However, I can't understand why the Bush Administration is hesitating to withhold food aid from North Korea to force Kim Jong Il back to the table.

I have a pretty good entry detailing the Agreed Framework and how it fell apart over at Vagabondia.

Figured I would post both here and at Drezner's blog on this topic:

The criticism of the Bush administration's policy assumes that there was a diplomatic strategy that could have eventually led to NK giving up on going nuclear. Why assume this? Why does Kin Jong Il want nukes? Two reasons: 1) as an economic bargaining chip. As in 1994, NK knows that it can create a crisis situation rather easily by playing the nuclear card. They then use this card to bargain for greater concessions (since domestic resources and international aid after the Cold War is minuscule) and 2) to provide (what is now viewed by many as guaranteed) security on the cheap. NK (as well as Iran) already had this view of nukes (that once you acquire them states like the US are unlikely to intervene in your country), but the actions of the US have, if anything, reinforced this view. North Korea is an increasingly weak state in a neighborhood that includes increasingly more powerful countries (including two they do not trust in the least—the US and Japan), so their incentive to acquire nukes is extremely high. My bet is that even if they return to the bargaining table they will make minimal concessions (limited inspection regime that they can skate) in exchange for aid and some kind of security guarantee (which they likely wouldn't rely on anyway), all the while maintaining a program (much as they did in 1994). Nuclear acquisition is basically a foregone conclusion IMO in North Korea. The real question is to what degree is this really a problem. On the one hand, a nuclear North doesn’t shift the balance of power in the region. They are still deterrable both conventionally and unconventionally. The real problem would likely be the trading of nuclear arms and/or technology to terrorists or non-nuclear states (ala Pakistan). One answer might be that even this scenario can be controlled due to the fact that any nuclear device used by terrorists would have a return address to the North Korean regime. Again, given Kim Jong Il’s desire first and foremost to retain power, this may be enough of a disincentive to refrain from transferring material and/or know-how to unsavory groups/states. However, this is without a doubt the biggest obstacle. But in terms of a nuclear North Korea posing a direct physical threat to the US or its neighbors I think this is overblown. The regime desires these weapons out of a position and sense of weakness and the desire to survive. Taking the offensive would be unlikely under any number of scenarios. But to blame Clinton or Bush for failed strategies is somewhat suspect--it assumes there was a scenario in which NK would give up on the acquisition of these weapons and I am skeptical on this point...

I have a pretty good entry detailing the Agreed Framework and how it fell apart over at Vagabondia.

Pretty good in what sense? That it demonstrates how conservatives can bloviate past the point of absurdity?

Even if one grants everything you say in trying to hype North Korea's pre-2001 nuclear program, the simple fact is that the only impact of Bush's policies has been to allow them to proceed much further and much faster.

And that's failure, any way you slice it. It would be helpful if you would stop trying to dance around that fact.

Sigh. The first sentence above should be in quotes.

"Conservative"? How many "Conservatives" voted for Nader in 2000? How many "Conservatives" voted for Gray Davis for governor of California in 1998? How many "Conservatives" voted for "Donna Frye" for mayor of San Diego in 2004? What chance is there that I am a "Conservative"?

The answer to all those questions is "next to none". As bp32 points out, what was the obvious solution that Bush is missing? Should the Bush Administration have immediately engaged in bilateral talks, paid the extortion money to Kim Jong Il, and sped the production of the two light water nuclear reactors in North Korea? Is that the appropriate response to North Korea's uranium enrichment program?

I'd like to see progressive foreign policy ideas that take on what ought to happen, strategically, not simply diplomatically, once North Korea goes nuclear.

The key strategic fact of NK nuclearization seems to be China essentially letting NK go nuclear. I fear that having a crazy Aunt in the attic with nukes is just what China wants -- for dangerous nationalistic aims that are in no one's interest. Isn't China the pressure point to be pressing? Isn't China the key adversary here? If so, when push comes to shove, how much pressure should we be willing to put on China? Hard diplomacy? Economic pressure? Credible threats to nuclearize Japan? Moving some Trident subs off the coast of Japan right quick?

If progressives don't press the "when push comes to shove" angle (and maybe they still have to define for themselves a general approach here) I don't think they will be taken seriously by the American public. And they shouldn't be: diplomacy often cannot be effective without the implied threat of force. A stress on hard-nosed diplomacy and long-term pro-active democratic outreach is consistent with being able to articulate clearly when and why we should credibly threaten to fight and be willing to fight.

(Obviously, the talk-tough conservatives had no when-push-comes-to-shove policy regarding the potential nuclearization of NK. Powell cavalierly talked about decisive military action against NK -- the parking lot metaphor was used -- should NK nuclearize, but this was not the policy or if it was it was quickly discarded once the threat became real. Either a bad plan immediately discarded or a pathetic bluff.)


Indigent B.,

Sorry about the "conservative" reference. In any event, I'll skip the hair-splitting and say that the basic answer to your questions is yes. However morally superior the Bush stance may make you feel, there's nothing morally superior about letting more countries develop more nuclear weapons.

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