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May 19, 2008

John Bolton's One Percent Doctrine
Posted by David Shorr

According to John Bolton, the split over the importance of negotiations in foreign policy is a difference of one percent. Apparently the foreign policy debate pits those, like Bolton, who believe negotiations can resolve 99% of international disputes versus liberals who are certain that negotiations can solve each and every situation in the world. These calculations raise an interesting accounting problem. Leaves me to wonder about 'international dispute' as a unit of measure.

I also wonder who these hundred percent-ers are. They must believe that negotiations could by themselves have resolved Bosnia, the Taliban's sanctuary for the September 11 terrorists, or Hitler's drive for domination. Talk about staw men throwing stones!! Bolton rejects the idea that this is a debate between reasonableness and unilateralist cowboys. Instead it's a debate between clear-eyed statesmen and pacifists!?!?

This is not a debate over whether negotiations will always work; of course they won't resolve every situation. It's a debate over when negotiations should be tried. Recent policy gives us a pretty good data set for the refuse-to-negotiate idea. The theory of issuing demands, standing tough, and waiting for the other side to capitulate hasn't been shown to work so well.

Let's take North Korea's nuclear program, an issue about which Amb. Bolton has strong feelings. What did they do when we refused to talk? Build nuclear weapons. Our demands and toughness didn't impress them very much. My favorite quotes on this subject come from Amb. Robert Gallucci in a 2005 Atlantic Monthly article on a North Korea war game they conducted. Rant is probably more accurate, but it's worth quoting at length.

"When I came back with the Agreed Framework deal and tried to sell it," he said, "I ran into the same people sitting around that table -- the general to my right, Ken across from me. They hated the idea of trying to solve this problem with a negotiation.

"And I said, 'What's your -- pardon me -- your ****ing plan, then, if you don't like this?'

"'We don't like--'

"I said, 'Don't tell me what you don't like! Tell me how you're going to stop the North Korean nuclear program'

"'But we wouldn't do it this way--'

"'Stop! What are you going to do?'

"I could never get a goddamn answer. What I got was 'We wouldn't negotiate.'"


To people who say that negotiating with the North Koreans rewards bad behavior, Gallucci says, "Listen, I'm not interested in teaching other people lessons. I'm interested in the national security of the United States. If that's what you're interested in, are you better off with this deal or without it? You tell me what you're going to do without the deal, and I'll compare that with the deal."

He was adamant that we were better off under the Agreed Framework -- cheating and all -- than we are now. "When the Clinton folks went out of office, the North Koreans only had the plutonium they had separated in the previous Bush administration. Now they've got a whole lot more. What did all this 'tough' sh** give us? It gave us a much more capable North Korea. Terrific!"

I agree with Amb. Bolton that time is a precious asset in dealing with situations like these. As Gallucci explains, the get-tough approach is a dangerous time-waster.


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"Let's take North Korea's nuclear program, an issue about which Amb. Bolton has strong feelings. What did they do when we refused to talk? Build nuclear weapons. Our demands and toughness didn't impress them very much. "

Are you sure that's the one on which to hang your hat? The negotiations between the Clinton White House and North Korea -- a whole lotta carrot and no stick -- meant that Kim Jong-il's centrifuges ended up spinning out uranium bombs, not plutonium. Well, that's a victory! Good thing we negotiated!

They started building while we were talking. They kept building while we were exporting to them all those carrots (well, fuel oil, but still...). They continued to build them after we told them that we caught them building. And they continued to proliferate by exporting technology and know-how to Iran, et al.

To be fair, after the Bush meltdown they broke the seals to the Yongbyon reactor rods and began making plutonium bombs alongside the centrifuges that were manufacturing bomb-grade uranium,, but that doesn't exactly help your point all that much, does it?

Indeed, it puts to lie your central point: The North Koreans were developing uranium bombs, but they weren't building plutonium weapons. Now, they have plutonium weapons. But they would've had uranium ones, anyway.

This is especially so since Bush, like Clinton, didn't threaten North Korea with violence. He cut off the bribe, but the bribe wasn't helping retard North Korean nuclear proliferation.

In other words, it's difficult to test your hypothesis about military options because military options weren't applied to the standoff.

I don't have a dog in this fight. I don't care whether a Democrat or a Republican becomes our next commander-in-chief. But I do think that the pithy aphorism -- "the get-tough approach is a dangerous time-waster" is misplaced.

What proved to be a "time waster" was reading your riposte to Bolton by citing North Korea.

The point is this: often there is a lot more leverage over the problem in direct negotiation -- which comes with some measure of accountability -- than with remaining aloof and morally superior. I stand by what I said; the apples-to-apples comparison is between North Korea's capability with the US using steady and continuous talks to keep the pressure on versus issuing demands from our high horse and offering nothing of interest.

The difference between the two sides of this debate is not over whether to retain the option of using force, but rather how pro-active to be diplomatically to avoid reaching the point of armed confrontation.

The discussion of North Korea reminds me, ironically enough, of the conclusion of World War II -- with Japan specifically. Although Americans then and now call the Japanese capitulation "unconditional surrender", it was in fact a surrender under one condition: that Emperor Hirohito be allowed to keep his throne. It may seem trivial to us, but the Japanese government refused to surrender otherwise. It sounds as if Bolton (or the Bush Administration?) would have had Truman refuse to yield -- after all, the Japanese were considered to be the evil terrorists of WWII. And must I even ask how many hundreds of thousands of American lives such an uncompromising position would have cost?

Well, if that's true then I guess I'll just conveniently forget what I was doing in 1994 and 1995. As I recall, Clinton ordered my general to start prepping us for raids on North Korea's nuclear program.

Much of it was maudlin -- Marines and Soldiers rushing about to find plutonium and remove it. But it nevertheless was real. Some 250 officers were posted in South Korea to form a war headquarters, and POTUS ordered an oplan that would drastically increase the number of troops, air assets and naval forces in the country.

In late 2004 there emerged an agreement of sorts, with a whole lotta carrots. The 1995 practices the president forced me to endure likely were triggered by North Korean grumbling over unresolved issues important to the Asian dictatorship.

One would be perhaps untoward in quippinig that Clinton's administration infamously did NOT resolve these issues, nor keep military pressure on the North Korean regime past 1995, perhaps because the White House was embroiled in stillbirthing a non-existent truce between Palestinians and Israel.

In the meantime, while Clinton's team did NOTHING diplomatically or militarily about North Korea, Pyongyang began building light reactors, purchased centrifuges from Pakistan's Khan network, and started spinning out uranium material instead of plutonium.

Is now the contention that Clinton should have kept talking? CIA knew about the reactor construction and the sales of Pakistani centrifuges and the likely diversion of the program to uranium fabrication. In 1996, South Korea broke off relations with the North over Pyongyang's spy submarines and the discovery that the junta had been swapping missiles for Pakistani centrifuges.

Toward the end of the administration, when there obviously had been no bilateral talks of any substance for nearly five years, Wendy Sherman and Madeleine Albright rushed to Korea and tried to confect a last-second agreement that included nuclear proliferation and long range missile sales. Instead, all we got was a commitment to abide by the 1994 framework that obviously had failed to prevent uranium production and illicit missile sales.

So, in the Shorr Manifesto, we see that when military force was threatened, North Korea sought to talk. When military force was taken off the table and the "accountability" of "direct negotiation" was used, North Korea built nuclear weapons.

When Bush's White House stopped paying the bribe to restrict plutonium production in lieu of ongoing uranium production, we had the status quo.

What if crazy cowb