Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Who's to Blame/What to do about North Korea?

First of all, about this canard that's been going around that somehow Clinton is at fault for North Korea getting nukes. This is easily refutable. First, from Wikipedia:

Soon after the agreement was signed, U.S. Congress control changed to the Republican Party, who did not support the agreement. Some Republican Senators were strongly against the agreement, regarding it as appeasement [6] [7]. Initially U.S. Departmentof Defense emergency funds not under Congress control were used to fund the transitional oil supplies under the agreement [8], together with international funding. From 1996 Congress provided funding, though not always sufficient amounts [9]. Consequently some of the agreed transitional oil supplies were delivered late.
Yes, it's Wikipedia, but I challenge you to check the citations yourself and tell me that it's wrong. Secondly, Fred Kaplan refutes this claim in a slightly more assertive manner:
In the spring of 1994, barely a year into Bill Clinton's presidency, the North Koreans announced that they were about to remove the fuel rods from their nuclear reactor...

Did Clinton "reward" them for doing these things, as McCain claims? Far from it. Not only did he push the U.N. Security Council to consider sanctions, he also ordered the Joint Chiefs of Staff to draw up plans to send 50,000 additional troops to South Korea—bolstering the 37,000 already there—along with more than 400 combat jets, 50 ships, and several battalions of Apache helicopters, Bradley fighting vehicles, multiple-launch rockets, and Patriot air-defense missiles...

He sent an explicit signal that removing the fuel rods would cross a "red line." Several of his former aides insist that if North Korea had crossed that line, he would have launched an airstrike on the Yongbyon reactor, even knowing that it might lead to war.

At the same time, Clinton set up a diplomatic backchannel, sending former President Jimmy Carter to Pyongyang for direct talks with Kim Il-Sung...This combination of sticks and carrots led Kim Il-Sung to call off his threats—the fuel rods weren't removed, the inspectors weren't kicked out—and, a few months later, to the signing of the Agreed Framework.

And about that accord:
The accord fell apart, but not for the reasons that McCain and others have suggested. First, the U.S.-led consortium never provided the light-water reactors. (So much for the wild claims I've heard lately that North Korea got the bomb through Clinton-supplied technology.) Congress never authorized the money; the South Koreans, who were led by a harder-line government than the one in power now, scuttled the deal after a North Korean spy submarine washed up on their shores.

Second, when President George W. Bush entered the White House in January 2001, he made it clear, right off, that the Agreed Framework was dead and that he had no interest in further talks with the North Korean regime; his view was that you don't negotiate with evil, you defeat it or wait for it to crumble.

And here we are today. Now, on to the serious business of what to do now.

In my earlier post on North Korea, I shared with you some of the experts' opinions on what we should be doing in North Korea, which generally fall into a more diplomacy/no diplomacy dichotomy. The authors of an op-ed in today's L.A. Times offer an intriguing third approach which I'll characterize as "not our problem":

There is one region that the U.S. can and should bow out of now: Korea. North Korea's bomb test is obviously a very serious problem for the U.S., given its heavy military presence in South Korea. However, we should ask why, more than 50 years after the Korean War and 15 years after the end of the Cold War, the United States still has about 37,500 troops on the Korean peninsula. In the long run, North Korea's nuclear weapons are an overwhelming problem only for its neighbors, and it should be their responsibility to sort this problem out. Of course, they may fail — but then, the U.S. record in the region over the last decade has not exactly been one of success.
I'll admit that my first thought was "are these guys crazy?" But Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman, both foreign policy experts, are not advocating an isolationist approach to American foreign policy. Instead, they argue that the United States has no compelling interest in the Korean peninsula; at least not one worthy of squaring off with North Korea over. In the end though, I have to disagree. I think we do have a clear interest in not seeing this part of Asia become embroiled in a nuclear arms race. Thus far the Japanese are resisting any temptation to acquire nuclear weapons, but it's hard to say such a feeling will persist in the face of North Korea's provocation and bellicosity. And the United States in general has an interest in containing the expansion of nuclear weaponry, especially when a country that possesses nuclear weapons seeks also to acquire the ability to launch them across the world. Second, I think it's a mistake to simply cede our influence on the Asian continent to the Chinese. Clearly we cannot act without the acquiescence of the Chinese (or at least, in the face of their active resistence), and in truth a pre-dominant China is probably the natural order of things. But at the same time, it seems clear to me that in the very long-run China will seek to expand it's influence beyond Asia, and we should seek to deter that for as long as we can. And lastly, I would argue that the cost of maintaining our influence is not as great as the authors might imagine; as I've already stated, a careful balance of assertive one-on-one diplomacy with North Korea, backed by a credible threat of force (and a willingness to pay attention through more than one party's power in office) can result in the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear program.

Back to the real world though: what approach does our present government intend to take towards North Korea? As with Iraq, the Bush administration's approach seems to be "more of the same":
He insisted again that the United States would not engage in one-on-one talks with North Korea, except within the framework of the six-party talks involving the United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas.

Mr. Bush said that the United States “reserves all options” to defend its interests and its friends in the region, and that it will increase military cooperation with its allies in light of the latest expression of defiance from North Korea. He said, too, that Pyongyang should feel “serious repercussions” from the United Nations and the world community in general.

And yet Mr. Bush said over and over, sometimes without prompting, that North Korea could be dealt with through diplomacy. When asked what military options were available to the United States “once diplomacy has run its course,” he replied: “Diplomacy hasn’t run its course. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”

I swear, this administration makes me want to tear my hair out. If they were acting this way about Iran-practically insisting that they won't invade the country no matter what-we would all be applauding their restraint. After all, Iran is years away from possessing a nuclear weapon. But when it comes to North Korea, a country that not only has built and tested nuclear weapons but is attempting to build a missile that can carry a warhead halfway around the globe, we're practically writing off the threat of military force. Of all the approaches available, this is the least effective. Instead of just threatening force, which might at least give North Korea pause to reconsider and reflect, or offering one-on-one talks, which might give the North Koreans a reason to quit acting so provocatively to get our attention, the Bush administration insists that we will continue to operate on the same structure that got us to this point, while insisting that we are unwilling to attack. This is the worst of both worlds; we offer no carrot, and no stick.

This leads me to wonder if in fact the Bush administration hasn't in fact secretly adopted Levin and Hulsman's approach, and is simply going to let us figure it out over time instead of announcing it all at once. Perhaps they've realized what a distraction North Korea is from their proposed adventure in Iran.

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