"Prediction: The Democrats will come out tomorrow morning and place the blame for NoKo's test squarely at the feet of President Bush in an attempt to capitalize politically on this turn of events."
"I haven't looked for the commentary that attributes fault to the Bush administration or characterize North Korea's conduct as Karl Rove's October surprise, but I'm sure it's out there somewhere."
"The Left quickly attempted the shopworn tactic of pinning the blame on the Bush administration’s rhetoric or unwillingness to bribe Kim Jong-il."
Those ridiculous knee-jerk Democrats. Why on earth would they think that the person who has had complete control over America's foreign policy for the last six years should be blamed in any way for a foreign policy disaster of enormous proportions? Who could imagine that there could possibly be anything wrong with our policy towards North Korea?
This is one of the things that has always puzzled me about some right-wing bloggers: for them, the discovery that someone has some motive that might have induced them to lie or exaggerate implies that everything that person says can be dismissed in its entirety, without requiring any investigation into whether or not it is, you know, true. If someone has ever contributed money to any Democratic candidate, or written a book, or given a talk before any one of the many organizations that have at one point or another gotten a small grant from George Soros, then that fact suffices to make any consideration of what they say superfluous. In reaction to the Foley scandal, they have taken this to its logical conclusion: the fact that some event or claim helps the Democrats is taken to show that it's the result of a Democratic dirty trick, in the absence of any actual evidence that Democrats had anything to do with it. The result? It's impossible that anything could ever happen that they would regard as a reason to criticize Bush.
Since I still cling to quaint, antiquated notions like personal responsibility, I do want to know who is responsible for the fact that North Korea probably has nuclear weapons.Obviously, the person primarily, responsible is Kim Jong Il. Since (I hope) we did not actually give him nuclear weapons, our foreign policy can only help or hinder him in his pursuit of them. That said, however, our policy towards North Korea has been a complete and unmitigated disaster.
As most of our readers probably know, this all began back in the late 1980s. The best summary of this is by Fred Kaplan in the Washington Monthly:
"Bill Clinton, a president not known for hawkishness, nearly went to war against North Korea in the spring of 1994. Five years earlier, during the presidency of George Bush's father, the CIA had discovered the North Koreans were building a reprocessing facility near their nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. It was this reactor that, when finished, would allow them to convert the fuel rods into weapons-grade plutonium. Now, barely a year into Clinton's first term in office, they were preparing to remove the fuel rods from their storage site, expel the international weapons inspectors, and withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (which North Korea had signed in 1985).
In response, Clinton pushed the United Nations Security Council to consider sanctions. North Korea's spokesmen proclaimed that sanctions would trigger war. Clinton's generals drew up plans to send 50,000 troops to South Korea--bolstering the 37,000 that had been there for decades--as well as over 400 combat jets, 50 ships, and additional battalions of Apache helicopters, Bradley fighting vehicles, multiple-launch rockets, and Patriot air-defense missiles. Beyond mere plans, Clinton ordered in an advance team of 250 soldiers to set up logistical headquarters that could manage this massive influx of firepower. These moves sent a signal to the North Koreans that the president was willing to go to war to keep the fuel rods under international control. And, several former officials insist, he would have. At the very least, they say, he was prepared to launch an air strike on the Yongbyon reactor, even though he knew that doing so could provoke war.
Yet at the same time, Clinton set up a diplomatic back-channel to end the crisis peacefully. The vehicle for this channel was former President Jimmy Carter, who in June 1994 was sent to Pyongyang to talk with Kim Il Sung, then the leader of North Korea. Carter's trip was widely portrayed at the time as a private venture, unapproved by President Clinton. However, a new book about the '94 North Korean crisis, Going Critical, written by three former officials who played key roles in the events' unfolding, reveals that Clinton recruited Carter to go."
The Agreed Framework basically
"call[ed] upon Pyongyang to freeze operation and construction of nuclear reactors suspected of being part of a covert nuclear weapons program in exchange for two proliferation-resistant nuclear power reactors. The agreement also called upon the United States to supply North Korea with fuel oil pending construction of the reactors. An international consortium called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) was formed to implement the agreement."
The significance of this is that you can make nuclear weapons from plutonium a lot faster than from uranium. (That's basically why we still think Iran is 5-10 years from getting an actual nuclear weapon, despite the fact that it has started enriching uranium.) When North Korea agreed to shut down its plutonium-producing nuclear reactors, it was agreeing to give up its source of any new plutonium. When it agreed to place the fuel rods from the existing Yongbyon plant under IAEA seal, it agreed to an arrangement whereby it could not reprocess them into plutonium without detection. This was a very big deal.
The Agreed Framework has been criticized on several counts. First, some people say that we allowed ourselves to be blackmailed by North Korea. This is true. However, given a choice between (a) shutting down North Korea's plutonium program in exchange for giving it some fuel and some nuclear plants that can't be used for nuclear weapons, and (b) letting it go forward with its plutonium program, I think that (a) is just obviously a better alternative. Paying blackmailers is never an ideal solution, but sometimes it's the best option you have.
Second, people point out that the North Koreans cheated by starting a uranium enrichment program sometime in the 90s. This is true. But to take that to show that the Agreed Framework was useless is, I think, to misunderstand the point of such agreements, which is: to make things better than they would have been otherwise. If you think that someone is going to cheat on an agreement, you can still think that the agreement is a good thing, so long as what they do while cheating in the ways that are available to them with the agreement in force is not as bad as it would have been had the agreement not been in place at all.
In the case of the Agreed Framework, the North Koreans would not have been able to restart their existing nuclear plant at Yongbyon, to resume construction on their other plants, or to remove the spent fuel from the fuel rods without being detected. And, in fact, they did not do any of these things while the Agreed Framework was in place. Had they done so, they would, by now, have had enough plutonium to make hundreds of weapons.
Instead, they had a uranium enrichment program that our government estimated, in 2002, was "at least two years away from generating enough material for even a single weapon". That is: after years of operation, North Korea had not managed to enrich enough uranium for even one nuclear weapon. (As I said, uranium is slower.) By contrast, after North Korea removed the spent fuel rods from under IAEA seal, they seem to have managed to get enough fuel for about six nuclear weapons within a year. And since the plant at Yongbyon is up and running again, it's producing more plutonium for extraction every day.
To say that the fact that North Korea cheated on the agreement shows that the agreement was not worthwhile, you have to ignore all this, and think that the difference between a North Korea that works for years without being able to get enough uranium for one bomb and a North Korea that can extract enough plutonium for six bombs in twelve months doesn't matter. That's just dumb. To quote Robert Gallucci:
"Did they cheat on it? Absolutely. They cheated on it. And that's a lesson, too. They will cheat. They cheated by having a secret uranium enrichment program because they're still not confident their security will be guaranteed. Now, it may be that they're unalterably committed to acquiring nuclear weapons, in which case, we gotta deal with that fact, if it is indeed a fact.
I think you have to assume that they're committed to nuclear weapons. And you have to do deals that make sense, even if that's true. There's no trust here. It's not just a line, "trust but verify." It's "No, you don't trust, and you get as much verification [as possible.]" Those who criticize the deal because they cheated on it, I think are not understanding the nature of international politics. We have done deals with people who we expected might well cheat. And indeed, the Soviet Union cheated on all kinds of deals, massively in the biological weapons convention. You look at the deal and say, "Okay. What can you monitor? What can you watch? What can you verify?" And if they cheat, will you catch them? And if you don't catch them, are you still better off with the deal, than without it?""
The third criticism is that the Agreed Framework just kicked the can down the road. It did prevent North Korea from getting plutonium, at least as long as it was in force, but eventually the North Koreans would have gotten enough uranium to make a bomb, and then we'd be back in the same predicament. This objection would be a good one if we had any better options available to us. But we don't. (Here, the best source is the Atlantic's North Korea: The War Game.)
Even without the war in Iraq, military options are bad; even air strikes would probably result in very serious retaliation against South Korea. (In the Atlantic piece, "protecting" Seoul seems to mean limiting casualties there to about a hundred thousand. I'd say "some protection", except that the alternatives really are a whole lot worse.) Trying to force the regime to crumble would be hard, since Kim Jong Il doesn't seem to care much if his citizens starve; besides, neither China nor South Korea particularly wants to deal with an imploding state on their borders. Before the present President Bush, no one thought that just allowing North Korea to get nuclear weapons was an acceptable option. Given those constraints, kicking the problem down the road looks like the best of a bad set of options.
(Moreover, it's hard to look at North Korea without thinking: this cannot last forever. Sooner or later, something has to give. The longer we kicked the can down the road, the more likely we made it that when something did give, North Korea would not be a nuclear power. Obviously, we don't have that option anymore.)
Thus, policy during the 90s. Towards the end of the Clinton administration, we were negotiating a further deal with North Korea, which would have suspended missile development. The outlines of a deal were in place when Bush took office; he suspended negotiations, and publicly humiliated South Korea's President, Kim Dae Jung. After 9/11, he included North Korea in the "axis of evil" in his state of the Union speech, there by giving the North Koreans a powerful incentive to hurry up and build a nuclear weapon.
"Clinton's Agreed Framework was unraveling. The light-water reactors, it was clear, were never going to be built. Normalization of relations was another non-starter. The CIA got wind that North Korea may have been acquiring centrifuges for enriching uranium since the late 1990s, most likely from Pakistan. By September 2002, the conclusion was inescapable. It was debatable whether this literally violated the Agreed Framework, which dealt with the manufacturing of plutonium, but it was a sneaky end run and a violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
On Oct. 4, Kelly flew to Pyongyang to confront North Korean officials with the evidence. The North Koreans admitted it was true. For almost two weeks, the Bush administration kept this meeting a secret. The U.S. Senate was debating a resolution to give President Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq. The public rationale for war was that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. If it was known that North Korea was also making WMDs--and nuclear weapons, at that--it would have muddied the debate over Iraq. Some would have wondered whether Iraq was the more compelling danger--or asked why Bush saw a need for war against Iraq but not against North Korea. The Senate passed the Iraqi war resolution on Oct. 11. The Bush administration publicly revealed what it had known for weeks about North Korea's enriched-uranium program on Oct. 17."
Think about this for a moment. We were considering going to war with Iraq, ostensibly because we were worried that it had weapons of mass destruction that it might sell to terrorists. Suddenly, we discover that North Korea, which is willing to sell more or less anything to anyone, is trying to make not just any old WMD -- not, say, mustard gas or anthrax -- but nuclear weapons. On any plausible view of our rationale for going to war with Iraq, North Korea had just revealed itself to be a much more serious threat than Iraq.
The obvious response would have been to put Iraq aside while we tried to come up with a solution to the more pressing problem of North Korea's nuclear program. Bush's response was to conceal this more pressing problem lest it distract us from the one he wanted to deal with. That's like not telling someone he's flunked out of school because you're afraid it will distract him from his upcoming social studies quiz. It makes no sense at all, if you're actually worried about the threats in question.
Bush announced that he was withdrawing from the Agreed Framework. North Korea then announced that it was withdrawing from the NPT. It put out some diplomatic feelers, but got nowhere. Then, in early 2003:
"U.S. spy satellites detected trucks pulling up to the site where the fuel rods were stored, then driving away toward the reprocessing facility. When Kim Il Sung threatened to take this step back in 1994, Clinton warned that it would cross a "red line." When Kim Jong-il actually did it in 2003, George W. Bush did nothing.
Specialists inside the U.S. government were flabbergasted. This was serious business. Once those fuel rods left the storage site, once reprocessing began, once plutonium was manufactured, the strategic situation changed: Even if we could get the North Koreans back to the bargaining table, even if they would agree to drive the fuel rods back, we could never be certain that they'd totally disarmed; we could never know if they still had some undeclared plutonium hidden in an underground chamber. (Even before this crisis, the CIA estimated that the North Koreans might have built one or two bombs from the plutonium it had reprocessed between 1989 and 1994.)"
Flabbergasted is the appropriate word here. In May 2003, Bush "declared that the United States and South Korea “will not tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea.”" That's drawing a line in the sand and announcing that you will not allow it to be crossed. When the North Koreans removed the fuel from Yongbyon, they crossed what should have been a red line, one over which Clinton had been prepared to go to war. But Bush did nothing. From the NYT:
"“Think about the consequences of having declared something ‘intolerable’ and, last week, ‘unacceptable,’ and then having North Korea defy the world’s sole superpower and the Chinese and the Japanese,” said Graham Allison, the Harvard professor who has studied nuclear showdowns since the Cuban missile crisis. “What does that communicate to Iran, and then the rest of the world? Is it possible to communicate to Kim credibly that if he sells a bomb to Osama bin Laden, that’s it?”
Mr. Allison was touching on the central dilemma facing Washington as it tries to extract itself from the morass of Iraq. Whether accurately or not, other countries around the world perceive Washington as tied down, unable or unwilling to challenge them while 140,000 troops are trying to tame a sectarian war."
We allowed North Korea to take an irrevocable step that made any future attempts to control its nuclear weapons program vastly more difficult. Moreover, we laid down a line, we let it be crossed, and then we did nothing. In so doing, we forfeited our credibility. And that really is a foreign policy disaster. It ought to be completely unacceptable.
Since then, our policy towards North Korea has been, essentially, frozen. We spent ages arguing about whether to have bilateral or multilateral talks, when the best solution would obviously been to have both. Once the six-party talks actually got started, we seem to have been relying on the good offices of the People's Republic of China rather than displaying any leadership ourselves. Throughout this period, and later, the Bush administration seemed to have no consistent policy at all.
My best guess is that this is because the administration was internally divided. One group within the administration seems to think that to enter into negotiations with a country is to confer some sort of benefit on it. If the country is a dreadful one, then, on this view, negotiating with them to try to convince them to mend their ways automatically counts as appeasement. (From the Atlantic piece: "We don't negotiate with evil," Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly said in a meeting on North Korea; "we defeat it.") The other group thinks that diplomacy would be useful in this situation.
Normally, when an administration is divided on policy, it is up to the Chief Executive to resolve that division: to decide which option to adopt, and to make sure that both sides carry out his decision. George W. Bush, however, almost never seems to do this. Internal divisions have paralyzed our policies on a number of fronts, and this one is no exception.
However, the Cheney policy of not negotiating with evil is absolutely silent on the question: what alternative approach should we adopt? This would be fine if not negotiating with evil somehow caused its defeat: then we could simply wall ourselves off from all the evil countries in the world and wait for them to crumble under the crushing weight of our non-engagement. It would also be -- well, not exactly fine, but at any rate a policy -- if we were actually prepared to go to war with all the countries we didn't want to talk to and defeat them militarily. Obviously, however, we're neither able nor willing to do that.
The Cheney/Rumsfeld camp claims that they have a policy: regime change. John Bolton was more colorful:
"In a 2002 interview with The New York Times, Mr. Bolton was asked about what seemed to be mixed signals from the Bush administration on North Korea. He grabbed a book from a shelf and laid it on the table. Its title: "The End of North Korea."
"That," he told the interviewer, "is our policy.""
Well, I could declare that my policy will henceforth be to win the lottery, secure world peace, and cure cancer; but in the absence of any actual plan for achieving these goals, this wouldn't be a policy at all. It would just be a bunch of meaningless words. Similarly, like Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Bolton, I wish the regime in North Korea would change as soon as possible. It's vile, oppressive, and a danger to its own people and to the world. I wouldn't describe myself as having a policy of regime change, though, since I have no idea what I can do to bring regime change about. I don't see how that their commitment to regime change is any more a "policy" than mine.
In the absence of any actual plan for defeating evil, Cheney's position just amounts to an unwillingness to talk, not an alternative vision of what we should be doing. This gives it a certain tactical advantage in fights within the administration: since the camp that favors diplomacy is actually trying to do something about North Korea, while the Cheney/Rumsfeld camp is not, the anti-negotiation group can win simply by scuttling any real attempt at negotiations. And this is what they have done: every time someone in the administration attempts any sort of diplomacy, someone else says or does something that seems designed to cause that diplomatic effort to fail.
This pattern started in 2001, when Colin Powell announced that we would take up negotiations with North Korea where the previous administration had left off, only to be contradicted the next day. But there are lots of examples.
"A secret Donald Rumsfeld memorandum calling for regime change in North Korea was leaked yesterday, opening a fresh foreign policy split in the Bush administration. (...)
In a sign that Washington is girding itself for a repetition of the bitter rows that preceded the Iraq conflict, the memorandum was leaked on the same day that a senior State Department negotiator flew to Beijing for three-way talks with China and North Korea."
Later in 2003 (the name that is missing in the NYT article is: Bolton):
"In July 2003, as delicate six-party talks including North Korean were about to start, Mr. called Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader, a "tyrannical dictator" of a country where "life is a hellish nightmare.""
"On Sept. 19, 2005, North Korea signed a widely heralded denuclearization agreement with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. Pyongyang pledged to "abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs." In return, Washington agreed that the United States and North Korea would "respect each other's sovereignty, exist peacefully together and take steps to normalize their relations."
Four days later, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sweeping financial sanctions against North Korea designed to cut off the country's access to the international banking system, branding it a "criminal state" guilty of counterfeiting, money laundering and trafficking in weapons of mass destruction.
The Bush administration says that this sequence of events was a coincidence. "
There sure are a lot of coincidences in this administration.
It is the job of a leader to settle differences between his subordinates, by deciding which policy to pursue, making his decision clear to the various factions, and making sure that they act on his decisions rather than trying to subvert them. Bush has virtually never done this, and he did not do it here. As a result, his North Korea policy has ben adrift from the get-go.
While Bush has allowed disagreements within his administration to fester unresolved, and while the anti-negotiation camp has scuttled any number of diplomatic initiatives, North Korea has been reprocessing spent fuel into uranium and building nuclear weapons, and we have done nothing whatsoever to stop them. In so doing, we have completely destroyed our own credibility: after having said that we would not tolerate a North Korea with nuclear weapons, we barely responded when they went ahead and started to make them. North Korea called our bluff, and we folded.
Now we face the delightful prospect of one of the world's most loathsome and nutty dictators having nuclear weapons. Moreover, this particular dictator is known for his willingness to sell arms to anyone and everyone. Nothing whatsoever suggests that he would not sell nuclear weapons to Osama bin Laden. Our President had some stirring words about this sort of thing back in 2002:
"Our second goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. Some of these regimes have been pretty quiet since September the 11th. But we know their true nature. North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens. (...)
States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic. (...)
We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons. (Applause.)"
Nice words. Too bad our President didn't choose to live by them. He invaded a country that posed no such danger, while completely ignoring one that did. Though the price of indifference could indeed be catastrophic, he has chosen to wait on events, and to stand by as peril draws closer and closer. He has squandered our credibility, and abdicated his responsibility to lead. If it turns out that North Korea's test was a dud, then the world may have dodged a bullet for the time being, but it will be no thanks to him.
Do you feel safer now?