Tuesday, January 7, 2003
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Cracking the North Korean nut
I’ve been remiss in posting on North Korea. My thoughts on the current situation:
1) Give up the blame game. Josh Marshall and David Adesnik are playing a good game of tag about whether the Bush administration is respinsible for the current situation. Marshall thinks Bush's rejection of Kim Dae Jung's "sunshine policy" and inclusion of North Korea in the "Axis of Evil" caused the situation to deteriorate to our current state of affairs. Adesnik points out in response that it was the North Koreans who started a uranium enrichment program in 1999 and declared last fall that the 1994 Agreed Framework was null and void.
Look, there's enough blame to go around. Dole out most of it to the North Korean leadership, who decided to go down this road back in 1999, and then reacted belligerently when confronted with evidence of their duplicity. Dole out some of it to the Bush administration, for publicly rebuking Kim Dae Jung's sunshine policy in early 2001 instead of privately consulting with him. This has undoubtedly complicated bilateral relations, though not as much as Josh Marshall wants to think. But be sure to dole out some more to both Kim Dae Jung and Junichiro Koizumi, for blindly pursuing engagement policies towards Pyongyang, pretending that North Korea would never trigger a reprise of the 1994 crisis, and then blaming the United States for discovering that they were being played for saps.
2) This is more serious than Iraq. Robert Lane Greene does a nice job of explaining why North Korea is just as bad as Iraq. Greene undersells it, however, since North Korea has a much greater incentive to proliferate than Iraq. Pyongyang knows that the more rogue states possess nuclear weapons, the more difficult it will be for the U.S. to focus on North Korea. However, while Iraq probably doesn't want Syria, Iran, or Turkmenistan to acquire nukes, North Korea simply doesn't care. Furthermore, Iraq has at best a nascent nuclear weapons program; North Korea has gobs of enriched plutonium and the necessary delivery mechanisms.
3) “All policy options stink.” When I was researching the 1994 episode for my book, that quote from a high-ranking U.S. policymaker rang true. Even though North Korea is now more dependent on trade with the outside world, economic sanctions won’t return things to the status quo. The simple fact is that North Korea anticipates future conflicts with the U.S., so it views any concession made in the present to undercut its bargaining leverage in the future. The sanctions would be costly, but to the DPRK leadership, giving in would be costlier. Furthermore, as in 1994, North Korea has made it clear that it equates sanctions with war. The threat of multilateral sanctions provides some leverage, but not a lot.
Military statecraft is fraught with risk. Any attempted regime change would devastate Seoul. A limited strike against the Yongbyon reactor would not solve the WMD problem, and could invite North Korean retaliation. Plus, as I pointed out in October, there is the problem of having China and Russia very close by.
As in 1994, inducements combined with the threat of coercion could buy a stalemate for a few years. The problem with this is twofold. First, once it gobbled up the carrots, North Korea would undoubtedly defect from any agreement freezing its nuclear program. Second, consider the message this option sends, given the Bush administration position that North Korea already has nuclear weapons. It creates a clear incentive to develop a crash nuclear weapons program to ensure successful proliferation prior to being detected.
There is also the threat of disengagement – call everyone’s bluff and let China, Russia, South Korea and Japan sort everything out. This could be a useful tactic, but only to focus the attention of these countries. It would have no effect on the North Koreans.
4) Remember 1991. The first Bush administration deserves high marks for how it handled the DPRK problem. It repeatedly offered negative security guarantees – such as pulling out all tactical nuclear weapons from the peninsula – but made sure that North Korea’s allies pressured Pyongyang to reciprocate. Coercive pressure has worked on North Korea before, but only when its allies applied the pressure. China vetoed North Korea’s proposal for a 1975 invasion of South Korea; the Soviet Union was able to get the DPRK to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1985 by threatening to withhold a trade agreement. Both countries successfully pressured North Korea to negotiate with South Korea. Obviously, the agreement didn’t hold up, but it did buy the region some time to prepare for the next conflict.
So, intimate to the key players the implications of DPRK proliferation (neither Russia nor China would be thrilled with the proliferation of nuclear weapons to Muslim-majority countries) and/or U.S. disengagement, and then combine some U.S. assurances of North Korean security with Chinese/Russian pressure on Pyongyang to behave better. The result of today's meeting between South Korean, Japanese, and American negotiators is a good step in this direction.
It’s not a permanent solution by any stretch of the imagination, and it will require constant coordination among five or six capitals. But, to paraphrase, all other policy options stink. The U.S. concessions that would be given to North Korea would be of the diplomatic variety, and have been repeated in the past. This eliminates -- or at least minimizes -- David Adesnik's fear of acquiescing to nuclear blackmail.
Developing....posted by Dan on 01.07.03 at 09:34 PM