Saturday, October 5, 2002

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IS NORTH KOREA THE MODEL FOR IRAQ?: Hans Blix’s support of a tough new UN Security Council resolution reminded me that Blix headed the International Atomic Energy Agency during the early 1990’s inspections crisis with North Korea. During that situation, Blix was a rarity among international organization heads; he was results-oriented rather than process-oriented. The contrast with Kofi Annan could not be starker.

Blix’s appearance in both the Iraq and North Korea crises raises an interesting question – why hasn’t the current debate over Iraq invited more comparisons to the North Korean crisis of 1994? God knows, commentators have been making silly comparisons to the Cuban Missile Crisis; why no reference to the North Korea episode? I think the answer is that the way that crisis unfolded and was resolved poses vexing questions for both sides in the debate.

For the anti-war crowd, the problem is that the history of that bargaining episode shows the limits of what negotiations, sanctions and embargoes can accomplish. For over two years, the U.S. tried to reach a resolution that would get the North Koreans back into the IAEA regime. The North Koreans only gave ground when it seemed that a sanction was imminent. They only indicated a willingness to cut a comprehensive agreement after it was clear that the U.S., Japan, and South Korea were ready to impose sanctions and respond to North Korean provocations with force.

For the pro-war crowd, the problem is that this case suggests that it is possible to cut a deal with Hussein. Despite what Jeffrey Goldberg has said, the North Korean regime is just as nasty as Hussein’s Iraq. Over the past four decades, North Korea has kidnapped citizens from other countries, engaged in terrorist activities (including blowing up airplanes), repeatedly tried to subvert and provoke South Korea, preferred starving its own people to reforming its economy, actively developed weapons of mass destruction, and proliferated missile technology to other state supporters of terrorism. All that said, the 1994 deal to trade inspections for reactor technology has essentially held. New York Times op-eds to the contrary, the regime is still pretty nasty. But the U.S. was able to contain the proliferation of nuclear weapons without regime change. Simply put, coercive bargaining can work [Coercive? Didn’t the North Koreans get a whopping $5 billion carrot out of the deal?—ed. They got a promise of that investment, yes, but they only agreed to it because the alternative was economic and possibly military coercion.]

It’s possible that Saddam Hussein will decide that he prefers war to “coercive inspections.” If he permits the inspections, however, those who favor the use of force will be split into those favoring regime change at any price (Rumsfield) and those who care about eliminating the weapons of mass destruction first (Powell). I’m not completely sure which side of this fence I sit on – there are compelling arguments for both.

The North Korea case suggests that those who favor negotiation at any price are fools – but it also suggests that those who are bound and determined to change the regime in Iraq are underestimating the power of coercive bargaining.

UPDATE: Aziz Poonawalla has an interesting take on the potential faultlines among the pro-war crowd -- link via InstaPundit [Duh.--ed.]

posted by Dan on 10.05.02 at 02:08 PM