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Saturday, October 19, 2002

More On North Korea

The NY Times has a guest piece by Joel S. Wit, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. How serious is the North Korean problem:

"As a result, the stage could be set for a repeat of the 1994 crisis with North Korea over a previous effort to build such weapons, a crisis that brought us close to a second Korean War.

A nuclear-armed North Korea would pose a serious threat to the 37,000 American troops in Korea and to the security of South Korea and Japan. It would undermine the global nonproliferation regime, creating pressure on Seoul and Tokyo to acquire their own nuclear weapons. Finally, it violates the 1994 Agreed Framework between America and North Korea that froze Pyongyang's nuclear program.

...Unfortunately, the Bush administration's policy toward Pyongyang has left it with very few options to solve this problem. The Clinton administration succeeded in negotiating access to a suspected nuclear production site in 1999 because it had an ongoing dialogue for putting that arrangement in place...

The Bush administration is in a comparatively weak position because it has not demonstrated a serious interest in dialogue. Also, Pyongyang's recent initiatives to improve relations with South Korea and Japan may make both hesitant to confront the North. Even without these disadvantages, seeking tough multilateral measures against North Korea and Iraq at the same time may be more than the diplomatic traffic can bear.

So, clever timing by the North Koreans. As to the notion that the South Koreans and the Japanese will elevate process over results, well, I can't say I would be surprised if they do.

If the Bush administration's recently published security strategy is truly a guide to White House thinking, a third option is to launch a pre-emptive attack against North Korea's nuclear program. However, the rhetoric of a pre-emptive strike may have little to do with reality, and the administration has so far been very reluctant to discuss a military option. There are good reasons for hesitation: Seoul, with a population of 10 million, is so close to the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas that it is in range of thousands of North Korean artillery pieces. The possible chain reaction set off by an attack could have catastrophic consequences...

Yes, the military options seem to be limited.

"This latest development itself seems to have come as a surprise. "Don't let the United States turn us into another Iraq," have been words to live and die by in the North Korean leadership. Giving in to American demands now could do precisely that, perhaps fatally undermining the stability of a regime that needs the fiction of proud self-reliance to keep any legitimacy with its people."

Whoa. Of all the paragraphs the author might like to revise, expand, or explain, this one stands out. How much legitimacy does he suppose the regime has right now? Why does he think the good people of North Korea will learn of these diplomatic maneuverings, or anything else?

So, what should we do?

...rather than abrogate the Agreed Framework, Washington — in close consultation with Seoul and Tokyo — should suspend its implementation for the time being. Pyongyang has admitted violating the spirit if not the precise terms of the agreement and Washington must respond. That will mean halting two critical programs agreed to in 1994: construction of two reactors and monthly shipments of heavy fuel oil.

But any suspension must be coupled with a sustained, serious diplomatic dialogue with North Korea. One objective would be to secure international inspections to ensure that all North Korea's nuclear activities end."

Grounds for optimism?

"Leaving Pyongyang's defiant rhetoric aside, the fact that it confessed to a secret nuclear program is a sign that North Korea may be looking for a way out of a potential crisis."

They are reaching out to us. Maybe.

"In the end, diplomacy may fail. But it must be seen by our allies and the international community as failing because of North Korean, not American, intransigence. Only then will the United States be on a firm footing to seek international action and, if necessary, to use force.

Well, I would love to see even an outline of proposed military options. Bombing their reactors doesn't solve the problem of the nuclear material they have already collected. Regime change? How?

Questions, questions.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan provides some biographical background on the author that the Times, in the course of delivering all the news that's fit to print, sonehow overlooked:

"He was most recently the coordinator for the 1994 U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework and was responsible for U.S. policy related to the implementation of that agreement."

OK, so he's an expert - good! But perhaps his background is relevant in assessing his support of the diplomatic process, and his criticism of Bush. Maybe?

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