Tuesday, October 10, 2006


“The regime of Kim Jong Il is so opaque that it is difficult to know its motivations, other than that they malign. But North Korea also lives outside of the international system. Like East Germany, North Korea is the evil twin of a successful regime just across its border….Pyongyang, too has little to gain and everything to lose from engagement in the international economy. The development of WMD thus provides the destructive way out of for Kim Jong Il….Any U.S. policy towards the north should depend heavily on coordination with Seoul and Tokyo. In that context, the 1994 framework agreement that attempted to bribe North Korea into forsaking nuclear weapons cannot easily be set aside. Still there is a trap inherent in this approach: sooner or later Pyongyang will threaten to test a missile one too many times, and the United States will not respond with further benefits. Then what will Kim Jong Il do? The possibility for miscalculation is very high”.

Condoleezza Rice, Foreign Affairs (January 2000).
“Postponing the elimination of Kim Jong Il’s nuclear weapons program will only allow him time to amass even more nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and to develop even longer range missiles. Any doubts that Kim Jong Il would peddle nuclear materials or nuclear weapons to any buyer on the International market were dispelled last April when his envoy threatened to do just that. This will not stand. Some have speculated that the U. S. is resigned to nuclear weapons on the peninsula and we will simply have to learn to live with nuclear weapons in the hands of a tyrannical dictator who has threatened to export them. Nothing could be further from the truth”.

John R. Bolton, Under Secretary for Arms Control 31 July 2003 at www.state.gov.

“So how are we to respond to this very serious situation in which North Korea has lifted the freeze on its plutonium-based nuclear arms program and its aggressively pursuing an enriched-uranium arms program? The United States has adopted two basic principals for resolving this situation. First, we cannot accept anything less than the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of the North’s nuclear programs. Second, the diplomatic format for achieving that outcome must be a multiparty framework….We will not be satisfied with a resolution that is not complete. North Korea must dismantle not only its plutonium program but also its uranium enrichment program and its existing nuclear weapons. We will not be satisfied with a resolution that is not verifiable. In this regard, the burden is not on the international community but on North Korea to come clean….We will not be satisfied with a ‘reversible solution’. This must be once and for all. North Korea’s nuclear programs and facilities must be dismantled, and never reconstituted.”

James A. Kelly, Assistant Secretary for East Asian Affairs 13 February 2004 in www.state.gov

“Let me start by noting that the goal of the Six-Party Talks is the prompt and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. When this goal is achieved, it will open up a new chapter for all Korean people. We know that the document includes undertakings for all the parties; my government is prepared to fulfill all our undertakings. All elements of the DPRK’s past and present nuclear programs-plutonium and uranium-and all nuclear weapons will be comprehensively declared and completely, verifiably and irreversibly eliminated, and will not be reconstituted in the future. According to these principles, the DPRK will return, at an early date, to the NPT [Non-proliferation Treaty], and come into full compliance with IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards.”

Christopher R. Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian Affairs
19 September 2005, in www.state.gov

So, dear reader, perhaps if one did pay too much attention to the utterances of the leading figures of the American government in the past couple of years, on the issue of North Korea having or about to have nuclear weapons, one may be forgiven for believing that the announcement today, that the latter appears to have tested, a small, perhaps even very small (from 1 kiloton to half a kiloton) nuclear device, would at the very least, call forth the ‘dogs of war’, if not in fact the Armageddon itself (on the differing estimates of the size of the explosion, see: GlobalSecurity.org) & “Red Alert: North Korea: Underground Nuclear Test Reported,” in Stratfor also: Anthony Cordesman analysis in “The Meaning of the North Korean Nuclear Test”, CSIS.org). As far as we can see from the American President’s speech, nothing of the sort is planned! Instead we are told that: “the United States remains committed to diplomacy, and we will continue to protect ourselves and our interests”. And, while the USA, still claims to be committed to the “de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”, how this lofty goal is to be achieved is not altogether apparent. Instead we are informed that “proclaimed actions taken by North Korean are unacceptable and deserve an immediate response by the United Nations Security Council” (for Mr. Bush’s statement, see: State.gov).

As per the latter possibility, the auguries are less than inspiring: to wit, the comment by the Russian Ambassador to the UN, Mr. Vitaly Churkin, that: “there is no mention of the use of force”, in any proposed Security Council Resolution to deal with the crisis. With Churkin no doubt adding for his American counterpart, Mr. Bolton, that: “we must not act on emotion”(see the report in Novosti). And, while his superior, Mr. Putin, in an earlier telephone conversation with Bush, had stated that Russia “absolutely condemns the test”, it does not appear that Churkin is taking a line, which is at variance with Moskva’s own true position (see: Simon Saradzhyan article in: Moscow News). As per China, the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, in a telephone conversation with his American counterpart, while clearly condemning the North Korean action, also stated that “no actions should be taken that would lead to escalation or loss of control of the situation and urged caution, dialogue and negotiations.” A line which was followed by his envoy to the UN today as well And while both the Japanese and the South Korean governments have taken a more robust line, in reacting to the reported test, neither government either has a deciding vote in the Security Council, nor great influence with Pyongyang (see the reports from Agence France Presse & the Financial Times).

At last report, the USA and Japan were aiming for a Chapter Seven resolution in the Security Council, which would among other things, call for in effect an embargo on all goods coming into and out of the isolated Communist Dictatorship, at least those which move via the sea, and to freeze all financial assets that it may possess internationally. Whether these steps would be enough to force Pyongyang, to alter its policy of nuclear policy remains in doubt. While no doubt harmful, they amount to more of a slap on the wrist, than meaningful, ‘tough sanctions’, that would either possibly cause a ‘regime crisis’, or force Kim Jong Il, to reverse course (see an interesting article by a mainland Chinese scholar, Shen Dingli, along these lines in: Nautilus). As for the latter possibility, according to Le Figaro’s Peking, correspondent, the likelihood, that the PRC, would voluntarily carry out sanctions of a truly forceful nature are very limited, if non-existent. To Peking, the collapse of the North Korean regime, is perhaps just as acute a danger, if not more so, than a nuclear armed North Korea (see: Le Figaro). And, without meaningful action by Peking, and to a lesser extent, Moskva, the fact is that Kim Jong Il, is much more likely to continue to be of the opinion, that the testing of nuclear weapons by the DPRK, will (in the words of Pyongyang’s own news service) “will contribute to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula” (see: www.KCNA.co.jp/). And, of course, the military option, by the USA, has for all intents been ruled out, quite awhile ago. For good or ill, to my mind, for good. As the leading lights of the Pentagon friendly Stratfor.com cogently argue: “every situation does not have a satisfactory military solution. This seems to be one of them” (on this see: “Red Alert: North Korea—is there a military solution?” in Stratfor). Where that the American administration been open and intelligent enough to admit as much, and conduct its policy accordingly, five plus years ago!

In light of the above, one may ask, that eternal Russian question: ‘what is to be done’? Well, first one must openly admit, that the current American policy of trying to persuade the other, non-DPRK parties (Russia, Japan, China, South Korea) to tighten the screws in the hopes that Pyongyang, will either renounce the nuclear option, or better yet, from the American perspective, cause the regime to collapse, is a chimera. While no doubt, ‘hawks’, like Ambassador Bolton, and the rest of the neo-Conservative crew, within the American Administration, would love for that occur (like most of the human race too, I would think…other than South Korea and the PRC), there is little likelihood, of that happening, as we have seen above. At least within the short term. It appears however, that the de facto, American policy of hiding behind the six power framework, of negotiations, in order to ‘not negotiate’, directly with the PRC, is merely an attempt to not negotiate at all, ipso facto. Reasoning which has little to do with objective facts, and much to do, with Washington’s ideological distaste for the possible compromises necessary to have real negotiations. The upshot is that Bush policy of “threaten and neglect”, in dealing with the Korean problem, can be rightly characterized in the words of the American academic Graham Allison, “abject failure” (see: www.CFRG.org).

With the North Korean nuclear program growing, and not weakening, in the almost six years of the Bush Presidency. It would appear that ideological cleanliness, counts for more, that getting actual results. Hopefully, but, I will admit not too optimistically one may hope that official Washington, either before or after the elections will soon adopt another approach. What you may ask would that entail? Obviously, quickly started negotiations, which would in effect make the hard and fast trade off, that the American administration has put off, making: regime survival, in return for verifiable de-nuclearization. If that means that the American government (in reality the South Korean and Japanese governments) is in effect propping up, Pyongyang’s nasty little regime, so be it. In the longue duree, it is more than likely that the North Korean Party-State apparatus, will collapse from within, as opposed to without. As Dr. Rice, in one of her more (and few) refreshing insights, observed above, just like the DDR [East Germany] collapsed, due to its inability to compete peacefully with its opposite number across the border, so will, in the fullness of time, the DPRK. The real trick is to allow that crucial time frame for that event to occur. Something which requires that the USA engage in real negotiations, give and take, rather than hide behind ideological smokescreens, which seems to be the leading excuse for thought in Washington in the last five plus years. To the detriment of all of us (for an interesting article on possible way forward in dealing with the DPRK, by Peter Hayes & Tim Savage, “Dr. Strangelove in Pyongyang”, see:Nautilus.


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