By Mike Whitney
The Bush foreign policy is predicated on one simple axiom: “We will stop the world’s most dangerous men from getting their hands on the world’s most dangerous weapons”. By that standard, Bush’s dealings with North Korea have been a wretched failure. After 6 years of fruitless saber rattling and belligerence, the North detonated a nuclear bomb in early October and put region on notice that there’s a new member in the nuclear weapons club.
For the time being, only South Korea and Japan are within range of the North’s missile systems, but as the technology improves the Taepodong 2 will eventually be capable of hitting mainland U.S.A. The bottom line is that the American people are considerably less safe with a nuclear armed DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) than they were before.
The Bush administration has had ample time to take steps to negotiate a settlement between the two traditional adversaries. Instead, they chose to aggravate the situation by trying to topple the regime by freezing bank accounts and enforcing punitive “unilateral” sanctions.
Unsurprisingly, Bush’s ham-fisted tactics have produced the opposite result of what was intended. The North rushed ahead with its research and quickly figured out the basic elements of nuclear bomb-production allowing the madcap dictator in the oversized sun-glasses to build a stockpile of between 6 to 12 nuclear weapons. Now the entire region is on tenterhooks and frantically trying to cobble together a diplomatic solution.
The Bush administration has stubbornly refused to sit down in one-on-one negotiations with the North. Their refusal was supposed to send a message that the U.S. is just “too important” to engage a vassal state like North Korea in serious dialogue. Bush further strained relations by including the North on its “axis of evil” list which includes the states that the US has designated as targets for regime change.
Additionally, Vice President Cheney delivered a blunt warning to Kim in a speech he delivered early last year. He said, “We don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it.”
What could be clearer?
Given the administration’s blatant hostility, Kim Jung Il did what any leader would do if they were facing a similar existential threat; he developed a credible deterrent to US aggression, nuclear weapons. His research was undoubtedly hurried along by Bush’s bellicosity.
Immediately following October’s nuclear blast, the Bush administration reversed its policy and sent a messenger to the North Korean Embassy to see if they would be willing to conduct secret “bilateral” negotiations in Berlin. Bush was desperately trying to avoid the appearance that he had completely caved in on a matter of principle, but the facts are not in dispute. Bush’s sudden U-turn is just another unfortunate humiliation for the country.
The Bush public relations team is trying to spin the new agreement as a “breakthrough”. But there is no breakthrough. Bush has capitulated on all the main issues. It’s a terrible deal and that’s why so many conservatives are enraged and spewing their anger in the newspapers.
The agreement will remove the North from the State Department’s list of terrorist states and provide 50,000 tons of fuel oil just for shutting down its Yongbyon reactor. But that won’t address the north’s clandestine nuclear program or Kim’s nuclear weapons stockpile. In fact, these are not even on the table!
Just months ago Bush rejected the same deal saying, “We will never agree to blackmail”.
My, how things change once a country gets nukes.
The present agreement is worse than the “Agreed Framework” which was initiated by Bill Clinton in 1994 and which was universally repudiated by Republicans and the conservative think tanks. Nicholas Eberstadt of the far-right American Enterprise Institute summarized it like this:
“This is substantially worse than the Agreed Framework… The (original) agreement attempted to freeze everything that we knew about the DPRK’s activities and probe their good faith. Now, we have agreed to a deal that only freezes part, at most, of North Korea’s nuclear activities for a much higher price then the earlier agreement, with a regime that we know operates in bad faith on nuclear deals.”
Eberstadt is right. Every part of the agreement favors the North. The United States and its allies will have to provide 50,000 tons of fuel oil just for the privilege of sitting down at the bargaining table with the DPRK diplomats. Shutting down Yongbyon is utterly meaningless; that doesn’t tell us where the secret uranium enrichment program is located and that is the fuel-source for the Kim’s nuclear weapons.
There’s no chance that the administration will persuade the North to “denuclearize” (the administration’s word du jour). Kim knows that the real objective of US policy is regime change and that guarantees that he will never give up his nukes. Instead, he plans to use the upcoming negotiations as a means of extorting more concessions from Bush and the allies. Next, he’s expected to demand electrical power from South Korea, additional food and medicine, and the light-water reactor which was promised by Clinton. All the while, his nukes will remain safely tucked away beyond reach; his only real bargaining chip.
The real danger in Bush’s policy-turnabout is the message that it sends to Iran and any other country who wants to improve its prospects vis a vis the United States. If Iran had any doubts that it needs nuclear weapons to fend off the US; those doubts have been removed.
Bush’s blundering foreign policy has dealt a withering blow to nuclear nonproliferation and paved the way for a 21st century arms race. This is a bad deal all around and only underscores one basic truism: