The North Korean Deal
I spoke to Dr. Robert Ayson of the Australian National University, who's been following the North Korean nuclear issue with professional interest. His view is that while the agreement will bring certain immediate short-term concessions from North Korea, in exchange for the provision of fuel oil and unfreezing its overseas bank accounts, it remains an open question whether Pyongyang will completely give up its nuclear program.
For a complete disarmament of North Korea to take place, not only must the current facilities be mothballed, but any backup uranium enrichment program must also be disclosed. All existing fissile stocks and weapons must be taken from North Korean hands. Ensuring that North Korea no longer has a nuclear weapons capability will require some really "intrusive" inspections. Apart from questions of whether North Korea will allow those intrusions, there is the circumstance that the nuclear threat is actually Pyongyang's meal ticket. Giving up its nuclear program is essentially to dismantle its sole means of support. In a really curious type of feedback loop, the more nuclear weapons North Korea has the more of both sanctions and concessions it can hope for. The fewer weapons it has the fewer sanctions and inducements it can expect. North Korea's past track record suggests it will be loathe to every fully give up its WMD program.
Ayson noted that while the United States might put a denuclearized North Korea above all other goals, for both China and South Korea, the prime aim might actually be a stable North Korea. It may be that both of Pyongyang's neighbors fear a flood of refugees more than a nuclear-armed regime next to them. In which case, neither Beijing nor Seoul will be able to muster the will to squeeze North Korea into submission for fear that it may actually fall to pieces in their vise.
Yet propping up North Korea -- while simple to say -- is actually quite difficult in practice because the regime is so corrupt it may not be able to use any assistance, extorted or otherwise, in an effective manner. The real dilemma in providing any aid to North Korea is that it may strengthen the very dysfunctinality the aid is intended to alleviate, like a bad kind of chemotherapy that kills the patient in the process of curing him. The only way to ensure a stable North Korea is regime change. But "regime change" is now a dirtier word than "tyranny".
It is possible that North Korea will fall whether it is pressured or coddled. Age and infirmity may hobble Kim. Poverty may implode Pyongyang of its own accord. But Ayson says that many North Korea experts he spoke to believe that Pyongyang is surprisingly insensitive to the sufferings of its people; being able to endure famine, disintegration, poverty and sanctions at levels people in the West cannot imagine. There was apparently some expectation during the Clinton years that North Korea would simply keel over; and that it was not necessary -- ergo -- to work on them. But Clinton came and went; and now Bush has come and nearly gone. But Kim remains.
What will happen to be seen. Given North Korea's past, it's hard to be optimistic that they are now happily settled on the path to peace and tranquility.