Tuesday, February 13, 2007

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.


Blogger Reocon said...

How is this deal substatively different from the one Bush rejected in 2002? Looks like the Bush administration tired of critiquing the Clinton approach and decided to try it out for itself. Apalling.

2/13/2007 07:35:00 PM  
Blogger lugh lampfhota said...

The Bush administration is crippled and exhausted. The stability crew is in place and will make their deals with DPRK and Iran. One way or another Iraq will be on it's own by year end. Stability trumps principle as America prepares to elect the "other" royal house. Groundhog day again.pirate9d

2/13/2007 08:17:00 PM  
Blogger Robert Schwartz said...

"Pyongyang is surprisingly insensitive to the sufferings of its people;"

I am not surprised. Communist regimes have always been completely insensitive to the sufferings of their people. Anybody remember Cambodia?

2/13/2007 10:01:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

The difference between this deal and the Clinton deal is this is not a bilateral agreement but one with all N Korea's neighbors as well as the USA.
N Korea could always lie to us again, but doing so would be lying to China, S Korea, Russia, Japan. And sow distrust and anger with the only nations that prop that place up.
Frankly, I think we have enough deadly challenges in this world that I don't give a damn about the noble, freedom-loving, democracy-hungry N Koreans just waiting for 30,000 American casualties and 450 billion spent so they can sport purple fingers. As long as N Korea is bottled up, doesn't export WMD or missiles, lays off the nukes deliverable right now to Japanese, S Korean targets in under 5 minutes - I'll be happy.

That means a further problem in shifting N Korea away from drugs, weapons, nuclear know-how, 100 buck counterfeits as their main exports. They have a big cash flow problem and their exports and expertise is all "in the bad stuff". To get them away from that, N Korea needs to be set up to make substitute items. Nike sneakers maybe. N Korea has significant mineral resources, just not oil...Whatever, it will require foreign investors to steer N Korea away from a war economy, and better the S Koreans than China, US, or Japs. Russia ain't even in the picture as an investor.

2/14/2007 01:17:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...

I got the impression that due to the all the unlikely behavior that North Korea had to exhibit the chances that the deal would get anywhere for more than a few months were pretty slim. In other words, the long-term prospects for this deal with North Korea were pretty slim.

It was interesting to hear that the Clinton Administration didn't expect it to go anywhere either in 1994, but didn't think it mattered because they figured the North Koreans would drop dead from misery before the cracks appeared in the walls. Unfortunately, they misunderstood both the brutality of Kim and the endurance of the Korean people. But it was nice to know that some people in the Clinton administration knew their package was little more than a stunt, with no substantive chance of succeeding though maybe Jimmy Carter really thought he had brought peace for all time to the Korean peninsula. But at any rate, for those who currently advocate this type of "engagement" can watch where this goes. Would be nice if it went somewhere, but it probably won't and the reason is simple. Belligerence is North Korea's meal ticket.

As I noted in my discussion with Dr. Ayson, most of the concessions are pretty much short term reliefs to keep the wolf from immediately entering the room. Fuel oil. Unfreezing bank accounts. It's pretty much like giving an unemployed bankrupt another fifteen days to pay his ten years in back rents. After fifteen days he'll be back at the loan window with another threat and a sob story. But since all flesh is grass -- and we forget that Marshal Tito died and Yugoslavia fell apart anyway despite the fact that George Bush did not invade it -- one of these days the Dear Leader is going to be gathered to his fathers. And then we will have regime chance whether we will or we nil. The chaos that follows the death of a dictator is something that can be postponed, but not wholly averted. Castro, for example, lasted a long time. But one of these days Cuba will face a dawn without him, and what then? The difference is that in North Korea, there may be one or two nukes lying around.

2/14/2007 01:54:00 AM  
Blogger Anointiata Delenda Est said...

The only way to ensure a stable North Korea is regime change.


The only way to ensure a stable anywhere is to have a culture that values the individual.

Stability is bottom up, not top down.

Another mess, encouraged to misbehave because we treat them as equals, but ultimately because the replacement to the Dear Leader will be another Dear Leader.

Same as it ever was.


2/14/2007 03:25:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

Both Wretchard and Cederford (!!!!) make some good points about the difference between this deal and the diplomatic doily that Clinton/Carter knitted in the 90's.

And note that North Korea repeatedly called for bilaterla talks with the U.s., trying to pull the same trick they did on Clinton. And recall that the Democrats complained that Bush was not going along with this reasonable request.

And I can tell you form personal experience that it was clear that the mood in D.C. in the 90's was "That Communist problem and that nuclear stuff is so yesterday. When's lunch?"

But I have said it before and I now I said it again:


2/14/2007 05:43:00 AM  
Blogger epictetus said...

This deal, even if ultimately ineffective, pushes the NoKo problem aside and puts the focus on Iran. Iran is now the only remaining "unsolved" problem regime from the original "Axis of Evil."

2/14/2007 06:42:00 AM  
Blogger Ash said...

rwe wrote:

"And note that North Korea repeatedly called for bilaterla talks with the U.s., trying to pull the same trick they did on Clinton. And recall that the Democrats complained that Bush was not going along with this reasonable request."

And the irony in this is that by not going bilateral Bush and crew ended up going Multi-lateral - as in 'not going it alone'. hmmmm, seems a good idea to me...

2/14/2007 07:53:00 AM  
Blogger allen said...

John Bolton says it is a "bad deal". Of course, Mr. Bolton is last week's news and last month's conservative hero.

2/14/2007 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger allen said...

Japan is also less than impressed.

Japan faces isolation over North Korea


2/14/2007 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...


The thing about analyzing the misery of North Korea is that we have South Korea as a control sample, just as we had West Germany in Europe to compare with East Germany. Here there is no question of dealing with a lazy and dysfunctional civilization. The peoples are substantially the same. Why then is the one starving while the other is prosperous? The obvious difference between the two societies is Communism.

It may be impolitic to say it, especially on Campus, but Communism has probably killed more people from misery, starvation and torture than any other politico-religious system known to man, with the possible exception of Radical Islam.

2/14/2007 02:35:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

The events of 1989 should be analyzed more closely than they usually are. They weren't inevitable.

A shift in Hungarian border policy led to East Germans being able to travel from East Germany to Hungary to Austria to West Germany, with the result of a political chain reaction causing a meltdown in the Eastern Bloc's willingness to enforce the existence of the Iron Curtain.

Zeitgeist matters. When a state such as Hungary opens its borders, it makes a difference.

2/15/2007 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger USpace said...

This is pathetic of the Bush admin., cheers to John Bolton for saying so.

Anyone who believes in Communism is a fool or a thief, or both.

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
keep the BIG lie alive

communism is the BEST
thievery by the state

2/15/2007 07:28:00 PM  

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