Sen. John McCain guest-posts at Captain’s Quarters and has some harsh words for Democrats critical of the current Administration’s handling of the situation. Indeed, the 1994 Agreed Framework was almost certainly a joke, and in order for North Korea to be testing a bomb now they must have been developing enrichment technologies for years prior — long before the current Administration took power.
The Agreed Framework helped buttress Kim Jung Il’s brutal rule, but so long as he has massive amounts of artillery pointed at Seoul, playing hardball is simply not an option. The Clinton Administration inherited a problem that was already several decades old, and the Bush Administration inherited a situation that was much the same. I’m not at all entirely convinced that some heroic actions on the part of Bill Clinton would have toppled the North Korean regime. The Agreed Framework was a joke, and it didn’t help, but had we played hardball the situation would have likely been the same.
Kim Jung Il wants to be seen as powerful. Nuclear weapons let him achieve that. Anything which forces him to give up those weapons thereby limits his power. He’s not going to stand for that, no matter how many carrots we throw his way. Senator McCain is right that the Agreed Framework was all carrots and no sticks, but the political will on either side was lacking. It wasn’t as though the Republicans would have risked turning Seoul into rubble in the holiday from history of the 1990s either.
The fact is that decades of policy failures from now until the end of the Korean War have led us to this point. Passing blame around isn’t particularly helpful now. We must figure a way of making non-proliferation work. So far the only real success we’ve had on the nuclear non-proliferation front is the unilateral decision by Libya to give up their nuclear program, which then helped us break up the A.Q. Khan network. And that only happened because Qaddafi saw the writing on the wall and realized that the risks of following in the footsteps of Saddam Hussein was not a desirable result. Three years later, it’s doubtful that other regimes are particularly worried about that now.
Iran is watching our next steps with interest, and if we spend more time pointing fingers than fixing the problem, it won’t be long before Tehran joins the nuclear club, and our chances of seeing a major city in the US annihilated suddenly rise.
UPDATE: The center-left Brookings Institution explains why the Agreed Framework was a failure from the beginning is it did not significantly impede North Korea’s nuclear program. As the Brookings report states:
But this approach risked encouraging North Korea to use extortion as its main tool of interaction with the outside world. Moreover, a fix that did little to reform North Korea’s economy would probably have proved only temporary, making it likely that Pyongyang would try to play a similar game at a later date with other weapons. And whatever one thinks of the Clinton approach, it clearly needed to be revised once the United States uncovered evidence of North Korea’s illegal and illegitimate uranium enrichment program by the summer of 2002.
The North Koreans did not just start to reprocess uranium when Bush took office, no matter what the apologists for Clinton-era failures would have one believe. The North Koreans were actively violating the Agreed Framework for years, in fact, almost since the moment it was signed. The idea behind the Agreed Framework — that the DPRK would willingly negotiate away its nuclear capabilities, was always incorrect. North Korea wanted to possess nuclear weapons, and no amount of negotiation would change that fact.
We must learn this lesson quickly, as Iran is trending down the same course, and will soon present the same challenges. If we follow the same failed path of trying to find an illusory negotiated settlement that ignores what our adversaries actually intend, the results could be even worse. A nuclear North Korea can be adequately contained. A nuclear Iran will have much more freedom of action, which makes that prospect all the more frightening.