Along the Tracks

Friday, January 03, 2003

NK critique

Joshua Micah Marshall has been hammering the Bush administration on its North Korea policy, or lack thereof. He makes several good points concerning crisis management, based on what we know. What he fails to do is provide a reasonable alternative to White House actions so far.
Bush came into office in January 2001, found out NK was cheating on its non-nuclearization agreements, and had to decide what policy to follow. He could have continued with Clinton’s see-no-evil approach, hoping other routes into the workings of Kim Jong Il’s regime might forestall the threat of more atom bombs pointed at our friends and, eventually, us. Or he could call them on it. And let’s not forget, the uranium enrichment program was just the penultimate in a litany of sins by Kim. If it was fair to argue that we could not acquiesce in the uranium program (and I think it was), then the Bush administration eventually had to play some hardball.
It started with behind-the-scenes-type footsy, going through South Korea, Japan and China to express dissappointment (coupled with harsh public condemnation by Bush himself, which has more than proven well-founded) in the smaller issues but a willingness for dialogue if those problems could be resolved. Several were, indeed, resolved across the summer and early fall of 2002, but after these “confidence-building measures” had established a contact formula, it was time to point out the big problem: the uranium program. The administration clearly hoped that, based on the progress over the summer, the North would agree to halt that effort, and further “sunshine” dialogue could then continue. The Bush administration was wrong in this assessment - that much is clear. But it is hard to see how ignoring the problem would have been beneficial, except to delay the inevitable. With an Iraq war approaching, that may have been good on the diplomatic front, but would have put America much closer to a threatening NK with both uranium and plutonium weapons.
I’m not yet willing to agree with Marshall’s claim that Bush has no policy plan for NK, and is now backing down on Kim’s nuclear efforts. I have a feeling a lot is going on behind the scenes here, probably including a “line in the sand” type threat concerning the plutonium. I could be wrong. But only time will tell. In the meantime, criticism of the administration’s “process” of Korean diplomacy is warranted (particularly its slow-rolling start), but seems empty when no reasonable alternatives are offered.

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