Commentary Magazine


Topic: Pyongyang

North Korea’s Dilemma

Uncanny events in North Korea this week hint at the fragility of the regime and the effectiveness of sanctions. Though tough to confirm, it’s being reported that two senior members of the government have been canned, and the DRPK has had to backtrack on some of its pet policies, which were targeted at centralizing the economy and choking the black market.

In November, Pyongyang enacted major economic changes. It cracked down on private markets allowed to operate with very limited freedom since 2002. It restricted imports from China. It revalued the currency, replacing old bank notes with new ones and limiting how much money a normal citizen could swap out, introducing the new currency in a way that flagrantly favored corrupt party members and the elite. That policy alone wiped out the savings of many average North Koreans. Reports suggest the price of rice is now 100 times what it was in October, and starvation deaths are on the rise.

This problem is worsened because aid has been cut off. The South Koreans, led by the formidable Lee Myung-bak, have made aid contingent upon North Korean nuclear concessions. And North Korea lost 500,000 tons of food from the United States last year.

Though it’s tough to say exactly what’s going on in North Korea, the food shortage seems to have elicited popular outrage, becoming a turning point for its citizenry. Veterans from the Korean War staged a protest in Danchon, riots have broken out, and citizens have attacked officials patrolling the markets, according to news reports gathered from defectors, smugglers, South Korean news agencies, and off-the-record comments from Seoul officials. The ruthlessly repressive North Korean government appears to be caught off guard by the uprisings.

Now Pyongyang is yielding slightly. The author of the November policies has been fired, as was the government official responsible for ensuring access to foreign currency for Kim Jong-Il, almost certainly because European Union blacklisting. The North Korean government is likely easing some of the November restrictions.

This isn’t the concession the West has been looking for, by any means. But it’s a good sign. The sanctions, paired with North Korea’s own suicidal policies, are inflicting pain – pain that is evoking reaction from ordinary North Koreans, pain that is forcing Pyongyang to make at least some changes against its will. If Obama and his friends are smart, they’ll acknowledge that their sanctions can put Kim Jung-Il’s government in a corner. One of these punches may just be a deadringer.

Uncanny events in North Korea this week hint at the fragility of the regime and the effectiveness of sanctions. Though tough to confirm, it’s being reported that two senior members of the government have been canned, and the DRPK has had to backtrack on some of its pet policies, which were targeted at centralizing the economy and choking the black market.

In November, Pyongyang enacted major economic changes. It cracked down on private markets allowed to operate with very limited freedom since 2002. It restricted imports from China. It revalued the currency, replacing old bank notes with new ones and limiting how much money a normal citizen could swap out, introducing the new currency in a way that flagrantly favored corrupt party members and the elite. That policy alone wiped out the savings of many average North Koreans. Reports suggest the price of rice is now 100 times what it was in October, and starvation deaths are on the rise.

This problem is worsened because aid has been cut off. The South Koreans, led by the formidable Lee Myung-bak, have made aid contingent upon North Korean nuclear concessions. And North Korea lost 500,000 tons of food from the United States last year.

Though it’s tough to say exactly what’s going on in North Korea, the food shortage seems to have elicited popular outrage, becoming a turning point for its citizenry. Veterans from the Korean War staged a protest in Danchon, riots have broken out, and citizens have attacked officials patrolling the markets, according to news reports gathered from defectors, smugglers, South Korean news agencies, and off-the-record comments from Seoul officials. The ruthlessly repressive North Korean government appears to be caught off guard by the uprisings.

Now Pyongyang is yielding slightly. The author of the November policies has been fired, as was the government official responsible for ensuring access to foreign currency for Kim Jong-Il, almost certainly because European Union blacklisting. The North Korean government is likely easing some of the November restrictions.

This isn’t the concession the West has been looking for, by any means. But it’s a good sign. The sanctions, paired with North Korea’s own suicidal policies, are inflicting pain – pain that is evoking reaction from ordinary North Koreans, pain that is forcing Pyongyang to make at least some changes against its will. If Obama and his friends are smart, they’ll acknowledge that their sanctions can put Kim Jung-Il’s government in a corner. One of these punches may just be a deadringer.

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Waiting for the Realists

COMMENTARY contributor John Bolton reviews in this must-read piece Obama’s brisk SOTU run-through of foreign-policy issues. On nuclear nonproliferation, Bolton observes that Obama made a “critical linkage” after touting the U.S.-Russian arms-control talks, namely that: “These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of nuclear weapons.” Bolton says this is nonsense:

Obama described the increasing “isolation” of both North Korea and Iran, the two most conspicuous—but far from the only—nuclear proliferators. He also mentioned the increased sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after its second nuclear test in 2009 and the “growing consequences” he says Iran will face because of his policies.

In fact, reducing our nuclear -arsenal will not somehow persuade Iran and North Korea to alter their behavior or encourage others to apply more pressure on them to do so. Obama’s remarks reflect a complete misreading of strategic realities. . . What warrants close attention is the jarring naïveté of arguing that reducing our capabilities will inhibit nuclear proliferators. That would certainly surprise Tehran and Pyongyang.

Really, there is a childlike assumption by the Obami that these powers will be impressed with the West’s disarmament efforts and want to get in on the back-slapping congratulations too. It is, as Bolton points out, further confirmation that rather than become more “realistic” in our approach to national security, the Obami crew have adopted fictions that bear no relationship to the behavior and motives of the regimes we face. The president has in essence doubled down on a dangerously misguided vision:

Obama has now explicitly rejected the idea that U.S. weakness is provocative, arguing instead that weakness will convince Tehran and Pyongyang to do the opposite of what they have been resolutely doing for decades—vigorously pursuing their nuclear and missile programs. Obama’s first year amply demonstrates that his approach will do nothing even to retard, let alone stop, Iran and North Korea.

But this sort of thinking is not unique to nuclear proliferation, of course. Was his Middle East gambit — bully Israel, raise Palestinian expectations, and rely on the wonderfulness of himself — any more grounded in reality? Was his idea that yanking missile defense from Poland and the Czech Republic would “reset” our relations with Russia grounded in a historic experience or on a well-thought out strategy? You see the pattern. Obama looks at the world, disregards the motives of our foes, and acts in ways that further aggravate bad situations (e.g., raising Palestinian expectations, encouraging Russian belligerences, providing breathing space to the mullahs). He then reports back that these problems are “hard” and that, lo and behold, he has discovered that there are complicating factors at play. (In his appearance in Tampa this week he seemed to acknowledge just this when he told the crowd, “The problem that we’re confronting right now is that both in Israel and within the Palestinian Territories, the politics are difficult; they’re divided.”)

One is left to gape at the naiveté. While it be dawning on Obama that the Middle East is not amenable to the “Cairo Effect” (his fractured history lesson really didn’t change anything — at least not for the better), that conclusion has not been extrapolated to other foreign-policy challenges. The Obami can be rebuffed and turned back in discrete areas. (Honduras stood up to the Foggy Bottom bullies. Domestic political realities are forcing a rethinking of Obama’s “Not Bush” anti-terror approach.) But they keep at it, ever more certain that the world can conform to their vision rather than the other way around. It is, for those who were waiting for a foreign policy built on “realism,” anything but.

COMMENTARY contributor John Bolton reviews in this must-read piece Obama’s brisk SOTU run-through of foreign-policy issues. On nuclear nonproliferation, Bolton observes that Obama made a “critical linkage” after touting the U.S.-Russian arms-control talks, namely that: “These diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of nuclear weapons.” Bolton says this is nonsense:

Obama described the increasing “isolation” of both North Korea and Iran, the two most conspicuous—but far from the only—nuclear proliferators. He also mentioned the increased sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after its second nuclear test in 2009 and the “growing consequences” he says Iran will face because of his policies.

In fact, reducing our nuclear -arsenal will not somehow persuade Iran and North Korea to alter their behavior or encourage others to apply more pressure on them to do so. Obama’s remarks reflect a complete misreading of strategic realities. . . What warrants close attention is the jarring naïveté of arguing that reducing our capabilities will inhibit nuclear proliferators. That would certainly surprise Tehran and Pyongyang.

Really, there is a childlike assumption by the Obami that these powers will be impressed with the West’s disarmament efforts and want to get in on the back-slapping congratulations too. It is, as Bolton points out, further confirmation that rather than become more “realistic” in our approach to national security, the Obami crew have adopted fictions that bear no relationship to the behavior and motives of the regimes we face. The president has in essence doubled down on a dangerously misguided vision:

Obama has now explicitly rejected the idea that U.S. weakness is provocative, arguing instead that weakness will convince Tehran and Pyongyang to do the opposite of what they have been resolutely doing for decades—vigorously pursuing their nuclear and missile programs. Obama’s first year amply demonstrates that his approach will do nothing even to retard, let alone stop, Iran and North Korea.

But this sort of thinking is not unique to nuclear proliferation, of course. Was his Middle East gambit — bully Israel, raise Palestinian expectations, and rely on the wonderfulness of himself — any more grounded in reality? Was his idea that yanking missile defense from Poland and the Czech Republic would “reset” our relations with Russia grounded in a historic experience or on a well-thought out strategy? You see the pattern. Obama looks at the world, disregards the motives of our foes, and acts in ways that further aggravate bad situations (e.g., raising Palestinian expectations, encouraging Russian belligerences, providing breathing space to the mullahs). He then reports back that these problems are “hard” and that, lo and behold, he has discovered that there are complicating factors at play. (In his appearance in Tampa this week he seemed to acknowledge just this when he told the crowd, “The problem that we’re confronting right now is that both in Israel and within the Palestinian Territories, the politics are difficult; they’re divided.”)

One is left to gape at the naiveté. While it be dawning on Obama that the Middle East is not amenable to the “Cairo Effect” (his fractured history lesson really didn’t change anything — at least not for the better), that conclusion has not been extrapolated to other foreign-policy challenges. The Obami can be rebuffed and turned back in discrete areas. (Honduras stood up to the Foggy Bottom bullies. Domestic political realities are forcing a rethinking of Obama’s “Not Bush” anti-terror approach.) But they keep at it, ever more certain that the world can conform to their vision rather than the other way around. It is, for those who were waiting for a foreign policy built on “realism,” anything but.

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Foreign Policy AWOL in SOTU

I realize that Barack Obama, like most of his predecessors, came to the Oval Office primarily focused on his domestic agenda, not foreign policy, but I nevertheless find it stunning how little coverage national-security affairs received in this State of the Union. By my count, in a speech of 7,077 words, only 932 — 13 percent — were devoted to America’s role abroad, despite the fact that Obama’s most important responsibility is to act as commander in chief in wartime.

Not surprisingly, given how little room he devoted to foreign affairs, the State of the Union address was more remarkable for what he didn’t say than for what he did. This was his message on Afghanistan: “We are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home.” Really? That’s why he sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing our troop total eventually to some 100,000 — so they can come home? If that was the goal, why not keep them in the United States? Obviously there are pressing reasons why the lives of these soldiers are being risked in combat, but Obama did not spell them out. He should have, because his West Point address raised more questions than it answered about what end-state the U.S. is seeking and what specific policies should be enacted to achieve it. But he did nothing to dispel that confusion, which is prevalent among U.S. commanders on the ground, as well as among both our allies and enemies in the region.

Nor, predictably, did he offer any objective in Iraq beyond “responsibly leaving Iraq to its people.” He did say something commendable — “We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity.” But he said nothing more about the promise of Iraqi democracy, which so many Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed so much to bring about. Instead he reiterated his top objective, which is heading for the exits: “But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.”

He then went on to plug his pet project — the utopian goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. He claimed without any evidence that “these diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons.” He suggested that North Korea “now faces increased isolation” — hard to imagine given that, if Pyongyang were any more isolated from the rest of the world, it would be located on the moon. He also claimed that Iran is getting “more isolated” and will face “growing consequences” that remain unspecified. The Green Movement in Iran, which offers the best chance of ending Iran’s nuclear program by overthrowing its despotic regime, got barely a mention — squeezed in between the (praiseworthy) effort to help Haiti and a puzzling reference to American advocacy on behalf of “the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea.” Is corruption in Guinea really on a par as an American foreign-policy priority with Tehran’s repression of human rights and support for terrorism and nuclear proliferation?

Rather than offer any specific support for Iranian democrats or call for the overthrow of their oppressors, Obama devoted far more time to promoting “our incredible diversity” at home — including an effort to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which may make sense but is sure to bring him into conflict with substantial numbers of the soldiers under his command.

I would have thought that by now Obama, like most presidents, would have made the pivot toward foreign policy — that he would have realized he needs to focus more on dealing with real crises abroad rather than manufactured crises, such as health care, at home. Judging by this State of the Union, that hasn’t happened yet.

I realize that Barack Obama, like most of his predecessors, came to the Oval Office primarily focused on his domestic agenda, not foreign policy, but I nevertheless find it stunning how little coverage national-security affairs received in this State of the Union. By my count, in a speech of 7,077 words, only 932 — 13 percent — were devoted to America’s role abroad, despite the fact that Obama’s most important responsibility is to act as commander in chief in wartime.

Not surprisingly, given how little room he devoted to foreign affairs, the State of the Union address was more remarkable for what he didn’t say than for what he did. This was his message on Afghanistan: “We are increasing our troops and training Afghan Security Forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home.” Really? That’s why he sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing our troop total eventually to some 100,000 — so they can come home? If that was the goal, why not keep them in the United States? Obviously there are pressing reasons why the lives of these soldiers are being risked in combat, but Obama did not spell them out. He should have, because his West Point address raised more questions than it answered about what end-state the U.S. is seeking and what specific policies should be enacted to achieve it. But he did nothing to dispel that confusion, which is prevalent among U.S. commanders on the ground, as well as among both our allies and enemies in the region.

Nor, predictably, did he offer any objective in Iraq beyond “responsibly leaving Iraq to its people.” He did say something commendable — “We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity.” But he said nothing more about the promise of Iraqi democracy, which so many Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed so much to bring about. Instead he reiterated his top objective, which is heading for the exits: “But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.”

He then went on to plug his pet project — the utopian goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. He claimed without any evidence that “these diplomatic efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit of these weapons.” He suggested that North Korea “now faces increased isolation” — hard to imagine given that, if Pyongyang were any more isolated from the rest of the world, it would be located on the moon. He also claimed that Iran is getting “more isolated” and will face “growing consequences” that remain unspecified. The Green Movement in Iran, which offers the best chance of ending Iran’s nuclear program by overthrowing its despotic regime, got barely a mention — squeezed in between the (praiseworthy) effort to help Haiti and a puzzling reference to American advocacy on behalf of “the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea.” Is corruption in Guinea really on a par as an American foreign-policy priority with Tehran’s repression of human rights and support for terrorism and nuclear proliferation?

Rather than offer any specific support for Iranian democrats or call for the overthrow of their oppressors, Obama devoted far more time to promoting “our incredible diversity” at home — including an effort to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which may make sense but is sure to bring him into conflict with substantial numbers of the soldiers under his command.

I would have thought that by now Obama, like most presidents, would have made the pivot toward foreign policy — that he would have realized he needs to focus more on dealing with real crises abroad rather than manufactured crises, such as health care, at home. Judging by this State of the Union, that hasn’t happened yet.

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A Letter from President Obama to Kim Jong-il

As Jennifer noted, President Obama has written a letter to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. The exact contents of the letter are unknown, so I decided to just make it all up.

Dear Supreme Leader,

How are you? I am fine. Mrs. Obama is also fine. Our two children are also fine. The Vice President and his wife, too, are fine. Many members of the Cabinet are fine. We’re all fine here. Thank you for asking. Even if it wasn’t out loud but just in your mind.

It’s been some time since we last chatted, although I’m informed that was never. Nevertheless, I can’t help but think I know you somehow, although it may just be that I watched that puppet movie by the South Park guys one too many times.

Word on the street is that your country is different from ours. You have universal health care, for example (but if I’m not mistaken, no one is allowed to take ill in your nation without express written permission). Here, people can get sick whenever they want. For example, a lot of people are getting sick of me. (Just kidding.)

Anyhoo, I hear you guys don’t have a lot in the way of strip malls and basic human rights. I’d like to address that strip-mall business. Wouldn’t a nice Office Depot/Dunkin Donuts/Staples combo look just great in downtown Pyongyang? (Pyongyang does have a downtown, doesn’t it? Or did you have it shot? Kidding again. We laugh a lot in Washington. Sometimes for no apparent reason. Then we take our pills and we’re fine.) Read More

As Jennifer noted, President Obama has written a letter to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. The exact contents of the letter are unknown, so I decided to just make it all up.

Dear Supreme Leader,

How are you? I am fine. Mrs. Obama is also fine. Our two children are also fine. The Vice President and his wife, too, are fine. Many members of the Cabinet are fine. We’re all fine here. Thank you for asking. Even if it wasn’t out loud but just in your mind.

It’s been some time since we last chatted, although I’m informed that was never. Nevertheless, I can’t help but think I know you somehow, although it may just be that I watched that puppet movie by the South Park guys one too many times.

Word on the street is that your country is different from ours. You have universal health care, for example (but if I’m not mistaken, no one is allowed to take ill in your nation without express written permission). Here, people can get sick whenever they want. For example, a lot of people are getting sick of me. (Just kidding.)

Anyhoo, I hear you guys don’t have a lot in the way of strip malls and basic human rights. I’d like to address that strip-mall business. Wouldn’t a nice Office Depot/Dunkin Donuts/Staples combo look just great in downtown Pyongyang? (Pyongyang does have a downtown, doesn’t it? Or did you have it shot? Kidding again. We laugh a lot in Washington. Sometimes for no apparent reason. Then we take our pills and we’re fine.)

I’m looking at your country right now, in that picture the CIA World FactBook supplies. Did you know you’re right next to China? (I don’t know how much information gets to you guys from the outside. Do you Twitter? In the United States, most schoolchildren are taught that we’re next to Canada so an escape route can be drawn early in the event of a draft.)

The United States is on very friendly terms with China. In fact, we owe China lots and lots of money. Wouldn’t you like us to owe you money, too? Isn’t it better when people owe people money than when people threaten people? How does that Barbra Streisand song go? “People-e-e-e-e … people who owe people-e-e-e-e … are the luckiest people-e-e-e-e in the world-d-d-d-d.” Then there’s that one with Donna Summer: “If you’ve had enough, don’t put up with his stuff, don’t you do it-t-t-t. Now, if you’ve had your fill, get the check, pay the bill, you can do it-t-t-t!” Great stuff.

I see that your climate is “temperate with rainfall concentrated in summer.” Temperate. Let’s think about that word for a minute. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines it as “existing as a prophage in infected cells and rarely causing lysis <temperate bacteriophages>.” Not very helpful, I must admit. Perhaps it means something else in North Korean. I do know what intemperate means, as when you threatened to wipe us off the map. If this were an Instant Message, I would insert a frowny-face emoticon right here. (Do you IM? Do you have emoticons? Are you allowed to express emotion in your land? Please write back soon and let me know.)

I guess I should get to my point. In November, when meeting with Mr. Lee, I urged you to just please stop doing whatever it is you’re doing. Have you gotten around to that yet? Have you stopped? Why don’t you stop? Please stop. Did you stop? Should I stop asking you to stop? Will you stop then? Please don’t stop stopping. OK, I’m going to stop now. See, I stopped. Did you? Did you stop? Please stop.

Well I have to go now. I have six TV interviews, two cover shoots, a single I’m cutting with Lady GaGa and Cornel West, and a supermarket opening to get to today. As I’m sure you understand, being a messianic figure to your people is a grind and a half. Work work work.

I know you’re an atheist Marxist dictatorship and all and don’t celebrate Christmas. We’re trying to cut back here, too. I wish there were just one generic holiday we could all enjoy and that didn’t mean anything so no one would get offended. Because when you mean things, then that only means that things are meaningful. And where does that get you? Someone has to interpret what the meaning means — and then someone disagrees with that interpretation. And then you’re offering graduate degrees in the meaning of meaning and racking up huge student-loan bills that you can only pay off by acting as a drug mule for a South American drug kingpin. And all you wanted was for someone to get you Season Two of The Big Bang Theory and leave it under the tree. Life is strange.

In any event, may the new year (do you have new years in North Korea? Or does the same year just go on and on until you just want to kill yourself?) bring our two great nations closer together, even though China keeps getting in the way.

Very best regards,

Supreme Leader Barack Obama

P.S. Under separate cover, I’m sending you a little gift. It’s a collection of great American movies on DVD. (Do you have movies over there? I believe you do, and that you’re a big fan. I read somewhere that you have 20,000 in your collection. No food but plenty of movies. Sounds like college!) I hope you don’t have these films. Meet Me in St. Louis is a wowser — tell me that isn’t a brilliant use of Technicolor. Did you know that Judy Garland almost didn’t do the film because she thought Margaret O’Brien would steal the picture? I’m also including Midway. That damn Joe Lieberman made me throw it in. What a nudge!

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“Dear Mr. Dictator. . .”

Obama, we’re told, has penned a letter to North Korea’s diminutive thug Kim Jong-il. This is not a good thing. You recall the dreamy letter to Vladimir Putin and the video suck-up-o-gram to the “Islamic Republic of Iran.” Both were ill-fated attempts to lure the unlurable with an open hand. At best they had no impact; at worst they conveyed a desperation and naiveté that no doubt impressed those leaders, albeit not in the way we intended. The news reports don’t say what was in the letter. The administration isn’t saying. But as the Washington Post dryly puts it:

It is relatively unusual for an American president to send the North Korean dictator a personal communication so early in his term. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush eventually sent letters to Kim, but only after extensive diplomatic efforts to restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Efforts early in Bush’s term to send a letter were stymied by an intense debate over whether to use an honorific such as “his excellency” to address Kim.

Given the cringe-inducing behavior of the Obami, one can imagine that the letter might be less than the model of toughness and resolve we would hope. We’ve dispatched an envoy to engage in bilateral talks with the North Koreans and gone mute on the regime’s atrocious human-rights record. As Stephen Hayes points out, Obama in his Oslo speech omitted North Korea from his list of human-rights miscreants:

So why wasn’t North Korea mentioned? Was it merely an oversight–did Obama officials simply forget how bad things are there? Or was it a strategic omission–a signal to Kim Jong Il that the U.S. government will set aside concerns about human rights if his regime will return to the nuclear negotiating table? …

The very fact that the high-level face-to-face meetings took place is a blow to human rights in North Korea, as any such discussions necessarily lend legitimacy to the repressive regime in Pyongyang, particularly when such bilateral talks came after repeated demands for them from the North Koreans. And the fact that the Obama administration seems unwilling not only to “call attention to” human rights abuses in North Korea but even to mention them suggests that Obama’s “unwavering commitment” to human rights around the world is mere Oslo rhetoric.

And then there’s the news of a North Korean shipment of 35 tons of arms seized in Thailand en route, perhaps, to Pakistan or Middle East, to be used by those seeking to kill Americans or our allies, one supposes.

Given all this, one wonders why the president is penning missives to the North Korean despot. It seems that the Obami are still enamored of their own charms and still bent on “drawing out” the world’s thugs. Maybe a better gambit would be to fund fully our missile-defense systems. Granted, it’s more expensive than a postage stamp, but it’s a whole lot less foolish than writing “Dear Dictator” letters.

Obama, we’re told, has penned a letter to North Korea’s diminutive thug Kim Jong-il. This is not a good thing. You recall the dreamy letter to Vladimir Putin and the video suck-up-o-gram to the “Islamic Republic of Iran.” Both were ill-fated attempts to lure the unlurable with an open hand. At best they had no impact; at worst they conveyed a desperation and naiveté that no doubt impressed those leaders, albeit not in the way we intended. The news reports don’t say what was in the letter. The administration isn’t saying. But as the Washington Post dryly puts it:

It is relatively unusual for an American president to send the North Korean dictator a personal communication so early in his term. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush eventually sent letters to Kim, but only after extensive diplomatic efforts to restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Efforts early in Bush’s term to send a letter were stymied by an intense debate over whether to use an honorific such as “his excellency” to address Kim.

Given the cringe-inducing behavior of the Obami, one can imagine that the letter might be less than the model of toughness and resolve we would hope. We’ve dispatched an envoy to engage in bilateral talks with the North Koreans and gone mute on the regime’s atrocious human-rights record. As Stephen Hayes points out, Obama in his Oslo speech omitted North Korea from his list of human-rights miscreants:

So why wasn’t North Korea mentioned? Was it merely an oversight–did Obama officials simply forget how bad things are there? Or was it a strategic omission–a signal to Kim Jong Il that the U.S. government will set aside concerns about human rights if his regime will return to the nuclear negotiating table? …

The very fact that the high-level face-to-face meetings took place is a blow to human rights in North Korea, as any such discussions necessarily lend legitimacy to the repressive regime in Pyongyang, particularly when such bilateral talks came after repeated demands for them from the North Koreans. And the fact that the Obama administration seems unwilling not only to “call attention to” human rights abuses in North Korea but even to mention them suggests that Obama’s “unwavering commitment” to human rights around the world is mere Oslo rhetoric.

And then there’s the news of a North Korean shipment of 35 tons of arms seized in Thailand en route, perhaps, to Pakistan or Middle East, to be used by those seeking to kill Americans or our allies, one supposes.

Given all this, one wonders why the president is penning missives to the North Korean despot. It seems that the Obami are still enamored of their own charms and still bent on “drawing out” the world’s thugs. Maybe a better gambit would be to fund fully our missile-defense systems. Granted, it’s more expensive than a postage stamp, but it’s a whole lot less foolish than writing “Dear Dictator” letters.

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Barack Obama’s South Korean Lesson

As Barack Obama takes the long flight back across the Pacific Ocean today, he would do well to reflect on his meeting with the South Korean president, a man who truly understands and exercises smart, realist diplomacy.

On paper, South Korea and the United States approach North Korea in parallel. Both want Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons, and both see the six-party talks as the most likely venue for persuasion. But in reality, Lee’s approach is much tougher; his hand is extended — but he also has a clenched fist, and he’s not afraid to use it.

Last January, Lee suspended aid to North Korea, saying he’d reinstate it only after Pyongyang denuclearized. And while Lee has often said that South Korea’s top priority is peace and reconciliation with the North (a Lincolnian goal if ever there was one), he has also been smart enough to amp up his military, especially at the border. Lee has maintained a staff that could stare down Pyongyang and has fortified his outside alliances to check North Korea. Though Lee prefers international economic sanctions against North Korea, he has also made no secret that Northern military aggression would be formidably matched.

Needless to say, this approach has perturbed the North, long accustomed to extracting Southern concession. In the last year, Pyongyang declared an “all-out confrontational policy” toward South Korea, ratcheted up provocations at sea, hurled insults, held South Koreans captive, and tested missiles. Lee has nevertheless held his ground.

Yet despite his toughness, Lee has also established opportunities for the North to cooperate and re-engage. Most recently, Lee has sought what he dubbed the Grand Bargain: if Pyongyang dismantles its nuclear program in a single, definitive step, the South will guarantee North Korea’s security and offer significant economic assistance.

In contrast, the U.S. is rewarding Northern bad behavior. Abducting American journalists won the North a photo-op visit from Clinton. Further fits of pique have earned the North attention from an envoy, Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, who is now concretely scheduled to visit Pyongyang on Dec. 8. Obama hopes bilateral discussions will return North Korea to the six-party talks. But in reality, direct talks leave the North with even more reason to avoid six-party company.

The irony in all this is that Lee’s actions represent exactly the strategy Obama has professed since his Inaugural Address. But as Lee has proved to the North, his strategy involves more than just words.

As Barack Obama takes the long flight back across the Pacific Ocean today, he would do well to reflect on his meeting with the South Korean president, a man who truly understands and exercises smart, realist diplomacy.

On paper, South Korea and the United States approach North Korea in parallel. Both want Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons, and both see the six-party talks as the most likely venue for persuasion. But in reality, Lee’s approach is much tougher; his hand is extended — but he also has a clenched fist, and he’s not afraid to use it.

Last January, Lee suspended aid to North Korea, saying he’d reinstate it only after Pyongyang denuclearized. And while Lee has often said that South Korea’s top priority is peace and reconciliation with the North (a Lincolnian goal if ever there was one), he has also been smart enough to amp up his military, especially at the border. Lee has maintained a staff that could stare down Pyongyang and has fortified his outside alliances to check North Korea. Though Lee prefers international economic sanctions against North Korea, he has also made no secret that Northern military aggression would be formidably matched.

Needless to say, this approach has perturbed the North, long accustomed to extracting Southern concession. In the last year, Pyongyang declared an “all-out confrontational policy” toward South Korea, ratcheted up provocations at sea, hurled insults, held South Koreans captive, and tested missiles. Lee has nevertheless held his ground.

Yet despite his toughness, Lee has also established opportunities for the North to cooperate and re-engage. Most recently, Lee has sought what he dubbed the Grand Bargain: if Pyongyang dismantles its nuclear program in a single, definitive step, the South will guarantee North Korea’s security and offer significant economic assistance.

In contrast, the U.S. is rewarding Northern bad behavior. Abducting American journalists won the North a photo-op visit from Clinton. Further fits of pique have earned the North attention from an envoy, Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, who is now concretely scheduled to visit Pyongyang on Dec. 8. Obama hopes bilateral discussions will return North Korea to the six-party talks. But in reality, direct talks leave the North with even more reason to avoid six-party company.

The irony in all this is that Lee’s actions represent exactly the strategy Obama has professed since his Inaugural Address. But as Lee has proved to the North, his strategy involves more than just words.

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Thomas Friedman on Leverage

Thomas Friedman begins an entirely sensible column with this observation:

Barack Obama is getting painfully close to tying himself in knots with all his explanations of the conditions under which he would unconditionally talk with America’s foes, like Iran. His latest clarification was that there is a difference between “preparations” and “preconditions” for negotiations with bad guys. Such hair-splitting word games do not inspire confidence, and they play right into the arms of his critics. The last place he wants to look uncertain is on national security.

Friedman argues, as he has before, that negotiation with rouge states should follow not proceed acquisition of leverage by the U.S. and its allies. So what should we make of a candidate who thinks the opposite, that his mere presence before the likes of Castro and Ahmejinedad would be productive, would melt their hearts and persuade them of the errors of their ways?

Friedman advises:

Mr. Obama would do himself a big favor by shifting his focus from the list of enemy leaders he would talk with to the list of things he would do as president to generate more leverage for America, so no matter who we have to talk with the advantage will be on our side of the table. That’s what matters.

But that seems entirely out of character and contrary to all of Obama’s pronouncements to date. He opposes measures which would pressure rogue states or their surrogates. He wants to roll back key sanctions against Cuba. He shushes Hillary Clinton, who announced in no uncertain terms that she would “obliterate” Iran if it destroyed Israel with a nuclear attack. He strenuously opposed the Kyl-Liebermann Amendment designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. And, of course, his plan to evacuate Iraq immediately is not the type of display of national fortitude designed to impress Iran, Syria or any other state or group in the Middle East.

Indeed he often gets Friedman’s formulation exactly backwards, as with North Korea. The Council on Foreign Relations reminds us: “Within weeks of Pyongyang’s nuclear test, Obama appeared on Meet the Press and said the United States had no leverage over North Korea because of Washington’s refusal to hold bilateral negotiations. ” No, Friedman would patiently remind him, get the leverage first - it makes diplomatic talks potentially successful and does not result from negotiations.

So I think it is unlikely, perhaps impossible, for Obama to take Friedman’s advice.

Thomas Friedman begins an entirely sensible column with this observation:

Barack Obama is getting painfully close to tying himself in knots with all his explanations of the conditions under which he would unconditionally talk with America’s foes, like Iran. His latest clarification was that there is a difference between “preparations” and “preconditions” for negotiations with bad guys. Such hair-splitting word games do not inspire confidence, and they play right into the arms of his critics. The last place he wants to look uncertain is on national security.

Friedman argues, as he has before, that negotiation with rouge states should follow not proceed acquisition of leverage by the U.S. and its allies. So what should we make of a candidate who thinks the opposite, that his mere presence before the likes of Castro and Ahmejinedad would be productive, would melt their hearts and persuade them of the errors of their ways?

Friedman advises:

Mr. Obama would do himself a big favor by shifting his focus from the list of enemy leaders he would talk with to the list of things he would do as president to generate more leverage for America, so no matter who we have to talk with the advantage will be on our side of the table. That’s what matters.

But that seems entirely out of character and contrary to all of Obama’s pronouncements to date. He opposes measures which would pressure rogue states or their surrogates. He wants to roll back key sanctions against Cuba. He shushes Hillary Clinton, who announced in no uncertain terms that she would “obliterate” Iran if it destroyed Israel with a nuclear attack. He strenuously opposed the Kyl-Liebermann Amendment designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. And, of course, his plan to evacuate Iraq immediately is not the type of display of national fortitude designed to impress Iran, Syria or any other state or group in the Middle East.

Indeed he often gets Friedman’s formulation exactly backwards, as with North Korea. The Council on Foreign Relations reminds us: “Within weeks of Pyongyang’s nuclear test, Obama appeared on Meet the Press and said the United States had no leverage over North Korea because of Washington’s refusal to hold bilateral negotiations. ” No, Friedman would patiently remind him, get the leverage first - it makes diplomatic talks potentially successful and does not result from negotiations.

So I think it is unlikely, perhaps impossible, for Obama to take Friedman’s advice.

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McCain on North Korea

While the mainstream media continues to fawn over Christopher Hill’s efforts in the Six Party talks, John McCain sets out his own views on North Korea (and Asia more generally) in the Asian Wall Street Journal. While much of the piece contains relatively familiar words of support for free trade and strengthening existing alliances, this jumps out:

We must use the leverage available from the U.N. Security Council resolution passed after Pyongyang’s 2006 nuclear test to ensure the full and complete declaration, disablement and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear facilities, in a verifiable manner, which we agreed to with the other members of the six-party talks. We must reinvigorate the trilateral coordination process with Japan and South Korea. And we must never squander the trust of our allies and the respect for our highest office by promising that the president will embark on an open-ended, unconditional personal negotiation with a dictator responsible for running an international criminal enterprise, a covert nuclear weapons program and a massive system of gulags.

The first two sentences are aimed squarely at the Bush administration. Many voices are urging McCain to get to the left of Bush on foreign policy. But here McCain goes the other way, in essence crying foul on the increasingly preposterous attempts (detailed by Stephen Hayes most recently) to ignore North Korea’s nuclear testing and proliferation (not to mention gross human rights abuses) for the sake of what some call “legacy deals.”

McCain continued these themes in a speech today on nuclear proliferation, stating that

North Korea pursues a nuclear weapons program to the point where, today, the dictator Kim Jong-Il has tested a nuclear weapon, and almost certainly possesses several more nuclear warheads. And it has shared its nuclear and missile know-how with others, including Syria. It is a vital national interest for the North Korean nuclear program to be completely, verifiably and irreversibly ended. . . .

Again, this criticism seems to be directed mainly at the unwillingness of the Bush administration to push for verifiable restraints on North Korea’s nuclear program. The latter may not do much to endear McCain to mainstream pundits, but it will likely cheer the conservative base (which has grown increasingly disgusted with Bush’s second term foreign policy record). North Korea is one issue on which McCain seems inclined to break with Bush, albeit not the way most critics envisioned.

While the mainstream media continues to fawn over Christopher Hill’s efforts in the Six Party talks, John McCain sets out his own views on North Korea (and Asia more generally) in the Asian Wall Street Journal. While much of the piece contains relatively familiar words of support for free trade and strengthening existing alliances, this jumps out:

We must use the leverage available from the U.N. Security Council resolution passed after Pyongyang’s 2006 nuclear test to ensure the full and complete declaration, disablement and irreversible dismantlement of its nuclear facilities, in a verifiable manner, which we agreed to with the other members of the six-party talks. We must reinvigorate the trilateral coordination process with Japan and South Korea. And we must never squander the trust of our allies and the respect for our highest office by promising that the president will embark on an open-ended, unconditional personal negotiation with a dictator responsible for running an international criminal enterprise, a covert nuclear weapons program and a massive system of gulags.

The first two sentences are aimed squarely at the Bush administration. Many voices are urging McCain to get to the left of Bush on foreign policy. But here McCain goes the other way, in essence crying foul on the increasingly preposterous attempts (detailed by Stephen Hayes most recently) to ignore North Korea’s nuclear testing and proliferation (not to mention gross human rights abuses) for the sake of what some call “legacy deals.”

McCain continued these themes in a speech today on nuclear proliferation, stating that

North Korea pursues a nuclear weapons program to the point where, today, the dictator Kim Jong-Il has tested a nuclear weapon, and almost certainly possesses several more nuclear warheads. And it has shared its nuclear and missile know-how with others, including Syria. It is a vital national interest for the North Korean nuclear program to be completely, verifiably and irreversibly ended. . . .

Again, this criticism seems to be directed mainly at the unwillingness of the Bush administration to push for verifiable restraints on North Korea’s nuclear program. The latter may not do much to endear McCain to mainstream pundits, but it will likely cheer the conservative base (which has grown increasingly disgusted with Bush’s second term foreign policy record). North Korea is one issue on which McCain seems inclined to break with Bush, albeit not the way most critics envisioned.

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Beggars Can Be Choosers

Negotiations with North Korea about its nuclear-weapons program are lumbering on, with the United States playing the part of eager suitor and Pyongyang the part of the reluctant bride. This a bizarre state of affairs if one considers the relative power of the two states.

Like his father, the Great Leader, Kim Jong Il, the Dear Leader, has insisted on an economic strategy of autarky. This has perhaps bolstered his rule, insulating the country from foreign influences. But as an approach to well-being — as an approach to even bare self-sufficiency — it has been a complete flop.

The Peterson Institute reports on the food situation:

North Korea is highly dependent on aid. The country has effectively become a ward of the international community, receiving large amounts of food aid year after year.

The willingness of donors to support the regime has declined. In addition to the country’s provocative foreign policy behavior, North Korea has proven unwilling to guarantee the integrity of its aid programs and as a result aid relations have repeatedly been roiled by evidence of diversion of aid to both the military and the market.

The regime has proven unwilling and in the current juncture perhaps also unable to adequately tap commercial sources of supply. Until the last several years, aid has consistently outstripped commercial imports. Now the country is more dependent on commercial imports just as prices are spiraling upwards. Moreover, the country’s lack of creditworthiness and foreign exchange earnings and reserves makes it a highly unreliable partner.

The bottom line: “North Korea is once again headed toward widespread food shortages, hunger, and famine.”

What if any leverage does this give us in the nuclear negotiations? None, it seems. If anything, we are going to have to beg them to let us help them feed themselves, even as we also beg them to give up their nuclear weapons.

Negotiations with North Korea about its nuclear-weapons program are lumbering on, with the United States playing the part of eager suitor and Pyongyang the part of the reluctant bride. This a bizarre state of affairs if one considers the relative power of the two states.

Like his father, the Great Leader, Kim Jong Il, the Dear Leader, has insisted on an economic strategy of autarky. This has perhaps bolstered his rule, insulating the country from foreign influences. But as an approach to well-being — as an approach to even bare self-sufficiency — it has been a complete flop.

The Peterson Institute reports on the food situation:

North Korea is highly dependent on aid. The country has effectively become a ward of the international community, receiving large amounts of food aid year after year.

The willingness of donors to support the regime has declined. In addition to the country’s provocative foreign policy behavior, North Korea has proven unwilling to guarantee the integrity of its aid programs and as a result aid relations have repeatedly been roiled by evidence of diversion of aid to both the military and the market.

The regime has proven unwilling and in the current juncture perhaps also unable to adequately tap commercial sources of supply. Until the last several years, aid has consistently outstripped commercial imports. Now the country is more dependent on commercial imports just as prices are spiraling upwards. Moreover, the country’s lack of creditworthiness and foreign exchange earnings and reserves makes it a highly unreliable partner.

The bottom line: “North Korea is once again headed toward widespread food shortages, hunger, and famine.”

What if any leverage does this give us in the nuclear negotiations? None, it seems. If anything, we are going to have to beg them to let us help them feed themselves, even as we also beg them to give up their nuclear weapons.

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Plutonium for Dummies

“It’s the plutonium, stupid,” write Siegfried Hecker and William Perry in this morning’s Washington Post. The two leading members of America’s Korea fraternity argue that, when it comes to Pyongyang, America’s most immediate goal should be eliminating its only working reactor, which is located at Yongbyon. Arguments over the North’s uranium weapons program and proliferation of nuclear technologies can wait, they contend. Defanging Kim Jong Il, we are assured, is a step-by-step process.

There is a surface logic to Hecker’s and Perry’s arguments. After all, nobody thinks North Korea is actively building weapons with uranium cores. Therefore, if we disable Yongbyon, we will have effectively ended Kim’s ability to produce more weapons that he can detonate, sell, or store. American policymakers now believe that, after we establish a working relationship with Pyongyang, we can eliminate its nuclear program over time. According to this view, there are no other options.

Or are there? Indeed, there are no other options once we give up the idea of pressuring Beijing and insist on sticking with the conventional diplomatic strategies that created this disaster in the first place. Yet there are other problems with the Hecker-Perry approach. It ignores the fact that North Korea is dealing with us now because it has to–its economy is falling back and it is entering another period of extreme hunger and possibly famine. Yet by providing interim rewards to Pyongyang for its initial cooperation, we are allowing the regime to strengthen itself. After it has done so, it will undoubtedly return to its traditionally intransigent approach. The problem with the current deal with North Korea is that, like the Agreed Framework of 1994, the United States is throwing another lifeline to Kim Jong Il without completely eliminating his nuclear program.

The United States can afford to reward bad North Korean behavior, and we can buy the North Korean nuclear program. But we can afford to do so only one more time. At this moment, the Bush administration is intent on implementing partial arrangements that undercut the possibility of reaching enduring solutions. In other words, we are setting ourselves up to continually buy the Kim family nuclear program. We should realize that our bargaining position is stronger now than it has been in a long while. For instance, South Korea, for the first time in ten years, has a political leadership that is willing to take a tougher line against the North.

Yet at this moment, Washington has decided to abandon its leverage and follow China’s go-slow policies. For those who believe Beijing can be helpful–President Bush, this sentence is directed at you–it is useful to examine Chinese complicity in North Korea’s proliferation of reactor technology to Syria. The real tragedy is that, at a moment when trends permit a firmer policy to work, the United States is adopting a softline approach that is bound to fail. So this is not just about plutonium. It’s about ending North Korea’s nuclear ambitions once and for all.

“It’s the plutonium, stupid,” write Siegfried Hecker and William Perry in this morning’s Washington Post. The two leading members of America’s Korea fraternity argue that, when it comes to Pyongyang, America’s most immediate goal should be eliminating its only working reactor, which is located at Yongbyon. Arguments over the North’s uranium weapons program and proliferation of nuclear technologies can wait, they contend. Defanging Kim Jong Il, we are assured, is a step-by-step process.

There is a surface logic to Hecker’s and Perry’s arguments. After all, nobody thinks North Korea is actively building weapons with uranium cores. Therefore, if we disable Yongbyon, we will have effectively ended Kim’s ability to produce more weapons that he can detonate, sell, or store. American policymakers now believe that, after we establish a working relationship with Pyongyang, we can eliminate its nuclear program over time. According to this view, there are no other options.

Or are there? Indeed, there are no other options once we give up the idea of pressuring Beijing and insist on sticking with the conventional diplomatic strategies that created this disaster in the first place. Yet there are other problems with the Hecker-Perry approach. It ignores the fact that North Korea is dealing with us now because it has to–its economy is falling back and it is entering another period of extreme hunger and possibly famine. Yet by providing interim rewards to Pyongyang for its initial cooperation, we are allowing the regime to strengthen itself. After it has done so, it will undoubtedly return to its traditionally intransigent approach. The problem with the current deal with North Korea is that, like the Agreed Framework of 1994, the United States is throwing another lifeline to Kim Jong Il without completely eliminating his nuclear program.

The United States can afford to reward bad North Korean behavior, and we can buy the North Korean nuclear program. But we can afford to do so only one more time. At this moment, the Bush administration is intent on implementing partial arrangements that undercut the possibility of reaching enduring solutions. In other words, we are setting ourselves up to continually buy the Kim family nuclear program. We should realize that our bargaining position is stronger now than it has been in a long while. For instance, South Korea, for the first time in ten years, has a political leadership that is willing to take a tougher line against the North.

Yet at this moment, Washington has decided to abandon its leverage and follow China’s go-slow policies. For those who believe Beijing can be helpful–President Bush, this sentence is directed at you–it is useful to examine Chinese complicity in North Korea’s proliferation of reactor technology to Syria. The real tragedy is that, at a moment when trends permit a firmer policy to work, the United States is adopting a softline approach that is bound to fail. So this is not just about plutonium. It’s about ending North Korea’s nuclear ambitions once and for all.

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Iran Shouts “Nuclear Apartheid”

On Monday, Iran’s Ali Asghar Soltanieh said Tehran would not submit to extensive U.N. inspections of its nuclear program while Israel refuses to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran is a signatory to the NPT, as the global pact is called, and, as such, is not permitted to build or hold nuclear weapons. Israel, which maintains a small arsenal of nukes, has not joined the NPT. Citing “nuclear apartheid,” the Iranian diplomat said

The existing double standard shall not be tolerated anymore by non-nuclear-weapon states.

Tehran’s announcement should surprise no one. North Korea raised the nuclear apartheid argument earlier this decade to justify its serial violations of the NPT. After International Atomic Energy Agency inspections revealed that Pyongyang had been secretly experimenting with plutonium, it announced its withdrawal from the treaty in January 2003. There have been reports that North Koreans have been teaching Iranians how to avoid nuclear inspections and deal with the international community. Whether these stories are true or not, Tehran is now obviously following North Korea’s playbook.

So look for Tehran to talk about Israel again and again. There will always be questions about Israel, India, and Pakistan, the three nuclear powers that never signed the NPT. And there are broader fairness issues about the discriminatory nature of the treaty, which permits five nations to possess nukes and prohibits 185 others from doing so. Yet the United States should remind the international community that Iran, while it remains a nuclear criminal, has no standing to raise them.

The mullahs appear to be laying the groundwork for ditching the NPT. “What is the problem with withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty?” asked Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the leader of Iran’s powerful Guardian Council, in 2003. “North Korea withdrew from the treaty.”

So we should start laying groundwork of our own. We need to tell Iran it has no right to withdraw from the NPT until it first complies with its treaty obligations and all the demands of the Security Council that it suspend the enrichment of uranium. The sooner Washington announces this–along with its intentions to use force to back up its demands–the better.

On Monday, Iran’s Ali Asghar Soltanieh said Tehran would not submit to extensive U.N. inspections of its nuclear program while Israel refuses to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran is a signatory to the NPT, as the global pact is called, and, as such, is not permitted to build or hold nuclear weapons. Israel, which maintains a small arsenal of nukes, has not joined the NPT. Citing “nuclear apartheid,” the Iranian diplomat said

The existing double standard shall not be tolerated anymore by non-nuclear-weapon states.

Tehran’s announcement should surprise no one. North Korea raised the nuclear apartheid argument earlier this decade to justify its serial violations of the NPT. After International Atomic Energy Agency inspections revealed that Pyongyang had been secretly experimenting with plutonium, it announced its withdrawal from the treaty in January 2003. There have been reports that North Koreans have been teaching Iranians how to avoid nuclear inspections and deal with the international community. Whether these stories are true or not, Tehran is now obviously following North Korea’s playbook.

So look for Tehran to talk about Israel again and again. There will always be questions about Israel, India, and Pakistan, the three nuclear powers that never signed the NPT. And there are broader fairness issues about the discriminatory nature of the treaty, which permits five nations to possess nukes and prohibits 185 others from doing so. Yet the United States should remind the international community that Iran, while it remains a nuclear criminal, has no standing to raise them.

The mullahs appear to be laying the groundwork for ditching the NPT. “What is the problem with withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty?” asked Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the leader of Iran’s powerful Guardian Council, in 2003. “North Korea withdrew from the treaty.”

So we should start laying groundwork of our own. We need to tell Iran it has no right to withdraw from the NPT until it first complies with its treaty obligations and all the demands of the Security Council that it suspend the enrichment of uranium. The sooner Washington announces this–along with its intentions to use force to back up its demands–the better.

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“Pariah Diplomacy”

Jimmy Carter, writing in this morning’s New York Times, praises his own “Pariah Diplomacy.” He cites, as an example of success, his mediation in Nepal that led to the Maoists joining the government. He then describes the results of his just-concluded meetings with the leaders of Hamas. “In the Middle East, as in Nepal, the path to peace lies in negotiation, not in isolation,” the Nobel laureate writes.

Whatever one thinks of Carter’s diplomacy with Nepalese Maoists and Palestinian terrorists, it’s too early to pronounce final verdicts in either case. Yet we can begin to judge the former President’s general approach by looking at the results of his past efforts.

Take his peacemaking initiative with regard to Kim Il Sung’s North Korea, for example. After meeting with the charismatic dictator in June 1994, Carter said that he had performed “a miracle.”

At the time, he looked as if he were right. He had, on his own initiative, gone to Pyongyang despite the wishes of the Clinton administration and the government in Seoul-sound familiar?-and, by all accounts, averted war. He did that by putting together a plan that formed the basis of the Agreed Framework, a bilateral deal inked in October 1994 by Washington and Pyongyang.

It’s clear that Carter, by willfulness and charm, reduced the possibility of war. But did he bring lasting peace to the Korean peninsula? Since then, Kim Jong Il, who succeeded his father, has tested long-range missiles, detonated an atomic device with a plutonium core, pursued a uranium weapons program, proliferated nuclear technology to Syria, and worked with Iran on its nuclear weapons and missiles.

None of this, in all probability, would have occurred if Carter had not gone to Pyongyang. On the eve of his visit, Bill Clinton had accomplished something that so far has eluded George W. Bush–he had prepared the international community for the use of force against the Kim family regime. In one of those rare moments of unity, the world was ready for meaningful coercive measures against the North. Even China, Kim Il Sung’s staunch ally, was willing to permit the United Nations to impose penalties-and had told Kim Il Sung as much. Carter’s trip, unfortunately, dissolved that unity. Left without support for the use of force, the Clinton administration had no choice but to accept the Agreed Framework, which provided a crucial lifeline to the abhorrent Kim regime.

So bolstered, Kim Jong Il adopted polices that could only have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of his fellow Koreans, and that is exactly what happened in the great famine in the middle of last decade. When nobody had to starve, many perished. Since then, North Korea has done more than almost any other nation to destabilize the international community. Carter, the itinerant peacemaker in 1994, apparently prevented war. Yet he stopped the United States and the rest of the world from putting together an enduring solution-and he essentially permitted Kim Jong Il to commit murder on the largest scale since the end of the Cold War.

This, more than anything, is Jimmy Carter’s legacy so far. I hope there can be peace in Nepal and in Israel. But if we have learned anything from Ronald Reagan, it is that we should talk with tyrants as Carter advises, but only when they know they have been defeated. Jimmy’s approach, however, first legitimizes and then strengthens them. And that is why the world is in such disarray at this moment.

Jimmy Carter, writing in this morning’s New York Times, praises his own “Pariah Diplomacy.” He cites, as an example of success, his mediation in Nepal that led to the Maoists joining the government. He then describes the results of his just-concluded meetings with the leaders of Hamas. “In the Middle East, as in Nepal, the path to peace lies in negotiation, not in isolation,” the Nobel laureate writes.

Whatever one thinks of Carter’s diplomacy with Nepalese Maoists and Palestinian terrorists, it’s too early to pronounce final verdicts in either case. Yet we can begin to judge the former President’s general approach by looking at the results of his past efforts.

Take his peacemaking initiative with regard to Kim Il Sung’s North Korea, for example. After meeting with the charismatic dictator in June 1994, Carter said that he had performed “a miracle.”

At the time, he looked as if he were right. He had, on his own initiative, gone to Pyongyang despite the wishes of the Clinton administration and the government in Seoul-sound familiar?-and, by all accounts, averted war. He did that by putting together a plan that formed the basis of the Agreed Framework, a bilateral deal inked in October 1994 by Washington and Pyongyang.

It’s clear that Carter, by willfulness and charm, reduced the possibility of war. But did he bring lasting peace to the Korean peninsula? Since then, Kim Jong Il, who succeeded his father, has tested long-range missiles, detonated an atomic device with a plutonium core, pursued a uranium weapons program, proliferated nuclear technology to Syria, and worked with Iran on its nuclear weapons and missiles.

None of this, in all probability, would have occurred if Carter had not gone to Pyongyang. On the eve of his visit, Bill Clinton had accomplished something that so far has eluded George W. Bush–he had prepared the international community for the use of force against the Kim family regime. In one of those rare moments of unity, the world was ready for meaningful coercive measures against the North. Even China, Kim Il Sung’s staunch ally, was willing to permit the United Nations to impose penalties-and had told Kim Il Sung as much. Carter’s trip, unfortunately, dissolved that unity. Left without support for the use of force, the Clinton administration had no choice but to accept the Agreed Framework, which provided a crucial lifeline to the abhorrent Kim regime.

So bolstered, Kim Jong Il adopted polices that could only have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of his fellow Koreans, and that is exactly what happened in the great famine in the middle of last decade. When nobody had to starve, many perished. Since then, North Korea has done more than almost any other nation to destabilize the international community. Carter, the itinerant peacemaker in 1994, apparently prevented war. Yet he stopped the United States and the rest of the world from putting together an enduring solution-and he essentially permitted Kim Jong Il to commit murder on the largest scale since the end of the Cold War.

This, more than anything, is Jimmy Carter’s legacy so far. I hope there can be peace in Nepal and in Israel. But if we have learned anything from Ronald Reagan, it is that we should talk with tyrants as Carter advises, but only when they know they have been defeated. Jimmy’s approach, however, first legitimizes and then strengthens them. And that is why the world is in such disarray at this moment.

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North Korea, Syria, and Iran

Today, U.S. intelligence officials will give closed-door briefings to members of Congress about North Korea’s role in building a reactor in Syria. (Israel, it’s been confirmed, destroyed that nuclear facility with their air-strikes last September.)

Why are the briefings taking place now? This morning the New York Times‘s David Sanger speculated that Vice President Cheney is trying to scuttle the six-party disarmament talks by highlighting Pyongyang’s proliferant behavior. Others have floated more intriguing theories. For example, Jon Wolfsthal, an analyst from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, thinks the Bush administration is releasing the information at this time to rescue its tentative deal with the North Koreans by letting them off the hook. “If it turns out we have them dead to rights–that we have enough information on our own–then we can eliminate this as a point of contention,” he says. “Maybe we don’t need to negotiate transparency with North Korea because we already know enough.”

Wolfstal is onto something–this is definitely how the State Department thinks. There is, of course, no reason to humiliate the Koreans publicly by forcing them to confess to something we already know. Yet there are two fundamental flaws with this line of reasoning. First, it is important that the North Koreans make a complete declaration of their proliferation activities to show that they have made the critical decision to stop spreading dangerous technologies. Second, we do not know whether Syria is the only party to which they have transferred such expertise. Specifically, it’s critical that we learn about the extent of Pyongyang’s relationship with Tehran.

There are reports that Iranians traveled to North Korea to witness its October 2006 nuclear test, that the North Koreans sold processed uranium to Iran, and that they have been coaching their Iranian counterparts on how to dodge inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The links between the two nuclear programs appear to go back to the late 1990′s.

North Korea’s proliferant activities may not be limited to just Syria and Iran. They are so extensive that there is concern that Kim Jong Il is trying to replicate the old A.Q. Khan nuclear black market. In any event, Pyongyang’s promise to make a declaration of its nuclear activities is a perfect opportunity for us to find out their real extent.

Today, U.S. intelligence officials will give closed-door briefings to members of Congress about North Korea’s role in building a reactor in Syria. (Israel, it’s been confirmed, destroyed that nuclear facility with their air-strikes last September.)

Why are the briefings taking place now? This morning the New York Times‘s David Sanger speculated that Vice President Cheney is trying to scuttle the six-party disarmament talks by highlighting Pyongyang’s proliferant behavior. Others have floated more intriguing theories. For example, Jon Wolfsthal, an analyst from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, thinks the Bush administration is releasing the information at this time to rescue its tentative deal with the North Koreans by letting them off the hook. “If it turns out we have them dead to rights–that we have enough information on our own–then we can eliminate this as a point of contention,” he says. “Maybe we don’t need to negotiate transparency with North Korea because we already know enough.”

Wolfstal is onto something–this is definitely how the State Department thinks. There is, of course, no reason to humiliate the Koreans publicly by forcing them to confess to something we already know. Yet there are two fundamental flaws with this line of reasoning. First, it is important that the North Koreans make a complete declaration of their proliferation activities to show that they have made the critical decision to stop spreading dangerous technologies. Second, we do not know whether Syria is the only party to which they have transferred such expertise. Specifically, it’s critical that we learn about the extent of Pyongyang’s relationship with Tehran.

There are reports that Iranians traveled to North Korea to witness its October 2006 nuclear test, that the North Koreans sold processed uranium to Iran, and that they have been coaching their Iranian counterparts on how to dodge inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The links between the two nuclear programs appear to go back to the late 1990′s.

North Korea’s proliferant activities may not be limited to just Syria and Iran. They are so extensive that there is concern that Kim Jong Il is trying to replicate the old A.Q. Khan nuclear black market. In any event, Pyongyang’s promise to make a declaration of its nuclear activities is a perfect opportunity for us to find out their real extent.

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Bad News on North Korea

This has not been a good few weeks for the North Korean nuclear accord, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice apparently hopes will be one of her signature achievements. First came word that Pyongyang would not deliver the full and complete listing of its nuclear activities that had previously been agreed to. The State Department, desperate to clinch a deal, would not allow this blatant noncompliance to sink the agreement.

Now comes word, via this Wall Street Journal report, that the intelligence community will confirm for Congress what is already widely suspected–that the Syrian site bombed last September by Israel was a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor being built by North Korea. This helps to explain why North Korea is unwilling to provide a full rundown on its nuclear proliferation activities-and makes it harder for the State Department to defend its cherished treaty.

While these may seem like setbacks, they are actually an opportunity to press North Korea for full and complete, Libyan-style disarmament if it hopes to reap all of the promised goodies (such as shipments of fuel). The accession of a new, more conservative leader in South Korea, Lee Myung-bak, makes this a better bet since he eschews the appeasement of his predecessors (known as the “sunshine policy”) and favors a tougher approach to North Korean human-rights and nuclear-proliferation violations. The question is whether Lee’s more hawkish stance will clash with the dovish approach of the Bush administration’s second term.

This has not been a good few weeks for the North Korean nuclear accord, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice apparently hopes will be one of her signature achievements. First came word that Pyongyang would not deliver the full and complete listing of its nuclear activities that had previously been agreed to. The State Department, desperate to clinch a deal, would not allow this blatant noncompliance to sink the agreement.

Now comes word, via this Wall Street Journal report, that the intelligence community will confirm for Congress what is already widely suspected–that the Syrian site bombed last September by Israel was a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor being built by North Korea. This helps to explain why North Korea is unwilling to provide a full rundown on its nuclear proliferation activities-and makes it harder for the State Department to defend its cherished treaty.

While these may seem like setbacks, they are actually an opportunity to press North Korea for full and complete, Libyan-style disarmament if it hopes to reap all of the promised goodies (such as shipments of fuel). The accession of a new, more conservative leader in South Korea, Lee Myung-bak, makes this a better bet since he eschews the appeasement of his predecessors (known as the “sunshine policy”) and favors a tougher approach to North Korean human-rights and nuclear-proliferation violations. The question is whether Lee’s more hawkish stance will clash with the dovish approach of the Bush administration’s second term.

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Take Your Time, North Korea

Yesterday, President Bush told critics of his North Korean policies to pipe down and be patient. “Somehow people are precluding–you know, jumping ahead of the game,” he said as he appeared with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, at Camp David. Referring to the North Koreans’ February 2007 promise to disclose their nuclear programs, Bush said this: “They have yet to make a full declaration. Why don’t we just wait and see what they say before people go out there and start giving their opinions about whether or not this is a good deal or a bad deal?”

First of all, nobody is rushing to judgment, Mr. President. The North Koreans in October had promised to make the all-important declaration by the end of last year. It is now a matter of historical fact that they are more than three months late.

Moreover, the North Koreans rarely fail to miss an opportunity to tell an untruth, especially when it comes to their nuclear weapons. Incredibly, they have stated they already delivered a declaration. According to them, they possess only 30 kilograms of plutonium instead of the 50 kilograms that almost everyone believes they hold. Perhaps more important, the North Koreans stated they never had any nuclear weapons program based on uranium and have not proliferated anything to anybody, including the Syrians.

Lies, lies, lies! And what does the American president say in light of North Korea’s obvious fabrications? “He’s testing the relationship,” Bush noted yesterday in a reference to Kim Jong Il. “He’s wondering whether or not the five of us will stay unified, and the only thing I know to do is to continue pressing forward within the six-party framework.”

There are so many things wrong with this statement, it’s hard to find the place to begin. Yet let me note three points. First, if this is a North Korean test of American will, the last thing to do is to let Mr. Kim get his way. That, as they say in the geopolitics biz, is a sign of weakness. Pyongyang’s leader is not waiting for the Bush administration to end, as many pundits believe; he apparently sees no need to disarm in view of general American helplessness. Second, I cannot believe that the President, by publicly saying that he knows no alternative to the six-party talks, has just admitted that he has run out of ideas. Even proponents of engaging the North Koreans have become skeptics of the negotiating process that started in the middle of 2003. Third, the five other parties are not unified. Apart from pious statements from China, for instance, there is little evidence that Beijing shares Washington’s goal of disarming North Korea.

If Kim wanted to give up his weapons, he would be doing so at this moment. It’s time for the Bush administration to recognize that its plan has failed and to move on. We need less patience because we need to know where we stand.

And, yes, it’s true that President Bush’s term is nearing its end. Yet he still has an obligation to defend America and its allies. And that means, among other things, that he should stop issuing inane statements and making us look helpless.

Yesterday, President Bush told critics of his North Korean policies to pipe down and be patient. “Somehow people are precluding–you know, jumping ahead of the game,” he said as he appeared with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, at Camp David. Referring to the North Koreans’ February 2007 promise to disclose their nuclear programs, Bush said this: “They have yet to make a full declaration. Why don’t we just wait and see what they say before people go out there and start giving their opinions about whether or not this is a good deal or a bad deal?”

First of all, nobody is rushing to judgment, Mr. President. The North Koreans in October had promised to make the all-important declaration by the end of last year. It is now a matter of historical fact that they are more than three months late.

Moreover, the North Koreans rarely fail to miss an opportunity to tell an untruth, especially when it comes to their nuclear weapons. Incredibly, they have stated they already delivered a declaration. According to them, they possess only 30 kilograms of plutonium instead of the 50 kilograms that almost everyone believes they hold. Perhaps more important, the North Koreans stated they never had any nuclear weapons program based on uranium and have not proliferated anything to anybody, including the Syrians.

Lies, lies, lies! And what does the American president say in light of North Korea’s obvious fabrications? “He’s testing the relationship,” Bush noted yesterday in a reference to Kim Jong Il. “He’s wondering whether or not the five of us will stay unified, and the only thing I know to do is to continue pressing forward within the six-party framework.”

There are so many things wrong with this statement, it’s hard to find the place to begin. Yet let me note three points. First, if this is a North Korean test of American will, the last thing to do is to let Mr. Kim get his way. That, as they say in the geopolitics biz, is a sign of weakness. Pyongyang’s leader is not waiting for the Bush administration to end, as many pundits believe; he apparently sees no need to disarm in view of general American helplessness. Second, I cannot believe that the President, by publicly saying that he knows no alternative to the six-party talks, has just admitted that he has run out of ideas. Even proponents of engaging the North Koreans have become skeptics of the negotiating process that started in the middle of 2003. Third, the five other parties are not unified. Apart from pious statements from China, for instance, there is little evidence that Beijing shares Washington’s goal of disarming North Korea.

If Kim wanted to give up his weapons, he would be doing so at this moment. It’s time for the Bush administration to recognize that its plan has failed and to move on. We need less patience because we need to know where we stand.

And, yes, it’s true that President Bush’s term is nearing its end. Yet he still has an obligation to defend America and its allies. And that means, among other things, that he should stop issuing inane statements and making us look helpless.

Read Less

Too Many Lives at Stake

Yesterday, representatives from the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, the so-called P5 + 1, met but failed to agree on a new package of incentives for Iran. The most significant aspect of the meeting is not the result–it was clear from the get-go that the six nations would not immediately see eye-to-eye–but its location, Shanghai: China hosted the talks.

In one sense, it is a measure of progress that Beijing is helping to find a solution to the greatest security challenge of our times. As Guo Xian’gang, a former Chinese diplomat, told Reuters, “China wanted to show that it’s a mainstream member of the five plus one process.”

But should the United States be ceding even more initiative to the Chinese? In 2003 President Bush committed himself to multilateral diplomacy on North Korea, and he generously made China the centerpiece of global efforts to disarm Pyongyang.

The Chinese used their position to craft an arrangement, announced in September 2005, that permitted even more North Korean delaying tactics and bad faith negotiation. And why did the President accept an obviously deficient deal? Largely because Chinese negotiators presented their plan as take-it-or-leave-it and told their American counterparts that they would publicly blame them if they rejected it. In short, the United States generously gave Beijing a leading role on Korea-and the Chinese then turned around and used their new-found prominence to mug America. Now, North Korea is prevailing over United States, as Abe Greenwald suggested on Tuesday, largely because Pyongyang has Beijing on its side.

Yet the Bush administration is again trying to give the Chinese a leading role in international affairs, this time to stop Iran’s efforts to weaponize the atom. That’s why the place of yesterday’s meeting is so important. Working with China can hasten its integration into the global order, yet long before Beijing is ready to accept the role as a constructive power, the Iranians will have built an arsenal of nuclear warheads.

Whether or not it was wise for the White House to work with the Chinese over North Korea five years ago, it should not be doing so now with Iran. There are too many lives at stake for the Bush administration to continue its optimistic diplomacy experiment with China.

Yesterday, representatives from the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, the so-called P5 + 1, met but failed to agree on a new package of incentives for Iran. The most significant aspect of the meeting is not the result–it was clear from the get-go that the six nations would not immediately see eye-to-eye–but its location, Shanghai: China hosted the talks.

In one sense, it is a measure of progress that Beijing is helping to find a solution to the greatest security challenge of our times. As Guo Xian’gang, a former Chinese diplomat, told Reuters, “China wanted to show that it’s a mainstream member of the five plus one process.”

But should the United States be ceding even more initiative to the Chinese? In 2003 President Bush committed himself to multilateral diplomacy on North Korea, and he generously made China the centerpiece of global efforts to disarm Pyongyang.

The Chinese used their position to craft an arrangement, announced in September 2005, that permitted even more North Korean delaying tactics and bad faith negotiation. And why did the President accept an obviously deficient deal? Largely because Chinese negotiators presented their plan as take-it-or-leave-it and told their American counterparts that they would publicly blame them if they rejected it. In short, the United States generously gave Beijing a leading role on Korea-and the Chinese then turned around and used their new-found prominence to mug America. Now, North Korea is prevailing over United States, as Abe Greenwald suggested on Tuesday, largely because Pyongyang has Beijing on its side.

Yet the Bush administration is again trying to give the Chinese a leading role in international affairs, this time to stop Iran’s efforts to weaponize the atom. That’s why the place of yesterday’s meeting is so important. Working with China can hasten its integration into the global order, yet long before Beijing is ready to accept the role as a constructive power, the Iranians will have built an arsenal of nuclear warheads.

Whether or not it was wise for the White House to work with the Chinese over North Korea five years ago, it should not be doing so now with Iran. There are too many lives at stake for the Bush administration to continue its optimistic diplomacy experiment with China.

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Sundown in Seoul?

It hasn’t received much attention yet, but new South Korean president Lee Myung-bak has thrown some cold water on the “sunshine policy” of his predecessors. This policy, arguing for peaceful co-operation with the north, really amounted to subsidizing North Korea in the hope of averting its collapse. (Never mind the untold suffering inflicted by Kim Jong-Il on his subjects.)

Lee is making further aid conditional on North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear program and to improve human rights. This has brought a predictable hissy-fit from Pyongyang. As this New York Times article notes, the North is calling Lee a “traitor” and a “U.S. sycophant” and warning: “The Lee regime will be held fully accountable for the irrevocable catastrophic consequences to be entailed.”

Lee should take it as a badge of honor that he is on the receiving end of name-calling from the vilest ruler on the planet. His predecessors have nothing to be proud of, considering that, as the Times puts it, this “outburst was the first time in eight years the North had insulted a South Korean president.” The only way to affect substantial change in the North—if such change is possible at all—is to end the subsidies that have underpinned the regime. Those come primarily from China and South Korea. Beijing has shown no willingness so far to change its support for a fellow communist dictatorship, but the change from Seoul could be significant. It is more likely to bear fruit than the nuclear accord negotiated by the Bush administration, which the North has so far refused to implement.

It hasn’t received much attention yet, but new South Korean president Lee Myung-bak has thrown some cold water on the “sunshine policy” of his predecessors. This policy, arguing for peaceful co-operation with the north, really amounted to subsidizing North Korea in the hope of averting its collapse. (Never mind the untold suffering inflicted by Kim Jong-Il on his subjects.)

Lee is making further aid conditional on North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear program and to improve human rights. This has brought a predictable hissy-fit from Pyongyang. As this New York Times article notes, the North is calling Lee a “traitor” and a “U.S. sycophant” and warning: “The Lee regime will be held fully accountable for the irrevocable catastrophic consequences to be entailed.”

Lee should take it as a badge of honor that he is on the receiving end of name-calling from the vilest ruler on the planet. His predecessors have nothing to be proud of, considering that, as the Times puts it, this “outburst was the first time in eight years the North had insulted a South Korean president.” The only way to affect substantial change in the North—if such change is possible at all—is to end the subsidies that have underpinned the regime. Those come primarily from China and South Korea. Beijing has shown no willingness so far to change its support for a fellow communist dictatorship, but the change from Seoul could be significant. It is more likely to bear fruit than the nuclear accord negotiated by the Bush administration, which the North has so far refused to implement.

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“Everything Will Be in Ashes”

Today, Pyongyang threatened to destroy archrival South Korea. “Everything will be in ashes, not just a sea of fire, once our advanced pre-emptive strike begins,” promised an unidentified North Korean military analyst. The remarks, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, cap days of escalating tension on the peninsula. Yesterday, the North threatened to cut off all dialogue between the two states. Pyongyang pinned the blame for its bellicose words on recent comments by Kim Tae Young, the new chairman of the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. On Wednesday, Kim said that his forces were ready to attack suspected North Korean nuclear sites if it appeared that Pyongyang was about to use atomic weapons against the South.

The exchange of nasty words about nuclear war comes amid a general breakdown in relations between the two Koreas. Last Thursday, Seoul withdrew all its officials from the Kaesong industrial park, just north of the Demilitarized Zone. Pyongyang demanded the withdrawal after the new South Korean government said that it would not expand the zone, created to attract South Korean manufacturers, until the North honored its promises to give up its nuclear weapons. On Friday, Pyongyang tested ship-to-ship missiles in what was characterized as a display of anger.

South Korea’s new president, Lee Myung-bak, has taken a noticeably tougher line than either of his two predecessors, Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun. The North’s propaganda machine had mostly held off criticizing the South Korean president until last week. Now it appears that Pyongyang will try to undermine Lee by a new round of belligerent conduct and words.

Deteriorating relations on the Korean peninsula are bound to finally scuttle the Bush administration’s efforts to salvage the so-called six-party process. The North is months late on honoring its agreement to make a complete declaration of its nuclear programs, and even before last week there was little prospect that Pyongyang would reverse course and comply.

Despite its promises, the regime in Pyongyang has yet to make the critical decision to give up its atomic arsenal. We will not know for some time whether Kim Jong Il is holding out for a better deal from a new administration in Washington, as some contend, or whether, more probably, he has been unable to obtain the cooperation of his military to disarm. In any event, it is time for President Bush to acknowledge that his Korean policy is being overtaken by events in Korea. His counterpart in Seoul already knows there can be no progress until governments are willing to hold the enigmatic Kim to his promises. The time for American patience with the dangerous autocrat in Pyongyang is now over.

Today, Pyongyang threatened to destroy archrival South Korea. “Everything will be in ashes, not just a sea of fire, once our advanced pre-emptive strike begins,” promised an unidentified North Korean military analyst. The remarks, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, cap days of escalating tension on the peninsula. Yesterday, the North threatened to cut off all dialogue between the two states. Pyongyang pinned the blame for its bellicose words on recent comments by Kim Tae Young, the new chairman of the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. On Wednesday, Kim said that his forces were ready to attack suspected North Korean nuclear sites if it appeared that Pyongyang was about to use atomic weapons against the South.

The exchange of nasty words about nuclear war comes amid a general breakdown in relations between the two Koreas. Last Thursday, Seoul withdrew all its officials from the Kaesong industrial park, just north of the Demilitarized Zone. Pyongyang demanded the withdrawal after the new South Korean government said that it would not expand the zone, created to attract South Korean manufacturers, until the North honored its promises to give up its nuclear weapons. On Friday, Pyongyang tested ship-to-ship missiles in what was characterized as a display of anger.

South Korea’s new president, Lee Myung-bak, has taken a noticeably tougher line than either of his two predecessors, Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun. The North’s propaganda machine had mostly held off criticizing the South Korean president until last week. Now it appears that Pyongyang will try to undermine Lee by a new round of belligerent conduct and words.

Deteriorating relations on the Korean peninsula are bound to finally scuttle the Bush administration’s efforts to salvage the so-called six-party process. The North is months late on honoring its agreement to make a complete declaration of its nuclear programs, and even before last week there was little prospect that Pyongyang would reverse course and comply.

Despite its promises, the regime in Pyongyang has yet to make the critical decision to give up its atomic arsenal. We will not know for some time whether Kim Jong Il is holding out for a better deal from a new administration in Washington, as some contend, or whether, more probably, he has been unable to obtain the cooperation of his military to disarm. In any event, it is time for President Bush to acknowledge that his Korean policy is being overtaken by events in Korea. His counterpart in Seoul already knows there can be no progress until governments are willing to hold the enigmatic Kim to his promises. The time for American patience with the dangerous autocrat in Pyongyang is now over.

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Am I Being Irresponsible?

If there is a political law of gravity, sooner or later the totalitarian regime in North Korea is going to come to an end. A socio-economic system so mired in failure, a political system so contrary to the basic human aspiration for freedom, cannot stay aloft forever.

That, at least, is the optimistic assumption of Andrew Scobell, a professor of international affairs at Texas A & M, who has engaged in the fascinating exercise of forecasting exactly how it will collapse.

Scobell posits five possible scenarios, each of which correspond to the demise or transformation of other Communist regimes:

Suspended animation — Albania

Soft landing — China

Crash landing — Romania

Soft landing/crash landing hybrid — the USSR

Suspended animation/soft landing hybrid — Cuba

Scobell explains each possibility at length and tries to see which one best fits the North Korean future. He finds, tentatively, that “the closest to the reality of the North Korea’s current situation is a Cuban mix of ad hoc reforms and regime holding pattern.”

Scobell may or may not be wrong about that. But after watching North Korea for years, traveling there in the early 1990′s, and, most recently, reading The Reluctant Communist, the horrifying tale of an American soldier kept there in captivity for forty years, I would much prefer to see a Romanian-style crash landing.

Scobell thinks it likely that if the regime abruptly disintegrates

this could mean not just extreme disorganization of power but a civil war or a collapse situation with significant pockets of organized armed resistance. In the latter situation, while elements of the coercive apparatus would surrender or disband and flee, others might vigorously resist. Some hardcore elements might engage in insurgency operations for months or even years.

Obviously, this could a very dangerous scenario, costly in human life, and one that might spill across international borders with unpredictable consequences. But am I being irresponsible in stating that for a regime so profoundly evil, the day of violent reckoning cannot come too soon? If there was ever a case where the tree of liberty was in need of some refreshment from the blood of tyrants, this would appear to be it.

Unfortunately, all of this may be idle speculation. Scobell also notes that

the deathwatch for the Pyongyang regime has lasted more than 15 years. Those who predicted or anticipated its imminent demise have had to eat their words or do a lot of explaining. Pyongyang is far from dead, and there is evidence that the regime may be regrouping.

I hope he’s wrong.

If there is a political law of gravity, sooner or later the totalitarian regime in North Korea is going to come to an end. A socio-economic system so mired in failure, a political system so contrary to the basic human aspiration for freedom, cannot stay aloft forever.

That, at least, is the optimistic assumption of Andrew Scobell, a professor of international affairs at Texas A & M, who has engaged in the fascinating exercise of forecasting exactly how it will collapse.

Scobell posits five possible scenarios, each of which correspond to the demise or transformation of other Communist regimes:

Suspended animation — Albania

Soft landing — China

Crash landing — Romania

Soft landing/crash landing hybrid — the USSR

Suspended animation/soft landing hybrid — Cuba

Scobell explains each possibility at length and tries to see which one best fits the North Korean future. He finds, tentatively, that “the closest to the reality of the North Korea’s current situation is a Cuban mix of ad hoc reforms and regime holding pattern.”

Scobell may or may not be wrong about that. But after watching North Korea for years, traveling there in the early 1990′s, and, most recently, reading The Reluctant Communist, the horrifying tale of an American soldier kept there in captivity for forty years, I would much prefer to see a Romanian-style crash landing.

Scobell thinks it likely that if the regime abruptly disintegrates

this could mean not just extreme disorganization of power but a civil war or a collapse situation with significant pockets of organized armed resistance. In the latter situation, while elements of the coercive apparatus would surrender or disband and flee, others might vigorously resist. Some hardcore elements might engage in insurgency operations for months or even years.

Obviously, this could a very dangerous scenario, costly in human life, and one that might spill across international borders with unpredictable consequences. But am I being irresponsible in stating that for a regime so profoundly evil, the day of violent reckoning cannot come too soon? If there was ever a case where the tree of liberty was in need of some refreshment from the blood of tyrants, this would appear to be it.

Unfortunately, all of this may be idle speculation. Scobell also notes that

the deathwatch for the Pyongyang regime has lasted more than 15 years. Those who predicted or anticipated its imminent demise have had to eat their words or do a lot of explaining. Pyongyang is far from dead, and there is evidence that the regime may be regrouping.

I hope he’s wrong.

Read Less

Vulnerable North Korea

“There’s a growing understanding of the issues that need to be resolved,” said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill after meeting with his North Korean counterpart in Geneva late last week. Washington’s chief negotiator at the six-party talks was doing his best to show progress in the inconclusive negotiations to disarm Kim Jong Il’s abhorrent state. To date, Pyongyang has shown little inclination to provide a full accounting of its nuclear weapons programs in compliance with a prior agreement to do so by the end of last year.

A weakened Bush administration appears to be at a loss as to what to do in the face of the North’s recent intransigence. In the first week of this month, Hill imposed a March-end deadline on Pyongyang to honor its commitments, but it is apparent that the announced due date is meaningless and that the United States will impose no penalty for a failure to meet his timeline.

Diplomacy may require patience, but it certainly works best with the threat of coercion, especially where rogues armed with dangerous weapons are involved. Analysts say there is no military option against North Korea. Even if this notion is correct—which it is not—the tolerance of the President is a fundamental mistake. Events over the past several weeks show that Washington is not playing its strongest cards at an important moment.

An unseasonably warm and dry winter is adversely affecting the North’s autumn crop of wheat and barley. This abnormal weather comes on top of last August’s devastating floods. As a result, the UN’s World Food Program expects a larger-than-usual shortfall in North Korea’ harvest. Surging grain prices on global markets do not help Kim Jong Il. Moreover, both China and South Korea have substantially reduced shipments of food and fertilizer to the North Korean regime. “For Kim Jong Il, this will be his most difficult year,” says Park Syung-je of the Asia Strategy Institute in Seoul.

The key is the new South Korean government. President Lee Myung-bak has announced that Seoul’s aid will be closely tied to Pyongyang’s adherence to its pledges of disarmament. Moreover, Lee, who travels to Washington in the middle of April, wants to align his North Korean polices with Washington’s. This means that the South will largely abandon the approaches of his predecessors, namely the Sunshine Policy of Kim Dae Jung and the nearly identical Peace and Prosperity Policy of Roh Moo-hyun. Seoul’s new approach isolates China and makes it the sole supporter of North Korea. This permits the United States to put Beijing on the spot.

So the Bush administration has new tools to coerce Pyongyang and, more importantly, Beijing. The main issue, therefore, is whether Washington has the will to use them.

“There’s a growing understanding of the issues that need to be resolved,” said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill after meeting with his North Korean counterpart in Geneva late last week. Washington’s chief negotiator at the six-party talks was doing his best to show progress in the inconclusive negotiations to disarm Kim Jong Il’s abhorrent state. To date, Pyongyang has shown little inclination to provide a full accounting of its nuclear weapons programs in compliance with a prior agreement to do so by the end of last year.

A weakened Bush administration appears to be at a loss as to what to do in the face of the North’s recent intransigence. In the first week of this month, Hill imposed a March-end deadline on Pyongyang to honor its commitments, but it is apparent that the announced due date is meaningless and that the United States will impose no penalty for a failure to meet his timeline.

Diplomacy may require patience, but it certainly works best with the threat of coercion, especially where rogues armed with dangerous weapons are involved. Analysts say there is no military option against North Korea. Even if this notion is correct—which it is not—the tolerance of the President is a fundamental mistake. Events over the past several weeks show that Washington is not playing its strongest cards at an important moment.

An unseasonably warm and dry winter is adversely affecting the North’s autumn crop of wheat and barley. This abnormal weather comes on top of last August’s devastating floods. As a result, the UN’s World Food Program expects a larger-than-usual shortfall in North Korea’ harvest. Surging grain prices on global markets do not help Kim Jong Il. Moreover, both China and South Korea have substantially reduced shipments of food and fertilizer to the North Korean regime. “For Kim Jong Il, this will be his most difficult year,” says Park Syung-je of the Asia Strategy Institute in Seoul.

The key is the new South Korean government. President Lee Myung-bak has announced that Seoul’s aid will be closely tied to Pyongyang’s adherence to its pledges of disarmament. Moreover, Lee, who travels to Washington in the middle of April, wants to align his North Korean polices with Washington’s. This means that the South will largely abandon the approaches of his predecessors, namely the Sunshine Policy of Kim Dae Jung and the nearly identical Peace and Prosperity Policy of Roh Moo-hyun. Seoul’s new approach isolates China and makes it the sole supporter of North Korea. This permits the United States to put Beijing on the spot.

So the Bush administration has new tools to coerce Pyongyang and, more importantly, Beijing. The main issue, therefore, is whether Washington has the will to use them.

Read Less




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