2003 July 21 Monday
China, North Korea, the US, and Arms Control Verification

The Marmot tears apart a foolish New York Times editorial on US policy toward North Korea and emphasizes the key role that China ought to be made to play. (my emphasis added)

I'm not quite sure why the NYT thinks it's a good idea to help the North Koreans achieve their goal of finding "additional revenue to sustain its country's imploding economy and finance its armed forces and advanced weapons programs." And discount that "obsessively worried about an American military attack" bullshit - that's just what Pyongyang would like you to believe. It sounds better than "we are obsessively worried about the Americans ignoring our little gangster kingdom and simply letting it collapse on its own." And "permanently" and "verifiably" are two words not found in the North Korean vocabularly, at least as far as its nuclear weapons program is concerned. The North Korean nuclear weapons program is, to put it bluntly, the only thing aside from drugs and missile exports that generates hard currency for the country. They are not going to give that up. They will agree to temporarily freeze it ala 1994, however, until such time that either financial or domestic political contingencies dictate that its time for another "crisis" with the United States and its allies.

Mr. Bush understandably dislikes the idea of rewarding North Korea for giving up its nuclear program. Diplomacy isn't always pretty. But if it can prevent a nuclear North Korea without a catastrophic war, Washington must give it every chance.

You're damn right - diplomacy isn't always pretty. And with the North Koreans, it's also futile. I agree that we should give diplomacy every chance, but the diplomacy needs to be focused on China, NOT North Korea. If I trusted North Korea enough to believe that a permanent and verifiable end to its nuclear program could be achieved through negotiations, I might be willing to give it a go. The problem is, I don't. If a North Korea free of nuclear weapons is your goal, then you have to make the North Koreans believe that their possession of nuclear weapons constitutes a clear and present danger to their regime survival. Right now, they do not believe that. Why? Because they read the New York Times just like eveyone else, and therefore have naturally come to the conclusion that the Americans will pay them before things get too hairy. Trust me, if the New York Times came out tomorrow with an editorial that read "BOMB THE FUCKERS," you can rest assured that the North Koreans would significantly lower their demands. Yet their (accurate) reading of the history of US-DPRK relations and their (also correct) understanding of the American press encourages them to be as obstinate as humanly possible. They need to be broken of this habit, and the best way to do that is to ignore them. China is the key to solving this crisis, anyway. If you are going to talk, then you might as well talk to people who understand (or need to understand) the dynamics of power politics. The ugliness of diplomacy is something that everyone can enjoy - including Beijing. So how about it, China? Wanna play a little hardball?

I agree with Marmot Robert Koehler that China ought to be bringing serious pressure to bear on North Korea. North Korea is China's responsibility. China has supported and continues to support North Korea economically by supplying 40% of North Korea's food and 70% of its energy. China also facilitates North Korea's arms trade with Middle Eastern countries by allowing aircraft carrying arms and skilled personnel to transit Chinese airspace and land at Chinese airbases en route to the Middle East. At the same time China defends North Korea diplomatically by protecting it from UN Security Council resolutions and other forms of diplomatic pressure. But the Chinese continue to pose (and, really, it is a pose) as honest brokers between the United States and North Korea as if China bears no responsibility for what North Korea is doing. Robert Marquand of the Christian Science Monitor basically appears to believe China's posture that China is just serving as facilitator to bring together two unreasonable opposing countries.

The recent provocations by Mr. Kim seem timed to coincide with an unusually public and vigorous Chinese diplomatic effort to bring the US and North Korea to the negotiating table, experts say. This weekend, Chinese envoy Dai Bingguo was in Washington, after being granted a rare audience the previous week with Kim, in an effort to restart three-way talks held in Beijing in April.

China's attempt to bring the US and North Korea to the negotiating table is seen as a vigorous effort. Well, it is vigorous alright. But it is an effort designed to hide Chinese responsibility for what is happening in North Korea and to hide China's obvious role as North Korea's protector. The irony is that even this meager diplomatic effort on the part of the Chinese is meeting with additional North Korean provocations such as the recent DMZ shooting incident and the move of artillery toward the DMZ.

The Bush Administration is placing too much importance on maintaining good relations with China. When it comes to North Korea and its nuclear weapons program China is part of the problem. China is not acting to discipline North Korea even while China treats North Korea as a client state. The US government ought to repeatedly publicise this basic fact.

Now, suppose China was willing to step up to the plate and play hardball with North Korea. Can anything short of an overthrow of the North Korean regime prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons? Kevin at Incestuous Amplification outlines the extremely difficult problem of arms control verification in North Korea.

Under what fantasy inspection and verification scenario are we to expect that all 15,000+ underground sites will be fully accounted for, opened to inspections, and ultimately destroyed? Even given an inspection process which could theoretically account for and monitor 90% (an extraordinarily high and unreachable goal) of the underground sites, that would still leave 1500 sites free to house whatever type of biological, chemical, or nuclear program Kim Jong Il so desires to stage his next extortion attempt. Is there any circumstance under which the above scenario could be considered a successful elimination of the North Korean threat? If not, what is the standard for success and what is the probability of reaching that standard through a negotiated deal?

Given that the network of underground military-industrial sites is already in place, and given that they won't be voluntarily destroyed by North Korea in any deal, doesn't that leave us with no option but have permanent monitors (or monitoring systems) in every single one of those underground sites? Meaning that even if we were to verify that a complete dismantling took place, doesn't the existence of that undergound network require that the vast inspector presence be permanent in order to prevent them from simply using those same facilities to build a new nuclear facility once inspectors leave?

The realities of trying to carry out an inspection and verification process in a country with such an extensive network of underground caves and complexes, as well as a long history of secrecy, evasion, lies, and more lies, is such that there is realistically no way to guarantee full compliance outside of regime change. That fact leaves us in a position of deciding whether we're willing to provide economic aid, energy, diplomatic recognition, and all the other goodies that will have to be part of any deal....and yet still never be 100% sure if North Korea is holding up their end of the deal. It's an enormous price to pay for the privilege of rolling the dice. We paid the price in 94, rolled the dice, and crapped out. This time, the price goes up but the odds haven't changed.

Kevin also draws attention to an opinion piece in the NY Times on North Korea by Ian Bremmer.

Accordingly, America's worries should not focus on Pyongyang's lobbing a nuclear bomb toward Tokyo or sending a million troops across the border to Seoul. Either of these actions would bring about the end of the North Korean regime — and Mr. Kim knows it. America is not, as former Secretary of Defense William Perry warned this week, on a "path to war."

Instead, North Korea is a threat because Mr. Kim needs more money to stay in power, and so will do what he can to get it. To this end, North Korea has become one of the world's most aggressive exporters of drugs and ballistic missiles. If that commerce turns to nuclear technology, Mr. Kim will fuel a crisis of global proportions.

If China could be induced (e.g. thru the threat of US trade sanctions) to play hardball with North Korea could an agreement be reached that would allow sufficiently in depth and sustained verification of North Korea's underground facilities and above ground labs and factories as well? If such a deal could be done and the deal allowed the North Korean regime to survive would the deal be ethically acceptable for the US to sign? Keep in mind that if China, the US, Japan, and South Korea sign up to guarantee the North Korean regime's security that effectively the agreement would condemn over 20 million North Korean people to continue to live under that regime.

Life is hell for the North Korean people.

According to relief groups, 60 percent of the children in North Korea suffer from silence and malnutrition. Tuberculosis and other diseases are also spreading, but doctors are practically powerless to treat them.

“In North Korean hospitals, there is nothing. There is no running water, no heating system, there is no soap. There is no medicine,” says Vollertsen. “That's the reality in North Korea. And nobody knows about that.”

He said some hospitals have to use empty beer bottles for IV's. But many hospitals have simply shut down.

While driving his jeep around the country, Vollertsen said he saw hungry, malnourished people everywhere foraging for food: “And I saw little children at the roadside picking up all those little insects and whatever they can eat. Women who are looking for some leaves and special herbs.”

Food aid to North Korea could be greatly increased. Essentially, the vast bulk of the North Korean people could, in theory at least, be supported by aid from other countries. But if we were willing to sustain the spending required to supply the aid and to pay for large numbers of inspectors stationed throughout North Korea and if the North Korean regime was willing to accept this (unlikely in my view) then would this be a morally acceptable solution? Even if food and medicine were being shipped to North Korea in quantities large enough to take care of the needs of the North Koreans there would be no guarantee that the regime would distribute it to all North Koreans. Plus, the North Korean people would still be living in a Stalinist dictatorship where hundreds of thousands suffer and die of hunger, beatings, and illness in a brutal prison system.

Would the food aid even be well distributed? The regime divides up the North Korean people effectively into 3 groups: the loyal, the questionable, and the disloyal. Would the latter two groups be allowed to be fed well if large amounts of aid came in? Or would the grain go to feeding animals and to make alcohol to give the top third more meat and alcohol? Or would some even be exported on black markets? Governments have done this with international aid in the past after all.

If China and other countries (including the United States) had not kept the Pyongyang regime propped up with aid the government would have collapsed years ago. If we prop up the regime with security and aid guarantees in exchange for an end to its nuclear weapons program we are essentially allowing the North Korean people to be held hostage while we pay blackmail for our own security. Is that a morally acceptable outcome? Think about it.

Update: As a timely reminder that North Korea's ruling regime does take international food and divert it to its own purposes China e-lobby in their most recent North Korea Report links to an earlier North Korea Report where they, in turn, linked to human rights activist Norbert Vollertsen's claim that the Pyongyang regime diverts international food aid to their own purposes.

Vollertsen charged that World Food Program (WFP) humanitarian and food aid to North Korea, much of it supplied by the U.S., was being diverted to the communist regime.

I've posted on food aid diversion previously with this quote from Suzanne Scholte, President of Defense Forum Foundation, who says international aid is going to the North Korean military.

We hear again and again from defectors that they never saw any humanitarian aid. When Colonel Choi testified in the US in 1997, he said that 100% of the aid was being diverted. He said while the NGOs are present, the aid is distributed to the families, but as soon as the NGO trucks drive out of town, the army goes back in and takes all the food back. Furthermore, when I was in Tokyo in 1999 at the International Forum on North Korean Returnees hosted by Professor Haruhisa Ogawa, I stated that all humanitarian aid should be stopped. It was controversial at the time and not many people would join me in this demand. But after my remarks, two Japanese women secretly approached me. They had recently been to North Korea to see their families. They confirmed exactly what Colonel Choi said. Their families were forced to sign papers stating they had received a certain quantity of rice, but the army took the rice as soon as the NGOs left the area. But the paper signed by the family was shown to the NGOs to convince them the aid had been received by the family.

The best way to help the North Korean people is also the best way to end the threat of North Korean proliferation for good: bring down the regime. A total aid cut-off - including aid from China - might well do just that.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 July 21 10:38 AM  Korea

John Moore (Useful Fools) said at July 21, 2003 8:38 PM:

Just what do you think is the game the Chinese are playing? I am honestly puzzled.

We keep hearing that they don't want a nuclearized Japan and South Korea, and yet they have done nothing to keep that from happening.

They hold the ultimate power over North Korea, and they are obviously letting the Norks get away with their little game.

I don't know if its a deep game, a breakdown or delay in the always creaky Chinese decision making apparatus, or pure incompetence.

But whatever it is, they have about run out of time. Once the first nuke is in that hands of a terrorist, the whole world will change. I don't think the Chinese (or anyone else) will like the result.

Randall Parker said at July 21, 2003 9:35 PM:


I'm puzzled as well. Are they trying to get the North Koreans to make the US situation sufficiently desperate that they will be in a strong position to bargain with us about Taiwan? Or are they being knee-jerk opposed to the US presence in South Korea? Are they just moving too slowly? Are they internally divided? Are they not worried about North Korea as a nuclear power and even see some advantages in it for them? Yes, they could be playing a deep game as you say. Or maybe they are too timid? Or they are doing more in the background than it appears?

Also, we don't know what the Chinese leadership and the US leadership are saying to each other in private.

I've posted in the past on possible Chinese motives. The problem is that A) they are probably divided internally (we are and why should they be any different?) and B) they may have more than one motive. So the answer probably isn't going to be a simple one.

Randall Parker said at July 21, 2003 9:36 PM:

And another thing: their own analysis of the situation is no doubt changing. They are assessing what is happening and debating internally. What we need to ask what arguments can we make to them and what moves can we make in general that will influence them in ways conducive to our stopping the North Korean nuclear program.

Randall Parker said at July 21, 2003 9:39 PM:

And yet another thing: I wonder what the CIA and the White House assesments are of China's motives on this matter.

Kevin said at July 22, 2003 1:58 AM:

Thanks for the shout Randall.

Another interesting angle in the possibilities of any eventual deal could be a situation where we're asked to trust the Chinese to oversee or verify North Korean compliance. As I've stated numerous times, the mere infrastructure of the NK weapons program makes a permanent monitoring presence essential. While verification of the initial dismantling would certainly have to be monitored by the IAEA or other international monitoring body, it's unlikely that NK would consent to such a body having a widespread and permanent presence. The last thing they want is thousands of white guys wandering around the gulags. Now thousands of Chinese wandering around.....that's a different story.

In that case, I can imagine a scenario where NK would ask that the Chinese be responsible for monitoring and verifying that the dismantled sites are not restarted, and that no new facilities are built. Is that a scenario we could accept? Would we be willing to trust the Chinese to tell us the truth any more than we'd trust the North Koreans? If China sends us a monthly progress report, giving a big thumbs up to the North Korean disarmament efforts or one describing their continued adherance to any deal, would it be worth the paper it's printed on?

John Moore (Useful Fools) said at July 29, 2003 2:14 PM:

A very interesting idea!

There are a couple of quotes (that I may mangle) that applY:

"trust but verify"

"a nation has only allies, not friends"

We can't trust the Chinese at all. We can only *hope* that they will act in what we forecast to be their best interests, and that we can align those interests with ours in this case. Scary.

I think the only way to be sure those nukes don't end up in the hands of terrorists is for there to be a collapse of their regime, with the South Koreans taking over. Unfortunately, I see no way to engineer that short of full scale war, which would probably go nuclear and would no doubt kill tens of millions. Furthermore, time is running out. They could sell a nuke any time now. Don't buy any real estate near downtown Washington, DC!

This is a terrible situation.

Questions I would really like answered:

  • Why did Bush not bomb the reactor and reprocessing facilities as soon as it became apparent that there was a real problem?
  • Was it just a failure to act?
  • Was he deterred by something we are unaware of?
  • Did he just not have the cojones to do it?
  • Did the Koreans act sufficiently slowly that there was no place in the slippery slope where it was obvious that intervention was necessary?
  • Does he still have a military option?

It is possible that the enrichment program, a totally separate effort from the plutonium extraction process, is also too far along, and that we don't know where it is being done (it is easy to hide and disperse... which incidently leads one to wonder why the Iranians *appear* to be doing it in plain sight).

As I and others have blogged, bombing to remove the plutonium facilities, associated with appropriate warnings would almost certainly be possible without a war. The NK rulers know that war would be suicidal for them - at least until they get their nuclear deterrent in place (and don't count on our Potemkin ABM system, either).

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Web parapundit.com
Go Read More Posts On ParaPundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©