2003 November 17 Monday
The Marmot And David Scofield On North Korea

Robert "The Marmot" Koehler, an American citizen living deep inside enemy territory, Kwangju South Korea, takes on Talking Points Memo blogger Josh Marshall's partisan foolish analysis of the Clinton and Bush Administration policies toward North Korea.

The defining encounter came in March 2001 when then-President Kim Dae Jung visited the White House only to be told by the president that we were withdrawing support for his policy. As Jessica Matthews, head of the Carnegie Endowment put it, President Bush took "the architect of the North-South reconciliation and ... publicly humiliate[d] him."

The Marmot takes Marshall to Task.

Look, President Bush simply voiced his skepticism concerning North Korea, skepticism that turned out to be well-founded. Allies do not have to agree on everything, and both Kim and current President and Sunshine fan Noh Mu-hyeon made it a point to say that they reserve the right to disagree with Washington, and that right is surely reciprocal. If Kim Dae-jung was "humiliated" because Bush (who did publically back North-South reapproachment, BTW) refused to publically declare the Sunshine Policy the greatest thing since sliced bread, then Kim should have had thicker skin. And to be frank, it would have been a mistake for Bush to back a policy which, as readers of this blog no doubt have gathered, is based on some rather imaginative premises. It should also be noted that much of the "humilation" that Kim suffered was the result of poor translation work on the part of the Korean press, but that's a whole other story...

Would Josh Marshall have preferred that Bush embrace Kim Dae-jung's foolish policy of bribery of the North Koreans just so that Bush could avoid disagreeing with ("humiliating" in Marshall's parlance) the president of South Korea?

The Clinton Administration did not view the 1994 Framework Accord as a permanent solution because they expected the Pyongyang regiume to collapse. The seemingly craziest part of the deal, Bill Clinton's agreement to make the US one of the funders of the construction of two "peaceful" nuclear reactors for North Korea, only seemed to make sense because the Clinton Administration figured the North would collapse by the time the construction was finished. Construction of those reactors was recently halted by a KEDO members vote because construction was getting too far along and the regime has not passed into the dustbin of history.

There is an obvious conclusion that can be drawn from the reactor construction deal: the Clinton Administration was not pursuing a sustainable policy of containment of North Korean nuclear ambitions. The Bush Administration had to abandon the policy because the North Korean regime has lasted longer than the Clinton Administration policy could have reasonably been expected to work.

Of course, the Clinton Administration policy was already failing while Clinton was still in office with the North Koreans continuing to pursue the acquisition and development of technology for making nuclear weapons through missile-nuclear trade with Pakistan, covert purchase of technology in other countries, and work by their own scientists and engineers.

In response to Marshall's claims that the Bushies are acting all aggressive toward North Korea the Marmot points out some of the rather aggressive moves that the Clinton Administration made toward North Korea including the leak in 1998 of a plan to attack North Korea as a way to send a message to Kim Jong-il and his partners in brutality. The Marmot goes down the timeline and points out how the history of US policy toward North Korea is at odds with Marshall's memory.

While Bush Administration policy changes were a necessary corrective for failing Clinton Administration policies my own view is that Bush policy changes have not been enough to yield a policy that will ultimately be successful.

The real tragedy of the 1994 Framework Accord (a.k.a. Geneva Agreed Framework) that Clinton and Carter are responsible for is that it sent South Korea's internal politics hurdling down a degenerate path. The net result is that the 1994 Accord has turned South Korea into North Korea's bitch.

South Korea's desire to play intermediary between North Korea and the US has manifest into that of an advocate, rather than arbiter. When the North announced in October last year that it had secretly, and in direct contravention of its 1994 agreements, developed a highly enriched uranium program and was planning to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (it was the initial threat of the same by Pyongyang in 1992 that led to the Geneva agreement), South Korea quickly declared that the US must have misunderstood. When North Korea announced in September that it had finished reprocessing plutonium for the manufacture of additional nuclear weapons, it was South Korea that declared that this was false. Contrary to North Korean declarations that it has working nuclear devices and is busily making more, the South proclaimed again, not true.

The South Korean administration maintains the principle of a non-nuclear peninsula, but polls continue to show that few fear the Northern nuclear threat, with many taking quiet pride that the North is a nuclear power. The South, after much persuasion by the US, abandoned its nuclear weapons program in the mid-1970s. An oft-heard phrase in South Korea these days is Korean pride: loosely translated as an embrace of Korean nationalism and independence. A "Korean bomb" would be a boon to many in the South who believe the peninsula has been under the yoke of foreign powers for far too long.

The US no longer has an ally on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea serves North Korea. That is a big loss for US national interests and that loss began as a result of Clinton Administration policy. Kim Dae-jung came to power in 1997 in significant part as a result of the 1994 deal and he pursued policies that were made possible by that deal.

David Scofield, also author of the previous piece and writing from Seoul South Korea, argues the current regime in North Korea can not be expected to adhere to any agreement that might be negotiated.

The success of any agreement rests on all parties involved believing that they will be better served by following the terms - compliance offering something that cheating does not - or conversely, the costs of cheating being higher than the potential reward. Unfortunately, neither is true in the case of North Korea.

The present leadership cannot adhere to its promises, and we should not expect it to. It cannot accept change and retain control at the same time, its power and position being predicated on its ability to extort concessions and yield nothing; cheating is a necessity, not a choice. We should accept this reality and devote all available resources to the principle of leadership change, finding new people to negotiate with, people in whose best interests it is to abide by the principles of a new regional agreement.

Scofield comes to the same conclusion as regular readers of this blog have heard here: regime change is the only way to create a government in North Korea that will be willing to adhere to an arms control agreement. The most disappointing aspect of Bush Administration policy toward North Korea is that, at leaste as far as can be ascertained from public sources, the Bushies are not trying all that hard to make regime change happen. They are working to reduce some forms of revenue flowing to the North. But the South is upping trade and aid and it is not clear that the North is suffering a net decrease in support. The Bushies at the very least ought to be trying to break the North Korean regime's information monopoly over the people in the North. A lot could be done. A billion or two a year could be spent to get radios and books into North Korea, to broadcast more into North Korea, to smuggle North Korean refugees out of China, and to otherwise pursue policies that would have the effects of weakening the North Korean regime. Plus, the Bushies ought to make it clear to Beijing and to the South Koreans that the US views their support for North Korea as acts that threaten US national security and that the US places a higher priority on protecting US national security than on maintaining amicable relations with either Beijing or Seoul.

The Marmot's post and both of Scofield's Asia Times articles are excellent reads and I recommend reading them in full.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 November 17 11:53 PM  Korea


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