OMT One Man's Trash...from Norman Leahy

Wednesday, October 11, 2006 :::

Blinking and the North Korean Bomb

A very interesting piece in this morning's Wall Street Journal on the genesis of the North Korean bomb. Contrary to the sound bytes whizzing across the partisan aisle, it appears that no U.S. administration has clean hands in this matter:

The U.S. first blinked almost as soon as it discovered Pyongyang's construction of a military production reactor at Yongbyong in 1984. The reactor had no hook-up with any portion of North Korea's electrical grid, yet we decided to act as if it did. In 1985, with Soviet help, we got Pyongyang to sign the NPT. The treaty requires that new members complete an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) within 18 months. When Pyongyang failed to do this, we again blinked (this time several times, for more than six full years). To get Pyongyang to sign, George H.W. Bush finally acceded in l991 to North Korean demands that the U.S. first remove its tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea and allow North Korea to inspect South Korean military bases -- arguably our first grovel.

On the plus side, Washington got Pyongyang and Seoul to agree not to reprocess or enrich uranium or to acquire nuclear weapons. There was only one problem: Pyongyang was in violation of this agreement almost before the ink was dry. The IAEA confirmed this point after their first inspections revealed Pyongyang had reprocessed some of its spent fuel. After Pyongyang refused IAEA requests for further inspections, the IAEA referred the matter to the United Nations Security Council, which was ready to impose sanctions against North Korea.

What happened next resulted in a major bending of the rules. Bill Clinton blocked U.N.-sanctions action with a generous offer of energy assistance, including a promise of two large light water reactors along with a suspension of routine IAEA inspections. In exchange, all Pyongyang was asked to do was promise eventually to come back into compliance with its NPT and IAEA obligations. For nearly a decade Pyongyang did no such thing. When the Bush administration finally discovered Pyongyang was cheating on its pledge not to make nuclear weapons-usable fuel, the White House suspended further energy assistance and the IAEA again referred North Korea's case to the Security Council.

Then, we blinked again. Rather than back the IAEA's complaint against North Korea for violating its NPT obligation to permit routine IAEA nuclear inspections, the U.S. called for multilateral talks with North Korea, Japan, South Korea, Russia and China to get Pyongyang to voluntarily disarm. In this, the U.S. had to plead with North Korea and China to cooperate (Pyongyang to come and Beijing to pressure Pyongyang to behave). Ultimately, neither did. Yet, in an attempt to get both on board, the U.S. again caved by agreeing to a set of negotiation principles that included respecting North Korea's right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy and the need to discuss at the appropriate time the subject of provision of a light-water reactor to the DPRK.

Sniping might make people feel better, but history shows that when it comes to North Korea's nuclear ambitions, the U.S. has been surrendering ground for over 20 years. That is no longer an option.

Now if someone would kindly inform Virginia's Senate candidates that something of grave importance is happening in Northeast Asia, something far more important than what either of them said, thought, did or wanted to do decades ago, it would be appreciated.

::: posted by Norman Leahy at 10/11/2006 0 comments


"You know what the fellow said: In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they also produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love -- they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." -- Orson Welles, The Third Man

"The graveyards are full of indespensable men" -- Charles de Gaulle

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