November 22, 2004


Tear Down This Tyranny: A Korea strategy for Bush's second term. (Nicholas Eberstadt, 11/29/2004, Weekly Standard)

THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION is not famous for patience with its critics. But for the sake of national security, the new Bush team should listen to constructive criticism of its policies--in particular, its policy for the North Korean nuclear crisis. The current U.S. approach to the North Korea problem is demonstrably flawed; arguably, even dangerously flawed.

Just what is wrong? After nearly four years in office, the curious fact remains that the Bush administration plainly lacks a strategy for dealing with the North Korean regime. Instead, it merely confronts Pyongyang with an attitude.

President Bush and his inner circle regard Kim Jong Il and his system with an admixture of loathing, contempt, and distrust--as well they might. Unfortunately, a mechanism for translating that point of view into effective action was manifestly absent from the statecraft of Bush's first-term administration. Long on attitude ("axis of evil") but short on strategy, the administration on North Korea was at times akin to a rudderless boat on an open sea.

Without rehearsing every detail, we might say that we have seen the Bush North Korea policy in "shocked by events" mode; we have seen it in "reactive" mode; we have seen it in "passive-aggressive" mode; and we have seen it in "paralyzed by infighting" mode. But we have yet to see it in "making bigger problems into smaller ones" mode.

A better approach for the second term might start with two strategic precepts:

Precept One: We are exceedingly unlikely to talk--or to bribe--the current North Korean government out of its nuclear quest. Talk and bribery have been tried for nearly 15 years--with miserable results. If Kim Jong Il ever could have been talked or bribed out of his nuclear program, the world's best opportunity was probably during the mid-1990s, when the nation was starving, and the regime's survival looked very much in doubt. We all know how the Clinton team's "denuclearization" deals in that era turned out: Pyongyang took the money, and plowed it into new covert nuclear programs.

Precept Two: The North Korean nuclear crisis is the North Korean government--and the North Korean government is the North Korean nuclear crisis. Unless and until we have a better class of dictator running North Korea, we will be faced with an ongoing and indeed growing North Korean nuclear crisis. Pretending otherwise is a sure recipe for an even more dangerous situation.

Two words: regime change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 22, 2004 3:01 PM

Why exactly can't we just treat the NK gov't, Dear Leader in particular, with contempt and ridicule? It seems like they want to pretend like they're big boys and should be treated as equals. Perhaps if it's clear that we think they're a joke, someone will decide it's time for a regime change. Or maybe, with Team America as the catalyst, that's what already happened...

Posted by: brian at November 22, 2004 3:23 PM

Two words: regime change.

Two more words: Seoul nuked.

Posted by: Social Scientist at November 22, 2004 3:34 PM

"Two more words: Seoul nuked"

Maybe Pyongyang took these two words Seoul offered too literaly: Sunshine Policy

Posted by: capt mike at November 22, 2004 3:44 PM

The US has had a straightforward approach for dealing with NK since early 2002: the 6-party talks. Maybe they have been useless, maybe all they can do is prepare the other partners for the inevitable, who knows? But solving the NK problem is not magic. This article is looking for the proper charm, which does not exist.

The reason for the 6-party talks is simple: better Seoul (or Beijing or Toyko) nuked than LA or SF or Seattle. The left may prefer that the US be in the cross-hairs alone, but I certainly do not.

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 22, 2004 3:56 PM

I have the feeling that the South Korean Sunshine Policy is also intended to delay the inevitable collapse of the NK regime. My guess is that they did the numbers and would prefer not to pay for reunification.
The NK nuclear program is meant for blackmail only (blackmail including the leaking of nuclear secrets and/or weapons to other unsavory regimes/groups).

Posted by: Daran at November 22, 2004 4:33 PM

Bush has been practicing multilateralism there. It takes time ... years. Lots of talking to do.

Posted by: genecis at November 22, 2004 5:14 PM

Not a guess, Daran, SorK said it a couple of weeks ago. Too expensive.

Many interesting things are going on there.

Posted by: Sandy P at November 22, 2004 5:48 PM