The origins of the current North Korean nuclear crisis lie in the 1994 Framework Agreement. Few readers will be surprised at this assertion; it is not unique to the Center. In 1994, the Clinton Administration bribed the North Koreans to keep their plutonium bomb factory closed. The Clinton Administration delivered economic aid, and the North Koreans closed the plutonium bomb factory and promised to stop work on their nuclear weapons programs.
The crucial flaw in the 1994 Framework Agreement was that it deferred the problem of North Korea’s nuclear programs rather than solving it. At any time, the North Koreans could reopen the plutonium bomb factory and blackmail the United States anew. And, when the Bush Administration confronted the North Koreans with evidence that their uranium-based nuclear program was still active, the North Koreans tore up the Framework Agreement and reopened the bomb factory.
A frenzy of diplomacy has followed in an attempt to salvage the Framework Agreement. The Bush Administration is entirely correct that renewing the Framework Agreement in the face of North Korean’s weapons program is unacceptable. One cannot give in to blackmail. This does not mean that negotiation is impossible. Negotiation with a blackmailer is appeasement only if the blackmailer keeps his leverage. The Framework Agreement should not be saved, it must be replaced. A new agreement must solve, not simply suspend, the problem. North Korea’s nuclear facilities must be dismantled by outside scientists, and their enriched uranium handed over. The reactors must rendered permanently unusable by North Korea–sealed under concrete, or dismantled and taken out of the country, or something similar.
The Bush Administration’s hesitancy on North Korea has been taken as a refutation of the doctrine of preemption. On the contrary, North Korea demonstrates the value of preemption–it demonstrates why other hostile regimes must be preempted before they acquire the capability to deter the United States. North Korea’s army and artillery are poised to invade the South, and nothing can prevent great damage to Seoul in the conflict. It is very possible that the North would succeed in killing millions of South Koreans in Seoul, destroying evacuation routes as they shelled the city. The North would lose the war within weeks, but the damage would be done. We are deterred from attacking the North, and rightly so. We are not yet deterred from acting against aggressive Islamic theocracy.
North Korea’s nuclear weapons are not intended for use by North Korea in a war–they would not help them to conquer South Korea in any plausible scenario. They are intended for export. North Korea already exports ballistic missiles and missile components. Enemies of the United States would pay well for nuclear weapons, and North Korea would sell them to anyone with cash.
We cannot credibly threaten North Korea with military action, and the North Korean leadership does not care if we cut off food aid and millions of North Koreans starve. Therefore, in order to get what we want, the destruction of North Korea’s nuclear facilities and ability to blackmail the US, we must offer them something which would tempt them.
The points of the new settlement:
- The dismantling of all North Korean nuclear facilities by international teams of scientists and the immediate handing over of North Korea’s enriched uranium. North Korea agrees (again) not to develop nuclear weapons or use nuclear power.
- Disengagement of Forces Agreement, modeled on the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. US troops pull out of South Korea, and North Korean troops pull back from the DMZ, according to a schedule, reducing the threat to Seoul.
- Peace Treaty between North and South Korea. The DMZ becomes international border.
- As long as North Korea is adhering to all provisions of the settlement, the United States pledges not to attack North Korea.
This would seriously affect the American-South Korean alliance. However, we must ask, does America’s troop commitment to South Korea make the United States more secure today or less secure? Frankly, the alliance serves no one’s interests today. America’s primary interest in North Korea lies in preventing North Korea from selling nuclear weapons to our more active enemies. South Korea’s primary interest in North Korea lies in not having Seoul destroyed, and what weapons North Korea sells to non-Koreans is a minor concern. With South Korea no longer an American client state, America would be able to threaten retaliation when North Korea breaches the Agreement without endangering South Korea. This would increase the chances of the Agreement being followed. In any case, if the reactors are destroyed and the enriched uranium handed over, then the agreement is a great success, setting back North Korea’s nuclear program by years if not decades.
If this offer is made, and North Korea balks at any of its provisions, then the only options are containment, paying blackmail, or both. The United States and allies would set up a permanent naval quarantine of North Korean ports to prevent North Korea from shipping ballistic missiles or nuclear warheads to other countries, to contain the North Korean nuclear weapons in North Korea. This would be incomplete and dangerous, as the North Korean nuclear weapons factory would be operating. Or the United States and allies could pay blackmail to postpone this crisis for another few years, while North Korea slowly builds enriched-uranium bombs and waits to blackmail the world again. Conceivably, the United States could do both, paying blackmail while blockading North Korea’s ports. However, we have seen the folly of suspending problems in the nuclear age. Today, we must solve the North Korean problem.