A wide consensus–from the New York Times to the White House–is firmly backing the re-launched “diplomatic” negotiations aimed at enticing North Korea to halt its suspected nuclear weapons program. For these talks to succeed, a Times editorial insists, America and its allies should offer the North a package of “strong positive inducements” including “guarantees against United States attack, a clear path to American diplomatic recognition and generous aid.” Before the talks began Washington provided a foretaste of the rewards Pyongyang can expect by promising it 50,000 tons of food aid.
But isn’t this exactly what the United States has tried in the past?
In the early 1980s, alarmed at North Korea’s construction of a nuclear reactor capable of yielding weapons-grade material, America tried to induce the North to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. By 1985, after much stonewalling, Pyongyang finally agreed to ratify the treaty–but then demanded military concessions in return for promising to forgo nuclear weapons. Rather than dismissing these demands as extortion by a hostile nation, by 1992 the United States had agreed to cancel its military exercises in the area and to withdraw U.S. nuclear weapons stationed in South Korea; the South gave up its nuclear program and also offered a non-aggression pact and economic benefits. During this period, meanwhile, the North, bolstered by guarantees of security and the West’s willingness to swallow its lies, completed two reactors capable of yielding weapons-grade fuel.
In 1993, after preventing required inspections of its nuclear facilities, Pyongyang announced its intention to withdraw from the treaty. Our response? More “diplomacy”–in the form of the “Agreed Framework,” brokered in 1994. Under this scheme the North agreed to freeze its plutonium program in exchange for two light-water nuclear reactors (putatively for generating electricity) and, until the reactors were operational, 500,000 metric tons of oil annually (nearly half its annual needs). The United States, along with Japan and South Korea, paid for these lavish gifts. The agreement also provided for the lifting of trade and diplomatic restrictions, previously imposed as penalties for North Korea’s aggression against its neighbors.
This shameful deal openly rewarded the North–already closer to acquiring nuclear weapons–for its aggression and lies, and furnished it with the means to become a worse threat. And indeed, by 2003–when the North actually did withdraw from the treaty–it was clear that Pyongyang had continued secretly to develop weapons-capable nuclear technology.
The pattern is clear: the North threatens us, we respond with negotiations, gifts and concessions, and it reemerges with even greater belligerence.
Without economic aid, technical assistance and protracted negotiations affording it time, it is unlikely that the North–continually on the brink of economic collapse–could have survived, let alone built the fourth-largest army in the world. The North is believed to have sold long-range ballistic missiles to Iran, Yemen, Pakistan and Syria; soon it may be selling nuclear-bomb material to terrorists. By some estimates, North Korea already has the material to create eight nuclear bombs.
What made this cycle of appeasement possible–and why do our political and intellectual leaders insist that further “diplomacy” will work? Because they cling to the fiction that North Korea shares the basic goal of prosperity and peace. This fantasy underlies the notion that the right mix of economic aid and military concessions can dissuade North Korea from its nuclear ambition. It evades the fact that the North is a militant dictatorship that acquires and maintains its power by force, looting the wealth of its enslaved citizens and threatening to do the same to its neighbors.
But this abstract fact, the advocates of “diplomacy” believe, is dispensable; if we ignore it, then it ceases to exist. Notice how, in preparing the way for renewed talks, the Bush administration has ceased describing North Korea as part of an “axis of evil”–as if this could alter its moral stature.
What the advocates of “diplomacy” believe, in effect, is that pouring gasoline onto an inferno will extinguish the fire–so long as we all agree that it will. Thus: if we agree that North Korea is not a hostile parasite, then it isn’t; if we pretend that this dictatorship would rather feed its people than amass weapons, then it would; if we shower it with loot, it will stop threatening us. But the facts of North Korea’s character and goals, like all facts, are impervious to anyone’s wishful thinking. Years of rewarding a petty dictatorship for its belligerent actions did not disarm it, but helped it become a significant threat to America.
There is only one solution: the United States and its allies must abandon the suicidal policy of appeasement.
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