As­tute think­ing quickly needed on Korean penin­su­lar

North Korea has been threat­en­ing war against the South, and the US and the South Korea have been up­ping the ante by hold­ing mil­i­tary exer- cises close to North Korea.

The Pak Banker - - Editorial - Jonathan Power

"One small step for­ward by North Korea and the US, one large step for mankind. The po­lit­i­cal fight to per­suade North Korea to halt its nu­clear bomb mak­ing ac­tiv­i­ties seems at last, in the dy­ing days of the Bush pres­i­dency, to be en­ter­ing a se­ri­ous phase." Yes, I was able to write that three years ago. But since then we have plunged from op­ti­mism to the dark­est pes­simism. North Korea has been threat­en­ing war against the South, and the US and the South Korea have been up­ping the ante by hold­ing mil­i­tary ex­er­cises close to North Korea.

Af­ter seven years of er­ratic US poli­cies un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush - met by equally er­ratic and bel­li­cose North Korean on­es­the ne­go­ti­a­tions ended up al­most where they started fol­low­ing the highly fruit­ful diplo­macy in the last days of the Clin­ton Ad­min­is­tra­tion that trans­formed North Korea from to­tal in­tran­si­gence to a will­ing and help­ful ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ner.

Well, not quite back to where the Clin­ton Ad­min­is­tra­tion had to leave off. North Korea now has tripled the amount of nu­clear weapons' ma­te­rial in store. Worse, it has ex­ploded two nu­clear bombs and prob­a­bly has enough ma­te­rial for half a dozen more.

This must count as one of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush's worst for­eign pol­icy feats. Com­mit­ments made in tense but pro­duc­tive ne­go­ti­a­tions were not hon­oured (and the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in Congress in Clin­ton's time also tor­pe­doed com­mit­ments made by the Ad­min­is­tra­tion).

Bush's first Sec­re­tary of State, Colin Pow­ell, was made a fool of. Af­ter he de­clared that the new Ad­min­is­tra­tion would try and com­plete the work of its pre­de­ces­sor, Pow­ell was pub­licly re­pu­di­ated. The in­sider work of VicePres­i­dent Richard Cheney and Sec­re­tary of De­fence Don­ald Rums­feld pulled the rug from be­neath him. Even at one time when Bush tried to take a more pos­i­tive ap­proach, sec­ond-tier of­fi­cials work­ing in com­mit­tee at the in­ter-agency level man­aged to de­flect it - such was the power of the se­nior bu­reau­cracy, (a les­son in the pow­er­less of the pres­i­dency that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama should take no­tice of).

For­tu­nately, the ne­go­ti­a­tions were sal­vaged by a very de­ter­mined sec­ond term Sec­re­tary of State, Con­doleezza Rica, who took per­sonal charge of the ne­go­ti­a­tions and em­pow­ered a skil­ful prin­ci­pal negotiator, Christo­pher Hill, to bur­row through the labyrinthine of con­fu­sion and mis­un­der­stand­ings that were now heaped one on top of the other.

The force and fre­quency of US ne­go­ti­at­ing of­fers were stepped up. Py­ongyang's twists and turns and of­ten ap­palling mis­be­haviour were more tol­er­ated. In Septem­ber 2005, the US for­mally of­fered a non-ag­gres­sion pledge and an of­fer, in prin­ci­ple, to nor­mal­ize re­la­tions. It also res­ur­rected dis­cus­sion of the Clin­ton de­ci­sion to help fi­nance and build a 'light wa­ter' re­ac­tor that would help sat­isfy the North's do­mes­tic power needs, with­out pro­duc­ing more bomb-mak­ing ma­te­rial. (The re­ac­tor sits half fin­ished.) In re­turn the North agreed to de­nu­cle­arize and to open it­self to in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tion.

Per­haps in­evitably, both sides in­ter­preted the agree­ment dif­fer­ently. The North again be­came in­tran­si­gent. In Oc­to­ber 2006 it ex­ploded an un­der­ground nu­clear de­vice. Yet Rice man­aged to per­suade Bush to di­lute the hos­tile rhetoric. The Ad­min­is­tra­tion con­tin­ued with its more con­ven­tional diplo­macy. The hard-lin­ers in the Ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing Cheney, were side­lined.

The Rice/Hill push con­tin­ued for­ward. Fuel aid and food were of­fered as car­rots. Sur­pris­ingly, the of­fer bore fruit. The North agreed to dis­able its nu­clear weapons and other im­por­tant fa­cil­i­ties at its Yong­byon nu­clear com­plex. It also said it would al­low back both US and UN in­spec­tors. But when Washington stalled on re­mov­ing the North from its ter­ror­ism list Py­ongyang also stalled.

Washington ca­pit­u­lated on the ter­ror­ism list. A deal was made, with the added bonus of the North agree­ing to open up un­de­clared sites as well, but with the pro­viso that in­spec­tions are agreed to by ' mu­tual con­sent', leav­ing Py­ongyang a card to play.

It played it-over the ques­tion of how the US could ver­ify what North Korea had agreed to, in par­tic­u­lar the ques­tions the US had over the sus­pected build­ing of an ura­nium en­rich­ment plant which could be an al­ter­na­tive source of bomb-pro­duc­ing ma­te­rial to the plu­to­nium fa­cil­ity it had agreed to re­nounce.

The ne­go­ti­a­tions came to a shud­der­ing halt in the spring of last year when North Korea car­ried out a sec­ond nu­clear test. Then a few months ago it re­vealed that it had in­deed built a nu­clear en­rich­ment plant, al­beit at the moment it is only en­rich­ing ura­nium to the low re­quire­ments of pro­duc­ing elec­tric­ity not bombs.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.