The New York Review of Books - - Contents - *Avail­able at www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/front­line/shows/kim/themes/lessons.html.


To the Ed­i­tors: Jes­sica T. Mathews’s “Sin­ga­pore Sham” [NYR, Au­gust 16] cor­rectly notes North Korea’s fail­ure to halt plu­to­nium pro­duc­tion as part of the 1994 Agreed Frame­work, but fails to men­tion US vi­o­la­tions. The Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion failed to get li­cens­ing ap­proval from the Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion for build­ing two light-wa­ter re­ac­tors to com­pen­sate for North Korea’s loss of nu­clear power; the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion failed to sup­ply North Korea with 500,000 tons of heavy fuel on an an­nual ba­sis. Also, Mathews may be­lieve that the joint US–South Korean mil­i­tary ex­er­cises were “de­fen­sive,” but the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity had ev­i­dence that Py­ongyang did not share that view. Pres­i­dent Trump’s de­scrip­tion of the ex­er­cises as “provoca­tive” was much closer to the truth. Com­mu­nist mil­i­tary doc­trine, more­over, as­sesses largescale mil­i­tary ex­er­cises as pos­si­ble prepa­ra­tion for pre­emp­tive at­tack.

Melvin Good­man Ad­junct Pro­fes­sor of Govern­ment Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity Bal­ti­more, Mary­land

Jes­sica T. Mathews replies:

There will never be agree­ment on which side—the US or North Korea—vi­o­lated the 1994 Agreed Frame­work first or worst. The US, with South Korea and Ja­pan, did cre­ate an or­ga­ni­za­tion to build the light-wa­ter re­ac­tors as re­quired. But the work pro­ceeded very slowly—in part be­cause of dif­fi­cul­ties cre­ated by North Korea. Con­trary to Pro­fes­sor Good­man’s claim, the US did sup­ply the re­quired heavy fuel oil—although it was often de­layed—un­til the dis­cov­ery in 2002 of a covert weapons-re­lated en­rich­ment pro­gram in North Korea that may have be­gun as early as 1995. The Agreed Frame­work did not men­tion en­rich­ment (be­cause we didn’t know North Korea had any such plans), but build­ing a plant that could pro­duce weapons fuel—and in se­cret—clearly vi­o­lated the agree­ment’s in­tent. The fin­ger­point­ing can go back and forth al­most end­lessly, and this was only a three-page agree­ment.

The lessons are telling, how­ever, for cur­rent US pol­icy to­ward both North Korea and Iran. A few of these in­clude the im­por­tance of ham­mer­ing out ev­ery de­tail in an agree­ment be­tween par­ties that don’t trust each other, rather than re­ly­ing on hope for bet­ter re­la­tions. The Iran deal is 149 pages of tech­ni­cal de­tail. Pres­i­dent Trump’s Sin­ga­pore agree­ment with North Korea is a few vague para­graphs. Both the 1994 Frame­work and the Iran deal were ex­ec­u­tive agree­ments and both had fierce op­po­nents in Congress who un­der­mined them from the out­set. Among the crit­ics were those who be­lieved that rather than ne­go­ti­ate the US should try to over­throw the North Korean govern­ment through mil­i­tary means or eco­nomic pres­sure. Some in Congress and the ad­min­is­tra­tion ar­gue the same thing to­day about Iran.

For any­one in­ter­ested in a close-up of this timely bit of his­tory, I highly rec­om­mend the tran­script of “Ex­am­in­ing the Lessons of the 1994 US-Korea Deal,” a PBS Front­line show com­pris­ing in­ter­views with sev­eral of the diplo­mats and pol­i­cy­mak­ers in­volved.* There were many op­tions, but on bal­ance none looked as promis­ing as tough diplo­macy.

As re­gards US–South Korean mil­i­tary ex­er­cises, which have been held for nearly fifty years, Pro­fes­sor Good­man is cer­tainly right that they are “provoca­tive” in the dic­tionary sense of caus­ing anger in Py­ongyang. Whether it made any sense for the pres­i­dent to, in ef­fect, agree with North Korea that they are prepa­ra­tion for an of­fen­sive at­tack is an­other mat­ter en­tirely.


To the Ed­i­tors:

Ron­ald Lan­ner’s let­ter [NYR, June 28] pur­port­edly cor­rect­ing a point in Tim Flan­nery’s ar­ti­cle “Raised by Wolves” [NYR,

April 5] it­self re­quires a cor­rec­tion. Lan­ner states that Flan­nery was in er­ror about the iden­tity of Dmitri Belyaev’s brother, con­fus­ing him with the famed Rus­sian plant ge­neti­cist Niko­lai Vav­ilov, a vic­tim of Stalin who died in prison in 1943. In fact, Flan­nery got the ba­sic facts right: Dmitri Belyaev did in­deed have a noted older ge­neti­cist brother named Niko­lai, who fell afoul of Stalin’s regime, sim­i­larly to Vav­ilov, and was ex­e­cuted in 1937. The only er­ror in Flan­nery’s ac­count was to de­scribe Niko­lai Belyaev as a plant ge­neti­cist when ac­tu­ally he was a silk­worm ge­neti­cist.

Adam S. Wilkins In­sti­tute of The­o­ret­i­cal Bi­ol­ogy Hum­boldt Uni­ver­sity Ber­lin, Ger­many

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