Center for American Progress Progress Report : 6 Years of Failure

Yesterday, North Korea set off a global panic when it announced it had successfully tested its first nuclear weapon. China, one of North Korea’s closest supporters, called the test a “flagrant and brazen
violation of international opinion. Mohammed El Baradei, head of the
U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, said it was a “clear setback to international commitments to move toward nuclear disarmament.”
President Bush reported that he had spoken with leaders from China,
Russia, South Korea, and Japan, all of whom had agreed that the North
Koreans’ actions “unacceptable and deserve an immediate response.” This irresponsible act should not have come as a surprise. Intelligence released last week pointed to a likely nuclear test and in July, North Korea defied the international community and test-fired seven ballistic missiles. North Korea’s rapid nuclear build-up can be traced back to the beginning of the Bush administration, when President Bush abandoned successful diplomatic initiatives
put in place by the Clinton administration and ramped up his hardline
rhetoric. “North Korea’s apparent nuclear test last night may well be
regarded as a failure of the Bush administration’s nuclear nonproliferation policy,” reported the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler. North Korea now possesses enough weapons-grade plutonium for as many as 13 nuclear weapons. But during the Clinton administration, the regime separated zero plutonium. It’s time to return to bilateral talks.

A ‘NIGHTMARISH GLOBAL SCENARIO’: Sunday’s test was significant because it was the first “manifest proof” of the country’s nuclear capabilities. It was also the first time any nation has tested a nuclear weapon since 1998. While some analysts have raised questions about the size of the detonation,
the fact that North Korea is trying to claim that it completed a
nuclear test at all is reason for a strong international response.
European Union foreign policy and security chief Javier Solana called
the test “a totally irresponsible act” with “wider proliferation implications” that “undermines regional security and stability.” South Korea is already saying that North Korea may conduct additional tests, and the Washington Post warned that the announcement may “unleash a nuclear arms race in Asia, with Japan and South Korea feeling pressure to build nuclear weapons for defensive reasons.” Perhaps the most “nightmarish
scenario coming out of North Korea’s announcement is the possibility
that it may sell its nuclear technology to a terrorist organization or
a fellow rogue regime.

‘HAPHAZARD DIPLOMACY’: By virtually every measure, Bush’s North Korea policy has been a failure. Diplomatic efforts have broken down and North Korea has resumed plutonium production.
When Bush took office, North Korea had produced enough plutonium under
President George H.W. Bush for 1-2 nuclear weapons. Today, the country
possesses material for 4-13 nuclear weapons. If North Korea unloads
another batch of fuel, it may have enough nuclear material for 8 to 17 nuclear bombs by 2008. Sunday’s test was simply the culmination of the “Bush administration’s haphazard diplomacy
in Northeast Asia over the past six years,” noted the Center for
American Progress’s Joseph Cirincione. The Bush administration has
consistently lacked a strong, coherent North Korea policy because of an
internal argument about whether to negotiate with the country or try to plot its collapse.” (It has instead tried to do both, simultaneously.) In 2001, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell recommended that Bush “pick up where President Clinton and his administration left off
in trying to secure the peace between North and South Korea, while
negotiating with the North to prevent its acquisition of nuclear
weaponry. The Bush administration instead ramped up the rhetoric,
including North Korea in the “axis of evil” in his 2002 State of the Union address and talking about the possible need to take preemptive military action
against the regime in the administration’s 2002 National Security
Strategy. When North Korea responded by expelling international
inspectors and unsealing its nuclear facilities, the Bush
administration had no effective response. “With respect to the axis of
evil,” said James B. Steinberg, Clinton’s deputy national security
adviser, “are you better off today than you were four years ago? …
It’s clear that the answer is we’re worse off with respect to the nuclear proliferation problem
in both North Korea and Iran than four to six years ago, and I would
argue we’re worse off in our overall security because of the situation
in Iraq.”

DRAWING RED LINES: With few good options left, the Bush administration is now forced to consider options it originally rejected. Yesterday, Bush “seemed to draw a sharp line that he warned Pyongyang not to cross,”
telling reporters that the “transfer of nuclear weapons or material by
North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave
threat to the United States, and we would hold North Korea fully
accountable of the consequences of such action.” But these clear
warning lines — employed by the Clinton administration to prevent
North Korea from going too far and converting fuel into bombs — were
previously rejected by the Bush administration. National Security
Advisor Stephen Hadley once stated that “red lines make no sense in North Korea’s case, because they are just an invitation to step over them.” The right-wing’s knee-jerk reaction to blame President Clinton and reject his administration’s policies out-of-hand is no longer realistic and now more dangerous than ever. Under the 1994 “Agreed Framework,”
North Korea agreed to shut down its major nuclear reactor, stop
construction of two nuclear power plants, and subject spent nuclear
fuel to international inspection. In return, Japan and South Korea
agreed to build two light-water reactors (far less of a proliferation
concern) and the United States would supply North Korea with heavy oil
to make up for the lost energy from its shuttered nuclear plants. Once
the light-water reactors were completed, their existing nuclear
reactors were to be dismantled. The deal wasn’t perfect, but during the
Clinton administration, North Korea didn’t make any nuclear bombs.

Strong sanctions are needed as a response to North Korea’s
announcement, but they must be paired with strong diplomacy. At an
emergency U.N. Security Council meeting yesterday, the United States
“pressed for international inspections of all cargo moving into and out of North Korea
to detect weapons-related material, and a ban on all trading in
military goods and services with the country.” No one is suggesting
that Bush go to North Korea with “flowers and chocolates
for President Kim Jong Il. But carrots — including bilateral talks —
do work. With a mix of effective economic sanctions, negotiations, and
“face-saving” measures for President Moammar Gadhafi, Great Britain and
the United States persuaded Libya in 2003 to give up its nuclear weapons. “One of the reasons we’re having such difficulty in several parts of the world is because the Bush administration thinks diplomacy is something you give to a country as a reward
for their good behavior,” said Donald Gregg, U.S. ambassador to South
Korea during the presidency of George H.W. Bush. “We’re only talking to
our friends.” Yesterday, James A. Baker, former Secretary of State
under President George H.W. Bush, reiterated the importance of direct
talks: “You don’t give away anything, but in my view, it’s not appeasement to talk to your enemies.”

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