The Worst Friend, The Best Enemy

[Update:   My worst fears are coming true.  Now the  opposition Grand National Party  is trying to soften up its North Korea policy as it braces for a summit visit from Kim Jong Il and a presidential election this year.  One possible effect is that the GNP’s own perpetual appeaser, Sohn Hak-Kyu, could become the new flavor of the month.]

One of the disadvantages of appeasing North Korea is that the North Koreans are so despised and distrusted, you can pretty much give the  left and the  foreign policy establishment exactly what they want and they still don’t dare defend you, because they know it’s just a matter of time before the North Koreans cheat and make you look silly. 

The rejectionist view doesn’t labor under that uncertainty.  Two more prominent conservatives have stepped forward with skeptical views of Agreed Framework II.  First is Rep. Ed Royce, R., Cal. (thanks to his staff) who provides this report summarizing the evidence against North Korea for counterfeiting and urging the Adminstration not to go wobbly on the issue.  Royce also  accuses the South Koreans of not being serious about preventing the counterfeiting of U.S. currency.  Here’s one of  Royce’s recommendations:

Recommendation: South Korea is an ally of the United States, with the U.S. maintaining nearly 30,000 troops on the Korean Peninsula to supplement South Korean defense forces. Yet, the “sunshine” mentality runs deep, and is causing the U.S.-South Korean alliance to falter. The United States should make clear to Seoul that it regards its cooperation on North Korean counterfeiting to be a significant issue in its bilateral relationship.

Among the appendices to this document are a WSJ op-ed by Royce, and Treasury’s first September 15, 2005 notice regarding Banco Delta Asia.  Note that North Korea signed another vague  agreement with the United States and the other four parties  just four days later, as  Banco Delta Asia was being drained of its funds.  That does not suggest that pressure and diplomacy can’t work well together. 

Next is a piece by Henry Sokolosi,  via the Council on Foreign Relations, and it’s another must-read.  Sokolosi starts by questioning just what objectives  AF II  is likely to help us achieve, and then runs down the list of friends we’ve kicked and enemies we’ve empowered.  Here’s a sample:

Certainly, this deal has kicked the Japanese in the political shins. Japanese Prime Minister Abe just won a successful election campaign platform of pressuring Pyongyang to resolve the Japanese abduction cases and tightening security ties with the U.S.  Without prior consultation, though, Washington agreed with Beijing to subordinate the Japanese abduction issue and instead promised Pyongyang immediate energy aid and relief from U.S.-imposed banking restrictions for a temporary freeze on its plutonium production. 

Japan, angered, publicly refused to pay its share of energy assistance to Pyongyang until and unless Pyongyang comes clean on the Japanese kidnap cases. Meanwhile, Pyongyang made it clear last week in talks with the Japanese that it had absolutely no interest in discussing the issue.  Far from encouraging Japan to trust and rely more on the United States, then, our rush to announce this deal has so far only aggravated Tokyo. 

As for Seoul, the deal has produced a different kind of headache: Despite the jolt North Korea’s nuclear test gave South Koreans last October, South Korean officials have seized upon the February 13th agreement as an authorization to cut even more deals with Pyongyang. This is lamentable.  Earlier this year, it seemed likely that opposition parties skeptical of the current government’s generous approach to Pyongyang and eager to improve ties with Washington would win the presidential elections scheduled for this fall. Now, all of this is in doubt. 

Yes, it has occurred to me that this deal could actually vindicate the Korean left and help put Kim Geun-Tae in the Blue House.  I can’t see any form of U.S.-Korea alliance surviving such a development.  I just don’t know why we do these things to ourselves. 

What this agreement has really done is cemented China’s regional  supremacy and highlighted the divergence of interests between all of the region’s democracies, and between them and the United States.  It has shaken the confidence of pretty much everyone in the region who didn’t despise us, which will mean that Japan and South Korea will have more cause to develop independent nuclear arsenals, command and control structures that don’t depend on ours, and robust independent air and naval power.  That’s especially worrying when you consider that Japan and South Korea have declining populations, meaning greater temptations to go nuke or to make  alliances of convenience with China.  That, in turn, will allow China to divide and rule,  will result in tensions and potential conflict  between democracies, and it will help spur the ongoing arms race.  Perhaps an arms race to deter Chinese or North Korean threats is already established fact, but an arms race over a war for Tokdo would be a colossal waste of energy, money, and possibly, lives.

I’m all for Japan and South Korea upgrading their defenses and assuming a greater share of their own defense burdens, but there’s a right and a wrong way to get there.  We have to keep the objectives in mind:  reducing the risk of war and mitigating the harm to U.S. interests if war comes.  What has preserved the peace in Northeast Asia for the last several decades was an informal but very real alliance between the region’s democracies and the United States, with all of their defense capabilities being generally complimentary with, and  dependent on,  ours.  It had been an Asian NATO in everything but name until 2002.  Yes, there was an excess of dependency on U.S. manpower, but that dependency allowed us to referee disputes and keep everyone from fighting.  Loosening those ties, while simultaneously putting boots on the soil of multiple nations in the region, seems like the worst of all worlds.